(Reuters) - The Denver Broncos inched closer to a playoff berth with a rousing win over the Kansas City Chiefs while the New England Patriots escaped a near upset to close in on another division title during NFL action on Sunday.
The Carolina Panthers also boosted their hopes for a division crown with an inspired performance from Cam Newton while Nick Foles capped a remarkable first month as a starter by leading the streaking Philadelphia Eagles to victory as the NFL’s playoff picture started to take shape.
The visiting Broncos, who handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season two weeks ago in Denver, came back from a 21-7 second-quarter deficit and withstood a late Kansas City rally for a 35-28 win that has the Super Bowl favorites leading the American Football Conference.
Staring at a 14-point deficit less than four minutes into the second quarter, Denver’s Peyton Manning took control of the game as he finished with 403 yards passing and five touchdowns, including four to wide receiver Eric Decker.
The win by Denver (10-2) marked the third straight defeat for a Kansas City (9-3) team that opened the season with nine consecutive victories.
Carolina’s Newton was forced to remove his black and silver cleats with the Batman insignia painted on the back ahead of the Panthers’ game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, per NFL rules, but that did not seem to slow him.
The 2011 Rookie of the Year set up Carolina’s first score with a 56-yard run early in the first quarter of a 27-6 victory over the visiting Buccaneers (3-9) that gave his the Panthers a franchise-record eighth straight win.
Newton completed 18-of-29 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns, plus one rushing touchdown for a Carolina (9-3) team that visits the New Orleans Saints next week with first place in the NFC South division on the line.
Philadelphia’s Foles completed 21-of-34 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals (7-5) that moved the Eagles (7-5), winners of four straight, into a tie atop the NFC East.
The 24-year-old Foles was playing in his first game since being named the NFC’s Player of the Month for November, when he tied an NFL record for seven touchdowns in one game.
Tom Brady faced intense pressure from the Texans’ (2-10) defense all day but he managed to step up and deliver a 34-31 victory for a visiting Patriots (9-3) team that is closing in on a fifth straight AFC East division title.
During the game, Brady eclipsed 3,000 passing yards on the season for the 11th time in his career, making him just the sixth quarterback in NFL history to do so.
Brady finished the game completing 29-of-41 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns but it was a 53-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with about three minutes to play that put New England ahead for good in a back and forth game.
The San Francisco 49ers (8-4), who are holding on to the final playoff seed in the National Football Conference, crushed the St. Louis Rams (5-7) 23-13, while the Cincinnati Bengals (8-4) beat the host San Diego Chargers (5-7) 17-10 to pad their lead atop the AFC North Division.
The Indianapolis Colts (8-4) got a four-yard touchdown run from Donald Brown with two minutes to play that sealed a 22-14 win over a Tennessee Titans (5-7) team that is seeking its first playoff berth in five years.
Brandon Weeden’s return as starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns (4-8) got off to a losing start as his team fell 32-28 at home to a suddenly feisty Jacksonville Jaguars (3-9) squad.
With Jacksonville trailing by three, quarterback Chad Henne led his team on an 80-yard drive that culminated in a 20-yard touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts with 45 seconds to play.
The Jaguars, who lost the first eight games of the 2013 season, have now won three of their last four games.
The Minnesota Vikings (3-8) turned back the Chicago Bears (6-6) 23-20 in overtime with a field goal after each team had missed earlier field goal attempts in the extra session.
Reigning Most Valuable Player Adrian Peterson rushed for 211 yards in the Vikings’ win, which allowed him to surpass 10,000 yards for his career in 101 games, the third fastest to reach that mark in NFL history.
Ryan Tannehill completed 28-of-43 passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns as the Miami Dolphins (6-6) kept their playoff hopes alive with a 23-3 rout over the host New York Jets (5-7).
The Buffalo Bills (4-8), playing their annual game in Toronto, squandered an early 14-point lead en route to a 34-31 overtime loss to an Atlanta Falcons (3-9) team that has already been eliminated from playoff contention.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Gene Cherry