Charlotte, N.C. — If any doubters remained about the legitimacy of Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, they were very likely erased in Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints. Newton shook off a second-half slump to lead a late touchdown drive, capped by a 14-yard pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left to play that lifted the up-and-coming Panthers to a 17-13 triumph that secured a playoff berth for the new NFC South front-runners.
With its 10th win in 11 outings, Carolina (11-4) moved a game ahead of the Saints for first place in the division entering next week’s finale at Atlanta. A victory over the Falcons would give the Panthers, in the postseason for the first time since 2008, the NFC’s No. 2 seed and an opening- round bye.
Buffalo 19, Miami 0
The Miami Dolphins controlled their postseason destiny entering Sunday’s action, but a second loss to the Buffalo Bills and backup quarterback Thad Lewis has put those playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.
Fred Jackson ran for 111 yards with a touchdown, Dan Carpenter kicked four field goals and the Buffalo defense came up with a season-high seven sacks in the Bills’ 19-0 triumph over the Dolphins on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Lewis, whose lone career win came in a 23-21 victory at Miami in Week 7, was back under center with rookie EJ Manuel sidelined by a knee injury.
Cincinnati 42, Minnesota 14
Andy Dalton threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns as Cincinnati took down Minnesota, 42-14, on Sunday.
Dalton did so on 27-of-38 efficiency, connecting with A.J. Green twice, then Jermaine Gresham and Mohamed Sanu once each for the Bengals (10-5), who locked up a playoff berth for the third straight season thanks to the Bills’ 19-0 win over Miami.
In addition, with Baltimore’s 41-7 home loss to New England, Cincinnati became AFC North champions for the first time since 2009. Green ended up with team highs of 97 yards on seven receptions, while Marvin Jones contributed 85 yards on six grabs.
Denver 37, Houston 13
Peyton Manning shook hands with teammates on the field. He pulled his helmet off and high-fived more on the sideline, then took a seat by himself on the bench. Manning is alone on top of the NFL’s single-season touchdown passes list, too.
The Broncos quarterback broke Tom Brady’s league record for touchdown passes in a season with No. 51, throwing for four of them Sunday in a 37-13 win over the Houston Texans that clinched the AFC West for Denver.
Three of Manning’s touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter — two to Eric Decker and the record-breaker to tight end Julius Thomas in the front right corner of the end zone with 4:28 remaining.
Tennessee 20, Jacksonville 16
Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 17-of-26 passes for 181 yards, one touchdown and one interception to lead the Tennessee Titans to a 20-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Shonn Greene carried the ball 19 times for 91 yards and touchdown and Nate Washington caught six passes for 117 yards and a touchdown for the Titans (6-9), who snapped a three-game skid.
Chad Henne went 24-for-34 for 237 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, Mike Brown hauled in five passes for 71 yards and a touchdown and Marcedes Lewis caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown for Jacksonville (4-11).
Indianapolis 23, Kansas City 7
Donald Brown scored two touchdowns, Adam Vinatieri kicked three field goals and the AFC South-champion Indianapolis Colts beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 23-7.
Brown caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck and recorded a 51-yard score on the ground for the Colts (10-5), who currently have the fourth seed in the AFC. Luck completed 26-of-37 passes for 241 yards for Indianapolis, which has won two in a row. Alex Smith connected on 16-of-29 passes for 153 yards and two interceptions for the Chiefs (11-4), who are locked into the fifth seed
N.Y. Jets 24, Cleveland 13
Geno Smith tossed a pair of touchdown passes to David Nelson and ran for a score as the New York Jets topped the Cleveland Browns 24-13 on Sunday.
With the Jets up 17-13 with 3:26 left and facing a 3rd-and-2, Smith was pressured, scrambled and darted through a huge seam up the middle for the game-clinching 17-yard score. Smith was 20-of-36 for 214 yards for New York (7-8), which had dropped four of its last five games coming in. Chris Ivory ran for 109 yards on 20 carries in the triumph.
St. Louis 23, Tampa Bay 13
The St. Louis Rams leaned on a pair of rookies to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-13, from the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday.
Zac Stacy carried the ball a career-high 33 times for 104 yards and a touchdown, while fellow rookie Stedman Bailey added a 27-yard touchdown run for St. Louis (7-8), which has won two straight overall and its last two meetings against Tampa Bay.
Dallas 24, Washington 23
The Cowboys’ obituary hasn’t been written just yet. Dallas rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter and escaped FedEx Field with a season-saving 24-23 victory over the Washington Redskins after Tony Romo threw a touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray with 1:08 remaining.
Romo shook off last week’s collapse and resurrected the Cowboys (8-7) with a 51-yard bomb to Terrance Williams on the eventual game-winning drive. It didn’t come easily, though, as Murray was knocked back for a 9-yard loss on 3rd-and-goal from the 1, and the Cowboys were down to their final play. Romo stepped up in the pocket and found Murray alone near the right sideline at the 2-yard line. Murray took a hit at the goal line and spun into the end zone for the deciding score, setting up a winner-take-all regular season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles next week for the NFC East title.
N.Y. Giants 23, Detroit 20 (OT)
Josh Brown’s 45-yard field goal midway through overtime officially knocked the fading Detroit Lions out of playoff contention, while lifting the New York Giants a 23-20 victory at Ford Field.
Brown hit three field goals in all for a Giants team that prevailed despite mustering just two first downs and 57 total yards in the second half. New York (6-9) overcame its offensive woes by scoring 17 points off three Detroit turnovers, none bigger than Will Hill’s 38-yard touchdown return off a Matt Stafford interception that tied the game at 20-20 with 4:57 left in regulation. Stafford threw a pair of picks while putting up 222 yards on 25- of-42 passing in the loss, the fifth in six games for Detroit (7-8).
New England 41, Baltimore 7
LeGarrette Blount scored a pair of rushing touchdowns and Tom Brady threw for another, as the New England Patriots used a sterling defensive effort to capture a 41-7 decision over the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC clash on Sunday.
Blount ended up with 76 yards on 16 carries, while Brady completed 14-of-26 passes for 172 yards for the Patriots (11-4), who took the field already AFC East champions by virtue of Buffalo’s 19-0 win over Miami and remained one game behind Denver for the top spot in the conference.
Pittsburgh 38, Green Bay 31
Le’Veon Bell scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:25 remaining and the Pittsburgh Steelers survived a last-second throw into the end zone to beat the Green Bay Packers 38-31 in wild game Sunday at snowy Lambeau Field.
Bell’s 1-yard run came after safety Troy Polamalu forced a fumble from Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, and before Micah Hyde’s 70-yard kickoff return gave Green Bay, which was out timeouts, a chance to tie it at the end. Flynn completed passes of seven yards to Jordy Nelson and 19 yards to Andrew Quarless before James Starks’ 4-yard run took the Packers to the 1-yard line. But lineman Don Barclay was called for a false start, pushing them back five yards and running 10 seconds off the clock. Flynn’s pass on the final play went off Jarrett Boykin’s fingertips.
San Diego 26, Oakland 13
Ryan Mathews ran for 99 yards and a touchdown while surpassing his previous career-high for rushing yards in a season as the San Diego Chargers kept their playoff hopes alive with a 26-13 win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
Philadelphia 54, Chicago 11
The Chicago Bears had a chance to clinch their division, but it all went downhill quickly in Philadelphia. The Eagles stormed out of the gate and never looked back in a 54-11 rout on Sunday night.
Nick Foles threw two touchdown passes during Philadelphia’s 21-point first quarter and LeSean McCoy rushed for a pair of one-yard scores for the Eagles (9-6), who knew before the game that the Dallas Cowboys won to set up a winner-take-all showdown next week for the NFC East title.