The New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos clinched American Football Conference division titles with victories over teams from Florida on Sunday.
The Patriots defeated mistake-prone Miami 23-16 to claim the AFC East, while the Broncos took their winning streak to seven and claimed the NFC South with a 31-23 win over Tampa Bay.
Quarterback Tom Brady went 24-of-40 for 238 yards with one touchdown pass to Wes Welker and an interception as the Patriots capitalized on a number of miscues by the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.
“We accomplished one of our goals this year, to be in the postseason,” New England coach Bill Belichick said. “That’s good, but more importantly we just got to keep working to get better.”
Belichick earned his 201st career victory which ties him for seventh on the all-time coaching list with Dan Reeves.
Stevan Ridley rushed for a touchdown and Welker finished with 103 yards on 12 catches for New England, whoclinched the division title for the 10th time in 12 years. Welker tied Jerry Rice’s NFL record for most games with 10-plus catches at 17.
Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 13-of-29 passes and finished with 186 yards for Miami.
New England’s offense had a rare off night in southern Florida as they had averaged 44 points per game in their last four victories in Miami.
The Patriots recorded just two first downs in the third quarter, before finally finding their form late in the third.
Brady set the tone in the fourth by hooking up with receiver Aaron Hernandez for a 31-yard pass.
Peyton Manning had three touchdown passes for the Broncos, who beat the Buccaneers and clinched their division title for the second consecutive year and the 12th in franchise history.
Manning went 27-for-38 with 242 yards and an interception and moved past Dan Marino into second place all-time for completions with 4,986 to his name.
Demaryius Thomas finished with eight catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns, while Knowshon Moreno had 69 yards on 20 carries and added four catches for 14 yards for Denver.
Quarterback Josh Freeman went 18-for-39 with 242 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for the Buccaneers, who have lost two straight. Mike Williams and Dallas Clark each caught a touchdown pass in the loss.
The loss by Tampa Bay allowed Atlanta to clinch the NFC South. The Falcons had defeated the New Orleans Saints on Thursday last week.
In Detroit, Michigan, Andrew Luck and Donnie Avery combined on a 14-yard score on the final play of the game as the Indianapolis Colts stunned the Detroit Lions 35-33.
“Some teams find a way to win, others don’t,” Indianapolis coach Bruce Arians said.
“Today our guys did and I couldn’t be prouder of them. This was a big team win and everyone took part in it. This was a big win on the road against a quality opponent,” he said.
Aaron Rodgers threw for 286 yards and a touchdown as the Green Bay Packers scored 13 unanswered points in the second half to rally for a 23-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.
In the night game, Tony Romo threw three touchdown passes as the Dallas Cowboys defeated Philadelphia 38-33, handing the Eagles their eighth straight loss.
In other games on Sunday, it was:
‧ Seattle 23, Chicago 17
‧ St Louis 16, San Francisco 13
‧ Houston 24, Tennessee 10
‧ New York Jets 7, Arizona 6
‧ Buffalo 34, Jacksonville 18
‧ Cleveland 20, Oakland 17
‧ Cincinnati 20, San Diego 13
‧ Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 20