With five weeks left in the NFL regular season, the action is heating up. There’s still a lot of football left to be played and anything can happen in the always-unpredictable NFL.
Just ask the Tennessee Titans, who became the first team in NFL history to win five consecutive games after an 0-6 start to climb back into the AFC playoff picture.
“All we can do is just keep winning,” says Titans linebacker KEITH BULLUCK. “We have five wins in a row and now we’re going for six.”
Win No. 5 came in dramatic fashion as quarterback VINCE YOUNG – now 5-0 as the team’s starter this season – led the Titans on a 99-yard drive and threw the game-winning touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver KENNY BRITT on the game’s final play. It marked the second consecutive week (Week 11: Detroit’s MATTHEW STAFFORD to BRANDON PETTIGREW vs. Cleveland) there has been a game-winning touchdown pass on the final play of regulation, the first time that has occurred in the NFL since at least 1970.
Next up for the Titans is a team with an even more impressive streak. The Indianapolis Colts, who will host Tennessee this Sunday, have won 20 consecutive regular-season games and can tie the 2006-08 New England Patriots (21) for the longest streak in NFL history.
Last week, Indianapolis came back from a 17-point deficit to pull out a 35-27 victory at Houston. The Colts trailed 20-14 in the fourth quarter before rallying for the win. They became the first team in NFL history to win five consecutive games when trailing in the fourth quarter in each contest. No other team in NFL history has overcome a fourth-quarter deficit to win even four consecutive games.
“These games build character,” says Indianapolis defensive end ROBERT MATHIS. “After five games like this, we’re full of character.”
The Colts are also the first team this season to clinch a playoff berth as the team won the AFC South last week.
“We understand it’s an accomplishment to win the division,” says Indianapolis rookie head coach JIM CALDWELL, “but we still have a few more things to get done.”
The Colts and New Orleans Saints are now both 11-0, the first time in NFL history there have been two 11-0 teams in the same season.
“It was a big win for us and now we’ve got 11 wins,” says New Orleans head coach SEAN PAYTON about the team’s 38-17 win over New England, which improved the club to 11-0 for the first time in franchise history. “We’re excited about the win but we’ve got to move on.”
The Saints were led by quarterback DREW BREES, who became only the second player in NFL history (TOM BRADY) to pass for at least 350 yards (371), complete at least 75 percent of his passes (78.3 percent; 18 of 23), throw for five or more touchdowns (5) and not have a single pass intercepted. Brees had a 158.3 passer rating in the game, the highest possible mark attainable.
“It’s just another win in the win column,” says Brees about the victory over New England. “It only counts for one win on the stat sheet, but emotionally, these types of wins can mean a little bit more.”
New Orleans will head to Washington this weekend to face the Redskins and aims to extend the franchise’s longest winning streak to 12 games in a row.
Some of the headline games in Week 13:
TENNESSEE TITANS (5-6) AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (11-0) (Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)
“This is going to be a true test,” says Titans wide receiver NATE WASHINGTON about the showdown with the 11-0 Colts.
The meeting features two of the hottest teams in the NFL. Indianapolis has won 20 consecutive regular-season games, one shy of the NFL record (21) set by the 2006-08 New England Patriots. Tennessee, the team that handed the Colts their last regular-season loss (October 27, 2008), is the first club in league history to win five in a row after an 0-6 start.
A big reason for each team’s success has been the play of the quarterback. Tennessee’s VINCE YOUNG is 5-0 this season and has won nine consecutive starts. Indianapolis’ PEYTON MANNING, who has guided the Colts to an NFL-record seventh consecutive 11-win season, has won 20 consecutive starts. Manning, who rallied Indianapolis from a 17-0 deficit last week, has now led his team to five wins after trailing by at least 17 points in the regular season during his career, the most in NFL history.
“Anything is possible right now,” says Young, “and our confidence level is high. We have to take it one game at a time.”
The Titans have also been led by running back CHRIS JOHNSON, who rushed for 800 yards in November, the most by a player in a calendar month in NFL history. Johnson, who had 154 rushing yards on 18 carries last week (8.6 average), is the third player in NFL history to rush for at least 125 yards in six consecutive games (Pro Football Hall of Famers EARL CAMPBELL and ERIC DICKERSON) and he’s the only one to average at least 5.0 yards per carry in all six contests. Johnson, who had an 85-yard touchdown run in Week 12, has now recorded an NFL-record three rush TDs of at least 85 yards this season. No other player has recorded three 85-yard touchdown runs in a career.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (10-1) AT ARIZONA CARDINALS (7-4) (Sunday, NBC, 8:20 PM ET)
“Right now, BRETT FAVRE is playing better than he did in his three previous MVP seasons,” says NBC analyst RODNEY HARRISON.
Favre will play in his 283rd consecutive regular-season game on Sunday night, passing JIM MARSHALL (282) for the longest streak in NFL history for a non-kicker/punter. Favre has led the Vikings to a 10-1 record and ranks second in the NFL with a 112.1 passer rating. He has thrown 24 touchdowns against just three interceptions this season, including 12 TDs and 0 INTs in November. The Vikings, who will travel to Arizona this weekend, can clinch a playoff spot and the NFC North this weekend.
The Cardinals, who sit atop the NFC West, own a 7-4 record and hold a two-game lead over San Francisco in the division. Arizona has won six of its past eight games.
“What happens over the next five weeks is going to be the story,” says Cardinals head coach KEN WHISENHUNT. “We’ve got a very tough opponent coming in this week and that’ll be a real test.”
Two of the league’s best wide receivers will be in the spotlight on Sunday night. Arizona’s LARRY FITZGERALD leads the NFC in receptions (75) and ties for the lead in receiving touchdowns (9). Minnesota’s SIDNEY RICE has a conference-best 964 receiving yards and 17.2 yards per catch average (minimum 50 catches).
BALTIMORE RAVENS (6-5) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (7-4) (Monday, ESPN, 8:30 PM ET)
It will be a Monday night showdown at Lambeau Field between two teams in the thick of the playoff race. Both clubs are coming off victories in Week 12. The Ravens prevailed in overtime against the division-rival Pittsburgh Steelers while the Packers were victorious on Thanksgiving Day at Detroit.
“The most important football is going to be played in December, that’s for sure,” says Baltimore head coach JOHN HARBAUGH. “We want to be the very best team we can be. And hopefully in December, we’re the best team we’ve been all year.”
Green Bay has won three games in a row and boasts the league’s top ranked defense (281.5 yards per game). Cornerback CHARLES WOODSON has played a large role in the team’s success, recording seven interceptions, including two touchdowns, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and two sacks.
“You want to be ranked No. 1 at the end of the season,” says Packers head coach MIKE MC CARTHY of his team’s defense. “But I think our defense is on the right pace to be the championship defense that we anticipate we’d have here. I think Baltimore’s running game, particularly their three running backs – RAY RICE, WILLIS MC GAHEE, LE’RON MC CLAIN – will be an excellent challenge for us. Our margin for error is going to be a lot less than it has been in the first 11 games because it’s December football now. This is the most important football that we’ll play all season.”