(Reuters) - The Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans and Detroit Lions missed the playoffs last season but on Sunday they looked serious about crashing the next postseason party as they all improved to 3-1.
Among the other games, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Indianapolis Colts signal caller Andrew Luck each threw four touchdown passes in wins over division rivals, while the Philadelphia Eagles suffered their first loss of the season.
The Miami Dolphins obliterated the winless Oakland Raiders 38-14 at London’s Wembley Stadium in the first of three NFL games to be played in Britain this season.
The Raiders opened the scoring less than six minutes after the opening kickoff but then surrendered 38 consecutive points to a Dolphins team that played the inaugural International Series matchup in 2007 at Wembley.
Philadelphia, the only one of the NFL’s three undefeated teams in action this week, led the San Francisco 49ers by 11 points midway through the second quarter but went scoreless the rest of the way in a 26-21 road loss.
The visiting Eagles threatened to pull ahead in the final two minutes but a pass from Nick Foles to Jeremy Maclin at the back of the end zone was incomplete.
In Houston, former first-round draft pick J.J. Watt turned the game in the Texans’ favor when he returned an interception 80 yards for a touchdown that gave his team the lead on the way to a 23-17 win over the Buffalo Bills.
“The way the stadium explodes, the way it changed momentum ... that’s a game-changing type play,” said Watt. “It was really cool. (It) was special. That’s what you live for. That’s why you play this game, for moments like that.”
The retooled Texans are looking to follow in the footsteps of the 2012 Colts and 2013 Kansas City Chiefs as they try to go from the NFL’s worst overall to the playoffs the next season.
Matthew Stafford had two touchdown passes and ran in another as the visiting Lions, who have missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, beat the hosting New York Jets 24-17.
Stafford gave the Lions a lead they would never relinquish when he connected with Jeremy Ross on a 59-yard play just past the midway mark of the second quarter for a 10-3 lead.
Baltimore, who have not made the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl for the 2012 NFL season, got a big game from 35-year-old wide receiver Steve Smith, who hauled in a Joe Flacco pass for a 61-yard touchdown in the opening minutes of a 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Smith, who joined Baltimore in the offseason after spending the first 13 years of his NFL career with Carolina, hauled in another touchdown pass before halftime and finished with 139 yards. Flacco threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns.
“I didn’t have anything good, bad or indifferent to say. I just played,” said Smith, who was released by Carolina after a productive and sometimes tumultuous tenure with the team. “At the end of the day, honestly they didn’t deserve anything I had to say that would be derogatory - and I didn’t need to.
“They didn’t even deserve me to spin the ball on them. I just caught it and put it down and went about my business.”
Philip Rivers threw for 377 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including two to Eddie Royal, as the host Chargers beat the winless Jacksonville Jaguars 33-14.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers for their first win of the season as Vincent Jackson caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Mike Glennon with seven seconds to play to lift the visitors to a 27-24 comeback win.
Green Bay’s Rodgers extended his dominance over the Bears, throwing for 302 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-17 win that marked his eighth consecutive victory over the division rival.
In Indianapolis, Luck also had a huge game, throwing for 393 yards and four touchdowns as the Colts cruised by the Tennessee Titans 41-17 and earned a share of top spot in the AFC South with Houston.
After striking first with a Trent Richardson touchdown, the Colts immediately recovered an onside kick and Luck led his team on a six-minute drive that was capped by a seven-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Allen for a 14-0 lead.
“You want guys that can go out there and make plays,” Luck said. “To be able to spread the ball out and get everybody involved, that’s important - and it worked today.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes and Larry Fine