NFL

Peterson, Painter surprise in Week 5

Brian Billick believes the Tim Tebow era in Denver has begun.
Brian Billick believes the Tim Tebow era in Denver has begun.
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Brian Billick

Brian Billick served as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2007, winning Super Bowl XXXV. He has also authored books, including More Than A Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL. Follow him on Twitter.

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Unlikely leaders

There were two unlikely headlines heading into halftime of the early games Sunday: Adrian Peterson and Curtis Painter.

How could a performance by Peterson, probably the most dominant running back in the NFL, be unlikely? It was the way he did it. He was single-handedly the Vikings' offense for the first quarter, and for much of the first half. Not only did he score three touchdowns in the first quarter, but he ran the ball for 47 yards on six attempts and led the Vikings to a 14-0 lead before Donovan McNabb had even a single completion.

This was against an Arizona Cardinal defense that has struggled but was giving up only 118 yards per game on the ground, and “All Day” basically totaled that in the first half.

His presence was not only important in the running game, but because he was so successful early in the game, it opened up play-action and roll-outs for McNabb in the second half.

McNabb finished with only 169 yards through the air, the majority of that because the Cardinal were daring him to throw because they were tired of getting run over by Peterson.

Interesting to note: Sunday was Peterson’s 15th game with multiple rushing touchdowns, which is good for the league’s best since 2007, his rookie year.

Painter, who sat behind Kerry Collins for the first three weeks of the season, was the NFL’s daily passing leader heading into the first half of the early games. He had statistically outperformed Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Matt Schaub, etc.

Coming out for the second half, Painter was 12 of 17 for 237 yards and held a 10-point lead. When I saw that stat line, I couldn’t help but remember the comments from Reggie Wayne when the team first signed Collins. Wayne was upset that they would bring in a veteran quarterback that had no experience in their sophisticated offense, and start him over Painter who had studied so feverishly behind Manning for the past three seasons.

Before his concussion, Collins was averaging only 160 yards passing per game, and Painter had 70 more than that in the first half. In his second start, he was looking to rejuvenate an offense that was basically forgotten and lead the Colts to their first victory of the season.

But all that was working for him in the first half completely disappeared in the second. He had only three more completions over the final two quarters and only 40 more yards to finish 15 of 27 for 277 yards. Matt Cassel and the Chiefs stole all the momentum and scored the final three touchdowns of the game, winning 28-24 to steal what looked like Painter’s first career NFL win.

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Even so, he looks to be much more comfortable with this offense, and I would be surprised to see Collins back in the lineup baring any injuries.

Panthers' resurgence

Although they are 1-4, the Panthers have been one of the more impressive teams over the first five weeks of the season. They haven’t lost a game by more than a touchdown and have taken what I consider to be the best two teams in the NFL, Green Bay and New Orleans, right down to the wire.

Obviously, this is in large part to Cam Newton, who after five games has outscored all of the Carolina quarterbacks in the 2010 season. Newton has accounted for 12 total touchdowns (seven passing, five rushing). The 2010 quarterbacks produced only nine touchdowns for the entire 16-game season.

Similarly, Steve Smith, is by far outperforming his 2010 statistical outputs. In 14 games last year, he totaled 554 yards receiving. After five games this year, he already has 609 yards, good for second in the entire league.

Sure, there have been some blown coverages he was able to exploit, but if he were blessed with Calvin Johnson's size, we might be easily talking about the best receiver to ever play the game. At 5-foot-9, Smith attacks the ball in the air better than most 6-3 receivers. On his 54-yard touchdown against the Saints on Sunday, he easily outjumped the defender to rip the ball out of the air and then kept his balance to run the additional 20 yards to the end zone.

Quick hits

Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew doesn’t get the credit he deserves as one of the better players in this game. If it weren’t for fantasy football, I’m not sure too many people would even know his name. But he runs hard and furious, and if it weren’t for playing in Jacksonville, he would be a household name.

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• The Bills had a perfect game plan for the Eagles, a heavy dosage of Fred Jackson. Their first possession featured six Jackson rushing attempts and only one pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick.

• Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy is the best cutback runner in the game. His vision out of the backfield to find the cutback lane and hit the backside hole is very impressive. He makes a lot of plays out of nothing.

Giants receiver Victor Cruz and Eagles receiver Jason Avant are two players who stepped up for their teams Sunday, but, unfortunately, they will be remembered more for their crucial turnovers than their statistical performances.

• Running back Willis McGahee is proving he still has some gas left in the tank. He fits John Fox’s scheme perfectly in Denver, and I like him as the feature back for this offense. Knowshon Moreno makes for a good change-of-pace threat in the screen game and passes out of the backfield. Those two could make for a great combination as the year progresses.

• I picked Arizona to win the NFC West, but Jim Harbaugh has the 49ers playing out of this world. What they did to the Buccaneers was very impressive. Harbaugh was perfect for QB Alex Smith, and running back Frank Gore looks like he is back to his old ways.

• Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman had six interceptions in 16 games last year. He has matched that total this year after five games.

• After his 129-yard game Sunday, New Orleans' Jimmy Graham has three consecutive 100-yard receiving games. That hadn’t been done by a tight end since Tony Gonzalez had four in a row in 2000, and Gonzalez is easily a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Tagged: Bills, Colts, Chiefs, Vikings, Saints, Giants, Eagles, 49ers, Buccaneers, Panthers, Kerry Collins, Donovan McNabb, Steve Smith Sr., Alex Smith, Fred Jackson, Adrian Peterson, Curtis Painter

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