The San Francisco 49ers blew a 28- point lead before pulling out a 41-34 victory at New England in a matchup of National Football League division leaders, ending the Patriots’ seven-game winning streak to seal a playoff spot.
The defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants were shut out during the regular season for the first time in 16 years, losing 34-0 in Atlanta to fall into a three-way tie atop the National Football Conference’s East division after wins by the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins.
The Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans claimed NFL division titles with wins yesterday, while the Baltimore Ravens locked up a playoff berth despite losing to Denver. With the 49ers also guaranteeing themselves a postseason spot with last night’s win, seven of the NFL’s 12 playoff participants have been decided with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
The 49ers opened a 31-3 third-quarter lead in Foxborough, Massachusetts, behind three touchdown passes by Colin Kaepernick. The Patriots then scored four straight touchdowns to tie the game 31-31 with six minutes, 45 seconds left.
San Francisco answered 12 seconds later, as Kaepernick threw his fourth touchdown pass -- a 38-yarder to Michael Crabtree -- on the 49ers’ first play after a 62-yard kickoff return by LaMichael James. The teams traded field goals in the final two minutes before the 49ers recovered an onside kick attempt by the Patriots with 38 seconds left to seal the win.
“We knew they had the ability to do that, we just wanted to keep scoring,” said Kaepernick, who completed 14 of 25 passes for 216 yards.
The 49ers improved to 10-3-1 and maintained their lead atop the NFC West over the Seattle Seahawks (9-5), who routed the Buffalo Bills 50-17 for their third consecutive win. Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson became the third quarterback in the past 10 years to rush for three touchdowns in a game, joining Cam Newton and Daunte Culpepper.
Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes in Atlanta as the Falcons avenged their 24-2 loss to the Giants in last season’s playoffs. The Falcons improved to 12-2, tied with Houston for the NFL’s best record, while the Giants had three turnovers, including two interceptions by Eli Manning, to slip to 8-6.
“Atlanta was very, very good and we were very, very bad,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said at a news conference. “We came out and did exactly what we said we couldn’t afford to do, which was turn the ball over.”
The Redskins tied the Giants atop the NFC East by beating the Cleveland Browns 38-21 behind backup quarterback Kirk Cousins to extend their winning streak to five games. The Cowboys also improved to 8-6 by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 in overtime on a 21-yard field goal by Dan Bailey. Washington, which plays Philadelphia and Dallas to end the regular season, holds the division lead in a tiebreaker.
Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent was on the sidelines in street clothes for the game in Dallas, one week after being charged with intoxication manslaughter for a one-car accident that killed teammate Jerry Brown. The Cowboys remembered Brown with a moment of silence before kickoff, while Dallas’s players wore a decal with Brown’s No. 53 on their helmets.
The Packers (10-4) clinched the NFC North division title with a 21-13 victory at the Chicago Bears (8-6), who have lost three straight. The Texans defeated the Indianapolis Colts 29-17 to capture the American Football Conference South division title for the second straight season.
“It’s a great win for our team, for our city,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “We’ve been working toward that all year long. To win a 12th game in this league is difficult.”
The Denver Broncos ran their winning streak to nine games with a 34-17 victory at Baltimore (9-5), which has lost three in a row. The Broncos (11-3) had already locked up a playoff berth, while the Ravens clinched a spot when the Steelers fell to 7-7 with their loss at Dallas.
The Minnesota Vikings beat the St. Louis Rams 36-22 as running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 212 yards and a touchdown. With two regular-season games left, Peterson has 1,812 yards rushing for the Vikings (8-6), 294 short of Eric Dickerson’s NFL record of 2,105 set in 1984.
Elsewhere in Week 15, the New Orleans Saints shut out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 41-0 as Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes, while the Miami Dolphins beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-3, the Arizona Cardinals topped the Detroit Lions 38-10, the Carolina Panthers downed the San Diego Chargers 31-7 and the Oakland Raiders blanked the Kansas City Chiefs 15-0.
The Cincinnati Bengals started the Week 15 schedule four days ago with a 34-13 win at the Philadelphia Eagles. The New York Jets visit the Tennessee Titans tonight, needing a win to keep their playoff chances alive.
At 6-7, the Jets are in eighth place in the AFC, a half- game behind the Steelers. The Colts (9-5) and Bengals (8-6) are currently in position for the AFC’s two wild-card playoff spots.
The Giants’ playoff chances took a hit with their loss in Atlanta, the first time New York has been shut out during the regular season since a 24-0 loss to the Eagles on Dec. 1, 1996.
The Falcons, who are 7-0 at the Georgia Dome this season, had already clinched the NFC South division title.
At 8-6, the Giants currently hold the ninth spot in the NFC, with the conference’s two wild-card berths still up for grabs along with the NFC East title. The Giants visit the Ravens in Week 16 before finishing the regular season at home against the Eagles.
“We have to win those two games,” Manning said. “What else happens after that, we don’t know and can’t control.”
In Arlington, Texas, the Cowboys intercepted the second overtime pass from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with Brandon Carr returning it to Pittsburgh’s 1-yard line to set up Bailey’s winning field goal. It was the fifth win in six games for the Cowboys, who hold the NFC’s eighth seed behind Chicago. Dallas next hosts the Saints before finishing the season at home against Washington.
“You feel like every game you’re playing in is for your playoff lives,” Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said after passing for 341 yards and two touchdowns. “Our team has had to have that attitude. We’ve taken that approach and we’ll continue to do that.”
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