Week 5: Unbeatens grab spotlight
The list of unbeaten teams whittled from five to three Sunday.
A lack of skill-position players finally caught up to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a 13-6 loss in Cincinnati. The Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson couldn't overcome missing three starting offensive linemen and tight end Zach Miller in a 34-28 loss in Indianapolis.
But the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints each went to 5-0. Peyton Manning and the Broncos won the fourth-highest scoring game in NFL history, a 51-48 victory in Dallas. Kansas City gutted out an ugly, 26-17 win over Tennessee in Nashville. The New Orleans Saints were impressive in a 26-18 win over the Chicago Bears.
You knew going into the week something had to give. All five unbeaten teams were on the road. All five were playing tough games. Weather conditions entered into the equations of some of those games.
Week 5 was all about offense, as six winning teams scored at least 34 points.
Here's what we learned in Week 5:
1. Character victory: The Broncos fell behind 14-0, then trailed 48-41 with 7:19 left in the fourth quarter before rallying to beat Dallas. Tony Romo outdueled Peyton Manning for stats, but not for the victory. Manning even proved he was human by throwing his first interception of the season. But Manning continued what has been the most incredible start to a season this game has ever seen. He completed 33 for 42 passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns. He now has 20 touchdown passes for a season that is only five weeks old.
What's great about Manning is how he's spreading the ball around. Six different pass-catchers had at least four receptions. Because Manning had 73 plays, the Broncos were able to run 31 times, including a touchdown by Manning, his first as a runner since 2008. Knowshon Moreno was able to rush for 93 yards on 19 carries.
The Broncos showed more character than the Cowboys, who still continue to make critical mistakes in key parts of games. Romo threw a pick in the final minutes that handed Manning a game-winning field-goal drive. Face it, it's a magical season for the Broncos.
2. Colts really are ChuckStrong: Colts coach Chuck Pagano provoked a laugh in his postgame news conference when he said, "We are very lucky -- no pun intended -- to have Andrew Luck." Luck directed his ninth fourth-quarter comeback in a 34-28 victory over the Seahawks, but in many ways, Luck is lucky to have Pagano as his head coach. Having already come back with a victory over cancer, Pagano talked about how this team is constructed for winning games in the fourth quarter. He preaches grit, resilience, playing the game a play at a time and giving 60 minutes of effort.
Against the Seahawks, the Colts were ChuckStrong, the phrase used last year when Pagano was in radiation treatments and away from the team. At halftime, the Colts had 23 plays to the Seahawks' 40, but trailed only 19-17. Pagano told the running offense to continue running the ball, even though the Colts had only 29 yards rushing against a stingy Seahawks defense. He told his special teams to continue playing hard. Ultimately, he just wanted the Colts to be in position to win in the fourth quarter, and that's what happened. Luck completed 11 of 16 passes for 132 yards in the second half and made several critical third-down conversations. Trent Richardson, who cost the Colts next year's first-round pick, had 54 yards on 12 carries in the second half and felt more comfortable in his third game as a Colt.
"We just keep working," Luck said. "Chuck Pagano teaches us not to get down and hang our heads, and he doesn't let us get too high after wins."
The Colts are now 4-1 with wins over San Francisco and Seattle. On Sunday, the Seahawks appeared at times to be the better team despite being without three starting offensive linemen and Miller. That forced the Seahawks to play out of three-receiver sets that sometimes didn't have a tight end on the field. Russell Wilson scrambled away from pressure for 102 yards rushing and Marshall Lynch also had 102 yards rushing. In the end, though, the Colts were stronger.
3. Important statement for Brees: Drew Brees may be a future Hall of Fame quarterback, but playing on the road hasn't been his specialty. Entering Sunday, Brees had 65 touchdown passes on the road since 2009, compared to 101 at home.
On Sunday, though, he shredded the Bears' secondary with 29 completions in 35 attempts for 288 yards and two touchdowns. Brees knows the better he does on the road this year, the better chance he will have of getting home playoff games. At 5-0, the Saints are trying to become the NFC's No. 1 seed and secure home-field advantage during the playoffs. How important is that? Brees and the Saints' one Super Bowl victory came in a season in which they had the No. 1 seed.
Perhaps Brees' biggest adjustment was simply being smart. Weather conditions in Chicago weren't good. It was rainy. The field was muddy. Several of his pass-catchers struggled to avoid slipping. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 25 of Brees' 27 completions were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. That rhythm allowed him to once again shred the Bears' zone defense, something he did in New Orleans' 30-13 victory over Chicago in 2011. Brees' formula for beating zones is getting the ball to tight end Jimmy Graham (10 catches for 135 yards) and getting it to Darren Sproles when downfield pass-catchers are covered. He tried a new trick Sunday, getting nine completions to halfback Pierre Thomas.
Home field may come down to a road game later in the season. The Saints have to travel to Seattle, where they lost a playoff game to a 7-9 Seahawks team after the 2010 season. No one wants to play a playoff game in what's considered the loudest stadium in football, so Brees needs to continue winning on the road.
4. Not the same without Megatron: Lions WR Calvin Johnson has been on the injury report the past couple of weeks with a knee injury, but no one expected him to miss Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers. Johnson was inactive and so was the Lions' passing offense in a 22-9 loss.
Detroit QB Matthew Stafford has made a living targeting Johnson 10 times a game. In September, Stafford completed 21 of 39 throws to Johnson and was pressured a league-low 12 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Without him, the Lions were a Mega-disaster. They had five drops. Stafford was sacked or under duress on 22 percent of his throws. And the wide receiver position was almost non-existent. Stafford was without Johnson and Nate Burleson, so their three-receiver set consisted of Kris Durham, Patrick Edwards and Ryan Broyles, who combined for seven catches for 73 yards. Throw in recently signed Kevin Ogletree's two catches for 20 yards, and that's only 93 yards from the wide receiver position. Stafford hadn't thrown for less than 100 yards to wide receivers in a game since 2009.
"We can't make excuses for ourselves," Lions halfback Reggie Bush said. "Whether Calvin is playing or not, we still have to find a way to get it done."
5. Breaking points: There are only so many injuries a team can take. The Seahawks were off enough in Indianapolis minus three starting offensive linemen and Miller that they lost by six. The New York Giants continue to work with a patchwork offensive line and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 36-21. The two fundamental studies involved the Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens. Somehow, Joe Flacco and the Ravens pulled out a 26-23 win over Miami minus WRs Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown. The Patriots, meanwhile, lost to the Cincinnati Bengals 13-6 minus TE Rob Gronkowski, halfbacks Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen and others. Wideout Danny Amendola returned but wasn't too much of a factor. He had four catches for 55 yards. When the Patriots had Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, they averaged 33 points a game for three years. Without both, they entered Sunday scoring 22.3 points a game and Brady entered completing only 58.9 percent of his passes. Without his top two backs, Brady was more of a target than a star. The Bengals rushed at least five defenders on 12 of Brady's 42 dropbacks. He completed only 44 percent of his passes. He was sacked four times and had a fumble. As an offense, the Patriots scored only six points and had only 248 yards on 60 plays.
The Ravens' win was a gutty one. Wide receiver Torrey Smith came up big with a six-catch, 121-yard day. Ray Rice had 74 yards rushing and 28 receiving. Coach John Harbaugh talked about the team leadership after the game. Flacco, Rice, Smith and Terrell Suggs all stepped up big when they were needed to get the Ravens to 3-2.
Giants QB Eli Manning was matter-of-fact after Sunday's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He threw three more interceptions to bring his season's total to 12. His completion percentage dropped to 53.8. As a team, the Giants were awful. Manning said the team is just making too many mistakes. That's an understatement. Now, RB David Wilson has a neck injury and the team has to come back on a short week to play Chicago on Thursday. It's hard to find games the Giants can win in the next few weeks. … The same can be said for the Jaguars. They moved rookie Luke Joeckel to left tackle after trading Eugene Monroe to Baltimore. But in Sunday's 34-20 loss to St. Louis, Joeckel fractured an ankle, ending his season and putting the least-talented team in football without a legitimate NFL tackle. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is also hurt, this time it's a hamstring injury. … As most teams are doing, the Saints concentrated on covering Bears No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall, who caught only four passes for 30 yards. Marshall didn't express frustration after the loss to the Saints. With so much attention around Marshall, Alshon Jeffery caught 10 passes for 218 yards. … The Titans' running offense was a mystery Sunday. The Titans are loaded along the offensive line and have Chris Johnson in the backfield. In a 26-17 loss to Kansas City, they had only 55 yards on 16 carries from their running backs. Their leading rusher was quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had 50. Johnson still isn't running well behind his new blockers. … The Rams' running offense got a spark from the decision to start Zac Stacy ahead of Daryl Richardson at running back. Stacy had 78 yards on 14 carries. The Rams averaged only 47.3 yards a game rushing in the first four weeks. … Patrick Peterson continued his incredible season with a 43-yard interception against the Carolina Panthers. The Cardinals won an ugly, 22-6 game in which Panthers QB Cam Newton had his worst game of the year. He threw three picks and was sacked seven times. … With the Broncos beating Dallas, the AFC West is now 8-1 against the NFC East. … Josh Freeman should decide Monday where he wants to play, and Oakland looks like the most promising site. … It's still baffles me why the Buffalo Bills are narrowing their quarterback search on Dennis Dixon, Pat White and guys without starting experience. Manuel is out for a month. They have no experience at quarterback.