Thursday’s victory by the San Diego Chargers over the Broncos in Denver supposedly opened a window of opportunity for the New England Patriots to steal away the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Sunday, the Miami Dolphins slammed that window right in the Patriots’ faces with a 24-20 win in South Florida, dropping New England (10-4) behind Denver (11-3) for now in the playoff seeding.
By winning, the Dolphins kept their own wild-card hopes alive and, mathematically at least, they have a chance to win the AFC East.
To do that the Dolphins would have to defeat the Buffalo Bills on the road next Sunday and the New York Jets at home while the Patriots lose at Baltimore and at home against the Bills.
Defeat also was costly Sunday for the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints. Philly was routed at Minnesota and missed a chance to pull a game in front of Dallas in the NFC East. The Saints lost at St. Louis while the Carolina Panthers were handling the New York Jets. It set up a first-place showdown in the NFC South between the Saints and Panthers next week in Charlotte. Also, Seattle clinched the No. 1 seed and home field throughout the NFC playoffs with the Saints’ loss and Kansas City clinched at least a wild-card berth in the AFC playoffs.
Game of the day
Dolphins 24, Patriots 20
The scoop: Reserve safety Michael Thomas, in his first NFL game, intercepted a fourth-down pass by Tom Brady in the end zone with 2 seconds left and Miami held on. The Patriots had mounted second-half rallies to win their last three games and seemed about to do it again as Brady moved them from their own 20 with 1:15 remaining to the Miami 14. But he threw three consecutive incompletions before Thomas sealed the third consecutive victory for the Dolphins.
Why the Dolphins won: They didn’t fold after the Patriots rallied to take a 20-17 lead with 4:07 left. Miami scored in four of its last five series after getting nothing the first 14:38 of the game.
Packers 36, Cowboys 35
The scoop: Matt Flynn threw four touchdown passes in the second half, Eddie Lacy had the winning score on a 1-yard leap as Green Bay matched the biggest comeback in franchise history, rallying from 23 points down (26-3) at halftime to beat Dallas.
Why the Packers won: Flynn directed them to touchdowns on five straight second-half series.
Chiefs 56, Raiders 31
The scoop: Jamaal Charles carried Kansas City into the playoffs with a record performance. He tied a franchise record with five touchdowns in a game and gained 215 yards from scrimmage as the Chiefs clinched at least a wild-card spot. Alex Smith threw five TD passes, going 17 for 20 for 287 yards to make the Chiefs the fourth team ever to make the playoffs a year after losing at least 14 games. Kansas City is tied for first place in the AFC West with Denver but needs help to win the division because the Broncos swept the season series.
Why the Chiefs won: The built a 35-17 halftime lead with Charles scoring four times and Oakland could not recover.
Panthers 30, Jets 20
The scoop: Cam Newton threw for 273 yards and a touchdown, Captain Munnerlyn had two sacks and returned an interception for a score for Carolina. Newton was an efficient 16 of 24 passing, including a 72-yard touchdown on a screen pass to DeAngelo Williams. Geno Smith was 15 of 28 for 167 yards with a touchdown pass and one costly interception in the fourth quarter for the Jets.
Why the Panthers won: The Jets were in it, trailing only 16-13, before Carolina blocked a punt and drove 14 yards for their second touchdown with 11:05 left in the game.
Vikings 48, Eagles 30
The scoop: Matt Cassel passed for 382 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score to lead injury-depleted Minnesota to the upset, which snapped Philadelphia’s five-game winning streak. With Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart out, Matt Asiata rushed for the first three touchdowns of his career and Greg Jennings caught a career-high 11 passes for 163 yards for the Vikings. Nick Foles threw for 428 yards with three touchdowns and one interception and DeSean Jackson had 10 catches for 195 yards and a score for the Eagles, who had 495 yards total offense but ran only 13 times for 79 yards.
Why the Vikings won: They set the tone early by driving 91 yards for a touchdown on their first series of the game and never trailed after that.
49ers 33, Buccaneers 14
The scoop: Vernon Davis caught a touchdown pass for the fifth straight game and Michael Crabtree scored his first TD since returning from injury to help the 49ers win their fourth in a row. Tampa Bay had closed to 20-14, but Colin Kaepernick took the Niners on a 17-play drive for a field goal by Phil Dawson. Then Kendall Hunter put it out of reach, scooping up a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and diving 2 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
Why the 49ers won: They limited the Bucs to 183 yards total offense, won the turnover battle (2-0) and sacked Mike Glennon four times for 35 yards.
Rams 27, Saints 16
The scoop: Drew Brees threw interceptions that led to touchdowns on the first two possessions and St. Louis got big days from Zac Stacy (133 yards rushing), Robert Quinn (two sacks) and special teams. The Rams recovered an onside kick to set up a field goal in the first quarter, and Michael Brockers blocked a field goal at the end of the half.
Why the Rams won: They yielded a lot of yards (432) and first downs (30) but kept the Saints out of the end zone until the fourth quarter.
Steelers 30, Bengals 20
The scoop: Antonio Brown caught a 12-yard touchdown pass and returned a punt 67 yards for a score as Pittsburgh built a 27-7 halftime lead, then held off Cincinnati in the fourth quarter when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton passed for a pair of touchdowns. The loss prevented the Bengals from moving even with New England for the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.
Why the Steelers won: They got the early jump and Bengals punter Keith Huber bobbled a snap and was tackled at his 1-yard line. Two plays later Pittsburgh went in front to stay.
Seahawks 23, Giants 0
The scoop: Richard Sherman had two interceptions, Marshawn Lynch scored on a twisting, triple-effort 2-yard run as Seattle manhandled the Giants. Russell Wilson toyed with New York’s defense in his 23rd win, the most for a quarterback in his first two seasons in the Super Bowl era.
Why the Seahawks won: They sacked Eli Manning three times, pressured him into throwing five interceptions and held the Giants to 25 yards on the ground with a 1.8 rushing average.
Bears 38, Browns 31
The scoop: Jay Cutler shook off some early rustiness and threw three touchdown passes in his first start since Nov. 10 for Chicago. Cutler threw a 4-yard TD pass to Earl Bennett with 5:41 left as the Bears rallied in the second half and stayed in contention for an NFC playoff spot. Cutler finished 22 of 31 for 265 yards. The Bears completed a four-game sweep of the AFC North.
Why the Bears won: They piled up 440 yards, including 179 on the ground with a 5.8 yard average.
Cardinals 37, Titans 34 (OT)
The scoop: Jay Feely kicked a 41-yard field goal in overtime, and Arizona won after blowing a 17-point lead late in the fourth quarter. The Titans scored 17 points in the final 3:12 of regulation to force overtime. They won the toss and drove to the Cardinals 43 before Antoine Cason intercepted his second Ryan Fitzpatrick pass of the game.
Why the Cardinals won: They gave up 460 yards – Fitzpatrick passed for 402 and four touchdowns – but forced the Titans to settle for field goals three times.
Falcons 27, Redskins 26
The scoop: Desmond Trufant deflected Kirk Cousins’ pass on a potential winning two-point conversion with 18 seconds remaining to save it for the Falcons, who scored 20 points off seven Washington turnovers. The Redskins tied a team record with five lost fumbles.
Why the Falcons won: Before they scored on their last possession, the Redskins went three-and-out three times and turned the ball over to end three other series in the second half.
Dog of the day
Colts 25, Texans 3
The scoop: Andrew Luck threw two touchdown passes, and Robert Mathis broke Indianapolis’ single-season and career sacks records by forcing a second-half safety to lead Indianapolis over the punchless Texans, who lost their 12th straight and are 0-12 all-time in Indy. Mathis, the NFL sacks leader, now has 16½ this season and 108 in his career, breaking the franchise records held by Dwight Freeney.
Why the Colts won: They drove 80 and 70 yards for scores in the first half, the only TDs of the game but more than enough against the Texans, who managed only four first downs and no points in the second half.
News wire services contributed to this report.