With big wins, Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers round out the NFL play-offs field
The Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers captured the last two NFL play-off spots with victories Sunday while Aaron Rodgers shook off a calf injury to spark a crucial Green Bay Packers triumph.
Carolina routed the Atlanta Falcons 34-3 on the road in a matchup of teams with losing records for the NFC South division crown while Baltimore downed the Cleveland Browns 20-10 and took the last AFC wild card play-off spot after the San Diego Chargers lost 19-7 at the Kansas City Chiefs.
Rodgers returned from a second-quarter left calf injury late to run for one touchdown and throw for another in the second half to spark the Packers over the Detroit Lions 30-20. Aggravating the injury was Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh stepping on Rodgers’ left leg twice late in the game, actions the NFL says it will review for possible disciplinary action.
With the victory, Green Bay claimed the NFC North crown over the Lions and earn a first-round play-off bye on the final day of the NFL regular season.
Defending Super Bowl champions Seattle Seahawks defeated the visiting St Louis Rams 20-6 for a sixth win in a row to finish 12-4 and claim the top seed in the NFC play-offs, including a first-round bye and a home-field edge with Green Bay (12-4) taking the second seed.
Next weekend’s first-round NFC play-off games will find Detroit (11-5) at the Dallas Cowboys (12-4) on Sunday and the Arizona Cardinals (11-5) at Carolina (7-8-1) on Saturday.
In the AFC play-offs, the New England Patriots (12-4) have the top seed with the Denver Broncos (12-4) second after a 47-14 rout of the Oakland Raiders and both took first-round byes.
Next weekend’s AFC play-off matchups were decided in the final contest when the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the visiting Cincinnati Bengals 27-17 in a showdown for the AFC North crown.
The Steelers (11-5) will host Baltimore (10-6) on Saturday while Cincinnati (10-5-1) will visit the Indianapolis Colts (11-5) on Sunday.
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes, one of them a 63-yard connection to Antonio Brown, who opened the scoring on a 71-yard punt return touchdown. But the Steelers lost running back Le’Veon Bell to a knee injury in the third quarter that could be a major play-off setback.
In Atlanta, Cam Newton ran for one touchdown and threw for another while Roman Harper and Tre Boston returned interceptions for touchdowns to spark the Panthers’ victory over the Falcons. Carolina edged the New Orleans Saints (7-9) for the division crown and joined Seattle in 2010 as the only clubs with losing records to reach the play-offs.
At Baltimore, Joe Flacco threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to rally the host Ravens past the Browns. A loss by San Diego, who would have advanced instead with a victory, put Baltimore in the play-offs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Flacco connected with Torrey Smith on a 16-yard touchdown pass and a two-yard scoring toss to Kamar Aiken as the Ravens netted the game’s final 17 points.
“Anything is possible in the play-offs,” Flacco said. “We’ve just got to go in there and have some confidence.”
At Kansas City, Cairo Santos kicked four field goals and Travis Kelce recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown to power the Chiefs, whose long shot play-off hope ended with Baltimore’s win.
“We came out and battled our butts off,” said Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel. “It’s good to go out with a notable win.”
Another losing team with something to cheer were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as the club clinched the top pick in next year’s NFL Draft with a 23-20 home loss to New Orleans.
At a league-worst 2-14, the Bucs will have the first pick in the annual allocation of rights for incoming NFL talent.
New England lost 17-9 at home to the Buffalo Bills but the Patriots had already clinched a top play-off seed. The Bills ended a 13-year losing streak at New England to finish 9-7 but missed the play-offs for a 15th consecutive season, the longest active drought in the NFL.
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Published: December 29, 2014 04:00 AM