2014 NFL Week 17 Monday Afternoon QB

Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders

Here is a recap of Week 17 of the 2014 NFL Season with Monday Afternoon QB. Thanks again to the AP Sports/Pro 32 for photos & articles.

Bills 17, Patriots 9

Jamie Collins, Rob Ninkovich, Scott Chandler

Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler (84) catches a pass between New England Patriots outside linebacker Jamie Collins (91) and defensive end Rob Ninkovich (50) in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Safe on the sideline, Tom Brady watched the Buffalo Bills finish with their first winning record in 10 seasons.

Then he predicted the New England Patriots would be just fine once their top players are back on the field in the playoffs.

Kyle Orton threw for a touchdown, Anthony Dixon ran for another and the Bills beat the going-through-the motions Patriots (12-4), who already had clinched the AFC’s No. 1 seed and a first-round bye and wanted to avoid injuries. New England next plays on Saturday, Jan. 10.

The Bills (9-7) ended their string of losing seasons, matching their record in 2004. But they had little else to play for after a loss to Oakland one week earlier eliminated them from playoff contention for the 15th straight season, the longest current NFL streak.

The Patriots held out their top receivers, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, but the plan to protect players wasn’t entirely successful. Starting left tackle Nate Solder didn’t return after hurting his knee late in the first half.

And after the game, coach Bill Belichick met with trainers about his own health.

“I had to spend a few minutes in the training room after the game, nothing serious, just a couple things to look at with the trainers and the doctor,” Belichick said in a conference call after skipping his usual postgame news conference. “It was no big deal. I don’t want to get into it.”

The loss snapped several streaks: Buffalo’s 0-12 record at Gillette Stadium, and New England’s 35 home wins against AFC teams and 16 at home against any opponent.

Buffalo safety Aaron Williams was proud of the victory against a team that didn’t try its best.

With starting offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer also inactive, New England failed to score a touchdown for the first time since the fifth game last season, a 13-6 loss at Cincinnati. Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals.

The sellout crowd lacked its usual energy but cheered when backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took off on several runs.

Brady played all five offensive series in the first half and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season. He was 8 of 16 for 80 yards and was sacked once.

On his next-to-last possession, he was tackled by Stefan Charles for a 7-yard loss. On his final series, he kept the ball for a 2-yard keeper for a first down then ran for 7 yards before sliding to avoid being hit.

Orton was 16 of 23 for 176 yards and went over the 3,000-yard passing mark for the third time in his career.

The Bills rushed for 104 yards one week after picking up just 13, fourth fewest in team history, in a 26-24 loss to the Raiders.

The Bills went all season without a player rushing for 100 yards for only the fourth time in team history and first since 1979.

Browns 10, Ravens 20

Joe Haden, Torrey Smith

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, right, makes a catch for a first down in front of Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens couldn’t help watching the scoreboard in the midst of a game they had to win to reach the playoffs.

Baltimore earned a wild-card card berth Sunday by defeating the Cleveland Browns 20-10 and getting an assist halfway across the country.

To enter the postseason for the sixth time in seven years, the Ravens (10-6) needed to beat the Browns (7-9) and have San Diego lose in Kansas City.

A 17-point fourth quarter took care of the initial segment of that scenario, and the Chiefs did their part with a 19-7 win over the Chargers.

The Ravens knew what was happening in the other game.

“There is no not seeing the scoreboard. It’s all over the place,” quarterback Joe Flacco said.

“When we were down 10-3, yeah, we were paying attention,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We had to handle our business, and we did.”

The first part of Baltimore’s playoff equation seemed easy enough, given that the Browns had lost four straight, were starting rookie quarterback Connor Shaw and had dropped 12 of their past 13 against Baltimore.

But the Ravens trailed 10-3 in the fourth quarter.

A field goal narrowed the gap, and Baltimore took the lead on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Torrey Smith with 7:33 left.

Flacco’s 2-yard TD throw to Kamar Aiken with 3:44 remaining clinched it.

“Today it was struggle, struggle, struggle,” said Flacco, who went 8 for 9 for 161 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. He finished 22 for 36 for 312 yards, and the two TD passes gave him a career-high 27 for the season.

For three quarters, the Ravens stumbled offensively — just as they did one week earlier in a 25-13 loss in Houston. As the game wore on, the home fans showed their dissatisfaction by booing before yet another Baltimore punt.

“These guys want to be sitting on the couch, having parties and cheering for us in a week,” Flacco said.

Justin Forsett had 119 yards rushing for the Ravens, who will open on the road next weekend.

With quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel out with injuries, Shaw made his NFL debut for Cleveland. The Browns were also without suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon, and they placed cornerback Justin Gilbert on the inactive list after the rookie reportedly showed up late for a team meeting.

“I’m not going to address those guys,” coach Mike Pettine said. “To me, it’s disrespectful to the guys who put the uniforms on today and played their hearts out for the Cleveland Browns. … There were guys who didn’t need to out there and play, who could have shut it down and didn’t.”

Despite being short-handed, the Browns stuck with a team playing with a postseason berth on the line.

“We had our chances. I thought we executed our plan well for three quarters and just couldn’t finish,” Pettine said. “In a lot of ways, it was a microcosm of our season.”

The Browns took a 10-3 lead in the third quarter when Shaw went 3 for 3 during an 80-yard drive. Shaw scrambled in the pocket before connecting on a 49-yard completion to rookie Taylor Gabriel, who started in place of Gordon. That was followed by a 2-yard touchdown run by Terrance West.

Baltimore closed to 10-6 with 10:37 left when Justin Tucker kicked a 28-yard field goal after a 39-yard completion from Flacco to tight end Owen Daniels.

Cleveland followed with three straight runs and a punt, giving the Ravens the ball again with 8:23 to go.

Flacco completed a 53-yarder to Smith before hitting the wide receiver on the next play for the go-ahead score.

West ran for 94 yards and Shaw went 14 for 28 for 177 yards, but the Browns finished the season with five straight losses and serious off-the-field issues that must be resolved — not the least of which is at quarterback.

“It’s pretty obvious that it’s still a big question mark,” said Pettine, whose job for next year is safe. Owner Jimmy Haslam said that Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer “absolutely” will return.

There were more fumbles (three) than scoring plays in a first half that ended tied at 3.

Shaw launched his professional career by moving the Browns to the Baltimore 25 before fumbling a snap and losing the ball.

Colts 27, Titans 10

Coby Fleener

Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener (80) runs untouched into the end zone for a touchdown on a 7-yard pass play against the Tennessee Titans in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Andrew Luck topped one of Peyton Manning’s franchise records and helped the Indianapolis Colts tune up their offense for the postseason in only 30 minutes.

That also was enough time to start the Titans prepping for the No. 2 pick overall in the NFL draft.

Luck threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns before sitting out the second half, and the Colts finished off the regular season by beating the Titans 27-10 on Sunday.

The Colts (11-5) bounced back from their worst performance this season by nearly matching what they did offensively in the loss at Dallas by halftime. They wound up outgaining the Titans 378-192 as the AFC South champs swept their division a second straight season for the first time in franchise history.

“I feel a heck of a lot better obviously today than we did a week ago this time,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said.

Indianapolis will host the loser of Cincinnati-Pittsburgh in a wild-card game barring a tie in that game Sunday night.

Luck came in needing only 100 yards passing to top Manning’s record of 4,700 yards passing in 2010 and passed Manning on an 80-yard catch-and-run by Reggie Wayne. Luck also became only the eighth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 40 TDs and at least 4,000 yards in a season.

With their 10th straight loss and 14th in 15 games, the Titans (2-14) finished their worst season since 1994. Tampa Bay’s loss kept Tennessee picking second overall in the draft for a franchise that hasn’t had the No. 1 pick overall since trading for the right in 1978 to select Earl Campbell.

Adam Vinatieri missed out on becoming only the fifth kicker in NFL history not to miss a field goal in a season on his 42nd birthday. The Colts kicker came in hitting his first 28 field goals and connected from 23 on his first attempt. But Vinatieri was wide left on a 46-yarder in the third quarter, though he hit from 26 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

The Colts also came up with four sacks, and Vontae Davis simply took the ball away from Titans rookie running back Bishop Sankey in the fourth quarter.

The Titans started so poorly that the best early highlight came off Brett Kern’s career-high 79-yard punt, helped when Josh Cribbs let the ball roll into the end zone.

The Colts were held to a season-worst 229 yards total offense last week in Dallas. They had to punt on their opening drive, then got going. Luck shook off a sack and a fumble recovered by right guard Hugh Thornton to throw a 7-yard TD pass to a wide-open Coby Fleener in the first quarter. Fleener also caught a TD pass from Matt Hasselbeck.

Wayne avoided a defender and hurt his groin as he ran up the right sideline on the 80-yarder. He stayed on the field for a couple minutes while fans chanted “Reggie, Reggie.” Wayne never returned, and Luck capped the drive with a 1-yard TD toss to Jack Doyle on the next play.

The Titans struggled even when they scored. With goal to go, the Titans twice had high snaps and followed the first with a delay of game penalty before Whitehurst found Kendall Wright for a 6-yard TD pass. On the second, Whitehurst could only cover up as he was sacked, and the Titans settled for a 31-yard field goal by Ryan Succop.

Pagano joined 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh as the only coaches to win at least 11 games in each of his first three seasons. … Indianapolis now has won seven straight and 12 of the last 13 in this series. … Kern’s 79-yard punt in the second quarter tied the franchise record set by Jim Norton in 1964.

Jets 37, Dolphins 24

Geno Smith, Randy Starks

New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) avoids a tackle by Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks (94) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — When the woeful New York Jets gave up a 97-yard touchdown run to fall behind by 10 points Sunday, Rex Ryan cursed and hollered and angrily swung his arms and stomped along the sideline.

Nearly 30 minutes remained in the season, and Ryan wasn’t done coaching yet.

With a breakout performance by Geno Smith, the Jets rallied to beat the Miami Dolphins 37-24, and Ryan ordered a fake punt with four minutes left that sealed the victory. It left the coach in a jovial mood, even though the comeback probably won’t be enough to save his job.

“I think we all expect what’s going to happen is going to happen,” Ryan said. “I’m not afraid of what lies ahead, I can tell you that.”

Smith had his best game in a rocky season, throwing for a career-high 358 yards and three touchdowns. That more than negated a 97-yard run by Lamar Miller, the longest play from scrimmage in Dolphins history.

The game was entertaining but mostly meaningless because it involved two teams out of the playoff chase. And with the Jets sitting out the postseason for the fourth consecutive year, owner Woody Johnson is widely expected to fire Ryan, and perhaps general manager John Idzik.

The Jets (4-12) finished with their worst record since 2007.

“This is a great team — just, we haven’t had a great record,” Ryan said. “But as far as how you build a team, it’s there.”

Ryan is 46-50 in six seasons — not including 4-2 in the postseason — but remains popular with his players, and they dumped a bucket of sports drink on him when the game ended.

Ryan continually tried to deflect postgame questions about his future, saying Johnson will talk to him “at the appropriate time.” They met briefly after the game.

The Dolphins (8-8) missed a shot at their first winning season since 2008, which is the last time they made the playoffs. Owner Stephen Ross has said coach Joe Philbin will be back for a fourth season in 2015, and he’ll have disharmony to address after benching star receiver Mike Wallace for the entire second half.

Wallace was punished for arguing with the coaching staff at halftime. He declined to talk to reporters after the game, and instead had teammate Brandon Gibson speak on his behalf, which made for a bizarre scene as they stood side by side at their lockers.

Why was Gibson doing the talking? The half-empty stadium and also-ran status of the teams created the atmosphere of an exhibition game, and with the stakes modest, Ryan threw in an occasional frill. The Jets ran a reverse out of the wildcat, with receiver Jeremy Kerley throwing incomplete to Smith.

The fake punt came when New York clung to a 27-24 lead. Punter Ryan Quigley lobbed a 38-yard pass to tight end Zach Sudfeld on fourth-and-12.

“Somebody had the guts to call it,” Ryan said. “I don’t know who, but he’s probably standing in front of you.”

On the next play, Smith hit Jeff Cumberland with a 23-yard pass for the clinching touchdown.

New York came in ranked last in the NFL in passing, but Smith went 20 of 25 and had a passer rating of 158.3 — the only perfect rating this year by a quarterback throwing at least seven passes, according to STATS. The South Florida native helped the Jets achieve a season-high points total.

Even so, the game might have been Smith’s final start for the Jets. They’re expected to seek quarterback help in the draft or free agency.

Eric Decker caught 10 passes for a career-high 221 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown, the longest play by the Jets this year. David Harris had 2½ of the Jets’ seven sacks of Ryan Tannehill.

Miller ran for a career-high 178 yards and reached the 1,000-yard milestone for the first time. His touchdown was the longest run allowed by the Jets, and the longest play from scrimmage in the NFL this season. Jets QB Michael Vick played for first time since Nov. 24, making a brief appearance in the first quarter. … Tannehill became the first Miami player since Dan Marino in 1994 to throw for 4,000 yards. Tannehill finished with 392 completions this season to break Marino’s 1994 franchise record of 385.

Chargers 7, Chiefs 19

Eddie Royal, Kurt Coleman

San Diego Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal (11) can’t control a touchdown pass against the defense of Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Kurt Coleman (27) during the second half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — In a world of smartphones, text messages and Twitter, there’s a good chance that just about everybody inside Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday knew about the Chiefs’ precarious postseason position.

Well, except for the Chiefs.

Even as they were knocking the San Diego Chargers from contention with a 19-7 victory, they refused to ask about what was transpiring elsewhere.

It was only later that they learned just how close they were to hitting on a three-team parlay — Baltimore getting beat by Cleveland and Houston losing to Jacksonville — that would have gotten them into the playoffs.

By the time the Chiefs got to their locker room, though, they knew: The Ravens and Texans both rallied in the second half for victories, giving Baltimore for the final AFC wild-card spot.

The playoff disappointment overshadowed plenty of positives Sunday.

Justin Houston had four sacks for the Chiefs (9-7) to break Derrick Thomas’ franchise record with 22 in the season. Cairo Santos kicked four field goals, and Daniel played serviceably in just his second NFL start, throwing for 157 yards without an interception.

The Chiefs’ only touchdown came when wide receiver Dwayne Bowe fumbled inches shy of the goal line early in the second quarter. Tight end Travis Kelce recovered in the end zone, not only giving Kansas City a 10-0 lead, but keeping a dubious streak intact: No Chiefs wide receiver caught a TD pass all season, the first time in at least 50 years that has happened.

The Chargers (9-7) never really gave themselves a chance at the playoffs. Nick Novak missed a 52-yard field goal attempt late in the third quarter. Midway through the fourth, a touchdown pass to Eddie Royal was overturned by a video review when the ball appeared to skip off the turf — San Diego went for it on fourth down and Philip Rivers threw incomplete. Then with about 4 minutes left, Donald Brown was stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the Chiefs 20.

Rivers was intercepted for a second time in the closing seconds of the game. Rivers finished with 291 yards passing to go over 4,000 in a season for the sixth time, though he also threw two interceptions. Branden Oliver ran for 71 yards and a touchdown.

In many ways, injuries crippled San Diego’s postseason hopes.

After starting the game without running back Ryan Mathews, wide receiver Keenan Allen and center Chris Watt, the banged-up Chargers watched right tackle D.J. Fluker walked slowly to the locker room late in the first half. He joined safety Marcus Gilchrist (elbow), cornerback Shareece Wright (head injury) and wide receiver Eddie Royal, who got hurt late in the game.

Injuries also took their toll on the Chiefs, who were 7-3 at one point this season.

Still, after weathering so much adversity, they still had a shot at the playoffs when the fourth quarter rolled around. They had already built a 19-7 lead, Cleveland was clinging to a 10-3 lead over Baltimore and three-win Jacksonville was leading Houston 17-14.

If all three scores had held, the Chiefs would have claimed the final wild-card spot.

Instead, the Texans took the lead a few minutes later. So did the Ravens. And when both held on, Kansas City joined San Diego in heading into the offseason. Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles ran for 54 yards, going over 1,000 for the season. … The Chiefs had seven sacks. … Rivers fell to 34-9 in regular-season games played in December and January.

Bears 9, Vikings 13

Martellus Bennett, Captain Munnerlyn

Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett runs from Minnesota Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, left, after catching a pass during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings were just getting started, with a rookie quarterback and a first-time head coach in Mike Zimmer so eager to maintain momentum he told the players to report to practice in a few days.

The Chicago Bears played again as if they were ready for this season to be over.

Teddy Bridgewater threw the go-ahead 44-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen in the third quarter, guiding the Vikings to a 13-9 victory on Sunday to slap one more blemish on a forgettable year for the Bears.

Bears coach Marc Trestman might not make it until Tuesday. Blair Walsh kicked two field goals, linebacker Audie Cole had 11 tackles, three assists and a pass breakup in his first start of the season and the Vikings (7-9) ended Zimmer’s first season on a winning note. Bridgewater was so thrilled by Zimmer’s first NFC North win that he gave him the ball from the last snap of the game.

“I was so excited and so caught up in how well the guys played today. We showed a lot of character,” said Bridgewater, who went 17 for 25 for 209 yards to finish 6-6 as a starter in his first year.

Jay Cutler returned from a one-game benching with 172 yards on 23-for-36 passing without a fumble or an interception, but he rarely threw long and the offense was off all afternoon with a series of unforced errors. The Bears (5-11) finished with their worst record in 10 years.

After the Vikings drove to the 3, Matt Asiata was stuffed for no gain on the same play on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 to give Cutler and the Bears one last opportunity with 2:53 left and a four-point deficit.

They bungled it, metaphorically for this mess of a season. Three penalties, including two false starts, plus an incompletion doomed the drive.

From players to coaches on up to general manager Phil Emery, just about every key figure entered the offseason on a tenuous note as the Bears missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year after reaching the NFC championship game following the 2010 season.

Alshon Jeffery had only two catches for 34 yards after totaling 23 receptions, 384 yards and three touchdowns over the past two games against the Vikings. Without Brandon Marshall to attract attention elsewhere, the Vikings led by cornerback Xavier Rhodes had Jeffery well under control.

Kyle Fuller intercepted a short pass by Bridgewater that was behind Cordarrelle Patterson but bounced off both of the wide receiver’s hands. Fuller reached the end zone with his return, but the replay revealed his knee was down at the 9-yard line.

That was the second of three touchdowns, two by the Bears, overruled by an official review. The Bears had to settle for the second of three field goals by Jay Feely, who later missed a 43-yard try.

Bridgewater responded with a bang, connecting with Thielen for 22 yards and finding him wide open for the score on the ensuing play for a 10-6 lead when Fuller and safety Brock Vereen blew the coverage.

Cowboys 44, Redskins 17

DeMarco Murray

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) carries the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. Murray set the franchise single-season rushing record for the Cowboys on the play. (AP Photo/Richard Lipski)

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — DeMarco Murray passed Emmitt Smith with a change-of-direction that left a safety flat-footed.

Dez Bryant moved ahead of Terrell Owens by getting the left tiptoe down in the end zone, a touchdown that didn’t count until the replay showed what a superb catch it was.

And Tony Romo? How about a 4-0 month that might help dispel the notion that the Dallas Cowboys can’t be a December team.

The Cowboys prepped for the playoffs Sunday with a 44-17 win over the Washington Redskins, with Murray and Bryant breaking a pair of prestigious franchise records along the way and the team as a whole maintaining momentum heading into its first postseason appearance since 2009.

“Right before people’s eyes,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, “we have basically torn it up in December.”

That’s a change of pace from recent history, when Dallas capped three consecutive season win-or-fail losses to NFC East rivals in the final weekend, yielding back-to-back-to-back 8-8 records that fueled more doubts about Romo as a big-game quarterback.

Sunday’s game didn’t have the same magnitude. The result mattered only if at least one of the later games ended in a tie, which didn’t happen. The Cowboys would have also received a first-round bye with losses by both Arizona and Seattle, but that didn’t happen, either. Instead, they will host Detroit next Sunday.

With the pressure off for the game against the Redskins, Dallas (12-4) did just fine — and didn’t pack it in. The Cowboys went 8-0 on the road for the first time in team history.

Coach Jason Garrett deployed his full complement of available resources, opting not to give Romo’s ailing back some extra rest nor to play it safe with Murray, who broke his hand two weeks ago. The Cowboys scored on their first five possessions to take a 27-7 lead, throwing in a successful onside kick along the way.

Romo played nearly the entire game, completing 22 of 34 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns and one interception. For the month, he completed 75 percent with 12 touchdowns and one interception, and his 114.4 season passer rating is sixth best in NFL history.

Romo has a 1-3 career record in the playoffs. Asked what’s different this time, he said: “I’m different, so I’m excited about that aspect. I’m a different player than I was — now you got to go out and do it.”

Murray rushed for 100 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries, passing Smith for the team single-season mark on a 32-yard first-quarter run with a nice move in front of safety Ryan Clark. Murray ends the season with 1,845 yards, bettering Smith’s 1,773 yards in 1995.

Also in the first quarter, Bryant caught scoring passes of 65 and 23 yards to give him 16 touchdown receptions on the season, breaking Owens’ team record of 15 set in 2007. The 65-yarder was a screen in which Bryant juked cornerback David Amerson at the line of scrimmage and took off for the end zone.

After the game, Bryant was less concerned about his record and more focused on giving props to Romo. Bryant made a “Shhh!” gesture aimed at the quarterback’s critics.

Robert Griffin III capped a tumultuous year for the Redskins (4-12) by completing 27 of 41 passes for a career-high 336 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, both in the Dallas red zone. He also lost the fumble that Anthony Spencer took 5 yards for a touchdown.

Griffin missed six games this season with a dislocated ankle and later was benched by first-year coach Jay Gruden, and the franchise’s hopes for next year will likely hinge on whether the Gruden-Griffin partnership can win in Washington.

The Redskins lost seven of eight to finish last in the division for the sixth time in seven seasons.

This season ended with 100 or so protesters outside the stadium condemning the team’s nickname, the inside of the stadium well-populated by Cowboys fans as the game took on a preseason feel in the second half, and owner Dan Snyder hardly the picture of joy as he took it all in seated next to Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs.

“We need to change a lot,” Gruden said. “I honestly think if you don’t change something, you’re probably going to get the same results.”

Jaguars 17, Texans 23

 

Blake Bortles, J.J. Watt

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) sacks Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) for a safety during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON (AP) — J.J. Watt’s record-setting season wasn’t quite enough to get the Houston Texans to the playoffs.

Watt had three sacks, a safety and a forced fumble to strengthen his case for MVP and lead the Texans to a 23-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

The Texans (9-7) had a shot at making the playoffs, but Baltimore beat Cleveland 20-10 to claim the final AFC wild-card spot.

“I wasn’t ready for it to end, that’s for sure,” Watt said.

Andre Johnson had a season-high 134 yards receiving and a touchdown for Houston, which made a seven-game improvement over last season’s 2-14 record under first-year coach Bill O’Brien.

Johnson gave Houston a 21-17 lead with an 8-yard reception early in the fourth quarter. Watt made it 23-17 when he sacked Blake Bortles in the end zone a few minutes later. The sack gave him 20 1/2 this season, making him the first player in NFL history with two seasons with 20 or more sacks. He also had 20 1/2 when he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2012.

Watt finished the season with 29 tackles for loss and 50 quarterback hits, which both lead the NFL.

The Jaguars (3-13) had a chance to take the lead late, but Cecil Shorts III was out of bounds on a catch on fourth down.

Bortles threw for 117 yards as he struggled to move the offense for most of the day under near-constant pressure from Watt and the Texans defense.

Watt danced to the song “Turn Down For What” after returning to the sideline after his safety. The defensive end, who has scored five touchdowns this season, smiled as the sellout crowd chanted “MVP, MVP.”

“It’s pretty special,” Watt said. “As an athlete, that’s one of the coolest things of all time, to have a stadium do a chant for you.”

Watt is looking to become the first defensive player to win MVP since Lawrence Taylor in 1986. The winner will be announced Jan. 31.

Johnson did a bit of campaigning for his teammate to win the award after the game.

“If he doesn’t win the MVP,” Johnson said, “the NFL is out of their mind.”

Case Keenum threw for 250 yards with two touchdowns and an interception to win his second game since rejoining the Texans after being released in training camp.

Keenum was signed from the St. Louis practice squad two weeks ago after Ryan Fitzpatrick and rookie Tom Savage were injured with Ryan Mallett already out for the season.

The Jaguars’ first touchdown came on an interception return. The second was on a trick play one snap after a fumble recovery.

Houston was down by three when Keenum and Johnson connected four times for 43 yards on a drive capped by the 8-yard touchdown reception to put the Texans back on top.

Chris Clemons sacked Keenum and forced a fumble midway through the third. Ryan Davis pounced on it, giving the Jaguars the ball at the Houston 23.

On the next play, Bortles threw a lateral to Shorts, who found Jordan Todman wide open for a 23-yard touchdown to put Jacksonville up 17-14.

A 51-yard field goal attempt by Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee bounced off the left upright early in the third quarter.

Houston took an early lead when Arian Foster scored on a 10-yard reception on the first drive. But he injured his hamstring soon after that and didn’t return.

Dwayne Gratz intercepted a pass deflected by DeAndre Hopkins and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown to give the Jaguars a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter.

Saints 23, Buccaneers 20

Mike Evans, Terrence Frederick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) flips the football after catching a 6-yard touchdown pass in front of New Orleans Saints defensive back Terrence Frederick (37) during the second quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wound up winners after a season-ending loss.

Drew Brees shrugged off three interceptions — two of them stopping promising third-quarter drives — to throw for 281 yards in the New Orleans Saints’ 23-20 win over the Buccaneers on Sunday.

With the loss, Tampa Bay (2-14) locked up the first pick in next spring’s draft.

“It’s been a long year,” first-year Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said. “When you’re down there that’s one consolation, I guess, from the season we’ve had. That’s where we are now.”

Tampa Bay played a number of non-starters, especially in the second half when the Saints rallied for the win.

Brees’ 36-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston gave the Saints (7-9) their first lead with 1:57 remaining. Junior Galette sacked McCown for a safety that provided the final margin.

Doug Martin rushed for a season-best 108 yards and rookie Mike Evans set a Tampa Bay record with his 12th touchdown reception as the Bucs flirted with damaging their chances of winding up with the No. 1 overall selection.

Mark Ingram scored on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter, trimming New Orleans’ deficit to 20-14. Keenan Lewis’ interception and return to the 50 led to Brees’ TD pass to Colston to make it 21-20.

The Saints were eliminated from playoff contention by last week’s 30-14 loss to Atlanta.

Patrick Murray’s 39-yard field goal and McCown’s 6-yard TD pass to Evans staked Tampa Bay to an early 10-0 lead. One of the league’s weakest offenses kept moving the ball at will against the New Orleans defense.

In building a 20-7 halftime edge, the Bucs outgained the league’s No. 1 offense 248 yards to 118, including a whopping 148-89 advantage on the ground, where both Martin and rookie Charles Sims were effective.

Then the Saints outgained the Bucs 220-32 after halftime.

Tampa Bay controlled the ball for nearly 20 minutes of the opening half, a stark contrast to an early October meeting between the division rivals in which the Saints ran 86 offensive plays to Tampa Bay’s 54. New Orleans won that matchup, overcoming an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit before prevailing 37-31 in overtime.

Evans and Vincent Jackson caught passes on the first two plays of the game, making them the first tandem of Bucs receivers to top 1,000 yards in the same season.

“It was a goal for me and V-Jax to both have it,” Evans said. “So that’s pretty special.”

It’s the fourth straight 1,000-yard season — third with Tampa Bay — for Jackson, who left the game later in the first quarter and did not return because of a groin injury. That’s tied for the second-longest active streak behind Calvin Johnson’s five.

Evans, meanwhile, broke the team single-season record for TD receptions. He had shared the mark with Mike Williams, who had 11 as a rookie in 2010.

Evans didn’t play most of the second half as the Bucs looked at other receivers.

Brees was 24 of 38. He extended the go-ahead drive with a 4-yard completion to Jimmy Graham on fourth-and-2.

Eagles 34, Giants 26

Odell Beckham

Philadelphia Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins (27) breaks up a pass to New York Giants’ Odell Beckham (13) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The Philadelphia Eagles can only wonder what might have been this season. They led the NFC East with four games to go and blew it.

The New York Giants head into the offseason simply wondering what’s going to happen after missing the playoffs for the third straight year.

Mark Sanchez threw two touchdowns and the Eagles’ special teams scored their seventh TD of the season in a 34-26 victory over the Giants on Sunday, in what could have been Tom Coughlin’s final game as New York’s coach.

The Eagles (10-6) snapped a three-game losing streak that knocked them out of playoff contention last week. The 10 wins matched their total last season when they won the NFC East, and they had a one-game lead in the division before losses to Seattle, Dallas and Washington made Sunday’s finale meaningless.

“It’s a bittersweet thing because we’re not in the playoffs,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “It wasn’t like we had a terrible season: 10-6 is pretty good in the NFL. That’s not the standard we’re trying to hold ourselves to as a playoff team, a Super Bowl team.”

Philly broke the game open in the third quarter when backup tight end Trey Burton returned a blocked punt 27 yards for a score and a 24-16 lead. The Giants (6-10) got close a couple of times but Nate Allen iced the game with an interception with 2:51 to play.

“It’s just a shame we’re still not playing,” coach Chip Kelly said.

Odell Beckham Jr. capped a phenomenal rookie season with 12 catches for a career-best 185 yards, including a 63-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that got the Giants within 31-26. New York (6-10) had won three straight.

Now the question is what happens to Coughlin, who’s led the Giants to two Super Bowl titles in his 11 seasons. If he stays, which players and coaches go?

“We’re going to evaluate our team, just like we always do,” Coughlin said. “We’ll present our information of the pro personnel to the owners and if there’s anything else, it’ll be initiated by ownership. I’m going to go about my business until I’m told otherwise.”

Coughlin refused to say whether he intends to make changes if he returns after a season that he described as disappointing.

“How else do you want me to say it?” the 68-year-old coach said. “Not enough wins, too many losses.”

Sanchez was 23 of 36 for 292 yards, including touchdowns of 44 yards to rookie Jordan Matthews and 1 yard to tight end Brent Celek on the Eagles’ first two possessions. Cody Parkey made two field goals, with the last giving the Eagles an eight-point lead after Beckham’s latest dazzling play got New York within five. Chris Polk also scored on a 1-yard run.

Allen then sealed the game with his interception and return deep into Giants territory.

Eli Manning finished 28 of 53 for 429 yards, with Rueben Randle also having a big day, catching six passes for 158 yards.

Rookie Andre Williams scored on a 1-yard run on New York’s first possession, but the Giants struggled in the red zone after that, settling for four field goals by Josh Brown, the longest from 53 yards.

The big play for the Eagles was the blocked punt by James Casey, who broke free up the middle. Burton picked up the ball and returned it down the sideline. The Eagles have scored TDs on three returns of blocked punts, two kickoff returns and two punt returns.

Beckham finished with team highs of 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games. He missed the first four with a hamstring injury. The receptions and yards were rookie team records and the TD total tied the franchise rookie mark set by Bill Pascal in 1943. … Manning finished with 4,410 yards, his fourth 4,000-yard season. He also had 30 TD passes and 14 interceptions. … Eagles RB LeSean McCoy rushed for 99 yards and had 1,319 this season, making him the first Eagles back to rush for 1,300 yards three times.

Panthers 34, Falcons 3

Panthers Falcons Football

Carolina Panthers free safety Tre Boston (33) picks off a thrown ball intended for Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas (83) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Atlanta. Boston ran the ball back for a touchdown. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

ATLANTA (AP) — The Carolina Panthers’ big-play defense appears capable of making a difference in the playoffs — even for a team with a losing record.

Roman Harper and Tre Boston returned interceptions for touchdowns and Carolina recorded six sacks, leading the Panthers to a 34-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday to win the woeful NFC South.

Carolina (7-8-1) will host Arizona in a wild-card playoff game next Saturday. The losing record didn’t keep the Panthers from celebrating their first back-to-back playoff seasons in franchise history.

“It feels great,” Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart said. “I mean, it’s a blessing and you just have to cherish these moments right now. … We just believed and played our hearts out and this is where we are.”

The Panthers have won four straight, but still they are the first team to enter the playoffs with a losing record since 2010, when Seattle was 7-9.

“The beautiful thing — record doesn’t matter,” coach Ron Rivera said. “That’s the best part.”

Harper scored on a 31-yard return in the second quarter and Boston clinched the win with his 84-yard interception return late in the third quarter. A 33-yard fumble return by Thomas Davis set up another touchdown.

The Panthers’ celebration began with their final timeout with 2:41 remaining. Quarterback Cam Newton lifted his arms toward Carolina fans who moved close to the field to claim seats vacated by Falcons fans.

After the game, Newton answered fans who called his name by running back to the edge of the stands to give fans high-fives.

Newton completed 10 of 16 passes for 114 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Ed Dickson in the first quarter. Newton also had a 4-yard scoring run. Stewart ran for 49 yards on 13 carries.

The Panthers did not have a turnover.

The Falcons (6-10) were booed as they finished their second straight losing season under embattled coach Mike Smith. Atlanta is 10-22 since falling to San Francisco in the 2012 NFC championship game.

Smith acknowledged the results have not met the standards he set with winning records in each of his first five years.

With a playoff spot — and perhaps Smith’s future — on the line, the Falcons committed three turnovers, did not force a turnover and were held without a touchdown.

Atlanta’s best chance for a touchdown ended when fullback Patrick DiMarco was open in front of the goal line in the first quarter but dropped a short pass from Matt Ryan.

Smith said he was “very disappointed” and called the performance “not acceptable at all.”

Carolina dominated the first quarter, running for 105 yards and holding the ball almost 12 minutes. The Panthers led only 10-3 before the defense stretched the lead with Harper’s interception return on Ryan’s pass intended for Roddy White.

On Atlanta’s next possession, White fumbled following a catch when hit by linebacker Adarius Glanton. Davis picked up the loose ball and returned the ball to the Atlanta 9. Newton’s touchdown run pushed the lead to 24-3.

Boston added his long return late in the third quarter.

With star receiver Julio Jones contained by cornerback Josh Norman, Ryan couldn’t move the Falcons offense. Ryan completed 29 of 47 passes for 260 yards with two interceptions. Jones had only four catches for 58 yards. White had eight catches for 104 yards.

Falcons starting running back Steven Jackson was inactive with a quadriceps injury. Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman combined to run for only 57 yards.

The Panthers improved to 15-3 in December games since Rivera was hired in 2011.

It was a familiar setting for Newton and the Panthers, who also clinched their 2013 playoff berth with a Week 17 win at Atlanta. The Panthers had nine sacks in that 21-20 win, and the pass rush was similarly effective on Sunday.

 

Raiders 14, Broncos 47

C.J. Anderson, D.J. Hayden , Charles Woodson

Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson (22) falls across the goal line for a touchdown as Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden (25) and Charles Woodson (24) defend during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

DENVER (AP) — For Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the first-round bye they secured with a 47-14 rout of the Oakland Raiders is all about the R&R.

Not rest and relaxation, but rehab and revitalization.

“I think to win 12 games with the schedule that we had was a good thing,” Manning said after being held without a TD pass for the second time this month. “And this bye, I think we need it. I think we’re a little beat up physically. I know I am.”

Demaryius Thomas (hand) and Emmanuel Sanders (back) are ailing, too, and the bye week will allow top tackler Brandon Marshall (foot) and Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward (neck) more time to get healthy.

Also, left guard Orlando Franklin and safety David Bruton sustained concussions Sunday.

“I feel good about this team,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “I’ll feel better after a week’s rest and getting some guys healthy as well as getting our injury report whittled down a bit.”

Manning didn’t need to throw any touchdown passes Sunday — C.J. Anderson, Connor Barth and Denver’s defense took care of all the scoring.

Anderson ran for three TDs, Barth kicked four field goals and cornerback Tony Carter led a dominant Denver defense with a score off a fumble by Derek Carr as the Broncos (12-4) earned the AFC’s No. 2 seed.

They next play on Sunday, Jan. 11.

There were still areas of concern — red zone follies and off-target tosses — but Manning isn’t going to nitpick.

“Certainly we can always get better,” he said. “I think you want to play your best starting going forward. … We’ve done something right to win 12 games. I don’t think you luck into that. Sure, can we improve? Yeah, we can improve. We will use these next two weeks to try to improve.”

The Raiders (3-13) lost for the 11th straight time on the road and wrapped up their 12th straight season without a ticket to the playoffs. This could have been the finale for interim coach Tony Sparano, who took over after Dennis Allen was fired four games into the season and went 3-9.

Ronnie Hillman returned to the Broncos’ backfield for the first time since spraining his left foot Nov. 9 and added 56 yards on 15 rushes as Denver continued to refine its ground game.

“We’ve still got things to work on, but it’s good to finish the season off like we did tonight,” said Thomas, who caught eight passes for 115 yards, giving 1,619 yards on the season, topping Rod Smith’s 1,602 in 2000 for the most in franchise history.

However, Thomas was targeted 17 times and caught just one pass for 5 yards after halftime. He injured his right hand late in the second quarter (X-rays were negative) and dropped a 17-yard TD pass in the second half that would have given Manning 40 for the season. Andrew Luck threw a pair of TD passes Sunday, beating Manning by one for most in the league.

Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck said all the consternation about Manning’s play of late is laughable.

“If I play as well as he does at 38, I’ll be damn happy with it,” Tuck said. “Everybody talks about how he’s lost a little zip on his pass. But I don’t run a 4.4 no more. That’s what age does. He still finds a way to hit his wide receivers in stride.”

He said Manning, who’s said he’s coming back in 2015, and Woodson, both members of the NFL class of 1998, “are timeless.”

Oakland managed just one first down in the first half — compared to Denver’s 14 — and trailed 20-7 at the break. Omar Bolden returned the second-half kickoff 76 yards to the Oakland 30 and Anderson scored from 25 yards when he broke three arm tackles, including one by Woodson.

The only real highlight for Oakland came in the first quarter when the Raiders pulled to 10-7 when Tuck tipped Manning’s lateral to Sanders and cornerback Keith McGill scooped it up and trotted 18 yards into the end zone.

“Any time the season ends, you reflect on the season,” Woodson said. “You think about things you could’ve done better, things you’ve done well and figure out going forward how to capitalize on the things you did well. The offseason is here. We’ll have a lot of time to think about it now.”

As for the Broncos, they’ll get an extra week to get their minds and bodies right. Brock Osweiler threw the first TD pass of his three-year career, a 1-yarder to TE Virgil Green.

 

Cardinals 17, 49ers 20

Anquan Boldin, Tyrann Mathieu

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin (81) runs against Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Jim Harbaugh got doused with a celebratory shower after his final game coaching the San Francisco 49ers, then said his goodbyes with handshakes and hugs all around.

Colin Kaepernick confidently declared he’s still the quarterback capable of leading this team back to the Super Bowl. Frank Gore cried, contemplating what might have been his last game in a Niners uniform.

In a bizarre finish to a most bizarre season, San Francisco beat the Arizona Cardinals 20-17 on Sunday and avoided ending on a losing note and with a losing record in a year that began with Super Bowl aspirations.

“I’m forever proud to have been a part of this,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been a tremendous four years, it’s been a pleasure to work and serve for this organization.”

Kaepernick threw a go-ahead 3-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Miller late in the third quarter and Frank Gore capped another 1,000-yard season with 144 yards on 25 carries.

Anquan Boldin caught a 76-yard TD pass and went over 1,000 yards receiving. Gore reached 1,000 yards rushing for the eighth time in 10 NFL seasons with the 49ers (8-8). The franchise’s all-time rushing leader hopes to return to the only team he has known and the team has publicly expressed a mutual interest.

Harbaugh and the 49ers reached a mutual agreement to part ways, but he wouldn’t say what is next.

“It’s bittersweet,” Kaepernick said. “Coach Harbaugh’s the coach that drafted me, he’s the coach that chose to start me, he’s the coach that stood behind me through everything.”

Kaepernick said “most definitely” he can lead the Niners to the Super Bowl, even under a new regime.

Harbaugh departs with one season remaining on the $25 million, five-year contract he signed in January 2011. He led the 49ers (8-8) to three NFC title games and one loss in the Super Bowl in his four seasons.

Asked whether it was his choice to move on, Harbaugh said, “You work at the pleasure of the organization, that’s what we all do.”

Harbaugh sprinted off the Levi’s Stadium field for the final time, cradling the game ball.

Gore, the franchise’s all-time rushing leader, hopes to return to the only team he has known and the team has publicly expressed a mutual interest.

Harbaugh spoke briefly on the field to CEO Jed York before the game amid unconfirmed reports the coach is bound for alma mater Michigan. Harbaugh said “announcements” will be made.

San Francisco missed the playoffs following three straight trips to the NFC championship game and a runner-up Super Bowl finish after the 2012 season. The 49ers, plagued by injuries to key players all season, snapped a four-game losing streak, their first under Harbaugh.

The Cardinals (11-5) missed the franchise’s first 12-win season.

Ryan Lindley threw touchdown passes of 20 and 41 yards to Michael Floyd in the first half, but couldn’t deliver late.

Floyd finished with eight catches for 153 yards. Arians went with Lindley under center after he originally planned to start rookie Logan Thomas before changing his mind.

Lindley was intercepted three times.

The No. 5 seed Cardinals missed the division title, too, as defending Super Bowl champion Seattle beat St. Louis 20-6 to win the NFC West and the overall top seed. The Cardinals play at Carolina next Saturday, and Arians has been optimistic quarterback Drew Stanton will be back next week from a sprained right knee that got infected.

Lindley threw his first career touchdown pass on his 229th attempt with a 20-yard completion to Floyd on Arizona’s opening drive.

Boldin caught a 9-yard touchdown pass that was negated by rookie center Marcus Martin’s chop block penalty. Alfonso Smith also had his short scoring run negated when Harbaugh called timeout. Then came Miller’s TD catch.

Franchise rushing leader Gore provided a bright spot at $1.3 billion Levi’s Stadium, where San Francisco finished 4-4. Gore, with his family in attendance and wearing his No. 21 jersey, became the 11th player in NFL history with eight 1,000-yard seasons and 20th player to reach 11,000 yards rushing.

“It’s a blessing,” Gore said, noting he has been emotional about his future. “I just wanted to finish it right. … I cried today because when I first got here I was 21, 10 years … Knowing this could be my last game here, it’s tough because this is all I knew.”

Boldin’s 76-yard TD catch was the second-longest TD catch of his career. Boldin became the fourth player in 49ers franchise history with multiple 1,000-yard receiving seasons, joining Jerry Rice (12), Terrell Owens (5) and John Taylor (2).

Lions 20, Packers 30

Aaron Rodgers

Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers throws a touchdown pass to Randall Cobb during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. Rodgers injured his leg on the play and was taken off the field on a cart. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — A heating pad wrapped around his sore left calf, Aaron Rodgers could only watch helplessly on television monitors in the locker room as the Detroit Lions surged closer to his Green Bay Packers.

There was only one place that he wanted to be — back on the turf with the rest of the Packers while they tried to secure a fourth straight NFC North title.

Green Bay’s franchise quarterback is limping into the playoffs with a smile. Rodgers threw two touchdown passes to Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy gashed Detroit’s defense for 100 yards, and the Packers celebrated another division championship with a 30-20 victory Sunday.

Rodgers will appreciate a week off after the win, as the Packers (12-4) earned a bye. Detroit (11-5) starts the postseason at Dallas next Sunday. Green Bay will next play on the following Sunday.

“It’s clearly an MVP performance — another MVP performance — by Aaron Rodgers,” coach Mike McCarthy said. Rodgers won the award in 2011.

Rodgers was carted to the locker room after tossing his first score to Cobb late in the second quarter. He tweaked the calf during last week’s win at Tampa Bay.

This injury came in a different spot in the calf, Rodgers said. He came up limping again.

In the locker room while getting treatment, Rodgers said he was thinking about “if I could finagle myself to go back in the game.”

He hobbled back on to the field in the third quarter with the game tied at 14.

The jolt soon followed. A seven-play, 60-yard drive ended with a 13-yard score to Cobb for a 21-14 lead. The Packers didn’t look back.

Rodgers plunged across the goal line from 1 yard with 8:45 left to help Green Bay regain a two-touchdown lead. “MVP! MVP” chanted adoring fans while light snow dusted Lambeau Field.

Rodgers finished 17 of 22 for 226 yards. He was out of the game for about a seven-minute stretch between the second and third quarters. In between, Calvin Johnson had touchdown catches of 4 and 20 yards on consecutive drives to help the Lions roar back from a 14-0 deficit.

Detroit hasn’t won a division title since 1993. It hasn’t won a road game against the Packers since 1991. For a few moments while Rodgers was out, it looked like both those streaks might end.

Instead the Packers were victorious again at Lambeau and finished the regular season 8-0 at home.

The Lions drew within 30-20 with 1:45 left after Matthew Stafford connected with Theo Riddick for a 6-yard touchdown. But Riddick’s 2-point conversion run failed, Tramon Williams recovered the ensuing onside kick and Green Bay ran out the clock.

Stafford finished 20 of 41 for 217 yards.

The Lions head home at least with the comfort that they had clinched a playoff berth regardless of Sunday’s outcome — just the second playoff appearance since 2000.

“We’re 11-5, and it’s a new season,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “None that stuff matters. We’ve got to look forward.”

They could have accomplished so much more if not for some painful mistakes.

After blocking Mason Crosby’s 52-yard field goal attempt, the Lions lost the ball when Stafford fumbled on what looked like an aborted handoff to Joique Bell. The Packers cashed in with Rodgers’ 1-yard sneak.

Rodgers felt more pain after Detroit’s 305-pound defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh, stumbled back and stepped on Rodgers’ lower left leg while the quarterback was on the ground at the end of a play. There was no penalty, and Rodgers tried to shove Suh back as the defender walked away.

Suh had cleared out of the locker room by the time reporters were allowed in after the game. Caldwell said he didn’t think it was an intentional act.

Rodgers said referee Walt Anderson told him he thought Suh was blocked into the quarterback. McCarthy didn’t see the play, but heard enough from others to be unhappy with Suh.

Rodgers finished the season with a 112.2 passer rating and is the only player in NFL history to register a 100-plus rating in six consecutive seasons. … WR Jordy Nelson had six catches for 86 yards, and set a franchise record with 1,519 yards for the season. … Bell finished with 60 yards on 13 carries. … The Lions allowed a season-worst 152 yards on the ground.

 

 

Rams 6, Seahawks 20

Bruce Irvin

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin, right, returns an interception for a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)

SEATTLE (AP) — The final result was the same for Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks, wearing NFC West champion hats in the locker room after a Week 17 victory over the St. Louis Rams.

The process in getting to that point and clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs for the second straight season was completely different.

So there was a different satisfaction for Carroll and the Seahawks after Sunday’s 20-6 win over the Rams wrapped up the ninth division title in franchise history, the third under Carroll. This was not the mostly smooth ride Seattle experienced a year ago on its way to a championship.

“All you guys kept talking about how you can’t do this and you can’t get to this point again and you can’t come back and all this stuff. You can. You can do it. And we did it to this point. And we’ll see how we’ll do in the playoffs,” Carroll said. “We got back to division champs and that’s pretty rare. I’m really proud of that.”

Marshawn Lynch scored on a 9-yard run with 12:07 remaining to take the lead, Bruce Irvin return an interception 49 yards for a TD and Seattle received another stellar defensive effort to close the season with six straight wins.

Seattle, Green Bay and Dallas all finished 12-4, but the tiebreakers went to the Seahawks, who next play on Saturday, Jan. 10.

Getting home-field advantage seemed highly unlikely for the Super Bowl champs after losing at Kansas City and falling to 6-4. But Seattle’s closing run was perhaps more impressive than going 13-3 in the 2013 regular season.

The Seahawks bulled through Arizona and San Francisco twice, won at Philadelphia and finally dispatched the pesky Rams.

Seattle held five of its final six opponents to less than 10 points. The Seahawks became the first team since the 1969-71 Vikings to lead the NFL in scoring defense in three straight seasons, giving up 15.9 points per game.

Seattle’s defense came up with continuous big plays when needed, forcing three turnovers in the fourth quarter. Jordan Hill and Irvin had interceptions and Earl Thomas knocked the ball from Benny Cunningham at the 1-yard line as the Rams looked to score with six minutes left, sending the ball out of the end zone for a touchback.

Lynch finished with 64 yards on 15 carries. Russell Wilson was 17 of 25 for 239 yards and an interception in the first half. Paul Richardson led Seattle with five receptions for 60 yards.

Shaun Hill was 26 of 37 for 243 yards for St. Louis. The Rams (6-10) finished with just 42 yards rushing and no play longer than 20 yards. The turnovers forced by Seattle were massive after St. Louis shut out Seattle in the first half.

And none was bigger than Jordan Hill’s interception.

St. Louis was in field-goal range when Stedman Bailey was flagged for holding. On the first play of the fourth quarter, St. Louis tried to set up a screen pass to Tre Mason. Shaun Hill attempted to throw the ball away, but Jordan Hill got his hands down quick enough to intercept the pass.

Seattle needed just six plays to take the lead. Wilson found Kevin Norwood uncovered for 31 yards to the Rams 9. Lynch then went untouched for his 17th touchdown of the season.

The capper came less than three minutes later. St. Louis was driving near midfield and Hill attempted to find Lance Kendricks. Wagner knocked the ball from Kendricks’ and it ricocheted to Irvin. He ran untouched for his second TD this season.

Seattle was shut out in the first half for the first time since Oct. 23, 2011 at Cleveland.

 

Bengals 17, Steelers 27

Antonio Brown

Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown (84) returns a Cincinnati Bengals punt for a touchdown during the first quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger spoke quietly while teammates raucously pulled on AFC North champion T-shirts around him. The Pittsburgh quarterback has been here before.

Even if they might be a little short-handed. Actually, make that a lot short-handed.

The Steelers reclaimed a spot the franchise has considered practically a birthright this millennium with a 27-17 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday night. They turned away a late charge on Antwon Blake’s timely strip of Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and Antonio Brown’s ensuing 63-yard catch and run for the clinching score.

Pittsburgh (11-5) earned its first division title since 2010 and sixth since 2000 by sweeping the season series from the Bengals (10-5-1). The Steelers are the No. 3 seed in the AFC and will host Baltimore in the wild-card round Saturday night. Pittsburgh split two games with the Ravens this season, each time winning at home.

The Bengals are the No. 5 seed and will play at AFC South champion Indianapolis on Sunday. Cincinnati lost to the Colts 27-0 on Oct. 19.

The victory might prove costly. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell hyperextended his right knee in the third quarter when Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson hit Bell low at the end of a 19-yard reception. Nelson and Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin exchanged words during the postgame handshake, though both declined to get into details about the conversation.

Bell — voted the club’s Most Valuable Player by his teammates last week — lay on the field for several minutes. He gingerly jogged to the sideline before being taken to the locker room to chants of “MVP! MVP!” Bell set a franchise record for total offense this season and has been one of the catalysts for Pittsburgh’s postseason return after a two-year absence. If he can’t play next week against the Ravens, Pittsburgh will be forced to rely on rookies Josh Harris and Dri Archer, who began the day with 50 yards rushing combined.

The Bengals had a chance to defend their division crown and earn the home game that comes along with it but couldn’t overcome three turnovers, the last the fumble by the typically sure handed Green. The four-time Pro Bowler was dealing with concussion-like symptoms following the play, which ended with Green taking a punishing hit from Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell just after the ball squirted free.

The Bengals didn’t exactly do a good job of covering Brown, but then again they’re hardly alone. Brown finished with 212 all-purpose yards, including a 71-yard punt return for a score in the first quarter. His sprint down the right sideline following Green’s fumble was Brown’s 129th and final reception of the season, the second-highest single-season total in NFL history.

Brown caught seven passes for 128 yards and a score. Roethlisberger fought off flu-like symptoms that forced him to miss the pregame warmups to complete 24 of 38 for 317 yards and two touchdowns to go with an interception.

The Bengals are heading to the playoffs for a fourth straight year for the first time in franchise history. They’re still looking for their first postseason win during that run, and now will have to do it on the road. Andy Dalton hit 27 of 38 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns but also tossed two picks, both of them poor overthrows of Green.

It’s an issue that has plagued Cincinnati during its run of modest success. The Bengals are no longer laughingstocks. They also are still searching for their first playoff win since 1990.

That’s not a problem in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have three Super Bowl appearances in the last decade alone. They have surged since a 3-3 start, finishing with an 8-2 kick behind Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell. With the status of one of its Big Three uncertain, Pittsburgh must look for a new way forward.

 

 

 

 

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