MINNEAPOLIS: Alexander Mattison #25 of the Minnesota Vikings falls into the end zone for a rushing touchdown against Jalen Ramsey #5 and Jordan Fuller #4 of the Los Angeles Rams in the third quarter at US Bank Stadium on December 26, 2021. — AFP

WASHINGTON: Tom Brady and reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay clinched an NFL playoff berth on Sunday by defeating Carolina 32-6, securing the Buccaneers’ first division title since 2007. The Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals also sealed post-season spots thanks to Sunday’s results while New England missed a chance to clinch with a 33-21 home loss to Buffalo.

Brady, the 44-year-old quarterback who has won a record seven Super Bowl titles, completed 18-of-30 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown while Ke’shawn Vaughn and Ronald Jones each ran for touchdowns to spark the Bucs. Tampa Bay captured the NFC South division crown and reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since capturing the 2003 Super Bowl.

“I’m not taking anything for granted,” Brady said. “Winning the division is hard to do. We’ve earned it. We’re 11-4. It’s not the greatest record in the world but it’s certainly not the worst either. “We’ve lost some tough games. I think we’ve learned from each of those losses. Everything is ahead of us.” Brady is in the playoffs for the 19th time in his career and for a 13th consecutive season. The Rams also reached 11-4 and boosted their NFC West-division lead to a game over Arizona with a 30-23 victory at Minnesota.

“Punched a ticket to the playoffs, but we know that’s not the end goal,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. Matthew Stafford threw for 197 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted three times by Vikings defenders. Sony Michel ran a career-high 27 times for a season-best 131 yards and a Rams touchdown and Brandon Powell scored on a 61-yard punt return for Los Angeles. Minnesota’s defeat allowed Arizona (10-5) to clinch a playoff berth as well despite a Saturday loss to Indianapolis.

The Green Bay Packers, with an NFL-best 12-3 record, and Dallas Cowboys had already clinched NFC playoff berths, meaning five of seven NFC post-season spots are claimed with Philadelphia and San Francisco, both 8-7, the teams to beat for the others. Las Vegas’ 17-13 victory over Denver meant the Dallas Cowboys were assured of the NFC East title before they hosted Washington on Sunday night. But the Cowboys put an exclamation point on the evening with a 56-14 triumph that featured four touchdown passes by quarterback Dak Prescott.

Patrick Mahomes threw for 258 yards and three touchdowns as Kansas City secured a sixth consecutive AFC West division crown by routing Pittsburgh 36-10, the host Chiefs winning their eighth game in a row to become the first AFC team to secure a playoff berth. New England failed to become the first AFC playoff team as Buffalo’s Josh Allen completed 30-of-47 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns to ignite the Bills, who overtook the Patriots to lead the AFC East at 9-6.

Bengals rout Ravens

In another showdown to decide a division lead, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow completed 37-of-46 passes for a club-record 525 yards and four touchdowns to power the Bengals over visiting Baltimore 41-21. Burrow’s 299 passing yards in the first half, when the Bengals seized a 31-14 lead, were the most by any NFL quarterback in any half all season.

Houston’s Davis Mills threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns and Rex Burkhead ran 22 times for 149 yards and two touchdowns to lead the host Texans in a 41-29 upset of the Los Angeles Chargers, who fell to 8-7. Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Eagles over the visiting New York Giants 34-10. Chicago’s Nick Foles threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham and a two-point conversion toss to Damiere Byrd in the final seconds to lift the Bears to a 25-24 victory at Seattle. — AFP