CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns are back in the playoffs, qualifying for the first time since 2002 by surviving a late Pittsburgh rally for a win 24-22 over the Steelers, who rested quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and several other starters.
The Browns (11-5) nearly blew a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, but stopped Pittsburgh’s 2-point conversion attempt and then recovered an onside kick with 1:22 left to hold on.
A week of COVID-19 disruptions concluded in celebration as the Browns ended what had been the NFL’s longest postseason drought. Their reward: Another game against the AFC North champion Steelers, in Pittsburgh next weekend.
Nick Chubb had a touchdown run, Baker Mayfield threw a TD pass and the Browns hung on as Mason Rudolph brought back the Steelers (12-4), who had the luxury of sitting their best players after clinching the division last week.
John Wolford, making his first NFL start at quarterback, helped lead the Rams to an 18-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the regular-season finale that clinched the team’s playoff spot.
Jan. 3, 2021
Rudolph’s 2-yard TD pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster with 1:23 left pulled the Steelers within 24-22. But Rudolph badly overthrew rookie Chase Claypool on the 2-point attempt, and Browns tight end Stephen Carlson then fell on the ensuing kick under a pile of bodies.
Ravens 38, Bengals 3
CINCINNATI — Baltimore used a club-record 404 yards rushing to clinch a playoff spot, beating Cincinnati as Lamar Jackson threw three touchdown passes and became the first NFL quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in two consecutive seasons.
The Ravens rolled up 525 total yards, and the 404 rushing yards were the most surrendered by a Bengals defense. Rookie J.K. Dobbins rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns, including a 72-yard scoring romp in the third quarter.
Baltimore won its fifth straight game and advanced to the postseason for a third consecutive season.
Jackson rushed for 97 yards and threw for 113 before taking a seat in the third quarter. He has run or passed for at least one touchdown in 36 straight starts, the longest active streak in the NFL.
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Jan. 3, 2021
Another Ravens playoff appearance didn’t look likely just a few weeks ago. They started 5-1 but slumped amid a COVID-19 outbreak and injuries to key players. They rebounded to win four straight and put themselves in a position to secure the postseason spot heading into the season finale against Cincinnati (4-11-1) which had won two straight.
Baltimore (11-5) scored on its first two drives, a 34-yard Justin Tucker field goal followed by a 43-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Miles Boykin.
Bills 56, Dolphins 26
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. —Josh Allen and Buffalo placed an emphatic stamp on a breakout season with a rout of Miami in a game that helped knock the Dolphins out of the playoffs.
Miami’s postseason hopes ended when the Indianapolis Colts beat Jacksonville later in the day. The Bills will host the Colts next week.
The Dolphins (10-6) also didn’t get results they needed to clinch their third playoff berth in 18 years early in the day when Cleveland beat Pittsburgh and Baltimore routed Cincinnati.
Allen threw three touchdown passes and Isaiah McKenzie scored three times, including returning a punt return 84 yards, in a game Buffalo blew the game open by scoring on four consecutive second-quarter possessions.
With the win, the Bills (13-3) clinched the AFC’s No. 2 playoff seed in completing a season in which they matched a single-season record for wins, set in both 1990 and ‘91, and won their first East Division title in 25 years.
Washington 20, Eagles 14
PHILADELPHIA — Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes and Washington captured the lowly NFC East.
The Washington franchise, which changed its nickname in July after years of protests about it, became the first team in the Super Bowl era to reach the playoffs following a 2-7 start.
Led by Smith and first-year coach Ron Rivera, who overcame a form of skin cancer during the season, Washington (7-9) is the third team to win a division title with a losing record during a full 16-game season. Seattle (2010) and Carolina (2014) previously did it and each won a playoff game.
Washington earned the NFC’s No. 4 seed and will host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) in a wild-card game next Saturday night.
Titans 41, Texans 38
HOUSTON — Tennessee won the AFC South on Sunday. All it took was Derrick Henry surpassing 2,000 yards rushing and rookie Sam Sloman’s 37-yard field goal that bounced off the upright and through for a victory over Houston.
Henry ran for a career-high 250 yards in the victory that gave Tennessee (11-5) its first AFC South title since 2008 and is the fifth straight loss for the Texans (4-12). The Titans needed the air game to set up Sloman’s winner, though: a 52-yard reception by A.J. Brown moments after a 51-yard field goal by Houston tied it with 18 seconds left.
Tennessee will host Baltimore (11-5) next weekend.
Henry finished the regular season with a franchise-record 2,027 yards rushing to become the eighth player in NFL history to run for 2,000 yards. He passed Chris Johnson, who had 2,006 yards in 2009.
Henry had touchdown runs of 52 and 6 yards in his third straight 200-yard rushing game against the Texans.
Giants 23, Cowboys 19
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants rookie Xavier McKinney intercepted Dallas’ Andy Dalton in the end zone with 1:15 remaining, giving the Giants a victory over the Cowboys.
Despite the win, New York’s hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since 2016 were obliterated when the Philadelphia Eagles lost to Washington.
The Giants (6-10) nearly qualified for the playoffs with six victories in a 16-game regular season after starting 1-7. Hardly how first-year coach Joe Judge planned it, but enough to keep New York in the hunt until the final week of the season.
Dallas (6-10) nearly ripped that away. Dalton rallied Dallas with a bloody left hand after being stepped on by defensive tackle Leonard Williams in the third quarter, and he had the Cowboys on the doorstep when Williams got close again.
Dalton scrambled around on a broken play, avoided being sacked by Williams for a fourth time, but ended up floating one into the middle of the end zone. McKinney caught it easily, his first career interception.
Buccaneers 44, Falcons 27
TAMPA, Fla. — Tom Brady threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns, helping playoff-bound Tampa Bay clinch the fifth seed in the NFC with a regular season-ending win over Atlanta.
The victory, which means the Bucs (11-5) will face the NFC East champion, Washington or the Giants, on the road in the club’s first postseason game in 13 years, may have come with a steep cost.
Star receiver Mike Evans was carted to the locker room with a left knee injury late in the first quarter and did not return.
Brady threw touchdown passes of 29 and 4 yards to Chris Godwin. The six-time Super Bowl champion also tossed scoring passes of 25 and 30 yards to Antonio Brown, finishing with a Tampa Bay single-season record 40 in his first season with the Bucs.
Brady also joined Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino as the only players with multiple seasons of at least 40 TD passes. Rodgers has done it three times, the others twice.
Matt Ryan completed 29 of 44 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns for the Falcons (4-12).
Patriots 28, Jets 14
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Cam Newton had three touchdown passes and caught another, and New England rallied to beat the Jets, who fired coach Adam Gase after the game.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for New England (7-9), which earned its 10th straight win over the Jets (2-14), but won’t be playing in the postseason for the first time since the 2008 season.
It marked Newton’s first game with multiple passing touchdowns this season. He finished 21 of 30 for 242 yards. He also ran 11 times for 79 yards.
New England trailed 14-7 early in the third quarter, but outscored the Jets 21-0 the rest of the way.
Sam Darnold, whose future with the Jets is also uncertain, was 23 of 34 for 266 yards, a touchdown and two second-half interceptions.
Vikings 37, Lions 35
DETROIT — Kirk Cousins threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns, lifting Minnesota to a win over Detroit in a matchup of teams finishing disappointing seasons.
The Vikings (7-9) failed for the fourth time in a decade to make two straight trips to the playoffs. They won five of six midway through the season to return to the postseason race, but dashed hopes by losing three straight before closing with a win at Detroit.
The Lions (5-11) lost their last four games and eight of 10 after going into November with a .500 record under former coach Matt Patricia.
Detroit’s defense broke franchise records by allowing 519 points and 6,716 yards, breaking marks set by its winless team in 2008 and ranking among the worst in NFL history.
Colts 28, Jaguars 14
INDIANAPOLIS — Jonathan Taylor rushed for a franchise-record 253 yards and two scores, capping Indianapolis’ playoff-clinching victory over Jacksonville with a 45-yard touchdown run with 3:35 to go.
Philip Rivers threw for another score and the Colts’ defense shut out the Jaguars over the final quarter to help preserve the victory.
Indianapolis (11-5) will make its first postseason appearance since 2018 and its second since 2015. The Colts will be the No. 7 seed and face Buffalo on the road.
Jacksonville (1-15) lost its final 15 games and will have the No. 1 overall draft pick in April.
Taylor was sensational, carrying 30 times while joining Hall of Famer Edgerrin James as the only players in franchise history to run for 200 yards in a game. James set the franchise record of 219 yards at Seattle in October 2000. James also rushed for 204 yards at Chicago in November 2004.
Packers 35, Bears 16
CHICAGO — Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns, breaking his franchise record for scoring passes in a season, and Green Bay clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC by beating playoff-bound Chicago.
The Packers (13-3) earned a bye while winning their sixth in a row and beat Chicago (8-8) for the 19th time in 22 games, counting the postseason.
The Bears are headed to the playoffs for the second time in coach Matt Nagy’s three years despite the loss because Arizona fell to the Los Angeles Rams. Chicago will be at New Orleans (12-4).
Rodgers joined Peyton Manning (2004 and 2013) as the only players to throw for at least 45 touchdowns in multiple seasons. He now has 48, surpassing his previous high of 45 in his first MVP season of 2011.
Davante Adams broke Sterling Sharpe’s record for receptions in a season and tied his mark for touchdown catches in a year. Adams had six receptions to bump his total to 115 and surpass Sharpe’s mark of 112 in 1993. His 6-yard score late in the game gave him 18 TDs, matching Sharpe’s team record in 1994.
Seahawks 26, 49ers 23
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Russell Wilson connected on two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Tyler Lockett and Seattle rallied for a win over San Francisco to end the season on a four-game winning streak.
Seattle (12-4) had a chance to earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs but stayed at No. 3 after the New Orleans Saints and top-seeded Green Bay Packers both won. The Seahawks will host the division rival Rams in the wild-card round next weekend.
The 49ers (6-10) were eliminated from playoff contention a few weeks ago and have been based in Arizona for more than a month because of coronavirus restrictions in their home county. The team still pushed the playoff-bound Seahawks all afternoon.
Third-stringer C.J. Beathard completed 25 of 37 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown but fumbled late in the fourth quarter, which set up Collins’ touchdown. Tristan Vizcaino made his first three NFL field goals after being signed by the 49ers earlier this week.
Saints 33, Panthers 7
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Drew Brees threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns, the Saints had five interceptions and New Orleans defeated Carolina to wrap up the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Saints will host the seventh-seeded Chicago Bears in the wild-card round next weekend.
Ty Montgomery ran for 105 yards on 18 carries for the Saints (12-4), who became the first team to sweep the NFC South by going 6-0 since the division was formed in 2002.
The Saints still managed to run for 156 yards despite playing without Alvin Kamara, who tied an NFL record with six TDs in a Week 16 win over the Vikings, and Latavius Murray. Both running backs were placed on the COVID-19/reserve list.
Taysom Hill had 41 yards rushing, including a 3-yard TD run.
Carolina’s Teddy Bridgewater was benched midway through the third quarter after throwing his second interception in the end zone into double coverage. The former Saints QB finished 13 of 23 for 176 yards and was replaced by P.J. Walker, who was intercepted three times.
The Panthers (5-11) were also without their top two running backs Christian McCaffrey and Mike Davis because of injury and managed just 74 yards rushing.
Raiders 32, Broncos 31
DENVER — Darren Waller caught Derek Carr’s 2-point conversion pass with 24 seconds left, and Las Vegas rallied to beat Denver despite committing four turnovers.
The Broncos (5-11) reached the Las Vegas 45-yard line with 9 seconds left and Brandon McManus’ 63-yard field-goal try was blocked by Maxx Crosby, who also blocked McManus’ record 70-yard attempt on the last play of the first half.
Josh Jacobs’ 1-yard TD run capped a seven play, 77-yard drive for the Raiders (8-8), who snapped a nine-game losing streak in season finales.