SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

NFL powers, and underdogs, rain on playoff aspirants' parade

Seahawks, Saints, Buccaneers and Steelers, all bubble teams in the playoff chase, get rude awakenings from Dolphins, 49ers, Falcons and Browns, respectively.

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On a Sunday when the sprinklers accidentally went off at Sun Life Stadium, dousing the Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins, playoff-minded teams all over the NFL were treated to a cold, harsh splash of reality.

The New Orleans Saints, who had clawed their way back to .500 after digging an 0-4 hole, lost at home to San Francisco, 31-21, in a rematch of a divisional playoff thriller.

The similarly resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had won four in a row, put together a solid performance at home but still lost to Atlanta, 24-23. The Falcons took another big step toward the NFC South crown by improving to 10-1, tied with Houston for the league's best record.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were reminded that losing two quarterbacks generally dooms you, and committing eight turnovers — as they did in their 20-14 loss at Cleveland — absolutely dooms you.

"That was an ugly performance that's ours. We own it," said the Steelers' Mike Tomlin, coach of the first NFL team since 2001 to commit eight turnovers in a game.

"I'm surprised it was that close, given the turnover situation," he said.

The San Diego Chargers, famous for their skin-saving rallies in the second half of the season, continued their downward spiral with a 16-13 loss at home to Baltimore in overtime. The Chargers could have wrapped that up in regulation had they been able to stop the Ravens on fourth and 29. Instead, a dump-off pass to Ray Rice went for 30.

The Chargers are still in second place behind Denver in the AFC West at 4-7, but only because Oakland and Kansas City are so bad.

The Seahawks, dampened by those untimely sprinklers and 24-21 losers to the Dolphins, soaked in the knowledge they can't seem to win on the road. They're 5-0 in Seattle, 1-5 away from it.

As for those sprinklers, they were mistakenly set on their Saturday schedule. They came on late in the third quarter and sprayed startled players, coaches and assistants.

"I never saw that before, not even in high school," Miami's Davone Bess said. "It was pretty cool."

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said his teammates didn't mind: "I think they're used to the rain."

Rise of the zombies

It was a good day for some of the NFL's also-rans.

The 2-8 Browns beat Pittsburgh, and the 1-9 Jacksonville Jaguars defeated Tennessee, 24-19. The 1-9 Kansas City Chiefs kept things interesting against Denver before losing, 17-9.

The Chiefs' performance was the most surprising, considering how well the Peyton Manning-led Broncos have been playing.

The Steelers, meanwhile, have lost two in a row without Ben Roethlisberger and are down to third-string quarterback Charlie Batch. They lost five fumbles to go with the three Batch passes that were intercepted.

In Jacksonville, Chad Henne threw two touchdown passes for the Jaguars, further making the case that the starting job should be up for grabs this off-season after Blaine Gabbert recovers from his season-ending shoulder injury. The Jaguars had lost seven in a row.

The Titans, coming off a 37-3 victory over Miami, can consider themselves the NFL's premier slump-busters. They lost to a 1-9 team this year and 0-13 Indianapolis a year ago.

With their loss to the Broncos, the Chiefs became the first team to be officially eliminated from playoff contention.

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