$.01--Two teams entered Week 5 undefeated, and both will enter Week 6 unblemished as well. The bigger survival challenge came in Seattle, where the Los Angeles Rams prevailed in a hard-hitting NFC West matchup.
The Rams went north and handled Seattle’s best shot. The back-and-forth affair never saw a lead bigger than seven. The Rams didn’t lead in the second half until Cairo Santos hit his second FG of the 4th quarter with a little over six minutes left.
Divisional road wins are never easy, and beating the steadily improving Seahawks in the home of the 12th man was an important step for the Rams. They now have a 3-game divisional lead after five weeks and own the tie-breaker. Not that it will matter…
Despite the win, Rams coach Sean McVay has to be concerned about his leaky defense. After giving up 13 points in the first two games the Rams have surrendered 85 in the last three. When the pass rush isn’t getting home, their corners and linebackers are vulnerable. Seattle didn’t quite have enough to make the Rams pay, just as Minnesota couldn’t last week. The Rams own freakishly proficient ability to score at least 33 every week helps mask the hit/miss defense with some injury issues.
How long can it last? Up next for the Rams are trips to Denver and San Francisco. Neither has won since Week 2. The Broncos just gave up over 200 rushing yards to Isaiah Crowell of the Jets in a 34-16 where Denver started just one drive outside its own 25. The 49ers (more on them below) are just not a very good football team right now. It looks good for the Rams to roll to at least 7-0, though in a season where so many crazy outcomes happen seemingly every weekend, they’ll need to be better on defense to make sure it happens.
$.02-- What was supposed to be the marquee game on the slate and an epic battle between elite offense vs. defense turned out to be a dud. Kansas City and their rocking offense blew the doors off the Jacksonville Jaguars and their top-rated defense, 30-14.
It was 23-0 Chiefs on a day where Patrick Mahomes failed to throw a single TD pass. He didn’t need to thanks to his own defense, or rather the combination of the KC defense and a bad game from Jaguars QB Blake Bortles. The Chiefs picked off Bortles 3 meaningful times and once more in garbage time, consistently stymying the Fournette-less Jags attack. Bortles put up 430 yards but found the end zone just once in his 61 throws. “Bend but don’t break” was good enough for the Chiefs even on a day where Mahomes wasn’t great (22/38, 313 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT) with his arm but did score with his legs.
That’s an important step for the undefeated Chiefs. For once they didn’t need a superhuman performance from their young MVP candidate at QB. Kareem Hunt carried his weight with 87 hard-fought yards and a TD, but this win was about the defense making plays when needed. If they can keep that up, something Kansas City has not done well thus far on the path to the undefeated record, their record could remain unblemished for a long time.
$.03-- There are no more winless teams after Arizona knocked off San Francisco. The Cardinals poured it on late to scorch the 49ers, who won the battle of the box score but soundly lost the one that matters on the scoreboard. The league’s longest losing streak ends with the 28-18 home win for the Cardinals.
Arizona LB Josh Bynes sealed the win with a fumble return for TD on a strip sack. That came just after the Cardinals offense had one of the ugliest 3-and-outs you’ll ever see by a team nursing a 2-point lead in crunch time. Most weeks the inept offense would have cost them, but on this day the Cardinals defense was more than good enough to compensate. The very next series, San Francisco’s death gasp, began with another Cards sack and ended with a Bene Benwikere pick. The Niners added a garbage time TD, adding to the statistical discrepancy which makes the score look crazy.
San Francisco achieved 33 first downs, Arizona just 10. The 49ers more than doubled Josh Rosen and the Cardinals offense in yards, 442 to 220. Rosen completed just 10 of his 25 passes, while C.J. Beathard completed 34 for 349 yards. The five Niners giveaways more than wiped out the statistical advantage.
And with that, no team is worse than 1-4. It’s the first time since 2015 no team is 0-5 or worse.
$.04-- It might be a very promising week to be an agent of a currently unemployed placekicker. Several kickers missed several field goals across the league on a day where the special teams for far too many teams just weren’t very special.
In Detroit, Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point. That’s 13 points Crosby couldn’t put on the board. The Lions beat the Packers by eight. Detroit’s kicker, Matt Prater, also missed one from 55 yards.
Minnesota’s Dan Bailey, one of the NFL’s historically most accurate, yakked two of his five attempts. The Vikings still held on to beat the suddenly suspect Eagles, 23-21, but the margin was a lot closer than it needed to be.
Cleveland’s Greg Joseph missed an extra point and a 55-yard FG in a game that ended 9-9 in regulation. His 37-yard game-winner barely knuckled over the crossbar. It would not have been good from 40, but it at least made it. Joseph’s kick lifts the Browns to 2-2-1 after they beat the Ravens for their first AFC North divisional win since 2015.
Oakland’s Matt McCrane missed a 57-yarder. That’s understandable. His Chargers counterpart Caleb Sturgis missed a field goal and an extra point, a recurring theme for Los Angeles. The Chargers won comfortably (26-10) so it didn’t matter, but that’s more a matter of good fortune on Sturgis’ part.
Then there’s Graham Gano. I saved the best for last. Gano bombed the 63-yard game-winner for the Panthers over the Giants. It legitimately had at least eight yards to spare. Great kick. Someone had to...
$.05-- Thursday Night Football reverted to the ugly spectacle of bad football we’ve come to expect this week. After several solid games in the first month, Week 5 saw New England blow past what’s left of the Colts, 38-24.
This game was a glaring example of the issue of playing on short rest. The Colts played a lengthy overtime game four days earlier, a full extra quarter of football. Several starters were inactive due to injuries that might not have prevented them from playing on a Sunday, with three more days of rest. Several others left the game with injuries, too.
It’s impossible to say if the injuries to Anthony Walker or Clayton Geathers are a byproduct of playing so much football in an abbreviated period. But it was easy to see the dilapidated Colts were not capable of fielding a competitive team on such short rest.
Now, it’s true the Patriots were playing on the same amount of rest, sans the overtime. And they smartly rested some players in Week 4 once they quickly established the blowout win over the Dolphins. That’s more a case of fortune on New England’s part, or perhaps misfortune for the 1-4 Colts, who might have the thinnest roster 1-to-53 in the AFC. They certainly did on Thursday night and it made for some really bad football viewing.
$.06--One of the harder parts of this job and of covering professional athletes for a living is when serious injuries happen. None are worse than concussions. We all have seen too frequently the guys who struggle with post-football life due to the brain injuries.
Lions right guard T.J. Lang suffered a particularly nasty concussion in Detroit’s Week 4 loss in Dallas. He and Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith inadvertently rammed heads together in the course of trying to do their jobs. Lang doubled over and sat on his knees, hands over his head with the forehead on the ground, for several minutes. When the cameras showed him getting up, Lang’s eyes were both watery and empty-looking.
It was at least his sixth career concussion, by his own admission. Lang is 31 and has also dealt with recurring back issues over the course of his Packers and Lions career. This concussion should be his last. Lang needs to realize that he has a long post-football life and that life needs to be vibrant and healthy, not confused and loaded on pain meds. He’s an excellent talker and has a bright future in the media if he chooses.
I think of C.J. Fiedorowicz, the Texans tight end who mercifully called it a career after 3 concussions in less than a year. I used to chastise guys who did that. Now I applaud them. Here’s hoping it’s time to clap for T.J. Lang one last time.
$.07--As my son and I waited out a rain delay at Michigan on Saturday, we were watching the Alabama-Arkansas game at the tailgate with some new friends (thanks Tony and Tom!). The legend of Tua Tagovailoa quickly spread throughout the soggy, inebriated masses huddling under the metal pole tents in the lightning storm.
Tua (I’ll use his first name because my spell-check hates his surname) had an amazing first half.
Tua Tagovailoa is 10/11 for 334 yards and four TDs in the first half. Bama leads Arkansas 41-14.— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) October 6, 2018
He keeps having this ridiculous first halves for the Crimson Tide. We got to talking about his Heisman Trophy chances. Can he really win even though he rarely throws the ball after halftime and has yet to throw a 4th quarter pass?
In between his long draws on his Budweisers, Tom railed against the notion. As he rightly pointed out, Alabama is so far and away the best team in the country. He boasted Michigan’s own Shea Patterson could do what Tua is doing with all those weapons, behind that standout line and with the innovative coaching staff in Tuscaloosa.
Being the sober one in the group, I pushed back: If Tua is the best player, it shouldn’t matter how great his team is or that he doesn’t play full games. He’s so dominant that he doesn’t need to play four quarters. Why punish Tua for being that much better than everyone else?
There is still half the season left, and Alabama must face LSU, Auburn and a tough Mississippi State defense. If Tua keeps up his incredible pace of play (76 of 101, 1495 yards, 18 TD/0 INT), he will indeed be the best player on the best team, which tends to win the Heisman a lot more often than it doesn’t. He has my (hypothetical) vote.
--Want to make some money off a wannabe NFL know-it-all? Ask them who is the only wide receiver to get at least 100 yards in each of his team’s first five games. Most people outside the Land of 10,000 Lakes will guess about 189 different choices before coming up with the correct answer: Adam Thielen. Undrafted from Minnesota State Adam Thielen. The Vikings feel-good story added 116 yards on seven catches in the Vikings win over the Eagles to accomplish the feat.
--Huge win on Sunday night for the Texans over the Cowboys in yet another overtime game. Deshaun Watson really needs to learn to protect himself, however. The Texans QB took way too many big shots. That he took the licking and kept on ticking, delivering a beautiful strike to DeAndre Hopkins to lead to the win, is a testament to just how important and valuable he is to Houston. He needs to appreciate that so we can appreciate Watson’s considerable talents for many years to come.
--I laughed way too hard at this...
Rams defensive line practicing sacking the quarterback, without drawing a penalty. Ndamukong Suh, everyone. pic.twitter.com/dJE99fWadp— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) October 4, 2018
--I dare you to not scream “Tide Pods” during Gronk’s epic campy commercial. I got my whole family doing it.
--Speaking of great commercials, the Leonard Williams spot for Visa is a smile-inducer. He’s great on camera.
--Didn’t see much of the game, but the Bengals coming back to knock off the Dolphins is one of the more significant outcomes of Sunday. Cincinnati started that game terribly but persevered to improve to 4-1.
--Didn’t see one snap of Buffalo’s shocking win over Tennessee, but it’s time to acknowledge the Bills are not the worst team in the league. I haven’t figured out who is No. 32, but by virtue of beating both the Titans and Vikings, it ain’t Buffalo.
It was quite the weekend of upsets and stunners on the college landscape.
--Texas pulling out the thriller in the Red River Shootout over Oklahoma thanks to a freshman kicker making the clutch game-winner. I was at the Michigan game and it was fun to watch at least 10 people in my section quickly hitting the refresh on their phones to check in on the end of this game between plays going on in front of us.
--The loss cost Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops his job. Giving up 48 points in a rivalry game, the most the Sooners have ever allowed the Longhorns, is not good for job security when your nepotistic safety net is gone.
--Mississippi State and Florida scored upsets in the SEC, taking down Auburn and LSU, respectively. The Gators got funky and made just enough plays on the day where they honored Tim Tebow in The Swamp.
With all the chaos -- including previously unbeaten Kentucky falling to Texas A&M -- the SEC now features the top 2 teams in the rankings (Bama and Georgia) and 6 teams ranked between 13 and 24. I’ve been critical of those who overhype the Finebaum, err, Southeastern Conference in recent years, but this season has shown why it gets the lofty regards. The feeding frenzy upon themselves makes it fascinating.
--Dwayne Haskins and Ohio State made a big statement with a scorching win over Indiana. Haskins invited himself to the Heisman finalist banquet with 433 yards and 6 TDs passing against a Hoosiers team which is better than advertised. From a scouting standpoint, his ball placement and touch really stood out. Haskins also handled pressure better than he did a week ago.
--Bummed to hear Miami FL wideout Ahmmon Richards is forced to retire due to a neck injury. As a freshman in 2016, the Hurricane looked like a legit NFL starter in time. The injuries have piled up and now ended his career. Good luck, young man.
--RIP John Gagliardi, the winningest coach in college football history. Gagliardi coached for nearly 60 years at D-III St. John’s in Minnesota. He was a pioneer in many ways, including eschewing tackling in practices. The Hall of Famer was 91.
$.10--I saw a couple of different stories this week where officials flat-out quit during a game because of the abuse from parents in high school or middle school-level leagues. This one hits home for me.
I used to officiate and I generally enjoyed it. The in-game harassment didn’t bother me (much). It goes with the territory and job description. The postgame conduct I’ve seen from parents and fans is reprehensible. I fortunately never experienced that but I have seen it.
Now, my kids are the athletes being officiated. And damn it’s hard to not go off when a bad call or procedural error goes against my kids’ teams. But I have pledged to my kids to not be the embarrassing idiot in the stands. I like to think I have enough respect for the game to just let it play out.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will note I do not hold back on social media in attacking poor officiating. To me, it’s different when you’re in person and present a more physically intimidating potential threat. Jeff Triplette can ignore me on Twitter, but if I’m 25 yards away and make a mock shooting gesture or threaten to poison his water supply and yell out his home address (that was one of the aforementioned incidents), that’s different and entirely unacceptable.
If you go to a game at any level of any sport, know where the line is. Don’t cross it. My challenge this year as my son begins 7th grade basketball is to remain silent during his games except to yell encouragement to his teammates who I know, never saying a thing to the officials before or during games. After the game, if they did an acceptable job, my son and I will both go over and thank the officials for their good, hard work. Try it, folks.