1. Week 5’s strangest, oddest, and most ridiculous
If there’s one lesson to be learned from the early portion of the NFL season, it’s that nothing can be taken for granted. NFL Week 5 was no different.
One week after unleashing a successful game plan, the Pittsburgh Steelers went back to a confounding one against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars, meanwhile, were one of two teams to win despite essentially no contribution from their quarterback.
The Los Angeles Chargers have consistently found ways to lose games over the last two seasons. The Buffalo Bills have found ways to win. But on Sunday, the trends were reversed. One trend not broken was the play of the Kansas City Chiefs. Still, their overall performance gives us something to be surprised about.
These were the most unusual developments from Week 5 of the 2017 NFL season.
2. Steelers lay an egg at home
Consistency issues aside, the Steelers were 3-1 entering Week 5 and 19-5 at home dating back to 2014. So, seeing them fall to the Jaguars — especially in blowout fashion — was a surprise.
Much of the blame will fall at the feet of Ben Roethlisberger. Frankly, that’s deserved. Big Ben did throw for 312 yards, was 33-for-55 with no touchdowns and five interceptions, including two that were returned for scores. But the poor performance of Roethlisberger doesn’t let the rest of the team off the hook. One week after giving Le’Veon Bell 39 touches and finding an offensive rhythm, he had only 25 touches, 10 of which were through the air. That’s far from a solid game plan, especially with a struggling quarterback.
The other side of the ball was ugly, too. Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville passing game did essentially nothing (more on that later). But even with the one-dimensional offense, Leonard Fournette ran all over the Steelers, going for 181 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns (including a 90-yarder). As a team Jacksonville ran for better than six yards per carry. Big Ben was terrible on Sunday, as was the offense. But make no mistake, this embarrassment was a team effort.
3. Cam Newton pulls foot out mouth, dominates in Detroit
Newton certainly had a good Week 4. But that came on the heels of three bad weeks and was against a New England Patriots defense that couldn’t stop anything. With a road game against the solid Detroit Lions coming on the heels of a bad public relations week (for totally self-inflicted reasons), it was fair to wonder what kind of a game Newton would have in Week 5.
He passed all tests. Newton lit the Lions up, going 26-for-33 for 335 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Now, in addition to having a 4-1 record, the Carolina Panthers have the 2015 NFL MVP showing why he won that award. Newton and his team should be taken seriously.
4. Sean McVay’s game plan falls flat
For four weeks, McVay made very few mistakes with his offensive game plans. But the Los Angeles Rams coach didn’t exactly put a good one together in Week 5 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Certainly, the Seahawks have a stellar defense, and they proved that on Sunday. Todd Gurley ran for only 43 yards on 14 carries. But plain and simple, Gurley needs to get more than 16 touches. He was a star in the passing game in Weeks 1-4, catching 18 passes for 227 yards. But against Seattle, Gurley caught only two passes for seven yards and was targeted four times.
Losing to a team like Seattle will happen. It’s frustrating. But in and of itself, it’s nothing to be too concerned with. But when you lose and use your best player as little more than a decoy, it’s a big mistake.
5. ‘Winning’ effort of Jay Cutler
Cutler was one of two quarterbacks to put conventional NFL logic on its head on Monday. He finished the day 12-for-26 passing for only 92 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Of course, Cutler is a bad quarterback. We know this. So, how is an outing like that surprising?
One, for some perspective, Jacoby Brissett and Brian Hoyer each topped 300 yards passing in the Indianapolis Colts’ win over the San Francisco 49ers. Nobody will mistake either for a Hall of Fame quarterback. Yet, both men more than tripled Cutler’s yardage output.
Two, Cutler’s team won. The defense deserves ample credit for the win, as does the absolutely inept performance of the opposing offense. Still, a quarterback throwing for less than 100 yards while playing the entire game is hard enough to imagine. A winning quarterback doing that in 2017 makes absolutely no sense at all.
6. Vikings slow to replace injured Sam Bradford
A medical degree wasn’t exactly required to see that the Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback was hobbled in Monday’s game against the Chicago Bears. It was clear early on he was off, and he certainly didn’t get any better. Yet, Bradford was left in the game until the final seconds of the first half.
Shortly before he was pulled, Robert Griffin III, who knows a thing or two about knee injuries — said that Bradford should be pulled. It’s also important to remember that this wasn’t Bradford’s first rodeo dealing with a left knee problem. The injured knee has twice been operated on, and Bradford said as recently as this past week it might not get 100 percent healthy until after the season.
That the Vikings left him in the game that long is confounding. Thankfully for them, the decision didn’t cost a win. Case Keenum and Jerick McKinnon sparked a narrow three-point win to move Minnesota to 3-2 on the season.
7. Jets have a winning record
At the beginning of the season, the New England Patriots heading to MetLife Stadium to take on the New York Jets in Week 6 didn’t exactly generate excitement. Maybe New England could break some single-game records, but otherwise, it wasn’t a game that people were looking forward to.
That’s changed, and the Jets are the main reason why. At the beginningof the year, it was hard to imagine New York having even a 3-13 record. This appeared to be a team that was openly tanking. So where was it going to find three wins? But after defeating the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the Jets are not only 3-2 but have a three-game winning streak.
Maybe Tom Brady and company will roll into New Jersey and bring these pesky overachievers back to earth with a 42-13 beat down. But the fact that it’s Week 5 and we’re even wondering is a true surprise — both for the week and the entire season.
8. Bad season becomes disastrous for Nick Folk
From 2013-2016, Folk was one of the NFL’s best kickers, burying better than 86 percent of his kicks. He was supposed to be a stabilizing force for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finally grew tired of waiting for Roberto Aguayo. So, when Folk entered Week 5 at only 6-for-8 on field goals and 5-for-7 on extra points, it was surprising.
But after Thursday’s loss to New England, things went beyond surprising. Folk was 0-for-3 against the Patriots. Given that his team lost by only five points, that’s quite significant. Especially significant was his last missed kick, a 31-yard chip shot. Had he made it, Tampa would have needed only a field goal on its last drive to win (assuming everything else happened the same way). Instead, the Bucs were unsuccessful in their quest for a touchdown.
Kicking for the Jets, Folk was frequently the bright spot on a bad team. On the Bucs, he is on the other side of the spectrum. Now, he’s soon to be looking for a job.
9. Chargers finally win a close game
The Chargers have a knack for losing close games. Dating back to 2016, they had dropped nine games in a row. Six of those nine were decided by seven points or less. So, when Los Angeles got locked into another close game, we had to imagine that whatever Chargers fans remain were convinced that another heartbreaking loss was coming.
Only, that didn’t happen. Los Angeles scored 17 points on its final four possessions (excluding victory formation). On those drives, Philip Rivers totaled 151 passing yards with two touchdowns and a 112.7 passer rating.
It’s hard to get too optimistic about a 1-4 team. But after weeks and weeks of the breaks going against the Chargers, things finally went the other way.
10. Jaguars win despite anemic game from Blake Bortles
Making Cutler’s Week 5 performance even more bizarre is that the same thing happened to another quarterback. The Jaguars won in Pittsburgh, despite Bortles passing for 95 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
The rest of the Jacksonville team deserves a great deal of credit. Fournette had two touchdowns, including the aforementioned 90-yard run. On top of picking him off five times, the defense had two sacks and five hits on Roethlisberger.
Truthfully, if the Jaguars are going to win, doing so with Bortles having little more than a cameo is not a bad way to do it. Still, a winning quarterback passing for 95 yards is illogical. The fact that Bortles was one of only two quarterbacks to do that makes what we saw in Week 5 even more confusing.
11. Bills don’t bring mojo to Cincinnati
Coming into Sunday, the Bills were not only 3-1 but were a darn impressive 3-1. Their wins were against the Jets, Denver Broncos, and Atlanta Falcons, who entered Week 5 at 2-2, 3-1, and 3-1 respectively. The lone loss was on the road to a 3-1 (now 4-1) Panthers team. Certainly Buffalo could handle the Cincinnati Bengals, who have beaten only the winless Cleveland Browns. If only it were that simple.
And really, the 20-16 Cincinnati win isn’t what completely stuns us. What’s stunning is that the Bills lost to the Bengals despite having some key battles go their way. Cincinnati marginally won the time of possession (30:01-29:59) and first down (18-17) battles. But the turnover battle went Buffalo’s way 3-1. Despite that, the Bengals outgained the Bills 388-221.
Any team can have a bad game. We’ll find out in time if this was just a bump in the road for Buffalo, or a sign of something more. But against a mediocre opponent with many things going its way, an impressive team just couldn’t answer the bell enough times to come through for the win. All things considered, that wasn’t something we saw coming.
12. Aaron Jones runs all over Dallas
Let’s be honest. The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys putting out a great game was anything but surprising. The same can be said about Aaron Rodgers driving the length of the field to win it at the end. But we didn’t exactly see the performance of Jones coming.
With Ty Montgomery out, Jones gave the Green Bay offense something it so often lacks — balance. Because of that, Rodgers didn’t have to be great until the end (he only finished with 221 yards passing). Jones was the horse, finishing the day with 125 yards rushing on 19 carries with a touchdown.
Sure, this could all be a product of going against a less than stellar defense. But this performance, combined with the pending return of Ty Montgomery, gives Packers’ fans real reason to be excited about the running game. We haven’t been able to say that in recent years.
13. Titans air it out with Matt Cassel
When Cassel is your quarterback, you probably want to rely a lot on the run. Before Sunday, this was so obvious that we didn’t even think it needed to be said. But after seeing Cassel attempt 32 passes on Sunday, it needs to be repeated.
Making matters worse is that the Miami defense was tagging Cassel all day. He was hit 11 times and sacked six times, (with one of which resulting in a fumble and a touchdown). Why not run the ball? We understand that DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry didn’t have great games. But they ran only a combined 18 times. Cassel passing 32 times is not going to be a winning strategy. Feeding two capable backs at least has a chance to succeed.
The Titans didn’t do that. As a result, they lost to a team whose quarterback failed to pass for 100 yards.
14. Chiefs continue to dominate the NFL
Don’t let a moderately close eight-point win fool you. The Kansas City Chiefs handled the Houston Texans on Sunday night. In the process, they scored 42 points in the same venue where they scored only 12 points and no touchdowns one year ago.
The Chiefs are simply overpowering teams right now. Tyreek Hill is a top-tier weapon who’s a threat to score any time he touches the ball. Through five weeks, Kareem Hunt has been the NFL’s best running back. And after his 29-for-37, 329 yard, three touchdown, no interception performance on Sunday, Alex Smith has a real stake in the MVP race.
We knew that the Chiefs were good. But through five weeks, they’ve been awesome. Kansas City has not shown one indication that its ready to slow down. Given that every other good team in the league has had a stinker (including a few in winning performances), we have to say that the continued dominance of the Chiefs is nothing short of ridiculous.