Bills, 49ers Clinch NFL Division Titles
Buffalo battled its way to the AFC East title Sunday, while San Francisco took a more leisurely path to the NFC West championship.
The Bills defeated Miami 23-20 to nail down their sixth division title in eight years. The 49ers, waiting for a Monday night date with Minnesota, backed into the NFL West when Carolina upset Atlanta 21-17.
In other early games, it was Philadelphia 21, Arizona 20; Detroit 44, Jacksonville 0; Chicago 31, Tampa Bay 10; Washington 35, St. Louis 23; Cleveland 26, Cincinnati 10; and Houston 23, the New York Jets 6.
In late games Sunday, Denver was at Kansas City, San Diego at Indianapolis, and the New York Giants at Dallas. Oakland played a night game at Seattle.
In Saturday’s games, Pittsburgh gained a first-round playoff bye and ended New England’s postseason chances with a 41-27 victory over the Patriots, and Green Bay clinched a berth by beating New Orleans 34-23.
Miami twice battled back from a 10-point halftime deficit to tie the Bills. But Buffalo finished the Dolphins with Steve Christie’s third field goal of the game after an interception by David White deep in Miami territory.
Thurman Thomas rushed for 148 yards on 35 carries for the Bills, who missed the playoffs at 7-9 last year following four straight Super Bowl appearances.
``It was a great day and we can enjoy a few sublime moments,″ said Bills coach Marv Levy. ``But there are other tasks ahead.″
Atlanta blew a two-touchdown lead lead at Carolina, losing to the expansionist Panthers when Kerry Collins hooked up with Willie Green on an 89-yard touchdown pass.
Carolina, already the winningest expansion team in NFL history, clinched its seventh win of the season by stopping Atlanta on a fourth-and-goal play with 67 seconds left, severely damaging the Falcons’ postseason hopes.
Atlanta’s loss clinched the division for the 49ers and left the Falcons probably needing a victory over San Francisco next week for any chance of making the playoffs. Atlanta has lost its last three games to the 49ers by a combined 106 points.
Eagles 21, Cardinals 20
Philadelphia overcame a 17-point deficit and clinched a wild-card playoff berth using a huge defensive effort to beat Arizona. The Eagles forced five second-half turnovers and Rodney Peete’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Williams in the fourth quarter provided the winning margin.
Lions 44, Jaguars 0
Barry Sanders ran for two touchdowns and Scott Mitchell passed for two more as Detroit routed Jacksonville for its sixth straight victory. The Lions have scored 190 points in their last six games and will be in the playoffs if Minnesota loses Monday night at San Francisco.
Bears 31, Bucs 10
Rashaan Salaam rushed for a career-high 134 yards and three touchdowns as Chicago kept its playoff hopes alive. The Bears remained a postseason possibility thanks to Carolina’s victory over Atlanta. Chicago would qualify for the playoffs if it beats Philadelphia next week and Atlanta falls to San Francisco and Minnesota loses one of its final two games, against San Francisco and Cincinnati.
Browns 26, Bengals 10
The Browns played what may have been their final game after 50 years at Cleveland Stadium, and ended a six-game losing streak by beating Cincinnati. Cleveland had not won since the announcement the franchise would move to Baltimore next season.
Redskins 35, Cardinals 23
Tom Carter and Tony Woods scored defensive touchdowns for Washington as St. Louis lost for the eighth time in the last 11 games. In the last four, the Rams have been outscored by a combined 152-69. Mark Rypien passed for 340 yards, his second straight 300-yard game for St. Louis.
Oilers 23, Jets 6
Rookie Steve McNair threw a 35-yard TD pass in his first NFL start and Al Del Greco kicked three field goals in what may have been Houston’s last game in Texas. Oilers owner Bud Adamns is expected to buy out the remainder of the team’s lease and move to Nashville next season.