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Division races taking shape

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Division races taking shape

As the NFL heads into December, nearly every division race has an outright favorite. Some - Denver, Atlanta, New England, Houston and Baltimore - are on the verge of clinching playoff spots.

The Broncos, Falcons, Ravens, Texans and Patriots took big steps toward making the postseason with victories this week. Denver in the AFC West and Atlanta in the NFC South both have four-game leads after tight road wins Sunday, while Baltimore went to overtime to secure a three-game margin in the AFC North.

Houston and New England did their work on Thanksgiving Day to grab three-game cushions in the AFC South and East, respectively. San Francisco's victory and a loss by Seattle pushed the 49ers' edge to 2 1/2 games in the NFC West. The New York Giants are up two games in the NFC East and dropped Green Bay to one game behind Chicago in the NFC North. Bears-Packers is the only truly close chase through 11 games.

Denver (8-3) had it much tougher than expected at Kansas City (1-10), but rallied for its sixth straight win as Peyton Manning threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns.

``It's a division opponent; you have to win,'' Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. ``You have got to win those games. It is what is going to prepare you for the playoffs.''

Manning hit tight end Jacob Tamme late in the first half and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in the third quarter for scores, and that was more than enough to overcome three field goals by the Chiefs' Ryan Succop as Kansas City lost its eighth straight. Knowshon Moreno added 85 yards rushing in place of Willis McGahee, who went on injured reserve this week with a knee injury.

Jamaal Charles ran for 107 yards for the Chiefs.

The victory, combined with San Diego's 16-13 home loss to Baltimore, put the Broncos in position to win the division next week.

``We have to keep going,'' Thomas said. ``Our goal is to keep winning and get to the big game.''

Atlanta (10-1) edged Tampa Bay 24-23 as Matt Ryan threw for 353 yards and overcame two big turnovers by leading another late touchdown drive. Ryan teamed with Julio Jones on an 80-yard TD in the third quarter, but needed Michael Turner's 1-yard TD run with 7:55 left to win.

Connor Barth missed a 56-yard goal for Tampa Bay (6-5) in the closing minutes, and the Bucs' four-game winning streak ended.

``Ten-and-1 is great, but I'll tell you what I've said since the beginning of the season: We're just jockeying for position,'' tight end Tony Gonzalez said. ``We just want to put ourselves in the best position, playing the best football. Right around this time is when you want to start jelling as a team and take it on into the playoffs because that's the most important thing.''

Elsewhere Sunday, it was San Francisco 31, New Orleans 21; the Giants 38, Green Bay 10; Chicago 28, Minnesota 10; Indianapolis 20, Buffalo 13; Cincinnati 34, Oakland 10; Cleveland 20, Pittsburgh 14; Miami 24, Seattle 21; St. Louis 31, Arizona 17; and Jacksonville 24, Tennessee 19.

On Thursday, Houston won at Detroit 34-31 in overtime; New England routed the New York Jets 49-19; and Washington beat Dallas 38-31.

Monday night, it is Carolina (2-8) at Philadelphia (3-7).

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RAVENS 16, CHARGERS 13 OT

At San Diego, the Ravens pulled off a fourth-and-29 conversion to stay alive, then Justin Tucker kicked a 38-yard field with 1:07 left in overtime to complete a stunning comeback.

San Diego (4-7) led 13-3 on Nick Novak's 30-yard field goal and seemed headed for its first win against a team with a winning record this season. But Ray Rice caught a short pass from Joe Flacco and weaved through the defense to the San Diego 33 with 1:37 to play. After a review, the ball was moved back to the 34 and the refs measured. The new spot gave the Ravens a first down by the length of the ball.

Six plays later, Tucker kicked a 38-yard field goal to tie the game as regulation expired.

The Ravens (9-2) won their fourth straight and for the eighth time in nine games.

49ERS 31, SAINTS 21

At New Orleans, the San Francisco defense stymied Drew Brees and ended the Saints' three-game winning streak. Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner each returned interceptions for touchdowns and the 49ers (8-2-1) sacked Brees five times.

Colin Kaepernick ran for one score that he made look easy and threw for a touchdown in another performance that validated coach Jim Harbaugh's decision to start him ahead of Alex Smith.

Brees finished with 267 yards and three TDs for New Orleans (5-6).

GIANTS 38, PACKERS 10

At East Rutherford, N.J., Eli Manning threw for three touchdowns, giving him 200 for his career, a team record, and New York sacked Aaron Rodgers five times.

Coming off their bye, the Giants (7-4) put to rest concerns about a dormant offense and a tired arm for Manning. He connected with rookie Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks for scores, and Ahmad Bradshaw had a combined 119 yards, including a 59-yard sprint on a screen pass to begin the onslaught.

Mathias Kiwanuka had two of the sacks as Rodgers never got comfortable. Green Bay (7-4) had its five-game winning streak snapped.

FALCONS 24, BUCCANEERS 23

At Tampa, Fla., Matt Ryan threw for 353 yards and overcame two big turnovers by leading another late touchdown drive to end Tampa Bay's four-game winning streak.

Michael Turner's 1-yard TD run put Atlanta ahead for good with 7:55 left. Connor Barth missed a 56-yard goal for Tampa Bay (6-5) in the closing minutes, and Josh Freeman's desperation pass fell incomplete in the end zone with no time remaining.

The win enabled the Falcons (10-1) to keep pace with Houston for the NFL's best record.

BEARS 28, VIKINGS 10

At Chicago, Jay Cutler threw for 188 yards and a touchdown after missing a game because of a concussion as Chicago (8-3) ended a two-game losing streak.

The Bears grabbed a 25-3 halftime lead thanks to Cutler's pinpoint passing. The defense held Adrian Peterson in check early on, although he finished with 108 yards rushing for Minnesota (6-5).

The win could prove costly. The Bears lost wide receiver Devin Hester (concussion), running back Matt Forte (ankle), cornerback Charles Tillman (ankle) and both starting guards to injuries.

BRONCOS 17, CHIEFS 9

At Kansas City, Mo., Peyton Manning threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, and Denver (8-3) rallied for its sixth straight win.

Manning hit tight end Jacob Tamme late in the first half and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in the third quarter, and that was more than enough to overcome three field goals by the Chiefs' Ryan Succop as Kansas City lost its eighth straight game.

Jamaal Charles ran for 107 yards for the Chiefs (1-10), who haven't scored a touchdown since the first quarter against Pittsburgh on Nov. 12, a span of more than 11 quarters and 173 minutes of game time.

COLTS 20, BILLS 13

At Indianapolis, T.Y. Hilton scored on a 75-yard punt return and caught an 8-yard TD pass from Andrew Luck. He is the first player in franchise history to score by punt return and pass reception in the same game.

Luck was 20 of 37 for 240 yards with a TD and an interception as Indy improved to 7-4.

Buffalo (4-7) ended its red-zone drought with 11:30 left with a 1-yard TD pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Lee Smith. But the Bills moved closer to extending their string of non-playoff seasons to 13.

BENGALS 34, RAIDERS 10

At Cincinnati, Andy Dalton threw three touchdown passes in outdueling Cincinnati's former quarterback, Carson Palmer. BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 129 yards and a touchdown against the NFL's most generous defense. He had runs of 48 and 39 yards - the longest of his career - to set up scores for the Bengals (6-5).

Palmer had a tough time all-around in his return to Cincinnati, going 19 of 34 for 146 yards with four sacks and an interception.

Oakland (3-8) lost its fourth in a row.

A brawl in the fourth quarter resulted in Oakland's Tommy Kelly and Lamarr Houston and Cincinnati's Andrew Whitworth getting ejected.

BROWNS 20, STEELERS 14

At Cleveland, the Steelers (6-5) committed eight turnovers and third-string quarterback Charlie Batch struggled as the Browns (3-8) beat Pittsburgh for just the second time in 18 games.

Chris Rainey's fumble with 2:25 left was recovered by Cleveland's Phil Taylor to clinch it.

Batch, starting for Pittsburgh because of injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, was picked off three times and the Steelers lost five fumbles, the last on the final play of the game.

Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden sustained a concussion in the final minutes when he banged his head while falling awkwardly after an incompletion. Backup Colt McCoy, who suffered a concussion when the teams met late last season, came in and finished off the win without attempting a pass.

DOLPHINS 24, SEAHAWKS 21

At Miami, Dan Carpenter kicked a 43-yard field goal on the final play, capping a rally by Miami (5-6), which scored 17 points in the last 8:08.

Rookie Ryan Tannehill drove Miami 65 yards in the final 92 seconds to set up the winning kick. He finished 18 for 26 for 253 yards and a score.

Leon Washington returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the eighth time to tie the NFL career record and put Seattle ahead with eight minutes left. Miami answered with an 80-yard drive capped by Tannehill's 29-yard scoring pass to Charles Clay, making it 21-21.

The Seahawks (6-5), who are unbeaten at home this year, lost for the fifth time in six road games.

RAMS 31, CARDINALS 17

At Glendale, Ariz., Janoris Jenkins became the first player in Rams history and the first NFL rookie since 1960 to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game and St. Louis (4-6-1) handed the Cardinals (4-7) their seventh loss in a row.

Jenkins' returns of 36 and 39 yards emphatically ended the Rams' streak of five straight games without an opponent turnover. Arizona rookie Ryan Lindley was intercepted four times in his first NFL start.

Sam Bradford had a pair of 37-yard touchdown passes to Lance Kendricks and Chris Givens as the Rams snapped a five-game winless streak. Steven Jackson rushed for 139 yards in 24 carries.

JAGUARS 24, TITANS 19

At Jacksonville, Chad Henne threw two touchdown passes, sparking the NFL's worst offense for the second consecutive week.

The Jaguars (2-9) snapped a seven-game losing streak and were competitive at home for the first time this season.

Henne, making his first start in more than 13 months, found Cecil Shorts III on a 59-yard touchdown play in the third quarter and hooked up with rookie Justin Blackmon for a 7-yard score in the fourth.

The Titans (4-7) cut the lead to 21-19 on Jake Locker's 6-yard pass to Kenny Britt with 4:52 remaining and had the ball with a chance to take the lead. But Russell Allen tipped Locker's pass over the middle, and Dwight Lowery - back on the field after a five-week absence - had his first interception of the season.

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Suggs insists thought of retiring didn't cross his mind during rehab

Suggs insists thought of retiring didn't cross his mind during rehab

OWINGS MILLS – Not only does 33-year-old Terrell Suggs expect to be back on the field soon, the Ravens’ outside linebacker expects to play at a high level for several more seasons after recovering from his torn Achilles injury.

“It’s a fair question,” said Suggs on Wednesday, when asked what can realistically be expected from him in 2016. “This is 14 years for me. I came here a young 20-year-old, really didn’t know anything. I had some of the greatest Jedi Masters teaching me. It’s a fair question. We’ve seen a lot of Ravens come and go, and I’m one of the last few here. It’s a fair question, but in my eyes, premature.”

Suggs will begin training camp on the PUP list, but vows to be back soon.

“It’s not going to be long,” Suggs said. “We’re close to where we want to be. I can’t be timid, but I got to be smart. I feel good.”

Suggs suffered his season-ending Achilles injury Week 1 of last season, and has torn each of his Achilles once. Is it asking a lot for Suggs to still be an every-down player and double-digit sack artist? Yes. Does he sound up for the challenge? Yes.

MORE RAVENS: SUGGS' SHIRT ENDORSES GAME OF THRONES TICKET IN 2016 ELECTION

”Never did it cross my mind that I wasn’t going to come back,” Suggs said. “I got a lot of promises to keep. Many miles before I can sleep.  I love football. I love the locker room. I love my teammates. I love being out here being confrontational.”

Suggs also made it clear he wanted to silence doubters.

“We hear the gossip,” Suggs said. “We hear what y’all are saying. We’re confident, but motivated, too.”

One of the toughest parts of missing last season for Suggs was watching the Ravens go 5-11, and being unable to help.

“It was very tough to watch, and knowing what the guys went through, and for us to not have the success that we expected,” Suggs said. “It just didn’t feel good. Now we get a chance to kind of make it right. Last year’s gone, but we have to make sure that (same) team doesn’t show up Sept. 11 again. We work too hard. Our fans deserve better and we deserve better. We work our tails off. It takes a lot to be considered a Raven. We just got to get back to that.”

How well Suggs plays this year will play a part in determining his future. But as far as Suggs is concerned, it’s too early to start talking about his last ride.

“It’s not something I want to visit at the end of this year, or the end of next year,” Suggs said. “Maybe the year after that we can talk about it. What will I be, 36 then? But I’m not worried about it right now.”

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PHOTO: Suggs endorses Game of Thrones ticket with 2016 election T-shirt

PHOTO: Suggs endorses Game of Thrones ticket with 2016 election T-shirt

BY JEREMY FIALKOW (@JeremyFialkow)

Who are you voting for — Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Before you answer, let's turn to Ravens' outside linebacker Terrell Suggs for some other options.

Suggs, who's ready to make his triumphant return to football after a couple season-derailing injuries, tossed out his 2016 election endorsement to ... the Stark/Targaryen ticket?

The names, of course, stem from two powerful family names in HBO's hit show 'Game of Thrones.' 

(Screenshot/CSN Mid-Atlantic)

Whether Suggs actually stays up to date with 'Thrones' or if the network gifted him merchandise from all of their shows remains to be seen. Regardless, T-Sizzle is starting a movement, so climb aboard.

RELATED: FLACCO WON'T RUSH KNEE INJURY REHAB

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Justin Forsett not trying to hear about running-back-by-committee system

Justin Forsett not trying to hear about running-back-by-committee system

OWINGS MILLS – That running-back-by-committee system the Ravens are thinking about using? Justin Forsett isn’t feeling that.

What’s running-back-by-committee?” Forsett deadpanned. “I don’t understand that.”

Forsett laughed, but he was serious about retaining his starting job and doing the bulk of the work at running back. The Ravens are deep at the position, with Forsett, Buck Allen, rookie Kenneth Davis, Terrance West, Lorenzo Taliaferro all ready for Thursday’s first full training camp practice, while Trent Richardson (knee) remains on the PUP list.

MORE RAVENS: WHY FLACCO WON'T RUSH TO PLAY IN PRESEASON

Forsett will turn 31 years old in October, and even if he retains the starting job, the Ravens are leaning toward reducing his carries. But Forsett enters training camp thinking he can still be a 200-carry, 1000-yard rusher. 

“I grew up with old school running backs,” Forsett said. “I love watching them play - Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, all those guys. Of course if you’re a running back, everybody wants to on the field all the time. I’m going to put myself in a position where they can’t take me off the field. That’s my mentality. At the end of the day, everybody has their role. I’ll let coach decide that.” 

Even if Forsett doesn’t carry the ball as much as he would like, count on him being a consummate team player. All of the Ravens’ younger backs will benefit from being around Forsett, who starts training camp vowing not to give in, to age, or to his running back competition.

“My goal is to go out and lead this team to a Super Bowl,” Forsett said. “I’m going to try to put myself in a position to do so. This is my ninth training camp. It’s a blessing. Me being fired three times throughout my career, traveling to five different teams, I don’t take it for granted.”