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December 30, 2002
PITTSBURGH -- Two turnovers by Tommy Maddox converted into touchdowns. More than 400 yards allowed to a losing team. Another squandered big lead at home.
Somehow, Pittsburgh found all this the perfect way to tune up for next weekend's AFC wild-card playoff game against Cleveland.
The Steelers rallied from 11 points down in the fourth quarter with the help of Baltimore penalties and turnovers and two Amos Zereoue touchdown runs Sunday.
Despite giving up 422 yards to the league's 27th-ranked offense, the Steelers say winning the way they did can only help them in the playoffs. Even if they can't expect to win this way in the postseason.
"But if you look at our last six games, we played only one bad one," coach Bill Cowher said, referring to a 24-6 upset loss to Houston.
Jeff Blake's 20-yard score to Chester Taylor gave Baltimore a 31-20 lead with 12:57 left after Anthony Mitchell's interception. Before that, James Trapp's pickoff of a pass fumbled into his hands by Steelers fullback Dan Kreider led to Blake's 31-yard pass to Todd Heap that put Baltimore up 24-20.
But Pittsburgh, which lost 17-point leads in successive home games, rallied with Zereoue's 5-yard run midway through the fourth and Maddox's go-ahead 8-yard score to Antwaan Randle El with 2:29 left.
Blake's first-down pass from the Steelers 11 into double coverage was intercepted by Dewayne Washington with 14 seconds left.
DENVER -- The Broncos' season was all but over before Denver even took the field. Rookie Clinton Portis proved he's just getting started.
Portis secured his spot as the latest in a long line of superb Denver rookie running backs, running for a career-high 228 yards and two touchdowns Sunday.
Following in the footsteps of Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson, Portis set team rookie records with 1,508 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He finished with seven 100-yard games, had the fifth-highest rushing total by a rookie in history and has a chance to become Denver's second offensive rookie of the year in three seasons (Anderson won in 2000).
"He looked like Terrell Davis," Denver defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "That's the biggest compliment you can give a running back."
Portis had 120 yards on eight carries by halftime and scored on a 4-yard run off left tackle to put Denver up 30-7 midway through the fourth.
The Broncos started knowing they were already out of the postseason. Coach Mike Shanahan gave his team the news just before kickoff.
Arizona went 1-9 after a 4-2 start. The injury-plagued Cardinals lost at least 11 games for the eighth time in their 15 seasons in Arizona.
"You found out that these guys will fight, but at the same time we've got to get better in some areas," said Arizona coach Dave McGinnis, who had 13 players out for the season.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As Buffalo looks forward to a promising future, Cincinnati faces another offseason of uncertainty and frustration.
Along with clinching the league's worst record and the right to the No. 1 pick in April's draft, the 2-14 Bengals set franchise records for fewest wins and most losses in a season.
"It's not any fun for any of us," Bengals coach Dick LeBeau said. "Life is about living. We aren't happy with what happened this year, but we are looking forward to 2003 and getting things straightened around."
Whether LeBeau will be around to be part of the perennial rebuilding process is unclear. Bengals owner Mike Brown is expected to make a decision on his coaching staff as early as this week.
It's a different story in Buffalo, where the Bills made a five-game improvement and were in the playoff race until last week.
Drew Bledsoe had a strong finish to cap his first season in Buffalo. He went 23-of-31 for 231 yards with a touchdown and scored on a 7-yard run. Eric Moulds had nine catches for 75 yards and a touchdown, and became the first Bills receiver, and 39th in history, with 100 receptions.
The game was over before halftime as the Bills scored on four of their first five possessions to open a 20-0 lead.
"I think we have something to build on," Moulds said. "We wanted to play hard. We could have finished the season 7-9 or 8-8, and 8-8 sounds better."
DETROIT -- While Minnesota finished strong, the Lions sank. Daunte Culpepper threw two touchdowns and ran for another as the Vikings held on Sunday.
After starting 0-4, they ended the season with a three-game win streak to surpass last season's victory total by one.
"It may not mean a lot to a lot of people, but being able to finish with one more win than last year gives you something that you can reach out and touch," coach Mike Tice said. "We probably are a little bit better than our record."
The Lions improved on last season's 2-14 record, but they lost their final eight and have put together the worst two-year stretch (5-27) in franchise history.
Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg was asked why he should be back.
"I'm not answering those questions," he said. "But I will say this franchise is primed for some success."
Gary Anderson's 18-yard field goal put the Vikings up eight with 1:09 left, but Mike McMahon's third touchdown, a 19-yarder to Scotty Anderson, got Detroit within two with 13 seconds left. But his two-point conversion pass was incomplete.
Culpepper, who was 21-of-29 for 312 yards, injured his left foot but said he wanted another opportunity.
"We definitely wish we had a chance at the postseason," said Culpepper, who also led Minnesota to victories against Miami and New Orleans this month, "because we feel we could make some noise."
LANDOVER, Md. -- Nobody was happy Sunday as Dallas and Washington ended disappointing seasons.
In Washington's locker room, Steve Spurrier gave the game ball to Dan Snyder. But Spurrier wasn't happy about a messy victory against a bad team, and the owner got a souvenir from his first losing season.
In Dallas' locker room, Dave Campo talked about the game as if it were any other, even as owner Jerry Jones said a decision was coming "immediately" about his future.
In a nine-turnover game, the Redskins beat their fiercest rival for the first time since Oct.13, 1997, a span of 10 games. LaVar Arrington scored a touchdown and set up another with fumble recoveries.
"Obviously, their coach is probably going to be canned (today)," Spurrier said. "He knows it, and so it's hard to get his team really riled up to play. We had a chance to beat them pretty good, but we allowed them to stay in the game."
Dallas stayed in the game because of five Redskins turnovers and scores by rookies. Roy Williams returned an interception 85 yards, and Antonio Bryant caught a 46-yarder in a seven-catch, 170-yard day.
The only touchdown drive of the first half was 24 yards, coming after Renaldo Wynn forced Chad Hutchinson to fumble on a sack. Arrington recovered, and Kenny Watson scored on a 5-yard run.
The Redskins scored again when Bruce Smith blindsided Hutchinson, forcing a fumble that rolled into the end zone and Arrington recovered.
SAN DIEGO -- A season that started with such promise ended in utter collapse for the Chargers.
Denied a playoff spot earlier, San Diego was at least within reach of its first winning record since 1995. All it had to do was protect a 14-point lead with 81/2 minutes left.
That, too, was rudely ripped away when Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck led a comeback. He scored the tying touchdown on a 1-yard sneak with one second left in regulation and Rian Lindell kicked a 24-yard field goal with 5:02 left in overtime Sunday.
"We just kept putting our foot on the throttle, our receivers kept making plays and I think it demoralized them," Hasselbeck said.
Did it ever.
Hasselbeck threw for a career-high and team record 449 yards, completing 36-of-53, with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one of them on the first drive in overtime. Seattle's 591 yards were the second-most ever against the Chargers.
With Hasselbeck suddenly hot, the Chargers lost a 28-14 lead with 8:37 left.
It was a miserable finish for the Chargers, who started 6-1 under coach Marty Schottenheimer but lost seven of their last nine games, including their final four.
They were mathematically alive entering the day, but were eliminated when Cleveland beat Atlanta in an early game.
"You have to learn how to win ballgames," strong safety Rodney Harrison said. "Right now, we don't know how to finish games."
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