A late Christian McCaffrey touchdown gave the San Francisco 49ers a 24-21 win over the Green Bay Packers and moved them one win from the Super Bowl.

The 49ers, the number one seeds in the NFC, had trailed 21-14 heading into the fourth quarter.

Jake Moody cut the gap with a 52-yard field goal before McCaffrey crashed his way over from six yards with 67 seconds on the clock.

Brock Purdy’s 32-yard touchdown pass to George Kittle had given the 49ers a 7-6 interval lead, the Packers responding after the break as Jordan Love threw touchdown passes to Bo Melton and Tucker Kraft either side of McCaffrey’s first score of the night.

The 49ers had not come from behind to win throughout the regular season, but Purdy drove them into position for the decisive score after rookie Anders Carlson had missed a field goal from 41 yards for Green Bay.

In the AFC, the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens saw off the Houston Texans 34-10.

Lamar Jackson threw for two touchdown passes, running for two more as the Ravens pulled away in the second half.

The two teams swapped field goals in the first quarter, Jackson finding Nelson Agholor from three yards in the second quarter before Steven Sims’ 67-yard punt return tied things up at 10-10.

Jackson eased the Ravens in front in the third quarter as he ran in on a score from 15 yards.

The Ravens pulled away in the final quarter, Jackson finding Isaiah Likely from 15 yards and going in himself from eight yards. Nick Tucker capped off the victory with a field goal from 43 yards late on.

The Ravens will host the Buffalo Bills or defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, who meet on Monday, in the AFC Championship game.

The 49ers will entertain the Detroit Lions or Tampa Bay Buccaneers to decide the NFC champions.

The Baltimore Ravens moved to within one win of the Super Bowl as they saw off the Houston Texans 34-10.

Lamar Jackson threw for two touchdown passes, running for two more as the Ravens pulled away in the second half.

The two teams swapped field goals in the first quarter, Jackson finding Nelson Agholor from three yards in the second quarter before Steven Sims’ 67-yard punt return tied things up at 10-10.

Jackson eased the Ravens in front in the third quarter as he ran in on a score from 15 yards.

The number one seeds eased away in the final quarter, Jackson finding Isaiah Likely from 15 yards and going in himself from eight yards. Nick Tucker capped off the victory with a field goal from 43 yards late on.

The Ravens will host the Buffalo Bills or defending champion Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.

The Las Vegas Raiders are close to a deal that would remove the interim tag from Antonio Pierce’s title and make him the franchise’s next head coach, multiple media outlets reported Friday.

The move to stick with Pierce comes amid a pivotal coaching carousel cycle with former Patriots legend Bill Belichick and the University of Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh representing the top prizes.

Pierce, however, went 5-4 after he replaced Josh McDaniels mid-season, and many of the Raiders’ best players – including Davante Adams, Maxx Crosby and Josh Jacobs – have publicly lobbied to keep Pierce.

Last weekend, a report surfaced that Crosby would seek a trade if Pierce wasn’t hired as the team’s full-time head coach.

“Why wouldn’t we keep going the direction we’re going?” Crosby said after the Raiders’ final game. “The fact we’ve come together and done something special in such a short time is hard to do.

“We’ve got a guy who’s played at the highest level, won a Super Bowl, he’s been a captain, and now he’s a great coach and he’s a leader.”

Pierce, 45, played nine seasons in the NFL for Washington and the New York Giants. He was a starter on the Giants team that won Super Bowl XLII, beating the previously undefeated New England Patriots.

Among Pierce’s first decisions will be whether to retain interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree.

The Raiders face a crossroads at quarterback after Jimmy Garoppolo’s forgettable season. Rookie Aidan O’Connell finished the season as the team’s starter and had eight touchdowns with no interceptions in his last four games.

Las Vegas will also need to decide on the future of running back Josh Jacobs, who ended last summer’s contract dispute after training camp by signing a one-year deal.

“With AP, I am definitely 100 percent in,” Jacobs told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “However it looks, whatever it looks like.”

The Raiders hold the 13th overall pick in April’s draft as they look to return to their title-winning past.

The Dallas Cowboys will not be making a change at coach after all.

The Cowboys announced on Wednesday that Mike McCarthy will return next season.

There had been speculation that McCarthy would lose his job after Sunday's stunning 48-32 wild-card loss to the Green Bay Packers, but he'll return for a fifth season - his final one under his current contract.

"I believe this team is very close and capable of achieving our ultimate goals and the best step forward for us will be with Mike McCarthy as our head coach," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said in a statement. "There is great benefit to continuing the team's progress under Mike's leadership as our head coach."

 

The Cowboys rolled to their second NFC East crown in the past three years in 2023 by finishing 12-5 for the third year in a row. But this season ended like each of the previous two - with a play-off exit before the NFC conference title game.

With the latest post-season defeat, Dallas became the first team to lose to the No. 7 seed since the 14-team play-offs were implemented in 2020.

In four seasons at the helm in Dallas, McCarthy is 42-25. However, he is just 1-3 in the play-offs.

"Mike has the highest regular season winning percentage of any head coach in Cowboys history and we will dedicate ourselves, in partnership with him, to translating that into reaching our post season goals," Jones said.

Dallas hasn't made the conference title game since the 1995 season when it last won the Super Bowl.

"While we're all disappointed with the result on Sunday and with our play-off record, I am 100 percent supportive of him as our head coach and ability to reach our goals," Jones said.

Gloucester boss George Skivington believes that star wing Louis Rees-Zammit’s move to American football is not a “reflection on rugby”.

Rees-Zammit has rocked the rugby world by quitting a sport which brought him 32 Wales caps and a starring role for the British and Irish Lions on their 2021 tour of South Africa.

Wales and Gloucester, though, must now prepare for life without their prolific try-scorer as he heads to the United States, where the NFL’s International Player Pathway awaits him in his quest to forge a new career.

Skivington, though, does not think the sport losing such a box-office figure will start alarm bells ringing.

“I don’t think there are many people who have actually left the sport, really,” he said.

“This happens very rarely – Christian Wade would be the last time someone tried to move in this direction.

“I don’t think it is anything to do with rugby, his (Rees-Zammit’s) decision. It is just something he has always wanted to do.

“I don’t think it is a reflection on rugby at all, I think it is one person’s dream and the opportunity is there.

“I don’t foresee many rugby players going in that direction as a result of it. If it doesn’t work out, he will be back in the game, but I don’t think it is any reflection on rugby itself.”

Skivington confirmed that Gloucester would have discussions with Rees-Zammit, who made his Premiership debut for them as an 18-year-old, if things do not work out in the US.

In the meantime, though, he must plot the remainder of Gloucester’s season without a player whose dazzling try-scoring ability won worldwide admirers.

“We would talk to ‘Zam’ if things fall through, but his mindset is that he won’t be coming back and I think he has to have that mindset to go and do what he is going to try and do,” Skivington added.

“If it all changes, we will see where we are at.

“We would always welcome him back. If he comes back to rugby of course there will be conversations but his mindset as of Monday was very much that he is moving on from rugby and he is going to rip into American football.

“He desperately wants to go and do it and we are not going to stand in the way of someone with what is a pretty unique opportunity.

“He is changing sport. If it doesn’t work out, he might come back to rugby, but his mindset is he is leaving rugby for good.

“He is definitely not taking it lightly. He has got a 10-week programme and then hopefully he gets selected and he gets his foot in the door.

“We all hope he makes it, because it will be a great story if he does.”

Josh Allen’s three touchdown passes and a 57-yard running touchdown of his own led the Buffalo Bills to a 31-17 playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 27-year-old quarterback threw two touchdown passes in the first quarter to tight end Dawson Knox to give the Bills an early 14-0 lead.

He then produced a scintillating run through the midfield to the end zone to make it a 21-0 lead in the second quarter and make the game seemingly out of reach for Pittsburgh.

A touchdown before half-time and another in the fourth quarter gave Pittsburgh some hope, but the dagger came in the fourth quarter when Allen found Khalil Shakir and he dodged several would-be tackles to make it a two-touchdown game with six minutes left.

The win for the Bills sets up a mouth-watering match against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional round in Buffalo. The number one seed Baltimore Ravens will host the Houston Texans in the other AFC clash.

Former New England Patriots safety Duron Harmon has credited Bill Belichick with helping Tom Brady become the greatest player in NFL history, saying the legendary duo "needed each other".

Belichick and the Patriots parted ways last week, bringing an end to one of the most remarkable coaching tenures in league history.

The 71-year-old led the Patriots for 24 seasons, overseeing 18 playoff visits and taking the team to nine Super Bowls, winning six of those showpiece games with the most recent coming in 2019.

However, New England missed the playoffs in three of their last four seasons under Belichick, prompting team owner Robert Kraft to replace his long-serving coach with former linebackers coach Jerod Mayo.

Some have suggested Belichick's failure to win a Super Bowl without Brady diminishes his achievements somewhat, with the coach's overall NFL record without the quarterback standing at 85-102, but Harmon does not subscribe to that view.

"I think both those guys are motivated by one thing; being the best they can each and every day," Harmon – who played for Belichick's Patriots between 2013 and 2019 – told Stats Perform.

"Tom's job would be to be the best quarterback and rally his team. Bill's job was to be the best head coach and rally his team as well, and to make sure the coaches understand his vision so they can pass it to the players and put the best product on the field. 

"It's easy to try to put those two against each other, but I think at the end of the day, they needed each other. 

"They understand that they couldn't have accomplished what they accomplished in New England without each other.

"I think there's a great amount of respect that they have for each other. I'm still grateful and appreciative that I got to be around the greatest quarterback and the greatest head coach of all time."

Brady did manage to win one more title after he and Belichick parted ways in 2020, collecting his seventh ring by leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to glory at Super Bowl LV.

Harmon does not believe Brady was motivated by a desire to prove he could succeed without Belichick, saying: "I truly don't believe he needs any extra motivation. 

"This guy wanted to be the best player that he can be every day, whether it was with the Buccaneers, whether it was with the Patriots, he just wants to get the best out of himself every day. 

"I don't think it was, 'I want to prove I could do this without Bill', I think more so it was just him going to Tampa and doing what he does. 

"The thing that people don't realise, and I know Tom was always a great competitor, but the cultural style that came from Bill to him is what I believe gave him that extra motivation, that extra push to make Tom truly who he is. 

"As a young player, when he first took from Drew Bledsoe [in 2001], it was a very veteran-based team, so he wanted to gain the respect of not only the players, but also Bill Belichick. 

"Bill pushed him as best he could to be the best that he could be, and in the end, he became the best ever."

Having won three Super Bowls in six years in New England, Harmon is uniquely placed to offer an insight into the relationship between Belichick and Brady at the height of the Patriots' dominance.

"It was like yin and yang. It was Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson," he recalled.

"I was fortunate enough to be captain one year with the Patriots and saw how they interacted in the captains' meeting and how they were always on the same page. 

"There were times when Bill got on Tom in front of everybody, and it wasn't to demean Tom, but it was to let everybody know that there is a standard in this organisation, it doesn't matter who you are, whether you're the best player or you're the last guy on the practice squad. 

"Seeing those guys work together allowed me to see what that head coach-quarterback partnership is supposed to look like at the highest level."

Duron Harmon's defining memory of playing for Bill Belichick is not one of their three Super Bowl triumphs together, but the coach using a jar of marshmallows to motivate him in preseason. 

Belichick's remarkable 24-year stint in charge of the New England Patriots came to an end last week after he oversaw a career-worst 4-13 season in 2023, with former linebackers coach Jerod Mayo taking charge.

The 71-year-old led New England to nine Super Bowls throughout his 24 seasons at the helm, winning six of those with the most recent coming against the Los Angeles Rams at Super Bowl LIII. 

Safety Harmon was present for that triumph, as well as wins at Super Bowls XLIX and LI, as a regular fixture in a dominant Patriots side led by legendary quarterback Tom Brady.

Harmon remembers his time under Belichick fondly, but it is the coach's personable side, rather than his tactical acumen, which stood out most prominently. 

Asked for his defining memory of Belichick while speaking to Stats Perform, Harmon said: "It's crazy. It's not even a football field memory. It was a training camp. I can't remember what year it was. It had to be 2016.

"We still had Logan [Ryan], it was me, Logan, Devin [McCourty], and I think at the time we were all maybe dealing with something, like little injuries. I don't think we were practicing. 

"Bill came up to us. Logan, Dev, and I were stretching. I look up and he says, 'you Rutgers guys, you know what? You guys are soft like marshmallows'.

"We're like, 'what are you talking about?' He was like, 'not even practicing'. He goes on his spiel. 

"The next day, when we go into the meeting room, there's three big jars of marshmallows at our seats. We just start dying, laughing, because a lot of people don't see that side of Bill, but for us, that's the side that we've seen all the time.

"Then that preseason game against the Panthers, all three of us got interceptions and he came up to us at the end of the game and said, 'maybe I need to put marshmallows by your seats weekly'. 

"His great coaching style that I really appreciated was one thing, but having memories like that, where we can have a personable connection, will always go a long way for me."

Harmon believes Belichick's incredible work ethic is the secret to his success, saying: "When we won the Super Bowls, he let himself loose a little bit. I will tell you that. That's when you see him really just take a step back and enjoy it.

"I've been very privileged to be in this league for 11 years, and I can honestly say I've never been around anybody who works as hard as him each day. 

"That is the reason why the Patriots organisation has been successful for as long as it has been. He believes that if you want to have a championship team, there has to be a standard of excellence no matter what you're doing."

The consistency Belichick instilled in the Patriots was perhaps his most impressive accomplishment, with the team enjoying 19 consecutive winning seasons from 2001 to 2019.

Harmon hailed his ability to motivate players to go again, saying: "When we came back after winning the Super Bowl, he'd let us know that it's over, we don't talk about previous years.

"There were even times when he wouldn't let us wear the Super Bowl gear that we got in the building anymore, because he wanted us to realise this is a new year. 

"He does a tremendous job of letting us know we've got to put that year to bed. Now it's time to get working on the new one. Everybody buys in, because we know what happens when we do."

Bill Belichick's exploits with the New England Patriots will never be replicated and mark him out as the best coach in NFL history, according to the team's former safety Duron Harmon.

Last week, team owner Robert Kraft announced the end of Belichick's remarkable 24-year stint in charge of the Patriots, who he led to six Super Bowl titles – the most of any coach in the league's history.  

Belichick led New England to 18 playoff trips after taking charge in 2000, but the team missed the postseason in three of his final four campaigns at the helm. 

Their 4-13 record throughout the 2023 season was their worst under Belichick, whose last playoff win came back in 2019 as the Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams at Super Bowl LIII.

Despite a less-than-stellar end to his distinguished run in New England, Harmon – who won three Super Bowls throughout a six-year stint with the team between 2013 and 2019 – says Belichick's place in the history books is secure.

Asked what Belichick's Patriots legacy amounted to, Harmon told Stats Perform: "In my opinion, he's just the best coach who ever graced the NFL. 

"What he was able to accomplish over those 20-plus years as a Patriots coach, we've never seen it before. It will never be duplicated. 

"He set the standard extremely high for when people try to talk about dynasties. I'm just forever grateful that he chose me to be a part of his team and to be a part of his legacy."

While Belichick will turn 72 in April, it has been suggested that he may stay in the league as he chases down Don Shula's all-time record of 347 wins (regular season and playoffs), a tally he is currently 14 shy of.

The Los Angeles Chargers have been touted as a potential destination for Belichick, but Harmon cannot see the Patriots legend coaching elsewhere.

"I just can't see it," he said. "He and Tom Brady are the Patriots. They're what the Patriots stand for, to do your job, hard-nosed gritty football, those two together built the Patriots organisation. 

"So to see him go somewhere else... me personally, I can't see it, but the beauty about sports is you just never know. In due time, we will figure out whether he'll be somewhere else."

For the Patriots, attention quickly turned to the search for Belichick's successor, and 37-year-old former linebackers coach Jerod Mayo became the league's youngest head coach when his promotion was made official on Friday.

Having shared a locker room with Mayo throughout his first three seasons with the Patriots, Harmon believes he has all the attributes required to be a success. 

"My time there with him… he's a tremendous, tremendous leader. A leader of men, an intelligent person," Harmon said of Mayo.

"Most people say he's just a smart football player, but he's just an intelligent person. Straight out of retirement, he went and worked for a company, a big Fortune 500 company. 

"It shows who he is as a person and as a leader, that as soon as he gets done playing, somebody wants to hire him to lead this division of their company. 

"If I had to put my hat on or give my blessing to anybody, it would be Jerod Mayo."

Aaron Jones and Jordan Love starred as the Green Bay Packers upset the Dallas Cowboys 48-32 in the first round of playoffs.

Quarterback Love threw for three touchdowns and 272 yards in his playoff debut, while running back Jones scored three touchdowns as he ran for 118 yards.

The Packers jumped out to a 27-point lead to silence the Dallas crowd as Jones grabbed a first quarter touchdown and they added three more in the second quarter, including a 64-yard intercept from Darnell Savage.

Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott was intercepted twice as he passed for three touchdowns and 403 yards, but three more touchdowns in the second half sealed the game for Green Bay.

The Cowboys made a late surge with two touchdowns to tight end Jake Ferguson but the Packers’ lead was insurmountable.

They will head to face the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers in the NFC divisional round.

The Kansas City Chiefs outlasted the Miami Dolphins in freezing conditions to take a step towards a fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years.

With the temperature at a near-NFL-record low of minus 20C, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was instrumental in leading his side to a dominant 26-7 victory.

Mahomes threw for 262 yards and a touchdown without turning the ball over on a night where rushing was the focal point of Kansas City’s offence.

The strategy paid off as the Chiefs opened the scoring in the first few minutes and stayed in front from there.

An injury-depleted Miami was far from their high-scoring best, finishing with just 264 total yards as the Dolphins remain without a play off victory since 2000.

The cold weather wreaked havoc across the first day of the super wild card round, with the matchup between the Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers in Buffalo being rescheduled to Monday due to a potentially dangerous snowstorm.

Elsewhere, CJ Stroud threw for three touchdowns as the Houston Texans demolished the Cleveland Browns 45-14.

Stroud racked up 274 yards in the air without a turnover, while Browns quarterback Joe Flacco was picked off twice in the heavy loss.

With a potentially dangerous winter storm headed toward Buffalo, New York, the NFL was forced to postpone the wild-card playoff game between the Bills and visiting Pittsburgh Steelers.

The game, originally scheduled for 1 p.m. EST on Sunday, was moved to 4:30 p.m. EST on Monday after New York Governor Kathy Hochul issued a full travel ban for the Buffalo area.

Some meteorologists have projected that the incoming storm could produce lake effect snow accumulations of one to three feet with high winds and limited visibility.

The NFL has had its eye on weather forecasts all week. Saturday night, the Miami Dolphins visit the Chiefs in Kansas City, where the kickoff temperature is projected to be below -2 degrees Fahrenheit.

Winter weather could also affect fan travel in Detroit, where the Lions host the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night under the cozy dome at Ford Field.  

The New England Patriots have named inside linebackers coach and former player Jerod Mayo as their new head coach following the departure of long-serving Bill Belichick.

The Patriots on Thursday announced they and Belichick, 71, had mutually agreed to part ways following a 24-year tenure featuring six Super Bowl titles.

Belichick’s successor Mayo played for the Patriots from 2008 to 2015 before returning when he joined Belichick’s coaching staff in 2019. At 37, Mayo becomes the youngest current head coach in the NFL.

Captain for seven seasons and a Super Bowl champion in 2014, Mayo is the first former Patriots player to become head coach of the team.

He is to be formally introduced in his new role at a press conference next Wednesday.

Belichick took charge at the Patriots in 2000 and oversaw an unprecedented run of success, including three Super Bowl titles in the space of four seasons, as well as 17 AFC East division titles and 18 play-off appearances.

The Patriots ended the 2023 season with a 4-13 record, the worst of Belichick’s coaching career.

The New England Patriots wasted no time in naming a successor to Bill Belichick.

Multiple outlets reported Friday that the Patriots have promoted inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo to be their next head coach, one day after the team and Belichick announced they would part ways after a historic 24-year run.

Mayo, a former New England linebacker, spent the last five seasons on Belichick's staff. The 37-year-old becomes the youngest current head coach in the NFL and the first Black head coach in Patriots history.

 

Bill Belichick has left his role as New England Patriots head coach following 24 years and six Super Bowl titles with the franchise.

Belichick, who had one year remaining on his contract, paid an emotional farewell at a press conference on Thursday afternoon alongside owner Robert Kraft.

The Patriots ended the 2023 season with a 4-13 record, the worst of Belichick’s coaching career, and there had been widespread speculation over his future.

Belichick was named as Patriots coach in 2000 and oversaw an unprecedented run of success, including three Super Bowl titles in the space of four seasons, as well as 17 AFC East division titles and 18 play-off appearances.

The 71-year-old had been in talks with Kraft since the end of the season and confirmed the pair had reached a mutual decision to move on after the most decorated partnership in NFL history.

“Robert and I, after a series of discussions, have mutually agreed to part ways. And for me this is a day of gratitude and celebration,” Belichick said.

“I have so much thanks for the opportunity to be a coach here for 24 years. It is an amazing opportunity, I have received tremendous support.

“We had a vision of building a winner, building a championship football team here.

“That’s exceeded my wildest dreams and expectations, the amount of success that we were able to achieve together through a lot of hard work and contributions of so many people.

“So I am very proud of that. I will always have those great memories which I will carry for the rest of my life.”

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