SPORTS

NFL regular season ends with big wins for playoff-bound teams

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) passes the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) passes the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

On to the playoffs.

Most of the NFL teams that qualified for the postseason closed out the year with impressive victories. Dallas (12-4) thumped Washington 44-17, Denver (12-4) demolished Oakland 47-14, Indianapolis (11-5) took care of Tennessee 27-10.

Green Bay (12-4), Seattle (12-4) and Pittsburgh (11-5) all finished the season by emphatically defeating other playoff-bound teams.

One of the best final-day performances was turned in, oddly, by Carolina, which at 7-8-1 became only the second division winner in NFL history with a losing record.

Ron Rivera's Panthers, however, have now won four in a row after a 34-3 romp at Atlanta to secure the NFC South. Over the four years of Rivera's coaching tenure, the Panthers are 14-3 in December and only 18-29-1 in other months.

"It feels great," Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart said. "I mean, it's a blessing and you just have to cherish these moments right now. ... We just believed and played our hearts out and this is where we are."

The playoff schedule:

Saturday, Jan. 3: Arizona (11-5) at Carolina, followed by Baltimore (10-6) at Pittsburgh.

Sunday, Jan. 4: Cincinnati (10-5-1) at Indianapolis, followed by Detroit (11-5) at Dallas.

Saturday, Jan. 10: New England (12-4) will host an afternoon game, followed by Seattle hosting the prime-time match.

Sunday, Jan. 11: Green Bay hosting, followed by Denver at home.

Dallas 44, Washington 17

Tony Romo completed 22 of 34 passes for 299 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. For the month, he completed 75 percent with 12 touchdowns and one interception, and his 114.4 season passer rating is sixth best in NFL history.

DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant broke franchise records. Murray rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries, passing Emmitt Smith for the team single-season mark. Murray's 1,845 yards bettered Smith's 1,773 from 1995.

Bryant caught scoring passes of 65 and 23 yards to give him 16 touchdown receptions on the season, breaking Terrell Owens' team record of 15 set in 2007.

Host Washington finished 4-12.

Eagles 34, Giants 26

Mark Sanchez threw two touchdowns and the Eagles' special teams scored their seventh TD. Backup tight end Trey Burton returned a blocked punt 27 yards for a score in the third quarter as the Eagles (10-6) snapped a three-game losing streak that knocked them out of playoff contention.

Giants rookie Odell Beckham Jr. had 12 catches for a career-best 185 yards, including a 63-yard fourth-quarter touchdown. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the host Giants (6-10), who have missed the playoffs for the third straight season.

Packers 30, Lions 20

Limping Aaron Rodgers threw two touchdown passes to Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy gashed Detroit's defense for 100 yards and the Packers claimed a fourth straight NFC North title.
Bothered by a left calf injury, Rodgers was carted to the locker room after tossing his first score to Cobb late in the second quarter. He hobbled back on to the field in the third quarter with the game tied at 14 and led Green Bay on a drive that ended with a 13-yard score to Cobb.

Detroit has not won in Wisconsin since 1991.

Steelers 27, Bengals 17

At Pittsburgh, Antonio Brown returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown and added a clinching 63-yard scoring grab with 2:50 to go. Brown had 212 all-purpose yards.

The victory came at a potentially high cost. Running back Le'Veon Bell left in the third quarter with a hyperextended right knee following a collision with Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson. Nelson hit Bell low at the end of a 19-yard reception. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Nelson had a lively conversation after the game, with Tomlin pointing his finger at the Bengals player several times.

Panthers 34, Falcons 3

At Atlanta, Roman Harper and Tre Boston returned interceptions for touchdowns. A 33-yard fumble return by Thomas Davis set up another touchdown.

In 2010, Seattle was 7-9 and won the NFC West, then beat New Orleans in the wild-card round.

The Falcons (6-10) were booed as they finished their second straight losing season under embattled coach Mike Smith.

Seahawks 20, Rams 6

At Seattle, Marshawn Lynch scored on a 9-yard run, Bruce Irvin returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown and the Seahawks capped a six-game win streak. Seattle held five of its final six opponents to less than 10 points.

St. Louis (6-10) couldn't take advantage of two first-half turnovers by the Seahawks and its only points came on a pair of field goals from Greg Zuerlein.

Ravens 20, Browns 10

At Baltimore, the Ravens kicked a field goal and then took the lead on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith with 7:33 left. Flacco's 2-yard TD throw to Kamar Aiken clinched it.

To reach the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, Baltimore (10-6) needed to beat the Browns (7-9) and have San Diego lose in Kansas City. Precisely what happened.

The Browns had lost four straight, were starting rookie quarterback Connor Shaw and had dropped 12 of their past 13 against Baltimore.

Chiefs 19, Chargers 7

At Kansas City, Justin Houston had four sacks for the Chiefs (9-7) to break Derrick Thomas' franchise record with 22 in the season. Cairo Santos kicked four field goals, and Chase Daniel played serviceably in place of injured quarterback Alex Smith.

The Chiefs' only touchdown came when wide receiver Dwayne Bowe fumbled inches shy of the goal line early in the second quarter. Tight end Travis Kelce recovered in the end zone, not only giving Kansas City a 10-0 lead but keeping a dubious streak intact: No Chiefs wide receiver caught a TD pass all season, the first time in at least 50 years that has happened.
Philip Rivers had 291 yards passing for the Chargers (9-7), who would have made the postseason by winning.

Broncos 47, Raiders 14

At Denver, C.J. Anderson ran for three touchdowns. Peyton Manning helped the Broncos (12-4) to at least a tie for the best record in the NFL for the third consecutive season since his arrival in Denver.

Manning, who completed 21 of 37 passes for 273 yards, failed to throw a TD pass for the second time in four weeks after throwing one for 51 consecutive games.
Oakland finished 3-13.

49ers 20, Cardinals 17

Jim Harbaugh got a victory in his final game as 49ers coach. Harbaugh said after the home win against playoff-bound Arizona (11-5) on Sunday that he and the 49ers (8-8) are mutually parting ways.

Anquan Boldin caught a 76-yard TD pass and went over 1,000 yards receiving. Frank Gore ran for 144 yards on 25 carries to go over 1,000 yards rushing for the eighth time in 10 NFL seasons with San Francisco.

The Cardinals missed the franchise's first 12-win season. Ryan Lindley threw touchdown passes of 20 and 41 yards to Michael Floyd in the first half, but was picked off three times.

Texans 23, Jaguars 17

At Houston, J.J. Watt had three sacks and a safety and Andre Johnson had 134 yards receiving and a touchdown.

Johnson gave Houston (9-7) a 21-17 lead with an 8-yard reception early in the fourth quarter. Watt made it 23-17 when he sacked Blake Bortles in the end zone for a safety. The sack gave him 20 1/2 this season, making him the first player in NFL history to have two seasons with 20 or more sacks.

The Jaguars finished 3-13.

Bills 17, Patriots 9

Kyle Orton threw for one touchdown, Anthony Dixon ran for another and the Bills (9-7) finished their first winning season in 10 years.

With the top seed in the AFC playoffs already clinched, the Patriots used quarterback Tom Brady for only the first half and held out tight end Rob Gronkowski and five other starters.
The victory snapped several streaks: Buffalo's 0-12 record at Gillette Stadium and New England's 35 straight home wins against AFC teams.

Colts 27, Titans 10

At Nashville, the Colts (11-5) bounced back from their worst performance this season by nearly matching at halftime what they did offensively in a loss at Dallas. They wound up outgaining the Titans 378-192 as the AFC South champs swept their division a second straight season for the first time in franchise history.

With their 10th straight loss and Tampa Bay's loss to New Orleans, the Titans (2-14) finished their worst season since 1994 and will pick second overall in the draft.

Saints 23, Buccaneers 20

At Tampa, Drew Brees threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston with 1:57 remaining to give the Buccaneers (2-14) the top pick in the draft. New Orleans finished 7-9.

Jets 37, Dolphins 24

Geno Smith had his best game, throwing for a career-high 358 yards and three touchdowns in what might be Rex Ryan's final game as Jets coach.

Smith's performance more than negated a 97-yard run by Lamar Miller, the longest play from scrimmage in Dolphins history.

The Jets (4-12) finished with their worst record since 2007. The Dolphins (8-8) missed a shot at their first winning season since 2008, but coach Joe Philbin will be back for a fourth season in 2015.

Vikings 13, Bears 9

At Minneapolis, Teddy Bridgewater threw the go-ahead 44-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen in the third quarter. Blair Walsh kicked two field goals, Audie Cole had 11 tackles in his first start of the season, and the Vikings (7-9) ended coach Mike Zimmer's first year on a winning note.

Jay Cutler returned from a one-game benching, but the Bears (5-11) finished with their worst record in 10 years.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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