The Associated Press
Dec. 29, 2014
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers are back on top of the AFC North.
Antonio Brown returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown and added a clinching 63-yard scoring grab with 2:50 to go in the Steelers' 27-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night.
Pittsburgh (11-5) earned its first division title since 2010 by sweeping the season series from the Bengals (10-5-1). The Steelers are the No. 3 seed in the AFC and will host Baltimore in the wild-card round Saturday night. The Bengals are the No. 5 seed and will play at AFC South champion Indianapolis on Sunday.
Brown had 212 all-purpose yards, including the late dazzling catch and run to the end zone.
The victory came at a potentially high cost. Running back Le'Veon Bell left in the third quarter with a hyperextended right knee following a collision with Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson.
Ravens 20, Browns 10
Baltimore earned a spot in the postseason Sunday, rallying to defeat the Browns while getting an assist halfway across the country.
Down 10-3 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens kicked a field goal and then took the lead on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith with 7:33 left.
Flacco's 2-yard TD throw to Kamar Aiken clinched it.
To reach the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, Baltimore (10-6) needed to beat the Browns (7-9) and have San Diego lose in Kansas City. Precisely what happened.
The Browns had lost four straight, were starting rookie quarterback Connor Shaw and had dropped 12 of their past 13 against Baltimore.
Chiefs 19, Chargers 7
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City rolled to a that eliminated San Diego from contention, but the Chiefs failed to get the help they needed to qualify for the playoffs.
Baltimore and Houston both needed to lose in games happening at the same time, and both rallied in the second half for wins.
Justin Houston had four sacks for the Chiefs (9-7) to break Derrick Thomas' franchise record with 22 in the season. Cairo Santos kicked four field goals, and Chase Daniel played serviceably in place of injured quarterback Alex Smith, throwing for 157 yards without an interception.
The Chiefs' only touchdown came when wide receiver Dwayne Bowe fumbled inches shy of the goal line early in the second quarter. Tight end Travis Kelce recovered in the end zone, not only giving Kansas City a 10-0 lead but keeping a dubious streak intact: No Chiefs wide receiver caught a TD pass all season, the first time in at least 50 years that has happened.
Philip Rivers had 291 yards passing for the Chargers (9-7), going over 4,000 yards in a season for the sixth time in his career.
Seahawks 20, Rams 6
SEATTLE (AP) — Marshawn Lynch scored on a 9-yard run, Bruce Irvin returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown and the Seahawks wrapped up home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs.
The two fourth-quarter touchdowns by Seattle (12-4) capped a six-game win streak to end the regular season. That earned the Seahawks a second straight NFC West title and the ninth division title in franchise history.
The NFC playoffs will go through Seattle for the second straight season.
St. Louis (6-10) couldn't take advantage of two first-half turnovers by the Seahawks and its only points came on a pair of field goals from Greg Zuerlein.
Packers 30, Lions 20
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Limping Aaron Rodgers threw two touchdown passes to Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy gashed Detroit's defense for 100 yards and the Packers claimed a fourth straight NFC North title.
Bothered by a left calf injury, Rodgers will appreciate a week off after the win, as the Packers (12-4) earned a bye. Detroit (11-5) will start the postseason at Dallas next week.
Rodgers was carted to the locker room after tossing his first score to Cobb late in the second quarter.
He hobbled back on to the field in the third quarter with the game tied at 14. He led Green Bay on a seven-play, 60-yard drive that ended with a 13-yard score to Cobb with 3:33 left in the quarter. The Packers didn't look back.
Panthers 34, Falcons 3
ATLANTA (AP) — Roman Harper and Tre Boston returned interceptions for touchdowns as Carolina's defense led the Panthers to the NFC South crown.
Carolina (7-8-1) will host a wild-card playoff game next week against Arizona. The Panthers have won four straight, but still are the first team to enter the playoffs with a losing record since 2010, when Seattle was 7-9.
Harper scored on a 31-yard return in the second quarter and Boston helped clinch the win with his 84-yard interception return late in the third quarter. A 33-yard fumble return by Thomas Davis set up another touchdown.
The Falcons (6-10) were booed as they finished their second straight losing season under embattled coach Mike Smith.
49ers 20, Cardinals 17
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Jim Harbaugh is done as coach of the 49ers (8-8).
Harbaugh said after the win against playoff-bound Arizona (11-5) on Sunday that he and the 49ers are mutually parting ways.
Colin Kaepernick threw a go-ahead 3-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Miller late in the third quarter. Anquan Boldin caught a 76-yard TD pass and went over 1,000 yards receiving. Frank Gore ran for 144 yards on 25 carries to go over 1,000 yards rushing for the eighth time in 10 NFL seasons with San Francisco.
The Cardinals missed the franchise's first 12-win season, but will play at Carolina in the wild-card round. Ryan Lindley threw touchdown passes of 20 and 41 yards to Michael Floyd in the first half, but couldn't deliver late.
Broncos 47, Raiders 14
DENVER (AP) — C.J. Anderson ran for three touchdowns, and the Broncos earned a first-round bye and the AFC's No. 2 seed.
Peyton Manning guided the Broncos (12-4) to at least a tie for the best record in the NFL for the third consecutive season since his arrival in Denver. That's something he accomplished just twice in his 13 years in Indianapolis before missing all of 2011 because of spinal fusion surgery.
Manning, who completed 21 of 37 passes for 273 yards, failed to throw a TD pass for the second time in four weeks after throwing one for 51 consecutive games, just three shy of Drew Brees' NFL record.
Texans 23, Jaguars 17
HOUSTON (AP) — J.J. Watt had three sacks and a safety and Andre Johnson had 134 yards receiving and a touchdown. The Texans (9-7) had a shot at making the playoffs, but Baltimore beat Cleveland to claim the final AFC wild-card spot.
Johnson gave Houston a 21-17 lead with an 8-yard reception early in the fourth. Watt made it 23-17 when he sacked Blake Bortles in the end zone for a safety a few minutes later. The sack gave him 20 1/2 this season, making him the first player in NFL history to have two seasons with 20 or more sacks.
The Jaguars (3-13) had a chance to take the lead late, but Cecil Shorts III was out of bounds on a catch on fourth down.
Cowboys 44, Redskins 17
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant broke franchise records as the Cowboys (12-4) prepped for the playoffs.
The result was impressive but meaningless for postseason purposes.
Murray rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries, passing Emmitt Smith for the team single-season mark. Murray's 1,845 yards bettered Smith's 1,773 from 1995.
Bryant caught scoring passes of 65 and 23 yards to give him 16 touchdown receptions on the season, breaking Terrell Owens' team record of 15 set in 2007.
Saints 23, Buccaneers 20
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Drew Brees threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston with 1:57 remaining to give the Buccaneers the top pick in the NFL draft.
Brees shrugged off three interceptions — two of them stopping promising third-quarter drives — to throw for 281 yards. His only TD pass gave the Saints (7-9) their first lead, and Junior Galette sacked Josh McCown for a safety that provided the final margin.
Doug Martin rushed for a season-best 108 yards and rookie Mike Evans set a Tampa Bay record with his 12th touchdown reception as the Bucs (2-14) flirted with damaging their chances of winding up with the No. 1 overall selection in the draft. They "earned" the top pick anyway.
Colts 27, Titans 10
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Andrew Luck threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns before sitting out the second half.
The Colts (11-5) bounced back from their worst performance this season by nearly matching at halftime what they did offensively in the loss at Dallas. They wound up outgaining the Titans 378-192 as the AFC South champs swept their division a second straight season for the first time in franchise history.
Indianapolis will host Cincinnati in a wild-card game on Sunday.
With their 10th straight loss and Tampa Bay's loss to New Orleans, the Titans (2-14) finished their worst season since 1994 and will pick second overall in the draft.
Bills 17, Patriots 9
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Kyle Orton threw for one touchdown, Anthony Dixon ran for another and the Bills finished their first winning season in 10 years with a win over the going-through-the motions Patriots.
With the top seed in the AFC playoffs already clinched, the Patriots used quarterback Tom Brady for only the first half and held out tight end Rob Gronkowski and five other starters.
The victory snapped several streaks: Buffalo's 0-12 record at Gillette Stadium and New England's 35 straight home wins against AFC teams.
It was a price the Patriots (12-4) were willing to pay to protect key players, although left tackle Nate Solder didn't return after hurting his knee late in the first half.
The Bills (9-7) were eliminated from the playoffs a week earlier.
Jets 37, Dolphins 24
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Geno Smith had his best game in a rocky season, throwing for a career-high 358 yards and three touchdowns in what might be Rex Ryan's final game as Jets coach.
Smith's performance more than negated a 97-yard run by Lamar Miller, the longest play from scrimmage in Dolphins history. The Jets rallied from a 10-point third-quarter deficit, and Ryan ordered a fake punt with four minutes left that sealed the victory.
The game was entertaining but mostly meaningless because it involved two teams out of the playoff chase. And with the Jets sitting out the postseason for the fourth consecutive year, owner Woody Johnson is widely expected to fire Ryan, and perhaps general manager John Idzik.
The Jets (4-12) finished with their worst record since 2007. The Dolphins (8-8) missed a shot at their first winning season since 2008, which is the last time they made the playoffs. Owner Stephen Ross has said coach Joe Philbin will be back for a fourth season in 2015.
Eagles 34, Giants 26
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Mark Sanchez threw two touchdowns and the Philadelphia Eagles' special teams scored their seventh TD of this otherwise frustrating season in what could have been Tom Coughlin's final game as New York's coach.
Backup tight end Trey Burton returned a blocked punt 27 yards for a score in the third quarter, and Nate Allen iced the game with a late interception. The Eagles (10-6) snapped a three-game losing streak that knocked them out of playoff contention last week. The 10 wins matched their total last season when they won the NFC East.
Rookie Odell Beckham Jr. had 12 catches for a career-best 185 yards, including a 63-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that got the Giants within 31-26. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Giants (6-10), who have missed the playoffs for the third straight season.
Vikings 13, Bears 9
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Teddy Bridgewater threw the go-ahead 44-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen in the third quarter, putting one more blemish on a forgettable year for the Bears.
Blair Walsh kicked two field goals, Audie Cole had 11 tackles in his first start of the season, and the Vikings (7-9) ended coach Mike Zimmer's first year on a winning note.
Jay Cutler returned from a one-game benching with 172 yards on 23-for-36 passing without a fumble or an interception, but he rarely threw long and the offense was off all afternoon.
The Bears (5-11) finished with their worst record in 10 years, perhaps the last game for coach Marc Trestman.
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