The final touchdown of the NFL regular season put an end to the longest playoff drought in U.S. pro sports.
The touchdown belonged to the Cincinnati Bengals, the drought no longer belongs to the Buffalo Bills and somewhere in the midst of all that, the Baltimore Ravens found themselves staring at a very long offseason.
Andy Dalton drove the Bengals 90 yards and capped it with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd on fourth-and-12 with 44 seconds left in the last game going Sunday evening.
Cincinnati won 31-27 to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs and put Buffalo in. The last-minute loss at home to a team with nothing to play for (Cincinnati finished 7-9) was a brutal way for Baltimore to end its season. The Ravens only needed to win to get in.
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Buffalo, meanwhile, had wrapped up a 22-16 victory at Miami only moments before the late-game drama in Baltimore.
Safe to say, the Bills — to say nothing of the folks in charge of their Twitter account — were watching every moment in the locker room.
Their 17-year playoff absence had been the longest in American pro sports. Now burdened with that distinction are baseball’s Seattle Mariners, who haven’t reached the playoffs since 2001.
Buffalo’s last trip to the playoffs ended badly — with the Music City Miracle .
Also sewing up playoff spots Sunday were Tennessee and Atlanta. The playoffs start next Saturday when the Titans visit the Chiefs and the Falcons visit the Rams. On Sunday, it’s Buffalo at Jacksonville and Carolina at New Orleans. New England, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Minnesota all have first-round byes and will start the playoffs the weekend of Jan. 13-14.
In case you missed it, here are the other top topics after the NFL season’s 17th and final regular-season Sunday:
OH-FER: All you can really say is that it was Oh-So-Browns. Cleveland’s final chance to avoid a winless season came to an end on fourth-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 27 when Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer stepped up and fired a strike directly at receiver Corey Coleman’s hands. It went right through them and cemented Cleveland’s 28-24 loss to the Steelers. The Browns joined the 2008 Detroit Lions as only the second team to go 0-16 in a season. That comes a year after their 1-15 campaign, though Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said coach Hue Jackson would not lose his job.
COACHES GONE: Colts coach Chuck Pagano gave an emotional post-game talk to his team after a 22-13 win over Houston — one that sounded as if he knew he wouldn’t be working there much longer. And he was right. Moments later, the Colts fired Pagano, who had just completed his third straight season without a playoff appearance. He wasn’t the only one let go Sunday. The Raiders fired Jack Del Rio shortly after their 30-10 loss to the Chargers closed out a 6-10 season. ESPN has been reporting the Raiders are trying hard to bring Jon Gruden back to the sideline. John Fox (Bears), Jim Caldwell (Lions), Vance Joseph (Broncos), Bruce Arians (Cardinals) and Marvin Lewis (Bengals) are among those who could be out, either voluntarily or involuntarily, come Monday.
HARRISON SHINES: Released by the Steelers after not getting the playing time he wanted, 39-year-old linebacker James Harrison signed with the Patriots this week and responded with two sacks against the Jets in New England’s 26-6 win. The victory secured home-field advantage through the playoffs for the Patriots. Before his ugly exit from Pittsburgh, Harrison had a grand total of three tackles and one sack in five games in 2017. Against the Jets, he finished with five tackles and two QB hits in addition to the two sacks.
OUT BUT NOT DOWN: Nobody would want to face the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs. Nobody will have to. But watch out in 2018. Sparked by the arrival of former Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo, the Niners (6-10) finished the season on a five-game winning streak, closing with a 34-13 victory over the Rams, who rested many of their starters while looking toward next week’s playoffs.
WAIT FOR NEXT YEAR: Though the Browns had wrapped up the top pick in the 2018 draft a week earlier, they got another win of sorts when the Texans lost. Cleveland owns Houston’s top pick next year, and by losing, the Texans finished 4-12 and in the fourth draft position. The second pick goes to the Giants and the third selection goes to the Colts. Denver and the Jets helped themselves by losing. Each finished 5-11; the Broncos will pick fifth and the Jets sixth.
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