2014 NFL Week 16 Tuesday Afternoon QB

Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders

Here is a recap of Week 16 of the 2014 NFL Season with Tuesday Afternoon QB. Thanks again to the AP Sports/Pro 32 for photos & articles.

Titans 13, Jaguars 21

Jordan Todman, Coty Sensabaugh

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Jordan Todman (30) is stopped by Tennessee Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (24) during the third quarter of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Blake Bortles revived a stagnant offense. Jordan Todman provided some cushion. And Sen’Derrick Marks sealed it with the most rewarding sack of his career.

The trio provided all the highlights in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 21-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night.

In a matchup that was widely billed as unwatchable, Bortles, Todman and Marks offered some compelling moments in a relatively meaningless game.

Bortles completed 13 of 26 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown, a 4-yard pass to Marcedes Lewis that got Jacksonville going late in the second quarter. He also ran for 50 yards playing with a sprained right foot.

Todman’s 62-yard run put the Jaguars ahead for good. He juked one defender and stiff-armed another in his first carry of the night, ending his first score of the season with a leap into the stands.

Marks’ play, though, got the most attention.

With the Titans driving, Marks sacked Charlie Whitehurst on the final play. It gave him 8 1/2 sacks on the season, triggering a $600,000 bonus in his contract.

Marks stood up and starting rubbing his fingers together before getting mobbed by teammates near midfield.

The Jaguars (3-12) won for the second time in four weeks thanks to a rejuvenated offense that had scored just two touchdowns in the previous four games. Playing the Titans (2-13) surely aided the effort.

Tennessee lost its ninth consecutive game and moved a step closer to securing the No. 1 draft pick.

The Jaguars had only 16 yards of offense until Bortles led them on an 80-yard drive at the end of the first half, ending it with the jump ball to Lewis in the left corner of the end zone.

The Jaguars got the ball to start the second half, and Bortles found Marquise Lee on a 34-yard catch-and-run on third-and 7. After two more completions, Jacksonville went to some trickery with a backward to Cecil Shorts III, who then threw across the field to Todman to the 9.

It looked as if Jacksonville would have to settle for a tying field when Bortles was flushed from the pocket and scrambled down the sideline to the 2 on third-and-goal. But linebacker Avery Williamson was called for holding Lewis away from the play, giving the Jaguars new life. Toby Gerhart punched it in from the 1 on the next play.

The turnaround for the Jaguars was surprising. Losers of seven of their last eight games, the Jaguars had only two offensive touchdowns in their previous 46 drives over four games and nearly two quarters, and just like that, Bortles took them down the field for touchdowns on consecutive drives.

That was a bright spot in a game otherwise devoid of them early.

For the final NFL game on Thursday night this year, about the only thing at stake was the inside track for the No. 1 pick, and likely a slightly easier schedule. In this case, the loser had more to gain.

The Titans were led by third-stringer Whitehurst, who was replacing Zach Mettenberger. Whitehurst couldn’t miss at the start, and for the first time this year, the Titans scored a touchdown on their opening possession.

Tennessee made it 10-0 in the second and had a 179-16 advantage in yards.

But things turned from there, with Bortles, Todman and Marks providing the big plays.

Eagles 24, Redskins 27

 

Kai Forbath

Washington Redskins kicker Kai Forbath (2) boots a field goal during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Landover, Md., Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, to give the Redskins a 27-24 victory over the Eagles. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — The Philadelphia Eagles have proved themselves to be a mirage, a team that got away with its faults until it couldn’t any longer. Leaders in the NFC East as recently as a week ago, they’re now just about done in the playoff race, and they’re in no position to argue that they deserve any better.

Penalties, missed field goals, two more turnovers by Mark Sanchez and an inability to keep track of former teammate DeSean Jackson turned into a 27-24 loss to the lowly Washington Redskins on Saturday night, the Eagles’ third straight defeat and one that gives Dallas two chances to clinch the NFC East.

Sanchez’s interception with 1:31 remaining — his 13th turnover in seven games — led to Kai Forbath’s winning 26-yard field goal with 5 seconds remaining as the Redskins (4-11) snapped a six-game losing streak.

The Eagles (9-6) will now be rooting for Indianapolis to beat the Cowboys (10-4) on Sunday. A Dallas win eliminates Philadelphia. A Dallas loss keeps a modicum of hope alive.

The loss also knocked Philadelphia from the wild-card race and clinched a playoff berth for Detroit.

Sanchez set an Eagles record with 37 completions in 50 attempts for a career-high 374 yards with two touchdowns to Riley Cooper, and tight end Zach Ertz set a franchise game record with 15 catches. But Sanchez lost a fumble for the third time this season and threw his 10th interception to put the Eagles’ NFL-leading turnover tally at 36.

Robert Griffin III, back from his recent benching after a season-ending neck injury to Colt McCoy, went 16 for 23 for 220 yards with one interception for the Redskins to win in his first complete game in 13 months. Griffin’s only other win as a starter this season came when he was injured in the first quarter against Jacksonville in Week 2.

First-year coach Jay Gruden, who has frequently been critical of Griffin, gave a glowing assessment, saying RG3 “did an outstanding job of managing the football game.”

From the Eagles’ perspective, everything seemed to go wrong in pairs. Two wide-rights by rookie kicker Cody Parkey — doubling his number of misses this season — were converted into two 1-yard touchdown runs by Darrel Young.

One of those Washington scoring drives included roughing-the-passer penalties by Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry in a span of four plays. The other drive featured a 55-yard over-the-shoulder grab by Jackson, the second 50-plus Griffin-to-Jackson connection in the game.

Curry also had a roughing-the-passer call on the Redskins’ winning drive. Earlier, a pass-interference call on Nate Allen in the end zone set up Young’s second scoring run. Philadelphia was flagged 13 times for 102 yards.

The Eagles trailed 24-14 when Sanchez hit Cooper for a 16-yard score early in the fourth quarter, and Parkey kicked a 22-yard field goal with 6:17 to play.

But, on their next possession — with the score tied and the season on the line — Sanchez made the game’s final mistake, the interception to rookie cornerback Bashaud Breeland at Washington’s 42.

Jackson, cut by the Eagles after last season, caught four passes for 126 yards.

Chargers 38, 49ers 35 OT

Eddie Royal, Chris Culliver

San Diego Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal (11) stiff arms San Francisco 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver (29) during the third quarter of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

 

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Philip Rivers prevailed through a balky back and a sore chest to keep San Diego’s slim playoff chances alive.

Those three interceptions in the season’s second-to-last week will all but be forgotten if this improbable comeback somehow leads the Chargers into the postseason.

After Rivers led a 21-point rally in the second half, Nick Novak kicked a 40-yard field goal nearly 5 minutes into overtime to give the Chargers a 38-35 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night.

Rivers completed his fourth touchdown pass of the day with a tying 11-yard TD pass to Malcom Floyd with 29 seconds left in regulation after completing a pair of fourth-and-longs as the Chargers (9-6) forced overtime.

Phil Dawson’s 60-yard field goal attempt for San Francisco as regulation ended fell way short. Quinton Patton then fumbled in overtime to set up San Diego’s winning drive.

On a night nearly everything clicked for the home team until the waning moments, Rivers prevailed despite being down two key playmakers in Keenan Allen and Ryan Mathews.

He shined with the season on the line. The Chargers came in needing to win out and get some help after beginning the week tied with Kansas City and Buffalo, one game out of the final wild-card berth.

Rivers converted fourth-and-8 and fourth-and-10 on the key final San Diego drive of the fourth quarter.

The 49ers blew just their second game when leading by 21 or more at halftime and lost their fourth straight game under embattled coach Jim Harbaugh. They lost 42-41 to Minnesota on Oct. 24, 1965, after leading 35-14 at halftime.

Colin Kaepernick ran 90 yards for a touchdown and Frank Gore had a 52-yard touchdown run as the Niners (7-8) grabbed early momentum.

“Right now there’s not much to say,” Harbaugh said. “That’s a tough one.”

Rivers threw touchdown passes of 21 and 1 yard to Antonio Gates and another to Eddie Royal, but also was hurt by three interceptions. On one of those, Antoine Bethea had a 49-yard return for his first career touchdown. A defense minus recently released starting lineman Ray McDonald never let Rivers find a rhythm.

The 31-year-old Gore finished with 158 yards and he needs 38 yards in the final game next weekend against Arizona for a fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season and eighth in his 10 NFL seasons. His scoring run was his longest since a 64-yarder on Nov. 1, 2009, at Indianapolis. It also was the longest TD run allowed by San Diego since 2010 before Kaepernick topped it.

Gore had more yards in this game than in his previous four games combined, and New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez was in attendance wearing the running back’s red No. 21 jersey.

Rookie Bruce Ellington caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick early in the second quarter that put the Niners up 21-0, then ran for a 1-yard score in the waning moments before leaving with a hamstring injury.

In one half, San Francisco topped its combined scoring total from the previous three games of 23 points. The Niners had their biggest lead since going ahead 28-3 in the third quarter of the season opener at Dallas — and their first lead by 21 points at home since a 34-3 victory over Houston on Oct. 6, 2013.

Rivers, 33 for 54 for 356 yards, had his team driving late in the first quarter before throwing an interception picked off by Perrish Cox. Unclear whether ailing, Rivers didn’t look comfortable. He sat out Wednesday’s practice with neck and back injuries, and he was without running back Ryan Mathews and wide receiver Keenan Allen.

Harbaugh, who is facing a constant swirl of speculation about his future — like a report alma mater Michigan has made him a six-year offer to coach the Wolverines — has said there’s still plenty to play for, like a winning season despite the disappointment following three straight trips to the NFC championship game.

Four players sustained concussions or head injuries — 49ers safety Eric Reid and San Diego cornerback Shareece Wright with concussions and San Francisco cornerback Leon McFadden and linebacker Aldon being evaluated for a head injuries.

Ravens 13, Texans 25

Case Keenum, Terrell Suggs

Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum (7) runs the ball as Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (55) defends during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens want to leave behind what happened Sunday in Houston and focus on bouncing back next week.

Running back Arian Foster threw for a touchdown, Randy Bullock made a franchise-record six field goals and the Texans’ defense dominated in a 25-13 win.

The Ravens (9-6) now need some help next week to get into the postseason after Joe Flacco threw a season-high three interceptions and the offense struggled all day.

With three quarterbacks hurt, the Texans started Case Keenum, who got his first win in nine NFL starts.

Houston (8-7) remains in the hunt but needs several teams to lose next week.

Foster ran for 96 yards. But his highlight came when he took a pitch from Keenum and, with a defender in his face, threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz to make it 16-0 in the second quarter.

Keenum lost each of his eight starts last season before being released by the Texans in training camp. They signed the former record-setting University of Houston star off the St. Louis practice squad Monday after both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage were injured last Sunday with Ryan Mallett already out for the season.

Keenum threw for 185 yards with an interception.

Flacco had thrown just one interception in his last five games before Sunday’s struggles in an offense led by former Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who was fired last year in his eighth season in Houston. Flacco was 21 of 50 for 195 yards with two touchdowns in the second half.

J.J. Watt, who had eight tackles and a sack, was hit in the nose midway through the fourth quarter and had blood running down his face into his mouth for a few plays before trainers tended to the injury. He has 17 1/2 sacks this season and a franchise-record 54 in his career.

Flacco connected with Torrey Smith for his second score on a 20-yard touchdown pass with six minutes left. But Watt took Flacco down in the backfield on the 2-point try to leave Baltimore behind 25-13.

Houston’s defense stifled the Ravens in the first half, allowing just 31 yards to set a franchise best for a half. The previous low was 41 yards gained by San Diego in the second half in 2007.

Flacco’s second interception gave Houston the ball inside the 20 in the second quarter. Foster’s TD throw came next.

It was the first touchdown pass by a running back in the NFL this season and the first time a Texans player other than a quarterback had thrown for a score since Jabar Gaffney and James Allen both did it in Houston’s inaugural season in 2002.

Andre Johnson had six receptions for 65 yards to make him the 10th player in NFL history to reach 1,000 career receptions (1,002). He passed Hines Ward for ninth-most in NFL history. … The Ravens finished with just 33 yards rushing.

Browns 13, Panthers 17

Jonathan Stewart, Barkevious Mingo

Carolina Panthers’ Jonathan Stewart (28) runs past Cleveland Browns’ Barkevious Mingo (51) in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton’s teammates have never doubted his toughness.

But their respect for the fourth-year quarterback has now reached an entirely different level.

Newton threw for one touchdown and ran for another, and the Panthers defeated the Cleveland Browns 17-13 to take sole possession of first place in the NFC South. The win comes just 12 days after Newton suffered two fractures in his lower back after he was hit by another car and flipped his truck in an accident that left him hospitalized with two fractures in his lower back.

Fullback Mike Tolbert said he wouldn’t have expected anything less from Newton, especially after the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback battled through offseason ankle surgery and fractured ribs during the season.

Newton will have to put in on the line at least one more time next week for Carolina —and the stakes are even bigger.

Carolina’s victory sets up a winner-take-all showdown next Sunday at Atlanta between the Panthers (6-8-1) and Falcons (6-9) for the division title. It also guarantees a team without even a .500 record will win the NFC South.

The winner will join the 2010 Seattle Seahawks as the only teams to reach the postseason in a non-strike-shortened season with a losing record.

Newton threw for 201 yards and ran for 63 just 12 days after the quarterback suffered two fractures in his lower back following an automobile accident. Jonathan Stewart ran for 122 yards and caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Newton.

Newton called the last 12 days “tiring,” but said the whole ordeal has left him with an entirely different perspective on life.

“For me to come out of an accident like that, all praises go to God,” Newton said. “He is using me in a positive way and I’m using my influence in a positive way. I’m on a (pedestal), so when I do good things or bad things people are going to be affected. So I just want to use mine in a positive light to encourage the next person. That is what we are on this earth for — to make people better.”

The Panthers have now won three straight after going more than two months without a victory. The Browns (7-8) were eliminated from contention when San Diego beat San Francisco on Saturday.

Johnny Manziel made his second NFL start for Cleveland, but left late in the first half with a hamstring injury when he was tackled near the Cleveland sideline by linebacker Luke Kuechly and safety Colin Jones on a rollout. Manziel said the hamstring started to tighten up on him on the previous drive.

Manziel did not return.

Some fans cheered as Manziel left the field, something Newton called “classless” in his press conference.

“Anytime when a person gets hurt you don’t celebrate,” Newton said. “I have had that done in my career and it just takes the integrity out of the game. For the crowd to respond in that sort of way — we’re better than that.”

Manziel finished 3 of 8 for 32 yards. He also ran twice for 3 yards.

The Panthers led most of the game before Browns tight end Jordan Cameron got behind the Carolina secondary and hauled in an 81-yard touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer, who replaced Manziel. That gave Cleveland its first lead of the game at 13-10 with about 10 minutes remaining.

The Browns had just 126 yards on offense before that play and just 228 yards all afternoon.

But Newton, looking healthy and mobile in escaping from the pocket, drove the Panthers back downfield. He completed a 9-yard pass to Stewart, who slipped out of the backfield and found an open pocket in the end zone.

Carolina’s defense made a late stand with Kawann Short coming up with a big sack on Hoyer, and Thomas Davis making an open field tackle to force a punt with less than four minutes remaining.

Carolina then sealed the win when Stewart broke off a 30-yard run on third-and-6.

Hoyer was 7 of 13 for 134 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Chiefs 12, Steelers 20

Le'Veon Bell

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) carries the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Tom Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers spent two years rebuilding themselves on the fly, a necessary process that frequently looked more erratic than inspiring.

Consider the project nearly complete. The surging Steelers are heading back to January.

Ben Roethlisberger passed for 220 yards and a touchdown, Le’Veon Bell added a score and the Steelers locked up a postseason berth with a methodical 20-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Pittsburgh (10-5) faces Cincinnati next week for the AFC North title. Either way, the Steelers are in the playoffs for the first time since Tim Tebow and Denver stunned the defending AFC champions in the wild card round three years ago.

That group was on the tail end of a stretch that saw Pittsburgh put together three Super Bowl appearances in six years. This group is decidedly younger. The Steelers won their third straight and are 7-2 since an October loss at Cleveland left them at 3-3.

Those days suddenly seem long ago. Pittsburgh kept the Chiefs in check behind a resurgent pass rush energized by the return of James Harrison. The 36-year-old linebacker missed last week’s win over Atlanta with a knee problem. He returned to pick up 1.5 of Pittsburgh’s season-high six sacks.

The Chiefs? Not so much. Alex Smith passed for a season-high 311 yards, but Kansas City lost for the fourth time in five games. The Chiefs need to beat San Diego next week and get some help to make it back to the playoffs for a second straight year under Andy Reid.

Moving the ball wasn’t a problem. The Chiefs outgained the NFL’s top-ranked offense 327-288 but couldn’t seem to get the one momentum-turning play that mattered. Kansas City came in second in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage only to see six drives into Pittsburgh territory end with four field goals by Cairo Santos, Jamaal Charles’ fumble and a fourth-down gamble late in the first half that fizzled.

That’s the case this time of year. And the Steelers, after a brief foray into 8-8 mediocrity in 2012 and 2013, are back playing their best football when the temperature drops. A roster that’s undergone a youth movement since a Super Bowl loss to Green Bay four years ago is growing up quickly, though with a few familiar faces leading the way.

The Steelers’ win also eliminated the Dolphins from the playoffs as the crowded AFC field thins. Pittsburgh heads into the final weekend of the regular season with a postseason spot assured. The only question now is the destination.

Roethlisberger wasn’t as dynamic as he’s been at times this season but led a pair of long touchdown drives. The second ended with a 3-yard strike to Antonio Brown that gave Pittsburgh a 17-6 lead late in the third quarter. Roethlisberger briefly went to the locker room with a right knee injury but returned after a Kansas City field goal to guide a 12-play, 70-yard march that ended with Shaun Suisham’s 23-yarder with 4:04 remaining to all but clinch it.

A team that struggled closing out opponents early in the year has won three straight, with each one featuring a dominant finishing kick.

Instead, the Chiefs flinched, though not for lack of imagination. Kansas City put together a successful fake field goal in the first half that extended a drive but didn’t lead to the end zone. Trailing 10-6 late in the half, the Chiefs drove to the Pittsburgh 12 and faced fourth-and-inches with 27 seconds to go.

Rather than opt for a chip-shot field goal that would have trimmed the deficit to a point, the Chiefs went for it. Charles was drilled by Lawrence Timmons behind the line of scrimmage, and when Will Allen piled on, the Steelers had the ball and the momentum with a postseason berth just 30 minutes away.

Brown finished with seven receptions for 72 yards. He now has 122 catches on the season, the third-highest single-season total in league history. … Charles was held to 29 yards rushing on nine carries, his second-lowest total of the season. … Pittsburgh has won six straight games in December.

Patriots 17, Jets 16

Rob Gronkowski

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) scores a touchdown as New York Jets’ Calvin Pryor (25) tackles him during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Tom Brady and the Patriots will be resting at home for the start of the playoffs.

The only question left is whether the AFC’s road to the Super Bowl will run through New England.

Jonas Gray scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter after New England intercepted Geno Smith, and the Patriots clinched a bye with a 17-16 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday.

New England has earned a bye in five straight seasons, the longest streak since the current playoff format began in 1990.

Brady threw a 3-yard TD pass to Rob Gronkowski for the Patriots (12-3), who could earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if Denver loses to Cincinnati on Monday night.

With the Jets (3-12) leading 13-10 late in the third quarter, Smith’s pass for Jace Amaro hung in the air for an easy interception by Jamie Collins — which led to Gray’s score minutes later.

Nick Folk had a 52-yard field goal attempt that could have given New York a lead with just over 5 minutes left. But Vince Wilfork partially blocked it.

Brady and the Patriots were then able to run out the clock for the win, sealed by Brandon Bolden’s 17-yard run on third down with just under 2 minutes left.

Brady finished 23 of 35 for 182 yards and was sacked four times, a modest showing while playing without wide receiver Julian Edelman (concussion) and running back LeGarrette Blount (shoulder).

Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis had a mostly quiet return to the Meadowlands, playing against his former team for the first time at MetLife Stadium since signing with New England — except for the fans booing him when he made a tackle.

The game could have marked the final home appearance by Ryan, whose future with the team is uncertain in his sixth season.

New York will miss the postseason for the fourth straight year, and Ryan and general manager John Idzik have come under heavy criticism by fans who have urged owner Woody Johnson to make changes. Several waved yellow “penalty towels” at MetLife Stadium with the words “Fire Idzik!” printed in green. This latest loss certainly didn’t make the Jets’ faithful — or Ryan and Idzik — feel any better.

Gray squeaked into the end zone up the middle — a video review stood after Ryan insisted on the sideline that the running back’s knee might have been down — to give the Patriots a 17-13 lead with 13:51 remaining.

Marcus Williams’ first NFL interception put the Jets in position to go ahead when Brady’s pass tipped off Brandon LaFell and into his hands. But Dont’a Hightower sacked Smith on third-and-4 for a 10-yard loss, setting up Folk’s long attempt with 5:26 remaining.

Jets center Nick Mangold injured his left ankle in the second quarter and was carted off the field. He said he had X-rays, which revealed no break, but was going for additional tests Monday. New York also played without wide receiver Percy Harvin in the second half after he injured a rib.

The win was the Patriots’ 250th in 368 total games under Robert Kraft, tying him with Chicago’s George Halas for the fastest an owner has reached the milestone. … Bill Belichick broke a tie with Curly Lambeau for fourth place in overall NFL victories with his 230th. … Smith finished 17 of 27 for 210 yards.

Falcons 30, Saints 14

Jimmy Graham, Kemal Ishmael, Dezmen Southward

Atlanta Falcons strong safety Kemal Ishmael (36) strips the football from New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) after a reception near the goal line in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. Falcons free safety Dezmen Southward (41) tackles. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A tenacious play by two backup defenders on Jimmy Graham’s catch at the goal line — and a little help from a disputed ruling — helped save Atlanta’s postseason hopes and ultimately sank the Saints.

New Orleans may have been done in anyway by Julio Jones’ remarkable return from a hip injury. But the 30-14 Falcons triumph that eliminated the Saints from playoff contention Sunday may be most remembered for officials’ decision to rule Graham’s fourth-quarter catch a fumble instead of a touchdown.

Atlanta (6-9) next meets Carolina (6-8-1) for the NFC South title next week in the Georgia Dome. The Saints (6-9) are left with an anticlimactic visit to Tampa Bay.

Graham’s fumble came on the first play of the fourth quarter. The star tight end leaped to grab Drew Brees’ pass and came down at the goal line, his body writhing as he tried to force his way past reserve safety Dezmen Southward. Fellow Falcons safety Kemal Ishmael converged immediately and ripped the ball away, then recovered it.

The initial ruling was a fumble and Falcons recovery.

Graham’s forward progress appeared to have been stopped before the ball came loose, but that was not reviewable.

At least one replay angle showed that the ball may have broken the plane of the goal line, and the Superdome crowd roared when it was shown on large video boards. However, referee John Parry could not find evidence conclusive enough to overturn the call. Parry’s announcement spawned a cascade of boos from anxious Saints fans, whose team remained down 20-7 with its playoff hopes fading.

Graham was not present when locker rooms were opened to reporters. Southward said he never had a good look at whether Graham got in. Brees said he thought Graham scored, calling the consequences of the ruling, “huge.”

While the play was a momentum changer, Atlanta might have won anyway.

After not practicing or playing for about two weeks, Jones caught seven passes for 107 yards.

Jones made his presence felt with one double-digit-yard reception after another, including third-down catches of 12 and 24 yards during the Falcons’ first touchdown drive.

Matt Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 322 yards and a touchdown, and Devonta Freeman ran for a 31-yard score.

The Saints committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter in their fifth straight loss at home and were eliminated officially with Carolina’s victory over Cleveland.

New Orleans still had a chance to drive for a winning score in the final three minutes, but Robert McClain’s interception in Saints territory set up a Falcons field goal.

Osi Umenyiora then returned Brees’ fumble for an 86-yard TD as time expired. Umenyiora turned and waved goodbye to the Falcons’ long-time rivals as he trotted downfield on a play that punctuated a resurgent performance for a Falcons defense that was banged up and ranked last in the NFL.

Atlanta sacked Brees five times, the most this season for the Falcons’ defense.

Brees finished 30 of 47 for 313 yards and one touchdown to Graham, which pulled the Saints as close as 20-14 with 5:48 to go. Brees was also intercepted by Desmond Trufant on a fourth-down pass in the first half.

Seeking to fire up the home crowd in a crucial game, the Saints changed their introductions, turning off the house lights during a pyrotechnic display while fans held up their mobile phones as if at a concert.

Fans then went into a frenzy when Jalen Saunders returned the opening kickoff 99 yards to set up Mark Ingram’s 1-yard touchdown run.

But those celebrations were short-lived as the Falcons scored the next 20 points.

The Saints lost five straight at home in the same season for the first time since 1980, when Archie Manning was quarterback and New Orleans went 1-15.

Lions 20, Bears 14

Reggie Bush

Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush (21) rushes past Chicago Bears defenders in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO (AP) — After benching Jay Cutler, the Chicago Bears nearly hung an embarrassing loss on the playoff-bound Detroit Lions.

Thanks to a late touchdown run by Joique Bell, the Lions managed to get past Jimmy Clausen and the chaotic Chicago Bears 20-14 Sunday. That set up a showdown with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North championship.

“This is what we play for,” Calvin Johnson said after catching six passes for 103 yards. “We’re right there on the door step, we have one more task ahead of us and that’s to go out next week and get another W.”

Bell scored on a neat touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and Detroit overcame two interceptions by Matthew Stafford.

Chicago benched Cutler days earlier, having seen enough after he led the NFL with 18 interceptions and 24 turnovers in the first year of a seven-year contract he signed in the offseason. They turned to the cast-off Clausen, who hadn’t started a game since 2010.

Matthew Stafford outplayed Clausen, but just barely. He completed 22 of 39 passes for 243 yards and hit the 4,000-yard mark for the fourth straight year, but it was hardly an easy afternoon for him.

Ndamukong Suh had two sacks, and now the playoff-bound Lions (11-4) can wrap up the NFC North title with a win next week against Green Bay. Regardless, the Lions will make their second trip to the postseason in four years and third in 16 years after Philadelphia’s loss to Washington on Saturday.

They were hoping to lock up their first division championship since 1993. But with the Packers beating Tampa Bay, the North will be decided in next week’s game.

Stafford threw interceptions in the end zone and near the goal line on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter with the Lions leading 7-0.

Jeremy Ross muffed a punt near the end of the first half, leading to a touchdown for Chicago, and center Dominic Raiola stepped on Chicago defensive tackle Ego Ferguson’s right ankle while he was on the ground early in the third quarter.

Despite all that, the Lions came away with their highest win total since they went 12-4 in 1991.

Reggie Bush ran for a touchdown and 54 yards. He added 44 yards receiving, and Detroit handed Chicago (5-10) its fourth straight loss.

Clausen completed 23 of 39 passes for 181 yards in his first start since his 2010 rookie season with Carolina. He threw touchdowns to Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery and played turnover-free ball until a late interception by Glover Quin.

The Bears were leading 14-10 early in the fourth when Tim Jennings bumped Corey Fuller on a deep third-down pass, resulting in a 46-yard interference penalty.

On the next play Bell — who sat out the first quarter after violating unspecified team rules — dodged two defenders and broke a tackle by Brock Vereen for a 17-yard TD that put Detroit up 17-14. Prater added a 30-yard field goal to make it a six-point game with 2:35 remaining.

Prater gave Detroit a 10-7 lead with a 39-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half. But the Bears answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive. Clausen capped it by lofting a 20-yard pass over Darius Slay to Jeffery in the end zone, giving Chicago its first lead at 14-10 with 2:45 left in the third.

The Bears’ Jeremiah Ratliff blocked a 37-yard field goal by Prater early in the fourth, keeping it a four-point game.

The Lions might have run away with this one if not for Stafford’s interceptions in the second quarter and a muffed punt by Ross that led to an 11-yard touchdown catch by Forte with 30 seconds left in the first half. But if Detroit let up knowing that it clinched a playoff spot, Stafford did not see it that way.

Packers 20, Buccaneers 3

Bradley McDougald, Eddie Lacy

Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) outruns Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Bradley McDougald (30) to the end zone on a 44-yard touchdown run during the first quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Nothing Aaron Rodgers does as a quarterback surprises the Packers.

The NFL’s top-rated passer shrugged off the flu and played most of Sunday with a strained left calf, leading Green Bay to a 20-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — clinching at least a wild-card playoff berth.

The win set up a showdown with Detroit for the NFC North title next Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Rodgers threw for 318 yards and one touchdown and Eddie Lacy scored on a 44-yard run for the Packers (11-4), who rebounded from a loss to Buffalo that cost them sole possession of first place in the division.

Lacy finished with 99 yards rushing on 17 attempts. Jordy Nelson caught a 1-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter and had nine receptions for 113 yards, while Rodgers completed 11 throws to Randall Cobb for 131 yards.

As for the showdown with the Lions (11-4), McCarthy added:

“We’ve won six out of seven games, so I’d like to classify that as playing a lot of solid football, that’s for sure,” McCarthy said. “We’ll clean this game up tomorrow; we’ll be on it. We’ll also start on Detroit. I like where we’re at, and I really like this football team. … I feel good about the offense, defense and special teams.”

Rodgers rebounded from the only game this season in which he’s failed to throw for a touchdown, completing 31 of 40 passes without an interception. He threw 24 yards to Nelson on third-and-13 to extend the drive that produced Lacy’s long TD run, and a 19-yard completion to Nelson set up Rodgers’ 36th TD pass of the year with 2:45 remaining.

The Bucs (2-13) have lost five straight and remain in contention for the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. Their sputtering offense was held to a season-low 109 net yards; Josh McCown was sacked seven times and intercepted once; and Doug Martin was held to 17 yards rushing on 10 attempts.

The Bucs kept it close with a solid if not particularly flashy defensive performance. They forced Rodgers’ fourth turnover in two weeks with Michael Johnson’s sack-fumble, and a goal-line stand denied the Packers points in the third quarter after Lacy gained 5 yards on first down to the Bucs 1. Lacy and John Kuhn were stopped for no gain on the next two plays, then Rodgers threw an incompletion in the end zone on fourth down.

Nevertheless, the Packers wound up with 431 yards total offense.

McCown, meanwhile, was 12 of 26 for 147 yards. Mike Evans had four receptions for 49 yards and Vincent Jackson had three for 60 yards, moving both of them to the brink of 1,000-yard seasons.

LB Julius Peppers had two of Green Bay’s seven sacks and forced a fumble. LB Clay Matthews had 2 1-2 sacks. In 17 career games against Tampa Bay, Peppers has 17 1-2 sacks, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and an interception returned for a TD. … Green Bay improved to 4-0 following a loss this season.

Vikings 35, Dolphins 37

Dion Sims, Andrew Sendejo

Miami Dolphins tight end Dion Sims (80) makes a catch for a touchdown as Minnesota Vikings strong safety Andrew Sendejo (34) is late with the tackle during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross stood on the sideline at the end of Sunday’s wild victory sharing a laugh with those around him, his mind made up regarding the direction of the franchise.

He’s keeping his coach.

The Dolphins will sit out the playoffs for the sixth year in a row despite Sunday’s 37-35 victory over Minnesota, but afterward Ross announced Joe Philbin will return for a fourth season as coach.

“We’re building something great here,” Ross said in the locker room. “He’s the right guy. … I believe in this team. I believe in the coach.”

Ross said his decision wasn’t based on what happened Sunday, but the win certainly helped the Dolphins’ mood after dismal back-to-back losses spoiled their playoff hopes.

Rookie Terrence Fede blocked a punt for a safety with 41 seconds left, and Ryan Tannehill threw four touchdown passes, the most by a Dolphins quarterback since Dan Marino in 1998. Miami outscored the Vikings 23-18 in a bizarre fourth quarter.

Both teams went into the game playing for pride rather than a postseason berth. The Dolphins improved to 8-7 and have a shot at their first winning season since 2008.

Philbin has a year left on his contract and a career record of 23-24.

“I want to compete for championships while I’m the head coach of the Miami Dolphins,” Philbin said. “It’s disappointing we’re not in it.”

Players said they were pleased to learn Philbin will be back in 2015.

“That’s exciting news for me, and I think everyone on the team,” Tannehill said. “We believe in coach Philbin and the program he has and everything he has set in place.”

The Vikings, who have been out of the playoff race since Thanksgiving, fell to 6-9 under first-year coach Mike Zimmer. They blew a 14-point lead to lose for the second week in a row.

The Dolphins overcame a 14-0 deficit, and trailed again after giving up 15 points in an 11-second span in the fourth quarter.

Tannehill then drove Miami 80 yards and hit Damien Williams for a 3-yard score with 1:11 left to make it 35-35. Minnesota failed to pick up a first down, and after the fourth-down snap bounced to punter Jeff Locke, Fede blocked the kick out of the end zone for the game-winner.

Tannehill went 35 for 47 for 396 yards, and directed an offense that totaled 36 first downs and 493 yards. He shook off a costly interception and two sacks and was knocked down at least eight other times.

Mike Wallace caught touchdown passes of 16 and 7 yards and has 10 scores this year.

Vikings rookie Teddy Bridgewater, playing in his hometown, was efficient but not as prolific as Tannehill. He went 19 for 25 for 259 yards and two scores, and said he’s braced for teasing from friends and family about the outcome.

The Vikings trailed 28-20 but drove 59 yards for a touchdown and made the 2-point conversion with 4:46 to go. On the ensuing kickoff they recovered Jarvis Landry’s fumble at the 5, and Matt Asiata ran for the go-ahead touchdown.

Miami regrouped, and its tying drive was aided by a pass interference penalty on Xavier Rhodes on third-and-14. Rookie Williams scored his first career touchdown on the next play.

Safety Harrison Smith set up a TD when he blitzed and intercepted Tannehill’s pass at point-blank range deep in Miami territory. Three plays later, Bridgewater led Greg Jennings perfectly for a 21-yard score and a 14-0 lead.

But the Vikings, who squandered a two-touchdown cushion in a loss at Detroit last week, couldn’t hold their leads against Miami, either. Lamar Miller’s 1-yard plunge on third down at the start of the fourth quarter put the Dolphins ahead for the first time. The Vikings haven’t won in Miami since 1976.

Giants 37, Rams 27

Janoris Jenkinsm, Janoris Jenkins

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., right, runs with the ball as St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins defends during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The New York Giants are peaking behind a rookie that no one can cover. They all have Odell Beckham Jr.’s back, too.

Beckham caught two touchdowns and rolled up 118 of his 148 yards receiving in the second half after absorbing two late hits in a 37-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. The Rams hadn’t allowed a TD in three straight games.

“Absolutely, they played dirty,” Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said.

“Man, they are a dirty team,” linebacker Jameel McClain yelled as he entered the locker room.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher blamed the Giants.

“Very disappointing in the actions on the other side,” Fisher said. “There’s no place for it in the game. It’s unfortunate it got out of hand.”

Beckham set a franchise rookie record with his 10th and 11th TD catches, shattered another rookie mark for receptions and topped 1,000 yards. The second late hit by linebacker Alec Ogletree led to a brawl and three ejections, none of them to starters.

Ogletree’s hit finished with some back-and-forth with Beckham — football to the face, slap to the facemask, attempted kick — that led to fisticuffs. Wide receiver Preston Parker jumped Ogletree as he was backing away.

Before the penalties were announced, Beckham returned to the field clapping his hands. He thought Ogletree had been trying to “dunk” him.

Eli Manning was 25 for 32 for 391 yards and three touchdowns, rookie Andre Williams had 110 yards rushing on 26 carries in place of the injured Rashad Jennings, and Rueben Randle also topped the century mark with six catches for 132 yards and a score.

New York won handily despite committing 12 penalties for 141 yards — 96 of them in the first half. The Giants excelled in every other phase, scoring 10 points off two first-half turnovers while committing none and dominating in time of possession.

Shaun Hill was 24 for 32 for 290 yards with TD passes to Lance Kendricks and Chris Givens in the second half. Tre Mason had 13 carries for 76 yards and a score, and Kenny Britt had nine receptions for 103 yards.

Their defense riled up the wrong guy, too.

Beckham has 79 receptions, most in NFL history for a player in his first 11 career games and five more than the previous franchise rookie mark by Jeremy Shockey in 2003. He’s had at least 90 yards receiving in eight consecutive games and could tie the NFL record of nine straight by the Cowboys’ Michael Irvin in 1995 in the finale against Philadelphia.

The 11 touchdown catches broke a team record set in 1948 by Bill Swiacki.

Beckham’s 9-yard TD catch in the first quarter capitalized on a fumble by Benny Cunningham on a kickoff return and put the Giants up 10-0 along with ending the Rams’ 12-quarter streak without allowing a TD.

The Giants had a short field after rookie Orleans Darkwa forced the fumble while Cunningham attempted to spin free. Defensive end Kerry Wynn’s first career interception — on a pass in and out of the arms of Tavon Austin — set up a first-half field goal.

The Rams allowed four field goals in their last game, a 12-6 loss to the Cardinals. They shut out the previous two opponents, Washington and Oakland.

Attendance was announced as 55,851, but there were thousands of empty seats at the Edward Jones Dome, which holds 66,000. Players heard some boos at the end of the game.

Bills 24, Raiders 26

Andre Holmes, Corey Graham

Oakland Raiders wide receiver Andre Holmes (18) catches a pass over Buffalo Bills cornerback Corey Graham (20) during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Unable to make the playoffs for the 12th straight year, the Oakland Raiders are doing a good job keeping other teams out of the postseason.

Derek Carr threw two touchdown passes, Sebastian Janikowski kicked four field goals, and the Raiders knocked the Buffalo Bills from playoff contention with a 26-24 victory Sunday.

The Bills (8-7) needed to win their final two games and get some help to end the NFL’s longest active playoff drought at 14 seasons. But they failed at the easiest part — beating the lowly Raiders (3-12) — and will miss the playoffs for a 15th straight year.

Oakland has the second longest active postseason drought at 12 but has done a good job of playing spoiler in the past five weeks, beating Kansas City, San Francisco and Buffalo after starting the season 0-10.

Carr wasn’t that sharp, completing just 17 of 34 passes for 214 yards, but the rookie did what Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers couldn’t: throw a touchdown pass against Buffalo’s stout defense.

He tied the game with a scoring throw to James Jones in the second quarter and then sealed it with a 1-yarder to Jamize Olawale with 2:51 to go.

The second TD came after Oakland stopped Buffalo on a third-and-1 near midfield when Ray-Ray Armstrong deflected a pass to Chris Hogan and Carr converted a third-and-22 with a 51-yard completion to Andre Holmes.

Darren McFadden then ran it 25 yards down to the 1, and Carr hit Olawale two plays later to seal Buffalo’s fate.

After Janikowski missed a 48-yard field goal attempt, Orton threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods with 1:09 to play to cut it to 26-24. But Woodson recovered the ensuing onside kick to end it.

The Bills came into the game vowing not to overlook the two-win Raiders. But Orton struggled after an early touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins, throwing an interception and posting five straight three-and-outs on Buffalo’s next six possessions to put the Bills in a hole they never could overcome.

The Bills ran for just 13 yards despite the return of C.J. Spiller from a broken collarbone. That was their worst rushing performance since gaining 4 yards against Tennessee on Nov. 23, 1997.

Instead of having a playoff berth possibly on the line next week in New England, the Bills can start looking ahead to next season and figuring out what to do at quarterback. Orton failed to get Buffalo over the hump after replacing ineffective second-year player EJ Manuel.

Orton went 32 for 49 for 329 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Raiders got a pair of field goals from Janikowski in the third quarter to take a 19-10 lead, but the Bills managed to stay within striking distance by keeping Oakland out of the end zone.

Buffalo then got right back into it on the opening play of the fourth quarter when Orton connected on a 29-yard touchdown pass to Scott Chandler to make it 19-17. But that was as close as it would get. The 13 yards rushing allowed by the Raiders were tied for their third fewest since the merger.

 

Colts 7, Cowboys 42

Greg Toler, Dez Bryant

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) reaches up to grab a touchdown pass over Indianapolis Colts cornerback Greg Toler (28) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Tony Romo helped dump a bucket on Jason Garrett and playfully shoved him the same way the Dallas coach often does to his players.

The Cowboys had long since known their four-year playoff drought was over Sunday when they finally got to celebrate in the final seconds of a dominating 42-7 win over Indianapolis that clinched the NFC East title.

A special moment made perfect sense for the quarterback with a history of crushing late-season failures and a coach who kept getting Dallas to meaningful finales but couldn’t shake questions about his future because he couldn’t break through with a postseason trip.

“In so many ways, this is such a long journey and to get to a point to achieve your first goal of winning the division title, a lot goes into that,” said Garrett, in his fourth full season. “I think the way you play in securing that matters, and I thought we played really, really well.”

Romo threw four touchdown passes and broke Troy Aikman’s franchise record for yards passing while the Cowboys (11-4) emphatically ended a three-game home losing streak, scoring touchdowns on their first four possessions.

Dallas had an opening for its first division title and postseason berth since 2009 because of Philadelphia’s 27-24 loss at Washington on Saturday. The Eagles were eliminated with the Cowboys’ win.

The Colts (10-5) didn’t have much to play for with the AFC South title secured, and looked like it while they barely avoided their first shutout loss in 21 years.

The Cowboys had already ended their three-year rut of 8-8 finishes that included losses in finales that kept them out of the playoffs. But they had to keep winning to make sure they got in.

Tight end Jason Witten had a touchdown catch and 90 yards receiving to reach his 11th straight season with at least 600 yards. He had the memorable one-liner that it couldn’t be “the same old story” before training camp during the string of frustrating .500 finishes.

Then it kept being the same old story — until Sunday, when Dallas kept alive its hopes for a first-round bye as well.

Romo led scoring drives of 80 and 75 yards, the latter ending on a 24-yard pass to Cole Beasley. He spun away from a shoulder tackle by D’Qwell Jackson and ran the final 13 yards to the end zone.

The 34-year-old Romo broke Aikman’s record on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Witten, his teammate since they came into the league together 11 years ago.

“He’s obviously just got a special place in my heart,” said Romo, who has 32,971 career yards, 29 more than the three-time Super Bowl winner.

Coming off back surgery that kept him out of last year’s season-ending loss to the Eagles, and another back injury sustained against Washington in October, Romo had his fifth game with a passer rating of at least 135. He completed 18 for 20 passes for 218 yards.

NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray played with a broken left hand, but the Cowboys didn’t need much from him. He had 58 yards, with a 1-yard score.

With a home playoff game already in hand and little chance to get a first-round bye, Indianapolis sat receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring injury) and right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who is nursing a groin problem.

Trailing 35-0 in the third quarter, Luck went to the bench in favor of Matt Hasselbeck as the Colts set season lows in points and total yards (229) for the second straight week. They had just 1 yard rushing.

Indianapolis had Dallas beaten on a fake punt after three straight running plays on its first possession. But a backpedaling Dewey McDonald, left uncovered on the outside, dropped punter Pat McAfee’s perfect throw.

On the next play, Romo put Dallas up 14-0 with a 19-yard pass to Dez Bryant, who caught a scoring pass in his 12th consecutive game against the AFC to extend the longest interconference streak since the 1970 merger.

Murray now has 1,745 yards and needs 29 to break career NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith’s franchise record of 1,773 yards from 1995. … The Colts barely extended their scoring streak to 336 games, second-longest behind Denver’s 355.

Seahawks 35, Cardinals 6

Luke Willson, Rashad Johnson

Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson (82) runs in a touchdown as Arizona Cardinals free safety Rashad Johnson (26 ) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals had everything they wanted: A rowdy, packed-in home crowd, a division title and home-field advantage all the way through the Super Bowl on the line.

The Cardinals responded with a dud in the desert, putting a big dent in their hopes of hosting a playoff game, much less reaching football’s biggest stage back at home.

Ryan Lindley struggled in his first start in two years and Arizona’s defense unraveled in the fourth quarter, leading to a disheartening 35-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night.

The Seahawks won the first game between the teams, 19-3 in Seattle on Nov. 23, and were 8-point road favorites over the Cardinals in the rematch.

It apparently should have been more.

The injury-ravaged Cardinals (11-4) had no shot against Seattle’s NFL-best defense, managing 216 total yards.

Lindley, Arizona’s fourth quarterback of the season, misfired all night and got no help from the ground game. He threw for 216 yards on 18-of-44 passing with an interception. The Cardinals’ 29 yards rushing on 15 carries was negated by four sacks for 29 yards.

Seattle’s offense chugged along early and raced away from Arizona late, using a 21-point fourth quarter to put a still-in-reach game well beyond the Cardinals’ grasp.

Russell Wilson threw for 339 yards and a pair of touchdowns to tight end Luke Willson, and ran for 80 more yards and another score.

Marshawn Lynch missed the first quarter due what the team said was an upset stomach and made the Cardinals’ bellies hurt, running for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a highlight-reel, tackle-breaking 79-yarder that he punctuated by grabbing his crotch as he leaped into the end zone.

Seattle (11-4) set a franchise record with 596 total yards and is now in control of the NFC West; Arizona’s only shot is to beat San Francisco next week and have the Seahawks lose to St. Louis at home.

Arizona had found ways to win despite a litany injuries, clinching a playoff spot with its win over St. Louis last week.

The injuries, particularly at quarterback, seemed to catch up to the Cardinals against the swarming Seahawks.

Carson Palmer went down midseason with a torn ACL and Drew Stanton injured his right knee against the Rams, leaving Arizona in the hands of Lindley.

He started four games for the Cardinals in 2012 and was their third quarterback last season, though didn’t play. Lindley was cut by Arizona in training camp this season and ended up on San Diego’s practice squad before re-signing with the Cardinals after the injuries.

He threw just 10 passes in the 12-6 win over the Rams and was given the starting nod over rookie Logan Thomas against Seattle.

It didn’t go well.

Lindley had a hard time connecting with his receivers from the start, throwing several passes that were nowhere near the intended target or where he thought the receiver would be.

Arizona had two sustained drives the entire game and both ended with field goals by Matt Catanzaro. Lindley also threw an interception in the fourth quarter and finished with a quarterback rating of 47.2

Arizona’s defense managed to bend through the first three quarters to keep it close before breaking in the fourth quarter.

Wilson hit Willson on an 80-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter and Lynch came off the bench to score on a 6-yard touchdown run. Arizona managed to keep it close through three quarters with some help from Steven Hauschka, who missed three field goals.

Once the fourth hit, the Cardinals wore out.

Wilson and Willson connected on a 20-yard score, Lynch pinballed off tacklers for his 79-yard, crotch-grabbing TD and Wilson punctuated the night with a 5-yard touchdown run to put the Seahawks on the cusp of the NFC West title instead of the Cardinals.

Seattle has allowed 33 total points the past five games. … Arizona can still clinch its first 12-win season as a franchise next week against the Rams. … The Cardinals are 13-3 at home in Arians’ two seasons, with two of the losses to Seattle. … All 18 points in Arizona’s last two games came by field goal.

Marshawn Lynch sat out the first quarter with what the team called an “upset stomach,” then came in to score on a 6-yard run in the second quarter and a spectacular, multiple tackle-breaking 79-yard scoring run in Seattle’s 21-point fourth quarter.

Broncos 37, Bengals 28

Jeremy Hill

Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) runs 85 yards for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos on Monday, Dec. 22, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

CINCINNATI (AP) — With everything on the line, the Bengals picked off Peyton Manning — twice, no less — and ran back into the playoffs.

Dre Kirkpatrick returned Manning’s third interception for a touchdown in the closing minutes Monday night, completing a fourth-quarter rally that gave Cincinnati a 37-28 victory over the Denver Broncos and a spot in the playoffs.

Kirkpatrick’s 30-yard return with 2:41 left capped a game of big plays — long runs, big kick returns and two interceptions run back for scores. With 67 seconds left, Kirkpatrick picked off Manning again to clinch it.

The Bengals (10-4-1) secured a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season, a franchise record. They’ll play in Pittsburgh next Sunday night, with the winner taking the AFC North title.

Manning rallied the Broncos (11-4) to three touchdowns in the third quarter and a lead, but came up empty in the closing minutes and finished with a season-high four interceptions. The loss gave New England home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The AFC West champions failed in their attempt to clinch a first-round bye and came away with more questions about Manning, who was limited in practice during the week because of a strained right thigh.

Denver scored 21 points in the third quarter, with Manning throwing a pair of touchdowns to Emmanuel Sanders. With a chance to pull off his 51st game-winning drive in a heavy rain, Manning threw a sideline pass directly to Kirkpatrick, who ran it back untouched.

Manning finished 28 of 44 for 311 yards. He’d been 8-0 career against the Bengals with 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. He nearly matched that total in one game.

Demaryius Thomas had seven catches for 115 yards, setting a club record with his ninth 100-yard game of the season.

Andy Dalton settled down after a huge early mistake — an overthrown pass that Aqib Talib returned for a touchdown — and rookie Jeremy Hill led a dominating running game that finished with 207 yards overall. Hill had an 85-yard touchdown run with 147 overall, going over 1,000 for the season.

It was a breakthrough for the Bengals, who had been blown out in their two prime-time games this season and came in 18-41 all-time at night. They have one more left in Pittsburgh next Sunday.

The dominant running game immensely helped Dalton, who is 3-6 all-time in prime time. He started badly again on Monday, overthrowing A.J. Green for an interception that Talib returned 33 yards for a touchdown. Dalton finished 17 of 26 for 146 yards with two touchdowns and the one interception.

Green was hit in the right upper arm on the interception and was in and out of the game the rest of the way. He was held without a catch for only the second time in his career.

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