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Sunday October 2nd, 2011

Let’s face it: While there’s nothing better than NFL Sundays, it can be a little intimidating keeping up with what’s going on in every game. You can analyze the box scores or scan Twitter, but we’ll make it even easier. Here you’ll find the most important points from every game, so you’ll be prepared no matter what comes up at the water cooler Monday morning. We’ll be updating throughout the games, so keep checking back.

Lions 34, Cowboys 30 (box score | recap)

1. Dallas was up 27-3 and cruising to a blowout win, until Tony Romo absolutely imploded. He threw pick-sixes on back-to-back possessions -- one to ex-Cowboy Bobby Carpenter, the next to Chris Houston -- then tossed a third INT to set up Detroit's game-winning touchdown.

2. Just like in Week 3 against Minnesota, Detroit faced a massive halftime deficit -- 20-0 last week, 20-3 this time -- and made some big adjustments. Defensively, the Lions started creeping up on Dallas' receivers, limiting Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson after halftime. Bryant had hauled in a pair of TDs in the first half.

3. Matthew Stafford played his high school ball in Dallas and Sunday's homecoming may have gotten to him early, but he took another step forward in his development in the second half. Stafford threw an early interception and missed on several throws he usually hits, but rallied in the fourth quarter to connect on a pair of scoring tosses to Calvin Johnson, including the eventual game-winner.

49ers 24, Eagles 23 (box score | recap)

1. If there is ever going to be a game that gets Alex Smith's career trending in the right direction, it might be this one. Facing a 23-3 deficit on the road against an imposing Eagles defense, Smith led the 49ers to 20 unanswered points and a shocking victory.

2. Smith got some serious help from Frank Gore. Despite not being 100 percent, Gore had an impressive 40-yard run in the first half, then capped off the 49ers' rally with a 12-yard TD run. Even at less than full health, Gore's presence gives defenses a huge weapon to worry about.

3. Michael Vick finished with more than 400 passing yards, 75 rushing yards and looked like his bruised hand was giving him very little trouble. The questions coming out of this one, though, will focus on the inability of the Eagles' offense to put San Francisco away.

Saints 23, Jaguars 10 (box score | recap)

1. The Saints didn't close out the Jaguars the way they should have. The rout appeared to be on for New Orleans, but a few self-inflicted wounds and a tight Jags defense kept the Saints from putting the game out of reach.

2. Darren Sproles might be the Saints' most indispensable weapon. The diminutive back is the team's leading rusher and receiver and has been targeted heavily on third down.

3. Blaine Gabbert gave Jacksonville something to feel good about. He wasn't able to keep up with Drew Brees, but Gabbert doesn't look overwhelmed in his second start. His bullet touchdown pass to Zach Miller was an example of prime ball placement.

Bengals 23, Bills 20 (box score | recap)

1. Andy Dalton made a bad rookie mistake in the first half, throwing a pick-six when the game was tied at three. But as we've seen with him multiple times now, he gets better and more confident as the game goes on. His 3-yard TD run tied things at 20, and he had several key plays on the Bengals' game-winning drive.

2. The Bills' offense, meanwhile, was sluggish -- at least compared to how it played in Weeks 1 through 3. That was not a huge surprise, considering Buffalo's emotional and draining win over the Patriots last week.

3. Whenever Cedric Benson's suspension kicks in -- probably next week -- the Bengals offense is in major trouble. Benson topped 100 yards rushing, but there really isn't a reliable back behind him on the depth chart.

Texans 17, Steelers 10 (box score | recap)

1. Arian Foster is back. Returning from a lingering hamstring injury, Foster shredded the Pittsburgh defense, including a 43-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to put Houston ahead for good.

2. The Steelers' offensive line woes aren't getting any better. The Texans swarmed Ben Roethlisberger, with Mario Williams dominating tackle Marcus Gilbert on the way to two sacks.

3. Andre Johnson went down in the second quarter with a strained hamstring, though it looked much worse initially. Johnson was running with the ball, untouched, when his left leg seemingly buckled beneath him. Johnson looked to be in a lot of pain, writhing on the ground.

Chiefs 22, Vikings 17 (box score | recap)

1. Minnesota now has to be seriously considered in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick next April. The Vikings trailed 9-7 at halftime, in part thanks to a terrible Donovan McNabb interception deep in Chiefs territory, and Minnesota was unable to rally from a 22-10 deficit.

2. Matt Cassel and Todd Haley seemed at odds with each other on the Kansas City sideline in the first half, but Cassel's 52-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe in the fourth quarter was the biggest play of the Chiefs' season so far and helped keep them from an 0-4 start.

3. The Vikings' run defense is stout, so K.C.'s inability to run the ball Sunday was no big surprise. Still, the Chiefs clearly have not found an answer to Jamaal Charles' season-ending injury. Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster are not getting the job done on the ground.

Titans 31, Browns 13 (box score | recap)

1. Chris Johnson surpassed his total rushing yards from Weeks 1 through 3 Sunday, going for 101 yards with a 4.4 yards-per-carry average. Included in that number was a 25-yard burst. Johnson is capable of more, but this was a huge step in the right direction.

2. Tennessee's signing of Matt Hasselbeck may wind up being one of the best moves of the shortened offseason. With Jake Locker learning from the sideline, Hasselbeck has the Titans in contention. He hit just 10 passes Sunday, but three went for TDs.

3. Cleveland had the ball for almost nine minutes longer than Tennessee in the first half -- 19:18 to 10:42 -- but still found itself down by 15 points at home. Colt McCoy still managed to throw 61 passes, a number that's about 35 higher than what the Browns would like in an ideal game.

Redskins 17, Rams 10 (box score | recap)

1. The Redskins' offense wasn't dominating through three quarters, but with Rex Grossman taking care of the ball and the Roy Helu/Ryan Torain combo running well, the performance looked like more than enough. Grossman's two fourth-quarter INTs, which nearly brought St. Louis all the way back, were a reminder of what can go wrong for Washington.

2. Steven Jackson's return at least gave St. Louis' offense some signs of life early, and Jackson's TD reception brought the Rams within seven late. He's not at 100 percent, but even at 75-80 percent, Jackson is better than anything else the Rams have.

3. The Redskins might be kicking themselves about that late Week 3 meltdown in Dallas all year, but they have shown a lot of resiliency by putting that one in the past and taking it to St. Louis Sunday.

Bears 34, Panthers 29 (box score | recap)

1. Steve Smith's career has undergone a major revitalization with Cam Newton in Carolina. Smith came into Sunday averaging more than 115 yards per game and had 181 against Chicago.

2. The third quarter was the oddity in this game. Chicago led 24-20 at halftime and outscored Carolina 10-9 in the fourth. But neither team put up any points in the third quarter, a drought that helped the Bears finish things off late.

3. Hello, Matt Forte. It hasn't been a top-notch start to the season for Chicago's star running back, but Forte broke loose for 205 yards on the ground Sunday, paced by an early 46-yard scamper.

Falcons 30, Seahawks 28 (box score | recap)

1. Matt Ryan started looking for Julio Jones more in the second half of Week 3, and he continued to seek out his rookie WR Sunday. Jones failed to find the end zone but finished with 11 grabs for 127 yards.

2. Tarvaris Jackson is in a one-step-forward, one-step-back mode at the moment. The Seahawks' offense is showing some life, with Jackson throwing three TD passes and two interceptions.

3. Aside from an 11-yard Marshawn Lynch TD run, Seattle just cannot do anything on the ground against Atlanta. The Seahawks tried both Lynch and Justin Forsett, to no avail. A huge Atlanta lead put them in pass-first mode as it was, but the poor run game left them with no other options.

Giants 31, Cardinals 27 (box score | recap)

1. Beanie Wells became the first Arizona player since 2006 to run for three touchdowns. And quite frankly, it was shocking to see Arizona put up 27 yards against the Giants' defense, but New York's issues started with Wells having his best game of the season.

2. The Cardinals had a chance to ice the game, up by four with three minutes left. But Arizona went three-and-out, passing it twice, and New York took the ensuing possession 48 yards in two plays for the win.

3. Brandon Jacobs took advantage of another chance Sunday, pounding home a TD run. The big question at the moment, though, is why Jacobs is not getting the ball more. He's been productive this year when the Giants have used him.

Packers 49, Broncos 23 (box score | recap)

1. Scary moment for the Packers when wide receiver Donald Driver had to be helped off the field after an apparent leg injury. He rather amazingly returned in the second half, then caught a TD pass late as the Packers ran it up on Denver.

2. Willis McGahee has looked like he's lost a step at times recently. However, he turned in a solid day Sunday, getting free for 103 yards.

3. With Ryan Grant inactive, James Starks sat atop the Packers' RB depth chart heading into Sunday. But Green Bay barely needed him, with Rodgers throwing for four TDs and rushing for two more.

Patriots 31, Raiders 19 (box score | recap)

1. You knew Tom Brady would bounce back after a four-INT performance in Buffalo last week, and he did. The Pats' QB threw for 226 yards -- 158 to Wes Welker -- and two touchdowns, while committing no turnovers.

2. Stevan Ridley is giving himself a chance to see more action for the Patriots. He broke free for a 33-yard touchdown in the second half and finished with 97 yards rushing on a mere 10 carries.

3. The Raiders came out firing with Jason Campbell, and the strategy worked for almost a half. But just before the break, Campbell threw an ill-advised pick from the New England 6. Instead of going into halftime up 17-14 or down 14-13, the Raiders finished the second quarter with a seven-point deficit, then the Pats scored to start the second half, too.

Chargers 26, Dolphins 16 (box score | recap)

1. Chad Henne suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter Sunday and did not return. Matt Moore replaced him and helped finish off a Miami TD drive. He finished the game 17-of-26 for 167 yards and might be the Dolphins QB going forward, if Henne's injury turns out to be serious.

2. Also on the injury front, Vincent Jackson suffered a leg injury late in the first half and played only sparingly after that. The Chargers, already down Antonio Gates, have to hope the issue isn't serious -- Jackson had three grabs for 108 yards and a score before getting hurt.

3. Daniel Thomas was inactive for this one, meaning Reggie Bush was back in the No. 1 role exclusively. Of course, Bush was pulled on the goal line in favor of Lex Hilliard, who scored from short yardage in the first half. - Tom Mantzouranis contributed to this post.

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