First Down/Fourth Down: Previously suspended players find redemption in Week 5
Maybe sitting out the first four weeks of the season isn't such a terrible thing after all.
Several teams got players back this week from four-game suspensions, related to either the league's substance-abuse or performance-enhancing drug policies. Among those returning to the field: Justin Blackmon, Bruce Irvin and Daryl Washington, all of whom stepped up in Sunday's action.
Blackmon delivered the earliest fireworks, taking his first catch of the season 67 yards for a touchdown early in Jacksonville's loss to St. Louis. Irvin also fell short on the scoreboard, with his Seahawks dropping a 34-28 decision in Indianapolis, but he returned with a sack of Andrew Luck and four tackles.
And Washington ... well, Washington played out of his mind in Arizona's 22-6 win over Carolina. The Cardinals' 2012 Pro Bowl linebacker made up for lost time, leading his team with nine tackles and a pair of sacks. He also dropped in coverage to pick off a Cam Newton pass on the first play of the fourth quarter, killing the Panthers' drive to take a lead.
Nine other players were reinstated from suspension, as well. The best performance from the remaining bunch: Giants safety Will Hill, who racked up a team-high 11 tackles in a 36-21 loss to Philadelphia.
Some more of the best and worst from Week 5:
• First Down: The Game of the Year.
OK, maybe it's too soon for that designation. But, seriously, how incredible was that Denver-Dallas showdown? Right up until he was picked off by Danny Trevathan -- a play that led to Denver's game-winning field goal -- Tony Romo matched and even outplayed Peyton Manning. In fact, had Trevathan not made his diving INT, Romo would have taken full aim at the NFL single-game record of 554 yards passing. As it was, he finished with 506 and a heartbreaking loss.
Fans of pure defense probably did not take much enjoyment in this one, up until Trevathan's heroics. The rest of us sat back and marveled at the show on display in Dallas.
• Fourth Down: The Lions' offense without Calvin Johnson.
The Lions haven't won in Green Bay since 1991, so doing so without arguably the game's top offensive talent would have been a substantial upset. Still, the Lions cannot be too pleased with their near-total lack of offense in a 22-9 loss.
That's especially true because Detroit's defense, save for a long James Jones TD, played well enough to end the Lambeau losing streak. But the Packers held Reggie Bush to 69 yards on 17 touches and kept Matthew Stafford mostly to short routes with his rag-tag bunch of receivers. The results were ugly: Detroit finished with fewer than 300 total yards and its only TD came in garbage time.
• First Down: Wallace Gilberry.
Michael Johnson's absence due to injury could have been an issue for Cincinnati's defense against Tom Brady's Patriots. The effort put forth by Gilberry was one of many that ensured such a letdown did not occur. Gilberry dropped Brady for two sacks and finished with four tackles, as part of a dominant defensive effort by the Bengals in a 13-6 victory. Only once before in his six-year NFL career had Gilberry recorded a multi-sack showing -- he had three in a 2010 game vs. St. Louis, as a member of the Chiefs.
• Fourth Down: Ron Rivera's future in Carolina.
The Panthers truly believed they could compete in the NFC South and grab a playoff spot this season. Four games in, though, they're dealing with the same old disappointment.
Carolina turned in an absolute dud on Sunday in Arizona, with Cam Newton turning the ball over four times (three INTs, one fumble) in a 22-6 loss. Not only do concerns over Newton's ability to ever turn the corner continue to grow, but also the questions about Rivera's future as head coach. His overall record as the Panthers' head man now stands at 14-22. And his team's 1-3 start has it in danger of falling out of the playoff race even before the halfway point of the season.
• First Down: The AFC West race.
The healthy assumption heading into the 2013 season was that Denver would run away with this division. The Peyton Manning-led Broncos still may do so in time, but it's looking more and more like they will have to earn the West crown.
The Kansas City Chiefs, off to a 5-0 start after finishing 2-14 a year ago, are making sure of that. Kansas City's latest win: a scrappy 26-17 road triumph in Tennessee. Andy Reid's crew did it again with defense, forcing three turnovers, including a pair in the fourth quarter, to cement the outcome.
• Fourth Down: The Jags' and Giants' race to the bottom.
From bad to worse for the NFL's two 0-5 teams. Jacksonville gave St. Louis a battle early before fading away in a 34-20 loss. Worse yet, the Jaguars lost No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel to a fractured ankle, which will sideline him for the duration of the season.
The winless Giants are even more of a disappointment (though, with the NFC East a total mess, they're still just two games out of first place). They had hoped to turn things around at home on Sunday against the Eagles. Instead, Eli Manning threw three more interceptions and Philadelphia backup QB Nick Foles scorched the Giants' defense in a 36-21 New York loss.
• First Down: New Orleans' pass-catching running backs.
Darren Sproles was one of the heroes of Week 4, his 114 yards receiving against Miami helping New Orleans turn the Monday nighter into a blowout. Sproles had 31 more yards receiving Sunday, but it was his backfield buddy, Pierre Thomas, who stepped up in a 26-18 win at Chicago. Thomas added nine catches to his 2013 total (giving him 28 in five games), finding the end zone twice for the Saints' only two TDs.
• Fourth Down: Matt Schaub.
Texans coach Gary Kubiak said after his team's 34-3 humiliation in San Francisco that Matt Schaub would remain his starting quarterback. Unless Schaub gets his act together in a hurry, that decision could hammer home the nail in the Texans' coffin this season.
One week after coming apart at the seams in a loss to Seattle, Schaub was out of sorts all night. He fired three interceptions, including a pick-six for an NFL-record fourth straight game, before eventually being pulled for T.J. Yates. Schaub's confidence appears to be shot right now, leading to awful mistake after awful mistake. The 2-3 Texans cannot afford for this to continue much longer.
• First Down: T.Y. Hilton.
Hilton said after Indianapolis' impressive win over the Seahawks that he played with a chip on his shoulder, thanks to a comment made by Seattle's Brandon Browner. "Browner said I'm light as s***," Hilton told USA Today.
Whatever the motivation, Hilton delivered a sensational effort as a go-to option for Andrew Luck. His 73-yard touchdown reception late in the first quarter snapped the Colts from an early slumber -- Seattle led 12-0 prior to Hilton's big play. Later, he brought Indianapolis back from eight down with a 29-yard score. All in all, Hilton hauled in five catches for a career-high 140 yards.
• Fourth Down: That late-night start.
So it turned out that San Diego and Oakland played a pretty entertaining game on Sunday. Terrelle Pryor came out hot, Philip Rivers threw for more than 400 yards and both longtime vet Charles Woodson and rookie D.J. Hayden had critical interceptions late.
Most of the country missed the action, though, thanks to an 11:30 p.m. ET start -- and a finish that dragged on well past 2 a.m. on the East Coast. The Raiders found themselves with a scheduling conflict due to a Saturday night A's playoff game at home. The switch to a later start time worked out just fine for Oakland in the win column. But it was a performance that deserved more of an audience.FARRAR: Pryor proves worthy of starting job in Raiders' late-night win