2015 NFL Week 15 Tuesday Afternoon QB

Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders

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.

Buccaneers 23, Rams 31

Buccaneers Rams Football

St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin scores on a 17-yard reception against Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Sterling Moore during the fist quarter of an NFL football game Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, in St. Louis. The Rams won 31-23. (Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rams players saw the signs, heard the chanting, noticed the volume was turned up. The effort was inspired on what could have been the final home game for the franchise in St. Louis.

“It was a great atmosphere,” quarterback Case Keenum said after the Rams beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23 on Thursday night. “I think it was a great atmosphere for the nation to watch.

“The crowd was into it. It was a lot of fun.”

Tavon Austin scored twice, Todd Gurley topped 1,000 yards rushing, and Keenum threw two touchdown passes in the first quarter. The 31st-ranked offense rolled to a 21-3 halftime lead.

“It was just great for them to come out and show the support tonight and it was a beautiful thing,” defensive end William Hayes said. “We haven’t been putting the best product on the field the whole year.”

Fans chanted “Keep Our Rams! Keep Our Rams!” and carried signs, one of them reading “We Don’t Need Kroenke, We Just Want our Rams.”

Owner Stan Kroenke, who wants to move the Rams (6-8) to Los Angeles, attended the finale but kept a low profile.

The team announced 51,295 tickets had been distributed for the 66,000-capacity dome.

Up 31-13, the Rams became conservative, and Jameis Winston took advantage with two touchdown passes in a big fourth quarter. He had just 125 yards passing the first three quarters, but finished with a career-best 363, his first 300-yard effort, for Tampa Bay (6-8).

“The first half, I didn’t play good enough for us to win,” Winston said. “We were protecting good enough, I just have to make the throws.”

The halftime deficit was the Buccaneers’ largest since they were down 35-7 against Tennessee in their opening 42-14 loss. So, Tampa Bay’s total output of 509 yards rang hollow.

“Tonight, we didn’t see a whole lot to be excited about,” coach Lovie Smith said. “Being close just doesn’t do it on a night like tonight.”

Mike Evans had nine receptions for 157 yards and topped 1,000 yards.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ 9-yard scoring catch cut the deficit to eight with 1:34 to play, but the Rams’ Bryce Hager recovered the onside kick.

Benny Cunningham had a 102-yard kickoff return to the Tampa Bay 3 in the fourth quarter and a 44-yard return on the opening kickoff capped by Austin’s 17-yard scoring reception.

Gurley needed 25 yards to become the first Rams rookie to rush for 1,000 yards since Jerome Bettis and didn’t get it by much, gaining 48 yards on 21 carries.

Austin is the first player since Gale Sayers in 1965 to score at least four rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns and one touchdown on a punt return in a season. He leads the Rams with 10 total TDs.

Several stars from the 1999 Super Bowl championship team attended the finale, including Orlando Pace, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, plus Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk from the NFL Network. At halftime, Warner took off his sports jacket and tossed a pass to Bruce, who made the catch as he was running along the home team’s sideline and jogged into the end zone.

Tailgating was down with the 12th consecutive non-winning season ensured and temperatures in the high 30s, although it didn’t stop Shamus McDonough’s family, who have set up shop nearby at Laclede’s Landing every game since the Rams came to St. Louis in 1995.

“Even through the worst years, we have stayed loyal,” McDonough said. “We say the same thing at every tailgate — If you Ram Up hard enough, anything is possible. If this is the last game, we’re going out strong.”

Kenny Britt’s 60-yard catch was the first by a Rams wide receiver since Stedman Bailey against Arizona in Week 4.

The Rams were also playing for Bailey, who is recovering from two gunshot wounds to the head in a Miami-area hospital. Austin and some teammates are planning to visit Bailey during the weekend.

“I represent the ’12’ every day,” Austin said. “A couple of us are going to go visit our brother and show him some love.”

NOTES: Winston has 20 TD passes, breaking the franchise rookie mark of 19 by Mike Glennon in 2013. … The Buccaneers’ 98-yard scoring drive for the first of their two fourth-quarter TDs tied the record for longest in franchise history. … Buccaneers S Chris Conte (left knee) was injured on Austin’s second TD in the third quarter when he got tangled up with another defender.

Jets 19, Cowboys 16

Eric Decker, Byron Jones, Barry Church (42), Sean Lee (50)

New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker (87) loses the ball after a catch after being by Dallas Cowboys’ Byron Jones (31) and Barry Church (42) as outside linebacker Sean Lee (50) watches in the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. The Jets retained control of the ball after a video review. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Ryan Fitzpatrick and the New York Jets are keeping the pressure on Pittsburgh and Kansas City in the race for two wild-card spots in the AFC.

Randy Bullock kicked a 40-yard field goal with 36 seconds left and the Jets moved a half-game ahead of the Steelers and Chiefs with a 19-16 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night.

Fitzpatrick’s 43-yard pass to Kenbrell Thompkins put the Jets (9-5) in position for a win.

Kellen Moore replaced an ineffective Matt Cassel at quarterback and gave the Cowboys (4-10) a spark, but it wasn’t enough to keep the defending NFC East champions from being eliminated with two games remaining.

Eric Decker caught a 3-yard scoring pass to set a franchise record with Brandon Marshall with 21 combined touchdowns receiving as the Jets won their fourth straight for the first time since 2010.

Fitzpatrick threw his first interception since Nov. 22 to give the Cowboys a field goal and a 13-9 lead in the third quarter, but came back to direct a 70-yard drive to Decker’s score.

Decker and Marshall broke the franchise mark of 20 combined TDs that they shared with Art Powell-Don Maynard (1960) and Al Toon-Wesley Walker (1986).

Dan Bailey tied it at 16 on a 50-yard field goal that caromed through off the right upright with 1:55 remaining. Moore got the tying drive by sneaking a pass behind Buster Skrine for a 23-yard gain to Cole Beasley.

The first play after a near-fumble by Fitzpatrick on a sneak for a first down was held up on review, Thompkins got behind rookie cornerback Byron Jones along the sideline before stepping out of bounds at the Dallas 26.

The last chance for the Cowboys ended on Moore’s third interception when his desperation heave for Dez Bryant went over the outstretched arm of the All-Pro receiver and was caught by Marcus Williams. The Cowboys had four interceptions overall.

Cassel was replaced after two bumbling plays in the first half.

On the first, he stumbled trying to change directions after faking a throw and threw to blindly to a spot where Darrelle Revis was by himself for the easy interception. Cassel came out the series after taking a 19-yard sack, which wasn’t long after he left the field to loud boos following a three-and-out.

Moore’s second pass was intercepted Marcus Gilchrist before he beat a New York blitz by slinging the ball in the flat to Bryant, who got around Revis for the touchdown and a 10-9 lead.

Moore had a chance to add to that lead but threw his second interception to Calvin Pryor in the end zone in the third quarter, shortly before Fitzpatrick threw it directly to Terrance Mitchell.

It was the first interception by a Dallas cornerback this season, and came from a seventh-round pick from last year who was signed to the practice squad and activated this week after a hamstring injury sidelined Morris Claiborne.

New York’s first touchdown came after a near-fumble by Decker when the receiver’s left leg turned awkwardly and he dropped the ball just as he knee was hitting the turf. He left the game briefly with a knee injury.

The Cowboys challenged the ruling that he was down, but it was upheld on review. Two plays later, Bilal Powell scored easily on a 12-yard run.

Texans 16, Colts 10

D'Qwell Jackson, Jaelen Strong

Houston Texans’ Jaelen Strong (11) dives into the end zone for a 8-yard touchdown reception during the second half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Indianapolis. Colts’ D’Qwell Jackson (52) defends on the play. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

NDIANAPOLIS (AP) — After suffering through 13 miserable years in Indianapolis, a third-string quarterback finally gave the Texans some relief Sunday.

Brandon Weeden also put them in the AFC South lead.

With Houston’s top two quarterbacks out, Weeden was pressed into service late in the first half Sunday, and the 32-year-old responded by giving the Texans their first win ever on the Colts’ home turf.

Weeden led Houston to two field goals before throwing an 8-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong with 10:36 left to help Houston rally for a 16-10 victory.

The former first-round draft pick and one-time starter was released after two seasons in Cleveland. Eventually, he signed with Dallas, was benched in October and cut in November. Houston claimed him off waivers Nov. 18 as an insurance policy — one that paid handsome dividends in an ugly win.

Houston (7-7) won for the first time in three weeks, snapped a six-game skid in the series and improved to 1-13 all-time in Indy.

Thanks to a stifling defense, which allowed just 190 yards, and the resurgence of Weeden, the Texans now have the inside track to their third division crown in five years.

The question now is how much longer Houston will need Weeden?

Starting quarterback Brian Hoyer missed the game with a concussion. His replacement, T.J. Yates, left with 1:14 to go in the first half because of an injured left knee. He was hurt on a scramble run that was wiped out because of a holding call on Duane Brown.

O’Brien said he didn’t expect Yates to play next week and didn’t provide a specific update on the injury, though the CBS broadcast said initial reports indicated it was an ACL injury.

Hoyer’s status for next week, O’Brien said, remains unclear.

This battle of backup quarterbacks certainly didn’t earn many style points.

Weeden finished 11 of 18 with 105 yards, but found Strong on the critical screen play on the right side. Strong caught it, raced up the field and dived into the end zone.

Yates was 6 of 10 with 68 yards and one interception.

The Colts (6-8) weren’t in much better shape.

Matt Hasselbeck, who started for the fifth consecutive week as Andrew Luck recovers from a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle, was 17 of 30 with 147 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

He couldn’t generate any offense in the second half and left briefly in the fourth quarter with what the team called a back injury. Hasselbeck said later that he hurt his jaw.

Indy lost its third straight after Hasselbeck misread a deep route from Donte Moncrief and threw an interception on the first play of the Colts’ final series.

The Texans wouldn’t allow it.

Houston had two turnovers and terrible field position in the first half, but all the Colts managed was an 11-yard TD pass from Hasselbeck to Moncrief and a 29-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri for a 10-0 lead.

The Texans got a 22-yard field goal from Novak on the final play of the half, a 46-yard field goal late in the third quarter and the TD pass from Weeden to Strong early in the fourth to make it 13-10. Novak’s late 32-yard field goal closed it out.

NOTES: Texans receiver Cecil Shorts III left early with a groin injury and isn’t expected to play next week. … Vinatieri played in his 304th career game, breaking a tie with Jerry Rice for No. 6 on the NFL’s career list for games played. … Houston’s Alfred Blue ran 20 times for 107 yards. … Hasselbeck tied Terry Bradshaw and Y.A. Tittle for No. 30 all-time in TD passes (212), and Colts receiver Andre Johnson passed James Lofton for No. 9 in yards receiving (14,015).

Chiefs 34 , Ravens 14

Charcandrick West, Jimmy Smith

Kansas City Chiefs running back Charcandrick West, right, scores a touchdown in front of Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

BALTIMORE (AP) — During their eight-game winning streak, the Kansas City Chiefs have made this abundantly clear: The opposition will pay for its mistakes.

That is precisely what happened Sunday, when the Chiefs capitalized on an abundance of miscues by the Baltimore Ravens in a 34-14 victory that earned Kansas City a place in the NFL record book.

Tyvon Branch returned a fumble 73 yards for a touchdown and Marcus Peters scored on a 90-yard interception return for the Chiefs, who also scored touchdowns following a drive-extending penalty by Baltimore and a failed fake punt.

With the victory, the Chiefs (9-5) became the first team in NFL history to follow a five-game skid with eight successive wins in the same season. Kansas City also kept itself in the thick of the AFC playoff picture.

The Chiefs picked off two passes and recovered a fumble, didn’t give the ball away and now own a plus-15 turnover differential. Kansas City believes that if it wins the turnover battle, it will win the game.

Smith went 21 for 25 for 171 yards and a touchdown. Charcandrick West ran for 76 yards and a score.

Although the Chiefs let a 24-7 lead dwindle to 10 points by allowing a successful Hail Mary throw at the end of the first half, the outcome was never in doubt.

Credit the opportunistic defense for that.

Baltimore (4-10) lost its third straight and fell to 2-5 at home. It’s the first time in their 20-year history that the Ravens have lost five home games.

“For us, the story of the game, basically, is turnovers,” coach John Harbaugh said.

Starting his second straight game for Baltimore, Jimmy Clausen completed 26 of 45 passes for a career-high 281 yards, two TDs and two interceptions. His favorite target was Kamar Aiken, who caught eight passes for 128 yards — including a desperation 48-yarder at the end of the first half.

But Clausen’s first interception was the final blow to the Ravens’ upset bid. With Baltimore at the KC 16, Peters stepped in front of Daniel Brown, picked off the pass and took it down the left sideline for a 34-14 lead with 4:36 left.

“The biggest thing is taking care of the ball,” Clausen said. “Whether it’s the fumble, or the two interceptions that I had, you’re not going to win games turning the ball over.”

The three giveaways left Baltimore with a minus-15 differential for the season.

The Ravens wore pants that were described by the team as gold but appeared to be the color of spicy mustard. Either way, the change did little to alter the course of this lost season for a Baltimore team that appeared in the playoffs in six of the past seven years.

Coming into the game, the Chiefs were averaging 29.1 points and yielding only 12. Those numbers won’t change much after this blowout.

On Kansas City’s opening series, Smith came up short on a third-down run but was hit by Timmy Jernigan while out of bounds. That extended a drive that ended with a season-best, 38-yard touchdown run by West.

Baltimore pulled even with a 1-yard TD pass from Clausen to Kyle Juszczyk. On their next possession, the Ravens got to the KC 30 before Javorius Allen fumbled when hit by Derrick Johnson, and Branch went the distance for the go-ahead score.

Late in the first quarter, Baltimore’s Sam Koch ran up the middle on a fake punt. He gained 7 yards but needed 9, which provided KC with the ball at the Baltimore 24. Three plays later, Jeremy Maclin caught a 13-yard touchdown pass.

“Anybody wants to criticize for going for it and being aggressive, have at it,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not apologizing.”

Cairo Santos kicked a 53-yard field goal to boost the margin to 17 points with 50 seconds left in the half.

That gave Baltimore enough time to pull off its biggest play of the day. On the final play of the quarter, Clausen launched an up-for-grabs spiral that Aiken plucked out of the air and took into the end zone.

NOTES: The Ravens lost CB Jimmy Smith to a thigh injury in the first quarter. … The Chiefs had no significant injuries to report.

Titans 16, Patriots 33

Rob Gronkowski, Avery Williamson

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Tennessee Titans linebacker Avery Williamson (54) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots know they’ll get a first-round bye in playoffs.

The Tennessee Titans’ future is even more in doubt.

Tom Brady threw for two touchdowns to help the Patriots hold onto the top spot in the AFC, beating Tennessee 33-16 on Sunday after knocking Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota out with a knee injury.

The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, Mariota left the game and did not return after being sacked to stop consecutive second-quarter possessions. He said after the game he could have returned, but agreed with interim coach Mike Mularkey that it wasn’t worth the risk.

The Patriots (12-2) clinched a first-round bye in the postseason when Denver lost to Pittsburgh later Sunday. New England could clinch home-field throughout the playoffs with one more win, either next week at the Jets or the final weekend at Miami.

Brady completed 23 of 35 passes for 267 yards for New England. James White caught seven passes for 71 yards, including a 30-yard catch-and-run touchdown, and Keshawn Martin had a 75-yard kickoff return to set up another score.

White was filling in at No. 1 running back, a job that had been held by Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount before they both sustained season-ending injuries. The big Patriots losses on Sunday were linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee), receiver Danny Amendola (knee) and safety Patrick Chung (hip).

All three left the game and did not return. No information about their conditions was immediately available.

“Guys are going out and guys are coming in,” Brady said. “You’re just trying to do what you can to be productive.”

The Patriots have won two in a row since stumbling to consecutive losses — their first two-game losing streak since 2012. Instead, they have recorded their sixth straight season with at least 12 wins.

Rob Gronkowski caught a 5-yard touchdown pass, and Akiem Hicks fell on the ball in the end zone after Jamie Collins’ strip-sacked Mariota for New England’s other TD.

The rookie quarterback was sacked to end the next drive, too. Zach Mettenberger replaced him and completed 20 of 28 passes for 242 yards, two touchdowns — both to Delanie Walker — and two interceptions.

Walker had a 7-yard catch in the third quarter and then a 57-yard rumble down the right sideline with 7 minutes left in the game. Ryan Succop missed the extra point, leaving Titans (3-11) with a 27-16 deficit.

But Brady led the Patriots to the Tennessee 23, and Stephen Gostkowski put one through off the upright to make it a two-touchdown game. After Collins intercepted Mettenberger and ran it back 51 yards to the Titans 16, Gostkowski added another field goal.

Already mired in a lost season, with coach Ken Whisenhunt fired midway through the season, the only thing left for the Titans is to get Mariota some experience — and add a high draft pick such as Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa to the roster. Mariota has already missed two games this season with a left knee injury.

Brady took the Patriots 79 yards on their first possession, connecting with Gronkowski from 5 yards to make it 7-0. They made it 14-0 when Chandler Jones strip-sacked Mariota at the Tennessee 17; Hicks chased the ball and knocked it into the end zone before falling on it for the touchdown.

Tennessee’s drive stalled again, but Danny Amendola fumbled the punt and the Titans took over at the New England 26. Unable to move — and again giving up a third-down sack of Mariota — they settled for a 49-yard field goal by Succop that helped them avoid the fate of their previous trip to New England, a 59-0 shutout in 2009.

But Mariota went to the sideline and never returned.

And things got worse on the field, too: Martin ran the kickoff back 75 yards to the Titans 30. On the next play, Brady threw a swing pass to White out of the backfield, and he ran it in to make it 21-3.

Notes: Brady was listed as questionable with an illness on Friday, but he started and played the whole game. … Gostkowski missed just his second field goal attempt of the season and his first from inside of 50 yards. … Other injuries in the game: Patriots WR Amendola (knee), LB Dont’a Hightower (knee) and S Patrick Chung (hip). … Indianapolis had a record seven straight seasons of 12 or more wins from 2003-09. … Brady needs to average 297.5 yards in the final two games of the regular season to reach 5,000 yards for the second time in his career.

Falcons 23, Jaguars 17

Julio Jones, Josh Evans

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) scores a touchdown as he gets past Jacksonville Jaguars free safety Josh Evans (26) during the first half of an NFL football game in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Matt Ryan would have understood if his Atlanta teammates doubted whether they would hold on against Jacksonville.

After all, the Falcons had dropped six in a row and seven of eight and blown several late leads along the way. But Ryan felt like the team was confident down the stretch, calling it the key to Atlanta’s first win in nearly two months.

Julio Jones set the franchise record for receptions in a season, and the Falcons ended a six-game skid with a 23-17 victory against the Jaguars on Sunday. Jones was a huge factor, too. He finished with nine receptions for 118 yards and his first touchdown in seven weeks. He now has 118 catches, breaking teammate Roddy White’s mark of 115 set in 2010.

The Falcons (7-7) had lost six straight and even had some wondering whether they had given up after losing 38-0 last week at Carolina. But they showed resiliency against Jacksonville and won for the first time since Oct. 25.

The Jaguars (5-9), meanwhile, lost ground in the muddled AFC South and were all but eliminated in the division race.

Jacksonville had all the momentum Sunday after tying the game with consecutive touchdowns to start the second half. Blake Bortles, rebounding from a costly turnover just before the break, ran for a touchdown to cut the lead to single digits. He followed with a 10-yard TD pass to Allen Robinson to knot things up at 17.

Bortles’ 31st touchdown pass of the season and 13th to Robinson had Jacksonville in position to be the latest to deal Atlanta a defeat.

But Ryan and the Falcons responded, getting a pair of field goals in the final frame. They used a 31-yard pass interference penalty to set up a 33-yard field goal with about 10 minutes remaining, and then Shayne Graham added a 46-yarder with 1:42 remaining.

Ryan completed 22 of 35 passes for 246 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Devonta Freeman ran for 56 yards and scored for the first time since Week 6.

Jacksonville had a final chance and looked like it might pull off the comeback when Marqise Lee made a juggling catch down the sideline. But Bortles overthrew Hurns down the middle of the field on third down and then misfired to Robinson on fourth down.

The biggest miss came on the penultimate play of the first half.

The Jaguars moved the ball 87 yards in less than 2 minutes and had first-and-goal at the 1. Bortles stared down tight end Marcedes Lewis in the end zone, and when he finally threw it, safety Kemal Ishmael stepped in front and intercepted the pass.

Ishmael scampered down the sideline and looked like he might score, but Bortles managed to tackle him at the 16-yard line. Initially, it appeared that the clock ran out on the return. But officials reviewed the play and put 2 seconds back on the clock, allowing Graham to end the half with a 34-yard field goal that put Atlanta up 17-3 and on their way to ending the six-game slide.

NOTES: Falcons scored on their opening possession for the first time this season. … Freeman’s 10th rushing touchdown of the season was his first since Week 6. … Jaguars have helped end four losing streaks this season: Tampa Bay and Tennessee snapped 11-game skids at home against Jacksonville, and San Diego ended a six-game slide against the Jaguars last month.

Bills 25, Redskins 35

Pierre Garcon, Leodis McKelvin

Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon (88) pulls in a touchdown pass over Buffalo Bills strong safety Leodis McKelvin (21) during the second half of an NFL football game in Landover, Md., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — As Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder paced nearby, 20 or so of his team’s players gathered in the trainer’s area off the locker room Sunday, delighted by their own just-completed victory and waiting to find out exactly how big a deal it was.

Left tackle Trent Williams and other Redskins watched the closing seconds of their NFC East rival New York Giants’ loss on TV, letting loose a loud celebration — raised arms, fist pumps, yells of “Yes!” — at the end. After last-place finishes in six of the last seven years, Washington is closing in on clinching a playoff berth.

Inspiring a soundtrack of “You like that!” chants in the stands, Kirk Cousins equaled his career high with four touchdown passes and ran 13 yards for another score, helping the Redskins win consecutive games for the first time in more than a year and stay atop the division standings by beating the Buffalo Bills 35-25.

The Redskins (7-7) can secure a spot in the postseason by winning next Saturday night at the Philadelphia Eagles,

“We still have a dogfight in front of us. And we can’t walk before we crawl, put it like that,” Williams said. “We’ve got to focus on the Eagles.”

The Bills (6-8) are now assured of missing the playoffs for the 16th year in a row, the longest active drought in the NFL.

“Did it go according to plan? No, not this year,” said Rex Ryan, in his first season as Buffalo’s coach.

Said defensive end Mario Williams: “Of course there’s going to be changes. That’s obvious. You just wait and see if your number is called, that’s all.”

Making Ryan’s defense look inept, and aided by a key fourth-down encroachment penalty, the Redskins scored TDs on each of their first three possessions of a game for the first time since September 1999, grabbing a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter.

Even when Washington made a potentially bad mistake of its own — rookie returner Jamison Crowder fumbled a punt near midfield — Buffalo couldn’t take advantage. The Bills drove all the way to Washington’s 1, but running back LeSean McCoy got stuffed twice, before Tyrod Taylor overthrew Sammy Watkins by a ton in the end zone on fourth down.

After Buffalo made it 28-17 with a two-play, 85-yard drive — capped by the first of Taylor’s two TD passes to Watkins — the Redskins responded with a 13-play, 80-yard drive. That ended with Cousins’ 5-yard TD toss to Pierre Garcon early in the fourth quarter.

Fans repeatedly responded to touchdowns with full-throated serenades of “You like that!” — a reference to what Cousins screamed as he trotted to the locker room after a comeback victory earlier this season.

Cousins hit tight end Jordan Reed for a pair of scores in the first half. Jackson spun away from defensive back Corey Graham for his long score in the third quarter.

Cousins completed his first nine passes and finished 22 for 28 for 319 yards and no interceptions. It was his sixth 300-yard passing day of the season, a franchise record. He equaled another club mark, set way back in 1967 by Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen, by starting the season with at least one TD throw in 14 straight games.

“He’s definitely gotten better,” Trent Williams said. “We had faith in him the whole time. But he continues to grow and he’s playing lights-out.”

Notes: Washington had alternated victories and losses for the past eight games, the longest such run in the league. … McCoy left early in the second half after hurting his right knee, and backup Mike Gilleslee delivered a 60-yard touchdown run. … Redskins injuries: S Dashon Goldson (bruised rib), RT Morgan Moses (sprained foot), RB Matt Jones (bruised hip), C Josh LeRibeus (sprained ankle), LB Will Compton (stinger).

Panthers 38, Giants 35

Greg Olsen

Carolina Panthers’ Greg Olsen (88) runs away from New York Giants’ Craig Dahl (43) for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — After one of the strangest and nastiest games this NFL season, Cam Newton had an odd feeling.

His Carolina Panthers had just shrugged off a record-tying Giants comeback to remain perfect with a wild 38-35 victory Sunday. Newton, who threw for five touchdowns to further state his case for NFL Most Valuable Player honors, wasn’t quite sure what he’d just been through.

“It was kind of a weird feeling in that locker room, and I’m still feeling kind of weird, but not enough to (not) celebrate,” said Newton, who also rushed for 100 yards. “We’re just trying to find a way to get victories.”

New York tied the score after trailing by 28 points in the third quarter, but the Panthers got to 14-0 on Graham Gano’s 43-yard field goal as time expired.

It was Carolina’s 18th straight regular-season victory. Newton has thrown for 19 touchdowns in the last five games and a career-best 33 in this so-far special season.

It looked oh so easy when NFC South champion Carolina led 35-7 with 5:32 left in the third quarter. Then the Giants (6-8) matched San Francisco’s 28-point rally — from the same score — against New Orleans in 1980.

One big difference: The 49ers won that game in overtime. The Giants trail Washington by one game in the NFC East, and have lost in the final minutes six times.

Carolina hasn’t lost at all, of course.

Carolina visits Atlanta and hosts Tampa Bay to finish the schedule. All three previous NFL teams to reach 14-0 — Miami in 1972, New England in 2007 and Indianapolis in 2009 — made the Super Bowl. Only the Dolphins won the championship, though.

The 18 straight wins match the third-longest string in NFL history.

The Giants tied it when Odell Beckham Jr., involved in a game-long helmet-smacking, shoving and jawing session with cornerback Josh Norman, got behind Norman for a 14-yard touchdown catch with 1:46 to go. Beckham had lost his cool several times as Norman was getting the best of him in their high-profile matchup. But he got free for a 40-yard catch and run that led to the tying TD.

Then Newton calmly guided the Panthers 49 yards to the winning kick.

Play ranged from chippy to vicious, particularly as the Panthers banged Beckham around. He gave back, too, especially during one sequence when Norman crashed into him and Beckham wrestled Norman to the ground.

Three times, a frustrated Beckham was penalized for roughness. Norman also drew a flag for hitting Beckham in the helmet. And after his tying score, Beckham appeared to taunt Norman before he ran to midfield in celebration.

“He’s got the maturity of a little kid,” Norman said.

“You got two bulls going at it in a physical sport, a field full of alpha males, they’re not going to be playing patty-cake, patty-cake,” Newton added.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he considered sitting Beckham for some plays, but didn’t.

“He did lose his composure,” Coughlin said of Beckham. “I think throughout the course of the game he regained it. I won’t try to speak for him.”

Beckham tried to explain his actions.

“You are a competitor. I’m a competitor. We are always going to go at it,” he said. “Anybody who has played sports — you are competitive and you are going to go as hard as you can.”

NFL spokesman Michael Signora said Sunday night: “The disqualification of a player is a judgment made by the on-field officials. The actions of the players involved in unsportsmanlike conduct will be reviewed as per the standard protocol that is followed in all situations of this type throughout the season.”

Meanwhile, Newton was staying calm.

He showed off his sprinting skills, and his toughness, on a 47-yard gain to set up Carolina’s first touchdown. The quarterback surged away from pursuers, then was slammed as he stepped out of bounds by rookie safety Landon Collins — Alabama hitting Auburn — for a late-hit penalty that began all maliciousness.

Ted Ginn Jr. caught a 3-yarder to make it 7-0. He added a 14-yard TD catch in the third quarter.

Newton also took a helmet to the right shoulder when passing in the second period and came to the sideline in obvious pain. But he was back on the field moments later after Rashad Jennings’ fumble was forced and recovered by Charles Tillman. Newton was celebrating in the end zone again after Greg Olsen’s 37-yard reception three plays later.

It was Carolina’s league-leading 34th takeaway; the Panthers have 124 points off turnovers.

Newton also had TD throws of 14 yards to Devin Funchess and 20 to Corey Brown to make it 35-7.

Back came the Giants. Will Tye caught an 8-yard TD pass and Jennings sped 38 yards to make it 35-21. Shane Vereen’s 8-yard reception brought New York within seven.

Earlier, Manning found Rueben Randle uncovered down the left sideline for a 27-yard touchdown.

NOTES: Newton threw for 340 yards and had five touchdown passes for the third time in five weeks.. … Jennings became the first Giant this year with a 100-yard rushing game with 107. … Giants DE end Jason Pierre-Paul, who lost the index finger on his right hand in a July 4 fireworks accident, got his first sack in his sixth game back. … Giants S Cooper Taylor (concussion). WR-KR Dwayne Harris (shoulder) and FB-DL Nikita Whitlock (knee) left the game.

Bears 17, Vikings 38

Stefon Diggs, Ryan Mundy

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs, defended by Chicago Bears strong safety Ryan Mundy (21), falls into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Teddy Bridgewater turned in a flawless performance, another sign that Minnesota’s franchise quarterback is on the right track.

The season has brought some struggles, but this is just what the Vikings envisioned for Bridgewater’s second year.

Bridgewater threw a career-high four touchdowns and ran for another one, and the Vikings took a significant step toward the playoffs with a 38-17 victory Sunday over the Chicago Bears.

“These last two weeks, I’ve seen a different look in his eyes,” teammate Adrian Peterson said. “I really don’t have to say much to him.”

Bridgewater completed 17 of 20 passes for 231 yards without a turnover, connecting twice with Stefon Diggs for scores. Jerick McKinnon and Zach Line had the other touchdown catches on a remarkably productive afternoon for all of Minnesota’s running backs.

Peterson missed some time because of an injury to his left ankle, but he finished with 63 yards on 18 attempts to maintain his NFL rushing lead.

The Vikings (9-5) stopped their two-game losing streak and assured themselves of at least a wild-card spot with a win at home next weekend over the New York Giants.

Other NFC teams could lose and clinch it for them before they arrive at the stadium for the Sunday night game.

The Bears (5-9) lost their third game in a row, giving the Vikings 14 second-half points on a lost fumble and an interception thrown by Jay Cutler.

The Vikings dominated from start to finish, driving 93 yards in 13 plays to take the lead they never relinquished when Bridgewater floated a perfectly placed 15-yard pass over the shoulder of Diggs on a fade route for the touchdown.

McKinnon snagged a short pass from Bridgewater and as he was being brought down held his knee above the turf long enough to get the ball over the goal line for a 17-7 lead with 26 seconds left before halftime.

The game only got better after that for Bridgewater, who became the first Vikings player to throw for four touchdowns in a game since Brett Favre on Jan. 17, 2010, against the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs.

“It shows that when we do put the ball in the air, we’re pretty good,” Bridgewater said.

Cutler threw two touchdown passes, including one to Alshon Jeffery in the second quarter that pulled the Bears within 10-7, but he took five sacks and had a frustrated look on his face all afternoon with little help from the line in front of him. Jeffery aggravated his hamstring injury in the third quarter.

The Bears surprised the Vikings with an onside kick they recovered to start the second half, but three plays later Brian Robison powered his way past right tackle Kyle Long to slap the ball out of Cutler’s hand during a sack near midfield.

Robison recovered, Cutler gave Long an icy stare on their way off the field and Diggs followed a little later with a 33-yard catch and run into the end zone. Diggs was wide open, and he bulled his way into the end zone with nickel back Alan Ball on his back to essentially put the Bears out of reach.

The game hit bottom for the Bears in the fourth quarter when Cutler floated a screen pass to Matt Forte that fell short, allowing backup defensive end Justin Trattou to intercept it at the Chicago 16.

Bridgewater followed with the exclamation point, a 12-yard dash up the middle he finished by launching himself into the air at the goal line to make sure he got across.

NOTES: Exactly five years ago, the Bears beat the Vikings here 40-10 on a wintry Monday night after an earlier snowstorm punctured the Metrodome roof and diverted the game to the University of Minnesota campus. That was Favre’s final game. … Forte caught a late touchdown pass and finished with 57 yards on six receptions, to go with 47 yards rushing on eight attempts. … Blair Walsh made a 53-yard field goal for Minnesota that bounced off the left upright and ricocheted through early in the second quarter.

Browns 13, Seahawks 30

Russell Wilson, Karlos Dansby

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) scrambles as Cleveland Browns’ Karlos Dansby pursues in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)

SEATTLE (AP) — Not until Pete Carroll pulled everyone together after a fifth straight victory did the Seattle Seahawks find out they were bound for the postseason.

And the reaction was as expected. No overwhelming celebration. No special significant, even if Seattle bucked history by overcoming a miserable start to the season and reached the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

It’s simply become Seattle’s standard.

“We’re resilient,” Seattle’s Doug Baldwin said. “You can count us out. You can say what you want to about all of our players, but we’re going to be consistently efficient at what we do.”

Once again led by the duo of Baldwin and Russell Wilson, the Seahawks rolled past the Cleveland Browns 30-13 on Sunday to wrap up a berth in the NFC playoffs as the Seattle offense continues to be difficult to slow down, let alone stop.

Wilson put together another elite performance in a week where Cleveland coach Mike Pettine stirred debate by saying Wilson wasn’t in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks. Wilson completed 21 of 30 passes for 249 yards and found Baldwin for two of his three touchdown passes.

When Sunday ended, Baldwin’s name was sitting next to Jerry Rice’s as the only wide receivers in NFL history with 10 TDs over a four-game span in a single season. Rice had 10 TD catches from a combo of Joe Montana and Steve Young during the 1987 season. Baldwin has grabbed all 10 from Wilson, and he became the third wide receiver since 1960 with four straight games with multiple TD catches, joining Calvin Johnson in 2011 and Cris Carter in 1995.

And Wilson? He’s the only quarterback with five straight games with three or more TD passes and zero interceptions, although he was nearly picked off at the goal line by Tramon Williams in the closing minutes.

They are marks with huge historical significance that were both downplayed by the involved participants.

But not their teammates.

Unlike the previous three playoff trips when Seattle’s success was largely based on the dominance of its defense, this trip to the postseason is on the shoulders of an offense lately can’t be stopped.

Tyler Lockett added a 27-yard touchdown catch on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Seattle a 27-10 lead and while Baldwin was setting records, Jermaine Kearse had the best regular-season game of his career with seven catches for 110 yards. Seattle has scored 30 or more in five of its last six games.

Coming off arguably the best game of his young career, Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel didn’t make any critical mistakes but only got the Browns into the end zone once. Manziel was 19 of 32 for 161 yards and was intercepted by Marcus Burley with 2:06 remaining trying to force a throw downfield.

Manziel mostly silenced the 12th Man on Cleveland’s first drive, leading the Browns on a 15-play march capped by a 7-yard TD to Gary Barnidge on a 7-yard TD strike. It was the first touchdown drive allowed by the Seahawks defense since the fourth quarter of their win over Pittsburgh, a span of 21 possessions.

Cleveland had 80 yards on its first possession, but just 150 the remainder of the game.

Seattle started with a committee trying to replace the absences of Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls at running back. Derrick Coleman got the first carry, Bryce Brown got a handful of looks, but it was Christine Michael who shined. The former second-round pick by the Seahawks who was traded away to Dallas at the end of training camp and re-signed this week, finished with 84 yards rushing.

But it was the arm of Wilson that made the difference, hitting Baldwin on a pair of TD throws on consecutive drives in the first half to take a 14-7 lead and extended the lead to 20-10 at halftime when a defensive penalty on the final play allowed Steven Hauschka to hit the second of his three field goals.

NOTES: Seattle LT Russell Okung left with a strained calf muscle in the fourth quarter. … Cleveland G John Greco was hurt on the second play of the game and did not return. … Seattle RB Fred Jackson is headed to the playoffs at age 34 for the first time in his career.

Packers 30, Raiders 20

James Jones, Charles Woodson

Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Jones (89) catches a touchdown pass next to Oakland Raiders free safety Charles Woodson (24) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — After losing four of five games during a rare midseason slump, the Green Bay Packers are back where they usually are this time of year: headed to the playoffs.

Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass and Damarious Randall returned an interception for another score to help the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 30-20 on Sunday, after Green Bay clinched a franchise-record seventh straight postseason spot.

“It’s big, especially when a couple weeks ago everybody was counting us out,” said defensive back Micah Hyde, who had an early interception that helped Green Bay get off to a fast start.

“It’s good to clinch, but at the same time, this is something that’s expected around here.”

The Packers (10-4) clinched the postseason in the first quarter when the New York Giants lost to Carolina.

But the Packers still have their eyes set on a division title and they remained one game ahead of Minnesota in the NFC North.

But the Packers still have plenty of work to do before January. They failed to get into the end zone on their final four red zone trips and blew a 14-point lead before recovering for the win. But they aren’t concerned with those problems right now.

“We’re right where I want to be. Right where we need to be,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “The style points, you can flush that. I’m sick and tired about talking about the negativity — we’ve won 10 games.”

Derek Carr threw two early interceptions to put Oakland (6-8) in a hole, but then had a pair of touchdown passes to Amari Cooper. It wasn’t enough as the Raiders were eliminated from playoff contention for the 13th straight season.


The Packers built a 14-0 lead with defense and then had to win it behind Rodgers and the offense. Green Bay fell behind 20-17 midway through the third quarter on Carr’s second touchdown pass to Cooper.

The Oakland lead was short-lived as Jeff Janis returned the ensuing kickoff to the 47. Three plays later, former Raider James Jones beat a busted coverage for a 30-yard touchdown catch.

“Those kind of mistakes, they kill you as a team,” safety Charles Woodson said. “We gave ourselves a chance. Just didn’t come up at the end when we needed to.”

Rodgers engineered a 19-play field goal drive on Green Bay’s next possession and Mason Crosby’s third field goal made it 30-20 with 4:25 left to put the Packers in control.

The highlight for the Raiders was rookie Cooper cracking the 1,000-yard milestone, as he caught six passes for 120 yards. He reached the mark on a 41-yard catch in the third quarter, becoming the first Oakland player with 1,000 yards receiving since Randy Moss in 2005. That was the longest current drought in the NFL.

The rest of the accolades went to the Packers, who got 2 1/2 sacks from Julius Peppers to win their third straight game.

Carr threw two interceptions in the first quarter to set up Green Bay touchdowns. Hyde’s interception set up the Packers at the 18 and John Kuhn ran it in from the 5 for the first score.

Carr’s next pass was high to Seth Roberts and Randall returned it 43 yards for a touchdown that made it 14-0.

The Raiders rallied with a pair of field goals in the second quarter, but the Packers still looked to be in control as they drove into scoring range late in the half.

But Benson Mayowa forced and recovered a fumble by James Starks at the Oakland 21 with 1:22 to go and Carr connected on a 19-yard TD pass to Cooper four plays later to make it 14-13 at the half.

NOTES: Packers LB Jayrone Elliott (quadriceps) and OL David Bakhtiari (ankle) left with injuries. … Raiders DE Mario Edwards Jr. left after the first drive with a neck injury and WR Seth Roberts (abdominal) also was injured.

Bengals 24, 49ers 14

Carlos Dunlap, Erik Pears

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) runs with a fumble recovery against San Francisco 49ers tackle Erik Pears (71) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — AJ McCarron’s mindset with a big lead had everything to do with protecting the ball and sticking with high-percentage plays. No passes into traffic necessary.

His opportunistic defense could take the risks.

McCarron kept handing off to Jeremy Hill and stayed steady in his first career start to lead the Bengals back into the playoffs.

Hill ran for a pair of 1-yard touchdowns to back McCarron’s first start, and the patchwork Bengals clinched a fifth straight postseason berth by beating the San Francisco 49ers 24-14 on Sunday.

As Andy Dalton watched from the sideline with a large cast over his broken right thumb, McCarron threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Kroft just before halftime as the Bengals (11-3) forced three second-quarter turnovers by San Francisco (4-10) to take command.

Dalton offered high-fives to McCarron with his good hand and cracked jokes “keeping it light,” McCarron said.

“I was happy for him,” Dalton said. “It’s never easy to win on the road.”

Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones each made interceptions on balls that deflected off the hands of tight end Vance McDonald.

Cincinnati capitalized with touchdowns on two of the turnovers, including Kroft’s TD catch one play and five seconds after the second interception.

If all goes as planned, the Bengals will return to the Bay Area for the Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium.

“We’ve got bigger and better goals,” Burfict said. “But that puts a smile on our faces.”

McCarron, who led Alabama to two national championships and was a fifth-round pick in 2014, went 15 of 21 for 192 yards and a 115.6 passer rating. He became the first former ‘Bama player to win an NFL game as the starting quarterback since Jeff Rutledge for the Giants on Nov. 15, 1987, according to STATS.

Marvin Jones had four receptions for 89 yards for Cincinnati, which blocked a fourth-quarter field goal but still let San Francisco stick around late until Shawn Williams’ pick on the goal line with 1:50 left.

Hill carried 19 times for 31 yards. But his fumble late in the third put San Francisco in position for Bruce Miller’s 1-yard touchdown, then Anquan Boldin caught a 15-yard TD from Blaine Gabbert in the closing minutes.

Typically, though, San Francisco hurt itself.

The Bengals, who last month lost their only back-to-back games of the season, patiently waited for the mistakes to come then pounced.

“They had turnovers, quite a few, and we didn’t,” McCarron said. “That’s the key to the game a lot of times.”

Early in the second quarter, Adam Jones — back after a foot injury kept him out last week — intercepted a pass by Gabbert that bounced off McDonald’s hands on a perfect pass and would-be first down. But the Bengals failed to make anything of that, before capitalizing on the next Niners’ miscue.

On third-and-10 from the 20, Carlos Dunlap stripped the ball loose from Boldin and returned it 21 yards to put the Bengals on the San Francisco 11. Hill scored his first TD on Cincinnati’s ensuing possession, a play that was initially called no gain but overturned to a touchdown on review.

Cincinnati missed more than Dalton, who broke his thumb in last week’s loss to the Steelers. Tight end Tyler Eifert — with his 12 touchdowns — sat out with a concussion. Safety George Iloka was sidelined with a lingering groin injury.

Wide receiver A.J. Green caught a 37-yard pass in the first quarter for his lone reception, but was limited after being downgraded before the game to questionable with a back injury.

Retro end zones were painted at Levi’s Stadium, which appeared about half-full on a day San Francisco held a halftime reunion of the 1981 and ’88 Super Bowl champion teams that beat the Bengals — Cincinnati’s only two Super Bowl appearances.

That’s as far as the fun went for the home team.

The 49ers went 2 for 14 on third down and secured last place in the NFC West for the first time since 2005.

They were booed off the field at halftime down 21-0.

“I don’t blame them,” wideout Torrey Smith said. “We’re not fun to watch right now. Who wants to sit there and watch that?”

San Francisco, already down injured running backs Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and Mike Davis, lost Shaun Draughn to a second-quarter knee injury — leaving Travaris Cadet to take over.

49ers rookie punter Bradley Pinion put one 18-yard punt late in the first half — already his fifth of the game — into the stands behind the 49ers’ bench to help set up Hill’s second touchdown.

NOTES: San Francisco lost RG Marcus Martin to a concussion in the fourth. … The Bengals have 132 yards rushing the past two games.
Broncos 27, Steelers 34

Antonio Brown, Josh Bush, Chris Harris

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) splits the defenders Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) and Josh Bush (20) as he runs into the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — There was no explosion necessary, really. The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t need to be reminded how badly they looked while falling behind Denver by two touchdowns at halftime Sunday, even though linebackers coach Joey Porter decided to provide one anyway.

“I think everybody was (ticked) off,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “I don’t think it was just Joey. We all knew we played (terribly) in the first half. We really just had to wake up.”

The NFL’s best offense provided the alarm clock.

Ben Roethlisberger passed for 380 yards and three touchdowns as the Steelers rallied for a 34-27 win to move into the AFC’s second wild-card spot with two weeks remaining. Antonio Brown caught 16 passes for 189 yards and two scores, and Pittsburgh (9-5) dominated the NFL’s best defense after spotting the Broncos a 17-point lead.

“If we take care of the ball, we feel like we can go up and down the field on anyone,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

Including the No Fly Zone, the nickname Denver’s secondary gave itself, talk the Broncos have backed up for much of the year. Just not this time. The Steelers controlled the second half, finally taking the lead when Ryan Shazier intercepted Brock Osweiler to set up a 23-yard dart from Roethlisberger to Brown with 3:24 to go.

Pittsburgh’s defense, shredded so easily on, made it stand up. The Steelers twice stopped the Broncos in Pittsburgh territory over the final minutes.

“It’s very disappointing,” Denver coach Gary Kubiak said. “That’s this business. You better be built for four quarters, not three.”

Osweiler threw for 296 yards with three touchdowns passing and another on the ground but bruised his left shoulder in the second quarter and wasn’t the same when he returned as the Broncos (10-4) lost their second straight and failed to lock up the AFC West title. Osweiler will have X-rays on Monday to determine if there’s any more damage. He completed just 7 of 26 passes for 84 yards after halftime, including the pick that set up Brown’s winning score.

Emmanuel Sanders caught 10 passes for a career-high 181 yards and a score in his first game against his former team. Demaryius Thomas hauled in a pair of touchdowns, but the Broncos were shut out in the second half for the third consecutive week and are just 3-4 following a 7-0 start.

“You play 60 minutes, not 30 minutes,” Osweiler said. “That is something we will work on and we will fix.”

Who gets a chance to do the fixing is unclear. Osweiler’s grasp on the starting job appeared tenuous coming in after the offense failed to find the end zone in a home loss to Oakland last Sunday.

Peyton Manning returned to practice last week for the first time in a month as he continues to recover from torn plantar fascia in his left foot. The NFL’s all-time passing leader traveled with the team and signed dozens of autographs in the pregame, save for any of Pittsburgh’s yellow Terrible Towels, which Manning shunned when thrust his way.

Perhaps it provided inspiration for Osweiler, who spent a half forcing the largest crowd in Heinz Field history to keep their favorite linens tucked safely in their pockets as Denver raced up and down the field.

The Broncos had gone 24 straight possessions without an offensive touchdown before reaching the end zone four straight times. Osweiler hit Thomas for an 18-yard score then found Sanders for an easy 61-yard catch and run. Osweiler stumbled his 6-foot-7 frame across the goal line to make it 20-7 and when Thomas stiff-armed Pittsburgh’s Antwon Blake to finish off a 6-yard touchdown, the Broncos were up 27-10.

Yet just as quickly a Denver’s momentum appeared, it vanished. The group that converted its first eight third-downs went just 1 for 8 in those situations in the second half, giving Roethlisberger time to get going.

A pretty lob to the back corner of the end zone to Brown pulled Pittsburgh with 27-20. The Steelers then caught the break they needed thanks to some overanxious Broncos. Pittsburgh punted late in the third quarter and two Steelers attempted to down it, only to whiff. A couple of Denver linemen — all the way on the other side of the field — thought the play was dead. It wasn’t. Jordan Norwood had scooped up the ball and zig-zagged 71 yards for a score that should have restored a two-touchdown lead. The flag for illegal substitution wiped out the score, and the Broncos went three-and-out.

Pittsburgh tied it at 27 on its next possession, with Wheaton scooting in from 9 yards out and dancing a little jig with Brown. A half-hour later Brown was celebrating after putting the Steelers up for good.

“You want to be the best, you’ve got to be the best,” Brown said. “There’s no stopping me.”

NOTES: The Steelers have won 10 straight games in December. … Osweiler is only the third QB in Denver history to have three TD passes and one rushing score in the same game. … Brown is the only player since 1970 to have two 15-catch games in the same season. … Denver hosts Cincinnati next week. … The Steelers travel to Baltimore.

Dolphins 14, Chargers 30

Danny Woodhead

San Diego Chargers running back Danny Woodhead (39) scores past Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Koa Misi during the first half in an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

SAN DIEGO (AP) — If this was the Chargers’ last NFL game in San Diego, it ended with a victory and a surreal postgame scene.

Not long after the Chargers beat the Miami Dolphins 30-14 in a matchup of last-place teams on Sunday, Philip Rivers, Malcom Floyd, Eric Weddle and even coach Mike McCoy came back out to greet several thousand fans who don’t want their team moving to Los Angeles.

Rivers worked his way around the stadium signing autographs. He took off his shoes, signed them and gave them away.

Rivers even signed two signs critical of team Chairman Dean Spanos, reading: “Spanos loves money and I love San Diego” and “Don’t be the Grinch who stole the Bolts from San Diego.”

“It was a special day, if it is the last one,” said Rivers, who threw three touchdown passes to Woodhead and watched as the mighty mite ran for another score. “I told the guys before the game, they’ve been playing football in this town before any of us were born, and there’s people who’re going to be at that game today that were coming to games before we were born. But we get to close it out, if it is the end. Hopefully the fans that have seen it over the years and the players that played in there can be proud today that we at least ended it the right way.”

Spanos, who has been pushing since February to be positioned to beat St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke to Los Angeles, refused comment as he left the locker room with his two sons, who now run the team. Spanos wants to tap L.A.’s perceived riches.

Spanos was the target of several signs. One read, “Does 54 years mean nothing Dean? NFL?” The sign was off by one year; the Chargers have been here 55 years.

After the game, Jackson Browne’s “Stay” and even “Auld Lang Syne” played on the sound system.

“I felt that’s the least we could do,” Rivers said. “It’s more than just us that this affects, obviously, if it is the last time,” Rivers said. “You want them to at least end it with a memory that was unique. At least just a token that, we thank you. If this is the last one, I’ll always be sick that we didn’t win a championship while we were here.”

In the fourth quarter, the Chargers played a video tribute to Floyd, who’s retiring after 12 seasons in San Diego. He fought back tears after greeting fans following his final home game. Rivers tried to get Floyd a TD pass, but was intercepted at the 1 by Brent Grimes.

Safety Eric Weddle, whose contract expires after the season, signed autographs until police and security cleared the place. Weddle then went to the Chargers logo at midfield and stretched out on his back.

Lost in the emotion was that the Chargers played better than they did in failing to score a touchdown in three of their last four games, including in each of their last two home games.

The Chargers Cannon went off when Woodhead caught a 20-yard touchdown pass.

“San Diego Super Chargers,” the disco ditty from the Air Coryell years, rang out after rookie Josh Lambo kicked a 28-yard field goal.

Woodhead caught touchdown passes of 20, 9 and 9 yards and scored on a 2-yard run.

With 37 seconds left, McCoy called timeout so Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates and Floyd could leave the game to applause.

He did the same thing for Weddle.

Those fans who stuck around to the end cheered at the final gun.

The Chargers (4-10) have gone as far as to partner with their hated rival, the Oakland Raiders, in proposing to build a stadium on the site of a former toxic waste dump in Carson. Kroenke has proposed a stadium in Inglewood. NFL owners could vote on relocation next month. The Chargers walked away from negotiations with city and county officials in mid-June.

The Chargers have had only 12 winning seasons since the Spanos family bought the team in 1984. They will miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.

Although there were many empty seats at kickoff, fans gave the Chargers a rousing ovation as they headed to the locker room with a 23-0 halftime lead.

Miami (5-9) lost for the fourth time in five games.

“I’m disappointed, frustrated, upset, mad, angry and any adjective you can think of right now,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “To come out and play like that on both sides of the ball is unacceptable in every sense of the word.”

The play of the game came early in the second quarter. Rivers was intercepted by Reshad Jones, who weaved through traffic for 42 yards before guard Orlando Franklin stripped the ball. After a wild scramble, Rivers jumped on it. The Chargers moved down the field for Lambo’s 28-yard field goal for a 9-0 lead.

For Miami, Jay Ajayi scored on a 12-yard run in the third quarter and Tannehill had a 1-yard keeper late in the fourth.

NOTES: Chargers RB Melvin Gordon (knee) and LB Kyle Emanuel (concussion) left the game. Injured for the Dolphins were OT Branden Albert (knee), LB Chris McCain (knee), LB Koa Misi (back) and C Mike Pouncey (foot). … McCain was hurt trying to block a punt by Mike Scifres. McCain was sprawled across the punter. Scifres was OK, reluctant to move because of the severity of McCain’s injury.

Cardinals 40, Eagles 17

David Johnson, E.J. Biggers

Arizona Cardinals’ David Johnson, left, breaks free of Philadelphia Eagles’ E.J. Biggers on a touchdown run during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals can check division champions off their to-do list.

David Johnson ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns, Carson Palmer threw a TD pass and the Cardinals beat the Philadelphia Eagles 40-17 on Sunday night to clinch the NFC West title.

The Cardinals (12-2) will earn a first-round bye with a win over Green Bay next week. They still have a chance to secure the No. 1 seed if they win out and Carolina (14-0) loses its last two games.

The Eagles (6-8) would win the NFC East title if they beat Washington (7-7) at home and the Giants (6-8) on the road.

But they’re not even close to Arizona’s level.

The Cardinals outclassed Philadelphia in every way on their way to their eighth straight win.

Johnson, a rookie filling in for injured backs Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington, had a pair of 1-yard TD runs and a 47-yarder.

Palmer gave Cardinals fans a brief scare when he came out for one play after injuring his right index finger on a throw. But he returned to toss a 16-yard TD pass to John Brown and finished 20 of 32 for 274 yards.

Deone Bucannon returned Sam Bradford’s interception 39 yards for a touchdown to give Arizona a 37-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, sending fans to the exits.

Bradford threw for 361 yards and two TDs.

Tyrann Mathieu intercepted Bradford’s pass late in the fourth quarter and limped off the field. There was no immediate word on his injury.

The Eagles had fumbles end consecutive drives in the third quarter. Bradford lost the ball on a sack by Markus Golden at Arizona’s 44 and Ryan Mathews turned it over at midfield.

Johnson broke several tackles on his long run to give the Cardinals a 17-10 lead in the second quarter. He appeared stopped for a short gain, but came out of a pile and sprinted down the right sideline while fighting off defenders.

The Eagles were driving for the tying score, but went for fourth-and-1 at the Cardinals 8 and Mathews was stopped for no gain. DeMarco Murray is 14 for 14 on third and fourth downs of 2 yards or less, but he didn’t get a carry until the third quarter.

After forcing Arizona’s first punt, the Eagles quickly drove 53 yards to tie it at 10-10 in the second quarter. Mathews started the drive with a 20-yard run on the first play and Bradford connected with Zach Ertz over the middle for a 22-yard TD pass.

The Cardinals easily moved the ball on their opening drive and Johnson ran in from the 1 for a 7-0 lead. Palmer would’ve had a 78-yard TD pass on the first play from scrimmage but Brown dropped a deep throw in stride.

Bradford went down for one play and Mark Sanchez came in for a handoff. Fans stood up, yelled and motioned for Bradford to get up while he was laying on the field. The Eagles lost two games by a total of 90-31 when Sanchez started two games last month.

Lions 35, Saints 27

Golden Tate

Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate (15) pulls in a touchdown reception as New Orleans Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux tries to tackle in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Monday, Dec. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For all the arm talent Matthew Stafford has displayed in his seven NFL seasons, it was his efficiency and decision-making that sparked the Detroit Lions to a big lead and helped prevent them from squandering it.

Stafford completed 22 of 25 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns, and the Lions held off a late surge by New Orleans to defeat the Saints 35-27 on Monday night.

“The guy was phenomenal. He was chasing perfection,” said Lions receiver Golden Tate, who caught two short touchdown passes. “We rallied around that.”

Detroit (5-9) raced to a 28-3 lead, but Drew Brees threw a pair of touchdown passes — one shortly after a Lions fumble — to help New Orleans (5-9) pull to 28-20 with about 10 minutes left.

Brees passed for 341 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the fourth quarterback to surpass 60,000 yards in a career while also eclipsing the 4,000-yard mark for the 10th straight season. Brandin Cooks made a career-high 10 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.

But New Orleans’ loss guaranteed consecutive losing seasons for the first time since Sean Payton became coach in 2006.

Brees injured his right foot in the second quarter but never missed a snap. He said he would have an MRI on Tuesday.

The Lions’ last-ranked running game accounted for 150 yards and two TDs against New Orleans’ last-ranked run defense, with Ameer Abdullah and Joique Bell each scoring a TD and rushing for more than 70 yards.

Not one of Stafford’s touchdown strikes went for more than 5 yards, but he was poised, accurate and did not turn the ball over.

“Obviously, if you complete 88 percent, that’s rare,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “It’s very difficult to do that versus air. He was huge for us and spread it around quite a bit.”

Still, both teams took turns making the kinds of mistakes that losing teams do, producing a close game after it initially looked as though Detroit might run away with it.

The Lions led 28-3 when Abdullah scored on a 15-yard run around the left end in the third quarter. New Orleans responded with Brees’ 27-yard touchdown to Cooks and further closed the gap on Kai Forbath’s field goal after the Lions made a stop on a third-and-goal from the 4.

But Abdullah fumbled on Detroit’s next play from scrimmage, and the Saints capitalized with Brees’ 11-yard scoring strike to Marques Colston.

Detroit looked ripe to self-destruct, but instead put together a clutch scoring drive that included Abdullah’s 27-yard run and Bell’s short rushing TD.

Brees’ late touchdown to Ben Watson closed the gap with 1:55 left, but New Orleans’ onside kick was recovered by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, and the Lions marched deep into Saints territory before Matt Prater missed a field goal with 9 seconds left.

The Lions led 21-3 by halftime on Tate’s touchdown catches of 1 and 5 yards and fullback Michael Burton’s first career touchdown from 4 yards out.

The Saints thought they had a touchdown three times on their final drive of the first half but came away with nothing.

First, Cooks made a spectacular one-handed catch of Brees’ 28-yard pass and was initially ruled to have scored, but the call was changed after a video review, marking Cooks down at the 1.

Soon after, running back Tim Hightower found the end zone with a second-effort run, but New Orleans was flagged for illegal formation, with officials saying lineman Senio Kelemete failed to report as an eligible tight end. On fourth down, Brees hit Colston at the goal line, but New Orleans was flagged for an illegal man downfield, ending the half.

The Saints asserted that Kelemete reported on the play before he was flagged and should not have had to report again.

NOTES: Johnson, nursing an ankle injury, had one catch for 19 yards, his second straight game with just one reception. … Lions safety Glover Quin left the game with a concussion. … Saints receiver Willie Snead had a career-high 10 catches for 76 yards.





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