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NFL Week 14 Recap — Gronk Helped the Patriots Clinch a Playoff Spot

New England Patriots v Houston Texans
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Two additional playoff berths were claimed in Week 14 of the 2015 NFL season, and a familiar team jumped back atop the AFC heap. Here’s a recap of this week’s action:

The Bengals Lost A Lot On Sunday

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals
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The Bengals started Sunday in a pretty good position: top seed in the AFC playoffs and just a win away from the AFC North title. By Sunday night, it was easy to speculate that the fate of their season might be in jeopardy. Cincinnati (10-3) lost starting quarterback Andy Dalton to a fractured right thumb and star tight end Tyler Eifert to a concussion on consecutive series in the first quarter, then they lost to the Steelers, 33-20. Wins by the Chiefs and Jets kept the Bengals from securing a playoff spot, too.

Bengals backup quarterback A.J. McCarron had a decent game in place of Dalton — 22/32 for 280 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions (including a pick-six) — but if Dalton is likely out for the remainder of the season, it could mean the end for Cincy’s Super Bowl hopes.

Pittsburgh (8-5) took a big step back into the AFC Wild Card race. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 282 yards, and DeAngelo Williams ran for 76 yards and two scores. The Steelers, Jets, and Chiefs are all tied at 8-5, but Pittsburgh doesn’t have the tie-breaker over either team. Yet.

Gronk Helped The Patriots Clinch A Playoff Spot

New England Patriots v Houston Texans
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All the Patriots needed to recover from consecutive losses was to get Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup. Gronkowski caught four passes for a game-high 87 yards, including his 10th touchdown catch of the season, and New England routed Houston, 27-6, on Sunday. Tom Brady threw for 226 yards and two scores in the victory.

With the win, the Patriots clinched an AFC playoff spot and — thanks to losses by the Bengals and the Broncos earlier on Sunday — regained the AFC’s top seed. New England (11-2) can clinch the AFC East with a win over Tennessee next week or a Jets loss.

The Texans blew a chance to pull ahead of the Colts in the AFC South. Instead, Houston (6-7) remained tied for the division lead, albeit with a sub .500 record.

Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer left with a head injury in the fourth quarter. He was sacked five times by an aggressive Pats defense that held receiver DeAndre Hopkins to three catches for 52 yards.

The Eagles Kept LeSean McCoy From Getting Revenge

Buffalo Bills v Philadelphia Eagles
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Caleb Sturgis kicked three field goals, including the 30-yard game-winner with 3:26 left, and the Eagles beat the Bills, and former running back LeSean McCoy, 23-20, on Sunday in Philadelphia. Ed Reynolds intercepted Tyrod Taylor’s pass with 1:16 left to secure the win.

McCoy, who kissed the Eagles’ logo at midfield and hugged team owner Jeffrey Lurie before the game, had 109 total yards, but he was held to just 11 yards on 10 carries in the second half. He was, of course, booed after the game by the fans who voraciously cheered for him during his career in Philly. He and Eagles head coach Chip Kelly never made up after McCoy was traded this off-season.

Philadelphia (6-7) guaranteed themselves a share of the pathetic NFC East lead with the victory. Washington (6-7) beat the Bears, 24-21, when Robbie Gould missed a field goal attempt from 50 yards. The N.Y. Giants (5-7) face the Dolphins on Monday night.

Buffalo (6-7) fell two games out of the AFC wild-card race with the loss.

The Panthers Are Peaking

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers
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No team in the NFL played better than the Panthers did on Sunday. Cam Newton threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns, and unbeaten Carolina (13-0) shut out the Falcons, 38-0, and clinched a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs in Charlotte on Sunday.

Newton tossed touchdown bombs of 74 and 46 yards to Ted Ginn Jr. as the Panthers raced to a 28-0 halftime lead. Ten third-quarter points allowed Newton to rest on the sideline for the final quarter, as Carolina won their 17th straight regular-season game.

Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, tight end Greg Olsen and running back Jonathan Stewart each suffered injuries that kept them from playing part of the game. None are expected to be out an extended amount of time. As they attempt to complete a perfect 16-0 regular season in the season’s final three weeks, Carolina will face three teams — the Giants, Falcons and Bucs — with slight playoff hopes.

Atlanta (6-7) committed four turnovers while suffering their seventh loss in the last eight games. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for just 224 yards.

Khalil Mack Sacked The Broncos

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos
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Khalil Mack sacked Brock Osweiler five times, including one that led to a safety, and Oakland beat Denver, 15-12, to get their first win against the Broncos since 2011. Denver (10-3) entered Sunday with a chance to clinch their fifth consecutive AFC West title. They left with a disappointing loss and lots of questions.

The Broncos defense held the Raiders’ potent offense to minus-12 yards in the first half, but Derek Carr’s two second-half touchdown passes were enough to push Oakland (6-7) past their rivals. Mack’s ferocious rushes gave him the NFL sack lead with 14.

Huge dropped passes by Demaryius Thomas and Vernon Davis helped squash second-half drives and led to Denver giving up their 12-0 halftime lead. The Broncos played without running back C.J. Anderson (ankle) and quarterback Peyton Manning (foot). They must now decide how best to restart their quest for the playoffs, but they have slipped behind New England for the top seed in the AFC.

The Cardinals Clinched A Playoff Spot On Thursday

Minnesota Vikings v Arizona Cardinals
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On Thursday night, Carson Palmer threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns, and the Cardinals beat the Vikings, 23-20 to clinch an NFC playoff spot. The Seahawks win at Baltimore on Sunday kept Arizona (11-2) from clinching the NFC West title.

Both the Cardinals offense and defense were ranked in the top five in the NFL on Sunday. Along with the Panthers, Arizona must be considered a favorite to reach the NFC title game. Each team should have first-round byes.

Other Scores

Sunday, December 13
Green Bay 28, Dallas 7
N.Y. Jets 30, Tennessee 8
Kansas City 10, San Diego 3
Seattle 35, Baltimore 6
Washington 24. Chicago 21
New Orleans 24, Tampa Bay 17
Jacksonville 51, Indianapolis 16
St. Louis 21, Detroit 14
Cleveland 24, San Francisco 10

All Scores & Stats
Full Standings
NFL Playoff Picture

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