HOUSTON, October 7, 2014 — The Oakland Raiders had the week off, giving them a chance to forget the Dennis Allen era and count down the minutes until Tony Sparano is replaced by Jon Gruden. Most of the rest of the league did what the Raiders failed to do during the Dennis Allen era, play professional football. A pair of improbable unbeatens got drilled by far better teams as the 1972 Dolphins popped the champagne corks much earlier than usual. Nobody got to 4-0, and only Oakland and Jacksonville remain winless. With everybody wearing pink to honor breast cancer awareness month, here is the NFL 2014 Week 5 lessons learned and not learned.
Green Bay Packers 42, Minnesota Vikings 10 — The Thursday night game told the world what we already knew. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the game and Christian Ponder is one of the worst. Ponder did lead a furious rally with the Vikings down 42-0 that fell just short by 32 points. Not having your star running back and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on the road means having no chance.
Carolina Panthers 31, Chicago Bears 24 — Losing is bad, but giving games away is worse. Leading 24-21, the Bears turned it over twice in their own territory in the final few minutes. The uninspiring Panthers graciously accepted the two gifts for ten points and the win. For good measure, Cutler offered a third Chicago turnover at the very end to seal their own fate.
Cleveland Browns 29, Tennessee Titans 28 — How did the Titans blow a 28-3 lead in the third quarter? Let us count the ways. Bryan Hoyer has these Browns as exciting as Brian Sipe’s 1980 Cardiac Kids. Johnny Clipboard can stay where he is for now. Hoyer is a leader. Jake Locker is made of paper. He is talented when healthy, which is never. Charlie Whitehurst is not the answer. Leading by six with three minutes left, Ken Whisenhunt gambled on fourth and one from his own 42 and lost. This was not a Barry Switzer boneheaded move. Whisenhunt was trying to spark his listless team, and now every other coach in the league will go back to coaching scared.
Philadelphia Eagles 34, St. Louis Rams 28 — How did the Eagles almost blow a 34-7 third quarter lead? Actually there is only one way in this case, bad defense. Chip Kelly’s quick strike offense is like the old Don “Air” Coryell days of San Diego in the early 1980s. The defense never gets a chance to rest. They had just enough to survive Austin Davis to get to 4-1, but they will not advance in the playoffs unless this defense gets fixed. The Eagles special teams did block a punt for a touchdown for the second straight week.
New York Giants 30, Atlanta Falcons 20 — The Giants continue to confound the experts and play hard for Tom Coughlin. The Falcons are simply a far worse team outdoors on the road than inside their Georgia Dome. Matt Ryan completed 29 of 45 passes for 316 yards, but the Giants pounded the rock when it mattered most. New York Giants football has always been smash mouth, and as the weather gets colder that will benefit them. After trailing 20-10 in the third quarter, the Giants 20 unanswered points came from ramming the ball down the Atlanta defense’s throats.
New Orleans Saints 37, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, OT — Good teams find a way to win and bad teams find a way to lose. The Saints were a preseason contender to win it all, and a loss in this game to the lowly Bucs would have meant 1-4 and season over. Mike Glennon has improved the Bucs, who rallied from down 13-0 to lead 24-13 and 31-20. Yet somebody ask Lovie Smith a question. With your team clinging to a 31-26 lead and facing third and 29 at your own one, why have Glennon drop back to pass in the end zone? The resulting safety, tying field goal, and winning touchdown in overtime all sprung from that risky move. Brees threw a ridiculous 57 times, completing 35 for 371 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. Sean Payton would let him throw 77 times if need be. In 2002 the Bucs lost to the Saints in overtime on a touchdown but went on to win Tampa’s only Super Bowl championship. Not this year.
Dallas Cowboys 20, Houston Texans 17, OT — When Dallas blew a late 17-7 lead, one wondered if this was finally the week where Jerry Jones would fire everybody and blow up Texas Stadium for the insurance money. Tony Romo was bound to lead the winning drive, but the mystery was for which team. This time Adolf Hitler’s favorite quarterback got the job done as America’s and the Fuhrer’s team exhaled when Dan Bailey hit the winning 49-yard field goal in overtime after missing at the end of regulation from 53. Kicking it on third down and making it allowed Jason Garrett to avoid being crucified in the press for not trying to gain more yards.
Buffalo Bills 17, Detroit Lions 14 — Kyle Orton wins ugly better than anybody. Everywhere he goes, he guts out wins with average numbers and then gets benched for people like Tim Tebow and Rex Grossman. This time Orton replaced E.J. Manuel as the Bills fought back from a 14-3 second half deficit. Alex Henery missed the winning field goal with 21 seconds left, giving Orton time to throw one 20-yard completion. Dan Carpenter blasted the winning 58-harder at the gun, but give credit to Orton for hanging tough as he always does. Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, fired by the Lions last year, was carried off the field by the defense after the win.17-14 Bills
Indianapolis Colts 20, Baltimore Ravens 13 — The Colts keep winning, but in very unimpressive fashion. With a chance to ice the game at the two-minute warning, the Colts fumbled the ball away inside the Baltimore 10 and survived one final desperate Baltimore drive. Grizzly Adams Unabomber Andrew Luck and his cave beard will help the Colts dominate the pathetic AFC South again but falter against better playoff teams.
Pittsburgh Steelers 17, Jacksonville Jaguars 9 — Blake Bortles has plenty of potential, but with the Jaguars trailing 10-9 in the fourth quarter, Bortles blundered and morphed into Blaine Gabbert. The interception was returned 22 yards for the clinching Pittsburgh touchdown. Bortles will improve. As for Mike Tomlin, this was more a sigh of relief after last week’s late meltdown.
Denver Broncos 41, Arizona Cardinals 20 — Drew Stanton came out of nowhere to lead the Cardinals, but Peyton Manning brought the reality check. Manning had over 200 yards passing and three touchdowns in the first half alone. Stanton got hurt in the third quarter. With Carson Palmer still injured, third string quarterback Logan Thomas got the nod. Thomas threw an 81-yard touchdown on his first pass, which was his last completion of the day. Manning meanwhile finished a ridiculous 31 of 47 for 479 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He became the second quarterback to throw for 500 touchdowns. Six more touchdowns and Manning will break Brett Favre’s record of 508 touchdown passes.
San Francisco 49ers 22, Chiefs 17 — 20 years ago this game was a thriller as Steve Young lost to Joe Montana. Ever since then the Chiefs have taken in stray 49ers quarterbacks, although Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac and Alex Smith might be the same person. Trailing 19-17 midway through the fourth quarter, the Chiefs faced third and one at their own 32. The entire football world knows that pass-happy Andy Reid will not bring in a wedge of beef to ram it up the gut. The expected West Coast Offense dink and dunk pass was batted down and the Chiefs punted. The 49ers do have a battering ram, and a steady dose of Frank Gore smashmouth football wore down the Chiefs. Five field goals from Phil Dawson provided the difference. Smith had a chance to win it late but threw an interception. Dink, dunk, death.
San Diego Chargers 31, New York Jets 0 — A tale of two quarterbacks had Philip Rivers throwing for 244 yards in the first half alone while Geno Smith had 27 yards passing. Michael Vick played the second half. Rivers may not be the league MVP as some think, but if the Jets do not get quarterback play soon, Rex Ryan will be a defensive coordinator next year along with his brother Rob rather than the Jets head coach. He may not even get that since his defense gave up three drives of 90 yards or more in one game.
New England Patriots 43, Cincinnati Bengals 17 — The Sunday night game restored order to the NFL. Those who stopped watching football in 2000 seemed to think that this was the game that would signal a changing of the guard. The Evil Empire of Football would finally be vanquished. Evil Hoodie Bill Bellichick would lose control of the team, Tom Brady would be traded, and the Bengals would finally show they could get a quality road win and get to the next level. Those who have been watching football this century knew that would not happen. Brady threw a pair of touchdown passes as the Patriots led 14-0 after the first quarter and blasted the Bengals back to reality. The much-maligned New England defense did not give up a single third down conversion. A fumble return on a kickoff went for another Patriots touchdown and Stephen Gostkowski added five field goals. For Brady, although he would deny it, this was sweet vindication.
Seattle Seahawks 27, Washington 17 — The Monday night game saw Seattle jump to a 17-0 lead but what really mattered was Pete Carroll. With the Seahawks clinging to a 17-10 lead, Seattle faced fourth and one at the Washington 32 with 11 1/2 minutes left in regulation. Carroll called a fake field goal that worked and led to the clinching touchdown. Carroll has a brass pair and is another reminder that coaches at the NFL level should go big or go home. Coaching scared is surrender, and Carroll is fearless. Carroll’s move also shows that even as the defending champions, Carroll has avoided complacency.