FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The San Francisco 49ers earned a playoff berth by withstanding a stunning comeback by New England from a 28-point deficit to beat the Patriots 41-34 on Sunday night in the rain.
Michael Crabtree took a short pass and sped around cornerback Kyle Arrington for a 38-yard touchdown with 6:25 to go, then David Akers made a 28-yard field goal to clinch it.
New England (10-4) trailed 31-3 at one point and lost for the first time at home in December in 21 games. They also had won 21 in a row in the second half of the schedule before San Francisco (10-3-1) somehow regrouped late in a game it seemingly had clinched long before.
CHICAGO — The Green Bay Packers clinched their second straight NFC North title with a 21-13 victory over the archrival Chicago Bears on Sunday.
James Jones caught all three touchdown passes thrown by the Packers' Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay has now won six straight in the NFL's oldest — and fiercest — rivalry.
The Packers (10-4) have won 12 straight against NFC North opponents, the longest streak in the NFL.
Brandon Marshall had a 15-yard TD catch for the Bears, who have lost five of six and are in danger of missing the playoffs after beginning the year 7-1. Clay Matthews continued his torture of Jay Cutler with two sacks, and Alshon Jeffery hurt the Bears (8-6) with three offensive pass interference calls late in the second half.
HOUSTON — The Houston Texans are AFC South champions for the second straight year after beating the Indianapolis Colts 29-17 Sunday.
Andre Johnson had 151 yards receiving and a touchdown, Bryan Braman scored a special teams touchdown on a blocked punt, and Shayne Graham kicked five field goals.
The Texans (12-2) grabbed their first AFC South title last season after the Colts nosedived without injured quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning is gone and Andrew Luck couldn't do much against the inspired Houston defence.
The Colts (9-5) had won three straight and needed a win to clinch a playoff berth a year after going 2-14.
But Houston held them off, thanks in part to three sacks from J.J. Watt, to get back on track a week after an embarrassing 42-14 loss to New England on national television. The Texans will have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs in they win out.
BALTIMORE — Chris Harris returned an interception 98 yards for a momentum-turning touchdown, and the Denver Broncos beat the skidding Baltimore Ravens 34-17 Sunday for their ninth straight victory.
Peyton Manning threw for 204 yards and a score in his ninth consecutive win against Baltimore, the first with the Broncos (11-3).
Down 10-0 late in the first half, the Ravens had a first-and-goal at the Denver 4 when Harris stepped in front of Anquan Boldin, picked off a pass by Joe Flacco and sprinted down the right sideline en route to the longest regular-season interception return in Broncos history.
The Ravens (9-5) were playing their first game under offensive co-ordinator Jim Caldwell, who replaced the fired Cam Cameron. With Pittsburgh losing later in the day, Baltimore qualified for the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.
Baltimore's offence sputtered in the first half, gaining only 119 yards and committing two turnovers that led to 10 Denver points. It was the third straight loss for the Ravens.
ATLANTA — Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns passes and the Atlanta Falcons handed the New York Giants their first regular-season shutout since 1996, blowing out the defending Super Bowl champions 34-0 on Sunday.
Julio Jones caught a couple of scoring throws from Ryan, who broke his own franchise records for completions and passing yards in a season. He finished 23 of 28 for 270 yards.
The Falcons (12-2), who have already clinched the NFC South, moved a step closer to locking up home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. One more win would lock it up.
Eli Manning threw two interceptions for New York (8-6). With Washington and Dallas winning, the Giants are now third in the division and eighth in the conference.
ST. LOUIS — Adrian Peterson ran for a season-best 212 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown that fueled the Minnesota Vikings' big second quarter in a 36-22 victory that spoiled the St. Louis Rams' home finale Sunday.
Peterson has 1,812 yards rushing, leaving him 294 shy of breaking the NFL's single-season record of 2,105 by Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams in 1984. Peterson, less than a year removed from a serious knee injury, has two games left — at Houston and home against Green Bay — to top Dickerson.
The Vikings (8-6) scored 10 of their 23 points in the second quarter off turnovers by Sam Bradford, including a 29-yard interception return by defensive end Everson Griffen.
They were up by 26 before Bradford, whose botched centre snap also cost the Rams (6-7-1) a field goal in the second quarter, threw touchdown passes to Danny Amendola and Lance Kendricks in the fourth quarter.
CLEVELAND — Rookie Kirk Cousins threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns filling in for injured star Robert Griffin III, leading the Washington Redskins to their fifth straight win, 38-21 over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Cousins connected with Leonard Hankerson for both TDs in his first career start and the Redskins (8-6) barely missed a beat without the talented and multi-dimensional RG3, who sat out with a sprained knee.
Last week, Cousins came off the bench after Griffin got hurt. Cousins was behind centre from the start of this one and delivered a performance that extended Washington's longest winning streak since 2007 and moved the Redskins into a tie for first in the NFC East. Washington holds the tiebreaker over Dallas and the Giants.
Rookie Trent Richardson had a pair of TD runs for the Browns (5-9).
ARLINGTON, Texas — Brandon Carr intercepted a pass from Ben Roethlisberger to set up Dan Bailey's 21-yard field goal in overtime for the third consecutive win for Dallas.
The Cowboys won a Bailey kick on the final play for the second straight week since practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown was killed in a one-car accident that led to manslaughter charges against teammate Josh Brent.
Carr intercepted Roethlisberger's pass along the sideline and returned it 36 yards to the 1. Bailey's kick came after Tony Romo took a 2-yard loss to put the kicker in better position.
It was a disappointing ending for tens of thousands of Terrible Towel-waving Pittsburgh fans at Cowboys Stadium.
The Cowboys (8-6) moved into a three-way tie for the NFC East lead and host New Orleans next week. The Steelers (7-7) lost for the fourth time in five games and ceded the sixth place standing in the AFC to division rival Cincinnati, which won on Thursday.
TORONTO - Rookie Russell Wilson rushed for three TDs and threw for another while Earl Thomas returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown as the Seahawks steamrolled the Bills.
Seattle (9-5) earned its fifth win in six games and cemented its first winning season since 2007. It also marked the second straight lopsided win for the Seahawks, who downed Arizona 58-0 last week.
Russell was certainly a central figure, completing 14-of-23 passes for 205 yards while rushing for 92 yards on nine carries before just 40,770 spectators at Rogers Centre.
The Bills (5-9) were officially eliminated from playoff contention, extending their league-high post-season drought to 13 years.
Marshawn Lynch contributed to Buffalo's woes, rushing for 113 yards and a TD in his first game against his former team since the Bills dealt their 2007 first-round selection to Seattle in 2010.
Wilson became the first quarterback to register three first-half rushing TDs since September 2000 when Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper achieved the feat.
MIAMI — The Miami Dolphins kept former teammate Chad Henne out of the end zone, making three fourth-down stops deep in their own territory and benefiting from an odd penalty in beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-3 Sunday.
Henne, playing in Miami for the first time since he departed as a Dolphins bust last off-season, threw for 221 yards with no turnovers. But the Dolphins turned back three scoring threats, and a go-ahead touchdown for the Jaguars came off the board because of an illegal-substitution penalty.
Ryan Tannehill went 22 for 28 for 220 yards and two scores with no interceptions to help Miami (6-8) win for only the second time in the past seven games. The Jaguars (2-12) helped their chances of getting the No. 1 draft pick next April.
NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees passed for 307 yards and four touchdowns, and the New Orleans Saints recorded their first shutout since 1995, virtually ending Tampa Bay's already slim playoff hopes.
Brees connected on his scoring passes with tight end David Thomas, running back Darren Sproles and receivers Lance Moore and Joe Morgan. Mark Ingram added an 11-yard touchdown run.
Josh Freeman endured one of his worst outings of the season for Tampa Bay (6-8), throwing four interceptions and losing a fumble. Jabari Greer made two interceptions, Rafael Bush and Isa Abdul-Quddus the others. Cameron Jordan forced Freeman's fumble on a sack and recovered it.
New Orleans (6-8) also bottled up standout rookie running back Doug Martin, holding him to 16 yards on nine carries.
GLENDALE, Ariz. - Greg Toler brought back an interception 102 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown, the longest return in franchise history, snapping the Cardinals' nine-game losing streak.
The Cardinals (5-9) intercepted Matthew Stafford three times, returning two of them for touchdowns and setting up a TD with the other, while sending the Lions to their sixth straight loss. Rashad Johnson brought back a pick 53 yards for a touchdown to cap Arizona's 21-point second quarter. Patrick Peterson's interception set up another score.
Another TD by Arizona came after Detroit (4-10) muffed a punt.
Detroit's Calvin Johnson became the first player in NFL history with consecutive 1,600-yard receiving seasons and tied an NFL record with his seventh straight 100-yard receiving game.
SAN DIEGO — Mike Tolbert scored twice against his former team and DeAngelo Williams turned a tipped pass from Cam Newton into a 45-yard touchdown reception as the Carolina Panthers eliminated the Chargers from playoff contention.
Carolina (5-9) won consecutive games for the first time since last December.
The Chargers (5-9) clinched their first losing season since 2003, when they were an NFL-worse 4-12. Coach Norv Turner is expected to be fired at season's end, most likely along with general manager A.J. Smith.
The game was played before thousands of empty seats on a dreary, misty afternoon.
Tolbert, who left San Diego as a free agent in March, capped Carolina's first two drives with 1-yard scoring runs. His second TD was set up when Philip Rivers lost a fumble, his 21st turnover this season and 46th in less than two full seasons.
OAKLAND — Sebastian Janikowski kicked five field goals, Darren McFadden rushed for 110 yards and the Oakland Raiders shut out Kansas City for the second time ever, beating the Chiefs 15-0 on Sunday.
The Raiders (4-10) overwhelmed the undermanned Chiefs (2-12) to snap a six-game losing streak. Sandwiched around those losses are a pair of wins over Kansas City, a rare bright spot in this disappointing season in Oakland.
There has been little to cheer for this season for the Chiefs, who have lost 10 of 11 games and are tied for the second most losses in franchise history behind a 2-14 mark in 2008.