The playoff-bound New England Patriots won their sixth successive game and continued their home-field dominance by defeating the Green Bay Packers 31-27 on Sunday.
New England quarterback Tom Brady threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez with seven minutes, 14 seconds remaining as the AFC-leading Patriots scored the game’s final 10 points at the chilly Gillette Stadium.
New England have not committed a turnover during the six-game run and remains unbeaten at home in the regular season since 2008.
“It certainly wasn’t one of our better games. We made enough plays to win,” New England coach Bill Belichick told reporters. “We have to play a lot better or our season won’t last much longer.”
The Packers (8-6), meanwhile, fell 1.5 games behind the front-running Chicago Bears in the NFC North Division and must now scramble to claim a playoff berth with two games remaining.
Playing without starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who sustained a concussion last week, Green Bay provided a surprising challenge to the Patriots.
The Packers dominated the time of possession, holding the ball twice as long as New England, to limit most valuable player candidate Brady to just 163 yards passing.
Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn, making his first career start, threw for 251 yards and three scores while guiding the Packers to a 27-21 advantage early in the fourth.
After the Patriots seized control, Flynn drove Green Bay down to New England’s 15 yard line on the final possession of the game, but was sacked and fumbled as time expired.
Green Bay had raced to a 17-7 lead in the first half but the game turned when New England’s Dan Connolly took a short kickoff and made an unlikely 71-yard return — believed to be the longest in the NFL by an offensive lineman.
“I’ve never seen anything happen so slow in my life,” Brady said of the run by Connolly, who weighs 141kg. “It was an unbelievable play. I would never imagine anything like that would happen. And it was a big play in the game.”
The play set up a two-yard TD pass from Brady to Hernandez just before halftime.
JETS 22, STEELERS 17
In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mark Sanchez stood up to the pressure created by the Steelers’ defense and his team’s two-game losing streak, scrambling for the Jets’ first offensive touchdown in 12 quarters and leading a decisive field-goal drive as New York beat Pittsburgh.
Despite losing, the Steelers (10-4) were told by the NFL nearly an hour after the game ended that they secured a playoff spot via a series of complicated strength-of-schedule tiebreakers.
Pittsburgh also owns the division tiebreaker and will beat out Baltimore (10-4) for the AFC North title if it defeats Carolina on Thursday and Cleveland on Jan. 2.
The Jets (10-4) held on to win even as Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers from their own 8 to the Jets 10 in the final 2:08, only to throw incomplete on the game’s final two plays.
EAGLES 38, GIANTS 31
In East Rutherford, New Jersey, DeSean Jackson scored on a 65-yard punt return on the final play of the game and the Philadelphia Eagles scored 28 points in the final 7:28 to beat the New York Giants 38-31 and take over first place in the NFC East.
Emphasizing his candidacy for the most valuable player award, Michael Vick threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in the incredible late rally that all but clinched the division for the Eagles (10-4) and left Giants coach Tom Coughlin so angry he threw his notes as Jackson backed into the end zone.