Same story. The Bills are 4-1. The Eagles, 1-4. The inferior Seahawks have defeated the hot Giants … on the road. And the inferior 49ers have defeated the hot Buccaneers … by 45 points. The Saints had to “survive” the Panthers. The Colts weren’t so lucky, and their national nightmare is extended another week.
Most of that was covered in our coverage from Sunday, but we’ve got some gas left in the tank. Here are 18 thoughts from the fifth Sunday of the NFL season…
1. The Packers are the NFL’s best team. But you already knew that. We all already knew that. And barring a catastrophically bad performance in Atlanta, Sunday night’s game wasn’t going to change that. Aaron Rodgers and the Pack made coming back from a 14-point deficit, on the road, against last year’s top-seeded team, without both of their starting tackles look easy. They’ve now won 11 straight games if you include last year’s playoff run. Now they get a bit of an easy spot in the schedule with St. Louis and Minnesota. They’ll surely be 7-0 headed into their Week 8 bye.
2. The Falcons will get on track. I think. They still built up a solid early lead and clearly outplayed the defending champs for 30 minutes. Not having top pass rusher John Abraham hurt the Falcons on Sunday night, especially when they weren’t able to properly take advantage of the injury to Green Bay left tackle Chad Clifton. It was a bit troubling to see the Atlanta offense drift away after starting so strong, but I still think they have too much talent to be held down long-term. It won’t be easy, though: spunky Carolina and sudden-powerhouse Detroit await them before the bye.
3. Give Wes Welker 740 receiving yards in five games. I suppose the return of Aaron Hernandez didn’t hurt Welker’s cause against the Jets. Barring injury, Welker’s going to break some big records in 2011.
4. The Chargers win (again). But they lose the turnover battle (again). They’re minus-6 now on the season. They’re surviving despite their mistakes against teams like Kansas City and Denver. But the Jets, Packers and Raiders await, and they might not be as forgiving. Count me as concerned.
5. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been sacked three times in five games. And he didn’t have left tackle Demetrius Bell against the Eagles. What the hell is going on here? The drastically improved offensive line has been the key to Buffalo’s successful start. A win over the Giants next week would send the Bills into their bye (and the next installment of the Bills Toronto Series) with a 5-1 record. Hard to believe.
6. Blast from Adrian Peterson’s past. Nothing too crazy: 122 yards on 29 carries. But three first-quarter touchdowns made it easy for the Vikings. The real blast from the past was Peterson’s second score, which just looked so 2007. And nice to see the Vikings finally utilizing Peterson the way they should. Donovan McNabb completed just 10 passes, yet Minnesota scored 34 points.
7. There’s still hope in Kansas City. I don’t think the Chiefs can compete with Oakland and San Diego without Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry, but crazier things have happened in this league. Back-to-back wins have KC back in the mix and gaining respectability. They might have found a decent replacement for Charles in Jackie Battle, who had 119 yards on 19 carries in Indianapolis, and Matt Cassel is red-hot (seven touchdowns and one interception in his last three games). After a Week 6 bye, they’ll face the Raiders and Chargers, and I think they’ll put up a bigger fight than many expect.
8. And the Bengals might be contenders, too. Maybe my mind’s a little slow after all of that turkey, but you have to remember how quickly good teams become bad and bad teams become good in this league. Maybe Cincinnati is good enough to stay competitive in the AFC. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green continue to make sweet music and the defense continues to roll despite its anonymity. The key might be the schedule. The 3-2 Bengals have three very winnable games with Indy, Seattle and Tennessee coming up. They should be 5-3 or 6-2 heading into a three-week stretch in which they play each of their AFC North counterparts.
9. And so I wonder what Carson Palmer’s thinking right about now. I suppose he’s just reminding himself, over and over again, that he has $80 million in the bank.
10. Seahawks-Giants result epitomizes how messy this league can be. And once again reveals why betting on NFL football isn’t a very smart thing to do. On their last three trips to the Eastern time zone, the Seahawks had been outscored by an average of 21 points while going 0-3. They’re a bad team that is especially bad on the road, and even worse when travelling cross country. And then they walk into New York and somehow walk out with a double-digit road victory over a hot Giants team. I give up. My survivor pool is over, and I’ll bet yours is too.
11. Same deal with what happened in San Francisco. How does talented Tampa lose that badly to San Francisco? What’s real scary is the Alex Smith-led 49ers are an overtime loss to Dallas short of being 5-0. Jim Harbaugh for mayor, or at least coach of the year.
12. Ben Roethlisberger has joined the MVP race. Sometimes all it takes is one startling performance. When you lead your team to victory over the league’s top-ranked scoring defense despite a terrible (and depleted) offensive line, despite not having your starting running back and despite being ailed by a sprained left foot, you deserve some serious praise. When you throw a team-record five touchdown passes in the process, you’ve strapped yourself in as player of the week.
13. Andre Johnson or no Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub let his team down. The game against Oakland came down to one play with no time left on the clock. Schaub needed five yards to win it, he had a chance to run it in, and he had a fairly open Jacoby Jones, and he threw it right to Michael Huff for a game-ending interception. Elite quarterbacks don’t screw up those opportunities.
14. Anddddd another season-changing injury in the AFC South. This time, it’s Mario Williams, who may have torn his pectoral muscle in Houston. Big trouble for the Texans’ defense, which relies on pressure from Williams, their best pass rusher, to make up for a weak secondary.
15. The AFC South might be as bad as the NFC West this year. Peyton Manning, out. Kenny Britt, out. Andre Johnson, down for a few weeks. David Garrard, gone. The division went 0-4 on Sunday. Houston and Tennessee lead the way at 3-2, and Jacksonville and Indy are on a combined eight-game losing streak. And now the clear favorite, Houston, might be without Williams for some time. The NFC West is 7-12; the AFC South is now 7-13.
16. This is still baffling me. Part of me wanted the Panthers to pull off the upset over New Orleans, but the part of me (apparently my gut) that predicted the Saints would win by almost that exact score wanted the Saints to hang on, as they did. But that might not have happened had the Panthers not inexplicably called a timeout with two seconds remaining in the first half and the Saints rushing into position for a field goal attempt. I don’t think New Orleans was going to get it off on time, and instead they had a chance to regroup and convert the field goal from 46 yards out. Those three points were the difference after 60 minutes.
17. Six words for Ron Rivera: More option plays for Cam Newton!
18. D’Brickashaw Ferguson stars in the picture of the day. It’s not every week you see an official and a player come together to dislodge a shoe from a facemask…