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Here is a recap of Week 14 of the 2015 NFL Season with a Tuesday Morning QB & thanks again to AP Sports/ Pro 32 for photos & articles.
Vikings 20, Cardinals 23
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Dwight Freeney considered retirement. A month into the season he still wasn’t on a team. Then the Arizona Cardinals came calling, looking to boost their troubled pass rush.
The 35-year-old veteran of 14 NFL seasons helped a whole bunch Thursday night.
Freeney stripped the ball from Teddy Bridgewater with 5 seconds remaining to deprive the Vikings a chance at the tying field goal, and the Cardinals clinched a playoff berth with a 23-20 victory over Minnesota.
“That’s why I came back, because moments like this, you can’t duplicate those in life,” Freeney said.
Bridgewater moved the Vikings to the Arizona 31-yard line, well within the range of Blair Walsh. But Freeney hit the quarterback’s arm as Bridgewater tried to pass. The ball came loose and Calais Campbell recovered for Arizona.
Arizona coach Bruce Arians said the Vikings “were in field goal range for sure. It was a great play by him and that’s why he’s going to the Hall of Fame.”
Bridgewater said he “had a clear understanding of the situation” when the play unfolded.
Chandler Catanzaro’s 47-yard field goal with 1:23 to go was the winning score as Arizona (11-2) won its seventh in a row.
Bridgewater passed for 335 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings (8-5), who were playing without four defensive starters but made it close after being embarrassed at home by Seattle 38-7 on Sunday.
Carson Palmer threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns for the Cardinals, who will win the NFC West if Seattle loses Sunday at Baltimore.
Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson wanted more carries than the eight he got (for 9 yards) against the Seahawks. He got them, carrying 23 times for 69 yards, but had only 31 yards on 19 attempts after his 9-yard touchdown run on the Vikings’ first possession of the night.
Palmer connected on scoring plays of 65 yards to John Brown and 42 to Michael Floyd. His 30th and 31st touchdown passes broke the franchise record of 30 set by Kurt Warner in Arizona’s 2008 Super Bowl season.
Floyd caught five passes for 102 yards. David Johnson, the rookie who stepped in when the Cardinals’ top two backs were hurt, rushed for 92 yards in 19 attempts.
After Walsh’s 54-yard field goal cut the Arizona lead to 20-13 and the Cardinals failed to convert on third-and-1, the Vikings went 88 yards in 11 plays, tying it 20-20 on Bridgewater’s third-down, 7-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace with 4:50 remaining.
Arizona moved downfield and left guard Mike Iupati caught a deflected pass for 10 yards in the drive to the decisive field goal.
The Vikings fumbled the ball away three times: once deep in Arizona territory; again near midfield to lead to a Cardinals touchdown; and finally when Freeney, who signed with Arizona on Oct. 13, burst around the left side of the Minnesota line to knock the ball away and preserve the victory.
Peterson had one of the fumbles on what was supposed to be a reverse. Josh Mauro knocked the ball away from him and Alex Okafor recovered at the Arizona 43. Five plays later, Palmer threw to Floyd, who followed Larry Fitzgerald’s crunching block and raced down the sideline for the touchdown that made it 17-10
The Vikings had tied it 10-all on Walsh’s 44-yard field goal with 7 seconds left in the first half. Earlier, Minnesota was driving for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown when Jarius Wright caught a short pass from Bridgewater, then was hit by Deone Bucannon and fumbled. Bucannon recovered at the Arizona 15.
Notes: The total yardage was nearly even: 393 for Arizona, 389 for Minnesota. … The Vikings almost won even though they didn’t have safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo, linebacker Anthony Barr and nose tackle Linval Joseph. … Arizona WR and special teams player Brittan Golden was being evaluated for a concussion after a hit in the second half. … Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham, a game-time decision, did not play due to a knee injury.
Falcons 0, Panthers 38
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton raced from one end of the Carolina Panthers’ sideline to the other in the final moments of a 38-0 rout of the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, raising his arms to the crowd as fans cheered on their emotional MVP candidate.
“I believe right now it’s our moment as Panthers,” Newton said with a smile as he praised the team’s fan base following his victory run. “We try to seize it as much as possible.”
Newton — and the fans — had plenty of reason to celebrate.
The fifth-year quarterback completed 15 of 21 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns, and the unbeaten Panthers clinched a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs in what Newton described as the team’s most complete game.
It’s hard to argue that.
The Panthers outgained the Falcons 424-230, forced four turnovers and matched the franchise’s largest margin of victory.
It was never close.
Jonathan Stewart ran for a 1-yard touchdown and Newton connected on scoring strikes of 74 and 46 yards to Ted Ginn Jr. as the Panthers (13-0) scored on their first three possessions to take 21-0 first quarter lead.
Newton also threw a 4-yard TD pass to Ed Dickson in the final seconds of the first half before leaving for good at the end of the third quarter with Carolina up 38. He finished with a career-high quarterback rating of 153.3, and the Panthers won their 17th straight regular-season game.
“Don’t ease up on the gas,” Newton said. “… We want to be considered finishers.”
Carolina’s defense had two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and registered five sacks — two by defensive tackle Kawann Short — while limiting struggling Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to 224 yards passing. They played inspired football after allowing Drew Brees to throw for three TD passes last week in a narrow escape.
It was a devastating loss for the slumping Falcons (6-7), who started 5-0 but have lost six straight.
The two teams meet again on Dec. 27.
The Panthers can clinch the No. 1 seed before then if they beat the New York Giants and Arizona loses.
It seems the biggest issue the Panthers might have between now and the playoffs will be balancing winning and staying healthy.
There were some scary moments for Carolina on the injury front.
Stewart (left ankle), who ran for 75 yards, and tight end Greg Olsen (left knee) left the game in the second quarter and did not return. Coach Ron Rivera said both players could have returned to the game, but were held out because the team had a commanding lead.
However, Rivera said starting cornerback Bene Benwikere broke his left leg and is done for the season.
Rivera has been non-committal on if he will rest players if they clinch a first-round bye or go for history and a shot at an undefeated season.
The Panthers jumped on the Falcons early, scoring on touchdown drives of 80, 93 and 80 yards on their first three possessions.
After the Falcons won the coin toss and elected to defer, the Panthers went to work establishing the ground attack. Stewart rushed five times for 52 yards on the opening drive, including a 44-yard burst. He capped the drive by leaping over the pile for his sixth TD rushing of the season.
Ginn, who has struggled with dropped passes, made an over-the-head grab along the left sideline despite pass interference on Robert Alford and to the end zone for a 74-yard TD for the 14-point lead — the longest play from scrimmage this year for Carolina.
Newton went back to the air on the next drive, finding Ginn for a 46-yard TD pass over the middle behind the Falcons’ defense. The rout was on.
Newton left for a play in the second quarter after hitting his funny bone. He returned to throw his third TD of the game to Dickson, who made a diving catch on a slant for a 28-0 lead. It marked the 11th straight game the Panthers have scored at least 27 points.
NOTES: Ginn has a career-high eight touchdowns, including four in the last two weeks. … Short broke Kris Jenkins’ record for most sacks (nine) in a single-season by a defensive tackle with his two on Ryan, both of which resulted in fumbles, one for a turnover. … Kurt Coleman intercepted his seventh pass of the season, moving him into a tie for the league lead.
Lions 14, Rams 21
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Calvin Johnson appeared primed for a big game, facing a beat-up secondary.
Instead, it was St. Louis’ far less famous Johnson who carried the day.
Trumaine Johnson shut down Calvin Johnson, most of it in solo coverage, and Todd Gurley rushed for 140 yards to lead the Rams to a 21-14 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
Calvin Johnson was limited to a late reception for 16 yards in his lowest output since he had two catches for 39 yards in the opener against San Diego. Coach Jim Caldwell didn’t have much of an explanation, noting Golden Tate and Theo Riddick combined for 16 receptions.
“You can look at that and always try to analyze that part of it,” Caldwell said. “You’re not going to catch nine balls every single time.”
Gurley led a revived offense under new coordinator Rob Boras, scoring two second-half touchdowns. The rookie needed only 16 carries to record his first game with at least 100 yards since Week 8 against San Francisco on Nov. 1.
Trumaine Johnson’s 58-yard return was the only score in the first half, plus he did most of the work on Calvin Johnson. Aaron Donald had three sacks of Matthew Stafford to further boost a defense that had sagged in recent weeks.
“They’re a great front four,” Stafford said. “Especially 99,” he added, referring to Donald.
Donald has a career-best 11 sacks, two more than he had last year when he was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He felt the secondary coverage was a key to getting to Stafford.
“He was just holding the ball a little longer, guys were covering down field and it was just there,” Donald said.
Tate caught two touchdown passes for Detroit, which didn’t have much to show for extra days off to regroup from a game-ending TD pass by the Packers on Dec. 3.
Turnout was light on “fan appreciation day” at the Edward Jones Dome for what could be the final Sunday home game for the franchise in St. Louis (5-8), with 51,202 tickets distributed but the 66,000-capacity stadium half-filled at best. Rams owner Stan Kroenke wants to move the team to Los Angeles after this season and there is one remaining home game, on Thursday against Tampa Bay.
Tate’s 2-yard catch shaved the Lions’ deficit to a touchdown with 2:05 left, the play after Johnson stopped his drought with a 16-yard reception. The Lions (4-9) recovered an onside kick after Bradley Marquez bobbled it, but turned it over on downs at the St. Louis 46.
Gurley averaged just 42.7 yards for the previous four games behind an injury-riddled line largely populated by rookies and had just 13 yards on seven carries at the half. Besides scoring on runs on 15 and 5 yards, he had carries of 49 and 21 yards after the break.
Boras replaced Frank Cignetti, who was fired on Monday, and called plays for the first time since 2003 when he was at UNLV.
Coming into the day, the Rams were last in the NFL in third-down efficiency at just 24.5 percent, fourth-worst since 1972 according to STATS, but they were markedly better at 4 for 11 against a team that had held three of its previous four opponents to 18 or fewer points.
Trumaine Johnson returned after missing two games with a thigh injury. The Rams needed him to step up with top cornerback Janoris Jenkins out with a concussion and safety T.J. McDonald sidelined for the season due to a shoulder injury.
On the interception return, he stepped in front of an underthrown pass intended for Calvin Johnson and patiently waited for blocks the last 20 to 30 yards before ending St. Louis’ seven-quarter touchdown drought. Stafford had gone more than three games between interceptions.
NOTES: Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew (knee) did not return after getting hurt midway through the second quarter. … Johnson is the first Rams defender with five interceptions since Oshiomoghe Atogwe in 2008. … Stafford topped 25,000 yards passing in his 90th career game, fastest in NFL history. Hall of Famer Dan Marino did it in his 92nd game.
Saints 24, Buccaneers 17
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints looked quite comfortable in the role of late-season spoiler.
Brees threw a pair of touchdown passes to Marques Colston to help New Orleans snap a four-game losing streak with a 24-17 victory Sunday that damaged the playoff hopes for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The 36-year-old Brees took over sole possession of third place on the career list for December TD passes, moving ahead of Dan Marino (110) with 112. Only Peyton Manning (134) and Brett Favre (116) have thrown more during the month.
Brees, who also tied Manning for most career 300-yard games with his 93rd, recalled traveling to Miami for a preseason game as a rookie and seeing some of Marino’s statistics and records on display. Brees completed 31 of 41 passes for 312 yards without an interception. Colston scored on receptions of 1 and 3 yards in the first half, and Tim Hightower had a 3-yard TD run in the third quarter for the Saints (5-8), who won for the eighth time in nine meetings between the NFC South rivals.
The Buccaneers (6-7) lost for the second time in three weeks, damaging their hopes of recovering from a slow start to a run for an NFC wild card.
The Saints converted 12 of their 17 third downs, the Bucs were penalized eight times for 80 yards, and Jameis Winston’s bid to rally his team in the second half was hindered by a missed field goal.
The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft threw a fourth-quarter TD pass to Adam Humphries to trim a 14-point deficit to 24-17. The Bucs got the ball back with just over five minutes remaining, punted four plays later, and then watched New Orleans grind out three first downs to end the game.
Hightower rushed for 85 yards on 28 carries for the Saints, who bounced back from last week’s 41-38 home loss to unbeaten Carolina. Willie Snead had seven receptions for 122 yards, and Benjamin Watson had seven catches for 70 yards.
Brees and Colston have teamed for 71 touchdowns over 10 seasons, fifth most by a quarterback-receiver combination in NFL history behind Manning-Marvin Harrison, Steve Young-Jerry Rice, Marino-Mark Clayton and Philip Rivers-Antonio Gates. The two TDs on Sunday staked the Saints to a 14-0 lead, and Colston finished with six receptions for 36 yards.
The Bucs managed just one first down against the NFL’s’ 32th-ranked defense until a pair of personal fouls on cornerback Kyle Wilson for hits on receivers following incomplete passes helped spark Tampa Bay early in the second quarter. A defensive holding call against cornerback Brandon Browner on third down hurt, too, extending an 80-yard drive that Doug Martin capped with a 14-yard TD run.
Winston completed 18 of 32 passes for 182 yards, including the 11-yard TD to Humphries midway through the fourth. Martin, the NFL’s second-leading rusher, finished with 81 yards on 11 attempts.
NOTES: The loss stopped the Bucs from climbing over .500 for the first time in three years. … The Saints, who lost to Tampa Bay at home in Week 2, have beaten the Bucs four straight times on the road. … Bucs WR Vincent Jackson left in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return. … The Bucs played without rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander, who began serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances.
49ers 10, Browns 24
CLEVELAND (AP) — Sitting on the sideline, Johnny Manziel was angry and frustrated.
More importantly for the Browns, he held himself accountable.
Upset for throwing an interception late in the first half, Manziel vented by bashing a tablet on his head before recovering to throw a touchdown pass in the second half and leading Cleveland to a 24-10 win on Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers, ending the Browns’ seven-game losing streak.
Johnny Football finally accepted some blame.
Manziel passed for 270 yards, delivering a quality performance he and the Browns (3-10) desperately needed. He tossed a 2-yard TD pass to Gary Barnidge in the third quarter as Cleveland won for the first time since Oct. 11 and took some pressure off coach Mike Pettine.
Isaiah Crowell rushed for 145 yards and had two short TD runs for Cleveland, which won its first game in December since 2012.
The inept 49ers (4-9) allowed nine sacks and managed just 127 yards on offense before a 94-yard drive in garbage time.
Manziel was back on the field after being benched two games by Pettine for partying during Cleveland’s bye week after he had promised not to be a distraction. The 23-year-old was thankful to get a second chance and made the most of it while giving the Browns hope he may still blossom into a franchise QB.
Manziel overcame his one glaring mistake, accurately found wide-open receivers and looked more like an NFL starter that at any point in his two seasons as a pro.
“I’ve only gotten to play six or seven games,” said Manziel, who went 21 for 31. “The number is starting to climb but for me, these mean a lot to me. I still have a lot to prove. I feel like I’m just getting started.”
Making his first start since throwing for a career-high 372 yards on Nov. 15 at Pittsburgh, Manziel was sharp in the first half with the exception of one bone-headed play.
With the Browns near midfield, Manziel was forced from the pocket and scrambled near the Browns sideline. But instead of running out of bounds or throwing the ball away, Manziel forced a pass over the middle that was intercepted by Niners safety Jaquiski Tartt, who returned it 25 yards.
Manziel stormed off the field and slammed his helmet to the ground. He took a seat, and when he reviewed the play on one of the sideline tablets, he saw that Barnidge had come open on the play. That’s when he had his temper tantrum.
“I probably shouldn’t have overreacted the way I did, but it’s the NFL and when those chances are there, you’ve got to make the most of them,” he said.
Pettine didn’t see the eruption and joked that Manziel “beat me to it then.”
Pettine wasn’t upset with the QB’s heated response.
“It was a natural reaction, he knew he messed up,” Pettine said. “It would bother me more if he just ‘whatever’ and walked off. If it’s towards himself over frustration from doing something bone-headed, I have no problem with it.”
Cleveland’s loss was tempered by the loss of wide receiver Brian Hartline, who broke his collarbone and is done for the season. Hartline had eight catches for 107 yards before getting hurt.
The 49ers did nothing well.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert was roughed up while throwing for 194 yards and a 6-yard TD to Jerome Simpson with 1:42 left. San Francisco was hurt by penalties, but the bigger issues were with blocking, tackling and overall execution.
The lone bright spot was kicker Phil Dawson’s return to Cleveland, where he played for 14 seasons. The 40-year-old kicked a 44-yard field goal and received a warm ovation from Browns fans after a video tribute was shown of him on the stadium’s scoreboards.
“I don’t think I have words to do it justice,” an emotional Dawson said afterward. “It’s a special day. I’ll never forget it.”
Crowell’s 1-yard run into the end zone gave the Browns a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Crowell’s 50-yard run — the longest by a Cleveland back all season — set up the early touchdown, which came after Travis Coons had his 42-yard field-goal attempt blocked by the 49ers.
NOTES: Coons has had a field goal blocked in three straight games. … Crowell is the first Browns back with at least 140 yards rushing since Peyton Hillis ran for 184 against New England in 2010. … Browns WR Terrelle Pryor was active for the first time but was not targeted.
Seahawks 35, Ravens 6
BALTIMORE (AP) — As long as Russell Wilson continues to fling touchdown passes at a dizzying rate, the Seattle Seahawks just might survive their alarming shortage of running backs.
Wilson threw five touchdown passes, three to Doug Baldwin, and Seattle wore down the injury-depleted Baltimore Ravens 35-6 Sunday for its fourth straight victory.
Wilson went 23 for 32 for 292 yards. The five touchdown throws matched a career high — set earlier this season against Pittsburgh — and gave him 16 over his last four games.
Baldwin scored on passes of 14, 22 and 16 yards. Tyler Lockett caught TD throws of 8 and 49 yards.
Seattle (8-5) played most of the game without standout rookie running back Thomas Rawls, who broke his left ankle in the first quarter and is out for the season. Rawls had already gained 47 yards during the Seahawks’ first drive when he was hurt on a 3-yard loss.
“It doesn’t get any tougher than that,” Wilson said. “We’re going to miss him, but I thought everybody collectively played a great game.”
Rawls was replaced by DuJuan Harris, who ran for 42 yards on 18 carries but lost a fumble. Marshawn Lynch, who sits atop the depth chart, missed a fourth straight game with an abdomen injury.
No matter. As long as Wilson has time in the pocket — and he sure did Sunday — the Seahawks’ offense is equipped to handle just about any situation.
Seattle’s second-ranked defense backed Wilson by keeping the Ravens (4-9) out of the end zone, forcing two turnovers and allowing only 28 yards rushing.
The Seahawks have won six of seven to move into position for an NFC wild card.
Baltimore’s offense sputtered under the direction of Jimmy Clausen, who completed 23 of 40 passes for a career-high 274 yards and an interception. Playing for injured Matt Schaub, he became the third quarterback to start for the Ravens.
The loss assured Baltimore its first losing season since coach John Harbaugh took over in 2008. It was the Ravens’ first game this year decided by more than eight points, and their most lopsided defeat since a 41-7 loss to New England on Dec. 22, 2013.
“Obviously a very tough outcome. I’m not happy about it; disappointed,” Harbaugh said. “The worst we’ve played all year by far.”
Seattle took the lead for good with a touchdown on its opening possession, moving 80 yards on a drive capped by Wilson’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Lockett.
Late in the half, Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner recovered a fumble by Javorius Allen at the Baltimore 14. Two plays later, Wilson threw a touchdown pass to Baldwin for a 14-3 lead.
Clausen answered with two passes to Kamar Allen totaling 58 yards before Justin Tucker kicked a field goal on the final play of the half.
Seattle made it 21-6 by moving 80 yards following the second-half kickoff. Wilson went 4 for 5 for 58 yards, capped by a touchdown pass to a wide-open Baldwin.
The clincher came on the first play of the fourth quarter. Lockett got open on the right sideline and caught a pass in stride ahead of cornerback Lardarius Webb for a 49-yard touchdown.
“You give up the big plays and turn the ball over against a team like that, you just don’t have a chance,” Harbaugh said.
Richard Sherman intercepted a Clausen pass to set up Wilson’s final TD throw to Baldwin.
This was the second time Clausen started against Seattle this year. Playing for Chicago in September, he went 9 for 17 for 63 yards in a 26-0 loss.
Clausen became the sixth NFL quarterback since 1950 to start against the same team twice for different clubs during the same season. The last was Kyle Orton in 2011.
NOTES: Seattle has held the lead in 61 straight games, an NFL record. … Seattle lost Safety Kam Chancellor (tailbone) in the first quarter. He did not return. … Baltimore lost DE Chris Canty (pectoral strain) in the third quarter.
Redskins 24, Bears 21
CHICAGO (AP) — Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins figured they had to get a road win somewhere to have a chance of winning their division.
They found what they were looking for in Chicago. And they can thank another late field goal miss by Robbie Gould.
Cousins threw for 300 yards and a touchdown Sunday, and the Redskins hung on for a 24-21 victory over the Bears after Gould missed a 50-yard field goal.
Washington (6-7) remained tied with Philadelphia for the NFC East lead and moved a half-game ahead of the New York Giants, who play Miami on Monday.
The Redskins went ahead by three early in the fourth quarter on Dustin Hopkins’ 47-yard field goal and stopped a nine-game road losing streak dating to last season.
It also took one big miss by a slumping kicker who for more than a decade has been as reliable as they come. But after making all 15 attempts in his first six games, Gould is 11 of 17, three of those misses coming the past two weeks.
The Bears (5-8) were in position to score after Jay Cutler hit Alshon Jeffery with a 50-yard pass to on the Washington 35. Gould, who missed the potential winner at the end of regulation in last week’s overtime loss to San Francisco, got a chance to redeem himself. But his 50-yarder sailed wide right with 1:40 left, giving Chicago its second straight loss.
Cousins completed 24 of 31 passes on a soggy but unusually warm 62-degree afternoon. Jordan Reed had 120 yards receiving and a touchdown. Alfred Morris ran for a TD in the Redskins’ first road win since they beat Dallas on Oct. 27, 2014.
Now that they finally came out on top away from home, the Redskins will try to do something else for the first time this season — win two in a row. They last did that when they took out Tennessee at home and won at Dallas last season.
The Bears showed some spark after a sluggish start, but came up short once again in yet another home loss. After their playoff hopes were all but dashed against San Francisco, on Sunday they fell to 1-6 at Soldier Field.
Jay Cutler threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns after a gut-wrenching week for his family.
A body believed to be that of his brother-in-law Michael Cavallari was discovered Thursday in southern Utah. Cutler is married to reality TV personality Kristin Cavallari.
Jeffery caught six passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. Zach Miller added 85 yards receiving and a TD. Matt Forte ran for the tying score in the third quarter, but for the fourth time this season, the Bears lost by three points or less.
“It’s Groundhog’s Day,” Cutler said. “I mean, we’re right there. Sometimes we make a play, other times we’re not making the play.”
Washington grabbed a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter when Cousins fired a 5-yard strike to Reed, capping a 10-play drive. But in a flash, the Bears tied it.
They drove 80 yards for their first third-quarter touchdown of the season, with Cutler connecting with Miller from the 9.
Kyle Fuller stepped in front of what appeared to be an underthrown pass by Cousins at the Washington 30 and returned it to the 21. Forte then scored on a 7-yard run to tie it with 1:24 remaining, a scenario that seemed far-fetched after Washington scored touchdowns on its first two possessions.
NOTES: Coach Jay Gruden said WR DeSean Jackson was a bit sore after he hurt his knee making a catch as he dived out of bounds in the fourth quarter. … Redskins TE Derek Carrier exited with a right knee injury in the first quarter and will have an MRI on Monday. … Bears WR Eddie Royal had just one reception for 15 yards after missing five games with a knee injury.
Bills 20, Eagles 23
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Sam Bradford and a tenacious defense ruined LeSean McCoy’s homecoming.
Caleb Sturgis kicked a 30-yard field goal with 3:26 left, Ed Reynolds intercepted Tyrod Taylor’s pass in the final minutes and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Buffalo Bills 23-20 on Sunday.
McCoy had 74 yards rushing and 35 receiving in his return to Philadelphia. The two-time All-Pro kissed the Eagles logo at midfield before the coin toss and hugged owner Jeffrey Lurie.
He was the first player off the field after the game, sprinting toward the locker room immediately when the clock expired and slammed his helmet into the wall.
he Eagles (6-7) and Redskins (6-7) are tied atop the NFC East. The New York Giants (5-7) could make it a three-way tie with a win at Miami on Monday night.
The Bills (6-7) fell two games behind in the AFC wild-card race.
Taylor’s streak of 222 passes without a pick ended when his deep pass went right to Reynolds with 1:16 remaining.
Bradford threw for 247 yards, including a 53-yard TD to Nelson Agholor. The Eagles are 6-2 in the past eight games Bradford has started and finished.
“I feel more comfortable, more confident in what we’re doing,” he said.
McCoy, the Eagles’ all-time leading rusher, was dealt to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso last March. He was bitter about the trade and criticized coach Chip Kelly several times afterward.
He never approached Kelly after saying last week he didn’t want to shake his hand or talk to him.
Fans gave McCoy a mixed reaction before the game with some cheers and a few boos. Many wore No. 25 jerseys in Bills and Eagles colors.
Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox threw McCoy down for a 10-yard loss in the second half and shoved him hard when he was down.
The Bills rallied from a 20-10 deficit in the third quarter.
One play after Taylor ran 14 yards on third-and-13, Mike Gillislee had a 19-yard TD run to tie it at 20-20. Buffalo started that drive at the Eagles 46 after an unsportsmanlike penalty on Philadelphia’s Riley Cooper on a punt.
The Eagles had a first down at the Bills 24 on the next series before Bradford threw his first interception since Oct. 25. Leodis McKelvin leaped and snatched the ball away from Brent Celek at the 5.
But Bradford tossed a 41-yard pass to Zach Ertz on third-and-3 to set up Philadelphia’s go-ahead field goal.
“Sam played outstanding,” Kelly said.
The Bills had two chances in the final minutes, but couldn’t do much. They were hurt by 15 penalties.
“I thought we were the better team, but obviously we got beat,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “We have ourselves to blame.”
After Darren Sproles ran in from the 1 for a 7-0 lead on Philadelphia’s first drive, the Eagles went three-and-out three straight series.
The Bills tied it at 7 when Taylor connected with Sammy Watkins on a 47-yard TD down the right side.
One week after two touchdowns on special teams helped the Eagles upset New England, another big play on a punt got Philadelphia going. Bryan Braman recovered Marcus Thigpen’s fumble at the Buffalo 37. Following consecutive holding penalties, the Eagles faced second-and-26 when Bradford hit Agholor over the middle for the rookie first-round pick’s first TD catch and a 14-7 lead.
Sturgis made a 45-yard field goal for a 17-10 lead at halftime. He extended the lead to 20-10 on a 41-yarder on the first possession in the third quarter.
Dan Carpenter made field goals of 38 and 40 yards for Buffalo.
Notes: Bills were missing rookie RB Karlos Williams and three starters: CB Stephon Gilmore, LB Nigel Bradham, OL Seantrel Henderson. TE Charles Clay left in the first half with a back injury. … Watkins is first Bills receiver with 40-yard catches in three straight games since Terrell Owens in 2009. … Eagles EB DeMarco Murray had 11 carries for 34 yards.
Colts 16, Jaguars 51
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Facing fourth-and-goal at the 1 with 2 minutes remaining, giddy fans gave Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley an earful.
“We want 50! We want 50!” they chanted.
Bradley begrudgingly obliged, allowing Blake Bortles to put a finishing touch on Jacksonville’s most complete — and maybe most important — victory in the head coach’s three seasons.
Bortles threw for three touchdowns and ran for a score on the team’s final play, and the Jaguars beat Indianapolis 51-16 on Sunday to end the Colts’ 16-game winning streak in the AFC South.
The longest division streak in NFL history is over, ended in lopsided fashion by an unlikely foe.
The Jaguars (5-8) scored on offense, defense and special teams in the same game for the first time since 2011, the franchise’s most complete game under Bradley.
It helped Jacksonville gain ground in the muddled division, remaining one game behind the Colts (6-7) with three to play.
Indianapolis’ previous loss against the AFC South came on Dec. 16, 2012, at Houston.
This one also was the second straight 35-point loss for the Colts, who fell 45-10 at Pittsburgh last week.
“Back to the drawing board,” said veteran defensive end Robert Mathis, who scored Indy’s lone touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone.
“You never want to let a team score 50 points on you. Jacksonville is a lot better football team than what we saw the first time. The last time we got stomped like this was in 2006 and we went on to win the Super Bowl.
“You can climb from the depths, from the bottom of the valley all the way up the mountain top. It can be done. That’s what I’ve told the guys. It can be done.”
Indeed, the Colts lost 44-17 at Jacksonville in December 2006 and regrouped to win it all. Of course, that team had Peyton Manning. This team is unsure when it will get star Andrew Luck back.
The Jaguars had lost six in a row in the series, but ended that streak with a dominant second-half performance. Jacksonville outscored Indy 42-3 after the break and finished with its most points in a regular-season game. The Jags beat Miami 62-7 in the 1999 postseason.
Seven different players scored for Jacksonville in this one.
Bortles completed 16 of 30 passes for 250 yards, with TD passes to Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Julius Thomas. Bortles has eight TD passes in the past two weeks and set a franchise record by throwing 10 over a three-game span.
Andre Branch scored on a 49-yard fumble return. Rookie Rashad Greene returned a punt 73 yards for a score.
And Denard Robinson, who replaced injured starter T.J. Yeldon (knee), scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.
With fans chanting for more, Bradley opted to go for it on fourth down late. Bortles leaped over the line for his first rushing touchdown of the season.
The game was dull for 28 minutes, with the teams combining for nine punts and three field goals. But three fumbles provided a spark.
The final one changed the game. Branch stripped Matt Hasselbeck of the ball, picked it up and rumbled 49 yards for a touchdown that cut the lead to 13-9. The Jaguars carried that momentum into the second half, and after Bortles found Robinson for a touchdown late in the third, the only thing left was to see how many points the Jaguars would score.
They ended up with half a hundred.
Notes: Hasselbeck left the game late with a rib injury and was replaced by Charlie Whitehurst. … Yeldon left the stadium on crutches, but declined to talk about his injury. … Jaguars had a season-high 154 yards rushing. … Indy’s T.Y. Hilton caught four passes for 132 yards. … Jaguars rookie Jason Myers missed his league-leading seventh extra point.
Steelers 33, Bengals 20
CINCINNATI (AP) — The Steelers weren’t about to get pushed around or lose their crown, either. Not in Cincinnati, anyway.
The defending AFC North champions got into a midfield rumble during pregame warmups and kept it up from there, roughing up the Bengals 33-20 on Sunday as the whole playoff picture changed with one quarterback’s tackle.
Andy Dalton broke his right thumb while making a tackle on his interception, and the Steelers battered backup AJ McCarron while preventing the Bengals (10-3) from clinching the division on their home field.
“A lot was made this week of them being able to clinch the division and get into the playoffs,” said Ben Roethlisberger, who improved to 19-4 in NFL games in his native Ohio. “And we didn’t want us to be the reason that they got in.” The Steelers (8-5) led the whole way, sending the Bengals to their first lopsided loss of the season.
William Gay returned one of McCarron’s passes 23 yards for a touchdown, and Roethlisberger had another good day as Pittsburgh’s resurgent offense kept rolling. Pittsburgh has scored 30 points in five straight games, a franchise record.
The game — and potentially Cincinnati’s season — turned on one interception. Stephon Truitt picked off Dalton’s shovel pass in the first quarter, and Dalton broke his right thumb while making the tackle.
He will see a specialist on Monday and get a better idea how many weeks he will miss. Dalton wore a black cast on the hand.
Dalton has been one of the NFL’s most durable quarterbacks, missing only half a game during his five seasons because of injury. He was leading the league in passer rating heading into the game.
Now, the Bengals’ chances are in the hands of a second-year quarterback from Alabama who missed all of his rookie season with a sore passing shoulder. McCarron threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green, who ran past cornerback Antwon Blake, but also threw a floating sideline pass that Gay returned for a touchdown and a 23-7 lead early in the second half.
McCarron, who had thrown only four passes in a mop-up role before Sunday, finished 22 of 32 for 280 yards with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions that led to Steelers touchdowns.
The Bengals had the fewest injured players in the league heading into the game, but also lost tight end Tyler Eifert to a concussion in the first half.
The Steelers have recovered from significant losses of their own — Roethlisberger missing time with a sprained knee, running back Le’Veon Bell out for the season with a knee injury — and hit their stride in the last five games.
Roethlisberger has been at his best. He went 30 of 39 for 282 yards with an interception as the Steelers protected a big lead in the second half. DeAngelo Williams ran for a pair of touchdowns, and Chris Boswell made field goals from 42, 47, 45 and 31 yards.
The Steelers had looked forward to the rematch in Cincinnati since the Bengals’ 16-10 victory in Pittsburgh on Nov. 1, one that ended with trash talking and tough feelings. The dislike bubbled out during warmups when players from both teams got into a brief shouting-and-shoving match at midfield.
Also, Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones — who was inactive with a foot injury — sent a profane tweet about Pittsburgh pregame.
By the fourth quarter, all the drama was gone. Bengals fans headed for the exits after Robert Golden picked off McCarron with 5:14 to go, leaving Steelers fans to twirl their Terrible Towels in celebration as Pittsburgh scored a clinching touchdown.
NOTES: The Steelers have won their last nine games in December. … It was only second time in the last seven games that the Bengals allowed more than 10 points. They came into the game having allowed the fewest points in the NFL. … Tuitt’s INT was the Steelers’ sixth red zone takeaway this season. … Reggie Nelson had an interception for the fifth straight game, a Bengals record. Nelson has six INTs in his last seven games against Roethlisberger.
Chargers 3, Chiefs 10
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs had relied heavily on their stingy, opportunistic defense during a six-game winning streak that vaulted them right back into playoff contention.
Their defense delivered again on Sunday.
After shutting down San Diego most of the game, the Chiefs forced Philip Rivers into a pair of incomplete passes near the goal line in the final seconds to preserve a 10-3 victory over the Chargers at soggy Arrowhead Stadium that could prove to be critical in the race for an AFC wild card.
Ever since then, the Chiefs (8-5) have made it nearly impossible to get into the end zone. They held the Chargers without a touchdown when they played three weeks ago in San Diego, then did it again in the most dramatic of fashion on Sunday, with the game on the line as time wound down.
San Diego (3-10) got the ball at its own 11 with 5 minutes left and quickly moved into Kansas City territory, converting fourth down three times. But after Rivers was called for delay of game at the Chiefs 1 with 5 seconds left, he threw high and out of the end zone.
There was still 2 seconds left, and another incomplete pass that would have ended the game was blown dead for a false start. So with the ball pushed back to the 11-yard line, Rivers scrambled to his right and again threw to the end zone, where his pass to Danny Woodhead skipped incomplete.
“The defense hung tough,” said Alex Smith, who threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Albert Wilson and finished with 191 yards passing. He also threw his first interception after a franchise-record 312 pass attempts, though that was quickly forgotten in the jubilation of the final seconds.
Playing through the flu, Rivers finished with 263 yards passing and an interception. Melvin Gordon was held to 35 yards rushing in another dismal performance.
It was evident from the first series that little had changed in the three weeks since the Chiefs shut down Rivers and Co. in a 33-3 win: The Chargers went three-and-out.
The teams started trading punts throughout the first quarter as rain and wind lashed half-empty Arrowhead Stadium. When the Chiefs got something going, they watched as Frankie Hammond fumbled a punt return. And when the Chargers began to move the ball, penalties shut down their drive.
Kansas City finally took the lead in the second quarter when it began a drive at its own 4-yard line. Eight consecutive running plays netted three first downs, and sucked the entire San Diego defense up to the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs took advantage when Smith hit Albert Wilson on a quick slant route, and he out-ran Steve Williams for a 44-yard touchdown reception.
Rivers was intercepted by Derrick Johnson on the Chargers’ ensuing possession, and Kansas City had just enough time to get within range of a 40-yard field goal for a 10-0 halftime lead.
The Chargers’ Josh Lambo atoned for an earlier miss with his own 30-yard field goal in the third quarter, but it was the Kansas City defense that starred the rest of the second half.
Dee Ford had his first three sacks of the season in place of injured All-Pro pass rusher Justin Houston, and the defensive backfield managed to blanket San Diego’s wide receivers. Gordon was bottled up all afternoon, and the Chargers were forced to abandon the run game in the final minutes.
Then, with the game on the line, the Chiefs made two of their biggest stops of the season.
NOTES: Williams left with a hip injury and did not return. … Chiefs RB Spencer Ware ran for 52 yards before leaving with bruised ribs. … Ford finished with a team-high seven tackles. … The Chiefs sacked Rivers five times. … Chargers TE Antonio Gates had six catches for 76 yards.
Titans 8, Jets 30
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Ryan Fitzpatrick and the New York Jets’ offense set the tone early. The stingy defense did the rest.
A possible letdown against the Tennessee Titans? Not a chance.
Fitzpatrick threw three touchdown passes as New York scored on five of its first six possessions, and Marcus Mariota and the Titans were stifled for most of the game as the Jets cruised to a 30-8 victory Sunday.
“If you’re the Golden State Warriors, you can have a trap game,” said coach Todd Bowles, referring to the NBA team that started its season 24-0 before a loss Saturday. “We’re not that good.”
Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Bilal Powell each caught TD passes for the Jets (8-5), who stayed on track in the AFC playoff race with their first three-game winning streak since 2011.
Fitzpatrick, who has a single-season career high with 25 touchdown passes, finished 21 of 36 for 263 yards. Chris Ivory ran for 101 yards on 22 carries, and Randy Bullock kicked three field goals. Muhammad Wilkerson had three of New York’s five sacks.
The Jets were coming off a stunning 23-20 overtime win over the Giants last week, and some fans and media wondered if New York could take the lowly Titans (3-10) too lightly. Tennessee’s lone highlight came in the third quarter when Antonio Andrews took a direct snap and connected with Mariota for a 41-yard touchdown — the rookie quarterback’s first career reception. He also became the first player since Walter Payton in 1983 with 40-yard touchdowns on a pass, a rush and a reception in the same season.
Mariota finished 21 of 39 for 274 yards and an interception for the Titans, who were looking to win consecutive games for the first time since the end of the 2013 season. Tennessee dropped to 2-4 under interim coach Mike Mularkey.
Jets rookie receiver Devin Smith was carted from the field with what appeared to be a serious knee injury in the third quarter on Ryan Quigley’s punt game. Bowles said Smith was scheduled for an MRI on Monday. Receiver Jeremy Kerley also left with an injured calf.
With temperatures an unseasonably warm 68 degrees at kickoff, the Jets got off to an encouraging start. A 14-play drive on their opening possession was capped by Fitzpatrick’s 16-yard toss to Decker, who caught his ninth TD pass of the season.
Powell took a short pass from Fitzpatrick and slipped defenders and zipped his way into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown that made it 20-0. The Titans blocked the extra point, but Da’Norris Searcy was offside and, 5 yards closer, Bullock made his next attempt. Searcy later left with a hamstring injury.
Fitzpatrick threw a short pass to Marshall, who stiff-armed a defender and tip-toed down the right sideline for a 69-yard TD that put the Jets up 27-0 before halftime.
Mularkey said the Titans’ headsets went out on them, adding to the confusion.
Through two quarters, New York dominated the stats sheet: 324-72 in total yards, 17-4 in first downs and 19:47-10:13 in time of possession. The Jets outgained the Titans 439-292 overall.
“It was one of those games we wish we could have back and start it over,” Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said.
Trying to spark Tennessee’s struggling offense, the Titans called for a wildcat play and ended the Jets’ shutout bid on Mariota’s first career catch.
Andrews took the direct snap — with Mariota lined up wide — and floated a pass down the right sideline. Safety Calvin Pryor slipped on the coverage, leaving Mariota completely uncovered. The rookie quarterback made the catch and cruised into the end zone for a 41-yard score. A 2-point conversion to Dexter McCluster cut the deficit to 27-8.
“This is what we wanted,” said Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who returned after missing two games with a concussion. “It was about time for us to play a complete football game.”
NOTES: Wilkerson’s 12 sacks are the most in a season for the Jets since Shaun Ellis had 12 1/2 in 2003. … Decker (nine) and Marshall (11) are tied for the most TD catches by Jets WR duo in team history. … The Titans were held to 24 yards rushing on 13 carries. … Titans TE Delanie Walker had seven catches for 71 yards, giving him 74 receptions, which breaks Frank Wycheck’s franchise record for tight ends (70).
Raiders 15, Broncos 12
DENVER (AP) — The Denver Broncos couldn’t hold on to Brock Osweiler’s passes or hold off Khalil Mack’s pass rushes.
Mack had five second-half sacks, including one in the end zone for a safety, and Derek Carr bounced back from an awful first half to lead the Oakland Raiders past Denver 15-12 Sunday.
Carr completed just 12 of 29 passes for 135 yards. But two of his throws were for touchdowns, and the Raiders (6-7) beat the Broncos for the first time since Sept. 12, 2011 despite being held to minus-12 yards in the first half — the worst performance by a team heading into halftime in nearly a quarter-century.
The Broncos (10-3) began the game as the AFC’s top seed but couldn’t finish drives, hold onto a 12-0 halftime lead or onto several on-target throws from Osweiler. Demaryius Thomas had two big drops, one for a touchdown and another for a late first down. He also lost a fumble.
The one that really stung was a drop by a wide-open Vernon Davis at the Oakland 42 on fourth-and-5 from the Denver 37 with 3:45 left.
“I got super excited because I knew I was going to be wide open, took my eyes off the ball and wasn’t able to pull it in,” Davis said.
Osweiler refused to blame his receivers for their many mistakes, his coaches for a conservative game plan, his running backs for gaining just 1.6 yards a carry, or his protection for getting him clobbered.
“No reason to point any fingers,” said Osweiler, who completed 35 of 51 passes for 308 yards.
Mack’s fifth sack helped snuff out Denver’s final drive. Afterward, he said he counts this performance as sweeter than his big game at Ohio State in 2013 that cemented his first-round status because “this is the Broncos.”
Mack said the Raiders knew they had a chance when they held the Broncos out of the end zone four times in the first half.
The Raiders drove 80 yards to open the second half and trim Denver’s lead to 12-7 when Carr threw an 11-yard pass to Seth Roberts. A safety pulled the Raiders to 12-9 when Mack sacked Osweiler in the end zone and Broncos guard Max Garcia recovered the loose ball.
“He was unbelievable,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said of Mack. “He’s just getting better and better.”
Oakland long snapper Jon Condo recovered Emmanuel Sanders’ muffed punt at the Denver 11 early in the fourth quarter, but he injured his right shoulder in the pile. He was in the locker room getting it looked at when Carr threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mychal Rivera to put Oakland ahead 15-12 with 14:26 remaining.
Without Condo, the Raiders went for 2 and Carr threw an incompletion, leaving the margin at a field goal.
Brandon McManus clanked a 49-yarder that would have tied it off the left upright with 10:22 remaining. Sebastian Janikowski then missed a 43-yarder with 5:07 remaining, giving the Broncos good field position at their 33, but Davis had his big drop on fourth down after that.
The Broncos couldn’t get into the end zone in the first half despite 224 yards of offense, settling for four field goals from McManus, each one shorter than the previous — 41, 35, 29 and 21 yards.
Oakland’s lack of production in the first 30 minutes was the lowest figure by any team in the first half since Nov. 1, 1992, when the Chargers held the Colts to minus-5 yards.
Peyton Manning, missing his fourth straight start with a left foot injury, watched this one from the sideline after skipping the Broncos’ trips to Chicago and San Diego and viewing Denver’s win over New England from inside the locker room area.
The Broncos sorely missed ramming running back C.J. Anderson, who was sidelined by an ankle injury, and once they had to keep throwing the ball, they couldn’t block Mack.
“I remember playing Derrick Thomas my first game in the NFL against the Chiefs and he had six sacks against us,” Oakland’s 18-year veteran safety Charles Woodson said. “Today, Khalil kind of reminded me of that.”
NOTES: Darian Stewart (hamstring) is Denver’s fourth injured safety. WR Cody Latimer and LB Lerentee McCray also pulled hamstrings. … Raiders RT Austin Howard injured a knee early in the third quarter.
Cowboys 7, Packers 28
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — With his offense mired by inconsistency this season, Packers coach Mike McCarthy decided to make a change this week.
He’s calling the plays again in Green Bay.
Eddie Lacy ran for 124 yards and a touchdown and fellow running back James Starks added two scores in the Packers’ 28-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Green Bay (9-4) has a one-game lead in the NFC North over Minnesota after its second straight victory following a 1-4 slide.
“It’s definitely a springboard for us,” Lacy said. “We have three games left, we’ve got to finish these games out.”
With 435 yards and 29 first downs, the Packers got better balance and production out of an offense that still struggled at times with penalties and short-yardage situations. The defense and running game came up with big plays in the fourth quarter.
The biggest change for the Packers this week was McCarthy taking back play-calling responsibility from associate head coach Tom Clements. He called it a tough personal decision to make with a long-time assistant.
“But professionally it was what I felt I needed to do,” McCarthy said.
Instead of suggesting plays to Clements, as he had the past four weeks, it was now Clements suggesting plays to McCarthy.
So there was McCarthy again, communicating the final calls to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a combination that had worked so well for so many years.
“But I don’t think it’s been about the play-calling,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It’s been about the execution. We haven’t executed really well. Today was a little better.”
Whatever the reason, the Packers pulled away in the end.
Dallas’ touchdown came on Robert Turbin’s 7-yard run midway through the third quarter to make it 14-7.
The Cowboys (4-9) suffered a setback to their chances of winning the mediocre NFC East.
Rodgers threw for 218 yards and two scores. But all the Packers really needed from their star quarterback late in the game was to hand off the ball.
Lacy and Starks each had touchdown runs in the fourth quarter during the rainy evening.
Dallas also had success on the ground, with Darren McFadden running for 111 yards on nine carries. Dallas rushed for 171 yards, and 80 came on four plays that led to Turbin’s score.
But the Cowboys’ passing game struggled.
Matt Cassel, starting his sixth game for the injured Tony Romo, was 13 of 29 for 114 yards. A pass that deflected off star receiver Dez Bryant’s hands was intercepted in the end zone by Sam Shields in the first quarter.
Bryant was held to one catch for 9 yards. He had a long reception in the second quarter overturned on replay — the same thing happened to him last season during the Cowboys’ loss to the Packers in an NFC divisional round playoff game.
The latest reversal wasn’t as big a deal to Bryant.
“It is what it is, man. When they called it incomplete, it was incomplete,” Bryant said.
Dallas was forced to punt. Green Bay scored on its next possession on Rodgers’ 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Richard Rodgers to make it 14-0 with 2:40 left in the second quarter.
That was it for Green Bay’s offense until a 12-play, 84-yard drive in the fourth that ended with a 30-yard touchdown run from Starks on second-and-25. The Packers gained 78 yards on nine carries on the series.
The Packers ran out the clock from there. The Packers finished with 230 rushing yards on 44 carries, led by Lacy’s 24 attempts.
A week after getting disciplined for missing curfew before the win over Detroit, Lacy was serenaded to chants of “Eddie! Eddie” by rain-soaked Packers fans.
“I was just making sure everything that I was doing was the right thing to do,” Lacy said.
NOTES: Cowboys TE Jason Witten finished with five catches for 40 yards. … The Cowboys managed just 11 first downs. … Starks, the second part of Green Bay’s one-two backfield punch, had 71 yards rushing on 11 carries, and 32 yards receiving on four catches. … Shields left the game with a concussion in the second quarter after making a sliding tackle on the Dallas sideline. … The Packers rushed for more than 200 yards for the first time since gaining 202 on Oct. 25, 2009, against Cleveland.
Patriots 27, Texans 6
HOUSTON (AP) — Tom Brady made sure the New England Patriots got off to a fast start on Sunday night, and when the offense stalled after halftime the defense did the rest.
Brady threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns and the Patriots snapped a two-game skid and clinched a playoff berth with a 27-6 win over the Houston Texans.
Brady threw TD passes to Keshawn Martin and Rob Gronkowski in the first half to help New England build a 17-6 lead.
The Patriots didn’t move the ball as well in the second half, but the defense harassed Brian Hoyer into multiple mistakes. Jabaal Sheard had strip sacks on Hoyer twice after halftime. The Patriots recovered the second one early in the fourth, and James White made it 27-6 with a 2-yard run three plays later.
Hoyer was sacked five times and left the game to be evaluated for a concussion with about 9 minutes remaining.
New England finished with six sacks after also taking down backup T.J. Yates after Hoyer was injured.
The Patriots (11-2) moved ahead of the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals in the race for the top AFC playoff seed and can clinch the AFC East with a win, or one loss or tie by the New York Jets. New England hasn’t lost three straight games since 2002.
The Texans (6-7) recovered a fumble and forced two punts by the Patriots in the third quarter, but weren’t able to take advantage of any of those opportunities and entered the fourth quarter trailing 20-6.
Coach Bill Belichick was impressed with the work of the front seven on his defense.
Some things to know about the Patriots’ win over the Texans.
HOYER’S HEALTH: Coach Bill O’Brien said he didn’t have more details on Hoyer’s injury after the game, but that it looked like he had a concussion. The injury is more concerning because he already missed a game this season after a concussion on Nov. 16. Hoyer was 11 of 22 for 155 yards.
If he can’t go, the Texans will look to Yates, who started the last time Hoyer was out and led them to a win.
GRONKOWSKI’S RETURN: Gronkowski had four receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown in his return after missing last week’s game with a knee injury. He said it was difficult to sit out last week, but that he wanted to make sure and not rush back too soon.
“You want to be out there playing football and making plays and at the same time you just have to be smart about it, which we were,” he said. “The organization, myself just rehabbing really hard and everything checked out, everything felt good, so I was good to go.”
STILL IN IT: Despite losing two in a row the Texans remain tied with the Colts for first place in the AFC South. They have a big game next week when they travel to Indianapolis, where they are 0-13.
“It’s something we know,” J.J. Watt said. “It’s part of our history. It’s something we need to change.”
NEW ENGLAND’S SUCCESS: The Patriots have clinched a playoff spot for the 17th time in the 22 years that Robert Kraft has owned the team. They lead the NFL in postseason appearances in that span. It’s the seventh straight season they’ve qualified for the playoffs and the sixth year in a row that they’ve won at least 11 games. They’ve been particularly good in the month of December, where they’re 53-9 since 2001, which is the NFL’s best record in that span.
WATT’S HAND: Watt played despite breaking his left hand in practice on Wednesday. The star defensive end wore a cast that enclosed his fingers in a club-like ball.
“It poses some problems, but it wasn’t that bad,” Watt said. “There were times where it was painful, but that’s football, you know? People play with pain all the time.”
Giants 31, Dolphins 24
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — With the score tied in the fourth quarter, Odell Beckham Jr. somehow slipped 5 yards behind the secondary.
That turned out to be the winning margin for the New York Giants.
Beckham’s 84-yard touchdown reception put the Giants ahead to stay with 11 minutes to go, and they forged a three-way tie atop the NFC East by beating the Miami Dolphins 31-24 on Monday night.
New York’s Eli Manning went 27 for 31 for 337 yards and four scores. His passer rating of 151.5 was his highest since 2009, and his 87 percent completion percentage was a career best.
The Giants (6-7) broke a three-game losing streak and are tied with the Redskins and Eagles for the lead in their woeful division.
“It’s a must-win, a playoff game for us,” Beckham said. “They’re all playoff games.”
The Dolphins (5-8) were mathematically eliminated from the playoff race, extending their postseason drought to a franchise-record seven consecutive years.
“Obviously this is not where we want to be,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said, “but here we are.”
In celebration of the franchise’s 50th season, the Dolphins introduced their 50 greatest players at halftime. The not-so-great 2015 Dolphins topped 20 points for the first time since October, but couldn’t keep up with Beckham.
He had seven catches for 166 yards and the game’s final two scores. The 100-yard game was his sixth in a row, a Giants record.
“They got it to a star player, and he made plays for them,” Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said.
Beckham missed one series when he went to the locker room due to cramps in both calves, but didn’t let that slow him down. And with the score 24-all, he took advantage of broken coverage to score the go-ahead touchdown.
Cornerback Jamar Taylor and seldom-used safety Shamiel Gary were the closest defenders, but Manning hit Beckham in stride at midfield and he sprinted to the end zone for his 12th TD this year.
The Giants plotted the play at the team hotel before the game.
“We got the coverage we wanted,” Manning said. “We thought it would be a big play, but I didn’t think he would be that open.”
Miami safety Reshad Jones blamed miscommunication.
“The corner was supposed to follow up and go over the top,” Jones said, “which he didn’t.”
Beckham outplayed his close friend and former LSU teammate, Miami’s Jarvis Landry, who made 11 catches for 99 yards but was flagged for a costly personal foul penalty with his team trailing in the fourth quarter.
Beckham made a 45-yard reception to set up a touchdown and had a 6-yard scoring catch. The latter pass was initially ruled incomplete because Beckham was out of bounds, but the decision was overturned by a replay review that made the score 24-all.
His final catch, a diving grab on third down at midfield, sealed the victory with less than two minutes left.
“Obviously his performance is something we all expect,” Landry said. “He’s just continuing to do what he does.”
Manning led a touchdown drive in the final two minutes of the first half covering 80 yards, including 45 on a long pass to Beckham, to make it 17-all. The receiver on the 5-yard pass for the tie: Will Tye.
Tannehill threw for 236 yards and burned a blitz by throwing deep to Kenny Stills for a 47-yard score that put Miami ahead 24-17. But Tannehill overthrew an open Landry behind the Giants’ secondary with his team trailing and less than five minutes to go.
“Those are the ones you’ve got to make,” Tannehill said.
The Dolphins were hurt by 12 penalties and seemed reluctant to run the ball, as has been the case most of the year. Lamar Miller rushed for 89 yards, including a darting 38-yard touchdown run after making Jason Pierre-Paul miss, but carried only 12 times.
NOTES: Injuries took a toll on the Giants. LT Ereck Flowers hurt his ankle on the long touchdown pass to Beckham and missed the rest of the game. DT Markus Kuhn left in the third quarter with a knee injury. DE George Selvie was evaluated for a concussion in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. … Giants coach Tom Coughlin took a tumble when CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ran into him along the sideline. “Actually it helped,” Coughlin said. “It snapped my neck.” … Dolphins CB Bobby McCain went into the concussion protocol. He briefly lay motionless when he was injured covering the kickoff to start the second half, but walked off the field. … The Giants’ Cooper Taylor lost his helmet covering a kickoff and still made the tackle. … The Dolphins fell to 41-41 on Monday Night Football. … With Miami’s loss, New England clinched the AFC East title.