Another week of NFL action is in the books. With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at the week that was and break down the prominent storylines which emerged from the league’s play.
Six teams remain undefeated through five weeks (Patriots, Bengals, Broncos, Packers, Falcons, Panthers). If you think that number’s fairly high, you’re right. It’s the most since the league went to its current divisional format in 2002, exceeding the five teams that had unblemished slates at this point in the season back in 2009. Last year, all 32 teams had suffered a loss by week five and only seven had just one.
It’s highly likely that number will dwindle by the end of next week though, with five of six remaining unbeatens facing road tests. Among the stiffest of those away games has to be Carolina traveling to the Pacific Northwest to face a Seattle team looking to right the ship after blowing a huge fourth quarter lead at Cincinnati, thus enabling the Bengals to preserve their perfect year to date.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Before we get to the Week 6 opener Thursday night with another team going on the road to put their undefeated season on the line as Atlanta travels to New Orleans, we have to take a look at the major happenings from the previous week.
With that in mind, here are some of the things that stood out to me in Week 5.
5 Takeaways from NFL Week 5
Bengals and Falcons Get Thrilling OT Wins in Differing Fashions To Stay Unbeaten
Both Atlanta and Cincinnati somehow figured out a way to come out victorious to move to 5-0.
For the Falcons, it came in spite of a rough outing from quarterback Matt Ryan against Washington who threw two interceptions and couldn’t manage a single touchdown pass on the afternoon. Devonta Freeman turned in another phenomenal performance in the Atlanta backfield, rushing for 153 yards and capping off a ten-play, 80 yard drive in the fourth quarter with a score that gave the Falcons a 19-16 lead with 24 seconds left.
Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins then became hero and goat on opposite ends of regulation. He got the team into field goal range with three quick passes that allowed Dustin Hopkins to kick a 52-yard field goal and send the game into overtime. Seven plays into the extra stanza, however, he threw a ball towards the sidelines intended for Ryan Grant that was intercepted by Robert Alford and taken 59 yards the other way for a game-winning touchdown that sent the Georgia Dome crowd into a frenzy.
In Cincinnati, it was Andy Dalton’s late-game exploits that likely prevented the Bengals from suffering their first loss of the season. With the team down 24-7 in the fourth quarter, he would lead the team on three straight scoring drives including the game-tying one that started on his own 18 with 2:17 left and culminated with a 31-yard field goal from Mike Nugent to tie the game at the end of regulation.
After both teams traded possessions, the Bengals would slowly win the field position battle in overtime. It was then that plays from Dalton and running back Giovani Bernard would set Nugent up to kick the game-winning 42-yard field goal.
The win gives Cincinnati its best start since 1988 which incidentally was the last time the Bengals appeared in the Super Bowl.
Broncos Stifling Defense Keeps Peyton Manning’s Struggles at Bay
Denver’s Week 5 road tussle with divisional foe Oakland was endemic to what we’ve come to expect out of the Broncos this season. Their defense has emerged as one of the league’s best while Peyton Manning seems to continue his inevitable end-of-career decline. Ultimately, defensive back Chris Harris’ pick six of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr proved to be the difference in a 16-10 win for the Broncos.
Manning finished with 266 yards passing, two interceptions and managed a less than impressive quarterback rating of 62.3. Overall, his 77.6 rating is third-worst in the league among quarterbacks who’ve played in at least 75 percent of their team’s snaps, and he’s also one of only three in the league to have thrown more picks than touchdown passes.
Meanwhile, the Broncos continue to roll on the other side of the ball. They’re currently in the top five in virtually every major defensive metric, are second in scoring defense (15.8 points per game) and lead the league in yards allowed per game (278). DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller and Malik Jackson have combined for 10.5 sacks while the team as a whole leads the NFL with 22. The unit has also managed seven interceptions, tied with Buffalo for fourth best overall, and two of those have resulted in touchdowns.
You could make the argument Denver’s 5-0 start has been brought to you, in part, by a ridiculously easy schedule. Their first five opponents are a combined 6-18 on the season so far. They get Cleveland on the road this Sunday, followed by a bye, then a Week 8 showdown at home with Green Bay. Might that become a mid-season meeting of undefeated teams?
The Dire Situation That is the Detroit Lions
My, oh my, have the wheels come off the bus big time in Detroit. It was perhaps no more evident than late Sunday afternoon at Ford Field as the Arizona Cardinals came into town and laid a comprehensive 42-17 beatdown on the Lions to drop them to 0-5 on the season. Though the franchise has made the playoffs twice in the last four seasons, 2015 already looks like it will resemble any one of the club’s campaigns from 2001-10 where they averaged a meager 3.9 wins per season.
Matthew Stafford was atrocious and got pulled in favor of Dan Orlovsky after throwing his third interception of the game in the second half. Overall, he has eight on the year which is worst in the league. His offensive line isn’t helping. Though Stafford’s only been sacked seven times, he’s facing an inordinate amount of pressure that has included 57 hurries.
The running game isn’t any better, averaging just 49 yards per game which is dead last in the NFL. Ameer Abdullah’s rookie season hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations so far. He’s one of eight running backs in the league who’s fumbled the ball twice already and, like Stafford, found himself on the bench late in the game.
Head coach Jim Caldwell led this team to the playoffs in his first season in charge last year so it’s hard to see him on the hot seat this early. The losses in free agency, particularly on defense, have not made his job any easier. Still, the fan base is none too happy right now and the chorus of boos cascaded at Stafford after that third pick served to illustrate that sentiment.
Colin Kaepernick Might Not Be Dead and Buried Just Yet
Speaking of under fire quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick certainly fit the bill through four weeks of action. That said, he was at his best on Sunday night on the road against the New York Giants. The 49ers even led 27-23 late in the fourth quarter before Eli Manning led Big Blue on a spectacular eight-play, 82-yard drive capped off by a circus catch from tight end Larry Donnell in the end zone to seal a 30-27 win for the Giants. It was Manning’s 27th fourth quarter/overtime game-winning drive of his career.
It had to have been a tough way to lose the game for Kaepernick, who himself led the Niners on three drives of over 80 yards in the second half, all of which resulted in touchdowns. In the end, he threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns while not turning the ball over once. His 107.1 rating was ninth best in the league for Week 5.
Perhaps Colin Kaepernick’s days as the starting quarterback in Frisco may not be numbered after all.
Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore Turning into Shutdown Corners for Buffalo
The best cornerback tandem in the league could reside in Buffalo. Both Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore have emerged as legitimate weapons in the Bills secondary. It was on full display late in the game Sunday when Gilmore picked off Marcus Mariota to preserve a 14-13 win and take Buffalo to 3-2 including 2-0 on the road.
Through five games, the two defensive backs have combined for 11 pass breakups which is by far the most in the league at the position for two teammates. Philadelphia’s Nolan Carroll and Byron Maxwell are second with a combined seven between them.
What makes Gilmore’s numbers all the more impressive is the volume of passes coming his way. The fourth-year pro out of South Carolina has seen 49 throws come into his coverage, which is most for any corner in the league. Despite that, only 46.9 percent of those throws have resulted in receptions by opposing players, good enough for sixth-lowest.
For the rookie out of Florida State in Darby, his reception percentage is slightly better at 45.2 percent. He’s also done a great job at preventing big plays. He’s one of only six corners in the league allowing less than ten yards per reception and is eighth-best league wide in yards after catch allowed in his coverage with just 51.
I guess when Jim Kelly announces your pick at the NFL draft you’re destined for great things. That seems to be the case for Darby through the first five games of his pro career.
Let me know what you think. Do you have some takeaways involving your favorite team I may have missed here? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet at me.