Final Sunday sets playoff picture


CHICAGO — Aaron Rodgers found a wide-open Randall Cobb on 4th-and-8 for a 48-yard score with just 38 seconds left to help the Packers with the NFC North with a 33-28 victory over the Chicago Bears.

Green Bay has the fourth seed in the upcoming NFC playoffs and will host the San Francisco 49ers in the wild-card round of the playoffs next week.

Rodgers had been out since a Nov. 4 game against these Bears due to a fractured left collarbone. He returned to practice this week and finished the game 25-for-39 for 318 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Packers (8-7-1).

Chicago (8-8), meanwhile, dropped its final two games of the year with its playoff hopes in its own hands. The team has now missed the playoffs three straight seasons.

The winning drive began at the Green Bay 13 with 6:24 to play and the Packers had to convert a fourth down on their first set of downs, with John Kuhn bulling his way through to move the chains.

Rodgers then scrambled for his only run of the game on 3rd-and-3 for a 5-yard gain, and converted another 4th-and-1 with a 6-yard pass to Nelson.

Once again, the Packers found themselves facing a 4th down from the Chicago 48, and the Bears brought the house on a blitz. Rodgers, though, avoided the rush and heaved the ball down the middle where a wide open Cobb easily made the catch and cruised into the end zone. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, and it was a 33-28 game with 38 seconds to play.

“I looked outside to make sure we had a big play there,” Rodgers said. “From the throw I missed Andrew Quarless on earlier in the drive, I knew I had to get a little bit on it to make sure I didn’t way underthrow him. When that ball came down and he got into the end zone it was just pandemonium.”

Philadelphia 24, Dallas 22

ARLINGTON — Brandon Boykin intercepted Kyle Orton with 1:43 left and the Philadelphia Eagles ran out the remaining time to seal a victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, winning the NFC East in a thrilling do-or-die regular season finale.

Filling in for the injured Tony Romo, who had surgery Friday to repair a herniated disk in his back, Orton threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant on 4th-and-9 to bring the Cowboys within 24-22 with 3:50 on the clock. Eagles cornerback Cary Williams, though, broke up the two-point try on a pass intended for Bryant in the front left corner of the end zone. Dallas got the ball back with 1:49 left, but Orton threw behind Miles Austin on the first play and Boykin stepped in front to pick off the pass.

Nick Foles threw touchdown passes to McCoy and Brent Celek and Bryce Brown scored on a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter to give the Eagles (10-6) a 24-16 lead. Gavin Escobar had a 17-yard touchdown catch for the Cowboys (8-8), who lost a primetime game in Week 17 with the division title on the line for the third season in a row. The Eagles will host New Orleans next Saturday night in the first round of the playoffs.

Carolina 21, Atlanta 20

ATLANTA — Cam Newton tossed two touchdown passes and the Panthers’ potent defense made life miserable for Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, as Carolina claimed the NFC South crown with a win over the Falcons on Sunday. Newton completed 15-of-27 passes for 149 yards with an interception and added 72 rushing yards on 12 carries for Carolina (12-4), which secured a first- round bye in the playoffs with its 11th win in the last 12 games.

The defense, meanwhile, sacked Ryan nine times, including a Carolina single-game record four from end Greg Hardy, while also receiving an 8-yard interception return TD from rookie cornerback Melvin White en route to the team’s first division title since 2008.

San Diego 27, Kansas City 24 (OT)

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers got everything they wished for this holiday season. Kept alive by a pair of losses earlier in the day, the Chargers rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to post a 27-24 overtime win over Kansas City and nail down the AFC’s final wild card spot.

Nick Novak kicked a pair of clutch field goals, the first coming with 3:21 remaining in regulation and the other giving San Diego a 27-24 edge in the extra session, while Philip Rivers threw three touchdown passes to help the Chargers outlast a surprisingly competitive Kansas City squad fielding predominantly backups. San Diego (9-7) remained in contention when both Miami and Baltimore lost prior to kickoff, then got another gift when the Chiefs’ Ryan Succop pulled a would-be game-winning 41-yard field goal try wide right with four seconds left in the fourth quarter, on a play that NFL representatives acknowledged the officials erred by not penalizing San Diego for an illegal defensive formation.

The win propels the Chargers into a matchup with AFC North-champion Cincinnati in next weekend’s wild-cart round. Already locked into the conference’s No. 5 seed, Kansas City (11-5) rested the majority of its regulars in preparation for next week’s playoff clash at Indianapolis.

New England 34, Buffalo 20

FOXBORO, Mass. — It appears LeGarrette Blount enjoys playing in the rain. Blount rushed 24 times for a career-high 189 yards with two touchdowns and set up a pair of second-half scores with lengthy kickoff returns, leading the New England Patriots to a win over the Buffalo Bills in the regular-season finale at a drenched Gillette Stadium.

The AFC East champs secured the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.

New Orleans 42, Tampa Bay 17

NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees fired four touchdown passes in the first half and added a rushing score in the second to help the New Orleans Saints secure a playoff berth with a thumping of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Brees completed 24-of-31 passes for 381 yards and hooked up with 11 different targets, with Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills and Robert Meachem each hauling in a score for the Saints (11-5), who bounced back from consecutive setbacks to claim the sixth seed in the NFC playoff picture. New Orleans will pay a visit to Philadelphia on Saturday.

NY Jets 20, Miami 7

MIAMI — Two weeks ago the Miami Dolphins beat the New England Patriots for control of their own postseason destiny with games against lesser division rivals Buffalo and the New York Jets remaining. The Dolphins, however, lost both and will be watching the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. After a shutout loss at Buffalo last week, the Jets put the nail in Miami’s coffin on Sunday with a victory at Sun Life Stadium.

Geno Smith engineered a pair of second-quarter touchdown drives, scoring on a 7-yard run to put the Jets ahead for good. Smith completed 17-of-27 passes for 190 yards and ran for 44 yards on 10 carries.

Cincinnati 34, Baltimore 17

CINCINNATI —A new Super Bowl champion will be crowned this season. Andy Dalton ran for the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and the Cincinnati Bengals closed out the regular season by defeating the Baltimore Ravens 34-17. The loss, coupled with Pittsburgh’s win over Cleveland, eliminated the defending champion Ravens from playoff contention. Dalton had an uneven performance with two touchdown passes and four interceptions that Baltimore could only turn into a trio of Justin Tucker field goals. Dalton was 21-of-36 for 281 yards as the Bengals (11-5) posted an unblemished 8-0 record at home for the second time in franchise history.

Indianapolis 30, Jacksonville 10

INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck threw for 282 yards and a touchdown as the Indianapolis Colts cruised to a 30-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the final week of the NFL season.

Minnesota 14, Detroit 13

MINNEAPOLIS — Cordarrelle Patterson scored both of Minnesota’s touchdowns, as the Vikings took a 14-13 win over the Detroit Lions in their final game ever in the Metrodome.

NY Giants 20, Washington 6

EAST RUTHERFORD — Jerrel Jernigan scored both a rushing and receiving touchdown to help offset an injury to Eli Manning and lift the New York Giants to a 20-6 victory over the Washington Redskins as the NFC East rivals wrapped up disappointing seasons. Jernigan hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Manning in the second quarter and came through with a 49- yard scoring run in the third. Manning completed 10-of-24 throws for 152 yards with an interception before exiting with a sprained left ankle near the end of the first half.

Pittsburgh 20, Cleveland 7

PITTSBURGH — Everything went the Steelers’ way early, but a late Chargers win sealed Pittsburgh’s fate as an outsider looking in on the postseason. Pittsburgh had slim playoff hopes coming in but did its part by cruising past the Cleveland Browns, 20-7, and was on the brink of sneaking in after the Dolphins and Ravens were eliminated from contention with losses on Sunday. San Diego, though, stole the AFC’s final wild card spot with a 27-24 overtime victory over the Chiefs, keeping the Steelers (8-8) as spectators for the playoffs for a second straight year.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 179 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Steelers, who have won 10 consecutive home games against the Browns.

Tennessee 16, Houston 10

NASHVILLE — Chris Johnson ran for 127 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries to lead the Tennessee Titans (7-9) to a win over the Texans. Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 15-of-24 passes for 166 yards and an interception. Johnson became the sixth player in NFL history to record 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first six seasons with his effort.

In his first career start Jonathan Grimes carried the ball 16 times for 50 yards and a touchdown for Houston, which increased its franchise-worst losing streak to 14 games.

San Francisco 23, Arizona 20

GLENDALE, Ariz. —Phil Dawson more than made up for missing his first field goal in 27 tries. Dawson nailed a game-winning 40-yard field goal as time expired and the San Francisco 49ers edged the Arizona Cardinals, 23-20, in the regular-season finale. Dawson split the uprights from 56 yards out to give San Francisco a 20-17 lead with 1:45 remaining. The Cardinals, though, answered with a Jay Feely 43-yard field goal to knot the tilt with 29 ticks on the clock.

The 49ers (12-4) will settle with the fifth seed and will visit the NFC North-champion Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round. The 49ers (12-4) closed the year with six straight wins.

 

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