Falcons clinch playoff spot, beat Panthers on Bryant’s 5 FGs

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ATLANTA (AP) Matt Bryant kicked five field goals, including a 56-yarder, for all of Atlanta’s second-half points and the Falcons clinched a playoff spot by beating the Carolina Panthers 22-10 on Sunday.

After the teams played to a 7-7 halftime tie, the 42-year-old Bryant kicked field goals of 30, 42, 30, 56 and 33 yards without a miss.

Atlanta (10-6) clinched the No. 6 seed in the NFC and will play at the Los Angeles Rams next week in the first round of the playoffs.

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

On a day when Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense struggled, Bryant’s 15 points provided a margin too great for Carolina to overcome.

The Panthers (11-5) had a playoff spot secured entering the weekend, but they couldn’t improve their position.

Minnesota’s 23-10 win over Chicago earlier Sunday ended the Panthers’ hopes of a first-round bye. The loss to the Falcons ended Carolina’s goal of winning the NFC South, and the Panthers will open the playoffs at New Orleans.

Matt Ryan completed 28 of 45 passes for 317 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown pass to Devonta Freeman on Atlanta’s opening drive, and no interceptions.

The Panthers pulled even on Newton’s 4-yard scoring pass to Devin Funchess late in the first half.

Newton threw three second-half interceptions. The third interception, by Robert Alford in the end zone with 8 seconds remaining, ended the Panthers’ final drive. Newton completed 14 of 34 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown.

With the game tied in the third quarter, the Falcons had an apparent touchdown taken off the board when a review showed Mohamed Sanu didn’t maintain control of a 12-yard catch in the end zone. The ball hit the ground after Sanu collided with Julio Jones, who also was crossing to the middle of the end zone.

The Falcons settled for Bryant’s first 30-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.

Newton led the Panthers on a 16-play touchdown drive that consumed more than half of the second quarter and tied the game at 7. Newton gained the needed yard on a fourth-down keeper, but the true back-breaking play for Atlanta’s defense was his 27-yard pass to Brenton Bersin on a third-and-23 play. The pass set up Newton’s 4-yard scoring pass to Funchess.

SLOW START

Newton was 0 for 9 before finally completing his final seven passes of the first half. Newton completed his first pass to McCaffrey – for a loss of 3 yards – midway through the second quarter.

MILESTONE FOR JULIO

Jones caught a 14-yard pass midway through the third quarter to reach 9,000 career yards faster than any receiver since the 1970 merger.

The two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection last month set the league mark with the most catches and yards receiving in a receiver’s first 90 games.

Jones finished with five catches for 80 yards. He survived an injury scare after he took a big hit from Carolina strong safety Mike Adams on the opening drive. He returned to the field on the same drive, which ended with Ryan’s touchdown pass to Freeman.

NO STEWART

Running back Jonathan Stewart was due to back tightness. The Panthers also were without two more starters: safety Kurt Coleman (ankle), and right guard Trai Turner (concussion).

UP NEXT

Panthers: Carolina will play at New Orleans next week in the first round of the NFC playoffs.

Falcons: Atlanta will visit the Rams next week in the first round of the playoffs.

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

With eye on playoffs, Brady, Lewis lead Pats by Bills 37-16

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Tom Brady passed for a pair of touchdowns and the New England Patriots stayed on track to claim home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a 37-16 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Dion Lewis caught a touchdown pass and rushed for a 4-yard score. He carried 24 times for career-high 129 yards. It was just his second-career 100-yard game. Mike Gillislee, active for the first time in six games, added a 1-yard rushing touchdown

New England (12-3) can lock up first-round bye with either a Pittsburgh or Jacksonville loss. If both of those teams lose, the Patriots will secure home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The Jaguars play at San Francisco Sunday. The Steelers play at Houston Monday.

Even with the loss, the Bills (8-7) remain in contention to break their 17-year playoff drought. It is longest active streak in North America’s four major professional sports. It is the longest postseason absence since NFL merger in 1970.

New England has won at least 12 games in eight straight seasons – an NFL record.

Buffalo stayed close throughout and went into halftime locked in a 13-13 tie.

But the Bills managed just three points in the final 30 minutes, after a touchdown at the end of the first half was taken away.

Trailing 13-10, Buffalo was in position to take the lead, but an apparent 4-yard touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor to Kelvin Benjamin in the corner of the end zone was overturned after an official review.

NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron said in a Twitter post Benjamin was juggling the ball and was only able to get one of his feet down before completing the catch.

“When Kelvin Benjamin gains control, his left foot is off the ground. The receiver only has one foot down in bounds with control. Therefore, it is an incomplete pass,” Riveron wrote.

The Bills were forced to settle for a 23-yard Hauschka field goal as the half expired.

The play elicited immediate reaction on social media.

“Regarding the Buffalo no touchdown, nothing more irritating to an official than to make a great call and then someone in a suit in an office in New York incorrectly reverses it,” he wrote his Twitter feed .

The game was tied at 13 at the half.

The game was tied at 3 on Buffalo’s second possession when Taylor was sacked on a fourth-and-2 run by Marquis Flowers.

On the New England drive, Brady’s third down pass intended for Kenny Britt was intercepted by Jordan Poyer and returned 19 yards for a touchdown.

It was Brady’s eighth interception of the season. He threw two picks in the first 10 weeks, but now has six in his last five games.

The mistake only momentarily slowed down New England’s offense. Brady capped a nine-play, 75-yard drive with a 17-yard pass that Rob Gronkowski pulled in with one hand to tie the game at 10.

INJURIES

Bills: RB Travaris Cadet was carted off the field late in the second quarter with a right ankle injury. … S Micah Hyde left the game after being shaken up in the third quarter. … CB Shareece Wright was shaken up in the fourth quarter, but walked off on his own power.

RARE MISTAKE

The pick six thrown by Brady was his first since he was intercepted by Robert Alford in last season’s Super Bowl win. Brady’s last regular season pick six came in Week 13 of 2015 against Philadelphia (Malcolm Jenkins).

DYNAMIC DUO

Brady’s touchdown 17-yard TD pass to Gronkowski marked the 75th time they have connected for a score. It is the fifth-most all-time between a quarterback and a receiver.

UP NEXT

Bills: At Miami in regular-season finale

Patriots: Host Jets in their finale.

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

Patriots’ Tom Brady earns 4th Super Bowl MVP trophy with epic comeback

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HOUSTON (AP) The greatest quarterback in NFL history led the biggest Super Bowl comeback to be the MVP on Sunday night.

Tom Brady rallied New England from a 25-point third-quarter deficit for a 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history to earn his fifth Super Bowl title and fourth MVP trophy.

“They’re all sweet,” he said. “They’re all different and this was just an incredible team and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” he said.

Brady threw touchdown passes of 5 and 6 yards in the second half and tied things at 28-28 when he connected withDanny Amendola on a 2-point conversion with 57 seconds left.

He then directed the drive in overtime which ended with a 2-yard run by James White to make the Patriots the first team to win a Super Bowl after trailing by more than 10 points.

“We all brought each other back,” he said. “We never felt out of it. It was a tough battle.”

His performance certainly wasn’t without its struggles. His incredible second half and overtime came after a first half where the Patriots managed just three points and he threw an interception which Robert Alford returned 82 yards for a touchdown. He was hurried and harassed for much of the games. The Falcons sacked him five times and hit him on another eight occasions.

He noted the beating he took when he was trying to recount the details of the comeback and couldn’t remember what the score was at one point in the rally.

“There was a lot of (stuff) that happened tonight,” he said. “I got hit pretty hard.”

His 466 yards passing are a Super Bowl record, surpassing the 414 yards Kurt Warner had 17 years ago. He also set a record for most passes completed in a Super Bowl with 43 and most attempts with 62.

He is the first to play in seven Super Bowls and the victory ties him with Charles Haley for most Super Bowl rings.

After all Brady has done in his career, was this his finest moment?

“Tom’s had a lot of great ones,” coach Bill Belichick said. “But, yeah tonight was one of them.”

It’s a triumphant end to a difficult season for Brady, who missed the first four games because of his “Deflategate” suspension and dealt with his mother Galynn Brady suffering through an undisclosed illness. The Super Bowl was the first game she’s attended all season.

“They’re all happy,” he said fighting back tears. “It’s nice to have everybody here and it’s going to be a great celebration tonight.”

He shared a quick moment with her right after the game, but was looking forward to more time with her in the upcoming days.

“It’s kind of madness after the game so I didn’t get much quality time with her but we’ll get it this week,” he said.

But he certainly wasn’t asking for sympathy for his rough road to this title though, chuckling when someone asked about the adversity the Patriots have gone through in the past couple of years.

“We’ve done pretty good over the last few years … so I don’t think anyone’s feeling bad for the Patriots,” he said. “I don’t think anyone feels bad for the Patriots.”

Brady also collected the MVP trophy in 2001, 2003 and 2014.

“It was just a lot of mental toughness by our team and we’re going to remember this one for the rest of our lives,” Brady said.

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