On Day 1, Bills Seek Williams and the Dolphins Trade Marshall

Linebacker and defensive end Mario Williams, a former first-round pick of the Houston Texans who is considered the best defensive player available among the 532 free agents, arrived in Buffalo less than two hours after free agency began at 4 p.m. Eastern, with the Bills expected to try to keep him from leaving without agreeing to a contract.

Moments after free agency began, the made a surprising move, acquiring the Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall in a trade with Miami. The gave up two second-round draft picks to acquire Marshall from Denver two years ago, but received two third-rounders from the Bears.

The move leaves the Dolphins and their new coach, Joe Philbin, with no No. 1 receiver. The Dolphins are in the market for a new starting quarterback — they have met with Manning — but it also removes the headache of Marshall’s complaints about quarterbacks while Philbin incorporates a new system.

The trade reunites Marshall with Jay Cutler. Marshall and Cutler worked well together in Denver from 2006 to 2008, and they are joined in Chicago by Jeremy Bates, who worked in Denver and is now the Bears’ quarterbacks coach.

The Washington Redskins, who moved into the second overall draft spot to take Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, were trying to sign almost everyone else in what has become their annual — and all-too-often fruitless — cannonball into free agency. They overhauled their receiving corps even though the N.F.L. has docked them $36 million in cap space over the next two years because of what the league said were improperly structured contracts during the 2010 uncapped season.

First, they reeled in the former Indianapolis receiver Pierre Garcon, who will provide a speedy downfield — though drop-prone — threat. Fox Sports reported that the five-year contract includes a staggering $21.5 million in guaranteed money, which puts him behind the $24 million in guarantees Santonio Holmes got from the Jets, remarkable for a player who has never had a 1,000-yard season.

The Redskins also negotiated with the former San Francisco receiver Josh Morgan and the former Broncos receiver Eddie Royal.

While the Redskins were remaking their offense, New Orleans was making sure its powerhouse unit stayed largely intact, signing receiver Marques Colston to a five-year deal before free agency began.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who must try to compete with the Saints in the N.F.C. South and who have a whopping $45 million in salary-cap space, signed the former San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson to a five-year deal, giving quarterback Josh Freeman the option he needs to continue to develop.

The most intriguing signing, though, may have been the one that happened nearly 24 hours before free agency began. , who did not play last season, signed a one-year contract with the late Monday night after a workout in which he caught passes from Coach Jim Harbaugh.

In 2010, an unhappy Moss was with three teams and caught only 28 passes. But Moss has apparently retained his speed, and if he remains healthy and committed to playing hard, the low-risk contract — there was no guaranteed money — provides the 49ers and the likely starting quarterback Alex Smith with the vertical threat their passing game lacked in 2011, when they lost the N.F.C. championship game to the Giants.

THOMAS STAYS WITH JETS The Jets re-signed the outside linebacker Bryan Thomas for another year. The team selected Thomas in the first round of the 2002 draft. Thomas, 32, missed the final 12 games last season after tearing his Achilles’ tendon on Oct. 2. No one from a group including Josh Mauga, Garrett McIntyre and Jamaal Westerman distinguished himself as a replacement.

Retaining Thomas, 32, should not preclude the Jets from pursuing additional help at the position, and they could make a play for Jarret Johnson, a longtime favorite of Coach Rex Ryan’s from Baltimore. BEN SHPIGEL

Patriots Clinch a Bye and Lions a Rare Playoff Berth

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).

Dolphins Interview Philbin Again for Coaching Job

Philbin met with team owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland in New York City, where Ross has an office.

Philbin decided to remain in consideration despite his son’s recent drowning in a Wisconsin river. After spending a week away, Philbin rejoined the Packers on Sunday for their divisional playoff loss to the New York Giants.

“He’s a special, special human being,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. “What Joe has gone through, and what his family has gone through, obviously tough is not the proper word. … His ability to come back meant a lot to all of us. It was not expected, it was not asked of him. But Joe’s a class act.”

Also scheduled for second interviews with Ross and Ireland in New York this week were Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Todd Bowles, the Dolphins’ interim coach for their final three games this season.

The three coaches are finalists for the job after top choice Jeff Fisher turned down the Dolphins last Friday to become coach of the St. Louis Rams.

Philbin completed his first interview in South Florida on Jan. 7.

“I think he would make an excellent head coach,” McCarthy said. “I’ve said that before.”

Philbin has been with Green Bay since 2003 and has been offensive coordinator since 2007, although McCarthy calls plays. The Packers have ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in yardage each of the past five seasons, including third in 2011.

McCoy completed his first interview with Miami on Monday. He won praise for adapting the offense at midseason when Tim Tebow became the starting quarterback, and the Broncos made an improbable run to the second round of the playoffs before losing Saturday at New England.

The Oakland Raiders also have received permission from Denver to interview McCoy, and they interviewed Bowles.

Bowles was assistant head coach and secondary coach before taking over the Dolphins when they fired Tony Sparano last month with three games to go in his fourth season as coach. Bowles became the sixth coach since 2004 for the Dolphins, who finished 6-10 and haven’t won a playoff game since 2000.

After being rejected by Fisher, Ross said the team planned to interview several more candidates. But they may want to move more quickly now that the Indianapolis Colts are looking for a coach. The Colts fired Jim Caldwell on Tuesday.


AP Sports Writer Chris Jenkins in Green Bay, Wis., contributed to this report.