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Winners, losers and more: Return to sender

James C Black
Yahoo Sports

Antrel Rolle nearly had a hat trick on a day defenders and special teamers kept scoreboard operators busy.

Rolle was on the verge of setting an NFL record with three interception returns for touchdowns during the Arizona Cardinals' 35-27 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Cardinals cornerback, already with two touchdowns on the day, picked off a Carson Palmer pass and returned it 71 yards for an apparent touchdown with 32 seconds remaining. However, the score was nullified as defensive end Antonio Smith was flagged 15 yards for a block on Palmer during Rolle's return.

Earlier in the game, DeDe Dorsey blocked Mike Barr's punt attempt and returned it 19 yards for the Bengals' final score of the game. But as it turns out, the return touchdowns weren't limited to Paul Brown Stadium.

Ted Ginn Jr. gave the Miami Dolphins an early spark with an 87-yard punt return touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles. Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber and Green Bay Packers rookie Tramon Williams had a fumble recovery and punt return score, respectively, in their teams' victories. And in Baltimore, two defensive scores helped set up the day's wildest finish.

Linebacker Ray Lewis, who has been outspoken about the Baltimore Ravens' offensive issues this season, put his team on the scoreboard with a 35-yard return of a Derek Anderson interception in the second quarter. Cleveland Browns cornerback Brodney Pool topped Lewis with a 100-yard return of a Kyle Boller pass in the third quarter. Yet their theatrics paled in comparison to the final moments of regulation, when an apparent missed field goal by Phil Dawson was overturned and paved the way for Cleveland's overtime victory.

Here are some more winners, losers and other observations from Week 11:

WINNERS

Not only did the Browns avoid choking away a second straight divisional road win, but they made up a game in the AFC North in the process. And while so much emphasis will be placed on Dawson's kick and the controversial "non-review," not to be overshadowed was Joshua Cribbs' 39-yard kickoff return which gave the Browns the ball at their own 43-yard line.

The Jacksonville Jaguars' blueprint is pretty basic in theory – play great defense, run the ball well and don't take big chances in the passing game. However, coach Jack Del Rio is straying away from convention when it comes to fourth down. The Jaguars went for it twice on fourth down on their second possession – converting both times, with the latter resulting in a Maurice Jones-Drew touchdown in Sunday's 24-17 win over the San Diego Chargers. The Jaguars now have converted 13 of 24 fourth-down attempts this season.

Either the Minnesota Vikings have the league's best run-blocking offensive line or their running backs have matched up against some of the league's sorriest front sevens this season. With rookie sensation Adrian Peterson sidelined, former starter Chester Taylor (22-164, three TDs) ran all over the Raiders. It was the third time this year a Vikings back has eclipsed 150 rushing yards and run for three touchdowns in a game.

Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub wasted little time welcoming back his favorite target. Andre Johnson, out since spraining ligaments in his left knee in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers, was on the receiving end of a 73-yard scoring strike from Schaub with 10:44 left in the first quarter during Houston's 23-10 win over the New Orleans Saints.

Michael Silver's prediction, albeit for a third straight year, that the Arizona Cardinals will win the NFC West no longer looks so far-fetched. The Cards have won two straight for the second time this season, are back to .500 and sit just one game behind the Seattle Seahawks.

The New York Giants got stung by the injury bug again (Mathias Kiwanuka, Brandon Jacobs), but Michael Strahan (three sacks) and the defense kept last week's loss from leading to a losing streak … at least temporarily.

Patrick Kerney (three sacks) and Matt Hasselbeck (30-44, 337 yards, two TDs) played major roles in keeping the up-and-down Seahawks in first place in the NFC West with their 30-23 win over the Chicago Bears.

After all of the Brady or Manning debate prior to the Pats-Colts showdown in Week 9, a similar discussion is starting to brew at wide receiver. Terrell Owens, eight catches for 173 yards and four touchdowns in the win over the Redskins, has 31 catches for 575 yards and eight touchdowns in the past four games. Meanwhile, Randy Moss, already leading the league with 924 yards and 12 touchdown receptions prior to Sunday night's game, matched Owens by adding four more scores in the first half against the Buffalo Bills.

LOSERS

As the Chargers' losses mount, Philip Rivers receives more scrutiny. Announcer Dan Diedorf raised the question of whether Rivers could consistently deliver when San Diego is forced to throw the ball. Rivers offered mixed results to the query, constantly throwing into double coverage and missing Antonio Gates on a corner end-zone fade earlier, but making a series of great throws during a fourth-quarter scoring drive.

Carolina Panthers coach John Fox should expect a letter of apology from the NFL this week. Fox threw the red challenge flag in the second quarter, claiming Brett Favre fumbled the ball after being sacked. Upon tape review, the officials determined that Favre indeed fumbled but the Green Bay Packers retained possession because the officials couldn't determine who recovered the ball. As announcer Dick Stockton pointed out: How they missed Julius Peppers coming up with the ball is a mystery.

Jon Gruden might get one of those same letters, though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could deserve some of the blame for their misfortune. After a wild sequence that included three fumbles and two changes of possession, Gruden challenged that Brian Kelly was down by contact. After multiple replays, it appears that a Buccaneers defender indeed should have been ruled down after an illegal trip by Roddy White. However, the Tampa Bay player was Cato June, not Kelly, so the Atlanta Falcons regained possession.

The Redskins aren't putting up a lot of resistance when foes reach their 20. Including the Cowboys' two scores Sunday, Washington has now given up 17 touchdowns in their last 22 defensive red zone possessions.

OBSERVATIONS

Bay Area blues: How long before a prop bet (assuming there's not already one) is created in Las Vegas on over/under for offensive touchdowns by the 49ers and Raiders the rest of the season? San Francisco, limited to three field goals during a 13-9 loss to the St. Louis Rams, have now gone 11 straight quarters without a TD. Oakland, which stayed in the game against Minnesota on the strength of five Sebastian Janikowski field goals, has been held to three offensive touchdowns in its past four games.

Case of mistaken identity: If for only one game, the New York Jets played like their opponents on Sunday. The Jets established their ground attack (Thomas Jones 30-117) and pressured the quarterback (seven sacks) during a stunning 19-16 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Lights off: Chargers linebacker Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman was short-circuited by 5-foot-7 Jones-Drew, getting knocked to his derriere as David Garrard completed a 1-yard TD toss to Marcedes Lewis.

Dropping back: Aside from perhaps the Chicago Bears' Brian Urlacher, does any linebacker have more range than Arizona's Karlos Dansby? Dansby, with three INTs in the past two games, nearly had a fourth when he dropped back about 15 yards in coverage and almost came up with another Palmer pass.

Tough times: Has Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning had a worse 10-quarter stretch in his career? Since the Colts took the lead right before intermission in Week 9 against the Patriots, Manning has struggled mightily: three sacks, two lost fumbles, and one INT in second half during the loss to New England; six INTs in the loss at San Diego; and 163 yards, two sacks and one INT in the win against the Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile, Adam Vinatieri – four missed field goals combined against the Chargers and Chiefs – actually got booed by the home crowd. This, of course, was before he drilled the game-winning 24-yard field with four seconds remaining.

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