Ravens, Seahawks and Packers in, Vikings out

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

Green Bay, Seattle and Baltimore were the last teams to make it into the NFL playoffs. The Packers have a miracle play from the downtrodden Arizona Cardinals to thank.

''I've never heard a crowd cheer that loud for a 2-minute warning before,'' Green Bay linebacker Nick Barnett said of the noise at Lambeau Field after fans heard that a 28-yard desperation pass from Josh McCown to Nathan Poole gave Arizona an 18-17 victory over Minnesota, knocked the Vikings out of playoff contention and put the Packers in.

It was also a day for setting records and chasing others.

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Baltimore's Jamal Lewis became the fifth to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season, but fell 39 yards short of Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105. Priest Holmes of the Chiefs got his mark - scoring his 26th and 27th touchdowns of the season to break Emmitt Smith's record for rushing TDs and Marshall Faulk's for overall TDs.

The first round of the playoffs begins next Saturday with Tennessee at Baltimore and Dallas at Carolina. On Sunday, Seattle is at Green Bay and Denver at Indianapolis.

The playoffs won't include Minnesota, which had a horrible day.

The Vikings started the season with six wins but finished 3-7, losing along the way to the Giants, Raiders, Chargers and Cardinals - four teams that finished 4-12, the worst record in the league.

''You don't have any clue how much it hurts,'' Vikings safety Corey Chavous said.

''To be a championship team, you have to know how to finish,'' Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper added.

Seattle (10-6) made the playoffs with a 24-17 win Saturday over San Francisco, then got in on Sunday - the official way was by beating Dallas in a ''strength of victory'' tiebreaker although the Vikings loss would have put them in anyway.

The Ravens (10-6) got in as AFC North champions when Cincinnati lost 22-14 to Cleveland, then won 13-10 in overtime at night.

The Packers won the NFC North by combining their 31-3 win over Denver with Minnesota loss in Arizona.

In the day's decisive game, Minnesota led 17-6 with two minutes left. Arizona (4-12) cut the lead to 17-12 on McCown's fourth-down 2-yard pass to Steve Bush with 1:54 to play.

Damien Anderson recovered the onside kick for Arizona, and a 30-yard pass-interference call against Walker put the Cardinals in scoring position.

Saints 13, Cowboys 7

At New Orleans, Donte' Stallworth's 76-yard touchdown reception sent Dallas into the playoffs on a down note.

The Saints (8-8), who will miss the playoffs for the third straight year, responded to a tongue-lashing from owner Tom Benson and a team meeting Friday night.

Dallas (10-6) had already clinched a playoff spot, but the loss dropped the Cowboys to the sixth seed in the NFC.

Packers 31, Broncos 3

At Green Bay, Wis., Ahman Green reeled off a 98-yard touchdown run and Brett Favre completed a hard week in which he buried his father to lead the Packers.

The Packers (10-6) had little hope of playing into January only minutes earlier. They celebrated wildly on the sideline after their crowd, listening on radios, broke into frenzied elation over the fourth-down pass in Arizona.

Denver (10-6) rested starters for its playoff game next Sunday in Indianapolis.

Green set a franchise record with 218 yards rushing and ran for two scores, giving him 20 and breaking Jim Taylor's record of 19 set in 1962.

Lions 30, Rams 20

At Detroit, Joey Harrington threw three touchdown passes as the Lions (5-11) knocked St. Louis from the top spot in the NFC with 20 points in a span of 15:31 in the second half.

The top-seeded team now is Philadelphia, also 12-4, but with a better conference record after beating Washington on Saturday night.

Colts 20, Texans 17

At Houston, Mike Vanderjagt kicked his NFL-record 41st consecutive field goal, a 43-yarder as time expired, giving the Colts the AFC South title. Vanderjagt went 37-for-37 this season.

The Colts (12-4) trailed 17-3 before rallying. Peyton Manning's 5-yard TD pass to Brandon Stokely tied it following an interception by Donald Strickland.

Chiefs 31, Bears 3

At Kansas City, Mo., Holmes scored twice, erasing NFL records by Smith and Faulk.

The Chiefs (13-3) were already locked into the No. 2 seed and guaranteed a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. The Bears finished 7-9.

Titans 33, Buccaneers 13

At Nashville, Tenn., Steve McNair stayed on the sideline, resting his aching legs for the playoffs as Neil O'Donnell threw two touchdown passes to Derrick Mason in his first start since Sept. 23, 2001.

Gary Anderson kicked four field goals for the Titans (12-4) as Tampa Bay (7-9) became the first Super Bowl champion to finish with a losing record.

Dolphins 23, Jets 21

At Miami, Olindo Mare kicked a 22-yard field goal with 3 seconds left to give the Dolphins the win.

Miami (10-6) became the first team since Philadelphia and San Francisco in 1991 to win 10 games and miss the playoffs. Their disappointing season has left coach Dave Wannstedt's job in jeopardy.

The Jets (6-10) closed out their first losing season since 1996 and their first under Herman Edwards.

Falcons 21, Jaguars 14

At Atlanta, Michael Vick threw two touchdown passes, including a 44-yarder to Peerless Price on the Falcons' first fleaflicker of the season.

Atlanta (5-11) improved to 3-1 since Vick returned to the starting lineup. After breaking his leg in the preseason, he missed the first 10 games, then played sparingly in a loss to Houston.

Fred Taylor rushed for 121 yards for the Jaguars (5-11).

Panthers 37, Giants 24

At East Rutherford, N.J., Jake Delhomme threw two touchdown passes as former Giants assistant John Fox and his Panthers won in coach Jim Fassel's final game after seven seasons in New York.

Steve Smith scored on a 53-yard punt return, Ricky Manning Jr. returned an interception 27 yards for a score and John Kasay kicked three field goals.The loss was the eighth straight for the Giants (4-12).

Chargers 21, Raiders 14

At San Diego, LaDainian Tomlinson rushed 31 times for a career-high 243 yards and two touchdowns to close an otherwise miserable season for the Chargers (4-12).

Tomlinson has four career 200-yard games, tying him for second place all-time with Jim Brown, Earl Campbell and Barry Sanders. The record is six, by O.J. Simpson.

The Raiders (4-12) ended a season of internal strife without cornerback Charles Woodson and running back Charlie Garner who were inactive because of a violation of team rules.