Overtime. 23-all. Fourth and inches.
Mano a mano, the two big lines hunkered down for the biggest play of Sunday's divisional matchup between New Orleans and Atlanta. On their own 29-yard line, having sent out the punting unit, the Falcons called time and reconsidered. New Orleans then called an additional timeout. Atlanta reconsidered some more. Falcons coach Mike Smith then bravely decided to go for it. Failure would mean a quick end to the game-and that's just how it turned out. The swarming Saints defenders blew back Atlanta's offensive line and stopped running back Michael Turner cold. Four plays later, from the Falcons 8, John Kasay kicked a 26-yard field goal to give New Orleans a hard-earned 26-23 victory and supremacy-for now-in the NFC South.
SURPRISE, SURPRISE: After his ugly outing against Detroit three weeks ago, who would have guessed Tim Tebow, Denver's the-people-have-spoken QB, would've led the Broncos to three wins in four starts? Even more mind-boggling: Denver went on the road to Kansas City and won with its young southpaw passer completing just two of eight passes for an anemic 69 passing yards, all but 13 of them coming on one completion (for a TD)...THE surprise of 2011, San Francisco, keeps on surprising-and winning. Sunday, the 49ers went up by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter then held on to withstand a patented Eli Manning comeback in defeating another NFC division leader, New York. And the Niners did it without leading rusher Frank Gore, who exited with a leg injury after the first half in the 27-20 win. Damaging to the Giants were two Manning interceptions. Tight end Vernon Davis's 31-yard scoring reception early in the fourth quarter, and the 49ers' successful two-point conversion following it, pulled San Francisco ahead for good at 20-13...And what could be more surprising than Baltimore's nasty habit of losing to low-level teams the week following a major victory? The Ravens lost to 3-6 Seattle Sunday after last week's big win at Pittsburgh. Earlier in the season, Baltimore lost to Jacksonville the week after beating AFC South-leading Houston. In Week 2, the Ravens were beaten decisively by Tennessee after burying the Steelers in their season opener in Baltimore the week before.
ANGLING FOR THE CORNER: Miami appears to be handing the Andrew Luck sweepstakes over to Indianapolis without a fight. For the second week in a row, the Dolphins notched a W on the scoreboard, beating Washington 20-9 on Sunday behind Reggie Bush's two touchdown runs...John Skelton, a second-year quarterback from Division I-AA Fordham, led the Cardinals to their second victory in two weeks, going into Philadelphia and downing the Eagles, 21-17. Skelton tossed for 315 yards and three touchdowns, two to All-World wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who averaged 20.9 yards per catch in logging 146 receiving yards on seven receptions. For underachieving Philadelphia, it was the seventh loss in their last eight home games.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Chicago Bears returner deluxe Devon Hester gets this week's MVP nod for his NFL record-extending 12th punt return for a touchdown, an 82-yarder with just 23 seconds elapsed in the second quarter of Chicago's big 37-13 divisional win over Detroit. Hester is also the league's all-time leader for combined touchdowns on returns (including one missed field-goal return) with 18.
Alan Ross is the author of 32 books, including Away from the Ball: The NFL's Off-the-Field Heroes. E-mail him at: email@example.com
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