The Saints got their first win of the season in dramatic fashion on Sunday night, the Browns couldn’t find theirs in the rains of New Jersey, and the Falcons remained undefeated despite a scare from the young Redskins. The Titans and Bills made strong arguments for the league’s worst defenses as the Jaguars and Chiefs did the same on offense. The Colts inspired us, the Bears and 49ers wowed us, and the Panthers did nothing of the sort. Another great Sunday is in the books. Here are my 10 takeaways from Week 5.
— Peter Schrager
Brady beat Manning, but it was the Patriots run game that was most impressive
When BenJarvus Green-Ellis left New England last offseason, there was a lot of head-scratching as to who would carry the load. The Human Law Firm had been the premier back the past two seasons with a combined 24 TDs. But the running game is as strong as its been in years. Long TD drives, maintained by the running game, ensured Sunday’s 31-21 win over Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Stevan Ridley (22) ran for a career-high 151 yards on 28 carries as New England gobbled up 251 yards on 54 rushes. The Pats have put up 200 rushing yards in consecutive games for the first time since 1978. This offense was supposed to be good. Nobody — and I mean, NOBODY — expected this out of the running game.
Cam Newton's had a rough start and it’s only getting worse
As fellow sophomore QBs Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton enjoy big leaps, Cam Newton’s valleys continue to get lower. After coming up short the previous week in a heartbreaking 30-28 loss in Atlanta, Newton was beat up by the media for taking too long in the shower and causing the team bus to leave later than expected. For the second straight week, Newton was the subject of media disdain and local vitriol. On Sunday, he played his worst game yet. The Panthers lost 16-12 to Seattle as the offense was held to an embarrassing 190 yards. Newton, himself, couldn’t find his footing, throwing for a career-low 141 yards, completing just 12 passes and throwing a game-ending incompletion on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with less than four minutes to go. Newton was the subject of great media adoration and plaudits last season. It’s easy when everyone loves you. The Panthers are now 1-4 and considered one of the league’s great disappointments. The schedule doesn’t get any easier. I’m curious to see how the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year rebounds.
Michael Vick's turnovers finally cost the Eagles
The Eagles entered Sunday’s game with the Steelers 3-1 and alone atop the NFC East, but with a point differential of minus-17 and three wins by a total of four points. Michael Vick’s turnovers hadn’t cost the Eagles in their victories, but his two lost fumbles on Sunday ended up burning the Birds in a 16-14 loss. Vick fumbled on the goal line, erasing what would have been an early go-ahead score. Vick’s first-quarter fumble was Philadelphia’s fourth red-zone turnover of the season, the most in the league.
The Ravens are winning the kind of games that they lost last season. And that's OK
The Ravens are 4-1 after Sunday's 9-6 win at Kansas City and alone atop the AFC North. They haven’t played a “complete” game since Week 1. Last season, the Ravens lost close road games to the Titans, Jaguars, Seahawks and Patriots (in the AFC Championship Game). To repeat: Baltimore’s 4-1 and hasn’t looked good in a month. And the games the Ravens are winning are the exact same kind of games they were losing last season. Wins are wins, and in Baltimore’s case, they’re finding ways to get them.
Eric Winston overreacted to the Arrowhead crowd cheering Matt Cassel's injury
There’s been widespread praise for lineman Eric Winston’s 9-minute postgame diatribe towards Chiefs fans in the wake of the home crowd cheering Matt Cassel’s fourth-quarter injury on Sunday. After yet another embarrassing home loss, Winston (74) told reporters, “Matt Cassel hasn't done anything to you people. Hasn't done anything to the media writers that kill him, hasn't done anything wrong to the people that come out here and cheer him. Hey, if he's not the best quarterback then he's not the best quarterback and that's OK. But he's a person. And he got knocked out in a game and we have 70,000 people cheering that he got knocked out?" Relax, Winston. I sincerely doubt the 70,000 people who cheered the injury had any idea of the severity of Cassel’s situation. Those fans are some of the best and most knowledgeable fans, and they pay to see competitive football. The Chiefs haven't won a playoff game in nearly two decades. They weren't cheering because Cassel was injured; they were cheering because it meant a change at quarterback — something they've been longing for. Jets fans cheered when Chad Pennington went down with an injury a few years back, too. That wasn't against Pennington as a person and this wasn't against Cassel. I will say this, though: It was nice to see Winston protect Cassel. Neither he nor his fellow offensive linemen have done that on the field all season.
San Francisco's offense might be the best in the NFL
The San Francisco defense has given up three points over the past two weeks, but I’m equally impressed with the offense. Alex Smith threw for a season-high 303 yards and three TDs Sunday as the 49ers amassed a franchise-record 621 yards in their 45-3 whitewashing of the Bills. Beyond Smith, the offense has revealed itself as deep, talented and creative. Colin Kaepernick has been everything Jets fans dreamed Tim Tebow would be in New York, Mario Manningham’s been a reliable third-down receiver, and both Kyle Williams and Michael Crabtree are much-improved receivers. The 49ers offense is doing things even the most optimistic fans couldn’t have imagined, and it's doing it without running backs Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James. The 49ers look ready for their NFC Championship Game rematch with the Giants on Sunday on FOX (4:25 p.m. ET).
The Buffalo Bills defense is an embarrassment
The Bills have spent close to $200 million on their defensive line over the past two offseasons. The result? Arguably the worst defense in all of football. It’s shameful. What Mario Williams is doing for the Bills is stealing. Seven days after giving up 52 points in New England, Buffalo lost 45-3 in San Francisco on Sunday. Since taking a 21-7 lead against the Patriots, Buffalo has been outscored 90-10. The Patriots and 49ers combined to gain 1,201 yards. Mario Williams, Marcel Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson combined for 10 tackles and zero sacks. I could think of better ways to spend $200 million.
Jay Cutler may be a petulant baby, but he's damn good, too
Cutler (No. 6) entered Sunday’s game with the Jaguars as the QB of a 3-1 team tied for the NFC North lead. Yet, as we continued to read puff pieces on Drew Brees (who was 0-4) and Aaron Rodgers (2-2) all week long, Cutler was catching a ton of heat for his “petulant” sideline behavior in a win last Monday night against the Cowboys. On Sunday, Shannon Sharpe took him to task on the CBS pregame show, while Terry Bradshaw said, “Grow up, young man. And then maybe you can borrow the car,” on FOX. Cutler promptly went out and threw for 292 yards and two TDs in a 41-3 win. He smiled, too. The Bears are 4-1 behind the QB no ex-player seems to like.
The Vikings are for real
Minnesota improved to 3-0 at home with a dominant 30-7 win over the woeful Titans on Sunday. Christian Ponder continued his impressive sophomore campaign, passing for 258 yards and two TDs as Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson both topped 100 yards from scrimmage. But the offense wasn’t the story. As has been the case throughout the Vikings’ impressive 4-1 start, the defense has led the way, holding the Titans to seven points and forcing two turnovers. Consider this: Had it not been for a last-second loss in Indianapolis in Week 2, Minnesota would be 5-0 heading into Week 6.
The Colts are #ChuckStrong
On Monday, the Colts learned that their head coach, Chuck Pagano, had been diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia. Six days later, they came back from an 18-point deficit to beat the Green Bay Packers 30-27. On Friday, Pagano sent his players an inspirational email, writing, “"Focus on being 500 by 4:30pm on Sunday. Nothing else. That has to be our mind set. 60 minutes, all you got, one play at a time! WIN!" By Sunday, the players were tweeting the hashtag #ChuckStrong. Reggie Wayne, a guy who’s known Pagano since they were both at Miami in the late '90s, had a career day. The 12-year veteran finished with 13 receptions for a career-high 212 yards — the second-highest total in Colts history behind Hall of Famer Raymond Berry in 1957. He wore orange gloves, not the pink ones being worn around the league this month, because orange is the color for leukemia awareness. Indy’s 2-2 and ChuckStrong.