Drama in Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Washington. Hearts racing. You know the drill.
Texans-Bengals, Vikings-Lions, Saints-Titans and Patriots-Redskins. Six of the eight teams involved fighting for division titles and/or playoff spots. The team with the better record won in all four cases, but it came down to the final seconds, and one final play, in all four instances.
Cincy was the only place where the offense came out victorious on that final play. T.J. Yates, making just his second career start, hit Kevin Walter on a six-yard touchdown pass with two seconds to play to give the Texans a one-point victory and clinch their first playoff berth in franchise history. The 10-3 Texans have now won seven straight games, and three in a row since losing starting quarterback Matt Schaub for the year. Considering that Yates was making his first road start, that Andre Johnson was out of the lineup and that the Bengals have a top-10 defense, this might have been Houston’s most impressive win of the season.
HIGHLIGHTS: Texans pull it out in Cincy (Canada only)
In Detroit, the Lions led 21-0 and 28-7 and nearly blew it against Joe freakin’ Webb. Webb had touchdowns running and throwing in the second half as Minnesota stormed back to scare the hell out of a Lions team fighting for their playoff lives. Without any timeouts, the Vikings had a first-and-goal on the Detroit one-yard line with nine seconds on the clock, but Webb never stood a chance on that last gasp, fumbling while taking a sack for a huge loss. The Vikes walk away with a moral victory and a quarterback controversy, while the Lions walk away breathing a sigh of relief but shaken after a piss-poor defensive effort on their home field. They can’t afford to play like that against Oakland, San Diego or Green Bay in their final three games.
HIGHLIGHTS: Vikings fall short in Detroit (Canada only)
In Tennessee, Jake Locker was working his magic in relief of an injured Matt Hasselbeck. Down five, the Titans also had a chance to pull off an upset with one final play inside the New Orleans five-yard line with the clock running out, but Locker didn’t have an open target. He scrambled but was eventually sacked and the Titans’ playoff push took a major hit. Tennessee needed this, so it hurts, but they’ve got to be encouraged by Locker’s play — he completed three big passes for 75 yards earlier on that final drive and appeared poised and steady despite a low completion percentage on the day. The New Orleans defense exhibited some serious issues Sunday, but they stepped up when it mattered, and now the NFC South is probably theirs.
HIGHLIGHTS: Saints survive in Nashville (Canada only)
In DC, defense also prevailed in the final moments, but it wasn’t before the Patriots let a Rex Grossman-led Redskins team somehow compile 463 net yards and come one completion short of a big upset. Washington had it inside the New England 10-yard line with less than 30 seconds left, but Jerod Mayo picked off Grossman on third down to close the game and salvage a seven-point victory. As a result, the Pats keep pace with Houston, with both 10-3 squads surviving in dramatic fashion in the final seconds.
HIGHLIGHTS: Redskins fall short against New England (Canada only)
It’s a cliché to say that good teams find ways to win tight games in the final moments, but it’s interesting that the better team came through in all four of the clutch situations that made Sunday’s early batch of games so exciting. Did luck play a role? Of course it did. It almost always does in sports. Injuries are primarily luck-related, and so is timing. If games were 61 minutes, the Lions, Saints and Pats might have lost in Week 14. If they were 59 minutes, the Texans probably would have fallen. You don’t always have to be good to be lucky, but there seems to be a correlation.