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Sunday's Top Performers: Week 6
0:47 | NFL
Sunday's Top Performers: Week 6
Monday October 17th, 2016

Dak Prescott showed us that even Lambeau Field is not too big of a stage for him, and Tony Romo just got pushed even further away from his old starting job. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers is in a big slump, the Falcons might have shown more in defeat than they could’ve even if they’d won in Seattle, the Bengals lost their cool (again), and a nose tackle scored a touchdown. Just another week in the NFL, so let’s go through all the action.

•​ The best storylines from Week 6 of the NFL season

Blanket Report

Your resident “Wet Blanket of Reason” takes the temperature of the most intriguing storylines out of Week 6 of the 2016 NFL season:

Go crazy, folks:

Dak’s the man: O.K., so I’m officially changing my tune on who should be the Cowboys’ starter once Tony Romo returns, and it doesn’t even have much to do with Dallas’s dominating 27–15 victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field. While I think there’s merit to giving Romo back his job because the offense would have a higher ceiling with Romo due to his experience and ability to read coverages, Romo needs to sit because of his inconsistent health. Romo hasn’t played a full season since 2012 as he’s battled various injuries. After missing the final 12 games last season, Romo returned and on an innocuous play just three snaps into his first preseason action this year, he suffered a back injury and has been out ever since. Romo has barely played real football in over a year. There’s a high likelihood that he’s going to get injured again and that can be very disruptive to a team. Prescott is young, durable, playing well, and the team has developed a rhythm with him. There’s no good reason to disrupt any of that for an aging player who’s likely to be reinjured. Maybe it would be different if Romo was in the prime of his career, but that’s not the case.

Break up the Bills: Maybe Rex Ryan isn’t a dummy. Since firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with Anthony Lynn, the Bills are 4–0 and have scored an average of 31 points per game. They’ve wisely relied on the legs of RB LeSean McCoy, who had another 140 yards and three touchdowns against the hapless 49ers in Buffalo’s 45–16 rout on Sunday. If the Bills can keep the success from going to their heads for one more week—something that has always been an issue for Ryan’s teams—they could be 5–2 and hosting the Patriots for the division lead in Week 8.

Falcons deserve credit even in defeat: Yes, the Falcons fell 26–24 to the Seahawks even though they were leading 24–17 with the ball and 10 minutes remaining. But still, Atlanta showed just as much in defeat as it would have in victory. That is a darn good team capable of competing and winning at any stadium after going 1–1 at Denver and Seattle. The Falcons are very much a contender in the NFC.

NFL
In season debut as starter, Colin Kaepernick proved stoic amid heckling and defeat

Breaking news: OBJ is good: Odell Beckham Jr. saved the Giants’ season with 211 receiving yards and two touchdowns of 75 and 66 yards in their 27–23 victory over the Ravens. When he has his head on straight, Beckham could be viewed as the best receiver in the game (though I’d go with Antonio Brown). His hands, vision and burst is elite for the position. But, of course, it’s never just about his play because Beckham doesn’t let it be. After scoring a scintillating touchdown with 1:24 remaining, Beckham still gave the Ravens life by getting called for a 15-yard penalty on the kickoff for taking his helmet off. And, by the way, the net thing is played out.

More breaking news: Gronk is also good: When in doubt, throw it to Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots were choppy on offense for a while against the Bengals (especially the pass protection) but they finally found their groove as Gronkowski caught seven passes for 162 yards and a touchdown.

Bengals are going to Bengal: Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Bengals begin to feel a game against an AFC frontrunner slipping away and then proceed to throw a bunch of cheap shots and start fights. Yes, it happens in every Bengals-Steelers game but we also saw it on Sunday in their loss to the Patriots. It started with Dirty Vontaze Burfict going low for no reason against Patriots TE Martellus Bennett. Sure, the Patriots were involved as well (come on, Gronk, don’t go into their gutter), but this was typical from the Bengals’ defense.

The Steelers are still a contender: Pittsburgh laid its second egg of its first six games with a 30–15 defeat at the hands of the Dolphins. The Steelers are one of those classic teams that plays up or down to their opponents’ level because they’re not well coached. But make no mistake, when the Steelers come to play, they’re as good as any team in the league. The knee injury to QB Ben Roethlisberger (he returned but with a big limp) has to be a huge concern heading into next week’s AFC showdown against the Patriots that could determine seeding for the playoffs.

Brutal Bears: Chicago had a 13–0 lead over the Jaguars entering the fourth quarter at home and blew it, dropping to 1–5 on the season in an awful 17–16 loss.

NFL
Cam Newton walks out of postgame press conference less than two minutes in

Slow your roll:

Washington isn’t a contender: So, yes, Washington hung on to edge the Eagles 27–20 and has now won four-straight after an 0–2 start. But Washington had beaten the Giants, Browns and Ravens (none of them playing well) and while the Eagles got off to a hot start, they lost last week to the Lions and they played poorly against Washington, which was bound to happen. After playing the Lions next week (beware for a letdown), Washington has a stretch where it plays the Bengals, Vikigns, Packers, Cowboys and Cardinals all in a row. That’s when it will announce whether it’s a contender or not. This much is certain, however: Washington is a much better offense when it’s running for 263 yards on the ground than relying on QB Kirk Cousins.

You’re still Jacksonville: Yes, the Jaguars came from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to win a road game but before everyone gets all excited….it was against the Bears. Bonus points though for letting us know that receiver Arrelious Benn is still in the league. He had a huge 51-yard catch-and-run TD.

Kaepernick should keep the job: At least for another week. A road game in Buffalo against a Rex Ryan defense is no type of litmus test for a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick (13 of 29 for 187 yards, one touchdown, 66 yards rushing). If Kaepernick doesn’t improve against the Buccaneers and Saints in the next two games, then we can talk.

Raiders are who we thought they were: Slow down Oakland’s playoff train a little bit…the Raiders showed their youth with a predictable home loss to the Chiefs. Oakland is going to have these ups and downs but they can be maddening. Let’s see what the Raiders can do with two winnable road games (Jaguars, Buccaneers) before they host the Broncos in a big division game.

NFL
Rob Gronkowski regains his swagger in Patriots' Week 6 win over Bengals

About Sunday Night

Despite the tantalizing final score (Texans 26, Colts 23 OT), the game was anything but as two barely mediocre football teams basically had a slap fight for 67 minutes.

That being said, this could be a defining moment for both of these franchises.

For the Colts, it could be the (latest) beginning of the end for coach Chuck Pagano. The Colts led 23–9 with 7:04 remaining and blew it. In their final three possessions, including overtime (they got the ball first), the Colts had 12 plays for 26 yards and punted each time. And safety Mike Adams made the inexcusable error of playing the ball (and missing) instead of the man on the game-tying touchdown pass to TE C.J. Fiedorowicz.

For the Texans, fans were trying to figure out a way to get rid of QB Brock Osweiler when the team trailed 23–9 and he was being his usual inaccurate self. But Osweiler rallied the Texans to two touchdowns and a game-winning field goal on their final three possessions. That’s the type of clutch play that could turn things around for a quarterback. And it’s the type of performance that could rally teammates, get them to buy into Osweiler a little bit more and galvanize a team that didn’t know where they were going.

Then again, it’s the AFC South. It might not mean anything for either team. 

Decisions, Decisions

A look at the best and worst coaching decisions from Sunday.

Best:

• Don’t look now, but we might have to give Lions coach Jim Caldwell some sort of nifty nickname due to his recent penchant for risk-taking (kind of like “Blackjack Del Rio”). The normally stoic and risk-adverse Lions coach went for it on fourth down twice against the Rams and both choices eventually led to touchdowns in a 31–28 victory. On Detroit’s opening possession of the game, Caldwell went for it on 4th-and-1 from his own 49-yard line and converted. Three plays later the Lions led 7–0. Then, trailing 14–7 with 3:12 remaining, Caldwell pushed the envelope on 4th-and-goal at the 2-yard line after two-straight incompletions. Matthew Stafford hit Andre Roberts for a touchdown and the score was tied at halftime. Suddenly, the Lions are 3–3 for Riverboat Jim Caldwell.

Worst:

• Browns coach Hue Jackson went against the rule that you don’t go for two when you’re trailing until you have to when he passed up the extra point with Cleveland trailing the Titans 28–19 with 2:07 left. The Browns didn’t get the conversion and were basically done at that point. It would have been nice to recover the onside kick (they did) and score (they did) and then go for the tie (oops). Wonder what Jackson’s Moneyball bosses will have to say about that.

• The Saints were leading the Panthers 21–0 in the second quarter when New Orleans had 4th-and-1 at the Carolina 35-yard line. Coach Sean Payton elected to kick the field goal and missed. Even if Wil Lutz made it, the Saints should have gone for it. The Panthers couldn’t stop the Saints at all.

Officially speaking

Everybody loves to hate the refs, but let’s take a closer look at how the zebras performed today: 

On the Falcons’ final chance against the Seahawks, a fourth-down heave from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones, pass interference should have been called against CB Richard Sherman. Even though I hate DPI, especially in crucial spots, (which we’ll take a closer look at in the examples below), Sherman held Jones’s right arm, and as a result, Jones had to attempt a one-handed catch. That should have been called, even if it would have given the Falcons a great chance to win. Sherman blatantly fouled him.

NFL
Falcons, Seahawks both emerge from controversial finish looking like contenders

Now onto some DPI calls that shouldn’t have been called: We might have a winner for “worst call of the season” and we’re only in Week 6. On 3rd-and-4 at the Giants’ 38-yard line, Ravens QB Joe Flacco lofted a pass to Breshad Perriman, and both the receiver and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie went for the ball in the air. The pass was incomplete and it seemed like it should be a no call since both players were playing the ball. But then a flag came out and Rodgers-Cromartie was called for pass interference. Three plays later, the Ravens scored to take the lead late in the game.

Another terrible pass interference call (seeing a trend?) went against the Saints and S Kenny Vaccaro with about 7 minutes left in the third quarter. Vaccaro had turned around and played the ball; that should not be called. The 33-yard penalty set the stage for a Panthers score that cut the Saints lead to 24­–17.

Coolest thing I saw

On third-and-goal from the Oakland 1-yard line, the Chiefs ran a slip screen for 346-pound nose tackle Dontari Poe and scored. That’s not a misprint. It really happened.

Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself…

A look at a previously unheralded player (or players) who popped this week:

Jay Ajayi, RB, Dolphins: The second-year player, who’s really only known to fantasy football players, rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers, which hadn’t surrendered 200 yards rushing since 2000. A fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft, Ajayi (pronounced Ah-JAH-YEE) had a great junior season at Boise State but suffered an ACL injury in his final season. He runs very hard and has a nice burst around the corner. The Dolphins finally found their perfect gameplan. It features a lot of the running game, and an efficient Ryan Tannehill, who throws quickly at the top of his drop every time and doesn’t try to be a hero. The Dolphins won’t win because of Tannehill, they’ll win when he doesn’t hurt them.

NFL
Panthers have no one to blame but themselves for diminished playoff hopes

Numbers sometimes lie

140.0: The rating for Patriots QB Tom Brady as he finished completing 29 of 35 passes (82.9%) for 376 yards and three touchdowns against the Bengals. Brady was good in this game but the Patriots were held without a touchdown until the final minute of the first half and struggled at times to move the ball. Most of it wasn’t Brady’s fault, but those numbers read like he was in complete control throughout this game. He wasn’t.

Numbers sometimes don’t lie

460: Yards passing allowed by the Panthers against the Saints. The secondary constructed by GM Dave Gettleman (reminder: he chose not to pay CB Josh Norman and released him) is a full-on dumpster fire. At times, the Panthers looked like a Three Stooges episode. Yes, they were missing two starters (James Bradberry, Robert McClain), but still…. the defending NFC champions are 1–5 and their season is just about over.

After the whistle

Aaron Rodgers is not playing very good football right now, with the latest evidence being his fumble deep in Cowboys’ territory when Green Bay needed a score. Even before that, Rodgers too often looked confused and unable to find open receivers to his liking despite having good pass protection. And people, especially those in Wisconsin, are going to be freaking out all week about it. I get it. But Rodgers is still an excellent football player, and he will be again in short order. This actually could be good for Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy, as long as they don’t panic. This is a situation where Rodgers, not usually one to ask for help, needs to listen to his coach, and vice versa. They need to come together and fix this offense. Regardless of what McCarthy thinks, it’s not working for Rodgers or the team. The Packers need to find a way to get their offensive groove back, and they need to do that together.

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