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Inspired by Cards, Rams upset Saints; Ravens avoid embarrassing loss to Arizona

It is getting to that time of year when the National Football League gets whacky, when the unexpected starts occurring.

Sunday, there was one huge upset by St. Louis (31-21 over New Orleans) and one minor one by the Minnesota Vikings (24-21 at Carolina).

Also there were two almost-upsets by the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals on the road and other games that were expected to be closer than they turned out.

Miami led most of the way before falling to the New York Giants, 20-17, at MetLife Stadium and Baltimore came from 21 down to defeat visiting Arizona, 30-27.

There were no lead changes in the eight divisional races, except for Buffalo tying New England for the top spot in the AFC East. Pittsburgh maintained its half-game lead over Cincinnati and Baltimore in the tough AFC-North, as did Houston over Tennessee in the AFC South.

In the NFC West, San Francisco opened up a four-game advantage over second-place Seattle by defeating visiting Cleveland, 20-10, while Seattle and Arizona were losing.

>Top Dog

Rams 31, Saints 21

The scoop: New Orleans scored 62 points against Indianapolis last week, more points than the 56 St. Louis had scored in its first six games, all losses. If the Saints were overconfident, they had every reason to be. With Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and about a dozen members of the World Champions on hand to be saluted on the field, the Rams played their best game. Stephen Jackson ran for 159 yards on 25 carries and scored twice, and A.J. Feeley completed 20-of-37 passes for 175 yards and one touchdown to Brandon Lloyd as the Rams shocked the Saints. They sacked Saints QB Drew Brees six times and intercepted him twice.

Why the Rams won: A blocked punt and an interception set up the only two touchdowns of the first half as St. Louis built a 17-0 lead on the way to 24-0. That forced New Orleans into a one-dimensional offense. The Saints rushed only 20 times for 56 yards.

Quote: "I think the Cardinals being here was great for the city," Jackson said. "Whoever showed up today, regardless if the place was empty, today was the day. We came out with a mindset we were going to fight."


>The contenders

Ravens 30, Cardinals 27

The scoop: Baltimore needed the biggest comeback victory in franchise history to avoid an upset. The Ravens fell behind, 24-3, in the second quarter, but outscored the Cards, 24-3 in the second half to win on Billy Cundiff's 25-yard field goal on the last play of the game. Ray Rice scored three times on short runs in the second half. One of Arizona's three first-half touchdowns was an 82-yard punt return by Patrick Peterson.

Why the Ravens won: They shut down the Cardinals' offense in the second half, allowing just one drive for a field goal. In the second half, the Cardinals made only six first downs and were penalized nine times for 87 yards.

Quote: "You can take a few boos every now and then, especially when you come back and win the game." -- Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who was booed by the home fans after the Ravens fell 21 points behind.


Texans 24, Jaguars 14

The scoop: Arian Foster carried 33 times for 112 yards and a touchdown and Matt Schaub hit tight end Joel Dreesen for another score and ran 2 yards to open the scoring as Houston won its third divisional game. The Texans never trailed.

Why the Texans won: With Foster leading the way, they had a 35:19 to 24:41 advantage in time of possession while the Jaguars couldn't move the ball with any consistency. If it weren't for two Houston turnovers, Jacksonville would not have scored at all. Its TD drives were only 8 and 24 yards.


Titans 27, Colts 10

The scoop: Rob Bironas kicked field goals of 51 and 50 yards and Jason McCourty recovered a blocked punt in the end zone as Tennessee built a 20-0 lead and never was in jeopardy.

Why the Titans won: The Colts' offense generated little. Indy's eight full first-half possessions ended with seven punts, one of which was blocked, and an interception that led to one of only two Tennessee touchdowns in the game.


49ers 20, Browns 10

The scoop: The Niners cashed in on an early fumble by Colt McCoy to take the lead for good. A 4-yard run by Frank Gore and a 2-yard pass from Alex Smith to Michael Crabtree helped them build a 17-0 lead. McCoy hit Josh Cribbs on a 45-yard pass for the only Cleveland touchdown.

Why the 49ers won: They held the Browns to 66 yards and a 2.9 rushing average and sacked McCoy four times.


Bengals 34, Seahawks 12

The scoop: Seattle was in it, trailing 20-12, before Brandon Tate returned a punt 56 yards for a score with 3:22 to go and Reggie Nelson went 75 yards with an interception in the last minute. Rookie QB Andy Dalton passed for the other two Cincinnati touchdowns. Ex Bill Marshawn Lynch ran 2 yards for the only Seahawks score to make it 17-12 early in the fourth quarter. The victory made Marvin Lewis the winningest coach in Bengals history with 65.

Why the Bengals won: Their defense gave up 411 yards (well above their average of 278), but stopped Seattle twice in the red zone. Also, they had four sacks and two interceptions.


>Best of rest

Vikings 24, Panthers 21

The scoop: Cam Newton passed for three touchdowns and 290 yards -- his passer rating was 117.6 -- but the Panthers could not hold leads of 14-7 and 21-14. The Vikings tied the game on a 9-yard run by Adrian Peterson late in the third quarter, his second TD of the game, and went ahead on Ryan Longwell's 31-yard field goal with 2:43 left.

Why the Vikings won: Olindo Mare of the Panthers missed a 31-yard field goal try with 26 seconds left that could have sent the game into overtime.


>Dog of the day

Lions 45, Broncos 10

The scoop: It was a long day for Tim Tebow. The Lions sacked him seven times and turned his two turnovers into touchdowns as they ended their losing streak at two. It was already a rout before the Lions struck for three long plays in the second half including a 24-yard fumble return by Cliff Avril after he sacked Tebow, and a 100-yard interception return by Chris Houston. Tebow completed 18 of 39 for 172 yards and one touchdown.

Why the Lions won: They asserted themselves early, marching 80 yards to take the lead for good after a 39-yard Matt Prater field goal.

Compiled from Associated Press and News wire services