Jackson, Ravens clinch AFC top seed
Published 9:06 pm Sunday, December 31, 2023
BALTIMORE (AP) — In what may have been his final bid for the MVP award, Lamar Jackson threw for 321 yards and five touchdowns, finishing with a perfect passer rating and helping the Baltimore Ravens clinch the top seed in the AFC with a 56-19 rout of the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Isaiah Likely caught two TDs for the Ravens, who won their sixth straight game and also wrapped up their first AFC North title since 2019, Jackson’s first MVP season. Now Baltimore (13-3) can rest Jackson — and anyone else it chooses — in the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh.
Miami (11-5) is also postseason bound, but now the winner of next weekend’s Dolphins-Bills game will take the AFC East. And now the Dolphins face a potentially significant injury. Linebacker Bradley Chubb — with his team down 30 points — had to be carted off with 3:05 remaining after hurting his knee.
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Serenaded with periodic “MVP!” chants from the home crowd, Jackson went 18 of 21 passing.
Jackson also had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 against Miami in 2019. He joins Tom Brady (against Detroit) as the only quarterbacks with two perfect ratings against the same team, with a minimum of 20 attempts.
49ERS 27, COMMANDERS 10
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Brock Purdy bounced back from the worst game of his career to throw two touchdown passes, and San Francisco clinched the top seed in the NFC by beating Washington.
Philadelphia’s stunning home loss to Arizona, combined with Detroit’s defeat at Dallas on Saturday, allowed the 49ers (12-4) to secure a first-round bye and home-field advantage.
Washington (4-12) wasn’t much of an obstacle for the Niners, whose only concern could be the status of Christian McCaffrey. Their do-it-all running back left the game in the third quarter with a right calf injury after gaining 91 scrimmage yards on 18 touches.
San Francisco also got touchdown catches from Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk and a rushing TD from Elijah Mitchell. Purdy, coming off throwing four interceptions in a humbling home loss to Baltimore, was 22 of 28 for 230 yards to reach 4,280 and break Jeff Garcia’s franchise record of 4,278 set in 2000.
The Commanders’ Sam Howell was intercepted twice and has an NFL-worst 19 picks this season.
CARDINALS 35, EAGLES 31
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — James Conner ran for a 2-yard touchdown with 32 seconds remaining, Kyler Murray threw three TD passes, and Arizona rallied from a 15-point deficit to stun Philadelphia.
The Eagles (11-5) could have won the NFC East with wins against Arizona and the New York Giants next week. Now, Dallas can win the division with a win next week at Washington, and San Francisco has locked up the top seed in the conference.
Jalen Hurts, who threw three touchdown passes, was picked off in the end zone on a desperate heave to end the game.
Murray finished 25 of 31 for 232 yards and got stronger as the game progressed, overcoming a 99-yard pick-6 by Sydney Brown early in the second quarter. Conner rushed for 128 yards on 26 carries for the Cardinals (4-12).
Former Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon got his biggest win yet as Arizona’s coach.
BILLS 27, PATRIOTS 21
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Josh Allen ran for two touchdowns, cornerback Rasul Douglas returned one of his two interceptions for a score, and Buffalo beat New England, setting up a showdown at Miami next weekend for the AFC East title.
The three-time division champion Bills (10-6) have already defeated the Dolphins (11-5) this season, and Miami blew a chance at clinching the division title by getting blown out at Baltimore.
Buffalo won its fourth straight and fifth in six games. The Bills gave up Jalen Reagor’s 98-yard return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown and settled for a touchdown and two field goals off three takeaways inside the Patriots 30. Allen concluded the opening drive of the third quarter with his second rushing TD — his 15th of the season — and the Bills held on from there.
The Patriots (4-12) are in jeopardy of finishing with their fewest wins in coach Bill Belichick’s tenure. Bailey Zappe threw three picks and receiver Pharaoh Brown lost a fumble.
SAINTS 23, BUCCANEERS 13
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Derek Carr threw for 197 yards and two touchdowns, and New Orleans moved into a tie atop the NFC South by halting Tampa Bay’s four-game winning streak.
Carr tossed TD passes of 4 yards to Juwan Johnson and 22 yards to Taysom Hill in the first half. The Saints’ defense did its part to keep the Bucs (8-8) from clinching their third consecutive division title by intercepting Baker Mayfield twice and forcing a pair of fumbles.
Tampa Bay can still repeat as NFC South champion by winning at division rival Carolina next week. The Saints (8-8) close with a division game at home against Atlanta.
Carr completed 24 of 32 passes and outshined Mayfield, who went 22 of 33 for 309 yards with two late TD passes. He was sacked twice and didn’t get the Bucs into the end zone until the fourth quarter.
RAMS 26, GIANTS 25
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Kyren Williams ran for 87 yards and a career-best three touchdowns, and Los Angeles beat New York, clinching a playoff berth hours later when Seattle lost to Pittsburgh.
Matthew Stafford threw for 317 yards and a touchdown but also had his first two interceptions in the last five games as the Rams (9-7) held on to win their third straight and sixth of seven.
Gunner Olszewski scored on a 94-yard punt return to get New York (5-11) within a point with 3:27 to play. After an encroachment penalty on the extra point attempt, coach Brian Daboll elected to go for a 2-point conversion — but Tyrod Taylor missed a wide-open Saquon Barkley.
Later, a 31-yard run by Taylor allowed Mason Crosby to attempt a game-winning 54-yard field goal, but it was short. Taylor threw for 319 yards and a touchdown in his first start since replacing Tommy DeVito.
Williams, the NFL’s second-leading rusher coming in, scored on runs of 4, 2 and 28 yards.
STEELERS 30, SEAHAWKS 23
SEATTLE (AP) — Najee Harris rushed for a season-high 122 yards and bullied his way into the end zone for a pair of touchdowns, and Pittsburgh beat Seattle to keep its playoff hopes alive.
Using a punishing running attack that faced little resistance from Seattle, the Steelers (9-7) ensured that coach Mike Tomlin would finish a 17th straight season with a record of .500 or better.
The Seahawks (8-8) had their two-game win streak snapped and while they weren’t eliminated from the postseason, they will need a victory and a lot of help in Week 18.
Harris averaged 4.5 yards per carry and reached the 100-yard mark for the first time since Week 17 of last season against Baltimore. Jaylen Warren added another 75 yards rushing and scored on a 18-yard run in the first quarter.
Pittsburgh finished with 202 yards rushing and a season-high 468 total yards. It became the sixth straight opponent to rush for at least 135 yards against the Seahawks.
Mason Rudolph was 18 of 24 for 274 yards and hit the big throws when needed for the Steelers. George Pickens had seven catches for 131 yards.
JAGUARS 26, PANTHERS 0
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Travis Etienne scored twice, including a 62-yard TD that was his longest run of the season, and Jacksonville blanked Carolina to end a four-game skid.
The Jaguars (9-7) won for the first time in December — and with quarterback Trevor Lawrence watching from the sideline — to set up a regular-season finale at Tennessee that will help decide the AFC South.
Jacksonville can clinch the division with a victory next weekend. A loss to the Titans would hand the AFC South to the winner of the Houston-Indianapolis game.
Lawrence missed the game with a sprained throwing shoulder, ending his consecutive starts streak at 51. C.J. Beathard completed 17 of 24 passes for 178 yards without a turnover in his first start since 2020.
The Panthers (2-14) dropped to 0-9 on the road and were held scoreless for the first time since losing to Atlanta in Week 12 of 2002.
TEXANS 26, TITANS 3
HOUSTON (AP) — C.J. Stroud threw for 213 yards and a touchdown in his return from a concussion, and Houston rolled past Tennessee.
Houston (9-7), Indianapolis and Jacksonville all won Sunday to leave the three teams with identical records in the AFC South. A victory next week at Indianapolis will guarantee the Texans, who won just three games last season, their first postseason berth since 2019.
The Texans had a 17-point lead at halftime with some help from defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who returned a fumble by rookie quarterback Will Levis for a score in the second quarter.
Levis injured his foot on the play and Ryan Tannehill took over. Tannehill threw for 168 yards but couldn’t get the Titans in the end zone as Tennessee (5-11) fell to Houston for the second time in three weeks.
COLTS 23, RAIDERS 20
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Gardner Minshew threw a touchdown pass, Jonathan Taylor ran for a score, and two late defensive penalties helped Indianapolis beat Las Vegas to stay in the AFC playoff chase.
Indy (9-7) remained in a first-place tie atop the AFC South with Houston and Jacksonville. The Colts host the Texans next week.
The Raiders (7-9) had their two-game winning streak end and were eliminated from the postseason.
Minshew finished 15 of 23 for 224 yards. Taylor had 21 carries for a season-high 96 yards.
Las Vegas’ Aidan O’Connell was 30 of 47 with 299 yards and two TDs, both to Davante Adams, who had 13 receptions for 126 yards.
BEARS 37, FALCONS 17
CHICAGO (AP) — Justin Fields threw for 268 yards with a touchdown pass and a rushing TD in what could be his final home game for Chicago, which dealt Atlanta’s playoff hopes a big blow.
D.J. Moore finished with nine catches for 159 yards and a touchdown, and Khalil Herbert ran for 124 yards and a score as the Bears (7-9) overwhelmed the Falcons (7-9).
Chicago grabbed a 21-7 halftime lead and rolled to its fourth win in five games. The Bears intercepted Taylor Heinicke three times and Desmond Ridder once.
Fields completed 20 of 32 passes. He also ran for 45 yards. The Bears could end up with the top overall pick in the draft because of an offseason trade with Carolina and will have to decide whether to move on from him.
BRONCOS 16, CHARGERS 9
DENVER (AP) — Jarrett Stidham threw for 224 yards and a touchdown in his first start in place of the benched Russell Wilson, and Denver beat Los Angeles.
Stidham earned his first career win as a starter thanks to some timely plays such as a nifty 54-yard catch-and-run for a score by Lil’Jordan Humphrey and a stellar defensive performance. The Broncos (8-8) forced one turnover, allowed two third-down conversions on 11 attempts and kept the Chargers (5-11) out of the end zone.
Denver was eliminated from the playoffs because Kansas City beat Cincinnati.
Easton Stick, making his third start in place of the injured Justin Herbert, threw for 220 yards without a turnover for the Chargers.