Colts, Patriots, Falcons clinch playoff berths

Peyton Manning broke one of Dan Marino’s touchdown records but not the one everybody had been talking about as the Indianapolis Colts beat the Houston Texans 23-14 to clinch their second straight AFC South title on Sunday.

Manning threw touchdown passes on the first two Colts drives to get within two of Marino’s 20-year-old record of 48 in a season. It was his 13th straight multi-TD game, breaking the NFL record held by Marino, Johnny Unitas, Don Meredith and Brett Favre.

The Colts (10-3) didn’t get into the end zone again, settling for three field goals by Mike Vanderjagt (30, 43 and 40 yards) in the second half to win their sixth straight game. The next chance for Manning to catch Marino comes at home, next Sunday against Baltimore.

Domanick Davis had 201 total yards for Houston (5-8). He had 23 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown, and caught six passes for 73 yards.

Patriots 35, Bengals 28

At Foxboro, Massachusetts, Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes and the New England defense held off Cincinnati as the Patriots clinched the AFC East with their win and the Jets’ loss.

The victory was the 27th in 28 games for the Super Bowl champions (12-1). Asante Samuel had a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown for New England, which forced three turnovers for the day.

Carson Palmer threw two touchdown passes for the Bengals (6-7), before leaving with a sprained knee in the third quarter.

Falcons 35, Raiders 10

At Atlanta, the Falcons clinched just their third division title in franchise history as T.J. Duckett set a team record by rushing for four touchdowns.

Atlanta (10-3), which last won a division title in 1998 on the way to its only Super Bowl, flopped badly in its first chance to win the NFC South, getting beaten 27-0 in Tampa last week.

But they had their way at home against the hapless Raiders, taking control with a 21-point second quarter. Oakland (4-9) had three turnovers, including an interception returned 39 yards for a touchdown by former Raiders defensive tackle Rod Coleman.

Steelers 17, Jets 6

At Pittsburgh, Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin went over 13,000 yards rushing, but Bettis will be remembered most for a 10-yard touchdown pass that helped the Steelers clinch the AFC North.

Bettis completed the throw to Jerame Tuman three plays after surpassing the 13,000-yard barrier early in the fourth quarter to break a 3-3 tie. Bettis also ran for a late touchdown – his career-high 12th this season – after Ben Roethlisberger’s 46-yard completion to Lee Mays. Roethlisberger kept his unprecedented rookie winning streak going, winning his 11th in a row in the NFL and 24th straight the last two seasons, counting his final 13 games at Miami of Ohio. The Steelers tied a franchise record with their 11th successive win.

The Jets (9-4) lead the AFC wild-card race.

Chargers 31, Buccaneers 24

At San Diego, Donnie Edwards intercepted Brian Griese’s pass and returned it 30 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:09 left as the Chargers won for the seventh straight time.

San Diego (10-3) moved closer to its first playoff berth in nine seasons. The Chargers have won 10 games for the first time since their 1994 Super Bowl season, a huge turnaround from their recent misery of losing at least 10 games five times in the last seven seasons.

Griese threw for 392 yards and three TDs – two to Joey Galloway – but was intercepted three times. The Buccaneers (5-8) are guaranteed their second non-winning season since winning the Super Bowl here against Oakland on Jan. 26, 2003.

Seahawks 27, Vikings 23

At Minneapolis, Michael Boulware intercepted an ill-advised pass by Randy Moss in the end zone just before the two-minute warning, allowing the Seahawks to hang on for a wild victory.

Matt Hasselbeck’s three first-half touchdown passes was enough for Seattle (7-6), which came away with just its fourth win in the last 10 games to help its playoff chances in the diluted NFC.Minnesota (7-6) lost for the fifth time in seven games and dropped a game behind Green Bay in the NFC North. Moss, who caught four passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, rolled right in the closing minutes after a handoff from Daunte Culpepper. Near the sideline with a defender closing in, Moss fired into the back of the end zone, where Marcus Robinson was covered by two Seahawks.

Packers 16, Lions 13

At Green Bay, Wisconsin, Ryan Longwell’s 23-yard field goal lifted the Packers (8-5) into first place in the NFC North over Minnesota. The Packers led for just two seconds – the time left after Longwell’s kick as the Lions (5-8) blew a 13-0 halftime lead.

Longwell’s third game-winning field goal in five weeks capped a 10-play, 37-yard drive after the Packers got the ball back at the Detroit 42 with 3:27 left and the wind at their backs. Gusts up to 35 mph (55 kph) wreaked havoc on passes, punts and long snaps and caused a slew of drops.

Brett Favre completed just 3 of 15 passes for 28 yards in the first half, but he was an amazing 16-of-21 in the swirling winds for 160 yards and a touchdown in the second half.

Panthers 20, Rams 7

At Charlotte, North Carolina, the Carolina Panthers pulled into the thick of the NFC wild-card hunt playing like it did during their run to the Super Bowl last season.

It was the fifth consecutive win for the Panthers (6-7) and moved them into a tie for the final NFC wild-card berth – unimaginable after they opened 1-7 and lost starter after starter to season-ending injuries.

The Rams, who had Chris Chandler at quarterback for the injured Marc Bulger, also are 6-7, a game behind Seattle in the NFC West, but the loss to Carolina means they would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker.

Playing behind a defense that set a franchise record with six interceptions, the Panthers got touchdowns from Muhsin Muhammad and Nick Goings and two field goals from John Kasay.

Broncos 20, Dolphins 17

At Denver, Broncos backup Tatum Bell ran for 123 yards and Jason Elam kicked a 50-yard field goal with 2:50 left in a strange victory.

Bell replaced fumble-prone Reuben Droughns early in the game and ran for two scores, but left shortly after with a sprained shoulder that could end his season.

That forced Droughns back into the backfield after he fumbled twice.

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