2017 NFL Week 17 Monday Afternoon QB

Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders

Here is a recap of Week 17 of the 2017 NFL Season with a Monday Morning QB & thanks again to AP Sports/ Pro 32 for photos & articles.

Bears 10, Vikings 23

Stefon Diggs, Marcus Cooper

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) catches a 15-yard touchdown pass over Chicago Bears cornerback Marcus Cooper (31) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings and their dominant defense can finally rest.

They’ve made a convincing case they’re a strong contender for the Super Bowl that happens to be on their home turf.

Latavius Murray rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns , and the Vikings held Chicago to 86 total yards through three quarters on their way to wrapping up a first-round bye for the playoffs with a 23-10 victory over the Bears on Sunday.

“We wanted to finish this season off right,” Murray said.

Stefon Diggs caught six passes for 65 yards and a touchdown from Case Keenum for the Vikings (13-3), who reached 13 wins for only the second time in the history of the 57-year-old franchise after holding a second straight opponent without an offensive touchdown.

“You respect everybody who played the game and came before us,” Diggs said, “but all those wins that we’ve had in the past, even today, they don’t matter anymore because it all could end.”

As long as this defense that entered the final regular-season game with the fewest points and yards allowed in the NFL this season is intact, the Vikings will be all the more likely to stick around.

“We’ve got a lot of good players. They understand the system and what their responsibility is, and they play very, very hard,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “They’ve got this little edge about them right now, that they don’t want to give an inch.”

Mitchell Trubisky finished his rookie season with a turnover-free game, completing 20 of 36 passes for 178 yards. He failed, however, to guide the Bears (5-11) across the goal line despite 11 plays from the 10-yard line or closer in the fourth quarter.

“I just got more comfortable as the weeks went on,” Trubisky said. “Just to play my game, be a leader on this team and help the offense grow and get better, but we’ve got to find a way to have a chance to win at the end of games.”

Trubisky also took a safety in the second quarter on an intentional grounding call when Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph closed in on a sack in the end zone and he side-armed a throw between the two pass rushers.

“He just tossed it as if he was scared or something,” Hunter said.

Well, could you blame him?

“Nah!” Hunter said.

Keenum said 13-3 had “a nice ring to it.” The Vikings finished 12-2 four times with a 14-game schedule (in 1969, 1970, 1973 and 1975), but the only other time they’ve topped 12 victories was their 15-1 record in 1998.

“This place is crazy hard for teams to come in and play, especially with our defense. So I’m excited. I think this place is going to be rocking,” Keenum said.

OUTFOXED?

In what could have been the final game for coach John Fox, who’s 14-34 in three seasons, the Bears didn’t cross midfield until the fourth quarter and totaled only 30 yards rushing. They were penalized 10 times for 116 yards and went 1 for 14 on third and fourth down conversions.

Fox refused to address his status, leaving the podium in less than two minutes after a terse postgame news conference. The Bears are 1-5 against each of their three NFC North foes under Fox.

“I would love to have him back,” wide receiver Josh Bellamy said. “I don’t feel like we’d get another coach that would be better.”

SNEAKY SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bears stopped a streak of 90 minutes and 32 seconds by the Vikings without allowing a score, when Bryce Callahan returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown with 5:50 left in the second quarter.

Callahan knelt near the sideline while Tarik Cohen lined up on the opposite side as the expected returner, before sprinting for a sliding catch of the kick that hung over the middle of the field. He leaped to his feet and veered left past the confused Vikings and untouched for the score.

The Bears pulled a pair of fast ones on the Vikings in their matchup earlier this season, when Benny Cunningham caught a pass from Pat O’Donnell on a fake punt for a 38-yard touchdown and Trubisky scored on a 2-point conversion play when the ball changed hands four times.

VIKINGS RECORD BOOK LOOK

Diggs became the fastest player in Vikings history to reach 200 receptions, in 40 games. … Adam Thielen had six catches for 61 yards and finished with 91 receptions for 1,276 yards for the season, finishing seventh and ninth in team history. Randy Moss and Cris Carter are the only ones ahead on either list. … Over the past two years, only Ezekiel Elliott (22 for Dallas) has more rushing touchdowns in the NFL than Murray (20, including 12 for Oakland last season).

LINE SHUFFLE

Joe Berger, who switched from right guard to center with Pat Elflein shelved for a shoulder injury for the second time in four weeks, was the only original starter on the Vikings offensive line to play in all 16 games. Mike Remmers moved from right tackle into Berger’s spot. Jeremiah Sirles started at left guard for Nick Easton, who will miss the playoffs because of a broken ankle.

INJURY REPORT

Bears: Two starting offensive linemen, LT Bobby Massie (knee) and RG Josh Sitton (ankle), did not play.

Vikings: FB C.J. Ham hurt his neck and was ruled out early in the third quarter. TE Kyle Rudolph, bothered by an ankle injury the past three weeks, wore a walking boot in the locker room after the game.

UP NEXT

The Vikings have a bye for only the fourth time since the current playoff format began in 1990. They’ll host one of the wild-card round winners on Jan. 13 or 14.

Cowboys 6, Eagles 0

Nick Foles, DeMarcus Lawrence

Philadelphia Eagles’ Nick Foles (9) is hit by Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence (90) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Healthy? Yes. Sharp? Not quite.

The Philadelphia Eagles are heading into the playoffs with no further injuries after playing it safe in a 6-0 loss to Dallas on Sunday.

Dak Prescott tossed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Brice Butler early in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys denied the Eagles a franchise-record 14th win.

The Eagles (13-3) rested several starters on a frigid day and played others briefly after securing the NFC’s No. 1 seed last week. They’ll have two weeks to work on a slumping offense before hosting a playoff game on Jan. 13 or 14.

“I’m not concerned,” coach Doug Pederson said. “I have confidence in our guys.”

Nick Foles struggled in one quarter, going 4 of 11 for 39 yards with one interception. Foles was excellent in his first start after Carson Wentz went down for the season, tossing four TD passes in a 34-29 win at the Giants on Dec. 17. But he has followed up with two poor performances.

“I feel great and I know what I can do,” Foles said. “I know the guys are confident in me. We expect to execute better. This wasn’t acceptable. We know how talented we can be. We can do special stuff.”

Second-year pro Nate Sudfeld replaced Foles and was 19 of 23 for 134 yards in his first career game. He was tackled inside the 5 after catching a lateral on a desperation play to end the game.

“Pretty solid for the most part in terms of efficiency and everything,” Sudfeld said. “But I felt there were some plays that we weren’t able to finish.”

The Cowboys (9-7) earned their second straight winning season for the first time since five in a row from 2005-09. That’s little consolation for Dallas, which was eliminated from playoff contention in Week 16.

“I’m sad the season is over,” Ezekiel Elliott said. “I wish we were playing in the playoffs. I’m going to use that as fuel for next year.”

The Cowboys drove 99 yards for the first score. A holding penalty on Rasul Douglas on an incomplete pass on third down extended the drive and Prescott connected with Butler on a slant on third-and-7. Dan Bailey hooked the extra point wide left, only his second career miss in 278 tries.

Bailey also missed a 23-yard field goal wide left with 13 seconds remaining.

Elliott ran for 103 yards, falling 17 short of 1,000 in only 10 games. He was the first player to reach 100 against the Eagles since Washington’s Matt Jones ran for 135 yards in Week 6 last year.

The teams were 0 for 12 on third and fourth down before the Cowboys converted on third down late in the second quarter. The Eagles got their first third-down conversion midway through the third quarter. Sudfeld then ran 22 yards on another third down and the crowd roared.

Philadelphia’s best drive with Foles was the game opener. The Eagles drove to the Cowboys 39 before Torrey Smith dropped a pass on third-and-7. Foles was hurried and threw an incomplete pass on fourth down.

Foles underthrew Alshon Jeffery and was picked by Chidobe Awuzie at the Cowboys 48 on Philadelphia’s third possession. It was Awuzie’s first career interception. The offense went three-and-out on the first unit’s fourth and final series.

DEZ SAYS

“Wherever they want me to be,” Dez Bryant said when asked about his expected role for next year. “I just want to win. That’s all I care about.”

SCORELESS HALF

This was the first NFL game to be 0-0 at halftime since the Bears-Broncos in Week 14 of 2011. It was the first time in a Cowboys-Eagles game since the series began in 1960.

LAYERING UP

Eagles P Donnie Jones ran onto the field for a punt with his warmup pantsstill on and had to rip them off before the snap. He pinned the Cowboys inside the 5 with his punt and later placed one at the 1.

SID’S DEBUT

Eagles rookie CB Sidney Jones, a second-round pick, played his first game. Jones ruptured his Achilles tendon before the draft.

RESTING UP

Five of Philadelphia’s defensive starters — LB Nigel Bradham, DE Brandon Graham, DT Tim Jernigan, S Rodney McLeod, CB Jalen Mills — and one regular — DE Derek Barnett — were inactive. DT Fletcher Cox and S Malcolm Jenkins played one series. RB Jay Ajayi also was inactive.

INJURIES

Cowboys: Awuzie left the game with a shoulder injury.

Eagles: Graham (ankle) and Mills would’ve played if the game mattered.

UP NEXT

Eagles: A first-round bye followed by a home playoff game on Jan. 13 or 14.

Packers 11, Lions 35

Ezekiel Ansah

Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (94) reacts after a sack during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)

DETROIT (AP) — Jim Caldwell’s cool and calm demeanor was on display in what might’ve been his last game as coach of the Detroit Lions.

Caldwell chatted with each of his players as they stretched before the game, as he always does. And after it, he didn’t seem to give anyone an indication his future with the franchise was in doubt.

Matthew Stafford threw three touchdown passes and Detroit beat the turnover-prone and short-handed Green Bay Packers 35-11 Sunday in a matchup of teams out of the playoff race.

The Lions (9-7) finished with a winning record in consecutive seasons for the first time since doing it three years in a row from 1993-95. That relative feat, along with a 36-28 record and two postseason appearances over four seasons in Detroit, may not be enough for Caldwell to keep his job.

“I’m not done yet,” Caldwell said with a slight grin.

Detroit linebacker Tahir Whitehead said Caldwell didn’t look or sound like he was coaching him for the final time.

“He’s the same guy, win, lose or draw. Same tone,” Whitehead said. “That’s what you’ve got to love about him.”

The Packers (7-9) have a losing record for the first time since 2008, which is also the last time they didn’t earn a spot in the playoffs. Their chances this season were crushed by Aaron Rodgers missing nine games with a collarbone injury,

Green Bay, without several banged-up players, gave away its chances to close with a win by turning it over three times in the first half to help the Lions lead 20-3 at halftime.

“The way we took care of the football today was unacceptable, and obviously had a big impact on the game,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said

The Packers surprised Detroit by opening with an onside kick theyrecovered, but didn’t take advantage because Jamaal Williams bobbled a pass that was picked off by Jarrad Davis. They did take a 3-0 lead on Mason Crosby’s 41-yard field goal late in the first quarter, but Detroit tied it on the ensuing possession and took control in the second quarter.

Stafford threw a go-ahead, 54-yard pass to Kenny Golladay. After Green Bay’s Donatello Brown allowed a punt to hit him, the Lions recovered to set up Stafford’s 3-yard pass to Marvin Jones to put Detroit up 17-3. Stafford threw a 71-yard TD pass to Golden Tate late in the third, giving the Lions a 27-3 lead.

Brett Hundley threw 17-yard TD pass and 2-point conversion to Randall Cobb to pull the Packers within 16 early in the fourth period. Hundley was 14 of 24 for 172 yards with two interceptions and a fumble. He was replaced by Joe Callahan late in the game.

“We had a lot of opportunities,” Hundley said. “We just stopped ourselves.”

Stafford was 20 of 29 for 323 yards without a turnover. He caught a 2-point conversion pass after Ameer Abdullah, who had just run for a TD, took a direct snap and pitched it to Tate, who easily connected with Stafford in the end zone to put Detroit up 35-11 midway through the fourth quarter.

HE SAID IT

McCarthy may make changes on his coaching staff this offseason, but he refused to talk about anything not related to the season-ending loss.

“I’m here to answer questions about the game, so let’s not waste each other’s time,” he said.

STAT-STUFFERS

Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, in the last year of his contract, had three sacks for the second straight week to give him 12 this season and 44 in his five-year career. Detroit cornerback Darius Slay, who started Week 17 leading the NFL in interceptions, picked off his eighth pass of the season.

TAKE A SEAT

Detroit rookie tight end Michael Roberts was inactive because of conduct detrimental to the team, Caldwell said.

INJURIES

Packers: WR Geronimo Allison left in the first quarter with a finger injury and returned to play for a banged-up team minus receivers Davante Adams, who signed a contract extension Friday, and Jordy Nelson because of injuries. CB Damarious Randall, TE Richard Rodgers, G Jahri Evans and RB Aaron Jones were also inactive. CB Davon House had a shoulder injury and Williams was evaluated for a concussion late in the game.

Lions: RB Theo Riddick (ribs), CB Teez Tabor (shoulder) and S Don Carey (knee) were hurt during the game.

Redskins 10, Giants 18

Orleans Darkwa

New York Giants running back Orleans Darkwa (26) runs past Washington Redskins inside linebacker Martrell Spaight (50) for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — There was a sense of uncertainty as two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning jogged off the field at MetLife Stadium, clinching a game ball in his left hand and waving to fans and friends in the stands with his right.

Was Sunday’s 18-10 win over the Washington Redskins his last game as a Giant after 14 seasons? He’s going to be 37 years old in January and New York has concluded a disastrous 3-13 season.

“It’s probably been my toughest year of football I would say with the losses, the injuries, the benching and coming back and everything going on, the losses more than anything,” said Manning, who threw a touchdown pass on a day the Giants rode a season-high 260-yard game from their running attack.

Manning is under contract for a couple of seasons, but the decision whether he returns rests with new general manager Dave Gettleman, who was hired Thursday.

Manning wants to be back.

“This is where I want to play,” he said. “This is like my family, the New York Giants has been. Hopefully they feel the same way and we can make that work out.”

Manning threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Sharp and Orleans Darkwa rushed for a career-high 154 yards, including a 75-yarder on the second play from scrimmage, as the Giants snapped a five-game losing streak and gave interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo his first win since taking over from the fired Ben McAdoo on Dec. 4.

Spagnuolo hugged Manning (10 of 28 for 132 yards) on the field after the final gun, and asked a team photographer to take a picture of them.

“We’ve both been through a lot and none more than him with this season, but he never changed,” said Spagnuolo, who has been promised an interview for the head coaching job.

“I value that in people that can stay that balanced through ups and downs. He’s had the highest of highs and this was certainly very, very low, but he’s a tremendous competitor and I appreciate him greatly.”

Aldrick Rosas kicked two short field goals and Kelvin Sheppard had two interceptions for New York, whose 13 losses are the most in franchise history.

Coupled with Indianapolis’ win over Houston, the Giants will have the No. 2 pick overall in the draft.

Kirk Cousins, who also might be playing his last game for the Redskins, scored on a 12-yard run for Washington (7-9), which has missed the playoffs the past two years. He was 20 of 37 for 158 yards and three interceptions.

“We have to have stability at that position, somehow, some way. Not everybody has it,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.

“That’s the way it is in pro football nowadays. If you’ve got one, you’d like to keep one. We’ll have to make that decision here pretty soon. Kirk will also. It’s not totally up to us. Kirk’s got to buy in also.”

Cousins, who finished with his third consecutive 4,000-yard passing season, sidestepped questions about his future.

“I need to catch my breath. We’ll have plenty of time,” he said, adding he might have more to say on a radio show Friday.

Dustin Hopkins added a season-long 49-yard field goal for the Redskins, who were looking for their third straight .500 or better finish since 1999-2001.

The win capped a horrid season for the Giants, who were expected to compete for a Super Bowl after making the playoffs last season. Injuries, penalties, blown fourth-quarter leads and a failure by fired general manager Jerry Reese to fix the offensive line led to a disaster.

It culminated with McAdoo’s decision to bench Manning for a Dec. 3 game against Oakland. The fan uproar was so great Reese and McAdoo were fired the next day.

Spagnuolo returned Manning as the starter the following game and the two were rewarded.

The Giants scored touchdowns on their first two possessions. Darkwa had a team-high 75-yard run on the second play from scrimmage and Manning found Sharp for his first career TD two plays after linebacker Sheppard intercepted Cousins’ first pass.

Darkwa said the feeling of winning was amazing.

“It feels great to end the year with a win,” said Darkwa, who will be a free agent. “Obviously there are a lot of changes coming this way, but I could not be more happy for the players and the coaches. We battled our tails off this season. There was no quit in this team and it showed today.”

New York botched both touchdown conversions. The PAT on the first one was blocked and the 2-point attempt after Sharp’s catch failed, leaving New York ahead 12-0.

Washington linebacker Preston Smith got the Redskins back in the game, intercepting a screen pass and returning it to the Giants 20. Cousinsscored on a 12-run two plays later.

Rosas added a 23-yard field goal for the Giants later in the first quarter and Hopkins hit a season-high 49-yarder on the final play of the half, cutting New York’s lead to 15-10.

Rosas had the only points of the second half, a 29-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

Jets 6, Patriots 26

Demario Davis, Dion Lewis,

New York Jets linebacker Demario Davis (56) tackles New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis (33) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Bill Belichick made it a priority to get his team prepared for frigid weather leading up to the Patriots’ regular-season finale against the New York Jets.

With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs following a 26-6 victory on Sunday, the AFC’s road to the Super Bowl will again run through New England.

Dion Lewis ran for a touchdown and caught a scoring pass, helping the Patriots wrap up the top seed. The win clinched the seventh 13-win season for the Patriots (13-3), which is second in NFL history to San Francisco’s nine seasons.

It was also Belichick’s 250th career regular-season win, moving him into a tie with Tom Landry for third all-time among head coaches.

New England has defeated New York in four straight meetings, and the Patriots haven’t lost to the Jets (5-11) at home during the regular season with Tom Brady starting since 2006. Brady’s 13th win as a starter this season tied him with Brett Favre for the most by a starting quarterback at age 40 or older.

“Our biggest games are ahead of us,” Brady said. “We’re 13-3, that’s the best in the AFC, that’s what we’re playing for, so that’s pretty good.”

Lewis finished with a season-high 26 carries for 93 yards . Brandin Cooks had 11 catches for 79 yards and touchdown for New England, which will have a first-round bye in the playoffs. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was held without a catch for the first time this season.

James Harrison, signed by New England last Tuesday after being cut by Pittsburgh, had two sacks — on consecutive plays to end the game — and finished with five total tackles and a forced fumble.

“I always wonder why I’m not playing,” Harrison said when asked if this was statement game for him. “Like they say, it’s never easy and it’s never late. It’s just timing.”

Temperatures dipped into the low-teens at kickoff, but it didn’t stop the Patriots from being aggressive at the outset.

They won the coin toss and elected to receive, going away from their typical decision to defer until the second half. Brady and the offense went to work, quickly moving 75 yards in just 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 3-yard TD run by Lewis. The drive included a fourth-down pass conversion, one of three hookups between Brady and Danny Amendola in the series.

Penalties on the Jets’ defense aided New England’s final two scores of the first half. Safety Marcus Maye was called for a 39-yard pass interference penalty early in the second quarter that set up a 5-yard TD pass from Brady to Cooks that made it 14-3.

Then just before halftime, New York cornerback Juston Burris was flagged for defensive holding on a Patriots third-down pass attempt. New England got into the end zone three plays later via another 5-yard TD pass, this time from Brady to Lewis.

The Jets’ offense was anemic throughout with Bryce Petty playing the entire game at quarterback after it appeared Christian Hackenberg might see his first regular-season action at some point in the finale. New York was 0 for 12 on third down and 0 for 1 in its lone trip into the red zone.

“We stuck together,” linebacker David Bass said. “We went through adversity, ups and downs, but more downs than we wanted. We stuck together through it all.”

Patriots safety Devin McCourty said getting the top seed shows the toughness of a team that lost key players such as Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower to injury.

“Those things we went through, when you wrap up the 2017 season, molded us, shaped us,” McCourty said. “You look back on all that now, we needed all that.”

INJURIES

Jets: CB Morris Claiborne left briefly in the first quarter, but was able to return. … Maye limped off the field in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. … WR Robby Anderson left after a fourth-quarter hit from Stephon Gilmore to have his head evaluated. Coach Todd Bowles said after the game that Anderson suffered a concussion.

Patriots: LB Elandon Roberts was shaken up on a play in the third quarter.

ECLIPSING 1,000

The Patriots have three players with 1,000-plus scrimmage yards in the same season for the first time in franchise history: Lewis, Gronkowski, Cooks.

FRIGID TEMPS

It was 13 degrees at kickoff, and the Patriots wanted to make sure their visitors knew it.

A thermometer was hung in the Jets’ tunnel on Sunday. New York players filed past on their way to and from the field before the game .

It was the coldest regular-season home game in Patriots history. They had a playoff games that was colder — a divisional round game against the Tennessee Titans on Jan. 10, 2004, when it was 4 degrees with a wind chill that made it feel like minus 10.

Jets safety Jamal Adams went out pregame without a shirt to test the weather. He soon got a text from his mother.

“I put my shirt on, real quick,” he said.

BELOW 50

Brady’s 48.6 completion percentage (18 of 37) marked only the second time this season he completed less than 50 percent of his passes. He completed 44.4 percent (16 of 36) in the Patriots’ season-opening loss to Kansas City. Before that, it hadn’t happened since Oct. 20, 2013, in a 30-27 road loss to the Jets.

UP NEXT

Patriots: Have a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

Browns 24, Steelers 28

Darrius Heyward-Bey

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (88) scores during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — It was a lost season distilled to one play, filled with hope and achingly familiar anguish for a franchise that’s known little else over the last two decades.

Fourth down. Trailing by four. One last shot at avoiding NFL infamy. Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer somehow escaped pressure. He worked to his left and flicked the ball to receiver Corey Coleman all alone on the sideline, well past the first-down marker.

The ball smacked off Coleman’s hands then fell harmlessly to the frigid Heinz Field turf. Two minutes later, the clock hit zero. Pittsburgh 28. Cleveland 24.Woe and 16.

The Browns joined the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to go winless during a 16-game season when they couldn’t overcome Pittsburgh’s backups or the kind of mistakes that have become their trademark during a turnaround that’s been stuck in neutral for 10 years, yet one owner Jimmy Haslam remains positive will come if his organization just keeps at it.

“I’m not going to say this is going to be easy but I am confident we’ll do this,” Haslam said. “Some of you don’t know us that well. We don’t give up easily. We’re not going to give up. Is it disappointing? Hell yeah it’s disappointing. Is it discouraging? To a certain point but we’re going to get this done.”

And Haslam remains intent on doing it with head coach Hue Jackson. Haslam reiterated Jackson will return in 2018 despite a 1-31 record through two seasons. Cleveland is 4-48 since Week 12 of the 2014 season, has dropped 21 straight road games and 17 straight games to AFC North opponents.

“You can say a lot of things about us this year, but down to the last minute or two minutes, our guys played hard,” Haslam said. “I think the primary job an NFL job has to do is provide leadership. I think Hue’s provided great leadership.”

What Haslam knows new general manager John Dorsey needs to get Jackson over the next eight months are NFL-caliber players. The Browns have some, but not enough to compete with the likes of the AFC North champion Steelers, who improved to 13-3 despite sitting healthy stars Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and others to rest them for the playoffs.

Cleveland has the first and fourth picks in the 2018 draft, and it’s the future — and not the present — that Jackson would prefer to focus on.

“This part of the journey is over with,” Jackson said. “The two years of this has been tough. But I think we’re at the end of that road. I think our players know it. I think the organization knows it. I know our fans don’t.”

There were signs of progress, as there has been all season. Just not enough to produce something resembling consistently competent football. Kizer finished with 314 yards passing and two touchdowns to Rashard Higgins but also threw a fourth-quarter pick, his NFL-leading 22nd of the season.

While there were bouts of competency, including a pair of takeaways by the defense and long Kizer hookups to Higgins and Josh Gordon, the Browns simply could not get out of their own way. Twice in the first half they drew third-down defensive penalties that extended Pittsburgh drives. Three times in the fourth quarter they had the ball and a chance to go ahead.

The first two ended with turnovers, giving Cleveland an NFL-high 41 on the season. The third ended with Kizer somehow escaping pressure on fourth down at the Pittsburgh 27 only to have his pass clank off Coleman’s hands and fall to the frozen turf, one last missed opportunity in a year filled with far too many.

“This is a tough scenario, a historic scenario but it will never be like this ever again,” Gordon said. “What it’s really going to take go through a full offseason and make sure it never happens again starts today.”

While Jackson, who will jump in Lake Erie at some point in the near future to fulfill his vow the Browns wouldn’t go 1-15 as they did in 2016, is expected back in 2018, another offseason filled with searching awaits. Jackson plans to be along for the ride.

“I don’t think we’re way, way off as many people think we are,” Jackson said. “I think it’s making right decisions, doing the right things, having trust in what we’re doing, having people to do it day in and day out, and this thing will get turned. I truly believe that.”

BACKUPS SHINE

The Steelers never trailed while beating their closest rivals for a seventh straight time. Landry Jones completed 23 of 27 passes for 239 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster caught nine passes for 143 yards and a score. He also returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown .

Pittsburgh sacked Kizer six times, boosting its season total to 56, a franchise record. Despite the victory, the Steelers will be the second seed in the AFC playoffs. New England clinched home-field advantage with a victory over the New York Jets.

UP NEXT

Browns: “With the first pick in the 2018 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select …”

Steelers: Will enjoy a week off before hosting the divisional round the weekend of Jan. 13-14.

 

Texans 13, Colts 22

Texans Colts Football

Indianapolis Colts’ Chris Milton (28) scores on a 1-yard touchdown run during the second half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano never asked his team to win Sunday’s season finale for him.

They did it anyway — and he lost his job anyway.

With a dismal season drawing to a close and Pagano’s fate seemingly decided, Jacoby Brissett threw for one touchdown, Marlon Mack ran for another and Adam Vinatieri made two field goals to send their coach out with one last victory celebration, 22-13 over Houston.

“I was eavesdropping a bit and he hit it right on the head, those five minutes in the locker room was just the best Christmas gift, New Year’s gift,” Brissett said. “You see the smiles and the feeling of finally finishing. After the game, Chuck gave us one of the greatest speeches I ever heard. He said no matter what grade you get, from ‘A’ to ‘F,’ you don’t get an ‘I.'”

Less than two hours later, he was out of a job.

It was an emotional ending to a challenging season.

Seventeen players, including Andrew Luck, finished the year on injured reserve. The Colts (4-12) blew seven second-half leads, missed the playoffs for the third straight year and finished with their first losing record since 2011.

Now comes the hard part — coping with changes.

Before the official announcement, Pagano thanked team owner Jim Irsay for giving him a chance to be a head coach, and his players for continuing to play hard. He said he enjoyed working with general manager Chris Ballard and even thanked reporters.

“We fell short, I fell short,” Pagano said. “We didn’t meet our goals and I’m sorry that we didn’t, we haven’t hoisted that thing (the Lombardi Trophy) yet. I’ll continue to have faith in our players that will happen at some point for this organization.”

Houston’s plight has been equally bad.

The Texans (4-12) finished with six straight losses.

Less than an hour after the game, general manager Rick Smith announced he would take an immediate leave of absence to help his wife, who is battling breast cancer. And Houston can’t even take solace in getting a high draft pick because it doesn’t have a first- or second-rounder.

A dull season finale didn’t help matters.

Brissett threw a 6-yard TD pass to Jack Doyle on the first play of the second quarter for Indy’s first score, and the Colts took the lead for good when Mack scored on a 2-yard plunge midway through the third quarter.

All the Texans could muster were two long first-half field goals and a 2-yard TD run from Alfred Blue in the second quarter to take a 13-7 halftime lead. But the offense gave away two points on a safety early in the fourth quarter and managed only two first downs and 29 total yards in the second half.

“I don’t want to go down that road,” coach Bill O’Brien said when asked about his job status. “I just want to reflect on this one, think about improvements that need to be made and go from there.”

PAGANO’S GESTURE

Pagano spent part of the pregame signing autographs for fans. But television cameras also caught him hugging and talking to the father of Texans offensive lineman David Quessenberry, who made his NFL debut last week after fighting cancer.

Back in 2012 when Pagano was battling leukemia, Texans running back Arian Foster celebrated a TD run by tapping the #Chuckstrong sign in the end zone.

PUSHING AND SHOVING

Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton and Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph sure didn’t think it was a meaningless game.

Following a play early in the third quarter, the two got into a pushing and shoving match and at least one punch appeared to be thrown. The officials called offsetting personal fouls, but nobody was ejected.

GOODBYE GORE?

Frank Gore needed 139 yards rushing for his second straight 1,000-yard season. The Colts gave him a steady diet of carries, and when he limped off the field early in the fourth quarter after a short run, the fans gave him a rousing ovation. He returned later and finished with 24 carries for 100 yards.

But at age 34 and in the final year of his current contract, the Colts clearly wanted to give him a fond farewell — if doesn’t return next season.

INJURY REPORT

Texans: Receiver DeAndre Hopkins (calf) missed the first game of his NFL career, leaving four catches short of his second 100-reception season. Houston took another hit when receiver Will Fuller V departed with a left knee injury on the Texans’ first offensive series. Fuller did not return.

Colts: Indy played without right tackle Denzelle Good (knee) and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (ankle). It lost safety Kenny Moore in the first half (concussion) and he did not return.

Panthers 10, Falcons 22

APTOPIX Panthers Falcons Football

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) vies for a ball against Carolina Panthers strong safety Mike Adams (29) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons have no complaints about a short practice week and a long road trip as their reward for being the NFC’s last team to make the playoffs.

Matt Bryant kicked five field goals, including a 56-yarder, for all of Atlanta’s second-half points and the Falcons clinched a playoff spot by beating the Carolina Panthers 22-10 on Sunday.

Atlanta (10-6) is the No. 6 seed in the NFC and will play at the Los Angeles Rams in a wild-card game Saturday night.

“We’re in it. That’s the only thing you can ask for,” Bryant said.

After the teams played to a 7-7 halftime tie, the 42-year-old Bryant kicked field goals of 30, 42, 30, 56 and 33 yards without a miss.

“We needed every point we could get today,” Bryant said.

On a day when Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense struggled, Bryant’s 15 points provided a margin too great for Carolina to overcome.

The Panthers were held to 248 total yards.

“We didn’t play well enough to win,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “We can lie to ourselves, but we just didn’t play well enough offensively to win.”

The Panthers (11-5) had a playoff spot secured entering the weekend, but they couldn’t improve their position.

Minnesota’s 23-10 win over Chicago earlier Sunday ended the Panthers’ hopes of a first-round bye. The loss to the Falcons ended Carolina’s goal of winning the NFC South, and the Panthers will open the playoffs at New Orleans on Sunday.

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said the Panthers have to move past the loss quickly.

“It’s time to let this one go,” Munnerlyn said. “We don’t have time to let this loss linger on. It’s playoff time. We’ve got to let it go, move forward and get ready for New Orleans.”

Matt Ryan completed 28 of 45 passes for 317 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown pass to Devonta Freeman on Atlanta’s opening drive, and no interceptions.

The Panthers pulled even on Newton’s 4-yard scoring pass to Devin Funchess late in the first half. Newton threw three second-half interceptions. The third interception, by Robert Alford in the end zone with 8 seconds remaining, ended the Panthers’ final drive. Newton completed 14 of 34 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown. He led Carolina with 59 yards rushing, including a 17-yarder.

Newton said facing the Falcons, who faced a must-win situation, created a playoff environment.

“This is playoff football,” Newton said. “This was a hostile environment today and the way it’s looking we’re going to have a lot of hostile environments to go into.”

The Panthers’ only offensive highlight was a 16-play touchdown drive that consumed more than half of the second quarter and tied the game at 7. Newton completed a 27-yard pass to Brenton Bersin on a third-and-23 play to set up his scoring pass to Funchess.

The Falcons will be playing for a repeat trip to the Super Bowl.

“All you want is an opportunity,” said defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who had a sack and three tackles for losses. “We have one. Now it’s up to us to take advantage of it.”

SLOW START

Newton was 0 for 9 before finally completing his final seven passes of the first half. Newton completed his first pass to McCaffrey — for a loss of 3 yards — midway through the second quarter.

MILESTONE FOR JULIO

Julio Jones caught a 14-yard pass midway through the third quarter to reach 9,000 career yards faster than any receiver since the 1970 merger.

The two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection last month set the league mark with the most catches and yards receiving in a receiver’s first 90 games.

Jones finished with five catches for 80 yards, giving him 9,054 for his career.

TD ERASED ON REVIEW

With the game tied in the third quarter, the Falcons had an apparent touchdown taken off the board when a review showed Mohamed Sanu didn’t maintain control of a 12-yard catch in the end zone. The ball hit the ground after Sanu collided with Jones, who also was crossing to the middle of the end zone.

The Falcons settled for Bryant’s first 30-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.

NO STEWART

Running back Jonathan Stewart was scratched due to back tightness. The Panthers also were without two more starters: safety Kurt Coleman (ankle), and right guard Trai Turner (concussion).

UP NEXT

Panthers: Carolina will play at New Orleans on Sunday in the first round of the NFC playoffs.

Falcons: Atlanta will visit the Rams on Saturday in the first round of the playoffs.

 

Saints 24, Buccaneers 31

Jameis Winston

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) reaches the ball over the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The New Orleans Saints weren’t in much of a mood to slip on t-shirts and hats to celebrate their first NFC South championship in six years.

Despite achieving a goal of winning the division and ensuring a home playoff game, Sunday’s 31-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers left the team with a bittersweet feeling.

“It’s a little solemn obviously just the way that game ended,” quarterback Drew Brees said after Chris Godwin’s 39-yard touchdown reception with nine seconds remaining put the Bucs ahead for good with nine seconds remaining.

“That was one we felt like we should have won. But, bottom line is we are NFC South Champions, and there’s a lot to be proud of,” Brees said. “It’s been a long season. We’ve had our ups and downs at times. We’ve shown ourselves what is possible.”

Rookie Alvin Kamara returned a kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown and also had a TD rushing for the Saints (11-5), who’ll host division rival Carolina (11-5) in the NFC wild-card round next Sunday.

The Panthers’ 22-10 loss to Atlanta on the final day of the regular season denied Carolina the NFC South title.

“We had hats, shirts. We talked about the accomplishment,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We talked about where we’re at. We start kind of another season right now.”

The scene in the other locker room Sunday understandably was a lot more upbeat.

Winston threw for 363 yards and ran for a touchdown, special teams player Isaiah Johnson scored on a fumble return and the Bucs (5-11) snapped a five-game losing streak.

Coach Dirk Koetter was told before the finale that he would return for a third season at Tampa Bay’s coach, however Winston said it was still important to go out with a win.

“It took a lot of courage for the Glazer family to bring me back, to bring the staff back with the record what it is. I really appreciate that and we’ll start the evaluation process (Monday),” Koetter said. “We’ll send these guys out on vacation and start working on 2018.”

Trailing 24-23 with 1:58 remaining, Winston moved the Bucs 95 yards in 11 plays for the winning TD.

He converted a fourth-and-10 from his own 5 yard line with a 12-yard completion to Cameron Brate and threw 9 yards to Mike Evans on third-and-1 to keep the drive going at the Tampa Bay 35.

The fourth-year pro, who was intercepted three times, found Godwin racing up the right sideline just ahead of Saints cornerback Ken Crawley to put the Bucs ahead for good.

Koetter, who calls Tampa Bay’s offensive play, actually called for a pass to the left sideline to move the ball into field goal range. Winston recognized that Godwin was going to draw single coverage and went for the rookie, whose playing time increased the past two weeks because DeSean Jackson was injured.

“I wish somebody would have took a video of the coaches on the sidelines because I could hear them. They were like: ‘Noooooo!'” Winston said. “But we scored. That’s how coaches are.”

Brees threw a 3-yard TD pass to Zach Line for a 24-20 New Orleans lead midway through the fourth quarter, but New Orleans couldn’t make it stand.

Patrick Murray, whose missed an extra point was the difference on the scoreboard when Winston launched the winning drive, made a 42-yard field goal to help the Bucs pull within one point with four minutes left.

Kamara, who’s teamed with Mark Ingram to give New Orleans the only tandem in NFL history 1,500-plus scrimmage yards and more than 10 TDs in the same season, wiped out an early 7-0 deficit with his kickoff return.

The rookie’s 7-yard TD run on the Saints’ first offensive possession made it 14-7.

“Mark always says we’re in the business of making history, so to be able to get that, it’s monumental,” Kamara said. “It’s something that we’ll never forget. It’s something that’s going down in the record book somewhere. It’s an honor to be able to be part of that.”

The touchdowns were the 13th and 14th of the season for Kamara, who has eight rushing and five receiving in addition to the second 100 yard-plus kickoff return for a TD allowed by Tampa Bay in two weeks.

Brees finished 22 of 30 for 245 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Michael Thomas went over 100 receptions for season with six catches for 94 yards.

Godwin has seven receptions for 111 yards. Adam Humphries had seven catches for 102 yards for Tampa Bay, which failed to make the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.

BREES’ GRANDFATHER

Brees will be away from the Saints for a couple of days this week, attending the funeral for his grandfather, however he’s not expected to miss any practice time as the team prepares to face Carolina. “I’ll be with my family (Monday) and Tuesday, burying my grandfather,” Brees said. “I’ll bring along the lap top and try and do what I can on the plane. I’ll get my preparation in.”

INJURIES

Saints: None reported during the game.

Buccaneers: S T.J. Ward left with a knee injury and did not play in the second half. … T Caleb Benenoch injured an ankle during the first half but returned. He limped off for good a sore knee in the second half.

UP NEXT

Saints: First playoff appearance since 2013.

Buccaneers: Coach Dirk Koetter, who’s 13-18, was told before the finale that he will return for a third season.

Cardinals 26, Seahawks 24

Drew Stanton

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (5) passes against the Seattle Seahawks in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SEATTLE (AP) — If this was Bruce Arians’ final game with the Arizona Cardinals, he went out in perfect fashion with a win in the place he called “our home field.”

“Thanks y’all for coming to my house,” Arians cracked on Sunday.

Phil Dawson kicked four field goals, the last from 42 yards with 2:21 left, Blair Walsh missed a 48-yard attempt with 32 seconds left and the Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks 26-24 on Sunday to close the season.

Speculation has swirled in recent days about Arians stepping away at the end of the season. He declined to announce a decision after the victory, but was emotional and spoke with pride about the Cardinals performance and winning a third straight game on the Seahawks home field.

“We’ll think about it. I’m not going to drag it out because it’s not fair to people if I do decide,” Arians said.

Seattle started the day with playoff hopes that were dashed when Atlanta beat Carolina to earn the final wild-card spot in the NFC. Walsh’s missed field goal was the final — and poetic — blow to an underwhelming season by the Seahawks that started with Super Bowl hopes dashed by injuries and inconsistency.

Arizona’s game-winning drive was helped by a careless third down roughing penalty on Seattle’s Bobby Wagner when it appeared the Seahawks would get off the field. Arizona (8-8) later converted third-and-2 with a 17-yard pass to D.J. Foster and Dawson connected after hitting earlier in the game from 46, 49 and 53 yards.

Wagner was coming around the corner on the pass rush and said he did not see Drew Stanton had already released the pass.

“I was trying to turn the corner and I was trying to get out of the way and I hit him,” Wagner said. “No matter what I still shouldn’t have hit him.”

Seattle (9-7) got into position for a game-winning attempt from Walsh, but his kick stayed out to the right and the Seahawks were left to lament missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2011 season. It was also the first time Seattle failed to win 10 games since Russell Wilson’s arrival in 2012.

“I had prepared myself for the worst-case scenario, but when it actually came to fruition I didn’t realize how painful it was going to be emotionally,” Seattle’s Doug Baldwin said.

Stanton threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jaron Brown on Arizona’s opening drive and Elijhaa Penny had a 4-yard TD run as the Cardinals jumped to a big early lead but stumbled offensively in the second half. Stanton finished 15 of 34 for 145 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The goal among Arizona’s players was to get Arians his 50th victory with the club and get back to .500 even though it was eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago.

“We had a great win today and hopefully he’ll want to come back and coach another three or four years,” Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald said.

The Seahawks needed to beat the Cardinals and get a Carolina victory over Atlanta in order to make the postseason as a wild-card team.

But the Panthers did Seattle no favors, losing 22-10 minutes before the Seahawks game went final. Seattle will be joining the Cardinals in cleaning out lockers on the day after the season ends for the first time in six years.

Wilson overcame an awful first half to put Seattle in position for the victory after the Seahawks trailed 20-7 at halftime and were deservedly booed off the field.

Wilson finished 18 of 29 for 221 yards after completing just 4 of 8 passes for 36 yards in the first half. Seattle had just 24 yards in the first 30 minutes and Wilson was sacked twice.

Wilson threw touchdown passes to Baldwin of 18 and 29 yards in the second half. He connected with Baldwin for 23 yards and Jimmy Graham 21 yards to get Seattle into field-goal range on the final possession. But Walsh missed for the eighth time this season.

“I just kind of played it to an area that didn’t go off my foot to the direction I wanted it to,” Walsh said. “It stinks, yeah.”

RECORDS SET

Arizona’s Chandler Jones finished with two sacks, surpassing Simeon Rice and setting a franchise record. Jones finished the season with 17 sacks. … Fitzgerald had eight receptions to finish the season with 109, tying his career-high. Fitzgerald extended his streak of having at least one catch to 211 straight games, tied with Tony Gonzalez for the second-longest streak in league history.

TOUCHDOWN LEADER

Wilson ended up leading the NFL in touchdown passes with 34 this season. Most of them came in the fourth quarter when Wilson threw an NFL-record 19 TDs.

KICKING IT

Dawson’s 53-yarder was his 42nd field goal of 50 or more yards. It tied him with John Kasey for fourth most in league history.

49ers 34, Rams 13

49ers Rams Football

San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde scores against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jimmy Garoppolo went out with a flourish, leading the suddenly exciting San Francisco 49ers to their fifth straight win to end the season.

Now he heads into the offseason while Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and the rest of the Los Angeles Rams head into the franchise’s first playoff appearance since the 2004 season.

Garoppolo threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns to lead the 49ers to a 34-13 victory Sunday against a Rams team that chose to rest its big stars for the playoffs, including Goff, Gurley and Aaron Donald.

The Rams (11-5), who clinched the NFC West last weekend, got everything they hoped for: healthy players and the NFC’s No. 3 seed. They’ll host the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night.

First-year coach Sean McVay called the loss “humbling” but didn’t second-guess the decision to rest the stars.

“You certainly try to win the game,” he said, “but when you look at the way we approached it, we feel good about being able to allow some of players to get some rest, some recovery time that I think is much needed for those guys, and then you keep a couple of guys out of harm’s way.”

McVay welcomed the challenge of playing the Falcons, adding: “Our players will be juiced up to be able to get this preparation going and I know our coaches certainly feel that way, too.”

The 49ers (6-10) finished last in the division, but have hope with Garoppolo, who was Tom Brady’s backup with New England before being acquired on Oct. 31. He threw touchdown passes of 8 yards to Marquise Goodwin — who later left with a concussion after a brutal hit by Blake Countess — and 12 yards to Aldrick Robinson. Both receivers were wide open.

Garoppolo completed 20 of 33 passes, looking confident and making some brilliant throws. He also was intercepted twice. Of course, it helped not having to face Donald and the Rams’ four starting linebackers.

“We could keep going,” Garoppolo said. “It’s unfortunate that our season comes to an end like this, but hopefully for next year we keep this good thing going. … Next year’s team will have a different identity than this one did, but I think ending the season how we did definitely helped us.”

Carlos Hyde, who predicted last week that the Niners will win next season’s Super Bowl, ran 15 times for 90 yards, scoring on runs of 8 and 5 yards.

THE INJURY

The game was marred when Goodwin was laid out with a shot to the left side of the helmet by Countess after an incomplete pass late in the first half. Goodwin flailed on the field for a moment before going still. He was tended to for several minutes before being helped to his feet and gingerly placed on a seat in the back of a cart. He motioned to fans with both hands and took off his helmet as he was driven up the tunnel at the LA Coliseum. He was ruled out with a concussion and taken to a hospital for evaluation.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said tests were positive and that Goodwin would return to the Bay Area with the team. “It was really good news. His scan passed fine,” Shanahan said. “It wasn’t as scary as it seemed. He’s going to be all right.”

Countess was flagged for unnecessary roughness for hitting a defenseless player. He was being evaluated for a concussion.

“Unbelievable the safety did that,” Garoppolo said. “It’s not good for our sport, it’s not good for anybody. It’s just a dirty play. Marquise is as tough as they come and he bounces back from just about everything, so hopefully he’ll be all right.”

Hyde scored on an 8-yard run on the next play.

“The O-line wanted to make a statement,” Garoppolo said. “We did that one for ‘Quise, I think.”

GAROPPOLO’S TOUCH

The catalyst for the 49ers’ late-season run, Garoppolo showed a nice touch in finding open receivers. Working from the Rams 8 late in the first quarter, Garoppolo’s primary receiver was covered, so the QB found Goodwin in the right flat for the easy score.

Early in the fourth, Robinson was wide open up the middle for his 12-yard scoring catch.

Robbie Gould capped the 49ers’ first drive with a 33-yard field goal. The big play on that drive was Garoppolo’s 44-yard pass to tight end George Kittle on third down. Kittle caught a short pass over the middle and broke it for a big gain.

GURLEY SITS

The star running back was inactive, costing him the NFL rushing title. Gurley came into Sunday leading the NFL with 1,305 yards, followed by Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt with 1,292 and Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell with 1,291. Bell also sat out Sunday. Hunt’s first carry Sunday was for 35 yards and a touchdown, moving him past Gurley.

UP NEXT

Rams: Will host Falcons at 5:15 p.m. Saturday.

Bengals 31, Ravens 27

Tyler Kroft, Kamalei Correa

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Kroft (81) reaches for a touchdown pass under pressure from Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Kamalei Correa (51) during the first half of an NFL football game in Baltimore, Sunday, Dec 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

BALTIMORE (AP) — The crowd was yelling as the clock was winding down. The Baltimore Ravens and their fans were poised for a New Year’s Eve celebration, long before the clock struck midnight.

And then, an instant later, silence.

There would be no football in January for the Ravens, who were ousted from the playoff hunt in stunning fashion Sunday when Andy Dalton threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds left to give the Cincinnati Bengals a 31-27 victory.

Needing a win to advance to the postseason, Baltimore (9-7) rallied from a 14-point deficit to take its first lead with 8:48 left. But Dalton put together a magnificent 90-yard drive in the closing minutes before hitting Boyd over the middle on a fourth-and-12 play.

“To battle our way back the way we did, and then not to be able to finish and win the game is about as tough as it can be,” coach John Harbaugh said.

Boyd avoided a tackle by Maurice Canady and raced to the end zone to give Cincinnati (7-9) the victory in what might have been its final game under coach Marvin Lewis.

Baltimore entered knowing it could have also gotten into the postseason if either Tennessee or Buffalo tied or lost. Both those teams won, leaving the Ravens with no margin for error on a frigid and windy day.

“Nobody’s happy,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We didn’t make the plays. We weren’t good enough.”

After getting off to a horrid start, the Ravens appeared in position to end their two-year hiatus from the postseason. Plenty of players stepped up in their time of need: Chris Moore had a pivotal kickoff return, Alex Collins delivered a huge fourth-down touchdown run and quarterback Joe Flacco bounced back from a horrible 4-for-18 start.

Flacco’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace made it 27-24, but all of that was rendered meaningless after Dalton put an appropriate finish on a game filled with huge plays.

Dalton also threw a pair of touchdown passes to Tyler Kroft.

Whether it was Lewis’ last game on the sideline after a 15-year run with the Bengals will likely be determined on Monday. If it was the finale, it was a heck of a finish to a tenure in which Lewis went 125-112-3 in the regular season and 0-7 in the playoffs.

Asked if he would like a shot at Year 16, Lewis replied, “Yes, I want to coach this team.”

But he added: “It’s more complicated than that.”

He is expected to meet with owner Mike Brown on Monday.

The Ravens were down 17-3 late in the first half when Moore rambled 87 yards with a kickoff before being stopped near the left sideline with 8 seconds left. He finished what he started on the next play, catching a 6-yard touchdown pass.

Thus, Baltimore trailed by only 17-10 at the break despite a 268-61 deficit in yardage and 16-2 disparity in first downs.

The Ravens took that momentum into the third quarter, moving deftly downfield before Moore juggled a pass that ended up in the hands of Cincinnati’s Darqueze Dennard, who sprinted down the left sideline 89 yards for a touchdown .

Trailing again by two TDs, Baltimore faced a fourth-and-3 from the Cincinnati 17. Collins took a pitchout designed to go around left end, reversed his field and ran around a block by Flacco to get into the right corner of the end zone.

That set the stage for a tense fourth quarter in a game Cincinnati dominated at the outset.

The Bengals moved 78 yards on eight plays following the opening kickoff and took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to Kroft. That represented more points than Cincinnati scored in the first game between the teams, a 20-0 Baltimore victory in the season opener.

The Ravens’ first five possessions produced several dropped passes, one first down and five punts.

CHILLIN’ TO THE MAXX

Ravens tight end Maxx Williams went through preliminary warmups without a shirt, even though the temperature was 19 degrees. He did, however, wear a knit hat and sweat pants.

INJURY UPDATE

Bengals: LB Jordan Evans (head, shoulder) left in the third quarter. … WR Josh Malone (ankle) did not play in the second half. … S Shawn Williams (back) left in the third quarter.

Ravens: Moore sustained a concussion in the third quarter and did not return. … WR Jeremy Maclin (knee) was inactive for a second straight week. … Ravens DB Anthony Levine (foot) left in the second quarter.

Jaguars 10, Titans 15

Marcus Mariota, Calais Campbell

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) scrambles ahead of Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell (93) in the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Titans linebackers Brian Orakpo and Wesley Woodyard had a little talk with Marcus Mariota, encouraging their quarterback to run whenever he had a chance.

Mariota did just that Sunday.

Mariota had his best game running since a broken right leg ended his season a year ago, and he helped the Titans end an eight-season playoff drought by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 15-10 Sunday to clinch the AFC’s first wild-card berth.

Orakpo called it an unbelievable feeling as the nine-year pro finally is headed to his first NFL postseason.

“I didn’t want to be on a Southwest flight back to Texas tomorrow wondering, ‘what if,'” Orakpo said.

The Titans (9-7) snapped a three-game skid needing a win or losses elsewhere to advance. When Cincinnati beat Baltimore 31-27, that locked up the No. 5 seed for Tennessee and a wild-card game Saturday at Kansas City.

Mariota ran a season-high 10 times for 60 yards, the biggest a 13-yard scramble on third-and-5 at the 2:00 mark that included a big stiff arm. Mariota also threw for 134 yards, including a TD pass on a screen that Derrick Henry took 66 yards for a TD.

“When I looked into his eyes, he had those Oregon eyes like he did back in college, running around making plays,” Orakpo said of Mariota. “I think me and Wood got in his head a little bit — in a positive way. We talked to him like, ‘If you see something, take off, man.’ We had a nice little talk, and it just paid off the way he was digging down deep.”

The Titans didn’t call many designed runs for Mariota.

“For them to bring me aside and talk to me about just playing my game meant a lot to me,” Mariota said of Orakpo and Woodyard.

Ryan Succop also kicked three field goals.

The Titans sacked Blake Bortles twice and forced four turnovers, two interceptions by Kevin Byard.

The Jaguars (10-6) clinched their first AFC South title a week ago when Tennessee lost to San Francisco. Coach Doug Marrone promised they came to win. Only left tackle Cam Robinson and wide receiver Marqise Lee were scratched — both were on the injury report this week.

Yet they head into the postseason having lost two straight in their first such skid this season.

“The good part about this is we’re going home,” Marrone said. “Whenever you have adversity in life and what you do, there’s always that comfort of going home. We’ve earned the opportunity to play a home playoff game.”

The Jaguars had a chance to win after Mariota lost his first fumble this season in the fourth quarter. Henry ran the wrong direction and collided with Mariota on a handoff, popping the ball in the air. Yannick Ngakoue picked it up and ran 67 yards for a TD, pulling the Jaguars within 15-10 with 10:48 left.

But Byard got his second pick with 10 seconds remaining to seal the win.

The Titans led 6-3 when they forced two turnovers 42 seconds apart just before halftime.

Jaguars returner Jaydon Mickens signaled for a fair catch, then went to block as the ball came down close to him, and Phillip Supernaw recovered the bobble for Tennessee. On the next drive, Titans rookie cornerback Adoree Jackson punched the ball loose from Keelan Cole and Jayon Brown recovered.

Succop capped each drive with a field goal, his second a 39-yarder as time expired for a 12-3 halftime lead.

HENRY’S CHANCE

The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner got his fourth start and first this season with DeMarco Murray scratched with an injured right knee. Henry struggled in the first quarter and was tackled for too many losses. But Henry gave the Titans’ their lone TD when he took a screen on the second play of the second quarter for a 6-0 lead.

It was Henry’s first TD catch of his career. It was his third TD of 60 yards or longer this season, second in the NFL to Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill who has five.

SCUFFLE

After the game, Jaguars linebackers Donald Payne and Blair Brown argued with Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey. Brown appeared to throw a punch at Casey, though it didn’t connect with Titans safety Brynden Trawick between the men. Casey wouldn’t comment in the locker room about what happened. But he did note the Titans swept the division champs.

INJURIES

Jaguars safety Barry Church hurt a hamstring, but he returned.

Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan left for a play when officials stopped action in the fourth quarter for an injury. He also returned and finished the game.

UP NEXT

Jaguars: Host Buffalo in their first playoff game in Jacksonville since the AFC championship game in January 2000.

Titans: Visiting Kansas City on Saturday for their first playoff game since January 2009.

 

Raiders 10, Chargers 30

Raiders Chargers Football

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers finished off another impressive home victory and quickly retreated to their locker room, hoping for good news that never came.

The Oakland Raiders trudged back to their locker room and got some dismaying news of their own: coach Jack Del Rio had been fired at the close of a miserable season.

Rivers passed for 387 yards and three touchdowns, but the Chargers missed out on a playoff berth despite their 30-10 victory over the Raiders on Sunday.

Keenan Allen scored on a 27-yard fumble recovery and a brilliant 6-yard TD catch for the Chargers (9-7), who won six of their final seven games in their relocation season.

But the Bolts needed help from losses by two other AFC teams to become the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs after an 0-4 start, and they were eliminated when Tennessee beat Jacksonville 15-10 moments after the final gun in Carson.

“You’re a little bit disappointed. Shoot, a lot disappointed,” Rivers said. “You kick yourself that you put yourself in this situation where you needed help, and you know you let some games get away that you never should have. … That’s where it hurts the most, because we’re a pretty hot team that’s going home.”

Tyrell Williams caught a 56-yard TD pass and Travis Benjamin caught a 62-yard scoring pass for the Chargers, who won nine of their final 12 games. They fought fiercely to overcome that rough start, which included two losses decided by missed field goals on the final snap, but the Bolts couldn’t quite do it.

“I think this team can become a championship team,” Chargers first-year head coach Anthony Lynn said. “That’s what I believe. I don’t think that, I believe. They showed me that throughout the season. I wish it would have happened a little sooner, but I think we’re trending in the right direction. I think we’re on to something.”

Amari Cooper caught an 87-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr, but the Raiders (6-10) gave their faithful LA fans little else to cheer. Moments after the game ended, owner Mark Davis fired Del Rio, who went 25-23 in three seasons.

Davis then put Del Rio in the awkward position of announcing his own firing.

“He told me he loved me and appreciated all that I did, but felt like we weren’t going in the right direction,” Del Rio said. “He felt he needed a change, and I told him how much I appreciated the opportunity he gave me. I mean that. Very grateful. My childhood team. But it’s a results business. I understand that.”

Carr passed for 243 yards as the Raiders wrapped up their 14th non-winning season in the past 15 years.

“It hurts,” Carr said. “This is a bond that you create and that’s a bond that is going to last. It hurts when something (bad) happens to someone you care about. We weren’t good enough for him.”

Rivers became the ninth quarterback in NFL history to surpass 50,000 yards passing, and he tied Fran Tarkenton for sixth place in league history with 342 touchdown passes. The 36-year-old passer left little doubt he’s still on top of his game with a series of fine long passes, shredding the Raiders’ beleaguered secondary.

After a scoreless first quarter, Allen finished a 99-yard drive for the Chargers by being in the right place when running back Melvin Gordon fumbled for the first time all season. The ball popped in the air and straight to Allen, who took it in for the sixth TD of his Pro Bowl season.

The Raiders answered with a beautiful, long strike down the middle from Carr to Cooper, who took it in untouched.

Williams scored untouched on another long strike down the middle of the Raiders’ defense later in the quarter. Allen then capped the half with an exceptional foot-drag TD grab on a pinpoint fade pass from Rivers.

Gordon rushed for 93 yards for the Chargers, who finished the scoring in the third quarter when Benjamin went in untouched on another long throw by Rivers.

RAIDER NATION

The Chargers swept their season series with their fiercest rivals and earned their fifth straight win at StubHub Center despite a crowd cheering loudly for the Raiders, who played in Los Angeles County for the first time since moving back to Oakland after the 1994 season.

Those fans had little to celebrate as the Chargers beat down the Raiders, and a handful of silver-and-black fans threw bottles at the Chargers’ defense while it celebrated a fourth-quarter turnover in the end zone.

KEENAN’S HISTORY

Allen finished with nine catches for 133 yards in the latest spectacular game in his Pro Bowl season. He broke LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-season Chargers record on his 101st catch of the season in the fourth quarter.

GET THAT MONEY

Marshawn Lynch finished strong in his first season with his hometown team, getting 101 yards rushing and earning a $600,000 bonus for surpassing 800 yards on the season. He also surpassed 10,000 yards rushing for his career with an 11-yard gain late in the fourth quarter.

INJURIES

Raiders: S Karl Joseph injured his hamstring in the first half. … DL Eddie Vanderdoes had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter.

Chargers: Backup S Adrian Phillips missed his first game of the season after injuring his ankle last week.

Bills 22, Dolphins 16

Jordan Poyer

Buffalo Bills free safety Jordan Poyer (21) shows the ball after he intercepted a pass late in the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Bills defeated the Dolphins 22-16. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Amid the dancing and screaming and hugs and high-fives in the Buffalo Bills’ locker room , defensive tackle Kyle Williams watched his two young sons climbing around in his stall.

“What do you think, boys?” Williams shouted. “Where are we going? The playoffs?! Yeah!!”

His sons are only 6 and 4. For their dad and most Buffalo fans, Sunday was a long time coming.

The Bills snapped the longest current non-playoff drought in North American pro sports, making the postseason for the first time since 1999. They avoided elimination by beating Miami 22-16, and clinched an AFC wild-card berth minutes later when Cincinnati rallied past Baltimore.

The Bills watched the dramatic finish of the Bengals game on locker room TVs, and then erupted.

“Everybody went crazy,” said Williams, who is in his 12th and perhaps final season with the Bills. “I’ve been a wreck for 10 to 15 minutes.”

His voice choked with emotion, and he wasn’t the only one.

“Well I started crying, if that’s a good reaction …” former Bills running back Thurman Thomas said in a text to The Associated Press.

Buffalo (9-7) will travel to face Jacksonville and former Bills coach Doug Marrone on Sunday. Marrone resigned as Bills coach three years ago Sunday.

The Bills’ joy was tempered by the loss of 1,000-yard rusher LeSean McCoy with a right ankle injury. He was carted off the field in the third quarter, and was in a walking boot and tears after the game.

“Hopefully it’s not as bad as it seemed,” quarterback Tyrod Taylor said.

The frustration of a disappointing season got the best of the Dolphins (6-10) with 6:21 left, when receiver Jarvis Landry, running back Kenyan Drake and offensive lineman Jake Brendel were ejected following a fight . Landry was cited for disrespecting an official, and Drake for throwing his helmet 20 yards in anger. Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were called against both teams.

The undisciplined Dolphins, who came into the game with the second-most penalties in the NFL, had 14 for 145 yards.

Meanwhile, for the Bills, 17 seasons of frustration ended.

“The locker room is electric, man,” said guard Richie Incognito, who finished a season above .500 for the first time in his 11-year career. “We have been working so hard for this. So much has been said about it. And now the monkey is off our back. We’re in the postseason, and we’ve got new life.”

Buffalo punctuated the memorable victory with a 1-yard touchdown run by Williams for the first score of his career.

“I thought, ‘Try not to screw it up. They’re not going to call it again if I screw it up,'” he said.

He and his teammates celebrated with choreographed back flops in the end zone.

“I was a little surprised at the touchdown celebration,” Taylor said. “I was the only one who wasn’t aware of falling down.”

Golf great Jack Nicklaus wore Bills gear and a smile watching from the stands as his grandson, tight end Nick O’Leary, caught Taylor’s 26-yard touchdown pass.

The Dolphins scored a touchdown with 1:56 left and recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Jordan Poyer’s interception sealed the win.

Taylor went 19 for 27 for 204 yards and one score. In six games against Miami, he has 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions.

For the Dolphins, the season finale had the feel of an exhibition game, with thousands of empty seats and David Fales giving a lengthy, unimpressive audition as a potential backup quarterback in 2018. Miami was eliminated a week ago and will sit out the playoffs for the eighth time in the past nine years.

“I guess it’s a little perplexing,” defensive end Cameron Wake said.

REVERSAL

A 98-yard fumble return for a touchdown by the Bills’ Preston Brown was negated by a replay review. Instead, the Dolphins kept possession, and Landry scored on a 1-yard reception on the next play, when the fight broke out.

MIAMI QBS

Miami starter Jay Cutler took three snaps before he was replaced by Fales, a sixth-round draft pick by the Bears in 2014. Fales, who came into the game with only two career completions, went 29 for 42 for 265 yards with one score and one interception.

“Jay was great as far as saying, ‘Just let him go. Let him play a full game,'” coach Adam Gase said.

INJURY REPORT

Bills: McCoy was hurt when he carried up the middle. After being tackled, he pounded the turf with his fist as trainers attended to him. He had 10 yards on 11 carries to finish with 1,138 yards rushing, and added 448 receiving on a team-high 59 catches. … RT Jordan Mills (ankle) was helped off the field late in the second quarter.

Dolphins: LB Kiko Alonso suffered a neck injury.

UP NEXT: Buffalo will play a postseason game for the first time since losing at Tennessee in the Music City Miracle game in January 2000.

“Obviously the Bills have achieved something they haven’t done in a while,” Bills owner Terry Pegula said. “If we get a win next week, that’s what it’s all about.”

Chiefs 27, Broncos 24

Patrick Mahomes

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, left, throws against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

DENVER (AP) — Patrick Mahomes II made both his first NFL start and his first NFL relief appearance a success.

After handing off a two-touchdown lead midway through the fourth quarter in his spectacular NFL debut, the rookie first-round QB returned to rescue the Kansas City Chiefs , driving them 67 yards in 11 plays to beat Denver 27-24 on Harrison Butker’s 30-yard field goal as time expired.

“You always have to be ready,” Mahomes said. “All season long, it’s kind of been the same thing — you have to make sure you’re ready to go at any moment.”

The Chiefs (10-6) will go back to starting Alex Smith for their wild-card game Saturday against Tennessee, even more secure in the knowledge they have a clutch backup in Mahomes, the former Texas Tech standout they selected with the 10th overall pick in April.

“He played fantastic,” said Kareem Hunt, who secured the league’s rushing title by scurrying 35 yards for a touchdown on his only carry.

Smith and several other starters rested because Kansas City was locked into the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs, allowing coach Andy Reid to essentially use this regular season finale as a playoff bye.

“It was good to get a couple bumps and bruises healed up,” Reid said.

Von Miller said he was impressed by Mahomes, whom he expects to see plenty of in the coming years.

“He’s great,” Miller said. “He’s the quarterback of the future for the Chiefs.”

The Broncos (5-11) head into another offseason still searching for their quarterback of the future — and maybe their fourth coach in five years after Vance Joseph oversaw a team that lost eight times by double digits and oversaw an eight-game skid, their longest in 50 years.

Joseph, who inherited what was seemingly the best situation of the half dozen new head coaches in 2017 only to finish with the worst record of the bunch, will meet with GM John Elway on Monday to discuss his future.

“I want to be here,” Joseph said. “It’s a football team that’s close. We have to make some adjustments in some places, but our football team all year has not stopped working. That was fun to see, even tonight. It’s been a hard year but everyone kept fighting. I want to be here to fix it.”

Mahomes became the first quarterback drafted by the Chiefs to win a game for them since Todd Blackledge in 1987. He threw for 284 yards on 24-of-35 passing with no touchdowns and an interception.

Mahomes thought his day was won at 24-10 and Reid sent in Tyler Bray, who handed off late to fullback Anthony Sherman, who carried 14 times for 40 yards after coming into the game with six career carries in seven NFL seasons. Linebacker Zaire Anderson scooped up the loose ball and scored from 38 yards out to pull Denver to 24-17.

After the Chiefs punted, Lynch added a 6-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas on fourth down with 2:53 left, and Brandon McManus’ extra point tied it at 24.

Mahomes took off his jacket, put on his helmet and returned to the game with 2:45 left. He was promptly sacked by DeMarcus Walker but recovered nicely to drive K.C. to victory.

Mahomes made a good first impression , connecting with tight end Demetrius Harris for 51 yards on Kansas City’s opening drive. Then, he handed off to Hunt, who dashed for a 35-yard touchdown less than a minute into the game.

TOP RUSHER: Hunt secured the NFL rushing title over Todd Gurley II and Le’Veon Bell, both of whom were inactive Sunday. Hunt wasn’t planning on playing, either, but the Chiefs were thin at running back and dressed him.

“Honestly, it wasn’t on my radar because I wasn’t supposed to play,” said Hunt, who finished with 1,327 yards and joined the Bengals’ Paul Robinson, who led the AFL in rushing in 1968, as the only rookie rushing champs not selected in the first round of the common draft era — the last 50 years.

C.J. Anderson gained 61 yards to top 1,000 for the first time in his five-year with the Broncos.

“It was tough,” said Anderson, who carried 18 times.

LYNCH SO-SO: Broncos QB Paxton Lynch was 21 of 31 for 254 yards with two TDs, two interceptions and was sacked five times. He threw an interception late in the first half and was sacked three times in a five-snap span in the third quarter, losing the ball on one of them with linebacker Ramik Wilson scooping it up and scoring from 11 yards out.

It was 17 degrees at kickoff, the fifth-coldest home start in Broncos history and the coldest temperature for any of Lynch’s starts, in the pros or at Memphis.

INJURIES: Chiefs backup PR De’Anthony Thomas broke his right leg and CB Phillip Gaines was knocked out with an elbow injury just before halftime. Broncos S Will Parks (shoulder stinger) left in the fourth quarter.

UP NEXT: The Chiefs seek their first playoff win at Arrowhead Stadium in their history while the Broncos, who have lost five straight to K.C. for the first time since the early 1970s, head into another offseason where the only certainty is change.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s