Cowboys, Patriots clinch division titles

Dak Prescott shared a brief hug with running back Ezekiel Elliott after the Dallas quarterback kneeled twice to wrap up the Cowboys’ second NFC East title in three seasons together.

The postgame celebration was equally muted after Prescott accounted for two touchdowns and Jaylon Smith returned a fumble 69 yards for a score in a 27-20 win over the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Now it’s on to something Prescott and Elliott couldn’t do after an NFC-best 13 victories during their remarkable rookie year together in 2016: win a playoff game.

“We’ve got a lot more work to do,” Prescott said after running for Dallas’ first touchdown and throwing a 4-yard pass to Michael Gallup for the last. “This is something that we set out, wanted to do way back in the offseason, and this is giving us a chance to go and get the greater goal.”

Smith’s long return came after a scrambling Jameis Winston lost the ball on a blind-side sack by Randy Gregory, who also recovered a fumble to set up a touchdown for a 14-point lead late in the third quarter for the Cowboys (9-6).

It was a moment of redemption for Elliott, whose six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations last year came just as the Cowboys were playing their best. The ensuing three-game losing streak ultimately kept them out of the playoffs. “We can’t get comfortable,” said Elliott, who had 85 yards rushing. “We can’t afford to take a week off next week. We’ve got to keep working and make sure we’re ready for the playoffs.”

Winston threw for 336 yards for the Buccaneers (5-10), who outgained the Cowboys 383 yards to 232 but hurt themselves with turnovers and holding penalties.

Patriots 24, Bills 12: Host New England (10-5) defeated Buffalo (5-10) to become the first franchise in NFL history to earn playoff berths in 10 straight seasons, winning its 10th straight AFC East title with Sony Michel running for 116 yards and a touchdown. With the Eagles’ win over the Texans, the Patriots are back in the No. 2 spot in the AFC. A win over the Jets next week would give New England a first-round bye. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady went 13 of 24 for 126 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions — his lowest output since he passed for 123 yards in a 2003 loss to the Bills. It was Michel’s fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season.

Rams 31, Cardinals 9: C.J. Anderson, playing five days after he was signed by Los Angeles, rushed for 167 yards — one shy of his career high. Anderson, playing in place of the injured Todd Gurley, had a 4-yard touchdown run and other runs of 46 and 27 yards as the visiting Rams (12-3) rushed for 269 yards, the most allowed by Arizona (3-12) on the ground this season. Los Angeles held on to the second-best record in the NFC with one game to go. The Cardinals, at 1-7, have their worst home record since they moved to Arizona in 1988.

Colts 28, Giants 27: Andrew Luck hooked up with Chester Rogers for a 1-yard TD pass with 55 seconds left to give host Indianapolis its only lead of the game. The Colts (9-6) have won eight of nine to stay in the playoff hunt heading into their regular-season finale at Tennessee. Indianapolis, which won its last six home games after starting 0-2, would win the AFC South with a victory over the Titans and a loss by Houston to Jacksonville next weekend. Indianapolis would also earn a wild card if it beats Tennessee and Baltimore loses to Cleveland. New York (5-10) lost its second straight.

Vikings 27, Lions 9: Kirk Cousins threw a 44-yard Hail Mary to Kyle Rudolph as time expired in the first half to put visiting Minnesota ahead, and the Vikings (8-6-1) moved a step closer to playing in the postseason. Minnesota can earn a spot in the postseason by closing the regular season with a win against NFC North winner Chicago at home, or if wild-card hopefuls lose in Week 17. The Vikings overcame an awful start offensively, scoring two touchdowns on Cousins’ passes over the last 1:32 of the second quarter, and relied on their defense all afternoon against Detroit (5-10).

Packers 44, Jets 38: Aaron Rodgers threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams 3:37 into overtime and Green Bay (6-8-1) won its first on the road this season — snapping a nine-game skid away from Lambeau Field dating to last season. The outcome prevented the Packers from becoming the first Green Bay squad since 1958 to go an entire season without a road win. Rodgers threw for 442 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for two scores. The loss for the New York (4-11) overshadowed a strong performance by rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, who threw for 341 yards with three touchdowns.

Jaguars 17, Dolphins 7: Blake Bortles came off the bench late in the third quarter with the score tied and provided a spark, helping visiting Jacksonville (5-10) eliminate Miami (7-8) from the AFC playoff race. Bortles took the Jaguars 51 yards for a short field goal and 10-7 lead early in the fourth quarter. On the next series, Telvin Smith Sr. intercepted Ryan Tannehill’s pass and scored on a 33-yard return. The Dolphins will sit out the playoffs for the 15th time in the past 17 years.

Falcons 24, Panthers 10: Matt Ryan threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns, and visiting Atlanta (6-9) handed Carolina (6-9) its seventh straight loss. The Panthers intercepted three passes by quarterback Taylor Heinicke and forced four turnovers after allowing a touchdown on the game’s opening possession. Heinicke, making his first NFL start for the injured Cam Newton, left briefly in the second quarter because of a left elbow injury, but returned and was hit repeatedly by the Falcons.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Cowboys-Patriots-clinch-division-titles-13487999.php.

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