Bills fans show their support for injured Buffalo player Damar Hamlin. Fans show their support for Damar Hamlin.

Sunday NFL Recap, Week 18: Bills win for Damar, Dolphins sneak into playoffs, and Seattle stays alive

Falcons 30, Buccaneers 17

Speculation swirled all week regarding whether the Buccaneers would elect to start Tom Brady and others with nothing to lose or gain against the Atlanta Falcons, but the Bucs ultimately decided to play the game at full strength. Tom Brady rewarded the decision with an opening-drive touchdown, a pass caught by Kyle Rudolph in the back of the end zone for his first score of the season. Atlanta, playing purely for pride to close out the 2022 season, responded with a touchdown of its own later in the first quarter when quarterback Desmond Ridder connected with tight end MyCole Pruitt. After each team kicked a field goal in the second quarter to make it 10-10, Tom Brady eventually gave way to Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. Gabbert led a strong drive after entering the game, leading the Buccaneers downfield and finding Russell Gage for a 3-yard touchdown to go ahead 17-10. The Falcons responded with a field goal early in the third quarter to make it 17-13 and made it 10 unanswered points when Desmond Ridder capped off a 14-play drive by finding Olamide Zacchaeus in the end zone for a 20-17 lead. Atlanta extended its advantage midway through the fourth quarter with a short Cordarrelle Patterson touchdown run, making it 27-17 Falcons after 17 straight points for Atlanta. A late Falcons field goal made it 30-17, which eventually became the game’s final score. Tampa Bay’s 8-9 finish is the first losing season of Tom Brady’s illustrious career but still locks the Buccaneers into the NFC’s No. 4 seed as NFC South champions.

Next Week: Tampa Bay: Wild Card Weekend vs. Dallas, Atlanta: N/A

Bills 35, Patriots 23

As the Buffalo Bills prepared for their first football game since safety Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the field last Monday night, Highmark Stadium was full of intense emotion. When Nyheim Hines ran the opening kickoff back 96 yards for a Bills’ touchdown, the stadium was full of tearful pandemonium as Damar Hamlin tweeted his excitement from UC Hospital in Cincinnati. The New England Patriots, who came into Sunday’s game in Buffalo with plenty to play for as well, tied the game when quarterback Mac Jones found wide receiver Jakobi Meyers in the end zone later in the first quarter. Buffalo took back the lead in the second quarter on Josh Allen’s touchdown pass to Dawson Knox, who gestured to the camera sending a message of love to Damar Hamlin after scoring. The Patriots, determined to find their way into the playoffs, responded again – this time, with a touchdown reception by Davante Parker to tie the game at 14 with 3:45 left in the first half. Each side turned the ball over early in the third quarter, and eventually, New England took its first lead on Nick Folk’s field goal early in the third quarter. That advantage would not last long – on the kickoff that followed, Nyheim Hines returned yet another kickoff for a touchdown, electrifying the Buffalo crowd as the Bills took a 21-17 lead. The Bills’ offense grabbed complete control of the game on its next possession, extending the lead to 28-17 on Josh Allen’s 42-yard touchdown pass to John Brown. New England responded again on Davante Parker’s second touchdown catch of the day but could not convert the 2-point conversion. Having seen their lead shrink to just five, Josh Allen hurled a deep pass down the sideline to Stefon Diggs that became a 49-yard touchdown and a 35-23 lead. New England’s final attempts at narrowing the deficit fell short, and the Patriots’ playoff hopes died with a whimper with the knowledge of Miami’s win. The victory not only gave Buffalo the AFC’s No. 2 seed but provided an incredible emotional lift to a team that really needed it. Damar Hamlin, watching from his hospital bed in Cincinnati, beamed with pride as the Bills celebrated a win in his honor.

Next Week: New England: N/A, Buffalo: Wild Card Weekend vs. Miami

Vikings 29, Bears 13

The Minnesota Vikings entered Sunday afternoon’s divisional matchup with the Chicago Bears in solid standing but aimed to stay in rhythm heading into the playoffs. Minnesota looked crisp on its first drive, driving downfield en route to Adam Thielen’s touchdown catch for a 6-0 lead. After losing running back Dalvin Cook to injury in the second quarter, Alexander Mattison powered in a touchdown to extend the Minnesota lead to 13-0. Chicago, who decided to avoid injury risk by sitting starting quarterback Justin Fields, would quickly turn the ball back over to the Vikings when Tim Boyle was picked off by Patrick Peterson. Minnesota turned the opportunity into a field goal, extending its lead to 16-0 in the second quarter. The Bears eventually scored in the second quarter on a 42-yard run by wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., but did not convert their attempt at a 2-point conversion. Leading 16-6, Minnesota turned to backup quarterback Nick Mullens in the second half to avoid a potential injury to Kirk Cousins. Still, the Vikings quickly drove into Chicago territory on their first drive of the third quarter. Alexander Mattison scored his second touchdown of the day to finish the possession, extending Minnesota’s advantage to 23-6. Chicago reinserted backup quarterback Nathan Peterman in Tim Boyle’s place in their own third-quarter quarterback change, and Peterman rewarded head coach Matt Eberflus with a touchdown pass to Cole Kmet to make it 23-13. Minnesota added two field goals in the fourth quarter to extend the final score to 29-13 and finish its season 13-4. The Vikings would be either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs depending on San Francisco’s result versus Arizona – and after the 49ers handled business, the Vikings looked forward to a matchup with the sixth-seeded New York Giants in the wild-card round. For Chicago, the loss was meaningful as well – with its loss and the Texans’ 32-31 win at Indianapolis, the Chicago Bears officially possess the No. 1 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft.

Next Week: Minnesota: Wild Card Weekend vs. N.Y. Giants, Chicago: N/A

Bengals 27, Ravens 16

The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals battled Sunday in each team’s regular-season finale, and the Bengals arrived with a chip on their shoulder. Cincinnati felt slighted by the NFL’s decision to determine the location of a possible Bengals-Ravens wild card round game by coin toss. The Bengals took their frustration out on the Ravens by quickly jumping out to a lead in the first quarter. An Evan McPherson field goal capped off Cincinnati’s first drive. After Jessie Bates III picked off Ravens’ third-string quarterback Anthony Brown to kill Baltimore’s first drive, Bengals’ running back Joe Mixon mimicked a coin flip in celebration after his touchdown to put Cincinnati up 10-0 on the ensuing drive. Anthony Brown’s struggles continued on the Ravens’ next drive, throwing another interception – moments later, Joe Burrow set a Bengals’ record with his 35th touchdown pass of the season, connecting with Ja’Marr Chase. Baltimore finally scored a touchdown of its own as the first half’s two-minute warning arrived, a Kenyan Drake run to make it 17-7. The Ravens’ defense did enough to keep Cincinnati off the board before halftime, but Baltimore’s offense undid those efforts in short order. Anthony Brown was sacked in the end zone, and Bengals’ defensive end Joseph Ossai recovered the football for a touchdown to extend the lead to 24-7 at the break. A quiet third quarter saw two Justin Tucker field goals for the Ravens and one converted field goal by Bengals’ kicker Evan McPherson, moving the game into the final stanza with Cincinnati up 27-13. Baltimore managed a field goal in the fourth quarter, but nothing more. The Bengals’ 27-16 win ensured that Cincinnati will play at home next week no matter what, and pushed Baltimore into the No. 6 seed. The resulting wild card weekend matchup is an immediate rematch next week, once again in Cincinnati.

Next Week: Baltimore: Wild card round at Cincinnati, Cincinnati: Wild card round vs. Baltimore

Dolphins 11, Jets 6

The Miami Dolphins, once 8-3, entered Sunday’s game with the New York Jets needing a win and help from the Buffalo Bills. Both teams began the day with third-string quarterbacks in the game, as Joe Flacco started for New York against rookie Skylar Thompson for Miami. Each offense struggled to move the ball in the first half, but the Dolphins scored the game’s first points with Jason Sanders’ second-quarter field goal. New York managed a field goal before halftime, sending the game into the second half tied 3-3. Each struggling offense managed another field goal as the game pressed into the fourth quarter in a 6-6 tie. Eventually, it was Miami – much to the chagrin of fans in Pittsburgh – that worked its way into field goal range in the game’s final moments. Still, after Miami lost a yard on a third-down run, the kick was not going to be easy. Jason Sanders drilled the 50-yarder anyway, putting the Miami Dolphins just 18 seconds away from a likely playoff berth. New York’s last-gasp lateral play was a disaster, resulting in a safety and an 11-6 win for the Dolphins at home. Less than five minutes later, a Buffalo interception sent the Dolphins’ crowd into a frenzy as it became clear that Miami was officially going to be playoff-bound.

Next Week: New York: N/A, Miami: Wild card round at Buffalo  

Panthers 10, Saints 7

Neither Carolina nor New Orleans came into Sunday’s matchup with anything to play for beyond pride, but the Saints’ offense looked sharp out of the gates nonetheless. Quarterback Andy Dalton threw a 25-yard touchdown to Chris Olave to finish off an effective opening drive, opening up a 7-0 lead for New Orleans. Both defenses controlled the action for the remainder of the first half, as the Panthers and Saints combined for four punts, two turnovers, one turnover on downs, and a missed field goal. The Panthers eventually got on the scoreboard early in the second half, capping off a 14-play drive with a tying touchdown. The defensive struggle held as the clock wound down to the game’s final minutes, still tied at 7. Eventually, it was Carolina who set up a game-winning field goal attempt as time expired – and after Eddy Pineiro split the uprights, the Panthers came away with a 10-7 win and second place in the NFC South.

Next Week: Carolina: N/A, New Orleans: N/A

Steelers 28, Browns 14

The Pittsburgh Steelers needed both a win and help from the Bills and Jets to make the playoffs and appeared to be off to a good start Sunday versus Cleveland. Pittsburgh drove all the way down to the Browns 1-yard line, but a fumble by Najee Harris ended the threat and gave Cleveland the football in a scoreless game. The game remained scoreless for much of the first half before the Browns finally broke through with 6:27 to go in the second quarter. Cleveland quarterback Deshaun Watson completed a touchdown pass to tight end David Njoku to break the seal, taking a 7-0 lead. Pittsburgh tied the game on George Pickens’ fourth receiving touchdown of the season, a 31-yard strike from Kenny Pickett with 1:47 to go before halftime. Pittsburgh added a field goal in the first half’s final minute, taking a 10-7 lead into the intermission. The Steelers extended their lead to 13-7 with another field goal to open the second half, and extended their lead to 20-7 when Najee Harris plunged into the end zone with 3:12 left in the third. Cleveland responded when Deshaun Watson’s pass to Nick Chubb found the end zone, narrowing the Steelers’ lead to 20-14 early in the fourth quarter. As New England trailed in Buffalo and Miami was stuck in a deadlock with the Jets, Pittsburgh knew that a win might be all it needed to sneak into the playoffs. The Steelers, hoping to leave as little up to chance as possible, extended their lead to 28-14 with less than five minutes remaining after Derek Watt’s short touchdown run and a successful 2-point conversion. Unfortunately for the Steelers, the Miami Dolphins found a way in the end to win – so despite a 28-14 win, Pittsburgh’s season ended at 9-8. If nothing else, Mike Tomlin’s streak of avoiding a losing season reached 16 years.

Next Week: Cleveland: N/A, Pittsburgh: N/A

Seahawks 19, Rams 16 (OT)

The Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams kicked off Sunday’s regular-season finale in the rain in front of a packed house at Lumen Field hoping to watch the Seahawks keep their playoff hopes alive into the evening. The game got off to an ominous start for the Seahawks, as quarterback Geno Smith’s first pass of the afternoon was intercepted by Rams’ cornerback Jalen Ramsey deep in Seattle territory. Still, the Seahawks’ defense held Los Angeles to just a field goal – and after finishing their next drive with a field goal of their own, the Seahawks had tied the game and re-energized the crowd. The divisional rivals would exchange field goals once more as the game moved into the second quarter, and the game remained tied 6-6 into the final minute of the first half. The Rams eventually reached the end zone first, jumping out to a 13-6 lead as a toss play to wide receiver Tutu Atwell resulted in an 11-yard touchdown before halftime. Seattle, knowing that its season hung in the balance, took a deep shot early in the third quarter. Geno Smith’s perfect spiral landed in the arms of Tyler Lockett in the back of the end zone, tying the game at 13. The Rams added a field goal on the following possession to reclaim a three-point lead, and Jalen Ramsey’s second interception of the afternoon gave them a chance to extend it. The Seahawks’ defense held, giving the Seattle offense an opportunity to tie the game or take the lead. After being stuffed on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, the Seahawks kicked a field goal to tie the score at 16 with just over two minutes to play. Seattle worked its way to the edge of Rams territory in search of a game-winning field goal in the final minute of regulation, aided by a questionable personal foul call on Jalen Ramsey. But after Jason Myers’ missed the 46-yard field goal, the game went to overtime. Seattle possessed the football first, but the Rams’ defense quickly forced a punt. Baker Mayfield gave the ball right back to the Seahawks with an interception, and this time Seattle would not be denied. Multiple physical runs by Kenneth Walker III set up Jason Myers with another game-winning opportunity, and he converted from 32 yards out. The Seahawks eliminated the Detroit Lions from contention with the win and turned their attention to Sunday Night Football, needing Detroit to win to qualify for the playoffs. Sure enough, the Lions did the Seahawks a favor by winning at Lambeau, and Seattle will head to San Francisco for net Saturday’s wild card matchup.

Next Week: Los Angeles: N/A, Seattle: Wild card round at San Francisco

Broncos 31, Chargers 28

The L.A. Chargers knew they were locked into the AFC’s No. 5 seed regardless of their performance Sunday afternoon after Baltimore’s loss, yet it was still starting quarterback Justin Herbert leading their offense onto the field in Denver. Herbert quickly led the Chargers on a successful opening drive, connecting with Keenan Allen on a 14-yard score for a 7-0 first quarter lead. Denver responded with a 13-play journey of its own, and Latavius Murray tied the game with a 2-yard touchdown run with just under four minutes left in the first quarter. The Chargers scored another go-ahead touchdown on their first possession of the second quarter when Gerald Everett caught Justin Herbert’s second passing touchdown of the afternoon. Each team kicked a field goal, making the score 17-10, but the Broncos tied the game before halftime when Russell Wilson and Eric Tomlinson combined for a touchdown in the second quarter’s final seconds. Denver opened up the second half with another effective offensive possession, this time taking a 24-17 lead when Russell Wilson’s short pass to running back Tyler Badie turned into a 24-yard tightrope touchdown down the sideline. Wilson threw his first interception of the day on Denver’s next drive, which led to a Los Angeles field goal to narrow the deficit to 24-20. Russell Wilson continued one of his best passing days of the season on the next drive, connecting on a 52-yard pass to Freddie Swain and a 20-yard pass to Courtland Sutton, the latter of which extended Denver’s fourth-quarter lead to 31-20. The Chargers finally turned to Chase Daniel at quarterback with 11 minutes left, a move that most experts expected to come much earlier. Daniel delivered a touchdown pass to Keenan Allen, making the most of L.A.’s top receiver still being in the game for whatever reason. After a successful 2-point conversion, the Chargers trailed just 31-28 with six minutes left. Both defenses ensured the rest of the game went by without a whimper, and the Broncos finished their season 5-12 after the win.

Next Week: Los Angeles: Wild card round at Jacksonville, Denver: N/A

Eagles 22, Giants 16

The New York Giants entered Sunday’s season finale at Philadelphia without much to play for and sat out most of their starters, including quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley. The Eagles were playing for both the NFC’s No. 1 seed and an NFC East title, jumped out to an unsurprising early lead. Two first-half field goals by Jake Elliott with a rushing touchdown in between them by Boston Scott gave the Eagles a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter. The Eagles added a third late field goal to extend their lead to 16-0 before halftime. A fast-moving third quarter resulted in only a field goal for each team, and the Philadelphia lead was 19-3 as the fourth quarter began. Even short-handed, Giants’ third-string quarterback Davis Webb and the rest of New York’s offensive backups continued to fight. Webb ran the Giants’ first touchdown of the day in himself from 14 yards away, narrowing the deficit to 19-9 with 10 minutes remaining. Philadelphia added a field goal to make it 22-9 on the next drive, but the Giants weren’t done. Davis Webb’s deep pass to Kenny Golladay was caught in the back of the end zone, pulling New York within a touchdown on one of the most acrobatic catches of the NFL season. Philadelphia ran out the clock from there, winning 22-16 to lock up both the NFC East and the conference’s No. 1 seed.

Next Week: New York: Wild card round at Minnesota, Philadelphia: Wild card round bye

49ers 38, Cardinals 13

Arizona and San Francisco both came into their Week 18 matchup with very little to play for, although San Francisco still had an opportunity to improve its seeding. The Cardinals’ playoff hopes disappeared months ago, and Arizona’s starters resembled what they might have looked like for a preseason game. David Blough, the fourth different quarterback to start a game for the Cardinals this year, started his second game while running back James Conner and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins both sat out. Arizona came out firing anyway, taking a quick 6-0 lead when David Blough’s deep pass connected with A.J. Green for a 77-yard score on the game’s second play from scrimmage. San Francisco quickly grabbed control from there, as Christian McCaffrey’s touchdown catch and Elijah Mitchell’s touchdown run combined to put the 49ers ahead 14-6 early in the second quarter. To the surprise of most, the Cardinals continued to stay in the game. Corey Clement’s 1-yard run capped off a 75-yard drive for Arizona, pulling the Cardinals back within a point at 14-13. San Francisco’s offense continued to sizzle as Brock Purdy, and George Kittle hooked up for a touchdown, and the 49ers took a 21-13 lead into halftime. San Francisco continued to score at will in the third quarter. The 49ers’ opening drive of the second half resulted in Elijah Mitchell’s second touchdown of the day, and a field goal by Robbie Gould later in the third quarter would extend their lead to 31-13. 49ers’ tight end George Kittle caught his second touchdown on the 49ers’ next possession, extending the lead to 38-13 with still more than a minute remaining in the third quarter. San Francisco called off the dogs from there, and the rest of the game went by quietly. The 38-13 win locks the 49ers into the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Next Week: Arizona: N/A, San Francisco: Wild card round vs. Seattle

Lions 20, Packers 16

With a playoff berth on the line for the Green Bay Packers and nothing but pride at stake for the Detroit Lions, the two NFC North foes closed out the 2022 regular season under the lights at Lambeau Field. The story of the first half was squandered opportunities and near misses as the Lions reached the red zone twice and the Packers once, but neither team could find the end zone. Mason Crosby connected on field goals of 22, 49, and 48 yards for Green Bay, while Michael Badgley answered with kicks of 37 and 33 yards for Detroit to send this one to halftime 9-6 in favor of the Packers. Business would pick up about halfway through the third quarter when a missed 53-yard field goal by Mason Crosby would set up the Lions with excellent field position. Two plays later, Jared Goff would connect with Khalif Raymond on a 43-yard strike to give Detroit with a first-and-goal at the Green Bay 1. On the next play, Jamaal Williams would go off right tackle from 1-yard out to give the Lions the 13-9 lead. The Packers would answer back with just over three minutes left in the third quarter on an Aaron Rodgers 13-yard touchdown toss to Allen Lazard to put Green Bay back in front. Jamaal Williams’ second 1-yard touchdown run of the night would cap a 13-play 75-yard drive that would chew up over eight minutes to give the Lions the 20-16 advantage with under six minutes left in the fourth quarter. A Kerby Joseph interception of Aaron Rodgers with 3:37 left in the fourth had the Pack on the brink of elimination. Three first down later, the Lions walked out of Lambeau with the 20-16 win, knocking the Packers out of the playoffs and sending the Seahawks to San Francisco as the seventh seed to take on the No. 2 seed 49ers in the wild card round of the NFC Playoffs. Next Week: Lions N/A, Packers N/A

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