FOXBORO, Mass. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we digest Week 5 in the NFL and watch the unfolding resumption of the Jets-Patriots blood feud in the AFC East....
• Somewhere, Al Davis must be smiling that told-you-so grin he wore whenever we had it coming. The Oakland Raiders' iconic owner died Saturday morning at the age of 82, and the team predictably honored him by wearing a helmet sticker (it said simply, "Al'') on Sunday in Houston.
But the Raiders actually did much more to commemorate Davis than just attaching a new decal to their headgear. For starters, they just won, Baby. But even better, they won in old-time Raiders fashion, using their speed receivers, their big-armed quarterback and their strong-legged kicker to upset the first-place Texans 25-20, and climb over .500 for the first time this late in the season since Week 9 in 2010.
Davis would have loved it all. And why not? It was a vindicating victory for the Raiders' way of doing things. Which was, and still is, the Davis way of doing things. One in the same.
Oakland is 3-2 today and in the thick of the AFC West race because the Raiders got huge games from receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and kicker Sebastian Janikowski, two of the most questionable and maligned first-round draft picks that Davis made in his final years of team ownership in Oakland. In addition, Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell, whom Davis acquired via trade from Washington in 2010 and saw in the mold of deep-throwing Oakland QBs from yesteryear, had a solid two-touchdown, 190-yard passing performance for coach Hue Jackson's winning team.
How fitting that Heyward-Bey produced his career-best catch total (seven) for 99 yards and a touchdown against Houston, on the day the NFL mourned the loss of Davis, one of the game's true pioneers. Nobody was a bigger supporter of DHB than Davis, who took him No. 7 overall in 2009, promising his stretch-the-field speed would be an asset to the Oakland offense.
And how perfect was it that Janikowski, the kicker who Davis remarkably enough made the 17th overall pick in 2000, came through with impeccable timing for his former boss, booming field goals of 54, 55, 50 and 42 yards in the Raiders' comeback victory? Nobody considers Janikowski a silly first-round luxury item any more. The man they call "Seabass'' is an extraordinary weapon, just the way Davis always envisioned him.
And there was even more that Davis would have reveled in on this day, with his trademark bravado. Like the daring fake punt call that Oakland perfectly executed in the fourth quarter, gaining 35 yards and setting up Janikowski's final field goal on a rumbling Rock Cartwright run. Or the final play, the game-sealing end zone interception of Matt Schaub by Raiders safety Michael Huff, another of Davis' first-round picks (2006) who didn't pan out too well early on in his career.
The inspired Raiders won this one for Al, and they won it in a way that would have made Davis proud. What better way to honor the man who personified the franchise, and put the Oakland Raiders on the map. Helmet stickers are all well and good. But for Davis, and his memory, nothing but the win would do on Sunday. The Raiders are winners again, and that's the ultimate tribute Oakland could have paid him.
• The résumé was truly one of a kind in NFL history, but what I'll remember about Davis' legacy was his ability to swim against the tide in a league that has always valued -- and almost demanded -- conformity above all else. Al did things his own way, and never let anyone separate him from the courage of his convictions. Later in his career, once his health and his football judgments were diminished by time, he paid a price for those convictions, with his Raiders franchise sinking into the bottom tier of NFL teams.
But for most of his long and illustrious career, Davis and his teams dominated, and they did so because Davis knew what he wanted from his Raiders, and he knew what he was looking for in football players and coaches. Davis had a lasting brand and a vision, when most of the rest of the league just had goals, hopes and a vague idea of what might work. That was the Al Davis way. That was the Al Davis legacy. He did things his way, took the wins and losses that came with those calls, and never once apologized for his non-conformity.
• It's hard to know where the bottom is in this lost season in Philadelphia, but the Eagles have to be approaching their nadir after Sunday's 31-24 meltdown in Buffalo. Philly has lost four in a row after winning on opening day in St. Louis, and it's head coach Andy Reid's worst start since his rookie season of 1999.
If you're Reid, how do you begin to address all the issues that need fixing in Philadelphia? The Eagles have basically self-destructed this season, and they play a brand of game that can only be described as out of control. Michael Vick had four more interceptions against the Bills (his career-worst showing in that category), and the Eagles wasted a 489-yard offensive day, and 8.2-yard average gain per play.
The Eagles have become the NFL's latest cautionary tale. All those free agent additions made for great headlines this summer, but they haven't translated into great football this fall. Philadelphia has lost its way, its identity as a tough-minded and fundamentally sound football team, and things don't look likely to turn around any time soon, starting with next week's difficult division game at Washington.
• Here's a mystery for the ages: How exactly were the 1-3 Eagles favored on the road against the 3-1 Bills to begin with? It's reportedly the first time that unlikely betting line has played out in 23 years in the NFL. Has Vegas even seen Philly play this season?
• Vick more than doubled his season interception total (from 3 to 7), but he accomplished this much against the Bills: With five carries for 90 yards, including a 53-yard third-quarter scamper that set up Philly's second touchdown, Vick passed ex-Eagle Randall Cunningham for the most rushing yards ever by an NFL quarterback. Cunningham ran for 4,859 yards, and Vick now has 4,948 yards.
• The latest Jaguars loss should effectively seal the deal in Jacksonville. The Jack Del Rio firing watch can now start in earnest with his Jaguars dropping their fourth consecutive game, sliding to 1-4 in the wake of a 30-20 loss at home to the surprising Cincinnati Bengals.
Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver probably won't lower the boom on Del Rio during the season, because it's not his style and he doesn't have a wealth of good interim candidates on the coaching staff any way. But it would take a minor miracle for Del Rio to return for a 10th season in Jacksonville at this point. His firing doesn't seem a matter of if, only when.
• Give it up for the Bengals, the team I unwisely predicted would have the worst record in the league this season. The mantra in Cincinnati is already clear: And the rookies shall lead them. The 3-2 Bengals are maybe the most stunning success story in the NFL through five weeks, and you have to credit a Mike Zimmer-coached defense that ranked first in the league entering Week 5, and the rookie combination of receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton on offense.
Who said rookie receivers can't make an impact in the NFL? Green had five more catches for 90 yards and another touchdown in Jacksonville, and that gives him 24 receptions for 402 yards and three scores on the season. Dalton continues to keep up his end of the bargain, with 179 yards passing, two touchdowns and just one interception against the Jaguars.
And the Bengals next week draw the winless Colts (0-5) at home, giving Cincinnati the ability to enter its Week 7 bye at 4-2, matching 2010's entire win total.
• Smart move, Minnesota Vikings, remembering that Adrian Peterson is on your team. If I'm Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, I make sure there's an Adrian ratio that my club must adhere to every week (and yes, I know the Randy Ratio didn't work out so well in Minnesota). If the all-world running back doesn't touch the ball at least 25 times a game, I fine Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave accordingly.
Peterson ran for three touchdowns in the first quarter alone against Arizona, winding up with 29 carries for 122 rushing yards in the 34-10 conquest of the out-matched Cardinals. Not even the Vikings could lose a lead that was 28-0 at the end of the first quarter, and 28-3 at halftime.
• Maybe demonstrative Chiefs head coach Todd Haley should get in Matt Cassel's face at least twice a week. Something has worked in the past six quarters or so, ever since Haley screamed at his quarterback in the first half of last week's home game against Minnesota.
Cassel threw for 257 yards and four touchdowns in Indy on Sunday, as the Chiefs rallied for a 17-point comeback victory -- tying for the largest in franchise history. Cassel was a coolly efficient 21 of 29 in the 28-24 win, and the Chiefs have suddenly won two in a row to climb within sniffing distance of .500 at 2-3.
• That was some hilarious footage of the officials all pointing in different directions to indicate who had possession of the ball on Tennessee's onside kick in the third quarter at Pittsburgh. The Titans did indeed recover, but who knew what to think after watching the officials make a total mess of the situation? All that scene needed was to be set to
• Note to any and all Eagles receivers, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, DeSean Jackson, whomever: Try securing the ball, just once, before you worry about your next feat of open-field derring-do. All that YAC means little when you surrender the ball.
• As far as Pierre Garcon is concerned, he probably doesn't want Peyton Manning to ever return. With Curtis Painter at quarterback for the Colts, Garcon is a monster of a play-making machine: 7 catches for 271 yards and four touchdowns in the past two games. That's a whopping 38.7 yards per catch.
Who needs a Manning when you've got a Painter? On the downside of things for Garcon and the Colts, you have to like Andrew Luck's chances of beating out Painter next year for the backup job behind Peyton. If the Colts can't hold a 24-7 lead at home against the Chiefs, when will they win this season?
• The Seattle upset at the Giants proves that last week's near-miss at home against Atlanta was no fluke, but instead was the sign of a Seahawks team that's starting to improve in a number of ways as its Week 6 bye looms. I especially like the job new Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable has done with his unit.
I have said all along that I think Charlie Whitehurst winds up the starting quarterback in Seattle at some point this season, and Whitehurst came up big in relief of the injured Tarvaris Jackson against the Giants, completing 11 of 19 for 149 yards and the game-winning 27-yard touchdown pass to unheralded (and undrafted) receiver Doug Baldwin.
• The Giants simply can't lose that game at home to Seattle and be taken seriously as a member of the NFC's elite class, but how can you not be impressed with New York receiver Victor Cruz. He had a bit of a rollercoaster-like day against Seattle, but his 68-yard go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty.
Cruz out-jumped the two Seattle defenders who had him nicely double-covered, deflected the ball to himself, and then gathered it in with one hand while he was galloping down the right sideline and into the end zone.
Yep, the Giants are absolutely done without Steve Smith in the receiving game this year.
• Did you see that shot on TV of Texans linebacker Brian Cushing with the blood streaming down his nose and face, but paying it no mind as he prepared for the next snap against the Raiders? It was such a throwback image that looked like it should have been in black and white. Shades of Y.A. Tittle.
• The Panthers are only 1-4 after their narrow 30-27 home loss to the Saints, but nobody really wants to play Carolina this season. The Cam-men are building something in Charlotte, and give Panthers owner Jerry Richardson credit for the following: Hiring rookie head coach Ron Rivera, who has his team playing everyone tough; drafting the supremely talented Cam Newton; and locking up the most talented free agents on the Panthers roster this summer, rather than letting them walk.
• They may never admit to it, but I think we all know the Cardinals overpaid for Kevin Kolb. In trade value and salary compensation. The beguiling Eagles backup quarterback syndrome has struck again. After watching Kolb for five games as the guy in Arizona, what exactly is he really good at? When Donovan McNabb is the best former Eagles quarterback on the field, as he was in Minnesota's easy win over the Cardinals, you know it has not been a good day for Kolb.