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Patriots clinch East, Panthers lose again

SHARE Patriots clinch East, Panthers lose again

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The New England Patriots clinched the AFC East on Sunday, beating Carolina 38-6 and giving the Carolina Panthers an ignominious spot in NFL history as the first team to lose 15 straight games in the same season.

It was New England's first division title since 1997.

The Panthers went out in the same hapless way they played all season — committing six turnovers, two for touchdowns on interception returns of 46 yards by Ty Law and 76 yards by Otis Smith.

While the Patriots (11-5) head into the playoffs, the focus in Carolina now shifts off the losing and on to George Seifert, who could be ousted at any time, and Steve Spurrier, whose name has been buzzing around Charlotte since his resignation as coach at Florida on Friday.

PACKERS 34, GIANTS 25: At East Rutherford, N. J., The Packers got what they wanted — the right to open the playoffs next week against San Francisco in Green Bay. And the Giants' Michael Strahan got what he wanted with the NFL single-season sacks record, a late present from Brett Favre.

Before lying down and letting Strahan fall on him with 2:42 left, Favre threw two touchdown passes and Ahman Green scored on runs of 25 and 1 yard. Strahan finished with 22 1/2 sacks, a half more than Mark Gastineau's record in 1984.

LIONS 15, COWBOYS 10: At Pontiac, Mich., A record for Emmitt Smith and a rare victory for the Detroit Lions brightened the last NFL game at the Silverdome.

The Dallas Cowboys' star became the first running back to reach 1,000 yards in 11 straight seasons in the Lions' win. He broke the record he shared with former Lion Barry Sanders on a 13-yard run on his 13th carry late in the third quarter.

Smith ran for 77 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries to finish his season with 1,021 and increase his career total to 16,187, behind only Walter Payton's 16,726.

49ERS 38, SAINTS 0: At New Orleans, Jeff Garcia threw four touchdown passes for the second time this season against New Orleans, and completed 14 of 21 passes for 263 yards.

San Francisco (12-4), which recorded its third shutout in the last six games, had a chance to get a home game in the first round of the playoffs until a 27-21 upset loss to the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday. Green Bay's 34-25 victory over the New York Giants meant the 49ers will visit Lambeau Field next weekend.

STEELERS 28, BROWNS 7: At Pittsburgh, Troy Edwards scored on a 32-yard fumble return to start the second half and the Steelers regained some playoff momentum by beating the Browns.

In a game that meant little to Pittsburgh except that it was against a rival, many of its starters played only a half, and some didn't play at all due to injuries.

But the Steelers (13-3) didn't want to go into the AFC playoffs with consecutive losses to Cincinnati and Cleveland (7-9), although they had already gained home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

BENGALS 23, TITANS 21: At Nashville, Tenn., Neil Rackers kicked three field goals, including the game-winner with 20 seconds left, as the Bengals beat the Titans.

The Bengals (6-10) finished as they started, with a two-game winning streak and ended up with the most wins in a season since 1997. They also ended a seven-game losing skid to the Titans (7-9).

REDSKINS 20, CARDINALS 17: At Landover, Md., For the second time this season, backup QB Kent Graham won a game after starter Tony Banks was injured. Stephen Davis broke his own franchise season rushing record and scored the winning touchdown with 3:11 left as the Redskins beat the Arizona Cardinals in a battle for .500.

On the third offensive play after Banks left with a knee injury, Graham set up the winning touchdown by fighting off a rusher to complete a left-handed flick to Ki-Jana Carter for an 8-yard gain on third-and-7.

COLTS 29, BRONCOS 10: At Indianapolis, Peyton Manning threw for two touchdowns, Dominic Rhodes rushed for 141 yards and the Colts forced four turnovers and allowed a season-low points total.

Manning completed 16 of 30 passes for 191 yards, and Rhodes provided the running threat that opened up the passing game, running for more than 100 yards for the fifth time this season for Indianapolis (6-10). He finished the season with 1,104 yards, the first undrafted rookie to rush for more than 1,000.

RAMS 31, FALCONS 13: At St. Louis, The St. Louis Rams locked up home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, reaching a number of milestones along the way in a by-the-numbers regular-season finale.

Marshall Faulk became the first player in NFL history with four straight 2,000-yard seasons and Kurt Warner recorded the second-highest passing yardage total ever in a 31-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

SEAHAWKS 21, CHIEFS 18: At Seattle, Trent Dilfer, who hasn't lost a start since October 2000, and Shaun Alexander did their best to get the Seattle Seahawks into the playoffs. Now they must wait to see if they were successful.

Dilfer passed for two touchdowns and Alexander scored on a 44-yard run as the Seahawks got a 21-18 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Seattle can get into the playoffs as an AFC wild-card team on Monday night if the Baltimore Ravens lose at home to the Minnesota Vikings.

DOLPHINS 34, BILLS 7: At Miami, The Miami Dolphins won't have to travel for the playoffs this week thanks to another victory at home.

Lamar Smith rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown Sunday to help the Dolphins clinch a home game in the first round of the AFC playoffs by beating the Buffalo Bills.

The game began shortly after New England won the AFC East by drubbing Carolina 38-6, which dashed the Dolphins' hopes of winning the division and earning a first-round bye.