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NFL Sunday takeaways: Chiefs, Packers rise to No. 1 in conference standings

Packers edge Ravens 31-30 on another failed Baltimore two-point conversion in final seconds

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Miss a day, miss a lot in this month’s NFL play.

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Kansas City is now the top seed in the AFC, while Green Bay not only passed Arizona into first place in the NFC, but became the first team in the league to clinch a playoff berth.

Those were the top takeaways from Sunday’s nine day-time games.

The Chiefs didn’t even play, but their 34-28 overtime win Thursday at the Los Angeles Chargers, in conjunction with New England’s 27-17 loss Saturday night at Indianapolis, and Tennessee’s 19-13 loss at Pittsburgh, catapulted 10-4 K.C. to top spot in the AFC.

New England (9-5) is No. 2, followed by Tennessee (9-5) and Cincinnati (8-6), which vaulted over Baltimore to take over leadership in the tight AFC North.

With three weeks left in the regular season, would you believe that nine AFC teams are 8-6, 7-7 or crammed somewhere in between.

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Blame Green Bay and its other-worldly quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, for Baltimore’s 31-30 loss. He was sensational, again, completing all but eight of his 31 passes for 268 yards and three scores, again without an interception.

Even though the Ravens’ regular starting quarterback, Lamar Jackson, missed the first game of his career due to injury (ankle sprain), his plucky, talented young backup — undrafted second-year Tyler Huntley — once again was spectacular in relief.

As he did in rallying the Ravens to victory on Nov. 21 at Chicago, and did again in nearly rallying Baltimore to victory the past two weeks in tight losses at Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Huntley looked (it must be said) at least as good as Jackson as a passer, and nearly as quick and elusive as a runner. Wow!

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Green Bay took a 31-17 lead with 9:26 left, only for Huntley to expertly pilot the Ravens on a pair of long touchdowns drives, of 63 and 49 yards.

But for the second time in three weeks, with his team scoring a touchdown to pull within one point in the final minute, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh opted to go for two points and the win — and again the attempt was unsuccessful.

“I think our chances of winning right there were higher than in overtime,” Harbaugh said. “Felt good about it. Felt we had a really good play.”

The play was a rollout pass, to star tight end Mark Andrews on a comebacker to the front right pylon. But the Packers ran a second defensive back over to double Andrews (who’d already caught 10 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns) and Huntley’s pass was broken up.

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Green Bay improved to 11-3. With a win Sunday night over New Orleans, Tampa Bay could have improved to the same record and clinched the NFC South division to boot, but the Bucs could not unseat the Packers atop the NFC.

CARDS ARE BLOWN AWAY IN … DETROIT

After somehow getting destroyed 30-12 in Detroit, Arizona (10-4) now has lost three of its last five games. In contrast, Detroit was won two of three to improve to 2-11-1.

“(Detroit) was better. They had a better sense of urgency right from the start,” Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We just weren’t good enough in any area … That wasn’t what we’ve been all year, particularly on the road. So we’ve got to figure that out before next week.”

And beyond.

BILLS-PATRIOTS SHOWDOWN IS SET

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It wasn’t by any means slick, but the Buffalo Bills ended a two-game losing streak in overwhelming the visiting Carolina Panthers, 31-14.

That sets up a monster AFC East clash next Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, between the visiting Bills and New England Patriots. Buffalo is now 8-6, just a game behind 9-5 New England, which got pounded 27-17 in Indianapolis on Saturday night.

Each team can win the division by winning its final three games, meaning this coming Sunday’s game is all-important.

Against the Panthers, Allen again had pathetically little pass protection; he seldom had time to drop into the pocket and assess a thing. In part that was due to Buffalo’s O-line shuffling, caused by the loss of two offensive linemen (COVID-19).

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Still, Allen was efficient, completing 19 of 34 for 210 yards and three TDs. He was picked once — a spectacular pursuit-and-grab by Carolina safety Jeremy Chinn.

BRIDGEWATER CARTED OFF IN BRONCOS LOSS

Overshadowing the Bengals’ big 15-10 win in a defensive battle at Denver was Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater laying motionless on the field late in the third quarter, after diving head first for a first down and getting hit hard on a clean tackle.

Eventually, Bridgewater’s head was taped to a stretcher board as he was carted off.

He was rushed by ambulance to hospital “for further evaluation of a head injury,” Broncos PR chief Patrick Smyth tweeted. “He has movement in all extremities.”

The Bengals gained only 249 yards of offence, the Broncos 292. A 56-yard scoring pass from Joe Burrow to Tyler Boyd late in the third quarter proved the difference.

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YES, HERE COME THE 49ERS, AGAIN

When the San Francisco 49ers fell to 2-4 entering the last week of October, they looked done. Couldn’t score. Couldn’t stop anyone.

After outclassing the visiting Atlanta Falcons 31-12 on Sunday, in a matchup of 7-6 NFC wild-card hopefuls, the Niners improved their record since Halloween week to 6-2.

It’s not just the wins, it’s how they’ve won. In these past eight games the 49ers have averaged 28 points, and have broken the 30-point plateau five times.

San Fran’s defence, meantime, has allowed only 21 points per game, with three foes in that stretch failing to score as many as 13.

So it’s not just the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West who are playing arguably their best football of the season. These Niners are solid.

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Even quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is playing at a high level. Honest.

STEELERS SOMEHOW RALLY TO WIN AGAIN

Didn’t we just watch this two weeks ago? We did.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, playing at home, and needing a win to get above .500 to avoid becoming a playoff long shot, could muster only a field goal through nearly three full quarters of play — before scoring on every remaining possession to finally charge ahead and, in the end, win on a defensive stand deep in Steelers territory in the closing seconds.

Happened two weeks ago in a 20-19 defeat of Baltimore, and happened Sunday afternoon in a 19-13 win over the offensively sputtering Tennessee Titans.

The biggest difference this time was that unlike two weeks ago against the Ravens, when QB Ben Roethlisberger and crew amassed 186 yards of offence in the final quarter in scoring two touchdowns and a field goal, the Steelers offence was still comatose in the final 15 minutes.

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The Titans turned it over three times (two fumbles and a pick) to set up three decisive Pittsburgh field goals.

The Steelers finished with just 168 yards of offence. That’s an enormous concern. Pittsburgh cannot reliably move the ball unless the opposing defence loosens up to protect a big lead, or tires late in a game.

Said Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin: “(Tennessee’s) turnovers leveled the playing field in the second half, and provided short fields for us. That was the catalyst for us to go ahead and secure victory.”

Pittsburgh improved to 7-6-1, half a game out of a wild-card playoff position. But it finishes with games against K.C., Cleveland and Baltimore. Playoffs? Not with the offence we’ve seen so far in 2021.

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Tennessee fell to 9-5, and now has just a one-game over surging Indianapolis (8-6) in the AFC South. Derrick Henry cannot come back fast enough. Reports say the star running back’s injured foot might heal enough for him to play before the end of the regular season.

EXTRA POINTS

That Dallas won at the New York Giants, and that the game was kinda close (21-6), was expected. But that the Cowboys seem to be winning more these days because of their fierce, QB-harassing, ball-hungry defence than their star-studded offence was not. Should we start believing our eyes? “The defence is playing ridiculous,” said Dallas QB Dak Prescott, who quietly completed all but nine of his 37 throws … Miami won its sixth straight, but big deal. Five of the wins have come against the dregs of the league, including Sunday’s narrow 31-24 defeat of the New York Jets … In a matchup of the AFC’s two worst teams, the visiting Houston Texans smashed the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-16. So much for post-Urban renewal.

JoKryk@postmedia.com

@JohnKryk

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