(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of Sunday’s National Football League games:
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Panthers 31, Packers 24
Cam Newton threw three of his four touchdown passes in the opening 18 minutes of the second half as Carolina upstaged the return of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Newton completed 20 of 31 passes for 242 yards as the Panthers (10-4) remained in at least a first-place tie in the NFC South.
Rodgers was intercepted three times, all on underthrown balls. He completed 27 of 45 passes for 287 yards, but the Packers (7-7) saw the their postgame aspirations crippled.
Rodgers, 34, had missed seven games. He had not played since suffering the broken collarbone during an Oct. 15 loss at Minnesota.
Trailing 24-14, the Packers used a 12-play drive, which included a fourth-down conversion on Rodgers’ keeper, for Mason Crosby’s 28-yard field goal with 1:23 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers pushed their lead to 31-17 on Newton’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd with 12:24 remaining.
Green Bay later got the ball back and Rodgers hit tight end Richard Rodgers on a 24-yard touchdown pass with 2:43 to play. The Packers recovered the onside kick.
Green Bay moved to the Carolina 26, where receiver Geronimo Allison fumbled after picking up a first down with 1:48 remaining.
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Vikings 34, Bengals 7
Minnesota (11-3) clinched the NFC North title with its ninth win in the past 10 games.
Case Keenum passed for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and the Vikings’ defense dominated Andy Dalton and Cincinnati (5-9).
Brian Robison had two of the Vikings’ three sacks and Eric Kendricks returned a first-quarter interception for a touchdown.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported before the game that Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis plans to step down after the season. Lewis has spent 15 years as Cincinnati’s coach, going 123-112-3.
Dalton was 11-of-22 passing for 113 yards and two interceptions, and was replaced by backup AJ McCarron in the fourth quarter.
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Bills 24, Dolphins 16
LeSean McCoy became the 30th player in NFL history to surpass 10,000 career rushing yards, helping Buffalo keep its playoff hopes alive.
McCoy had 96 total yards (50 rushing, 46 receiving) and two touchdowns as the Bills improved to 8-6 for just the third time in the 18 years since the team last reached the postseason.
The loss diminished Miami’s playoff chances following an upset win over New England on Monday night. Jay Cutler was 28-of-49 passing for 274 yards and three interceptions for the Dolphins (6-8).
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Jaguars 45, Texans 7
Jacksonville (10-4) clinched its first playoff berth since 2007 in style.
Quarterback Blake Bortles passed for three touchdowns in the first half as the Jaguars led 31-0 at halftime, the largest margin in franchise history.
Jacksonville (10-4) remained in control of first place over the AFC South.
Houston (4-10) has lost four straight and seven of its last eight.
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Saints 31, Jets 19
Drew Brees threw two touchdown passes and New Orleans overcame three turnovers tol defeat New York.
The victory kept the Saints (10-4) in first place in the NFC South. Even though they are tied with 10-4 Carolina, the Saints swept the Panthers in two games this season and own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Jets (5-9) kept the game close with their defensive pressure but could not generate enough offense.
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Eagles 34, Giants 29
Quarterback Nick Foles threw four touchdown passes as Philadelphia (12-2) held off New York (2-12).
Foles, who was 24 of 38 for 237, took over as the Eagles starting quarterback after they lost Carson Wentz last week to a season-ending knee injury. Foles helped his team clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Giants quarterback Eli Manning finished 35 of 54 for 427 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
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Ravens 27, Browns 10
Ball-hawking Baltimore forced four more turnovers and converted two of them into touchdowns to defeat winless Cleveland.
The Ravens (8-6) kept alive their playoff hopes as a wild-card team. They will clinch a playoff spot by beating the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals in the final two weeks.
The Browns (0-14) have lost 16 straight games to division opponents dating back to 2015.
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Redskins 20, Cardinals 15
Kirk Cousins threw a pair of touchdown passes and the Washington held off Arizona
The Redskins (6-8) never trailed and stopped Arizona (6-8) on downs at the Washington 21-yard line with 16 seconds left.
Washington snapped a two-game losing streak and won despite rushing for just 32 yards.