Packers backup QB Matt Flynn, left, did something Sunday soon-to-be-MVP and Green Bay starter Aaron Rodgers has never done before: threw six TD passes in a single game.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Everything seemed to be lining up just right for Matthew Stafford the Detroit Lions — until they actually had to line up and play the Green Bay Packers.
Facing a Packers team that already had clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC and was resting Aaron Rodgers and other key players for the playoffs, the Lions had a chance to improve their playoff seed and gain some momentum.
Stafford was up for it, throwing for a career-high 520 yards with five touchdown passes. But the Lions' defense couldn't find any way to stop Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in the Packers' wild 45-41 victory in Sunday's season finale at Lambeau Field.
The Lions (10-6) head to the playoffs for the first time since 1999 as a wild card, but could have clinched the No. 5 seed with a win. Instead, they'll be the No. 6 seed and go to New Orleans.
"Everyone's frustrated because you want to win anytime you play," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "But it won't put a damper on our season, and we're excited about our opportunity and we're in the playoffs."
Although Detroit hasn't won a road game against the Packers since 1991, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said they fully expected to win Sunday.
"Maybe it makes us angry," Schwartz said.
Is that a good thing?
"We'll see," Schwartz said.
Detroit has lost 21 straight road games to the Packers, including the postseason.
"We're going to use this as motivation," Stafford said. "We had a chance and didn't get it done, so we've got to get out there and start making it happen. We've got to get on a run here. That's what it's all about in the playoffs."
According to STATS LLC, it was the first time in NFL history opposing quarterbacks each threw for 400-plus yards and five-plus touchdowns in a game. The teams' combined 971 net yards passing broke the record of 906 set earlier this season in a Week 1 game between New England and Miami.
"Flynn played a great game," Stafford said. "Their guys were making plays all over the field and scoring points."
Calvin Johnson had 11 catches for 244 yards and a touchdown, and Titus Young had a pair of touchdowns for the Lions.
"You feel (if) you put up 40 anywhere, you're supposed to win," Johnson said. "It was a shootout today and both offenses were rolling."
It was an ideal afternoon for the Packers (15-1), who got to rest Rodgers and several other big-name players without losing momentum going into the playoffs.
With NFC home-field advantage for the playoffs secured, the Packers also rested several key players with nagging injuries: cornerback Charles Woodson, linebacker Clay Matthews, wide receiver Greg Jennings, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, running back James Starks and wide receiver Randall Cobb.
With Rodgers bundled up on the sideline in cold and windy conditions at Lambeau, Flynn threw a touchdown to Jermichael Finley with 1:10 left to take the lead for good.
Before that, it looked like the Lions would take advantage of the Packers' resting starters.
Near the end of the third quarter, Stafford threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Smith and a 2-point conversion to Tony Scheffler for a 34-31 lead.
Then Ndamukong Suh came up with a big stop for the Lions, sacking Flynn on third down — then mocking Rodgers' trademark "title belt" celebration. Suh was suspended for two games after he stomped on Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith in Green Bay's win on Thanksgiving.
But Flynn threw a 35-yard touchdown to Donald Driver to put the Packers back ahead.
With Green Bay leading 38-34, Johnson drew a pass interference penalty on Tramon Williams to give the Lions the ball at the Green Bay 28. Tight end Tony Scheffler hauled in a one-handed catch to set up first-and-goal on the 2.
Johnson then was called for offensive pass interference in the end zone, but Stafford threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Scheffler in the back of the end zone and the Lions took a 41-38 lead with 2:39 left.
Flynn wasn't finished, finding James Jones for a 40-yard completion to set up first-and-goal at the 6 with 1:19 left. Flynn found Finley to win it.
"Your immediate reaction is you feel like you had a good game plan, we feel like we should have stopped them and we didn't," Vanden Bosch said. "But anybody that's frustrated and anybody's that's feeling sorry for themselves right now has got to get over it quickly because we've got to move on."
GIANTS 31, COWBOYS 14
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Eli Manning threw three touchdown passes and the New York Giants won an all-or-nothing game to claim the final spot in the NFL playoffs, beating the Dallas Cowboys 31-14 on Sunday night.
The regular season went down to the last game, and it was coach Tom Coughlin's Giants (9-7) who won the NFC East and returned to the postseason for the first time since 2008.
The loss left Jerry Jones' Cowboys (8-8) out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
New York won three of its final four games and earned a wild-card home game next Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons (10-6).
The Cowboys lost four of their final five games in their first full season under coach Jason Garrett.
CHIEFS 7, BRONCOS 3
DENVER (AP) — Tim Tebow fell short in his latest comeback bid, yet his Denver Broncos are still going to the playoffs.
Former Bronco Kyle Orton got his revenge in leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a 7-3 win over Denver on Sunday, but it's the Broncos who clinched the AFC West and are headed to the postseason, where they will host Pittsburgh next Sunday.
After congratulating their former starting quarterback, the Broncos celebrated the end to their six-year playoff drought once San Diego beat Oakland 38-26 later Sunday.
Losers of their last three games, the Broncos finished 8-8, same as the Raiders. They win their first division title since 2005 on a tiebreaker.
RAVENS 24, BENGALS 16
CINCINNATI (AP) — Ray Rice had a pair of long touchdown runs that gave the Ravens their third AFC North title and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
Baltimore (12-4) will get a first-round bye followed by a playoff game at home, where the Ravens are 8-0 this season.
Despite the loss, the Bengals (9-7) also got into the playoffs, securing the final wild card as the Jets and Broncos also lost. It's Cincinnati's third playoff appearance in the last 21 years. The Bengals will be at Houston on Saturday.
With Paul Brown Stadium packed with Bengals fans for the first time all season, Rice made the biggest plays on a blustery afternoon. He had a career-best 70-yard touchdown run on the fourth play.
Rice also broke a 51-yard touchdown run with 5:41 to go and finished with 191 yards on 24 carries.
CHARGERS 38, RAIDERS 26
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Philip Rivers threw three touchdown passes and Richard Goodman returned a kickoff 105 yards for another score as Oakland's playoff hopes ended.
The Raiders (8-8) went into the final day of the season needing to win and get help to end an eight-year playoff drought. They got the assistance they needed when Denver (8-8) lost 7-3 at home to Kansas City but were unable to do their part by beating the Chargers (8-8). The Broncos won the division based on record versus common opponents.
STEELERS 13, BROWNS 9
CLEVELAND (AP) — Isaac Redman replaced an injured Rashard Mendenhall and ran for a touchdown as Pittsburgh limped into the AFC playoffs.
Redman scored on a 7-yard run in the third quarter for the Steelers (12-4), who finished tied with Baltimore for first in the AFC North but lost the tiebreaker because the Ravens beat them twice. Pittsburgh visits AFC West champion Denver next Sunday.
The Steelers had to survive two fumbles by Redman in the second half and a pass into the end zone by the Browns (4-12) on the final play that was batted down.
Mendenhall hurt his right knee in the first quarter on a short run and didn't return. His status for the postseason is unknown.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for 221 yards on a severely sprained ankle.
PATRIOTS 49, BILLS 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady led the Patriots back from a three-touchdown deficit as they scored 49 straight points and clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Brady finished the regular season with the second most yards passing in NFL history, 5,235, after throwing for 338. Drew Brees, who last week broke Dan Marino's record of 5,084 with the Miami Dolphins in 1984, added 389 Sunday for the New Orleans Saints and ended with 5,486.
The Patriots (13-3) finished the season with eight straight wins. But for the second straight game, they fell behind early. They beat the Miami Dolphins 27-24 after trailing 17-0 at halftime then rallied after the Bills (6-10) scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, drawing boos from the home fans.
JAGUARS 19, COLTS 13
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Indianapolis locked up the top pick in April's NFL draft, setting the stage to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Maurice Jones-Drew ran for a season-high 169 yards, clinching the NFL rushing title and breaking Fred Taylor's single-season franchise record in the Jaguars' victory.
The Jaguars (5-11) became the first AFC South opponent to sweep Indianapolis (2-14) since 2002 and gave outgoing owner Wayne Weaver a victory in his final game.
The Colts may have been the big winners, though. Indy would have dropped to the No. 2 spot in the draft with a victory in Jacksonville. Instead, owner Jim Irsay will have the choice to draft Luck and give the team a young quarterback to join four-time MVP Peyton Manning.
TITANS 23, TEXANS 22
HOUSTON (AP) — Matt Hasselbeck threw two touchdown passes, but the Titans' slim playoff chances ended when they did not get the helped they needed from several other teams.
The Titans (9-7) have their first winning record since 2008 in Mike Munchak's first season.
Houston (10-6) will head into its first postseason on a three-game losing streak. The Texans were locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs and coach Gary Kubiak played mostly reserves in the second half. Houston hosts Cincinnati on Saturday.
Rookie starter T.J. Yates left the game after one series with a shoulder injury and was replaced by Jake Delhomme. Kubiak said Yates could have returned if necessary.
The Texans pulled within a point late in the game on a 5-yard TD pass by Delhomme, but failed on a 2-point conversion that would have won it.
DOLPHINS 19, JETS 17
MIAMI (AP) — Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions and the Jets were eliminated from the AFC wild-card playoff race.
Each turnover led to a field goal, and the Jets gave up six third-down conversions during the Dolphins' 21-play, 94-yard drive for their only touchdown.
The Jets (8-8) came into the game needing a win along with losses by three other teams to reach the playoffs. Instead, they finished the season with three consecutive defeats, a big step backward for a team that reached the AFC title game each of the past two years.
The Dolphins (6-10) completed their third consecutive losing season, their longest such stretch since the 1960s.
SAINTS 45, PANTHERS 17
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees threw for 389 yards and five touchdowns, and New Orleans set a slew of NFL and club records.
The NFL single-season records set by the Saints (13-3), who head into the playoffs on an eight-game winning streak, included offensive yards with 7,474, team yards passing with 5,347 and first downs with 416. The Saints are home to Detroit on Saturday night.
Brees, who was 28 of 35, finished with a record 468 completions this season, breaking Peyton Manning's 2010 mark of 450. He finished the season completing 71.6 percent of his passes, breaking his own 2009 NFL record 70.6 completion percentage.
Tight end Jimmy Graham had 97 yards receiving, finishing with 1,310 yards for the season, a record for tight ends later broken by New England's Rob Gronkowski.
The Panthers finished 6-10.
CARDINALS 23, SEAHAWKS 20, OT
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Larry Fitzgerald's spectacular one-handed grab set help up a 28-yard field goal by Jay Feely to give Arizona its fourth overtime victory at home in the last nine weeks of the season.
Arizona (8-8) finished the season 7-2 after a six-game losing streak left it 1-6. Seattle (7-9) had rallied to tie the game after trailing 20-10 early in the fourth quarter.
Fitzgerald caught nine passes for 149 yards after one reception for 2 yards in the first half. John Skelton completed 22 of 40 for 271 yards and a touchdown with one interception for Arizona.
BEARS 17, VIKINGS 13
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Charles Tillman's interception return in the second quarter gave Chicago (8-8) the lead for good, and the Bears stopped their five-game losing streak despite 3½ sacks by Jared Allen.
Allen finished the season with 22 sacks, behind Michael Strahan's NFL mark of 22½ for the Giants in 2001.
Joe Webb relieved Christian Ponder at quarterback for the Vikings (3-13) for the third time in the last month, but the scrambling Webb wasn't able to keep the Vikings from matching the worst record in franchise history.
EAGLES 34, REDSKINS 10
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Michael Vick threw three touchdown passes, including a 62-yarder to DeSean Jackson, as the Eagles closed the season with four straight wins.
The Eagles (8-8) are hoping to carry the momentum from their strong finish into next season. But they can't be satisfied after entering the year with Super Bowl aspirations.
It's the first time since 2007 that Philadelphia didn't qualify for the postseason and just the fourth time in coach Andy Reid's 13 seasons. The Eagles set a franchise record for total yards on offense with 6,386.
The Redskins (5-11) finished in last place in the NFC East for a franchise-worst fourth straight year. It was Mike Shanahan's worst full season in 18 years as a coach.
49ERS 34, RAMS 27
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Michael Crabtree caught two touchdown passes, one from kicker David Akers on a perfectly executed trick play, and San Francisco wrapped up the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC and a first-round bye.
Crabtree and Vernon Davis had big days for a team short of pass catchers and Tarell Brown had a pair of interceptions that led to touchdowns as the 49ers (13-3) beat the Rams (2-14) for the second time the last five games.