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Playoff contenders ground out victories Steelers, Bengals and Bucs improve postseason chances

In December, a running game can be an NFL team's best friend.

The ability to move on the ground Sunday helped Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay register important Week 14 victories in the wintry weather.

Jerome Bettis of the Steelers plowed through the muck for two touchdowns and 101 yards in a badly needed 21-9 victory over the Chicago Bears at Heinz Field. The Steelers tied Kansas City and San Diego at 8-5 in the AFC wild-card race.

"He's a mudder," said teammate Hines Ward. "Those were great field conditions for him."

With quarterback Carson Palmer frustrated in battling tricky winds at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals turned to Rudi Johnson, who ran 30 times for 169 yards, both season highs for him. Cincinnati won, 23-20, on a last-second field goal by Shayne Graham.

Tampa Bay beat the Carolina Panthers at their own game, pounding out 114 yards on the ground in a 20-10 victory in Charlotte. It left the teams tied for first in the NFC South. Cadillac Williams ran for both Tampa Bay touchdowns as he carried 29 times for 112 yards.

Playing in 55-degree weather in Jacksonville, the Indianapolis Colts ran for only 99 yards but got 324 passing yards and a pair of touchdown throws by Peyton Manning in a 26-18 victory to go to 13-0.

> Top Dog

Cowboys 31, Chiefs 28

Closing line: Cowboys (-3).

The scoop: Drew Bledsoe threw a 1-yard pass to tight end Dan Campbell with 22 seconds left to bring Dallas from behind for the third time in the game and stay one game behind the first-place New York Giants in the NFC East. The Chiefs wasted a 143-yard rushing game by Larry Johnson, who scored three of the four K.C. touchdowns.

Play of the Game: Defensive holding against Kansas City on fourth down, keeping alive the Cowboys' winning drive.

Next: Dallas (8-5) is at Washington (7-6). Kansas City (8-5) is at the New York Giants (9-4) on Saturday.

> Cliffhangers

Giants 26, Eagles 23

Closing line: Giants (-9).

The scoop: Jay Feely made all four of his field goal tries, including a 36-yarder with 3:55 left in overtime for the Giants. It came after Kendrick Allen recovered a fumble by Philadelphia quarterback Mike McMahon at the Eagles' 27. Rookie Ryan Moats ran for both Eagles touchdowns.

Play of the Game: Osi Umenyiora of the Giants sacked McMahon, causing the fumble before the winning kick.

Quote: "The music was eerie so I figured they were playing something like that." -- Feely about the replays of his recent missed field goals showing on the video screen before his final kick.

Next: Giants (9-4) are home to Kansas City (8-5) on Saturday. Philadelphia (5-8) hosts St. Louis (5-8).

Bengals 23, Browns 20

Closing line: Bengals (-12 1/2 ).

The scoop: The Bengals have won 10 games for the first time since 1988. Rookie quarterback Charlie Frye passed for and ran for the two Browns touchdowns.

Quote: "I haven't had double-digit wins since my second year in college." -- Bengals tackle Willie Anderson.

Next: Cincinnati (10-3) is at Detroit. Cleveland (4-9) is at Oakland (4-9).

Broncos 12, Ravens 10

Closing line: Broncos (-14 1/2 ).

The scoop: Denver survived with the help of four Baltimore turnovers.

Play of the Game: Kyle Johnson of the Broncos made a tip-toe catch in the front corner of the end zone for Denver's only touchdown.

Quote: "There are games you have to win ugly sometimes." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

Next: Denver (10-3) is at Buffalo (4-9) on Saturday night. Baltimore (4-9) is home to Green Bay next Monday.

Titans 13, Texans 10

Closing line: Titans (-7).

The scoop: Kris Brown hooked a 31-yard field goal short and wide left with no time left to allow Tennessee to win.

Play of the Game: After the Titans had gone ahead on a Rob Bironas field goal with 10 seconds left, they squibbed the kickoff to keep it away from Texans' return man Jerome Mathis. However, Todd Washington fielded the kick and pitched it to the rookie returner. Mathis took off and only a face mask penalty against Reynaldo Hill kept him from scoring. That put the ball at the Tennessee 13 for one final play with time expired.

Quote: "I thought we won, then I thought they brought it back. Then I thought the game was over, then I thought we were going to overtime. Then we ended up winning. It was crazy." -- Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Next: Tennessee (4-9) is home to Seattle (11-2). Houston (1-12) is home to Arizona (4-9).

Packers 16, Lions 13

Closing line: Packers (-6).

The scoop: Ryan Longwell kicked a 28-yard field goal, his third of the game, with 9:43 left in overtime for the Packers. Green Bay's winning drive was aided by a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty for a late hit out of bounds by Shawn Rogers of the Lions.

Next: Green Bay (3-10) is home to Baltimore (4-9) next Monday night. Detroit (4-9) is home to Cincinnati (10-3).

> Best of rest

Colts 26, Jaguars 18

Closing line: Colts (-9).

The scoop: The Colts have nothing left to play for in the regular season except for a try at matching the unbeaten regular season of the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Play of the Game: Manning's perfectly thrown pass to Harrison for a 65-yard touchdown play in the second quarter.

Quote: "Going 16-0 would be great, but it's not the most important thing," coach Tony Dungy said.

Next: Indianapolis (13-0) is home to San Diego (8-5). Jacksonville (9-4) is home to San Francisco (2-11).

Buccaneers 20, Panthers 10

Closing line: Panthers (-5 1/2 ).

The scoop: After losing the last five to Carolina, the Bucs beat up on the Panthers for a change, holding them to 82 yards rushing and not allowing a touchdown until the last 23 seconds.

Play of the Game: Ronde Barber's interception ending a Carolina scoring threat in the fourth quarter.

Quote: "Now they've got a one-game losing streak. You can go ask them about that streak." -- Bucs coach Jon Gruden.

Next: Tampa Bay (9-4) is at New England (8-5) on Saturday. Carolina (9-4) plays New Orleans (3-9) in Baton Rouge, La.

Steelers 21, Bears 9

Closing line: Steelers (-6 1/2 ).

The scoop: Bettis recorded his 61st career 100-yard game and first of the season as the Steelers snapped Chicago's eight-game winning streak. The Bears' defense generated no turnovers and Pittsburgh's three touchdowns matched the season high against the Bears.

Quote: "It's a one-game season every week for us. We've got to play like it's the playoffs, because we don't have a lot of room for error." -- Hines Ward of the Steelers.

Next: Pittsburgh (8-5) is at Minnesota (8-5). Chicago (9-4) is home to Atlanta (7-5).

Vikings 27, Rams 13

Closing line: Vikings (-7).

The scoop: The Vikings forced six turnovers and allowed only one touchdown as they won their sixth in a row.

Play of the Game: Isaac Bruce of the Rams stumbled coming on a pass pattern and Ryan Fitzpatrick's pass went right to Minnesota cornerback Brian Williams, who returned it to the Rams' 21 to set up a touchdown.

Buffalo buzz: Vikings linebacker Keith Newman, an ex-Bill, suffered a sprained right knee.

Next: Minnesota (8-5) is home to Pittsburgh (8-5). St. Louis (5-8) is home to Philadelphia (5-8).

Jets 26, Raiders 10

Closing line: Raiders (-3).

The scoop: The New York Jets played their first game without running back Curtis Martin since 1998. Mike Nugent kicked four field goals and third stringer Cedric Houston ran for 74 yards as New York ended a seven-game losing streak. Martin will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury that will require surgery. . . . With backup Marques Tuiasasopo at quarterback, the Raiders managed only 179 yards and turned the ball over four times.

Play of the Game: Brooks Bollinger threw a 4-yard pass to Justin McCareins for the Jets' first touchdown and a 19-3 lead.

Quote: "This is new for me, I'm like a fish out of water." -- Martin on his absence.

Next: The Jets (3-10) are at Miami (6-7). Oakland (4-9) is home to Cleveland (4-9).

Redskins 17, Cardinals 13

Closing line: Redskins (-4).

The scoop: Antonio Brown returned a kickoff 91 yards to give the Redskins the victory. The Cardinals lost three fumbles and Kurt Warner threw one interception.

Next: Washington (7-6) is home to Dallas (8-5). Arizona (4-9) is at Houston (1-12).

> Dog of the day

Seahawks 41, 49ers 3

Closing line: Seahawks (-16 1/2 ).

The scoop: Seattle followed its 42-0 win over Philadelphia last Monday with another rout. Matt Hasselbeck completed 21 of 25 for 226 yards and four touchdowns in just three quarters, and Shaun Alexander ran for 108 yards on 21 carries and his league-leading 23rd rushing touchdown. The NFL record is 27 by Priest Holmes of Kansas City in 2003.

Next: Seattle (11-2) is at Tennessee (4-9). San Francisco (2-11) is at Jacksonville (9-4).

News wire services contributed to this report.

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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