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SAN DIEGO CLINCHES AFC WEST; JETS OUT OF POSTSEASON PLAY

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The playoff picture became slightly clearer Sunday, with San Diego finally clinching the AFC West and Atlanta and the New York Jets knocked out of the postseason.

Buffalo, meanwhile, was on the verge of playoff elimination for the first time since 1987 after the New England Patriots routed the Bills 41-17 at rainy Rich Stadium. The Bills, who have lost the past four Super Bowls, would be eliminated if Kansas City defeated Houston in a later game Sunday.For now, the Bills (7-8) needed help from five teams, not to mention a victory next week at Indianapolis, to have another Super Bowl shot.

In early Sunday games, New England beat Buffalo 41-17, San Diego defeated the New York Jets 21-6, Green Bay downed Atlanta 21-17, Chicago topped the Los Angeles Rams 27-13; it was Steelers 17, Browns 7; Giants 16, Eagles 13; and Tampa Bay edged Washington 17-14 and the Chiefs beat the Oilers 31-9.

In later games, it was Miami at Indianapolis and Cincinnati at Arizona.

On Sunday night, it was the Los Angeles Raiders at Seattle.

Dallas is at New Orleans on Monday night.

In Saturday's games, it was San Francisco 42, Denver 19 and Detroit 41, Minnesota 19.

Patriots 41, Bills 17

With Drew Bledsoe throwing three TD passes, New England scored 38 straight points to bury Buffalo before 56,784 fans, the smallest crowd at a non-strike game in Buffalo since Sept. 20, 1987.

With a victory Saturday at Chicago, New England (9-6), winners of six straight, would make the playoffs for the first time since 1986.

The Bills led 17-3 with 5:53 gone in the second quarter before Bledsoe (22 of 31 for 276 yards) hit Ben Coates with a 4-yard TD pass and Vincent Brisby with a 7-yard score to tie it 17-17. On the second play of the third quarter, Rickey Reynolds returned a fumble 25 yards for a TD to make it 24-17.

Reynolds recovered a fumble on the Bills' next possession and then Bledsoe hit Brisby for a 6-yard TD to up the lead to 31-17.

Frank Reich started in place of Jim Kelly, who was out with a knee injury.

Chargers 21, Jets 6

Finally, the Chargers are AFC West champions as Stan Humphries threw three TD passes and Junior Seau knocked the Jets' Boomer Esiason (concussion) out of the game in the second quarter.

"I'm proud of my starts and wins and the two division titles in three years," Humphries said. "No one expected us to be anywhere this year and we proved what we can do."

The Chargers (10-5) had lost their previous two games when a win would have given them their second division title in three years. Humphries (19 of 26 for 280 yards) connected on scoring passes of 2 yards to Mark Seay and 60 and 44 yards to Tony Martin, who had three catches for 116 yards.

The Jets (6-9), who led 6-0, were eliminated from the playoffs with their fourth straight loss. Jack Trudeau replaced Esiason and was 11 of 20 for 99 yards.

Packers 21, Falcons 17

In the final game at Milwaukee after 61 seasons, Brett Favre (29 of 44 for 321 yards) scrambled 9 yards for a TD with 14 seconds to keep the Packers (8-7) in the playoff chase and knock out the Falcons (6-9).

Atlanta took its first lead, 17-14, with 5:33 left when Bobby Hebert, subbing for Jeff George (broken finger), hit Terance Mathis with a 5-yard TD pass and then Andre Rison with a 2-point conversion pass.

Bears 28, Rams 13

Chicago awaited the results of two late Sunday games to learn its playoff fate.

At Soldier Field, the Bears (9-6) held Los Angeles (4-11), losers of six straight, to 37 yards rushing. Jerome Bettis was held to 7 yards on eight carries.

Raymont Harris (23 carries, 92 yards) and Lewis Tillman ran for short TDs and Steve Walsh had a 3-yard TD pass to Keith Jennings in handing the Rams their sixth straight loss.

Buccaneers 17, Redskins 14

Washington (2-13) completed its first winless season at home while Tampa Bay won its fourth straight, the Bucs' longest winning streak since starting 5-0 in 1978.

Washington, in its first year under coach Norv Turner, set a team record for most losses in a season. The Redskins also dropped their seventh in a row, their longest losing streak since 1964-65.

Errict Rhett had TD runs of 1 and 3 yards and finished with 64 yards on 23 carries. Heath Shuler was 17 of 35 for 201 yards and two TDs for the Redskins.

Giants 16, Eagles 13

At Philadelphia, the New York Giants are still in contention.

The Giants survived a bizarre finish and beat the Philadelphia Eagles 16-13 Sunday. Brad Daluiso's 18-yard field goal with 54 seconds left gave them their fifth straight victory and kept them in the playoff hunt.

The Eagles, who benched quarterback Randall Cunningham in favor of Bubby Brister, fell out of the postseason picture.

Neither team was sure where it stood in the final, frenzied moments.

With the Eagles driving for a tie, Victor Bailey was stopped at the New York 27 following a 5-yard reception, and time seemed to run out.

But with players and spectators on the field and the game apparently over, referee Gordon McCarter ruled that two seconds should be put back on the clock because Giants linebacker Jessie Armstead had picked up the ball and run downfield.

With no timeouts left, Brister then spiked the ball to stop the clock. The extra time was not enough to save the Eagles, though, when Eddie Murray's 44-yard field goal attempt was wide left.

Steelers 17, Browns 7

At Pittsburgh, the Cleveland Browns didn't have a chance. Not only were they playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, they were playing against themselves - and the 1970s.

The Steelers, pumped to a Super Bowl-like pitch by a towel-twirling, throwback-to-the-'70s crowd and given two gift scores by the Browns, beat Cleveland 17-7 Sunday to secure the AFC Central title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Steelers (12-3) won their seventh in a row, matching their longest streak since 1983, and have won 12 games for only the fourth time in franchise history. They won Super Bowls each of the previous three times they did it.

The Browns (10-5), committing three turnovers and three bad penalties, were swept by Pittsburgh for the first time since 1981. They will enter the playoffs as a wild-card team even if they finish with the second-best record in the AFC.

Chiefs 31, Oilers 9

At Kansas City, Mo., Joe Montana, sharper than he's looked in more than a month, was giving the Kansas City Chiefs renewed hope.

Montana, out for two weeks because of an injured left foot, threw two touchdown passes Sunday and the Chiefs beat Houston 31-9. Kansas City remained in the playoff chase while sending the dispirited Oilers to their 11th straight loss.

The Chiefs (8-7) snapped their first three-game losing streak in six years. They can still claim an AFC wild-card berth by beating the Raiders in Los Angeles next Saturday.

Kansas City's victory, coupled with New England's 41-17 victory over Buffalo, officially eliminated the Bills, who lost the last four Super Bowls. Last season, Buffalo beat the Chiefs in the AFC championship game.