Pats clinch AFC East title
MIAMI -- With the game on the line, the quick-strike New England Patriots showed they can grind out a drive, too.
As a result, they’re the AFC East champions.
Tom Brady had his least efficient game of the season and even threw an interception, but he led a clock-consuming drive in the fourth quarter Sunday that helped the Patriots beat Miami 23-16 to clinch their fourth consecutive division title.
Brady finished 24 for 40 for 238 yards and was sacked four times. But with the Patriots nursing a 20-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter, he led a 16-play drive that took more than seven minutes and led to a field goal.
A botched punt, roughing-the-punter penalty and fumble by Miami resulted in 17 New England points, and another penalty negated a Dolphins touchdown.
The Patriots (9-3) have won six consecutive games and are assured of their 12th winning season in a row. The Dolphins (5-7) hurt their already slim playoff chances and lost to New England for the fifth consecutive time.
Brady was intercepted for the first time in 203 passes, and for only the fourth time this year, and his passer rating was a season-low 74.8. He had at least four passes dropped, including a throw to Wes Welker in the end zone.
The Patriots kept their play-calling conservative and finished with a season-low 321 yards. But when they took over at their 20 leading by a touchdown in the fourth period, they produced their best drive of the day.
It covered 77 yards, setting up Stephen Gostkowski’s third field goal with 1:10 to go.
Trevor Scott led New England’s stout defensive effort with two sacks, including one to force a fumble that set up a field goal. Jerod Mayo sacked Ryan Tannehill on third down midway through the fourth quarter, forcing the Dolphins to settle for a field goal.
Welker tied Jerry Rice’s NFL record by making at least 10 receptions for the 17th time. He had 12 catches for 103 yards and a score.
Tannehill went only 13 for 29 for 186 yards, but finished two runs with brazen acrobatic leaps. He vaulted over the goal line to elude linebacker Rob Ninkovich on a 2-yard touchdown run.
The botched punt on the Dolphins’ opening series led to a New England touchdown. With the ball wet following a brief shower, punter Brandon Fields dropped a low snap and was tackled at his 12. The Patriots scored five players later on Stevan Ridley’s 2-yard run.
The roughing-the-punter penalty on Miami’s Jimmy Wilson gave the Patriots a first down deep in their territory, jump-starting a 75-yard drive that ended with Welker’s 7-yard touchdown catch.
Miami’s Reshad Jones made a one-handed interception and returned the ball 30 yards for a touchdown, but the score was negated by a penalty on Reggie Bush for an illegal block. New England then held, and Dan Carpenter kicked a 44-yard field goal.
TEXANS 24, TITANS 10
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Houston Texans clinched their second straight playoff berth and set a franchise record for wins in a season.
Rookie linebacker Whitney Mercilus recovered a fumble and had two sacks, and the Texans (11-1) remain tied with Atlanta for the best record in the NFL with their sixth straight win. After needing overtime the past two games, the Texans forced six turnovers and had six sacks of Jake Locker when they weren’t batting down a handful of other passes.
The Texans swept Tennessee (4-8), the team they replaced in Houston, for only the second time. Matt Schaub threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns, and Arian Foster ran for a TD.
RAMS 16, 49ERS 13, OT
ST. LOUIS -- Rookie Greg Zuerlein kicked a 54-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in overtime after booting a 53-yarder as time expired in regulation.
The winning kick allowed the Rams to avoid a second tie in three weeks against the NFC West leaders.
The Rams (5-6-1) scored twice in the final 3:04 of regulation, getting their lone touchdown when rookie Janoris Jenkins returned an errant pitchout by Colin Kaepernick 2 yards for a score. They’ve won two straight after an 0-4-1 skid.
The 49ers (8-3-1) failed to take advantage of a 14-yard punt by rookie punter Johnny Hekker to midfield when David Akers was barely wide right on a 51-yard attempt with 4:11 to go in overtime. Akers is just 7 for 15 from 40 yards and beyond.
BEARS 17, OT
CHICAGO -- Russell Wilson connected with Sidney Rice on a 13-yard touchdown with 7:33 left in overtime to lift Seattle.
Unbeaten in five home games, the Seahawks finally figured a way to win on the road after dropping five of their first six, and knocked off the NFC North leaders in the process.
Seattle took a short-lived lead late in regulation on Wilson’s 14-yard pass to Golden Tate, only to watch the Bears’ Robbie Gould boot a 46-yard field goal as time expired to send it into OT.
The Seahawks (7-5) got their only other road win at Carolina.
COLTS 35, LIONS 33
DETROIT -- Andrew Luck threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery with no time left to lift Indianapolis.
With the final seconds ticking away, the rookie quarterback moved up in the pocket, flipped a short pass to Avery, and the receiver ran untouched into the end zone to complete a rally that started with Lions up 12 points midway through the fourth quarter.
The Colts (8-4) stayed in control of the AFC wild-card race with the win. Detroit (5-8) lost for the fourth straight time, including three in a row at home after leading in the final quarter.
PACKERS 23, VIKINGS 14
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- James Starks had Green Bay’s first rushing touchdown in almost two months, Morgan Burnett picked off Christian Ponder twice and the Packers overcame a monster day by Adrian Peterson.
Peterson finished with 210 yards, the most he’s had since blowing out his ACL and MCL last December. But the Vikings (6-6) clearly felt the absence of Percy Harvin, who missed his third straight game with a sprained ankle.
Ponder didn’t help matters with his interceptions, one in the end zone and the other around the Green Bay 10. The Packers turned both miscues into field goals, giving them their 10th straight victory against an NFC North opponent.
The win also keeps the Packers’ hopes for the (8-4) division title alive.
JETS 7, CARDINALS 6
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Third-stringer Greg McElroy stepped in for a struggling Mark Sanchez and led New York to its only score.
With Tim Tebow inactive as he heals from two broken ribs, coach Rex Ryan pulled Sanchez for McElroy -- as the crowd at MetLife Stadium cheered wildly -- late in the third quarter. McElroy led the (5-7) Jets to their only points of the day with an impressive drive, connecting with Jeff Cumberland on a 1-yard touchdown. That ended up being the winning score.
Fans chanted "Mc-El-roy!" throughout the first three quarters as Sanchez went 10 for 27 for 91 yards and three interceptions.
The sagging Cardinals (4-8) have their own troubles at quarterback. Ryan Lindley was ineffective in his second NFL start as Arizona lost its eighth straight game after a 4-0 start.
BILLS 34, JAGUARS 18
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Ryan Fitzpatrick directed five straight scoring drives in helping Buffalo keep alive its slim playoff hopes.
Fitzpatrick threw two touchdown passes and scored on a 1-yard plunge in providing a spark to an injury-depleted offense that finished the game minus its top two receivers.
Fred Jackson had 101 yards rushing and C.J. Spiller scored on a 44-yard run that put Buffalo (5-7) up 34-10 early in the fourth quarter.
The Jaguars fell to 2-10.
CHIEFS 27, PANTHERS 21
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Brady Quinn threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns, and Jamaal Charles ran for 127 yards in the Chiefs’ 27-21 victory over their Carolina Panthers.
Cam Newton threw for 232 yards and three touchdowns for the Panthers (3-9).
DeAngelo Williams added 67 yards rushing for the Panthers, carrying the load with Jonathan Stewart out with an injury. Steve Smith, Greg Olsen and Louis Murphy caught their TD passes.
Peyton Hillis had a touchdown run for Kansas City (2-10), while Tony Moeaki and Jon Baldwin had touchdown catches. Ryan Succop hit a pair of field goals, including a 52-yarder with 4:54 left that forced the Panthers to score a touchdown to steal the win.
Instead, the Panthers went three-and-out, and the Chiefs were able to run the clock down to 31 seconds before giving back the ball. Newton completed two quick passes to reach the Carolina 38, but his final heave as time expired was caught by Smith short of the end zone.
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