Week 6 Superlatives: Falcons let down Ryan; Flacco embarrasses Bucs
Here are some of the notable performances and key plays from Week 6 NFL action.
Sunday's Late Games
MVP: Rolando McClain.
Maybe McClain was not the best defender on the field for Dallas Sunday. At some point, though, we really need to give some serious credit to the turnaround the Cowboys have engineered on that side of the football and McClain's personal rejuvenation has been a critical component.
Before the Cowboys traded for McClain (after star LB Sean Lee suffered a season-ending injury), he had unofficially retired more than once with off-field troubles mounting and had not played an NFL regular-season down since November of 2012. All he's done since is help the Dallas defense replace Lee by serving as a linchpin in the linebacking corps.
Sunday, he iced away one of the Cowboys' biggest regular-season wins in recent memory, picking off a Russell Wilson pass down the middle in the closing seconds. He also pitched in four tackles, including one for loss.
Add that performance into what he's done over the first five weeks (23 tackles, one sack, one INT) and McClain might be the early frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year. That storyline is right up there with Jason Garrett's rising Coach of the Year candidacy among the most shocking developments of the 2014 season.
"I just like his story," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after acquiring McClain.
It's a story that is only getting better. -- Chris Burke
LVP: Matt Ryan's supporting cast.
Et tu, Roddy White and Julio Jones?
It's bad enough that Matt Ryan heads into every week now knowing that he probably will be under constant pressure (he was sacked four times Sunday and hurried repeatedly) and that the run game doesn't help much, save for the now weekly Antone Smith home run. But usually, Ryan can count on his star receivers to help him keep the Falcons offense on track, at least at home -- Atlanta entered Sunday averaging 46.5 points in two home wins.
Not Sunday. White and Jones combined to drop five passes between them, according to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal. All told, the Falcons dropped seven passes in their 27-13 setback ... on top of, you know, not blocking for Ryan or doing anything on the ground.
Atlanta now sits at 2-4 and does not play a true home game again until Nov. 23 (the Falcons "host" the Lions in London on Oct. 26). This season could be off the rails real soon. -- CB
Must-see GIF: The Cowboys trailed Seattle by three and faced a 3rd-and-20 with five minutes left when this happened ...
Williams delivered about as incredible a catch as you're ever going to see, especially considering the circumstances. How about Romo, though? The same QB that required offseason back surgery and somehow escaped injury earlier in the game when Seattle's Bobby Wagner leveled him, here spun away from noted pass-rusher Bruce Irvin to keep the play alive, then put the ball where Williams -- and only Williams -- could make the grab.
Dallas scored three plays later to take the lead for good. -- CB
Head-scratching decision: All 32 teams passing on Branden Oliver in the draft.
Count Oliver as the latest proof that waiting on RB talent might be a prudent approach. The 5-foot-8 back (or, at least, he's listed at that height) was not invited to the combine and barely even registered a blip on the draft radar headed into May. All this despite posting 1,700 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns for the University of Buffalo in 2013.
Oliver was still looked upon as a long shot to make the Chargers' roster after signing with them as an undrafted free agent. He earned a longer look with his preseason effort, and the Chargers should be glad he did.
Handling starter duties for the second straight week, Oliver rushed for 101 yards and scored the game-winning TD to help San Diego dodge Oakland's upset attempt.
Added to last week's work, Oliver is up over 300 combined yards in his last two outings.
Surely, there are a few other teams out there regretting passing on Oliver. -- CB
Key injury: Byron Maxwell, CB, Seahawks (ankle).
Thankfully, there was less carnage during the late-afternoon games than there was early Sunday. That development doesn't help the Seahawks much here.
The "Legion of Boom" was less intimidating Sunday than it often has been. Losing Maxwell for any extended period of time could prolong the misery -- Maxwell has been the starter opposite Richard Sherman at cornerback. -- CB
Sunday's Early Games
Well, Daryle Lamonica can rest easy. The Oakland Raiders' old Mad Bomber is still the only player in pro football history to throw six touchdowns in a half (he did it back in 1969). Flacco came close to that on Sunday, though, ringing up five touchdown passes in the first 16 minutes of play against a Tampa Bay defense that was outmanned, outschemed and outdone from start to finish. Perhaps the most embarrassing moment for Lovie Smith's crew was when rookie receiver Michael Campanaro went vertical on safety Mark Barron for a 19-yard touchdown with one second left in the first quarter.
Campanero is 5-9, Barron is 6-2, and yet this one wasn't really close. Through the 2014 season, Tampa Bay's defense -- a unit that was supposed to be rejuvenated under Lovie Smith -- has been a disaster. The Bucs are now 1-5 after Sunday's 48-17 shellacking. -- Doug Farrar
LVP: Tampa Bay's defense.
Who else? All this talent has been squandered all season -- when you have Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Alterraun Verner and on and on, there's no way you should be giving up fortyburgers twice in your first six games, but that's exactly what the Bucs have done. This mismatch of talent and scheme was supposed to have left with Greg Schiano, but it's almost worse with Lovie Smith -- Smith's players don't seem to understand his concepts, and Smith doesn't appear to be able to adapt. Only the Jaguars have a worse point differential than Tampa Bay's -84, and as much as the offense has underwhelmed, this is on Smith's defense, and it's hard to excuse. -- DF
Must-see play: Giovani Bernard's 89-yard touchdown run.
Bernard, the Bengals' second-round pick in 2013, had never cracked the 100-yard mark in his career to date -- 99 yards against the Colts last December was his previous career-high -- but he got a very nice head start with this 89-yard touchdown run against the Panthers with 11:50 left in the first half.
Bernard finished his day with 18 carries for 137 yards and a touchdown, as the Bengals and Panthers fought to a 37-37 draw, the highest-scoring tie game in NFL history. -- DF
Head--scratching decision: Miami's mysterious timeouts
Not that Joe Philbin was going to win any Coach of the Year awards anyway, but these really need some explaining.
With 1:44 left in the game, the Dolphins were up on the Packers 24-10, and the Packers were driving. Well, they were until Aaron Rodgers was sacked, bringing up 4th-and-9 at the Miami 48-yard line. The Packers had no timeouts, but the Dolphins were willing to oblige with one of theirs. Of course, Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for an 18-yard gain, and Nelson ran out of bounds.
Then, with 30 seconds left in the game, Rodgers hit Davante Adams for a 12-yard gain, down to the Miami 4-yard line. Problem was, Green Bay was still out of time outs, and this would force them to hurry the play, thus limiting their options, and ...
Well, the Dolphins called another timeout. Of course, Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to tight end Andrew Quarless on the very next play. Packers 27, Dolphins 24. It's not often that you can credit a head coach directly with a loss, but that's on Philbin. -- DF
The Jets held their own with the Broncos in a surprising 31-17 result (the last Broncos' touchdown coming on a pick-six with less than a minute left), but the overall news was not good for a New York defense that has struggled all season in the back seven. Milliner, the team's first-round pick in the 2013 draft, has been up and down as a pass defender to date, but when he had to leave the field after an attempted field goal block, it was a fairly harrowing hit for a defense that can't afford any more in the secondary. According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Jets fear that Milliner has a torn Achilles tendon, which would end his season. -- DF