Texans clinch AFC South, will play wild-card game at home
HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans clinched the AFC South title as Deshaun Watson threw for 234 yards and ran for a touchdown, and DeAndre Hopkins had 147 yards receiving in a 20-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
The Texans (11-5) won nine in a row after starting 0-3 to save their season and 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 from last year’s 4-12 record in a season where Watson and J.J. Watt sustained season-ending injuries.
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 period, but Blake Bortles was intercepted in the end zone by Andre Hal.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan issued a statement urging his director of football operations, Tom Coughlin, the keep the status quo with coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell — even though the team flopped from a spot in the AFC title game to last place.
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, the Jaguars managing one first down in the opening half and finishing with six. Bortles was 15 of 28 for 107 yards.
Watt sacked him 1 1/2 times to give him 16 this year for his fourth season with 15 or more sacks, second most in NFL history to Reggie White (5).
PATRIOTS 38, JETS 3
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady threw for three first-half touchdowns and New England clinched its ninth straight first-round bye in the playoffs. The Patriots (11-5) finished the season as the NFL’s only undefeated team at home, where they’ll have at least one playoff game.
After back-to-back December losses left the Patriots with a losing record on the road, they finished with two straight home wins to avoid playing in the wild-card round for the first time since 2009.
In what could be the final game for Jets coach Todd Bowles, New York (4-12) lost for the ninth time in 10 games. 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.
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. After punting on their first possession, the Patriots scored on three straight drives.
COWBOYS 36, GIANTS 35
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Dak 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.
In what might have been quarterback Eli Manning’s final start for the Giants, Prescott passed for 387 yards and the season-high four touchdowns, the first three to tight end Blake Jarwin. The Cowboys (10-6) won for the seventh time in eight games.
The game was meaningless for the NFC East champion Cowboys, who will host a wild-card game next weekend. Coach Jason Garrett rested NFL leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott and two of his top offensive linemen, but kept Prescott (27 of 44) on the field the whole game to build momentum for the postseason.
It worked, although the Giants (5-11) did their best despite losing their third straight game.
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.
LIONS 31, PACKERS 0
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Matthew Stafford threw for 266 yards and two scores to T.J. Jones and kicker Matt Prater tossed a touchdown pass after faking a field-goal try.
With Green Bay trailing 21-0 at the half, quarterback Aaron Rodgers never returned after walking to the locker room early in the second quarter, having suffered a concussion. Both teams had long been eliminated from playoff contention.
Zach Zenner had a 13-yard touchdown run for the Lions (6-10), who have won four straight against their NFC North rival for the first time since 1982-83. They got a little positive push at the end of Matt Patricia’s first season as coach.
The Packers (6-9-1) 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.
PANTHERS 33, SAINTS 14
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Undrafted rookie Kyle Allen passed for 228 yards and two touchdowns before injuring his shoulder against a Saints squad looking ahead to the playoffs.
Allen, a third-stringer pressed into service with Cam Newton and backup Taylor Heinicke out, 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 the first four drives of his first NFL start. He played until the fourth quarter, when he was hit hard by Saints rookie end Marcus Davenport while releasing an incomplete pass.
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.
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.
FALCONS 34, BUCCANEERS 32
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Matt Ryan’s first career reception went for a touchdown and the Atlanta quarterback also threw for 378 yards and two TDs.
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.
Ryan finished 31 of 44 with one interception, a fourth-quarter pick that led to Winston’s second TD pass of the day — 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 finished with 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. Tampa Bay dropped to 19-29 in three seasons under coach Dirk Koetter, whose job could be at stake after consecutive 5-11 finishes.
BILLS 42, DOLPHINS 17
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills rookie Josh Allen had a career-best three touchdown passes and scored two more rushing, and defensive tackle Kyle Williams closed his 13-year career in Buffalo with a win.
Williams had a tackle for a loss and was part of a defense that forced four turnovers, including three by Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in a game between two AFC East teams already eliminated from playoff contention.
The 35-year-old Williams has been the team’s unquestioned leader and was honored before the game by being the last player out of the tunnel, and then was greeted on the field by his wife, Jill, and their five children. Williams announced on Friday that he was retiring.
The Bills then called timeout with 1:19 left, when Williams walked off the field for the final time and hugged coach Sean McDermott on the sideline.
Leave it to Allen, who represents the Bills’ future, to put the finishing touches on a 6-10 season in which Buffalo won four of its final seven games. The 42 points scored were the most by Buffalo since a 45-16 win over San Francisco on Oct. 16, 2016.
The Dolphins (7-9) 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, who has two years left on his four-year contract.