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Four grand finales highlight another wild week

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Jim Haslett of the Rams and Brad Childress of the Vikings saw their teams pull out last-second victories.


What did we learn from Week 6? Well, we certainly were reminded that anything can happen in the NFL, but that's nothing new. So what's new? How about four teams winning in the final 10 seconds of play? That's what the Falcons, Vikings, Texans and Rams did on Sunday, marking the first time since the merger in 1970 that as many as four games have been decided in that fashion. And that didn't even include the last-second field goal that sent the Dallas-Arizona game into overtime!

No wonder the NFL remains the most popular team sport in the world, and seems to increase in popularity every day.

In addition to the wild finishes in those four games, Week 6 also gave us the following:

» The first time the Cowboys have ever opened a game with a kickoff return for a touchdown against them.

» In that same game, the first time any NFL game has ended with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in overtime.

» Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson became the third-fastest player in league history to reach the 11,000-yard rushing plateau (only Eric Dickerson and Jim Brown did it quicker).

» San Diego, ranked 28th overall on defense coming into its Sunday night game against the Patriots, did not allow a TD for the first 54:42 of the game. The Chargers were ranked dead last in pass defense, but did not allow a passing TD to New England.

» The Eagles faced a 9-point deficit in the fourth quarter at San Francisco, and scored 23 unanswered points to win.

There was plenty to talk about in Week 6, but let's focus on the four fantastic finishes:

St. Louis 19, Washington 17

In shocking the red-hot Redskins, Jim Haslett became only the second of 14 interim head coaches since 2000 to win his first game. Haslett has tried many things in an effort to change the culture of the team and the organization. One of them was having all the off-field members of the organization join the players for lunch last week. There's no telling how that might have affected the team's play, but the bottom line is Sunday's game ended with Josh Brown kicking a 49-yard field goal with no time left on the clock to give the Rams their first win since Dec. 2, 2007.

The Rams had to overcome a 15-yard misconduct penalty against Richie Incognito for saying something to an official that apparently didn't go over well. This game was a classic example of the competitive balance in the NFL. The Redskins had just won two consecutive road games against NFC East opponents, and had four straight wins overall. The previously-winless Rams had allowed 36.7 points per game prior to Sunday.

Despite the fourth-quarter craziness, the play that hurt the Redskins the most occurred in the final 20 seconds of second quarter. With Washington leading 7-3 and in position to add to the lead, Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell had a first-down pass blocked. Guard Pete Kendall caught the batted pass, but he fumbled while trying to advance it. Rams safety O.J. Atogwe picked up the ball and ran 75 yards for touchdown. They don't keep stats on this sort of thing, but I firmly believe that if you look back in history, you will see that teams that score right before halftime win a high percentage of those games.

Haslett will do a good job of getting his team ready to play as they return home this week to face the Cowboys. Dallas needs to be wary.

Atlanta 22, Chicago 20

On the second play from scrimmage, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed a 12-yard out to Michael Jenkins for a first down. On the second-to-last play of the game, with 11 seconds left and his team trailing by one point, Ryan completed the same pass to Jenkins -- this time for a 26-yard gain that set up the game-winning field goal by Jason Elam.

That sequence occurred just after Bears quarterback Kyle Orton hit Rashied Davis for a go-ahead touchdown with 11 seconds to play. After winning only four games all of last season, the Falcons already have won four of their first six games this year and are tied for first place in the NFC South. It should be noted that they are 0-2 in the division, which serves as the first tie-breaker. But the real story is that Atlanta has clearly found a franchise quarterback in Ryan.

The Falcons' front office deserves a lot of credit for the selection of Ryan with the third overall pick in the draft. The choice was hotly debated, and there were members of the front office, who lobbied hard for Ryan, saying that his talent and charisma would go a long way to changing the Falcons franchise.

I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Ryan in New York City prior to the draft, and he convinced me that he could handle the mental part of the game -- which is the most important trait in determining the success of a NFL quarterback. Since then, he has convinced me that he has the physical element to go along with it.

Note: If the vote were today, Ryan would most likely be the offensive rookie of the year. He does not have a clause in his contract that pays him extra money solely based on that award. However, he has a laundry list of easy-to-achieve, stat-related incentives that -- when combined with winning rookie of the year -- could be worth up to $3.8 million.

Minnesota 12, Detroit 10

I don't know that I have ever heard a home crowd chanting for the team to fire its head coach as the team was rallying to win a game that would move it into a first-place tie in the division. But that's exactly what happened Sunday to Brad Childress and the Vikings. Minnesota has won two games in the past seven days to move into a first-place tie in the NFC North, but the home crowd was calling for Childress' dismissal as they struggled against winless Detroit.

The Lions arrived in Minnesota allowing 33.7 points per game and played without their starting quarterback, Jon Kitna. Even so, the Vikings needed the help of a highly questionable pass interference call against Detroit corner Leigh Bodden in the final seconds, allowing Ryan Longwell to kick the game-winning field goal with 9 seconds remaining. The Vikings had 392 yards of offense, including 111 yards rushing by Adrian Peterson and one of the longest pass plays in team history -- an 86-yarder from Gus Frerotte to Bernard Berrian -- but the offense managed just 10 points.

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images
Falcons rookie Matt Ryan has demonstrated he has both the mental and physical tools to be a big-time NFL quarterback.

The other two points came from the defense, in one of the most unusual plays you will ever see: Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky, on a third-down play near his own goal line, dropped back to pass and stepped out of the end zone for a safety. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen was effusive in his effort to make sure referee Tony Corrente was aware of what happened -- but it really wasn't hard to miss. After the game, Orlovsky was quoted as saying he was an idiot because of the play.

And just as Orlovsky was oblivious to where he was when he stepped out of the end zone, Childress said he was too busy during the game to hear the hometown fans chanting to fire him.

Houston 29, Miami 23

This game had something for everyone, including another big play from Miami's "Wildcat" formation. At the 6-minute mark in the first quarter, Miami lined up with three running backs -- Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams and Patrick Cobbs -- in the backfield, with quarterback Chad Pennington flanked out to the right. Brown took a direct snap and handed off to Williams, running left to right. Williams then flipped it to Pennington, who completed a 53-yard touchdown pass to Cobbs, who had slipped out of the backfield.

(Note: In Sunday's New York Times, Judy Battista had an excellent piece on the Wildcat formation and the problems it presents to defenses.)

That TD pass to Cobbs gave Miami a 7-0 lead, but the previously-winless Texans hung tough and ended up winning the game when quarterback Matt Schaub scored on a 3-yard draw play with three seconds remaining. Andre Johnson set a franchise record with 178 receiving yards. He also had an acrobatic catch on a fourth-down play.

Schaub started the game 7-for-7 passing -- except that two of those seven were caught by the Dolphins. Still Schaub was terrific in engineering the winning drive, which started at Houston's 26-yard line with 1:40 to play and two timeouts.

Extra points

Peyton Manning started his 165th consecutive game Sunday and Indianapolis won for first time in Lucas Oil Stadium. … Saints QB Drew Brees completed his first 16 passes and ended up with 320 passing yards. He is on pace for 5,312 yards for the season, which would be shatter Dan Marino's NFL record of 5,084. … Two veteran kickers signed with new teams as unrestricted free agents this offseason -- Josh Brown and Jason Elam. Both kicked game-winning field goals Sunday as time expired. … Two NFC divisions have three-way ties for first place -- North and South. … Houston's win over Miami gives them a 4-0 all-time record in the series; the Texans are the only NFL team that Miami has never beaten. … For the first time this season, Carolina allowed a 100-yard rusher (Warrick Dunn) and a rushing TD. Offensively, the Panthers had averaged 123 rushing yards per game, but they were held to just 40 yards against Tampa Bay. … Thomas Jones scored three TDs for the Jets -- one more than he had all of last season. … Kurt Warner's passer rating Sunday was 104.3 -- not bad considering it was 39.6 after the first half. … Jacksonville's best offensive drive of the game Sunday did not result in a score. Leading 24-17, the Jaguars took over at their 27-yard line with 5:46. They proceeded on a 13-play drive, in with Denver used all three of its timeouts, ending with QB David Garrard taking a knee three times to run out the clock. It was only the second time this season that a game has ended with a QB taking three straight kneel-downs.

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