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NFL Debrief: Browns surprise, Saints might be sunk and Jim Harbaugh is a smart man

The weekend that was in the NFL.

Matt Sullivan

There is no best team in the NFL, just a collection of very good ones. In Sunday's games, those very good teams won. The 49ers beat the Saints, the Ravens survived the Chargers, the Giants topped the Packers and the Bears crushed the Vikings.

So who's the best? We still don't know. But the absence of one team clearly above the others will create at least some suspense for the rest of this NFL season.

Your Week 12 highlights, starting with the fourth down conversion of the year in San Diego:

More: AFC playoff picture | NFC playoff picture | NFL scores Week 12

Fourth down conversion of the year

Donovan McNabb had his fourth-and-26 and now Ray Rice and the Ravens have their fourth-and-29.

The Ravens, trailing by three, faced a critical fourth down from their own 37-yard line. Fourth-and-29 is rarely converted so I can't imagine any member of the Ravens felt comfortable about the game at that point, trailing 13-10 with 1:59 remaining.

The Ravens lined up with four receivers and one back, Ray Rice, in the backfield.


Torrey Smith is the deep threat on the team, so the Chargers were paying plenty of attention to him. Who they didn't care as much about was Rice, because a dump-off pass probably wasn't going to hurt them. Flacco can't find anyone deep so he checks down -- yes, a fourth-and-29 checkdown -- and sends it to Rice.

Here's the all-22 so you can get an appreciation for what Rice, who is the outlet on the right side of the field, did on the play.


Despite all those Chargers players, Rice runs and makes a sharp cut to the left side of the field, which gave him some more daylight.

Anquan Boldin is the unsung hero of the play because he delivered a huge block on Eric Weddle, maybe the one Charger who could've ended the play early.


Rice likely would've been stopped had it not been for that block. Getting to that point was all Rice, but Boldin sprung him at the end.

But did he actually get the first down? The call was reviewed, and he was given the first down, but replays -- nine minutes of replays by the refs! -- showed that Rice might've been short:


Sometimes good teams get lucky.

Browns stun the Steelers

After nearly upsetting the Cowboys last week, the Browns finished off the job against the Steelers for the biggest upset of the week. An upset no one saw coming. The Browns hadn't beaten the Steelers since Dec. 10, 2009. Before that? Oct. 5, 2003. So, yeah, the Browns don't beat the Steelers very often.

Looking at the Steelers drive charts, it's clear as day why they lost the game -- turnovers. Eight of 'em.

1. Fumble
2. Punt
3. Punt
4. Fumble
5. Punt
6 Fumble
7. Touchdown
8. Punt
9. Interception
10. Punt
11. Interception
12. Punt
13. Interception
14. Fumble

The amazing part of this game is that the Steelers, with eight turnovers, only lost by one score.

Are the Saints sunk?

After losing to the 49ers on Sunday, the Saints are now in a position where they may have to win out to sniff the playoffs. That we're even talking about the Saints in the NFL playoff picture after they started 0-4 is impressive, but Sunday's loss to the 49ers was devastating to their playoff hopes.

Their next five games: at Atlanta, at New York Giants, Tampa Bay, at Dallas, Carolina

More: AFC playoff picture | NFC playoff picture

Beating the Bucs, Cowboys and Panthers seems doable. Beating the Falcons and Giants is not so doable, especially when it's in their house ... in back-to-back weeks.

The Saints are in a lot of trouble.

Kaepernick makes Harbaugh look like a smart man

Jim Harbaugh made the surprising decision to move away from Alex Smith, who had only lost six games in his last season-and-a-half in San Francisco. Kaepernick, the second year player, completed 16 of 25 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing) in Sunday's win over the Saints.

After the win, Harbaugh looks like a smart man for rolling with Kaepernick. But is it the right decision down the road? SB Nation's Niners Nation gives us the difference between Smith's 49ers and Kaepernick's.

You can look at Smith's 49ers, and how they seemed like a methodical, well-oiled machine that put up points and rode the waves of momentum to victory. The receivers are understated, but happy - the running backs are well fed and have no complaints. The quarterback is stoic, unassuming, but unrelenting.

But then you look at Kaepernick's 49ers, a unit that somehow seems more youthful as a whole. They're fast, dynamic, and they'll go for the throat. Kaepernick himself has a lot to prove, but he's going out there and proving it as fast as he can. They'll make more mistakes than Smith's 49ers, but they'll always have the potential to score on every play.

Which one would you choose?


Chiefs take the lead in the race for No. 1

The Jaguars beat the Titans on Sunday and the Chiefs lost to the Broncos, meaning Kansas City now has sole possession of the title of "NFL's worst team." The Chiefs also have the lead in the race for the top pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

The Chiefs, 1-10, have a one-game lead over the two-win Jaguars and the two-win Panthers. The Browns, who suddenly look a lot better, have three wins. The Eagles, at three wins, are also a threat to lose out.

The Chiefs still play the Panthers, Browns and Raiders so they very well could tack on another win (or two). The race for the No. 1 pick will go down to the wire.

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