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NFC South: the power division
The Saints are rolling, yet making little progress in the powerful NFC South.
New Orleans won its third straight game Sunday, beating Seattle 34-16 as Drew Brees became the Saints' all-time completions leader, throwing for four touchdowns. The victory lifted the defending Super Bowl champions to 7-3.
All that's worth is a tie for the runner-up spot in the division with Tampa Bay, which handed the 49ers their first home shutout since 1977.
Both teams trail Atlanta (8-2), which won its fourth in a row, 34-17 at St. Louis.
"Today we played at times as well as we've played all season," Brees said. "That gets you excited because you feel like, man, we're knocking at the door."
All three NFC South teams might storm through that door into the postseason.
"These guys are playing great," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "I told you guys, stats are for losers. We don't deal with that. We deal with playing hard, playing fast, playing smart and playing consistent."
Elsewhere Sunday, the Patriots and Jets remained on top of the AFC East as New England edged Indianapolis 31-28 and New York rallied to beat Houston 30-27; Philadelphia beat the New York Giants 27-17 for the NFC East lead; Pittsburgh and Baltimore still share the AFC North lead after the Steelers routed Oakland 35-3 and the Ravens did the same to Carolina , 37-13; Green Bay moved back into a tie with Chicago atop the NFC North by romping over Brett Favre and Minnesota 31-3; Kansas City broke a tie with Oakland for the AFC West lead by beating Arizona, 31-13; Jacksonville lifted itself even with Indianapolis in the AFC South at 6-4 with a 24-20 win over Cleveland; Seattle remained in the NFC West lead despite the loss at New Orleans; Washington beat Tennessee 19-16 in overtime; Dallas handed Detroit its 26th straight road loss, 35-19; and Buffalo rallied past Cincinnati 49-31.
The Bears blanked Miami 16-0 to open the weekend on Thursday night.
San Diego (4-5) hosts Denver (3-6) on Monday night.
Saints 34, Seahawks 16
At New Orleans, Brees was 29 of 42 for 382 yards and completed his 1,850th pass as a Saint to break a record held by Archie Manning since 1982. Brees hit Marques Colston and Robert Meachem twice each for TDs.
"We are on the cusp," Brees said. "We had some weapons last year, but I think we have some guys emerging now that we really have a lot of places that we can spread this ball around."
Matt Hasselbeck was 32 of 44 for 366 yards, the most yards allowed by New Orleans' top-ranked passing defense this season. But Seattle (5-5) lost two fumbles and had four drives end with field goals.
Falcons 34, Rams 17
At St. Louis, Matt Ryan threw two touchdown passes and directed an offense so dominant that three St. Louis defenders left with cramps.
Sam Bradford also had a pair of touchdown passes and set an NFL rookie record with 169 consecutive passes without an interception before William Moore picked off a shovel pass to end the Rams' four-game home winning streak.
The Rams fell to 4-6.
Buccaneers 21, 49ers 0
Josh Freeman threw for two touchdowns as Tampa Bay got its first win at Candlestick Park since 1980 and only second ever, breaking an eight-game losing streak in San Francisco and dropping the Niners to 3-7.
Ronde Barber made his 40th career interception in the fourth quarter, most in Tampa Bay franchise history. He also became the first player in NFL history with 40 interceptions and 25 sacks in a career.
Patriots 31, Colts 28
The teams met for the eighth straight season, and Tom Brady guided the Patriots to a 31-14 lead before four-time MVP Manning led a spirited comeback. But Manning was intercepted in the final moments for the third time, by James Sanders at the New England 6.
Brady not only beat Manning, the only other quarterback of the last decade in his class, but tied another QB icon for an NFL mark. Brady has won 25 straight regular-season home starts, equaling Brett Favre's record when he was with Green Bay.
While Brady threw only six incompletions in 25 attempts, Manning had three interceptions along with four TDs and 396 yards through the air.
Jets 30, Texans 27
Santonio Holmes caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez with 10 seconds left. After New York blew a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Jets trailed 27-23 with less than a minute left. But Sanchez completed two passes to LaDainian Tomlinson and then had a pretty 42-yard pass to Braylon Edwards with 16 seconds remaining.
On the next play, Sanchez found Holmes streaking into the left corner of the end zone for the winning score. Holmes' 37-yard touchdown catch won it in overtime at Cleveland last week.
It was another heartbreaking loss for the Texans (4-6), who fell last week on a desperation heave as time expired at Jacksonville.
Eagles 27, Giants 17
At Philadelphia, LeSean McCoy ran 50 yards for the go-ahead score on a fourth-and-1 late in the fourth quarter.
Michael Vick looked a little more ordinary after a spectacular performance in a 59-28 win over Washington, but he led the Eagles (7-3) to a comeback win.
Eli Manning threw a pair of touchdown passes to bring New York (6-4) back from a 16-3 deficit. But he lost a fumble after running for a first down on fourth-and-6 with 2:51 left, and the Eagles recovered. Manning scrambled 16 yards and dived headfirst, but the ball came loose when he hit the ground untouched and Darryl Tapp recovered.
Steelers 35, Raiders 3
At Pittsburgh, James Harrison caused two turnovers that Ben Roethlisberger turned into touchdown passes. Harrison led a defense that drove Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell from the game, and finished with five tackles, two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Roethlisberger finished with three TD passes and also ran for one.
The Steelers (7-3) bounced back after being rolled over by New England 39-26 at Heinz Field last week. Oakland fell to 5-5 and Raiders defensive end Richard Seymour was ejected for an openhanded punch to Roethlisberger's face as the Steelers quarterback was celebrating a TD pass.
Ravens 37, Panthers 13
Joe Flacco threw for 301 yards and a touchdown, and Baltimore's defense returned consecutive interceptions for TDs in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens (7-3) rattled Carolina's new quarterback, Brian St. Pierre, to break open a surprisingly close game. With Baltimore leading 23-13, Ed Reed picked off St. Pierre, then pitched it to Dawan Landry for a touchdown.
On the next play, St. Pierre was intercepted by Ray Lewis, who rumbled 24 yards for a score.
St. Pierre, signed by Carolina (1-9) a little over a week ago, threw an 88-yard TD pass to David Gettis to get the Panthers within a touchdown.
Packers 31, Vikings 3
At Minneapolis, the Brett Favre vs. his old team saga apparently ended _ do we ever know with Favre? Aaron Rodgers threw for 301 yards, with three of his four touchdown passes to Greg Jennings.
The Packers (7-3) kept pace with the Bears and ruined any realistic hope the Vikings (3-7) had left to give Favre another shot at a playoff run in his 20th NFL season.
"We're going to be tough to beat when we play that well," Rodgers said.
Chiefs 31, Cardinals 13
At Kansas City, Dwayne Bowe caught two touchdown passes, giving him a team-record six straight games with at least one score, and Kansas City (6-4) remained unbeaten at home. In his last six games, Bowe has 563 yards receiving and 10 touchdown catches. Thomas Jones also had two touchdowns.
The fifth straight loss for the Cardinals (3-7) dropped the two-time defending NFC West champions 2 1/2 games behind Seattle in the NFC West.
Jaguars 24, Browns 20
At Jacksonville, Maurice Jones-Drew followed a 75-yard reception with a 1-yard touchdown dive with 1:16 left as the Jaguars overcame six turnovers. Jones-Drew broke four tackles on a screen pass from David Garrard and weaved his way toward the end zone. Rookie Joe Haden made a touchdown-saving tackle that ended up taking precious seconds off the clock.
Jones-Drew scored two plays later, giving both teams dramatic finishes for the second time in as many games.
Cleveland (3-7) had a final chance to win this one, but Sean Considine tipped Colt McCoy's pass to Mike Bell at the goal line. The pass bounced off Bell's chest and landed in Considine's arms.
Redskins 19, Titans 16 OT
Graham Gano kicked a 48-yard field goal with 8:17 left in overtime at Nashville.
Titans quarterback Vince Young left the game with an injured thumb on his throwing hand, and was replaced by rookie Rusty Smith.
Washington (5-5) snapped a two-game skid on a day when at least seven Redskins went to the sideline with injuries, including Clinton Portis with a re-injured groin.
Gano's winner was his fourth field goal of the game. He also missed two _ a 51-yarder to end the first half and a 47-yard attempt at the end of regulation that fell short.
Donovan McNabb was 30 of 50 for 376 yards with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss. The Titans (5-5) lost their third straight game.
Cowboys 35, Lions 19
Bryan McCann grabbed a batted-down punt and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown, Miles Austin had two short touchdown catches and 38-year-old Jon Kitna had a career-best 29-yard TD run for Dallas (3-7).
Cowboys interim coach Jason Garrett won his home debut and improved to 2-0 since taking over for Wade Phillips. It's the first time all season Dallas won at home, having lost the first four.
The Lions (2-8) lost their 26th straight on the road, extending a woeful NFL record that began in 2007, when Kitna was their quarterback.
Bills 49, Bengals 31
At Cincinnati, Ryan Fitzpatrick matched his career high with four touchdown passes during Buffalo's biggest comeback in 13 years, and the Bills (2-8) won their second straight game.
Steve Johnson caught three of the touchdown passes, including an 11-yarder that put Buffalo ahead 35-31 early in the fourth quarter. Johnson finished with eight catches for 137 yards.
The Bengals (2-8) appeared to be in control after Johnathan Joseph's interception return put them ahead 28-7 in the second quarter. The Bengals' smallest crowd since 2003 saw a vintage collapse.
By Donald Lambro
Growth spikes are little more than trend-free anomalies
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