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Pats, Panthers seal playoff spots Manning sets record

HOUSTON, Dec 23, (AP): Peyton Manning owns the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season and the Denver Broncos own the AFC West title. Manning regained his record with 51 when he threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter. He surpassed the 50 TD passes Tom Brady threw in 2007 and led the Broncos (12-3) to a 37-13 win over the Texans (2-13) that extended Houston’s franchise-record skid to 13 games. Manning did it on a 25-yard pass to Julius Thomas with 4:28 remaining. Just 2-1/2 minutes earlier, he tied the mark with a 20-yard pass to Eric Decker. He entered the game with 47 and his first touchdown came on a 36-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas in the second quarter. The second was a 10-yard throw to Decker earlier in the fourth period. Manning had previously established the record by throwing 49 touchdown passes in 2004. The Broncos already had a spot in the playoffs, but their victory, combined with Kansas City’s loss to Indianapolis, gave them the division crown. They could secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if New England doesn’t win its late game at Baltimore.
 

Panthers 17, Saints 13
In Charlotte, North Carolina, Cam Newton threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left to lift the Panthers to the team’s first playoff berth since 2008. Carolina (11-4) can wrap up the NFC South and a first-round bye with a win next Sunday at Atlanta. The Panthers intercepted Drew Brees twice and sacked him six times to avenge a 31-13 loss two weeks ago. Still, the Panthers needed some last-minute big plays from Newton. After being held to 116 yards passing for the game’s first 59 minutes, Newton led the Panthers 65 yards in 32 seconds for the winning score. The Saints (10-5) still are in position to clinch a playoff berth. The Saints have dropped five of their last six games away from the Superdome.
 

Bengals 42, Vikings 14
In Cincinnati, Vincent Rey returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown as Cincinnati clinched the AFC North. Andy Dalton threw four touchdown passes. The Bengals (10-5) remained perfect at home and secured an unprecedented third straight playoff appearance when Miami lost at Buffalo. Then the Bengals won the division when the Ravens fell to the Patriots. In his past four home games, Dalton has thrown for five, three, three and four touchdowns. The Bengals have topped 40 points in each of their past four home games, a club record. The Vikings (4-10-1) had knocked off playoff contenders Chicago and Philadelphia in the past three weeks. Even with Adrian Peterson back from a foot injury, they couldn’t keep up. The Vikings had allowed the second-most points in the league heading into the game. They gave up 40 for the third time this season.
 

Cardinals 17, Seahawks 10
In Seattle, Carson Palmer overcame four interceptions to throw a 31-yard touchdown to Michael Floyd with 2:13 left. The Cardinals kept their postseason hopes going while snapping the Seahawks 14-game home win streak. Arizona (10-5) had to win after Carolina beat New Orleans. And the Cardinals did thanks to a stingy defense that flustered Russell Wilson into one of his worst days as a pro, delaying any celebration of an NFC West championship. The Seahawks can still clinch the NFC West with a win over St. Louis next Sunday. Palmer twice was intercepted in the end zone, including Richard Sherman’s second pick of the game early in the fourth quarter. After Seattle (12-3) took a 10-9 lead with 7:26 left, Palmer led the Cardinals 75 yards and found Floyd for a juggling TD catch with 2:13 left.
 

Patriots 41, Ravens 7
In Baltimore, Logan Ryan had two interceptions, LeGarrette Blount scored twice and the Patriots ended the Ravens’ four-game winning streak. The previous time these two teams met, the AFC title hung in the balance and Baltimore used a strong second half to pull out a 28-13 victory. In this one, New England took a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter and never let up behind a defense that forced four turnovers and had four sacks. It was Baltimore’s most lopsided loss since a 37-0 defeat at Pittsburgh in 1997. Things went so bad for the Ravens that Justin Tucker’s run of 33 straight field goals ended when he went wide left on a 37-yarder. The Patriots (11-4) were assured their fifth straight AFC East title when Miami lost at Buffalo. It’s the 11th division crown for New England coach Bill Belichick, tied with Don Shula for most since the 1970 merger. The loss dropped the Ravens (8-7) into a tie with Miami and San Diego for the final AFC wild-card slot. Baltimore gets in with a win at Cincinnati.
 

In Green Bay, Wisconsin, Le’Veon Bell ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 1:28 left, then Pittsburgh withstood Green Bay’s last throw into the end zone and dealt the Packers’ playoff hopes a blow. It’s a long shot, but the Steelers (7-8) are still mathematically in the hunt for an AFC wild-card spot. They need a lot of help. The loss meant Green Bay (7-7-1) needed Chicago to lose at Philadelphia on Sunday night to stay in playoff contention. Bell’s TD came soon after scrambling Packers quarterback Matt Flynn fumbled while being tackled by Troy Polamalu. The Steelers recovered at the Packers 17 and scored five plays later. Micah Hyde’s 70-yard kickoff return to the Steelers 31 gave the Packers one last chance. Green Bay got to the 1, but after a Packers penalty the game ended when Flynn’s pass to Jarrett Boykin sailed incomplete in the end zone.
 

Eagles 54, Bears 11
In Philadelphia, Nick Foles threw two touchdown passes, LeSean McCoy ran for two scores and Philadelphia routed Chicago in a matchup of first-place teams with opposite stakes.
Chicago’s loss sets up two winner-take-all games for NFC division crowns next week.
The Bears (8-7) came in needing a win to clinch the NFC North and secure the No. 3 seed while Philadelphia was just trying to stay healthy. But the Eagles (9-6) played like the team trying to lock up a playoff berth.
Now, the Bears must tie or beat the Packers (7-7-1) at home next week to win the North.
The Eagles have to tie or beat the Cowboys (8-7) in Dallas next Sunday night to win the NFC East and complete a worst-to-first season under rookie coach Chip Kelly. Once Dallas rallied to beat Washington earlier, the Eagles knew they were only playing for a No. 3 seed if even they win the division.
 

Chiefs 23, Colts 7
In Kansas City, Mo, Andrew Luck threw for 241 yards and a touchdown, Donald Brown ran 51 yards for another score in a potential preview of an AFC wild-card game. The Colts (10-5), who have already wrapped up the AFC South, took advantage of four turnovers by the Chiefs (11-4) to win for the fifth time in their last six tries against Kansas City. If Indianapolis ends up as the No. 4 seed in the playoffs-the Chiefs are assured the fifth seed-the teams will meet again in the warmer environs of Lucas Oil Stadium. After missing his first field-goal attempt, Adam Vinatieri hit his next three despite frigid temperatures and swirling winds at Arrowhead Stadium. He came into the game needing one point to pass fellow kicker Jason Elam (1,983) for the seventh-most points in NFL history. Alex Smith threw for 153 yards, but he fumbled once and was picked off twice after throwing just six interceptions in his first 14 games. Jamaal Charles ran for 106 yards and the game’s opening score.
 

Bills 19, Dolphins 0
In Orchard Park, New York, the Dolphins had a three-game winning streak snapped and are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. With the loss, Miami (8-7) needs help from other teams. Miami hosts the New York Jets next weekend. The Dolphins’ loss clinched the AFC East for New England. Kyle Williams had two of Buffalo’s season-best seven sacks to key a stifling defensive performance. Fred Jackson had 111 yards rushing and scored on a 9-yard run, while the Bills limited the Dolphins to a season-low 103 yards and six first downs. The Bills (6-9) closed their home schedule with seven sacks for 56 this season, breaking their previous high of 50 during a 14-game season in 1964.
The shutout was Buffalo’s first since a 23-0 win over Washington at Toronto on Oct. 30, 2011. And it was the Bills’ first shutout at Ralph Wilson Stadium since a 21-0 win over Miami on Dec. 17, 2006.
 

Cowboys 24, Redskins 23
In Landover, Md, Tony Romo recovered from a bad interception and rallied the Cowboys from a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit. He found DeMarco Murray for a 10-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 1:08 remaining.
The victory ended a two-game Dallas skid-as well as a five-game December losing streak-and sets up a winner-take-all regular season finale for the NFC East title next week, when the Cowboys (8-7) host the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Redskins (3-12) lost their seventh straight, the second in a row by one point. Pierre Garcon (11 catches, 144 yards) broke Art Monk’s single-season franchise reception record, while coach Mike Shanahan clinched his worst record in his 20 seasons as a head coach.
 

Chargers 26, Raiders 13
In San Diego, the Chargers beat hapless Oakland by overcoming three turnovers while benefiting from two turnovers and 12 penalties for 73 yards by the Raiders.
Philip Rivers threw a go-ahead, 4-yard touchdown pass to rookie Keenan Allen and Ryan Mathews ran for 99 yards and one touchdown, setting a career high with 1,111 yards. Nick Novak kicked four field goals for San Diego.
The Chargers also got help from Buffalo, which beat Miami 19-0, and New England, which beat Baltimore. The Chargers (8-7) have won three straight games for the first time this season, but need more help to end a three-year playoff drought. They have to beat Kansas City at home next Sunday and have Miami and Baltimore both lose.
Oakland (4-11) helped San Diego, too, by committing all those penalties.
 

Giants 23, Lions 20, OT
In Detroit, Josh Brown’s 45-yard field goal on the third drive of overtime lifted the Giants and knocked the Lions (7-8) from postseason consideration. They lost for the fifth time in six games, blowing fourth-quarter leads in each setback that might seal Jim Schwartz’s fate.
The embattled coach chose to play for overtime by running out the clock with 23 seconds and two timeouts left from the Detroit 25. When the crowd reacted with a chorus of boos, Schwartz turned his head toward the stands and appeared to angrily shout back at the fans.
Schwartz has lost nine straight games in December or January, leading to his job being in jeopardy.
The Giants (6-9) overcame Eli Manning’s interception late in regulation and Andre Brown’s fumble on the opening possession in overtime to win for the second time in five games.
 

Rams 23, Buccaneers 13
In St Louis, Robert Quinn got three of St. Louis’ seven sacks and set a franchise season record. Quinn leads the NFL with 18 sacks. He broke Kevin Carter’s franchise record of 17 in that 1999 Super Bowl title season. Zac Stacy rushed for 104 yards on 33 carries and a touchdown, and the Rams (7-8) matched their victory total from last year.  Fellow rookies Stedman Bailey scored on a 27-yard reverse, and Alec Ogletree forced two fumbles. The Rams won without left tackle Jake Long, who injured his knee on the first series. Coach Jeff Fisher believes Long tore a knee ligament. The Buccaneers (4-11) managed just 170 total yards, setting a season low for the second straight week.
 

Jets 24, Browns 13
In East Rutherford, New Jersey, Geno Smith threw two touchdown passes to David Nelson and ran for another score. Smith had his first game with at least two TD passes since October, with no turnovers or sacks. The rookie was 20 of 36 for 214 yards and also ran for 48 yards-including a 17-yard scoring scamper in the fourth quarter. Chris Ivory rushed for 109 yards on 20 carries for the Jets (7-8), who were eliminated from the playoff picture last week. Nelson, cut by the Browns after training camp, finished with four catches for 33 yards. Jason Campbell was intercepted twice as the Browns (4-11) lost their sixth straight. Edwin Baker had a touchdown run, and Josh Gordon was somewhat held in check by rookie Dee Milliner, catching six passes for 97 yards.

Titans 20, Jaguars 16
In Jacksonville, Florida, Nate Washington scored on a 30-yard reception in the fourth quarter and Tennessee got a much-needed defensive stop late to end a three-game losing streak. Tennessee (6-9) overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half and won for just the third time since September. Washington finished with six catches for 117 yards. The Jaguars (4-11) were in position to take the lead after that, but Ropati Pitoitua stuffed Maurice Jones-Drew on a fourth-and-1 play at the Tennessee 20 with 5:21 remaining. The highlight for the Jaguars came when Jacksonville honored retiring center Brad Meester with a reception-the pass-catching kind. The Jaguars called a screen play for the 14-year veteran center who announced Wednesday that Sunday’s game would be his home finale. Meester reported as an eligible receiver, lined up at tight end and then caught the screen pass to gain 9 yards.
 

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