Three division races got a little tighter in the NFC and two opened up a little in the AFC in Sunday’s National Football League games.
The New Orleans Saints knocked Atlanta from the unbeaten ranks, and though the Falcons still own a three-game lead in the NFC South, the oncoming Tampa Bay Buccaneers have closed to within three games. The Saints are four back.
A surprising 31-13 loss at Cincinnati left the New York Giants (6-4) with a 1½-game lead over Dallas (4-5) in the NFC East. Second-place Seattle (6-4) moved closer to first-place San Francisco (6-2-1) with a decisive 28-7 win over the visiting New York Jets while the Niners played a 24-24 tie at home against the St. Louis Rams.
Meanwhile, New England and Denver increased their leads in the AFC East and AFC West by winning while the others in their divisions were all losing.
Games of the day
Texans 13, Bears 6
The scoop: Arian Foster scored the only touchdown of the game on a 2-yard pass from Matt Schaub as Houston went to 8-1 at rainy Soldier Field. Chicago, which lost quarterback Jay Cutler with a concussion, could only manage two Robbie Gould field goals.
Why the Ravens won: Wade Phillips’ defense shut down the Bears when it had to.
Saints 31, Falcons 27
The scoop: Jimmy Graham caught seven passes for a career-best 146 yards and two touchdowns as New Orleans held on for its fourth win in five games. Graham’s Atlanta counterpart, veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez, finished with 11 catches for 122 yards and two scores and became the first tight end to catch 100 touchdown passes. Drew Brees threw for 298 yards and three TDs for the Saints.
Why the Saints won: Although yardage stats were virtually even, New Orleans had better balance – 148 yards rushing and 292 passing. Atlanta had only 46 yards on the ground.
Ravens 55, Raiders 20
The scoop: Joe Flacco threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns, and Baltimore set a club record for points. The Ravens scored on six of their first seven possessions as the Raiders yielded more than 40 points in two straight games for the first time since 1962. The 55 points tied an Oakland record for points allowed, a mark set in 1961 and matched in 1981. The Ravens rubbed it in, too. Leading by 41-17 late in the third quarter, the Ravens called for a fake field goal and holder Sam Koch ran in from 8 yards. In the fourth quarter, Jacoby Jones took a kickoff 105 yards for a 55-20 lead. Baltimore’s previous record for points in a game was 48, against Detroit in December 2009.
Why the Ravens won: Their offense couldn’t be stopped. They drove 80, 80, 80, 70 and 74 yards for touchdowns.
Titans 37, Dolphins 3
The scoop: Colin McCarthy returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-0 in the second quarter as four takeaways helped Tennessee in the rout. The Titans intercepted Ryan Tannehill three times. For Miami, the home loss was the most lopsided since a 45-3 defeat against Kansas City in 1968.
Why the Titans won: They limited Miami to 2 of 13 in third-down conversions.
Broncos 36, Panthers 14
The scoop: The return of Denver coach John Fox to Carolina was a successful one – he even celebrated with a few fist pumps – as Peyton Manning passed for 301 yards and a touchdown, the 420th of his career. That tied Manning for second place on the NFL’s all-time list with Dan Marino. He trails only Brett Favre (508). Denver scored on a 76-yard punt return by Trindon Holliday and a 40-yard interception return by Tony Carter.
Why the Broncos won: They held Carolina to 52 yards rushing and a 2.5 average and sacked Cam Newton seven times, once for a safety. Broncos linebacker Von Miller came up with a sack, a forced fumble and four tackles for a loss.
Seahawks 28, Jets 7
The scoop: Even Seattle’s receivers are throwing for touchdowns. Golden Tate let fly with a left-handed shot-put throw to Sidney Rice for a score on a reverse pass, and Russell Wilson threw two touchdown passes against New York. Marshawn Lynch added 124 yards rushing and a 1-yard TD plunge and has 1,005 yards for the season. Mark Sanchez of the Jets struggled in his meeting against Pete Carroll, his former coach at the University of Southern California.
Why the Seahawks won: Sanchez completed only 9-of-22 passes for 124 yards and was sacked three times.
Cowboys 38, Eagles 23
The scoop: Rookie Nick Foles finally played when Michael Vick suffered a concussion, but could not reverse Philadelphia’s season in a mistake-filled game. Foles entered the game with the Eagles trailing, 10-7, and gave them a 17-10 lead in the third quarter before a fourth-quarter collapse. It was the fifth straight loss, third at home for the Eagles. Foles completed 22 of 32 for 219 yards and one touchdown and one interception. Tony Romo threw two touchdowns for Dallas. The Eagles fell behind when they allowed a 78-yard punt return by Dwayne Harris a little more than one minute into the fourth quarter.
Why the Cowboys won: They got touchdowns on an interception return, punt return and recovered a fumble in the end zone.
Bengals 31, Giants 13
The scoop: Andy Dalton threw a career-high four touchdown passes — each to a different receiver — and Cincinnati ended a four-game losing streak. The Giants head into their bye with back-to-back losses and questions about their offense. The defense already is not performing up to New York’s usual standards. The Bengals went 1-1 in successive games against the Manning brothers. Peyton beat them for the eighth straight time last week but Eli was on the losing side this time.
Why the Bengals won: The Giants made it too easy. Cincy had touchdown drives of 11, 12 and 16 yards after a 68-yard punt return by Pacman Jones and two New York turnovers.
Vikings 34, Lions 24
The scoop: Adrian Peterson raced 61 yards for a touchdowns in the fourth quarter after Detroit had cut a 13-3 deficit to 24-17. Peterson added to his NFL rushing lead with 171 yards on 27 carries. He had 120 yards in the final 15 minutes. Calvin Johnson had 207 yards on 12 catches for the Lions but lost a fumble near midfield that led to the fourth field goal of the game by Vikings rookie Blair Walsh.
Why the Vikings won: Christian Ponder rebounded from two poor outings to pass for 221 yards, two touchdowns and a 114.2 rating.
Buccaneers 34, Chargers 24
The scoop: Josh Freeman threw two touchdown passes and surging Tampa Bay scored on a blocked punt and Leonard Johnson’s 83-yard interception return. Freeman has thrown for 13 TDs with one interception in his last five games, helping the Bucs win four times. Philip Rivers threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns for San Diego. He was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter to ruin any comeback chances, however.
Why the Bucs won: Touchdowns off a blocked punt return and an interception return were the difference.
Dog of the day
Rams 24, 49ers 24
The scoop: The teams played the NFL’s first tie game since Cincinnati and Philadelphia struggled to a 13-13 deadlock in 2008. Kickers from both teams missed overtime field goals. Greg Zuerlein kicked a 53-yarder, but the Rams were penalized 5 yards for delay of game. He tried again from 58 as coach Jeff Fisher played for the win, and missed wide right with 2:42 left. San Francisco’s David Akers missed wide left on a 41-yard attempt that could have sealed it for the 49ers, who lost quarterback Alex Smith to a first-half concussion. On the first play of OT, Sam Bradford completed an 80-yard pass to Danny Amendola that took St. Louis to the 2, but the play was called back by a penalty.
Why the teams ended up tied: After taking a 24-21 lead with 1:09 left in regulation, the Rams gave up a 63-yard drive that led to Akers’ tying field goal from 33 yards with 3 seconds left.
News wire services contributed to this report.