NFL roundup: Sunday's action on the gridiron
Hester tied an NFL record with his fourth kickoff return for a touchdown, and Manning ran back an interception 54 yards to lead Chicago to a 23-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on a frigid Sunday afternoon. Chicago has a five-game lead on the Vikings with four games remaining, and also has the NFC's best record by two games.
Elsewhere in the NFL Sunday, it was: Cowboys 23, Giants 20; Seahawks 23, Broncos 20; Jets 38, Packers 10; Falcons 24, Redskins 14; Cardinals 34, Rams 20; Titans 20, Colts 17; Chargers 24, Bills 21; Saints 34, 49ers 10; Patriots 28, Lions 21; and Browns 31, Chiefs 28.
At Chicago, the Bears (10-2) overcame another shaky performance by quarterback Rex Grossman. The Vikings couldn't overcome Brad Johnson's, however.
With the temperature around -7 C and wind chill in single digits, Grossman did little to stop the debate about whether he should start. Johnson was replaced.
Grossman was 6-of-19 for 34 yards and threw three interceptions for the second straight week. He has 14 interceptions in the last seven games. Johnson was 11-of-26 with 73 yards and four interceptions before being lifted for Brooks Bollinger late in the third quarter.
At East Rutherford, N.J., newly signed kicker Martin Gramatica booted 46-yard field goal with one second left to give the Cowboys (8-4) a two-game lead in the NFC East. Gramatica's winning kick went straight through the uprights with plenty of power, more than making up for his wide-right miss from 44 yards to end the Cowboys' opening drive.
The winning score was set up by a 42-yard pass by Tony Romo to Jason Witten and came just over a minute after the Giants tied the game at 20 on a five-yard pass from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress.
Gramatica, who also kicked field goals of 41 and 35 yards, was signed last week after the Cowboys cut Mike Vanderjagt.
It was the fourth straight loss for the Giants (6-6) and the fourth win in five games for Dallas since Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe at quarterback at halftime of a 36-22 loss to New York on Oct. 23. He finished 20-of-34 for 257 yards.
Seahawks 23, Broncos 20
At Denver, Josh Brown tied an NFL single-season record with his fourth winning field goal in the final minute, nailing a 50-yarder with four seconds left to give Seattle the win.
Rookie defensive lineman Darryl Tapp returned Jay Cutler's first interception 25 yards for a touchdown and the Seahawks (8-4) took advantage of five turnovers to send the Broncos (7-5) to their third straight loss.
Seattle started its winning drive from its 14 with 2:31 left after the Broncos had tied it at 20 on Cutler's 71-yard touchdown toss to fellow rookie Brandon Marshall, who broke three tackles on the play.
Denver lost middle linebacker Al Wilson to a sprained neck in the fourth quarter - Wilson was carted off the field - and kicker Jason Elam appeared to hurt his left leg on a fake field goal run just before halftime.
Jets 38, Packers 10
At Green Bay, Wis., Chad Pennington and the Jets took apart the Packers' defence and stoked their hopes of an improbable playoff run.
Pennington put together three touchdown drives of 70 yards or more in the second quarter and the Jets (7-5) cruised.
New York built a 31-0 halftime lead as snow flurries floated to the ground and boos showered down from the stands. Pennington, who was 25-of-35 for 263 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, connected with eight receivers. Cedric Houston carried 22 times for a career-high 105 yards and two touchdowns. The Packers are 4-8.
Brett Favre's season-long struggles with passing accuracy continued as the three-time MVP was 24-of-47 for 214 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Falcons 24, Redskins 14
At Landover, Md., the Falcons faced a big first-half deficit and were headed toward their fifth straight loss. Then came a 24-point rally, highlighted by a pair of big plays in the open field.
Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn? Nope. Defensive lineman Chauncey Davis and rookie running back Jerious Norwood.
Davis' 41-yard rumble after his first career interception set up one touchdown, and Norwood's moves embarrassed several would-be tacklers on a 69-touchdown run.
The NFL's leading rushing team ran for 256 yards, led by Norwood (107), Dunn (87) and Vick (59). The victory put the Falcons (6-6) back in the serious hunt for a playoff berth. The Redskins (4-8) have lost three of four.
Cardinals 34, Rams 20
At St. Louis, Matt Leinart knew what to do with all those St. Louis mistakes.
Marcel Shipp scored three touchdowns, Edgerrin James had 115 yards rushing, and Leinart won for the second time in seven pro starts, capitalizing on the Rams' season-high 126 yards in penalties.
Marc Bulger threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns, but also had three interceptions to add to woes that contributed to a sixth loss in seven games for the Rams (5-7). Bulger has three touchdown passes and six interceptions the last four games.
Two of the 10 calls against the Rams led to scores by Arizona (3-9) on the next play. Larry Fitzgerald caught an 11-yard touchdown pass one play after a 34-yard pass interference on Fakhir Brown in the second quarter, and Shipp scored on a 6-yard run one play after Corey Chavous' interference penalty meant a 27-yard gain for the Cardinals.
Titans 20, Colts 17
At Nashville, Tenn., Tennessee has tapped into a major vein of comeback magic.
Rob Bironas kicked a 60-yard field goal - the franchise's longest ever - with seven seconds left, and the Titans beat the Colts for the first time since December 2002 and posted their second straight amazing comeback.
The team that tied for the NFL's second-biggest comeback in the final 10 minutes last week against the New York Giants struck again against the Colts (10-2), who had lost only four of their previous 36 games.
The Titans (5-7) didn't trail by 21 this time, but they were down 14-0 in the first half before starting this comeback just before halftime. They intercepted Peyton Manning twice, and Vince Young threw for two touchdowns and used his legs to help keep the ball away from the two-time NFL MVP.
Chargers 24, Bills 21
At Orchard Park, N.Y., LaDainian Tomlinson was the ideal tonic for a blustery winter afternoon in Buffalo. The Chargers' defence was pretty hot, too.
Tomlinson had 178 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns, helping the Chargers (10-2) extend their winning streak to six. It was Tomlinson's sixth straight 100-yard game and seventh of the season.
With a 51-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, Tomlinson joined Eric Dickerson as the second NFL player to reach 1,200 yards rushing in each of his first six NFL seasons. The two scores gave Tomlinson 26 for the year, inching him within two of matching the single-season record set by Seattle's Shaun Alexander last year.
The Chargers' defence then did the rest in linebacker Shawne Merriman's first game back from a four-game steroid suspension. Merriman finished with six tackles and two sacks, while the defence forced four turnovers. The Bills fell to (5-7).
Patriots 28, Lions 21
At Foxborough, Mass., Corey Dillon saved the sloppy Patriots from a stunning upset.
His three short touchdown runs overcame 10 penalties, four turnovers and a safety. The Patriots didn't lead in the second half until Dillon scored on a four-yard run with 2:33 left.
Mike Vrabel's interception, his second of the game, sealed the victory against the Lions (2-10), who have the NFL's worst record over the last six years at 23-69.
The Patriots (9-3) struggled against a team that had nine losses one week after they beat a team with nine wins on the same field in a 17-13 victory over the Chicago Bears. New England also had trouble hanging onto the ball then, committing five turnovers.
Saints 34, 49ers 10
At New Orleans, Reggie Bush had the breakout game New Orleans (8-4) was waiting for, and the Saints maintained their hold on first place in the NFL South.
Bush tied Joe Horn's franchise record by scoring all four of the Saints' touchdowns and gained 168 total yards.
Most of Bush's gains were modest, but his stunning acceleration, fancy footwork and leaping ability were evident in all of his touchdowns and numerous drive-sustaining plays. He finished with 131 yards on nine receptions and 37 yards on 10 rushes.
San Francisco (5-7) was as close as 14-10 early in the third quarter after Alex Smith connected with Antonio Bryant for a 48-yard score. But Smith was done in on two subsequent passes intended for Bryant, both of which were intercepted by Mike McKenzie and led to 10 points for New Orleans.
Drew Brees was 17-of-28 for 186 yards. Deuce McAllister rushed for 135 yards on 27 carries.
Browns 31, Chiefs 28
At Cleveland, Derek Anderson and the Cleveland came out of nowhere.
The Browns' backup quarterback threw two touchdown passes in the final nine minutes of regulation and ran 33 yards in overtime to set up Phil Dawson's 33-yard field goal.
Anderson had never thrown an NFL pass and had taken only one snap before Sunday. However, he replaced injured starter Charlie Frye and rallied the Browns (4-8), who capped a dysfunctional week with only their second December win at home since 1999.
Dawson's winning kick with 7:25 remaining in OT came after the gangly Anderson scrambled right, broke a tackle and lumbered his way down the Browns sideline to the Kansas City 12.
Trent Green threw four TD passes - two to Tony Gonzalez - for the Chiefs (7-5), who had their AFC playoff hopes damaged. Green was 24-of-32 for 297 yards.
Jaguars 24, Dolphins 10
At Miami, the Jaguars (7-5) won for only the second time on the road and ended a four-game winning streak by the Dolphins (5-7), likely ensuring Miami will miss the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.
David Garrard led Jacksonville on touchdown drives of 95 and 91 yards, while Miami's Joey Harrington threw two costly interceptions and was sacked four times.
Matt Jones made six catches for 128 yards and a score.
Steelers 20, Buccaneers 3
At Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger bounced back from one of the worst games of his three-season career to throw touchdown passes to two tight ends - both times after the Bucs (3-9) turned over the ball.
The Steelers (5-7) began the game with a league-high 30 turnovers, but this time limited themselves to one giveaway, while Tampa Bay gave away the ball four times in losing its sixth in seven games. The Bucs have scored only five touchdowns in losing all six road games this season.
Texans 23, Raiders 14
At Oakland, Calif., Demarcus Faggins scored on a 58-yard fumble return and Houston (4-8) used two long returns and a pair of fumbles by Randal Williams to set up 16 more points in the second half.
In a season full of ugly losses by the Raiders (2-10), this one gets its own special place. In the first game since John Shoop took over the play-calling duties from Tom Walsh, Oakland turned the ball over five times, missed three field goals, allowed five sacks and had only one offensive score.
David Carr finished 7-of-14 for 32 yards, failing to complete a pass in the final 32 minutes for the Texans. He was sacked five times for 37 yards, leaving Houston with negative-five yards passing - its fewest ever and the fewest allowed by the Raiders.