NFL Sunday: Giants Earn Top Playoff Seed

Derrick Ward ran for career-best 215 yards and set up Brandon Jacobs' winning 2-yard touchdown run with 9:57 left in overtime as the Super Bowl champion New York Giants earned the NFC's top playoff seed with a 34-28 comeback victory over the Carolina Panthers.

New York (12-3) forced the overtime when Jacobs plowed into the end zone from a yard out, and Eli Manning hit Domenik Hixon on a slant pattern for the tying 2-point conversion with 3:21 to play.

New York clinched a first-round bye earlier in the day when Atlanta beat Minnesota, but added the icing on this frosty night by beating Carolina (11-4) in the winner-take-all game for the NFC's top seed.

The loss spoiled record-tying four-touchdown performance by Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, who gave Carolina a 28-20 lead with a 30-yard TD run 2 minutes into the final quarter. He also scored on runs of 13, 5 and 1 yards.

The Panthers, who have qualified for the playoffs, can clinch the NFC South and the No. 2 seed with a win at New Orleans next weekend.

New Orleans 42, Detroit 7

The Detroit Lions own a dubious piece of NFL history — with perhaps more on the way.

Detroit became the first 0-15 team ever when it was routed 42-7 by the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. The Lions will try to avoid a perfectly awful season in the finale at Green Bay, where they haven't won since 1991.

Drew Brees threw for 351 yards and two touchdowns after four Saints ran for scores in the first half. Brees stayed in the game with a 35-point lead late in the fourth quarter to move closer to Dan Marino's single-season record for yards passing. He needs 402 at home against Carolina to break Marino's record of 5,084 set in 1984.

The Lions were outscored by a combined 176 points at home this season, smashing the previous record of 146 set by the 1981 Colts. Only the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976 went through a season winless in the modern era, but it was a 14-game schedule.

Brees connected with Marques Colston twice in the third quarter for a 42-7 lead and a single-season franchise record of 29 touchdowns. The Saints also set a team record with their 50th TD of the year.

Titans 31, Steelers 14

At Nashville, Tennessee, Kerry Collins threw for a touchdown, while Chris Johnson and LenDale White ran for a score apiece as the Titans routed the Steelers in a showdown of the AFC's best teams. Tennessee clinched the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Titans improved the NFL's best record to 13-2 with their 15th win in 17 games. But they were coming off a loss to Houston and were up against the NFL's stingiest defense.

They snapped back well, ending the Steelers' five-game winning streak.

Falcons 24, Vikings 17

At Minneapolis, the Falcons' stunning turnaround season will roll on into the playoffs.

Matt Ryan threw for a touchdown and Justin Blalock recovered a fumble in the end zone for another score and the Vikings committed four turnovers as Atlanta clinched a postseason berth.

Michael Turner rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons (10-5), who were 4-12 a year ago and ended the season without a head coach or a franchise quarterback.

With Mike Smith calling the shots and Ryan's steady hand, the Falcons have that and so much more now.

The Vikings still have a shot at their first NFC North title, needing a Chicago loss in the last two weeks or a win over the New York Giants next week in the season finale. The Bears host Green Bay on Monday night, then play at Houston.

Bills 30, Broncos 23

At Denver, the Broncos blew an early 13-0 lead in the second-coldest game in Denver's history, setting up an all-or-nothing matchup against the Chargers next week for the division title.

The Broncos (8-7) led the Chargers (7-8) by three games with three to go, but now face the possibility of having led the West by themselves from opening weekend through Christmas with nothing to show for it.

The Chargers' win at Tampa Bay earlier in the day was blacked out at Invesco Field by Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who didn't want his team's emotional edge affected by San Diego's fortunes.

Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler threw for 359 yards and broke Jake Plummer's franchise record with 4,210 yards for the season. But Kawika Mitchell's interception at the goal line when the Broncos were threatening for the tying touchdown with less than six minutes left is what Cutler will surely remember most about this game.

The temperature at kickoff was 17 Fahrenheit (-8.33 Celsius).

Chargers 41, Buccaneers 24

At Tampa, Florida, Philip Rivers, the NFL's highest-rated passer, threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns, helping the Chargers keep their playoff hopes alive and deal a crushing blow to the Buccaneers' chances.

After their third straight win in what amounted to elimination games for a team that began the season with expectations of reaching the Super Bowl, San Diego (7-8) got the help it needed when Buffalo beat Denver.

Tampa Bay (9-6), which lost its first home game and has dropped three straight, could have clinched at least an NFC wild-card spot with a win and some outside help. Instead, the Bucs' day ended with quarterback Jeff Garcia's nose bloodied and hoping three other contenders — Atlanta, Philadelphia and Dallas — falter the rest of the way.

Dolphins 38, Chiefs 31

At Kansas City, in the coldest game they ever played, the Dolphins stayed hot.

Chad Pennington threw three touchdown passes, continuing one of the most remarkable comeback seasons in NFL history in temperatures that plunged into single digits. With their fourth victory in a row and eighth in nine games, the Dolphins (10-5) can clinch the AFC East next week just one year after finishing a league-worst 1-15. All they'll have to do is beat the Jets in the Meadowlands.

The temperature at kickoff was 10 Fahrenheit (-12.22 Celsius), with a wind chill of minus-12. Previously, the coldest game the Dolphins ever played was 14 F (-10 Celsius) at Foxboro, Massachusetts, on Dec. 11, 1977.

It was the second-coldest game at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs (2-13) concluded the home portion of what's certain to be the worst season in the 49-year history of the franchise. They were 1-7 at Arrowhead.

The loss, coming six days after the abrupt resignation of general manager Carl Peterson, would seem to cast the future of coach Herm Edwards in even greater doubt.

A Miami defense that hadn't yielded a touchdown in three weeks gave up four TDs and a season-high 492 yards to the Chiefs.

Patriots 47, Cardinals 7

At Foxborough, Massachusetts, New England crushed Arizona with a blizzard of points on a snow-covered field. It won't keep the Cardinals out of the playoffs. And it might not be enough to get the Patriots in.

The Patriots pressured Kurt Warner into one of his worst games in 11 pro seasons as he threw for just 30 yards.

New England clinched a better record than Arizona — which is 8-7, but 2-6 against winning teams — but could miss the playoffs for the first time in six years. The Patriots began the day tied for the AFC East lead with Miami and the New York Jets. Baltimore (10-5) has the tiebreaker edge over the Patriots for the conference's one available wild-card spot.

If the Patriots win at Buffalo next Sunday, they still may become the second team to miss the postseason with an 11-5 record since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978.

49ers 17, Rams 16

At St. Louis, Isaac Bruce reached a pair of milestones in a late-game flurry in his old stadium. Both helped the San Francisco 49ers in an improbable comeback win.

Bruce became the fifth player to reach 1,000 catches on a 3-yard touchdown grab with 4:12 to go and passed Tim Brown for second on the career yards receiving list on the 49ers' go-ahead drive.

The Rams (2-13) squandered a 10-point lead for the second straight week, failing to capitalize on four turnovers and four sacks while losing their ninth in a row.

Bengals 14, Browns 0

At Cleveland, Cedric Benson rushed for a career-high 171 yards and Leon Hall returned one of his three interceptions 50 yards for a touchdown to help the Bengals get their first road win this season.

After losing their first eight games, the Bengals (3-11-1) have won two in a row for the first time since the final two games of 2007.

Cleveland (4-11) has lost five straight and hasn't scored an offensive TD since running back Jerome Harrison's 73-yard sprint on Nov. 17 at Buffalo — nearly 21 quarters ago.

Seahawks 13, Jets 3

At Seattle, Maurice Morris had a season-high 116 yards and John Carlson scored the only touchdown on a short pass from backup Seneca Wallace as the lowly Seahawks ended New York's stay atop the AFC East.

Mike Holmgren, Brett Favre's confidant and former coach in Green Bay, went out a winner in his final home game as the leader in Seattle — largely because Favre came up short when the Jets (9-6) needed him most.

New York must now beat AFC East co-leading Miami at home next week, while relying on losses for either New England or Baltimore, also 10-5, to get in the playoffs.

Redskins 10, Eagles 3

At Landover, Washington stymied an Eagles team that was averaging close to 33 points during a three-game winning streak, and Clinton Portis scored his first touchdown in eight weeks in a win that offered the Redskins a consolation prize on the day they were mathematically eliminated from the postseason.

The Redskins (8-7) had lost three in a row and five of six after a 6-2 start.

Meanwhile, the Eagles (8-6-1) were left ruing a chance to stay ahead of Dallas and Tampa Bay (both 9-6) with one week to play. Philadelphia has a must-win game at home against Dallas in next week's season finale, and still could fall short of the playoffs with a victory.

Raiders 27, Texans 17

At Oakland, California, Johnnie Lee Higgins caught a 29-yard touchdown pass and then returned a punt 80 yards for another score in the third quarter to give the Raiders a win in their final home game of the season for the first time since 2002. The rest of the year has been much of the same losing for Oakland (4-11), which became the first team in NFL history to drop at least 11 games for six straight seasons.

The Texans (7-8) had won four straight for the first time in team history and were hoping for their first winning season. But Houston could generate little against the lowly Raiders.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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