Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders
Here is a recap of Week 15 of the 2017 NFL Season with a Tuesday Morning QB & thanks again to AP Sports/ Pro 32 for photos & articles.
Broncos 25, Colts 13
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler played like a relaxed reliever on Thursday.
He couldn’t have picked a better time.
With Paxton Lynch inactive and Trevor Siemian out after two series, Osweiler trotted onto the field, ran for one touchdown and threw for two more to lead the Broncos past Indianapolis 25-13 for their first road win of the season.
“I was just a little kid having fun tonight,” Osweiler said. “That’s really what it was. I’ve been on a little bit of a rollercoaster ride for about two years. Just to go out there, Thursday Night Football, with my teammates, I was just having fun.”
The difference was obvious.
Osweiler played more like the guy Denver (5-9) took in the second round of the 2012 draft and the guy Broncos fans remember filling in for the injured Peyton Manning during the 2015 Super Bowl season.
He wound up 12 of 17 with 194 yards and no turnovers and ran for an 18-yard TD, too. C.J. Anderson ran 30 times for a season-high 158 yards.
Denver may need Osweiler to keep playing this way a couple more times after Siemian was diagnosed with a sprained left shoulder. Coach Vance Joseph couldn’t say whether he’d have his starting quarterback against Washington.
If Siemian can’t go, Osweiler may get another shot.
“He played with great poise,” Joseph said. “He played great, clean football and it led to a win.”
That’s two wins in five days — and the Broncos’ first outside the Mile High City since Dec. 4, 2016. The victory assures Denver of avoiding its first winless season on the road since 1964.
But it sure wasn’t easy, and at times, it was downright rugged.
Siemian was taken to the locker room after being driven into the ground by Colts linebacker Barkevious Mingo late in the first quarter.
A much scarier scene played out with 14:01 left in the second when Denver linebacker Deiontrez Mount appeared to make helmet-to-helmet contact with Colts tight end Brandon Williams on punt protection. Williams was knocked over backward and stayed on the ground as trainers and doctors strap him to a backboard and removed his facemask.
When Williams was lifted onto a cart, his teammates came over to offer support.
Coach Chuck Pagano said Williams had a concussion and had returned to the team’s training room after initially being taken to a local hospital.
“We erred on the side of caution and, rightfully so, taking care of him,” Pagano said. “But he’s back here, he’s doing well.”
Indianapolis’ struggles continue, though. The Colts (3-11) have lost five straight, the longest skid in Pagano’s six-year tenure, and will post their first losing season at home since 2011.
The game pretty much went as expected.
Jacoby Brissett scored on a 7-yard run and Adam Vinatieri gave Indy a 10-0 lead with a 45-yard field goal midway through the second quarter. All Indy could muster the rest of the night was a 39-yard field goal early in the third.
Osweiler, meanwhile, rallied the Broncos.
His touchdown run just before halftime made it 10-7. He gave Denver the lead with a 22-yard TD pass to Cody Latimer with 4:16 left in the third and then added a 54-yard TD strike to Jeff Heuerman to make it 22-13 following a 2-point conversion toss to Latimer.
“We had a really good rhythm offensively and we were able to mix the run and the pass,” Osweiler said. “I was going to lay it all out there.”
Broncos: Osweiler’s TD pass to Heuerman ended the team’s 18-game regular-season streak without a play of 50 more yards. … Emanuel Sanders had seven catches for 68 yards and Demaryius Thomas had five catches for 69 yards.
Colts: Brissett was 17 of 30 with 158 yards and was sacked once. … Indy had 228 yards in offense. … T.Y. Hilton caught five passes for 41 yards.
Colts running back Frank Gore added another milestone on a night it looked like he might not finish the game.
The 34-year-old running back left during the second quarter with a knee injury. But when he returned in the second half, he quickly became the second player in league history to post 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 12 consecutive seasons. Only Emmitt Smith (13) has more.
Broncos: With the exception of Siemian, Denver stayed relatively healthy. The only other significant concern was an ankle injury that didn’t allow Sanders to finish the game.
Colts: In addition to Williams, the Colts lost right tackle Denzelle Good (knee) and linebackers Jeremiah George (neck) and Jon Bostic (knee) in the second half.
Broncos: Play their road finale Dec. 24 at Washington.
Colts: Head to Baltimore on Dec. 23 in their final road game of the season.
Bears 10, Lions 20
DETROIT (AP) — Matthew Stafford struck a balance between making plays and avoiding mistakes to keep the Detroit Lions in the playoff picture.
Stafford threw two touchdown passes and didn’t have a turnover, helping Detroit beat the Chicago Bears 20-10 on Saturday night.
“It’s just trying to be as calculated as you can with those chances that you’re going to take,” he said. “And, understanding the game situation.”
Detroit (8-6) has won two straight and needs to close the regular season with two more wins to keep its postseason hopes alive.
“We’ve got to win to stay in,” said tight end Eric Ebron, who caught Stafford’s second TD pass. “If we win, we will hopefully make it to the playoffs. If not, then we get booted.”
Whether the Bears (4-10) win another game this season or not, they may end up giving coach John Fox the boot.
Chicago has lost six of seven, sealing a third season with double-digit losses in three years under its embattled coach.
Stafford threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to TJ Jones to put Detroit up 13-0 with 6:10 left in the first half after Fox chose to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Chicago 45.
“We were thinking about field position,” Fox said. “It’s not a no-lose situation because if we don’t make it, they’ve got the ball at our 45. Like I said, you could go for it, but you have to know that it can come back and bite you.”
Stafford was 25 of 33 for 237 yards and didn’t throw an interception for the first time since Week 11. His 8-yard pass to Ebron gave Detroit a 20-3 lead early in the third quarter after Darius Slay’s first of two interceptions .
Chicago rookie Mitchell Trubisky had season highs in completions (31), attempts (46), yards passing (314) and interceptions (three) including one to safety Quandre Diggs in the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
“We have complete confidence in Mitch,” Fox said. “And, we know that he’s going to have better days.”
Trubisky threw a 9-yard TD pass to Benny Cunningham to make it 20-10 with 2:32 left. After Fox chose not to try an onside kick, the Bears got the ball back 25 seconds later on their 6 and moved the ball to the Detroit 25 before Slay’s second interception ended their comeback hopes.
Lions receiver Marin Jones had three catches for 85 yards, including a 58-yard catch in which he raced across the field and leaped in front of safety Eddie Jackson to set up the TD pass to TJ Jones.
“When I saw him out of the corner of my eye, I didn’t think he was as close as he was,” Jackson said. “By the time I jumped, he was on to me already.”
Marvin Jones has single-season, career-high 18 catches of 20-plus yards this season.
The Bears ran for just 43 yards on 15 carries after having a season-high 232 yards rushing in last week’s 33-7 win at Cincinnati, forcing them to throw a lot with Trubisky.
DANCING IN DETROIT
When TJ Jones scored, he and some teammates celebrated with a Rockettes-like kick line. Detroit’s Golden Tate got turned around after making a catch later in the game, and kept spinning with his hands over his head as if he was a ballerina.
“I didn’t practice it,” Tate said. “Never even thought about it. It seemed like it was just a moment to do something crazy.”
Bears: S Chris Prosinski, who started in place of injured starter Adrian Amos, and OT Tom Compton went into concussion protocol. LB Pernell McPhee left the game with a shoulder injury, an ailment that kept him out of the previous game. OT Josh Sitton had an ankle injury.
Lions: OG T.J. Lang left the game with a foot injury, which limited him in practice and led to him being listed as questionable to play. Lang left a line that began the game without two injured starters: center Travis Swanson and right tackle Rick Wagner. TJ Jones hurt his shoulder while covering a punt.
Bears: Host Cleveland on Sunday, Dec. 24.
Lions: At Cincinnati on Sunday, Dec. 24.
Chargers 13, Chiefs 30
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs saw their bandwagon empty during a midseason swoon, fans jumping ship almost as quickly as Kareem Hunt hitting a hole or Tyreek Hill speeding to the end zone.
They never lost faith in each other, though.
The Chiefs instead rallied to beat the Oakland Raiders last week, setting up a crucial AFC West showdown with the Los Angeles Chargers. And in a dominant performance reminiscent of earlier this season, the Chiefs rolled to a 30-13 victory Saturday night to seize control of the divisional race.
“It feels good to be back in this position,” said Chiefs safety Ron Parker, who had one of the three interceptions thrown by the Chargers’ Philip Rivers. “We stuck it out as a family the last couple weeks, did a good job of staying together. It would have been easy to fall apart.”
The only way the Chiefs can squander the division and automatic playoff berth is by losing their last two games and the Chargers or Oakland Raiders winning out.
“It felt like a playoff game,” Parker said. “This is the closest thing it gets to a playoff game.”
The Chiefs (8-6) got production from their biggest stars: Alex Smith threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns, Kareem Hunt ran for 155 yards and accounted for two touchdowns, Tyreek Hill hauled in a 64-yard touchdown pass and Marcus Peters had a hand in forcing three turnovers.
It all added up to an eighth straight win over the Chargers.
“I didn’t think we played our best. We have to look at ourselves and ask why,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “We missed tackles. We didn’t execute well on offense. We went back to some dumb penalties we had early in the year. We made this game bigger than it really was.”
The Chargers (7-7) led 13-10 early in the second half, but Rivers threw three interceptions — two of them to Peters — and Austin Ekeler coughed up a fumble down the stretch.
That ended their four-game win streak and quite possibly their playoff hopes.
Rivers finished with 221 yards passing and a touchdown, but has thrown 13 interceptions during the Chargers’ losing streak to the Chiefs. Melvin Gordon added 78 yards rushing and a score.
“We took a step back today,” Lynn said.
The game shaped up as a matchup of teams going in opposite directions: The Chiefs were 5-0 before watching their division lead waste away, while the Chargers started out 0-4 but won seven of their next nine to forge a near-winner-take-all divisional showdown at Arrowhead Stadium.
Instead, the Chiefs looked like they did in their Week 3 win over the Chargers.
So did the Chargers, for that matter.
The Chiefs’ defense, which played so salty last week against Oakland, was buoyed by the return of Peters from a one-game disciplinary suspension in helping to build a 10-6 halftime lead.
Rivers eventually got on track, going 5 for 5 for 88 yards on his first drive of the second half, and his 10-yard touchdown pass to trusty tight end Antonio Gates gave Los Angeles its only lead.
One that didn’t last very long.
The Chiefs answered with a methodical, 69-yard scoring drive of their own. Hunt supplied most of the work, and he capped the drive by catching Smith’s short TD toss to give the Chiefs a 17-13 lead.
“He’s such a well-rounded football player,” Smith said. “He’s so good in the passing game, has such a good feel, which is so important for a running back.”
Two plays later, Rivers floated a pass downfield and Peters leaped up to make an easy interception, and his long return set up first-and-goal at the Chargers 6. The Chiefs nearly turned it into another TD when Smith found Hunt again, but the tip of the ball hit the turf for an incompletion.
The Chiefs’ challenge failed and Harrison Butker knocked through a field goal for a 20-13 lead.
The Chargers’ offense, which had committed just six giveaways over the last nine games, coughed it up again three plays later. Peters helped to pry loose the ball from Ekeler, and Butker tacked on a 51-yard field goal a short while for a comfortable cushion.
Rivers threw two more picks in the fourth quarter, giving him six in two games against Kansas City this season, and ending any hopes of Los Angeles mounting a comeback.
“We definitely wanted to put pressure on Philip. We know he’s a gunslinger,” Chiefs cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “He does take risks in the passing game. We just happened to put pressure on him in the front seven, guys did a great job and we came out with a lot of turnovers.”
The Chiefs came out with a crucial victory, too.
STATS AND STREAKS
Chiefs coach Andy Reid is 10-3 against the Chargers. Smith is 7-1. … The Chiefs also won eight straight against the Chargers from 1990-93. … Chargers WR Keenan Allen had 58 yards receiving, ending a streak of four straight 100-yard games.
AILING BUT ACTIVE
Chargers CB Casey Hayward was active despite missing practice with a calf injury this week. That may have contributed to the star cover man getting burned by Tyreek Hill on his 64-yard first-half TD catch.
Chargers LB Denzel Perryman left with a hamstring injury late in the first half. S Adrian Phillips left with an ankle injury early in the second. DT Corey Liuget (knee) and LT Russell Okung (groin) also went down in the second half. … Chiefs LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder) and DL Jarvis Jenkins (elbow) left with injuries in the third quarter.
Chargers visit the New York Jets next Sunday with fading postseason hopes.
Chiefs try to clinch the AFC West against the Dolphins next Sunday.
Bengals 7, Vikings 34
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings and their loud crowd overwhelmed the Cincinnati Bengals from start to finish, when they put on NFC North champions hats to celebrate the first major milestone of this season with the hope of several more to come. From coaches to players to fans, everyone in purple was able to enjoy a postseason tuneup.
Eric Kendricks had an interception return for a touchdown, Case Keenum passed for 236 yards and two scores, and the Vikings clinched the division title with a 34-7 victory over the depleted and disinterested Bengals on Sunday.
“To guarantee a home playoff game there? I can’t imagine. I have a feeling it’s going to be even more amped up,” Keenum said.
Running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 37 touches and 242 yards from scrimmage for the Vikings (11-3), who were given quite the reprieve on the schedule after their eight-game winning streak ended at Carolina in the last of three consecutive road trips.
“It feels good,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said, “but it was a little bit restrained because there’s still work to do.”
The Vikings were never challenged by a Bengals team missing more than half of its starting defense to injuries and met with a morning report by ESPN that head coach Marvin Lewis will not return next season . Lewis said afterward that’s not true, but the Bengals have all kinds of issues to address after losing their last two games by a combined 67-14.
“It’s the most disappointed I’ve been in the last couple of years,” said wide receiver A.J. Green, who accounted for two of Cincinnati’s three first downs while starting quarterback Andy Dalton was in the game until midway through the fourth quarter. “It’s been a tough season.”
The game went so smoothly for the Vikings that Teddy Bridgewater even made his grand entrance , his first live action in 16 months since a massive knee injury. Bridgewater’s first pass was intercepted, a high throw that bounced off McKinnon’s hands and into the arms of strong safety Shawn Williams deep in Vikings territory. That set up a short touchdown run by Giovani Bernard to keep the Bengals from being shut out for a second time this year.
“It was great just being out there,” Bridgewater said. “I have a ton of people to thank for getting me to this point.”
Terence Newman also picked off former teammate Andy Dalton , who went just 11 for 22 for 113 yards before the Bengals (5-9) turned to backup A.J. McCarron after the interception by Williams.
Keenum completed 20 of 23 passes, including seven easy tosses to McKinnon for 114 yards in the first 100-yard receiving game for a Vikings running back since Onterrio Smith in 2004. With the Bengals already missing both starting cornerbacks and all three regular linebackers, they lost standout free safety George Iloka in the first quarter to a shoulder injury. That left Williams as the only starter in the back seven.
About the only bright spot for the Bengals was five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who sacked Keenum twice in the first quarter. The Bengals didn’t cross midfield with the ball until less than 3 minutes were left in the third quarter, thanks to a Vikings defense that was as revved up as ever.
“The Super Bowl is in their home stadium,” Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “They’ve got everything they want in front of them.”
END ZONE FUN
Murray scored on a short run to cap the opening drive by the Viking, and Keenum found Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph for touchdown passes in the second and fourth quarters. Rudolph celebrated with a tribute to a better day for the 50-year-old Bengals franchise with his version of the “Ickey Shuffle” that running back Ickey Woods for the 1988 AFC champions.
“I felt bad doing it at that point in the game, but as a kid that grew up in Cincinnati, I had to do it,” said Rudolph, who was originally listed as doubtful to play because of an injured ankle.
TORMENTING THE MENTOR
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer won his first regular-season meeting against his old boss, Lewis, who lost to a former assistant for the first time in eight matchups. Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals from 2008-13. The Bengals have never won in six all-time visits to Minnesota. The Vikings were division champions in five of those seasons: 1970, 1989, 1998, 2009 and 2017.
Bengals: The list of missing starters grew immediately when LT Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder) left in the first quarter. RT Andre Smith limped off in the fourth quarter.
Vikings: RT Mike Remmers (back) returned from a five-game absence, but LT Riley Reiff (ankle) missed his first game of the season. CB Mackensie Alexander (ribs) was out. WR Jarius Wright hurt his foot in the fourth quarter and did not return.
Bengals: Play their final home game against Detroit, with the Lions (8-6) still carrying an outside chance at a wild-card spot.
Vikings: Travel to Green Bay to face the Packers (7-7) on Saturday night, with their sights set on securing a first-round bye for the playoffs.
Jets 19, Saints 31
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Mark Ingram gave the Saints much more than the first-down run they needed to wind down the clock on the Jets.
His determined burst across the line of scrimmage thrust him into New York’s defensive backfield with too much speed and vigor for anyone to catch him — a fitting finish to one of his better days in a memorable season.
Ingram ran for two touchdowns and gained 151 yards from scrimmage , capped by his late 50-yard TD run, and New Orleans overcame three turnovers to defeat the reeling Jets 31-19 on Sunday.
“Getting the ball into his hands is obviously what we want to do,” Saints center Max Unger said of Ingram, who has eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for a second straight season. “We’ve got to get him going because when he has a chance to make plays like that — you can see it — he’s explosive.”
Ingram’s 54-yard gain on a screen, which set up a field goal, was the longer of his two 50-yard plays.
“He’s making people miss. He’s creating,” said fellow running back Alvin Kamara, who added a 10-yard touchdown catch.
The Saints (10-4) needed to beat the Jets (5-9) to maintain a tenuous hold on first place in the NFC South. New Orleans leads Carolina (10-4) on head-to-head results. Atlanta (8-5) can pull one game behind by beating Tampa Bay on Monday night.
The Jets, who were eliminated from the playoffs, kept it close until Saints receiver Michael Thomas’ fourth-quarter touchdown on a 4-yard slant made it 24-13.
Bryce Petty made his first start at quarterback for New York this season, completing 19 of 39 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted twice — once by Craig Robertson on a tipped pass and once by Marshon Lattimore on a long, inconsequential throw as the game ended.
“As far as understanding the game plan and knowing what you see out there, I felt really confident,” Petty said. “The more times I get out there, the better I’m going to get.”
Jets coach Todd Bowles offered a more tepid assessment, but said the third-year QB remains the starter.
“He just didn’t make any plays,” Bowles said. “Plays that we needed him to make to win the game, he didn’t make. He will get better at that.”
Petty’s 2-yard touchdown pass to former Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire cut New Orleans’ lead to 24-19 with 1:51 left. But the Jets’ onside kick failed.
Drew Brees completed 26 of 36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, but also was intercepted deep in New Orleans territory to set up a Jets field goal at the end of the first half.
Thomas made nine catches for 93 yards, giving him 94 receptions this season and making him just the second NFL player with at least 90 receptions in each of his first two seasons — the other being the New York Giants’ Odell Beckham.
Thomas made first-down grabs of 17, 20 and 9 yards to sustain the drive that ended with his 4-yard TD.
“They need you to be the man and they need you to make plays,” Thomas said. “That’s what I signed up for and that’s I like to do. When the ball is the air, I want to make a play.”
New Orleans scored 17 points on its first three drives. Ingram had four catches for 80 yards on the first two series and scored the game’s first touchdown on a 1-yard run that made it 10-0.
Bilal Powell briefly pulled New York to 10-7 with his 2-yard run before New Orleans quickly answered with Kamara’s TD.
The Saints went seven straight possessions without scoring between the Kamara and Thomas TDs. In addition to third-down failures, New Orleans turned the ball over three times — once on Brees’ interception and twice inside the Jets 20 on receiver Brandon Coleman’s fumbles.
MISSING IN ACTION
Bowles had little to say about his decision to leave healthy defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson back in New York .
“We’re dealing with that as an internal matter,” Bowles said. “We’ll let you know later.”
Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams, whose interception set up the Jets’ field goal late in the first half, left in the third quarter with concussion symptoms.
Saints tight end Michael Hoomanawanui left in the first half with concussion symptoms. Right guard Larry Warford went out with concussion symptoms late in the first half after he tried to make a tackle on Williams’ interception.
Jets: Host the Chargers in a game with playoff implications for San Diego.
Saints: Host the Falcons in what could be a pivotal contest in the NFC South race.
Dolphins 16, Bills 24
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — With his personal chase for 10,000 career yards rushing out of the way, LeSean McCoy can turn his focus on reaching an even better destination: the playoffs.
McCoy scored twice and became the 30th player to hit 10,000, while keeping the Buffalo Bills firmly in the AFC playoff picture following a 24-16 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
“I’m happy it’s done,” McCoy said of his personal accomplishment. “Now I look forward to trying to get in these playoffs. We took care of business today.”
Tyrod Taylor showed no signs of a bruised left knee that sidelined him for one game. The quarterback went 17 of 29 for 224 yards passing and a touchdown. He added 42 yards rushing and scored on a 9-yard scamper in a game Buffalo never trailed.
On defense, Buffalo intercepted Jay Cutler to end Miami’s first two possessions of the second half.
Then, rookie Tre’Davious White sealed the win with an interception with 28 seconds remaining — and a play after Miami punter Matt Haack recovered an onside kick at Miami’s 37.
The loss all but mathematically eliminated the Dolphins (6-8) from playoff contention; they ended a seven-year drought last season.
Buffalo improved to 8-6 to match the team’s best record through 14 games during the team’s 17-year playoff drought — the longest active streak in North America’s four major professional sports. The Bills were 8-6 in both 2004 and 2014 but missed the playoffs with 9-7 finishes.
Buffalo 6-2 home record was its best finish at Orchard Park since 1999.
The Bills now hit the road to continue their playoff pursuit in closing the season at New England next week and then at Miami on Dec. 31.
Frustration began to settle in for the Dolphins. They were undone by familiar inconsistencies at quarterback and on defense, while looking nothing like the team that stunned New England 27-20 on Monday night.
“We just made too many mistakes,” Ndamukong Suh said of a defense that allowed the Bills to convert 7 of 15 third-down opportunities after limiting its past two opponents to convert 1 of 24.
“A loss is a loss no matter when it is,” receiver Jarvis Landry added of an offense that needed five snaps from inside the Bills 5 to finally score its first touchdown on Kenyan Drake’s 1-yard run with 7:03 remaining. “Obviously, we knew everything that was at stake and we didn’t make it happen.”
McCoy opened the scoring with a 4-yard run to cap Buffalo’s opening drive. Then, he put Buffalo up 14-6 with a 16-yard catch with 6:05 left in the second quarter on a drive during which McCoy became the 30th player to break the 10,000-yard rushing milestone.
The ninth-year player reached the plateau with a 14-yard burst off right guard . McCoy said he got the wind knocked out of him while being tackled by Kiko Alonso.
After missing just one snap, McCoy returned and scored two plays later.
McCoy finished with 50 yards rushing, upping his career total to 10,011, and had four catches for 46 yards.
Richie Incognito not only enjoyed a front-row seat in watching McCoy burst past him on his way to his 10,000th yard, the veteran right guard was impressed by the resolve the Bills have shown in exceeding low preseason expectations.
“If I would’ve told you guys we’re going to be 6-2 at home back in August, I think you guys would have laughed at us,” he said.
“No one’s laughing now,” Incognito added. “We’re cruising, man. All eyes on the prize.”
THURMAN ON SHADY
Bills Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas had no difficulty putting McCoy’s value to Buffalo into perspective.
“We’re not talking about being in the playoff race right now and we’re not leading the league the past years,” Thomas said. “We’re not doing that if we don’t have him with the Buffalo Bills.”
Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams wasn’t prepared to say if he might have played his final game at New Era Field. The 12-year veteran contemplated retiring after last season and is in the final year of his contract.
Williams did take issue with teammate Adolphus Washington drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for attempting to punch the ball out of Drake’s hands while the running back was on the sideline after being stopped at the 1.
“That’s dumb football no matter what happened or what that penalty was,” Williams said. “I don’t care if they talk ugly about your mother. Handle it after the game.”
DOLPHINS IN DECEMBER
Miami dropped to 4-9 in games played at Orchard Park, New York, in December or later.
Dolphins: CB T.J. McDonald left in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.
Bills: CB E.J. Gaines was carted off in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.
Dolphins: At Kansas City on Dec. 24.
Bills: At New England on Dec. 24.
Ravens 27, Browns 10
CLEVELAND (AP) — When he looked up and saw hundreds of purple-and-black clad Baltimore fans ringing the tunnel entrance, coach John Harbaugh was moved to return the love.
He tossed his baseball cap into the stands and peeled off two sweat shirts that he handed out as souvenirs.
“Well worth it,” Harbaugh said of his generosity.
The Ravens didn’t give up anything else Sunday.
Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass, ran for a score and beat Cleveland again as Baltimore stayed on track for a spot in the AFC playoffs with a 27-10 win over the Browns, now two losses from becoming the NFL’s second 0-16 team.
Flacco scored on a 2-yard run and threw a 33-yard TD pass to tight end Benjamin Watson as the Ravens (8-6), coming off a heartbreaking loss to rival Pittsburgh, took control with two touchdowns in the final 3:01 of the first half.
Baltimore’s opportunistic defense also contributed by forcing four more turnovers, with tackle Brandon Williams recovering a fumble and rolling into the end zone for a TD in third quarter to put the Ravens up 24-10.
“We’ve been doing some good things for a few weeks now and obviously it’s getting our confidence rolling,” said Flacco, who improved to 17-2 against the Browns. “Guys are starting to get some mojo and really starting to feel it.”
The Browns (0-14) went 0-8 at home — 0-7 in Cleveland, 0-1 in London — for the second time and must win at either Chicago or Pittsburgh to avoid joining the 2008 Detroit Lions in the notorious 0-16 club. Last season, the Browns avoided infamy by winning their final home game and finishing 1-15.
Cleveland is 1-29 in two seasons under coach Hue Jackson, who is expected to be back despite his .033 winning percentage. Following the game, Jackson addressed speculation he might be interested in going Cincinnati, where Marvin Lewis is expected to leave at the end of the season.
“I’m not running from this,” Jackson said. “I have never gone any place and left it worse than when I found it. I’m not going to run from this. I’m going to be here and I need to get this fixed as fast as I can because I think it is important.”
Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer threw two more interceptions, the last into a group of defenders in the fourth quarter.
Harbaugh wasn’t concerned about his team overlooking the Browns with so much on the line. Baltimore was coming off a punch-in-the-gunt, last-second loss to the Steelers, and while the Ravens weren’t at their best, they didn’t do anything to help Cleveland’s cause.
And as long as they take care of business at home against Indianapolis and Cincinnati in their last two games, the Ravens will return to the postseason after a two-year absence.
With the Ravens leading 17-10, Baltimore’s defense put away the Browns.
Kizer was stripped in the end zone on his blindside by Za’Darius Smith and the loose ball was pounced on by Williams, who shimmied his 340-pound frame across the goal line.
“I had to do a little scooch, but it was good,” Williams said, adding it was his first TD since high school. “I’m happy they didn’t call it back. I would have been upset.”
Baltimore has scored five defensive touchdowns. It’s also forced 33 takeaways — nine in two games against Cleveland.
The Browns have lost 31 consecutive games on Sunday.
Flacco’s .895 winning percentage against the Browns is the third best by an active quarterback against any opponent. Ben Roethlisberger is 21-2 (.913) against Cleveland and Tom Brady is 27-3 (.900) against Buffalo.
Baltimore punter Sam Koch was given a game ball after pinning the Browns deep with perfectly placed kicks. Koch had four punts inside Cleveland’s 20-yard line, giving him a league-high 37 this season.
“The dude is amazing,” Williams said. “The way he pins them back, it’s money every time. I see him in practice every day. It’s automatic. We love him for it. The guy’s a baller.”
Lewis’ imminent departure in Cincinnati has added a new wrinkle to Cleveland’s cloudy coaching situation.
Although owner Jimmy Haslam has said Jackson will return in 2018, new general manager John Dorsey has left open the possibility of a coaching change. Dorsey ripped fired vice president of football operations Sashi Brown earlier this week, but sidestepped a question about Jackson’s future.
“I am not coping with this very well,” Jackson said. “I haven’t for two years. We have to fix this.”
Ravens: Harbaugh said WR Jeremy Maclin (knee) and DT Carl Davis (lower leg) will undergo MRIs on Monday, but he doesn’t think either injury is serious. … S Chuck Clark sustained a head injury in the first quarter but returned after clearing concussion protocol.
Browns: CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun (knee) missed his second straight game. … DT Danny Shelton sustained a lower right leg injury in the second half but returned.
Ravens: Host Indianapolis on Saturday.
Browns: Visit Chicago on Sunday.
Packers 24, Panthers 31
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton proved the Carolina Panthers can win in multiple ways. After dominating opposing teams on the ground with three straight 200-yard rushing games at home, the Panthers turned to their 28th-ranked passing game on Sunday and took a big step toward reaching the postseason.
Newton threw for 242 yards and four touchdowns, and the Panthers spoiled Aaron Rodgers’ return from a broken collarbone with a 31-24 win over the Green Bay Packers.
Damiere Byrd had two touchdown catches, and Christian McCaffrey had 136 yards from scrimmage, including a 7-yard touchdown reception and the Panthers won their fourth straight at home.
Greg Olsen had his most productive game since returning from a broken foot, catching nine passes for 116 yards and a TD as the Panthers (10-4) kept pace with the first-place New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.
“It’s something we pride ourselves on being a complete offense, being able to run the ball when we can and pass when we can,” McCaffrey said. “Guys showed up and made plays today.”
That included Carolina’s defense, which forced four turnovers, including a strip by cornerback James Bradberry on Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison with 1:28 to seal the win and prevent the Packers from possibly playing in their third straight overtime game.
“I need to do a better job of squeezing and securing it and there wouldn’t be an argument,” Allison said.
Rodgers, making his first appearance since Oct. 15, threw for 290 yards with three touchdowns but was intercepted three times as the Packers’ playoff hopes took a potentially critical blow.
At 7-7, the Packers are on the cusp of not making the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“I’m disappointed in my performance today,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, I didn’t play well.”
Bradberry also had an interception of Rodgers, and said he plans to put the football in a trophy case.
“Going against him and getting able to get as many turnovers and we did puts a stamp on this defense,” Bradberry said of the Panthers, who have forced seven turnovers and had nine sacks in the past two weeks.
The Panthers trailed 14-10 at halftime, but Newton threw TD passes to Olsen and Byrd in the third quarter to give them a 24-14 lead.
Byrd’s first touchdown, a 9-yard grab in the back of the end zone , came with some controversy. The play was initially ruled an incompletion, but coach Ron Rivera challenged the play and officials overturned the call ruling that Byrd’s buttocks landed inbounds.
“Initially I wasn’t sure if they were going to count just one cheek or both cheeks,” Byrd said with a laugh. “I think I got lucky on that one.”
“I guess it pays to have little cheeks,” Newton said of the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Byrd.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he didn’t have a problem with the decision, calling it a good catch.
Olsen was seen screaming at the Carolina sideline before the review, urging Rivera not to challenge the play because he was certain Byrd was out of bounds.
“I was like, ‘Greg, you are being obnoxious right now,'” Newton said with a laugh. “He’s saying, ‘No, he did not catch it! Coach, don’t waste a timeout!’ I was like, ‘Greg, whose team are you on?'”
Olsen said sheepishly: “I was 150,000 percent wrong.”
ADAMS CONCUSSION: It didn’t help that Rodgers lost his most productive receiver in the third quarter with a concussion.
Davante Adams took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on an interception return by Colin Jones. As Adams was running to make the tackle on Jones, Davis appeared to launch himself at Adams with a peel-back block, immediately sending the wide receiver to the ground and out of the game.
Davis was flagged for a 15-yard penalty.
Aaron Rodgers called it “unnecessary hit” and called Davis a “repeat offender.”
Davis could face a fine or suspension from the league.
“I’m sure the league will deal with him accordingly to that,” Rodgers said.
Davis immediately realized what he had done, cupping his head in hands as he sat on the Panthers bench. Adams had five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers. Davis was not available for comment after the game.
COMING IN BUNCHES: After going 12 games without an interception, Panthers starting cornerbacks Bradberry and Daryl Worley both have interceptions in back-to-back games. Worley got Rodgers in the first half on a deep route along the left sideline, while Bradberry got one on an underthrown deep ball.
Packers: Linebacker Nick Perry left the game with an ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return.
Panthers: Wide receiver Russell Shepard left the game in the second half with a shoulder injury and did not return.
Packers: Host the Vikings on Saturday night.
Panthers: Host the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Eagles 34, Giants 29
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Nick Foles replaced the injured Carson Wentz, and nothing really changed for the Philadelphia Eagles.
They got four touchdown passes from their quarterback, like they did a week ago, and won again to secure a first-round playoff bye.
Another ho-hum day for the best team in the NFC and NFC East champions.
Foles hit four different receivers on touchdown passes ranging from 3 to 13 yards in his first start, and the Eagles (12-2) rallied from an early 14-point deficit to defeat the surprising New York Giants 34-29 on Sunday.
“I thought he played well,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of Foles. “There are some things he would like to do over. Every game is going be that way. I thought he handled himself extremely well, a lot of poise. He did a nice job.”
There was speculation the Eagles would rely on their running game this week against the Giants (2-12) to give Foles time to adjust to the offense. Pederson ruled that out.
“With him coming out and saying he’s not changing anything, it says a lot about his confidence in me and his confidence in the players in the offense,” said Foles, who completed 24 of 38 passes for 237 yards and no interceptions.
Foles clearly is no Wentz. He is more a pocket passer, and there were times in the game when Wentz clearly would have been scrambling for a first down. Foles carried twice for zero yards.
The Eagles made a late stand on first-and-goal in the final minute in edging the Giants for the second time this season, spoiling a three-touchdown, season-high 434-yard passing game by Eli Manning.
“We know what he’s capable of and that showed today,” Giants interim coach Steve Spagnuolo said after Manning’s ninth 400-yard game.
Manning, who threw for 366 yards earlier this year against the Eagles, said the Giants had a good game plan.
“We got the ball out quickly, playing fast with some tempo stuff,” said the 36-year-old who finished 37 of 57. “I think that confused them a little bit.”
Foles hit Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Trey Burton and Nelson Agholor on scoring passes ranging from 3 to 13 yards in filling in for Wentz, who tore an ACL last week and was lost for the season after a brilliant year.
The Eagles also got two field goals from Jake Elliott and three blocked kicks from their special teams, foiling an extra point, a punt and field goal. The block on the punt set up a touchdown.
Philadelphia will play its final two regular-season game at home and then wait for the conference semifinal.
“It’s obviously something great,” Foles said of the bye. “I was fortunate to be a part of it last year in Kansas City. We still have a lot of work to do this season. The big thing is you let your body recover.”
Manning hit Tavarres King on two touchdowns and Sterling Shepard on one. Orleans Darkwa scored on a short run and Aldrick Rosas kicked a 28-yard field goal.
Manning drove the Giants from their 25 with 3:56 to play to the Eagles 9 with about a minute to go. A 2-yard loss on a pass to Shepard, an incompletion in the end zone and 5-yard run by Shane Vereen got New York to the Philadelphia 6 with 48 seconds to play. Right tackle Bobby Hart had a procedure penalty on fourth down, putting the ball at the 11.
Manning then threw a pass to Evan Engram at the back of the end zone that was high and incomplete. The Giants complained bitterly after the play that Eagles safety Corey Graham held the rookie tight end’s left arm and should have been called for pass interference.
“I definitely thought it was defensive pass interference,” Engram said. “Fourth down. It was really obvious, but no call.”
The Giants led 23-21 at the half and the Eagles took the lead for good in the third quarter on a 28-yard field goal by Elliott and a 10-yard TD catch by Agholor.
Leading 20-6, mistakes by Manning and special teams got the Eagles back in the game in a less than three-minute span in the second quarter.
A 37-yard interception return by Ronald Darby to the Giants 18 set up Foles’ second touchdown pass, a 10-yarder to Ertz, cutting New York’s lead to 20-14. Kamu Grugier-Hill blocked Brad Wing’s punt on the Giants’ next series. Foles found a wide-open Burton on a 13-yard pass to give the Eagles a 21-20 lead.
Rosas had a go-ahead 28-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in the half for a 23-21 lead.
The last time a team had a hat trick of blocked kicks was the Buffalo Bills against New England on Nov. 24, 1991.
Eagles: host Oakland on Dec. 25.
Giants: at Arizona on Sunday.
Cardinals 15, Redskins 20
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Allowing 68 points over the past two games was just what the Washington Redskins’ defense needed to get fired up.
Motivated after two consecutive efforts players called embarrassing, the Redskins kept the Arizona Cardinals out of the end zone in a 20-15 victory on Sunday.
Linebacker Preston Smith and second-year defensive lineman Anthony Lanier led the defensive effort by bothering Arizona quarterback Blaine Gabbert with sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions.
“We all were going extra hard because we were so disappointed,” said Lanier, who sacked Gabbert twice and batted down three passes.
“Everybody has been talking about it all year about how we have to come together. Today we came together and we overcame the odds of everybody thinking we were out of it.”
Gabbert was 16 of 41 for 189 yards with the interception and a fumble he recovered himself in the fourth quarter.
Arizona (6-8), which got all its points on field goals by Phil Dawson, went 0 for 6 in the red zone and 4 for 19 on third down as it was eliminated from playoff contention.
“It was just a game of missed opportunities,” Gabbert said. “That falls on me. The lack of execution from me all day, that just can’t happen. We were inches away on a bunch of plays, but at the end of the day I have to make those. We have to score touchdowns in the red zone. We can’t come away with field goals like that.”
Quarterback Kirk Cousins was 18 of 26 for 196 yards with touchdown passes to Jamison Crowder and new running back Kapri Bibbs as Washington (6-8) ended its two-game skid. Coach Jay Gruden said Cousins was fine after talking a few hard hits late.
The Redskins’ defense delivered big hits on Gabbert all game long. Smith recovered Gabbert’s fumble and had an interception in what was a redemptive performance after losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams.
“The Dallas game and the L.A. game were both pretty darn bad defensively,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “We didn’t hardly see their punter till the second half last week. This week was much-needed. Good on us for not allowing them in the end zone.”
DRIVE FOR FIVE
Dawson made all five of his field goal attempts, connecting from 40, 35, 19, 34 and 32 yards. Dawson has scored the Cardinals’ past 30 points going back to their Dec. 3 game against the Rams.
“That is a lot,” Dawson said. “I didn’t realize that. But that’s life.”
Even though coach Bruce Arians didn’t call for an onside kick to start the second half, the Cardinals got the ball back in excellent field position. Dawson’s kickoff bounced deep in Washington territory and when no Redskins player fielded it, Budda Baker recovered at the 22.
“Uh, I mean, it’s not that good of odds,” Baker said. “But Phil’s a great kicker, and that’s a great kick. So initially we were just going to lob it to the left and see if they catch it. But they didn’t catch it.”
Gruden said special teams ace Niles Paul thought the ball would bounce to him, but went the other way.
Arizona linebacker Chandler Jones earned his NFL-leading 15th sack of the season during the first half as he continued to make a case to be NFL Defensive Player of the Year. With two games remaining, he’s two shy of setting the franchise record for sacks in a season.
Cardinals: WR Brittan Golden broke his right arm on a punt return. … DL Robert Nkemdiche left with a wrist injury. … LB Karlos Dansby suffered a calf injury. … DL Josh Mauro was inactive with an ankle injury.
Redskins: Rookie LB Ryan Anderson suffered a sprained knee in punt coverage. Anderson came in dealing with an ankle injury. … LT Trent Williams missed his fourth game of the season with a knee injury. … LB Zach Brown, who came in leading the league with 127 tackles, was inactive with toe, hip and Achilles tendon injuries.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians: “We’re not playing for the playoffs, we’re playing for each other.”
Gruden: “I never really want to use 8-8 as motivation.”
Cardinals: Host the New York Giants next Sunday.
Redskins: Host the Denver Broncos next Sunday.
Texans 7, Jaguars 45
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan waited until the final few minutes to start celebrating.
Had he uncorked the champagne when the game was essentially over, Khan would have been drinking by halftime.
Blake Bortles threw three touchdowns passes, including two to seldom-used backup Jaydon Mickens, and the Jaguars clinched a playoff spot with a 45-7 drubbing of AFC South rival Houston on Sunday. Jacksonville’s seventh victory in its last eight games locked up the franchise’s first postseason berth since 2007.
“It’s a story of perseverance,” Khan said .
Once the NFL’s poster child for futility and a punchline for potential relocation, the Jaguars (10-4) are now one of the league’s top turnarounds.
The injury-riddled Texans (4-10) have dropped four in a row and seven of eight.
“They can smell the playoffs,” Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. “You can tell that by the way they played. That’s what you play for: playoff football. You play this game to win the ultimate goal. When you don’t get there, what you did is not good.”
Bortles finished with a season-high 326 yards and the best QB rating (143.8) of his career. He did it without receivers Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee.
With Robinson (knee) on injured reserve, Hurns (ankle) inactive and Lee (ankle) in the locker room, Mickens and rookie Keelan Cole stepped up. Mickens caught four passes for 61 yards and two scores . Cole had seven receptions for a career-high 186 yards and a TD.
Mickens disclosed earlier this week that he slept in his car outside the facility at night to save money, not knowing how long he would remain in town.
Now, he and teammates will be getting playoff checks.
“It’s kind of cool that we solidified our spot,” Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “Now we can get over the giddiness of it. … It’s cool to be where we are, but we’re not done yet.”
That’s a huge change for Jacksonville, which was an NFL-worst 22-74 over the previous six years and widely considered more of a laughingstock than a postseason contender.
Khan fired coach Gus Bradley one year ago Sunday, following a close loss at Houston. Khan hired Tom Coughlin to oversee football decisions and made interim Doug Marrone the head coach. Coughlin and Marrone added several key players and changed the culture with a grueling offseason and training camp.
The Jags got off to an up-and-down start, but have hit their stride down the stretch.
Bortles has been better than expected of late, with seven touchdown passes and no turnovers the last three games.
“Blake’s killing it,” Jackson said. “I’m just glad he’s been able to turn it around. I’m glad he’s doing what we knew he could do, and I’m glad he’s proving to himself that he can do it. He chose one hell of a year to pick it up.”
With Bortles picking apart Houston’s secondary, the Jaguars didn’t even need running back Leonard Fournette. The rookie was inactive because of a sore right quadriceps muscle.
Jacksonville’s defense, which has been the glue all season, was dominant again. The unit held Houston to 186 yards.
The Jags led 31-0 at the break, their largest halftime lead in team history.
“It was very satisfying,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said.
The Texans looked lost in every aspect. They did little on offense outside Hopkins’ 25-yard TD catch against Jalen Ramsey and did even less to slow down Jacksonville.
T.J. Yates, making his first start since 2015, was mostly ineffective in place of Tom Savage (concussion). Yates completed 12 of 31 passes for 128 yards, with the TD and an interception.
“It’s embarrassing, and you never want to get beat like that,” said linebacker/defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who also called Bortles “trash” in the locker room. “It’s embarrassing for the whole organization.”
The Texans could have run out the clock trailing 24-0 late in the first half, but with 53 seconds remaining and three timeouts, coach Bill O’Brien decided to try to get something going. Yates threw an interception, and the Jaguars scored three plays later.
“I just felt we had to try and make a move,” O’Brien said. “The issue is you can’t run it. You have to throw it. We did, and it didn’t work out.”
Texans: Center Nick Martin (ankle) and right guard Jeff Allen (concussion) left in the second half. Linebacker Benardrick McKinney injured a shoulder making a touchdown-saving tackle on a punt return.
Jaguars: Lee injured his right ankle in the first quarter and was later ruled out. Ramsey (groin), defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (hamstring) and safety Peyton Thompson (foot) left the game but later returned.
Texans: Host Pittsburgh next Monday in the team’s home finale.
Jaguars: Play at San Francisco on Sunday.
Rams 42, Seahawks 7
SEATTLE (AP) — Todd Gurley rushed for 152 yards and scored four total touchdowns in just 2½ quarters, and the Los Angeles Rams moved to the cusp of their first division title since 2003 with a 42-7 thumping of the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
The matchup to determine first place in the NFC West was completely one-sided.
Los Angeles (10-4) was dominant, embarrassing Seattle into the worst loss during Pete Carroll’s eight seasons in charge.
Taking advantage of field position, the Rams scored on six of seven first-half drives, including a 21-point scoring blitz in the second quarter capped by a 57-yard TD run by Gurley on third-and-20 with less than a minute remaining in the first half to take a 34-0 lead at the break.
Gurley had 144 yards rushing in the first half, twice scoring from the 1. He added a 14-yard TD reception midway through the third quarter for a 40-0 Rams lead and spent the rest of his day watching. The 152 yards rushing were the second-best of his career.
The Rams don’t have the division wrapped up, but have a two-game lead with two weeks to play. A win against either Tennessee or San Francisco is enough for their first division title in 14 years.
Perhaps bigger than the division title was the statement made by the Rams. They didn’t just win in Seattle — a place losing its aura as the toughest to play in the league. They completely dominated the Seahawks, making a Carroll-coached team look rarely overmatched in a big game.
Seattle (8-6) is barely alive for the postseason, but it will likely need some help.
While the Seahawks don’t look playoff ready, the Rams look playoff scary, dominating the line of scrimmage and taking advantage of their first-half opportunities.
Six of the Rams seven possessions in the first half started at midfield or inside Seattle territory and they scored on all six.
The only miscue of the half was a questionable fourth-and-1 decision at the Seattle 24 where the Rams called a play-action pass that was tipped and intercepted. It was the one highlight of the first half for Seattle.
Rams QB Jared Goff didn’t need to do much, completing 14 of 21 for 120 yards and two TDs. He threw a 1-yard TD to Robert Woods in the second quarter along with his TD to Gurley.
Seattle avoided the shutout on Russell Wilson’s 26-yard TD pass to Luke Willson late in the third quarter. But it was one of Wilson’s uglier performances. He missed key throws early when Seattle’s offense couldn’t get started. He threw a backward pass for a 23-yard loss in the second quarter when Seattle finally got to midfield. He fumbled trying to spin out of a sack. And he cost Seattle a safety being flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Wilson was 14 of 30 for 142 yards and rushed for 39 yards. He was sacked seven times.
Rams punt returner Pharoh Cooper had a big first half that helped Los Angeles build its huge lead. Cooper set up the Rams first touchdown with a 53-yard punt return to the Seattle 1 in the first quarter. He later had a 26-yard return to set up another short field for the Rams that was capped by the second of Gurley’s 1-yard TDs.
The 34-0 halftime deficit was the largest for Seattle since the 2010 season — the first under Carroll — when it trailed the New York Giants 35-0 at halftime on the way to a 41-7 loss.
It was the largest halftime lead in a road game for the Rams in franchise history.
Rams: Los Angeles is at Tennessee next Sunday.
Seahawks: Seattle is at Dallas next Sunday.
Patriots 27, Steelers 24
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski did it to the Pittsburgh Steelers again.
One questionable decision by Ben Roethlisberger helped.
Brady fed Gronkowski repeatedly to set up Dion Lewis’ go-ahead 8-yard touchdown with 56 seconds remaining and Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone with 5 seconds left as the New England Patriots rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 on Sunday.
The Patriots (11-3) gained the inside track for homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs by ending Pittsburgh’s eight-game winning streak. Brady threw for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Gronkowski, fresh off a one-game suspension, finished with nine receptions for 168 yards, including four on the game-winning drive.
It briefly looked like it wouldn’t be enough.
The Steelers (11-3), who played most of the game without injured wide receiver Antonio Brown, appeared to take the lead when Roethlisberger connected with tight end Jesse James for a 10-yard touchdown with 28 seconds to left. The play was overturned on review, with official Tony Corrente saying the ball did not “survive” the completion of the catch.
Roethlisberger hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for a short gain but stayed in bounds. With the clock running and no timeouts left, Roethlisberger hurried to the line. Rather than spike it to set up a short kick that would have sent the game to overtime, Roethlisberger tried to win it.
Instead, he lost it. His pass to Eli Rogers was batted into the air, and New England safety Duron Harmon came down with it. One kneel down later the Patriots had their fifth straight victory over the Steelers.
Roethlisberger completed 22 of 30 for 281 yards with two touchdowns and the pick. Le’Veon Bell ran for 117 yards and added another 48 receiving as Pittsburgh hung in there even with Brown, the NFL’s leading receiver, in a hospital having his left calf injury examined.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hardly downplayed the pregame hype, welcoming the moment and the pressure that comes along with it even while facing an opponent that he’s beaten just twice during his 11-year tenure and never in a game of true consequence, including a blowout loss in the AFC championship game 11 months ago.
Pittsburgh received an early emotional jolt when cameras cut to injured linebacker Ryan Shazier sitting in a private box less than two weeks removed from spinal stabilization surgery. The crowd at rainy Heinz Field roared as Shazier, who appeared to be seated, waved a Terrible Towe l. The 25-year-old is recovering from spinal stabilization surgery on Dec. 6, two days after leaving a Monday night victory over Cincinnati on a stretcher following a routine hit on Bengals wide receiver Josh Malone.
The emotional boost of Shazier’s surprise cameo faded quickly. Brady took a snap, and the reality the Steelers face without their most irreplaceable defensive player set in. Brady took the Patriots right down the field, connecting with Cooks for a 43-yard gain that set up Rex Burkhead’s 1-yard touchdown.
The Steelers answered immediately on an 18-yard lob from Roethlisberger to Eli Rogers. Pittsburgh took its first lead over the Patriots since 2011 early in the second quarter on a Chris Boswell field goal, one that came at a possibly heavy price. Brown left in obvious pain after getting his left leg tangled up with a pair of New England defenders. He was helped to the medical tent then taken to a hospital for further examination.
Still, Pittsburgh hung around thanks to the depth they didn’t have while getting rolled by New England the last time the AFC superpowers met.
Bryant, suspended all of last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, made a pretty one-handed touchdown catch late in the first half that put Pittsburgh up 17-10 at the break. Bell, limited to just 11 snaps in Foxborough last January, churned up clock and yards. Smith-Schuster, the ebullient rookie, caught six passes for 114 yards, including a 69-yard catch-and-run that put the Steelers in position to at least tie it.
Roethlisberger opted to go for the wind instead, a decision now that could have ramifications in January.
New England: Host Buffalo on Christmas Eve. The Patriots handled the Bills 23-3 in the first meeting of the season earlier this month in Buffalo.
Pittsburgh: Visits Houston on Christmas Day.
Titans 23, 49ers 25
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne (84) makes a catch next to Tennessee Titans cornerback LeShaun Sims (36) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Jimmy Garoppolo led one final scoring drive in the closing seconds to cap a fantastic first home start, Robbie Gould kicked a game-winning 45-yard field goal as time expired, and the San Francisco 49ers topped the Tennessee Titans 25-23 on Sunday.
Garoppolo threw for a career-high 381 yards and a touchdown during a dominant day to give the 49ers (4-10) a three-game winning streak in a lost season. And Tom Brady’s former backup showed he could do it at home as well as on the road — and against a playoff contender, no less — outdueling Marcus Mariota down the stretch as the teams traded field goals.
Gould kicked three of his six field goals over the final nine minutes: 50, 48 and 45 yards and has now gone 20 consecutive without a miss.
Gould put the Niners out front on a 48-yarder with 3:08 remaining. Mariota then drove the Titans (8-6) to a lead as Ryan Succop kicked a 50-yard field goal with 1:07 to play, then Garoppolo and the San Francisco offense got one last shot.
It took three tries this season, and first-year coach Kyle Shanahan finally found his reliable, playmaking quarterback after acquiring Garoppolo from New England at the October trade deadline. Garoppolo showed that in 67 seconds when forced into late action in a loss to Seattle three weeks ago at Levi’s Stadium, then in back-to-back road games before shining again Sunday.
Marquise Goodwin made 10 catches for 114 yards and Garoppolo completed 31 of 43 passes to go over 300 yards passing for the second straight game after last week’s win at Houston.
Mariota put Tennessee ahead on an 8-yard touchdown pass to Rishard Matthews early in the fourth as the Titans rallied back from an early 13-point deficit.
The 49ers were in good position the ensuing possession before Garoppolo was sacked by Wesley Woodyard for a 10-yard loss. Then, Gould converted a 50-yarder.
Tennessee came out of intermission a new team, totaling 22 offensive plays to San Francisco’s five in the third quarter.
Garoppolo became the first 49ers quarterback since the merger in 1970 to win each of his first three starts and just the second QB to do so in franchise history. Y.A. Tittle did so spanning the 1951-52 seasons.
He threw a 5-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to tight end Garrett Celek — whose great play in recent weeks has earned the nickname of “Celek Time.” Celek later had a 41-yard catch.
Garoppolo didn’t even have Trent Brown to block for him after the right tackle went on injured reserve with a right shoulder injury that will require surgery. Mariota threw a 4-yard TD pass to former 49er Delanie Walker late in the first half to keep the Titans close.
Garoppolo was 5 of 6 passing on his opening possession as San Francisco mixed its play calls well to catch the stingy Titans defense off guard. Gould’s 38-yarder capped the 12-play, 64-yard initial drive. Gould hit a 48-yarder late in the first and then kicked one from 28 yards just before halftime.
The Titans played a second straight road game against the NFC West after losing last week to the Cardinals and staying in Arizona for the week of practice.
Their first visit to Levi’s Stadium — Tennessee last played the Niners on the road at Candlestick in November 2009 — began slowly, the team’s second straight week playing a stadium for the initial time.
Mariota, in the midst of one of the worst stretches of his three-year career, threw for 241 yards completing 23 of 33 passes.
Tennessee’s typically tough defense was a far cry from that dominant unit in the first half.
Garoppolo threw for 189 yards and the Niners outgained the Titans 219-136 in the first half. The 49ers didn’t punt until more than midway through the third quarter.
Last week, the Titans allowed only four field goals, the second time this season they’d done so. From Week 5, Tennessee had been allowing only 295.1 yards per game.
Titans: CB Logan Ryan sustained an ankle injury in the second quarter.
49ers: WR Aldrick Robinson suffered a concussion in the first quarter. He went to the locker room with head and wrist injuries after he was hit hard by Titans cornerback Adoree’ Jackson along the Tennessee sideline. Robinson was stretching out trying to make a catch when he got slammed and went down for several minutes with 5:24 to go in the opening quarter.
Titans: Host Rams next Sunday and home the final two weeks.
49ers: Host Jaguars next Sunday.
Cowboys 20, Raiders 17
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Dallas kept its playoff hopes alive by the slimmest of margins.
Dak Prescott converted a fourth-down sneak by the width of an index card to set up Dan Bailey’s go-ahead 19-yard field goal, and Derek Carr fumbled the ball inches from the goal line with 31 seconds left to give the Cowboys a 20-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday night.
“We know where we’re at, our season is on the line as far as going to the playoffs,” tight end Jason Witten said. “It’s good to just see us find a way to get the result that we did. … Good to get lucky and see the football gods help you out a bit. I’ve certainly been on the other end of it over the course of my years.”
The first key play came when Cowboys coach Jason Garrett decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 39 with about five minutes left in a tie game. Prescott ran into a pile that took officials time to untangle.
Referee Gene Steratore then called for the chains to come out, but even that wasn’t clear. He then tried to slide what appeared to be an index cardbetween the tip of the ball and the end of the chain. When the card didn’t slide through, Steratore signaled a first down for Dallas (8-6). He said he had decided it was a first down before the odd measurement.
“The final decision was made visually. The card was used nothing more than a reaffirmation of what was visually done,” he told a pool reporter. “My decision was visually done based on the look from the pole.”
That explanation didn’t satisfy Raiders coach Jack Del Rio.
“I had a different viewpoint. I saw air,” Del Rio said. “It was pretty obvious. Again, they do the best they can with a tough job.”
Prescott then hit Dez Bryant with a 40-yard pass that set up Bailey’s short kick with 1:44 to play that gave the Cowboys the lead.
But the game was far from over. The Raiders (6-8) got a gift when Jourdan Lewis committed a 43-yard pass interference penalty on a fourth-and-10 from their own 30. Carr then scrambled on third-and-3 from the 8 and reached out for the end zone. But the ball came loose before crossing the goal line and went out of the end zone for a touchback that all but ended Oakland’s playoff hopes. The Raiders are tied for ninth in the AFC.
“I tried to hold onto it,” Carr said. “It wasn’t like I didn’t try. But there’s obviously a lot of different things . throw it away, kick a field goal, run out of bounds. OK, cool. But in that moment I was just trying to win for my teammates.”
Dallas is in a three-way tie for seventh place in the NFC, a half-game behind Atlanta for the final playoff spot. The Falcons beat the Cowboys head-to-head.
The Cowboys got their third straight win without suspended star running back Ezekiel Elliott, who returns from a six-game suspension next week. But Dallas’ three straight losses at the start of the suspension created a hole the team is still trying to escape.
“We continue to scratch, we continue to claw,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It wasn’t our most perfect performance in any phase of our football team, but the fight was there.”
FAKE IT OUT
The Cowboys took a risk in the third quarter on a fourth-and-11 from their own 24. Punter Chris Jones kept the ball and ran 24 yards for a first down. Dallas then drove down the field and took a 17-10 lead when Prescott ran in from 5 yards out and then was given a shower of drinks thrown by fans in the Black Hole.
Carr set up Oakland’s first TD with a 32-yard scramble that was his longest run since his rookie year. That led to a 2-yard TD to Michael Crabtree that gave Carr 100 career touchdown passes. He joined Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck as the only players with at least 100 TD passes in their first four years in the NFL. Carr added a second TD pass to Crabtree in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 17.
TAKE IT AWAY
Sean Smith intercepted two passes for the Raiders, doubling the team’s total from the first 13 games. Smith got his first on the opening drive of the game and then added another just moments after Oakland got on the board for the first time. Bruce Irvin hit Prescott on the throw and Smith came up with the floater . He was initially given a TD return on the play but was ruled down by contact on replay and Oakland settled for a game-tying field goal from Giorgio Tavecchio.
The Raiders lost LT Donald Penn (foot) and DT Treyvon Hester (ankle) to injuries in the first half. … Dallas LT Tyron Smith left in the second half with a knee injury.
Cowboys: Host Seattle on Sunday.
Raiders: Visit Philadelphia on Dec. 25.
Falcons 24, Buccaneers 21
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Devonta Freeman pounded away all night until he finally found a way into the open field, helping the Atlanta Falcons remain in the thick of the tight NFC South race.
With sidekick Tevin Coleman out with a concussion and Matt Ryan not particularly sharp throwing the ball , Freeman rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown to key a 24-21 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night.
The fourth-year pro scored on a 32-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, darting through a hole on the right side before cutting back to elude the only defender with a shot at tackling him and restore a 10-point lead for the Falcons (9-5), who barely hung on to win for the fifth time in six games.
“We had a sense this would be a big night for him. We talked about that before the game,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We thought he would have his opportunities. If he could get to the next level and to a linebacker or safety or corner, make sure he had a plan how he wanted to finish.”
Freeman also caught five passes for a team-high 68 yards and had a first-half fumble recovered in the end zone by teammate Levine Toilolo for a touchdown. Ryan threw an early TD pass to Justin Hardy and finished 17 of 31 passing for 212 yards and no interceptions.
The victory kept Atlanta within one game of New Orleans and Carolina in the division standings with two to play. If the playoffs started now, the Falcons would be the second NFC wild-card.
Atlanta plays at New Orleans next Sunday, then closes the regular season at home against the Panthers.
“We’re right where we need to be at this point of the season … and we’ve got to find a way to get back to work this week, try to improve and make sure we play the best we’re capable of playing this Sunday,” Ryan said. “That’s really all our focus needs to be about. If we’re worried about anything else then you’re not as locked in as you need to be.”
Jameis Winston threw for 299 yards and three TDs for the Bucs (4-10), including a 16-yarder to Adam Humphries that trimmed Atlanta’s lead to three points with 3:51 remaining.
Winston, who also threw TD passes of 30 yards to O.J. Howard and 42 yards to Mike Evans, got the ball back with a minute left and nearly sent the game into overtime.
The third-year pro, a college teammate of Freeman’s at Florida State, completed three straight passes to move the ball from his 29 to the Atlanta 36. Patrick Murray came on to try a 54-yard field goal to tie it, but the kick sailed wide right as time expired.
Winston finished 27 of 35 passing with no interceptions. He was sacked twice.
“Jameis played a heck of a game. He probably played his best game this season,” coach Dirk Koetter said. “Took care of the football, was accurate, threw the deep ball with accuracy, checked it down, did a good job leading our football team.”
The Bucs have lost nine of 11 following a 2-1 start, taking a step back after finishing 9-7 a year ago in their first season under Koetter.
RING OF HONOR
Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, who’s spent the past nine seasons as ESPN’s game analyst on Monday Night Football, was inducted into the Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium during a halftime ceremony.
Gruden was acquired from the Oakland Raiders in exchange for two first-round draft picks, two second-round draft pick and $8 million before leading the 2002 Bucs to the club’s only Super Bowl championship in his first season in Tampa Bay.
Gruden was fired after the 2008 season and moved into the broadcast booth the following season. The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 and don’t have a postseason win since their Super Bowl run 15 years ago.
The coach’s sons — Deuce, Mike and Jayson — led the Bucs out of the tunnel before the game as the team’s honorary flag runners.
Gruden is the 11th member of the Ring of Honor, joining Hall of Famers Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, as well as Doug Williams, John Lynch, John McKay, Mike Alstott, Jimmie Giles, Paul Gruber and Malcom Glazer.
Falcons: RB Coleman (concussion) and G Andy Levire (triceps) did not play.
Buccaneers: Played without their top two players, DT Gerald McCoy (biceps) and LB Lavonte David (hamstring), who were inactive. … Howard (ankle) limped off the field after being hit near the goal line on his TD and did not return. … G J.R. Sweezy suffered what was described as a lower body injury in the second quarter and did not return. The second half took a heavy toll, too, with LB Adarius Glanton being carted off with a leg injury, S T.J. Ward evaluated for a concussion, and S Justin Evans and WR DeSean Jackson lost to ankle injuries.
Falcons: Travel to New Orleans to face division-leading Saints on Sunday.
Buccaneers: Play final road game of season at Carolina.