Atlanta Falcons secure NFC Wild Card spot with win over Carolina Panthers
1 January 2018, 00:25
The Atlanta Falcons clinched an NFC Wild Card playoff spot by beating the Carolina Panthers 22-10 on New Year's Eve.
After the teams played to a 7-7 half-time tie, Falcons kicker Matt Bryant had five second-half field goals of 30, 42, 30, 56 and 33 yards to see the team to victory in the must-win game.
Atlanta (10-6) clinch the No 6 seed in the NFC and will now play at the Los Angeles Rams next week in the first round of the playoffs.
The Panthers (11-5) had already secured a playoff spot entering the weekend, but they couldn't improve on their position, and so travel to the New Orleans Saints.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed 28 of 45 passes for 317 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown pass to Devonta Freeman on Atlanta's opening drive, while Panthers QB Cam Newton struggled, throwing three second-half interceptions.
Newton was 0 for 9 before finally completing his final seven passes of the first half as he led the Panthers on a 16-play touchdown drive, ending with a four-yard scoring pass to Devin Funchess.
That tied the game at 7-7 but Newton and the Panthers as a whole struggled desperately in the second half.
Elsewhere, in the other late games in the NFL....
Bills 22-16 Dolphins
Buffalo (9-7) defeated Miami (6-10) in Florida and then got the help they needed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Prior to Sunday, Buffalo had the longest active playoff drought in all four major North American team sports.
But, the Bills did suffer a key injury in the third quarter when six-time Pro-Bowl running back LeSean McCoy left the game due to an injury to his right ankle. He did not return.
Bengals 31-27 Ravens
Andy Dalton threw three touchdown passes, including a 49-yard strike to Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds left as Cincinnati (6-10) knocked Baltimore (9-7) out of the playoffs at the expense of Buffalo.
The Ravens took their first lead of the game, 27-24, on a six-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Mike Wallace with nine minutes left in the game. However, Dalton answered with a 90-yard drive to reclaim the lead.
It was an emotional win for Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who might not return after 15 seasons.
Saints 24-31 Buccaneers
Tampa Bay (5-11) quarterback Jameis Winston tossed a 39-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Chris Godwin with nine seconds remaining - capping a desperation 95-yard drive with no timeouts - to beat New Orleans (11-5).
Despite the loss, the Saints won the franchise's first NFC South division title since 2011 because of Carolina's defeat to Atlanta.
Raiders 10-30 Chargers
Philip Rivers threw three touchdowns, with receiver Keenan Allen picking up a pair of scores as the Chargers (9-7) beat the Raiders (6-10).
Despite winning for the sixth time in seven games, the Chargers (9-7) didn't qualify for the postseason from the AFC, losing out to Tennessee and Buffalo. The Raiders, meanwhile, fired head coach Jack Del Rio after the defeat.
Jaguars 10-15 Titans
Tennessee (9-7) held on to their fourth quarter lead over Jacksonville (10-6) to clinch their first playoff spot since 2008.
Three Ryan Succop field goals, a 66-yard touchdown reception by Derrick Henry and a relentless effort by the defense carried them to a 15-10 win over the AFC South champion Jaguars, who slipped to a second-straight defeat.
Cardinals 26-24 Seahawks
For the first time in five years, Seattle (9-7) saw their season end short of the playoffs, with kicker Blair Walsh missing a 48-yard field-goal attempt with 32 seconds remaining, gifting Arizona (8-8) victory.
Even if the kick had been successful and the Seahawks had won, Atlanta's win over Carolina would still have ensured Seattle missed the postseason.
49ers 34-13 Rams
San Francisco (6-10) concluded the season with a fifth-straight win, a 34-13 victory over the playoff bound Los Angeles (11-5), who rested multiple starters.
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns along with two interceptions, while running back Carlos Hyde rushed for 90 yards and two scores.
Chiefs 27-24 Broncos
Rookie Kansas City (10-6) quarterback Patrick Mahomes led four scoring drives, the last leading to Harrison Butker's decisive field goal with no time left, as the playoff-bound Chiefs beat Denver (5-11) despite resting several starters.
(c) Sky News 2018: Atlanta Falcons secure NFC Wild Card spot with win over Carolina Panthers