Pro football is a funny sport. Even in outcomes you expect, the unexpected happens.
While Week 5 was devoid of the massive upset -- sorry, Bills over Titans doesn't count -- weird circumstances provided quality wins with quantifiable gains in the standings. The Panthers prevailed when Graham Gano kicked a field goal from past midfield. The Bengals were expected to win, but via two fourth-quarter touchdownreturns from defensive linemen? The Lions needed to take care of business against a depleted Packers team, and they did ... but not without the help of the premier kicker in Green Bay's 100-year history missing five kicks. The Texans won when Jason Garrett decided not to run behind his two-time first-team All-Pro guard with a top-three running back in the backfield. And the Browns grabbed a W when a rookie quarterback converted third-and-long in overtime to an undrafted free agent who had never caught an NFL pass until that very game. Weird, but a cool weird.
On to your thoughts ...
That was a fantastic uni matchup, Josh. Gorgeous. Straight out of 1973.
That name is amazing. #BookerMayhem
For the full rundown, see below. Your thoughts are always welcome (check the ital graph just below): @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence!
PROGRAMMING NOTE: For more in-depth analysis on the updated league pecking order, tune in to NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET for "The Power Rankings Show." Want to add YOUR voice? Provide your thoughts in a tweet to @HarrisonNFL or use the hashtag #NFLPowerRankings, and your comments could be featured on air.
Even the premier teams must survive the occasional dogfight, which is what Sean McVay's outfit found itself in on Sunday. No, these aren't the juggernaut "Legion of Boom" Seahawks from earlier this decade, but they sure as heck battled on Sunday, staying with the heavily favored Rams drive for drive. Don't look at this as Los Angeles playing down to lesser competition. We're talking about a divisional rivalry in the loudest stadium in the league. (OK, loudest next to Arrowhead.) Also worth noting: Jared Goff's wideouts were dropping like flies. And yet, the third-year quarterback piloted his offense down the field every time the Rams needed an answer to a Seahawks touchdown. Then he closed out the game by surging forward for a first down when McVay called his number on fourth-and-short from L.A.'s own 42-yard line. Put another way: 5-0 is 5-0. McVay: the anti-Jason Garrett.
Now that was what Chiefs fans had been waiting for. Not Patrick Mahomes heaving five touchdown passes, Tyreek Hill going airborne to bake a circus catch from scratch or Travis Kelce owning the middle of the field. No, #ChiefsKingdom desired a defensive performance worth bragging about. While Kansas City gave up a barbecue pit's worth of yards, points are what matter. (Yes, forget about the fact that the most commonly cited defensive ranking is "total defense," which measures yards allowed.) Bottom line: Create five takeaways and you're almost certainly going to hit the winner's circle. And remember: These Chiefs came into Week 5 pacing the league in third-down defense. Of course, just when I get all jacked up about the K.C. defense improving, Justin Houston suffers a hamstring injury and could miss multiple games. Crap.
Wonderful night for Drew Brees and the history of pro football on Monday. The 18th-year vet now owns the mark for most passing yards in a career, ahead of the likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Favre. Following New Orleans' 43-19 win, "Total Access: Endgame" debated the Saints franchise quarterback's place among the NFL's all-time elite. The knock against Brees is that he has won "only" one Super Bowl, whereas guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, among others, have earned multiple Lombardi trophies. Well, that's dandy (and overly simplistic), but if you are going to consider a quarterback's ceiling -- i.e., how many championships he's won -- shouldn't you also take into account his floor? When have you ever seen Brees play poorly, or be the reason the Saints lost? Now, have you ever seen Manning or Joe Flacco stink up the joint? That's why I can't stand the wins metric for ranking quarterbacks. If the peanut gallery wants Flacco in its top tier of all time, so be it. Must be nice to walk out on the field and know your defense will hold the opponent under 20 points. How often has Brees' defenses in New Orleans provided that kind of support? Brees > Roethlisberger > Griese > Eli > Flacco > all but a select few passers to ever play the position. Period.
Stuff got a little close for comfort there early in the fourth quarter last Thursday night, eh? The Patriots still carry their fair share of problems on defense, as Andrew Luck and a bunch of receivers who could only start for the Bills began producing in the second half. Then again, New England's defense merely needs to be viable, as the offense, all of a sudden, is virile. Josh Gordon brings an exciting vertical/red-zone element, while Julian Edelman reprises his role as Tom Brady's wubby. Then there's James White, lauded in this space multiple times before, and now finally receiving a bit of national due.
Graham Gano should not have to pay for any Michelob Ultras for a while in Charlotte. Lindsey Graham should buy Gano a whiskey or two. (Oh wait, wrong Carolina.) Well, anyway, that was one of the most clutch kicks in NFL history. While not as long as Matt Prater's league-record 64-yarder ... like former record holder Tom Dempsey's 63-yard launch, this sucker won the football game at the gun. Bailed out the Panthers secondary, which allowed the deep ball to Russell Shepard that helped the Giants pull ahead in the waning moments. Speaking of, nice to see Eric Reid getting a start back there. He's been a solid safety since coming into the league in 2013. Welcome back. </content:power-ranking>
Blake Bortles tossed 430 yards worth of passes on Sunday, shades of the Allen Boys days. Shades of classic Bortles, too: The QB's five giveaways were enough to declaw the Jags. Jacksonville's defense knew it would have its hands full all day with the Chiefs' explosive offense. Actually, the unit fared alright, creating turnovers and limiting Patrick Mahomes on third down, while twice being put in bad positions by an offense that couldn't hold onto the ball. The missing element that could assist both the quarterback and Doug Marrone's defensive unit? He's probably in a cold tub at this very moment, nursing a bum hamstring. </content:power-ranking>
So much for Joe Mixon being on a pitch count. Give that guy 25 touches in his first action back from a knee scope. All good, save for the fact that the Bengals' best offense came from a pair of rumblin' defensive linemen. In a game that saw Cincy fall behind 17-0 in front of the home folk, quality play from Andy Dalton (who didn't start so hot) and those big boys on the defensive front saved the day.
It was a week off for the Bears, who, after launching the Bucs into their bye week rudderless and mired in quarterback questions, probably would have preferred to keep playing. The worst time to sit? Right after the team's biggest question mark provides a resounding answer. Rather than riding the wave of Mitch Trubisky's prolific play and a defense that rampaged through September, Chicago got an early week off. Okie dokie. Next up: at Dolphins.
Kirk Cousins is playing out of his freakin' mind, man. No matter the pressure -- including a whole bunch right in his grill -- Cousins (30 for 37, 301 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) delivered the ball on time and on point Sunday in Philadelphia. Along with the Vikings' pass rush, he was the difference between Minnesota falling into season-on-the-brink territory and getting right back in the mix at 2-2-1. The Vikes are now a game-and-a-half behind Chicago in the NFC North, with a Cardinals home game followed by a roadie against the Jets. Both winnable games. Then again, so was Buffalo. Too soon? </content:power-ranking>
Lost in all of Sunday's action -- from Baker's heroics to Crosby's agony to Nuk's spin cycle -- was the brilliant play of one Philip Rivers. All the veteran quarterback did was complete 22 of his 27 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns, with zero interceptions. That is Exhibit A of efficient (and doggone effective) quarterbacking. The Chargers averaged 12.4 yards per play on Rivers throws. Not completions -- throws. While Phil's final numbers didn't approach some of the video-game performances we've seen from Patrick Mahomes and even Ryan Fitzpatrick this season, the Chargers didn't require such an effort in a contest they controlled throughout. Also awesome: Melvin Ingram getting a goal-line carry. Not exactly Dontari Poe-ish, but still fun.
A draining way to lose, that much is certain. The Ravens' defense couldn't have given much more energy to the cause so deep into that football game. While the breakdown on Baker Mayfield's 39-yard completion on third-and-8 crushed the Baltimore faithful, the complete lack of a Ravens passing game was the real culprit. Joe Flacco's offense converted a paltry four of their 16 third-down attempts. And while Flacco ended up with 298 passing yards, it took him 58 dropbacks to get there. That won't win games in Cleveland, or at the University of North Texas. Next up: at the Titans. Not to worry: Their passing game makes Flacco and Co. look like Johnny U, Raymond Berry and the boys.
An answer. That's what you tag the Steeler's 41-17 showing in front of the faithful at Heinz Field. The passing game was productive, if not prolific. The WR1, the guy who feels he should be the WR1, played like it: Antonio Brown posted 101 yards and two touchdowns. James Conner offered up a fine Le'Veon Bell impression, churning out 185 total yards and two scores. Ahh, but what about that much-maligned defense? Not maligned on Sunday! Keith Butler's group fought all game, stonewalling the Falcons' running backs while slowing down a red-hot Matt Ryan in bend-don't-break fashion. With this Pittsburgh scoring machine, the defense need not be a top unit, like in the halcyon days of Dick LeBeau. Yielding 17 points will allow this team to win almost every time out.
Suffice to say, 2-2-1 is not where the Pack expected to be. Unfortunately, the wide receivers are all dinged. And when the replacements can't get a morsel of separation, Aaron Rodgers drops two balls on the carpet and the kicker can't hit the broadside of a 10-ton cheese block, Green Bay's gonna have problems. Mason Crosby, the franchise's all-time leading scorer, missed five kicks, resembling Greg Norman down the stretch in the 1996 Masters. It was that bad: slice, hook, shank. Yeesh.
Hordes of Titans fans hammered your friendly writer on THE TWITTER last week for not having their team in the top five. Well, OK ... Look, back-to-back wins over the Jags and Eagles is nice. But A) the Titans swept Jacksonville just last season, so let's not pretend the Week 3 victory was some kind of unprecedented achievement; and B) Philly doesn't exactly look like a world-beating defending champion in the early goings of this season. Assessing Tennessee: One game aside, this team has a passing-game problem. Put in the lexicon of other NFL pundits: a quarterback problem. The tally on Sunday came in at 14-of-26 for 129 yards, with zero touchdowns and a pick. Hey, dem's some spectacular numbers. For 1934. Next up: vs. the Ravens.
Sure, maybe Alshon Jeffery could've held onto that Carson Wentz ball to convert third-and-20. But that, at least to this spectator, was not the key moment of the game. (Not to mention: Jeffery was decidedly walloped on the play.) No, the crucial play was the third-and-1 that Minnesota converted from its own 44 with around five minutes remaining. The Eagles had pulled to within six at 20-14, and a stop there would've given them the ball back with plenty of time to use the entirety of their playbook. Instead, no one picked up Kyle Rudolph on a delayed shallow drag across the formation, nor made the tackle on the lumbering tight end until he had picked up 17 yards and set the Vikings up in field goal range (which Dan Bailey eventually paid off with a 52-yarder). Now, I'm not Philadelphia's defensive coordinator, but I'm pretty confident LB Kamu Grugier-Hill fell asleep at the wheel, watching Rudolph stride right in front of him and directly in the path of Kirk Cousins' loving eyes. Ballgame.
**Side note:** The Jay Ajayi-to-IR news came out of nowhere, which might be where the defending champs are headed come January if they don't turn it around fast. </content:power-ranking>
Said before in this space that, turnovers be damned, Baker Mayfield makes the Browns exciting to watch. Witness the key down in overtime: On third-and-long, the kid phenom evades the Ravens rush, steps back from a collapsing pocket a la Drew Brees and calmly hits Derrick Willies (who?) over the middle for a 39-yard gain. Willies, an undrafted free agent, made the first three catches of his pro career Sunday, with none larger than his catch-and-run in the extra period to set up the game-winning kick. He made the club playing special teams (for the first time). Amazing what opportunities a trade can open up -- and not just for the Patriots.
Important win for the Lions, who are trying to get back in the mix after mailing in the first seven quarters of the season to start 0-2. With the Lions on a bye week now, Matt Patricia has his first opportunity as a head coach to take a deep breath and figure out what went right, what went south and what needs to change. (How about involving Kerryon Johnson more?) So, how far is Detroit from being a realistic playoff contender? Well, the Lions head to Miami in Week 7, then return home to host Seattle. Two winnable games. Take 'em both, and the Lions are 4-3 with their season staring them in the face over the next five contests: at Vikings, at Bears, vs. Panthers, vs. Bears, vs. Rams. </content:power-ranking>
That deal got away quick Monday night, aye? The Redskins' defense, which entered Week 5 ranked third in both passing defense and total D, couldn't cover Michael Thomas, Tre'Quan Smith or maybe even Joe Horn. Dudes were running wiiiiiiide open. Any window the Redskins had to crawl back into the game closed quickly when Alex Smith was picked in the third quarter. Trailing 33-13, Smith badly underthrew an open Maurice Harris, with the errant throw wobbling into the waiting arms of Justin Hardee, who returned the ball 77 yards to the end zone's doorstep. Turned out to be a 14-point swing. With an accurate throw, Harris could've walked into the end zone. The Saints walked over the Redskins instead.
Feeling like the Bucs' season could sink real fast? Yep, I'm with ya. Tampa provided its worst performance in a long time (and that is saying something) in Week 4, then headed into the bye week with Jameis Winston the quarterback by default. "QBD" is never a good thing to be. All the good feelings circling the great pirate ship back when Ryan Fitzpatrick was dressing like a porn star must've turned into dread of the "here we go again" variety after that 48-10 shellacking in Chicago. Next up: at Atlanta, where Tampa has played tough the last few years. Maybe this group will spin this decline on its axis.
**Side note:** Listening to Men at Work's "Business as Usual" album, which came out in late 1981. The Bucs made the playoffs that year. The band got huge in 1983. Tampa Bay went 2-14 that year. Read into that what you will. </content:power-ranking>
After jumping out to a 17-0 lead in Cincinnati, the Dolphins picked up where they left off in Foxborough: getting blown off the field. The drive chart for the final quarter-and-a-half isn't pretty: punt, pick-six, punt, fumble-six, interception, end of game. This against a Cincy defense that allowed the Falcons and Panthers to rack up 67 points and 872 yards over the previous two weeks. To give you an idea of the stilted offense in Miami: The Dolphins have reached the 400-yard mark exactly once in the last 23 games.
If there are no moral victories in the NFL, can we give the Seahawks an "E" for effort, a participation trophy (I know people who hate those) or something for that endeavor Sunday versus the Rams? Seattle has been in every game it's played this season. Despite all the negativity, the 'Hawks are 2-3 with three one-score losses, two of them to division leaders. Seattle has also scored more points than they've allowed. Simply put: Pete Carroll's retooled crew has fared better than most expected.
For the second straight week, the Texans survived, playing to the brink of body-crippling exhaustion. Well worth it, though, considering Houston has fought back from a cruddy 0-3 start to re-enter the AFC South race at 2-3. Strange as it might seem, with the Jaguars falling in Kansas City, the Texans are now only a game back in the division. Guess where they play in two weeks: Yep, in Jacksonville. In the interim, Houston hosts Buffalo. The Bills just took down Tennessee, and they play a physical brand of football fueled by an all-hustle front seven and a ground game that features a power back in Chris Ivory and a Cam-sized QB. The issue for the Texans will be whether they have anything left in the tank after back-to-back marathons.
Jason Garrett has to go for it on that fourth down in OT. Not second-guessing here: I thought it was an odd choice before the Texans happily took the ball and promptly won the game. Show the offense that you trust them, even if you don't make it. After all, the Cowboys were at the Texans' 42-yard-line. So even with a turnover on downs, the D is still in position to hang tough and keep points off the board. If we keep hearing how Dak Prescott is so "big and athletic" (a sentiment I am so tired of that it makes me want to throw my Chad Hutchinson-led Cowboys VHS tapes at a Gary Hogeboom poster), then why not SNEAK him for a YARD?! Or how about rolling him out on a run/pass option? Isn't he BIG and ATHLETIC? Then use it. And while we're on the soothing subject of Cowboys decision-making, sure am glad Dallas didn't bring back Dez Bryant. I don't know if you saw all those explosive plays Dallas wideouts were creating Sunday night ... Actually, maybe it's better that Bryant doesn't rejoin the team, or else Prescott will invariably throw him a highball late and over the middle while Dez is at a sprint, forcing the wideout to reach back at full tilt, only to have the ball ricochet off his outstretched fingertips, causing everyone to blame him for "dropping" the ball. Yeah, stay home, Dez. Watch "Hope Floats," or anything with a happier ending than punting the ball away when a mere yard (hey, it was a lonnng yard!) gets you a new set of downs in field-goal range. OK, I'm done.
It's going to be a long season in Hotlanta. In the wake of a vicious attack by the injury bug, Dan Quinn simply doesn't have the horses on the defensive side of the ball. Look at this from a baseball standpoint. If you don't have a shortstop, center fielder or left fielder -- and two of them are All-Stars -- it's going to be awfully tough to win ballgames. Unless the pitching is spectacular. Matt Ryan was just that against the Saints in Week 3 and the Bengals in Week 4, when he piled up nearly 800 yards passing, eight touchdowns and no picks. You can't expect a guy to play like 2007 Tom Brady every single week, with the pressure of knowing he must score 35 points to have a chance. Heck, Atlanta needed 45 points against its last three opponents.
*Five hundy?* Seriously, the Jets' offense? No way. Not unless Joe Namath's at quarterback, with Freeman McNeil in the backfield, Wesley Walker and Al Toon outside and Wayne Chrebet in the slot. For real, though: Gang Green's 512 total yards on Sunday represented the franchise's most productive outing since 2013, and it nearly tripled what they netted last week in Jacksonville (178). Wow. And to think: 512 wasn't even the Jets' most impressive number on Sunday. No, the 323-spot they put on the board in the rushing department must've raised even Curtis Martin and Richie Anderson's eyebrows. Good grief, that is a ton of yards from a ground game. Isaiah Crowell rampaged through the Broncos' front seven and secondary, piling up 219 yards on a measly 15 carries. It's so exciting the Jets figured out how to move the ball, I don't know how to end this blurb. Isaiah Crowell, the new Earl Campbell? Maybe I am getting a bit carried away. </content:power-ranking>
Tell the Broncos it's within the rules to tackle the running back before he has gained 10 yards. When you think of this defense and a few of the star players on it, how does it allow an offense like the Jets' young unit to eclipse 500 yards of production? How about those 323 that came on the ground, the most rushing yards allowed by Denver since Run DMC and the Raiders ran wild in the mountain air back in 2010? Would this be an appropriate time to remind readers that Vance Joseph's discipline is the defensive side of the ball? K, maybe not. Case Keenum didn't come out of the gate fast, but he did chuck it for 377 in the loss. Keenum is not the problem, at least not solely. The inability to be competitive outside of the Mile High grounds is. Denver has now lost 11 of 12 away from home. Read that line again.
Odell Beckham Jr. held up his end of the bargain. Yet, for every 10 one-handed grabs he performs in pregame warmups, maybe he could take one leadership course. The oft-incredible, oft-distracting wide receiver made himself the story this week by publicly airing out his quarterback and head coach. Agree with Tony Dungy, who suggested Beckham could also mention what he could do better to help his football team. To be fair, doesn't necessarily mean Beckham was wrong, either. Beneath all the noise and handwringing is a talented-enough nucleus to make the postseason -- even challenge for the NFC East title. Look around the division: The defending champs can't cover anybody, the Redskins were throttled on Monday night and the Cowboys can't complete a standard 10-yard slant. Big Blue lost to a playoff-caliber opponent, on the road, on a friggin' 63-yard field goal. It ain't time for locker-room implosions. </content:power-ranking>
Huge win for the Bills, who once again rode an opportunistic defense and another sweet Josh Allen scamper to victory. Once again, Allen couldn't throw a lick (82 yards ... *total*), but he benefitted from field position and tough yards from his RBs to set up "Hausch Money" for the game winner. Nobody wanted a piece of Chris Ivory on that final drive. Actually, though, the real stars of this AFC upset resided in Sean McDermott's defense, which allowed a scant 221 total yards while forcing three turnovers and suffocating a Tennessee attack that made hay against the Eagles two Sundays ago. Not this past Sunday. </content:power-ranking>
Swathed in the rush of the enemy, Capt. Andrew Luck repeatedly called upon his sidearm, unloading into the Patriots' lines, steady and true. Melancholy befell him, as his brethren floundered to furnish reinforcements nigh the engagement's creep. The good captain ne'er withdrew, surging forward with platoon long after the engagement had been ordained. Valor aplomb. It is said the captain of the opposition's field units was of an age to be out farming, perhaps tending his flock. Not on Thursday's eve. Alas, Capt. Luck was bested. (Sorry, I often get inspired by preferred Twitter accounts.)
The last of the winless rectified the root of their problem this past Sunday, closing out the contest in the deciding minutes. The Cards had failed to do so against the Bears in Week 3, making a late switch at quarterback, then providing the sub no help on the game's final stanza. In Week 4, Arizona couldn't halt the Seahawks' running game late, narrowly falling in Josh Rosen's first start. But Sunday was different, with Chandler Jones putting his big paw up to thwart the 49ers' two-point attempt that would have tied the game at 14 apiece in the fourth quarter. On the next Niners drive, Arizona linebacker Josh Byrnes picked up C.J. Beathard's fumble (stripped on a safety blitz) and took it to the house to essentially seal the deal. Well done.
Talk about laying a silver-and-black egg. Ugh. In what turned out to be a Raiders home game at StubHub (in theory, the Chargers' "home" stadium), Oakland disappointed attendees with turnovers, penalties and really unsmart decisions. (SEE: Eschewing Marshawn Lynch from the 1-yard line/ Derek Carr's interception in the Bolts' end zone. Gnarly.) A paltry total of 41 rushing yards made Oakland's offense one-dimensional, enough to allow the Chargers to play numbers on the back end, get pressure and halt drives. Jon Gruden looks less like a murderous-rampage Chucky and more like a tired Cabbage Patch Kid spearheading a 1-4 football team.
Spent much of Sunday afternoon watching C.J. Beathard, who is not nearly as bad as people have made him out to be. Unfortunately, his inaccuracy and miscommunication with receivers late totaled any opportunity for the 49ers to speed to their second win. As the game progressed, Kyle Shanahan stayed conservative, sticking with the run and short passing game while Beathard took few chances down the field. Made sense when the defense was keeping the Josh Rosen-led offense stuck in neutral -- outside of the deep ball to Christian Kirk early -- but it makes you wonder if Shanahan is utilizing the full breadth of the playbook sans Jimmy Garoppolo. If not, then he was calling the same plays over and over. San Francisco ran an astonishing 92 plays from scrimmage.