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AP Photo/Pablo Martinez MonsivaisRedskins fans are known for their loyalty. On Sunday at FedEx Field, they paid tribute to one of their fallen heroes, safety Sean Taylor. Fans used signs, clothing and even their vehicles to honor Taylor, who died on Tuesday, one day after being shot at his home in a Miami suburb. ZOOM GALLERY
By Jeffri Chadiha, ESPN.comIt's that time of year again -- the point at which we start realizing which teams are serious about making a run at the playoffs and which teams have been teasing us all season. In fact, that's what made this Sunday so interesting. Because it's the first week of December, it's also the first chance we have to start safely predicting which teams have an inside track on a postseason spot. Here's what we learned about those that helped themselves Sunday and those that hurt themselves:
Greg Trott/Getty ImagesNo. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell finally got his first taste of NFL action in Oakland's victory over Denver.
By Len Pasquarelli, ESPN.com
• One of the league's most generous owners, Jim Irsay of Indianapolis has provided his private jet for Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne to attend the Monday funeral of Redskins safety Sean Taylor in South Florida. Although they share an alma mater, Wayne and Taylor never played together at the University of Miami. However, the two often worked out together in the offseason and had become close friends.• The Colts have quietly started discussing a contract extension for free safety Bob Sanders, who will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in the spring. The talks are in the very early stages and a deal isn't close yet, but Indianapolis isn't about to let an impact defender such as Sanders escape as a free agent. • Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel is not only a candidate for the head coach job at Georgia Tech but also could come under consideration by UCLA if the Bruins fire Karl Dorrell. Although the Georgia Tech people have some misgivings about Neuheisel, his stock there was helped when Randy Edsall, who had interviewed for the job Thursday, decided Sunday to remain at Connecticut. • Now that Les Miles has decided to stay at LSU, the rumors might finally cease that Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio would have been interested in the plum college job had it become available. Del Rio quietly lobbied for the position at LSU a few years ago. His contract with the Jaguars runs only through the 2008 season, and he might need to win a playoff game this season, which he has failed to do so far, to earn an extension. • Jacksonville offensive lineman Maurice Williams, who reworked his contract to take a pay cut but also void the final two years of the deal, has played pretty well since moving into the lineup at right guard because of injuries to others. Williams was the team's former starter at right tackle, but he lost his job when Jacksonville signed Tony Pashos as a free agent this spring. Now that Williams is eligible for free agency after this season, he could generate some pretty good interest. And the fact he has proved to be versatile enough to play guard in 2007 might help drive up his price a little. • With the back problems middle linebacker Brian Urlacher has been experiencing this season, Chicago management might hold off on the contract upgrade the Bears had talked about presenting to him. The team could spend some of that money on weakside linebacker Lance Briggs, who might be playing even better in 2007 than in the previous two seasons, each of which earned him a Pro Bowl invitation. Briggs has backtracked on his insistence that he would never re-sign with the Bears, and the team has begun to rethink its stance on giving him a long-term contract. • Keep an eye on Cleveland secondary coach Mel Tucker as a defensive coordinator candidate in the league in the next few years. Tucker, who has been in the NFL only since 2005, has done a very nice job with the Browns' young defensive backs, particularly with safety Sean Jones this season. • Despite their ability to overcome injuries and keep winning, the Colts really need to get their offensive line straightened out. Peyton Manning is taking more hits this season than he has in several years. • League scouts will be stunned if Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden does not bypass his final college season to enter the 2008 draft. The early consensus is that McFadden would be the top-rated prospect in the draft pool.
• Offense: While older brother Josh McCown regained his starting job in Oakland because of an injury this week, Luke McCown took over in Tampa Bay because of a bruised back that sidelined Jeff Garcia on Sunday afternoon. And in his first start since Dec. 26, 2004, when he was playing for Cleveland, Luke led the Bucs over the New Orleans Saints, and into a commanding three-game lead in the limp NFC South, with a 27-23 comeback win.McCown, who had thrown only four passes in the first 11 games of the season, connected with tight end Jerramy Stevens on a 4-yard touchdown pass with just 14 seconds remaining in the game. For the day, McCown completed 29 of 37 passes for 313 yards, with two touchdown passes and just one interception, for a career-best 108.7 efficiency rating. His previous best rating was just 80.1 in an 2004 contest. • Defense: There aren't many middle linebackers in the NFL who stay on the field on third down, but Seattle coaches are glad third-year veteran Lofa Tatupu is one who does. One of the league's best coverage linebackers, the two-time Pro Bowl performer intercepted A.J. Feeley three times in the visiting Seahawks' 28-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The trio of pickoffs gave Tatupu a career-best four interceptions for the season, matching his total for his first two seasons. His first two interceptions, both in the opening quarter, set up Seattle touchdowns. His final theft, with just 14 seconds left and the Eagles on the Seahawks' 11-yard line, secured a victory that put Seattle at 8-4 and owning a two-game division lead. Tatupu also had 11 tackles and three passes defensed. • Special teams: Eighteen-year veteran punter Jeff Feagles of the New York Giants might not have the leg strength of some of his younger league counterparts. But Feagles, 41, has long been one of the league's best hang-time and placement punters, and in Sunday's 21-16 victory over the Chicago Bears, those qualities were good enough to hold down ever-dangerous Devin Hester all afternoon. Feagles averaged 40.8 yards gross and 37.6 yards net on five punts. He knocked three punts inside the Chicago 20-yard line and hung the ball high enough that Hester managed just 16 yards on three runbacks, with a longest run of 8 yards. On the five possessions the Bears began after punts, the average starting point of the drive was the Chicago 27-yard line.
• Scouts Inc.'s Buzz: Unleashed for the first time all season, San Diego's LB unit responded by producing eight sacks against the Chiefs.
Buffalo 17, Washington 16
The Redskins did a lot to honor the late Sean Taylor. If Joe Gibbs had a firm grasp of the icing-the-kicker rules, the Skins might have honored him even more -- with a victory. Photos
• Pittsburgh (9-3) at New England (11-0): Are the Steelers the only thing separating the Patriots from a perfect regular season?• San Diego (7-5) at Tennessee (7-5): Although both playoff hopefuls have the same record, a loss would hurt the Titans a lot more than the Chargers. • Week 14 schedule