Wild Finishes, Butt Fumble Recovery and Colossal Collapse Headline NFL Week 17

The final Sunday of the NFL's regular season ended with record-breaking performances, teams ending playoff droughts, crazy endings, a mammoth collapse by one AFC team and a fumble recovery by a player's backside that prevented the Dallas Cowboys from making the playoffs.

It's like 2020 never ended.

First of all, there were the Miami Dolphins, who entered the final weekend with a 10-5 record and clung to the top wild card spot in the AFC. All the Dolphins needed to make the playoffs was either a win, or a loss by one of four other teams. The Dolphins lost, badly. The Buffalo Bills whipped the Dolphins, 56-26.

The loss gives Buffalo the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

But for the Dolphins, all they needed was a loss by one of four teams. Cleveland was one of them, but the Browns held off the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-22.

Baltimore was one of them, but the Ravens throttled hapless Cincinnati, 38-3.

That left just the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans. However, a loss by the Dolphins allowed Tennessee to clinch a playoff spot despite what happens in their game against the Houston Texans. The Colts defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars, 28-14, which effectively eliminated the Dolphins from the playoffs.

The New York Giants entered the regular-season finale with just five wins and 10 losses. The Giants needed a win over the Cowboys (6-10) and then a loss by Washington (6-10) later tonight to clinch the NFC crown and No. 4 playoff spot.

New York Giants Fumble
Wayne Gallman #22 of the New York Giants recovers his own fumble after a first down against the Dallas Cowboys during the final minute of the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on January 03, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Giants led, 23-19, but the Cowboys drove deep into Giants territory to perhaps take a late lead with less than two minutes remaining. Dallas quarterback Andy Dalton tossed an interception to New York's Xavier McKinney, which seemed to almost ice the game for New York. All the Giants needed was one first down to win.

But here's where things got weird.

New York ran on first down for 5 yards, setting up a 2nd-and-5. New York running back Wayne Gallman ran for the first down. But instead of falling to the turf, he kept running. He fumbled. As Cowboys defenders dove toward the ball, Gallman fell onto the ball with his backside.

A scrum ensued on the turf, the ball squirted out and it appeared the Cowboys recovered. One official awarded the ball to the Cowboys while another pointed toward the Giants. The ruling on the field was that New York recovered the ball. After review, the officials confirmed that Gallman landing on the ball, with his behind, was enough to consider it a possession.

The Giants then knelt on the ball to win the game and improve to, ahem, 6-10 and a shot at the playoffs.

The Cowboys not only miss the playoffs, they face an offseason of deciding whether or not they will resign quarterback Dak Prescott (who has a season-ending ankle injury) or sign another quarterback.

As for record performances, here are a few:

  • Minnesota 's Justin Jefferson broke a Super Bowl-era record for receiving yards by a rookie, finishing the season with 1,400 yards. It's also a new Minnesota record that was previously held by Randy Moss.
  • Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans on Sunday caught a quick pass to give him 1,006 yards on the season, which made him the first player in NFL history with a 1,000-yard season for seven-consecutive seasons to begin a career. Ironically, he injured his knee on the next play and missed the remainder of the game.
  • Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on Sunday became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards or more in multiple seasons. He also hit the mark during the 2018 season.
  • Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady started his 299th game Sunday, passing the mark previously held by Brett Favre.
  • Brady, 43, also has 43 touchdowns this season (40 passing, three rushing).
  • Brady is only the second quarterback to throw 40 or more touchdowns in a season for two different franchises (Peyton Manning).
  • Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen on Sunday became the first player in NFL history to pass for 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns, and also rush for five touchdowns in a single season. He
  • The Cleveland Browns on Sunday, with their 24-22 win over Pittsburgh, clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2002—the longest drought in the league until Sunday.