Week 5 brought us a game we won't soon forget: The Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys combined to score 99 points, the fourth-largest total in NFL history. It's hours later, and I'm still dizzy after watching quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tony Romo sling it out.
The outcome was in doubt until Romo, whom I'm told has a history late-game mistakes, threw an interception to Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan with one minute, 47 seconds remaining. The mistake put the Broncos in position to win 51-48. Naturally, I looked upon the play with utmost selfishness: Should I classify Romo as a Stud (506 yards, five touchdown passes) or a Dud (game-losing interception)?
Great philosophers have pondered similar conundrums since the dawn of time. Read below to find my contribution to the discussion.
1. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys quarterback: Let's get this out of the way. Accounting for five touchdowns and leading your team to 48 points should be more than enough to win a game. The Cowboys scored more points in a loss than any team since the 1970 merger. While we must acknowledge the dreadful timing of the interception, we should also note that Trevathan made an excellent play to secure the ball. Before that play, Romo was having one of the best games by a quarterback in NFL history. Even afterward, it should still be viewed as one of the best this season -- and surely good enough for "Stud" classification in Week 5. Looking for a Cowboys "Dud?" Consider their defense, which did not force a punt and has given up a 400-yard passing game in consecutive games.
2. Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens linebacker: Fourth-quarter plays usually decide close games, which made Suggs as important as any player on the field Sunday in Miami. Suggs sacked Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times over the final 15 minutes, including one on third down to scuttle a possession. All three sacks came on standard four-man rushes by the Ravens, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 90-plus-degree weather, Suggs keyed a defense that prevented the Dolphins from gaining yards on 12 of their final 15 dropbacks. Meanwhile, that's seven sacks in five games this season for Suggs.
3. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts receiver: The Colts ran 60 plays in their 34-28 victory against the Seattle Seahawks, and Hilton was the targeted receiver on only six of them. But he caught five, including two for touchdowns, to provide the kind of downfield production that the Seahawks rarely allow. Hilton's afternoon included an exceptional sideline move on a 73-yard scoring play, the longest allowed by the Seahawks defense in six seasons, as well as a 29-yard touchdown. In the previous 20 games since the start of the 2012 season, the Seahawks had allowed only seven touchdowns on passes that traveled 15 or more yards downfield.
4. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos quarterback: For the first time this season, Manning wasn't the highest-performing quarterback on the field, but how about this for second best: 33 completions on 42 attempts for 414 yards and four touchdowns. Manning also executed a beautiful play-action fake to score from 1 yard out on his own in the second quarter. For the record, Manning opened the season with 20 touchdown passes before throwing his first interception -- in the third quarter by Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne on an underthrown pass. Through five games, Manning has completed 75.7 percent of his passes for 1,884 yards. Per Broncos PR ace Patrick Smyth, Manning's 20 touchdown passes exceed the season totals of nine teams in 2012 and 663 teams since the AFL-NFL merger.
5. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears receiver: You won't see a quieter 200-yard game than what Jeffery produced Sunday, but it fit his near-silent personality. His 10-catch, 218-yard performance set a Bears single-game yardage record and might have been the talk of the weekend had the team pulled off a victory against the New Orleans Saints. A receiver with 200 yards isn't what it used to be; we've already had two instances this season and 13 since the start of the 2011 season. In this case, however, it signaled an important breakout. Defenses must now account for both Jeffery and Brandon Marshall on every play.
1. NFC East: Just the whole big, bad lot of 'em. For the first three hours of the afternoon, the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles played one of the most god-awful games between the franchises that we've seen in recent times. In a game that featured another four Giants turnovers, along with a combined 20 penalties and 13 punts, the Eagles won 36-21 on two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from backup quarterback Nick Foles. The Giants are an unseemly 0-5, while the Eagles are 2-3 -- tying them for the best record in the division with the Cowboys. The Washington Redskins, meanwhile, sat home on a bye with their sparkling 1-3 record. (If the season ended today, the Cowboys would be declared champions by default … er, strength of victory.) If this week told us anything, it's that the Cowboys are the best team in this division. A federal investigation should be launched (after the shutdown is lifted, of course) if they aren't the 2013 division champion.
2. Detroit Lions without Calvin Johnson: The Lions did a better job of masking Johnson's status for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers than they did playing without him. Johnson was a surprise deactivation because of a knee injury, and the Lions managed just nine points -- 21 points lower than their average over the first four games. The Lions' remaining receivers caught just 10 of 21 passes thrown their way for 93 yards, and the Packers showed no respect for the possibility of a deep pass. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was under duress on 22 percent of his dropbacks, up from 12 percent over the first four games, and tailback Reggie Bush (69 yards on 17 touches) had little room to work underneath. It was only fair to expect the Lions wouldn't be as productive without the game's best receiver. Sunday, we found out just how much he means to them. What we'll never know: Could the Lions have challenged the Packers, dealing their postseason hopes a crippling blow, at full(er) strength?
3. Jacksonville Jaguars misfortune: It's starting to look like the Jaguars are going to challenge the 2008 Detroit Lions, the one and only team in NFL history to go 0-16 in a season. They are 0-5 after losing by two touchdowns to the previously 1-3 St. Louis Rams, but Sunday's biggest downer was the season-ending ankle fracture of rookie right tackle Luke Joeckel. The injury came days after the Jaguars traded left tackle Eugene Monroe to the Baltimore Ravens, ostensibly to jump-start a succession plan for Joeckel on the left side. So, in less than a week, the team lost two of the best players on a thin roster. Meanwhile, can we declare an end to the Blaine Gabbert experiment? Another injury (hamstring) and two more interceptions (seven in 86 attempts this season) seem to have rendered our verdict.
4. Rain in Cincinnati: It was odd watching a team from New England struggle with a sudden weather change, but that's exactly what happened to the Patriots, and quarterback Tom Brady in particular, late in a 13-6 loss to the Bengals. In a deluge at Paul Brown Stadium, Brady completed just three of 12 passes in the fourth quarter as he tried to forge a tie. Replays showed the ball slipping from Brady's hands as the ball landed several yards in front of or away from intended receivers. You might feel compelled once again to rip the Patriots for surrounding Brady with so many unproven receivers, but neither Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker nor anyone else could have caught some of the passes Brady was throwing late Sunday.
5. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans quarterback: Oh man. It was difficult watching Schaub move into full meltdown mode Sunday night on national television. He threw an interception on his first pass against the San Francisco 49ers, in the process becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw a pick-six in four consecutive games. After two more interceptions, and a 21-point deficit, Schaub found his way to the Houston Texans bench. Will T.J. Yates get a chance to win the job? The better way to look at is this: Will the Texans put Schaub out of his misery? That's not an unlikely scenario. Schaub's descent has been quick and mysterious. The Texans must decide whether it's permanent.