Jan 30, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee (89) is upended by the San Francisco 49ers in the first half during the NFC Championship Game at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Rams TE Tyler Higbee (knee) out of NFC title game

Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee sustained a knee injury and was later ruled out of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Higbee was injured in the first quarter and limped off the field. The Rams ruled him out early in the third quarter.

The 29-year-old Higbee caught two passes for 18 yards before exiting. He has nine catches for 115 yards in three games this postseason.

Higbee caught 61 passes for 560 yards and matched his career high of five touchdowns in 15 regular-season games. The receptions and yardage were the second most of his six-year career, all with the Rams.

–Field Level Media

Jan 30, 2022; Kansas City, MO, USA;  Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon (1) slips a tackles attempt by Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson (55) and Cincinnati Bengals safety Vonn Bell (24) in the first quarter during the AFC championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022, at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. Mandatory Credit: Albert Cesare-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals stun Chiefs in OT to clinch long-awaited Super Bowl return

Evan McPherson sent the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1989 with a 31-yard field goal in overtime, capping an 18-point rally en route to a 27-24 upset of the host Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.

Cincinnati, which had the worst record in the NFL two seasons ago, overcame a 21-3 first-half deficit against Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City, holding the high-powered Chiefs to three points after halftime.

Joe Burrow threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns and the rookie McPherson went 4-for-4 on field goals for the fourth-seeded Bengals, who will face either the Los Angeles Rams or San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on Feb. 13.

Mahomes passed for 275 yards, three touchdowns and two picks for Kansas City. The second-seeded Chiefs, who got the ball first in overtime last weekend and drove for the winning touchdown against Buffalo, once again won the overtime coin toss Sunday.

However, Mahomes was intercepted on the third play on a deep ball that was broken up by Jessie Bates III and intercepted by Vonn Bell. Burrow and Joe Mixon helped move the ball deep into Kansas City territory, and McPherson drilled his kick to stun the home crowd.

With the game tied 21-21, McPherson snuck a 52-yard field goal inside the left upright with 6:07 to play in the fourth quarter, giving the Bengals their first lead of the game.

That, of course, left more than enough time for Mahomes, who drove the Chiefs inside the Cincinnati 10 with a chance to tie or win the game.

On the next-to-last play of regulation, Mahomes attempted to buy time deep in the pocket before he was stripped by Sam Hubbard. Kansas City recovered, but it forced Harrison Butker to attempt a 44-yard field goal, which he drilled at the buzzer to force overtime.

Trailing 21-3, the Bengals finally generated some momentum in the final 65 seconds of the first half, beginning with Samaje Perine taking a screen pass 41 yards for a touchdown to get the visitors within 21-10. Then after the Chiefs drove to the Cincinnati 1, the Bengals tackled Tyreek Hill inbounds on the final play of the half, causing the typically crisp Kansas City offense to leave points on the board.

Cincinnati’s defense opened the second half strong, as well. The Bengals forced punts on the first two Chiefs possessions and then got within 21-13 on a 31-yard McPherson field goal.

Two plays later, 303-pound lineman B.J. Hill tipped a Mahomes pass and intercepted it, leading to Burrow’s TD strike to Ja’Marr Chase on third-and-goal from the 2. The ensuing two-point conversion pass to a wide-open Trent Taylor tied the score at 21.

Even after Burrow was intercepted by L’Jarius Sneed, Cincinnati’s defense forced another punt, sacking Mahomes on third down for the second consecutive drive.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) leaves the field after the win over the Las Vegas Raiders at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu (concussion) won’t return vs. Bills

Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu suffered a head injury in the first quarter Sunday and was ruled out for the rest of the AFC divisional round game against the visiting Buffalo Bills.

Mathieu appeared to collide with the leg of a teammate attempting to make a tackle and was taken to the locker room to be examined by an independent physician. The Chiefs later announced he had entered concussion protocol.

Mathieu is a three-time Pro Bowler, including in 2021, and a three-time first-team All-Pro selection. He played in 16 games (all starts) in the regular season and grabbed three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, along with three fumble recoveries and 76 tackles.

The Bills used two fourth-down conversions to score a touchdown on that first possession before the Chiefs responded with a TD drive for a 7-7 tie after one quarter.

–Field Level Media

Jan 23, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (3) run the ball against Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) during the first half in a NFC Divisional playoff football game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Rams edge Bucs on late field goal to reach NFC title game

Matt Gay converted a 30-yard field goal Sunday as time expired, giving the Los Angeles Rams a 30-27 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC divisional playoffs in Tampa, Fla.

The Rams advance to the conference title game against the rival San Francisco 49ers next Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake. The 49ers have beaten the Rams six straight times.

A win in the NFC final would enable Los Angeles to become the second straight franchise to play a home game in the Super Bowl.

Gay’s game-winning kick Sunday was set up when Matthew Stafford, who completed 28 of 38 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns, found Cooper Kupp for a 44-yard gain to the Buccaneers’ 12-yard line. The play capped a nine-catch, 183-yard day for Kupp.

Tampa Bay tied the game with 42 seconds left when Leonard Fournette had a 9-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1, completing the Bucs’ comeback from a 24-point third-quarter deficit. But they left just enough time for Los Angeles to beat them.

Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady led a frantic second-half comeback, hitting 30 of 54 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown for the game, with an interception. Mike Evans caught eight passes for 119 yards and a 55-yard score that pulled the Bucs within 27-20 with 3:20 to play.

Los Angeles controlled the first half behind big pass plays and a tough, physical defense that harassed Brady continually. It initiated scoring just under seven minutes into the game on a 26-yard field goal by Gay.

Stafford made it 10-0 on the Rams’ next drive, rolling left and flipping a 7-yard touchdown pass across his body to backup tight end Kendall Blanton. Tampa Bay got on the board with 32 seconds left in the first quarter on Ryan Succop’s 45-yard field goal.

But Los Angeles made it 17-3 with 14:17 left in the second quarter when Stafford turned third-and-20 into a 70-yard scoring strike to Kupp. Another field goal from Gay, a 40-yarder with 2:19 remaining in the half, gave the Rams a 20-3 cushion at the break.

–Field Level Media

Jan 16, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) throws the ball against Dallas Cowboys defensive end Dorance Armstrong (92) in the second quarter in a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

49ers hold off late push to eliminate Cowboys

Elijah Mitchell ran for 96 yards and a touchdown while the San Francisco 49ers’ defense overcame the loss of star end Nick Bosa to hold the Dallas Cowboys in check during a 23-17 win Sunday in the NFC wild-card round in Arlington, Texas.

Jimmy Garoppolo hit 16 of 25 throws for 172 yards with an interception for the 49ers, who will travel to top-seeded Green Bay next weekend for the NFC semifinals. Deebo Samuel added 110 yards from scrimmage, 72 on the ground, with a touchdown.

Samuel’s 26-yard scoring run, one play after Dak Prescott was intercepted by K’Waun Williams, gave San Francisco a 23-7 advantage with 5:50 left in the third quarter.

Greg Zuerlein’s 51-yard field goal and Prescott’s 5-yard touchdown run pulled the Cowboys within six points with 8:02 left. But Dallas’ last chance ended when Prescott ran 17 yards up the middle to the 49ers’ 24-yard line and could not spike the ball to stop the clock before time expired. Dallas was out of timeouts.

Bosa (concussion) didn’t play in the second half, but sixth-seeded San Francisco still held third-seeded Dallas to 307 total yards and sacked Prescott five times. Prescott completed just 23 of 43 passes for 254 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Dallas hurt its cause with 14 penalties for 89 yards. Four of them gave the 49ers first downs.

San Francisco initiated the scoring on the game’s first possession, marching 75 yards in just seven plays. Mitchell stepped into the end zone from the 4 on a toss sweep, slicing just inside the front right pylon at the 10:54 mark.

Gould upped the lead to 10-0 on the 49ers’ second drive, drilling a 53-yard field goal with 4:56 left. He connected from 40 yards out with 9:44 remaining in the first half, capping a drive of nearly eight minutes to make it 13-0.

Dallas finally got some traction on the next possession, going 67 yards in nine plays to get on the board. Prescott hooked up with Amari Cooper for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 5:24 on the clock to cut the deficit to 13-7.

Gould sent San Francisco into the locker room with a 16-7 lead after converting from 52 yards out with 3:08 left.

–Field Level Media

Jan 9, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn (76) reacts from the field prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Patriots rule out starting LT Isaiah Wynn vs. Bills

The New England Patriots on Friday downgraded starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn to out for Saturday’s playoff tilt at the AFC East champion Buffalo Bills.

Wynn (hip, ankle) did not practice Wednesday and Thursday, and was one of 13 Patriots players listed as questionable on Thursday’s injury report.

Wynn, 26, was a first-round pick in the 2018 draft. He played in 16 games in 2021, starting 15, as he was tasked with protecting rookie quarterback Mac Jones’ blind side.

He left the Patriots’ Week 18 loss to the Miami Dolphins in the first half with an ankle injury, having played only nine snaps.

Yodny Cajuste, who has two starts among seven career appearances, is listed as the Patriots’ second-string left tackle. But their options to replace Wynn also include veteran Trent Brown, who’s been starting at right tackle, and second-year lineman Michael Onwenu, who has played both guard and tackle.

Several other key New England players remain questionable for the game, including center David Andrews (shoulder), defensive lineman Christian Barmore (knee), linebacker Jamie Collins (ankle), kicker Nick Folk (knee in non-kicking leg), running back Damien Harris (hamstring) and linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee).

–Field Level Media

Dec 13, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) against the Los Angeles Rams at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Familiar foes Rams, Cardinals have something to prove in playoffs

While the Los Angeles Rams will play host to the first-ever Monday night playoff game, it is the Arizona Cardinals who are feeling completely familiar with the lead-up to the all-NFC West wild-card-round matchup.

The Rams-Cardinals primetime showdown will be the third meeting between the teams, with the road team having won the previous two.

And while the Rams prevailed in a Monday night meeting at Arizona in December, it was the Cardinals who pronounced themselves playoff-worthy with a Week 4 victory at Los Angeles in early October.

Defeats in four of their last five games cost the Cardinals an NFC West title and left them with something to prove Monday. But that was also the case in Week 4, when they arrived in Los Angeles on the heels of three consecutive wins to start the season amid questions of whether their hot start was sustainable.

The Cardinals not only delivered a resounding 37-20 victory over the Rams that day, behind two touchdown passes from Kyler Murray and 120 yards rushing from Chase Edmonds, but they went on to open the season 7-0.

Having gone 4-6 since that undefeated start, the Cardinals are once again having to prove that their time has arrived.

“It’s 0-0, and no one remembers the regular season,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “It’s what you do here on out, and it’s a real opportunity for us to take the next step and see how good we can be.”

The game will not only be Murray’s playoff debut, but it will be the Cardinals’ first appearance in the playoffs since 2015-16, when they defeated the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round but were blown out by the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game.

Murray averaged 270.5 yards passing per game this season with 24 TDs and 10 interceptions. He had 383 yards passing in Week 14 against the Rams but did not throw a TD pass that day and was intercepted twice in a 30-23 Los Angeles victory.

“I like that we had two games to see how we played them, how they played us and what looked good and didn’t,” Kingsbury said. “So we can build off that.”

The Rams had a hot start of their own, despite their early loss to the Cardinals, opening with a 7-1 record. Then came a midseason slumber when they took consecutive defeats to a trio of playoff teams, the Tennessee Titans, the San Francisco 49ers and the Packers.

The Rams were just 2-5 against playoff teams this season.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford averaged 309.6 yards passing per game with 22 TDs and four interceptions over the first eight games in a Rams uniform, but those stats fell to 267.7 yards passing with 19 TDs and 13 interceptions over the final nine games as Los Angeles went 5-4.

Stafford did help wide receiver Cooper Kupp to a Rams-record 1,947 receiving yards, while Kupp also pulled off the wide receiver triple crown, leading the NFL in receptions (145), TDs (16) and receiving yards.

After their midseason swoon, the Rams pulled together a five-game winning streak that included their victory at Arizona, but questions started anew after their 27-24 defeat in overtime to the 49ers to close out the season. The Rams blew a 17-0, first-half lead.

Los Angeles’ offensive and defensive lines were dominated by the 49ers in the season finale, especially in the second half as San Francisco rallied.

“Whether we’re playing at home, playing on the road, things are going our way, things aren’t going our way, we continue to battle,” said Stafford, who has not won a playoff game in three chances. “That’s what it takes to win games in the playoffs, there’s no question. Right now, it’s testing us … but we’re a resilient group and we’ll be ready to go.”

With Rams safety Jordan Fuller out for the playoffs with an ankle injury and fellow safety Taylor Rapp in concussion protocol, the Rams signed Eric Weddle out of retirement Wednesday. Linebacker Leonard Floyd (back) is expected to play but was listed “out” for Thursday’s walkthrough.

Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (shoulder), who hasn’t played since Week 7, returned to practice Thursday but was extremely limited. Edmonds (ribs, toe) was limited but said he was prepared to play, while fellow running back James Conner (ribs) did not practice and will be a game-time decision.

–Field Level Media

Dec 5, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) warms up before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals, Bucs, Packers have shot to lock up playoff spots

Three NFC teams have a chance to lock up postseason berths by the end of Week 14 play on Monday.

The Arizona Cardinals (10-2) host the Los Angeles Rams (8-4) on “Monday Night Football,” and they’ll clinch a playoff berth with a win or tie. A win would also reduce their magic number to one to clinch the NFC West.

Even if they don’t win, they would earn at least a wild-card berth if other events occur, which include a loss or tie by the Minnesota Vikings and a San Francisco 49ers loss.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3) host the Buffalo Bills (7-5) on Sunday afternoon. The Bucs will clinch the NFC South title with a win and a loss or tie by both the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.

They also could seal a playoff spot if they tie the Bills and the following happens: losses by the Panthers, Saints and Vikings, and losses or ties by the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Football Team.

For the Green Bay Packers (9-3), it will take a win Sunday night in their home game against the Chicago Bears (4-8), plus a Minnesota loss or tie, to win the NFC North title. They also could achieve that milestone if they tie the Bears and the Vikings lose.

The Packers would clinch a playoff berth, though not the division title, if they win and the 49ers lose and the Saints lose or tie their game.

In another scenario, they’d make the postseason if the Saints lose or tie, the Rams lose, and the 49ers tie.

The Week 14 schedule includes the following games that have a bearing on the playoff hunt:
Pittsburgh (6-5-1) at Minnesota (5-7)
New Orleans (5-7) at New York Jets (3-9)
Atlanta (5-7) at Carolina (5-7)
San Francisco (6-6) at Cincinnati (7-5)

–Field Level Media

Dec 10, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reacts during pregame warmups before a game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Patriots miss playoffs for first time since 2008

The New England Patriots will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

The Patriots were eliminated from postseason contention Sunday after losing 22-12 at the Miami Dolphins. The defeat dropped the Patriots’ record to 6-8, meaning that the franchise will finish at .500 or worse for the first time since the 2000 season, coach Bill Belichick’s first with the team.

Tom Brady, who led the Patriots’ dynasty before he left during the offseason to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was diplomatic when asked about the end of New England’s long playoff run.

“As far as the Patriots, they have their own thing going,” Brady said. “I’ve really been focused on how my play needs to be at quarterback (and) the execution I need. They’re not really an opponent of mine.

“Obviously, I have a lot of friends there, a lot of great relationships, but they’ve been focused on what they need to do and I’ve been trying to focus on what my job is.”

New England’s loss came one day after the Buffalo Bills clinched the AFC East for the first time since 1995.

–Field Level Media

Dec 13, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Dion Dawkins (73) and offensive guard Ike Boettger (65) celebrate a touchdown catch by wide receiver Gabriel Davis (13) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third quarter at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

NFL playoff scenarios: Bills on verge of AFC East title

Five more NFL teams will have a chance to wrap up a berth in the playoffs in Week 15 — some on their own, others with some help.

Thus far, the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers have clinched spots in the AFC, with the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints set in the NFC.

The Buffalo Bills (10-3) have a clear path to both the playoffs and a division title. A win over the Denver Broncos (5-8) would give them the AFC East championship, as would a Miami Dolphins loss or a Buffalo tie combined with a Miami tie.

Even with a loss, the Bills could seal a playoff spot with a loss by the Baltimore Ravens (8-5) to the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12), or a Buffalo tie and Baltimore tie.

Other scenarios:

The Tennessee Titans (9-4) play the Detroit Lions (5-8) on Sunday and can clinch under the following scenarios: a win and a Baltimore loss; a win, plus a loss or tie by the Las Vegas Raiders and a Miami loss and a Cleveland Browns win or tie; or a win plus a Raiders loss or tie and a Miami loss, giving Tennessee or Cleveland the strength of victory tiebreaker over Miami.

The Los Angeles Rams (9-4) host the New York Jets (0-13) on Sunday. The Rams will earn a playoff berth with a win or tie, or a tie in the Chicago Bears-Minnesota Vikings game.

The Seattle Seahawks (at Washington, 6-7) will clinch with a win or tie, or a tie between the Bears and Vikings.

The Tampa Buccaneers (at Atlanta, 4-9) will earn a berth with a win and a tie between the Bears and Vikings.

Also, the Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) can clinch the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs with a win at the New Orleans Saints (10-3), combined with a loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers and a Bills’ loss or tie.

The Steelers (11-2) play Cincinnati (2-10-1) on Monday night and will clinch the AFC North title with a win, or a Cleveland loss, or if both the Steelers and Browns tie.

Should the Saints beat the Chiefs, they will claim the NFC South title. They also can win it with a Tampa Bay loss, or if both the Saints and Buccaneers tie.

The Packers already have won the NFC North.

–Field Level Media