Winners, losers and more: Surprising return

Tom Brady is going to top Peyton Manning's single-season touchdown record. Brett Favre has surpassed yet another Dan Marino mark (all-time passing yards). Randy Moss is chasing Jerry Rice's 22 touchdown receptions in a season. And Adrian Peterson owns the single-game rushing record that once belonged to O.J. Simpson and Walter Payton. Yet none of those feats is more astonishing than what Micheal Spurlock – who? – accomplished Sunday.

Spurlock, literally, went where no man (wearing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey) had gone before – to the end zone following an opponents' kickoff. As a result, the Bucs no longer reside next to the New York Mets (zero no-hitters) and Arizona Wildcats (no Rose Bowl appearances) in the sporting oddities hall of fame.

Tampa Bay, known more for failure – such as going 0-14 in 1976 and winless in its first 26 overall games – than success in its 32-year history, had returned 1,864 kickoffs before Spurlock broke through with its first score. Even better for the Buccaneers is that the touchdown opened the floodgates to a 37-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons as Tampa Bay (9-5) clinched the NFC South title.

The celebrations weren't limited to Tampa, Fla., as we share observations from around the league in Week 15:


The Jacksonville Jaguars might have accomplished a lot on both a team and individual front Sunday. The Jaguars (10-4) finally came through in a "big game," warming up to the idea of playing in the snow and cold while running over the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-22. Fred Taylor – continuing to make his case for the Pro Bowl on the field a week after casting 10 ballots for himself – sliced up Pittsburgh's No. 1 defense to the tune of 147 yards and one touchdown. In the past month, Jacksonville has beaten Pittsburgh and San Diego – one of which they'll most likely face in the wild-card round.

Speaking of the San Diego Chargers, they continue to make the case that a Colts-Patriots AFC title game is not automatic. LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles each gained 100-plus yards on the ground and scored twice during a 51-14 victory over the deflated Detroit Lions, marking San Diego's fourth straight win. With Pittsburgh's second straight loss, the Chargers (9-5) are now in position to claim the AFC's No. 3 and possibly matchup with Indianapolis in the divisional round.

If NBC hasn't already exercised the flexible schedule option for Week 17, it should consider the Cleveland Browns' game against the San Francisco 49ers for that Sunday night slot. While not necessarily a scintillating matchup on paper, the Browns have been full of last-second drama this season (see: at Raiders, vs. Seahawks, at Steelers, at Ravens and at Cardinals). The latest exhibit was during Sunday's snowy mess against the Buffalo Bills in which Cleveland (9-5) had to make a red zone stop on its final defensive possession during an 8-0 win to inch closer to a playoff berth and stay alive in the AFC North race.

Cam Cameron might have saved his job and Greg Camarillo scored the game-winner, but Jason Taylor was the hero of the day for the Miami Dolphins (1-13) as they finally captured their first victory of the season. Taylor had a pair of sacks, blocked Matt Stover's 50-yard field goal attempt to end the first half and made a pivotal quarterback hurry and tackle of Willis McGahee in the fourth quarter of the 22-16 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens.

The Indianapolis Colts (12-2) continue to win ugly, becoming the first team in NFL history with five straight seasons of 12 or more victories after defeating the Oakland Raiders 21-14. Indy officially now has the luxury of resting even more of their ailing plays after locking up their fifth straight AFC South title and clinching a first-round bye.

Forget the slogan "any given Sunday." Jim Johnson "made miracles happen" as the Philadelphia Eagles (6-8) stunned the Dallas Cowboys 10-6. Specifically, Johnson concocted enough exotic blitzes and schemes that forced Tony Romo into three interceptions – amazing considering Philly had only registered two in its previous eight games. Perhaps even more amazing, Brian Westbrook had enough foresight to fall down at the 1-yard line instead of going in for the sure touchdown, so the Eagles could run out the clock without giving Dallas another shot.

With all of the talk of Reggie Bush and Vince Young vs. Mario Williams, little has been said about Marques Colston bouncing back from last year's second-half injury troubles and avoiding the sophomore slump. Colston had eight catches for 114 yards and one touchdown to go over the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season as the New Orleans Saints (7-7) stayed alive in the NFC wild-card picture with a 31-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Of course, we can't disregard the New England Patriots (14-0) clinching home-field advantage in the AFC and remaining perfect following an ugly 20-10 win over the New York Jets. However, Sunday's weather conditions at Gillette Stadium beg the question: Are the Patriots equipped to survive abandoning their passing attack in ugly outdoor January conditions? Laurence Maroney (26-104, 1 TD) was good, but the Patriots (35-131) weren't great on the ground against New York and all of the other currently seeded AFC playoff teams except Cleveland have better run games than New England.


Great effort by the Jets Sunday, but also a tremendous illustration on what separates the good from the bad. On four trips inside of New England's 20-yard line, the Jets' drives ended with: an incomplete pass on fourth-and-2; a Chris Baker fumble; a Mike Nugent 33-yard field goal; and a 35-yard miss by Nugent. It's kind of hard to pull off the major upset, or even win on a consistent basis, when you leave so many points on the field.

Does Brian Billick care to reiterate that he's staying put? Ultimately, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti might strongly believe that Billick isn't most responsible for the team's eight-game losing streak, but how could he possibly tell himself "there's absolutely no better option" without at least exploring the matter?

Nice way the Falcons have of showing Bobby Petrino they're better off without him: 5 first downs, 133 total yards and 17:01 time of possession. Arthur Blank should hope his team never gets this riled up at someone's departure again.

While no team should get excited about the prospect of having to slow down Adrian Peterson, the one-dimensional Seattle Seahawks offense may very well be rooting for a first-round matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Shaun Alexander and the running game (14-44) were anemic during a 13-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers in which neither team scored in the first three quarters. Minnesota's Sybil-like defense is first at stopping the run, but dead last against the pass, so the Seahawks would likely feel at ease drawing up a game plan that calls for no rushing plays.


Why commentators can't come up with something more insightful than, "Whatever team gets off to the best start today probably has the best chance of winning," as Rich Gannon said at the open of the Ravens-Dolphins clash.

Why linebacker Joey Porter had the responsibility of covering wide receiver Yamon Figurs in the middle of the field on an obvious pass play (third-and-9). The result: a 36-yard reception by Figurs.

How Panthers wide receiver Drew Carter is supposed to "do a better job of going back for the ball" – as an announcer asked – on a slant pattern with the defender shielding him.

How the Patriots so successfully turn half the players on their roster into multi-positional threats? The latest example: wide receiver Kelley Washington blocking a punt that led to the Patriots' second and final touchdown.

How the referees missed Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin leaving his feet and spearing tight end Matt Schobel, who left the game with a head injury after the first-quarter collision.

What Tony Dungy and defensive coordinator Ron Meeks had to be thinking as they watched the Raiders go on a 20-play, nearly 12-minute, 99-yard touchdown drive in the first half.

How it took so long for the Lions to pull Jon Kitna. Did Rod Marinelli and Mike Martz think Kitna was going to bring them back after his third interception put them in a 27-0 hole with 8:23 left in the first half?

How defensive teams seem to never come up with Tony Romo's fumbles? He had two on Sunday, with the Cowboys recovering both.

With the ball at their own 43, why the Raiders did not bring in JaMarcus Russell so he could heave one to the end zone to end the first half.