AARON RODGERS, returning hero. Along with Randall Cobb.
In his first game back from a broken left collarbone, Rodgers threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Cobb on fourth-and-8 with 38 seconds left to give the Green Bay Packers a 33-28 victory at Chicago and the NFC North title yesterday.
Rodgers had been out since getting injured in a loss to Chicago on Nov. 4, and Cobb missed the previous 10 games with a knee problem. Still, the Packers (8-7-1) edged the archrival Bears (8-8) for the division crown by winning three of their last four games.
"It's big. Obviously, he is the best quarterback in the league," said Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who caught 10 passes for 161 yards. "To be gone for that many weeks and to play as well as he did - it was great to have him back."
Green Bay will host San Francisco in a first-round playoff game next weekend.
San Diego also finished off a rally to get into the postseason, beating shorthanded Kansas City 27-24 in overtime. The Chargers (9-7) won their last four games, and when Miami and Baltimore lost earlier in the day, they rode Nick Novak's 36-yard field goal with 5:30 left in OT to the sixth seed.
Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop was wide right on a 41-yard field goal to win it with 4 seconds left in regulation. Pittsburgh would have gotten the playoff spot over San Diego had Succop connected.
The Chiefs (11-5) are the AFC's fifth seed and will play at the Colts (11-5), winners of the AFC South. Indianapolis, which beat Jacksonville, 30-10, won, 23-7, in Kansas City last weekend.
San Diego travels to AFC North winner Cincinnati (11-5).
"We didn't play our best game, but teams that are playoff teams find a way to win when you don't play your best and that's what we did today," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said.
The defending NFL champion Ravens will stay home. The Bengals beat Baltimore, 34-17, ensuring the Ravens (8-8) were eliminated once Pittsburgh (8-8) defeated Cleveland, 20-7.
"Not going to the playoffs hurts," running back Ray Rice said. "I'm not used to having this kind of time on my hands."
Baltimore made the playoffs in each of coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco's first five seasons.
Miami (8-8) lost to the New York Jets, 20-7, putting the Steelers - who began the season 0-4 - in position to advance if San Diego slipped up at home against a team that rested 20 of 22 starters.
The Chargers nearly did, but survived.
AFC West champion Denver (13-3), the highest-scoring team in NFL history, earned the No. 1 seed in the conference by romping at Oakland, 34-14. New England (12-4), the AFC East winner, will be the second seed and also have a bye next weekend. The Patriots beat Buffalo, 34-20.
Carolina (12-4) won the NFC South and a first-round playoff bye with a 21-20 victory at Atlanta. The Saints (11-5) got the final NFC wild card with a 42-17 rout of Tampa Bay.
"Now we can cross that goal off," Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "Now we can concentrate, get guys healthy and get ready to go."
Already in the NFC playoffs were San Francisco, which won, 23-20, at Arizona, and Seattle (13-3), which secured the NFC West title and the conference's top seed with a win over St. Louis.