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TJ's Take on Week 13 in the NFL

If the season ended today...

Week 13 wrap-ups

Week 13 infirmary report

Prime Time Players

Chris Mortensen Archive
Week 13: Dolphins emerge as serious AFC contender

Dec. 11
Week 13 wrap-ups

Dolphins 41, Colts 6: You might have missed it, but clearly Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt awkwardly apologized to Colts coach Jim Mora after the game. Wannstedt felt bad about the embarrassment Mora must have suffered in the fourth quarter when the Dolphins scored 21 points. Mora, who really can be a gracious man, shrugged it off and appeared to tell Wannstedt that it was OK.

Pressure by Dolphins DT Henry Taylor caused Colts QB Peyton Manning to throw his 18th interception.
The Dolphins didn't run up the score; their final TD came on an 18-yard run by Rob Konrad with 17 seconds left. The Colts were on the field, but already had clocked out. I think we can expect the same from Mora, who has been too good of a coach and worked too hard to suffer this indignation. But such is the business and Mora knows it.

The Dolphins now have our attention. By the end of November, it appeared to be a two-horse AFC race between the Steelers and Raiders, and we were anticipating the Jets and possibly the Ravens as viable contenders. The Dolphins? They were just hanging around. Not anymore. The Dolphins are now 2-0 in December, and Monday night was one of their most impressive statements of the season. Lamar Smith ran like he did last season as the Dolphins racked up 183 yards on 38 rushing attempts. Maybe Smith was excited by film study of the Colts' defense, because he ran with enthusiasm.

But the real story of the Dolphins offense is Chan Gailey, Jay Fiedler and Chris Chambers. Gailey continues to shine as one of the league's top coordinators; Fiedler threw three TD passes and enjoyed his third straight game without a turnover; Chambers caught two more TDs and is making a real run at rookie of the year honors.

We should not forget the Dolphins' defense. Even if Peyton Manning is struggling, he is dangerous. Yet the Dolphins kept the Colts out of the end zone, limiting them to a pair of field goals. Manning threw three interceptions -- but it's pretty evident that his receivers have the concentration of a 2-year-old who just got into a box of chocolates.

The Dolphins now face the toughest two weeks of their season. They have a short week and a road game to San Francisco to face the 49ers. Then they have another short week and a road game in New England to face a Patriots team that almost has its foot in the playoffs. I believe the winner of that Dolphins-Pats game will be a threat to the Steelers and Raiders in the postseason.

Steelers 18, Jets 7: No Jerome Bettis? No big deal. Well, of course the Steelers would rather have the Bus running on a full tank, but this was just another game that provides plenty of indicators about their validity as a Super Bowl contender. Kordell Stewart is so comfortable at quarterback that we no longer should express surprise at his ability to lead this team to victory.

Stewart is working his way to a Pro Bowl berth, but it would be a crime if his favorite receiver, Hines Ward (10 catches, 124 yards), doesn't join him. The offense had the ball for 36 minutes and still managed 134 yards rushing without Bettis. That's a tribute to the offensive line, which has some very deserving Pro Bowl candidates in G Alan Faneca, C Jeff Hartings and perhaps T Wayne Gandy. It's also a tribute to O-line coach Russ Grimm.

The Steelers' defense smothered the Jets. You hold Curtis Martin to 58 yards and you're doing something right. If you can stop Martin, you should be able to shut down Moe Williams or Terry Allen or whomever the Ravens throw out there Sunday night. However, there is a flaw in the Pittsburgh plan. If anything should make them nervous, it is the inexplicable struggles of kicker Kris Brown, who missed two more field goals and an extra point. That will cost you in close games, and you're going to play close games in January. Remember the first Baltimore game?

Rams 27, 49ers 14: This is what Rams coach Mike Martz envisioned when he made over his defense in personnel and staff. By December, it would be improved. Sunday, it was a force against a 49ers' offense that had been fairly unstoppable all season. Aeneas Williams was the jewel of the Rams' offseason moves, and the veteran Pro Bowl cornerback continued to show he hasn't lost much, if anything. Terrell Owens was playing hurt, but Williams shadowed the 49ers wideout all day. There also must have been something about the way the Rams' defense was flying around, because they pressured 49ers QB Jeff Garcia into his worst game since '99.

On that note, Garcia's MVP candidacy took a big hit Sunday, just as the Rams' Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk pushed into the race in which Brett Favre presumably has the lead. Warner and Faulk showed they can play "little ball," too. They methodically pushed the ball around against a 49ers D that probably played as well as can be expected. The Rams now renew their intense rivalry with the Saints for a Monday night happening in New Orleans. I've got a feeling it won't be the Rams' last trip there this season.

Packers 17, Bears 7: Brett Favre and Ahman Green were the difference. That wasn't a real surprise. Green's 125 yards led a ground attack that amassed 167 yards rushing while Favre threw for a conservative 185. The defense held the Bears to 189 yards -- was it that good or was Bears QB Jim Miller that bad? Both. Miller just didn't throw the ball well, and the difference in raw physical ability between him and Favre was stark.

The Bears now slip into second place in the NFC Central because they have dropped both divisional games to the Packers, but they're still 9-3. Now come the Buccaneers, winners of three straight. It's interesting because when they met four weeks ago, the circumstances were almost identical -- the Bears are coming off a loss to the Packers, and the Bucs are coming off a victory over the Lions. The Bears won the first meeting 27-24, which was the last time the offense showed some firepower.

Bucs 15, Lions 12: Keyshawn Johnson gave the media a perfect analogy on his game-winning catch: "A baby's falling off a 10-story building. Do you catch it?" The answer is, you bet you do. The Bucs' season was spiraling again when Bucs QB Brad Johnson courageously took a hit while releasing a throw to Johnson in the end zone. Johnson was covered, but it was 5-foot-9 cornerback Jimmy Wyrick on the spot. Johnson used his 6-5 frame and his rugged determination to make the catch, his first TD of the season. Before the game, Johnson went to Bucs coach Tony Dungy and said -- no, not "give me the damn ball," but rather a polite, "we got to get me involved more in the end zone." Johnson didn't let him down.

The Lions, the Lions, the Lions ... what can you say? Don't talk about how many close games they have lost. Most games in the NFL are close. Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg at least hasn't used that excuse. He even pleaded guilty to a bad call when rookie Mike McMahon took a sack that eliminated a late field-goal opportunity. I have said all along that the Lions will win a game this year. I am beginning to wonder.

For the Bucs, it's weird. It was amazing in that Johnson (Brad, that is) had 54 more pass attempts -- he has thrown it more than any QB in the NFL. He has the great admiration of his teammates, especially Keyshawn, because everyone can see that the O-line is struggling with protection. The defense has totally turned it around. And let me say this about the Bucs (who are now 7-5): If they slip into the playoffs, there are two NFC teams that are very uncomfortable playing Tampa Bay. Yes, the Rams and Packers really don't want to see them in January, no matter where the games are played.

Saints 28, Falcons 10: We're starting to see some signs that the Saints are getting their act together. QB Aaron Brooks and WR Joe Horn (seven catches, 138 yards) are giving the offense some breathing room. A little trickery from O-coordinator Mike McCarthy also produced a TD pass from Deuce McAllister to Horn. The defense gave the Falcons' pass protectors fits -- QB Chris Chandler was sacked nine times. They will need a similar domination against the Rams, although I am sure that Jim Haslett noticed that Chandler hit and missed on some big throws.

Cowboys 20, Giants 13: Let me express my admiration for Cowboys coach Dave Campo. He has never thrown in the towel, and neither have his players. In fact, their fourth win of the season surpassed my victory forecast by one, although it still falls six short of owner Jerry Jones' 10-win prediction. Quincy Carter was good enough to make the Cowboys feel better about his future.

Now, the Giants. They blew a halftime lead. Their offense is dreadful and I think it's all about personnel. Again, the O-line has slipped; the receivers are so-so, and QB Kerry Collins is really a question mark. On defense, it's clear Jason Sehorn isn't healthy (he's got a bad knee). The Giants aren't healthy as a team.

Raiders 28, Chiefs 26: It's a struggle now for Oakland. It is always a struggle when you can't tackle, and the Raiders can't tackle. They survived Priest Holmes' 168-yard crusade, but it's enough to worry anybody who cares about the silver and black. Holmes is locking up a Pro Bowl trip -- he added 109 yards receiving for 277 total yards. That was more than the Raiders (264) had, although we should take time to salute veterans Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. Brown had an 88-yard punt return for a TD and Rice surpassed 20,000 career receiving yards, which is absolutely amazing.

Redskins 20, Cardinals 10: Tony Banks was good. Stephen Davis got 100 yards running the ball. LaVar Arrington made another big interception. The Redskins climbed back to .500. And even though Cardinals WR David Boston had 132 yards on six catches, Redskins CB Champ Bailey actually competed very well against arguably the toughest guy to cover in the NFL this year.

Patriots 27, Browns 16: The Patriots can't lose sight of what's in front of them. It's the Buffalo Bills, in Buffalo. But if they get past the Bills, then they can anticipate a Dec. 22 (Saturday) AFC East matchup with the division-leading Dolphins in Foxborough. Sunday, they found many ways to win. Special teams were big as Troy Brown returned a punt 85 yards to break a 10-10 tie. Yes, the Patriots are going to the playoffs.

Vikings 42, Titans 24: Todd Bouman is 29 years old and he relates very well to Brad Johnson, who labored as a backup QB before getting his big break at about the same age. Bouman won't be taking over for Daunte Culpepper, but in this game he threw four TD passes and ran the offense with great efficiency. The Vikes' O-line also gave some creases for RB Michael Bennett (113 yards, 156 carries, two TDs) to slip through and he was able to show some flashes of explosiveness. Oh yes, Randy Moss decided that he wanted to play. The Titans decided not to play in the second and third quarters, when they were outscored 28-0.

Broncos 20, Seahawks 7: This weeded out a pretender (the Seahawks) and gave us a sorta contender in the Broncos. The best news for Denver -- aside from the victory that keeps their playoff hopes alive -- is that Terrell Davis (109 yards, 19 carries) looked like the good T.D. for the second straight game. The defense also blanketed the Seahawks, whether it was Shaun Alexander or Ricky Watters.

Eagles 24, Chargers 14: The Eagles might have to be added to the "ugly football" list, but then Philly fans can just claim it as blue-collar football. Either way, the Eagles' defense continues to be pretty darn good, or as Chargers coach Mike Riley called it, "the best we've seen this year." Eagles safety Brian Dawkins made another Pro Bowl bid in this one. Chargers QB Doug Flutie had some good moments -- he threw for 307 yards and two TDs -- but he also threw 24 incompletions in 44 attempts and two interceptions.

Jaguars 14, Bengals 10: While Mark Brunell and the Jags played tough again, here's what was meaningful about this game -- the Bengals have been assured of a non-winning season for the 11th straight year. This was their eighth defeat against four wins. When they were 2-0, the Bengals players boasted about getting free donuts in town. They ought to pay double now.

Bills 25, Panthers 24: That was a very sad scene at midfield when the game ended. George Seifert, a two-time Super Bowl winner in San Francisco, received a hang-in-there pat on the back from Bills rookie coach Gregg Williams, who won only his second game in 12 tries. The Panthers had a 24-6 lead in the first half. They managed to lose their 12th straight game. They will not lose this week -- they do not play.

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