Patriots

Jags loss to Cards keeps battle for AFC South wide open

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Jags loss to Cards keeps battle for AFC South wide open

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was one special afternoon for Phil Dawson and Blaine Gabbert.

Dawson kicked a 57-yard field goal with 1 second left and the Arizona Cardinals beat Jacksonville 27-24 on Sunday, snapping the Jaguars' four-game winning streak and dropping them into a first-place tie with Tennessee in the AFC South.

It was the longest field goal of the 42-year-old kicker's career and came in a maddeningly inconsistent season with six misses.

"I make it a habit not to evaluate a season in its entirety until it's over," Dawson said. "But today was sweet for our team."

It also lifted Gabbert to a win against the franchise that had given up on the quarterback.

"It's great, I love it," guard Alex Boone said of Gabbert's victory. "It's like revenge all over. It's so awesome. That (Jacksonville) is a good team out there. They are playing well and getting this win is what we needed."

The Jaguars traded up six places to draft Gabbert 10th overall in 2011, but they got rid of him after three seasons, sending him to San Francisco for a sixth-round draft pick. Gabbert signed with Arizona in the offseason as the No. 3 quarterback, and then got a chance to play when Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton got hurt.

Gabbert was 22 of 38 for 241 yards, two touchdowns and one interception while improving to 10-31 as an NFL starter.

Dawson also was good from 34, 42 and 48 yards as the Cardinals (5-6) beat a team with a winning record for the first time this season.

Jacksonville (7-4) trailed most of the game, but took a 17-16 lead when ex-Cardinal Calais Campbell returned Gabbert's fumble 10 yards for a touchdown with 12:10 to play.

"I just knew we had the game locked up," Campbell said, "but at the end of the day, they made a few big-time plays. ... I felt like I didn't play my best game today."

Gabbert responded with a 52-yard TD pass to Jaron Brown. He then found Larry Fitzgerald for the 2-point conversion, giving Arizona a 24-17 lead.

Corey Grant's 68-yard return of the ensuing kickoff led to Blake Bortles' second rushing touchdown of the day, a 17-yarder that tied it at 24 with 7:26 left.

Jacksonville's Barry Church and Arizona's Tyrann Mathieu each had an interception in the final 3:38, but neither team could turn it into a score.

The Cardinals got the ball back on a punt with 16 seconds to play at their 39.

Gabbert threw two sideline completions, the second one to D.J. Foster with 6 seconds to go - Foster made a lunging tippy-toe catch that had to be reviewed - to get close enough for the winning field goal.

Coach Doug Marrone blamed himself for giving Arizona that final chance.

"If I had to do it all over again, I just would have ran the clock out and went to overtime," he said. "That is my fault."

Bortles also had a 1-yard TD run in the third quarter. He was 19 of 33 for 160 yards and an interception.

The Cardinals took the lead with a short drive on their first possession. Gabbert completed 4 of 5 for 43 yards to set up Dawson's 34-yarder.

Dawson kicked another field goal in the second quarter and Kerwynn Williams' 21-yard punt return set up Gabbert's 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, making it 13-0 Arizona.

Jacksonville finally got on the board on Josh Lambo's 43-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the half.

RUSHING WOES

Jacksonville entered as the No. 1 rushing team in the NFL at 160 yards per game, but managed a season-low 91 against the Cardinals.

Leonard Fournette carried 12 times for 25 yards. Bortles was the team's leading rusher with 62 yards on six carries.

SEALS-JONES

Seals-Jones no doubt has enjoyed having Gabbert as his quarterback. Promoted from the practice squad on Sept. 25, the undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M didn't have an NFL catch until a week ago, when he caught three, two for touchdowns, from Gabbert in a loss at Houston.

Seals-Jones was back at it Sunday, catching four passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.

INJURIES

Already without starting offensive linemen Patrick Omameh and Jermey Parnell, the Jaguars lost linebacker Telvin Smith to a concussion in the first half. Arizona inside linebacker Deone Bucannon left in the first half with an ankle injury and Williams with a rib injury.

UP NEXT

Jaguars: Play Indianapolis next Sunday in first of three straight home games.

Cardinals: Host NFC West-leading Los Angeles Rams next Sunday.

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Cowboys edge Raiders 20-17 by slimmest of margins

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Cowboys edge Raiders 20-17 by slimmest of margins

OAKLAND, Calif. - Dallas kept its playoff hopes alive by the slimmest of margins.

Dak Prescott converted a fourth-down sneak by the width of an index card to set up Dan Bailey's go-ahead 19-yard field goal, and Derek Carr fumbled the ball inches from the goal line with 31 seconds left to give the Cowboys a 20-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday night.

"We know where we're at, our season is on the line as far as going to the playoffs," tight end Jason Witten said. "It's good to just see us find a way to get the result that we did. ... Good to get lucky and see the football gods help you out a bit. I've certainly been on the other end of it over the course of my years."

The first key play came when Cowboys coach Jason Garrett decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 39 with about five minutes left in a tie game. Prescott ran into a pile that took officials time to untangle.

Referee Gene Steratore then called for the chains to come out, but even that wasn't clear. He then tried to slide what appeared to be an index card between the tip of the ball and the end of the chain. When the card didn't slide through, Steratore signaled a first down for Dallas (8-6). He said he had decided it was a first down before the odd measurement.

"The final decision was made visually. The card was used nothing more than a reaffirmation of what was visually done," he told a pool reporter. "My decision was visually done based on the look from the pole."

That explanation didn't satisfy Raiders coach Jack Del Rio.

"I had a different viewpoint. I saw air," Del Rio said. "It was pretty obvious. Again, they do the best they can with a tough job."

Prescott then hit Dez Bryant with a 40-yard pass that set up Bailey's short kick with 1:44 to play that gave the Cowboys the lead.

But the game was far from over. The Raiders (6-8) got a gift when Jourdan Lewis committed a 55-yard pass interference penalty on a fourth-and-10 from their own 30. Carr then scrambled on third-and-3 from the 8 and reached out for the end zone. But the ball came loose before crossing the goal line and went out of the end zone for a touchback that all but ended Oakland's playoff hopes. The Raiders are tied for ninth in the AFC.

"I tried to hold onto it," Carr said. "It wasn't like I didn't try. But there's obviously a lot of different things . throw it away, kick a field goal, run out of bounds. OK, cool. But in that moment I was just trying to win for my teammates."

Dallas is in a three-way tie for seventh place in the NFC, a half-game behind Atlanta for the final playoff spot. The Falcons beat the Cowboys head-to-head.

The Cowboys got their third straight win without suspended star running back Ezekiel Elliott, who returns from a six-game suspension next week. But Dallas' three straight losses at the start of the suspension created a hole the team is still trying to escape.

"We continue to scratch, we continue to claw," coach Jason Garrett said. "It wasn't our most perfect performance in any phase of our football team, but the fight was there."

FAKE IT OUT

The Cowboys took a risk in the third quarter on a fourth-and-11 from their own 24. Punter Chris Jones kept the ball and ran 24 yards for a first down. Dallas then drove down the field and took a 17-10 lead when Prescott ran in from 5 yards out and then was given a shower of drinks thrown by fans in the Black Hole.

MILESTONE THROW

Carr set up Oakland's first TD with a 32-yard scramble that was his longest run since his rookie year. That led to a 2-yard TD to Michael Crabtree that gave Carr 100 career touchdown passes. He joined Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck as the only players with at least 100 TD passes in their first four years in the NFL. Carr added a second TD pass to Crabtree in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 17.

TAKE IT AWAY

Sean Smith intercepted two passes for the Raiders, doubling the team's total from the first 13 games. Smith got his first on the opening drive of the game and then added another just moments after Oakland got on the board for the first time. Bruce Irvin hit Prescott on the throw and Smith came up with the floater . He was initially given a TD return on the play but was ruled down by contact on replay and Oakland settled for a game-tying field goal from Giorgio Tavecchio.

INJURIES

The Raiders lost LT Donald Penn (foot) and DT Treyvon Hester (ankle) to injuries in the first half. ... Dallas LT Tyron Smith left in the second half with a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Cowboys: Host Seattle on Sunday.

Raiders: Visit Philadelphia on Dec. 25.

GOAT-to-GOAT: Brady puts trust in Gronkowski with Steelers game on the line

GOAT-to-GOAT: Brady puts trust in Gronkowski with Steelers game on the line

PITTSBURGH - Down 5 points with a little over two minutes to play, Tom Brady knew what the Patriots offense had to do. But with precious few of his receivers actually getting open consistently, the quarterback knew whose number to dial up again and again and again. Rob Gronkowski’s phone was ringing off the hook and the tight end knew who was on the other end.

“There were two minutes left,” he said. “I knew we had to go down, make a drive and just do what you have to do. If the ball is coming to you, you have to make some plays. It just went well.”

Gee, you think? Gronkowski dominated the Pats’ final drive of the game, accounting for 69 of the team’s 77 yards and then added the all-important two-point conversion.

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“I thought he did a great job of separating and making the catches,” said Brady. 

The game-winning drive nearly ended in disaster long before it finished with Gronkowski dancing and flexing in the end zone like he had temporarily lost his mind. On first down from the Pats’ 23, Brady went Gronk’s way, but the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and safety Sean Davis had the ball slip through his hands for an interception that surely would have sent the Pats to their second straight loss in December. Instead, Davis was unable to go back across his body and snag the football. What usually happens when you give Brady a reprieve? Let’s review.

The very next play was when it started. With Gronkowski working out of the left side of Brady as the slot receiver in trips, the tight end worked down the seam but then angled his route more toward the post and reeled in a 26 yarder with Davis desperately in a chase position. How does someone who’s 60 pounds lighter - as Davis is - find himself in that position? Allow Matt Slater to offer a theory.

“It is hard to describe special players in this league,” he said. “There are certain guys - when the moment is big - they just become bigger. The moment wasn’t too big for those guys. They’ve worked at it for years now, that connection, and it was certainly clicking tonight. It was fun to watch. The confidence they have in one another hasn’t happened overnight. It is something that they’ve built on.”

With more ground to cover, Brady would once again go back to the Gronk well. But this time, the Steelers weren’t content to sit back and let it happen. They blitzed, playing zone behind it. Lined up as the wide slot in twins, Gronk once again got over the top of Davis and found a soft spot in the coverage. The window wasn’t huge, but Brady fit the ball in there. Another 26 yards and the Pats were now well-positioned on the outer rim of the red zone.

“I have so much trust in him,” said Brady. “It may look like it’s 50-50, but it might be 95-5. You try and develop that chemistry over time, and Gronk’s earned it.”

So much so that Brady went to him yet again. It came on a play that maybe Gronk doesn’t make if he hadn’t changed up some of his training and embraced the pliability that Alex Guerrero - yes, that guy - preaches. The 28-year old went down and got a low throw from Brady, plucking the ball off the blades of glass like he was picking daisies to bring back to his mama.

“That was unbelievable,” admired newcomer Kenny Britt. “I’ve never seen anything like that between two people. That’s some connection they have built over the years. Hopefully we can keep seeing it.”

“Awww man, I’ve seen it so many times but to see it firsthand on this team was incredible,” said Dwayne Allen. “It was incredible. Tom and Rob just carried us to the win.”

To prove he isn’t a one-trick pony, the Pats ran off Gronk’s backside on the game-winning touchdown jaunt by Dion Lewis. The big fella sealed off 303-pound defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt like he was just a little fella who took a wrong turn and ended up playing with the big boys. Then needing a two-point conversion to make it a field goal game, Gronk flexed out wide right. Davis tried to jam him, but the attempt was futile. The Steelers’ safety had been emasculated. Gronk caught the fade and shook and flexed and generally acted like a fool. 

“It was just spontaneous,” he said.

The Steelers may remember it, but so what, they have never been able to stop it. Hell, no one has had any success stopping the Brady-to-Gronk connection.

“That’s the GOATS, man,” smiled Duron Harmon. “Gronk’s turning into the GOAT. Tom’s the GOAT and Gronk’s turning into one. Those two did what they had to do for us on that drive, man. That’s what happens. Your best players play their best in situations and those two are our best players.”

No arguments here, nor, it would seem, from the Pittsburgh sideline.

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