Sunday December 4th, 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 day 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.

[9-3] Patriots 31, [0-12] Colts 24 (box score | recap)

1. The Patriots talked all week about how they expected Indianapolis to put up a good fight Sunday. And they were right. The Colts had this game tied at three early in the second quarter, then rallied back from 31-3 deficit to get within seven late. Credit QB Dan Orlovsky, who threw for more than 350 yards in his first start of the season.

2. Rob Gronkowski scored three touchdowns Sunday and looks more and more like he could threaten Randy Moss' single-season receiving TD record of 23. But Gronkowski's race to that number took a hit when one of his three scores against the Colts was changed from a receiving score to a rushing one, on account of Tom Brady's "pass" to Gronkowski officially being ruled a lateral.

3. Indianapolis did put together a very impressive drive in the first half, which started in the first quarter and lasted more than 10 minutes. But the Colts stalled out at the New England 1 -- they wound up backing up 12 yards, then settling for a disappointing field goal. New England scored the next 28 points after that.

[7-5] Broncos 35, [2-10] Vikings 32 (box score | recap)

1. Maybe Tim Tebow can pass after all -- at least when he's throwing to Demaryius Thomas. Tebow finished just 10 of 15 through the air, but he connected with Thomas four times for 144 yards and two touchdowns, sparking Denver's offense to a 28-point second half.

2. With star rookie linebacker Von Miller out due to an injured thumb, Mario Haggan jumped into the starting lineup. He delivered big time in the first quarter, picking off a Christian Ponder pass and taking it back to the house for Denver's first points.

3. Ponder will rue the two mistakes he made in an otherwise-terrific performance (29 of 47 for 381 yards and two touchdowns). The Haggan interception put Minnesota in a 7-2 hole early, but Ponder's biggest error came late, with the game tied 32-32. With just 1:33 left in regulation, Ponder was baited into a poor throw by Andre Goodman, who jumped the pass and took it back to the Minnesota 15, setting up Denver's game-winning field goal.

[7-5] Titans 23, [5-7] Bills 17 (box score | recap)

1. Chris Johnson's revival continues. After a horrible start to the season, Johnson topped 100 yards on the ground in two of the past three weeks, then torched Buffalo's shaky run defense Sunday. He put up a pair of first-half touchdowns and finished with 153 yards on the ground to pace Tennessee's offense.

2. The Titans dodged a bullet in the second half. Wide receiver Nate Washington crumpled to the turf with what looked like a serious ankle. He had to be helped to the sideline but somehow returned later in the game. With Kenny Britt already shelved for the season by an injury, the Titans cannot afford to lose Washington.

3. Remember when the Bills were scoring at will early in the season? Those days feel like ages ago. Buffalo came into Sunday with just 50 total points during its current four-game losing streak and did very little to break out of that slump against the Titans.

[4-8] Dolphins 34, [7-5] Raiders 14 (box score | recap)

1. Is Tony Sparano saving his job in Miami? This all may be too little, too late for the embattled coach, but one thing we can say for sure: Very few teams in the NFL are playing as well or as hard as the Dolphins over the past few weeks. This game means much less for Miami than it does for first-place Oakland, but the Raiders simply could not match Miami's intensity.

2. Reggie Bush was one of the poster children for Miami's early-season struggles. My, how things have changed. He rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown Sunday against a solid Oakland front, and even had the sparse home crowd chanting his name in the second half.

3. If anyone needed it, proof that the Dolphins were thoroughly frustrating the Raiders came midway through the third quarter, when Oakland's Richard Seymour was ejected for throwing a punch. Miami led 20-0 at the time.

[7-5] Jets 34, [4-8] Redskins 19 (box score | recap)

1.  The Jets had just 13 points more than midway through the fourth quarter and looked en route to a crushing loss. But they exploded for three touchdowns in the final 4:57. First, Mark Sanchez hit Santonio Holmes on a 30-yard strike to erase a 16-13 Redskins lead, then Shonn Greene tacked on a pair of insurance TDs to bury Washington.

2. New York struggled  to contain two Redskins: Fred Davis and Roy Helu, though the Jets did limit Davis after halftime. Washington's tight end had 82 yards receiving in the first half and finished with 99 for the game, while Helu enjoyed another productive day -- 100 yards and a touchdown on the ground, plus four catches for 42 more yards.

3. The turning point in the fourth quarter came from a surprising source: the Jets' Aaron Maybin. Up 20-16, Maybin's sack-strip of Rex Grossman gave the Jets the ball back with a short field late, which they converted to a Greene touchdown to put the game away. Maybin, the former Bills draft bust, now has six sacks with the Jets after coming up empty in two full seasons in Buffalo.

[9-3] Texans 17, [7-5] Falcons 10 (box score | recap)

1. Atlanta has not had the best of luck in 4th-and-short situations this year. In a Week 10 loss to the Saints, Falcons coach Mike Smith opted to go for it in overtime on a 4th-and-1 deep in his own territory. That decision backfired and led to New Orleans' game-winning field goal. Sunday, the Texans went for it on 4th-and-1 inside the Atlanta 10 with the game tied in the final minutes. Arian Foster converted with a 7-yard run, then scored a TD two plays later.

2. How did T.J. Yates look? A lot better than Matt Ryan, at least for most of the game. Yates moved the ball capably for the Texans, including a 50-yard strike to Andre Johnson, throwing well on the run and displaying accuracy. Matt Ryan, on the other hand, had a rough first half. His two picks led to just three Houston points, but they took the Falcons out of a rhythm early and they never recovered.

3. The Texans' biggest concern coming out of this one will be about Andre Johnson. Their best receiver injured his right hamstring in the second half -- he hurt his left hamstring earlier this year -- and limped to the sideline. He sat there for a few minutes with his head in his hands before trainers helped him to the locker room.

[5-7] Chiefs 10, [7-5] Bears 3 (box score | recap)

1. Ten quarters after Tyler Palko became the Chiefs' starting quarterback, they finally scored a touchdown. It took quite a bit of luck, too, as Dexter McCluster came down with a Hail Mary from Palko on the final play of the first half to put Kansas City on top, 7-3. That score held up, too, as Chicago could not get anything going.

2. The one player Chicago could not afford to lose, running back Matt Forte, left the game in the first quarter after taking a hit on his knee and was ruled out for the rest of the day. Bears coach Lovie Smith announced after the game that Forte had suffered a sprained knee and would go for further testing Monday.

3. After a scoreless first quarter, which featured another less-than-inspiring effort from Palko, the Chiefs turned to new QB Kyle Orton. He lasted all of one play -- off a flea-flicker, Orton was hit hard by Chicago's Major Wright and dislocated the index finger on his throwing hand, forcing Palko back into the lineup.

[9-3] Steelers 35, [7-5] Bengals 7 (box score | recap)

1. James Harrison, who was at the center of all that "They're too old" talk surrounding the Steelers earlier this season, recorded three sacks Sunday. That's the second time in four games that he's hit the three-sack mark -- the first came in a Week 9 loss to the Ravens.

2. Rashard Mendenhall picked up two second quarter touchdowns, but Pittsburgh's wide receivers had the big plays on both drives. Antonio Brown hauled in a 45-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to put the Steelers on the Cincinnati 15 prior to Mendenhall's first score, then Mike Wallace drew a 45-yard pass interference penalty just prior to Mendenhall's second TD.

3. With the outcome decided late, the Bengals pulled Andy Dalton for backup Bruce Gradkowski. Dalton had one of his roughest games as a pro, despite not committing a turnover. He finished 11 of 24 for 135 yards and a touchdown, but the Steelers dominated the Bengals' offensive line for much of the day, making Dalton's job nearly impossible. By the fourth quarter, he was limping badly.

[4-8] Panthers 38, [4-8] Buccaneers 19 (box score | recap)

1. Cam Newton can do it all on offense. And we mean "it all." We already knew the rookie phenom could pass and rush (he added three more rushing TDs in the game, to break Steve Grogan's single-season QB record), but against the Buccaneers he showed he could catch as well, hauling in a 27-yard reception from Legedu Naanee that set up a Jonathan Stewart touchdown run to put the Panthers up 14-0 at the time.

2. LeGarrette Blount continues to be inconsistent. He managed just 19 yards on 11 carries against Carolina's previously-porous defensive front, then was replaced in the second half by Mossis Madu. Without a real run threat, the Buccaneers' offense could not keep pace with Carolina's explosive attack.

3. The Bucs' best player? Kicker Connor Barth. With Josh Freeman out and Tampa struggling once they crossed into Carolina's side of the field, Barth was  used early and often. He had four field goals in the first half, all of which were 44 yards or longer.

[9-3] Ravens 24, [4-8] Browns 10 (box score| recap)

1. Baltimore has had its issues going on the road after big wins -- the Ravens lost twice after beating Pittsburgh and bombed in Jacksonville one week following a victory over the Texans. They combated those issues Sunday by just hammering the Browns on the ground. Baltimore ran the ball a team-record 53 times, with Ray Rice putting up 204 yards and Ricky Williams 76.

2. Colt McCoy's accuracy issues tend to stand out more against good defenses, and this game was no exception. He had just 49 yards passing in the first half, then threw a killer interception just before halftime. Cleveland trailed just 7-0 at the time and, worst-case scenario, should have headed to the locker room with that score. Instead, McCoy set Baltimore up with great field position and the Ravens tacked on points.

3. The scoreline might not look that overwhelming but this was a pretty thorough shellacking. The Ravens nearly doubled Cleveland's 233 total yards and had the ball for almost 38 minutes of possession in the game. Once Baltimore got on the board in the second quarter, the Browns never really had a chance.

 [12-0] Packers 38, [6-6] Giants 35 (box score | recap)

1. When the Giants tied this game with 58 seconds left, was there anyone who didn't think Aaron Rodgers would get the Packers into field goal range? It took Green Bay's amazing quarterback all of two plays to do so, with a ridiculous pass to Jordy Nelson down the left sideline giving the Packers all the yardage they need. Rodgers tacked on two more completions for good measure, just to make Mason Crosby's job easier.

2. Some controversy on a Rodgers touchdown pass to Greg Jennings in the third quarter. Jennings made a catch as he tiptoed inbounds heading toward the back out-of-bounds line in the end zone, but had the ball knocked from his grip as he headed out of bounds. The play was ruled a touchdown on the field, and that decision was, somewhat surprisingly, upheld on review, just further proving the NFL's catch rules are still as confusing as ever.

3. Eli Manning and Rodgers traded big mistakes in the first half. Manning threw a dangerous, off-balance pass to Ahmad Bradshaw in the flat, which Clay Matthews picked off and took to the house for a 14-10 Packers lead. But later in the half, Rodgers was picked by Chase Blackburn deep in Green Bay territory, setting up a Brandon Jacobs TD.

[5-7] Cardinals 19, [7-5] Cowboys 13 (OT) (box score | recap)

1. What were the Cowboys -- specifically, Jason Garrett -- thinking at the end of regulation? Dallas was tied 13-13 late in the fourth quarter, when Tony Romo completed a pass to the Arizona 31. But instead of using one of their two timeouts, the Cowboys let the clock run down to eight seconds and spiked it, settling for a 48-yard field goal try. Garrett then iced his own kicked, Dan Bailey, by calling a timeout just prior to the snap on Bailey's potential game-winning kick attempt. Bailey hit that kick after the whistle, then missed on his second chance, pushing the game to overtime.

2. Kevin Kolb wasn't lights out in his return from injury, but the Arizona QB played smart and at least gave the Cardinals a much better passing threat than John Skelton did when he was in the lineup. Kolb protected the ball, threw for 200 yards and gave his team a chance. He then put the game away with a 52-yard screen pass in overtime to LaRod Stephens-Howling.

3. How unexpected were Bailey's misses -- first on a 53-yarder early, then on the 47-yarder at the end of the first quarter? Well, the rookie hadn't missed a kick since Week 2 against San Francisco, hitting 26 in a row prior to Sunday's failed attempt.

[10-2] 49ers 26, [2-10] Rams 0 (box score | box score)

1. San Francisco's fans may be close to pushing the panic button after seeing seeing superstar linebacker Patrick Willis fall to the turf in the first half Sunday. Willis had to be helped off the field and was hobbling around on the sideline after appearing to injure his leg. He did not return to the game and was diagnosed with a hamstring injury.

2. With Sam Bradford sitting this one out, the Rams' offense generated nothing against San Francisco's stout defense. The 49ers loaded up on Steven Jackson, holding him to 19 yards on just 10 carries, and A.J. Feeley could not take advantage downfield.

3. Not that it should come as any surprise, but the 49ers methodically worked their way to a 9-0 lead in the first half with a great defensive effort and up-and-down offense. They put the game away early in the third quarter, though, with Alex Smith hitting Michael Crabtree for a 52-yard touchdown and a 16-0 lead. -- Tom Mantzouranis contributed to this post

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