With an extra-day of reflection comes extra nuts in the wake of Week 5. And these are juicy nuts, the kind you can store away for winter and dig up around February 5, 2017. Because if there’s one thing that became glaringly apparent after this weekend’s action, it’s that at least half of Super Bowl LI has all but been decided.
This is not an overreaction to the performance of Tom Brady – who celebrated Thanksgiving early by carving up the Browns defense like a 20-lb. turkey – it’s simply an observation of the rest of the AFC field. While the Patriots were finally exploiting the mismatches their two outstanding tight ends create, Baltimore continued their return to the mean by firing their offensive coordinator; the Jets continued to get put through the ringer by an excruciating opening season schedule; the Bengals got ran over by the Cowboys dominant run game, but also stymied by their very average defense; and the AFC South was, well, you know how it is by now.
The current favorites to grab the AFC Wild Card spots might be the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills, two teams with zero playoff experience who will just be happy to end excruciating postseason droughts. If New England is going to get any pushback in their quest to make the seventh Super Bowl appearance of the Brady-Belichick era, it looks like that knock will have to come from the Pittsburgh Steelers or Denver Broncos.
Rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch didn’t do the Broncos any favors in their 23-16 loss to Atlanta, but what really helped the Falcons beat Denver was a gameplan that used running backs to exploit Denver’s linebackers in coverage: a plan Chris Harris said “was all Patriots.” New England already has the tight ends to exploit that matchup, and should only look better when pass-catching back Dion Lewis returns.
But while the loss exposed the Broncos’ defensive weakness, it also cost them their lead in the race for homefield. Avoiding a trip to Foxborough feels like the only way Denver or Pittsburgh will stand a chance in the postseason, because neither boasts an encouraging track record at Gillette (Roethlisberger is 0-3 versus Brady there, while the Broncos have lost five-straight).
In a season that has seemed so unpredictable out of the gate – particularly at the top of the NFC – it’s kind of nice to have a straight-forward AFC race. Barring a truly devastating injury (and even that might not do it), the Pats’ Week 7 tilt at Pittsburgh and Week 15 battle at Denver should ultimately decide if we have an interesting postseason in the AFC. A clean-sweep by New England, and this one’s all but sewn-up.
But enough of (correctly) forecasting the future. This piece is supposed to be about reflecting on the past weekend. So bow your heads as we silently contemplate Week 5. Away we gooooo!!!!!
Week 5 in a Nutshell
Shout-out of the Week
Darius Slay, CB: Detroit Lions
It was time someone started making rookie quarterbacks look the part, and “Big Play Slay” finally lived up to his nickname (and new contract). Against Carson Wentz and an Eagles team that hadn’t turned the ball over all season, Slay made the two key plays to help Detroit to a 24-23 win. His afternoon wasn’t perfect; but after getting tied up on Josh Huff’s touchdown catch, Slay bounced back when the Lions needed it most.
First, with Detroit out of timeouts and Philly driving to ice the game, Slay ran down Ryan Mathews on a 3rd-and-2 pitch to the right, forcing a fumble that the Lions recovered. Detroit managed to take a one-point lead on the ensuing drive, but left 1:28 on the clock, enough time for the Wentz legend to grow to Paul Bunyan-size, right? Not on Slay’s watch.
Wentz tried to go deep on the very first play, but he threw to Nelson Agholor’s outside shoulder as the receiver looked inside, leaving Slay as the only player able to make the over-the-shoulder catch. As you can guess from him being awarded “Shout-out of the Week,” he did, becoming the first player to intercept Wentz in his NFL career.
Slay’s three tackles, two pass-breakups, interception, and forced fumble were all the more important when you realize the Lions were once again missing Ziggy Ansah and DeAndre Levy from the lineup. The biggest playmaker left on Detroit’s D stopped a rookie’s tyranny, if only for a week.
More often than not, the Lions are the team to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory; it was nice to see them do the opposite for a change. If only this next team could reverse its losing trend…
How can the Chargers out-do themselves this week?
Another week, another spot marked off on the 2016 Chargers’ “Bleak Football Bingo.” Having already hit “lose key players to injury,” “cough up a 17-point lead against a division rival,” “surrender a huge touchdown with less than two minutes remaining,” and “inexplicably fumble twice against a terrible defense,” San Diego added “bungle a game-tying field goal attempt” this week against the Raiders. At this point, “Fire Mike McCoy” seems so inevitable, it should be a free space. But what’s still left to be marked off? Here are a few:
Lose on a hook-and ladder.
The odd time this play will work in college, like when Central Michigan pulled it off versus Oklahoma State, but professional defenders are just too disciplined to let such shenanigans work. Prove them wrong San Diego, prove them all wrong!
Lose on a missed field goal returned for a touchdown.
What’s worse than not getting a kick off? Executing, then failing to cover the deep man when you miss. The Browns losing on a “kick-six” last year was pretty bad, but one-upping them would at least mean the Chargers won something this year.
Take the lead on the final play, have it called back by a penalty.
It doesn’t always have to be the Chargers blowing the lead to hurt their fans’ feelings. Deliver them ecstasy, then snatch it away because of a holding call or too many men on the field.
Philip Rivers finally gets sick of doing it all himself and asks for a trade.
Rivers is the ultimate gamer. If the only reason they were ever in games finally said “no mas!” it would be the biggest blow to Bolts fans. Given that he’s constantly losing all his weapons, could you blame Rivers for wanting out? Probably not. But it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t hurt more than a thousand blown fourth-quarter leads.
Though it’s never happened in the NFL’s history, teams can forfeit games. San Diego could be pioneers, citing too many injuries to bother playing anymore. If we can have a theoretical situation where Rivers quits on his team, we can have a situation where the Chargers quit on the league.
Move to LA.
Still too soon?
Other great things from Week 5
Jeff Fisher’s fake punt.
This really belongs in the bad things category, but it was also great, because it was the kind of decision that makes us all collectively wonder why Fisher continues to get to coach in this league. Perhaps we’re the ones that are crazy, though. I mean, if trailing 23-19 with four minutes left and facing a 4th-and-5 from your own 23 isn’t the perfect time to run a fake punt, is there really ever one?
Best of all, that play probably will work for Fisher in the future. Like when he’s coaching Texas next year and they’re up big over Alcorn State.
OBJ making up with the kicking net.
While I hated Beckham’s touchdown for purely degenerate reasons, I did appreciate his celebration making fun of himself. Perhaps the kid will be alright after all?
The Cowboys offensive line.
No real witty comments here. That was just a dominant showing against Cincinnati. I’ve been wondering if Green Bay’s vaunted run D was just a product of playing bad opponents. After next week’s Dallas-Green Bay game, I guess that question will be answered.
Other bad things from Week 5
Whatever Pat McAfee was doing.
Nobody comes to the game to watch punters. Just kick the damn ball!
Bucs-Panthers: refusal to win.
In another week of terrible prime-time games, this one was excruciating. Each coach seemed content with running the ball and hoping the other team would make a mistake. Given how awful their kickers were on the night, you could understand the hesitation. Still, one of these head coaches has the nickname “Riverboat Ron:” running the ball three straight times outside two minutes doesn’t scream, “I’m a gambling man!”
Thankfully, Kony Ealy took a dumb penalty to end it, or those teams would’ve been punting back and forth until the wee hours of Cubs-Giants.