There's no easy way out for these first-place NFL teams

So much for silver platters.

A couple of first-place NFL teams saw prime opportunities go poof Sunday, as they failed to make the most of their comeback chances.

The Chicago Bears, who were in a three-way tie for first in the NFC North, scored on a touchdown pass against Detroit with 40 seconds left and were a two-point conversion away from tying. The Bears got two chances at the conversion — the second coming because of a roughing-the-passer call — and came up short. With the 21-19 victory, the Lions claimed sole possession of first place in the division (by virtue of a Green Bay loss) and swept Chicago for the first time in six years.

Cincinnati also failed to take advantage of its second chance against Baltimore. The Bengals, who are still leading the AFC North, forced overtime at Baltimore on a 51-yard "Hail Mary" as the clock expired on regulation. A.J. Green made the catch, after the football took a high bounce off the hands of Baltimore's James Ihedigbo.

There would be no Hollywood ending for the Bengals, either, as they couldn't move the ball enough in overtime, and finally fell, 20-17, on a 46-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.

"We've got to do whatever we can to make one more play, put ourselves in a better position where we can score and have a chance to not let the other team have it," said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, whose team has lost overtime games in consecutive weeks. "Again, it didn't happen today."

While the Bengals and Bears were kicking themselves, other teams were rebooting.

The New York Giants won their third in a row, an abrupt U-turn for a franchise that started 0-6. They beat the visiting Oakland Raiders, 24-20, despite Eli Manning's third pick-six of the season.

Pittsburgh's defense looked like a steel curtain again, as opposed to a threadbare relic, as the Steelers beat Buffalo, 23-10.

"I think we went out there and answered the call today," said linebacker LaMarr Woodley, part of a unit that limited the Bills to 95 yards rushing, 50 yards less than their average. "We played like we're always supposed to."

Then there was the most shocking about-face of the day. St. Louis routed Indianapolis, 38-8, sacking Andrew Luck three times and picking off four passes (three by Luck).

"We got our butts kicked," Colts Coach Chuck Pagano said.

Rams rookie receiver Tavon Austin finally showed up for a game. The No. 8 pick, who so far had been a disappointment, exploded for three touchdowns — a 98-yard punt return, and scoring receptions of 57 and 81 yards.

"I've been patient for eight weeks, and hopefully it's my time right now," Austin said. "I knew the day was going to come. It was just me being patient and me being true to myself and to keep working. I'm just glad I had an opportunity."

On this day, at least, no second chance was required.


San Francisco has to be sweating in the wake of a 10-9 home loss to Carolina in which the 49ers offense was a no-show.

Jim Harbaugh's team lost three starters — tight end Vernon Davis (concussion), safety Eric Reid (concussion), and defensive tackle Ray McDonald (ankle) — and more ground to Seattle, which opened a 2 1/2-game lead in the NFC West with a blowout of Atlanta.

The 49ers are a month away from their rematch against the Seahawks, who blew them out, 29-3, in their first meeting. Until Sunday, the 49ers had been rolling, winning five in a row and scoring more than 30 points in each.

Meanwhile, Carolina fans are thinking playoffs, and their team is backing that up. The Panthers are riding a five-game winning streak.

Winless no more

Jacksonville won't be joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the second 0-16 team in league history.

The Jaguars held on to win at Tennessee, 29-27, surviving a surge by the Titans, who scored twice in the final four minutes, 15 seconds.

Coach Gus Bradley collected his first victory, and his team never trailed, forcing four turnovers that the Jaguars turned into 17 points.

"It's definitely a great feeling," Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne said. "Hopefully we can build on this."

The Jaguars can take heart in this: After they face 5-4 Arizona on Sunday, they don't play another team that currently has a winning record until their finale against Indianapolis.

Jacksonville had lost 13 in a row, with its last victory coming almost a year ago … against Tennessee.

Lost and found

For years, Green Bay has had rock-solid stability at quarterback, first with Brett Favre and then with Aaron Rodgers.

Suddenly with Rodgers recovering from a broken collarbone, the Packers are dealing with a revolving door at the position. Backup Seneca Wallace suffered a groin injury in Sunday's game against Philadelphia, leaving the Green Bay job to Scott Tolzien, who was promoted from the practice squad earlier in the week. Tolzien already has been named the starter for Sunday's game at the Giants.

The Eagles appear to have found their answer at the position. Nick Foles threw three touchdown passes Sunday, bringing his total to 10 touchdowns in the last two games, five of them to receiver Riley Cooper.

More QB drama

Tennessee's Jake Locker suffered a foot injury and probably is done for the year. He is believed to have sustained a Lisfranc injury, damage to a ligament that stabilizes the midfoot, and watched the second half of the loss to Jacksonville in a protective boot and on crutches.

Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger called "ridiculous" an report he plans to ask his representatives to explore trade options this off-season because he doesn't like the direction the Steelers are headed.

"I'm a Pittsburgher — this is home," Roethlisberger said. " I'm proud to raise my kids here. I don't want to play for anyone else."

Incognito speaks

Suspended Miami guard Richie Incognito, in his first comments since the Dolphins bullying scandal broke, conceded he sent inappropriate text and voice messages to teammate Jonathan Martin — including ones that used the N-word — but insisted "I'm not a racist."

"In no way, shape or form is it ever acceptable for me to use that word, even if it's friend to friend, on a voice mail," Incognito said in an interview with Fox reporter Jay Glazer. "It's thrown around a lot. It's a word that I've heard Jon use a lot. Not saying it's right when I did it in the voice mail, but there's a lot of colorful words thrown around in the locker room that we don't use in everyday life."

Glazer disclosed before the interview that he and Incognito have been friendly for several years and that three years ago he worked with Incognito on a physical training program that included mixed martial arts.

Martin, who is on the Dolphins' non-football injury list, has yet to speak publicly about the situation.

He's the Manning

San Diego typically plays well against Peyton Manning. But the Broncos quarterback got the best of the Chargers in a 28-20 victory.

Manning threw for 330 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. His 33 touchdown passes this season tie him with New England's Tom Brady (2007) for the most through the first nine games of a season in NFL history.

After the game, Manning said he is going to have an MRI exam on his leg Monday after getting hit low by the Chargers.

"I'm pretty sore. They kind of got me twice in that lower area … get an MRI tomorrow and will know more then," Manning said.

Next up, the showdown of the season (so far), when the Broncos play host to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.

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