NFL: Cowboys clinch division; Eagles stay alive; Saints hold off Steelers
The Dallas Cowboys wrapped up the NFC East title when Dak Prescott accounted for two touchdowns and Jaylon Smith returned a fumble 69 yards for a score in a 27-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Smith’s long return came after a scrambling Jameis Winston lost the ball on a blind-side sack by Randy Gregory, who also recovered a fumble to set up a touchdown for a 14-point lead late in the third quarter.
The Cowboys (9-6) clinched the division title and their second trip to the playoffs in three years with Prescott and star running back Ezekiel Elliott a week after failing in their first chance with their first shutout loss in 15 years, 23-0 at Indianapolis.
Winston threw for 336 yards in another prolific passing game for the Buccaneers (5-10), who outgained the Cowboys 383-232 but hurt themselves with turnovers and holding penalties. Tampa Bay’s third straight loss clinched the franchise’s fifth season of at least 10 losses in the past six years, a week after the Bucs were eliminated from postseason contention.
Smith’s fumble return and Gregory’s recovery at the Tampa Bay 4 helped a Dallas offense that wasn’t sharp for a second straight week. Prescott was 20 of 25 but for just 161 yards.
Prescott ran 7 yards to cap the only lengthy Dallas touchdown drive, a 75-yarder. He threw a 4-yard score to rookie Michael Gallup after Gregory’s recovery, which came when Winston and Bobo Wilson botched the exchange on a handoff to the receiver.
at Philadelphia 32, Houston 20: Jake Elliott kicked a 35-yard field goal as time expired and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Houston Texans 32-30 Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The defending Super Bowl champion Eagles (8-7) need a win at Washington (7-8) next week and for Minnesota (8-6-1) to lose or tie or Seattle (8-6) to lose twice or lose once and tie to get a wild-card berth.
The Texans (10-5) missed an opportunity to clinch the AFC South and also allowed New England (10-5) to take control of the No. 2 seed. The Texans would secure the division title with a victory against Jacksonville next week. They’d get a first-round bye with a win and if the Patriots lose or tie.
Filling in for the injured Carson Wentz for the second straight week, Nick Foles again played like the Super Bowl MVP who led Philadelphia to a victory over New England.
Foles threw for a franchise-record 471 yards and four touchdowns.
Deshaun Watson had two TD passes and ran for two scores.
Jacksonville 17, at Miami 7: Blake Bortles came off the bench late in the third quarter with the score tied and provided a spark Sunday, helping the Jacksonville Jaguars eliminate the Miami Dolphins from the AFC playoff race by winning 17-7.
Bortles took the Jaguars 51 yards for a short field goal and 10-7 lead early in the fourth quarter. On the next series, Telvin Smith Sr. intercepted Ryan Tannehill and scored on a 33-yard return.
The Dolphins (7-8) will sit out the playoffs for the 15th time in the past 17 years, and they’ll finish at .500 or worse for the ninth time in the past 10 seasons. The Jaguars (5-10) won for only the second time in the past 11 games.
Kessler bruised his throwing shoulder when hit as he threw a pass and left the game late in the first half. He returned to start the third quarter, but after being sacked for a fifth time was replaced again late in the period by Bortles.
Bortles finished 5 of 6 for 39 yards. The third overall pick in the 2014 draft, he lost the starting job to Kessler in Week 13.
Atlanta 24, at Carolina 10: Matt Ryan threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns, and the Atlanta Falcons handed Carolina Panthers their seventh straight loss and knocked their NFC South rivals out of playoff contention with a 24-10 win on Sunday.
Ryan found Calvin Ridley for a 75-yard touchdown strike on the first play of the second half for the go-ahead score. He also connected with Mohamed Sanu on a crossing route for a 44-yard score and threw a 1-yard TD pass to Julio Jones in the back of the end zone.
Ridley had three catches for 90 yards and Sanu had five grabs for 81 yards for the Falcons (6-9). Brian Hill had 115 yards on eight carries.
The Falcons intercepted Taylor Heinicke three times and forced four turnovers after allowing a touchdown on the game’s opening possession. Heinicke, making his first NFL start for the injured Cam Newton, left the game briefly in the second quarter with a left elbow injury, but returned and was hit repeatedly by the Falcons.
He finished 33 of 53 for 274 yards with one touchdown.
at Cleveland 26, Cincinnati 18: Baker Mayfield threw three touchdown passes to thrill a sellout, holiday-spirited crowd that came out to boo former Cleveland coach Hue Jackson. The Browns beat the Cincinnati Bengals 26-18 on Sunday and swept their southern Ohio neighbors for the first time since 2002.
Mayfield continued his stellar rookie season, one that took off after Jackson was fired by the Browns on Oct. 29. Mayfield’s 24 TD passes are the third most in NFL history by a rookie, trailing only Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson, who both had 26.
With their fifth win in six games, the Browns (7-7-1) improved to 5-2 under interim coach Gregg Williams, who has gone from long shot to legitimate candidate to become Cleveland’s next coach. It’s only the second time since 2007 the Browns have won at least seven games.
The Bengals (6-9), on the other hand, are disintegrating under coach Marvin Lewis. They lost for the sixth time in seven games and are assured of finishing last in the AFC North, a spot the Browns have occupied every season since 2011.
at New England 24, Buffalo 12: The Patriots earned their 10th straight AFC East title with Sony Michel running for 116 yards and a touchdown.
With the Eagles win over the Texans, the Patriots are back in the No. 2 spot in the AFC. A Patriots win over the Jets next week would give New England a first-round bye in the playoffs.
New England (10-5) improved to 7-0 at home this season and became the first franchise in NFL history to earn playoff berths in 10 straight seasons. It also marked the Patriots’ fifth straight win over the Bills and their 26th series sweep of Buffalo (5-10).
Brady went 13 of 24 for 126 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions — his lowest output since he passed for 123 yards in a 2003 loss to the Bills. But with the touchdown he joined Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers with at least 10 seasons of 4,000-plus passing yards. Manning has 14 such seasons, Brees entered the day with 12 and Rivers has 10.
It was Michel’s fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season
at Indianapolis 28, N.Y. Giants 27: Andrew Luck hooked up with Chester Rogers for a 1-yard TD pass with 55 seconds left to give the Colts their only lead of the game.
Indy (9-6) has won eight of nine to keep itself in the playoff hunt heading into the regular-season finale at Tennessee. The Colts, who won their last six home games after starting 0-2, would win the AFC South with a victory over the Titans and a loss by the Houston Texans. Indianapolis would also earn a wild card if it beats Tennessee and Baltimore loses.
The Giants (5-10) lost their second straight — on a day they committed too many late miscues.
After driving to the Colts’ 7-yard line early in the fourth quarter, New York wound up settling for a 27-yard field goal that kept it a one-possession game at 27-21.
On the final drive, linebacker Tae Davis was called for pass interference on third-and-3 and cornerback B.W. Webb was called for it in the end zone. Eventually, Luck made the Giants pay with the easy score to Rogers.
Minnesota 27, at Detroit 9: Kirk Cousins threw a 44-yard Hail Mary to Kyle Rudolph as time expired in the first half to put the Vikings ahead, moving a step closer to playing in the postseason.
The Vikings could have clinched a spot in the playoffs with a win and losses by Washington and Philadelphia this weekend. The Redskins lost to Tennessee on Saturday, and shortly after Minnesota walked into its locker room at Ford Field, the Eagles beat Houston on a game-ending field goal.
Minnesota (8-6-1) can still earn a spot in the postseason by closing the regular season with a win against NFC North winner Chicago at home, or by having wild-card hopefuls lose in Week 17.
The Vikings overcame an awful start offensively, scoring two touchdowns on Cousins’ passes over the last 1:32 of the second quarter, and relied on their defense all afternoon against Detroit (5-10).
Green Bay 44, N.Y. Jets 38, OT: Aaron Rodgers threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 6:23 left in overtime. The victory was the Packers’ first on the road this season — snapping a nine-game skid away from Lambeau Field dating to last season — and it prevented them from becoming the first Green Bay squad since 1958 to go an entire season without a win away from home.
And this one was all on Rodgers, who was masterful in the fourth quarter and the overtime period for the Packers (6-8-1). He threw for 442 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran for two scores.
The loss for the Jets (4-11) overshadowed a dazzling performance by rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, who threw for a career-high 341 yards with three touchdowns — but never got a chance with the ball in overtime. It was likely the final home game for coach Todd Bowles, who is expected to be fired after next week’s game at New England.
The Jets were done in by penalties, getting called for a whopping 16 that cost them 172 yards. Bowles was critical of the officiating crew, saying some of the calls against New York shouldn’t have happened.
at New Orleans 31, Pittsburgh 28: Drew Brees capped a 326-yard passing performance with a 2-yard touchdown to Michael Thomas with 1:25 left, and the Saints clinched the top seed in the NFC playoffs.
Alvin Kamara gained 105 yards from scrimmage and ran for two touchdowns for New Orleans (13-2), which rallied for the lead after two defensive stops in the fourth quarter. New Orleans ended one Steelers drive when Kurt Coleman forced Stevan Ridley’s fumble, and ended another by narrowly thwarting a fake punt.
Ben Roethlisberger passed for 380 yards and three touchdowns for the Steelers (8-6-1), connecting 14 times with Antonio Brown for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh fell into second in the AFC North behind Baltimore and out of playoff position.
Pittsburgh drove into field-goal range on its final drive, but JuJu Schuster fumbled when he was stripped by defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins as the receiver landed on top of his tackler. Linebacker Demario Davis recovered.
Chicago 14, at San Francisco 9: Mitchell Trubisky threw one touchdown pass, Jordan Howard ran for another score and the Bears survived a fight and a late fumble to earn their eighth win in nine games.
Danny Trevathan made a key interception in the fourth quarter and Chicago’s stout defense kept the 49ers out of the end zone to clinch at least the third seed in the NFC playoffs. The Bears (11-4) can earn a first-round bye with a win in the season finale and a loss by the Rams.
Robbie Gould kicked three field goals for the 49ers (4-11), who had their two-game winning streak snapped.
The game turned feisty in the fourth quarter, when San Francisco safety Marcell Harris hit Trubisky after he started sliding on a scramble near the Bears bench. Trubisky’s teammates took exception to the hit and a scuffle ensued with punches being thrown. San Francisco cornerback Richard Sherman and Chicago receivers Joshua Bellamy and Anthony Miller all got ejected.
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