The Cleveland Browns are back in the playoffs, qualifying for the first time since 2002 on Sunday by surviving a late Pittsburgh rally for a 24-22 win over the Steelers, who rested quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and several other starters.
The Browns (11-5) nearly blew a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, but stopped Pittsburgh’s 2-point conversion attempt and then recovered an onside kick with 1:22 left to hold on.
A week of COVID-19 disruptions concluded in celebration as the Browns ended what had been the NFL’s longest post-season drought. Their reward: Another game against the AFC North champion Steelers, in Pittsburgh next weekend.
Nick Chubb had a touchdown run, Baker Mayfield threw a TD pass and the Browns hung on as Mason Rudolph brought back the Steelers (12-4), who had the luxury of sitting their best players after clinching the division last week.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin started Mason Rudolph in the regular-season finale. Big Ben will get another shot at the Browns next week.
Rudolph’s 2-yard TD pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster with 1:23 left pulled the Steelers within 24-22. But Rudolph badly overthrew rookie Chase Claypool on the 2-point attempt, and Browns tight end Stephen Carlson then fell on the ensuing kick under a pile of bodies.
Before the scoreboard clock in FirstEnergy Stadium ran off its final seconds, most of the 12,000 fans — there were some Terrible Towel wavers — cheered wildly and Browns players danced onto the field.
The win completes a grueling turnaround for the Browns and their passionate fan base, which endured nearly two decades of dysfunction since the team’s last playoff visit — 197 losses, 14 double-digit-loss seasons and seven coaches ago.
But in his first year, coach Kevin Stefanski has not only navigated the Browns through COVID-19 issues, he’s got them back in the Super Bowl tournament.
In his first season as head coach, Kevin Stefanski has led the <a href=”https://twitter.com/Browns?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Browns</a> to their first winning season since 2007 and their first playoff berth since 2002.<br><br>Both of those were the longest active droughts in the NFL entering this season. <a href=”https://t.co/6Z375VCSgE”>pic.twitter.com/6Z375VCSgE</a>
Stefanski and the Browns barely practiced this week because of COVID-19 positive tests and protocols and went into their most important game in years without six players, including top cornerback Denzel Ward, and three assistant coaches.
The Browns were clinging to a 10-9 lead in the third quarter when Rudolph, under extreme pressure, floated a pass across the field that was intercepted by reserve cornerback M.J. Stewart.
Cleveland capitalized on the turnover with Jarvis Landry taking an inside handoff and scoring on a 3-yard run to put the Browns up 24-9.
Chubb’s 47-yard touchdown run on Cleveland’s first series made it look like the Browns might be on their way to a comfortable win.
But nothing is ever easy for the Browns, and after their offence bogged down, the Steelers got two field goals by backup Matthew Wright to close within 10-6 at halftime.
Packers beat playoff-bound Bears, claim No. 1 seed in NFC
Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns, breaking his franchise record for scoring passes in a season, and the Green Bay Packers clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC by beating the playoff-bound Chicago Bears 35-16 on Sunday.
The Packers (13-3) earned a bye while winning their sixth in a row and beat Chicago (8-8) for the 19th time in 22 games, counting the post-season.
The Bears are headed to the playoffs for the second time in coach Matt Nagy’s three years despite the loss because Arizona fell to the Los Angeles Rams. Chicago will be at New Orleans (12-4).
Rodgers joined Peyton Manning (2004 and 2013) as the only players to throw for at least 45 touchdowns in multiple seasons. He now has 48, surpassing his previous high of 45 in his first MVP season of 2011.
Rodgers completed 19 of 24 passes for 240 yards without an interception and had a 147.9 rating. He also improved to 21-5 against Chicago, counting the post-season.
Davante Adams broke Sterling Sharpe’s record for receptions in a season and tied his mark for touchdown catches in a year. Adams had six receptions to bump his total to 115 and surpass Sharpe’s mark of 112 in 1993. His 6-yard score late in the game gave him 18 TD’s, matching Sharpe’s team record in 1994.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught a 73-yard touchdown.
Aaron Jones ran for a score in the closing minutes. And the Packers beat Chicago again after pounding the Bears at Lambeau Field to start their win streak.
The Bears jumped back into contention by winning three straight against struggling teams after dropping six in a row. But against Green Bay, the result was a familiar one.
Mitchell Trubisky went 33 for 42 with 252 yards and an interception.
Rookie Darnell Mooney set career highs with 11 catches and 93 yards before leaving early in the fourth period with an ankle injury. He was hurt when he was tackled going out of bounds after a catch.
David Montgomery ran for 69 yards and a touchdown and caught nine passes for 63 yards. Cairo Santos made all three field goals, extending his streak to a franchise-record 27.
The Packers were leading by five early in the fourth quarter when the Bears opted to go on fourth-and-1 at the 25 rather than kick a field goal. Trubisky’s pass to Allen Robinson got broken up. Green Bay then went 76 yards, with Jones scoring from the 4 to make it 28-16 with 3:47 remaining.
Adrian Amos then intercepted Trubisky at midfield and returned it to the Chicago 26, leading to a 6-yard touchdown catch for Adams.
Henry reaches 2K rushing yards as Titans clinch division
Derrick Henry rushed for a career-high 250 yards and became the eighth player in NFL history to eclipse 2,000 yards in a season, and Sam Sloman banked home a 37-yard field goal on the final play as the Tennessee Titans clinched the AFC South with a 41-38 win over the host Houston Texans on Sunday.
Ryan Tannehill totaled three touchdowns, and his 6-yard run with 1:47 left capped a 19-play, 75-yard drive that gave the Titans (11-5) a 38-35 lead.
The Texans (4-12), who erased a 16-point second-half deficit by scoring touchdowns on four consecutive drives, countered with a 58-yard drive that culminated in a game-tying, 51-yard field goal from Ka’imi Fairbairn with 18 seconds remaining.
But on the first snap of the ensuing series, Tannehill connected with A.J. Brown for a 52-yard pass play, setting the stage for Sloman, whose kick caromed off the right upright.
Henry became the first player in the Super Bowl era to rush for 200-plus yards in three consecutive games against the same team. He finished the season with 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns after scoring twice against the Texans’ 31st-ranked rush defense.
CROWN THE KING.<br><br>Derrick Henry has rushed for 2,000 yards in a season! <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Titans?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Titans</a><br><br>📺: <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/HOUvsTEN?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#HOUvsTEN</a> on CBS<br>📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: <a href=”https://t.co/fohj8JnptQ”>https://t.co/fohj8JnptQ</a> <a href=”https://t.co/Exzeqd9Kg6″>pic.twitter.com/Exzeqd9Kg6</a>
Tannehill completed 18 of 27 passes for 216 yards. Brown finished with 10 receptions for 151 yards and a touchdown.
Tennessee will host the Baltimore Ravens in the opening round of the AFC playoffs next weekend.
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson passed for 365 yards and three touchdowns, including a pair to Brandin Cooks, who totaled 11 receptions for 166 yards and joined Brandon Marshall as the only players in NFL history to record 1,000-yard receiving seasons with four different teams.
Tennessee managed two 75-yard touchdown drives in the first half and, combined with a field goal that followed an Amani Hooker interception of Watson, carried a 17-9 lead into the intermission.
Henry rumbled 52 yards for a touchdown that gave the Titans a 10-3 lead on the first play of the second quarter before Tannehill hit Brown on a 4-yard scoring pass that upped the lead to 17-6.
Jets fire head coach Gase after 2 seasons
The New York Jets have fired coach Adam Gase, ending a frustrating and disappointing tenure after just two loss-filled seasons.
Hired by the Jets in January 2019, Gase went 9-23 with New York, including an 0-13 start that was the worst in franchise history — overshadowing even the 1996 squad that went 0-8 on the way to a 1-15 finish, and is generally recognized as the team’s worst.
The move was announced by the team a few hours after New York lost 28-14 at New England on Sunday to end the season 2-14 — the second-worst record in franchise history.
“While my sincere intentions are to have stability in our organization — especially in our leadership positions — it is clear the best decision for the Jets is to move in a different direction,” Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson said in a statement issued by the team.
The 42-year-old Gase came to New York with high hopes in the organization that he would be the perfect fit to help quarterback Sam Darnold take the next step in his development and boost the Jets’ offence.
“To our fans, it is obvious we have not been good enough,” Johnson said. “We are committed to building a strong organization, on and off the field, and will continue to provide the necessary resources to field a team that you can be proud of.”
Surging Bills shut down Dolphins
Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills placed an emphatic stamp on their breakout season with a 56-26 rout of Miami on Sunday in a game the Dolphins could have clinched a playoff berth with a win.
The Dolphins (10-6) didn’t get results they needed to clinch their third playoff berth in 18 years, after Cleveland beat Pittsburgh and Baltimore routed Cincinnati.
Allen threw three touchdown passes and Isaiah McKenzie scored three times, including returning a punt return 84 yards, in a game Buffalo blew the game open by scoring on four consecutive second-quarter possessions.
With the win, the Bills (13-3) clinched the AFC’s No. 2 playoff seed in completing a season in which they matched a single-season record for wins, set in both 1990 and ’91, and won their first East Division title in 25 years.
Congrats on an awesome regular season, <a href=”https://twitter.com/BuffaloBills?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@BuffaloBills</a>! 🔥👊 <a href=”https://t.co/wZfMwASDUE”>pic.twitter.com/wZfMwASDUE</a>
Allen finished 18 of 25 for 224 yards passing in playing just the first half before being replaced by Matt Barkley to start the third quarter. Allen upped his total to 4,544 yards passing, to eclipse the team’s single-season record of 4,359 set by Drew Bledsoe in 2002.
Buffalo’s 56 points were the second most in team history, and two shy of the record set in a 58-24 win over Miami on Sept. 18, 1966, when the two were members of the American Football League. The Bills also finished the season with 501 points, a franchise best in topping the record of 445 set in 1991.
Rookie Tua Tagovailoa finished 35 of 58 for 361 and three interceptions, the first of which Josh Norman returned 16 yards for a touchdown to put Buffalo up 35-13 midway through the third quarter.
The Dolphins’ rookie closed the season with a 6-3 record. Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t travel with the team after testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.
Myles Gaskin capped the Dolphins’ opening drive of the third quarter with a 1-yard run to cut Buffalo’s lead to 28-13.
Miami opened the scoring with Jason Sanders’ 49-yard field goal, which came after Byron Jones intercepted Allen’s pass at the Buffalo 41.
The Bills went ahead on Allen’s 7-yard TD pass to McKenzie with 12:09 remaining in the second quarter. Allen then completed the first half with a perfectly placed 32-yard pass to John Brown.
Ravens punch playoff ticket against Bengals
The Baltimore Ravens used a club-record 404 yards rushing Sunday to clinch a playoff spot, beating Cincinnati 38-3 as Lamar Jackson threw three touchdown passes and became the first NFL quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in two consecutive seasons.
The Ravens rolled up 525 total yards, and the 404 rushing yards were the most surrendered by a Bengals defence. Rookie J.K. Dobbins rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns, including a 72-yard scoring romp in the third quarter.
Jackson rushed for 97 yards and threw for 113 before taking a seat in the third quarter. He has run or passed for at least one touchdown in 36 straight starts, the longest active streak in the NFL.
This is J.K. Dobbins’ 6th consecutive game with 50+ rush yards and 1+ rush TD<br><br>That ties Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson and Franco Harris for the longest streak by a rookie since the 1970 merger<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RavensFlock?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#RavensFlock</a>
The Ravens started 5-1 but slumped amid a COVID-19 outbreak and injuries to key players. They rebounded to win four straight and put themselves in a position to secure the post-season spot heading into the season finale against Cincinnati (4-11-1) which had won two straight.
Baltimore (11-5) scored on its first two drives, a 34-yard Justin Tucker field goal followed by a 43-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Miles Boykin. The Ravens extended the lead to 17-0 when Jackson capped a clock-eating 93-yard drive with an 18-yard TD pass to Marquise Brown.
Austin Seibert booted a 38-yard field goal to get the Bengals their only points of the afternoon.
Dobbins scored on a 4-yard burst in the third quarter, set up by rushes of 18, 6 and 20 yards by Jackson. Jackson threw another scoring pass to Brown before departing for a rest, and Dobbins broke for the long run before Baltimore backed off.
Saints earn NFC’s No. 2 seed with win over Panthers
Drew Brees threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns, the Saints had five interceptions and New Orleans defeated the Carolina Panthers 33-7 on Sunday to wrap up the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Saints will host the seventh-seeded Chicago Bears in the wild-card round next weekend.
New Orleans became the first team to sweep the NFC South by going 6-0 since the division was formed in 2002.
The Saints still managed to run for 156 yards despite playing without Alvin Kamara, who tied an NFL record with six TDs in a Week 16 win over the Vikings, and Latavius Murray. Both running backs were placed on the COVID-19/reserve list.
Taysom Hill had 41 yards rushing, including a 3-yard TD run.
Carolina’s Teddy Bridgewater was benched midway through the third quarter after throwing his second interception in the end zone into double coverage. The former Saints QB finished 13 of 23 for 176 yards and was replaced by P.J. Walker.
The Saints jumped out to an early 7-0 lead on an 18-yard TD strike from Brees to Jared Cook, marking the fourth straight game the tight end has scored against the Panthers. Brees later added an 8-yard scoring toss to Emmanuel Sanders and an 11-yard TD pass to Austin Carr.
Wil Lutz missed his first extra point of the season in the second quarter, snapping a string of 55 straight successful attempts but he added two field goals.
Rams lock up playoff spot against Cardinals
John Wolford passed for 231 yards and rushed for 56 more in his NFL debut, and the Los Angeles Rams are headed to the playoffs with an 18-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Troy Hill returned an interception 84 yards for a touchdown to lead yet another dominant defensive performance by the Rams (10-6), who earned their third post-season berth in four years under coach Sean McVay.
Wolford bounced back from an interception on his first career throw with a steady effort in place of Jared Goff for the Rams, who would have gotten into the playoffs even with a loss because Green Bay beat Chicago while a few minutes were left at SoFi Stadium.
Los Angeles’ fearsome defence led the way, scoring nine points on Hill’s pick-6 and a safety while holding the Cardinals to 214 yards. Coordinator Brandon Staley’s unit finished the regular season allowing the fewest points (296) and total yards (4,511) in the NFL.
Kyler Murray passed for 87 yards after sitting out for most of the first three quarters with an ankle injury for the Cardinals, who missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. Arizona would have clinched a post-season spot with a victory.
Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler went 11-for-16 with a touchdown pass and an interception for Arizona.
Colts heading to playoffs after beating Jaguars
Jonathan Taylor rushed for 253 yards and two touchdowns, Philip Rivers threw for another score and Rodrigo Blankenship kicked two field goals to help the host Indianapolis Colts defeat the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars 28-14 on Sunday afternoon to clinch their second AFC playoff berth in three seasons.
The Colts (11-5) scored the first 20 points of the game before withstanding rally by the Jaguars (1-15). Indianapolis closed the scoring with a 45-yard touchdown from Taylor and a two-point conversion pass from Rivers to T.Y. Hilton with 3:35 to go.
Jacksonville lost its 15th game to close the season, extending the franchise-record skid the Jaguars set with their Week 16 home loss to Chicago. The Jaguars’ lone victory came in Week 1, when they defeated the visiting Colts, 27-20.
Following a Jacksonville punt on the game’s opening series, the Colts wasted little time in grabbing the lead. A 6-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Hilton capped a six-play, 78-yard drive in 2:43, as Rivers overtook Dan Marino for fifth all-time with his 421st career scoring pass.
The Jaguars punted on their ensuing possession, leading to Blankenship’s 22-yard field goal. On Jacksonville’s next drive, T.J. Carrie recovered a Darius Leonard strip-sack of Jaguars quarterback Mike Glennon and returned it 25 yards to the Jacksonville 15. Indianapolis capitalized three plays later on Taylor’s 1-yard touchdown run to take a 17-0 lead.
Taylor needed just seven carries to surpass 100 yards and finished with 253 on 30 carries to surpass injured Jaguars running back James Robinson for the league’s rookie rushing title. Taylor finished the regular season with 1,169 yards.
The Jaguars got on the scoreboard with 27 seconds remaining before halftime, as Glennon found Laviska Shenault Jr. for a 9-yard touchdown to draw to within 20-7. It was their first of two touchdown connections on the day.
Washington wins lowly NFC East
Just call the Washington Football Team division champs.
Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes and Washington beat the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14 Sunday night to capture the lowly NFC East.
The Washington franchise, which changed its nickname in July after years of protests about it, became the first team in the Super Bowl era to reach the playoffs following a 2-7 start. Washington earned the NFC’s No. 4 seed and will host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) in a wild-card game next Saturday night. A loss would’ve given the New York Giants (6-10) the division title.
Led by Smith and first-year coach Ron Rivera, who overcame a form of skin cancer during the season, Washington (7-9) is the third team to win a division title with a losing record during a full 16-game season. Seattle (2010) and Carolina (2014) previously did it and each won a playoff game.
Smith threw a 13-yard TD pass to Logan Thomas in the second quarter to give Washington a 17-14 lead it never relinquished after Jalen Hurts scored on a pair of 6-yard TD runs for Philadelphia (4-11-1).
The 36-year-old Smith began the season as the No. 3 quarterback, a remarkable comeback following 17 surgeries on his leg and a life-threatening infection put his career in jeopardy. He led Washington’s turnaround, going 4-1 before missing the previous two games with a calf strain.
Smith tossed a 5-yard pass to Terry McLaurin to give Washington a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. After Kamren Curl intercepted Hurts’ pass, Dustin Hopkins kicked a 42-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
Smith finished 22 of 32 for 162 yards and two picks with the two TDs.
Down 17-14, the Eagles had an excellent opportunity at Washington’s 15 after Marcus Epps picked Smith’s pass that bounced out of J.D. McKissic’s hands. The Eagles had a first down from the 5 but gained only 1 yard. Pederson passed up a short field goal and starter Jalen Hurts threw incomplete on fourth down from the 4.
Hurts finished 7 of 20 for 72 yards, one interception, 34 yards rushing and two scores on the ground.
Seahawks rally past 49ers
Russell Wilson connected on two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Tyler Lockett and the Seattle Seahawks rallied for a 26-23 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday to end the season on a four-game winning streak.
Seattle (12-4) had a chance to earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs but stayed at No. 3 after the New Orleans Saints and top-seeded Green Bay Packers both won. The Seahawks will host the division rival Los Angeles Rams in the wild-card round next weekend.
Seattle (12-4) had a slow start and appeared in serious trouble when Jeff Wilson Jr. ran for a 7-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to push the 49ers ahead 16-6.
But the Seahawks responded with their first touchdown when Russell Wilson avoided pressure and hit Lockett for a diving 6-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone. Jason Myers missed the extra point and the Seahawks trailed 16-12.
Seattle forced the 49ers to punt on the ensuing possession and then methodically marched 85 yards on 14 plays and scored the go-ahead touchdown on fourth down on Wilson’s 4-yard throw to Lockett.
Alex Collins ran for an 8-yard touchdown with 1:49 left to put the Seahawks ahead 26-16.
Third-stringer C.J. Beathard completed 25 of 37 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown but fumbled late in the fourth quarter, which set up Collins’ touchdown.
It was the second straight start for Beathard, who helped lead the 49ers to a win over the Arizona Cardinals last week. The quarterback’s first two starts since 2018 came after injuries to starter Jimmy Garoppolo and backup Nick Mullens.
Chargers beat Kansas City
Justin Herbert threw for 302 yards and accounted for four touchdowns against a team of mostly Kansas City backups, and the Chargers rolled to a 38-21 victory Sunday as Kansas City turned their attention to the post-season and Los Angeles to the precarious future of coach Anthony Lynn.
Kansas City (14-2) already had wrapped up the No. 1 seed and the AFC’s lone first-round bye, so coach Andy Reid chose rest over reps by sitting quarterback Patrick Mahomes, safety Tyrann Mathieu and several of his best players.
Mike Williams, fill-in tight end Donald Parham Jr. and running back Austin Ekeler had touchdown catches for the Chargers, though Ekeler’s season ended with a concussion late in the first half. Herbert also sneaked for a score and Los Angeles added a sack of Kansas City quarterback Chad Henne for a safety as the game turned into a rout.
Henne, making his first start since September 2014 with Jacksonville, threw for 218 yards with his first two TD passes in 2,303 days. Byron Pringle caught the first early in the game and Darwin Thompson grabbed the second late.
The 35-year-old journeyman was 6 for 6 on Kansas City’s opening drive, which ended with a flick to Pringle in the back of the end zone. He was nearly as sharp on their second drive, when Pringle hauled in a batted pass and was tackled at the 1-yard line and Thompson promptly pounded the ball into the end zone.
Herbert answered Henne’s opening drive with a perfect one of his own, going 6 for 6 and capping it with Parham’s 8-yard TD catch. Herbert’s second drive fizzled but Kansas City returner Mecole Hardman fumbled away another punt, and Herbert capitalized with a touchdown pass to Ekeler a few minutes later.
The safety and Herbert’s TD sneak gave the Chargers a 24-14 halftime lead, and the No. 6 overall draft pick’s 48-yard toss to Williams late in the third quarter gave him a rookie record six games with at least three touchdown passes.
Earlier in the game, Herbert passed Carson Wentz’s rookie record of 379 completions in a season. His four total TDs gave him 36 this season, passing Cam Newton’s rookie record, and he became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 30 touchdown passes. He finished with 4,336 yards passing, just 39 off Andrew Luck’s rookie record.
Brady leads Bucs past Falcons
Tom Brady threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns Sunday, helping the playoff-bound Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinch the fifth seed in the NFC with a 44-27 regular season-ending win over the Atlanta Falcons.
The victory, which means the Bucs (11-5) will face the NFC East champion, Washington or the Giants, on the road in the club’s first post-season game in 13 years, may have come with a steep cost.
Star receiver Mike Evans was carted to the locker room with a left knee injury late in the first quarter and did not return.
Brady threw touchdown passes of 29 and 4 yards to Chris Godwin. The six-time Super Bowl champion also tossed scoring passes of 25 and 30 yards to Antonio Brown, finishing with a Tampa Bay single-season record 40 in his first season with the Bucs.
Brady also joined Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino as the only players with multiple seasons of at least 40 TD passes. Rodgers has done it three times, the others twice.
Evans was injured one play after a 20-yard reception made him the first player in NFL history to begin a career with seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. The 6-foot-5, 231-pound receiver was helped to his feet and tried to walk off with assistance from a trainer. Unable to put his weight on the knee, he finished the trip to the locker room on a cart and was later taken for a MRI.
Matt Ryan completed 29 of 44 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns for the Falcons (4-12).
Ryan scored on a 1-yard sneak and also threw scoring passes of 19 yards to Russell Gage and 1 yard to Hayden Hurst. The latter trimmed Atlanta’s deficit to 30-27 before Brady put the game away with two late drives.
Brown had his most productive day since joining the Bucs midway through the season with 11 catches for 138 yards. Godwin had five receptions for 133 yards, while Evans had three catches for 46 yards before leaving the game.