Saturday's NFL: Bills clinch AFC East championship
Denver — The Buffalo Bills captured their first AFC East title in a quarter-century Saturday when 24-year-old quarterback Josh Allen threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more in a 48-19 rout of the Denver Broncos.
The Bills (11-3) scored twice in a 17-second span in the third quarter to ice their fourth straight victory that officially ended the New England Patriots’ 11-year reign atop the division.
The Broncos (5-9) have their fourth consecutive losing season for the first time since they had 10 straight sub-.500 campaigns from 1963-72. They also became the first team ever to go five years without making the playoffs following a Super Bowl title.
Allen threw for 359 yards, hitting Stefon Diggs 11 times for 147 yards before a foot injury in the fourth quarter, and Cole Beasley eight times for 112 yards.
Allen also tied Jack Kemp’s record of 25 career touchdown runs with his second TD scamper, a 1-yard keeper to the right that was set up by Andre Roberts’ 55-yard return of Taylor Russilino’s short second-half kickoff.
The Broncos turned to Russolino, whose vagabond career included stops in the XFL, the Canadian Football League and even the Chinese arena league after Brandon McManus went on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Russolino missed a 51-yard field goal and two extra points on a windy day that didn’t adversely affect Bills kicker Tyler Bass, who made both field goal attempts and all six extra points.
After Allen’s 1-yard TD run to start the second half, cornerback Tre’Davious White strip-sacked Drew Lock on Denver’s first offensive play. Defensive end Jerry Hughes scooped up the ball at the 21 and weaved his way through several Broncos to make it 35-13.
Allen dismantled Denver’s makeshift secondary that had lost five cornerbacks in two weeks, picking on De’Vante Bausby all afternoon while completing 28 of 40 passes. Rookie cornerback Michael Ojemudia held his own but was ejected in the third quarter for slapping Bills rookie receiver Gabriel Davis.
The Bills took a 21-13 halftime lead behind Allen’s touchdown throws of 9 yards to tight end Dawson Knox and 22 yards to Jake Kumerow sandwiched around a 24-yard keeper into the end zone. Kumerow became the 13th Bills player to catch a TD pass this year. That tied an NFL record set by seven other teams.
Lock hit tight end Noah Fant with a 6-yard touchdown toss with 5 seconds left in the first half, but Russolino missed the extra point. He also missed the 51-yard field goal attempt way to the right on Denver’s opening drive, after which Allen drove the Bills 59 yards in 13 plays on an adventurous drive that included him recovering his own fumble on a sack. He also somehow got off a pass while being dragged down.
Knox broke away from Bausby to catch Allen’s 9-yard TD throw, and Allen made it 14-0 when he scampered in from 24 yards to cap a 95-yard drive.
A muffed punt opened the door for Denver’s first score, a 10-yard run by Melvin Gordon.
Late in the first half, the Bills had the ball at the Broncos 5-yard line when a trio of penalties had them facing first-and-goal from the 30. Allen soon found Kumerow wide open over the middle from 22 yards to put Buffalo ahead 21-7.
Saturday's other game
(At) Green Bay 24, Carolina 16: Green Bay’s fast start helped the Packers overcome a shaky second-half performance and remain on pace to earn the top seed in the NFC playoffs.
Aaron Jones rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown as the NFC North champions reached the end zone on their first three series before hanging on.
Aaron Rodgers threw for a season-low 143 yards but produced a touchdown pass – his 40th of the season – and a touchdown run for the Packers. Rodgers is the first player in NFL history to throw at least 40 touchdown passes in three separate seasons; he had 45 during his 2011 MVP campaign and 40 in 2016.
Green Bay (11-3) won its fourth straight despite getting outscored 13-3 and outgained 214-49 in the second half. Rodgers called the second half “definitely a stinker for the offense.”
“We just know that type of football in the second half is not going to get it done in the playoffs, where we’re going,” Rodgers said.
Green Bay won its fourth straight and took a half-game lead over New Orleans (10-3) in the race for the NFC’s best record. The Packers own a tiebreaker over the Saints after winning 37-30 at New Orleans on Sept. 27.
Under the NFL’s new 14-team playoff format this year, only the No. 1 seed in each conference earns a first-round bye.
“It’s very critical,” Jones said. “We want everything to run through Lambeau. We know we control what happens.”
The Packers built a 21-3 halftime lead before withstanding a comeback attempt from a gritty Carolina team playing without injured 2019 All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey and left tackle Russell Okung.
Carolina had a chance to force overtime when it got the ball at its 20-yard line with 55 seconds and no timeouts remaining. But the Panthers only got to the 26 before losing the ball on downs.
The Panthers (4-10) have lost eight of their last nine games.
Carolina’s Teddy Bridgewater was 21 of 35 for 258 yards with a touchdown run, but he also had a critical fumble. D.J. Moore caught six passes for 131 yards, and Joey Slye kicked three field goals.
Rodgers capped Green Bay’s first series with a 1-yard pass to tight end Robert Tonyan, who has scored in five consecutive games. After Carolina cut the lead to 7-3 on Slye’s 36-yard field goal, Green Bay reached the end zone again as Rodgers ran it in on third-and-goal from the 6.
Trailing 14-3 in the second quarter, Carolina had first-and-goal at the 1 when Bridgewater tried leaping over the line and Green Bay’s Krys Barnes knocked the ball loose. Kevin King recovered the fumble at the 4 and raced 48 yards before Moore brought him down.
“That was the play of the game, no doubt about it,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said.
Jones capped the Packers’ ensuing drive by high-stepping untouched for an 8-yard touchdown around the left end.
“I think the biggest thing we said to our guys is we weren’t playing football at first,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “Like they were throwing the ball out on the perimeter and catching screens, and they’re running the ball downhill and running the ball through us, we’re not tackling. And then I think our pride kind of kicked in. We played better after that.”
Carolina scored the first 10 points of the second half on Bridgewater’s 13-yard scramble and Slye’s 22-yard field goal. That made it 21-13 with 8:39 left. The Panthers settled for the field goal after John Miller’s holding penalty nullified a touchdown.
Mason Crosby gave the Packers some breathing room with a 51-yard field goal with 3:39 left, but the Panthers wouldn’t go away. After Bridgewater threw a 40-yard completion to Moore, the Panthers sent their field-goal unit on for Slye’s 33-yarder, which cut the lead to 24-16 with 2:04 left.
Thomas out for season
The New Orleans Saints placed receiver Michael Thomas on injured reserve on Saturday, a move that allows the Saints to give a healthy player Thomas’ active roster spot for their final three regular-season games while resting their star receiver for the playoffs.
Thomas, the 2019 AP Offensive Player of the Year, has been bothered by an ankle injury since Week 1 of the season and already had been ruled out on Friday for Sunday’s game against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. It will be the seventh time this season Thomas had been scratched from the lineup.
Under current NFL rules adopted in response to the coronavirus pandemic, players may return from injured reserve after as few as three games. The Saints also placed 2019 All-Pro returner Deonte Harris on injured reserve. Harris had been inactive the previous three games because of a neck injury.
Thomas will finish the 2020 regular season having played in seven games, catching 40 passes for 438 yards and no touchdowns. That comes one season after his NFL-record 149 catches for 1,725 yards and nine TDs.
The roster move involving Thomas came as the Saints formally activated Drew Brees from his recent stint on injured reserve because of fractured ribs and a punctured lung. Coach Sean Payton already had announced he intended to start Brees, who missed four games, against the Chiefs.
The Saints also activated interior offensive lineman Will Clapp as well as receivers Juwan Johnson, Tommylee Lewis and Li’Jordan Humphrey to the active roster from the practice squad, while waiving tight end Garrett Griffin and QB Trevor Siemian.
After Sunday, the Saints conclude the season with a home game against Minnesota on Christmas Day and their season finale at Carolina on Jan. 3.
Bengals' Allen out
Quarterback Brandon Allen is out for the Monday night game against the Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals said Saturday.
Ryan Finley is expected to start in his place.
Allen, 0-3 as a starter since rookie Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending injury, hurt his knee late in last week’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys and hasn’t practiced this week.
Finley, who has been the backup to Burrow, has played sparingly after the team decided to start Allen, a former practice team player, instead of him after Burrow was injured.
Finley is 10 for 19 for 75 yards and two interceptions in 2020.
The Bengals signed free-agent quarterback Kyle Schurmur to the practice squad this week to add to some depth.
Linebacker Logan Wilson (ankle) also is out for Monday. Kick returner Brandon Wilson (hamstring) is questionable.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will have to try to clinch the AFC North title with a new-look offensive line.
The Steelers (11-2) ruled out rookie left guard Kevin Dotson for Monday night’s game against the Bengals (2-10-1). Dotson suffered a shoulder injury in last Sunday’s loss to Buffalo after replacing starter Matt Feiler, who was lost for the season in the same game with a pectoral injury.
J.C. Hassenauer, who started two games at center earlier this season when Maurkice Pouncey was on the reserve/COVID-19 list, will likely take over at left guard.
Pittsburgh has dropped two straight following an 11-0 start but can still lock up the division title by beating the Bengals for the 12th straight time, or if Cleveland loses on Sunday night to the New York Giants.
The Steelers also have former seventh-round pick Derwin Gray and recently acquired Danny Isidora on the roster. Pittsburgh signed Isidora off the practice squad this week after placing Feiler on injured reserve.
Pittsburgh running back James Conner is questionable with a quad injury. Conner ran for just 18 yards on 10 carries last week after missing two games while being on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Benny Snell would likely start in Conner’s place.
Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters can deny it all he wants, but the NFL thought he spit at Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
The league fined Peters $12, 500 on Saturday for his actions, which were followed by a back-and-forth verbal battle between the players this week.
Peters was fined for unsportsmanlike conduct despite not being penalized during Baltimore’s 47-42 win over Cleveland.
TV footage caught Peters spitting in Landry’s direction at the end of the first quarter. Landry had his back turned and didn’t know what Peters had done until after the game.
Landry responded by calling Peters “a coward.”
“I think he knew that maybe behind my back he could do things like that, but to my face he wouldn’t,” Landry said. “So I take it for what it’s worth and now I know. Everybody knows what type of player he is, what type of person he is.”
Peters said in a statement released by the Ravens that he didn’t spit at Landry.
“Where I come from, when you have an issue with someone, you deal with it face to face, man to man,” Peters said. “Anyone who believes that I intentionally spit at him does not know me – plain and simple.”
Following the game, Peters was filmed by a teammate on the team’s flight calling Landry and Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. “home girls.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh defended Landry on Friday.
“No way would Marcus do that,” Harbaugh said. “I know Marcus really well. That’s not his style anyway. If he was upset, he wouldn’t be doing that. What he did was, he spat in that direction. It wasn’t in anybody’s direction, per se, and you could tell that on the clip.”
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski declined to comment on the situation.
There has been bad blood between the Browns and Ravens – who were the Browns before moving to Baltimore in 1996 – over the past few seasons.
Last year, Ravens defensive back Marlon Humphrey put his hands around Beckham’s throat and appeared to choke after the two wrestled following a play.