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Monday, December 11, 2006

Chicago Bears Clinch Division; Beat Rams 42-27

Bears profit on Hester's returns 42-27
NFL.com wire reports

ST. LOUIS (Dec. 11, 2006) -- Devin Hester expects teams to keep on kicking deep to him. And he expects to keep right on returning those kicks to the end zone.

The high-stepping rookie got the Rams' home dome rocking with chants of "Let's Go Bears!" as he set an NFL record with his fifth and sixth returns for touchdowns this season, a 94-yard kickoff runback in the second quarter and a 96-yarder in the final period. That sparked a 42-27 victory that gave the NFC North champions (11-2) a bye for the first week of the playoffs.

"It's the NFL, and a team is not going to bow down to one player," Hester said. "They'll continue to kick to me."

They're fools if they do.

"It's like the gates of Heaven opening up for me," he added.

A second-round draft pick, Hester also has three punt return touchdowns and ran back a missed field goal 108 yards against the Giants to tie the longest play in NFL history. But he had returned only six kickoffs all season before his historic romps that made the thousands of fans who trekked from Chicago rise from their seats.

"I almost thought we were back at Soldier Field," coach Lovie Smith said.

Hester struggled to find a position in college at Miami, but he has been a sensation with the ball in his hands on kick returns for the Bears.

"The story of the game is Devin Hester," Smith said. "It's time we start looking at him as an offensive player. There are a lot of good offensive rookies in the league making big plays, but who has had as much impact as Devin Hester has in the league as a rookie right now?"

He came through the middle on the first runback, then swiftly cut to his left untouched and sped down the sideline, high-stepping like a drum major the last few yards while holding up the football for the raucous Bears fans.

Hester outdid himself in the fourth quarter when it appeared the Rams might try an onside kick. The only Bear standing deep, he went straight up the center of the field, again untouched, and turned around at the Rams 20 looking for pursuers. No one was there.

He admitted it was a tribute to his friend Deion Sanders.

"That played a major role in us losing the game," Rams cornerback Ron Bartell said. "We lost by 15. You take away those two returns, we've got a pretty good game."

Beleaguered quarterback Rex Grossman had a pretty good game and the Chicago running attack dominated the last two quarters.

Carrying a 14-13 lead into the second half, the Bears outgained the Rams (5-8) 191 yards to 31 in the third quarter. They scored on Thomas Jones' 30-yard run and Muhsin Muhammad's superb fingertip catch of a 14-yard pass from Grossman, who probably quieted calls for his benching -- particularly from the thousands of fans who outshouted Rams rooters much of the evening.


Rex Grossman temporarily silenced his critics with a mistake-free two-touchdown performance.
"They were all over the place tonight," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "I could hear the crowd chanting 'Bears, Bears, Bears.' Man, that's a warm feeling being away from home."

Grossman was 6-for-19 for 34 yards in a victory against Minnesota last week and had registered six interceptions and no touchdowns in the past two games, but was 13-for-23 for 200 yards and two scores against St. Louis. Aside from the fade pass to Muhammad, he hit Bernard Berrian on a perfect slant pattern for a 34-yard score late in the second period.

"The best way of describing it is efficient and decisive and getting the ball to guys I needed to," Grossman said.

Chicago rushed for only 65 yards against the Rams' porous run defense in the first half, then Jones gained 58 yards on the Bears' first series of the second half. That included a 24-yarder featuring a flashy spin move.

The Rams did get a 6-yard TD pass to Torry Holt midway through the fourth quarter, and a 6-yarder to Steven Jackson with 4:41 left. But they barely stung thanks to Hester's heroics.

"To beat a team like that you almost have to play perfect, and we didn't," QB Marc Bulger said. Now the Rams have lost seven of eight and are all but eliminated from playoff consideration.

Chicago kicker Robbie Gould missed twice on field-goal attempts -- from 37 and 49 yards. They were only his second and third misses of the season.

When Chicago's special teams came through early -- on Brad Maynard's punt downed at the St. Louis 1 -- the defense couldn't. Holt caught back-to-back passes of 13 and 16 yards, then Marc Bulger's perfect throw on third-and-13 found Kevin Curtis for 39 yards. Looking like the vintage Rams of the early decade on the 99-yard drive, they also converted a fourth-and-1 on Stephen Davis' 16-yard run to the 1 before Holt's double move beat Hester for the score.

A bad snap botched the extra point.

To their credit, the Rams responded immediately to Hester's first TD return with a 72-yard drive featuring Jackson, who gained 35 yards and ran in from the 2.

It was then the Bears' turn for an impressive drive that covered 74 yards, capped by Berrian's 34-yard TD catch and run for a 14-13 halftime edge.

Indianapolis Coach Tony Dungy On The Day After The Jacksonville Loss - Colts.com



The Colts took it on the chin Sunday, weathering a stunning 44 to 17 loss to their division rivals the Jacksonville Jaquars. Coach Dungy sounds ready to learn from the game, and prepare for the Bengals.

STILL TIME

By John Oehser - Colts.com

Colts Have Opportunity to Improve in December, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Dungy’s mood didn’t improve much Monday.
Because what the Colts’ head coach saw watching tape Monday was pretty much what he saw from the sidelines of Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., the day before.

Way too many rushing yards.

Way too many mistakes.

Way too much of a lot of things, with the result being a 44-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, a loss that not only kept the Colts (10-3) from clinching a fourth consecutive AFC South championship, but also set off a barrage of questions and criticism from outsiders.

On Monday, at his weekly next-day news conference, Dungy – in his fifth season with the Colts – arrived ready for the questions, and his message was that which he gave the team:

Yes, Sunday’s loss was disappointing.

And yes, the Colts must improve.

But he said he very much believes the Colts – who have lost three of four regular-season games for the first time since 2002 – can make that improvement, and Dungy said despite criticism to the contrary, there is plenty the Colts can accomplish.

“Obviously, not one of our better days yesterday, and that makes the next day a little tough,” Dungy said early Monday afternoon, a day after the Colts slipped from the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the first time since the end of the 2004 season.

“That makes the next day a little bit tough, but what we have to do from here is look at things, examine the breakdowns and improve. That’s going to be our task.

“Fortunately, we still have time to do that.”

Said Colts linebacker Rocky Boiman, “We’ve had a lot of success, especially in the regular season, around here. We’ve got to put this in perspective and say, ‘Hey, winning every game in the regular season is not something that happens all the time.’ ”

The Colts, who won their first nine games of the season, had a chance each of the last two weeks to clinch the AFC South with victories over division opponents. The loss to Jacksonville trimmed their division lead to two games, and meant that a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals (8-5) Monday won’t necessarily clinch the division.

The Colts can clinch the South this weekend if the Jaguars lose to the Tennessee Titans Sunday.

“We’re not going to lose sight of the fact that we’re 10-3,” Dungy said. “It’s easy to forget that at this time, after a game like this. What we have to do is watch the tape, get the corrections, and get ready for Cincinnati. Nothing more, nothing less.”

If the Jaguars win Sunday, the Colts can clinch a wild-card spot with a victory over Cincinnati.

The Colts are currently tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the second-best record in the AFC, and hold the AFC’s No. 2 seed because of strength of victory.

“We don’t have that No. 1 seed in our hands right now,” Dungy said. “We did up until yesterday (Sunday). We have to continue to play and win, and win as many games as we can. But right now, we’re in the thick of things.

“We’re still in the No. 2 slot. We’ve got a lot of good things that can still happen for us, but the big thing for us is going to be playing well. If we’re playing well, I don’t think it really matters what seed you are. You can be the No. 1 seed – if you’re not playing well, it’s not going to help us.

“So, that’s our concern, is to try to get ourselves back playing well. That’s everything.”

The Colts

on Sunday allowed the Jaguars 375 yards rushing, setting a record for the most yards the team allowed by the Colts in franchise history.

The loss also was the third in four games, the first time since 2002 – when the Colts lost three consecutive games in October and early November – the Colts have lost three games in a four-game stretch.

The Colts, after winning 30 consecutive games from mid-2004 to mid-2006 in which they had yet to clinch their playoff seeding, lost to Dallas (21-14) on November 19, beat the Philadelphia Eagles (45-21) on November 26 and lost to the Tennessee Titans (20-17) on December 3.

“It happens,” Dungy said. “You go through those times. You wish you didn’t. Ours is happening at the wrong time, but we still have three games left in December to get it going. We have a very hot team we’re playing, and we’ve got to play a lot better than we did yesterday (Sunday). . . .

“It’s going to take work. It’s not going to be easy. But I think we’ve got the people here who can do it.”

But on Monday, Dungy and Colts players spent less time talking about the scenarios for a fifth consecutive playoff appearance and more about correcting mistakes that have caused a recent slump.

“The thing we have to do is look forward, and pull out of this,” Dungy said. “There are some teams that have had some similar-type things, and they have pulled out of it. We’ve done that in the past as well.

“That’s our task right now, and that’s what we look forward to doing.”

Dungy, as was the case Sunday afternoon, on Monday pointed to several cases in which teams have struggled before recovering for successful late-season runs. One such case: 1999, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – with Dungy as head coach – lost to the Oakland Raiders, 45-0, late in the season before losing in the NFC Championship Game.

“It was much worse than this game – I promise you,” Dungy said. “It’s hard to believe, but it was. . . .

“It was 45-0 only because they slowed the game down and didn’t make it 75-0. We came back and won the last two we had to win and went to the playoffs and played pretty well. Sometimes, those games come out of the blue and you don’t know where they came from. Sometimes, it’s just that particular day, a style.

“One week doesn’t have to say what’s going to happen the next week. It may, but it doesn’t have to.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers last season lost three consecutive games in November and December, including 26-7 at Indianapolis, before winning their final eight games of the season, including Super Bowl XL.

Dungy said the message he gave to the players Monday was the same he gave the Buccaneers in 1999 – that one loss, even a bad loss, in December doesn’t necessarily end a team’s hopes of a postseason run. It’s a message Dungy said he believes the Colts have received.

“I think our team is still upbeat,” Dungy said. “I think they understand that we’re in the middle of a playoff race, and we’ve got a record that a lot of teams would like to have. The negative for us is the last four weeks we really haven’t played up to our standards and played as well as we can play. . . .

“We’re all frustrated. We’re all disappointed. We know we have to play better, but we all feel like we can play better and that’s what’s got to happen these last few weeks. My thought is to look ahead to see how we can improve it and get ourselves going and win these last three games.”
More Coverage On the Giants from Newsday's Beat reporter. Last paragraph will be my commenrary

Giants beat Panthers to end 4-game slide
BY ARTHUR STAPLE
STAFF CORRESPONDENT

December 10, 2006, 4:34 PM EST

CHARLOTTE, N.C -- It took a month of losses for the Giants to reach their desperation point. There's still a month to go until the playoffs begin, but a lot can happen in a month.

The Giants ended their losing streak at four games with a 27-13 win over the fading Panthers yesterday. It wasn't the prettiest of efforts, especially against a quarterback who hadn't played in four years and two little-used cornerbacks, but the Giants never trailed in winning for the first time since Nov. 5 against the Texans.

"A month like that," cornerback R.W. McQuarters said, "feels like two years. It's like, 'Damn, we haven't won in a month!' All it takes is one, no matter how you get it."

The Giants got this one by being smart and unspectacular on offense, relying on Tiki Barber (20 carries, 112 yards), who passed 10,000 rushing yards for his career, and Eli Manning, who threw three touchdown passes and wasn't intercepted for the second straight game.

The Panthers gained 463 total yards, but that was the product of a beaten team trying desperately to rally. Chris Weinke, starting for the first time since Oct. 30, 2002, threw 61 passes, completing 34 for 423 yards. The Giants had three interceptions in the second half, two by Gibril Wilson, to solidify their lead and their playoff position.

The Giants host the Eagles on Sunday; both teams are 7-6, along with the Falcons, and are tied for the lead in the battle for the two wild-card berths. The Giants also moved within one game of Dallas for the NFC East lead. So this is no time to bask in the glow of a long-awaited win.

But perhaps the memories of the past month -- players calling each other out, a coach calling his players out, the headlines screaming for the coach's head -- will quell any lofty thoughts.

"We had a lot of criticism, probably a lot of it deserved, but we knew this was like a playoff game," Antonio Pierce said. "We've got four playoff games to get us to the playoffs. We're 1-0 now."

The first sign that the Giants were approaching this game with a different mind-set came on their second drive. Twice they went for it on fourth down.

The first made sense -- fourth-and-inches from the Panthers' 34 -- and Manning's sneak got the first down.

The next was an atypical Tom Coughlin call, on fourth-and-10 from the 33. Manning avoided pressure by rolling to his left, froze a pair of defenders by faking a run, then fired a pass to David Tyree, who dived forward for the first down. The Giants came away with only a field goal, but it was a tone-setter.

"It's about building up emotion and esteem right there," said Tyree, who caught a 3-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter as the Giants took a 27-10 lead. "We don't get anything there, it definitely does something to your psyche."

Plaxico Burress walked off the field in disgust after the field-goal drive, having gotten open twice without Manning finding him, but Manning completed passes of 45 and 28 yards to Burress to put the Giants ahead 10-0, the latter a touchdown pass into single coverage on third-and-7.

Just 1:49 later, the Panthers made it 10-7 as Weinke targeted Giants rookie cornerback Kevin Dockery for three completions in four plays, the last a 36-yard touchdown pass to Drew Carter. John Kasay's 37-yard field goal tied it at 10 with 3:02 left in the half, but Manning put the Giants ahead for good by directing another crisp two-minute drive capped by a 2-yard TD catch by Jeremy Shockey 27 seconds before halftime. Shockey had recovered Brandon Jacobs' fumble at the 1 a play earlier.

With 10 points in the opening 8:01 of the second half on Jay Feely's 29-yard field goal and Tyree's touchdown reception, the Giants just had to grind out a win. They didn't earn any style points, going without a first down the remainder of the game and picking up only 70 yards in the second half, but the defense held its ground.

The Panthers were without starting corners Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble, then lost backup Christian Morton in the first quarter, forcing them to use two rookies and a backup safety.

The Giants were able to run the ball even with a hodgepodge of offensive linemen in the game. Shaun O'Hara left for two series after Barber rolled onto the back of his right leg, and Kareem McKenzie missed the second half with a strained neck. That forced left guard David Diehl to play tackle against All-Pro end Julius Peppers, who was generally neutralized.

Now the Giants, who will play the Saints and Redskins after facing the Eagles on Sunday, have to make the last month seem like a bad dream.

"We had great purpose over the entire [losing streak]," Coughlin said. "I don't think we had any distractions. They really handled the situation very well."


And my Comments:
Ok so The G-men played a bit smarter this time, infact the last two games prior to this as well, then thy did in the first two losses. Even if the play calling was a bit better-172 yards passing Vs a team with a weak group of d-backs isn't very good. Also no rushing TD's this time, and Jacobs looks stuck again when they bring him in. Still not using the TE enough either, even though he scored a TD (Shockey), he was only 6 grabs for 49 yds. But i guess a win is a win is a win...

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