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Here is a recap of Week 17 of the 2015 NFL Season with a Monday Afternoon QB & thanks again to AP Sports/ Pro 32 for photos & articles.
Jets 17, Bills 22
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — In a disappointing season in which the Buffalo Bills fell well short of Rex Ryan’s playoff aspirations, the coach managed to get in the last word.
Ryan’s familiar blustery personality returned, if just for a moment, after the Bills (8-8) closed their season with a 22-17 win in to thwart the New York Jets playoff hopes in their season finale Sunday.
The win came against Ryan’s former team and after the coach had faced the brunt of criticism for an under-performing high-priced defense that played a key role in Buffalo missing the playoffs for a 16th straight season — the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
“You guys know me, I have a horrible resume as a defensive coach,” Ryan said, sarcastically referring to his critics in the media. “You guys try to point it out all the time. But the facts don’t back you up a whole lot.”
On Sunday, they didn’t.
The Bills defense secured the victory by intercepting Ryan Fitzpatrick on each of the Jets’ final three possessions.
Fitzpatrick started the fourth quarter having his 14-yard pass intended for Eric Decker in the end zone intercepted by Leodis McKelvin. Then, on the first snap following the 2-minute warning, Fitzpatrick was hit by Marcell Dareus just as he got the ball off. The pass was underthrown and easily intercepted by Manny Lawson.
The game was decided when Fitzpatrick’s side-arm pass over the middle was intercepted by linebacker A.J. Tarpley with 11 seconds remaining.
The Jets were eliminated from contention shortly after the final whistle blew in Buffalo, when the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) advanced with a 28-12 win at Cleveland.
McKelvin took pride in helping spoil the playoff chances of an AFC East rival and that of a former teammate, Fitzpatrick.
“I feel great knowing he feels just like I feel, going to be watching at home,” McKelvin said.
New York finished with 300 yards offense and converted just three of 11 third-down attempts.
It was a stingy performance by an injury-depleted defense that failed to play consistently even when healthy this season.
Ryan has already said “drastic changes” will be in order this offseason.
Though he hasn’t named names, one of the players on the way out will be defensive end Mario Williams, who has publicly criticized Ryan’s defense on several occasions this year.
A person familiar with discussions told The Associated Press last week that Williams will be cut this offseason because of his high-priced salary and drop in performance. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Bills do not publicly discuss their plans involving player personnel.
Williams, who has two years left on his six-year, $100 million contract, said he wants to be back, but hasn’t been informed by the team.
He had Buffalo’s lone sack against the Jets. A year after leading the NFL with 54 sacks, the Bills managed just 21, the fewest in a 16-game season in team history.
The Bills converted nine of 20 third-down opportunities and dominated the time of possession by nearly 19 minutes.
Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor finished 18 of 28 for 182 yards and opened the scoring on an 18-yard run. Karlos Williams also scored on a 2-yard plunge, while Dan Carpenter hit all three field-goal attempts, including a 42-yarder with 3:49 left.
Sammy Watkins had 11 catches for 136 yards, and finished with 1,047 yards, topping 1,000 for the first time in his two seasons.
Patriots 10, Dolphins 20
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Less than an hour into the Miami Dolphins’ offseason, owner Stephen Ross was already talking about Super Bowls in his team’s future.
First there’s the small matter of choosing a coach. The search is underway and will gain momentum now that the Dolphins’ disappointing season has ended.
They finished Sunday by beating the Patriots 20-10 — their only win in six games against the other teams in the AFC East. Afterward Ross spoke to the team about changes to come.
“I told the players I’m committed to winning Super Bowls,” Ross said. “That’s why I own the team, and for those who stay, we’re going to be winning Super Bowls.”
That would be a big change. The Dolphins (6-10) missed the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year, which is why another coaching change looms.
Interim coach Dan Campbell, who went 5-7, will be among those interviewed but is not expected to return.
“I’m looking for somebody who can really be motivational,” Ross said, “and inspire the players to play to get the best out of them, that’s very intelligent, and who can really change the culture here — somebody who can make sure that when you walk into this locker room, you intend on winning a football game.”
Executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum will lead the search. The person he selects is likely to be a first-time NFL head coach.
“Today it’s very hard to find somebody with a lot of prior NFL head-coaching experience,” Ross said. “The great ones are all under contract, and I can’t really negotiate with them or lure them to Miami, unfortunately.”
As for the timetable, the Dolphins are expected to move quickly.
“There are a lot of teams that are going to be looking for coaches,” Ross said, “so we want to make it sooner than later.”
The owner acknowledged the 2015 season as a disappointment. But in the finale they mounted lots of pressure on Tom Brady and netted 438 yards, their second-highest total of the season.
“In my book we are 1-0 in 2016,” Miami receiver Jarvis Landry said.
Brady was sacked twice and endured at least half a dozen knockdowns, including three on one series.
“I’m pretty sore,” Brady said, “but I’ll be all right.”
For the second week in a row, the Patriots (12-4) missed a chance to earn the top playoff seed by winning. Instead Denver will be the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
The Patriots rested several injured starters. Brady’s afternoon ended when he was buried on a third-down sack with five minutes left, and he watched the Patriots’ final offensive series from the sideline along with teammate Rob Gronkowski.
Brady tweaked his right ankle in the second quarter when Ndamukong Suh rolled into his legs on a third-down incompletion, but the quarterback was back for the next series.
“I didn’t see the replay,” Brady said. “I’ll be anxious to see it.”
DeVante Parker won a jump-ball battle for a long pass to make a 46-yard catch, setting up the touchdown that put Miami ahead to stay with seven minutes left. The rookie first-round pick had five catches for 106 yards, both season highs.
Miami scored the game’s first touchdown on Ryan Tannehill’s 15-yard pass to Parker with 36 seconds left in the first half. Tannehill finished 25 for 38 for 350 yards and two scores.
“It wasn’t the season we wanted to have,” Tannehill said, “but you get to leave with a good taste in your mouth, and that’s what we wanted.”
NOTES: Dolphins WR Kenny Stills left the game with a hamstring injury. … Before the game, Brady posed for photos alongside Pro Football Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Bob Griese.
Steelers 28, Browns 12
CLEVELAND (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger looked up in the fourth quarter and noticed Pittsburgh fans twirling their Terrible Towels with delight.
The Steelers needed help, and they got it.
They’re still in the hunt for another Super Bowl title.
Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes, Pittsburgh’s defense dominated and the Steelers slipped into the AFC playoffs with a 28-12 win Sunday over the Cleveland Browns, who fired both coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer a few hours after the game.
Needing a win and Buffalo to knock off the New York Jets to make the postseason, the Steelers (10-6) got both.
Leading comfortably in the closing minutes, Roethlisberger heard the crowd roar.
“I assumed there was a fight or a Steelers fan was beating up a Browns fan,” he said with a laugh. “When I saw the towels getting out I kind of assumed what was going on. A lot of thanks to coach Ryan and the rest of the Bills and everybody in Buffalo. I know they’re excited about 8-8 and we’re excited they got us in.”
Pittsburgh’s bumpy season — the Steelers overcame suspensions, injuries and a shocking loss last week in Baltimore — will continue with at least one more game. As usual, Roethlisberger did his part, throwing for 349 yards, including 187 to sensational wide receiver Antonio Brown, who had 13 catches and a TD.
“It’s been a tough, 16-week fight for us, but we’re where we want to be,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’re where we need to be.”
The Browns (3-13) ended another losing season in disarray. Owner Jimmy Haslam, who vowed in August that he wouldn’t “blow things up” did just that, ousting Pettine and Farmer after two disappointing seasons. Pettine went 10-22 during his two-year stint with Cleveland, losing 18 of his final 21 games.
Pettine wasn’t surprised by reports he was on his way out.
“I’m not into pleading,” he said. “That to me is the resume: how hard the guys play, the effort that goes in, how hard we practice, what we do in meeting time, walkthrough, out on the practice field, how that carries over to the game field. I feel like we’ve done a lot of good things, but I’m the first one to tell you this is a pass/fail league, and the results aren’t there.”
The Steelers sacked the Browns’ Austin Davis, starting in place of Johnny Manziel, seven times.
With Cleveland down just 17-12 in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh’s defense came up with the game’s biggest play as linebacker Lawrence Timmons dropped Davis, who fumbled inside the 10-yard line. Linebacker Arthur Moats recovered, and on the next play, Roethlisberger completed an 8-yard TD pass to Markus Wheaton.
All that was left was for the Bills to help out.
And when Buffalo completed its win over the Jets, the Steelers were back in the postseason. They hugged and high-fived on the sideline and thousands of Pittsburgh fans celebrated as the black-and-gold earned the right to play for the NFL championship in the Super Bowl’s golden anniversary season.
“It’s so gratifying,” said Brown, who finished with 136 catches for 1,834 yards. “Sitting here as a Pittsburgh Steeler, that’s the expectation to make the playoffs and hoist the Lombardi Trophy. We continue to stay together no matter what people say.”
The loss in Baltimore had severely damaged the Steelers’ playoff chances, but Roethlisberger made sure there wouldn’t be another costly misstep.
Big Ben finished 24 of 36 and improved to 19-2 over Cleveland.
There was one hiccup as Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams left in the first half with an ankle injury. Tomlin said Williams will be evaluated, and would not rule him out of the postseason.
Travis Coons kicked four field goals for the Browns, who are undergoing more change. Pettine had two years left on his contract, but Haslam and his wife, Dee, aren’t happy with the direction of their franchise. The Browns haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002, and have undergone five changes to their coach and GM since 2008.
Following the game, star tackle Joe Thomas said he might not want to return.
“We’ll have to see what happens,” said the nine-time Pro Bowler.
Beyond the team’s many on-field issues, Manziel, who was sidelined with a concussion, continues to be a distraction. The polarizing QB was reportedly spotted in Las Vegas instead of being with his teammates for the finale, not a good look for the 23-year-old or the Browns.
NOTES: Brown broke his own team records for catches and yards. … Williams, wearing a walking boot, congratulated his teammates as they came off the field following the game. … Steelers LB James Harrison’s third-quarter interception was his first this season. … Browns WR Taylor Gabriel may need surgery after fracturing an orbital socket.
Jaguars 6, Texans 30
HOUSTON (AP) — J.J. Watt was asked what it was like to play with two hands on Sunday after spending the past three games with a cast over his broken left hand.
“You tell me,” Watt said with a laugh.
Watt was back to his old self on Sunday, leading a dominant defense that helped the Houston Texans to their first AFC South title since 2012.
Watt and Whitney Mercilus combined for 6½ sacks and Jonathan Grimes scored twice to help the Texans to a 30-6 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Watt, playing without a cast for the first time since breaking his left hand Dec. 9, had three sacks, forced a fumble and recovered another one to help the Texans (9-7) to their third playoff berth and first since 2012.
“It was beautiful,” Watt said. “I think for a little while there people started to forget so today was a little bit of a reminder what it’s like when I have both hands.”
Mercilus tied a career high with 3 1/2 sacks and forced a fumble and recovered one on a day when Houston set a franchise record with eight sacks.
Blake Bortles threw for 239 yards with two interceptions for the Jaguars (5-11).
“It’s tough to end the year on a note like that,” Bortles said. “I guess the good thing is that we have a lot of time to look at it and figure out how to fix it.”
Watt, who had been slowed by wearing a club-like cast on his injured hand in recent weeks, got to work early, sacking Bortles on the third play of the game for an 8-yard loss. He got up after the sack, held his wrist and wiggled the fingers on his left hand to display that he wasn’t wearing a cast.
Watt, who leads the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks, had a little fun after a sack in the third quarter when he did basically every dance that’s been hot in the past year. He did the “whip”, “nae nae”, “dab” and finished by running off on the “da plug” twice.
“I’m just a big white guy trying to have some fun out there,” Watt said. “I realize they’re very terrible … but I’m having some fun out there and if people don’t like it then they can do whatever sack dance they want when they get a sack in the NFL.”
He forced a fumble with his third sack in the fourth quarter and it was recovered by Mercilus.
Watt joins Reggie White as the only players in NFL history to have three 15-sack years in their first five years in the NFL.
“If you are behind in the game, they can pin their ears back,” Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley said. “That is one of the most talented rushers in the game for many years. He can be disruptive.”
Grimes had a 12-yard touchdown reception and added a 3-yard rushing score in the second quarter to help Houston take a 20-3 lead by halftime. Kareem Jackson added a score on an interception return in the fourth quarter to pad the lead.
The win completes a remarkable turnaround for the Texans, who have used four quarterbacks this season, and bounced back after starting the season 2-5.
“We are not happy with just winning the AFC South,” receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. “There are bigger goals ahead of us.”
Brian Hoyer threw for 249 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his return after missing the past two games after his second concussion in less than a month.
Mercilus has a career-high 12 sacks this season and gives Houston two players with 10 or more sacks for the first time in franchise history.
Houston left tackle Duane Brown had to be carted off the field near the end of the first quarter after injuring his right knee. Chris Clark took over and they continued the drive, pushing the lead to 10-0 when Grimes grabbed his first career touchdown reception on a 12-yard pass early in the second quarter.
The Jaguars cut the lead to 10-3 on a 43-yard field goal later in the second.
Brian Cushing forced a fumble by Denard Robinson that Watt recovered to give Houston the ball at the Jacksonville 42. Hoyer fumbled on the next play, but Houston left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo grabbed it in the air and turned it into an 8-yard gain.
Akeem Hunt ran for 25 yards later in that drive and Grimes capped it with a 3-yard touchdown run to make it 17-3 with about six minutes left in the second quarter.
NOTES: Houston CB Johnathan Joseph had three passes defensed to set a career high with 21 this season. … Jaguars rookie Neal Sterling left in the first quarter after suffering a concussion. … Houston has a franchise-high 45 sacks this season.
Titans 24, Colts 30
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chuck Pagano’s backup plan worked. But the Colts didn’t get the help they needed and failed to make the playoffs.
Recently signed quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley each threw one touchdown pass in the first half Sunday, and Jerrell Freeman opened the second half with a 23-yard interception return to give the Colts a season-closing 30-24 victory over Tennessee.
The Colts won a game to avoid their first losing season since 2011. They just didn’t get enough help to make the playoffs and now they’ll wait to find out their coach’s fate.
Indy could have made the playoffs with a Houston loss — and if seven other games fell exactly the right way.
Instead, the Texans’ 30-6 victory over Jacksonville ended that hope and perhaps Pagano’s tenure in Indy.
“To sit there and go 5-3 with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback and then to pull off, I don’t know if this has ever happened before in the history of the National Football League, where you bring in two guys off the street and basically get three days to prepare these guys and go win a football game,” Pagano said.
The past two weeks might be the most creative coaching Pagano has done in his four-year tenure.
Indy (8-8) needed two wins to stay in the playoff hunt and managed to get both despite using four different quarterbacks including two, Freeman and Lindley, who were signed Tuesday after spending the whole season out of the NFL.
So the coaching staff split the workload. They asked Freeman, a former first-round pick, to learn the regular offense and Lindley to figure out the two-minute drill.
Together, they made it work.
Freeman was 15 of 28 with 149 yards, one TD and one interception. Lindley was 6 of 10 with 58 yards and threw an 18-yard TD pass with the 13 seconds left in the first half to give the Colts a 20-14 lead.
But with Pagano’s contract set to expire, this not just another game.
One fan held a sign that read “Chuckstrong,” a phrase that was used during Pagano’s battle with leukemia in 2012. Another fan used blue face paint to write the words “Chuck Stay” on his forehead.
When the game ended, several players hugged Pagano on the sideline. Pagano then jogged to the tunnel, pointing to the crowd and tapping his chest several times.
Pagano, who is 41-23 and has made three playoff appearances, is expected to meet with team owner Jim Irsay on Monday.
“Hell yeah we want (Chuck) back,” safety Mike Adams said. “Given the circumstances, and how we fought, the way we came out, (Chuck) should be back.”
It was another tough day for Tennessee (3-13), which lost its second straight to secure the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger left in the third quarter with an injured hand after the interception made it 27-14. Mettenberger, 0-10 as a starter, was 5 of 13 for 38 yards, ran for one TD and threw an interception.
Alex Tanney, who spent most of the season on Indy’s practice squad, finished the game and threw a late TD pass.
Delanie Walker caught nine passes for 94 yards and became the first tight end in Titans history to top the 1,000-yard mark, and the ninth tight end in NFL history to catch at least 90 passes in a season.
“Obviously, I’d like to have an opportunity to sit down and talk about it,” interim coach Mike Mularkey said when asked about his future with Tennessee. “I think we’re very close here, and I’d like to help make that happen.”
The biggest surprise was how well Freeman played in his first NFL start in 26 months.
He led the Colts to a 49-yard field goal on their opening drive and hooked up with Coby Fleener on a 57-yard TD pass for a 10-7 lead.
Then, trailing 14-13, Lindley entered. He quickly moved the Colts into scoring position and found Andre Johnson, who stretched the ball across the goal line to give Indy a 20-14 halftime lead.
Da’Norris Searcy’s interception set up Mettenberger’s 5-yard first-quarter TD run. Tennessee made it 14-10 when David Cobb scored on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal.
It just wasn’t enough on an emotional day for Indy’s players and coaches.
“I love this job, I love Indianapolis, I love this community, I love the fans,” Pagano said. “I think back to 2012 and they didn’t even know me and the way they embraced me and supported me through that, that’s Hoosier hospitality at its finest. We’ve had a great four years. We’re going to have a good time tonight and then we’ll deal with tomorrow when it comes.”
Notes: Indy’s Adam Vinatieri made three field goals and finished the season with 107 points, extending his NFL record of 100-point seasons to 18. … Colts running back Frank Gore ran 19 times for 76 yards and became the 15th player in league history with 12,000 yards rushing. … Walker finished the season with 94 catches and 1,088 yards.
Redskins 34, Cowboys 23
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Kirk Cousins had the perfect game — got a few quick scores, kept his rhythm and headed to the bench early in a playoff tuneup for the Washington Redskins.
Cousins threw for three touchdowns before leaving late in the first half, and the Redskins finished the regular season with a 34-23 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
“It was perfect,” tight end Jordan Reed said. “He came out there hot, got it over with and got out.”
The Redskins (9-7) won four straight to finish the season, their longest streak since winning the last seven the last time they made the playoffs in 2012. The NFC East champions will be the No. 4 seed on wild-card weekend and will host Green Bay next Sunday.
The statistical target for Cousins — or maybe more for the teammates who wanted him to have the record — was Jay Schroeder’s 1986 franchise mark for passing yards in a season.
Cousins got it on his second throw of the second quarter — a 28-yarder to Jamison Crowder after he had already thrown all three of his TD passes in the first. He finished with 176 yards for the game and 4,166 for the season, just the third 4,000-yard performance in team history.
Had the game mattered, he might have threatened Sonny Jurgensen’s 48-year-old team record of 31 touchdown passes, instead settling for 29.
“I’m happy for Kirk,” coach Jay Gruden said. “Kirk did a great job of staying within himself, and continuing to compete and study the game plan. He’s got a lot of confidence now. It’s great to see him progress. He’s got a chance to be a really good one.”
Kellen Moore had 435 yards passing and three touchdowns after throwing an interception and losing a fumble on a snap to help dig a quick 21-0 hole for the Cowboys (4-12).
It’s the most losses for Dallas since going 1-15 in 1989, the year owner and general manager Jerry Jones bought the team.
The stunning reversal for last year’s 12-4 division champion in a season mostly without quarterback Tony Romo because of a twice-broke left collarbone put the Cowboys back at .500 (152-152) going all the way back to 1997.
“It’s probably been as difficult as any season we’ve been a part of,” said 13th-year Dallas tight end Jason Witten, who scored his first touchdown since getting two in the opener. “It makes for a long offseason, and you really can’t put into words how you feel coming off last year.”
Cousins became the first Washington quarterback to throw at least one scoring pass in all 16 regular-season games on a 5-yarder to Ryan Grant.
He also had a 39-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon and a 3-yarder to Crowder, the latter giving Washington a 21-0 lead late in the first quarter. He was replaced by backup Colt McCoy late in the second quarter.
By completing 12 of 15 passes for 176 yards, Cousins is likely to lead the NFL with a 69.8 completion percentage. Jurgensen was the only other Washington quarterback to do that, in 1970.
The Redskins, who won their last three road games after starting 0-5 away from home, had a couple of injury scares in the first half, even though they were sitting several defensive starters.
Cornerback Dashaun Phillips was taken to a hospital after being taken off the field on a cart with his head immobilized. He had movement in his extremities. Gruden said he had a cervical stinger but tests indicated he would be OK.
Safety Kyshoen Jarrett left the game with a concussion in the first quarter after a jarring collision with Dallas running back Darren McFadden. He was getting an MRI on his neck.
The finale had the look of a preseason game with plenty of empty seats at the $1.2 billion home of the Cowboys, and the feel of one with plenty of Washington subs in the second half. The Redskins cruised to the victory anyway.
“9-7 sounds a lot better than 8-8,” Cousins said. “In addition to that, we felt that it was important to go into the postseason with some momentum and on a rhythm.”
McFadden epitomized the Cowboys’ loss. He fumbled into the end zone on his way to an easy fourth-quarter touchdown, the last of four turnovers without a takeaway for the NFL’s worst team in turnover margin (minus-22).
NOTES: Cousins finished tied with Joe Theismann (1983) for second on the single-season touchdown list with 29. … Crowder had four catches for 99 yards, matching Hall of Famer Art Monk for the second-most catches by a rookie in team history. … Washington’s Alfred Morris had 100 yards rushing for his first 100-yard game since the opener.
Ravens 16, Bengals 24
CINCINNATI (AP) — Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was so engrossed in his team’s ugly win that he had to ask about how the other playoff-related games turned out. Even before he’d heard all the scores, he knew where it was headed.
“We play Pittsburgh?” Lewis said.
Yep. Again. Back at the scene of a season-turning loss.
AJ McCarron overcame a slow start and threw a pair of touchdown passes on Sunday, leading the Bengals to a 24-16 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Then the AFC North champions waited to see if they’d get a first-round bye.
Uh-uh. Denver clinched it with a 27-20 victory over San Diego, leaving Cincinnati (12-4) to host the Steelers next Saturday at 8:15 p.m. EST.
And oh, there’s so much history at play.
The Steelers came to Paul Brown Stadium on Dec. 13 and won 33-20, with Andy Dalton breaking his right thumb while making a tackle on an interception return. McCarron took over and threw two interceptions. The teams got into a scuffle on the field before the game, and had numerous personal fouls throughout it.
“It’s a great matchup and a great rivalry and we are excited,” said McCarron, who is 2-1 as a starter in Dalton’s place. “We are just excited about getting to play in the playoffs, especially a game at home, and to make the most of it.”
The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of postseason futility in NFL history. They’ve lost in the first round each of the past four seasons.
The Steelers and Bengals have faced each other in the playoffs one other time, also in the first round at Paul Brown Stadium during the 2005 season. Carson Palmer suffered a severe knee injury on his first pass, and the Steelers pulled away to a 31-17 win.
The Bengals’ latest chance for that long-awaited playoff win comes during another visit from their Ohio River rival.
“We’ve been there before,” Lewis said. “It’s time to right the ship. You know — exorcism.”
It’s unclear whether McCarron will be getting his second shot at the Steelers. Dalton is scheduled to have his broken thumb examined again on Monday to see if the bone is healed. At the moment, it’s McCarron’s team.
“It’s going to be a fun week,” said McCarron, who won two national championships at Alabama.
The Bengals matched the best record in franchise history — they also won 12 games during the 1981 and 1988 seasons when they reached the Super Bowl.
The Ravens (5-11) finished a season that went sour early with close losses and more injuries than any other team in the league. They upset Pittsburgh the previous week, but couldn’t knock off another division rival.
Jeremy Hill ran for 96 yards and put the Bengals in control by breaking through the line for a 38-yard score on a fourth-and-1 play in the third quarter.
McCarron made his first start at Paul Brown Stadium — and did enough to get the win. He didn’t have any problems with his sore left wrist, injured while trying to recover his game-ending fumble in Denver on Monday night.
The Bengals got a scare when McCarron grabbed his left knee and was slow getting up in the third quarter after being tackled while throwing a pass. McCarron stayed in the game. He finished 17 of 27 for 160 yards with three sacks, no interceptions and a 103.9 passer rating.
“Everything wasn’t perfect today, that’s the way it’s going to be sometimes,” said McCarron, who hasn’t thrown an interception in his three starts. “When the other quarterback turns the ball over and you don’t, you put yourself in position to win.”
A pass interference penalty set up his 22-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Eifert, his 13th scoring catch of the season. Vontaze Burfict’s interception at the Baltimore 33-yard line set up McCarron’s 5-yard touchdown throw to A.J. Green for a 14-9 lead.
Hill’s longest run of the season — his previous best was only 17 yards — on the fourth-down play put the Bengals in control midway through the third quarter.
Ryan Mallett made his second start for the Ravens and went 30 of 56 for 292 yards against a defense that gives up a lot of yards, but had allowed the fewest points in the league. His 2-yard touchdown pass cut it to 24-16 with 1:47 to go, but he threw his second interception with 24 seconds left.
Notes: The crowd of 57,254 was the smallest this season at Paul Brown Stadium. … Cincinnati has won its past five against Baltimore, its longest winning streak in the series. … The Bengals failed to convert a third-down play, going 0 for 9, and matched their season high with 11 penalties. It was the first time Cincinnati won a game without converting a third-down play since 1995 when they beat Indianapolis 24-21 in OT, according to STATS. They also were 0 for 9 in that one. … Ravens S Will Hill hurt his back in the first half and didn’t return.
Eagles 35, Giants 30
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The Philadelphia Eagles concluded a disappointing season with a victory by adding an element that had been missing most of the year.
Walter Thurmond scored on an 83-yard fumble return in the third quarter against his old team as the Eagles beat the New York Giants 35-30 on Sunday.
“The reality is that we were all out there just doing our jobs, and they had fun doing it,” interim Eagles coach Pat Shurmur said. “Because they played a whale of game, they get to experience that feeling you get when you win a football game one last time.”
It was a matchup of two teams out of the playoff picture, both facing coaching upheaval.
The Eagles (7-9) didn’t wait for the end of the season to start changing things. Chip Kelly was fired on Tuesday after Philadelphia missed the playoffs for the second straight season, a year many expected it to challenge for the Super Bowl.
Kelly was given control of personnel moves this season and he made a lot of bad ones, including trading two-time All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy and signing running back DeMarco Murray.
Sam Bradford, who Kelly acquired from the Rams, threw two short touchdown passes to Jordan Matthews, the last one a 3-yarder with 9:19 to play to give the Eagles a 35-27 lead.
“It was tough, but it would have been even tougher if we had to go into the offseason with a loss,” said Bradford, who was 30 of 38 for 320 yards. “They fought tremendously hard. I thought the guys up front did a great job protecting me. I was really proud of the effort.”
The Eagles’ offense ran smoother, eliminating most of the false start and illegal formations that plagued the team all season in Kelly’s fast-paced style.
Bradford was given more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage.
“There really wasn’t much different to our plan than when coach Kelly was here,” Shurmur said. “We just utilized some of our plays in a little bit different way. I thought the guys were focused.”
It was the third consecutive loss for the Giants (6-10) and they finished a third straight losing season and a fourth straight year out of the playoffs. Those failures have put coach Tom Coughlin’s job in jeopardy.
After meeting with Shurmur at midfield, Coughlin walked off the field, waving to the crowd just before walking into the tunnel.
Josh Brown added his third field goal for the Giants with 4:30 to go to cut the gap to five points, and New York’s defense got the ball back with 1:43 to play. However, the Giants turned the ball over on downs at their 42 with 28 seconds left.
Murray scored on a 54-yard run and Darren Sproles on a 6-yard as the Eagles used long drives and long returns to beat the Giants once again.
Rashad Jennings rushed for a season-high 170 yards and scored a touchdown for the Giants. Eli Manning threw touchdown passes of 9 yards to Will Tye and 45 to Rueben Randle, with both scores set up by turnovers forced by the Giants’ leaky defense.
The biggest play came late in the third quarter with the Giants looking to expand a 27-21 lead. They had a first down at the Eagles 15 after a holding call, and Manning went back to pass. He was hit by Connor Barwin and the ball fluttered into the flat. Thurmond grabbed the ball, fought off a tackle attempt by Shane Vereen and ran untouched for the touchdown. The play was originally called an interception, but was later changed to a fumble recovery.
Philadelphia scored touchdowns on drive of 80, 85, 80 and 91 yards. Murray capped the first with a season-long run. Sproles scored after a 60-yard catch and run by tight end Zach Ertz, and Bradford and Matthews connected on a 4-yard TD pass.
“This season wasn’t what anyone wished for or thought of,” Murray said. “Obviously, we have to reflect on it, and it makes us a lot hungrier.”
Saints 20, Falcons 17
ATLANTA (AP) — Jamarca Sanford’s first interception in five years helped the Saints sweep the Falcons again.
Sanford picked off Matt Ryan’s pass at the Atlanta 25 with less than two minutes remaining to set up Kai Forbath’s 30-yard field goal as time expired, giving the New Orleans Saints a 20-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
Sanford cut in front of Devonta Freeman with 1:47 remaining for his first interception since 2011 with the Vikings. Sanford said defensive back coach Wesley McGriff had him prepared for plays the Falcons like to run in their two-minute offense.
“I picked up on the angle route with the tailback,” Sanford said. “I got the formation. … I knew they were running the angle route. It was a good job of coach putting me in the right place.”
Ryan said “it got muddied inside and I didn’t see (Sanford) coming on the left side.”
Ryan called the pass “a bad decision on my part and a disappointing way to end the season.”
The Saints completed their sixth sweep of the season series with the Falcons in 10 years under coach Sean Payton. Payton is 15-5 against Atlanta.
The loss denied the Falcons (8-8) their chance to give first-year coach Dan Quinn a winning record. The Saints (7-9) avoided giving Payton his first 10-loss season.
Drew Brees threw for 323 yards, including a touchdown pass to Ben Watson. It was his 96th 300-yard passing game, the most in NFL history. He finished the season with 4,870 passing yards, his NFL-record sixth consecutive season with at least 4,500 yards. Brees has seven career 4,500-yard passing seasons, the most in NFL history.
There has been speculation this could be the end of the Payton-Drew Brees era in New Orleans. The Saints had their second straight losing record under Payton.
Payton said he will meet with his players on Monday. His postgame news conference grew testy when asked about his future with the team.
“We’ve got to evaluate the roster,” Payton said. “We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to do. If I feel the need to get you an itinerary, I will.”
Payton ended his postgame news conference when asked a follow-up question.
Brees has one more season on his contract, which counts about $30 million against the 2016 salary cap. The Saints could lower the cap figure by extending Brees’ contract, but he will celebrate his 37th birthday on Jan. 15.
“I want to play for the Saints,” Brees said. “I don’t want to play for anybody else.”
Julio Jones had nine catches for 149 yards for Atlanta and moved to second place in the NFL single-season records for receiving yards and catches with 136 for 1,871 yards.
Jones passed San Francisco’s Jerry Rice, who had been second with 1,848 yards in 1995. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson set the record with 1,964 yards in 2012. Jones passed Antonio Brown’s 129 catches in 2014 to finish the season behind Marvin Harrison’s record 143 receptions in 2002.
Ryan threw first-half scoring passes to third-string tight end Tony Moeaki and Freeman.
A crucial personal foul penalty against Falcons left guard Andy Levitre cost Atlanta a possible field-goal opportunity with less than three minutes remaining. A 6-yard pass from Ryan to Justin Hardy would have left the Falcons with a field goal of about 46 yards, but Levitre charged in late to the pile near the catch after Hardy was ruled down, drawing the flag and forcing a Falcons punt.
The teams traded red-zone turnovers to open the fourth quarter.
With the score tied at 17, the Falcons wasted a chance to take the lead when Freeman fumbled on a first-down run from the Saints 3. John Jenkins recovered for the Saints, who drove to the Atlanta 3 before Falcons safety Charles Godfrey forced a fumble by Travaris Cadet. Robert Alford recovered at the 1.
NOTES: Needing 51 yards for 1,000 yards receiving, Saints WR Willie Snead had three catches for 35 yards. … Falcons S Ricardo Allen left with a concussion in the first quarter. Backup S Robenson Therezie was inactive, so Godfrey played a more prominent role. … Jones was listed as questionable to return with an ankle injury after the first half, but he did not miss any time.
Lions 24, Bears 20
CHICAGO (AP) — Jim Caldwell was in no mood to discuss his future. He’ll find out soon enough if he will coach the Detroit Lions for a third season.
For now, he is taking a business-as-usual approach. And that meant a win to close out a losing season on Sunday.
Matthew Stafford threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns and Calvin Johnson had 137 yards receiving in a 24-20 win over the Chicago Bears.
Detroit (7-9) avoided a last-place finish in the NFC North with its sixth win in eight games. Whether the Lions bring back Caldwell for a third season is uncertain.
“I’m not going to discuss anything that’s out of my control,” said Caldwell, 18-14 in two seasons with the Lions. “We’re just going about business the way we’ve been doing.”
He led them to a rare playoff appearance last year, but a 1-7 start put his future in doubt. Caldwell survived a midseason purge that saw offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi get fired and ownership drop the ax on president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew the following week.
“You don’t go 1-7 and come back and go 6-2 if your team doesn’t believe in your coach,” Stafford said. “We definitely do.”
President Rod Wood said the Lions will start requesting interviews for general manager candidates on Monday and whoever they hire will determine if Caldwell stays.
“We’re very pleased how the season ended and we can continue that momentum into the offseason with a general manager in place and build on it for next year,” Wood said.
The Lions intercepted Jay Cutler three times, and held on after the teams started trading scores in the second half. They took a 24-17 lead on Eric Ebron’s 1-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
It was a four-point game when Detroit’s Glover Quin intercepted Cutler with just under two minutes remaining, and the Lions hung on.
Chicago (6-10) lost for the fourth time in five games and finished last in the division despite showing progress in its first season under coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace.
Stafford, who got into a groove late in the year with Jim Bob Cooter as offensive coordinator, completed 28 of 39 passes without getting picked off. He threw 19 touchdowns and two interceptions over the final eight games.
Johnson had 10 catches, including a lunging 36-yard touchdown grab, in what could also be his final game for Detroit. He has a big contract that runs through 2019, and when the Lions struggled the first half of the season, it looked like he and Stafford could be on their way out. But now that the passing game is clicking again …
“Whatever decisions they make, that’s up to them,” Johnson said. “You know what I’m saying? I’m going to enjoy this down time and go from there.”
Detroit’s Matt Prater kicked a 59-yard field goal, the longest ever at Soldier Field, according to STATS.
Cutler was 17 of 23 for 245 yards and two touchdowns with top receiver Alshon Jeffery on injured reserve and Eddie Royal out with an illness.
Matt Forte had 76 yards rushing and 34 receiving in what could be his final game for Chicago, given his age (30) and expiring contract. And he reiterated his desire to stay afterward.
The Bears, meanwhile, went 1-7 at home. But they also hinted that better days are coming.
“We fought there until the very end,” Cutler said. “It wasn’t pretty at times throughout the year and guys, we’re aware of that. We watch the film. We knew what we’re doing well, what we’re not doing well.”
Trailing 10-0 at halftime, the Bears tied it midway through the third period when Cutler hit a leaping Josh Bellamy down the middle for a 34-yard touchdown. That started a run in which the teams combine to score on five possessions.
The Lions briefly regained the lead when Johnson got behind Tracy Porter along the left sideline and lunged to snag a 36-yard touchdown from Stafford, making it 17-10 with just over a minute left in the quarter.
But the teams kept scoring. The Lions finally went ahead for good on Ebron’s TD, before Chicago’s Robbie Gould kicked a 34-yard field goal to make it 24-20 with 5:39 left.
“Just hang with us, we’re going to get there,” Fox said.
NOTES: The Bears reached double digits in losses in consecutive years for the first time since they did it from 1997 through 2000. … Gould finished with 33 field goals, breaking his previous club record of 32 in 2006. … Detroit’s Theo Riddick caught two passes to set a club record for running backs with 78. James Jones had the previous mark with 77 in 1984.
Chargers 20, Broncos 27
DENVER (AP) — The top seed in the AFC playoffs belongs to Denver, along with a quarterback quandary.
Peyton Manning’s stint as a backup didn’t last very long. He replaced Brock Osweiler in the third quarter Sunday and led the Broncos to a 27-20 win over San Diego.
Coach Gary Kubiak said he played a hunch, but he refused to reveal who will be his starter in the playoffs — or even acknowledge he has quite the puzzle at the position.
Osweiler threw for 232 yards, including a 72-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas on the game’s second play. But he was victimized by five turnovers, including two interceptions that weren’t his fault, and a fumble by Emmanuel Sanders at the 10-yard line after a 46-yard reception.
One of Osweiler’s interceptions went off receiver Jordan Norwood’s hands. His arm was hit by a linebacker on the other, and his day was done after a fumble by C.J. Anderson on the second play after halftime.
None of that was his fault, but the Broncos needed a spark and Manning provided it.
“I don’t think Brock did anything wrong,” Kubiak said. “I know we had the turnovers, but a couple of them he had nothing to do with. But just my gut told me to turn it over to him and let him lead the football team. I’m just very proud of him. He’s worked really hard to stay there for us and it couldn’t be a bigger day to be there for us.”
Manning led Denver to 20 points in 1 1/2 quarters despite going just 5 of 9 for 69 yards.
“It was tough on the emotions,” Osweiler said. “But winning the AFC West is what it’s all about.”
Denver did that for the fifth consecutive time, staving off the Kansas City Chiefs, whose 23-17 win over Oakland would have sent the Broncos (12-4) tumbling into the wild-card round with a loss to San Diego.
The Chargers (4-12) wrapped up what might have been their final season representing San Diego as ownership tries to move the team to L.A.
Manning’s last scoring drive lasted one play: a 23-yard run by Ronnie Hillman after emergency safety Shiloh Keo, who surrendered Antonio Gates’ go-ahead TD in the third quarter, picked off Philip Rivers’ errant pass with just under five minutes remaining.
Keo was in because starter Darian Stewart aggravated a pulled hamstring, one of two big injuries for Denver. The Broncos also lost Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware to a knee injury.
Rivers, for one, was surprised to see Osweiler get the hook.
“It wasn’t like he was stinking it up out there,” Rivers said. “But not surprised in the sense that you have a guy that hasn’t been a backup in a game since ’94 and is one of the best of all time.”
Manning was healthy enough to suit up for the first time in seven weeks. Previously, in street clothes he’d watched his longtime understudy either from the sideline or on TV while dealing with an injured left foot. This was Manning’s first game serving as a backup since his freshman year at Tennessee when he replaced an injured Todd Helton against Mississippi State on Sept. 24, 1994.
Because he didn’t start, Manning didn’t break the tie he holds with Brett Favre for most regular-season wins, 186.
Manning led the Broncos to 10 quick points and a 17-12 lead, but the league’s best defense frittered it away when Tyrell Williams broke free for an 80-yard TD that put San Diego back on top 20-17.
“We didn’t want them to lay down, but we wanted them to lay down a little faster than that,” Aqib Talib said with a chuckle.
Cornerback Steve Williams saw that they didn’t. He stripped and recovered Sanders’ fumble, intercepted the ball that bounced off Norwood’s hands and forced a fumble on a sack.
Manning said his foot felt good after the game, but he has to see how he feels Monday after taking a hard hit from defensive tackle Damion Square.
“He got me right in the chest,” Manning said. “I’ve got to see how I feel tomorrow. I’m glad we won the division. I’m glad we won this game today. That would have been pretty sickening (to lose). It’s been a different year. I was glad to be able to contribute in some way today.”
So was Osweiler.
“Football is the ultimate team sport. It takes the entire team to win and I think we showed that today,” Osweiler said. “As long as this football team is winning games, shoot, I don’t care who’s playing quarterback.”
NOTES: When Manning went in, so did Tyler Polumbus for struggling RT Michael Schofield. … San Diego lost C Trevor Robinson (shoulder), RT Chris Hairston (abdomen), who was starting for King Dunlap (ankle) and Tyreek Burwell (knee) along with WR Malcom Floyd (concussion).
Rams 16, 49ers 19 OT
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Jim Tomsula praised his players for delivering a win at season’s end, then lost his job shortly after.
Phil Dawson kicked a 23-yard field goal 11:33 into overtime for his fourth of the game, and the 49ers held off the St. Louis Rams 19-16 on Sunday in Tomsula’s finale.
His firing was announced about two hours after the game ended at 6:58 p.m. PST.
“Jimmy has been a valuable member of the 49ers organization for the last nine years,” CEO Jed York said in a statement. “We all know he is a man of high character, and his contributions on the field and in our community have always been greatly appreciated.
“This entire organization is proud and grateful to have worked so closely alongside Jimmy. We all wish him and his family great success in the future.”
York was scheduled to address reporters Monday morning.
“I’m not going to make this about Jim and Jim’s job status here today,” Tomsula said after the game.
“I got a group of guys here, players that just won a football game. They’ve been through a very tough season. They’ve stuck together. They went and won a game in overtime. They fought like crazy. And today is about those players. My job status, anything going forward there, can be handled throughout the rest of the week.”
Dawson came through after Greg Zuerlein’s 48-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Dontae Johnson, giving San Francisco the ball back with 4:49 to play.
Blaine Gabbert passed for 354 yards and a 33-yard touchdown to Anquan Boldin for the 49ers (5-11), who avoided their worst finish since going 4-12 in 2005.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher finished 7-9 for his fourth straight losing season running the team and called it “very disappointing.”
The 49ers ran out and swarmed Dawson after the winning kick. Tomsula smiled in his postgame news conference following this one.
“I’ve been with Jimmy my whole career. I love Jimmy,” said linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who finished his comeback season from a major knee injury with 154 tackles. “Today we won a game, let’s give him some praise for that.”
Free agent to-be Dawson — who turns 41 later this month and wants to return for an 18th season — also kicked a tying 38-yard field goal with 4:33 remaining.
St. Louis punted on its next possession. Then, after left guard Andrew Tiller’s false start, Boldin caught a 27-yard pass with Gabbert under pressure late but San Francisco ended up punting from the 37 with 1:39 left.
After seeing what happened to Zuerlein moments earlier in OT, Dawson wasn’t counting on anything coming easily.
“I’m sure people were thinking, ‘Oh, it’s just a no-brainer,’ but I’m trotting out there thinking, ‘I’ve missed one shorter than this, we’ve given up a couple blocks this year,'” Dawson said. “You know they’re going to be bringing the heat. It’s not a gimme.”
For the Rams, this loss came after a week in the Northern California wine country between West Coast games — and now the biggest question facing the franchise: Will the Rams relocate to Los Angeles for next season?
“Until we know what’s going on, there’s no reason to discuss it,” Fisher said. “You just wait it out and see what happens. I’ve been through this before.”
Boldin knocked down cornerback Janoris Jenkins on his TD catch 8 seconds into the second quarter. Dawson kicked a 26-yard field goal in the second quarter and a 28-yarder in the third.
Before Dawson came through with his foot, reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry of the champion Golden State Warriors drew the biggest cheers of the day when shown on the big screen in the third quarter. He obliged with a wave and a smile.
Some of the same problems that plagued the 49ers all season showed up in the finale: penalties, mistakes and ineffective play on both sides of the ball, but St. Louis struggled, too — with Zuerlein also missing an earlier field goal. San Francisco got booed at home in Levi’s Stadium yet again.
“Even in a bad season like this, nobody pointed fingers,” safety Eric Reid said. “The mood in the meeting rooms was always good. That’s something that we can be happy about.”
Late in the second quarter, Gabbert had a pass tipped by Aaron Donald and Eugene Sims made the interception and returned it 42 yards. Tre Mason ran for a 4-yard score two plays later.
Then in the waning minutes with a chance for a go-ahead touchdown on third-and-goal, Gabbert made an errant pitch backward to DuJuan Harris for a 12-yard loss before Harris pounced on the ball.
Harris had eight catches for 86 yards and Boldin five for 71.
Case Keenum went 22 of 37 for 231 yards as St. Louis had its three-game winning streak snapped as the Rams tried for four consecutive victories for the first time since seven straight in 2003.
“It really wasn’t about getting to 8-8,” defensive end Chris Long said. “Our goal this season was bigger than 8-8.”
NOTES: Injured 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick watched from the sideline. He is recovering from surgery on his non-throwing left shoulder. … Rams LB Daren Bates suffered a knee injury.
Buccaneers 10, Panthers 38
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton had a wide smile after the game on Sunday, knowing that if any team hopes to prevent Carolina from reaching the Super Bowl, they’ll have to go through Charlotte.
“It’s extremely big,” Newton said of the Panthers securing home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Newton ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more, and the Panthers (15-1) avenged their only loss of the season by throttling the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-10 for their 11th straight win at home.
Newton tied Steve Young’s NFL record for most career TDs rushing by a quarterback with 43. Young took 15 seasons to reach that plateau; Newton did it in five.
But the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback was more interested in talking about the postseason than personal accomplishments.
“We find our edge playing in front of the home crowd,” Newton said. “Everything here feels just right. We don’t have travel to a hostile environment. This is our house — and it’s hostile.”
Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, who had one of two interceptions against Jameis Winston, was quick to point out there is still work to be done.
“It’s very gratifying, but it means nothing if we can’t win in the playoffs,” Davis said. “It’s a great feeling to be 15-1, but at the same time, we know we can lose sight of what we’re trying to accomplish — that’s ultimately to win the Super Bowl.”
Said coach Ron Rivera: “We have to correct a lot of the mistakes and fix a lot of things.”
He wasn’t necessarily referring to Newton, who finished up his MVP-type regular season in impressive style.
Newton completed 21 of 26 passes for 293 yards as Carolina overcame a slow start to build a 31-3 lead in the third quarter. He finished the season with 35 touchdowns passing and 10 touchdowns rushing, becoming the first QB in history to accomplish that feat.
“Cam Newton was outstanding today,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “You can see why he’s MVP of the league.”
He got plenty of help from his defense, which forced two turnovers and the special teams, which recovered a fumble to set up another score.
Rookie Devin Funchess had seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown and Cameron Artis-Payne ran for 44 yards and a score.
“One of their guys this week said ‘They don’t have anybody other than Cam,'” Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said.
“Obviously, Cam’s a huge part of what we do, and we probably wouldn’t be where we are without him. But I think as you saw today, and we’ve shown over the whole season, we’ve got a lot of guys who can play. … We’re 15-1 for a reason.”
Despite their record, the Panthers have concerns entering the postseason.
Their pass rush has been stagnant in recent weeks and they suffered yet another injury at cornerback on Sunday when starter Charles Tillman went down with a knee injury. His status for the playoffs is uncertain, but Rivera said “there is some concern.”
The Panthers lost nickel back Bene Benwikere last month and the secondary has struggled some without him, particularly on third down.
But the Panthers had no trouble with the Buccaneers. Jameis Winston threw for 325 yards, but was intercepted twice as the Bucs (6-10).
After the game, Winston appeared upset with his teammates.
“There are coaches here who want it more than some of our players, and that’s the bad part,” Winston said.
The Bucs led 3-0 after the first quarter before Newton began to heat up.
The Pro Bowl quarterback put the Panthers up for good early in the second quarter by scoring on a quarterback bootleg around the right end.
After an 11-yard TD run by Artis-Payne, Newton connected on a 31-yard strike down the middle to an open Jerricho Cotchery just before halftime to make it 24-3. It marked the 31st time Newton had thrown and run for a touchdown in the game, tying him with Young for another NFL record.
Robby Rainey’s fumbled punt return led to Newton’s second TD run on a quarterback sneak. Newton later fired a 16-yard TD pass to Funchess and the crowd erupted with chants of “MVP!”
The Panthers needed a win or an Arizona loss to seal home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
But despite Carolina’s big lead — and the fact the Cardinals were getting blown out by the Seattle Seahawks — Rivera kept his starters in until late in the fourth quarter.
That’s in part because Rivera had no idea what was happening out West.
Per Rivera’s orders, stadium scoreboard operators didn’t show the Seahawks-Cardinals score in the stadium. Rivera said he didn’t know who won until his postgame news conference.
“I didn’t want to know,” Rivera said. “I wanted to make sure we were focusing on what we needed to do.”
NOTES: Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans was ejected from the game with 1:55 left for “disrespecting an official.” … Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. sat out with a knee injury. … Bucs fullback Jorvorskie Lane was carted off the field after Tampa Bay’s first play of the game with a broken leg.
Raiders 17, Chiefs 23
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Alex Smith looked down at his phone in the middle of the Chiefs locker room, moments after leading his team to its franchise-record 10th straight victory.
“Just checking messages,” he said with a grin.
Not checking scores.
Turns out, Smith already knew that Denver had knocked off San Diego to deny Kansas City the AFC West title.
But with their 23-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, the Chiefs managed to keep their unprecedented roll going into their playoff opener in Houston next weekend.
“This week it would have been easy, clinch last week on that emotional high, to have a lull,” said Smith, who threw two TD passes against the Raiders. “We still came out and played good football.”
Even without running back Jamaal Charles, out for the season with a knee injury, and linebacker Justin Houston, still sidelined by an injured knee.
The Chiefs (11-5) have managed to win 10 straight on the heels of a five-game losing streak that at one point put their season on the brink.
The Raiders (7-9) accounted for two of those victories.
“We believe in each other. That’s what happens when a team and a family come together,” Chiefs running back Charcandrick West said. “This is a super rare team. We have something special going on here.”
In perhaps their final game in Oakland, the Raiders only mustered a field goal on offense until the final minutes, when Carr connected with Michael Crabtree from 31 yards.
They did get the ball back with 1:34 left, but Carr took one final sack that helped time expire.
Carr finished with 194 yards passing, leaving him 13 yards short of 4,000 for the season. Latavius Murray, the AFC’s rushing leader coming in, carried 11 times for just 31 yards, while David Amerson had a pick-six late in the first half for their only other touchdown.
“We sputtered,” said Carr, who hurt his right hand during the game. “Sometimes when we needed it the most, we looked like ourselves. But other times we just looked sloppy.”
The Chiefs started crisply for the third straight game, driving 80 yards for a score on their opening possession. Jeremy Maclin capped it with a 25-yard touchdown reception.
After forcing a punt, the Chiefs cobbled together a creative 12-play, 87-yard drive that included a jet sweep by Maclin for a first down. Spencer Ware’s short touchdown run made it 14-0.
“We started the game great,” Smith said. “We were rolling.”
It was still 14-3 when Smith threw interceptions on consecutive passes, though neither of them was to Charles Woodson — the veteran safety playing the final game of his sterling 18-year career.
The first was picked by TJ Carrie late in the second quarter. Then, after Carr was picked off in the end zone by the Chiefs’ Ron Parker a few minutes later, Smith tossed another pass that was caught by Amerson and returned 24 yards for a touchdown that got Oakland within 14-10.
Smith had only thrown five interceptions all season, at one point going 312 passes without one.
“It’s funny how that happens,” he said, “back to back.”
The Raiders’ offense fared no better, though. On their first chance of the second half, Carr was sacked twice and Marquette King had his punt blocked through the end zone for a safety.
Kansas City got the ball back on the free kick and got back in synch on offense. Smith hit Maclin for a long gain on third down, and then hit Demetrius Harris in the end zone. It was the seventh catch of the season for Harris, and the first of the former college basketball player’s career.
The Raiders got within 23-17 on Crabtree’s touchdown, but their comeback ran out of time.
“I would have liked to walk off the field with a win,” said Woodson, who began his career with Oakland in the same stadium on Sept. 6, 1998. “There’s nothing like going out there between the lines every Sunday afternoon or whatever day you play. I had such a great time doing it.”
NOTES: Maclin briefly left the game with a bruised hip. He returned to finish. … Chiefs C Mitch Morse was being evaluated for a concussion and did not return. … Woodson finished with 65 picks, tied for fifth in NFL history. … The Chiefs had 189 yards rushing. The Raiders had 48.
Seahawks 36, Cardinals 6
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Seattle Seahawks are storming into the postseason with a rousing victory over the Arizona team that had dethroned them as NFC West champions.
Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes in a second-quarter outburst, and the Seahawks emphatically snapped the Cardinals’ nine-game winning streak in a 36-6 rout Sunday.
“Absolutely, this was a statement,” the Seahawks’ Christine Michael said.
Playing on the same field where they lost a Super Bowl heartbreaker last February, the Seahawks (10-6) dominated from their opening possession and led 30-6 at the half.
“It was just us playing our style of football,” Seattle’s Richard Sherman said. “I think sometimes people forget who we are.”
It was the most one-sided loss for Arizona in coach Bruce Arians’ three seasons in the desert, and a sour end to the regular season for the Cardinals (13-3), who had clinched the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye.
“This was a valuable lesson today,” Arians said. “We could see it coming all week. Coaches, players, everybody fell into that reading the press clippings that were anointing us Super Bowl champs. It’s a nice wakeup call. We got beaten in every phase of the game.”
Despite the victory, Seattle remained the No. 6 seed and will play at NFC North champion Minnesota in the wild-card round next weekend because the Vikings beat Green Bay on Sunday night. Green Bay also finished 10-6, but got the No. 5 seed by virtue of a victory over Seattle earlier this season.
Tyler Lockett set up three of Seattle’s four first-half touchdowns with punt returns of 66 and 42 yards, and a 36-yard reception.
“These guys are confident that we can go wherever we got to go,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said before he knew which team the Seahawks would face.
Arizona’s Carson Palmer, who broke the franchise’s single-season record for passing yards, did not play in the second half. Wilson sat out the fourth quarter.
Seattle improved to 3-0 at Arizona since Arians became the Cardinals’ coach. Arizona beat the Seahawks in Seattle 39-32 on Nov. 15.
The Cardinals emphasized they have two weeks to straighten things out and get back to playing the way they did in a 38-8 rout of Green Bay last week.
“We’re not in any way panicking or freaking out,” Palmer said.
Michael rushed 17 times for 102 yards, including a 44-yarder on Seattle’s first touchdown drive.
Wilson, repeatedly burning the Cardinals with misdirection plays, completed 19 of 28 passes for 197 yards. In a span of 3 minutes, 54 seconds, he threw TD passes of 7 yards to Will Tukuafu, 8 yards to Chase Coffman, and 24 yards to Jerome Kearse.
Tukuafu’s touchdown was his first reception of the season.
“That’s a playoff football team, one that’s been to the Super Bowl over the last two years,” Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald said. “So we understand what we’re going to be dealing with, the kind of competition it’s going to be, and we have to raise our level of play, plain and simple.”
Wilson broke Seattle’s single-season records for yards passing (4,024) and touchdowns (34). Lockett set a franchise mark with 139 yards in punt returns.
Wilson became the first player in NFL history with at least 4,000 yards passing, 30 touchdown passes and 500 yards rushing.
Arizona’s lone score came when Palmer threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Fitzgerald. For the fifth time this season, Chandler Catanzaro missed the conversion kick and Seattle led 10-6.
Then came the Seahawks’ deluge.
Wilson threw 36 yards to Lockett in an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended with the touchdown toss to the fullback Tukuafu. Lockett’s 66-yard punt return, plus a facemask penalty against the Cardinals on the play, led to the touchdown pass to the third-string tight end Coffman.
Lockett’s 42-yard run set up Wilson’s touchdown pass to Kearse that made it 30-6 with 2:06 left in the half.
Seattle’s first punt came with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.
Are the Cardinals concerned about possibly having to face the Seahawks in the playoffs?
“They should be concerned,” Sherman said.
NOTES: Fitzgerald caught six passes and, with 109 catches, broke the franchise record for receptions in a season he set with 104 in 2005. … The Seahawks led the NFL in fewest points allowed for the fourth consecutive season. … Seahawks CB Jeremy Lane left late in the first half with a rib injury. … Arizona defensive lineman Cory Redding injured an ankle in the first quarter and did not return. … The Cardinals’ John Brown passed 1,000 yards receiving for the season. … The Seahawks were without safety Kam Chancellor because of a pelvis injury. He had been listed as questionable.
Vikings 20, Packers 13
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings are the new kings of the NFC North.
Adrian Peterson ran for a touchdown and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn returned a fumble 55 yards for a score in a 20-13 win on Sunday night over the Green Bay Packers.
The Vikings (11-5), claiming their first division title since 2009, will host the Seattle Seahawks for a wild-card playoff game next Sunday. The Packers (10-6) will travel to Washington, also Sunday, after watching their four-year reign atop the NFC North end.
The upstart Vikings survived despite a shaky finish in hostile territory. The defense knocked away a desperation pass in the end zone from Aaron Rodgers on fourth down as time expired.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby forced a fumble on Cordarrelle Patterson’s potentially field-flipping 70-yard kickoff return with 5:21 left. But the Packers’ next drive ended with Rodgers being intercepted in the end zone by Xavier Rhodes.
The Vikings got the sterling defensive effort needed on the road to win their first game at Lambeau Field since 2009. Coach Mike Zimmer smiled and raised both arms in the air after Rodgers’ pass was knocked down in the end zone.
A handful of Vikings later came back on to the field to take pictures. They’ll remember this night for a while.
Peterson ran for 67 yards on 19 carries. He gave the Vikings a scare after leaving midway through the third quarter with a lower back injury before returning late in the fourth quarter.
Teddy Bridgewater was just 10 of 19 for 99 yards, and the passing game was rendered largely ineffective. But the defense snuffed out Green Bay’s dysfunctional offense at nearly every turn until the frantic fourth quarter. Everson Griffen had two sacks.
The dormant Packers scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a 16-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Richard Rodgers, and a 43-yard field goal by Crosby.
But a slow start doomed the Packers once again, as did a sluggish running game.
Aaron Rodgers finished 28 of 44 for 291 yards with a touchdown and interception. Running back Eddie Lacy had a strong start, but finished with just 34 yards on 13 carries.
Peterson and the Vikings rushed right past them to take the NFC North.