Arlington, Texas — Tony Romo helped dump a bucket on Jason Garrett and playfully shoved him like the Dallas coach often does to his players.
The Cowboys had long since known their four-year playoff drought was over Sunday when they finally got to celebrate in the final seconds of a dominating 42-7 win over Indianapolis that clinched the NFC East title.
A special moment made perfect sense for the quarterback with a history of crushing late-season failures and a coach who kept getting Dallas to meaningful finales but couldn't shake questions about his future because he couldn't break through with a postseason trip.
"In so many ways, this is such a long journey and to get to a point to achieve your first goal of winning the division title, a lot goes into that," said Garrett, in his fourth full season. "I think the way you play in securing that matters, and I thought we played really, really well."
Romo threw four touchdown passes and broke Troy Aikman's franchise record for yards passing while the Cowboys (11-4) emphatically ended a three-game home losing streak, scoring touchdowns on their first four possessions.
Dallas had an opening for its first division title and postseason berth since 2009 because of Philadelphia's 27-24 loss at Washington on Saturday. The Eagles were eliminated with the Cowboys' win.
The Colts (10-5) didn't have much to play for with the AFC South title secured, and looked like it while they barely avoided their first shutout loss in 21 years.
"Yeah, it was a dismal start," said Andrew Luck, who threw for a season-low 109 yards with two interceptions and was pulled in the third quarter with the game out of hand. "It was bad. A lot of bad. Not much good, if any."
The Cowboys had already ended their three-year rut of 8-8 finishes that included losses in finales that kept them out of the playoffs. But they had to keep winning to make sure they got in.
Tight end Jason Witten had a touchdown catch and 90 yards receiving to reach his 11th straight season with at least 600 yards. He had the memorable one-liner that it couldn't be "the same old story" before training camp during the string of frustrating .500 finishes.
Then it kept being the same old story — until Sunday, when Dallas kept alive its hopes for a first-round bye as well.
Romo led scoring drives of 80 and 75 yards, the latter ending on a 24-yard pass to Cole Beasley. He spun away from a shoulder tackle by D'Qwell Jackson and ran the final 13 yards to the end zone.
Romo, 34, broke Aikman's record on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Witten, his teammate since they came into the league together 11 years ago.
"He's obviously just got a special place in my heart," said Romo, who has 32,971 career yards, 29 more than the three-time Super Bowl winner.
Coming off back surgery that kept him out of last year's season-ending loss to the Eagles, and another back injury sustained against Washington in October, Romo had his fifth game with a passer rating of at least 135. He completed 18 for 20 passes for 218 yards.
"I think the way he's played this year, the way great quarterbacks in this league have played for a long time, that's how Troy played," said Garrett, who was Aikman's backup in Dallas. "We ran the ball really, really well, controlled the line of scrimmage. And when Tony had opportunities today, and really throughout the year, he cashed in on them."
NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray played with a broken left hand, but the Cowboys didn't need much from him. He had 58 yards, with a 1-yard score.
With a home playoff game already in hand and little chance to get a first-round bye, Indianapolis sat receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring injury) and right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who is nursing a groin problem.
Trailing 35-0 in the third quarter, Luck went to the bench in favor of Matt Hasselbeck as the Colts set season lows in points and total yards (229) for the second straight week. They had just 1 yard rushing.
"They played at a different speed than we played at, and the score is indicative of that," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "We're going to have to get over this in a hurry."
Seattle 35, (at) Arizona 6: Russell Wilson threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, Seattle set a franchise record with 596 yards of offense and the streaking Seahawks closed in on another NFC West title.
Seattle (11-4) moved into a tie with Arizona (11-4) for first in the NFC West and the Seahawks hold the tiebreaker by virtue of two wins over the Cardinals. Both already have clinched playoff berths.
Wilson had the longest run of his career (55 yards) and matched the longest pass of his career (80) in the Seahawks' fifth straight victory.
Marshawn Lynch sat out the first quarter with what the team called an "upset stomach," then came in to score on a 6-yard run in the second quarter and a spectacular, multiple tackle-breaking 79-yarder in Seattle's 21-point fourth quarter.
Atlanta 30, (at) New Orleans 14: A tenacious play by two backup defenders on Jimmy Gratham's catch at the goal line — and a little help from a disputed ruling — helped save Atlanta's postseason hopes and ultimately sank the Saints.
The Falcons' triumph that eliminated the Saints from playoff contention might be most remembered for the officials' decision to rule Jimmy Graham's fourth-quarter catch a fumble instead of a touchdown.
"Did I think it was a score? Yes," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "It looked pretty clear and yet — look — it is what it is, right? They go back to (NFL headquarters in) New York with that and it's disappointing."
Atlanta (6-9) next meets Carolina (6-8-1) for the NFC South title next week in the Georgia Dome. The Saints (6-9) are left with an anticlimactic visit to Tampa Bay.
Graham's fumble came on the first play of the fourth quarter. The star tight end leaped to grab Drew Brees' pass and came down at the goal line, his body writhing as he tried to force his way past reserve safety Dezmen Southward. Fellow Falcons safety Kemal Ishmael converged immediately and ripped the ball away, then recovered it.
The initial ruling was a fumble and Falcons recovery.
Graham's forward progress appeared to have been stopped before the ball came loose, but that was not reviewable.
At least one replay angle showed that the ball may have broken the plane of the goal line, and the Superdome crowd roared when it was shown on large video boards. However, referee John Parry could not find evidence conclusive enough to overturn the call. Parry's announcement spawned a cascade of boos from anxious Saints fans, whose team remained down 20-7 with its playoff hopes fading.
(At) Carolina 17, Cleveland 13: Cam Newton's teammates have never doubted his toughness. But their respect for the fourth-year quarterback has now reached an entirely different level.
Newton threw for one touchdown and ran for another, and the Panthers defeated the Browns to take sole possession of first place in the NFC South. The win comes just 12 days after Newton suffered two fractures in his lower back after he was hit by another car and flipped his truck in an accident that left him hospitalized with two fractures in his lower back.
Johnny Manziel made his second NFL start for Cleveland, but left late in the first half with a hamstring injury when he was tackled near the Cleveland sideline by linebacker Luke Kuechly and safety Colin Jones on a rollout. Manziel said the hamstring started to tighten up on him on the previous drive.
(At) Houston 25, Baltimore 13: A week ago, Case Keenum was perched in a tree with a bow in his hands looking for a white-tailed deer to shoot.
On Sunday he was starting in the NFL again, leading the Houston Texans over the Baltimore Ravens to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Running back Arian Foster threw for a touchdown, Randy Bullock made a franchise-record six field goals and Houston's defense dominated.
With three quarterbacks hurt, the Texans looked to Case Keenum, who got his first win in nine NFL starts. Keenum went 0-8 last season before being released by the Texans in training camp. They signed the former record-setting University of Houston star off the St. Louis practice squad Monday after both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage were injured last Sunday with Ryan Mallett already out for the season.
"I'm not the best with words, and I couldn't put it into words," Keenum said. "Arian said he was going to punch me if I cried. When you don't win, it makes winning very, very sweet."
(At) Pittsburgh 20, Kansas City 12: Ben Roethlisberger passed for 220 yards and a touchdown, Le'Veon Bell (Michigan State) added a score and the Steelers locked up a postseason berth with the win.
"It was such a sense of urgency this week, knowing what was at stake," defensive end Cam Heyward said. "I just thought we answered the challenge."
Pittsburgh (10-5) faces Cincinnati next week for the AFC North title. Win or lose, the Steelers are in the playoffs for the first time since Tim Tebow and Denver stunned them in the wild-card round three years ago.
(At) Miami 37, Minnesota 35: Rookie Terrence Fede blocked a punt for a safety with 41 seconds left, and Ryan Tannehill threw four touchdown passes for the Dolphins, who outscored the Vikings, 23-18, in a bizarre fourth quarter.
Both teams went into the game playing for pride rather than a postseason berth. The Dolphins improved to 8-7 and have a shot at their first winning season since 2008.
After the game, the team learned head coach Joe Philbin would return next season.
"That's exciting news for me, and I think everyone on the team," Tannehill said. "We believe in coach Philbin and the program he has and everything he has set in place."
New England 17, (at) N.Y. Jets 16: Tom Brady and the Patriots will be resting at home for the start of the playoffs. The only question left is whether the AFC's road to the Super Bowl will run through New England.
Jonas Gray (Detroit Country Day) scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter after New England intercepted Geno Smith, and the Patriots clinched a bye with the victory over the Jets.
"We made plenty of good (plays) in the fourth quarter to come from behind, so that was great," Brady said. "I'm glad it came out the way it did — makes for a better Christmas. It's always tough to get a win here."
Brady threw a 3-yard TD pass to Rob Gronkowski for The Patriots (12-3), who could earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if Denver lost to Cincinnati on Sunday night. New England became the first team to earn first-round byes in five straight seasons.
(At) Oakland 26, Buffalo 24: With their playoff hopes at stake, the Bills couldn't manage to stop Derek Carr and the lowly Raiders.
Carr threw two touchdown passes and Sebastian Janikowski kicked four field goals to help the Raiders knock the Bills from playoff contention.
The Bills (8-7) needed to win their final two games and get some help to end the NFL's longest active playoff drought at 14 seasons.
N.Y. Giants 37, (at) St. Louis 27: Beckham caught two touchdown passes and rolled up 148 yards receiving against a defense that hadn't allowed a TD in three straight games.
Beckham set a franchise rookie record with his 10th and 11th TD catches, shattered another rookie mark for receptions and topped 1,000 yards while shrugging off a pair of late hits in the second quarter. The second led to a brawl and three ejections, none of them to starters.
Giants QB Eli Manning was 25-for-32 for 391 yards and three touchdowns, rookie Andre Williams had 110 yards rushing on 26 carries in place of the injured Rashad Jennings, and Rueben Randle also topped the century mark with six catches for 132 yards and a score.