Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott peeks out of a large Salvation Army kettle after jumping into it to celebrate a touchdown Sunday night. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)
ARLINGTON, Texas – Ezekiel Elliott celebrated a short touchdown run by jumping into an oversized Salvation Army red kettle, and the Dallas Cowboys closed in on home-field advantage in the playoffs with a 26-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night.
The Cowboys (12-2) bounced back after their franchise-record 11-game winning streak ended, hanging on after what looked to be a festive night following Elliott’s antics turned tense when Jameis Winston rallied the Bucs from a 17-3 deficit to a 20-17 lead.
Making his debut in the Sunday night spotlight, Winston threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns but had four turnovers, including an interception that led to Dan Bailey’s 38-yard field goal that gave Dallas a 23-20 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay (8-6) had its five-game winning streak snapped and fell a game behind Atlanta in the NFC South. Dallas stayed two games ahead of the New York Giants in the NFC East and needs a win without any help to clinch the home field throughout the NFC playoffs.
Elliott, the NFL’s rushing leader, had a career-high 159 yards, including a 42-yard run to set up Bailey’s fourth field goal for the six-point lead.
Fellow rookie Dak Prescott bounced back from his worst game as a pro, going 32 of 36 for 279 yards a week after completing less than 50 percent of his passes in a 10-7 loss to the New York Giants.
Elliott had NFL career rushing leader and former Dallas star Emmitt Smith and plenty of other people laughing when he jumped into the kettle and disappeared when he crouched down following a 2-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He drew a 15-yard penalty.
TITANS 19, CHIEFS 17: Ryan Succop kicked a 53-yard field goal into the wind as time expired to give Tennessee the victory over Kansas on a frigid afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.
Succop, who spent the first part of his career with Kansas City, came up short on his first try at the winner, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid had called a timeout just before the snap. Given a second chance, Succop knocked it through with a couple feet to spare as the Titans poured off the bench to celebrate.
The Titans’ rallied from a 17-7 hole, and Derrick Henry’s second touchdown got Tennessee (8-6) within 17-16 with just over three minutes left. But Titans coach Mike Mularkey went for the 2-point conversion and the lead. Marcus Mariota was pressured immediately and his pass never reached the end zone.
But the Chiefs (10-4), trying to clinch a playoff spot, were unable to run out the clock and Tennessee got the ball back with a minute left. With no timeouts, Mariota calmly found Rishard Matthews for 19 yards and Delanie Walker twice to set up Succop’s field-goal attempt.
Tennessee is tied for the AFC South lead with Houston.
RAIDERS 19, CHARGERS 16: Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 44-yard field goal with 2:40 left, his fourth of the game, and the Raiders beat the Chargers in the Relocation Bowl to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2002.
Playing before what looked like a home crowd at 70,000-seat Qualcomm Stadium, the visiting Raiders (11-3) earned a playoff nod on the same field where they made their last postseason appearance, an embarrassing 48-21 loss to Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl on Jan. 26, 2003.
There was a surreal atmosphere to the game, which might be the Chargers’ second-to-last in San Diego. Team chairman Dean Spanos seems almost certain to move the Bolts (5-9) to the Los Angeles area after failing to get a big public subsidy to help him replace aging Qualcomm Stadium.
The Raiders could be on the move, too, with owner Mark Davis eyeing Las Vegas, although they’d still play in Oakland until a new stadium is built in Sin City.
TEXANS 21, JAGUARS 20: Tom Savage threw for 260 yards after Brock Osweiler was benched in the second quarter, and Lamar Miller scored Houston’s only with less than three minutes remaining.
Jacksonville fired coach Gus Bradley after the game.
The win was Houston’s 10th straight in the division and left the Texans (8-6) tied with Tennessee for the AFC South lead. But Houston controls its playoff future with a 5-0 mark in the division.
Osweiler threw interceptions on consecutive drives in the second quarter to help Jacksonville build a 13-0 lead. Coach Bill O’Brien had insisted all season he hadn’t thought about benching Osweiler, but he’d seen enough after that and brought in Savage. The move was met with a huge ovation from the home crowd that had been booing Osweiler for most of the day.
The Jaguars got the ball back twice after falling behind, but they failed on a fourth-down conversion the first time and Blake Bortles was intercepted the second time. Bortles threw for 92 yards and ran for a touchdown for the Jaguars (2-12), who dropped their ninth straight.
PATRIOTS 16, BRONCOS 3: Tom Brady overcame a slow start to lead the Patriots to a rare win in Denver, dealing a crushing blow to the Broncos’ playoff hopes.
Brady missed his first six passes for just the second time in his career; the first was way back on Oct. 12, 2003, against the Giants. But he came back to lead the Patriots (12-2) to a record eighth consecutive division title and a first-round bye.
Brady returned to the site of his worst beating, a 20-18 loss in the AFC championship 11 months ago when he was hit a career-high 23 times. This time, he brought a power run game and a much-improved O-line with him.
The result was just his third win in Denver in 10 tries, and it was the Broncos’ hopes of defending their Super Bowl title that took a beating. The Broncos (8-6) lost for the third time in four games and were supplanted by the Dolphins for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC race with two weeks remaining.
PACKERS 30, BEARS 27: Aaron Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson with a 60-yard pass to set up Mason Crosby’s 32-yard field goal as time expired in one of the coldest games ever played in Chicago.
Wide receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery ran for a career-high 162 yards and two touchdowns, and the Packers (8-6) earned their fourth straight victory despite blowing a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter.
They also moved ahead of Minnesota for second place in the NFC North and pulled within a game of division leader Detroit.
The Bears (3-11) tied it on a field goal by Connor Barth with 1:19 left. The Packers took over at their 27, and on third down at the 26, Rodgers unleashed a deep pass down the middle of the field to Nelson, who got behind Cre’Von LeBlanc.
With no timeouts, the Packers downed the ball before Crosby booted his winner.
The game-time temperature was 11 degrees with a minus-4 wind chill. Chicago hosted the Packers in 3-degree temperature and a minus-15 wind chill — the lowest ever for a Bears home game — on Dec. 18, 1983. The Bears’ coldest home game, temperature-wise, was against Green Bay on Dec. 22, 2008, when it was 2 degrees with a minus-13 wind chill.
The Packers tied the NFL’s oldest rivalry for the first time since 1933 at 94-94-6.
BILLS 33, BROWNS 13: The bumbling Browns are two losses short of becoming the NFL’s second team to go 0-16 in one season.
LeSean McCoy had a season-best 153 yards rushing and scored twice, and the Bills kept their slim playoff hopes alive.
The Browns dropped to 0-14, matching the second-worst start to a season set by the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 1980 New Orleans Saints. The 2008 Detroit Lions , meanwhile, are the NFL’s only team to go without a win in a 16-game season.
Cleveland has also lost 17 straight dating to last year, moving into a tie with the St. Louis Rams (2008-09) and Houston Oilers (1982-83) for the league’s sixth-longest skid. The Browns have now gone a calendar year since their last win, a 24-10 victory over San Francisco on Dec. 13, 2015.
The Browns have been so bad they haven’t had a lead in 17-plus quarters, dating to a 7-6 edge in the third quarter of a 28-7 loss at Baltimore on Nov. 10.
STEELERS 24, BENGALS 20: Chris Boswell tied the club record with six field goals, and Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers (9-5) have won five straight and can clinch the AFC North title with a victory at home next Sunday against Baltimore (8-6). As a first step, they rallied from a 14-point deficit – kick by kick – and eliminated the defending champions at a place where they’re right at home.
They beat the Bengals (5-8-1) in the opening round of the playoffs 18-16 last January, getting the winning field goal with the help of penalties on Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones. Burfict and Jones each got a personal foul on Sunday – Pittsburgh’s Marcus Gilbert had one as well – as the animosity continued.
So did the Steelers’ dominance at Paul Brown Stadium, where they’ve won four in a row.
Boswell accounted for Pittsburgh’s first 15 points with kicks from 45, 49, 49, 40, 49 and 30 yards.
In the end, there was another Bengals meltdown. They had penalties on four consecutive plays – including Pat Sims’ personal foul – that set up Roethlisberger’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Eli Rogers for a 24-20 lead.
RAVENS 27, EAGLES 26: The Ravens survived a desperate comeback bid by the Eagles, stopping a 2-point conversion with 4 seconds left.
On a wet and windy day, the Ravens maintained control of their playoff possibilities. If Baltimore defeats Pittsburgh on Christmas Day and Cincinnati in the regular-season finale, the Ravens will enter the postseason as AFC North champions.
Baltimore (8-6) led 27-17 with just over six minutes left when Joe Flacco threw an interception inside the Philadelphia 10 to give the Eagles (5-9) another chance.
Rookie Carson Wentz directed a drive that produced a field goal with 2:22 remaining.
The Eagles got the ball back at their 41 with 1:39 to go. A 24-yard completion to Zach Ertz and a pass interference call against rookie Tavon Young set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Wentz that got Philadelphia within a point.
First-year coach Doug Pederson went for the win. Wentz threw over the middle to Jordan Matthews, who couldn’t get his hands on a ball that appeared to be tipped.
Philadelphia has lost five straight and seven of eight.
GIANTS 17, LIONS 6: Odell Beckham Jr. made another one-hand touchdown catch to delight replay fanatics, the defense turned in another stifling performance and the Giants inched closer to their first playoff berth since 2011.
NFC North-leading Detroit (9-5) had won five in a row.
The win was the eighth in nine games for the Giants (10-4) and it gave them their best record through 14 games since 2008, when they were 11-3.
The formula was the one the team has followed in Ben McAdoo’s first season: just enough offense and a tough stingy, pass-rushing defense. That unit has come up with big back-to-back performances against two division leaders in Dallas (11-2) and Detroit, giving up 13 total points.
Eli Manning (20 of 28 for 201 yards) threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard on a 75-yard opening drive. He then iced the game with a 4-yarder that Beckham caught with his left hand and then pranced into the end zone for a 11-point lead with 5:20 to play.
FALCONS 41, 49ERS 13: Devonta Freeman ran for three touchdowns, Matt Ryan passed for two more and the Falcons clinched their first winning season since 2012.
Freeman rushed for 139 yards and capped his big day with a 34-yard touchdown run. Ryan completed 17 of 23 passes for 286 yards, including a pair of 9-yard scoring tosses to Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper.
Aldrick Robinson, stepping up with Atlanta star Julio Jones missing his second straight game with a toe injury, had a career-best 111 yards on four receptions.
The Falcons (9-5) made sure they didn’t overlook the 49ers (1-13), moving a step closer to getting back to the playoffs after a three-season absence.
The 49ers have totally fallen apart since that trip to the Super Bowl. They extended a franchise record with their 13th straight loss, keeping the heat on first-year coach Chip Kelly.
SAINTS 48, CARDINALS 41: Drew Brees snapped out of a two-game funk to throw for 389 yards and four touchdowns in the highest-scoring game in the NFL this season. Brees, who had no TDs and six interceptions his previous two games, completed 37 of 48 with no picks.
Brandin Cooks caught seven passes for a career-best 186 yards for the Saints (6-8), including touchdown plays of 65 and 45 yards.
David Johnson rushed for 53 yards and caught four passes for 55 yards for Arizona (5-8-1). The second-year back became the first player in NFL history to have at least 100 yards from scrimmage in the first 14 games of a season.
Johnson rushed for two touchdowns, giving him 17 TDs this season and 30 in the first 30 games as a pro.
The teams amassed 913 yards, 488 by New Orleans, 425 by Arizona, which finished 4-3-1 at home.
COLTS 31, VIKINGS 6: Andrew Luck threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns, Robert Turbin rushed for two touchdowns, Mike Adams forced a fumble and added an interception for the Colts (7-7).
Frank Gore rushed for 101 yards and Indianapolis won on the road for the fourth time this season, dominating a Vikings defense that has been among the best in the league.
Adrian Peterson had just 22 yards on six carries and lost a fumble in his first game back from a knee injury for the Vikings (7-7).
The Vikings believed they needed to win the final three games to make the playoffs. Sam Bradford threw for 291 yards with one interception and one lost fumble for Minnesota.
After a critical home loss to Houston last week, the Colts trail the Texans and Titans by one game in the AFC South.