The Jacksonville Jaguars are AFC South champions for the first time in five years, a title secured when Josh Allen returned a fumble 37 yards for a touchdown that helped them seal a 20-16 victory over Tennessee on Saturday night.
Rayshawn Jenkins forced Josh Dobbs’ fumble, and Allen scooped up the bouncing ball and ran, untouched, the other way for a lead that held up against the Titans in a win-and-in game in the regular-season finale for both.
Dobbs fumbled again on the ensuing possession, and the Jaguars (9-8) began to celebrate their most significant regular-season victory in franchise history.
“This was one of those games where our defense had to win it for us,” Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “Us guys on offense, we’re a little frustrated because we left a lot out there, but in these games, just win. Our defense picked us up today. They played great.”
Jacksonville earned the No. 4 seed in the conference playoffs and will host either the Los Angeles Chargers or Baltimore in the wild-card round next weekend.
It’s the 18th time in the last 20 seasons that at least one NFL team won its division after finishing last or tied for last the previous year.
Jacksonville closed the regular season with their fifth consecutive victory and became the fifth team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a five-game losing streak and a five-game winning streak in the same season.
“We just kept believing,” Lawrence said. “Nobody ever lost faith. Everybody believed in each other. We never started pointing the finger. We lost five straight games and we just got tighter.”
Tennessee (7-10) lost their final seven games, a skid that had just about everyone writing them off before Saturday’s finale.
The Titans rested several starters last week and essentially created a 10-day break to get healthy. They returned to their bruising brand of football and looked like they would pull an improbable turnaround – until Dobbs’ turnover changed the game.
The Jaguars were six-and-a-half-point favorites and a near-sellout crowd was on hand to witness what many thought would be more of a coronation than a scratch-and-claw nail-biter.
The Titans didn’t do anything spectacular. With quarterback Ryan Tannehill (ankle) out for the season, they leaned on Dobbs – an aerospace engineer who has bounced around the league – to be smart with the ball and Derrick Henry to grind out tough yards. And they relied on a defense that’s been stout against the run all year.
It worked for 37 minutes – and then it unraveled.
Henry finished with 109 yards on 30 carries. Dobbs completed 20 of 29 passes for 179 yards, with a touchdown, an interception and a fumble.
Lawrence completed 20 of 32 passes for 212 yards, with a touchdown and a fumble. Lawrence had two would-be touchdowns in the second half that fell incomplete. He overthrew Zay Jones in the end zone and underthrew Christian Kirk.
Kansas City Chiefs 31-13 Las Vegas Raiders
The Kansas City Chiefs don’t believe in simply wrapping up the AFC’s top seed. They want to have fun doing it.
Late in the first half Saturday against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Chiefs huddled and spun in a circle, broke out into the shotgun with running back Jerick McKinnon taking a direct snap. He faked a handoff to Kadarius Toney and pitched to quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who then threw to Toney for a nine-yard touchdown.
But, it didn’t count. A holding penalty brought back the play. The Chiefs then scored anyway to take full control of what became a 31-13 victory.
The play is called the Snow Globe or Arctic Circle, depending on who is asked. But, even if it didn’t count, it underscored the Chiefs’ creativity and willingness to have fun, even while playing for playoff positioning and a week off.
“We talked about it on the side, ‘Let’s see if we can get some confusion going and throw something back.'” Mahomes said. “It worked. We just had the holding penalty. We got some good things going for the playoffs, and whatever we run has to work.”
That, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, was the bottom line.
“You do (want to make it fun), but you want to score, too,” Reid said. “It’s not fun when you’re not doing that.”
Almost lost was the NFL record for total yards in a season that Mahomes set. He passed for 202 yards and rushed for 29 against the Raiders, giving him 5,608 total yards this season. That surpassed the record of 5,562 yards set by Drew Brees in 2011 with the New Orleans Saints.
“Pat was on fire,” Reid said. “He’s throwing these (statistics) out there like they’re nothing.”
More than setting the mark, Mahomes helped ensure the top seed for the Chiefs (14-3) and a bye in the first round of the playoffs, which begin next weekend. Kansas City, however, is not assured of home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Because Monday night’s Buffalo-Cincinnati game was canceled, the Chiefs could wind up playing the Bills or Bengals in the AFC championship on a neutral field. The Buffalo-Cincinnati game was initially postponed after Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest. Hamlin remains in critical condition, but is improving.
This was the first NFL game played since Hamlin was hospitalized. Both teams wore black shirts in warmups that read “LOVE FOR DAMAR” with his No. 3 in the middle. Mahomes also wore a hoodie that had a drawing of the player with “HAMLIN STRONG” below it.
Instead of a moment of silence before the game, the Allegiant Stadium public-address announcer asked fans to cheer on Hamlin’s recovery.
“It was definitely weird,” Mahomes said of returning to the field. “It’s a game that you love, you play your whole life. It’s brought so many great things to you. But, obviously, with the situation that happened Monday night with Damar, you still have that in the back of your mind. You want to be there for him, and there is so much stuff bigger than football.”
The Chiefs matched their franchise record for regular-season victories, set in 2020, and they set a team mark with their 17th consecutive game of at least 300 yards of offense.
The Raiders (6-11) ended their first season under coach Josh McDaniels with three consecutive losses and four defeats in five games. They made the playoffs a year ago, but now they face serious questions at quarterback, offensive line and throughout the defense.
Jarrett Stidham started his second game in a row in place of the sidelined Derek Carr, and this performance did not go nearly as well as the first one. Stidham completed 22 of 36 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked six times.
A week ago, he threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-34 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Stidham said he hasn’t thought much about trying to retain the starting job next season with the Raiders.
“Do I feel like I’m that caliber player in this league?” he said. “Absolutely. I just tried to be ready for my opportunity these last two weeks and try to take full advantage of it.”
Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, who was dealing with hip and oblique injuries as well as a reported family emergency, was a game-day decision but played. He rushed for 45 yards and could possibly win the NFL rushing title with 1,653 yards.
But Jacobs fell short of the franchise rushing record of 1,759 yards set by Marcus Allen in 1985. This was potentially Jacobs’ final game as a member of the Raiders because his fifth-year option was not picked up. His performance this season has given Las Vegas officials plenty to consider.