/December 24,2017 (AP)(STL.NEWS) — The Latest on the 16th Sunday of the NFL regular season. (all times Eastern):
The NFL’s Christmas Eve schedule is over, as are the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff hopes.
The Seahawks (9-6) stayed alive in the NFC wild-card race, beating Dallas (8-7) 21-12. They play Arizona next week, and are battling the Falcons (9-6), who play Carolina, for the final NFC spot. The Falcons, who beat Seattle earlier in the season, own the tiebreaker.
The Jaguars clinched the AFC South earlier when Tennessee lost. But Jacksonville’s 44-33 loss at San Francisco clinched a bye for New England.
The other late game featured two non-playoff teams, as Arizona shutout the Giants 23-0.
Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott has 73 yards rushing at halftime in his return from a six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations.
The Cowboys led Seattle 9-7 at halftime in what amounts to a playoff elimination game thanks to a couple of 51-yard field goals from Dan Bailey, including one that caromed in off the right upright.
Dallas didn’t hesitate to use Elliott in his first game back. Last year’s NFL rushing leader had 15 carries and averaged 4.7 yards per carry with a long of 9 yards. Elliott had two catches for 6 yards.
— Schuyler Dixon Reporting from Arlington, Texas
The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers continued to have the most players protesting during the national anthem in Week 16 of the NFL season.
Most of Seattle’s defensive linemen were among 12 Seahawks who sat or knelt during the national anthem before their game against the Dallas Cowboys.
At the Jaguars game at San Francisco, 49ers Eric Reid, Marquise Goodwin, Louis Murphy and Eli Harrold all kneeled.
Giants defensive lineman Olivier Vernon raised his fist during the anthem in Arizona.
Those 17 players bring the Week 16 total to 21, as four players protested in earlier games.
President Donald Trump has criticized players for protesting, a practice started last year by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The NFL playoff picture got clearer after the early games, as the Detroit Lions were eliminated, the Saints and Panthers locked up spots; and the Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC West again.
The Chargers stayed alive with a win over the Jets, 29-13. The Patriots remained in position for the top seed in the AFC with a 37-16 win over the Bills. Buffalo remains tied with the Chargers and Titans, who lost 27-23 to the Rams, for a wild-card spot.
Atlanta is out of the NFC South race, but can make it three division teams in the playoffs by beating Carolina next week. The Panthers secured a playoff spot Sunday with a 22-19 win over Tampa Bay.
The Chiefs won their third straight game, a 29-13 division-clinching win over Miami, which was eliminated officially.
The Bengals eliminated the Lions with a 26-17 victory.
The Browns remained on track for a winless season, losing 20-3 to Chicago.
Referee Walt Anderson and his crew are having a rough day in Nashville.
The Tennessee Titans attempted an onside kick after DeMarco Murray scored to tie the game at 20 with 4:23 left in the third quarter. Brynden Trawick easily recovered the short kick for Tennessee.
But officials threw a flag. Then Anderson announced that the Rams had taken their first timeout before the kickoff.
Then Anderson announced there was no timeout because the ball had not been put in play. And he said, “First down.”
The Titans wound up kicking deep after all the confusion with fans booing heavily.
— Teresa M. Walker reporting from Nashville, Tennessee
The Falcons have failed for a second time to score from inside the 2-yard line.
Devonta Freeman was stopped short on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to start the fourth quarter, keeping New Orleans’ 20-3 lead intact.
In the third quarter, Freeman turned the ball over on a fumble on a run from the 2-yard line.
The fourth-down stop came after receiver Julio Jones caught a third-down pass with his feet clearly in the end zone, but unable to bring the ball across the goal line. The Falcons challenged the spot, but the call on the field was upheld.
— Brett Martel Reporting from New Orleans
New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams left in the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers with a back injury and will not return.
Williams was taken to the injury tent early in the game, but returned. It was not immediately certain when he was hurt.
New York was already without defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who was not active a week after being benched for being late to a team meeting.
The Jets are also playing with a makeshift offensive line after right tackle Brandon Shell left with a head injury after he tackled wide receiver Keenan Allen, who intercepted Bryce Petty’s desperation heave to end the first half. Shell was replaced by Brent Qvale.
Center Wesley Johnson is active, but has been dealing with a hip injury and was replaced in the starting lineup by Jonotthan Harrison. Right guard Brian Winters was ruled out on Friday with an abdominal injury, and Dakota Dozier started in his place.
— Dennis Waszak Jr. reporting from East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Turnovers are becoming the story in the Falcons-Saints game.
Early in the second half, Falcons linebacker Deion Jones intercepted a pass that deflected off of receiver Ted Ginn’s hands and returned it inside the Saints 5-yard line.
Jones, a former LSU player, now has intercepted Brees three times in his first four games against his hometown team.
But the Falcons couldn’t take advantage because running back Devonta Freeman fumbled on a hit by defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, with linebacker Manti Teo recovering.
Late in the first half, Saints defensive back Marshon Lattimore made a memorable interception that bounced off his backside before he grabbed it. That led to a Ginn touchdown catch.
The Saints lead 13-3 in the third quarter.
— Brett Martel reporting from New Orleans
Bills running back Travaris Cadet has been carted off the field late in the second quarter with a severe right ankle injury.
Cadet was inserted into the game for Buffalo’s two-minute drill, and on his first rush of the game had his ankle bent awkwardly as he was tackled by Trey Flowers.
Several players from both teams took a knee as Cadet was attended to by Buffalo’s training staff. His ankle was placed in an air cast. He was helped to the cart after several minutes.
— Kyle Hightower reporting from Foxborough, Massachusetts. (edited)
2:07 p.m. ET
New Orleans’ Drew Brees has eclipsed 70,000 yards passing for his career, becoming the third quarterback in NFL history to do so.
The Saints’ all-time leading quarterback, now in his 17th season, joins Peyton Manning (71,940 yards in 17 seasons) and Brett Favre (71,838 yards in 20 seasons).
Brees entered the game with 69,961 yards.
— Brett Martel reporting from New Orleans
The loss of Pro Bowl kicker Greg Zuerlein already has cost the Los Angeles Rams at least four points.
Sam Ficken, the replacement signed to replace Zuerlein when the Rams had to place him on injured reserve , missed an extra point in the first quarter. Then coach Sean McVay sent Ficken out to attempt a 35-yard field goal — his first career attempt — and the kick hit the right upright.
That might be why McVay chose to let punter Johnny Hekker throw from the Titans 32 on the opening drive. The Rams first took a delay of game penalty the Tennessee Titans declined, then Hekker threw deep to Michael Thomas only to have his pass knocked incomplete.
The Rams lead Tennessee 6-3 in the middle of the second quarter needing a win to clinch the NFC West for the first time since 2003.
— Teresa M. Walker reporting from Nashville, Tennessee
Four NFL players protested during the national anthem before the early games in Week 16.
Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters stayed off the field until after the anthem was played in Kansas City, while Dolphins Kenny Stills and the injured Michael Thomas kneeled as they have been doing much of the season.
Titans receiver Rishard Matthews stayed off the field until after “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Nashville, while Rams linebacker Robert Quinn raised his fist while Lee Greenwood sang. Three Titans, Wesley Woodyard, Jurrell Casey and Brian Orakpo raised their fists after the song.
Several Saints kneeled before the anthem in New Orleans, but stood during the song.
After a week of uncertainty, Brock Osweiler is starting at quarterback for the Denver Broncos at the Washington Redskins.
Coach Vance Joseph had refused to name his starter between Osweiler and Paxton Lynch. Joseph on Friday said Lynch, who was listed as questionable with an ankle injury, was about 90 percent healthy and was good enough to back up.
It’s Osweiler’s fourth start and sixth appearance of the season. He has completed 55.2 percent of his passes for 895 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions.
— Stephen Whyno reporting from Landover, Maryland
The Christmas Eve NFL schedule is full of games with playoff implications, and as many as six teams could be out with a loss.
The highlight of the early afternoon is the NFC South matchup with the Falcons in New Orleans. Tampa Bay travels to Carolina, and those results could decide the division, though it might come down to the Panthers at Falcons next week.
The Titans need a win at home against the Rams to stay in the AFC South race. The Bills are the No. 6 AFC wild card, but need a win over the Patriots and some help to stay there.
The Chargers would be out of the playoff race if they lose at the Jets, as would the Lions with a loss at Cincinnati. The Dolphins need a win at Kansas City to stay alive.
by Associated Press, published on STL.NEWS by St. Louis Media, LLC (AS)
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