2018 NFL Week 17 Monday Afternoon QB

Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders

Here is a recap of Week 17 of the 2018 NFL Season with a Monday Morning QB Christmas Edition & thanks again to AP Sports/ Pro 32 for photos & articles.

Cowboys 36, Giants 35

Cowboys Giants Football

Dallas Cowboys’ Cole Beasley, right, catches a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Don’t tell Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys their regular-season finale against the New York Giants was a meaningless game.

They played it to the end and got momentum for the playoffs, in which they will host Seattle next weekend.

Prescott threw a 32-yard fourth-down touchdown pass to Cole Beasley on a play that was reversed by video replay and added a winning 2-point conversion pass to Michael Gallup with 1:12 to play as the NFC East champion Cowboys rallied twice in the final 10 minutes to beat the New York Giants 36-35 on Sunday.

“You saw it out there, the intensity that we played with, the ups and the downs and how we stayed through it,” Prescott said after going 27 of 44 for 387 yards and a season-high four touchdowns, three to tight end Blake Jarwin. “We stayed positive, knowing we were going to give ourselves a chance to come out on the end. It was a great win.”

The win was the seventh in eight games for the Cowboys and it has them looking forward to next weekend’s wild-card game at home.

Dallas coach Jason Garrett downplayed the meaningless angle, even though he rested NFL leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott and two of his top offensive linemen.

“That might be for people outside our building, talking about the meaningful or meaningless nature of a game,” Garrett said. “They’re all very meaningful to us. It’s opportunity for us to improve as a football team, to finish strong, to have some momentum going into the playoffs.”

For the Giants (5-11), it was another late loss. They lost eight games by seven points or less in Pat Shurmur’s first season, the last two by a total of two points.

This also could have been quarterback Eli Manning’s final start for them after a 15-year career. He has a year left on a four-year contract but his salary will count $23 million against the cap next season.

The soon-to-be 38 year old who is not very mobile still loves to play, but New York has made the playoffs once since winning the Super Bowl in February 2012.

“The losses hurt and they are tough to deal with,” said Manning who went 24 of 41 for 301 yards and two touchdowns. “They are tougher now than in the past because you know your opportunities are running low to make playoffs and championship runs. When you are not doing as well as you want to, it is tough to handle.”

Saquon Barkley capped a record-setting rookie season with a sensational 2-yard touchdown dive with 3:21 to play to put the Giants ahead 35-28

However, Prescott engineered a nine-play, 70-yard drive that he ended with an arching pass to Beasley in the back of the end zone. There was no doubt he caught the ball, and a review showed he got his knee down in bounds.

“That was as good a play as I’ve ever seen him (Prescott) make, and Beas made a big-time catch at the end of it,” Garrett said, adding it made no sense to go to overtime with a playoff game next week.

Barkley finished with 109 yards rushing and 142 yards from scrimmage. He ended the season with 91 catches, breaking Reggie Bush’s NFL record (88) for most receptions by a rookie running back. The No. 2 overall pick also finished with 2,028 yards from scrimmage, joining Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (2,212 yards in 1983) and Edgerrin James (2,139 in 1999) as the only rookies with at least 2,000 scrimmage yards in NFL history.

Prescott hit Jarwin on scoring passes of 13, 19 and 39 yards. His 49-yard pass set up Rod Smith’s 1-yard TD run.

Manning had TD passes of 21 yards to Cody Latimer and 6 to Evan Engram, who also caught a 2-point conversion pass. Wayne Gallman added a 2-yard TD run and Aldrick Rosas kicked two field goals.

INJURIES

Cowboys: G Xavier Su’-a-Filo started with Zack Martin out and was hurt in the third quarter. WR Tavon Austin, who has been sidelined since Week 6 with a groin injury, returned to action. LB Leighton Vander Esch left the field with a lower-leg injury. He said it was minor.

Giants: Backup CB Grant Haley left in the first half with a concussion. WR-returner Corey Coleman sustained a second-half foot injury.

RUSHING TITLE, YARDS FROM SCRIMMAGE

Elliott won the NFL rushing title with 1,434 yards. Barkley finished second with 1,307 and Todd Gurley, who like Elliott did not play Sunday, dropped to third with 1,251 yards. Barkley’s 142 yards from scrimmage allowed him to lead the league. Elliott finished second with 2,001 and Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers was third with 1,965.

NOTES

Jarwin’s TD catches were his first three in the NFL. … Giants LB Olivier Vernon had 2½ sacks and six QB hits. … Dallas CB Chidobe Awuzie had an end-zone interception on the Giants’ opening drive. Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence had a strip-sack that fellow lineman Antwaun Woods recovered. … Giants LB B.J. Goodson recovered Amari Cooper’s fumble caused by DL Kerry Wynn.

UP NEXT

Cowboys: A wild-card game at home next weekend against Seattle. The Seahawks beat Dallas in Seattle in Week 3.

Giants: Go home and get ready for next season, with questions about Manning remaining their quarterback.

Panthers 33, Saints 14

Panthers Saints Football

Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen (7) scrambles under pressure from New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata (93) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Panthers undrafted rookie Kyle Allen turned in a promising first NFL start — until he hurt his shoulder.

Whether the New Orleans defense that Allen victimized was entirely dialed in is another matter.

Allen passed for 228 yards and two touchdowns before his injury in the fourth quarter, and Carolina cruised to a 33-14 victory over a Saints squad looking ahead to the playoffs.

“It was incredible. I just felt at home right when I got on the field,” said Allen, who lost starting roles in college at both Texas A&M and Houston, and who was not on Carolina’s roster for part of this season. “This league is filled with opportunities, and guys that stay in the league for a long time are the guys that take advantage of those.”

A third-stringer pressed into service with Cam Newton and backup Taylor Heinicke out, Allen also ran for a short touchdown as Carolina snapped a seven-game slide. He led the Panthers to three TDs and a field goal on their first four drives. His day ended prematurely when he was hit hard by Saints rookie end Marcus Davenport while releasing an incomplete pass. Allen said he felt pain in his right shoulder while throwing on the sideline afterward, but that he did not think the injury was serious.

Carolina (7-9) led 23-0 at halftime, marking the first time since coach Sean Payton was hired by New Orleans in 2006 that the Saints (13-3) were shut out at home in a first half.

“We can spin it any way we want to. We didn’t play well,” Payton said. “From the get-go, it was obvious. So you take that personally as a coach, and it’s disappointing.”

Allen’s touchdowns went for 53 yards to receiver Curtis Samuel and 8 yards to tight end Ian Thomas.

Having already clinched the NFC’s top seed, Payton scratched several healthy offensive starters, including record-setting quarterback Drew Brees and dynamic second-year running back Alvin Kamara.

By not playing, Brees finished the regular season with an NFL record 74.4 percent completion rate for a single season, breaking the mark of 72 percent he set last season.

His replacement for the finale, Teddy Bridgewater, started an NFL game for the first time since the 2015 season. The move gave Bridgewater a chance to rebuild his credentials as a potential NFL starter after missing most of the past two seasons with a career-threating knee injury.

“It was a pretty cool moment, just running back out there. It’s been a long time, but I’m grateful for that moment, grateful for that opportunity,” Bridgewater said. “Honestly, I just wanted to get back into the rhythm of playing football. That was my biggest goal.”

Bridgewater completed 14 of 22 passes for 118 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The Panthers scored the game’s first two TDs on Allen’s 1-yard keeper and Cameron Artis-Payne’s 15-yard run, and New Orleans fell behind 30-0 before scoring its first points on Bridgewater’s 9-yard pass to rookie Tre’Quan Smith early in the fourth quarter.

Saints third-string QB Taysom Hill added a 9-yard TD on a read-option run.

The Saints had little at stake other than the opportunity to secure the franchise’s first 14-win regular season. They’ve gone 13-3 three times, all under Payton in 2009, 2011 and this season. The 2009 team won the Super Bowl.

RECEIVING RECORD

Saints receiver Michael Thomas came in needing 24 yards to break Joe Horn’s single-season franchise mark of 1,399 yards receiving in 2004. Thomas started, but with the Saints’ offense struggling to sustain drives, it took until the first minute of the fourth quarter before Thomas eclipsed Horn’s mark with a 6-yard catch. The Saints were clearly keeping track; numerous teammates congratulated Thomas right after the catch.

“It’s a blessing,” Thomas said. “I feel like I’m going to be judged on my progress year in and year out.”

RARE COMPAMY

With his 22-yard reception in the first quarter — his only reception of the game — Christian McCaffrey became the third running back in NFL history to have 1,500 yards rushing and receiving in his first two NFL seasons combined. He joined Kamara and Herschel Walker.

INJURIES

Panthers: Allen was replaced by newly signed reserve Garrett Gilbert, who went 2 for 3 for 40 yards.

Saints: Versatile offensive lineman Andrus Peat, who normally starts at left guard but also has played both tackle positions this season, left in the first half with a hand injury.

UP NEXT

Panthers: Start their offseason with questions surrounding the futures of several prominent players, including linebacker Thomas Davis, safety Mike Adams and receiver Devin Funchess, who have expiring contracts. Center Ryan Kalil already said he’d retire after the season and coach Ron Rivera said he was “assuming” the 38-year-old Peppers would, too.

Sunday’s victory, Rivera said, “was probably the best way to send Ryan and Pepp off on their way — two great Panthers.”

Saints: Host their playoff opener in the divisional round on the weekend of Jan. 12-13.

Falcons 34, Buccaneers 32

Falcons Buccaneers Football

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) pulls in a 19-yard touchdown pass in front of Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Isaiah Johnson (39) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Atlanta’s Matt Ryan talked about the margin for error in the NFL being “razor thin.”

Dirk Koetter spoke of Tampa Bay being closer to winning than its record suggests, but that “close with no cigar” is not good enough in a results-based league.

“If we make a few plays in some games throughout the course of the year it could have been a very different football team,” Ryan said Sunday after his first career reception went for a touchdown and the Falcons quarterback also threw for 373 yards and two TDs to conclude the season with a 34-32 victory over the Buccaneers.

“It’s disappointing, but it also leads me to be optimistic for us moving forward that we have the right people and the guys that are capable of contending late into the year,” Ryan added, alluding to the team stringing together three consecutive wins down the stretch to finish 7-9.

Koetter fell to 19-29 in three seasons at Tampa Bay’s coach. The Bucs (5-11) led the NFL in passing yardage and have the most prolific offense in franchise history, but that didn’t save his job.

The club announced the 59-year-old’s firing about three hours after the game, which Koetter described as a “microcosm” of Tampa Bay’s season.

“Numbers are nice, but this is a winning league,” Koetter said. “I’ve been fired before and I’ve been hired before. I know this, if you can look yourself in the mirror at end the day and know you did everything you could, then I’ve no problem holding my head up.”

Matt Bryant’s second field goal, a 37-yarder as time expired, provided the winning points after Jameis Winston rallied the Bucs (5-11) from a 31-20 deficit to a one-point lead with just over five minutes to go.

The Falcons (7-9) escaped a 17-0 hole with Ryan leading scoring drives on five consecutive possessions from late in the second quarter until early in the fourth. He began the comeback with a 19-yard scoring throw to Julio Jones and also tossed a 7-yarder to Calvin Ridley.

In between, Ryan caught a 5-yard TD pass from receiver Mohamed Sanu, Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal and Tevin Coleman scored on a 23-yard run.

“My hands are pretty good, my route running is not very good. I had to draw back on playing for the Downingtown Young Whippets in like third and fourth grade when I was playing tight end,” Ryan said.

“A great call. I’m glad when it was time to get the job done, we did it,” Ryan added. “It was cool to catch my first NFL pass and first NFL touchdown. It took me 11 years. It was a good play and fun to be a part of it.”

Ryan finished 31 of 44 with one interception, a fourth-quarter pick that led to Winston’s second TD throw to Chris Godwin for Tampa Bay’s brief 32-31 lead. Mike Evans also caught of a pair of TD passes from Winston, who was 22 of 35 for 345 yards and four TDs with one interception.

Jones had nine receptions for 138 yards. Sanu had seven catches for 90 yards, in addition to throwing his fourth career touchdown pass.

Godwin had six catches for 114 yards and Evans had six receptions for 106 yards for the Bucs, who finished last in the NFC South for the seventh time in eight years.

The Bucs finished with a four-game losing streak, and also must decide if Winston is their quarterback of the future.

Winston missed the first three games of the season while serving a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal contact policy and was benched twice before regaining his starting job down the stretch.

The No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft is due to earn $20.92 million next season in the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie; however, the salary is only guaranteed in the event of injury.

Winston said he hasn’t been told if he’ll be back next year.

“All I can say is, I’ve got a ton of respect for coach Koetter and what he has done for me and this team since he’s been here,” Winston said before the firing was announced.

FINAL DRIVE

The Falcons won it with a 13-play, 56-yard drive that produced Bryant’s 37-yard field goal and burned the last 5:10 off the clock. Ryan’s 16-yard completion to Jones on third-and-11 kept the march alive at the Tampa Bay 16 forcing the Bucs to burn their last timeout with 1:47 left.

The Falcons decided they didn’t need to get any closer. Ryan took a knee three times, while also strategically using the team’s three timeouts to milk the clock to four seconds before Bryant came on to win it.

“Going that direction our cutoff was the 38-yard line. … It was a really good third down call, great conversion by Julio,” Ryan said. “For us to get it down that close, it was a chip shot for Matt, and he’s been amazing throughout his career at being clutch.”

INJURIES

Buccaneers: WR DeSean Jackson (Achilles) was inactive for the fourth time in five weeks. DE Carl Nassib (shoulder) also did not dress. … CB Carlton Davis left in the third quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. … S Isaiah Johnson left with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Just two years removed from appearing in the Super Bowl, they will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2015 when they finished 8-8 in their first season under coach Dan Quinn.

Buccaneers: With Koetter gone, general manager Jason Licht’s future could be in jeopardy, too.

Lions 31, Packers 0

Lions Packers Football

CORRECTS TO REMOVE SCORE- Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater lined up for a field goal but seemed a little antsy, gesturing with his arms like a quarterback calling for a shotgun snap.

It turns out that was exactly what it was.

Prater’s 8-yard pass on a fake field-goal try was a high and a little wobbly, but Levine Toilolo was so wide open in the end zone that it didn’t matter.

The Lions’ beleaguered season ended on a high note on Sunday, when almost everything went right for Detroit in a 31-0 win over the Green Bay Packers.

“Basically I was trying not to screw it up,” Prater said. “It worked out, so it was fun.”

Not so much for the Packers (6-9-1), who trailed 21-0 at the half and lost Aaron Rodgers early in the second quarter after to a concussion. The quarterback was sacked and lost his helmet on the second play of the game.

Rodgers played two more series before departing. The offense never got going even when he was behind center.

“Yeah, it was hard. We just didn’t have any rhythm,” interim head coach Joe Philbin said.

Both teams had long been eliminated from playoff contention. But the Lions (6-10) at least got a little positive push at the end of Matt Patricia’s first season as coach.

Matthew Stafford threw for 266 yards and two scores, both to T.J. Jones . Zach Zenner had a 13-yard touchdown run for the Lions, who have won four straight against their NFC North rival for the first time since 1982-83. That was one bright spot for a last-place Detroit team.

“I think those guys fought all year. I think they’re tough — mentally and physically tough,” Patricia said. “It showed up in the game today.”

SHORT ON RECEIVERS

The Lions’ passing game clicked despite a depleted receiving corps, with Kenny Golladay missing the relatively meaningless game with a chest injury. The Lions had decisive edges in total yards (261-67) and first downs (16-3) by halftime, with 11 of the first downs coming through the air.

Zenner finished with 93 yards on 21 carries. Stafford was 20 of 32, while rookie Brandon Powell had six catches for 103 yards

“It was an opportunity for them and obviously it was a big stage,” Stafford said about working with the young receivers. “Not an easy day to catch the football, wind swirling, cold, Lambeau Field.”

FINE FAKE

Prater’s touchdown pass gave the Lions a 14-0 lead with 10:36 left in the second quarter.

“Slow delivery, lollipop, but it was on target so that was a plus,” Stafford joked when asked about the kicker’s throw.

OVER AND OUT

Rodgers walked back to the locker room around the same time his teammates were getting over the shock of Detroit’s trick play.

It was unclear exactly when Rodgers got hurt. He was 3 of 5 for 26 yards, not the way he wanted to finish even in a meaningless game.

“I said, ‘How long are you playing?’ He said, ‘I’m going the distance,'” linebacker Clay Matthews said, recounting a pregame talk with Rodgers. “I said, ‘All right, I’ll be out there with you in the fourth.’ But it didn’t play out like that.”

The Packers were also without receiver Davante Adams, who missed practice this week with a knee injury. Adams finished the season with 111 catches, one shy of tying the single-season franchise record set by Sterling Sharpe in 1993.

Backup DeShone Kizer finished 16 of 35 for 132 yards and an interception, while Jamaal Williams managed just four yards on eight carries.

Green Bay didn’t top 100 yards in total offense until the third quarter.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE

There is uncertainty in Titletown following a second straight losing season and the firing of coach Mike McCarthy in early December. Philbin, the offensive coordinator, went 2-2 as interim coach.

When asked when he would interview for a chance to take the job permanently, Philbin deferred any questions to team president Mark Murphy, who is leading the search.

Rodgers and Adams have each voiced support over the past couple weeks for Philbin.

“I was very appreciative of all the things they did all season and in the four weeks that I was leading them,” Philbin said in recounting his postgame message. “And that we would get together tomorrow, we’re going to have a brief team meeting tomorrow and we’ll go from there.”

Jets 3, Patriots 38

Jets Patriots Football

New England Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, left, catches a touchdown pass as New York Jets cornerback Rashard Robinson wraps him up in the end zone during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots claimed two victories in one game.

Actually, it only took them about a half.

Tom Brady threw for three first-half touchdowns and New England clinched its ninth straight first-round bye in the playoffs on Sunday with a 38-3 victory over the New York Jets. The Patriots (11-5) finished the season undefeated at home, where they’ll have at least one playoff game.

“Essentially, we won next week because we won today,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We’ll see who our next opponent is, but we know they’ll be good or they wouldn’t be playing this time of the year.”

After back-to-back December losses left the Patriots with a losing record on the road, they finished with two straight wins in New England to finish with the NFL’s only perfect home record and avoid playing in the wild-card round for the first time since 2009.

The Patriots could have still earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC with losses by both Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers on the last day of the regular season. But the Chiefs beat the Raiders 35-3, locking New England into the second seed.

“Eleven and five is nothing to be sad about,” Brady said. “We fought pretty hard and put ourselves in good position.”

Jets rookie Sam Darnold, who had been playing well since returning from a foot injury, completed 16 of 28 passes for 167 yards, but he also had a fumble that gave New England a touchdown . In what turned out to be the final game for Jets coach Todd Bowles, New York (4-12) lost for the ninth time in 10 games.

“I’m not going to talk about my job. That’s been consistent since I’ve been here,” said Bowles, who won 10 games in his first season but just 14 in the next three combined. “It’s frustrating. That’s our season. I wouldn’t say we didn’t show progress. We did show progress. We didn’t win games.”

The Jets announced Bowles’ firing a few hours after the game.

Brady completed 24 of 33 passes for 250 yards and four scores overall, bouncing back from his worst performance since 2006 — a 48.3 passer rating in a 24-12 win over Buffalo. That, combined with the team’s losses in Miami and Pittsburgh, again raised doubts whether the 41-year-old quarterback of the five-time Super Bowl champions had reached the end of their run.

But now they’re back where they usually are: AFC East champions, a first-round bye, and a team no one is eager to play in the postseason.

“No matter the situation, even when it’s not looking good, everybody wants to ignore us and say we’re finished,” safety Duron Harmon said. “We just ignored the noise, come to fight, work hard, every week.”

After punting on their first possession, the Patriots scored on three straight drives.

Brady hit James White for a 17-yard TD late in the first quarter, and then connected with Rex Burkhead early in the second. After Elijah McGuire fumbled on the Jets’ first play of the second quarter, Devin McCourty picked it up and ran it 14 yards to the 8.

Five plays later, Brady scrambled right and found Phillip Dorsett in the back of the end zone to make it 21-3. New England opened a 28-3 lead in the third quarter when defensive lineman Adam Butler knocked the ball out of Darnold’s arm as he raised it to throw; Kyle Van Noy picked it up and ran 46 yards for the score.

Julian Edelman added a 6-yard TD catch in the fourth.

“It’s embarrassing,” Darnold said. “It’s embarrassing to go out here and lose 38-3.”

SAM’S SETBACK

Darnold had strung together three solid games before Sunday’s dud.

The No. 3 overall draft pick had completed 66 percent of his passes, with six touchdowns and just one interception, in the three games since he returned from a foot injury. But he won just one of them.

“Just couldn’t get anything going,” Darnold said. “I thought there were some drives where we drove the ball well and moved the ball, just couldn’t finish. Couldn’t finish in the red zone.”

DYNASTY MILESTONES

The Patriots earned their 13th playoff bye since 2001. … It’s their seventh time since 2002. … They scored more than 400 points for the 12th straight season, extending their record. … The ninth straight playoff bye also extended a record; Dallas and San Francisco (1992-95) and Denver (2012-15) went four straight. … It was the 500th regular-season victory in franchise history. … The ninth straight 11-win season is also a record; Indianapolis had seven from 2003-09. … Belichick’s 16th 11-win season is the most in history (Don Shula had 13). … Brady threw for four touchdowns for the 29th time in his career, third-most all-time. He also threw his 6,000th career completion. … Stephen Gostkowski had a field goal and five extra points to move into 12th on the NFL’s all-time scoring list, passing Norm Johnson with 1,743 points in his career.

INJURIES

Patriots’ DB Devin McCourty sustained a head injury early in the third quarter and left the game. LB Dont’a Hightower and S Patrick Chung were also injured on the play but they returned within a few plays.

UP NEXT

Jets: Finished with five or fewer wins for the third straight season.

Patriots: Will host one of three teams on Jan. 13: the Texans, Ravens or Chargers.

Jaguars 3, Texans 20

Lamar Miller

Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (26) runs for a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON (AP) — After the Houston Texans fell to 0-3 with a loss at home to the New York Giants on Sept. 23, they appeared to be headed for a second straight losing season.

Instead, the Texans (11-5) won their next nine games and 11 of their last 13, capped by Sunday’s 20-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, to clinch the AFC South title.

“We have a lot bigger goals,” J.J. Watt said. “I have a lot bigger goals but it’s good. Especially after starting 0-3 and everybody writes you off. Guys in the locker room believed. Guys in the locker room never gave up.”

Deshaun Watson threw for 234 yards and ran for a touchdown and DeAndre Hopkins had 147 yards receiving in the victory.

The Texans will make their fifth playoff appearance after winning the division for the fifth time in franchise history. Houston returns to the postseason for the third time in four years after bouncing back a 4-12 campaign in which Watson and Watt suffered season-ending injuries.

“The way we started out, it’s a testament to the players in that locker room,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “They’ve always hung tough. And to go from 0-3 (and then) go 11-2 in this league is pretty tough to do. Give credit to the players.”

Houston built a 14-point lead in the first half behind rushing touchdowns by Watson and Lamar Miller and made it 20-3 on a 24-yard field goal with about 11 minutes left. The Jaguars had a chance to cut the lead later in the fourth quarter, but Blake Bortles was intercepted in the end zone by Andre Hal.

Jaguars owner Shad Khan said in a statement that his director of football operations, Tom Coughlin, has decided to retain coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell — even though the team finished in last place a year after playing in the AFC title game. Khan said he agreed with the decision.

“We get judged on wins and losses,” Marrone said. “Obviously, this year, I didn’t do a good job. Period. I’m never going to step away from that. I’m happy with the faith because I do believe I will get this right.”

The Jaguars (5-11) returned to Bortles as starter after benching the quarterback following a loss to Buffalo on Nov. 25. But he did little to get Jacksonville’s offense going, with the Jaguars managing one first down in the opening half and finishing with six. Bortles was 15 of 28 for 107 yards.

Watt sacked Bortles 1½ times to finish with 16 this year. Watt has four seasons with 15 or more sacks, second most in NFL history to Reggie White (five).

The performance by Hopkins gives him 1,572 yards receiving and 115 receptions this season, both career highs. His catch total tied Andre Johnson (2008) for the most in franchise history.

“A lot of guys have amazing seasons, but their team isn’t where it should be,” Hopkins said. “So I think everything I’ve been doing has correlated to my team winning, which is even better.”

KEY PLAYS

Dede Westbrook muffed a punt late in the first quarter, and Zach Cunningham recovered. Watson capitalized with a 5-yard scramble that made it 10-3 early in the second quarter.

The Texans faced a third-and-6 late in the second quarter when Myles Jack deflected a pass and Hopkins grabbed it for a 13-yard gain. Miller ran 7 yards for a touchdown on the next play, dragging two defenders into the end zone to make it 17-3.

BAD BEHAVIOR

Coughlin had strong words for running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon after the game.

Fournette, who was inactive because of foot and ankle injuries, and Yeldon were caught by TV cameras sitting on the bench and chatting while the offense had the ball. They were clearly disengaged with teammates and coaches.

“I am disappointed in the behavior today from T.J. Yeldon and Leonard Fournette,” Coughlin said. “They were disrespectful, selfish and their behavior was unbecoming that of a professional football player.”

TEXANS NUMBERS

Hopkins is the fourth player in NFL history (Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison and Brandon Marshall) to have at least 100 receptions, 1,500 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns in multiple seasons. He had 111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015.

Watson, who ran for 66 yards on Sunday, is the first player in NFL history to throw for at least 4,000 yards (4,165) and 25 touchdowns (26) and rush for 500 yards (551) and five touchdowns in a season.

ANDRE AND DEANDRE

Hopkins brought Johnson to the podium with him after the game, and the retired receiver raved about his protege.

“One thing that I appreciate about him is when he first came into the league he asked me about things he needed to do to better his game,” Johnson said. “He took that to a whole other level. To see what he’s accomplished, what he’s doing out on the field, it’s amazing.”

INJURIES

Jaguars: Jacksonville was without starting cornerback A.J. Bouye (toe injury).

Texans: Starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph sat out with a neck injury.

UP NEXT

Jaguars: Jacksonville must decide what to do with Bortles before next season. Most believe he won’t return in 2019 after going 24-49 as a starter in five seasons. The third overall pick in the 2014 draft also is due to count $21 million against the salary cap, and the Jags can save $9.5 million by cutting him with a post-June 1 designation.

Texans: Will host the winner of Sunday night’s Colts-Titans game next weekend, barring a tie between those teams.

Dolphins 17, Bills 42

Dolphins Bills Football

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Foster (16) catches a 5-yard touchdown pass under pressure from Miami Dolphins defensive back Cornell Armstrong (31) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — As they bid farewell to their unquestioned leader, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, the Buffalo Bills also enjoyed a glimpse into an encouraging future.

Rookie first-round draft picks Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds played a significant role in ensuring Williams headed into retirement on a high note after a 13-year career in Buffalo. The young players led the Bills to a 42-17 rout over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Allen had a career-best three touchdown passes and scored two more rushing, while Edmunds had a one-handed interception and added a sack. They put the finishing touches on a 6-10 season in which the rebuilding Bills won four of their final seven games.

“We’re excited for where this organization’s going,” safety Micah Hyde said. “This franchise is headed in the right direction. It’s got younger guys, older guys, leadership, weapons and we’re only going to get more.”

With all that to look forward to, Hyde was asked whether he could convince Williams to stick around.

Hyde broke into a smile and said, “I’m going to talk to him real quick.”

Williams, with his three sons sipping Gatorade at his locker, had no second thoughts about choosing family over football. He also reflected on how the Bills are in good hands.

“I’m excited. And I think that’s one thing that made this the hardest decision,” Williams said, referring to the team and culture coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane are building. “We have so many young guys, first-year players, second- and third-year players that I can’t wait to watch. I can’t wait to be around as much as they’ll have me to see what this football team will do.”

The feeling was mutual.

The Bills dedicated the victory to the 35-year-old Williams, the team’s longest-active tenured player, who announced his decision to retire on Friday.

A teary-eyed Williams was the last player out of the tunnel before kickoff, and then was greeted by his wife, Jill, and five children.

He then enjoyed a chance to contribute on defense and offense by registering one tackle for a loss and catching a 9-yard pass — the first of his career — with under five minutes left.

Williams left the field with 1:19 left to a crowd chanting “Thank you, Kyle!” and then, afterward, circled the stands to greet and thank the fans who remained.

He was part of a Buffalo defense that had four sacks and forced four turnovers, including three by Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill. And the 42 points were Buffalo’s most since a 45-16 win over San Francisco on Oct. 16, 2016.

Miami (7-9) thoroughly unraveled except for the final minute of the second quarter, in which it scored twice in a span of 16 seconds to tie the game at 14.

The Dolphins now enter an offseason of uncertainty, with questions raised about the futures of coach Adam Gase and vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum as well as Tannehill.

Dolphins chairman and managing partner Stephen Ross declined to comment on his way out of the stadium.

Gase and most of the players had little else to say after they closed a wildly inconsistent season. After opening with three wins, Miami finished with three losses and lost their final seven road games.

“I’m not even thinking about that right now because we just got drummed on the road,” Gase said, when asked of his future.

Tannehill finished 18 of 31 for 147 yards with two interceptions and a lost fumble. He did score by catching a 3-yard pass from Kenny Stills with 54 seconds left in the second quarter. Dolphins safety Reshad Jones scored two plays from scrimmage later on a 29-yard interception return.

Miami’s defense allowed 381 yards to finish the season with a franchise-worst 6,257 yards allowed. Its previous worst was 6,122, set in 2016.

Though the Bills never trailed, Allen’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Robert Foster six minutes into the third quarter broke a 14-14 tie to put Buffalo ahead for good. Allen then secured the victory with a 30-yard TD run to increase Buffalo’s lead to 35-17 with 11:13 left in the game.

He finished 17 of 26 for 224 yards passing, including 18- and 26-yard touchdowns to Zay Jones, and an interception. And he added 95 yards rushing, including a 1-yard touchdown to open the scoring.

EJECTIONS

Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso and defensive end Robert Quinn and Bills offensive tackle Jordan Mills were ejected following a late hit on Allen during the third quarter.

Allen was already sliding when Alonso dived in front of him and kicked the quarterback in the helmet. A scuffle broke out amid a group of players, and Quinn came running in at full speed from about 20 yards out and dived atop the pile. Alonso was ejected for kicking Allen, while Quinn and Mills were ejected for personal foul penalties.

RUNNING QBS

Allen’s eight rushing touchdowns this season were the second-most by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era. Cam Newton had 14 in 2011. Robert Griffin III, in 2012, and Vince Young, in 2006, each scored seven.

With 630 yards rushing in just 11 starts, Allen topped the single-season team record for yards rushing by a quarterback. Tyrod Taylor had 580 yards two years ago.

INJURIES

Dolphins: CB Torry McTyer did not return and was being evaluated for a concussion after being bowled over by Buffalo’s Logan Thomas. McTyer was looking up the field and didn’t see Thomas coming in from his right.

Bills: CB Tre’Davious White did not return after sustaining a head injury in the final minutes of the first half. White was knocked over by Kenyan Drake while lowering his head as he tried to make an open-field tackle.

Browns 24, Ravens 26

Week 13

Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, center, intercepts a pass attempt in the final moments of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Baltimore. Baltimore won 26-24. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens flipped the script and put one heck of an ending on a regular season that featured countless surprises and plot twists.

Getting two rushing touchdowns from rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and a late defensive stand, Baltimore squeezed past the Cleveland Browns 26-24 Sunday to reach the playoffs as AFC North champions.

Kenneth Dixon accounted for 117 of Baltimore’s season-high 296 yards on the ground, Jackson had 90 and the rejuvenated Ravens (10-6) broke a three-year playoff drought with their sixth win in seven games. Baltimore will open the postseason Sunday afternoon at home against the Los Angeles Chargers.

“It feels good, a home playoff game,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “Somehow it happened.”

A year ago, Baltimore missed the playoffs by losing its finale at home to the Bengals, who rallied with a last-minute touchdown.

Remembering that disappointment, most of the announced crowd of 70,925 was on its feet as the Browns moved closer to field-goal range with the clock winding down. A 19-yard completion from Baker Mayfield to former Ravens top draft pick Breshad Perriman and a 16-yarder to Jarvis Landry pushed the ball to the Baltimore 39 with 1:20 left.

Following three straight incompletions, the Ravens blitzed Mayfield on fourth down and linebacker C.J. Mosley picked off a pass to clinch it. Baltimore finished a half-game ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat Cincinnati 16-13.

“There were some nerves,” tight end Hayden Hurst said. “I felt confidence that at some point one of those guys would make a big play and sure enough, C.J. did.”

After killing off the final seconds, the Ravens danced into their locker room, donned caps proclaiming them AFC North champs, and mugged for selfies and shots of each other.

“If you want to write a book about this season, probably no one would believe it,” coach John Harbaugh said.

It’s been quite a turnaround for the Ravens, who were 4-5 before Jackson took over for injured Joe Flacco, the team’s starting quarterback since 2008. Flacco was behind center in 2012, when Baltimore captured its last division crown and ultimately won the Super Bowl.

The Jackson-led running attack was too much for Cleveland (7-8-1), which was denied its first winning season since 2007. After trailing 20-7 at halftime and 26-17 with 7:20 left, the Browns could not recover against the franchise that left Cleveland after the 1995 season.

Mayfield threw three touchdown passes — including a 48-yarder to Landry — to finish with 27, an NFL record for a rookie.

“I’ll make sure I say something about it on the plane ride home,” interim coach Gregg Williams said. “Everybody needs a pat on the back, even where you’re as competitive as that young man. And he is competitive.”

Although Mayfield pierced the NFL’s top-ranked defense for 376 yards, he was intercepted three times.

“Obviously, very disappointed for us to not get the win, but it’s a great team. It’s a playoff team,” Mayfield said. “We want to be in their spot this time next year.”

Jackson gave Baltimore a 17-7 lead with touchdown runs of 25 yards and 8 yards , his first multi-score game in the NFL. Late in the first half, however, the former Louisville star lost a fumble when trying to reach over the goal line.

Jackson ran 20 times overall. As a passer, he went 14 of 24 for 179 yards.

“It’s exciting to watch him play. He’s a leader now,” said Ravens rookie Gus Edwards, who chipped in with 76 yards rushing.

READY TO GO

Although he had already connected on four field goals, Justin Tucker was mentally preparing himself for a very long, hurried fifth attempt as he watched the Browns scramble downfield on their final drive.

“I was just doing the math in my own head anticipating that we were going to have to rebut with our own effort to put the game away and come out as AFC North champs,” he said.

MILESTONES

LB Terrell Suggs set a Ravens record for games played with 229, breaking a tie with Ray Lewis. It’s also the sixth-most by a linebacker in NFL history. … Mayfield has thrown a TD pass in 13 straight starts, the first Browns QB do so in a single season since Frank Ryan in 1966. … Baltimore earned its 200th regular-season win. … The Ravens capped their sixth 10-win season in 11 years under Harbaugh.

INJURIES

Browns: DL Larry Ogunjobi was evaluated for a concussion and cleared to return in fourth quarter. … DB Damarious Randall missed time in the third quarter with cramps.

Ravens: OL Alex Lewis missed a fourth straight game with a shoulder injury.

UP NEXT

Browns: First priority during the offseason is to decide whether Williams sheds the interim label as head coach or if someone else gets the job.

Ravens: Face the Chargers, a team they beat 22-10 last weekend.

Raiders 3, Chiefs 35

Raiders Chiefs Football

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) makes a catch in front of Oakland Raiders safety Marcus Gilchrist (31) during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes stalked Chiefs wide receiver Damarcus Robinson on the sideline as chants of “MVP” echoed throughout Arrowhead Stadium, trying to track down a football that would serve as a keepsake not only of this night but of this season.

The first-year starter had just thrown an 89-yard scoring strike to Robinson, the 50th time one of his passes ended up in the end zone. It also gave Mahomes more than 5,000 yards passing, not to mention put a dagger in Oakland and clinched the AFC West title and No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

“They’re special,” Mahomes said after securing that memento, and after Kansas City had wrapped up a 35-3 whitewash of the Raiders on Sunday. “To do those things in this league, that doesn’t happen.”

Not very often anyway.

Mahomes finished with 281 yards passing, the highlights the strike to Robinson and a 67-yard TD pass to Tyreek Hill. That gave him 5,097 yards and 50 touchdown passes, and allowed Mahomes to join Peyton Manning as the only QBs to hit 5,000 and 50 in the same season.

“This team, we love each other. We root for each other. And that’s why we’ve had so much success,” said Mahomes, who already had shattered just about every franchise passing record.

Hill finished with five catches for 101 yards, becoming the Chiefs’ single-season leader for yards receiving with 1,479, while adding a fourth-quarter touchdown run. Damien Williams added 51 yards and a score on the ground as the Chiefs (12-4) beat the Raiders for the eighth time in nine games.

The decisive win came after Kansas City squandered a chance to clinch the division with a fourth-quarter collapse against the Chargers and again in a shootout loss last weekend in Seattle.

“This was a tricky game,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We felt like we let off the accelerator there lately and we didn’t take advantage of opportunities.”

No problem with that on Sunday.

Derek Carr had his league-leading streak of 332 passes without an interception snapped when the Chiefs’ Daniel Sorensen returned a pick for a touchdown in the first quarter. Carr threw another pick and lost a fumble as Oakland (4-12) turned the ball over on its first four possessions.

He finished 23 of 32 for 184 yards, and Doug Martin ran for 100 yards but also lost a fumble, as the Raiders headed into an offseason of uncertainty surrounding where they will play next season.

“Obviously, we got a lot a work to do,” said Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who wrapped up his first season back with the franchise. “I know today was not a good note, but it’s a great group of guys who laid quite a foundation and I think we can build on that. I’m excited about that.”

The Chiefs eliminated any drama in the first 20 minutes.

Mahomes started the scoring barrage when he threw a perfect post pass to Hill, who waltzed into the end zone for his long touchdown reception. And a few minutes later, Sorensen stepped in front of tight end Jared Cook — who had inexplicably stopped his route — for a 54-yard pick-6.

The Chiefs defense kept causing turnovers, and Williams capped another effortless drive with a short touchdown run, giving Kansas City a comfortable 21-0 lead late in the first half.

“This was a tricky game,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “and the guys took care of business.”

The league’s highest-scoring offense continued its onslaught after the break.

Mahomes delivered the clincher when he floated a pass deep downfield to Robinson, who ran out of the grasp of his would-be tackler. Robinson was so far ahead of the defense that he turned around at the 15-yard line and backpedaled into the end zone — getting a taunting call as his reward.

Not that it mattered for the Chiefs, who were already celebrating their postseason bye and what they hope is a Super Bowl road through Arrowhead Stadium. Hill merely added to the party when he added his rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

“We’re all trying to reach a goal,” Hill said, “and that’s the Super Bowl. Head down, and we’re all focused, man. Like I said, it feels great, but right now, I just want to win the Super Bowl. We just want to win the Super Bowl.”

KELCE’S CATCHES

The Chiefs’ Travis Kelce had five catches for 62 yards, giving him 1,336 yards this season. That broke the NFL record for tight endsset by the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski in 2011, only for the 49ers’ George Kittle to pass him a few minutes later. “The individual accolades in this game alone, I think, are a bit overrated,” Kelce said. “You’ve got 11 guys out there trying to push for one goal and sure enough, we achieved that as a team.”

MORE RECORDS

Mahomes was 14 of 24, giving him a franchise-record 383 completions this season. He began the day tied with Trent Green with 369. … Reid broke a tie with former Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer for seventh on the NFL’s career wins list with his 206th.

INJURIES

Raiders: DT Maurice Hurst was inactive after dealing with an ankle issue all month. He finished with four sacks, matching the lowest total to lead the Raiders since sacks became a stat in 1982.

Chiefs: SS Eric Berry (heel), WR Sammy Watkins (foot) and RB Spencer Ware (hamstring) were among the inactives. … LB Reggie Ragland left after his interception with a hip injury. FS Jordan Lucas (neck) and DT Derrick Nnadi (concussion) also left the game.

UP NEXT

Raiders: Draft prep begins with Oakland holding three first-round selections.

Chiefs: A postseason bye and divisional-round game at home await.

Bengals 13, Steelers 16

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jessie Bates

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) heads to the end zone for a touchdown past Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates (30) in the third quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The win they needed but at times didn’t act like they particularly wanted finally secured, the Pittsburgh Steelers lingered on the Heinz Field turf after a sluggish 16-13 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday and turned their eyes to the massive videoboard in the south end zone.

A season filled with promise six weeks ago before things came undone boiled down to something entirely out of Pittsburgh’s control: whether Cleveland could pull off a stunning rally in Baltimore. As a decidedly out-of-place chant of “Let’s Go Browns” reverberated and Cleveland marched into Ravens’ territory, a third straight AFC North for the Steelers seemed possible.

Then Cleveland rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield threw a late pick. The Ravens held on. Optimism evaporated. Replaced by a mix of harsh reality and a hint of wistfulness.

The Steelers (9-6-1) firmly believe they would be a tough out in the playoffs. Instead, they won’t get the chance. The team that appeared assured of a fifth consecutive playoff berth following a six-game midseason winning streak instead will miss the postseason for the first time since 2013 after Indianapolis beat Tennessee later Sunday to lock down the final wild-card spot.

“It just sucks,” Steelers guard David DeCastro said. “How hard we work, how much effort we put in. To go from 7-2-1 to where we are now is heartbreaking.”

And avoidable. Yet four losses in five games — all of which the Steelers led at some point in the second half — forced them to enter Week 17 needing to beat the injury ravaged Bengals and a hope surging Cleveland could upset the Ravens on the road.

“It’s just tough,” said Pittsburgh running back James Conner, who ran for 64 yards in his return to the lineup after missing three games with a sprained left ankle. “We’re relying on somebody else to advance.”

The team that stressed it wouldn’t spend all afternoon scoreboard watching certainly looked distracted as Cincinnati took a 10-3 halftime lead. Pittsburgh eventually rallied behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — who threw for 287 yards and a touchdown despite missing injured star receiver Antonio Brown to finish with a career-best and NFL-high 5,129 yards passing — and new kicker Matt McCrane booted three field goals, the last a 35-yarder with 1:56 to go that put the Steelers ahead to stay.

Pittsburgh held on when Cincinnati backup quarterback Jeff Driskel’s fourth-down pass intended for Josh Malone fell incomplete with 1:08 to go. Roethlisberger then took a pair of knees to run out the clock, setting the stage for the bizarre sight of the Steelers and thousands of black-and-gold clad fans cheering on the Browns.

For a few anxious minutes, the dominoes appeared to be falling into place. When they didn’t, Pittsburgh didn’t place blame on Cleveland but countless missed opportunities.

“It just makes me mad that as a leader of this group, we put ourselves in this situation like this, looking for others to do our job,” Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward said. “Cleveland played a heck of a game … it’s frustrating and as a leader of this group it’s just unacceptable.”

Roethlisberger vowed to return for a 16th season. He turns 37 in March and doesn’t think Pittsburgh’s window is closing as long as the offensive line in front of him remains intact.

“I still feel good,” he said. “We keep that line together, that’ll give us a good fighting chance.”

MARVIN’S MURKY FUTURE

Joe Mixon rushed for 105 yards for the Bengals but Cincinnati (6-10) — which entered Sunday with 18 players on injured reserve, including quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green— lost for the seventh time in eight games and head into another offseason unsure about the future of longtime head coach Marvin Lewis.

Cincinnati’s season turned at home against the Steelers back in October, when the Bengals let Pittsburgh go down the field in the final minute to pull out a 28-21 victory on Antonio Brown’s 31-yard catch and run with 10 seconds to play. An avalanche of injuries and losses followed. Lewis headed to the locker room surrounded by cameras, which he found “ridiculous” after his beat-up squad took the Steelers basically to the wire.

“I think it’s sad (my status) is the only thing they can point to,” Lewis said. “This isn’t about me. This is about this football team and what they do. To make this about one person. It’s not about one person. This is my job. That’s it.”

INJURIES

Bengals: WR Cody Core left late in the first quarter with a left elbow injury. Core was hurt while diving for a pass deep down the left sideline. … LT Cordy Glenn injured his left ankle after getting rolled up on during a scrum following fumble by Driskel in the third quarter. Safety Brandon Wilson left in the second half with a chest injury and tight end Matt Lengel exited with a left knee issue.

Steelers: Brown missed his first game of the season while dealing with a knee injury. Pittsburgh also sat starting safety Sean Davis (quadriceps) and inside linebacker Vince Williams (toe).

UP NEXT

Bengals: Owner Mike Brown will meet with Lewis to decide whether a 17th season is in the offing for the winning coach in franchise history.

Steelers: While head coach Mike Tomlin is on firm ground, changes to the coaching staff could be made. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s unit struggled to create turnovers and the special teams were a mess under coordinator Danny Smith.

Chargers 23, Broncos 9

Chargers Broncos Football

Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Kyle Emanuel picks up a fumble on his way to scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER (AP) — Philip Rivers doesn’t care that the Chargers must hit the road on wild-card weekend despite winning a dozen games, including a 23-9 nail-biter in Denver on Sunday in which he completed just 14 passes.

Nor does he mind facing the Baltimore Ravens, who thumped the Chargers 22-10 last weekend in Los Angeles.

The Chargers have won six straight on the road and went 7-1 away from home with their only road loss coming literally up the road to the Rams back in September.

For their first playoff appearance in five years, the Chargers will face a rejuvenated Ravens team that’s won six of seven under rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and features the league’s No. 1 defense.

“It’s a heck of a challenge,” Rivers said. “I don’t think there was a team that wasn’t going to be a heck of a challenge. … They’re all good. That team outplayed us last week and it will be a new game, new everything. We’ll see who can play the best this time.”

Were it not for a last-second loss to the Broncos at home in November, the Chargers would have supplanted the Chiefs as the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and earned a first-round bye.

So, it turns out the Broncos (6-10) were the spoilers even though they lost again Sunday. That’s of no consolation to a franchise careening into another offseason of uncertainty after posting double-digit losses in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1966-67, an ignominy that could cost second-year coach Vance Joseph his job .

“I want to come back and make this thing right,” said Joseph, who’s expected to meet with general manager John Elway on Monday morning to learn if he’ll get that opportunity.

Joseph acknowledged an 11-21 record isn’t good enough by the Broncos’ standards, “but I think we’ve put a lot of work in. There’s a foundation that’s been laid here that should pay off in the future.”

That bedrock, said defensive end Derek Wolfe, is a never-quit attitude that was on display again Sunday.

“V.J., he’s one of my favorite people on this planet. I love that guy with all my heart and I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Wolfe said, adding that he’d hate to see the Broncos go in search of their fourth coach in six seasons.

Rivers was just 14 of 24 for 176 yards and a touchdown and he threw two interceptions in the first quarter, something that’s happened just twice before in Rivers’ 15-year NFL career.

“It’s not as good as we want to play, but again, I don’t see any pattern,” Rivers said of the offensive struggles in back-to-back games. “I really don’t buy into patterns or momentums in the games. It hasn’t been as good. I think you look at our collective body of work this year and it’s been good enough to win 12 games.”

And the Broncos were bad enough to lose 10.

They were done in mostly by their feeble offense that punted on its first drive for the ninth straight game and which managed a mere two touchdowns in its last 34 first-half drives, endangering offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave no matter who’s coaching the team in 2019.

Denver’s offense accounted for just nine points — six on fullback Andy Janovich’s first career touchdown and a chip-shot field goal by Brandon McManus.

Denver’s offense also accounted for nine points by the Chargers.

After Janovich’s first career TD pulled Denver to 14-9 with 10 minutes remaining, cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. stepped in front of rookie receiver Courtland Sutton and picked off the 2-point conversion attempt. He slipped Suttons’ tackle at the goal line and raced 102 yards to give the Chargers a 16-9 lead.

Then, Rivers had his only sustained drive, capped by Austin Ekeler’s 1-yard TD run .

Rivers’ only TD throw was a 3-yard toss to Mike Williams that made it 14-3 came after Joey Bosa’s fumble recovery at the Denver 16.

The Chargers took a 7-3 halftime lead thanks to a defensive touchdown .

Keenum hit Royce Freeman with a low screen that he didn’t secure. A hard hit by cornerback Desmond King II to a prone Freeman popped the ball loose, and linebacker Kyle Emmanuel scooped it up and ran 11 yards for a 7-0 lead the Chargers would never relinquish.

ALL FOR NAUGHT

Rivers was intercepted twice in the first quarter for just the third time in his 15-year career. However, the Broncos failed to convert interceptions by rookie Isaac Yiadom and Will Parks into points.

INJURIES:

Chargers: LB Jatavis Brown injured his right ankle tackling Freeman on the final play of the first quarter.

Broncos: RT Jared Veldheer (ribs), C Connor McGovern (ankle) and S Darian Stewart (shoulder) all went out in the second half.

UP NEXT:

Chargers: Head to Baltimore for wild-card weekend.

Broncos: Embark on another offseason of change with big questions yet again at coach and QB.

Bears 24, Vikings 10

Taylor Gabriel, Holton Hill

Chicago Bears wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (18) catches a pass over Minnesota Vikings defensive back Holton Hill (24) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — While taking the NFC North champion Chicago Bears to the playoffs for the first time in eight years, coach Matt Nagy has displayed an energetic personality and aggressive mindset throughout his debut.

Even with their postseason position all but set, the Bears refused to let up. They kept the rival Minnesota Vikings out of the playoffs in the process.

Fueled by that relentless defense and 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns by Jordan Howard, the Bears beat the Vikings 24-10 on Sunday for their first sweep of Minnesota since 2011.

“I love winning. I think it’s fun to win,” Nagy said. “So when you win, whoever it is, who cares? Let’s just play ball.”

With the 24-0 win by Philadelphia at Washington, the Vikings (8-7-1) watched the Eagles claim the last wild-card spot and went home wondering what happened to their offense after signing Kirk Cousins for $84 million guaranteed to be the franchise quarterback.

Tarik Cohen scored the last touchdown on a short run with 7:46 left to cap a 16-play drive for the Bears (12-4), who posted their best regular-season record since the 2006 team finished 13-3 and reached the Super Bowl. They’ve won nine of their last 10 games and, instead of the Vikings will host the Eagles in the first round.

“We’re growing. We’re getting stronger by the week,” Nagy said. “This will be a new challenge for us, but we’re excited. We’ll be ready.”

The Bears began the afternoon with an opportunity, albeit unlikely, to get a first-round bye with a victory and a loss by the Los Angeles Rams, who wound up beating San Francisco 48-32. Nagy was unmoved by the big early lead taken by the Rams, though, keeping quarterback Mitch Trubisky in the entire game and only holding out the starters who were already previously injured.

“Every time we step on the field we want to win,” Trubisky said. “I think it just shows the maturity of this team that we weren’t looking ahead. We weren’t thinking about sitting out. We just do exactly what’s asked.”

After spending the majority of the last two decades trying to keep up with Green Bay, the Vikings have overtaken the Packers only to have their other primary rival, the Bears, surge to the top of the division. Most problematic since coach Mike Zimmer took over has been the struggle to move and protect the ball against Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack, Kyle Fuller and the rest of that Chicago defense, which established a franchise record for fewest rushing yards allowed in a season.

Done in by three-and-outs on their first four possessions, the Vikings finished with only 164 total yards.

“They’re pretty good,” Zimmer said, “so give them credit.”

THE CLINCHER

Trubisky moved the chains four times on third down during the game-sealing scoring drive, completing three passes and running once for a first down. He took a sack by Anthony Barr that would’ve forced a punt from the Minnesota 45, but a holding penalty on Vikings safety Jayron Kearse gave Chicago a fresh set of downs.

“The way we played, we don’t deserve to be in the playoffs,” Barr said.

FRUSTRATION APPARENT

Cousins and Pro Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen were in a heated argument on the sideline after the Vikings had to settle for a field goal at the end of the second quarter. Zimmer almost cost the Vikings a touchdown when he challenged the spot of a reception by Dalvin Cook, who stepped out of bounds right at the marker.

Cousins sneaked for the first down on fourth-and-1, only to have the play blown dead by the red flag. Cook was able to get the first down on the next play.

Stefon Diggs, who went over 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his four-year career, caught a short touchdown pass right after that. Otherwise, the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium was mostly silent when the Vikings had the ball.

“They knew what the implications were from this game,” Hicks said, “and we took it from them.”

INJURY REPORT

Bears: With WR Allen Robinson (ribs) already held out of the game, WR Anthony Miller (shoulder) was hurt on the first drive and didn’t return. WR Taylor Gabriel (ribs) was injured a little later, leaving the Bears with only three WRs.

Vikings: With CB Xavier Rhodes (groin) sidelined for the game, rookie Holton Hill was in the starting lineup for the third time this season. Hill was targeted often, including a 40-yard reception by Gabriel at the goal line that set up the second TD by Howard despite tight coverage on the difficult catch.

UP NEXT

Bears: Host the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles in the NFC wild-card round of the playoffs next Sunday, 30 years after the “Fog Bowl” game at Soldier Field. The Bears beat the Eagles 20-12 to advance to the NFC championship game that day with little to no visibility.

“If we keep doing what we’re doing,” Trubisky said, “hopefully we can do something special.”

Vikings: Stay home for the playoffs for the third time in five years under Zimmer. They’ve won two postseason games, both in the division round, in 14 years.

Eagles 24, Redskins 0

Alshon Jeffery, Josh Norman

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) pulls in a touchdown pass under pressure from Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (24) during the first half of the NFL football game between the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018 in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Nick Foles’ magic stretched all the way back to Minnesota.

Foles did it again, leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a 24-0 victory over the Redskins and the defending Super Bowl champions earned the NFC’s final wild-card berth when Chicago beat the Vikings on Sunday.

The Eagles (9-7) will play at the Bears (12-4) next weekend.

“We’re not sneaking in. We’re here to do some damage,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said.

They might have to do it without Foles, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a chest injury. Foles said he’s sore near his ribs and will know more Monday.

“I’m optimistic,” Foles said.

Before he gave way to Nate Sudfeld, Foles tied Philip Rivers’ NFL record by completing 25 straight passes and threw two touchdown passes. Sudfeld fired a 22-yard TD on his only pass.

It felt like a home game for the Eagles. Philadelphia fans filled FedEx Field, sang “Fly! Eagles! Fly!” and chanted “Let’s Go Bears!” There were several thousand empty seats and Redskins fans could only cheer for the Vikings to spite Eagles fans.

“I looked away,” Foles said about seeing the Bears-Vikings score on the scoreboard. “I didn’t want to know. I wanted to stay focused on winning this game.”

Some players noticed the score while others didn’t. They watched the final minutes together in the locker room and then celebrated.

“It was exciting,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “A lot of hard work that just paid off. It’s what we set out to do. Obviously on this journey we didn’t meet a lot of our goals, but one of them is to get into the postseason and we were able to do that, and so we’re excited.”

Foles, the Super Bowl MVP in Philadelphia’s win over New England last February, is 6-0 in must-win games filling in for Carson Wentz.

Foles stepped in after Wentz was sidelined by a back injury earlier this month and guided Philadelphia to an upset on the road against the Rams as a 13 1/2-point underdog. He set a franchise record for yards passing in a game with 471 in a 32-30 comeback win last week against Houston.

The Eagles dominated the Redskins, controlling the ball for 43:19. Philadelphia’s defense held Washington to only 89 yards total offense.

The Redskins (7-9) lost six of seven after leading the NFC East at 6-3.

“It just wasn’t a good enough year for us,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “Hopefully we’ll regain that (fan) support sometime soon, very soon. Until then, we have a lot of work to do.”

Foles finished 28 of 33 for 221 yards, two TDs and one interception.

He tossed a 2-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery to cap a 19-play, 87-yard drive that took 11:49 in the second quarter, giving Philadelphia a 10-0 lead. Foles was 10 of 10 on the drive and the Eagles converted three times on third downs and once on fourth-and-1.

Foles connected with Nelson Agholor on a 6-yard pass to make it 17-0 late in the third quarter. On the previous play, Foles had a chance to break the completion record but misfired on a pass to Agholor.

Sudfeld hit Agholor on a catch-and-run TD to extend the lead to 24-0 in the fourth.

Josh Johnson, making his third start for the Redskins after Alex Smith and Colt McCoy sustained season-ending injuries and Mark Sanchez was ineffective, was 12 of 27 for 91 yards and one pick.

“They did what good teams do and took care of business,” Johnson said.

Rasul Douglas intercepted Johnson on the first play from scrimmage.

SHUTOUTS

The Redskins hadn’t been shut out since losing 24-0 to the Rams on Dec. 7, 2014. It was Philadelphia’s first shutout since a 27-0 win over the Giants on Oct. 12, 2014.

DRIVE TIME

The nearly 12-minute drive by Philadelphia was the longest in the NFL since the Browns had a field-goal drive that lasted 12:01 against the Chiefs in 2015. The 19 plays were the most in a drive against Washington since 1999.

GETTING TRICKY

Redskins punter Tress Way threw a 7-yard pass to Jehu Chesson on a fake punt on fourth-and-2, but Johnson followed with three straight incomplete passes and Way had to punt.

INJURIES

Redskins: RG Tony Bergstrom left with a knee injury.

Eagles: Foles will have tests on Monday.

UP NEXT

Redskins: Finished third in NFC East and missed the playoffs for the third straight season.

Eagles: Play at Chicago in a wild-card game next weekend.

49ers 32, Rams 48

49ers Rams Football

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks (12) scores against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half in an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Even after everything the Los Angeles Rams have accomplished this season, they still knew they probably needed to beat rival San Francisco in the finale for a first-round playoff bye.

Although their high-powered offense did its part as usual, a four-takeaway effort by the defense was even more exciting while the Rams secured a well-deserved week off.

Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds caught two touchdown passes apiece from Jared Goff, and the Rams wrapped up a six-game sweep of their NFC West opponents with a 48-32 victory over the 49ers on Sunday.

Cory Littleton returned one of his two interceptions for a TD as the Rams (13-3) completed their winningest regular season since 2001 by making sure they get a few days off before they attempt to earn their first playoff victory since the 2004 season.

“We’ll enjoy all of that tonight, and understand how big of an accomplishment that is,” said Goff, who passed for 199 yards. “You feel great @ 13-3. We’re coming off two great wins, and we get to finish the season 6-0 (against the division). Only team in the league that did that.”

The Rams needed the win over the Niners or a loss by Chicago to clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC postseason. Los Angeles didn’t count on the Bears, who ended up beating Minnesota. The Rams played nearly every starter except Todd Gurley and jumping to a 14-0 lead in the first five minutes before stretching it to 28-3 midway through the second quarter.

C.J. Anderson rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown in his second 100-yard game in place of Gurley, who sat out again to rest his knees.

The Rams hadn’t swept San Francisco since 2004, but coach Sean McVay dropped 87 points on his friend Kyle Shanahan’s club in two meetings this season.

“We’re going into (the bye week) with a lot of confidence after this,” Reynolds said. “The rest is going to help us out, and we’ll be at our best when the playoffs start.”

Nick Mullens passed for 282 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions for the 49ers (4-12), who wrapped up their fifth consecutive non-winning season. San Francisco went winless on the road for the first time since 1979, Bill Walsh’s first season in charge.

George Kittle set the NFL’s single-season record for yards receiving by a tight end with 1,377 when he caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Mullens with 2:20 left. Alfred Morris rushed for 111 yards and a score.

While the Rams’ defense put together a series of big plays to cap a strong month of work, San Francisco’s defense set an NFL record with just seven takeaways all season after failing to force a turnover by Goff and his teammates.

“That was the disappointing thing about the game,” Shanahan said. “Not just Nick. It was about everybody. Starting that game off with four turnovers, same way we did the last time versus them, it doesn’t give yourself much of a chance to play.”

The Rams clinched the division four weeks ago, but missed the chance to secure a week off when they lost at Chicago two weeks later. The Bears pushed LA until the final week, but the Rams took control quickly at the Coliseum.

On the game’s fourth snap, Aqib Talib returned a fumble inside the Niners 10. After Cooks caught a TD pass, Littleton returned his first interception 22 yards and Anderson punched it in.

Littleton, the Rams’ do-it-all linebacker and Pro Bowl special-teamer, took his second pick 19 yards to the house early in the second quarter for what he claimed was the first defensive touchdown of his football life.

KITTLE’S MARK

Kittle got the record with nine catches for 149 yards, including five for 95 yards in the fourth quarter. He surpassed both Rob Gronkowski’s 2011 record of 1,327 yards and the new mark set earlier Sunday by Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, who finished this season with 1,336.

“I was like, ‘Well, I’ll let (Kelce) have it for a little bit, and then I’m going to take it,'” Kittle said.

The Niners were determined to get the record, targeting Kittle 14 times — including six times in the fourth quarter of a blowout. Shanahan said he wanted this record after Kittle had 210 yards receiving in the first half against Denver earlier this month, but failed to top Shannon Sharpe’s single-game record of 214 yards for a tight end because he didn’t catch a pass in the second half.

“My position coach and some other guys were giving me little updates,” Kittle said. “Definitely going into the last drive, ‘Hey, you need 9 yards, so make it 15.’ I said, ‘Hey, I’ll take it to the end zone, I guess.'”

DONALD’S DOMINANCE

Aaron Donald had one sack to finish with 20½ for the season. The Rams’ peerless defensive tackle fell short of Michael Strahan’s single-season sacks record of 22½, but Donald still set an NFL record with 183.5 total sack yards when he dropped Mullens for an 8-yard loss in the first half.

INJURIES

49ers: LG Laken Tomlinson left the field on a cart in the second quarter with an apparent right knee injury.

Rams: LT Andrew Whitworth injured his knee in the second quarter. He didn’t return, but rookie Joseph Noteboom appeared to play well in his absence. McVay is cautiously optimistic Whitworth’s injury is no more than a bruise. … The Rams rested Gurley and safety Lamarcus Joyner. Blake Countess started in Joyner’s place, but left early with a concussion.

Cardinals 24, Seahawks 27

Russell Wilson

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) passes against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SEATTLE (AP) — There was a sense of frustration that overwhelmed the accomplishment of the Seattle Seahawks winning 10 games for the sixth time in seven seasons.

The Seahawks know they must be better than what they showed Sunday or their return to the playoffs after a one-year absence will be brief.

“You can’t be so frustrated because we got the win and we have bigger goals ahead of us, but it’s not as satisfying as it could have been,” Seattle left tackle Duane Brown said. “We won the game, got 10 wins on the season so you have to be grateful for that but we know the kind of product we’re used to putting out on the field and today wasn’t it.”

Seattle escaped its lackluster season finale with a 27-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday thanks to Sebastian Janikowski’s 33-yard field goal on the final play. The victory wrapped up the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs and a matchup at Dallas in the wild-card round on Saturday night.

But it was an ugly performance filled with protection issues, special teams mistakes and a matchup that ultimately meant very little a week after the Seahawks (10-6) wrapped up their postseason berth. With how things played out on the final day, Seattle could have lost and still been in the same position.

“I think what it comes down to is nobody wanted to play in Chicago. We wanted to play in Dallas in a dome,” Seattle WR Doug Baldwin said. “It’s just one of those games where you got to come out and put your best foot forward even though you already know you’re in the playoffs and do the best you can to make it a game.”

Despite the issues that emerged, Seattle coach Pete Carroll was quick to point out the highlights that came out of the victory: Another big day running the ball, forcing two turnovers and sacking Arizona QB Josh Rosen six times, and putting together a game-winning drive in the final two minutes.

Seattle took a 24-21 lead earlier in the fourth quarter on Janikowski’s 42-yard field goal, but watched Arizona (3-13) answer with Zane Gonzalez’s third field goal of the game, from 55 yards with 1:49 left to tie it. Gonzalez hit earlier from 36 and 50 yards.

After converting a third-and-1 early in the drive, Russell Wilson hit Tyler Lockett for 37 yards to the Arizona 25-yard line. After a couple of running plays, Jankowski hit the winner for the second time this season against the Cardinals. Seattle will go into the postseason winning six of its final seven games.

Chris Carson rushed for a career-high 122 yards and a touchdown, but Wilson was sacked six times and a litany of special teams mistakes allowed the hapless Cardinals to stick around far longer than expected. The six sacks were the most allowed by Seattle since Week 2.

Wilson was 12 of 21 for 152 yards, one touchdown and an interception in the first quarter that ended Seattle’s hopes of matching the NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season.

Rosen was 18 of 34 for 149 yards and threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald. The loss ensured the Cardinals the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft and the question will continued to linger if Fitzgerald will return to play with that draft pick.

“I feel like we’ve done this dance before. Same song, same dance. I’m going to go play golf tomorrow, I know that, I’m looking forward to it,” Fitzgerald said.

FITZ FINALE?

In his 15th season, Fitzgerald caught the 116th touchdown pass of his career and became the third player with at least 1,300 career receptions. The question will linger whether there’s a 16th season in Fitzgerald’s future, although he still showed the skill as an exceptional pass catcher. His first reception came on the final play of the first quarter and extended his streak to 227 straight games with a catch. His best catch was in the second quarter as he initially faked a block, slipped behind cornerback Akeem King and made a one-handed reception for his sixth touchdown of the season.

His 116 career TDs are tied for sixth with Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.

“I told him he was coming back,” Cardinals RB David Johnson said.

UGLY OFFENSE

Seattle went three-and-out on five straight offensive possessions starting in the middle of the second quarter through the middle of the third against a defense that has caused problems in the past.

Seattle finally got a first down thanks to a defensive holding penalty against Haason Reddick that negated Wilson’s fumble being returned for a touchdown by Peterson. Carson bolted for 61 yards on the next play. Mike Davis later bounced outside for a 17-yard TD run and a 21-13 lead.

BLOCK PARTY

Arizona pulled even on a blocked punt by Cameron Malveaux recovered by Dennis Gardeck for a touchdown. It was the first punt block for a TD by the Cardinals since 2008, and the 2-point conversion by Johnson pulled the Cardinals even at 21.

INJURIES

Seattle will have one big question going into next week after starting cornerback Shaquill Griffin left in the first half with a twisted right ankle injury and did not return. Griffin appeared to take an awkward step on the sideline pushing Fitzgerald out of bounds. Carroll said Griffin wanted to return but was held out for precautionary reasons.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Arizona is on the clock for the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

Seahawks: Seattle will travel to Dallas in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs.

Colts 33, Titans 17

Colts Titans Football

Indianapolis Colts cornerback Chris Milton (28) celebrates after recovering a punt fumbled by the Tennessee Titans in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/James Kenney)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts have Andrew Luck healthy and throwing the ball all over the field.

That’s more than enough with an injured Marcus Mariota stuck watching from the Tennessee sideline.

Luck threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns and the Colts beat the Titans 33-17 on Sunday night for the final spot in the postseason as the AFC’s No. 6 seed.

With the Texans winning the AFC South title earlier Sunday with a victory over Jacksonville, that left the Colts and Titans playing for the second wild-card berth and a visit to Houston on Saturday.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Luck said. “It’s been a journey, that’s for sure. I think what this team is doing is enjoying the journey.”

Luck remained perfect against Tennessee, notching his 11th victory for the most wins by a quarterback since at least 1970 to win his first 11 starts against one franchise. He helped the Colts (10-6) — under first-year coach Frank Reich — end their postseason drought by winning for the ninth time in 10 games after a 1-5 start.

“I mean you’re 1-5, and that’s special,” Reich said. “It not only takes the whole team for 10 weeks, so that’s very special.”

The Titans (9-7) snapped a four-game winning streak with Mariota sidelined by neck and foot injuries. They missed a second straight playoff berth under first-year coach Mike Vrabel.

“We made a decision that Marcus wasn’t going to play tonight,” said Vrabel, who gave no details on when the decision not to start Mariota was made nor the seriousness of his injury. “We’ll continue to evaluate him and try to worry about his health and every one of those guys’ health — Marcus included.”

The Colts intercepted two of Blaine Gabbert’s passes in the final 9:05 to finish off their 13th win in the last 15 games in the series.

Marlon Mack ran for 119 yards and a TD for the Colts. Adam Vinatieri kicked field goals of 53 and 25 yards. The NFL’s oldest active player missed his final extra point.

Derrick Henry, who took the Titans’ first offensive snap out of the wildcat, finished with 93 yards.

Tennessee was missing three defensive starters with four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey placed on injured reserve Monday and linebacker Brian Orakpo scratched for a third straight game. That left the Titans unable to pressure Luck even with the Colts missing center Ryan Kelly because of a neck injury.

And Luck simply shredded a Tennessee defense that came in as the NFL’s No. 2 scoring defense giving up just 18 points a game and sixth against the pass.

He drove the Colts 92 yards before hitting Dontrelle Inman with an 11-yard TD pass and finished off a 90-play drive that used up nearly 10 minutes with a 9-yard pass to Eric Ebron. That left the Colts up 14-0, having held the ball for nearly 17 of the first 21 minutes.

Luck also added a 1-yard TD toss to Ryan Hewitt on the opening drive of the third quarter for a 24-10 lead.

“The most satisfying thing is to walk in the locker room, look at your teammate and say, ‘We did it,’ and we did it,” Reich said. “Those are three of the best words that you can ever say to your teammate. To me, that’s really the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

Titans linebacker Jayon Brown almost singlehandedly kept the Colts from putting the game away before halftime.

Brown returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. After Adoree Jackson inexplicably grabbed at a bouncing punt that put the Colts at the Tennessee 9, the Colts had a TD run by Mack erased by a holding penalty on center Evan Boehm. Two plays later, Brown stripped Mack of the ball and recovered it.

Ryan Succop kicked a 38-yard field goal that pulled Tennessee to 17-10 at halftime. Gabbert threw a 22-yard TD pass to Luke Stocker to pull the Titans to 24-17 late in the third quarter.

INJURIES

The already banged-up Titans had tight end Luke Stocker leave with an injured knee early in the second quarter followed by receiver Tajae Sharpe being helped to the sideline with an ankle. Stocker returned. Sharpe didn’t.

Colts defensive end Tyquan Lewis hurt his knee late in the first half and did not return. Colts receiver Ryan Grant hurt a toe.

FLYING FLAGS

The Colts would have won by a bigger margin if not for penalties that wiped out not one, but two touchdowns. They at least salvaged a Vinatieri field goal after Jordan Wilkins’ TD run in the fourth quarter was erased by a formation penalty. The Colt were flagged 12 times for 96 yards. The Titans, who came in as the NFL’s least penalized team, finished with nine penalties for 75 yards.

UP NEXT:

Colts: Wild-card game in Houston on Saturday.

Titans: Try to get Mariota healthy and find a better backup.

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