Demarus Dye|BKD TV Insiders
Here is a recap of Week 16 of the 2016 NFL Season with a Tuesday Morning QB & thanks again to AP Sports/ Pro 32 for photos & articles.
Giants 19, Eagles 24
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Because they couldn’t win on the road, the New York Giants ensured they won’t open at home if they make the playoffs.
Three of Eli Manning’s career-high 63 passes were intercepted, including one that Malcolm Jenkins returned for a touchdown, and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Giants 24-19 Thursday night to snap a five-game losing streak and prevent New York from clinching a playoff spot.
“We didn’t play well enough,” Manning said. “I got off to a bad start and spotted them a 14-0 lead.”
The loss gave Dallas the NFC East title — and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. The Giants (10-5) still own the top wild-card position and will end their four-season playoff drought this weekend if Detroit, Green Bay, Tampa Bay or Atlanta loses.
If not, they get in with a win at Washington next week.
“We need to be confident,” Manning said. “We can get healthy and get a little break these next couple days and come back and practice and play better football.”
After Darren Sproles gave the Eagles (6-9) a 7-0 lead on a 25-yard TD run, Jenkins picked off Manning and ran it back 34 yards for a 14-0 lead. Jenkins got another interception in the second half, the second time he’s had two picks in a game in his eight-year career.
“I want to be wherever the ball is,” Jenkins said. “If I play deep too long a lot of times, I get bored.”
Carson Wentz threw a touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor and later shook off a late hit that forced him to miss his first snaps of the season. The rookie quarterback even threw a lead block on a double reverse after he passed concussion tests.
Then the defense delivered a stop on fourth down before Terrence Brooks clinched the win with an interception at the Eagles 5.
“My name was called and I made the most of it,” said Brooks, who had not played a defensive snap this season before getting in for two plays against the Giants.
Here’s some things we learned in Philadelphia’s win over the Giants:
LANE’S IMPACT: Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson returned from a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs and immediately showed why he’s so valuable. He wiped out the left side of New York’s defensive line twice on big gains on the offense’s first series, including a block on Landon Collins to clear a path for Sproles on his TD run. The Eagles are 4-1 with Johnson, 2-8 without him.
“It was huge to get Lane back,” Wentz said. “That was a big spark for us.”
WAITING GAME: The Giants couldn’t do the deed themselves Thursday night and now must wait for the weekend’s action. They have plenty of opportunity to qualify for the postseason while opening holiday gifts.
If the Falcons (9-5) lose at Carolina, New York is in. If the Packers (8-6) lose to Minnesota, New York is in.
Should Tampa Bay fall at New Orleans, the Giants advance. And if Detroit (9-5) is beaten by Dallas, the Giants are playoff-bound.
“We’re disappointed right now in the way we played tonight,” said Manning, who completed 38 passes for 356 yards and one TD. “We know we can bounce back next week and still get a win and get in the playoffs.”
They might not need that victory.
BECKHAM’S NUMBERS: Earlier this season, when the Giants beat the Eagles 28-23, Odell Beckham Jr. had only four receptions for 46 yards, though he scored twice. At the Linc, he made 11 catches for 150 yards, but didn’t find the end zone.
Beckham has 96 catches for 1,323 yards. His career highs are 97 receptions, set last season, and 1,450 yards.
“I think anytime you get the ball in his hands,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said, “you have a chance to go for a touchdown.”
Manning targeted Beckham 20 times; the next favored receiver was Victor Cruz, who caught eight of the 13 balls thrown his way. New York’s only touchdown was a 13-yard pass over the middle to Sterling Shepard, who had seven catches on 11 targets.
But all those throws weren’t enough.
TOUGH KID: Wentz was wobbly after banging his head following Olivier Vernon’s hit but didn’t hesitate to throw himself at Eli Apple on a block after returning to the game.
“If there was anyone out in front, I was going to pick up a block,” Wentz said. “Once you’re cleared, you’re good to go.”
Vikings 25, Packers 38
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers are back in familiar territory, so close to another NFC North title.
Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson are combining to shred secondaries. The defense is creating turnovers.
It’s hard to believe this same team was once 4-6.
But the Packers won their fifth straight game, riding a big-play passing attack and an opportunistic defense in a 38-25 victory on Saturday over the Minnesota Vikings. Rodgers threw for 347 yards and four scores, and the Packers cashed in on two Vikings turnovers with touchdown drives.
Next up is a winner-take-all showdown next week with Detroit for the division title.
“We’re planning on going to Detroit to win the division,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Merry Christmas.”
The win also extinguished the Vikings’ faint postseason hopes. Their hopes to repeat as division champs were already gone.
A 5-0 start to the year was wasted.
“I think when you look at it there were just a lot of mistakes, self-inflicted wounds and they came back to bite us and we weren’t able to overcome those at times,” quarterback Sam Bradford said.
The Packers have thrived after their own bouts of adversity, notably a midseason, four-game losing streak.
Nelson had 154 yards and two touchdowns from 21 yards and 2 yards in the first half. The receiver found seams in Minnesota’s defense, despite the return of safety Harrison Smith from an ankle injury.
Green Bay (9-6) built a 28-13 lead at halftime, with Rodgers accounting for all four scores. He finished 28 of 38, and shrugged off his right calf injury after scrambling for a 6-yard touchdown late in the second quarter and making a rare Lambeau Leap .
“Once I got moving, I felt like myself,” said Rodgers, adding that the sore calf is getting better.
Playing again without running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikings (7-8) had success through the air. Sam Bradford threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns, including a 71-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen in the second quarter.
Thielen had a career-high 202 yards and two scores.
But the Vikings made too many other mistakes to catch up to the Packers.
“One time a guy fell down, one time on the deep route to Nelson, (cornerback Xavier Rhodes) pulled off it too soon,” coach Mike Zimmer said about the porous pass coverage. “Trying to think of all them but there was a lot.”
Maybe the Vikings were sluggish after the team plane got stuck in the grass on the way to the gate at a Wisconsin airport on Friday night after making a safe landing, forcing a delay of more than five hours.
Zimmer didn’t think it an impact.
“I think we played hard. I just don’t think we played good. I don’t think the plane ride had anything to do with it or anything else. There (are) no excuses,” he said.
Thielen went big play-for-big play with Nelson, finishing with 12 catches. The Packers secondary had shaky moments again a week after a porous fourth quarter in a win over the Chicago Bears.
Rodgers and Nelson set a Packers record on their 21-yard score in the first quarter. It was the 58th touchdown for the duo, breaking the tie with the Brett Favre-Antonio Freeman combination. Rodgers threw about a 10-yard pass up the seam to Nelson, who found a soft spot in the zone and then made safety Andrew Sendejo miss on a tackle before lunging forward to get the ball into the end zone.
“It’s special,” McCarthy said about the connection between Rodgers and Nelson. “You can see the trust.”
Matthews looked like his big-play self for the first time in weeks.
He has been limited since hurting his left shoulder in late November during a win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Packers’ most dynamic pass rusher said during practice this week that he was feeling better and hoped to get more snaps.
The long-haired Matthews made a difference against the Vikings, including the strip-sack of Bradford late in the second quarter that led to Rodgers’ touchdown run, along with two key pass deflections and another pressure by early in the third quarter.
Vikings: Smith played for the first time in two weeks. WR Stefon Diggs (hip) was active after being listed as questionable coming into the game, and finished with 29 yards and a touchdown on four catches.
Packers: Rodgers suffered a stinger after getting sacked in the third quarter, but returned on the next series. … CB LaDarius Gunter left the game with an elbow injury in the second quarter. RT Bryan Bulaga suffered a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter.
Vikings: Wrap up regular season by hosting the Bears on New Year’s Day.
Packers: At Detroit on Jan. 1 in game to decide the NFC North title.
Falcons 33, Panthers 16
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons are back on top of the NFC South, capturing their first division title since 2012.
Matt Ryan threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns, Tevin Coleman had 135 yards from scrimmage, including a pivotal 55-yard fourth-quarter TD run as the Falcons beat the Panthers 33-16 on Saturday.
The Falcons then had to wait about 3 ½ hours to celebrate when the New Orleans Saints defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-24 to seal Atlanta’s first playoff appearance in four years.
“Coming into (training) camp we wanted the division,” Falcons safety Keanu Neal said. “As long as you own the division, you control your own destiny.”
And now they do.
“This is a tough place to win,” Ryan said. “I know that. I’ve been playing here for a long time. They’re always well prepared and play really, really hard, so it was a good win for us.”
A few straggling Falcons fans chanted “MVP!” at Ryan in the game’s closing minutes while most Panthers fans had already headed for the exits.
“He deserves the MVP,” Falcons running back Devonta Freeman said. “And if he doesn’t get it, he’s still my MVP.”
The Panthers (6-9) were officially eliminated from playoff contention after making the Super Bowl last season.
Ryan torched the Panthers for the second time this season. He threw for 503 yards and four TDs in Atlanta’s Week 4 win over Carolina at the Georgia Dome, a victory that set the stage for the Falcons’ playoff push.
Ryan’s biggest pass Saturday came early in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers had battled back to cut Atlanta’s lead to 10 and had Ryan backed up to his own 14 on third-and-21. But he calmly completed a 31-yard swing pass in the left flat to Tevin Coleman, who raced past Thomas Davis for a 31-yard gain. On the next play, Coleman broke through a big hole up front and raced 55 yards for a touchdown, essentially sealing the win.
SPREADING IT AROUND
Ryan spread the ball around effectively, throwing touchdown passes to backup tight ends Joshua Perkins and D.J. Tialavea, who was signed from the practice squad earlier in the week. In so doing, Ryan set the NFL single-season record by completing TD passes to 13 different receivers.
Ryan’s TD pass distribution this season: Taylor Gabriel (6 TD receptions), Julio Jones (5), Mohamed Sanu (3), Jacob Tamme (3), Austin Hooper (3), Justin Hardy (3), Devonta Freeman (2), Coleman (2), Aldrick Robinson (2), Levin Toilolo (2), Patrick DiMarco (1), Perkins (1) and Tialavea (1).
Jones, who had 300 yards receiving in the last game against Carolina, had four catches for 60 yards in his return following a toe injury.
Cam Newton, last year’s league MVP, struggled with accuracy throughout the day, completing 18 of 43 passes for 198 yards with two interceptions. His only highlight came on a 26-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin in the back of the end zone on the final play of the third quarter.
“Me personally, I have to find completions,” said Newton, who has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in five of the last six games.
He refused to blame his lingering shoulder injury for his struggles.
“My production hasn’t been solid and I can’t point to something and say this is the reason,” Newton said.
RYAN TD RECORD
Ryan broke his own franchise record with his 33rd TD pass of the season when he fired a dart to Perkins in between double coverage for a 26-yard first-quarter score.
OLSEN SETS RECORD
Carolina’s Greg Olsen has become the first tight end in NFL history to record three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Olsen did it with a 17-yard reception from Newton in the second quarter.
Down 17 and facing a crucial third-down situation with 10 minutes to go, the Panthers left their top two receivers Benjamin and Olsen on the sideline and inserted backup quarterback Joe Webb for the injured Devin Funchess (knee). Newton threw to Webb near the goal line and he couldn’t handle the pass, forcing the Panthers to settle for a third field goal by Graham Gano.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera held out Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly again. Kuechly has missed five straight games with a concussion.
Redskins 41, Bears 21
CHICAGO (AP) — All DeSean Jackson cared about was what the Washington Redskins could control.
Their playoff chances are out of their hands. Even if they win their final game, there’s no guarantee they will make it.
“Can’t really worry about other teams, who is going to win or lose,” Jackson said. “We just have to take care of our business, and if we do that we should be all right.”
The Redskins were more than all right against the struggling Chicago Bears on Saturday. They dominated in just about every way in a 41-21 romp.
Kirk Cousins threw for a touchdown and ran for two more, Jackson added 114 yards receiving and the Redskins (8-6-1) intercepted Matt Barkley five times.
More important, they gave their fading playoff hopes a boost with a lopsided victory.
“This was a big win and these guys came out and competed and did a great job,” coach Jay Gruden said.
It was a big bounce-back win for the Redskins after they relinquished control of the NFC’s second wild card with a loss to Carolina on Monday night. They host the New York Giants in next week’s finale, and they will need help if they’re going to make the playoffs for the second straight year.
Against Chicago, the Redskins did exactly what they wanted.
Eighth in the NFC behind Green Bay and Tampa Bay coming in and with a chance to get eliminated from the playoff race, Washington scored 14 points in the first quarter after struggling to score early in recent games and never really was threatened by the Bears (3-12).
Here are some things to know after the Redskins gave their playoff hopes a shot with a lopsided win over the Bears:
MORE LIKE IT
Cousins, Washington’s single-season passing leader, was back in form after a shaky outing against the Panthers.
He threw for 270 yards while playing turnover-free ball and did not get sacked with the offensive line holding its ground.
“The pocket was clean for the most part of the game and the offensive line did great,” Gruden said, “but it also helps being able to run the ball and take the pressure off.”
The Redskins wanted to get back to a more balanced offense after they abandoned the run last week.
They did just that, going for 208 yards on 35 attempts. It was a big change from the previous game when Cousins dropped back 50 times and the Redskins carried 13 times for 29 yards.
Against Chicago, Robert Kelley ran for 76 yards, though he was bothered by a sprained knee. Mack Brown added 82 yards, with 61 coming on a 61-yard touchdown near the end of the game.
Never mind that he was defending Chicago’s top receiver, Alshon Jeffery. Washington cornerback Josh Norman felt Barkley was disrespecting him by throwing his way, particularly in the second half.
“The disrespect came out,” Norman said. “They’re going to keep throwing the ball, then, well shoot, we’re going to come out here and make some plays.”
Barkley, making his fifth start and sixth appearance, had his worst performance.
His five interceptions matched the second-highest total in Bears history and were the most since Jay Cutler threw five against San Francisco on Nov. 12, 2009.
“I feel on some plays I tried to win the game on that play, tried to do too much,” he said. “And those are just times when you have to eat it and live to see another play.”
Barkley now has eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions and a lower passer rating (70.3) than Cutler (78.1) and Brian Hoyer (98.0).
‘D’ NOT PASSING
A defense that has been a bright spot for Chicago once again got picked apart.
The Bears gave up a season-high 478 yards after Green Bay went off for 451 the previous week, whether they were getting beaten on the ground or in the air.
Chicago, which came in ranked sixth against the pass, gave up five catches of 21 yards or more in the first half. There was also a 28-yard pass-interference penalty against Tracy Porter in the second quarter.
The 478 yards were the second most they’ve given up in Vic Fangio’s two seasons as defensive coordinator. They allowed 546 against Detroit on Oct. 18, 2015.
Jets 3, Patriots 41
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Patriots gave away home-field advantage in the playoffs last season with back-to-back losses to the Jets and Dolphins.
This time, New England wants to control its own road through the postseason.
Tom Brady passed for 214 yards and three touchdowns , and the Patriots moved a step closer to securing home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a 41-3 win over the New York Jets on Saturday.
A loss or tie by the Raiders against the Colts later Saturday would officially give New England the AFC’s top seed.
Bill Belichick earned his 200th victory in New England, making him the fifth coach in NFL history to reach the milestone with one team. He joined George Halas (318 with Bears), Don Shula (257 with Dolphins), Tom Landry (250 with Cowboys) and Curly Lambeau (209 with Green Bay). Belichick is 200-71 with the Patriots, and also 36-44 with Cleveland.
Brady said the foundation was laid for Saturday’s performance on the plane ride back after last week’s win at Denver.
“We said, ‘Look — we’re finishing strong.’ You know, the pedal to the metal,” Brady said. “Last year, we didn’t finish strong. We didn’t like the way things ended.”
Malcolm Butler added two interceptions and a fumble recovery , and LeGarrette Blount had a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs.
New England (13-2) took advantage of New York miscues all day, scoring on three of its first four possessions.
The Jets (4-11), who have lost six of seven, had four turnovers.
It all helped make for a short day of work for Brady, who sat out the entire fourth quarter.
The only really good piece of news for the Jets came before the game, when Todd Bowles rejoined the team and coached from the sideline a day after a medical scare sent him to the hospital.
Bowles did not travel on the team plane Friday, but joined the Jets in New England on Saturday morning. The 53-year-old coach fell ill Friday afternoon and was taken to a hospital in New Jersey with what the team called an “undisclosed illness.”
But injuries for New York continue to pile up.
For the second straight week, Jets quarterback Bryce Petty’s day ended early when he went to the sideline in the first quarter with a left shoulder injury.
He was replaced by backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, but it did little to improve New York’s fortunes on offense.
For the game, the Jets finished with 239 total yards and were 1 for 11 on third down. Petty was 0 for 3 passing before his injury with an interception. Fitzpatrick finished 8 for 21 for 136 yards and two interceptions. Receiver Brandon Marshall also left the game in the third quarter with a left hip injury.
New England turned each of New York’s three first-half turnovers into points.
First, Butler picked off a pass from Petty to set up a 5-yard touchdown pass by Brady to Martellus Bennett that put the Patriots up 10-0.
A few series later, Butler was there again to pounce on Khiry Robinson’s fumble, which set up a 22-yard by Stephen Gostkowski.
Then, after Fitzpatrick had come on to replace Petty, his second drive started with a deep pass along the sideline intended for Marshall that was intercepted by Eric Rowe.
That was followed by an 18-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Matt Lengel, who made his first NFL reception.
“We got beat today. We got embarrassed. … But there aren’t any quitters in this locker room.” — Fitzpatrick on his team’s effort.
Brady marked yet another career milestone with 50 career games with at least three touchdowns and no interceptions. … With his 22-yard field goal in the second quarter, Gostkowski notched his 300th career field goal. He is the 30th player to reach the 300-field goal mark.
The New England Patriots don’t seem to be having any trouble filling in for tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Lengel was an undrafted free agent who spent last season on the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad. The Patriots signed him last month when Gronkowski was injured. Gronkowski returned to play in two more games before having season-ending back surgery.
With the All-Pro tight end out, the Patriots have relied mostly on Bennett, who had 52 catches and six touchdowns, including the score against the Jets.
Jets: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins left with a hamstring injury in the first half and also did not return. DL Leonard Williams exited in the third quarter with a chest injury, but returned. Robinson left with a leg injury after being active for the first time this season.
Jets: Wrap up their season at home against the Bills on Jan. 1.
Patriots: Conclude their regular-season schedule at Miami on New Year’s Day.
Dolphins 34, Bills 31 OT
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Jay Ajayi stiff-armed his way to his third 200-yard rushing performance of the season.
In the process, the second-year running back carried the Miami Dolphins one giant step closer to clinching their first playoff berth since 2008.
Ajayi had 206 yards rushing and a touchdown, and broke loose for a 57-yard run in overtime to set up Andrew Franks’ 27-yard field goal with 47 seconds left in a 34-31 win over the Buffalo Bills on Saturday.
“It’s about running hard through the whole game and finishing strong,” Ajayi said. “Division rival game, December game, a lot was on the line. Tensions were high today.”
Ajayi relieved the tension with Miami taking over at its 15 with four minutes left.
Ajayi took the handoff and stiff-armed defensive lineman Leger Douzable at the line of scrimmage in finding a crease off left tackle before being brought down at the Buffalo 28. The Dolphins ran five more plays before Franks lined up for the decisive score.
“Oh, man, he’s a grinder. He’s a workhorse,” tight end Dion Sims said. “He goes 100 miles an hour, and that’s why he’s got the nickname ‘Train,’ because he’s just going nonstop.”
In winning for the ninth time in 10 games, the Dolphins (10-5) can secure the AFC’s final wild-card berth as early as Sunday if Denver loses to Kansas City.
Denver needs to win its final two games to make the postseason and Baltimore is eliminated from the wild-card race and can only make the playoffs as the AFC North champion.
The Bills (7-8) were eliminated from contention and extended the NFL’s longest active playoff drought to 17 seasons.
Buffalo’s drought is tied for the fifth longest in NFL history, and the longest since the New Orleans Saints went 20 years before qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1987.
The Bills couldn’t stop Ajayi even though they vowed to do so after he had 214 yards rushing in a 28-25 win at Miami on Oct. 23.
“Like come on,” safety Corey Graham said in frustration. “I’ve never been part of anything like that. I’ve never seen anything like that. I don’t get it.”
Ajayi is the fourth player in NFL history to have at least three games with at least 200 rushing yards in a season. Earl Campbell, OJ Simpson, Tiki Barber are the others.
Franks forced overtime by hitting a career-best 55-yard field goal with 6 seconds remaining.
The Bills overcame a 14-point deficit three times before taking their first lead of the game with 1:20 left. That’s when Tyrod Taylor converted a fourth-and-7 by completing a pass to Charles Clay in the end zone.
The Bills squandered a scoring chance on the first possession of overtime when Dan Carpenter missed wide right from 45 yards with 10:03 remaining. Carpenter also missed wide right on a 46-yard attempt in the first quarter.
The focus of attention in Buffalo now turns to coach Rex Ryan’s job security.
Rather building a bully as Ryan promised upon taking over in January 2015, his defense has instead been a pushover.
Buffalo has allowed 200 yards rushing three times this season, including a franchise-worst 236 yards to Le’Veon Bell in a 27-20 loss to Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
“Obviously, this is a rough night,” Ryan said. “I’ll let my reputation stand for what it is and you can challenge it all you want.”
It didn’t help that Ryan revealed the Bills only had 10 players on the field when Ajayi took off in overtime. No one took into account that cornerback Stephon Gilmore was pulled from the game and placed in concussion protocol.
Buffalo finished with 589 yards to beat the previous mark of 582 set against Miami on Sept. 1, 1991.
BY THE NUMBERS
Dolphins: QB Matt Moore finished 16 of 30 for 233 yards and two touchdowns and an interception in making his second consecutive start in place of Ryan Tannehill (sprained left knee).
Bills: Taylor went 23 of 39 for a career-high 329 yards passing and three touchdowns. He became Buffalo’s first player to top 300 yards since journeyman Kyle Orton had 329 yards in a 26-24 loss at Oakland nearly two years ago to the day. LeSean McCoy had 128 yards rushing and also scored once.
REPLAY CHALLENGE: Replays showed Ryan and safety Corey White attempting to call timeout as Franks lined up to kick his game-tying 55-yard attempt to force overtime.
It appeared that Ryan was a split-second late in calling time. What’s unclear is if White’s motion was before the snap.
Referee Craig Wrolstad said head linesman Mark Hittner ruled Ryan called timeout after the snap, and added the play is not reviewable.
BAD TACKLING: Missed tackles led to Miami scoring its first three touchdowns in building a 21-7 lead 2:55 into the second half.
Ajayi opened the scoring on a 2-yard run by shedding Douzable and then stiff-arming safety Sergio Brown.
Kenyan Drake scored on a 45-yard run by finding no hole up the middle and then bouncing his way up the right side by beating linebacker Jerry Hughes to the edge.
WR DeVante Parker’s 56-yard touchdown began with him making a short catch over the middle and having cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman bounce off him.
Dolphins: Close regular season hosting New England Patriots on Jan. 1.
Bills: Close regular season at New York Jets on Jan. 1.
Chargers 17, Browns 20
CLEVELAND (AP) — Joe Thomas watched the kick tumble through the air and sail right of the upright, giving the Browns their first win in more than a year. He felt a little lost.
“I was looking around for people to hug,” he said. “There were a few tears in my eyes. I was really happy. There was a genuine feeling of joy. The Christmas spirit was amongst us, for sure.”
Yes, Cleveland, there is a Santa Claus.
On the verge of infamy and further embarrassment, the Browns, who have spent this season being kicked around, ridiculed and beaten to a pulp, finally triumphed.
Two losses from an imperfect season, the Browns survived a last-second field goal attempt and got their first victory after 14 losses on Saturday by beating the San Diego Chargers 20-17.
When San Diego’s Josh Lambo missed a 45-yard field-goal attempt as time expired, the Browns (1-14) had their first win in 377 days. Cleveland’s small crowd erupted in celebration, Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam cheered from their suite, and Browns players poured off their sideline as if they had just won the Super Bowl. Several players dropped to the turf in disbelief and relief.
“Finally getting that win … definitely felt amazing,” Thomas said. “You don’t want to say it was like our Super Bowl, but it really was.”
The Browns avoided becoming the second team to go 0-15, and no longer have to worry about joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to lose all 16 games.
“I don’t want that next to any of our names associated with this organization and so we got that monkey off our back,” said coach Hue Jackson, who got his first win with Cleveland.
The Browns built 10-point lead in the third quarter and hung on — defensive tackle Jamie Meder blocked a potential tying field goal with 3:49 left — to snap their 17-game losing streak dating to last season.
The Chargers (5-10) lost their fourth straight and one that could sting for a while. San Diego’s players had little to say afterward, and rookie defensive end Joey Bosa, who recorded two sacks, declined to speak with reporters.
It took everything the Browns had, and some help from the Chargers, for Cleveland to finally come away with a victory following weeks of injuries and losses.
“No one has ever given up,” Jackson said. “I know sometimes it does not look as good we want to, but we have stuck to it and kept fighting. Just trying to do everything we could to win, and that is what you see tonight. It is an opportunity for our guys to do something that we have been trying to do all year, which is win a game, and we were able to do.”
Quarterback Robert Griffin III sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter, forcing Jackson to bring in rookie Cody Kessler for the final 10 minutes.
Isaiah Crowell had two touchdown runs for the Browns, who couldn’t come up with a clinching first down. They punted the ball back to San Diego and Philip Rivers with 1:46 left.
Without any timeouts, Rivers, who threw for two touchdowns and 322 yards, converted on fourth down by hitting Antonio Gates . He drove the Chargers to Cleveland’s 28 with 28 seconds left.
But unable to stop the clock, the Chargers had to rush their field goal unit out. The normally reliable Lambo pushed his kick right.
“I let down my teammates, my organization, and I let down the fans,” said Lambo, who was 24 of 25 inside 50 yards before Meder’s block. “That is going to weigh heavy on me.”
The Chargers had nine sacks, but hurt themselves with nine penalties for 92 yards.
Both teams sustained multiple injuries, with Griffin and Browns cornerback Joe Haden the most significant players to go down. A Pro Bowl alternate, Haden, who was already playing with two groin injuries, hurt his neck in the third quarter and did not return.
San Diego linebacker Denzel Perryman sustained a leg injury in the fourth quarter and was taken from the field on a cart.
There was a scary moment in the first quarter when Perryman and safety Jahleel Addae collided.
Perryman was attempting to tackle running back Duke Johnson but missed and instead walloped Addae with his helmet. The crowd gasped at the violent impact and both players were dazed and required medical attention.
Addae took the worst of the blow and spent several minutes on the field before being helped up and walking off under his own power. He returned in the second quarter.
Chargers: host Kansas City in what could be the final game at Qualcomm Stadium with San Diego owner Dean Spanos considering a move to Los Angeles.
Browns: visit Pittsburgh in the season finale.
Titans 17, Jaguars 38
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans delivered their worst performance of the year at the most inopportune time.
The Jacksonville Jaguars played their best game much later than anyone expected.
The result was a 38-17 drubbing that left the Titans (8-7) and Jaguars (3-12) considering what might have been.
Blake Bortles played without pressure, able to exhale after popular coach Gus Bradley was fired, and threw for 325 yards and a touchdown. He also was on the receiving end of a 20-yard trick play that essentially sealed the victory and ended Jacksonville’s nine-game losing streak.
“Man, I’ve been telling Blake all week, ‘This is your team. Act like it,'” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “The more you keep saying that, the more people believe it and the more he believed it. He played lights out today. When he plays like that and we block like we blocked, the sky’s the limit for us. It’s a shame it’s taken this long to close a game out like we did. But it’s a great experience.”
The game was an awful experience for the Titans. Quarterback Marcus Mariota broke his right leg in the third quarter, ending his season, and they squandered one of the team’s most important games since 2008.
“That breaks my heart, man,” Tennessee offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. “Love him. That guy’s an awesome dude. For that to happen to him, it’s unfair.”
The Titans had won three in a row and seven of 10 entering the game. All they needed to do was beat reeling Jacksonville to set up an AFC South title game next week against Houston. Instead, they lost, and the Texans beat Cincinnati to clinch the division for the second straight year and eliminate Tennessee.
Coach Mike Mularkey knew facing Jacksonville six days after Bradley was dismissed would be unpredictable, unsure whether the Jaguars would perk up or pack it in.
The Jags played inspired football from the opening kick, rallying around interim coach Doug Marrone, dedicating the game to Bradley and avenging that embarrassing loss at Tennessee in late October.
“It was a number of things. It was all those things,” Beachum said. “We’re a team that hasn’t been given any respect. We had a chance to go out and earn respect today, and you earn respect by winning games, closing games out and beating teams. In the National Football League, it’s a pride thing. They blew us out on national television on Thursday night. We came back and showed how prideful we are and how much we respect each other and honor each other.”
Some other things to know about the Titans and Jaguars:
CASSEL’S CHANCE: Matt Cassel will serve as Tennessee’s starting quarterback for the season finale. The journeyman completed 13 of 24 passes for 124 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. His 14-yard score to Delanie Walker made it 25-17, but Jacksonville answered with a touchdown on the ensuing drive and then sealed it with Jalen Ramsey’s first career pick 6 seconds later.
“I’m excited to be out on the field and play with these guys,” Cassel said. “I’m not excited on the circumstances. At the same time, it’s part of my job to be ready.”
TRICK PLAY: The first pass of Marqise Lee’s football career — from Pop Warner all the way up to the NFL — went for a touchdown. Lee got the ball on an end-around in the fourth quarter, pulled up and then found Bortles wide open down the left sideline to put the Jaguars up 31-17.
“That was my first game-time throw, game-time play,” Lee said. “I’m not a quarterback.”
According to the NFL, Bortles and Lee became the first quarterback-receiver combination to throw TD passes to each other in the same game since Week 4 of the 1985 season. Chicago Bears greats Jim McMahon and Walter Payton were the last to accomplish the feat.
“He was fired up,” Bortles said. “His eyes got really big in the huddle when I called it, so it was cool for him. I think it’s the first pass he’s ever thrown. It’s the first (meaningful) pass I’ve ever caught, so it was cool. It was cool to have that at the end of the game.”
A-ROB RISES: Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson had his best game of the season. He caught nine passes for 147 yards, his most since Week 16 of last season.
HOME FINALE: The Jaguars had lost seven in a row at EverBank Field, a losing streak that dated Dec. 13, 2015, against Indianapolis. They needed a victory to ensure they wouldn’t have their first winless season at home.
Colts 25, Raiders 33
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — When the final whistle blew, both the Indianapolis Colts and Oakland Raiders felt like they lost.
The scoreboard told the story for the Colts, who were eliminated from playoff contention with the 33-25 loss to Oakland on Saturday.
The pain for the Raiders might have been even worse. Quarterback Derek Carr broke his right leg in the fourth quarter, sending Oakland into its first postseason in 14 years with backup quarterback Matt McGloin at the helm.
“It’s tough right now,” center Rodney Hudson said. “Everybody is going to be down right now, but the important thing is for everyone to be there for Derek.”
Carr had been the major reason for the turnaround in Oakland after 13 straight seasons without a playoff berth. He threw three TD passes on Saturday to give him 28 on the season, and his seven fourth-quarter comebacks are the biggest driver behind Oakland’s success.
He appeared to be on his way to another big win for the Raiders (12-3) when everything changed on one play in the fourth quarter, with Oakland leading 33-14.
Carr was twisted to the ground on a sack by Trent Cole and stayed there for several minutes in pain as trainers came out to treat him. With the crowd chanting “M-V-P! M-V-P!” Carr limped off the field without putting any pressure on his right leg. He was then taken away on a cart for X-rays, which showed the break in his right fibula. Carr will have surgery on Sunday.
“I wish I had that play back,” left tackle Donald Penn said. “I’ve been great all year, I slip up on one play. I’m mad at myself. I’ll be good tomorrow but I’m mad at myself. I wish there was something else I could do. I’ve never had a quarterback get hurt in my career. I’m upset right now.”
Andrew Luck then tried to lead a comeback as the Colts rallied from 26 points down to within eight with 2:33 left. But McGloin completed a 19-yard pass to Amari Cooper on third-and-8 on the next drive, and the Raiders ran out the clock.
Indianapolis (7-8) will miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98, right before Peyton Manning arrived.
“It’s pretty much unacceptable,” linebacker Erik Walden said. “An organization like this, it’s like a requirement to get to the postseason, and we haven’t been able to do that, this year and last year.”
Here are some other takeaways from the game:
MCGLOIN’S TIME: McGloin made six starts as an undrafted rookie in 2013, winning his first in Houston and then losing the final five. Carr was drafted the next year and has made every start since, with McGloin throwing just 55 passes in that time.
“I’m ready to go,” McGloin said. “I know this team, these guys around me, this staff, this organization will do a great job of helping me out and embracing me. Just making sure we continue to move in the right direction.”
MOMENTUM CHANGE: The game changed during an eight-minute span starting late in the first half. It started when Luck threw an interception to Reggie Nelson in the end zone with the Colts driving down 13-7. Carr turned that into a TD pass to Jalen Richard and Oakland scored again to open the second half on a 22-yard run by DeAndre Washington . After a fumble by Frank Gore, Washington scored on another 22-yard run, and Oakland went up 33-7.
“That was a big, big, pivotal moment in the game and there’s really no one else to blame but me,” Luck said of the interception.
WASHINGTON’S WAY: Washington ran for 99 yards and the two TDs three weeks after being held out for a second straight game as he fell down the depth chart. Washington became the first Oakland back to have two TD runs of at least 20 yards in a game since Darren McFadden in 2010 at Jacksonville.
“You never know when your number is going to get called,” Washington said. “When it gets called you need to be ready. That was my biggest deal, that’s what I was trying to do.”
WHAT’S NEXT: The Colts play out the string with a home game next week against Jacksonville. The Raiders visit Denver with the AFC West possibly on the line. Oakland can clinch the division and a first-round bye if the Broncos beat Kansas City on Sunday or do it themselves next week with a win or Chiefs loss.
Cardinals 34, Seahawks 31
SEATTLE (AP) — After 15 games, the only certainty about the Seattle Seahawks is to expect inconsistency.
Even coach Pete Carroll can’t be sure of what kind of performance he’s going to get from a team that’s bound for the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
“I don’t know. I keep thinking we’re going to do right, we’re going to do well,” Carroll said.
The latest example of Seattle’s maddening unpredictability came Saturday in a 34-31 loss to the Arizona Cardinals that severely damaged the Seahawks’ hopes of landing the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a bye in the playoffs. With the chance at keeping control of the No. 2 seed and the fourth perfect home record in franchise history, the Seahawks played so poorly in the first half that a second-half offensive eruption couldn’t make up for the early mistakes.
Seattle (9-5-1) fell behind 14-0 and trailed 31-18 late in the fourth quarter. There were mistakes all around, from the offensive line being unable to protect Russell Wilson, to the secondary giving up an 80-yard touchdown, to two blocked kicks and a missed extra point.
They were all flaws the Seahawks nearly overcame thanks to four touchdown passes by Wilson in the second half, including two in the final three minutes as Seattle pulled even at 31. But they are glaring issues for a team many thought would be the biggest threat to Dallas in the NFC.
“It just sucks that we lost in that manner,” Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril said.
Arizona (6-8-1) was able to take enjoyment out of damaging Seattle’s playoff plans and finally coming out on top in a close game. The Cardinals had five losses of seven points or less, along with their 6-6 tie against Seattle earlier in the season. Saturday was just Arizona’s second win by less than eight points.
“I don’t know. It’s just one of those weeks where we felt like we were going to win,” Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said.
Even on a team with a losing record, David Johnson strengthened his casefor postseason awards. Johnson finished with 136 yards from scrimmage, his 15th straight game with at least 100 scrimmage yards, the longest streak to start a season in league history. He had three short TD runs, giving him 20 total touchdowns for the season, the first player since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 with 20 TDs and 1,000 yards rushing.
And yet his two biggest plays came as a receiver. Johnson had two receptions for 42 yards on Arizona’s final drive that was capped by Chandler Catanzaro’s 43-yard field goal on the final play.
“You run out of superlatives to describe him,” Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “He does something special every single game we play. … The guy continues to carry the load every week.”
Other observations from Seattle’s third loss in its past four home games against the Cardinals:
INJURY CONCERNS: Seattle lost wide receiver Tyler Lockett to a gruesome lower right leg injury in the second quarter. Lockett was landed on awkwardly by defensive back Brandon Williams near the goal line. He had an air cast applied on the field and was taken off on a cart. Carroll did not have an exact diagnosis, but said Lockett would have surgery and be out for the season.
“I got close to him and there was blood everywhere near his ankle and stuff. That was an ugly situation,” Wilson said.
Seattle also lost running back Thomas Rawls to a bruised shoulder. He did not play in the second half.
SACK ATTACK: Arizona sacked Wilson five times in the first half and six overall. The six sacks were the second most this season by Arizona, topped only by the seven it had against San Francisco in Week 5. Markus Golden had two sacks, giving him 10 for the season. He’s the first Arizona player with at least 10 sacks since John Abraham in 2013.
BALDWIN’S BREAKOUT: With Lockett out, Doug Baldwin had the best game of his career. Baldwin finished with 13 catches for 171 yards and a 42-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Baldwin was targeted 19 times, the second most by any player in the league this season. He was also credited with two running plays that were ruled backward passes.
“He just did everything,” Carroll said.
CENTURY MARK: Fitzgerald had four catches to give him 102 for the season. It’s the fourth 100-catch season for Fitzgerald, who leads the NFL in receptions. Fitzgerald had one catch for 3 yards in the first half, and got his 100th reception of the year on a diving 16-yard reception to the 1-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Buccaneers 24, Saints 31
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — While Drew Brees won’t be part of the playoffs for a third straight season, the record-setting quarterback took considerable satisfaction from a milestone that signifies how much winning he has done in his 11 seasons operating the offense that coach Sean Payton designed.
Payton took over first place on the Saints’ career victory list for coaches with a 31-24 triumph over Tampa Bay on Saturday that put a considerable dent in the Buccaneers’ playoff hopes. Payton has 94 regular season victories with New Orleans, the only place he has been a head coach.
“I’m lucky to have been part of every one of those,” said Brees, who also has won six playoff games under Payton, including the Super Bowl to close the 2009 season. “It speaks to the program that he has built here and the amount of trust and confidence that everyone has in him.
“We’ve got a formula here that works and we’ve had some great seasons, great moments. We’ve had some tough times, some tough circumstances as well, but I always feel like we have the ability to overcome because of the program, the system, that Sean Payton has put in place,” Brees added. “We know each and every week, he’s going to put us in the best position to succeed, and we love him for that.”
Payton was an offensive assistant under Bill Parcells in Dallas before getting his first head coaching job in New Orleans in 2006. He is currently in his 10th season on the sideline because he was suspended for 2012 in connection with the NFL’s bounty probe.
The Saints celebrated Payton’s victory as his 100th, choosing to include his playoff wins. Saints owner Tom Benson briefly entered the interview next to the Saints’ locker room in the Superdome to offer a couple congratulatory words.
“It’s exciting,” Payton said. “A lot of work, a lot of coaches and players over the years that have been part of that.”
Here are some other emerging story lines from the Saints’ victory over the Bucs:
Payton hit the milestone at the expense of first-year Tampa Bay coach Doug Koetter, who is now experiencing how hard it can be to secure a playoff spot in the NFL.
The Bucs, who held the inside track to a playoff spot after beating the Saints on Dec. 11, have dropped two straight and now must win their finale against Carolina next week while also hoping for Washington and Green Bay to lose. If all that happens, the Bucs then have to hope they win a tiebreaker with the Packers based on strength of victory.
“However that works out, it works out,” Koetter said. “We knew all week our job was to win today, and we didn’t. Whatever happens after that is for the math professors to figure out.”
The fortunes of Brees and Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston changed considerably between two games New Orleans and Tampa Bay played against one another in the span of 13 days.
In the first meeting in Tampa Bay, Winston was unspectacular but sound and did not turn the ball over in a 16-11 victory, while Brees was intercepted three times and held without a touchdown pass.
On Saturday, Brees passed for 299 yards and a touchdown without an interception, completing passed to nine different receivers. Brandin Cooksand rookie Michael Thomas each had receptions longer than 40 yards.
Winston was intercepted twice by safety Jairus Byrd, giving him five interceptions in his past two games. But Winston also had a few highlights , including touchdown passes to tight end Cameron Brate and receiver Mike Evans. The second-year QB now needs one more touchdown pass to set a franchise single-season record with 28.
STILL GOT IT
Byrd’s interceptions were both critical to the outcome. One set up a Saints TD and the other came just inside the New Orleans 20 . Byrd also had a tackle for a loss in what was really the first game he came up with the types of game changing plays that were expected of him when he was signed away from Buffalo as a free agent in 2014. He missed much of his first season with a knee injury and hadn’t been the same since — until recently.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Byrd said. “It took a lot longer than I wanted, but I feel good.”
Both defenses registered a pair of sacks, and the Saints were credited with four QB hits, while the Bucs had three. Bucs linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald each sacked Brees, while Saints rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and defensive end Cam Jordan each sacked Winston.
“We were able to get a lot of pressure,” Jordan said.
49ers 22, Rams 21
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Colin Kaepernick knew how Chip Kelly was thinking.
Everyone on the San Francisco 49ers knew what the first-year head coach was thinking as the offense took the field with 3:10 left in the fourth quarter.
Score a touchdown, go for 2 — and end a 13-game losing streak.
“What else did we have to lose?” cornerback Rashard Robinson said.
Kaepernick threw a 10-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds remaining and scrambled for a 2-point conversion and the 49ers overcame a 14-point deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Rams 22-21 on Saturday.
Kaepernick rolled to his right while looking for a receiver before tucking the ball and barreling into the end zone. That gave the 49ers a sweep in the renewal of the instate rivalry with the Rams’ return to Los Angeles this season.
“The play he called was a play I think everybody on our offense knew was going to get called, we had great confidence in, and it worked out for us,” Kaepernick said. “It felt amazing, a feeling this team has been looking for for a long time now. It is something this team can build on.”
Kaepernick threw for 257 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, and rushed for a score for the 49ers (2-13).
Kaepernick found Rod Streater on a slant pattern to cap a 10-play, 73-yard drive to make it 21-20. Streater had six receptions for 63 yards.
Jared Goff was intercepted by Robinson with 16 seconds left as the Rams squandered a late two-score lead for the second time in their past three home games.
Goff, the No. 1 overall draft pick, has lost all six starts for Los Angeles (4-11).
With Goff and the worst offense in the NFL unable to maintain a fast start against the 49ers’ league-worst defense, it still appeared the Rams could rely on a strong pass rush and special teams to pick up their second home win.
Punter Johnny Hekker had five punts downed inside the 20-yard line, setting a single-season record in that category. Aaron Donald, Dominique Easley, Eugene Sims and Blake Countess sacked Kaepernick.
However, a reconfigured offensive line for the 49ers, already playing without left tackle Joe Staley and center Marcus Martin before right guard Joshua Garnett suffered a finger injury in the first half, gave Kaepernick time to operate on those final two drives.
The San Francisco defense was even more tenacious, limiting Todd Gurley to 67 yards and forcing a three-and-out to get the ball back to Kaepernick for one last possession.
“What you saw today is what we see every day,” Kelly said. “There is an energy and a spirit to them in terms of how they practice and how they train. They have not come up on the right side of things, but that doesn’t mean they let that affect them.”
Goff was 11 of 24 for 90 yards, finding Tyler Higbee for a 2-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. He threw his first interception on the Rams’ first possession, staring down Kenny Britt and allowing cornerback Tramaine Brock to easily step in front of the receiver.
Brock returned it 38 yards to the Rams 17 and set up a 19-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick to Carlos Hyde. The San Francisco running back ran out of the backfield to catch the ball just past the line of scrimmage and darted up the middle of the field untouched.
Kaepernick also had a 13-yard touchdown run, making it 21-14 with 5:06 remaining.
“The last few possessions, it seemed like we gave up,” Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson said. “The whole team, including myself.”
Kaepernick and Kelly were both quick to praise offensive lineman Zane Beadles for steadying the offensive line, as the seventh-year veteran moved from left guard to center in place of Martin. Beadles also delivered a fiery sermon on the sideline before the 49ers’ last two drives, possessions where the offense gained 147 of their 323 yards in the game.
“It doesn’t matter what position he’s put in, what the circumstances are, he is going to step in and do his job,” Kaepernick said. “To move to center and also be able to direct traffic and do an amazing job of that just stepping in really speaks to the kind of player he is.”
The Rams had not scored a first-quarter touchdown in their previous three games, and had just three touchdowns in the first quarter since Goff replaced Case Keenum as starting quarterback.
But the Rams finished with 177 yards, including just 65 in the final three quarters.
“Our defense is pretty damn good when they get off the field, to get some time when they’re going three-and-out every time,” Goff said. “Ultimately, the offense needs to play better. It starts with the quarterback, it starts with me, and as a leader of this team, I need to be better. Better than I was today, for sure.”
Hyde lost a fumble to set up the Rams’ final touchdown, suffering a knee injury on the play that knocked him out of the game. Kelly did not immediately know the extent of the injury.
Britt exited the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. Britt had one reception for 15 yards, topping the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his eight-year career.
49ers: host Seattle next Sunday to conclude the season.
Rams: host Arizona next Sunday to conclude the season.
Bengals 10, Texans 12
HOUSTON (AP) — Jadeveon Clowney can’t wait for his first career playoff appearance after missing Houston’s postseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs last season with a foot injury.
“It’s going to be great,” he said. “I was mad last year. I missed it and I was real upset I couldn’t get out there with my teammates. This year, I’m going to try and get out there with them and try to help win another game and keep going forward.”
Clowney and the Texans are headed to the playoffs after surviving a scare from the Cincinnati Bengals to get a 12-10 victory on Saturday night that clinched their second straight AFC South title.
Tom Savage threw for 176 yards in his first career start and the Bengals missed a field goal as time expired to give the Texans the win.
The Bengals converted a fourth down play to keep a drive alive, but four plays later, former Texan Randy Bullock missed wide right on a 43-yard attempt, securing Houston’s victory.
Clowney, the top overall pick in the 2014 draft who had a sack on Saturday, felt a rush of emotions when he saw that Bullock’s kick was no good.
“Champs. That’s all I was thinking right there,” he said. “We did it. We won the division. Go on to something new. What’s next? Scratch it off. Get ready for the playoffs.”
Savage helped the Texans (9-6) rally for a win over the Jaguars last week after taking over when Brock Osweiler was benched after throwing interceptions on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter.
The Texans knew they were in the postseason with a win after the Titans fell to the Jaguars earlier Saturday. But it didn’t look good for them early with Savage completing just two passes for 13 yards and them trailing 3-0 at halftime.
Cincinnati (6-8-1) went on top when Andy Dalton found Brandon LaFell on a short pass and he took it 86 yards for a touchdown that made it 10-6 with about 11 minutes left.
A 24-yard touchdown run by Alfred Blue put the Texans back on top with about nine minutes left, but the extra point was blocked to leave Houston up 12-10. That score was set up by a 21-yard reception by DeAndre Hopkins.
Some things to know about Houston’s win over the Bengals.
FILLING IN: Lamar Miller missed his first game this season because of an ankle injury and Blue had a season-high 73 yards rushing in his place. Blue’s playing time has been limited this season with the addition of Miller after he started nine games last season following a season-ending injury to Arian Foster.
“Maybe his stats don’t always look the greatest, but he’s a very tough runner,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “And what I think happens is more you use him, he tends to wear the defense out after a while.”
BIG PLAY: Dalton’s 86-yard pass to LaFell was the longest of the quarterback’s career. Dalton depended on LaFell on Saturday night with star receiver A.J. Green out for the fifth straight game with a hamstring injury. LaFell finished with a career-high 130 yards receiving.
“When I looked up the field, it was me and the safety,” LaFell said. “When I saw him stop his feet, I was like: ‘Yeah, no way he’s going to come catch me.'”
MAKING UP FOR MISTAKES: After being called for pass interference twice in the third quarter, Hopkins was determined to make up for his mistakes late in Saturday’s game. He was able to do that when he grabbed that 21-yard reception that set up Blue’s touchdown.
“I had some plays I wish I could have had back … me being me it put a little fire in me,” he said. “Once I got the ball I knew I had to make a play.”
KICKING WOES: The Bengals have had problems with their kicking game all season. They released Mike Nugent and claimed Bullock off waivers from Pittsburgh on Dec. 13 after Nugent missed six field goals and five extra points this season. Bullock, who was drafted by the Texans in 2012, made a 43-yard field goal in the second quarter before his miss that would have won the game.
“That was exactly what I wanted,” he said. “I did have the opportunity, but I didn’t take advantage.”
Ravens 27, Steelers 31
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The clock ticking and a season filled with promise evaporating, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took the snap, turned to his left and put the AFC North title in the hands of Antonio Brown.
The star wide receiver caught the ball at the Baltimore 1 and waited for the hit he knew was coming. When it arrived from Ravens safety Eric Weddle and linebacker C.J. Mosley, Brown ducked his head and stretched the ball across the goal line for a playoff-clinching touchdown that symbolized his team’s considerable resilience.
Reeling in November. Heck, reeling early in the fourth quarter at home on Christmas against an archrival that’s more than had their number in recent years, the Steelers are heading to the playoffs anyway.
Brown’s lunging 4-yard score with 9 seconds left lifted Pittsburgh to a gripping 31-27 victory and a second division title in three years, delivering just as Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell predicted Brown would.
“Over there by the heaters before the final drive, he said ‘AB, you got to go down there and get the game winner,” Brown said.
It was a play Brown’s teammates have seen many times, just never with so much on the line.
“That’s AB,” wide receiver Damarcus Ayers said. “He does it so much in practice, it doesn’t ‘wow’ you in a game. In this particular moment it’s like, ‘he’s done it again.'”
Baltimore (8-7) was eliminated from contention.
Brown finished with 10 receptions for 96 yards to join Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison as the only players with four straight 100-catch seasons. Roethlisberger shook off a pair of third-quarter interceptions to finish with 279 yards passing and three touchdowns. Bell ran for 122 yards and a score and hauled in another on an ad-libbed play by Roethlisberger as Pittsburgh rallied from a 10-point deficit to win its sixth straight.
The Steelers (10-5) will be the No. 3 seed in the AFC and host the No. 6 seed during wild-card weekend on either Jan. 7 or 8 no matter what they or AFC South champion Houston (9-6) do in their finales. Pittsburgh earned the third spot based on strength of victory tiebreaker, heady territory considering it was 4-5 after falling to Dallas on Nov. 13. As New Year’s nears, they haven’t lost again.
“I think today showed some resolve,” Roethlisberger said. “I think we showed some fight, no quit.”
The Ravens took the lead on Kyle Juszczyk’s 10-yard burst up the middle with 1:18 remaining. But Roethlisberger calmly led the Steelers 75 yards in 10 plays to eliminate Baltimore (8-7), the last 4 yards on a play that could live on in team history — depending on how far Pittsburgh’s momentum can carry it.
Joe Flacco passed for 262 yards, including a pretty 18-yard dart to Steve Smith that put Baltimore up 14-7 early in the third quarter. Smith ended up with seven receptions for 79 yards, but the Ravens crumbled late. Their defense put up little resistance as Roethlisberger clinically got his team in position to get back to the playoffs.
“We didn’t want (Roethlisberger) to have a good game,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We didn’t want (Brown) and (Bell) to kind of put their imprint on the game, or their stamp on the game, and they did that. They’re a good team. They’re well deserving. They won the division, we’ll applaud them, but we’ll be back.”
It’s a destination that seemed to be disappearing right in front of Pittsburgh’s eyes in the third quarter. Roethlisberger threw a pair of interceptions deep in Pittsburgh territory — both poorly thrown balls to heavily covered targets — that helped the Ravens take control.
“It’s pretty special the way we won it,” Roethlisberger said. “Especially after feeling the way I felt at a certain point in that game and feeling like you let guys down and you blew it.”
Instead it’s the Ravens who will spend a long offseason wondering how their mastery over the Steelers — and a potential postseason berth — dissolved in the final 12 minutes. Baltimore will miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
“With everything you work for and you don’t reach your goal, so it’s. it’s just somber,” Weddle said. “It’s down. Give them credit. Ben got it rolling.”
BIG ROLE FOR AYERS
Obscure rookie wide receiver Demarcus Ayers drew a pass interference play that set up Bell’s score after finally making the active roster. Ayers also caught a 9-yard pass on Pittsburgh’s winning drive.
“Ben told me last night he we going to come to me at some point,” Ayers said. “I couldn’t sleep. I just tried to stay ready.”
Baltimore’s typically reliable special teams let the Ravens down in the second quarter. A high snap on a field goal attempt by Pro Bowler Justin Tucker ended without Tucker even getting the 45-yarder off.
“There were a couple of plays left out there,” Flacco said. “Probably five or 10 points left out there.”
Ravens: Baltimore is just 2-6 in Cincinnati under John Harbaugh.
Steelers: Pittsburgh hasn’t lost at home to Cleveland since 2003.
Broncos 10, Chiefs 33
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs knew before kickoff against Denver that they were going to the playoffs.
They proceeded to play as if they have much bigger goals.
Travis Kelce hauled in 11 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown, Tyreek Hill added a 70-yard TD run to his rookie highlight reel and the Chiefs routed the Broncos 33-10 to keep their AFC West title hopes alive on a soggy, sloppy Christmas night at Arrowhead Stadium.
“Unforgettable,” said 346-pound defensive tackle Dontari Poe, summing up not only the night for Kansas City but also the way he punctuated it in style, lining up at quarterback and throwing a jump pass to tight end Demetrius Harris for a touchdown late in the game.
The Chiefs (11-4) were already assured of a wild card when Pittsburgh beat Baltimore earlier in the day. But a win next weekend in San Diego and an Oakland loss in Denver would give them the division title for the first time since 2010, not to mention a first-round bye and home playoff game.
“I give the guys a lot of credit for playing hard when they already clinched a playoff spot. That isn’t easy to do,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “They came out and I really thought played aggressive.”
Meanwhile, the Broncos (8-7) trudged through another inept offensive performance, this one costing the reigning Super Bowl champions an opportunity to keep their own postseason hopes alive.
Trevor Siemian was 17 of 43 for 183 yards and a game-ending interception, and the only TD drive he led came after a pick gave him the ball at the Kansas City 6. Justin Forsett scored two plays later.
The lackluster performance came one week after a dismal showing in a 16-3 loss to New England led to a locker room shouting match between the Denver offense and defense. The Broncos downplayed any kind of disharmony this week , but their performance Sunday night only seemed to underscore the rift.
“Next week is all geared toward next year and our football team moving forward,” Denver coach Gary Kubiak said. “We need to finish on a positive note, but we need to move on to the next year.”
Kansas City controlled the prime-time matchup from the opening bell.
Alex Smith capped a 77-yard touchdown march with a 10-yard keeper in the first quarter, and Hill out-ran the banged-up Broncos a few minutes later to give the Chiefs a 14-0 lead.
It was the fourth TD scored by Hill against the Broncos this season .
Forsett’s touchdown gave the Broncos fleeting hope, but it was dashed moments later. Kelce took a screen pass and followed perfectly executed blocking for an 80-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
“It felt good to see this offense come out, three possessions in a row and just move the ball,” Hill said. “We know what we can do. We still haven’t put it all together, but it’s coming.”
The Chiefs’ defense took care of the rest, making it a festive night for their fans.
The Broncos were 7-3 when the teams met in November, but they blew an eight-point lead and wound up losing the game in overtime. That letdown started their downward spiral.
“I’ve thought about that for a few days,” Kubiak said. “We could’ve came out of that game with a lot of confidence. We come out of the game, we don’t get it done and it’s been a struggle since then — especially offensively, it’s been a struggle. Defensively, I think we’ve battled our tail off.
“We didn’t play good tonight, but that’s the NFL,” he added. “Games here or there that you pull off and can play well and can propel you to great things and sometimes they don’t go as well.”
The biggest hit of the night came when a security guard tackled a fan that had run onto the field. Of course, it came after the fan already had run untouched about 90 yards, so in that respect, security wasn’t a whole lot better than the Broncos’ first-half defense.
Broncos cornerback Kayvon Webster was taken from the field on a cart after getting hit high by Chiefs linebacker Terrance Smith while covering a touchback in the second quarter. Webster’s head was snapped back by the block, and he was being evaluated for a concussion. He did not return.
Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe left in the first half with a neck injury and did not return. Denver was already without leading tackler T.J. Ward and tight ends Virgil Green and A.J. Derby because of concussions and linebacker Brandon Marshall because of a hamstring.
Chiefs running back Spencer Ware bruised his ribs late in the game and will have an MRI exam on Monday. He carried 13 times for 62 yards and caught two passes for 20 yards.
Denver wraps up its disappointing season Sunday against Oakland.
Kansas City visits the Chargers on Sunday.
Lions 21, Cowboys 42
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Matthew Stafford lost to his hometown team again, and the playoff plans are on hold for the Detroit Lions.
Dez Bryant threw his first career touchdown pass between a pair of scoring catches, Ezekiel Elliott ran for two TDs and the Dallas Cowboys kept the Lions from clinching a postseason spot with a 42-21 win Monday night.
Despite a second straight loss following five consecutive victories, Detroit (9-6) still controls its postseason fate. The Lions will be at home against Green Bay (9-6) with the NFC North title at stake in the finale Sunday.
“It’s a one-game season,” Stafford said. “If you told me in Week 17 we would have a game at our place and got a chance to win the division, I’d take it all day.”
Stafford, a championship-winning high school quarterback in the Dallas area, had a 1-yard scoring plunge , but was sacked four times — matching a season high — almost two years after losing a wild-card game at the Cowboys.
He was 26 of 46 for 260 yards, including an interception that set up Elliott’s 1-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to break a 21-all halftime tie.
With home-field advantage already wrapped up, the Cowboys (13-2) didn’t let up in their seventh straight home win while matching their franchise record in victories, reached two other times.
“There’s just one way to play,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You can’t put different meaning on different competition, like all of a sudden this is less important than that. That’s not how we operate.”
The biggest sign they were serious about this one came late in the third quarter, when Bryant took a reverse pitch from Dak Prescott and tucked the ball as if planning to run before pulling up and tossing a lefty lob to Jason Witten for an easy 10-yard score and a 35-21 lead.
Witten, the normally stoic 14th-year tight end, flashed Bryant’s celebratory “X” and was soon mirrored by the often-exuberant receiver.
“We’ve been working on that about five or six weeks, maybe a little longer,” Bryant said. “You know how you practice plays and sometimes you don’t run them? I did not think we were going to call that play. And we did, and we made it happen.”
Elliott, the NFL rushing leader, had a 55-yard touchdown run in the first half and finished with 80 yards on 12 carries. He has 15 touchdowns rushing, two behind league-leading LeGarrette Blount of New England.
The first-year sensation known as “Zeke,” who is 177 yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s 33-year-old rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards, was almost upstaged by Detroit’s “double-Z” — Zach Zenner.
The little-known undrafted back in his second year out of South Dakota State, filling in with Theo Riddick sidelined for a third straight game with a wrist injury, had a career-high 64 yards and two touchdowns at halftime. But Zenner faded in the second half, finishing with 67 yards.
“Found some creases, made some nice runs,” Stafford said. “We’ve got to have more of it. We’ve got to find a way in the second half to get a couple more yards here or there on the ground.”
Prescott tied Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (2004) for the most wins by a rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era with 13. He was 15 of 20 for 212 yards with three touchdowns, including Bryant’s juggling 25-yard grab in the end zone when he fought off pass interference by Johnson Bademosi.
Bryant broke a tie for second with Hall of Famer Michael Irvin on Dallas’ career TD receptions list with his 66th in the first half. The club record of 71 belongs to another Hall of Famer, Bob Hayes. … Elliott is up to third on the rookie season rushing list, behind Dickerson and New Orleans’ George Rogers (1,674 in 1981). He passed teammate Alfred Morris, who held third at 1,613 yards with Washington in 2012.
HIGHLAND PARK REUNION
Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who graduated from Highland Park High School in Dallas with Stafford in 2006, attended the game. Nine days earlier, Highland Park celebrated on the same field after its first state title since Stafford led the way in 2005.
Dallas defensive end Randy Gregory made his season debut after serving a 14-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. The second-year player almost sacked Stafford in the fourth quarter and had two tackles.
Dallas’ already-depleted defensive line sustained two more injuries in the first half, to Terrell McClain (ankle) and Ryan Davis (knee). Starting end Tyrone Crawford missed his first game of the season with shoulder and hamstring injuries. … Dallas cornerback Anthony Brown left in the first half with a possible concussion. … Detroit defensive tackle Stefan Charles didn’t return after a knee injury in the second half.
Lions: Home against Green Bay.
Cowboys: At Philadelphia in a game that likely will feature plenty of backups for the Cowboys.