Updated: October 18, 2006 6:12:20 AM PDT

Taking care of business

Taking care of business

Most of us probably have seen and heard by now the Under Armour ad with the slogan, "We must protect this house!" There's more to that, you know. In the NFL, you must protect your house … particularly when a division foe is visiting.

Every team counts winning the division among its primary goals for the season, and if that goal is to be met, you'd darn well better take care of your business in your divisional home games. Indianapolis, New England, Minnesota, and, perhaps most important, Philadelphia and the New York Giants all did so in Week 5.

Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Brian Dawkins and the Eagles improved to 4-1 on the season.

As tight as the NFC East race figures to be, the Eagles could not afford to lose a second straight division game at Lincoln Financial Field (they'd already choked in the fourth quarter against the Giants in Week 2). In successive weeks from Dec. 10 through Dec. 25, the Eagles visit the Redskins, Giants, and Cowboys. Talk about a lump of coal in your stocking. Lose at home Sunday to Dallas, and Philadelphia could very well have been staring at a possible 1-5 division record a year after it went winless in the division. The 38-24 win also snapped a seven-game losing streak in division contests. That, in the grand scheme of things, was of far greater importance than Terrell Owens' return to the city or his facing Donovan McNabb.

The Saints aren't just a surprise team anymore. They're contenders. And if they were to maintain that status and compete with Atlanta and Carolina they couldn't afford to lose to the winless Buccaneers and rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski at the Superdome. Thanks to Reggie Bush's 65-yard punt return (his first NFL touchdown) in the fourth quarter the Saints rallied to beat the Bucs, 24-21.

(The Eagles, by the way, visit New Orleans next week in a matchup of 4-1 teams.)

And for the Giants, what a difference one win makes, huh? Two weeks ago they were trounced in Seattle and Jeremy Shockey was mouthing off about Tom Coughlin. Now look at them: 2-2 (which isn't bad considering their first-quarter opponents) and more important, 2-0 in the division after a 19-3 win over Washington, which, conversely, fell to 0-2 in the NFC East.

The Vikings already are two games back of the unbeaten Bears in the NFC North -- really three games because they coughed up a fourth-quarter lead to Chicago at the Metrodome back in Week 3 -- but they're still in it after dropping a 23-spot on the Lions in the fourth quarter, erasing a 17-3 deficit.

The Colts still have to go to Jacksonville in Week 14 and if the AFC South were to come down to a tiebreaker Indy wouldn't want to look back at a loss in the RCA Dome to the Titans. Peyton Manning's fourth-quarter TD pass to Reggie Wayne gave Indy a 14-13 comeback win and eliminated that possibility. And as for the Patriots, they don't appear to have much competition in the AFC East, and they made sure of it by beating the Joey Harrington-led Dolphins, 20-10, at Gillette Stadium.

It didn't always look good for the Eagles, Saints, Giants, Vikings and Colts on Sunday but at the end of the day, homes protected!

Clayton's Quick Hits

Todd Rosenberg-US PRESSWIRE
Lance Briggs and the Bears have been dominant on defense.

• The Bears are off to one of the most dominating starts in years and it should continue. They are 5-0 and have outscored opponents 156-36. Their next three games are against the Cardinals, 49ers and Dolphins, who are a combined 4-11. The amazing part is the running game is just getting started. I still remember at training camp that Rex Grossman said not to forget Thomas Jones even though Lovie Smith wanted to start Cedric Benson. Jones ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing with 388 yards on 106 carries, and his numbers keep improving each week.

• Now that the Raiders are off to an 0-4 start and Randy Moss keeps talking about how the players don't care, expect trade interest in wide receiver Jerry Porter to heat up. The trading deadline is a week from Tuesday. If there is a trade -- which is still remote because the Raiders want Porter to pay back $4 million of his signing bonus -- his best chance is to land in the AFC East. The Patriots are sniffing around, but the Dolphins might be the more active team. Wide receiver Marty Booker hurt his right shoulder Sunday against the Patriots and the Dolphins need to upgrade speed at receiver. Porter can obviously offer that. Having lost seemingly winnable games against the Browns and 49ers, the Raiders face the possibility of going 0-9 with games coming up against Denver (twice), Arizona, Pittsburgh and Seattle. It's time to start thinking about next season if you are the Raiders.

• The Lions' season went from bad to worse after blowing a two-touchdown lead in a 26-17 loss to the Vikings. On one play early in the game, they lost wide receiver Roy Williams (back) and guard Damien Woody (foot). Both had to ride off the field together on the same cart with no early prognosis of how bad their injuries were. Woody's loss killed the line because it was already down two starters -- Rex Tucker and Ross Verba. That's why Kevin Jones had only eight yards on 10 carries. Williams was visiting with his chiropractor after the game. If the Lions lose him, though, their offense won't have any chance. Despite drafting three wide receivers in the first round of three consecutive drafts, the Lions played most of the game with Az Hakim and Mike Furrey as their receivers. Toward the end of the game, Jones suffered a minor concussion. The Lions also lost defensive tackle Shaun Cody, who dislocated a toe and could be out for some time, and linebacker Paris Lenon.

-- Check out John Clayton's blog

On the defensive

This Chicago Bears defense could be put on the field with any other defense in the league. They are better at the cornerback position than the 1985 Bears and the 1986 Giants with Ricky Manning Jr., Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman and they match up very well with the 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense.

The Bears are extremely strong up the middle with linebacker Brian Urlacher and safety Mike Brown dominating the middle of the field. They can get great pressure on the quarterback just with their four down linemen, which allows the secondary to do its job without having to worry about blitzing. Also, like all great defenses this team's front four does as good a job against the run as it does against the pass.

But it's too early to call this a legendary defense and to put it in the same class as some of the great defenses in history. That's because a legendary defense is one that has a Super Bowl championship at the end of the season. That's why the Philadelphia Eagles' teams I played on aren't legendary defenses, even though statistically we ranked as one of the best ever. Until this Bears team is able to hoist a title it won't be legendary, just great.

Elias says …

• The Bears have posted four wins by 25 or more points during their 5-0 start. The only other team in NFL history with four 25-point wins after five games was the 1941 Bears team, which was coming off a 73-0 win over the Redskins in the 1940 NFL championship game and went on to win another title in 1941.

Matt Leinart threw two first-quarter touchdown passes in the Cardinals' 23-20 loss to the Chiefs. The only other quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw two or more first-quarter TDs in his first NFL start was Doug Pederson of the Eagles (Sept. 12, 1999 vs. Cardinals).

Elias says

Scouts Inc. Takes

• Cowboys-Eagles was a great game that lived up to expectations with five different lead changes. Donovan McNabb showed why he is the top passer in the NFL by throwing to seven different receivers while leading the Eagles to victory. McNabb went after Cowboys rookie safety Pat Watkins who was beaten twice on double moves for touchdowns of 87 and 40 yards. The Eagles' offense could not run the ball against the Cowboys and struggled to convert on third down. If it were not for the explosive plays, this game might have ended differently.

The Cowboys' offensive line did a nice job opening running lanes for Julius Jones. Jones had his second 100-yard game in as many weeks. But the pass protection was bad and Drew Bledsoe struggled all game. The Eagles had seven sacks and made Bledsoe make some poor throws into coverage.

• The bye couldn't have come at a better time for the Giants, whose defense finally decided to show up for a game. The Giants' offense looked crisp, running and passing the ball at will on the Redskins' defense. Tiki Barber was able to run the ball outside and inside as the Giants' offensive line created large running lanes for Barber. Eli Manning had a solid game, with a good combination of short, quick throws and play-action passes to keep the Redskins' defense off-balance.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a good way to describe the Redskins' offense and it was Mr. Hyde who showed up at Giants Stadium on Sunday. The Giants' defensive front seven dictated this game. Linebacker Antonio Pierce was making plays in the running game sideline to sideline.

• Different Sunday, same story for the Raiders. For the second consecutive week they got off to a solid start in the first half and proceeded to play terribly in the second half. What it really boils down to is while the opposing head coach is making halftime adjustments, Art Shell and offensive coordinator Tom Walsh are not. The Raiders' offense actually looked good at times versus a marginal 49ers defense, but eventually too many turnovers doomed Oakland. QB Andrew Walter was eventually benched in the second half for Marques Tuiasosopo, so you can expect the Raiders' QB carousel to spin again this week.

-- For more from Scouts Inc., check out the Briefing Room and all of their divisional blogs: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West, NFC East | NFC South | NFC North | NFC West

The Green Room

Question: Just how good do you think the Bears are? I know they dominated Seattle last week, but the Seahawks have some injuries.
Green: Chicago is the best team in the NFL. They are excellent in all phases right now. Grossman has been solid, the run game is coming along, the defense is in the top three and they are solid in the kicking game. I do not see any weaknesses right now with this team.

Question: Jeremy, will Michael Vick stay healthy long enough and will the Falcons' running game stay strong enough to get them into the playoffs?
Green: Yes on both accounts. He has been smarter this year about sliding or getting out of bounds. Their run game will keep clicking and they will win the NFC South.

Question: Whoa, VY just ran for a TD. Good opening drive for Tennessee.
Green: Indy has been struggling to stop the run and it will be an issue all season now with Simon out. They have no bulk inside which then exposes their undersized DEs in the run game.

Pasquarelli's Game Ball
Idle since the first quarter of the Sept. 10 season opener, when he suffered a high sprain to his right ankle, Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard returned with a bang on Sunday, rejoining the starting lineup and securing a 38-24 victory with an interception and 102-yard return for a touchdown.

Sheppard benefited from a bad read, when Dallas tight end Jason Witten curled to the inside on a play that originated from the Philadelphia 6-yard line with 31 seconds remaining and the Cowboys threatening to tie the contest. When quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw to the outside, Sheppard made an easy pickoff and returned it for the score. It was a fitting ending to a huge performance from Sheppard and the Eagles' defense, which recorded seven sacks and five takeaways. Sheppard also had an interception in the second quarter and rang up eight tackles.

St. Louis 23, Green Bay 20
It looked like another Brett Favre comeback, but the Lambeau faithful could only gasp and cringe when Favre was sacked and fumbled late to seal the win for the Rams.

New Orleans 24, Tampa Bay 21
Reggie Bush picked a pretty good time for his first NFL touchdown. Bush scored the game-winning TD for the Saints on a highlight-reel quality punt return (well, a highlight in every city except Houston).

Carolina 20, Cleveland 12
There's a reason Julius Peppers entered the game as the NFL sack leader. Peppers -- who had a sack, a forced fumble and hit Browns QB Charlie Frye five other times -- keyed a defense that confounded the Cleveland offense.

New England 20, Miami 10
Joey Harrington played OK in his first start for the Dolphins, but Miami is still making too many mistakes -- from INTs to special teams play to defensive gaffes -- to be able to beat the Patriots.

Indianapolis 14, Tennessee 13
For 3½ quarters, the Titans were the better team and poised for the upset. Then Peyton Manning orchestrated his third straight late comeback win.

New York Giants 19, Washington 3
What, did they bring Dr. Phil in or something? The Giants, who were a bickering mess two weeks ago, rediscovered their defense, rushing game and swagger.

Minnesota 26, Detroit 17
Who says the offense always has to lead the fourth-quarter comebacks? A pair of defensive TDs in the fourth quarter carried the Vikings past the Lions.

Chicago 40, Buffalo 7
Ho-hum, another average game for the Bears. They score 40 (slightly higher than their average of 31.2 per game) and allow just 7 (a little under their average of 7.2 per game).

San Francisco 34, Oakland 20
It's the equivalent to winning an ugly contest, but the 49ers are the best team in the Bay Area.

Kansas City 23, Arizona 20
Yes, they lost, but the Cardinals have to be thrilled with Matt Leinart's debut. Sure, he threw one pick, but he also threw a pair of TDs and drove the Cards into field goal range (which Neil Rackers missed) in the final seconds.

Jacksonville 41, New York Jets 0
The Jags were nearly flawless as they snapped a two-game losing streak. The defense limited the Jets to just 177 yards total and the offense was practically unstoppable.

Philadelphia 38, Dallas 24
It couldn't have gone any better in Philly on Sunday. The Eagles silenced T.O. on the field and Donovan McNabb created big play after big play to lead Philly to a huge NFC East win.

San Diego 23, Pittsburgh 13
Forget Martyball. This was QB Philip Rivers' coming out party.
-- ESPN.com

Andy Reid and the Eagles improved to 4-1 on the season. How would you grade his coaching job in Week 5?

Our Coach Ratings give you a chance to cast your vote for all 32 coaches.

• Coach ratings

From another big weekend by Donovan McNabb to a disappointing game from Terrell Owens, Eric Karabell goes game-by-game recapping the fantasy action from Week 5. Also, Scott Engel offers his observations of Sunday's action.

• Karabell: Week 5 wrap
• Engel: Week 5 observations

• Complete fantasy football coverage
Redskins at Giants
A terrible performance two weeks ago against Seattle is a distant memory for the Giants, who went back to basics to defeat the Redskins, John Clayton writes. Story
Cowboys at Eagles
The Eagles blitzed their way to seven sacks and a huge NFC East win over the Cowboys, writes Len Pasquarelli. Story
Cowboys at Eagles
This was supposed to be Terrell Owens' time to shine, but instead he was almost an afterthought in the Cowboys' loss, writes Len Pasquarelli. Story
Ravens at Broncos (8:30 ET, ESPN)
The undefeated Ravens travel to Denver to face the Broncos in a big AFC battle. From our Fan Challenge to in-depth analysis, Monday Night Surround has the game covered.

• Monday Night Surround
Defenses highlight MNF matchup.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
Injured his right hamstring vs. Chiefs
Larry Johnson, RB, Chiefs
Injured his neck vs. Cardinals

• Week 5 infirmary report
Sunday, Oct. 15
Buffalo at Detroit, 1 ET
Carolina at Baltimore, 1 ET
N.Y. Giants at Atlanta, 1 ET
Houston at Dallas, 1 ET
Tennessee at Washington, 1 ET
Cincinnati at Tampa Bay, 1 ET
Philadelphia at New Orleans, 1 ET
Seattle at St. Louis, 1 ET
Miami at N.Y. Jets, 4:15 ET
Kansas City at Pittsburgh 4:15 ET
San Diego at San Francisco, 4:15 ET
Oakland at Denver, 8:15 ET

Monday, Oct. 16
Chicago at Arizona, 8:30 ET, ESPN
Bye: Cleveland, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Minnesota, New England, Jacksonville

• Complete 2006 schedule


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