Eagles

Vikings' win means Eagles must wait for home-field advantage

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Vikings' win means Eagles must wait for home-field advantage

MINNEAPOLIS -- Eric Kendricks had an interception return for a touchdown, Case Keenum passed for 236 yards and two scores, and the Minnesota Vikings clinched the NFC North title with a 34-7 victory over the depleted and disinterested Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 37 touches and 242 yards from scrimmage for the Vikings (11-3), who were given quite the reprieve on the schedule a week after their eight-game winning streak ended at Carolina in the last of three consecutive road trips. They were never challenged by a Bengals team missing more than half of its starting defense to injuries and met with a morning report by ESPN that head coach Marvin Lewis will not return next season.

The game went so smoothly that Teddy Bridgewater even made his grand entrance, his first live action in 16 months since a massive knee injury. Bridgewater's first pass was intercepted, a high throw that bounced off McKinnon's hands and into the arms of strong safety Shawn Williams deep in Vikings territory. That set up a short touchdown run by Giovani Bernard to keep the Bengals from being shut out for a second time this year.

Terence Newman also picked off former teammate Andy Dalton, who went just 11 for 22 for 113 yards and three first downs before the Bengals (5-9) turned to backup quarterback A.J. McCarron midway through the fourth quarter after the interception by Williams (see full recap).

Brady, Patriots do it again to Steelers
PITTSBURGH -- Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski did it to the Pittsburgh Steelers again.

One questionable decision by Ben Roethlisberger helped.

Brady fed Gronkowski repeatedly to set up Dion Lewis' go-ahead 8-yard touchdown with 56 seconds remaining and Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone with 5 seconds left as the New England Patriots rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 on Sunday.

The Patriots (11-3) gained the inside track for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs by ending Pittsburgh's eight-game winning streak. Brady threw for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Gronkowski, fresh off a one-game suspension, finished with nine receptions for 168 yards, including four on the game-winning drive.

It briefly looked like it wouldn't be enough.

The Steelers (11-3), who played most of the game without injured wide receiver Antonio Brown, appeared to take the lead when Roethlisberger connected with tight end Jesse James for a 10-yard touchdown with 28 seconds to left. The play was overturned on review, with official Tony Corrente saying the ball did not "survive" the completion of the catch (see full recap).

Rams rout Seattle for control of division
SEATTLE -- Todd Gurley rushed for 152 yards and scored four total touchdowns in just 2 quarters, and the Los Angeles Rams moved to the cusp of their first division title since 2003 with a 42-7 thumping of the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

The matchup to determine first place in the NFC West was completely one-sided.

Los Angeles (10-4) was dominant, embarrassing Seattle into the worst loss during Pete Carroll's eight seasons in charge.

Taking advantage of field position, the Rams scored on six of seven first-half drives, including a 21-point scoring blitz in the second quarter capped by a 57-yard TD run by Gurley on third-and-20 with less than a minute remaining in the first half to take a 34-0 lead at the break.

Gurley had 144 yards rushing in the first half, twice scoring from the 1. He added a 14-yard TD reception midway through the third quarter for a 40-0 Rams lead and spent the rest of his day watching. The 152 yards rushing were the second-best of his career.

The Rams don't have the division wrapped up, but have a two-game lead with two weeks to play. A win against either Tennessee or San Francisco is enough for their first division title in 14 years (see full recap).

Saints beat Jets for 10th win
NEW ORLEANS -- Mark Ingram ran for two touchdowns and gained 151 yards from scrimmage, including a late 50-yard TD run, and the New Orleans Saints overcame three turnovers to defeat the struggling New York Jets, 31-19 on Sunday.

Michael Thomas became the second NFL player with at least 90 receptions in his first two seasons. He caught nine passes for 93 yards, including a pivotal fourth-quarter touchdown on a short slant for New Orleans (10-4), which retained its tenuous hold on first place in the NFC South heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.

Alvin Kamara turned a short catch into a 10-yard TD in his return from a concussion that knocked him out of the Saints' loss at Atlanta a week earlier.

Bryce Petty made his first start at quarterback this season for the Jets (5-9), who were eliminated from playoff contentions. Petty completed 19 of 39 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice -- once on a tipped pass and once on a long, inconsequential throw as the game ended.

His 2-yard touchdown pass to former Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire cut New Orleans' lead to 24-19 with 1:51 left. But the Jets' onside kick failed and Ingram broke loose for his long score while the Saints were really just trying to run down the clock (see full recap).

Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools

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Lane Johnson using underdog status to raise money for Philly schools

How do you turn being a home underdog into a good thing? Use it as motivation to win a football game.

How do you turn being a home underdog into a great thing? Raise money for Philadelphia schools and win football games. That’s what Lane Johnson is doing.

After the nation doubted the Eagles against the Falcons, Johnson and Chris Long donned dog masks after divisional round win, embracing the role of underdogs. Now, Johnson has his own T-shirt and is raising money. A lot of it, too.

Shirts can be purchased at lj65.shop for just $18 and Johnson tweeted that more than 3,000 have already been sold.

Hopefully, the home dogs continue to eat this weekend against the Vikings.

Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

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Game-winning stand just another play for Eagles' defense

There were no special instructions. No extraordinary measures taken. Not much was said. Not much needed to be said.

The game was on the line. The season was on the line. For the Eagles' defense, it was just another play. The stakes were just incredibly high.

It was 4th-and-goal for the Falcons at the Eagles' 2-yard-line in the final seconds Saturday.

Give up a touchdown, and the season's over. Stop the Falcons and you're one game closer to the Super Bowl.

"Our guys, we don't do a whole lot," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Our guys know what to do, and they have downloaded that software enough that it's a little bit automatic for them.

"We also didn't change. We don't surprise the players. What we practiced in our red-zone period is what we played."

The Falcons had already driven from their own 24-yard-line down to the 2-yard-line.

Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, has the fourth-highest passer rating in NFL postseason history, behind Jeff Hostetler and Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Bart Starr.

That's what the Eagles' defense was up against.

"At that point, you sort of have to trust the players and the players have to trust the scheme," Schwartz said. "I think you saw a combination of both of those. We didn't feel the need to blitz. Played coverage, played good technique."

The clock showed 1:05.

Ryan’s two favorite receivers, Julio Jones and Mohamad Sanu, both lined up on the right side of the formation, Jones outside with Jalen Mills on him and Sanu in the slot with Malcolm Jenkins covering him in a battle of North Jersey natives.

Ryan took the shotgun snap from center Alex Mack at the 7-yard-line and immediately rolled to his right, retreating to the 10 as he neared the sideline.

Nigel Bradham, lined up as the left linebacker, trampled blocking tight end Levine Tollolo, who had his hands full with Brandon Graham, and ran around guard Wes Schweitzer, giving him an angle on Ryan. 

Meanwhile, Vinny Curry, after getting cut blocked to the ground by Falcons running back Tevin Coleman, quickly bounced back up and began pursuing from Ryan’s left. 

Ryan pumped once toward Sanu, who was covered by Jenkins. He quickly looked left but saw only Curry closing in. Thanks to the pressure, he had to quickly backpedal back to the 14-yard-line and finally was forced to unload that lob toward Jones at the right sideline in the end zone.

At that point, it was up to Mills, who had Jones blanketed, and the rest is history.

The ball went through Jones’ hands, his feet came down out of bounds anyway, and after an agonizing moment looking for flags, the play was over.

"A lot gets made of what Jalen did, rightfully so," Schwartz said. "You're talking about a Pro Bowl, All-Pro receiver, 1-on-1. But Malcolm playing the seven route to Sanu and Rodney (McLeod’s) ability to help him leverage that, that was because he's looking for Julio Jones first.

"Julio slips, he's looking for Sanu, nowhere to go and now he has to re-rack that thing and by then, Nigel is closing down on him and everything else.

"If Malcolm doesn't get that route that he covered, if he doesn't get that covered, nobody's talking about Jalen Mills right now."

Mills was physical with Jones but not physical enough to draw a flag. Schwartz said Mills has made huge strides this year with his technique, and on the biggest play of his life, his technique was perfect.

"It's one thing to have confidence, but that's just not the sole requirement for the position," Schwartz said.

"There's a lot of technique that goes along with playing, and I think if you look at that last play, he did a great job of staying square. Meaning his shoulders were perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.

"What the receiver there is trying to do is get you turned so he can come back for the ball. He could never get Jalen turned."

Mills is 23 years old, a second-year pro, a former seventh-round pick, a first-year starter.

To think that he made one of the most historic plays in Eagles postseason history is remarkable.

"I think every player makes a big jump from year one to year two, as far as knowledge of scheme and knowledge of opponents and things like that," Schwartz said.

"(Defensive backs coach Cory) Undlin and Jalen have worked really hard. He's haunted the hallways quite a bit, even on off days this year, just trying to improve his technique. It hasn't been by chance that his technique has gotten better. It's a lot of hard work that's gone into it from a coaching standpoint and from a player's standpoint."

The bottom line is that this defense has played tremendous football all year.

And with the season on the line, everybody simply went out and did their job. Nothing more, nothing less.

"I just think a part of our success is our guys just understand what's asked of them in the schemes," Schwartz said.

"They communicate well. We don't make a lot of mistakes, mental mistakes, and I think that makes it hard to drive the ball on us.

"When you get into those situations where is it's closed quarters and you don't have to defend deep balls, our guys have a good understanding of what opponents are going to do. I was proud of them on that play."