East Rutherford, N.J. — The Patriots gave the Jets the ball, and New York might carry it right into the playoffs.
Eric Decker’s 6-yard touchdown catch on the first drive of overtime — after New England stunningly chose to kick off — lifted the Jets to a 26-20 victory Sunday that put New York in position to make the playoffs.
A win next week at Buffalo would give the Jets a wild-card berth.
“It was thrilling,” Decker said. “Those are the moments that you cherish.”
New England (12-3) won the OT coin toss and elected to kick to the Jets (10-5). Patriots coach Bill Belichick (BeliKICK?) said there was “no confusion” on the call; he’d done it once before in 2013, but a hefty wind was involved against Denver. That decision worked, this one flopped.
Special teams captain Matthew Slater called heads and won the toss. He told referee Clete Blakeman the Patriots wanted to kick in a specific direction. But once he said they wanted to kick, whatever followed didn’t matter, according to NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino.
“I just thought we would be able to choose the direction we kicked off from,” Slater said.
It was the third time since the 2012 rule change a team chose to kick off for OT. The other times, New England and Minnesota, were winners.
New York used a career-long 48-yard reception by Quincy Enunwa and a 20-yard pass to Brandon Marshall to move into scoring position. And then, Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Decker on a fade behind Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler for New York’s fifth straight victory.
“The last five weeks, they’ve all kind of been do-or-die games for us, so that’s how we’ve approached each one,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve got to get the next one to get in and that’s how we’ll view it. This is a fun run.”
Marshall had two touchdown catches and also became the first NFL player with 100 receptions in six seasons. Fitzpatrick tied a franchise record with 29 TD throws this season.
Neither has been to the playoffs in a combined 21 pro seasons.
“It feels real good,” Marshall said. “I’m so proud of my teammates. … I’ve never been more proud to be on a ballclub like this.”
Tom Brady hit James White for a 9-yard score with 1:55 to go, forcing OT. That was the only drive on which Brady got comfortable against an aggressive defense that pressured and hit him all game.
It was also the most impact Rob Gronkowski had for the undermanned Patriots, who were missing top wideouts Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The tight end had an 8-yard reception on fourth-and-1, then a 26-yarder to set up the touchdown.
“I think we have some mental toughness,” Brady said. “A lot of guys have been in and out of the lineup. We have a lot of guys coming in off the street trying to play.”
New England was surprisingly conservative on offense in the first quarter, then went the other way in the second period. Brady threw deep for the first time, connecting with Gronkowski, early in the quarter. The next play was a flea flicker that failed, followed by a reverse to Brandon LaFell for 9 yards and a run out of the wildcat by running back Brandon Bolden — with Brady spread wide right.
Some normalcy returned on fourth down with Brady’s pass to James White for 13 yards, but New York’s defense held and Stephen Gostkowski made a 35-yard field goal. He also kicked a 44-yarder.
The Jets weren’t restrained on offense even after top back Chris Ivory left in the second quarter with a right knee problem. With strong contributions from Bilal Powell and former Patriot Stevan Ridley, the Jets marched 80 yards and went ahead 10-3 on Marshall’s 2-yard reception, when he stretched his long right arm over the goal line before going out of bounds.
The halftime margin was New York’s biggest over the Patriots since a 2010 playoff game the Jets won in Foxborough.
Their other points came on Randy Bullock’s field goals of 30 and 49 yards.
Ivory returned in the second half and Marshall’s 33-yard TD reception on which he appeared to push off safety Duron Harmon made it 17-3. It was his career-best 13th TD catch of the season and his 99th reception overall.
Jamie Collins’ 14-yard fumble return on a third-quarter sack of Fitzpatrick by Jabaal Sheard made it 17-13. The nervousness among Jets fans in the crowd was palpable at that point.
It was over the edge in the Patriots’ 66-yard drive to tie it.
But when Decker scored, Jets players stormed the field, leaping and hugging as if they’d made the playoffs. Could happen, thanks greatly to their archrival’s overtime decision.
(At) Arizona 38, Green Bay 8: Arizona sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times and returned two of his fumbles for touchdowns to clinch a first-round playoff bye. Carson Palmer threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns for Arizona (13-2).
In all, the Packers were sacked nine times in their most one-sided loss of the season. Dwight Freeney had three and Calais Campbell 2 1/2. Cory Redding rambled 36 yards with one of the fumbles for a score, Jerraud Powers took another 5 yards for a touchdown.
Green Bay (10-5) is home against Minnesota in its regular-season finale next Sunday.
St. Louis 23, (at) Seattle 17: Todd Gurley scored on a 2-yard TD run with 10:34 left, Akeem Ayers returned a fumble 45 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter as St Louis ended Seattle’s five-game winning streak. St. Louis swept the season series from the Seahawks (9-6) having won 34-31 in overtime in Week 1. The Rams (7-8) flustered quarterback Russell Wilson.
Gurley rushed for 85 yards on 19 carries. Case Keenum won his third straight start for the Rams, completing 14 of 23 passes for 103 yards and a 28-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Britt in the second quarter.
(At) Kansas City 17, Cleveland 13: Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes for Kansas City, and the game clock finally stopped Johnny Manziel as the Chiefs won a team record-tying ninth consecutive game. Smith threw for 125 yards and ran for 54, helping Kansas City (10-5) clinch a playoff berth when Pittsburgh lost to Baltimore moments later.
The Chiefs jumped to a 17-3 halftime lead, but the offense cooled off and Manziel pumped some life into the Browns (3-12).
The Heisman Trophy winner led Cleveland to 10 straight points, then took over at his 30 with 1:52 left and no timeouts. The Browns picked up three first downs, and Manziel hit Darius Jennings on fourth-and-10 from the Chiefs 32. But time expired before Manziel could get another snap off.
He spiked his helmet in frustration.
(At) Baltimore 20, Pittsburgh 17: Ryan Mallet threw for a career-high 274 yards in his first start with Baltimore in leading the Ravens to one of the biggest upsets of this contentious rivalry. The Ravens (5-10) had lost three straight, the last two by a combined 69-20 score. In this one, however, they turned back a team riding a three-game winning streak and striving for a playoff berth.
Baltimore swept Pittsburgh (9-6) for the first time since 2011. The Steelers remain in playoff contention.
Making his seventh career start, Mallett went 28 for 41 with a touchdown and no interceptions. Signed by the Ravens on Dec. 15, he was the fourth quarterback to start for Baltimore in a span of six weeks.
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions and was sacked three times.
Houston 34, (at) Tennessee 6: Brandon Weeden scored his first career rushing touchdown and threw for two more as Houston took a big step toward clinching the AFC South. Houston (8-7), which wraps up the regular season by hosting Jacksonville, couldn’t clinch outright when Indianapolis beat Miami 18-12.
The Texans forced four turnovers and turned them into 17 points. Quintin Demps returned a fumble 33 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes into the game.
The Texans scored a season high in points despite starting their fourth different quarterback this season.
The Titans (3-12) did nothing to hurt their chances at the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Indianapolis 18, (at) Miami 12: Third-string quarterback Charlie Whitehurst came off the bench again for Indianapolis, which made a last-minute defensive stand to keep alive its faint playoff hopes. The Dolphins had a first-and-goal at the 5 with 40 seconds left, but after three consecutive incompletions, rookie center Jamil Douglas appeared to snap the ball prematurely, and Tannehill was sacked by three Colts.
Indy backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck departed with an injury for the fourth game in a row, and Whitehurst did just enough after entering in the second quarter, completing two scoring drives.
The Colts (7-8) would have been eliminated from the playoff race with a loss. The Dolphins (5-10) were eliminated two weeks ago.
(At) Buffalo 16, Dallas 6: Buffalo rookie Mike Gillislee ran 50 yards for a touchdown with 2:25 remaining to secure the win for the Bills. Gillislee finished with 93 yards rushing and led a ground attack that totaled 236 yards. Karlos Williams scored on a 1-yard run as the Bills overcame an injury-depleted offense playing without running back LeSean McCoy.
Rookie linebacker A.J. Tarpley had an interception and sealed the win by forcing Lucky Whitehead to fumble on the kickoff return that followed Gillislee’s touchdown.
Buffalo (7-8) ended a two-game skid and won for just the second time in six games. The Cowboys (4-11) lost in quarterback Kellen Moore’s first career start.
(At) New Orleans 38, Jacksonville 27: Drew Brees passed for 412 yards and three touchdowns despite his injured right foot. Brees, who tore his plantar fascia ligament during a loss to Detroit last Monday, showed no ill effects of the normally painful injury while completing 25 of 36 passes.
Running back Tim Hightower, who missed the previous three seasons because of a knee injury and subsequent complications, consolidated his recent resurgence with 122 yards and two touchdowns rushing for New Orleans (6-9).
Blake Bortles passed for 368 yards and four TDs for Jacksonville (5-10).
(At) Minnesota 49, N.Y. Giants 17: Adrian Peterson ran for 104 yards and a touchdown over three quarters, Harrison Smith took one of Eli Manning’s three interceptions into the end zone and the Vikings clinched a playoff spot. Teddy Bridgewater turned in another sharp December performance, Blair Walsh chipped in five field goals and the Vikings (10-5) set up an NFC North championship game next week at Green Bay.
With Peterson relaxing on the sideline, Jerick McKinnon rushed for two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a 68-yard romp through a disinterested defense with the temperature down to 11 degrees.
Manning badly missed suspended wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and his 1,396 yards and 13 touchdowns, as the Giants (6-9) trudged toward a fourth straight absence from the postseason.