Packers claim North title


By NANCY ARMOUR

AP National Writer

CHICAGO — With one championship under their belt, the Green Bay Packers are already eyeing a few others.

Aaron Rodgers connected with James Jones on all three touchdowns, Clay Matthews continued his dominance of Jay Cutler with two more sacks and Green Bay clinched its second straight NFC North title with a 21-13 victory over the archrival Chicago Bears on Sunday.

After starting the season 2-3, the Packers are showing signs they might have a run in them like the one that carried them to the Super Bowl title two years ago. They have assured themselves of a home playoff game and, at 10-4, are still in the running for the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

“We’re just getting started,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We feel that way as a football team. We feel there’s a lot better football in front of us.”

Chicago, meanwhile, continues to slide. This was the Bears’ fifth loss in six games, and they’re in danger of missing the playoffs after beginning the season 7-1. Chicago (8-6) lost ground in the race for the last wild-card spot, and fans at Soldier Field showered the team with boos for much of the game.

Cutler had another dismal day against the Packers, throwing an interception that led to the game-winning touchdown. He’s been picked off 17 times by the Packers, including 10 in his last five games. Alshon Jeffery was whistled for three offensive pass interference calls, all late in the second half when the Bears were scratching to get something going.

Brandon Marshall had Chicago’s only touchdown, but had just 56 yards receiving. The Bears were held to 67 yards of offense in the second half and finished with 190, their third-lowest of the season. The Packers have now won six straight against their rivals to the south.

“Everybody involved in this offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs,” said Marshall, who struggled to compose himself as he spoke before cutting short his post-game interview. “It’s been this way all year. There’s no excuse. We still have two games left. There’s still hope, but at the same time, we need to be held accountable.”

It was Marshall who turned the heat up on what is already the NFL’s oldest — and fiercest — rivalry earlier in the week, saying he’d never disliked a team as much as he did the Packers. Green Bay had held him to 24 yards on two catches in their first meeting back in September, and the NFL’s receptions leader called the rematch “personal,” adding, “But the talk, you have to back it up. We’ll go out there and we’ll do everything we need to do to get a win.”

Marshall did his part early, firing up the Chicago sideline when he sidestepped one tackle and stiff-armed Casey Hayward on his way to the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown that gave Chicago a 7-0 lead. He screamed as he tossed the ball into the stands, and his teammates and the crowd roared in approval. Joe Anderson fueled the frenzy when he body-slammed Randall Cobb on the ensuing kickoff, and the Bears appeared to be firmly in control.

But overcoming adversity has become second nature to the Packers with the season they’ve had, and this game was no different.

“We don’t try to trash talk,” cornerback Sam Shields said. “When we get on the field we trash talk, but not in the paper. We let our actions show on the field.”

Over the final 4:19 of the second quarter, the Packers went from a 7-0 deficit to a 14-7 lead thanks to a pair of Rodgers-to-Jones TDs sandwiched around a Hayward pick.

“That was important. That was really important,” Rodgers said of the 14-point swing. “We couldn’t them get up a couple scores and get into what they wanted to do, which it looked like they wanted to run (Matt) Forte a lot. Getting ahead of them kind of took them out of some of that stuff.”

Having already been sacked twice, Rodgers was on the run again on third-and-6 when he spotted Cobb down the right sideline. He threw a dart to Cobb, who hauled it in for a 31-yard gain that put the Packers at the Chicago 35. Three plays later, Rodgers connected with Jones for a 29-yard score that tied the game at 7.

After exchanging punts, Cutler looked for Devin Hester only to find Hayward instead. It was the sixth interception of the season for the rookie, who grabbed the ball at midfield and returned it 24 yards. Five plays later, Rodgers hooked up with Jones again, this time for an 8-yard TD.

The Packers made it 21 unanswered points on the first drive of the second half. In another third-and-long situation, Rodgers threw incomplete to Jermichael Finley. But Green Bay got a second chance when Chris Conte was called for pass interference and, after a delay of game penalty, Rodgers found Jones for a 6-yard score.

TEXANS 29, COLTS 17

HOUSTON — The Houston Texans are AFC South champions for the second straight year.

Andre Johnson had 151 yards receiving and a touchdown, Bryan Braman scored on a blocked punt and Shayne Graham kicked five field goals.

The Texans (12-2) grabbed their first AFC South title last season after the Colts nosedived without injured quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning is gone and Andrew Luck couldn’t do much against Houston’s defense.

The Colts (9-5) had won three straight and needed a win to clinch a playoff berth a year after going 2-14.

J.J. Watt had three sacks as Houston’s defense got back on track a week after a 42-14 loss to New England.

The Texans will have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs in they win out.

REDSKINS 38, BROWNS 21

CLEVELAND — Rookie Kirk Cousins threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns filling in for injured star Robert Griffin III, leading Washington to its fifth straight win.

Cousins connected with Leonard Hankerson for both TDs in his first career start and the Redskins (8-6) barely missed a beat without the talented and multi-dimensional RG3, who sat out with a sprained knee.

Last week, Cousins came off the bench after Griffin got hurt. Cousins was behind center from the start of this one and delivered a performance that extended Washington’s longest winning streak since 2007 and moved the Redskins into a tie for first in the NFC East.

Rookie Trent Richardson had a pair of TD runs for the Browns (5-9).

VIKINGS 36, RAMS 22

ST. LOUIS — Adrian Peterson ran for a season-best 212 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown that fueled the Minnesota’s big second quarter.

Peterson has 1,812 yards rushing, leaving him 294 shy of breaking the NFL’s single-season record of 2,105 by Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams in 1984. Peterson, less than a year removed from a serious knee injury, has two games left — at Houston and home against Green Bay — to top Dickerson.

The Vikings (8-6) scored 10 of their 23 points in the second quarter off turnovers by Sam Bradford, including a 29-yard interception return by defensive end Everson Griffen.

The Rams fell to 6-7-1.

FALCONS 34, GIANTS 0

ATLANTA — Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns passes and Atlanta handed the Giants their first regular-season shutout since 1996.

Julio Jones caught a couple of scoring throws from Ryan, who broke his own franchise records for completions and passing yards in a season. He finished 23 of 28 for 270 yards.

The Falcons (12-2), who have already clinched the NFC South, moved a step closer to locking up home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. One more win would lock it up.

Eli Manning threw two interceptions for New York (8-6), which came into the game with a one-game lead over Washington and Dallas in the NFC East.

BRONCOS 34, RAVENS 17

BALTIMORE — Chris Harris returned an interception 98 yards for a momentum-turning touchdown, and Denver won its ninth straight.

Peyton Manning threw for 204 yards and a score in his ninth consecutive win against Baltimore, the first with the Broncos (11-3).

Down 10-0 late in the first half, the Ravens had a first-and-goal at the Denver 4 when Harris stepped in front of Anquan Boldin, picked off a pass by Joe Flacco and sprinted down the right sideline en route to the longest regular-season interception return in Broncos history.

The Ravens (9-5) were playing their first game under offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who replaced the fired Cam Cameron.

SEAHAWKS 50, BILLS 17

TORONTO — Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson ran for three touchdowns and threw for another in leading the Seahawks to their second straight rout.

Wilson scored on runs of 14, 25 and 4 yards and then hit Zach Miller for a 4-yard touchdown in helping the Seahawks score 31 points on their first five possessions. The defense forced three consecutive turnovers to start the second half, including Earl Thomas scoring on 57-yard interception return.

A week after a 58-0 win at home against Arizona, the Seahawks (9-5) inched closer to clinching a playoff berth and became the NFL’s third team to score 50 points on consecutive weekends. The Bills (5-9) were knocked out of playoff contention for a 13th consecutive season.

COWBOYS 27, STEELERS 24 OT

ARLINGTON, Texas — Brandon Carr intercepted a pass from Ben Roethlisberger to set up Dan Bailey’s 21-yard field goal in overtime.

The Cowboys won a Bailey kick on the final play for the second straight week since practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown was killed in a one-car accident that led to manslaughter charges against teammate Josh Brent.

Carr intercepted Roethlisberger’s pass along the sideline and returned it 36 yards to the 1. Bailey’s kick came after Tony Romo took a 2-yard loss to put the kicker in better position.

The Cowboys (8-6) moved into a three-way tie for the NFC East lead with the Giants and Redskins. The Steelers (7-7) lost for the fourth time in five games.

CARDINALS 31, LIONS 10

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Greg Toler returned an interception 102 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown as Arizona ended a nine-game losing streak.

The Cardinals (5-9) intercepted Matthew Stafford three times, returning two for touchdowns and setting up a TD with the other. The Lions (4-10) lost their sixth straight. Rashad Johnson brought back a pick 53 yards for a touchdown to cap Arizona’s 21-point second quarter. Patrick Peterson’s interception set up another score.

Detroit’s Calvin Johnson became the first player in NFL history with consecutive 1,600-yard receiving seasons and tied an NFL record with his seventh straight 100-yard receiving game.

PANTHERS 31, CHARGERS 7

SAN DIEGO — Mike Tolbert scored twice against his former team and DeAngelo Williams turned a tipped pass from Cam Newton into a 45-yard touchdown reception.

Carolina (5-9) won consecutive games for the first time since last December. The loss knocked the Chargers out of playoff contention for the third straight year.

The Chargers (5-9) clinched their first losing season since 2003, when they were an NFL-worse 4-12. Coach Norv Turner is expected to be fired at season’s end, most likely along with general manager A.J. Smith.

Tolbert capped Carolina’s first two drives with 1-yard scoring runs. His second TD was set up when Philip Rivers lost a fumble, his 21st turnover this season and 46th in less than two full seasons.

SAINTS 41, BUCCANEERS 0

NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees passed for 307 yards and four touchdowns, and New Orleans posted its first shutout since 1995.

Brees connected on his scoring passes with tight end David Thomas, running back Darren Sproles and receivers Lance Moore and Joe Morgan. Mark Ingram added an 11-yard touchdown run.

Josh Freeman endured one of his worst outings of the season for Tampa Bay (6-8), throwing four interceptions and losing a fumble. Jabari Greer made two interceptions, Rafael Bush and Isa Abdul-Quddus the others. Cameron Jordan forced Freeman’s fumble on a sack and recovered it.

New Orleans (6-8) also bottled up standout rookie running back Doug Martin, holding him to 16 yards on nine carries.

DOLPHINS 24, JAGUARS 3

MIAMI — Miami kept former teammate Chad Henne out of the end zone, made three fourth-down stops deep in its own territory and benefited from an odd penalty.

Henne, playing in Miami for the first time since he departed as a Dolphins bust last offseason, threw for 221 yards with no turnovers. But the Dolphins turned back three scoring threats, and a go-ahead touchdown for the Jaguars came off the board because of an illegal-substitution penalty.

Ryan Tannehill went 22 for 28 for 220 yards and two scores with no interceptions to help Miami (6-8). The Jaguars (2-12) helped their chances of getting the No. 1 draft pick next April.

 

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