CHICAGO: Aaron Rodgers threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with 38 seconds remaining on Sunday (Monday in Manila) to give Green Bay a 33-28 victory at Chicago and a National Football League (NFL) playoff berth.
The Packers joined the New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles in claiming playoff spots on the final day of the regular season.
Philadelphia beat Dallas 24-22 in a head-to-head battle for the NFC East division crown and a playoff spot, while New Orleans secured a post-season position with a 42-17 rout of Tampa Bay and San Diego edged Kansas City 27-24 in overtime to seal a playoff berth.
Rodgers, who missed the past seven games with a broken collarbone suffered in a loss to Chicago last month, connected with wide-open Cobb, who had been out for more than two months with a knee injury, to convert a third consecutive fourth-down play on the winning drive.
The Bears saw their season end on an interception off a desperation pass on the game’s final play as the Packers took the NFC North division title.
In the American Conference, Denver captured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 34-14 romp at Oakland in which Peyton Manning set single-season NFL pass yardage and touchdown records and the Broncos finished with a one-season NFL record 606 points.
New England joined Denver with a first-round bye after defeating Buffalo 34-20.
In the National Conference, Seattle beat St. Louis 27-9 to secure a home-field playoff edge and first-round bye, while NFC South champion Carolina clinched a bye as well with a 21-20 win at Atlanta.
Next weekend’s American Conference playoff openers will find Kansas City at Indianapolis and San Diego at Cincinnati, where the Bengals are unbeaten this season and seeking their first playoff win since 1990.
In the National Conference next weekend, New Orleans will visit Philadelphia and San Francisco will travel to Green Bay.
Philadelphia led Dallas 17-16 late in the third quarter, but the Cowboys’ denied the Eagles on a fourth-down run from the 1-yard line.
But on the next Eagles possession, Bryce Brown scored on a 6-yard touchdown run around left end, giving Philadelphia a 24-16 edge with 6:09 to play.
The Cowboys, guided by Kyle Orton after Tony Romo was sidelined after surgery Friday on a herniated disk, answered on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Orton to Dez Bryant, but when a two-point conversion pass failed, Dallas still trailed 24-22 with 3:50 to play.
The Eagles were forced to punt to Dallas but Brandon Boykin intercepted an Orton pass to end the last Cowboys threat.
It marked the third consecutive season the Cowboys had reached a season-ending game where the winner made the playoffs and the loser was out. Dallas lost all three.
Manning, the Broncos’ 37-year-old quarterback, threw for 266 yards and four touchdowns in the first half at Oakland then sat out the second half.
Manning finished with 5,477 passing yards, one more than the old mark set by Drew Brees of New Orleans in 2011, and 55 passing touchdowns, adding four to the record he set last week, the old mark being 50 by New England’s Tom Brady in 2007.
Four teams chased the final American Conference berth with Pittsburgh beating Cleveland 20-7 to force San Diego to win or miss the playoffs.
The host Steelers improved to 8-8, avoiding their first losing season since 2003.
Reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore was eliminated with a 34-17 loss at Cincinnati, the Ravens missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007.