- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

On a Sunday when New Orleans and Indianapolis each went to 10-0, there also was reason for a few of the NFL’s dregs to rejoice.

Kansas City returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, fell behind by 10 points and then rallied to stun defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh 27-24 in overtime. In improving to 3-7, the Chiefs won consecutive games for the first time since 2007.

However, the Chiefs didn’t escape the AFC West cellar because the Raiders also pulled off an improbable upset. Oakland (3-7) tied its game against Cincinnati on a touchdown pass from Bruce Gradkowski to Louis Murphy with 33 seconds left and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Sebastian Janikowski then kicked a game-winning field goal to shock the AFC North leaders.

While Kansas City and Oakland knocked off contenders, Detroit won Sunday’s wildest game, beating fellow cellar-dweller Cleveland 38-37. Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in April’s draft, became the first rookie in 62 years to throw five touchdown passes in a single game. His last TD pass to Brandon Pettigrew on the final play gave the Lions just their second victory in their last 33 games. Stafford also passed for 422 yards, the most by a rookie in team history. The defeat dropped the Browns to 1-9, who got four touchdown passes from former first-rounder Brady Quinn.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

With the Saints on near auto-pilot and the Colts winning close ones to also remain perfect, the Vikings haven’t been under the microscope as much. So Minnesota’s Week 7 loss to Pittsburgh has been a bit of a blessing.

Behind the young legs of Adrian Peterson, the 40-year-old arm of Brett Favre and a terrific defensive line, Minnesota is cruising to a second straight NFC North title and a conference championship showdown with New Orleans.

Maybe it’s predestined for Mississippi native Favre, who won his only Super Bowl in nearby New Orleans, to try to reach another in the Superdome come January’s NFC championship game.

FIVE TRENDS FROM WEEK 11

UP: It sure wasn’t easy, but the Giants won for the first time in five games, edging the visiting Falcons 34-31 in overtime after blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead. Defending NFC East champion New York (6-4) remained a game behind division leader Dallas with a Dec. 6 visit by the Cowboys looming.

DOWN: Back in September, when all was dreamy in the worlds of rookie coach Rex Ryan and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Jets pulled off a 16-9 upset of AFC East rival New England. On Sunday, New York fell behind 24-0 in the second quarter and never got close in a 31-14 loss that dropped the Jets to 4-6. Sanchez threw four interceptions in the loss.

UP: Five weeks ago, the idea of San Diego winning the AFC West was preposterous. Leading the division at Thanksgiving was unimaginable. But that’s where the Chargers (7-3) are after crushing the Denver Broncos (6-4) 32-3 on Sunday for a fifth straight victory. A third straight AFC West title seems likely.

DOWN: As the Chargers have been rising, the Broncos have been falling. Denver’s four consecutive double-digit defeats have come by an average of 20 points. The Broncos were supposed to be rebuilding under rookie coach Josh McDaniels, but their unexpected 6-0 start makes their current crash that much more disappointing.

DOWN: A letdown was to be expected after Cincinnati swept AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the span of seven weeks, but blowing a seven-point lead in the final minute against Oakland is something else. The Bengals fell to 7-3 even though Bernard Scott ran for 119 yards in place of the injured Cedric Benson.

NEXT MAN UP

List of big injuries from Week 11:

QB Ben Roethlisberger (head), Pittsburgh: The two-time Super Bowl winner suffered a likely concussion when his head collided with the knee of Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson on the Steelers’ fourth snap of overtime.

LB Aaron Kampman, Green Bay (knee): The Packers’ top pass rusher, who missed last week’s game against Dallas with a concussion, suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee during the third quarter of Sunday’s victory over San Francisco.

CB Al Harris, Green Bay (knee): The veteran Packers cornerback also suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee during the fourth quarter against the 49ers.

RB Marshawn Lynch (shoulder), Buffalo: The Bills’ No. 1 back was carted off during the second quarter of the 18-15 loss to Jacksonville in the first game under interim coach Perry Fewell. Lynch didn’t return. He was replaced by Fred Jackson.

G Eric Wood (leg), Buffalo: The Bills’ starting right guard broke his left leg against the Jaguars. He was carted off and remained in Jacksonville after the game for surgery. Seth McKinney replaced Wood before departing with his own leg injury.

NUMBERS GAME

Interesting stat about the Week 11 games:

7.0 Yards a carry for Saints running backs Pierre Thomas (8.4) and Mike Bell (5.8) on 24 attempts in a 38-7 rout of the Buccaneers.

HOT SEAT

Whose performance in Week 11 puts them in the spotlight for next week:

GUNTHER CUNNINGHAM

His team won 38-37, but Detroit’s defensive coordinator has to be on the hot seat after his unit was shredded by a Cleveland offense that had scored just 78 points in its previous nine games.

Cleveland came in with just three touchdown passes on the season, but Brady Quinn threw scores of 40 and 58 yards in the first quarter alone.

Cunningham has just three days to fix what ails his 31st-ranked defense before Detroit plays host to Green Bay’s potent offense on Thursday. The Packers whipped the Lions 26-0 in Week 6. Then it could get even worse for the Lions, with road games at powerful Cincinnati and Baltimore followed by a date with defending NFC champion Arizona on tap before Christmas.

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