Coach’s Return Motivates Colts
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) celebrates his touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Indianapolis — The Indianapolis Colts made Chuck Pagano a winner in his return to the sideline.
Andrew Luck threw for two touchdowns and Deji Karim swung the game with a 101-yard kickoff return in the third quarter, giving the Colts a 28-16 victory over Houston yesterday. It was Pagano’s first game back as coach since starting treatment for leukemia Sept. 26.
Indianapolis (11-5) heads into the playoffs as the No. 5 seed and on a roll. The Colts will open the postseason next weekend against the Baltimore Ravens.
The game turned on two big plays: Karim’s kickoff return, which wiped out a 16-14 Houston lead, and Luck’s 70-yard TD pass to T.Y. Hilton.
Redskins 28, Cowboys 18
Landover, Md. — RG3 and Washington are NFC East champions, after Robert Griffin III ran for a touchdown and fellow rookie Alfred Morris rushed for 200 yards and three scores as the Redskins won their first division title in 13 years by beating Dallas.
The Redskins are 10-6 and will host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, having won seven straight since their bye week. Washington is the first NFL team to rally from 3-6 to make the postseason since the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996.
The Redskins would have been out of the postseason with a loss. Instead, the Cowboys will miss the playoffs for the third straight year. Dallas finished 8-8, stumbling in a do-or-die end-of-regular-season game for the third time in five years.
Bengals 23, Ravens 17
Cincinnati — Carlos Dunlap returned an interception 14 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens (10-6) had already clinched their second straight AFC North title, and they will open the playoffs at home against Indianapolis, which defeated Houston yesterday.
Broncos 38, Chiefs 3
Denver — Peyton Manning threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns to lift Denver into the No. 1 seed for the AFC playoffs.
Manning finished the season with 4,659 yards, 41 short of his career high. He finished with 37 touchdown passes, and none will be more memorable than the last two — circus catches by Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas that turned the game into a blowout.
Denver (13-3) won its 11th straight and leaped past Houston for the top seed after the Texans lost to Indianapolis 28-16 earlier in the day.
Vikings 37, Packers 34
Minneapolis — Adrian Peterson came within 9 yards of Eric Dickerson’s rushing record, finishing with 199 yards and powering Minnesota into the playoffs.
The result forced a rematch with the Packers next weekend in a wild-card game — this time at Lambeau Field.
Peterson rushed for 36 yards on the last drive, plenty for rookie Blair Walsh’s 29-yard field goal as time expired to put the Vikings (10-6) in the postseason. The Packers (11-5) fell to the NFC’s No. 3 seed.
Niners 27, Cardinals 13
San Francisco — Michael Crabtree caught touchdown passes of 49 and 7 yards as the 49ers won a second straight NFC West title.
Colin Kaepernick threw for a career-best 276 yards and two TDs as the Niners (11-4-1) earned a No. 2 seed thanks to Green Bay’s loss to Minnesota.
Frank Gore ran for a 2-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter for his franchise-best 51st touchdown rushing.
Seahawks 20, Rams 13
Seattle — Russell Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s record for most touchdown passes by a rookie with 26, and his 1-yard TD run with 1:39 left allowed Seattle to finish as the only unbeaten team at home.
Seattle (11-5) entered the day with hopes of still winning the NFC West and getting a home playoff game, but those dreams were dashed when San Francisco beat Arizona. Seattle will be the No. 5 seed and face Washington next weekend.
Buccaneers 22, Falcons 17
Atlanta — Atlanta couldn’t follow through with its plan to gain momentum for the playoffs as Josh Freeman threw a touchdown pass to Mike Williams and Doug Martin ran for 141 yards.
The Falcons (13-3) had little to play for as they already have home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs. Coach Mike Smith said he wanted to “finish the regular season the right way,” and he stayed with his starters through the game.
Bears 26, Lions 24
Detroit — Jay Cutler threw for 257 yards and a touchdown and helped seal the game with a late scramble.
Chicago (10-6) needed a Minnesota loss to Green Bay to reach the postseason.
Giants 42, Eagles 7
East Rutherford, n.j. — There will be no Super Bowl repeat for the Giants. Not even a playoff berth despite Eli Manning’s career-high five touchdown passes.
The Giants (9-7) playoff hopes ended minutes after routing the Eagles. Chicago’s win over Detroit ended New York’s long-shot playoff chances.
Eagles coach Andy Reid is out after 14 years at Philadelphia, three people familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The official announcement could come today.
Steelers 24, Browns 10
Pittsburgh — Ben Roethlisberger threw three short touchdown passes, and Pittsburgh avoided its first losing season in nearly a decade.
Antonio Brown, Leonard Pope and Plaxico Burress scored for the Steelers (8-8). Pittsburgh’s top-ranked defense forced four turnovers as the Steelers won for just the second time in the last six weeks, a slide that knocked them out of the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Bills 28, Jets 9
Orchard Park, n.y. — C.J. Spiller scored on a 66-yard catch and run in helping underachieving Buffalo, while Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had two more turnovers.
Safety Bryan Scott also returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown for the Bills (6-10), who snapped a three-game skid. Both AFC East rivals had already been eliminated from playoff contention.
Titans 38, Jaguars 20
Nashville, Tenn. — Tennessee became the first NFL team with two players scoring twice on returns in closing out the season with two wins in its final three games.
Darius Reynaud scored on two punt returns and rookie linebacker Zach Brown returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
Panthers 44, Saints 38
New Orleans — Drew Brees made more NFL history, but so did the Saints’ porous defense in a loss to Carolina.
Chargers 24, Raiders 21
San Diego — Micheal Spurlock returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown on wet, gloomy day in what’s expected to be Norv Turner’s final game as Chargers coach.
Turner and general manager A.J. Smith are expected to be fired because the Chargers (7-9) missed the playoffs for the third straight season. The Raiders finished 4-12.
Spurlock became the first Chargers player to have a kickoff and punt return for touchdowns in consecutive weeks. He returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown a week earlier in a victory against the New York Jets.