Browns’ playoff chances take a hit with loss to Jets

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Baker Mayfield coughed up the ball — and the Cleveland Browns’ chances to wrap up a playoff spot.

After a 23-16 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday, the Browns will need to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday if they’re going to end the NFL’s longest playoff drought.

On fourth-and-1 with 1:18 remaining and the short-handed Browns (10-5) driving for the potential tying score, Mayfield tried to push forward for the first down but lost the ball when Tarell Basham smacked into him. Kareem Hunt recovered, but by rule, Mayfield was the only one who could advance the ball — and the quarterback was short of the first down.

The call was upheld by video review, and the Jets (2-13) sealed their second straight victory after an 0-13 start.

It was a rough week for the Browns, who haven’t been in the post-season since 2002 and entered without seven players including Jarvis Landry and three other wide receivers, and rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills. Cleveland had to call up several players from the practice squad and coach Kevin Stefanski ran a walk-through in a parking lot near the team’s hotel to get some of the new players up to speed on the game plan.

Despite being short-handed, the Browns nearly erased a 20-3 deficit. But the Jets were able to hang on.

Texans’ Watt frustrated by 4-11 record

Frustration boiled over for star J.J. Watt after the Houston Texans dropped their fourth straight game on Sunday.

Samaje Perine ran for two touchdowns, including a three-yard score late, to give the Cincinnati Bengals their first road win in more than two years with a 37-31 victory over the Texans.

The Texans were driving after Perine’s second score when Deshaun Watson was sacked by Sam Hubbard, who forced a fumble that Margus Hunt recovered. The Bengals added a field goal after that to seal the victory.

After the game Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was asked if this was the most difficult season of his 10-year career.

That question elicited only a terse “yes.” But a follow-up about how the Texans (4-11) can regroup next week to finish the season on a positive note opened the floodgates. Watt responded with an impassioned and expletive-laced rant that lasted almost two minutes.

He seemed to grow angrier as he spoke, raising his voice and slamming one hand into the other to punctuate his points as his cheeks took on a rosy colour.

Steelers lock up AFC North

The Pittsburgh Steelers are AFC North champions. Finally.

Ben Roethlisberger overcame a month-long malaise to throw for 342 yards and three second-half touchdowns as the Steelers locked up the division title with a stunningly improbable 28-24 victory on Sunday.

Listless and lifeless for weeks thanks to a three-game losing streak that followed an 11-0 start, Pittsburgh (12-3) somehow got it together over the final 25 minutes against the Colts (10-5). Indianapolis missed a chance to inch closer to a playoff berth when it let a 17-point third-quarter lead slip away.

Roethlisberger, who looked uneven at best and ineffective at worst during Pittsburgh’s recent slide, snapped out of it. He ditched the dink-and-dunk approach that had worked during the early portion of the season but became far too predictable during a December swoon.

The 38-year-old quarterback kick-started the comeback with a 39-yard strike to Diontae Johnson and brought the Steelers within a touchdown on a five-yard pass to Eric Ebron. He gave Pittsburgh its first second-half lead since Dec. 7 when he audibled into a play that ended with Roethlisberger threading the ball between two Colts to JuJu Smith-Schuster from 25 yards with 7:38 to play.

Indianapolis, so dominant during a first half in which it outgained the Steelers 206-28, had two chances to reclaim the lead in the fourth quarter.

The victory ended a baffling funk in Pittsburgh, which remained unbeaten through the first three months of the season. All that magic disappeared in December. Injuries chipped away at the linebacking group in particular. The lack of any consistent running game put more pressure on Roethlisberger to pick up the slack.

Bears, Jags heading in opposite directions

The Jacksonville Jaguars took care of business against Chicago on Sunday, losing their 14th consecutive game and then getting some help to secure the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

Hello, Trevor Lawrence!

Mitchell Trubisky accounted for three scores, including two touchdown passes to Jimmy Graham, and the Bears pounded the Jaguars 41-17 in a game that meant as much to Jacksonville’s long-term future as it did to Chicago’s short-term fate.

The Bears (8-7), who gained control of their post-season path when Arizona lost to San Francisco on Saturday, can make the NFC playoffs for the second time in three years by beating Green Bay next week at home.

The Jaguars (1-14), who set a franchise record for consecutive losses, locked up the top pick for the first time in franchise history when the Jets beat Cleveland a few minutes later.

That means the same day Jacksonville reached its worst skid in franchise history could end up being a potential game-changer for the small-market team that’s spent the better part of the last two decades searching for a franchise quarterback.

The only thing standing between Jacksonville and Lawrence is the Clemson star formally turning pro, a decision that’s expected after the Tigers end their season in the College Football Playoff.

The Jaguars’ latest loss was over long before the clock ran out. Chicago scored 28 unanswered points to start the second half, getting so far in front that Nick Foles got to close out the game against his former team.

Kansas City clinches top seed in the AFC

Kansas City clinched the top seed in the AFC and the only playoff bye when Patrick Mahomes threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson with just under two minutes for a 17-14 win over Atlanta on Sunday.

Kansas had to watch as Pro Bowl kicker Younghoe Koo missed a tying field-goal attempt with nine seconds left to escape.

Kansas City(14-1) won its NFL-record seventh straight one-possession game and matched a franchise record with its 10th straight win. They took any seeding drama out of games involving Pittsburgh and Buffalo and will have that coveted first-round AFC bye when the post-season begins in two weeks.

The Falcons (4-11) took the lead when Matt Ryan hit Laquon Treadwell for a five-yard touchdown with 4:33 to go. But Mahomes kept finding Travis Kelce — who had a record-setting game of his own — to set up the TD pass to Robinson. And when the Falcons marched the other way in the closing seconds, Kansas City’s defence forced Koo’s 39-yard kick.

Instead of heading to overtime, the Falcons headed home with their seventh loss by six points or less this season.

Mahomes finished with 278 yards passing and two touchdowns along with an interception.





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