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What happened Sunday in the NFL: Scores, highlights and the big takeaways from Week 9

The Arizona Cardinals are for real. New England's defense is seriously underrated. We have reservations about the Eagles, Chargers and the Cowboys. Let's take a look back at Week 9.

1. The real star in Brady vs. Manning

By Ryan Van Bibber

We've got another solid day's worth of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady chatter. At least there was a little more moderation to the hype leading up to this one, as far as the histrionics go. One justifiable talking point was whether or not this game would give us any insight into which team is the best in the AFC.

The Patriots' 43-21 shellacking gives them that honor, for now, as far as records go. New England is 7-2; hand-wringing over the team's early-season struggles feels like it happened in another lifetime. Denver is 6-2, and there's nothing the Broncos really need to worry about ... until January.

The real star here was the Patriots secondary. An aggressive approach limited the damage from Denver's top weapons. More importantly, New England picked off Manning twice, and the offense converted those into touchdowns. Recognize that formula? You should, it was a similar approach to the one the Seahawks used to crush the Broncos in the Super Bowl. These two teams are likely to meet again in the playoffs. Will John Fox and Manning have figured out a way around that game plan by then?

2. Chargers, Dolphins trading places

By Eric Sollenberger

The Chargers continued their month-long demise, getting shut out on the road against the Dolphins in a 37-0 blowout.

Nothing went right for San Diego in a game that was out of hand halfway through the third quarter. The Chargers have been dealing with more than their share of injuries, but it's looking like their 5-1 start had quite a bit to do with beating up on some of the worst teams in the league, with the notable exception of the Seahawks.

Philip Rivers tossed three interceptions, no touchdowns, and was thoroughly outclassed by Ryan Tannehill who managed over 330 total yards and three scores. The Chargers ground game struggled to get going behind the return of Donald Brown, and Branden Oliver struggled to find any running room over the past two weeks. The only bright spot is that they have a couple of winnable games coming up against the hapless Raiders and Rams.

Meanwhile the Dolphins sit at 5-3 after reeling off three straight wins. Charles Clay, Tannehill, and Lamar Miller all had impressive days on offense as Brent Grimes added to an already outstanding year by adding a couple of interceptions. Miami is positioned well going down the stretch, but they face a tough schedule with games against the Lions coming off a bye, the Broncos, Ravens and Patriots.

3. How far can the Eagles go?

By Louis Bien

The Eagles also have to get by for a little while with Mark Sanchez, a man synonymous with turnovers and one turnover in particular, as their starting quarterback until Nick Foles can return from a broken collarbone (for reference, Aaron Rodgers missed seven weeks with the same injury last season). Sanchez did just fine in relief, throwing a pair of touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. It's either a testament to Chip Kelly's system or Sanchez actually having quality offensive players to work with for the first time in his career or both.

It would easy to point to the Eagles' four turnovers Sunday as a badge of honor -- as in they were able to give the ball back to the Texans four times (minus-3 differential) and STILL come away with a double-digit win. The Eagles are now 6-2, which is as good as any team in the NFL save for the 7-1 Cardinals who they lost to last week, and the 7-2 Patriots who won during the late slate Sunday and have played an extra game.

But with those four turnovers, the Eagles now have 21 on the season to lead the NFL by a significant margi. They may not be able to get away with their mistakes much longer.

The Eagles' six wins have come against teams with a combined 19-31 record. The road over their final eight games will be much bumpier. Bouts against the Carolina Panthers and the Tennessee Titans in the next three weeks are the only relative respites left. The Eagles go to Lambeau Field in two weeks, and their final five game are brutal -- Cowboys (away), Seahawks (home), Cowboys (home), Washington (away), Giants (away).

Calling any of those games gimmes would be foolish. Even Washington looks like a better team than the one lost by three points to the Eagles in Week 3. The Eagles' margin for error will be much smaller going forward. Turnovers haven't hurt them much so far, but last week's tight loss to the Cardinals proved that giveaways will be significant against proper competition.

It would be sad to see a fun team felled by something like that, but it's a real danger for this Eagles team.

4. The best team in the NFC is ...

By Ryan Van Bibber

There was another big game in the NFC on Sunday, in as much as a game featuring the Cowboys without Tony Romo can be considered "big." Brandon Weeden is who we thought he was, the same bad quarterback he was in Cleveland. The Cardinals defense kept DeMarco Murray under 100 yards rushing for the first time this season, and Weeden just wasn't up to the task. He didn't even connect with Dez Bryant or any other wide receiver until garbage time in the fourth quarter.

Romo is expected to play next week, as if Dr. Jerry Jones would give him any other choice, even against the Jaguars. It's not accurate to label the Cowboys a paper tiger after their red-hot start, not with quality wins against Seattle and New Orleans, but they've dropped two in a row now, largely because of Romo's injury. Dallas just doesn't have the parts to stay competitive down the stretch and into the postseason without their starting quarterback and his numbed backbone.

As for the Cardinals, they're 7-1 now, the best record in the NFC. Four of those wins came from a sweep of the NFC East. Their real test is a second half loaded with division games; two against the Sehawks and two against the Rams before finishing the season on the road against the 49ers. They also have Detroit and Kansas City on the calendar.

Bruce Arians' aggressive offense has been the big story in Arizona, deservedly so, but the defense is doing its part too. They're tied for the league lead with 12 interceptions, while giving up just 13 touchdowns through the air. They've been even more effective stopping the run, allowing an average of less than 80 yards per game. The biggest concern for the Cardinals is their lack of a pass rush.

Pick six

Our favorite moments from Sunday.

1. Chiefs tight end Anthony Fasano scores from his butt.

2. This is how the 49ers lost to the Rams.

3. Teddy Bridgewater and Cordarrelle Patterson couldn't get on the same page for a score.

4. Bill Belichick attempted a fake when the Patriots were up by 22 points.

5. The Dolphins poured acid on a ref.

6. Marshawn Lynch carried the Raiders defense with him into the end zone.

Sunday scoreboard

Cleveland Browns 22, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 (final)

Arizona Cardinals 28, Dallas Cowboys 17 (final) | Recap

Philadelphia Eagles 31, Houston Texans 21 (final) | Recap

Kansas City Chiefs 24, New York Jets 10 (final)

Cincinnati Bengals 33, Jacksonville Jaguars 23 (final)

Miami Dolphins 37, San Diego Chargers 0 (final)

Minnesota Vikings 29, Washington 26 (final) | Recap

St. Louis Rams 13, San Francisco 49ers 10 (final)

Denver Broncos 21, New England Patriots 43 (final) | Recap

Oakland Raiders 24, Seattle Seahawks 30 (final)

Baltimore Ravens 23, Pittsburgh Steelers 43 (final) | Recap