Five games are in the books (for most teams). More than any of the previous four, week 5 was business as usual. Tom Brady’s return was uneventful, if not spectacularly commonplace for him. While it was against the Browns defense, the rest of the league is on notice, even if they anticipated such a return from the Patriot legend. The Colts bounced back and the Eagles suffered their first loss at the hands of the Lions, but parity is to be expected every week. Still, there are continuing trends and unexpected results that left football fans scratching their heads.
Ground and Pound success: In a league run by elite quarterbacks and dominant passing attacks, it’s increasingly rare to see old school, smash mouth football. The reason for that is because it’s (usually) easier to stop and worthless when playing from behind. Yet teams like Buffalo, Dallas, and Tennessee are gashing teams with a stout offensive line and an elite running back. Taylor, Mariota, and Prescott are talented quarterbacks, but they aren’t asked to do too much other than make timely passes and protect the football. Yesterday the Bills handled a stingy Rams defense at the Coliseum, the Titans cruised past the Dolphins in Miami, and the Cowboys whipped up on the Bengals for 3½ quarters on CBS’ game of the week from Jerryworld. How ‘bout that ground and pound!
Atlanta is for real: Or at least their offense is. Against the league’s stoutest defense, Matt Ryan and the Falcons consistently moved the ball for four quarters. The final score (23-16) doesn’t reflect how impressive the Falcons looked. Denver should be fine once Trevor Siemian returns, but Atlanta’s defense played their best game of the season. If they’re truly improving, this team becomes a legitimate threat out of the NFC.
The 49ers are sticking with Blaine Gabbert: After a four straight losses, the 49ers need to make a change at quarterback. It’s clear the team isn’t going anywhere with Blaine Gabbert, so what’s the harm in giving Colin Kaepernick a shot? His mobility translates well with the read option and he has a better resume than Gabbert. The national anthem rationale for his continued benching doesn’t make much sense. If the organization were truly incensed by it, wouldn’t they have cut him? It’s possible, but unlikely that has to do with him not getting a shot. Whatever the reason, Chip Kelly needs to wake up to the reality that his team is spinning its wheels with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback.
That Sam Bradford trade is looking good: Both Philadelphia and Minnesota benefitted from the trade, as Carson Wentz has been as good as advertised thus far. However, the move screamed of irrational desperation from the Vikings’ front office when it happened. Calling Bradford’s career a disappointment would be putting it nicely, at least prior to this year. The former #1 overall pick has been smart and accurate with his passes. Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner are asking him to do what Teddy Bridgewater did the past 2 seasons, and up to this point Bradford has been an upgrade over Bridgewater.
The Jets aren’t very good: There’s no shame in losing in Pittsburgh these days, but the Jets didn’t just lose. The defense got lit up to the tune of 31 points— Big Ben tossed 4 touchdowns and nearly 400 yards. Meanwhile the offense, which has regressed (maybe training camp reps are important after all), struggled for the third straight game. Fitz Magic has been Fitz Tragic in 2016. Jets fans will be calling for Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg if Gang Green doesn’t start winning games. Or worse, Geno “The Hit Man” Smith.
Things that shouldn’t have surprised anyone
Brady carving up the Cleveland secondary: Everyone knew this would happen. Expect it to happen all year. Since he missed four games, Brady is unlikely to break too many records this year, but it could still be a historic season for a guy who is already on the NFL-QB Mount Rushmore. He’s pissed off, his offensive line is improved, and his receiving corps is scary good. Also, the Browns are the Browns.
Jeff Fisher faking a punt with the game on the line: The former special teams coach and return man has given the league some of its finest (and most controversial) highlights ever. He’s a mad scientist and literally wins games with some of his trick plays, but every genius straddles a fine line between lunacy and brilliance. Down by 4 with 3:48 left to play and three timeouts, Fisher dialed up a fake punt from inside his own 25-yard line. If not for Ronald Darby, the call would’ve been successful. But alas, Darby made the play and, consequently, the decision cost the Rams a second chance to win the game.
Phillip Rivers killing it and the Chargers killing themselves: This guy’s career is shooting up the list of all-time league tragedies. Another 4 touchdown, 350+ yard passing game and another San Diego implosion. It’s as if the team knows they are moving to Los Angeles next year and are trying to ease the inevitable pain for fans by slowly breaking their spirit, one heart wrenching defeat at a time. It’s unclear whether Phillip Rivers is a central part of that plan or in open rebellion to it. History suggests the latter, because he’s been playing like this his whole career.
The Browns starting quarterback went down: If the Cubs win the World Series, the Browns really won’t have any competition for most beleaguered franchise in professional sports. For a team that has a history of bad front office and head coaching hires, it’s unfortunate they won’t even be able to judge the current regime until 2017. Admittedly, the Carson Wentz trade looks bad at this juncture. Hue Jackson has made the most of the team’s bad luck, but 0-5 is still 0-5. There isn’t much to get excited about this year for Browns fans. They’ll have to wait until the draft and hope they can land a franchise quarterback. Fingers crossed.