Capitals

Capital gain: Redskins win NFC East

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Capital gain: Redskins win NFC East

Here's something new: The Washington Redskins are champions of the NFC East.

And something old: The Dallas Cowboys couldn't grab the title in a season finale for the third time in five years.

Led by rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and rookie halfback Alfred Morris, the Redskins won their first division crown since 1999, beating the archrival Cowboys 28-18 Sunday night.

First-round pick Griffin ran for 63 yards and a touchdown, and Morris, a sixth-rounder from Florida Atlantic, ran for 200 and three scores. He set the franchise single-season rushing record for the Redskins (10-6), who won seven straight after their bye week. They are the first NFL team to rally from 3-6 to make the playoffs since the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996.

``It's just a mindset change,'' Griffin said. ``When you have all these guys coming to work every day, putting it on the line, we knew we couldn't afford to lose one game, we made sure we didn't.''

So the wild-card round will begin Saturday afternoon with Cincinnati (10-6) at Houston (12-4), which fell from No. 1 to third in the AFC seedings when it lost to Indianapolis 28-16.

Saturday night will be a rematch of the finale between Minnesota and Green Bay, won 37-34 by the Vikings. This time, they will meet at Lambeau Field.

On Sunday, Indianapolis is at Houston, followed by Seattle at Washington.

Atlanta and San Francisco have byes in the NFC, Denver and New England in the AFC.

Also Sunday, it was Denver 38, Kansas City 3; New England 28, Miami 0; San Francisco 27, Arizona 13; Seattle 20, St. Louis 13; Cincinnati 23, Baltimore 17; Chicago 26, Detroit 24; the New York Giants 42, Philadelphia 7; Tampa Bay 22, Atlanta 17; Carolina 44, New Orleans 38; Pittsburgh 24, Cleveland 10; Tennessee 38, Jacksonville 20; Buffalo 28, the New York Jets 9; and San Diego 24, Oakland 21.

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COLTS 28, TEXANS 16

At Indianapolis, the Colts (11-5) made Chuck Pagano a winner in his return to the sideline.

Andrew Luck threw for two touchdowns and Deji Karim swung the game with a 101-yard kickoff return in the third quarter. It was Pagano's first game back as coach since starting treatment for leukemia Sept. 26.

``Guys really did not want to lose in his first game back and heading into the playoffs,'' the rookie Luck said. ``To get a win, I think means the world to him.''

Slumping Houston (12-4) lost three of the last four games, and J.J. Watt failed to break Michael Strahan's single-season sacks record.

The game turned on two big plays: Karim's kickoff return, which wiped out a 16-14 Houston lead, and Luck's 70-yard TD pass to T.Y. Hilton.

VIKINGS 37, PACKERS 34

At Minneapolis, Adrian Peterson came within 9 yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's rushing record, finishing with 199 yards and powering Minnesota into the playoffs.

``It wasn't meant to happen, or it would've happened. Not to say it doesn't hurt, because it does,'' Peterson said of Dickerson's 28-year-old record. ``But we came in here tonight and accomplished the ultimate goal, and that was getting a win and punching our ticket to the playoffs.''

Peterson rushed for 36 yards on the last drive, plenty for rookie Blair Walsh's 29-yard field goal as time expired to put the Vikings (10-6) in the postseason. The Packers (11-5) fell to the NFC's No. 3 seed.

Aaron Rodgers completed 28 of 40 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns and no turnovers, connecting with Jordy Nelson from 2 yards to tie the game with 2:54 remaining. But Christian Ponder threw for three scores, including one to Peterson.

BRONCOS 38, CHIEFS 3

At Denver, Peyton Manning threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns to lift Denver into the No. 1 seed.

Manning finished the season with 4,659 yards, 41 short of his career high. He had 37 touchdown passes.

``It's been a gratifying regular season,'' Manning said. ``I will admit that. It is certainly more than I expected. I'm grateful and humble for it.''

Denver (13-3) won its 11th straight.

The Chiefs gained only 119 yards all day and finished their season 2-14. They will get the top pick in April's draft.

PATRIOTS 28, DOLPHINS 0

At Foxborough, Mass., Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes, Stevan Ridley ran for two scores as the Patriots (12-4) used a ball-control offense and a defense that racked up a season-high seven sacks.

Now, seeded second in the AFC, they have an extra week to savor the win and prepare for their postseason opener.

The Dolphins (7-9) finished with a losing record for the fourth straight season.

49ERS 27, CARDINALS 13

At San Francisco, Michael Crabtree caught touchdown passes of 49 and 7 yards as the 49ers won a second straight NFC West title.

Colin Kaepernick threw for a career-best 276 yards and two TDs for the Niners (11-4-1). Frank Gore ran for a 2-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter for his franchise-best 51st touchdown rushing.

Brian Hoyer went 19 of 34 for 225 yards and a late TD toss in his first career NFL start as the Cardinals (5-11) lost for the 11th time in their last 12 games in what might have been Ken Whisenhunt's final game as coach.

SEAHAWKS 20, RAMS 13

At Seattle, Russell Wilson tied Peyton Manning's record for most touchdown passes by a rookie with 26, and his 1-yard TD run with 1:39 left allowed Seattle to finish as the only unbeaten team at home.

``It definitely gave us an example of what to expect in the playoffs,'' Seattle defensive end Red Bryant said of the tight game. ``I would have rather had a game like this in the regular season than to get in the playoffs and not be able to respond like we were able to respond today.''

The Rams (7-8-1) sacked Wilson six times, but couldn't come up with their first winning record since 2003.

BENGALS 23, RAVENS 17

At Cincinnati, Carlos Dunlap returned an interception 14 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens (10-6) had already clinched their second straight AFC North title, and they will open the playoffs at home against Indianapolis. Cincinnati (10-6) will be at Houston.

``I think it will be good,'' said Bengals QB Andy Dalton, who grew up in suburban Houston. ``We played there last year (in a playoff loss) and know the atmosphere and what it's going to be like. The experience last year will definitely help us.''

BEARS 26, LIONS 24

At Detroit, Jay Cutler threw for 257 yards and a touchdown, but Chicago (10-6) needed a Minnesota loss to reach the postseason after starting 7-1.

The Lions (4-12) lost their last eight games and turned over the ball four times in the finale. Calvin Johnson fell short in his attempt to become the first player with 2,000 yards receiving in a season.

GIANTS 42, EAGLES 7

At East Rutherford, N.J., Eli Manning's career-high five touchdown passes weren't enough to keep the Giants (9-7) in the playoff hunt. The defending Super Bowl champions were eliminated by Chicago's win.

Eagles coach Andy Reid is out after 14 years at Philadelphia, three people familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The official announcement could come Monday.

Philadelphia closed the season 4-12.

BUCCANEERS 22, FALCONS 17

At Atlanta, Josh Freeman threw a touchdown pass to Mike Williams and Doug Martin ran for 141 yards.

The Falcons (13-3) had little to play for as they already have home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs. The danger of coach Mike Smith's strategy to play hard was losing a top starter to an injury against Tampa Bay (6-10). Defensive end John Abraham, Atlanta's best pass rusher, left with an apparent left ankle injury in the fourth quarter. Cornerback Dunta Robinson suffered a head injury in the first quarter and did not return.

PANTHERS 44, SAINTS 38

At New Orleans, DeAngelo Williams rushed for 210 yards, including touchdown runs of 54 and 12 yards, for Carolina (7-9), which closed the season with four straight wins. His 65-yard gain set up the first of three 1-yard scoring runs by Mike Tolbert.

Drew Brees passed for 396 yards, giving him 5,177 this season, the first player to eclipse 5,000 yards three times. His four TD passes gave him 43 in 2012, and he's the first player with 40 TD passes in consecutive seasons.

The Saints (7-9) also gave up 530 yards, raising their season total to 7,042 to break the record of 6,793 allowed by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.

STEELERS 24, BROWNS 10

At Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger threw three short touchdown passes, and Pittsburgh avoided its first losing season in nearly a decade.

Antonio Brown, Leonard Pope and Plaxico Burress scored for the Steelers (8-8). Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense forced four turnovers.

The Browns (5-11) dropped their third straight in what was likely coach Pat Shurmur's final game.

TITANS 38, JAGUARS 20

At Nashville, Tennessee became the first NFL team with two players scoring twice on returns. Darius Reynaud scored on two punt returns and rookie linebacker Zach Brown returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

The Titans finished 6-10 and await owner Bud Adams' decision on whether to keep coach Mike Munchak, who has two years left on his contract.

The Jaguars (2-14) wrapped up their worst season with their 12th loss in 13 games, and now owner Shad Khan has to decide on the futures of general manager Gene Smith and first-year coach Mike Mularkey.

BILLS 28, JETS 9

At Orchard Park, N.Y., C.J. Spiller scored on a 66-yard catch and run in helping underachieving Buffalo, while Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had two more turnovers.

Safety Bryan Scott also returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown for the Bills (6-10), who had not made the playoffs for 13 seasons.

Sanchez may have started his final game for the Jets (6-10), who closed the season with three consecutive losses amid all sorts of turmoil.

CHARGERS 24, RAIDERS 21

At San Diego, Micheal Spurlock returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in what's expected to be Norv Turner's final game as Chargers coach.

Turner and general manager A.J. Smith are expected to be fired because the Chargers (7-9) missed the playoffs for the third straight season. The Raiders finished 4-12.

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.