Josh Malone

Bengals oust Ravens from playoff hunt with 31-27 victory

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BALTIMORE (AP) The Baltimore Ravens were ousted from the playoff hunt in stunning fashion Sunday when Andy Dalton threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds, giving the Cincinnati Bengals a 31-27 victory.

Needing a win to advance to the postseason, Baltimore (9-7) rallied from a 14-point deficit to take its first lead with 8:48 left. But Dalton put together a magnificent 90-yard drive in the closing minutes before hitting Boyd over the middle on a fourth-and-12 play.

Boyd avoided a tackle by Maurice Canady and raced to the end zone to give Cincinnati (7-9) the victory in what might have been its final game under coach Marvin Lewis.

Baltimore entered knowing it could have also gotten into the postseason if either Tennessee or Buffalo tied or lost. Both those teams won, leaving the Ravens with no margin for error on a frigid and windy day.

After getting off to a horrid start, the Ravens appeared in position to end their two-year hiatus from the postseason. Plenty of players stepped up in their time of need: Chris Moore had a pivotal kickoff return, Alex Collins delivered a huge fourth-down touchdown run and quarterback Joe Flacco bounced back from a horrible 4-for-18 start.

Flacco’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace made it 27-24, but all of that was rendered meaningless after Dalton put an appropriate finish on a game filled with huge plays.

Dalton also threw a pair of touchdown passes to Tyler Kroft.

The Ravens were down 17-3 late in the first half when Moore rambled 87 yards with a kickoff before being stopped near the left sideline with 8 seconds left. He finished what he started on the next play, catching a 6-yard touchdown pass.

Thus, Baltimore trailed by only 17-10 at the break despite a 268-61 deficit in yardage and 16-2 disparity in first downs.

The Ravens took that momentum into the third quarter, moving deftly downfield before Moore juggled a pass that ended up in the hands of Cincinnati’s Darqueze Dennard, who sprinted down the left sideline 89 yards for a touchdown.

Trailing again by two TDs, Baltimore faced a fourth-and-3 from the Cincinnati 17. Collins took a pitchout designed to go around left end, reversed his field and ran around a block by Flacco to get into the right corner of the end zone.

That set the stage for a tense fourth quarter in a game Cincinnati dominated at the outset.

The Bengals moved 78 yards on eight plays following the opening kickoff and took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to Kroft. That represented more points than Cincinnati scored in the first game between the teams, a 20-0 Baltimore victory in the season opener.

The Ravens’ first five possessions produced several dropped passes, one first down and five punts.

CHILLIN’ TO THE MAXX

Ravens tight end Maxx Williams went through preliminary warmups without a shirt, even though the temperature was 19 degrees. He did, however, wear a knit hat and sweat pants.

INJURY UPDATE

Bengals: LB Jordan Evans (head, shoulder) left in the third quarter. … WR Josh Malone (ankle) did not play in the second half. … S Shawn Williams (back) left in the third quarter.

Ravens: Moore sustained a concussion in the third quarter and did not return. … WR Jeremy Maclin (knee) was inactive for a second straight week. … Ravens DB Anthony Levine (foot) left in the second quarter.

For more AP NFL coverage: http://pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Patriots rally behind Gronkowski, edge Steelers 27-24

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PITTSBURGH (AP) 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 homefield 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.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

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.

Roethlisberger hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for a short gain but stayed in bounds. With the clock running and no timeouts left, Roethlisberger hurried to the line. Rather than spike it to set up a short kick that would have sent the game to overtime, Roethlisberger tried to win it.

Instead, he lost it. His pass to Eli Rogers was batted into the air, and New England safety Duron Harmon came down with it. One kneel down later the Patriots had their fifth straight victory over the Steelers.

Roethlisberger completed 22 of 30 for 281 yards with two touchdowns and the pick. Le'Veon Bell ran for 117 yards and added another 48 receiving as Pittsburgh hung in there even with Brown, the NFL’s leading receiver, in a hospital having his left calf injury examined.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hardly downplayed the pregame hype, welcoming the moment and the pressure that comes along with it even while facing an opponent that he’s beaten just twice during his 11-year tenure and never in a game of true consequence, including a blowout loss in the AFC championship game 11 months ago.

Pittsburgh received an early emotional jolt when cameras cut to injured linebacker Ryan Shazier sitting in a private box less than two weeks removed from spinal stabilization surgery. The crowd at rainy Heinz Field roared as Shazier, who appeared to be seated, waved a Terrible Towe l. The 25-year-old is recovering from spinal stabilization surgery on Dec. 6, two days after leaving a Monday night victory over Cincinnati on a stretcher following a routine hit on Bengals wide receiver Josh Malone.

The emotional boost of Shazier’s surprise cameo faded quickly. Brady took a snap, and the reality the Steelers face without their most irreplaceable defensive player set in. Brady took the Patriots right down the field, connecting with Cooks for a 43-yard gain that set up Rex Burkhead‘s 1-yard touchdown.

The Steelers answered immediately on an 18-yard lob from Roethlisberger to Eli Rogers. Pittsburgh took its first lead over the Patriots since 2011 early in the second quarter on a Chris Boswell field goal, one that came at a possibly heavy price. Brown left in obvious pain after getting his left leg tangled up with a pair of New England defenders. He was helped to the medical tent then taken to a hospital for further examination.

Still, Pittsburgh hung around thanks to the depth they didn’t have while getting rolled by New England the last time the AFC superpowers met.

Bryant, suspended all of last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, made a pretty one-handed touchdown catch late in the first half that put Pittsburgh up 17-10 at the break. Bell, limited to just 11 snaps in Foxborough last January, churned up clock and yards. Smith-Schuster, the ebullient rookie, caught six passes for 114 yards, including a 69-yard catch-and-run that put the Steelers in position to at least tie it.

Roethlisberger opted to go for the wind instead, a decision now that could have ramifications in January.

UP NEXT

New England: Host Buffalo on Christmas Eve. The Patriots handled the Bills 23-3 in the first meeting of the season earlier this month in Buffalo.

Pittsburgh: Visits Houston on Christmas Day.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL