Best of NFL: Chiefs erupt to clinch playoff berth

Best of NFL: Chiefs erupt to clinch playoff berth
December 15, 2013, 11:45 pm
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Jamaal Charles (front) scored five touchdowns to lead the Chiefs past the Raiders on Sunday, 56-31. (AP)

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Jamaal Charles turned the Kansas City Chiefs' playoff clinching party into a game-long celebration right from the start.

Charles scored the first of his team record-tying five touchdowns on a 49-yard screen pass on the first play from scrimmage, sending the Chiefs to a 56-31 win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday that clinched at least a wild-card spot.

"A big part of this team depends on me," Charles said. "Once I'm healthy this offense can go a long way and this team can go a long way."

Alex Smith threw four of his five TD passes to Charles, going 17 for 20 for 287 yards to make the Chiefs the fourth team ever to make the playoffs a year after losing at least 14 games. Kansas City (11-3) is tied for first place in the AFC West with Denver but needs help to win the division because the Broncos swept the season series (see full recap).

Steelers build up big lead; Bengals can't come back
PITTSBURGH -- Antonio Brown caught a touchdown pass and returned a punt for a score in a 64-second span in the first quarter and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Bengals 30-20 on Sunday night.

Shaun Suisham added three field goals for the Steelers (6-8), who built a 24-point lead and hardly looked like a team playing out the string.

Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 of 25 passes for 191 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Le'Veon Bell added 117 yards of total offense.

The Bengals (9-5), looking to move closer to a third straight playoff berth, were undone by a series of special teams miscues.

Andy Dalton completed 25 of 44 for 230 yards and two second-half touchdowns, but Cincinnati never recovered after getting staggered early at frigid Heinz Field (see full recap).

Miami foils Brady's latest comeback bid
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Desperate to stop Tom Brady's latest comeback bid, the Miami Dolphins sought help from a reserve safety making his NFL debut after being signed Tuesday off the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad.

Michael Thomas came through, intercepting Brady's fourth-down pass in the end zone with 2 seconds left Sunday to seal a seesaw 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots.

Thomas celebrated by flopping to his back and was swarmed by his new teammates.

"I didn't know what his first name was," defensive tackle Jared Odrick said. "That's being thrown in the fire and reacting. That's a pure athlete."

The Dolphins (8-6) won their third game in a row to help their AFC wild-card chances. They also snapped a streak of seven consecutive losses to the Patriots (10-4), who missed a chance to clinch their fifth consecutive AFC East title (see full recap).

Cutler returns, leads Bears past Browns
CLEVELAND -- Jay Cutler felt the pressure and knew he had to perform well. There was no other option.

This wasn't the time to buckle. Not with his teammates, his coach, and frankly, all of Chicago counting on him. Once the rust came off, Cutler came through.

Shaking off two first-half interceptions, Cutler threw three touchdown passes in his first start since Nov. 10, leading the Bears to a 38-31 win on Sunday over the Cleveland Browns.

Cutler, who missed Chicago's previous four games with a sprained left ankle and reclaimed his starting job from Josh McCown earlier this week, threw a 4-yard TD pass to Earl Bennett with 5:41 left as the Bears (8-6) rallied in the second half and stayed in contention for an NFC playoff spot (see full recap).

Rams delay Saints' postseason plans
ST. LOUIS -- Just like two years ago, a St. Louis Rams team going nowhere jumped on the playoff-bound New Orleans Saints early and never let them up.

Drew Brees threw interceptions that led to touchdowns on the Saints' first two possessions and the Rams got big days from Zac Stacy, Robert Quinn and on special teams in a 27-16 victory Sunday.

"When you looked at their sideline, they realized, `Oh gosh, like, here we go again,'" Rams defensive end Chris Long said. "We hit `em early, and they were reeling."

The Rams were 0-6 and double-digit underdogs before upsetting the Saints in 2011. St. Louis was 2-14 that year and New Orleans went 13-3 (see full recap).