Colts knock off Texans in Pagano’s return to sidelines


By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Chuck Pagano put on his dancing shoes and savored every moment of Sunday’s postgame celebration.

He took his customary linebacker stance on the sideline, hands on bended knees. He signaled touchdowns when the Colts scored, patted Deji Karim on the helmet after a 101-yard kickoff return for a game-changing touchdown, and gestured for penalty flags to be thrown.

And after Indianapolis beat AFC South champion Houston 28-16, Pagano even tossed aside the stodgy image of an NFL coach and began jumping around with players, assistant coaches and even team owner Jim Irsay like he was a kid again.

Why not?

“There was a lot of high-fiving, a lot of dancing, a lot of hugging going on and a lot of celebrating,” an emotional Pagano said. “There’s a lot to celebrate right now.”

It started with Pagano’s return.

He took an indefinite leave Sept. 26 to begin the first of three rounds of chemotherapy for leukemia Sept. 26 and didn’t make it back to the sideline until Sunday when the cancer was in complete remission.

When he left the field, he hugged everybody in sight — assistant coaches, Colts players, even Texans players and coaches — before moving the postgame party to the locker room, where Irsay presented him with a game ball and they did a do-si-do together.

“What a day, what a day,” he said.

For everyone on the Colts.

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

Luck, as usual, had a big hand in the victory. He was 14 of 28 for 191 yards with two more touchdowns and no interceptions.

He wasn’t alone, though.

Karim swung the game with the kickoff return just seconds after the Texans took their only lead, and when Luck converted on third-and-23 with the 70-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter, the crowd was in a frenzy.

The Colts (11-5) will play at Baltimore in the wild-card round next weekend. The slumping Texans (12-4) have lost three of their last four and won’t know their AFC seeding until after Denver and New England finish later Sunday.

“We had a great opportunity the last two weeks, but we won’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said after giving Pagano a hug and whispering in his ear after the game. “We’ll focus on keeping our confidence up, even if we have to play next week.”

Indy did everything it needed to Sunday.

The Colts prevented J.J. Watt from getting too close to Luck — or any closer to Michael Strahan’s NFL sacks record (22½). Watt finished with 20½.

“We didn’t win, so I could care less about the record. It’s about winning,” Watt said.

Luck broke Peyton Manning’s franchise record for completions by a rookie but fell 15 short of Sam Bradford’s NFL mark. Luck also moved into third all-time among rookies with 22 TD passes.

And Indy completed the second greatest turnaround in league history — winning nine more games than it did in 2011.

“Man, this has been a great year, a storybook ending,” Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne said. “Let’s keep it going. Hopefully we can continue to write this movie.”

BENGALS 23, RAVENS 17

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, which defeated Houston on Sunday.

The opponent for the Bengals (10-6) was to be determined later Sunday.

The Ravens let quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice play only two series. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green sat out the second half.

BRONCOS 38, CHIEFS 3

DENVER — Peyton Manning threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns to lift Denver into the No. 1 seed for the AFC playoffs.

Manning finished the season with 4,659 yards, 41 short of his career high. He finished with 37 touchdown passes, and none will be more memorable than the last two — circus catches by Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas that turned the game into a blowout.

Denver (13-3) won its 11th straight and leaped past Houston for the top seed after the Texans lost to Indianapolis 28-16 earlier in the day.

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

SEAHAWKS 20, RAMS 13

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.

Seattle (11-5) entered the day with hopes of still winning the NFC West and getting a home playoff game, but those dreams were dashed when San Francisco beat Arizona. Seattle will be the No. 5 seed and face the NFC East winner — Washington or Dallas — next weekend.

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

PATRIOTS 28, DOLPHINS 0

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes and New England earned a playoff bye.

Stevan Ridley ran for two touchdowns as the Patriots 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 Patriots (12-4) led 21-0 at halftime on Brady’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker and Ridley’s runs of 1 and 2 yards, capping drives lasting 14 and 13 plays. They ended the scoring on Brady’s 23-yard scoring pass to Rob Gronkowski, who missed the previous five games after breaking his left forearm.

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

BUCS 22, FALCONS 17

ATLANTA — The Falcons couldn’t follow through with their plan to gain momentum for the playoffs as 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. Coach Mike Smith said he wanted to “finish the regular season the right way,” and he stayed with his starters through the game.

The danger to Smith’s strategy was losing a top starter to an injury. 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.

BEARS 26, LIONS 24

DETROIT — Jay Cutler threw for 257 yards and a touchdown and helped seal the game with a late scramble.

Chicago (10-6) needed a Minnesota loss to Green Bay to reach the postseason.

The Lions (4-12) lost their last eight games and turned the ball over 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.

Cutler’s 19-yard run on third down helped Chicago run out the clock late in the fourth quarter.

GIANTS 42, EAGLES 7

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There will be no Super Bowl repeat for the Giants. Not even a playoff berth despite Eli Manning’s career-high five touchdown passes.

The Giants (9-7) playoff hopes ended minutes after routing the Eagles. Chicago’s win over Detroit ended New York’s long-shot playoff chances.

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.

The loss means that it will be seven straight seasons that the Super Bowl champion has failed to win a playoff game the following year.

Philadelphia closed the season 4-12.

STEELERS 24, BROWNS 10

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 as the Steelers won for just the second time in the last six weeks, a slide that knocked them out of the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Cleveland’s third-string quarterback, Thaddeus Lewis, passed for 204 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his first NFL start. But the Browns (5-11) dropped their third straight in what is likely coach Pat Shurmur’s final game.

BILLS 28, JETS 9

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 snapped a three-game skid. Both AFC East rivals had already been eliminated from playoff contention.

The Bills finished last in the AFC East for a fifth straight season amid speculation about coach Chan Gailey’s job security.

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.

TITANS 38, JAGUARS 20

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee became the first NFL team with two players scoring twice on returns in closing out the season with two wins in its final three games.

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.

PANTHERS 44, SAINTS 38

NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees made more NFL history, but so did the Saints’ porous defense in a loss to Carolina.

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.

Brees passed for 396 yards, giving him 5,177 this season. That makes him 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.

CHARGERS 24, RAIDERS 21

SAN DIEGO — Micheal Spurlock returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown on wet, gloomy day 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.

Spurlock became the first Chargers player to have a kickoff and punt return for touchdowns in consecutive weeks. He returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown a week earlier in a victory against the New York Jets.

 

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