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Broncos, Patriots and Falcons win divisions

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 3, 2012 at 3:04 am •  Published: December 3, 2012
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If NFL executives really adore parity, they must be wincing at the early division clinchings by the Broncos, Patriots and Falcons.

Not to mention the Texans securing at least a wild-card berth, with nearly all of December still remaining.

Sure, there could still be some close races, particularly in the NFC North and for the wild cards. But after Sunday's action, four teams already can make plans to play in January.

The Broncos (9-3) won their seventh straight, 31-23 over Tampa Bay, to take the AFC West.

"It's one step," veteran cornerback Champ Bailey said. "It's not like we've done everything we want to do."

New England (9-3) won its fourth AFC East crown in a row and the 10th for Tom Brady, a record for a quarterback, when it downed Miami, 23-16.

"It means something," star receiver Wes Welker said after the Patriots' sixth win in a row. "I guess you get kind of spoiled at times. It's kind of just another hat and T-shirt, but they are not easy to come by. You just go out there and try to play well and do the things we do. I think you do get spoiled a little bit with the things we do, but I'll take them as they come."

Atlanta (11-1) defeated New Orleans 23-13 on Thursday night, and when the Buccaneers fell at Denver, the Falcons owned the NFC South.

"We don't worry about it," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "We try not to think that far ahead. One of the things I've learned in my five years is that if you're worrying about what you're going to do in January in September, October, November and December, you're wasting your time."

Houston (11-1) didn't waste any time in its trip to Nashville, winning 24-10 to grab a wild-card slot. The Texans haven't secured the AFC South yet because they still have two games remaining with runner-up Indianapolis (8-4), which shocked Detroit 35-33 on the final play of their game.

"We're very happy, I can tell you that," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of the franchise's second playoff berth. "But I think they expected to get there, and they got there today. There's a lot more to work on. We've got to continue to push our group."

Elsewhere, it was Kansas City beating Carolina 27-21 one day after Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend and then took his own life.

"It's been an incredibly difficult 24 hours for our family and our entire organization," Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said. "We have so many guys on our team and our coaching staff who are really, really hurting."

Also Sunday, it was Seattle 23, Chicago 17 in overtime; St. Louis 16, San Francisco 23 in OT; Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 20; Green Bay 23, Minnesota 14; Cincinnati 20, San Diego 13; Dallas 38, Philadelphia 33; Buffalo 34, Jacksonville 18; the New York Jets 7, Arizona 6; and Cleveland 20, Oakland 17.

The New York Giants (7-4) are at Washington (5-6) in a key NFC East game Monday night.

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BRONCOS 31, BUCCANEERS 23

At Denver, Peyton Manning threw three touchdowns, including one to defensive tackle Mitch Unrein.

Manning threw for 242 yards. He now has 29 touchdown passes on the season, moving past Jake Plummer and John Elway for the most by a Denver quarterback in a single year.

Manning threw two of the scores to Demaryius Thomas, who finished with eight catches for 99 yards, and Broncos linebacker Von Miller returned an interception for his first NFL score.

Rookie running back Doug Martin managed only 56 yards on 18 carries for Tampa Bay (6-6).

PATRIOTS 23, DOLPHINS 16

At Miami, Brady was sacked four times and threw an interception, just his fourth all season. But a botched punt, roughing-the-punter penalty and fumble by Miami led to 17 New England points, and another penalty negated a Dolphins touchdown on an interception.

The Patriots (9-3) are assured of their 12th consecutive winning season. Miami (5-7) lost to New England for the fifth straight time.

TEXANS 24, TITANS 10

At Nashville, the Texans set a franchise record for wins in a year and have won six in a row.

Rookie Whitney Mercilus recovered a fumble and had two sacks for a, well, merciless defense. After needing overtime in their past two wins, the Texans forced six turnovers and had six sacks of Jake Locker.

Matt Schaub threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns, and Arian Foster ran for a TD.

The Texans swept Tennessee (4-8), the team they replaced in Houston, for only the second time.

COLTS 35, LIONS 33

At Detroit, top overall pick Andrew Luck guided a sensational 11-play, 75-yard drive that took just 67 seconds. He threw a short pass that Donnie Avery took 14 yards into the end zone with no time left.

The Colts (8-4) stayed in control of the AFC wild-card race one season after going 2-12. Detroit (4-8) lost for the fourth straight time, including three in a row at home after leading in the final quarter.

CHIEFS 27, PANTHERS 21

At Kansas City, Mo., the Chiefs gave themselves a reason to be proud a day after the Belcher tragedy.

Belcher shot his girlfriend multiple times at a residence near Arrowhead Stadium, then drove to the team's practice facility and turned the gun on himself as general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel looked on.

On Sunday, Brady Quinn threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns, and Jamaal Charles ran for 127 yards as Kansas City snapped an eight-game losing streak during one of the most difficult seasons the franchise has ever experienced.

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