Texans clinch AFC South, will play wild-card game at home
BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens squeezed past the Browns and into the playoffs, using two rushing touchdowns by rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and a late defensive stand to beat Cleveland 26-24 Sunday and claim the AFC North title.
Kenneth Dixon accounted for 117 of Baltimore’s season-high 296 yards on the ground, Jackson had 90 and the rejuvenated Ravens (10-6) ended a three-year playoff drought with their sixth win in seven games. Fourth-seed Baltimore will open the postseason next weekend at home against the Los Angeles Chargers.
A year ago, Baltimore missed the playoffs by losing its finale at home to the Bengals, who rallied with a last-minute touchdown.
Remembering that disappointing finish quite well, most of the announced crowd of 70,925 was on its feet as the Browns moved closer to field-goal range with the clock winding down. A 19-yard completion from Baker Mayfield to former Ravens top draft pick Breshad Perriman and a 16-yarder to Jarvis Landry pushed the ball to the Baltimore 39 with 1:30 left.
Following three straight incompletions, the Ravens blitzed Mayfield on fourth down and linebacker C.J. Mosley picked off a pass to clinch it. Baltimore finished a half-game ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cleveland (7-8-1) was denied its first winning season since 2007.
STEELERS 16, BENGALS 13
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger passed for 287 yards and a touchdown, newly acquired kicker Matt McCrane booted three field goals and the Steelers still fell short of the postseason.
The Steelers (9-6-1) saw their chance at capturing the AFC North end when Baltimore held off Cleveland.
A significant portion of the team remained on the field after the game ended watching Cleveland’s last-ditch drive while the crowd that stuck around chanted “Let’s Go Browns.” A massive groan arose when Cleveland rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield was intercepted in Baltimore territory in the waning seconds.
Pittsburgh still has a remote shot to reach the postseason for the fifth consecutive year, but needs Indianapolis and Tennessee to tie on Sunday night.
Roethlisberger finished the season with a career-best and NFL-high 5,129 yards passing — the first time in franchise history a Steelers quarterback has won the league passing title.
While Joe Mixon rushed for 105 yards, the Bengals (6-10) mustered just 196 total yards to lose for the seventh time in their final eight games. Driskel completed 12 of 24 passes for 95 yards and was sacked four times.
The Eagles (9-7) will play at the Bears (12-4) next weekend.
Foles tied Philip Rivers‘ NFL record by completing 25 straight passes and threw two touchdown passes before a chest injury forced him out of the game. Nate Sudfeld fired a 22-yard TD on his only pass.
It felt like a home game for the Eagles. Philadelphia fans filled FedEx Field, sang “Fly! Eagles! Fly!” and chanted “Let’s Go Bears!” There were several thousand empty seats and Redskins fans could only cheer for the Vikings to spite Eagles fans.
Foles stepped in after Wentz was sidelined by a back injury earlier this month and guided Philadelphia to an upset on the road against the Rams as a 13 1/2-point underdog. He set a franchise record for yards passing in a game with 471 in a 32-30 comeback win last week against Houston.
The Eagles dominated the Redskins, controlling the ball for 43:19. Philadelphia’s defense held Washington to only 89 yards total offense.
The Redskins (7-9) lost six of seven after leading the NFC East at 6-3.
BEARS 24, VIKINGS 10
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The NFC North champion Bears refused to let up, riding Jordan Howard for 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns and a relentless defense.
With the 24-0 win by Philadelphia at Washington, the Vikings (8-7-1) watched the Eagles claim the last wild-card spot and went home wondering what happened to their offense after signing Kirk Cousins for $84 million guaranteed to be the franchise quarterback.
Tarik Cohen scored the last touchdown on a short run with 7:46 left to cap a 16-play drive for the Bears (12-4), who posted their best regular-season record since the 2006 team finished 13-3 and reached the Super Bowl. They’ve won nine of their last 10 games.
The Bears began the afternoon with an opportunity, albeit unlikely, to get a first-round bye with a victory and a loss by the Los Angeles Rams. Rookie head coach Matt Nagy was unmoved by the big early lead taken by the Rams, though, keeping quarterback Mitch Trubisky in the entire game and only holding out the starters who were already previously injured.
COLTS 33, TITANS 17
With the Texans winning the AFC South title earlier Sunday, that left the Colts and Titans playing for the second wild-card berth and a visit to Houston on Saturday.
Luck remained perfect against the Tennessee Titans, notching his 11th victory for the most wins by a quarterback since at least 1970 against one franchise without losing. He helped the Colts (10-6) — under first-year coach Frank Reich — earn the franchise’s first postseason trip since the 2014 season. At one point, Indy was 1-5.
The Titans (9-7) snapped a four-game winning streak with quarterback Marcus Mariota sidelined by neck and foot injuries. They missed a second straight playoff berth under first-year coach Mike Vrabel.
The Colts intercepted two of Blaine Gabbert’s passes in the final 9:05 to finish off their 13th win in the last 15 games in the series.
Marlon Mack ran for 119 yards and a TD for the Colts.
The Texans (11-5) won nine in a row after starting 0-3 to save their season and will make their fifth playoff appearance after winning the division for the fifth time in franchise history. Houston returns to the postseason for the third time in four years after bouncing back from last year’s 4-12 record in a season where Watson and J.J. Watt sustained season-ending injuries.
Houston built a 14-point lead in the first half behind rushing touchdowns by Watson and Lamar Miller and made it 20-3 on a 24-yard field goal with about 11 minutes left. The Jaguars had a chance to cut the lead later in the fourth period, but Blake Bortles was intercepted in the end zone by Andre Hal.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan issued a statement urging his director of football operations, Tom Coughlin, the keep the status quo with coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell — even though the team flopped from a spot in the AFC title game to last place.
The Jaguars (5-11) returned to Bortles as starter after benching the quarterback following a loss to Buffalo on Nov. 25. But he did little to get Jacksonville’s offense going, the Jaguars managing one first down in the opening half and finishing with six. Bortles was 15 of 28 for 107 yards.
Watt sacked him 1 1/2 times to give him 16 this year for his fourth season with 15 or more sacks, second most in NFL history to Reggie White (5).
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady threw for three first-half touchdowns and New England clinched its ninth straight first-round bye in the playoffs. The Patriots (11-5) finished the season as the NFL’s only undefeated team at home, where they’ll have at least one playoff game.
After back-to-back December losses left the Patriots with a losing record on the road, they finished with two straight home wins to avoid playing in the wild-card round for the first time since 2009.
New York fired coach Todd Bowles after the game. The Jets (4-12) lost for the ninth time in 10 games. Rookie Sam Darnold, who had been playing well since returning from a foot injury, completed 16 of 28 passes for 167 yards, but he also had a fumble that gave New England a touchdown.
Brady completed 24 of 33 passes for 250 yards and four scores overall, bouncing back from his worst performance since 2006 — a 48.3 passer rating in a 24-12 win over Buffalo. After punting on their first possession, the Patriots scored on three straight drives.
CHIEFS 35, RAIDERS 3
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs finally clinched their third consecutive AFC West title and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, and Patrick Mahomes and the rest of Kansas City’s offense continued to shatter records.
Mahomes threw for 281 yards, highlighted by a 67-yard TD pass to Tyreek Hill and an 89-yard TD toss to Demarcus Robinson. That gave the first-year starter 5,097 yards and 50 touchdown passes, joining Peyton Manning as the only QBs to hit 5,000 and 50 in the same season.
Manning had 5,477 yards and a record 55 TD passes for the Broncos in 2013.
Hill finished with five catches for 101 yards, becoming the Chiefs’ single-season leader for yards receiving with 1,479, while adding a fourth-quarter touchdown run. Damien Williams added 51 yards and a score on the ground as the Chiefs (12-4) beat the Raiders (4-12) for the eighth time in nine games.
The decisive win came after Kansas City squandered a chance to clinch the division with a fourth-quarter collapse against the Chargers and again in a shootout loss last weekend in Seattle.
RAMS 48, 49ERS 32
Cory Littleton returned one of his two interceptions for a TD as the Rams (13-3) forced four turnovers and wrapped up their winningest regular season since 2001 with a six-game sweep of their NFC West rivals.
Goff passed for 199 yards for Los Angeles, which needed a win over the Niners or a loss by Chicago to clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC postseason. The Rams didn’t mess around, playing nearly every starter except Todd Gurley and jumping to a 14-0 lead in the first five minutes before stretching it to 28-3 midway through the second quarter.
Nick Mullens passed for 282 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions for the 49ers (4-12), who wrapped up their fifth consecutive non-winning season. San Francisco went winless on the road for the first time since 1979, Bill Walsh’s first season in charge.
George Kittle set the NFL’s single-season record for yards receiving by a tight end with 1,377 when he caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Mullens with 2:20 left.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Dak Prescott threw a 32-yard fourth-down touchdown pass to Cole Beasley on a play that was reversed by video replay and added a winning 2-point conversion pass to Michael Gallup with 1:12 to play.
In what might have been quarterback Eli Manning’s final start for the Giants, Prescott passed for 387 yards and the season-high four touchdowns, the first three to tight end Blake Jarwin. The Cowboys (10-6) won for the seventh time in eight games.
The game was meaningless for the NFC East champion Cowboys, who will host a wild-card game next weekend. Coach Jason Garrett rested NFL leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott and two of his top offensive linemen, but kept Prescott (27 of 44) on the field the whole game to build momentum for the postseason.
It worked, although the Giants (5-11) did their best despite losing their third straight game.
Saquon Barkley capped a record-setting rookie season with a sensational 2-yard touchdown dive with 3:21 to play to put the Giants ahead 35-28.
However, Prescott engineered a nine-play, 70-yard drive that he ended with an arching pass to Beasley in the back of the end zone. There was no doubt he caught the ball, and a review showed he got his knee down in bounds.
CHARGERS 23, BRONCOS 9
DENVER (AP) — Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers recovered from a slow start for their first win in Denver since 2013.
The Chargers (12-4) are headed to the playoffs for the first time in five years, but they’ll go in as a wild-card thanks to a last-second loss to the Broncos at home in November.
Were it not for that slip-up, the Chargers and not the Kansas City Chiefs would have earned No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and the first-round bye that comes with it.
Rivers was just 14 of 34 for 176 yards and a touchdown and two interceptions. Both interceptions came in the first quarter, something that’s happened just twice before in Rivers’ 15-year NFL career.
Instead, the Chargers will hit the road on wild-card weekend.
The Broncos (6-10) careened into an offseason of uncertainty after posting double digit losses in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1966-67, an ignominy that could cost second-year coach Vance Joseph his job.
SEATTLE (AP) — Sebastian Janikowski made a 33-yard field goal on the final play, wrapping up the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs and a matchup at Dallas.
Seattle (10-6) took a 24-21 lead earlier in the fourth quarter on Janikowski’s 42-yard field goal, but watched Arizona answer with Zane Gonzalez’s third field goal of the game, from 55 yards with 1:49 left to tie it. Gonzalez hit earlier from 36 and 50 yards.
After converting a third-and-1 early in the drive, Russell Wilson hit Tyler Lockett for 37 yards to the Arizona 25-yard line. After a couple of running plays, Jankowski hit the winner to give Seattle 10 wins for the sixth time in Pete Carroll’s tenure.
Josh Rosen was 18 of 34 for 149 yards and threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald. But Rosen was sacked six times and the loss ensured the Cardinals (3-13) the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft.
With Green Bay trailing 21-0 at the half, quarterback Aaron Rodgers never returned after walking to the locker room early in the second quarter, having suffered a concussion. Both teams had long been eliminated from playoff contention.
Zach Zenner had a 13-yard touchdown run for the Lions (6-10), who have won four straight against their NFC North rival for the first time since 1982-83. They got a little positive push at the end of Matt Patricia’s first season as coach.
The Packers (6-9-1) were also without receiver Davante Adams, who missed practice this week with a knee injury. Adams finished the season with 111 catches, one shy of tying the single-season franchise record set by Sterling Sharpe in 1993.
Allen, a third-stringer pressed into service with Cam Newton and backup Taylor Heinicke out, also ran for a short touchdown as Carolina snapped a seven-game slide. He led the Panthers to three TDs and a field goal on the first four drives of his first NFL start. He played until the fourth quarter, when he was hit hard by Saints rookie end Marcus Davenport while releasing an incomplete pass.
Carolina (7-9) led 23-0 at halftime, marking the first time since coach Sean Payton was hired by New Orleans in 2006 that the Saints (13-3) were shut out at home in a first half.
Tampa Bay fired coach Dirk Koetter after the game.
Matt Bryant’s second field goal, a 37-yarder as time expired, provided the winning points after Jameis Winston rallied the Bucs (5-11) from a 31-20 deficit to a one-point lead with just over five minutes to go.
The Falcons (7-9) escaped a 17-0 hole with Ryan leading scoring drives on five consecutive possessions from late in the second quarter until early in the fourth. He began the comeback with a 19-yard scoring throw to Julio Jones and also tossed a 7-yarder to Calvin Ridley.
Ryan finished 31 of 44 with one interception, a fourth-quarter pick that led to Winston’s second TD pass of the day — to Chris Godwin for Tampa Bay’s brief 32-31 lead. Mike Evans also caught of a pair of TD passes from Winston, who was 22 of 35 for 345 yards and four TDs with one interception.
Jones finished with nine receptions for 138 yards. Sanu had seven catches for 90 yards, in addition to throwing his fourth career touchdown pass.
Godwin had six catches for 114 yards and Evans had six receptions for 106 yards for the Bucs, who finished last in the NFC South for the seventh time in eight years. Tampa Bay dropped to 19-29 in three seasons under Koetter.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills rookie Josh Allen had a career-best three touchdown passes and scored two more rushing, and defensive tackle Kyle Williams closed his 13-year career in Buffalo with a win.
Williams had a tackle for a loss and was part of a defense that forced four turnovers, including three by Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in a game between two AFC East teams already eliminated from playoff contention.
The 35-year-old Williams has been the team’s unquestioned leader and was honored before the game by being the last player out of the tunnel, and then was greeted on the field by his wife, Jill, and their five children. Williams announced on Friday that he was retiring.
The Bills then called timeout with 1:19 left, when Williams walked off the field for the final time and hugged coach Sean McDermott on the sideline.
Leave it to Allen, who represents the Bills’ future, to put the finishing touches on a 6-10 season in which Buffalo won four of its final seven games. The 42 points scored were the most by Buffalo since a 45-16 win over San Francisco on Oct. 16, 2016.
The Dolphins (7-9) now enter an offseason of uncertainty, with questions raised about the futures of coach Adam Gase and vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum as well as Tannehill, who has two years left on his four-year contract.
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