If the defending Super Bowl champions are going down prior to the playoffs this year, they’re going down kicking.
That much is now clear after it took a walk-off win on a Jake Elliott field goal from 35 yards out for the Eagles to stay alive. Barely.
Last year’s winners narrowly escaped elimination from the playoff picture by following the lead of quarterback Nick Foles — 35-of-49 for 471 yards and four touchdowns — for a 32-30 win over the Texans.
Still, to get in the Eagles must win next week at the Redskins and hope for the Vikings to lose at the Bears. When Foles was asked about the possibility of having played his final game as the home quarterback in Philadelphia, he choked up.
“We stuck together through the ups and downs,” he said.
For Houston (10-5), it was a missed opportunity to clinch the AFC South. The Texans also allowed the Patriots to overtake them for the No. 2 seed in the AFC. With the No. 2 seed, the Patriots (10-5), who beat the Texans in the season opener, would have a bye and home field in the divisional round if they beat the Jets next week.
“I think we just have grinded it out,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “I think part of playing in the NFL is over the course of 16 weeks, you see how things shake out — not after September, October, November. It’s really after the end of December. We’ve still got one hugely important game left and we need to finish strong.”
Houston will be without receiver Demaryius Thomas in its finale and beyond. He was carted off the field after suffering an Achilles injury in the second half. Coach Bill O’Brien did not sound optimistic afterward.
“I feel terrible,” O’Brien said. “It didn’t look good.”
Thomas was traded to Houston just before the deadline. He caught 20 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns as a Texan, but quarterback DeShaun Watson will have one less weapon to target when the Texans take on the Jaguars, the one-time Super Bowl contenders with nothing left but to play spoiler against Houston.
Already without starter Carson Wentz, the Eagles (8-7) managed to march down the field in the final two minutes despite quarterback Nick Foles missing a down due to a hit to the sternum he absorbed from Jadeveon Clowney, who was flagged for roughing the passer. Clowney lowered his head before plowing over Foles, who lay flat on his back afterward and needed attention from team trainers.
“Foles was so confident and everyone was so calm,” Philadelphia tight end Zach Ertz said. “No one flinched. Guys stuck together.”
Say this for Philadelphia: The Eagles suffered from a championship hangover all season, but with only the finale left, they remain alive and kicking.
NFC playoff picture
The road to the Super Bowl will go through New Orleans as the Saints claimed the No. 1 seed by outlasting the Steelers.
The division races are all done.
The Cowboys joined the Saints, Bears and Rams as locks for the playoffs.
The Bears can clinch the second seed with a win and a Rams loss.
The Seahawks clinched a wild-card spot with their 38-31 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night, Seattle knew it needed a win to get in. The other wild-card spot will come down to the Vikings and the Eagles.
AFC playoff picture
Only the Patriots have clinched their division, while the Chiefs, Chargers and Texans have locked up playoff spots.
The Steelers not only lost a game in New Orleans, but Pittsburgh, now 8-6-1, fell out of the playoff field, as well, as the Ravens moved to the top of the AFC North at 9-6. A Ravens win next week against the Browns clinches the North. If not, the Steelers would lock it up with a home win over the Bengals.
The Titans-Colts game Sunday in Tennessee serves as a de facto playoff game. The winner is in the playoffs; the loser is out. And if the Texans lose at home to the Jaguars, the Titans-Colts winner takes the division and the Texans slide into a wild-card spot.
The Chiefs missed a chance to lock up the West on Sunday night, but can still clinch the division and the No. 1 seed with a win over the Raiders or a Chargers’ loss.
Play of the Day
It was first-and-10 as Arizona, driving toward the end zone at the Rams’ 32-yard line, called for the ball to be thrown to Larry Fitzgerald, the wideout with 115 career touchdown receptions. Quarterback Josh Rosen took the snap, looked left and found Fitzgerald behind the line of scrimmage. Fitzgerald caught it, rolled back right toward Rosen and looked downfield to tailback David Johnson, who had slipped out of the backfield, past a linebacker. Fitzgerald threw the ball for his first career passing touchdown. He had completed only one of three pass attempts in his career. At 35 years and 114 days, he is the oldest wide receiver to throw a passing touchdown since the 1970 merger. He also caught six balls for 53 yards.
Ed McCaffrey, the former Giants wideout who lockered next to Lawrence Taylor, no longer needs to look in the rearview mirror when checking where his son, Christian, a tailback with the Panthers, is in regards to his records. Christian passed his father’s career best — 101 receptions in a season — and established a new familial mark with 103 catches and another game to go for the Panthers. It was also the most receptions by a running back in a season in NFL annals. In addition to his 12 catches on the day, McCaffrey also finished with 101 rushing yards. … Baker Mayfield didn’t go in for the full embrace with former coach Hue Jackson when the Browns first beat the Bengals, but Mayfield made his feelings toward his former coach perfectly clear with a stare down Sunday. Mayfield completed a 66-yard pass, then stared at Cincinnati’s sideline multiple times as he made his way to teammates after the long play. The rookie played coy when asked about it. “No idea what you’re talking about,” he said.
1. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings TE
The Viking tight end hauled in 9 catches for 122 yards and a pair of TDs, including a 44-yard Hail Mary reception at the end of the first half as Minnesota leveled Detroit, 27-9.
2. Antonio Brown, Steelers WR
Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target hauled in 14 catches for 185 yards, and that doesn’t even count the one-handed reception he made. It was ruled an incompletion because Brown failed to get a second foot in before going out of bounds in the back right corner of the end zone.
3. C.J. Anderson, Rams RB
The Ram replaced Todd Gurley (knee) with 167 yards on 20 carries in the 31-9 win over Arizona. He had rushed for 104 yards on the season previously.
Quote of the Day
“Yeah, maybe do that some other time.”
— Patriots head coach Bill Belichick when asked if he would be nostalgic for all his success in New England after his team won the AFC East for the 10th straight season.
- It might have been mentioned on Twitter, probably just a few thousand times, but we should have seen a heroic Rudolph day during Christmas week. Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph racked up nine catches for 122 yards and two TDs, including a 44-yard Hail Mary. His 33.2 PPR points were more than he had scored in his previous five games combined.
- Aaron Rodgers was having a ho-hum fantasy day, which has become surprisingly routine this season. That is, until the fourth quarter when he scored 24.9 fantasy points alone in that period and overtime, including two rushing TDs, a 2-point conversion run and the game-winning TD pass.
- Fantasy owners were teased Sunday morning with Todd Gurley playing, having been questionable all week. Then after the 1 p.m. kickoffs, it was learned he wouldn’t. It was new signee C.J. Anderson (20 carries, 167 yards, TD) who stepped in, not rookie John Kelly.
— Drew Loftis