The Steelers came back to beat the Colts, Kansas City survived against Atlanta and Jacksonville secured the No. 1 pick in the draft.
The Pittsburgh Steelers overcame a huge deficit to shock the Indianapolis Colts. The Kansas City Chiefs barely beat the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens continued their surge with a win over the Giants. The top spot in the A.F.C. playoffs has been decided — as has the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft — but even the irrelevant teams showed some pluck Sunday.
Here’s what we learned:
There is some fight left in the Steelers. Pittsburgh came into the day on a three-game losing streak, and appeared to be headed toward a fourth consecutive loss when it fell behind the Indianapolis Colts, 24-7, in the third quarter. From that point, the game belonged entirely to the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger started the comeback in the third quarter by throwing a deep 39-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson. He then added a 5-yard touchdown to Eric Ebron and a 25-yarder to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the fourth, as Pittsburgh’s defense shut down Indianapolis. The Colts’ final four drives resulted in two punts, an interception and a turnover on downs.
Pittsburgh, which clinched the A.F.C. North title with Sunday’s win, is currently a half-game ahead of Buffalo for the No. 2 seed in the A.F.C. playoffs. Indianapolis, which fell to 10-5, has been one of the N.F.L.’s better teams this season but is currently not in line for a playoff spot because the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns own tiebreakers over the Colts.
The Chiefs love to play with fire. A win was hardly necessary for Kansas City, as the Chiefs were virtually assured of the No. 1 seed in the A.F.C. playoffs even if they lost their final two games. But watching Kansas City barely hang on for a 17-14 win at home over the Atlanta Falcons reinforced the idea that Patrick Mahomes’s team tends to play down to its competition. A sloppy effort against Atlanta had the Chiefs losing, 14-10, with just over two minutes remaining, and would have headed to overtime if not for an unlikely miss from Atlanta’s Younghoe Koo, as the Pro Bowl kicker’s attempt at a game-tying 39-yard field goal sailed wide right.
Regardless of how close they cut it, the Chiefs improved to 14-1 and clinched the A.F.C.’s only first-round bye. Perhaps by the divisional round of the playoffs, the Chiefs will decide that it is important to try for the entire game.
The Ravens control their playoff destiny. Baltimore dropped to 6-5 with a loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 2 — the team’s fourth defeat in five games — and seemed like a long shot to make the playoffs. A soft schedule, and a return to form by quarterback Lamar Jackson, has righted the ship and thanks to a 27-13 victory over the Giants, the Ravens can now secure the team’s third straight trip to the playoffs simply by beating the Cincinnati Bengals next week. Baltimore’s four-game win streak has included only one victory over a team with a winning record, but an average of 37 points a game is impressive no matter the opponent.
The Ravens, who thrive when chewing up huge chunks of yardage on the ground, have averaged 233.3 yards rushing a game in the four-game win streak after having been held to fewer than 200 in nine of their first 11 games.
Frank Gore is going out in style. After a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in November dropped the Jets to 0-10, Gore, 37, addressed his team’s struggles (and his own future), saying “You don’t want to go 0-16, especially if this is my last year. I can’t go out like that.” Last week Gore helped the Jets end their 13-game losing streak by scoring the 100th touchdown of his career. This week he ran for a team-high 48 yards as the Jets beat the Cleveland Browns, 23-16. In doing so, Gore joined Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton as the only players in N.F.L. history with at least 16,000 yards rushing — only two other active players, Detroit’s Adrian Peterson (14,757) and Tampa Bay’s LeSean McCoy (11,102), have more than 10,000.
Trevor Lawrence is moving about six hours south. The downside of Gore getting his wish to go out well with the Jets is the team having officially handed the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars, which almost assuredly will lead to Lawrence, Clemson’s star quarterback, taking a long drive down I-95 to replace Gardner Minshew rather than heading north to replace Sam Darnold. The Jaguars were emphatic in their failure on Sunday, losing by 41-17 to the suddenly surging Chicago Bears. But at least on offense Jacksonville should be a terrific landing spot for Lawrence, as he will immediately be handed a good young running back (James Robinson) and two talented young wide receivers (D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault Jr.)