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Swear and tear in AFC

Miami's win over New England elicits relief in Denver, disappointment in San Diego and cursing from Brady

December 16, 2013|SAM FARMER

The Miami Dolphins beat the New England Patriots on Sunday for the first time in the last eight tries.

That prompted high-fives in Denver, high anxiety in San Diego . . . and an extremely low word count in Tom Brady's postgame news conference.

The Patriots quarterback, blissfully inexperienced at losing games in December, answered two questions at the podium -- a total of 74 words, one unprintable -- before excusing himself in frustration.

"We had plenty of chances all day," said Brady, who threw for 364 yards and two touchdowns in the 24-20 defeat. "We make some good plays, and then we make plenty of [expletive] plays. Thank you."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, December 18, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Pro football: A photo caption that accompanied a column in the Dec. 16 Sports section said hat Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn threw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against Dallas. He threw four TD passes in the second half, two of them in the fourth quarter.

It was short and semi-sweet, unlike the far-reaching ripple effect of the game's outcome. While the 8-6 Dolphins stayed in the thick of the race for the final AFC wild-card spot, they nudged that berth further out of the reach of the Chargers and others. The No. 6 seed is rounding into a two-team race between Miami and 7-6 Baltimore, which plays at Detroit on Monday night and has the tiebreaker over the Dolphins.

Why are they cheering in Denver? Because, with New England losing, the Broncos have regained the upper hand for the No. 1 seeding in the AFC and home-field advantage through the playoffs. If it comes down to a New England-Denver game with a trip to the Super Bowl hanging in the balance, you can bet that Peyton Manning would want to be playing at Sports Authority Field and not Gillette Stadium.

The Broncos had temporarily lost the inside track on the top seed when they fell at home to San Diego on Thursday. Now, at 11-3, they have a one-game lead over the Patriots with two to play.

In keeping their postseason hopes alive, the Dolphins won their third in a row, and for a week at least denied the Patriots their fifth consecutive AFC East title.

Brady, who directed his team to comeback victories in the previous three weeks, threw five passes from inside the Miami 20 in the final 27 seconds. Four of them fell incomplete -- although one of those was nullified by a defensive penalty -- and the fifth was intercepted in the end zone.

Picking off the pass was Michael Thomas, a reserve safety who was making his NFL debut after being signed last week off San Francisco's practice squad.

"I didn't know what his first name was," said teammate Jared Odrick, who might not have known Thomas' last name, either, if it weren't across his shoulders. "That's being thrown into the fire and reacting. That's a pure athlete."

So 41 years after the undefeated Dolphins had the No-Name Defense, they now have the no-name defensive back, who made himself known Sunday.

In like Flynn

Matt Flynn couldn't cut it with the Seahawks, Raiders and Bills, but there's something about the way he plays when he's in a Packers uniform. He threw four touchdown passes in the second half to lead Green Bay to the largest comeback in franchise history, erasing a 23-point halftime deficit to win, 37-36.

Flynn is standing in for Aaron Rodgers, who is recovering from a broken collarbone and has not been cleared to play. Rodgers was able to practice last week, however.

It was just the second time the Cowboys have blown a lead of 23 or more, and the loss has rekindled the Tony Romo-must-go talk, as he had two crucial interceptions with the game on the line. The defeat also cranks up the heat on Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett. The Cowboys (7-7) can still win the NFC East by winning their final two games.

Who's the boss?

In the last two weeks, most of the NFL's elite teams have lost a game. That's New England, Seattle, Denver, New Orleans and Carolina. Kansas City has won two in a row, but the Chiefs lost three straight before that. San Francisco has the league's longest winning streak at four games.

Every division leader in the AFC has gone 3-2 in the last five games.

It all underscores this: No one is bulletproof in this league. Every team has its vulnerabilities, and that probably means home-field advantage is going to be that much more important in the postseason.

NFC Best

The NFC West was 4-0 on Sunday, with three of those wins coming on the road, and the fourth -- St. Louis over New Orleans, 27-16 -- being one of the two big upsets of the day (along with Green Bay's winning at Dallas).

Because San Francisco won, Seattle didn't clinch the division with its 23-0 shutout of the New York Giants. But the Seahawks are on track for the No. 1 seeding in the NFC, a scary thought considering Russell Wilson is 14-0 in his career at home. Even without suspended cornerback Walter Thurmond -- who will be back for the playoffs -- Seattle has the top-ranked pass defense.

One that got away

Talk about a missed opportunity. Even with Minnesota's Adrian Peterson out because of a foot injury, Philadelphia was steamrollered on the road by the Vikings, 48-30.

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