JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars are returning to the playoffs for the first time in a decade thanks to a 45-7 drubbing of rival Houston on Sunday.
Once the NFL’s poster child for futility and a punchline for potential relocation, the Jaguars (10-4) are now one of the league’s top turnaround stories.
Blake Bortles threw three touchdowns passes, including two to a reserve receiver who slept in his car earlier this season. The Jaguars won for the seventh time in eight games to clinch a postseason berth for the first time since 2007.
Bortles finished with a season-high 326 yards and the best QB rating (143.8) of his career, including 186 yards and a touchdown to rookie Keelan Cole. Primary punt returner Jaydon Mickens, who stepped in for injured starter Marqise Lee in the first quarter, caught four passes for 61 yards and two scores against the Texans (4-10).
PATRIOTS 27, STEELERS 24PITTSBURGH – Tom Brady fed Rob Gronkowski repeatedly to set up Dion Lewis’ go-ahead 8-yard touchdown with 56 seconds remaining and Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone with 5 seconds left.
The Patriots (11-3) gained the inside track for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs by ending Pittsburgh’s eight-game winning streak. Brady threw for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Gronkowski, fresh off a one-game suspension, finished with nine receptions for 168 yards, including four on the winning drive.
It briefly looked like it wouldn’t be enough.
The Steelers (11-3), who played most of the game without injured star wide receiver Antonio Brown, appeared to take the lead when Roethlisberger connected with tight end Jesse James for a 10-yard touchdown with 28 seconds to left. The play was overturned on review, with official Tony Corrente saying the ball did not “survive” the completion of the catch.
RAMS 42, SEAHAWKS 7SEATTLE – Todd Gurley rushed for 152 yards and scored four total touchdowns in just 2½ quarters, and the Rams moved to the cusp of their first division title since 2003.
The matchup to determine first place in the NFC West was completely one-sided. Los Angeles (10-4) was dominant, embarrassing Seattle into the worst loss during Pete Carroll’s eight seasons in charge.
Taking advantage of field position, the Rams scored on six of seven first-half drives, including a 21-point blitz in the second quarter capped by a 57-yard TD run by Gurley on third-and-20 with less than a minute remaining in the first half to take a 34-0 lead at the break.
49ERS 25, TITANS 23SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Jimmy Garoppolo led one final scoring drive in the closing seconds to cap a fantastic first home start and Robbie Gould kicked a winning 45-yard field goal as time expired.
Garoppolo threw for a career-high 381 yards and a touchdown to give the 49ers (4-10) a three-game winning streak in a lost season. And Tom Brady’s former backup showed he could do it at home as well as on the road – and against a playoff contender, no less – outdueling Marcus Mariota down the stretch as the teams traded field goals.
Gould kicked three of his six field goals over the final nine minutes: 50, 48 and 45 yards, and has now gone 20 consecutive without a miss.
VIKINGS 34, BENGALS 7MINNEAPOLIS – Eric Kendricks had an interception return for a touchdown, Case Keenum passed for 236 yards and two scores, and the Vikings clinched the NFC North over the depleted and disinterested Bengals.
Running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 37 touches and 242 yards from scrimmage for the Vikings (11-3), who were given quite the reprieve on the schedule a week after their eight-game winning streak ended at Carolina in the last of three consecutive road trips. They were never challenged the Bengals (5-9), missing more than half of the starting defense to injuries, and met with a morning report by ESPN that head coach Marvin Lewis will not return next season .
EAGLES 34, GIANTS 29EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Nick Foles threw four touchdown passes in his first start replacing the injured Carson Wentz, and the Eagles secured a first-round playoff bye.
Foles hit 24 of 38 passes for 237 yards and no interceptions. The NFC East champion Eagles (12-2) made a late stand on first-and-goal in the final minute in edging the Giants (2-12) for the second time this season, spoiling a three-touchdown, season-high 434-yard passing game by Eli Manning.
Foles hit Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Trey Burton and Nelson Agholor on scoring passes ranging from 3 to 13 yards in filling in for Wentz, who tore an ACL last week and was lost for the season after a brilliant year.
PANTHERS 31, PACKERS 24CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Cam Newton threw for 242 yards and four touchdowns, and the Panthers spoiled Aaron Rodgers’ return from a broken collarbone.
Damiere Byrd had two touchdown catches, and Christian McCaffrey had 136 yards from scrimmage, including a 7-yard touchdown reception as the Panthers (10-4) won their fourth straight home game.
SAINTS 31, JETS 19NEW ORLEANS – Mark Ingram ran for two touchdowns and gained 151 yards from scrimmage, including a late 50-yard TD run, and the Saints overcame three turnovers.
Michael Thomas became the second NFL player with at least 90 receptions in his first two seasons. He caught nine passes for 93 yards, including a pivotal fourth-quarter touchdown on a short slant for New Orleans (10-4), which retained its tenuous hold on first place in the NFC South heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
RAVENS 27, BROWNS 10CLEVELAND – Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass, ran for a score and beat Cleveland again as the Ravens stayed on track for the AFC playoffs.
With victories at home over Indianapolis and Cincinnati in its last two games, the Ravens will return to the postseason after a two-year absence.
The Browns are two losses from becoming the NFL’s second 0-16 team.
BILLS 24, DOLPHINS 16ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – LeSean McCoy scored twice and surpassed 10,000 career yards rushing, while helping the Bills stay in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt.
Tyrod Taylor also scored on a 9-yard touchdown run and Shareece Wright and Jordan Poyer intercepted Miami’s Jay Cutler on consecutive drives to start the second half. Buffalo never trailed. Rookie Tre’Davious White sealed the win by intercepting Cutler with 28 seconds remaining – and one play after Miami punter Matt Haack recovered an onside kick at Miami’s 37.
REDSKINS 20, CARDINALS 15LANDOVER, Md. – Anthony Lanier sacked Blaine Gabbert and forced a fumble that Preston Smith recovered and the Redskins held on to beat the Cardinals in a comedy of errors for each team.
Smith also intercepted Gabbert and Lanier batted down three passes and had two sacks as they gave the Redskins (6-8) a glimpse of their potential as significant pieces of the defense for years to come.
Gabbert was 16 of 41 for 189 yards with the interception and a fumble he recovered himself in the fourth quarter. Arizona (6-8), which got all its points on field goals by Phil Dawson, went 0 for 6 in the red zone and 4 for 19 on third down as it was eliminated from playoff contention.
COWBOYS 20, RAIDERS 17OAKLAND, Calif. – Dallas kept its playoff hopes alive by the slimmest of margins after Dak Prescott converted a fourth-down sneak by the width of an index card to set up Dan Bailey's go-ahead 19-yard field goal, and Derek Carr fumbled the ball inches from the goal line with 31 seconds left to give the Cowboys a 20-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
The first key play came when Cowboys coach Jason Garrett decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 39 with about five minutes left in a tie game. Prescott ran into a pile that took officials time to untangle.
Referee Gene Steratore then called for the chains to come out, but even that wasn't enough. He then tried to slide what appeared to be an index card between the tip of the ball and the end of the chain. When the card didn't slide through, Steratore gave Dallas (8-6) a first down.