Turnover touchdowns spur the Redskins

THREE touchdowns off six turnovers sparked Washington past Philadelphia 31-20 on Sunday, launching the Redskins into the NFL play-offs for the first time in six seasons.

Clinton Portis ran 27 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns, including a 22-yard score that put the Redskins ahead with 12:19 remaining, and the their fifth victory in-a-row to eliminate the Dallas Cowboys.

“Going 6-10 last year to 10-6 and being a play-off contender this year, nobody would have expected us to be a contender this soon,” said Portis. “We came together at 5-6 and nobody has been able to beat us since.”

Lamar Marshall made an interception to set up Portis’s key touchdown and Phillip Daniels forced a fumble that Sean Taylor returned 39 yards for a touchdown with 2:16 to play as the Eagles made four fourth-quarter turnovers.

Joining Washington into the play-offs with triumphs on Sunday were Tampa Bay, Carolina and Pittsburgh while Kansas City became the first team since 1992 to win 10 games in a season and fail to qualify for the play-offs.

Opening-round play-off pairings were completed. In the National Conference (NFC), Washington will play at Tampa Bay on Saturday and Carolina will visit the New York Giants next Sunday with Seattle and Chicago enjoying byes.

Super Bowl champions New England will host Jacksonville on Saturday in the American Conference play-off opener while Pittsburgh will visit Cincinnati on Sunday. Top seed Indianapolis, an NFL-best 14-2, and Denver will have byes.

Champions from each conference meet for the league crown in Super Bowl 40 on February 5 in Detroit.

Tampa Bay beat New Orleans 27-13 for the NFC South division crown. Dewayne White forced a fumble from quarterback Todd Bouman, scooped up the ball and ran 34 yards for the clinching touchdown.

Carolina matched Tampa Bay at 11-5 after routing host Atlanta 44-11, with Jake Delhomme throwing two touchdown passes, but the Panthers had to settle for a wild-card playoff spot.

Jerome “The Bus” Bettis ran for three touchdowns in his final home game to spark Pittsburgh past Detroit 35-21 and clinch the final American Conference play-off berth, the Steelers’ 10th in 14 seasons under coach Bill Cowher.

“It was a special day,” Bettis said. “Everything comes to an end. It has been a heck of a ride.”

Pittsburgh’s triumph eliminated Kansas City even though the Chiefs routed play-off-bound Cincinnati 37-3 in the final game for 69-year-old Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, who retired after the game.

“It’s the right time for me to leave,” said Vermeil. “They don’t need me here next year. I just wish I was 10 years younger.”

Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy enjoyed a victory in his return following the death of his 18-year-old son when the Colts edged Arizona 17-13. A Cardinals touchdown was negated by a replay judge in the final seconds.

“What can you say, a great effort,” said Dungy. “We wanted to get this game for a number of reasons. It was like a ‘family’ win where everybody contributed.”

Green Bay’s Brett Favre was triumphant in his possible farewell game, completing 21-of-37 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown to lead the Packers to a 23-17 triumph over visiting Seattle.

Packer fans who suffered through a 4-12 season chanted “One More Year” in hopes of enticing a return from Favre, second to Dan Marino in most major career NFL passing categories.

Seattle running back Shaun Alexander set an NFL single-season touchdown record by scoring his 28th of the year on a one-yard run two minutes into the second quarter and also won his first season rushing crown.

Alexander, who lost the prior season’s rushing title by a yard, surpassed the touchdown mark of 27 set in 2003 by Priest Holmes of Kansas City.

He also ran 20 times for 73 yards before sitting out the second half to end the season with 1,880 rushing yards, 20 ahead of runner-up Tiki Barber of the Giants.

The Houston Texans lost 20-17 in over-time at San Francisco to finish a league-worst 2-14 and claim the first pick in this year’s NFL Draft, likely the rights to collegiate star running back Reggie Bush.

New Orleans, forced to relocate for the season because of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, finished 3-13 to claim the number two choice.

In other season-ending games, the New York Jets beat Buffalo 30-26, Cleveland downed Baltimore 20-16, Miami edged New England 28-26, Minnesota routed Chicago 34-10, Jacksonville ripped Tennessee 40-13 and St. Louis beat Dallas 20-10.

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