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For at least one Sunday this NFL season, everyone had a chance to win … even those hapless Miami Dolphins.

In a season that has bucked the recent trend of parity among teams, none of the top squads were their dominant selves this week. Eleven of the 16 games were decided by fewer than two scores, even though only two games matched teams with winning records.

The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, with a combined record of 26-2, struggled against a pair of teams with only seven victories between them but still managed to clinch first-round byes in the playoffs.

For the first time all season, Patriots QB Tom Brady didn’t find the end zone, and the New York Jets limited the top-scoring offense to 13 points. But the Jets offense managed only 10 points and gave up an interception return for a touchdown, as the Patriots remained undefeated.

The Colts looked even worse, trailing the woeful Oakland Raiders late in the fourth quarter before getting their first offensive touchdown of the game to win 21-14.

They were the lucky ones.

The NFC’s top team, the Dallas Cowboys, played terrible in their 10-6 loss to their division rival Philadelphia Eagles, failing to score a touchdown. The NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks were held scoreless through three quarters by the sub-.500 Carolina Panthers and lost 13-10.

And the playoff-hopeful New York Giants, playing at home, lost a first-quarter fumble, lost star TE Jeremy Shockey to a broken leg, and lost their chance to secure a playoff berth with a 22-10 loss to the Washington Redskins.

So on a day filled with upsets and stumbles, it was only fitting the previously winless Dolphins should finally break through. But even that 22-16 victory in overtime took some luck.

Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl kicker Matt Stover missed two field goals, including one in overtime that could have won the game. The Ravens offensive line gave up four sacks to one of the worst pass defenses in the league.

The game-clinching 64-yard touchdown came as the once-fearsome Ravens secondary got burned by WR Greg Camarillo, a second-year player with only one catch for 2 yards going into the contest.

Every season has great teams and pitiful, last-place squads, but in recent years no one has been as dominant as the Patriots or as pathetic as the Dolphins are this season. When the two teams square off next week, the gulf could get even wider.

The league hasn’t had four teams with 13-plus victories since 1999, but could have four teams win 14 or more if the Colts, Cowboys and Green Bay Packers all win their last two games. Meanwhile, the league hasn’t had four teams finish with three or fewer victories since 1991, but that could be matched this year, too.

After their victory, Dolphins players compared the end of their losing streak to winning the Super Bowl.

At least for one day, the top and bottom of the league were a little closer again.


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