Chargers, Vikes, Eagles, Ravens and Dolphins make playoffs
Cowboys play one of the franchise's most embarrassing games
LaDainian Tomlinson scored three touchdowns to lead the San Diego Chargers into the National Football League playoffs on Sunday night with a big victory over the Denver Broncos.
The 52-21 win not only made the Chargers the first 8-8 team to win a division — in this case the AFC West — since the Cleveland Browns in 1985, but it also eliminated the Broncos and completed the league's playoff picture.
Bubble day left the Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens and those amazing Miami Dolphins as teams who booked their tickets to the post season.
Among those out are the New England Patriots, despite 11 victories, the Dallas Cowboys, who played possibly the worst game in franchise history, and the Chicago Bears.
Dolphins 24, Jets 17
Chad Pennington, who had expected to quarterback the New York Jets this year before Brett Favre came aboard, returned to the Meadowlands on Sunday and put the Cinderella Miami Dolphins in the playoffs with a 24-17 victory.
The Dolphins, who had gone 1-15 last season, won 11 this year and will host a playoff game next week.
Favre and the Jets needed to win — plus a loss by Baltimore — to get through.
Ravens 27, Jaguars 7
Le'Ron McClain ran for two scores in a big first half and the Baltimore Ravens went on to a 27-7 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars that put the winners into the playoffs.
Jacksonville committed four turnovers and couldn't come up with a point over the final 45 minutes as they ran up a season-low score.
Baltimore was forced to win the game to get in after New England won earlier in Buffalo.
Eagles 44, Cowboys 6
Given new life by a shocking upset of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier in the day, the Philadelphia Eagles took full advantage and pummelled the Dallas Cowboys 44-6.
The Eagles scored easily on the disorganized, seemingly disinterested Cowboys, who fumbled on three straight possessions in the third quarter.
Two of those were run back for long touchdown returns.
Patriots 13, Bills 0
LaMont Jordan scored on a two-yard run set up by Matt Cassel's 12-yard completion into the wind on fourth down, and Stephen Gostkowski hit a pair of field goals to secure a 13-0 win over bumbling Buffalo.
Then came the hard part for the Patriots (11-5) — waiting to find out whether they would get the help required to clinch a sixth straight playoff berth.
It did not come, as both Miami and Baltimore won, making New England just the second 11-win team to miss the playoffs in the NFL's modern era.
Raiders 31, Buccaneers 24
Tampa Bay found a way to lose at home to the sad-sack Oakland Raiders, 31-24, and thus miss the playoffs.
Michael Bush scored on a 67-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run to lead the Raiders to the win.
The Buccaneers entered December at 9-3, then proceeded to lose four straight times.
Vikings 20, Giants 19
Ryan Longwell booked Minnesota's place in the playoffs by hitting a 50-yard field goal with five seconds left as the Vikings beat the New York Giants 20-19.
The Giants had nothing to play for but, as has become their way, the NFC East champs came to play and pushed the hometown Vikes the whole way.
Minnesota finished 10-6 and wins the NFC North.
Texans 31, Bears 24
The Chicago Bears saw their playoff hopes die in Texas, thanks to a pair of touchdowns by Andre Johnson as Houston won 31-24.
The loss hurt even more on news that Tampa Bay had been upset by Oakland, opening what could have been an unexpected wild-card spot for the Bears, if Dallas had also lost on the day.
Leading 10-0, the Bears defence collapsed, allowing 21 straight points by the Texans.
Panthers 33, Saints 31
John Kasay's 42-yard field goal with one second left allowed Carolina to escape the Big Easy with a 33-31 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Winning locks up the NFC South title for the Panthers, who had a 30-10 lead halfway through the third quarter that was gone by late in the game.
Drew Brees threw for 386 yards on the day, almost leading the Saints to an upset win. He came just 16 yards short of beating Dan Marino's 1984 season passing mark of 5,084 yards throwing.
Falcons 31, Rams 27
Atlanta capped a magical comeback season by holding off a tougher-than-advertised St. Louis Rams club 31-27 at home.
The Falcons are in the playoffs as a wild-card club.
Jerious Norwood ran for two scores, including the go-ahead marker on a 45-yard scamper with 3:41 left.
Steelers 31, Browns 0
The Pittsburgh Steelers saw their quarterback injured as they sailed to a 31-0 win over the Cleveland Browns.
QB Ben Roethlisberger, playing in a meaningless game to keep sharp for the playoffs, was hammered by Willie McGinest and D'Qwell Jackson in the second quarter.
He was on the ground for 15 minutes before being carried off with a suspected concussion and numbness in his right hand.
The Steelers have two weeks off before the next game in the second round of the playoffs. Early indications are that Roethlisberger should recover by then.
Packers 31, Lions 21
The Detroit Lions became the first team in National Football League history to go 0-16 in a season after a 31-21 loss at Green Bay.
The defeat beat the 0-14 full-season record set by the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The season has jumped by two games since then.
Bengals 16, Chiefs 6
Cedric Benson ran for 111 yards and a touchdown to lead the Cincinnati Bengals to a 16-6 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Cincy finished 4-11-1 while the Chiefs are 2-14 — the worst mark in the team's 49-year history.
Colts 23, Titans 0
The Indianapolis Colts won their ninth straight, despite sitting many of their starters, in a 23-0 shutout of Tennessee.
Both teams are in the playoffs.
Peyton Manning hit 4,000 yards for the ninth time as the Colts' quarterback, receiver Marvin Harrison moved into second place on the all-time catches list in the NFL, and Dallas Clark broke the single-season team mark for receptions by a tight end.
Cardinals 34, Seahawks 21
After being blown out the last two games, the Arizona Cardinals came up with the type of effort they need going into the playoffs, beating the Seattle Seahawks 34-21 at home.
Arizona made the playoffs at 9-7, giving them just their second winning record since 1984.
Niners 27, Redskins 24
Joe Nedney's 39-yard field goal as time ran out gave the San Francisco 49ers a 27-24 victory over the visiting Washington Redskins.
Shortly afterward, the Niners announced interim coach Mike Singletary, who took his club to a 5-2 mark since taking over the club, will become the full-time bench boss next season.
With files from the Canadian Press