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Here is a recap of Week 15 of the 2016 NFL Season with a Tuesday Morning QB & thanks again to AP Sports/ Pro 32 for photos & articles.
Rams 3, Seahawks 24
SEATTLE (AP) — For all the flaws, the Seattle Seahawks are back where they always expected to be.
In the postseason and as champions of the NFC West.
“I think it’s a huge significance in terms of consistency,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “It’s something that we really do take great pride in because of the implications for the playoffs.”
Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes, Tyler Lockett had 130 yards receiving and a score, and the Seahawks won the NFC West with a 24-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night.
Seattle claimed its third division title in four seasons, assuring itself of at least one home game in the playoffs and keeping the pressure on Detroit in the competition for the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye. Seattle also snapped a three-game losing streak to the Rams.
Seattle became the first team in the NFL to clinch its division, the result of playing in the NFC West in a season where no one was particularly good. The Seahawks have their shortcomings, which were shown again against the Rams. Seattle simply had more tools than anyone else in the division to overcome their flaws.
It wasn’t a completely smooth evening for the Seahawks. Richard Sherman was seen yelling toward coaches on the sideline in the third quarter moments before Doug Baldwin’s 1-yard touchdown catch. Sherman said he was expressing his displeasure toward Carroll with the decision to throw on first-and-goal from the 1, a pass by Wilson that was nearly intercepted.
“We’ve already seen how that goes. I’m sure you guys have seen that play enough times,” Sherman said.
It wasn’t an impressive display by Seattle (9-4-1), but was far better than Sunday when the Seahawks were blown out by Green Bay with Wilson throwing five interceptions.
Wilson was good enough against the listless Rams. After slogging through the first half, Wilson threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin late in the third quarter for a 17-3 lead, then put the game away on a 57-yard touchdown strike to Lockett on the second play of the fourth quarter.
Wilson finished 19 of 26 for 229 yards, but also threw a careless interception at the goal line midway through the fourth quarter. Seven of those passes went to Lockett, whose previous career high was 104 yards. Luke Willson also had an 8-yard TD catch in the first half.
Another mostly forgettable Thursday night game was made at least somewhat more entertaining by the Seahawks and their highlighter green uniforms that drew wild opinions all over social media. The “Action Green” uniforms had very little action in the first half, before a second-half effort that assured another banner would be raised at CenturyLink Field.
A tumultuous few days for the Rams (4-10) after the firing of Jeff Fisher as head coach culminated in their fifth straight loss and first under interim coach John Fassel. The Rams’ defensive front caused problems for Seattle in the first half but the Los Angeles offense provided zero help.
“It’s just a lesson for me that you always have to be ready to adapt and take on responsibilities that you didn’t anticipate,” Fassel said. “But it’s an experience that of course I’ll never forget.”
Jared Goff was 13 of 25 for 135 yards before leaving in the fourth quarter to be checked for a possible concussion. The Rams finished with 183 total yards, but 90 of those came in the fourth quarter.
Los Angeles running back Todd Gurley was again unable to get started in the run game, continuing a frustrating second season. Gurley was held to 38 yards on 14 carries. He did have a 22-yard run late in the second quarter that set up Greg Zuerlein’s 36-yard field goal, but it as just his second run of 20 yards or more this season. Gurley had 11 runs of 20 or more yards last year.
“There is no reason Gurley should get hit the way he gets hit sometimes because we don’t set up a block for him,” Los Angeles offensive lineman Rodger Saffold said.
After getting no pressure on the quarterback in the past three weeks, the Seahawks rediscovered their pass rush.
Seattle had two sacks in the first half and finished with four after the Seahawks had five total sacks in the previous five weeks. Cliff Avril was the main culprit with 1 1/2 sacks, giving him a career-high 11 1/2 for the season.
Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett suffered neck strain in the fourth quarter on a collision with Gurley, Carroll said. A few plays later, Goff was taken from the game to be checked for a concussion after a sideline hit by Richard Sherman. He was replaced by Case Keenum.
Even Seattle punter Jon Ryan got added to the injury list after suffering concussion in the fourth quarter on a fake punt. Ryan ran 26 yards before bobbling the ball and getting hit in the helmet falling to the turf.
Rams: Los Angeles will return home to host San Francisco.
Seahawks: Seattle will host Arizona in its final home game.
Dolphins 34, Jets 13
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Matt Moore’s first game as Ryan Tannehill’s replacement was the best of his career.
The nine-year veteran stepped in Saturday night by throwing for four touchdowns in keeping the Miami Dolphins’ playoff hopes very much alive with a 34-13 rout of the New York Jets.
In his first start since Jan. 1, 2012 — a Dolphins victory over the Jets, with current New York coach Todd Bowles serving as interim Miami coach — Moore picked apart the mistake-prone hosts.
He hit Dion Sims for a pair of 1-yard TDs and Kenny Stills for 52 and Jarvis Landry for 66 in Miami’s eighth win in its last night games. The Dolphins (9-5) clinched their first winning season since 2008, the last time they won the AFC East.
Should Moore (12 for 18 for 236 yards) continue such strong play, they certainly can be optimistic about playing in the postseason.
“There were some nerves and maybe it showed a little early,” said Moore, whose wife gave birth to son Wyatt Monday. “We started slow, but got in the groove in the middle part. Once we got going, that negative stuff wore offf and I got on a roll. Credit these guys for getting us going and making plays. Once those guys got the ball in their hands, it was impressive.”
The Jets (4-10) have lost as many games as they won in 2015, Bowles’ first season in charge. They also lost second-year quarterback Bryce Petty on the first play of the fourth quarter after he was squashed by Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake and injured his chest.
For good measure, the Dolphins threw in an 11-yard blocked punt return touchdown by Walt Aiken.
“The defense did a great job with turnovers, just causing problems,” coach Adam Gase said. “The pressure was relentless. And Walt is a guy making a huge impact on special teams, just now it’s resulting in points.”
The game was competitive for a half. For once, the Jets started quickly. They were awful in the first half of their last two outings, but Petty immediately guided them 75 yards in seven plays for a 7-0 lead. Robby Anderson, coming on at receiver late in the year, badly beat Bacarri Rambo on a crossing pattern and sped into the end zone.
It took a replay challenge by Gase to get an incompletion overturned into Sims’ first 1-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter — Moore’s first TD throw since Week 8 of 2012, also against the Jets. Andrew Franks’ extra point kick hit the left upright, his first miss this season.
Eighth-year defensive end Wake’s first career interception on an awful throw by Petty thwarted another New York threat in the opening half. And the Dolphins stopped Bilal Powell on a fourth-and-1 run near midfield.
“He has that knack of timing,” Gase said about Wake. “He knows there are moments that can swing a game.”
Those plays set up Moore’s perfect pass to Stills behind rookie cornerback Justin Burris for a 13-7 lead.
Powell had a big first half with 113 yards total offense. But it only helped get 10 points; Nick Folk made a 48-yard field goal with 18 seconds left. Powell gained only 36 yards in the second half.
The Dolphins were outgained by 225 yards to 129, yet went to the locker room ahead 13-10.
From there, it was all Miami, getting Aikens’ and Landry’s scores and Sims’ second TD.
“Oh, they were prepared, but when we play like that, it all falls on me,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “It starts at the top. I’ve got to do a better job, and they’ve got to do a better job. But it starts with me.”
BLOCK THAT PUNT
Aiken’s short return of the blocked punt was the Dolphins’ first touchdown on such a play since Jimmy Wilson did it at MetLife Stadium against the Jets in that same game in October 2012.
THOUSANDS UPONS THOUSANDS
Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry went over 1,000 yards for the second time in his three-year career. Landry made three catches for 108 yards and now has 1,031.
Miami running back Jay Ajayi rushed for only 51 yards, but that was enough to boost the second-year player to 1,007.
Anderson became the first Jets receiver with two 40- yard touchdowns in a season since Braylon Edwards in 2010. His other came on the team’s previous touchdown at MetLife Stadium, the final score in a 41-10 loss to Indianapolis.
Miami starting CB Byron Maxwell left in the first quarter with an ankle injury.
Jets first-round draft pick LB Darron Lee injured an eye.
Dolphins: Visit Bills on Dec. 24
Jets: Visit Patriots on Dec. 24.
Browns 13, Bills 33
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — With two games left, coach Hue Jackson is considering any and all options to prevent the Cleveland Browns from matching the NFL’s single-season record for futility.
“Everything’s going to be on the table,” Jackson said after the Browns fell to 0-14 following a 33-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. “I think I owe these guys the best opportunity to win.”
And when Jackson says, everything, he’s not ruling yet another potential change in quarterback after Robert Griffin III was inconsistent in making his second consecutive start.
“Everybody,” Jackson said. “Everybody’s in play.”
Offense, defense, even special teams: Nothing went right once again for the bumbling Browns.
LeSean McCoy had a season-best 153 yards rushing and scored twice in helping the Bills (7-7) keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
The Browns have matched the second-worst start to a season, set by the 1976 Buccaneers and 1980 Saints. The 2008 Detroit Lions , meanwhile, are the NFL’s only team to go without a win in a 16-game season.
“This is my career. This is my reputation and I’m not going to back down from a challenge,” said Jackson, who is in his first season with the Browns. “This wasn’t my dream by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m not running from this.”
Cleveland has also lost 17 straight dating to last year, moving into a tie with the St. Louis Rams (2008-09) and Houston Oilers (1982-83) for the league’s sixth-longest skid. The Browns have gone a calendar year since their previous win, a 24-10 victory over San Francisco on Dec. 13, 2015.
The Browns haven’t had a lead in 17-plus quarters, dating to a 7-6 edge in the third quarter of a 28-7 loss at Baltimore on Nov. 10
The Bills are in jeopardy of extending the NFL’s longest active playoff drought to 17 seasons, but stayed mathematically in the hunt when Denver (8-6) lost to New England.
One consolation was backing up defensive tackle Marcell Dareus guaranteeing Buffalo wouldn’t be the first team to lose to Cleveland this season.
Coach Rex Ryan acknowledged being anxious.
“You’re nervous when you play and opponent like that because you definitely don’t want to be the team that gets beat by them,” Ryan said.
That still doesn’t clear up the uncertainty regarding questions of his job security beyond this season.
“I don’t know what my future holds,” Ryan said before looking ahead to Buffalo hosting Miami (9-5) on Saturday. “I just know that I’m going to get this team ready to play.”
The game against Cleveland was played before a sparse crowd, befitting of two enduring lengthy stretches of futility.
The Browns have enjoyed just one winning season since last making the playoffs in 2002.
McCoy broke the game open by scoring on 3- and 8-yard runs onconsecutive possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters. His first came immediately after Griffin scored on an 18-yard run to cut Buffalo’s lead to 17-10 on Cleveland’s opening drive of the second half.
“We talked about going out there and dominating,” McCoy said. “It’s a game we should win. Well, let’s play like it.”
Mike Gillislee also scored on a 3-yard run to help Buffalo set a franchise record of scoring 27 TDs rushing this season. That’s one more than the mark set in 1975.
Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor went 17 of 24 for 174 yards and a 19-yard touchdown pass to Charles Clay.
Griffin finished 17 of 28 for 196 yards and was sacked five times.
BAD START: The Browns’ opening drive went nowhere. Cleveland netted minus-8 yards offense, including an offensive holding penalty against Jonathan Cooper. Griffin couldn’t even complete an easy pass over the middle to a wide-open Duke Johnson Jr. on third down.
If that wasn’t enough, Britton Colquitt’s punt hit teammate Briean Boddy-Calhoun in the back. Boddy-Calhoun then ran into Brandon Tate, even though the Bills returner had signaled a fair catch, leading to a 15-yard penalty against the Browns rookie.
SCRAMBLING: Griffin scored on a nifty 18-yard run in which he was flushed from the pocket, outraced linebacker Jerry Hughes and had enough momentum to dive across the goal line after being hit by linebacker Preston Brown.
Taylor showed off his scrambling abilities on the next drive. Avoiding a sack, he raced along the right sideline and tip-toed his way for a 28-yard gain to set up McCoy’s 3-yard touchdown run.
ONE BUFFALO? Bills center Eric Wood took issue with anyone considering the team undergoing a top-to-bottom overhaul as the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres recently did to stockpile high draft picks.
“This isn’t like hockey were you scrap your franchise for a guy that you know is coming like an Eichel or McDavid,” Wood told The Associated Press, referring to Buffalo’s Jack Eichel and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the top two picks in the 2015 draft.
“This is football. You can get a No. 1 draft pick, and the best guy on the board is a tackle that year, and a tackle doesn’t change your franchise.”
Terry and Kim Pegula own both the Bills and Sabres.
Colts 34, Vikings 6
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts were left for dead after a deflating home loss to the Houston Texans last week.
Slicing and dicing one of the league’s best defenses on the road breathed some life right back into them.
Luck threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns and the Colts rolled to a 34-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Robert Turbin rushed for two touchdowns, Mike Adams forced a fumble and added an interception for the Colts (7-7).
Frank Gore rushed for 101 yards and Indianapolis won on the road for the fourth time this season in surprisingly easy fashion over the league’s second-ranked defense.
“We understood where we were, that we needed to come out and win and that’s our job as professionals,” Luck said. “It’s a duty to each other and we managed to do that.”
Adrian Peterson had just 22 yards on six carries and lost a fumble in his first game back from a knee injury for the Vikings (7-7).
The Vikings entered the game believing they needed to win the final three games of the season to make the playoffs. Sam Bradford threw for 291 yards with one interception and one lost fumble for Minnesota.
After a critical home loss to Houston last week, the Colts entered the week trailing the Texans and Titans in the AFC South and facing a daunting road matchup against coach Mike Zimmer’s defense.
The Vikings ranked second in the NFL in yards and points allowed and had made star quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford look ordinary with their relentless, attacking scheme.
But Luck completed 21 of 28 passes and was barely touched all afternoon, hitting Erik Swoope for a 27-yard touchdown in the second quarter that gave the Colts a 17-0 lead.
The big play seemed to sap some of the Vikings’ spirit on defense, a rarity in Zimmer’s three seasons at the helm.
They showed little fight on Turbin’s second TD run of the game, a pin-balling 6-yard score in which he bounced off two attempted tackles by Everson Griffen and ran through half-hearted attempts from Brian Robison and Captain Munnerlyn that made it 24-0 just before halftime.
“I want to find out who is going to fight,” Zimmer said. “That was not a fighting performance there. They were more physical than us today. They played with more tenacity than we did. That’s usually not how it goes. So we’ll find out.”
Luck capped the day with an easy 50-yard strike to Phillip Dorsett.
“It was hard for us,” Gore said of the Texans defeat. “We know what we got. We put ourselves in a hole. We know when our backs are against the wall, we come back and just show that.”
The Vikings’ star running back missed the previous 11 games while recovering from a torn meniscus in his right knee, but was able to return to the field one week sooner than he expected .
His fumble in Colts territory in the second quarter came after his only decent run of the day, a 13-yard burst.
“Disappointment, especially with the fumble at a critical point, down 17 at that time,” Peterson said. “Entering into the red zone and to give up that fumble really killed the momentum. It was rough.”
Gore had 115 yards from scrimmage to give him 16,332 for his career, surpassing Tony Dorsett for 10th on the NFL’s career list. He also passed John Riggins for 12th on the league’s career carries list.
It was the 33-year-old’s second 100-yard game of the season, and just the third time a Colts running back has topped 100 yards in Luck’s 68 games.
The Colts never gave the Vikings a chance to get into this one, thoroughly dominating the first two quarters. They outgained Minnesota 281-69, had 21 first downs to the Vikings’ two and held the ball for 23 minutes and 32 seconds to take a 27-0 lead at the half.
Colts: LB Chris Carter left the game in the first half with a shoulder injury and did not return.
Vikings: WR Adam Thielen left the game with a neck injury after a big hit from Darius Butler. … FB Zach Line suffered a concussion. … DT Tom Johnson limped off the field in the third quarter with an injured right hamstring.
Colts: It doesn’t get any easier for Indianapolis next week when it heads to Oakland to face the Raiders on Saturday.
Vikings: Minnesota hits the road for the final time this season for a crucial showdown with NFC North rival Green Bay on Saturday. The Vikings beat the Packers in Week 2.
Jaguars 20, Texans 21
HOUSTON (AP) — Tom Savage hadn’t played in a meaningful game in more than two years before coming in for the Houston Texans after Brock Osweiler was benched Sunday.
The long layoff didn’t appear to slow him as he threw for 260 yards in less than three quarters to help Houston rally for a 21-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It was nuts,” Savage said. “But I think the guys did a good job of rallying around me and making some plays for me. I’m just happy to be a part of this team.”
It was the first regular-season appearance since Dec. 14, 2014 for Savage, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.
“He completed passes, he took care of the ball,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “I thought he was decent at getting us in and out of the huddle. I think that needs to speed up, but I thought overall he managed the game pretty well.”
The win was Houston’s 10th straight in the division and left the Texans (8-6) tied with Tennessee for the AFC South lead. But Houston controls its playoff future with a 5-0 mark in the division.
Osweiler threw interceptions on consecutive drives in the second quarter to help Jacksonville build a 13-0 lead. O’Brien had insisted all season he hadn’t thought about benching Osweiler, but he’d seen enough after that and brought in Savage . The move was met with a huge ovation from the home crowd that had been booing Osweiler for most of the day.
O’Brien wouldn’t say who would start next week despite Savage’s success on Sunday. Osweiler has struggled in his first season in Houston after signing a $72 million contract to join the Texans from Denver. He has 16 interceptions and 14 touchdown passes. Osweiler was 6 for 11 for 48 yards before he was pulled.
He handled his benching gracefully, noting he was pulled for Peyton Manning midgame in Denver’s regular-season finale last season.
“Unfortunately I’ve been down this road before,” he said. “I understand what it’s like to get benched in the middle of a football game. And ultimately having a big picture view on the deal, it’s all about the next man up and being a good teammate.”
Houston trailed by nine entering the fourth quarter and Nick Novak made his fourth field goal before Lamar Miller bulled in for the go-ahead touchdown. The Jaguars were flagged for pass interference twice on that drive to set up the score.
Some things to know about Houston’s win over the Jaguars:
BRADLEY FIRED: The Jaguars (2-12) fired coach Gus Bradley not long after he addressed the media following Sunday’s loss, which extended their skid to nine games. Bradley went 14-48 in four seasons in Jacksonville.
“It is unfortunately evident that we must make a change,” Jaguars owner Shad Khan said in a statement . “I thought it would be best to do it immediately after today’s result so Gus can step away, relax and regroup with his family during the Christmas and holiday season.”
DEANDRE’S DAY: Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins had 87 yards receiving for his best game since he had a season-high 113 yards in Week 2. Hopkins was third in the NFL with 1,521 yards receiving last season, but his numbers have suffered this year as Osweiler has struggled and he has just 788. Savage said his familiarity with Hopkins helped him on Sunday.
“It’s just being around him, obviously not getting the physical reps with him, but being around him for three years, you kind of know what he’s about and you know that he’s one of the best receivers in this league,” Savage said. “And it was good to show that today.”
IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME: The Jaguars took a 20-8 lead in the third quarter when Marqise Lee returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. It was their first kick return touchdown since 2007 when Maurice Jones-Drew did it, a span of 149 games. Lee dodged a couple of defenders before simply outrunning the rest of the Texans.
“It’s just patience,” Lee said. “You wait on the hole that’s going to open up, for if you see one, you take it.”
CLOWNEY NOT SATISFIED: Houston’s defense was led by Jadeveon Clowney, who had a sack, three tackles for losses and two quarterback hits. The top overall pick in the 2014 draft has a career-high five sacks this season, but feels like he should have more. It was his second straight big game after he had a strip-sack of Andrew Luck in a win over Indianapolis last week.
“I’m just trying to fit in where I fit on the defense,” Clowney said. “Coaches are dialing it up. Just trying to go out there and make as many plays as possible. I don’t know if it was one of my best, best games, but it was probably up there.”
Steelers 24, Bengals 20
CINCINNATI (AP) — The Steelers took control of the AFC North by doing a little bit of everything during a month-long winning streak: throwing it, running it, playing some steely defense.
Their fifth straight victory came a whole new way. Call it the kick-6.
Chris Boswell tied the club record with six field goals, and Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter Sunday, rallying Pittsburgh to a 24-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that kept the Steelers in control of the division.
“We’ve said we’ll win the game how we have to win it,” Roethlisberger said.
In Cincinnati, they win every which way.
The Steelers (9-5) won their fourth in a row at Paul Brown Stadium, taking advantage of more meltdown moments by the defending division champions. And now they can clinch the North by beating the Ravens (8-6) at Heinz Field next Sunday.
“A lot of guys are treating this like it’s the playoffs already,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said.
The Bengals (5-8-1) had some playoff flashbacks.
Last January, Cincinnati melted down in the final minute for an 18-16 loss to the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium in the opening round of the playoffs. Penalties on Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones set up Boswell’s35-yard field goal in the closing seconds.
Burfict and Jones got personal fouls again on Sunday as the animosity carried over. Burfict tackled Roethlisberger after he got rid of the ball, and Jones was flagged for taunting.
“They let Pittsburgh do whatever they wanted to,” Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick fumed. “They should’ve been calling stuff on them, too.”
Running back Jeremy Hill had an early take-that moment as the Bengals scored on each of their first four possessions for a 20-6 lead. As part of his touchdown celebration, he grabbed a Terrible Towel a fan threw on the field, tried to tear it, and then threw it to the ground.
Boswell brought them back kick by kick, accounting for Pittsburgh’s first 15 points with field goals of 45, 49, 49, 40, 49 and 30 yards into a gusting wind.
“They didn’t look pretty, they didn’t go over by much, but they went in,” said Boswell, who got a game ball.
In the end, there was yet another Bengals meltdown . They had penalties on four consecutive plays — including Pat Sims’ personal foul — that set up Roethlisberger’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Eli Rogers for a 24-20 lead. The Steelers appreciated the help.
“You just kind of smirk and move on,” guard Ramon Foster said.
Gary Anderson (1988 vs. Denver) and Jeff Reed (2002 vs. Jacksonville) also kicked six field goals for the Steelers, who beat the Broncos 39-21 and the Jaguars 25-23 in those contests.
FINISH ‘EM OFF
The Steelers got the ball back at their 16-yard line with 5:53 left and ran out the clock with a 13-play drive to the Cincinnati 8.
Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown set an NFL record for most catches by a player in their first 200 regular-season games with 622. His 471 catches since 2013 surpass Marvin Harrison for the most by a player in any four-year span. … Roethlisberger is 22-4 in games in his native Ohio, including 12-2 in Cincinnati and 10-2 in Cleveland. … After picking up 184 yards in the first half, the Bengals managed only 38 while getting shut out in the second half.
Steelers: DE Stephon Tuitt had a facemask penalty against Andy Dalton that extended Cincinnati’s opening field goal drive. He also injured his right knee on the drive and didn’t return. Last December at Paul Brown Stadium, Tuitt intercepted one of Dalton’s passes and the quarterback broke his right thumb tackling him. … TE Ladarius Green caught a 28-yard pass on the final drive and then went to the locker room to be tested for a concussion.
Bengals: WR A.J. Green was inactive for the fourth straight game with a strained right hamstring. He returned to practice on a limited basis last week and hopes to play in one of the two final games.
The Steelers lost to the Ravens 21-14 on Nov. 6 in Baltimore. The Steelers close the regular season by hosting Cleveland.
The Bengals play at Houston on Saturday, then finish the season at home against the Ravens.
Titans 19, Chiefs 17
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Ryan Succop wasn’t offended when Titans coach Mike Mularkey elected to go for a 2-point conversion and the win Sunday rather than let him attempt the tying extra point against the Chiefs.
Good thing, too. His confidence came in handy a few minutes later.
The kicker who lost his job in Kansas City to an undrafted rookie in training camp a few years ago spoiled what was nearly a banner day for the Chiefs. He boomed a 53-yarder through the uprights on the final play of the game to give Tennessee a 19-17 victory crucial to its playoff hopes .
“I just kind of had to throw technique out the window a little bit and really go after it,” said Succop, who came up short on his first try, only to get a do-over when Chiefs coach Andy Reid called timeout.
“I thought I hit the first one good and when it came up short there was a second in my mind, I wasn’t even sure I could reach from there,” Succop said. “You could give me 10 kicks from there and I don’t know if I could make one. Honestly.”
The victory was the third straight for the Titans (8-6) and kept them tied with Houston atop the AFC South. It also dashed a chance for the Chiefs (10-4) to clinch their spot in the playoffs. They came into the day tied with the Raiders for first in the AFC West.
Mularkey said the decision to go for 2 after Derrick Henry’s second TD run made it 17-16 with 3:12 to go had nothing to do with Succop’s leg. Rather, it had everything to do with his confidence in his team.
“I wanted to make a statement,” Mularkey said. “When we had the ball, I went around the sideline. I talked to the guys on this team, our leaders, and I said, ‘This is my plan.’ And they were all, ‘Let’s go.’ They knew before the drive started we were going for it.”
Meanwhile, the Chiefs kept squandering chances to put the game away.
Twice they were stuffed at the 1-yard line in the first half and came away without points, and Alex Smith threw an interception in the end zone early in the second to ruin another drive. They also had a hard time converting third downs, going 4 for 14 and continuing a season-long trend.
“I take the responsibility for that,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We’ve got to do a better job, I do, of coaching them up and putting them in positions to make plays.”
As the Titans and Chiefs continue their playoff pursuit, here are some more key takeaways:
MARVELOUS MARCUS: Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota fumbled the ball away and threw an interception , and was having an otherwise miserable day until the fourth quarter. But after leading his team to a touchdown to get back in the game, he made three crucial completions to set up Succop’s winning field goal.
“We had to get down and get to the 50-yard range for Ryan. We knew if we could get a couple big plays that we would have a chance at it,” he said. “Ryan did a great job of finishing it off at the end.”
MARVELOUS MURRAY: The Titans’ DeMarco Murray carried 18 times for 89 yards while catching five passes for 52 yards. For a big stretch of the game, he was the team’s only consistent offense.
SECOND-HALF WOES: The Chiefs have not scored an offensive touchdown in the second half the last two weeks, and only scored one in the second half dating to their overtime win in Denver on Nov. 27.
“Every second half is different,” Smith said. “Certainly today, yeah, frustrating. A lot of plays to be made out there. … If we could make one or two of them it’s a different day.”
BUNDLED UP: It was 1 degree at kickoff, making it the coldest game at Arrowhead Stadium since records have been kept beginning in 1994. The wind chill of minus-9 was second to a 2008 game against Miami, when it was minus-12 at kickoff. In fact, it was so cold that fuses that operate the massive scoreboard in the west end zone froze, leaving a corner of it blank for much of the game.
“It was tough for both teams,” said Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos, a native of Brazil. “Tough day.”
UP NEXT: The Titans visit Jacksonville, which fired coach Gus Bradley on Sunday, next weekend before facing the Texans to finish the regular season. Kansas City gets Denver at home on Christmas night.
Lions 6, Giants 17
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — With two games left in the regular season, the New York Giants and Detroit Lions are in “just-win” mode when it comes to the playoffs.
The Giants (10-4) are just a win away from ending a four-year postseason drought after beating the Lions 17-6 on Sunday for their eighth win in nine games.
If New York beats either Philadelphia (5-9) on Thursday night or Washington (7-5-1) in the regular season finale on New Year’s Day, they are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Of course, they can make it even if they lost both road games, but winning makes life easier.
“It feels fantastic,” said receiver Victor Cruz, who played on the 2011 team that won the Super Bowl.
“Anytime you are in a position, this is what coach talks about. Being in contention, playing meaningful football in December, and that’s where we are. And we just want to continue that trend and obviously work toward a playoff win.”
The Giants’ defense continues to carry the team. The unit has given up a total of 13 points in beating Dallas and Detroit, both division leaders.
Eli Manning threw two touchdowns, including a game-clinching 4-yarder with 5:47 to play that Odell Beckham Jr. hauled in with his left hand.
“Norm,” Cruz said of the catch. “The norm. I wasn’t even surprised.”
The Lions (9-5) like the Giants control their own destiny despite the loss. They are at Dallas a week from Monday and finish at home against the Green Bay Packers (8-6), who trail them by a game in the NFC North.
Even if Detroit loses next week, the contest against the Packers probably would set up a winner-take-all game for the division.
“We just keep taking one at a time,” Lions quarterback Matthew Staffordsaid. “We’ll take a look at this tape, there will be some stuff we would wish we could’ve done better. I know I’m in that boat, so we’ll figure it out and just play better next time around.”
The defeat did drop Detroit to the No. 3 seed in the conference as the Seahawks now hold the second spot and the reward of an opening playoff bye.
If the postseason started next weekend, the Lions would host a game in the wild-card round. They can solidify their position with a win on Dec. 26 in Dallas.
NO STAFFORD WOES: The worries about the injured middle finger on Stafford’s throwing hand were largely unfounded.
Stafford brushed off the injury, saying “I felt pretty good.” His performance largely backed up the statement. He was 24 of 39 for 273 yards, including 67-yard pass to Golden Tate.
“I thought he played good football,” Tate said of Stafford. “I thought he definitely gave us a chance. That’s a tough guy and will never question him ever. We just needed to be a little bit better all around.”
PUGH BACK: After missing the past five games with a knee injury, left guard Justin Pugh was back in the lineup, and it helped.
Pugh, perhaps the team’s top lineman, New York rushed for 114 yards, its third-highest total of the season. It is 5-1 in games where it rushes for at least 100 yards. New York also tied a season high with seven third-down conversions on 15 attempts.
The offense, however, continues to struggle. It gained 300 yards against Detroit, the first time it hit that number in the past four games.
“We know that we can make plays and we can have that game where we score 28 or 35, so we can’t force it,” quarterback Eli Manning said after completing 20 of 28 for 201 yards. “We just have to wait for the opportunities, be patient with them.”
LIONS LACK RUN: Leading rusher Theo Riddick missed his second straight game with a wrist injury. Detroit rushed for 56 yards, the second-lowest total by a Giants’ opponent this season. Dwayne Washington led the way with 31 yards on 14 carries. His first one was for 12 yards so he 19 on his final 13.
HOME SWEET HOME: The Giants finished 7-1 at home in the regular season, winning their last six.
It was their best home record at MetLife since the stadium opened in 2010. They were 6-2 in 2012. The previous time they finished 7-1 at home was in 2008, when they played at Giants Stadium.
INJURIES: Detroit starting CB Darius Slay left in the second quarter after aggravating a hamstring injury. New York lost CB Janoris Jenkins in the second quarter with a back injury. Giants backup QB Ryan Nassib was inactive because of a recurring elbow injury.
Packers 30, Bears 27
CHICAGO (AP) — It wasn’t the 1967 Ice Bowl between Green Bay and the Dallas Cowboys, or even the coldest game ever played at Soldier Field.
Yet, both the Chicago Bears and Packers withstood harsh conditions, and Green Bay came up with the victory Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson with a 60-yard pass and Mason Crosby kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Packers to 30-27 victory on a day when the game-time temperature was 11 and the wind chill minus-4.
“I think we watched The Weather Channel all week and the wind wasn’t quite as bad as we thought, and I was very thankful the sun was out and that made it more manageable,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
The 12-mph wind failed to hurt passing games as Rodgers completed 19 of 31 passes for 252 yards.
“It was uncomfortable at times,” he said. “But I think it was warmer than most of us were expecting.”
The Bears (3-11) and Packers (8-6) combined for 900 yards, their highest combined total since 1940 — a span of 152 games.
Bears quarterback Matt Barkley led a fourth-quarter comeback from a 27-10 deficit and completed 30 of 42 for 362 yards with two touchdowns — but had three interceptions.
Barkley did it wearing a wet suit to stay warm.
“I have (worn one) in the water, but not on a football field,” Barkley said. “It ended up working out well. It did not restrict my play.”
The Bears hosted Green Bay in 3-degree temperatures and a minus-15 wind chill on Dec. 18, 1983. The coldest game at Soldier Field in terms of pure temperature was Bears against the Packers Dec. 22, 2008, when it was 2 degrees, with a minus-13 wind chill.
A total of 44,601 braved the conditions. There were 16,536 no-shows.
“Just from my experience, it wasn’t in my top 10,” Bears coach John Fox said of the cold. “I think both teams reacted well to it, responded well to it.”
The payoff for weathering the cold for Green Bay was moving within a game of Detroit in the NFC North after the Lions lost to the New York Giants.
Here are a few things to know from Green Bay’s fourth straight victory:
GETTING HIS: A week after four Packers defensive backs combined for five interceptions against Seattle, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix got two of his own.
The Packers safety didn’t make an interception against Seattle, but ended successive Bears possessions with interceptions in the third quarter.
“I saw a lot of my guys make plays last week,” Clinton-Dix said. “I felt out of the loop a little bit. I was in the right place at the right time and made plays.”
THE DROPS: Packers receiver Davante Adams has made strides in the offense, but either the cold got the best of him or he took a step back by dropping two easy touchdown passes.
“You get those days every once in a while,” Nelson said. “You don’t wish that upon anyone. He’s played extremely well for us, making huge plays — still came back and made a big play on the sideline, making a guy miss.”
NO GAMBLER: Fox called his decision not to go for a win on fourth-and-goal from the Packers 4-yard line one that would be second-guessed regardless, depending on the game’s final outcome.
Connor Barth kicked a tying 22-yard field goal, and Rodgers completed a 60-yard pass to Nelson on third-and-11 to set up the winning kick.
To an extent, Barkley agreed with Fox’s decision, but added, “Obviously I would have loved to score and win.”
CONVERTED BACK: Injuries to Eddie Lacy and James Starks reduced the Packers’ running game to leaning on former receiver Ty Montgomery, and he produced a career-high 162 yards on 16 carries.
His previous career high had been against the Bears, as well. He had 60 yards on nine carries on Oct. 20 in a 26-10 win.
“I don’t think people understand how built he is,” Rodgers said. “He’s a compact, 220-pound guy who has quick twitch, but he’s also got a really good stiff arm.”
GUTWRENCHING: The loss was the sixth by a touchdown or less — and second straight by three points — for the injury-plagued Bears.
Rallying from 17 down in the fourth quarter didn’t ease their pain.
“We’re fighting to the end, we’re pushing,” Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “We’re not going to stop.”
Eagles 26, Ravens 27
BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens maintain control of their playoff chances thanks to a tight victory over a Philadelphia Eagles team that lost because it played to win.
Baltimore (8-6) entered the final three weeks of the season knowing it would capture the AFC North by winning its final three games.
The Ravens crossed the first item off the list, beating the Eagles 27-26 Sunday. So now, if the Ravens defeat Pittsburgh on Christmas Day and knock off Cincinnati in the finale, they will be back in the postseason after a one-year hiatus.
“We want to win a Super Bowl, so we have to go through Pittsburgh next week to get there,” Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon said.
Baltimore (8-6) might have to play better than it did against the Eagles (5-9). The Ravens were cruising with a 27-17 lead before allowing Philadelphia to climb back into it.
A 4-yard touchdown run by Carson Wentz with 4 seconds left got the Eagles to 27-26. Instead of taking the easy kick to force overtime, first-year coach Doug Pederson sent his offense onto the field to attempt a 2-point conversion.
The pass to Jordan Matthews was tipped by linebacker C.J. Mosley and fell incomplete.
“It would hurt a lot to lose this game,” Ravens safety Lardarius Webb said. “As long as you can control your own destiny, that’s all you can ask for. We have a shot.”
And the Eagles? Despite absorbing their sixth loss by seven points or fewer, they appreciated Pederson’s decision to go for 2.
“I loved it,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “We had all the confidence in the world we were going to get it done on that play.”
Some things we learned about the Eagles and Ravens:
RUNNING IT UP: The Eagles shredded the NFL’s top rushing defense with surprising ease, piling up 169 yards and averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
Most of that came from Ryan Mathews, who exploited the middle of the defense for 128 yards and several big gains.
“It’s getting on a roll,” Mathews said. “Guys were excited to run the ball.”
Pederson praised the offensive line, and Mathews noted that receivers were chipping in with downfield blocks.
“It just came down to sheer patience and determination and the offensive line,” Pederson said.
HORRIBLE CALL: The Ravens had a 10-point lead and first down at the Philadelphia 11 with just over six minutes remaining when Joe Flacco let Philadelphia right back into the game.
Baltimore’s quarterback threw an interception while following orders on what coach John Harbaugh later labeled, “the all-time worst call ever.”
But receiver Mike Wallace said, “Throw it. Throw it. It was a great call. Just don’t throw an interception.”
“I turned the ball over there at the end and that’s the only reason it was really a game,” Flacco said.
MOMENTUM SHIFT: Flacco’s pass was intercepted by linebacker Jordan Hicks, whose 34-yard return put the Ravens on their heels. If only those kind of plays occurred regularly, the Eagles might have been a factor in the NFC East this season.
“We need more of those types of plays,” Hicks said. “On defense, we believe we are going to set the tone for this team. And in order for that to happen, we’ve got to come up with the energy, make plays and be the momentum setters.”
DIALING LONG DISTANCE: When Baltimore’s Justin Tucker made his 10th field goal of at least 50 yards, he tied Blair Walsh’s NFL record set in 2012.
With the wind swirling and the pressure on in a huge game, Tucker hit a 53-yarder in the first quarter to stake the Ravens to a 10-3 lead.
“Tuck is so accurate, and he has such a strong leg he can make those kicks,” Harbaugh said. “Today was tough; there was a lot of wind out there.”
Tucker has made 31 of 32 kicks this season. His only miss of the year was blocked. He’s hit on 12 consecutive 50-yarders, including 10 straight in 2016.
“The next kick is the most important kick,” he said. “Sure, it’s another accolade piece to put on the mantel, but at the exact same time there is more important stuff to take care of, and that starts with a win in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day.”
GO WEST: Terrance West rattled off a 41-yard run for Baltimore in the third quarter, the longest of his career. He finished with 77 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.
He now has 729 yards for the season, topping his previous high of 673 in 2014 with Cleveland.
“I thought our offense grinded it out and played a pretty good game,” Flacco said.
Saints 48, Cardinals 41
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Drew Brees’ two-game funk ended with an offensive eruption in the desert.
The New Orleans quarterback threw for 389 yards and four touchdowns, leading the New Orleans Saints past the Arizona Cardinals 48-41 Sunday in the highest-scoring game in the NFL this season.
“It’s good for him, it’s good for the coach, too,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Brees, who had no TDs and six interceptions his previous two games, completed 37 of 48 with no picks.
“It wasn’t anything earth shattering this week,” he said. ” It wasn’t a wholesale change of anything. We just got back to our stuff.”
It was Brees’ 21st career game with at least four TD passes and no interceptions, tying Tom Brady for most in NFL history.
Brandin Cooks caught seven passes for a career-best 186 yards for the Saints (6-8), including touchdown plays of 65 and 45 yards.
“Knowing they (the Cardinals) were the No. 1 defensive team in the league, as a competitor you want to accept those challenges and bring it on,” Cooks said. “As a team, that is what we did. ”
David Johnson rushed for 53 yards and caught four passes for 55 yards for Arizona (5-8-1). The second-year back became the first player in NFL history to have at least 100 yards from scrimmage in the first 14 games of a season.
“As impressive of a stat that is, you kind of expect it,” Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said. “That’s how good of a player he is.”
Johnson rushed for two touchdowns, giving him 17 TDs this season and 30 in the first 30 games as a pro.
Palmer threw for 318 yards and two scores in a game that clinched the first losing season for the Cardinals in Bruce Arians’ four years as coach. Arians praised the play of his makeshift blocking unit, but its strong game wasn’t enough.
“I’m extremely proud of the guys on the offensive line,” he said, “and shocked that we gave up that many points.”
The teams amassed 913 yards, 488 by New Orleans, 425 by Arizona, which finished 4-3-1 at home.
“That’s a very good offense with a great quarterback, a great play caller, a lot of weapons, very good offensive line” Palmer said of the Saints. “You don’t expect to come in and play the field position game and kick field goals. You have to come in and score touchdowns, and they outlasted us.”
The teams traded touchdowns on four possessions in the second half before Brees put New Orleans ahead for good, 41-34, with a 4-yard scoring pass to Michael Thomas with 5:33 to play.
A moment later, the Cardinals’ Brittan Golden fumbled and Ken Crawley recovered for the Saints at the Arizona 29. That led to Tim Hightower’s 2-yard touchdown run that made it a two-score game with 3:27 remaining.
Palmer threw 30 yards to John Brown for a score with 2:19 left, but the onside kick try went out of bounds and the Saints ran out the clock.
Brees threw for three touchdowns in the first half, including the two long passes to Cooks.
His only bad moment came when Marcus Golden stripped the ball out of his hands and Calais Campbell grabbed it out of the air. The 6-foot-8 lineman rambled 53 yards for a touchdown.
Campbell also had two sacks in what could be his final home game for Arizona.
“It’s just the harsh reality that it could be,” he said. “I really hope it’s not, but we’ll see how that goes.”
His two sacks made him the only player in franchise history to have at least six sacks in seven different seasons.
But the 30-year-old lineman is a free agent after this, his ninth NFL season. And there’s wide speculation the Cardinals won’t re-sign him, opting to devote their resources elsewhere.
FITZGERALD MOVES UP
Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald caught seven passes to give him 1,116 career receptions. He passed Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (1,115) for the most catches in a player’s first 200 games in NFL history.
Fitzgerald and his good friend and former teammate, Anquan Boldin of Detroit, each played his 200th game on Sunday.
Arizona lost cornerback Marcus Cooper to a back injury early in the second half.
Saints: Host the Buccaneers next Saturday in the final home game of the season.
Cardinals: Visit Seattle next Saturday, a rematch of NFC West foes who tied 6-6 earlier in the year, a far cry from this 89-point affair.
49ers 13, Falcons 41
ATLANTA (AP) — Devonta Freeman more than made up for his first fumble of the season.
Freeman rushed for 139 yards and three touchdowns Sunday, leading the Falcons to a 41-13 rout of the San Francisco 49ers that clinched Atlanta’s first winning season since 2012.
The third-year back capped his big day with a 34-yard touchdown run.
He preferred to focus on a fumble just short of the end zone that kept the high-scoring Falcons from putting up TDs on their first five possessions against San Francisco’s horrible defense.
“I never settle,” Freeman said. “It’s crazy, but at the end of the night I’m going to say ‘Dang! I had a fumble.’ That’s my first fumble of the year. I hate fumbling.”
Matt Ryan completed 17 of 23 passes for 286 yards, including a pair of 9-yard scoring tosses to Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper.
Aldrick Robinson, stepping up with Atlanta star Julio Jones missing his second straight game with a toe injury, had a career-best 111 yards on four receptions.
“It just lets you know how much depth we have and how much we think about those guys,” Freeman said. “We’ve got hungry guys.”
Atlanta (9-5) began the day tied with Tampa Bay for the NFC South lead. The Falcons made sure they didn’t overlook the 49ers (1-13), moving a step closer to getting back to the playoffs after a three-season absence.
“When you get into December football, you better do that,” coach Dan Quinn said. “Every time you have a chance to go battle, you better have your intent right, your preparation right.”
In an interesting twist, the Falcons’ previous winning season ended with a loss to San Francisco in the NFC championship game .
The 49ers have totally fallen apart since that trip to the Super Bowl. They extended a franchise record with their 13th straight loss, keeping the heat on first-year coach Chip Kelly.
“That’s a really good offensive football team,” Kelly said “It’s a team that could make some hay in the playoffs.”
Freeman nearly had four touchdowns, but the ball was yanked out of his hand inside the 1 as he attempted to power into the end zone.
“I’m going to remember that fumble because I’ll never be perfect, but it could have been perfect if I had not fumbled,” he said.
No one else was too concerned after the third three-touchdown game of his career. Freeman scored on a 5-yard run in the first quarter, bounced off three would-be tacklers for a 9-yard TD in the second, and got loose down the sideline for his longest run of the day late in the third to give the Falcons a 38-13 lead.
Colin Kaepernick was 20 of 33 for 183 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also was sacked three times.
For Atlanta, it was the second straight laugher over a team from California. The Falcons built a 42-0 lead the previous week on the way to a 42-14 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
As in that game, Ryan and many of the starters watched the final minutes from the sideline.
The Falcons set a franchise record for points in season, pushing their total with 469. That eclipsed the mark of 442 set by the 1998 Super Bowl team, with two weeks still to go in the regular season.
Atlanta has scored more than 40 points in five games, and at least 30 four other times.
DEFENSE STEPS UP
After giving up a pair of 75-yard touchdown drives in the first half, the Falcons’ defense totally shut down the 49ers over the final two quarters. San Francisco was held to 85 yards and four first downs after trailing 28-13 at the break.
“We go out there and take every game like a championship week,” Atlanta safety Ricardo Allen said. “It doesn’t matter what the record is.”
The 49ers lost wide receiver Quinton Patton, linebacker Nick Bellore, tight end Blake Bell and cornerback Jimmie Ward with injuries. Patton (foot) and Bellore (elbow) left in the first half. Bell and Ward were declared out with shoulder injuries in the second half.
Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell left with a concussion, and Hooper was carted off in the fourth quarter with a left knee injury.
San Francisco: The 49ers wind down a lost season by traveling to Los Angeles to take on the Rams, the team they defeated in Week 1 for their lone victory .
Atlanta: Head to Carolina on Saturday to take on the Panthers in the final road game of the regular season. The Falcons defeated their NFC South rival 48-33 in the first meeting Oct. 2.
Patriots 16, Broncos 3
DENVER (AP) — Tom Brady brought a power run game and a sturdier offensive line with him to the Mile High City this time.
They helped him walk away a winner for just the third time in 10 trips to Denver.
Brady overcame both a slow start and another dazzling performance by Denver’s defense in New England’s grinding 16-3 win Sunday that secured a first-round bye in the playoffs. It also dealt a crushing blow to the Broncos’ playoff hopes.
“It was a great feeling,” Brady said.
He was equally pleased with the rare win in Denver as he was with his avoidance of another beating like the one he suffered in the AFC championship last January, when the Broncos hit him a career-high 23 times.
This time, they only got to him seven times — the same amount Von Miller had in the conference championship. Miller didn’t get his hands on Brady at all Sunday.
“They played great,” Brady said of his O-line that allowed only two sacks and five QB hits . “We ran the ball well. It was a great feeling. They did a great job.”
Brady missed his first six passes for just the second time his career — the first was way back on Oct. 12, 2003, against the Giants — but he came back to lead the Patriots (12-2) to a record eighth consecutive division title.
This time, it was the Broncos’ hopes of defending their Super Bowl title that took a beating.
The Broncos (8-6) lost for the third time in four games and were supplanted by the Dolphins for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC race with two weeks remaining.
Brady completed just half of his 32 passes for 188 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 68.2. That was actually worse that Broncos’ QB Trevor Siemian, who was 25 for 40 for 282 yards with an interception for a rating of 73.1.
Those numbers alone belied the Patriots’ all-around dominance of their nemesis.
Behind Dion Lewis’ 95-yard effort, New England outrushed Denver 136 yards to 58.
Brady’s first completion was a 17-yarder to Julian Edelman a minute into the second quarter, igniting a drive that ended with LeGarrette Blount powering his way in from the 1 . That was his 15th rushing touchdown, which set a single-season franchise record and broke a 3-3 tie.
The Patriots put the ball on the ground twice on that drive. Brady was sack-stripped on the first snap with left guard Joe Thuney pouncing on the fumble, and Lewis recovered his own fumble at the Denver 1 just before Blount scored.
“That’s what makes us sick, when we come out and play stout like we did today” and still lose, Chris Harris Jr. said.
Unfathomable is how Aqib Talib described losing a game in which the Broncos held Brady to 16 points and 16 completions.
“It’s football,” Talib said.
The Broncos outgained New England by more than 100 yards in the first quarter, but Siemian made two bad decisions that thwarted promising drives.
His throw to Emmanuel Sanders from the New England 14 was both poorly timed and poorly placed. Cornerback Ryan Logan picked it off and returned it to midfield, setting up Blount’s TD run.
The Broncos reached the New England 31 on the ensuing drive. Siemian was pressured and instead of throwing the ball away dumped it off to running back Justin Forsett for a 6-yard loss that pushed Denver out of field goal range.
“I missed a couple of opportunities to at least get us some points early on,” Siemian lamented. “It comes back to haunt you for sure.”
PUNT RETURN PROBLEMS: Jordan Norwood, benched in favor of rookie speedster Kalif Raymond after two muffed punts in a loss against Kansas City last month, muffed his first chance Sunday when Raymond was a surprise scratch.
Norwood allowed Ryan Allen’s punt to go through his arms and legs, giving the ball to the Patriots at the Denver 31. That resulted in a 45-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
Kubiak explained he needed Norwood in three-receiver sets on offense, but Norwood fumbled away his only touch from scrimmage following a 15-yard gain in the final minute.
“He doesn’t want to go out there and make a mistake,” Kubiak said. “He wants to go out there and make plays. And he’s done that for this team many, many times over.”
SLOW DOWN: Brandon McManus’ 33-yard field goal accounted for Denver’s only points. They came in the first quarter, when the Broncos are the slowest starters in the NFL with just 26 points this season. But Denver limited the Patriots to a field goal in the first quarter, and New England came in with a league-leading 103-point tally in the first 15 minutes of games.
INJURIES: Broncos TE Virgil Green left with a concussion and DE Derek Wolfe missed the second half with a neck injury. Patriots DT Malcom Brown went out in the second quarter with a stomach issue.
Patriots: Host Jets on Saturday.
Broncos: Visit Chiefs on Sunday.
Raiders 19, Chargers 16
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Oakland Raiders are going back to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, earning a postseason nod on the same field where they were so thoroughly humiliated in the Super Bowl in January 2003.
Fittingly, the only player remaining from that roster, kicker Sebastian Janikowksi, helped the Raiders punch their ticket. He kicked a 44-yard field goal with 2:40 left, his fourth of the game, and the Raiders beat the San Diego Chargers 19-16 in the Relocation Bowl on Sunday.
“I can’t even describe my words man. It feels so special. I waited a long time for that,” Janikowski said.
So have their fans, and they packed Qualcomm Stadium, outnumbering Chargers fans by roughly 80 percent to 20 percent in the crowd of 68,352, the largest in San Diego this season.
All that Silver and Black backing the Raiders (11-3) provided a surreal atmosphere to the game, which might be the Chargers’ second to last in San Diego after 56 seasons.
Team chairman Dean Spanos seems almost certain to move the team to the Los Angeles area after failing to get a big public subsidy to help him replace aging Qualcomm Stadium.
The Raiders could be on the move, too, with owner Mark Davis eyeing Las Vegas, although they’d still play in Oakland until a new stadium was built in Sin City.
A sour relationship between Spanos and the Chargers fans, as well as yet another losing season, gives the appearance of a franchise flaming out. Raiders fans were all too happy to snap up available tickets.
“I was very excited, very joyful, looking around the stadium and seeing our fans just going crazy,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “When we come to San Diego, our fans turn it into a home game. We always think we get nine home games a year.”
The Chargers (5-9) were eliminated from the playoff chase when Miami beat the New York Jets on Saturday night.
The Chargers will miss the postseason for the third time in coach Mike McCoy’s four seasons and for the sixth time in six seasons overall. They’ve lost 21 of their last 30 games.
“It was a road game,” San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. “It was just like being in Oakland. Except there were more people.”
Where were Chargers fans?
“I don’t know. But it’s been two tough years,” Rivers said.
It was the sixth time the Chargers blew a fourth-quarter lead this season.
The winning drive started on the Raiders 34 and included a 27-yard run by Latavius Murray and a 22-yard pass from Carr to Seth Roberts.
Carr scrambled on third-and-8 on the Chargers 29 and thought he got the first down, but was ruled to have gone out of bounds a yard short. The Raiders challenged and the refs agreed, giving them the first down at the 21.
An incompletion and a sack forced the Raiders to turn to their 17-year veteran kicker, who delivered.
Reggie Nelson intercepted Philip Rivers with 1:37 to go to seal it.
Janikowski also had field goals of 21, 45 and 33 yards.
“We would like to get seven, but we got points when we lined up for them,” coach Jack Del Rio said.
Rivers had thrown a go-ahead, 7-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Hunter Henry late in the third quarter.
Rivers threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin on the game’s eighth play.
The Raiders couldn’t get out of their own way for most of the first half, including turning over the ball twice in the red zone. But the Chargers failed to capitalize and Oakland tied it at 10 on Carr’s 13-yard scoring pass to Michael Crabtree 22 seconds before halftime.
The original call of incomplete was reversed after replay showed Crabtree got both feet down before tumbling out of the end zone.
Oakland took a short-lived 13-10 lead in the third quarter on Janikowski’s 33-yard field goal. The Chargers came right back for Henry’s go-ahead TD catch.
STADIUM SAGAS: Davis says he’s committed to moving the Raiders to Las Vegas, where a $1.9 billion stadium project has been approved, including $750 million in public money. Davis has from the end of the Raiders’ season until Feb. 15 to apply for relocation.
Spanos, son of owner Alex Spanos, appears to be leaning toward moving to Los Angeles and eventually joining the Rams in a stadium in Inglewood scheduled to open in 2019. Spanos angered the fan base last year with a failed attempt to move to Carson and share a stadium with the archrival Raiders.
After that failed, the Chargers-backed Measure C was overwhelmingly rejected by San Diego voters on Nov. 8. That would have raised $1.15 billion in increased hotel occupancy taxes for a $1.8 billion downtown stadium and convention center annex.
ROAD TEAM IN THEIR OWN STADIUM
The Chargers practiced this week with piped-in crowd noise, anticipating what it would be like Sunday. They skipped individual introductions and were booed anyway when they were introduced as a team.
“We wanted to come out as a team. We wanted to stay together and fighting,” McCoy said.
Buccaneers 20, Cowboys 26
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Ezekiel Elliott ran faster after he crossed the goal line than he did looking for a hole to get in the end zone from the 2-yard line.
Dallas’ rookie sensation and NFL rushing leader had his eyes on an oversized Salvation Army red kettle in front of the stands. He jumped in, then disappeared when he crouched down.
Elliott rushed for a career-high 159 yards and that short score and the Cowboys closed in on home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a 26-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night.
The Cowboys (12-2) bounced back after their franchise-record 11-game winning streak ended, hanging on after what looked to be a festive night following Elliott’s antics turned tense when Jameis Winston rallied the Bucs from a 17-3 deficit to a 20-17 lead.
“One of the words we talked about right from the outset this week was ‘response,'” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We did a good job early in the ballgame to get a lead and they started throwing the ball a lot early in the second half and they went ahead.
“And again, that word ‘response’ came back to the forefront.”
Making his debut in the Sunday night spotlight, Winston threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns but had four turnovers, including an interception that led to Dan Bailey’s 38-yard field goal that gave Dallas a 23-20 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay (8-6) had its five-game winning streak snapped and fell a game behind Atlanta in the NFC South.
“We’ve just got to keep winning, see how it plays out,” Winston said. “I know I’m going to keep fighting. I’m not worried about not fighting. We just got to keep winning games.”
Dallas stayed two games ahead of the New York Giants in the NFC East and needs a win without any help to clinch the home field for the postseason.
Elliott had NFL career rushing leader and former Dallas star Emmitt Smith and plenty of his teammates laughing when he jumped into the kettle — a staple in the end zones from Thanksgiving on every year with one of the Cowboys’ most visible charities.
Garrett wasn’t quite as amused, mostly because the move cost the Cowboys a 15-yard penalty on the kickoff.
“He was actually talking about that pregame, should he do it, will they fine him,” said fellow rookie Dak Prescott, Elliott’s quarterback. “I didn’t know he was actually going to go down and come back up slow. Got a good laugh out of it, him coming up real slowly. It was funny.”
Prescott bounced back from his worst game as a pro, going 32 of 36 for 279 yards a week after completing less than 50 percent of his passes in a 10-7 loss to the New York Giants.
He also set a franchise record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback on a wide-open 2-yarder up the middle on a draw. His sixth rushing score of the year topped Don Meredith’s previous club record from 1966.
Elliott had 76 of his yards with Dallas trying to control the clock on its final two possessions, but Winston still had a chance in the final 2 minutes after second-half scoring tosses to Adam Humphries and Cameron Brate gave the Bucs a brief lead.
Tampa Bay’s last chance ended on downs at its 20, and the Bucs’ got just one first down on their final three possessions.
The Bucs’ streak of five straight games of holding opponents to under 21 points — their longest since 2009-10 — ended, with Dallas gaining 449 yards, second-most this year against Tampa Bay. Elliott was the second 100-yard rusher of the season. A week after Drew Brees threw three interceptions in New Orleans’ loss to the Bucs, Prescott had his 11th game without one.
Dallas tight end Jason Witten passed former teammate Terrell Owens for seventh place on the career receptions list, getting his 1,079th on a 6-yarder in the second quarter. The 34-year-old Witten, in his 14th season, had eight catches in the first half and 10 for the game, giving him 1,086.
RARE MULTIPLE MISSES
Bailey missed two in a game for the first time since his rookie year in 2011. The first came up short from 56 yards , and the second was wide left from 52 in the final seconds of the first half. The misses against Arizona five years ago were from 50 and 49. Bailey is the NFL’s career leader in accuracy among kickers with at least 100 attempts.
Tampa Bay defensive lineman William Gholston and Dallas linebacker Justin Durant left the game with elbow injuries.
Buccaneers: Finish regular season with two games against NFC South opponents, at New Orleans on Saturday and home against Carolina on Jan. 1.
Cowboys: Wrap up regular-season home schedule against Detroit the day after Christmas, a Monday night, before visiting fading Philadelphia in finale.
Panthers 26, Redskins 15
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Cam Newton threw for 300 yards, Carolina’s running game was overwhelmingly effective and an aggressive defense forced three turnovers.
It was just like last year for the Panthers. Unfortunately for Carolina, there almost certainly will be no Super Bowl at the end of the season for the defending NFC champions.
Though the Panthers did just about everything right Monday night in a 26-15 win over the Washington Redskins, it’s been a rough encore for a team that went 15-1 before breezing into the Super Bowl.
Carolina (6-8) has battled through injuries, free-agent defections and inexperience at key positions. On Monday night, the Panthers showed just how good they can be when performing to their potential.
“For us, our challenge all year has been playing a complete game,” Newton said.
Battered, bruised and weary from a season’s worth of hard hits, the agile quarterback showed his frustration when he tossed the ball at Washington’s Trent Murphy on a play in the second quarter. Newton was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after Murphy roughed him up a bit as he was sliding to the ground.
“I’ve got to be better than that,” Newton said.
When it came to flinging the ball at his receivers, Newton was better than usual. He went 21 for 37 with two touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over.
He was backed by a solid running game led by Jonathan Stewart, who amassed a season-high 132 yards on 25 carries.
Throw in a defense that allowed only one touchdown, and you’ve got the 2015 Panthers.
“They loaded the box up, backers were shooting the gap,” Redskins tackle Trent Williams said. “That’s the same front seven they went to the Super Bowl with. That’s a good group of guys.”
The Panthers on Monday night looked nothing like the group that started 1-5 and got beat by such scores as 22-10 and 40-7.
“We had a bit of continuity,” coach Ron Rivera said. “We’ve got an offensive line that’s played together for what, four weeks now? We’ve got a group of young corners that have played together for five weeks now. We ran the ball very effectively today.”
Carolina has only a mathematical chance of getting back to the playoffs, but that’s not what drives the Panthers as the season draws to end.
Asked what the team is playing for, Newton replied with one word: “Wins.”
“We’re playing for a ton of pride and the guy next to us,” defensive end Wes Horton said. “Even if we didn’t have a playoff scenario, we’re still going to fight to the end. Our objective is to go undefeated the rest of the season.”
Rivera insisted upon it.
“Coach challenged us as man, as players, as professionals, to come out and do our job,” Newton said. “That’s what we tried to do today, and we did it.”
Newton arrived fashionably late for his postgame session wearing a pink hat, checkered suit, blue tie and sneakers — even though Rivera told the team they could travel home in sweat suits.
Newton said his attire was a tribute to Craig Sager, an NBA analyst who died recently of cancer.