Staying alive

The Baltimore Sun

The four survivors of wild-card weekend delivered drama, defense and enough big plays to make this an NFL week to remember.

Who can forget LaDainian Tomlinson being rejected - stonewalled, really - at the goal line by Tennessee Titans linebacker Stephen Tulloch, and then, standing upright, extending the ball across the pile of bodies for a crucial touchdown yesterday as the San Diego Chargers finally won a home playoff game, 17-6?

Or David Garrard's quarterback draw for 32 yards on fourth-and-two in the fourth quarter, a play that allowed the Jacksonville Jaguars to escape Pittsburgh with a pulsating 31-29 victory?

The sight of Marcus Trufant fielding Todd Collins' pass as if it were a punt and returning it 78 yards down the sideline for a Seattle touchdown was another memorable play in the Seahawks' 35-14 win. It was the final blow in the Washington Redskins' memorable season, a blow from which they couldn't recover.

When roll call for the divisional round was complete, we were left with intriguing stories of survival. But in truth, each of this weekend's four winners will have to play considerably better to have a chance on the road next week.

The Chargers, who won in spite of coach Norv Turner, will have to remember the importance of Tomlinson (only seven touches in the first half) much earlier against the Indianapolis Colts than they did yesterday.

The Jaguars, who didn't even win the time-of-possession battle with the Steelers, have to find a way to control the ball a lot longer against the New England Patriots.

As well as quarterback Eli Manning played in the New York Giants' 24-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he will need to be even more productive to stay with the Dallas Cowboys.

And Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck can't carry the Seahawks by himself with an injured right wrist and no running game when he faces the Green Bay Packers. He almost lost Saturday's game by himself.


SEAHAWKS (11-6) @PACKERS (13-3), 4:30 P.M.

The last time -- The Packers won the last playoff meeting between the two teams, a 33-27 overtime decision in a 2004 wild-card game.

Game within the game -- Seattle needs to avoid a shootout with Green Bay's Brett Favre (above). That means defensive end Patrick Kerney and cornerback Marcus Trufant must have strong games. Favre was sacked just 15 times this season and threw a modest (for him) 15 interceptions.

Chances for an upset -- It's a lot to ask Matt Hasselbeck to match passes with Favre with his bad wrist.


JAGUARS (12-5) @PATRIOTS (16-0), 8 P.M.

The last time -- The Jaguars were drubbed, 28-3, by the Patriots in a wild-card game in Foxborough in 2005. David Garrard (above) had mop-up duty behind Byron Leftwich that day.

Game within the game -- The Patriots gave up 4.4 yards per rush this season. The Jaguars had the second-best rush offense in the NFL with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.

Chances for an upset -- Garrard was only 9-for-21 with four sacks and two interceptions at Pittsburgh. He can't play that way and expect to beat Tom Brady.


CHARGERS (12-5) @COLTS (13-3), 1 P.M.

The last time -- In Week 10, the Chargers beat the Colts in San Diego, 23-21.

Game within the game -- Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (above) sometimes has trouble with 3-4 defenses. The Chargers collected 30 interceptions among their NFL-leading 48 takeaways.

Chances for an upset -- With all their playmakers, the Chargers have the potential to beat anyone. They defeated the Colts the past two times they met. But the Colts are playing with purpose, they're the defending Super Bowl champions and they're at home.


GIANTS (11-6) @COWBOYS (13-3), 4:30 P.M.

The last time -- The Cowboys swept both regular-season games, winning by 10 and 11 points, the last time in Week 10.

Game within the game -- The Giants need to go after Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (above) as much as they can. That will be risky for their secondary, though, if wide receiver Terrell Owens is healthy.

Chances for an upset -- The Giants have shown great resilience battling through injuries. It's a bad matchup for them, however, and the Cowboys have had a chance to heal their injuries.

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