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What we learned from Sunday's NFL games

The NFL has a way of humbling all of us. Just when you think you know something, the opposite happens.

The San Francisco 49ers looked like the best team in football through two weeks. And then the Minnesota Vikings completely outclassed them in every phase.

Here's what else we learned Sunday:

» It was a coming-out party for Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, who now has played three consecutive great games to start his second NFL season. The Vikings might have themselves a keeper.

»Adrian Peterson made his official return as the centerpiece of the Vikings' offense. The running back looks strong, but it's going to take some more time before we see the AP of old on the edges.

» Another week, another week of minimal production from Randy Moss, who had three catches for 27 yards in his return to Minnesota. Asked after the game about his playing time with the 49ers, Moss offered, "Next question." This feels like it's heading in a certain direction.

» How can you not be impressed by Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph? His second touchdown reception was a thing of beauty.

» More ridiculous replacement referee antics on display here. Ken Roan called an illegal block against the kicking team on the opening play of the game. Seriously. Later, he gave 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh two challenges after the coach called his last timeout. Is this really still happening?

-- Dan Hanzus

»Jamaal Charles rushed 33 times for 233 yards and a touchdown for the Chiefs. What ACL injury? Actually, Charles was caught from the side on one of his long gainers. It's scary that this might be how good he is at 90 percent.

»Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel was wildly conservative in not going for a touchdown at the end of regulation. Then again, he went for it on two fourth-and-short situations late in regulation and in overtime. His team pulled it off both times.

»Drew Brees' 300-yard game streak ended with a thud. A safety and an interception in the second half helped the Chiefs get back into the game. Pass protection has been a problem all year. The Saints had six scoreless drives to end the game.

»Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas combined for 22 rushing yards. The Saints didn't trust their rushing game with a lead.

»Justin Houston had a breakout game rushing the passer with three sacks, including a safety. The Chiefs have the defensive talent to put together more games like this.

»Dwayne Bowe was targeted 16 (!) times. He wound up with just seven catches for 79 yards. The next closest Chiefs wide receiver had four targets.

» The Chiefs deserved to win the game. They went over 500 yards of offense. Settling for field goals usually costs you against the Saints, but these aren't your normal Saints.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

» This was a wild one. It didn't take long for the Bengals to dip into their bag of tricks on offense. They lined up rookie Mohamed Sanu out of the Wildcat on the first play of the game. He proceeded to rifle a 73-yard scoring strike to A.J. Green, who torched the safety in one-on-one coverage. It was the longest touchdown reception of Green's young career. Sanu's rocket covered 48 yards through the air, leaving Redskins coach Mike Shanahan looking like he'd swallowed a lemon on the sideline.

»Andy Dalton's first pass? Less sexy. The Bengals starter unleashed a dead-on-arrival zinger from his own end zone ... right into the arms of Redskins outside linebacker Rob Jackson, who was filling in for the injured Brian Orakpo. Dalton failed to see a wide-open Jermaine Gresham on the play, but the Glowing Ginger Man was sensational from there on out, finishing 19-of-27 passing for 328 yards and three scores.

» Wouldn't have thought this a month ago, but the Bengals might have the most intriguing group of young receivers in the AFC.

» The Redskins were a mess offensively in the first half, but they found some success in the final 30 minutes leaning heavily on a triple-option attack that caught the Bengals by surprise. It opened up the running game and set free Robert Griffin III. Washington ran the option eight times on a 10-play, 86 yard scoring drive in the third quarter and stuck with it throughout the game.

»Alfred Morris didn't post monster numbers (17 carries for 78 yards and one touchdown) but he's stripping the mystery out of the Redskins' backfield by committee. He's their guy. Morris runs with exceptional power and is elusive enough to make the front seven miss.

»BenJarvus Green-Ellis lost the first fumble of his NFL career late in the third quarter. He hasn't fumbled since way back in 2007, when he was running wild for Ole Miss. This comes just days after Law Firm visited "The Jim Rome Show" to share the secrets behind his fumble-free life.

-- Marc Sessler

» Pittsburgh's defense couldn't stop Oakland down the stretch, allowing quarterback Carson Palmer to piece together five consecutive scoring drives, capped by Sebastian Janikowski's game-winning 43-yard field goal in the closing seconds. Sure, the Steelers were without linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu. But Oakland deserves credit for making one key play after another down the stretch.

» A rough-and-tumble second half slowed to a pause when Darrius Heyward-Bey was carted off the field with a neck injury. The Raiders wide receiver absorbed a vicious hit from Steelers safety Ryan Mundy on an incomplete pass in the end zone. This one should have been flagged, but the replacement officials didn't catch it. Heyward-Bey was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was said to be in stable condition, according to The Associated Press.

» The Raiders went through the entire first half without a single penalty. Repeat: The Oakland Raiders went through the entire first half without a single penalty. They were flagged just three times for 25 yards in all. Life slowly slips into the surreal.

» Observers talked all offseason about the Steelers' new run-oriented offense, but nothing appears to have changed in Todd Haley's attack. Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball all over the place Sunday, with more than 200 yards in the first half alone. His 384-yard, four-touchdown day might have something to do with the absence of Rashard Mendenhall, but Big Ben isn't being muzzled in this offense.

-- Marc Sessler

» Teams need to stop icing the kicker. Seriously. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin attempted to iceJets kicker Nick Folk in overtime but ended up wiping out a blocked field goal by Randy Starks in the process.

» The Jets' win is tempered in a big way by the knee injury suffered by cornerback Darrelle Revis. Make no mistake: No Revis, no hope.

»Reggie Bush left the game after suffering his own knee injury late in the first half. Bush is to the Dolphins' offense what Revis is to the Jets' defense.

»Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum did a poor job building an offense around quarterback Mark Sanchez, but he hit on safety LaRon Landry. As his pick six of Ryan Tannehill proved, the guy's a playmaker.

-- Dan Hanzus

»Greg Schiano's decision to blitz the Cowboys' victory formation will distract from the awful Buccaneers offense. Tampa Bay didn't have 100 total yards until late in the fourth quarter. They had four negative drives.

»Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr did a great job shutting down Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson all day. Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman did appear to be reading the field clearly. When he had someone open, he often was inaccurate. Freeman was 10-of-28 passing on the day. Yikes.

» The Cowboys' offense wasn't much better. Their offense is built entirely around Tony Romo making up for the offensive line's mistakes. That's a hard way to live. Right tackle Doug Free has struggled this year.

» Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn appeared to suffer a serious injury. Tampa Bay's front seven -- led by Gerald McCoy -- played very well in this game.

»Cowboys tight end Jason Witten already has dropped more passes this season than he did in the last two seasons combined. He blew a chance for a touchdown.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

» If you love watching defensive lines dominate, this was the game for you. Chicago's defensive line just dominated a little more.

»Jay Cutler wasn't particularly sharp in this game. It's so rare that the Bears just drop back and complete a pass as planned. The pass protection was no better than it was last week against the Green Bay Packers.

» Coach Jeff Fisher has instilled an attitude of aggressiveness into his Rams. Sometimes they are too aggressive. Chicago scored 10 points after dumb St. Louis penalties kept drives going.

»Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan has had a bigger impact than any free-agent pickup in the NFL. He was a beast again in this game.

» The Bears are going to have to win with defense. They lead the NFL in takeaways. That's a Lovie Smith kind of team.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

» Buffalo's second victory of the season was soured by a left shoulder injury to running back C.J. Spiller, who was hurt on a first-quarter dump pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Cleveland had no answer for Spiller before he left the game. The electric back hauled in a Fitzpatrick check-down toss for a 32-yard score and accounted for 60 yards in less than a quarter of play. This wasn't the same Bills team after Spiller departed.

»Mario Williams sighting: The Bills' big-money pass rusher recorded his first sack of the season with a 6-yard takedown of Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden in the second quarter. Williams finished with 1.5 sacks, but Browns rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz did an admirable job against Williams for much of the afternoon.

» Buffalo's frenetic spread attack baffled Cleveland's Joe Haden-less secondary early, but when Spiller went out, the Bills' offense lost some of its spark. When this backfield is healthy, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Co. conjure up images of Jim Kelly's Red Gun attack of yesteryear, but injuries have killed this team two years running.

» After last week's growth against the Cincinnati Bengals, Weeden came back to earth. He stares down his receivers and misses too many deep targets. We're seeing Weeden slowly build chemistry with Travis Benjamin and this inexperienced receiving corps, but it wasn't nearly enough against Buffalo.

-- Marc Sessler

» The Colts' offense can look really good at times and kind of awful at others. They jumped out to a 14-3 halftime lead with two touchdown passes by Andrew Luck and a 75 percent third-down conversion rate. Then Luck was picked off in the second half, and the offense was 4 of 11 on third downs. The Colts are still searching for consistency, which isn't a surprise with a new coach, a new offensive coordinator and a rookie quarterback.

» Luck continues to own the two-minute drill. He drove the Colts into scoring position at the end of three of four halves in the first two weeks. He threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mewelde Moore with 37 seconds left in the first half Sunday and put Adam Vinatieri in position for a 37-yard field goal at the end of regulation.

»Maurice Jones-Drew is still a beast. The Jaguars' star running back posted season highs with 28 carries for 177 yards and one touchdown. There were worries that his holdout would have lingering effects. It didn't Sunday, as he ran through and around Colts defenders on a regular basis.

»Colts wide receiver Austin Collie suffered a knee injury during his first game back from a concussion that he sustained during the preseason. He is scheduled for an MRI on Monday, and Colts coach Chuck Pagano didn't sound optimistic after the game. Starting center Samson Satele also left with a knee injury.

»Jaguars wide receiver Laurent Robinson and running back Montell Owens both suffered head injuries and didn't return.

-- Kareem Copeland

» Never count out the Lions. Their penchant for fourth-quarter rallies is alive and well. This time, Titus Youngcaught a 46-yard Hail Mary touchdown off a deflection as the regulation clock expired. This group truly believes no deficit is too much.

»Matthew Stafford is still off. And now he's hurt. The Lions' franchise quarterback strained a leg muscle late in the fourth quarter and didn't play in the final two series or in overtime. He finished with 278 passing yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Stafford threw for 41 touchdowns in 2011. He's on pace for 16 in 2012. Something's not quite right.

»Mikel Leshoure was a welcome addition to the Lions' offense. He ran for 100 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries. The second-year pro ran behind his pads and through tackles, which is his forte, but he also was elusive and showed the ability to be a receiver out of the backfield. Leshoure is exactly what the Lions need to force opponents to respect the run and make Stafford's life easier. Detroit was able to go big and run effective in short-distance situations. That's been a problem in the past.

»Chris Johnson showed glimpses of the man they called CJ2K. The speed was there when he got into space, and Lions defenders struggled to bring him down. The problem: They were very brief glimpses. Johnson finished with 24 yards on 14 carries. That's an improvement from the 21 combined rushing yards from the previous two games. Then again, Titans quarterback Jake Locker ran for 35 yards himself. Johnson pointed the finger at his offensive line this week, but they seemed adequate against the Lions.

» Locker and the Titans' offense showed what could be, even with an ineffective Johnson. Locker threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns and looked like a big-time playmaker. He threw strikes when necessary and didn't force things. Locker moved well and used his athleticism outside the pocket. And he hit those big receivers. The Titans had scored 23 combined points in the previous two games -- last in the NFL.

-- Kareem Copeland

» The return of running back Ryan Mathews and tight end Antonio Gates didn't help the Chargers' offense. They combined for 66 yards. San Diego fell behind too much, too early to stay patient with the run.

»Falcons running back Michael Turner had his best game of the season with 80 yards and a score. He also honored LaDainian Tomlinson by doing his former teammate's touchdown celebration in San Diego.

»Philip Rivers' protection wasn't good on the outside. He averaged only 4.6 yards per attempt with two interceptions for the Chargers.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

»Matt Schaub showed a lot of toughness. The Texans' star quarterback was hammered on back-to-back plays by illegal hits, the second of which caused him to lose his helmet. Schaub only missed one play. On third-and-long late in the fourth quarter, Schaub threaded the needle to Andre Johnson to get a first down and kill valuable clock time.

» The Texans were very conservative on offense the first two weeks. That changed Sunday, when they had three plays over 45 yards.

» The Broncos don't seem to play their best until they are way down. Houston had a 31-11 lead and the ball at midfield before a turnover turned around this game.

»Broncos running back Willis McGahee (ribs) and tight end Jacob Tamme (leg) were both hurt in the game.

» It's like Peyton Manning heard us. He fired a number of bullets that showed off his arm, including a 38-yard touchdown to Brandon Stokley up the seam. He threw 50 passes in the game. He was very lucky a few passes didn't get picked off.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

» A foot to the right, and Justin Tucker could be out of job. Instead, he's the hero. Life as an NFL kicker.

» Replacement referees were far too inconsistent in their enforcement of contact rules in the secondary. Like a home-plate umpire who doesn't call a consistent game behind the plate, it's hard to know how to play.

» You think the Ravens miss injured linebacker Terrell Suggs? They struggled to get any kind of pass rush on Tom Brady.

»Wes Welker did what Wes Welker does, specifically getting open and making catches. The Patriots might not want to pay the man, but they  need to play him.

»Torrey Smith is worthy of your respect and wonder. One day after his brother was killed in a motorcycle accident, the wide receiver was the same downfield playmaker who has helped transform Baltimore's offense.

» Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd is a nice fit in this Patriots offense. Safe to assume he managed to overcome that daunting playbook.

»Dennis Pitta is an evolutionary Todd Heap. The tight end has become a trusty security blanket for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

» If there are football gods, these two teams will meet again in January ... hopefully with real refs. Pound for pound, it's the best rivalry in football right now.

-- Dan Hanzus

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