AFC: Patriots win to secure first-round bye
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – The New England Patriots emphasize playing well for 60 minutes every game. On Saturday, 30 was enough – barely.
Rallying from their worst half of the season, the Patriots scored on their next five possessions and clinched a playoff bye with a 27-24 win over the Miami Dolphins on Saturday.
“You don’t want to, certainly, make a habit of this,” said Tom Brady, who scored on two 1-yard sneaks and threw for a 1-yard touchdown. “We showed some resiliency.”
New England (12-3) won its seventh straight game. After the Houston Texans lost to the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night, the Patriots needed a win or a tie to lock up one of the top two spots in the AFC.
“It’s good to clinch,” said Deion Branch, who caught the touchdown pass from Brady, “but not by the way we played. It’s not the way you want to do it.”
Miami (5-10) lost for the third time in eight games after opening at 0-7 and is 1-1 under Todd Bowles, who took over when Tony Sparano was fired.
“First half we came out and played our tempo and our ballgame,” Bowles said. “The second half they made us play theirs.”
The AFC East champions trailed 17-0 at halftime but made the necessary adjustments and went to their no-huddle offense more, keeping the Dolphins from making defensive substitutions. And Brady was on target after a first half in which heavy defensive pressure against a makeshift offensive line affected his accuracy. He completed just 7 of 19 passes for 87 yards and was sacked three times in the half.
But in the second half, he completed 20 of 27 passes for 217 yards, finishing at 27 for 46 for 304 yards and leading one scoring drive after another – a 45-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, the scoring pass to Branch, his own sneak that tied the game, Gostkowski’s 42-yard go-ahead kick after Devin McCourty’s first interception of the year, and the other sneak with 2:56 to go, making it 27-17.
The Dolphins made it closer on Matt Moore’s 15-yard scoring pass to Davone Bess with 1:48 to play. They had three timeouts left, but their hopes faded when Brady hit Wes Welker for a 6-yard gain and a first down.
“We had (Brady’s) number in the first half, but in the second half he came out and made a lot of plays,” Miami linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “He is a coach on the field.”
RAVENS 20, BROWNS 14
BALTIMORE (AP) – Eight games, eight wins. The Baltimore Ravens achieved perfection at home for the first time, and now they’re looking to add to that ledger in the playoffs.
Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes, and the Ravens beat the bumbling Cleveland Browns 20-14 on Saturday to move one step closer to winning the AFC North.
Ray Rice ran for 87 yards and caught a TD pass for the Ravens (11-4), who led 17-0 at halftime and held on.
“I have never been perfect at home in 16 years of football. That’s amazing,” Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis said. “As good of teams we’ve had here, we’ve always found (a way) to lose one or two here or there. I think this year we really made a focus on taking care at home. This is the result, us being able to go 8-0 and being able to be sitting where you want to sit at the end of the day.”
The Ravens would win the AFC North by defeating Cincinnati on the road next week. That would also give Baltimore a first-round bye and a home playoff game – two if New England loses next Sunday at home against Buffalo.
“It’s big, man,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We are at our best when we are at (home) and our fans are rocking. So we definitely need a home playoff game, by any means necessary.”
Flacco went 11 for 24 with touchdown passes to Rice and tight end Ed Dickson. He also had a 33-yard run.
Josh Cribbs had a career-high 84-yard punt return for a TD for Cleveland (4-11). But the Browns generated very little offense and were guilty of questionable play calling, bad clock management and untimely penalties in their fifth straight loss.
TITANS 27, JAGUARS 13
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Mike Munchak told his Tennessee Titans to forget their embarrassing loss in Indianapolis, which cost them control of their playoff fate. The first-year coach insisted they focus only on their final two games and just see what happens.
Well, Matt Hasselbeck threw for 350 yards and a touchdown, and Jared Cook had 169 yards receiving to help the Titans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in their final home game. That keeps the Titans alive in the AFC wild-card playoff chase, which few outside of Tennessee might have predicted in Munchak’s first season.
Hasselbeck said Munchak told them they could be proud if they finish 9-7.
“We’ll take it because we knew what it took to do it regrouping after that loss, winning today and hopefully winning next week,” Hasselbeck said. “But we’re in the hunt. But again … it’s important for us to focus on the stuff that we can control and all we can control is how we play and hopefully getting a win next week.”
The Titans (8-7) at least snapped a two-game skid and finished this season 5-3 at home under Munchak. They head to Houston for the finale with a chance at their first winning record since 2008. Cincinnati (9-6), a winner over Arizona, holds the final wild-card spot with the Titans tied with Denver, Oakland and the Jets at 8-7.
“We don’t control anything else but beating Houston in Houston, and that’s not an easy task in itself,” Munchak said.
Cook had a 55-yard TD catch and finished with 169 yards receiving, a franchise high for a tight end. Rob Bironas kicked three field goals, including a pair of 51-yarders, and rookie Jamie Harper ran for his first career touchdown.
Maurice Jones-Drew, the NFL’s rushing leader with 1,334 yards coming into the game, ran for 103 yards and a touchdown for the Jaguars (4-11). He has a career-high 1,437 yards this season, not that Jones-Drew wanted to talk about his personal achievements with only four wins this year.
BILLS 40, BRONCOS 14
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) – Jairus Byrd and Spencer Johnson returned Tim Tebow interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter to help Buffalo snap a seven-game losing streak.
Tebow finished with a career-worst four interceptions as the Broncos (8-7) fell into a tie with Oakland for first place in the AFC West. Denver lost its second in a row while squandering a chance to inch closer to its first playoff berth since 2005.
Byrd scored on a 37-yard return with 8:03 left and Johnson had a 17-yarder 18 seconds later for Buffalo (6-9). C.J. Spiller ran for a career-best 111 yards and a touchdown, and Leodis McKelvin scored on an 80-yard punt return.