Matthew Stafford threw three touchdown passes in the first half, then high-fived fans during a postgame victory lap around Ford Field.
“You could just get a sense of how much it meant to them,” he said. “It was fun to give them that kind of joy.”
The Lions (10-5) earned an N.F.C. wild card, turning around a franchise that three years ago became the first team in league history to finish 0-16. Coach Jim Schwartz said it was his idea to have the players reach out and touch the fans after Saturday’s win. Schwartz also presented a game ball to the owner William Clay Ford, whose first season leading the franchise was in 1964.
“There’s going to be a time that we don’t celebrate getting to the playoffs,” Schwartz said, “but it’s not going to be tonight.”
Knowing they could move into the postseason simply by winning, the Lions held the Chargers scoreless until midway through the third quarter.
The Chargers (7-8) were eliminated from playoff contention. San Diego will miss the postseason for the second straight year. Their fade could cost Coach Norv Turner his job.
“We all know that’s something that’s discussed at the end of the year,” Turner said.
¶ Rallying from their worst half of the season, the scored on their next five possessions and beat the , 27-24, to clinch a playoff bye. “You don’t want to, certainly, make a habit of this,” said Tom Brady, who scored on two 1-yard sneaks and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass. The Patriots (12-3) trailed by 17-0 at halftime but made some adjustments and went to their no-huddle offense more, keeping the Dolphins (5-10) from making defensive substitutions. And Brady was on target after a first half in which heavy defensive pressure against a makeshift offensive line affected his accuracy. He completed just 7 of 19 passes for 87 yards and was sacked three times. But in the second half, he completed 20 of 27 passes and led one scoring drive after another.
Backup Leads Steelers
Rashard Mendenhall ran for 116 yards and a touchdown and the backup quarterback Charlie Batch played efficiently in place of the injured Ben Roethlisberger in the Steelers’ 27-0 win over the Rams. The Steelers (11-4) kept alive their hopes of a division title even with Roethlisberger (sprained ankle) watching the game from the sideline. Pittsburgh hardly needed him; its defense dominated St. Louis (2-13), which was shut out for the second time this month.
¶ The beat the Browns, 20-14, to move one step closer to clinching the A.F.C. North title. Ray Rice ran for 87 yards and caught one of Joe Flacco’s two touchdown passes for the Ravens (11-4), who led by 17-0 at halftime. Baltimore, which swept its season series with Pittsburgh, can win the division by defeating Cincinnati next week.
Win in Overtime
Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 36-yard field goal 2 minutes 13 seconds into overtime, giving the visiting Raiders a 16-13 victory over the Chiefs. Carson Palmer passed for 237 yards and a touchdown for the Raiders (8-7). His perfectly thrown 53-yard pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey early in overtime set up Janikowski’s winning kick. Kansas City’s Kyle Orton threw for 300 yards and a touchdown — to Dwayne Bowe with 1:02 left to tie the score. But the Raiders then went three-and-out, and Orton connected with Bowe for 25 yards and with Terrance Copper for 11 more to set up Ryan Succop for a potential winning field goal on the final play of regulation. Succop’s 49-yard try was blocked by Trevor Scott. “An ugly win is better than a pretty loss,” Palmer said.
¶ Rather than inspiring visiting Denver to another dramatic rally, Tim Tebow sealed the most dreadful performance of his two-year career by throwing four interceptions — all in the second half, and with two returned for touchdowns 18 seconds apart — as the Broncos lost to the Bills, 40-14. “My confidence is just fine,” said Tebow, who finished 13 of 30 for 185 yards. A.F.C. Wild-Card Battle
Andy Dalton threw two touchdown passes and Cincinnati withstood yet another fourth-quarter comeback by Arizona, giving the Bengals a 23-16 victory over the Cardinals that kept them in the running for a playoff berth. Another small crowd at Paul Brown Stadium saw the Bengals (9-6) move a game ahead of the Jets (8-7) for the final A.F.C. wild-card spot. The Bengals can clinch the berth with a win at home next week against Baltimore. Dalton threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Gresham and a 19-yarder to Jerome Simpson, who did a somersault over a defender and landed on both feet in the end zone. Dalton joined Peyton Manning (26), Charlie Conerly (22) and Dan Marino (20) as the only N.F.L. rookies to throw 20 touchdown passes.
¶ Matt Hasselbeck passed for 350 yards and a touchdown, and Jared Cook had 169 yards receiving to help the Titans beat the Jaguars, 27-13, in their final home game. The Titans head to Houston for the season finale with an outside shot at a playoff spot and a chance at their first winning record since 2008.
In Other Games
Cam Newton added to his remarkable first N.F.L. season by breaking Peyton Manning’s rookie record for passing yards and setting a franchise mark with a 91-yard touchdown toss to Brandon LaFell as the Panthers handed the Buccaneers their ninth straight defeat, 48-16. Newton entered the game needing 18 yards passing to break Manning’s rookie record of 3,739 and did so with a 7-yard pass to LaFell on the first possession. He finished with three touchdown passes and a 49-yard scoring run — he has accounted for 34 touchdowns this season — as Carolina (6-9) scored on eight of its first nine possessions.
¶ David Akers kicked four field goals, including a 39-yarder with 2:57 left, and the 49ers held on for a 19-17 victory over the Seahawks in Seattle. Akers set a league record with his 42nd field goal of the season.
¶ Minnesota lost running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Christian Ponder to injuries on consecutive plays to start the second half, but their replacements, Toby Gerhart and Joe Webb, filled in capably and led the Vikings to a 33-26 victory over the Redskins that ended their six-game losing streak. Gerhart scampered up the sideline for a 67-yard run to start Minnesota’s next series after Peterson and Ponder were hurt and finished with 109 yards on 11 carries. Webb again made a case to be a starting quarterback by passing for two touchdowns and running for another for the Vikings (3-12).