The Detroit Lions didn’t need a playoff berth as motivation Sunday night. Pride was enough.
Despite learning before kickoff that the door to the postseason was closed, the Lions still upset the Green Bay Packers 20-16 to end the season of their NFC North rivals at Lambeau Field.
It was win-and-in for the Packers, who came into the finale on a four-game winning streak.
The Lions, who got off to a 1-6 start this season, won eight of their final 10 games to finish with a winning record. They would have made the playoffs had the Rams not lost at Seattle earlier in the day, a game decided by a field goal in overtime.
Former Green Bay running back Jamaal Williams, now with the Lions, scored two touchdowns against his former team Sunday night. After tearfully talking about the recent death of his great-grandfather, Williams turned his attention to critics of the Lions.
“Stop playing us, man,” he said. “We’re the Detroit Lions. Stop playing with us. I don’t even watch TV, but I heard everybody picked the Packers over us. Don’t let these tears fool you.”
As a result of the Lions’ win, the Seahawks are headed to the playoffs as the NFC’s seventh seed and will play at San Francisco. The 49ers swept Seattle during the regular season, 27-7 and 21-13.
Many happy returns
Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo safety recovering from the cardiac arrest he suffered in a game six days earlier, was everywhere Sunday. By design, players and coaches on every team across the NFL wore T-shirts honoring him that read, “Love for Damar 3.”
Hamlin was watching — and tweeting — from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he has made remarkable strides in his recovery.
Nowhere was the thought of him more front and center than in Buffalo, where his teammate and close friend Nyheim Hines opened the finale against New England with a kick return for a 96-yard touchdown. Later in the Bills’ 35-23 victory, Hines ran back a second kickoff for a 101-yard touchdown, becoming the first Buffalo player to have two such scores in a game.
“I’m speechless,” Hines said. “I’m so thankful it was me to bring that juice, but it’s way bigger than me. That’s what I always thought about, and that’s what I thought all day. It’s just bigger than me and bigger than those 10 guys who did a great job of blocking for me.”
Take a breather
Kansas City and Philadelphia secured the top seeds in their respective conferences, meaning they get a week off and — for the Eagles, at least — home-field advantage through the playoffs.
It could be a little different for the Chiefs, however. If they were to wind up facing Buffalo in the AFC championship game, that game would be played at a neutral site. That’s because both teams could have been the No. 1 seed had all teams played a full, 17-game regular season. Buffalo’s game at Cincinnati last Monday night was suspended and ultimately canceled because of the Hamlin situation.
Welcome to the party
In each of the last 45 seasons, at least one team has won its division a year after missing the playoffs.
That happened twice this season, with Jacksonville winning the AFC South and Minnesota winning the NFC North. Philadelphia (NFC East) and San Francisco (NFC West) are also new division winners this season.
Tom Brady breaks records all the time, but this is one personal mark he was hoping to avoid: his first losing season.
Although it’s still heading to the playoffs as the NFC South champion, Tampa Bay finished 8-9 with a 30-17 loss to Atlanta. Before this season, Brady had 21 consecutive winning seasons (along with seven Super Bowl rings).
Then again, Brady watched most of this finale from the sideline. He was replaced by Blaine Gabbert with four minutes left in the second quarter. That accounted for the 45-year-old superstar’s modest stat line: 13 for 17 for 84 yards and a touchdown.
That touchdown was Brady’s 25th scoring pass of the season. He has 17 career seasons with at least 25 touchdown passes, eclipsing Peyton Manning (16) for the most such seasons in NFL history.
The Buccaneers will play host to Dallas in the wild-card round.
Flipping the script
Cincinnati was not at all happy with the NFL resolution that could have cost the Bengals a home playoff game.
Had they lost Sunday’s game to Baltimore, the location of their first-round rematch with the Ravens would have been subject to a coin toss.
But that didn’t happen, with the Bengals winning 27-16 and locking down a home game for the wild-card round.
Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon used the controversy during his touchdown celebration in the first quarter, removing a coin from his glove after his one-yard scoring run and flipping it in the end zone. Then the running back made a kicking motion as if booting the coin into the stands.
It’s rare, but players have used props to celebrate touchdowns before, including wide receiver Joe Horn hiding a cellphone under the goal-post pad and wide receiver Terrell Owens producing a Sharpie from his sock and signing the ball. Mixon, who is likely to be fined by the NFL, said former Bengals star Chad Johnson promised to pay it for him.
Stacking the sacks
Philadelphia led the NFL with 70 sacks this season, tying the Eagles with the 1987 Chicago Bears for the third-most sacks in a season. Only the 1984 Bears (72) and 1989 Minnesota Vikings (71) had more.
Winning by losing
The Bears secured the No.1 pick in the NFL draft by virtue of their 29-13 loss to Minnesota.
Houston had the inside track on the top pick but lost that by beating Indianapolis on Sunday.
“We wanted to leave the season with a good taste in our mouth and to do it that way where you have to scratch and claw. We’ve lost a few games right at the end, overtime and all of that,” said Lovie Smith, who later Sunday was fired as Texans coach. “So it was good to see those guys kind of finish this one.”
The Bears have had the No. 1 selection twice in their history, but both times were in the 1940s.
Chicago needs help on its offensive and defensive lines and at wide receiver, but the Bears have a potent offensive weapon in Justin Fields, who finished the season 64 yards short of the all-time record for rushing yards by a quarterback. (However, the Bears were last in passing.)