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Rewind: Several improve playoff positioning

By Milt Northrop

News Sports Reporter

The Carolina Panthers seemed well on their way to their 14th win without a loss after building a 28-point lead over the New York Giants in the third quarter Sunday at MetLife Stadium. But not so fast.

True to their reputation as spoilers of unbeaten records, the Giants made an amazing comeback to tie the game at 35-all before Cam Newton and the Panthers recovered their poise and drove for a game-winning 43-yard field goal by Graham Gano on the last play of the game to win, 38-35.

All that drama made the later game between the Denver Broncos and Steelers in Pittsburgh seem tame by comparison. Pittsburgh rallied behind Ben Roethlisberger to win, 34-27, and stay in the hunt for a wild-card berth in the AFC playoffs. The loss prevented Denver from clinching a playoff spot although the first-place Broncos own a one-game lead over Kansas City in the AFC West. The Chiefs won their eighth straight.

Elsewhere, New England clinched a first round bye and Cincinnati joined the Patriots as a certain playoff entrant from the AFC while in the NFC, Green Bay and Seattle clinched a playoff spot, joining Carolina and Arizona in the field. Arizona wrapped up the NFC West with its victory at Philadelphia.

A capsule look at Sunday’s Week 15 games:

Game of the day

Panthers 38, Giants 35

The scoop: Cam Newton showed why he is a leading candidate for NFL Offensive Player of the Year. He passed for five touchdowns and gained 100 yards in eight rushing attempts and led the drive for the game-winning field goal. The Panthers fell apart in the fourth quarter in the emotional game that featured scraps between wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. of the Giants and cornerback Josh Norman of the Panthers. Beckham had a rough game until he caught a 40-yarder during the Giants’ rally and a 14-yard TD reception to tie the game with 1:46 left.

Why the Panthers won: They built their huge lead, with four of their five touchdowns coming on drives of 72 yards or more and the other after a fumble by Rashad Jennings of the Giants.

Playoff bound

Cardinals 40, Eagles 17

The scoop: David Johnson carried 29 times for 187 yards and scored three times while Carson Palmer completed 20 of 32 for 274 yards and a touchdown as Arizona wrapped up the NFC West while dropping Philadelphia a game behind first-place Washington in the NFC East.

Why the Cardinals won: They limited the Eagles to 74 rushing yards and intercepted Sam Bradford twice, including one returned 39 yards by Deone Bucannon in the fourth quarter.

Patriots 33, Titans 16

The scoop: Akiem Hicks recovered a fumble in the end zone early in the second quarter to give New England a 14-0 lead and the Pats had no problem the rest of the way. Tom Brady passed to Rob Gronkowski and James White for first-half touchdowns and Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals for the Pats.

Why the Patriots won: They had no turnovers while Zach Mettenberger threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter when Tennessee was threatening to make a game of it.

Bengals 24, 49ers 14

The scoop: All three Cincinnati touchdown drives began in San Francisco territory, one at the 11 after a fumble and one at the 20 after an interception. … AJ McCarron managed an efficient game, completing 15 of 21 for 192 yards. The Bengals had only 68 yards rushing and a 1.9-yard average per attempt.

Why the Bengals won: Blaine Gabbert of the Niners threw three interceptions and Anquan Boldin lost a fumble.

Packers 30, Raiders 20

The scoop: Aaron Rodgers threw a 30-yard TD pass to James Jones late in the third quarter to restore the lead after Oakland had moved in front, 20-17.Mason Crosby kicked two fourth quarter field goals to finish off the Raiders.

Why the Packers won: They stopped the last five Oakland possessions after Raiders scoring drives of 75, 66, 79 and 81 yards.

Alive and kicking

Steelers 34, Broncos 27

The scoop: Pittsburgh rallied from a 20-7 second-quarter deficit, outscoring the Broncos, 21-0, in the second half on three touchdown passes by Roethlisberger. Antonio Brown had TD catches of 9 and 23 yards and had 16 receptions for 189 yards overall. Brock Osweiler of the Broncos passed for three touchdowns and ran for another.

Why the Steelers won: Roethlisberger filled the air with footballs after Pittsburgh fell behind, completing 40 of 55 for 380 yards. He threw two interceptions, one that nearly cost the game with 2:01 left from his own 36.

Vikings 38, Bears 17

The scoop: Teddy Bridgewater passed for four touchdowns, two to rookie Stefon Diggs, and ran 12 for another score for the Vikings.

Why the Vikings won: The back-breaker was Bridgewater’s 12-yard run after an interception thrown by Jay Cutler.

Texans 16, Colts 10

The scoop: Brandon Weeden, filling in for the injured AJ Yates, threw an 8-yard scoring pass to Jaelen Strong to put Houston in front with 10:36 left in the fourth quarter and Nick Novak added a field from 32 with 1:56 left as the Texans took sole possession of first place in the AFC South.

Why the Texans won: Colts were held to 50 yards rushing.

Chiefs 34, Ravens 14

The scoop: The Kansas City offense produced only two touchdowns, one a 38-yard run by Charcandrick West and a 13-yard pass from Alex Smith to Jeremy Maclin after a Baltimore turnover.

Why the Chiefs won: The Ravens gift-wrapped it, giving up scores on a 73-yard fumble return and a 90-yard interception return. Another came on a 24-yard drive following an interception.

Seahawks 30, Browns 13

The scoop: Russell Wilson continued his hot streak, passing for three touchdowns with no interceptions as Seattle won its fifth straight. Doug Baldwin caught a pair of touchdown passes for Seattle after Johnny Manziel passed Cleveland to a 7-0 lead. Baldwin has 10 touchdown receptions in his last four games.

Why the Seahawks won: Playing field position, the Browns punted from the Seattle 42 in their only possession of the third quarter. Seattle then marched 96 yards for a touchdown.

Chasing the bus

Chargers 30, Dolphins 14

The scoop: Danny Woodhead scored all four San Diego touchdowns, three on passes from Philip Rivers. Rivers completed 26 of 36 passes for 311 yards.

Why the Chargers won: Miami was held to 44 yards rushing and converted only 2 of 14 third downs.

Dog of the day

Falcons 23, Jaguars 17

The scoop: Atlanta saw a 17-3 lead disappear but rallied for two fourth-quarter field goals by Shayne Graham to end a six-game losing streak.

Why the Falcons won: Their defense protected the lead in the fourth quarter.

News wire services contributed to this report. email: mnorthrop@buffnews.com.