Thoughts from today’s early slate of games…

Lions and Bills run out of magic

I’m not saying either team is in trouble. Detroit wasn’t going to go 16-0 and Buffalo wasn’t going to finish 15-1. But it was interesting to see both Cinderellas fall flat against less-than-great opponents on Sunday.

In Jersey, the Bills felt the absence of starting defenders Kyle Williams, Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman. Without Williams dominating inside, Ahmad Bradshaw was able to put up triple digits while scoring three times. And Eli Manning wasn’t sacked. No excuses: the Giants have been hit by injuries like no other team in the league, yet they were able to prevail for their fourth win of 2011. That doesn’t mean it was a bad loss for Buffalo, who was an underdog on the road and had a chance to win until the final minute. But for the first time all year, the offense wasn’t able to rally on the final series of the game and the Bills fell to 4-2 headed into their bye.

Although they’ve now lost back-to-back road games, the Bills continue to be in every game until the bitter end. I get the feeling that’ll be the case with their season as a whole, too.

In Detroit, the Lions blew a fourth-quarter lead to the 49ers. While Detroit wasn’t badly outplayed (if it was at all), it was still a flat effort for an unbeaten team. The Lions just didn’t look themselves coming off a short week and a high-intensity victory over a longtime rival. The running backs once again averaged fewer than three yards per carry and the run defense was gashed by Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. San Francisco has proven to be a very, very tough out, and the Lions should be devastated by the loss. They had the ball in their hands with a chance to tie or win on the game’s final possession, but the magic wasn’t there this time.

Still, Jim Schartz knows that if his team wants to compete in January, it has to win home games against teams travelling across the country.

And so now, the Packers are the league’s only undefeated team, while the 5-1 Niners probably become the biggest surprise success story of the first six weeks. They’ve now won four straight games, with three of those wins coming in the Eastern time zone. Jim Harbaugh is lapping the field in the coach of the year race. Now, the rookie head coach will just have to learn to compose himself.

Speaking of teams falling back to earth…

The Washington Redskins had a golden opportunity to tighten their grip on the NFC East. With Dallas and the Giants expected to have their hands full against New England and Buffalo, Washington could step on Philadelphia’s dreamy throat with a win at home Sunday. And despite having two weeks to prepare, the ‘Skins failed miserably.

There’s usually little shame in losing to a strong division rival by a touchdown, but the Eagles were a train wreck. The running game was nonexistent against a run defense that was surrendering 140 yards per game, and Rex Grossman was chased and officially benched after tossing four interceptions in the first three quarters.

It would be easy to peg this on Grossman, but Ryan Torain had nowhere to go and pass-rushing studs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan weren’t able to get past a depleted Philly offensive line and take down Michael Vick.

With three feisty teams — Carolina, Buffalo and San Francisco — on deck, I’m worried about the Redskins. The NFC East is wide open.

Andy Dalton challenging Cam Newton for rookie of the year

Newton is the bigger name with the bigger smile and the bigger numbers, but Dalton continues to quietly get the job done in Cincinnati. I realize that wins aren’t the only way to measure a quarterback’s success, but it says something that Dalton now has four of them while Newton’s Panthers still have just one victory.

Newton ran for 50 yards and a touchdown Sunday, but he also had three picks while failing to throw for a score in Carolina’s 14-point loss to the Falcons.

Dalton committed zero turnovers and took zero sacks as the Bengals beat the Colts to move to 4-2. He still has about 600 fewer passing yards than Newton, and he’s not the kind of dynamic rushing threat that Newton is, but Dalton has just one turnover in the last two weeks. In that same span, Newton has six. And after today’s games, Dalton now has a passer rating that is six points higher than Newton’s.

This should be a close race for the remainder of the season. Don’t count out the ginger, even if he can’t imitate Deion…

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