Houston and Green Bay clinched division titles with victories over their closest pursuers, and there is a three-way tie for the lead in the NFC East as a result of Sunday’s Week 15 games in the National Football League.
The Texans also clinched a first round bye when New England lost to San Francisco, 41-34, on Sunday night. There were no Andrew Luck late-game heroics as Houston defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 29-17, and took the AFC South title. Green Bay wrapped up the NFC North by defeating the arch-rival Bears, 21-13, in Chicago.
The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants were embarrassed, 34-0, by the Falcons in Atlanta to fall to 8-6. Meanwhile, Washington and Dallas won their games to pull into a first-place tie with the Giants.
Game of the day
49ers 41, Patriots 34
The scoop: The 49ers and Colin Kaepernick (four touchdown passes) shredded the Patriots early, then took advantage of New England miscues to build a 31-3 lead but needed a late Kaepernick-to-Michael Crabtree pass for 38 yards to pull out the victory. Kaepernick began with a 24-yard TD pass to ex-Patriot Randy Moss. New England scored 28 unanswered points to tie the game with 6:43 left. The Niners needed only 18 seconds to reclaim the lead.
Why the 49ers won: Their pass rush overpowered New England’s front and they outmuscled the Patriots across the board.
In the playoff picture
Cowboys 27, Steelers 24 (OT)
The scoop: Brandon Carr intercepted a pass from Ben Roethlisberger to set up Dan Bailey’s 21-yard field goal in overtime. Carr picked off Roethlisberger’s pass along the sideline and returned it 36 yards to the 1.
Why the Cowboys won: Tony Romo completed 30 passes for 341 yards, two touchdowns with no turnovers.
Texans 29, Colts 17
The scoop: Houston is the AFC South champion for the second straight year. Andre Johnson had 151 yards receiving and a touchdown, Bryan Braman scored on a blocked punt and Shayne Graham kicked five field goals. The Colts needed a win to clinch a playoff berth. J.J. Watt had three sacks for Houston.
Why the Texans won: They kicked a field goal following a blocked punt after Indy had closed to within six points in the fourth quarter.
Packers 21, Bears 13
The scoop: Green Bay won its second straight NFC North title. James Jones caught all three touchdown passes thrown by Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay has now won six straight over Chicago and 12 straight against NFC North opponents.
Why the Packers won: They limited Chicago to only 107 net passing yards and a long reception of only 18 yards. NFL receiving leader Brandon Marshall had six catches but for only a 9.3 average. Also the Bears went 0 for 9 on third down.
Falcons 34, Giants 0
The scoop: Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns passes as the Giants suffered their first regular-season shutout since 1996. Julio Jones caught a couple of scoring throws from Ryan, who finished 23 of 28 for 270 yards.
Why the Falcons won: They intercepted two Eli Manning passes deep in Giants territory and New York came away with no points twice inside the Atlanta 20.
Redskins 38, Browns 21
The scoop: Rookie Kirk Cousins threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns filling in for injured star Robert Griffin III, leading Washington to its fifth straight win. Cousins connected with Leonard Hankerson for both TDs in his first career start.
Why the Redskins won: After trailing at halftime, they scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions in the second half.
Broncos 34, Ravens 17
The scoop: Chris Harris returned an interception 98 yards for a momentum-turning touchdown, and Denver won its ninth straight. Down by 10-0 late in the first half, the Ravens had a first-and-goal at the Denver 4 when Harris spicked off a pass by Joe Flacco took off on the longest regular-season interception return in Broncos history.
Why the Broncos won: They limited the Ravens to 12 first downs and 1 for 12 on third-down conversions.
Out of the money
Saints 41, Buccaneers 0
The scoop: Drew Brees passed for 307 yards and four touchdowns, and New Orleans posted its first shutout since 1995. Josh Freeman of Tampa Bay threw four interceptions and lost a fumble.
Why the Saints won: They won the turnover battle, 5-0. Ex-Bill Jabari Greer had two of the Saints’ four interceptions.
Vikings 36, Rams 22
The scoop: Adrian Peterson ran for a season-best 212 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown. Peterson has 1,812 yards rushing, leaving him 293 shy of the NFL’s single-season record of 2,105 by Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams in 1984.
Why the Vikings won: They scored on five of six first-half possessions.
Dolphins 24, Jaguars 3
The scoop: Miami kept former teammate Chad Henne out of the end zone, made three fourth-down stops deep in its own territory and benefited from an illegal substitution penalty that wiped out a Jacksonville touchdown.
Why the Dolphins won: Ryan Tannehill went 22 for 28 for 220 yards and two scores with no interceptions for Miami.
Cardinals 38, Lions 10
The scoop: Greg Toler brought back an interception 102 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown, the longest return in franchise history, to end Arizona’s nine-game losing streak. It was Detroit’s sixth loss in a row. Calvin Johnson of the Lions became the first player in NFL history with consecutive 1,600-yard receiving seasons and tied an NFL record with his seventh straight 100-yard receiving game.
Why the Cardinals won: They had only 195 yards total offense, but they needed to travel only 5, 3 and 29 yards for touchdowns by Beanie Wells in addition to two return scores.
Panthers 31, Chargers 7
The scoop: San Diego’s playoff hopes were finally extinguished with a loss at the hands of Mike Tolbert, Cam Newton and Carolina. Tolbert scored twice against his former team and DeAngelo Williams turned a tipped pass from Newton into a 45-yard touchdown reception.
Why the Panthers won: They outgained San Diego, 372 yards to 164, and had 37:32 of possession time.
Dog of the day
Raiders 15, Chiefs 0
The scoop: Sebastian Janikowski kicked five field goals, Darren McFadden rushed for 110 yards and the Raiders shut out Kansas City for the second time ever. The Raiders snapped a six-game losing streak.
Why the Raiders won: They scored no touchdowns but had 40 minutes, 6 seconds of possession time.
News wire services contributed to this report.