Musings, observations and the occasional Week 5 insight as we adjust our TV's vertical hold to handle those hideous brown and mustard-colored vertically-striped socks the Broncos hopefully will put back into the time capsule after their showdown with the Patriots late Sunday afternoon ...
• No more calls, we have a winner. With apologies to the giddy 5-0 Denver Broncos, the Cincinnati Bengals are officially the surprise team of the NFL's 2009 season after five weeks, and their 17-14 win at Baltimore in an AFC North first-place showdown convinces me of their legitimacy once and for all. Consider this: At 4-1, the Bengals have already matched their victory total from their entire 2008 season (4-11-1).
Facing an Ravens team intent on making someone pay for last week's embittering loss at New England, the Bengals traded punches with Baltimore and then -- as they've done in all four of their victories this season -- found a way to get it done when the game went down to the wire. These Bengals don't do anything easily. All five of their games this season have been decided by seven points or less, and they've won three in a row by scoring in the game's final minute. In the process, they've developed a tough, resilient whatever-it-takes mentality, and suddenly their earlier wins at Green Bay and home against Pittsburgh don't seem the least bit fluky.
In beating their third different division opponent by three points in consecutive weeks -- Steelers, at Cleveland, at Baltimore -- the Bengals have proven they're not going to beat themselves like so many Cincinnati squads in the past. And at 4-1 overall, 3-0 in the AFC North, and 3-0 on the road,
The Bengals now return home to
Zimmer's unit held Ravens quarterback
Another reason to believe in the Bengals? They can run the ball, and control the clock. The re-born
When you throw in Cincinnati's season-ending three-game winning streak last December, the Bengals have now won seven of their past eight games, and maybe the best thing that ever happened to them was that unlucky Week 1 bounce of the ball at home against Denver. Rather than demoralize them, it served to remind them to play 60 minutes each and every week. For a month now, that every-second-counts approach has been the winning formula for Cincinnati.
• All of us who smugly predicted gloom and doom in Denver this season owe the Broncos and rookie head coach
I know I've cited Denver's brutal October-November schedule for the last time this season. The Broncos are now 2-0 with wins over the Cowboys and Patriots at home during that challenging eight-game stretch, and I don't think they're going to fear any opponent at this point.
And while we're at it, Broncos quarterback
• With consecutive losses to the Patriots and Bengals,
And don't look now, but things don't get easier for the Ravens in their next three games: at Minnesota, bye week, Denver, and the rematch at Cincinnati. Baltimore is tied with the Steelers (3-2) for second place in the AFC North, a game behind Cincinnati. But the hang-tough portion of the season has arrived for the Ravens.
• My brain can't even really fully process this, but the Browns actually won a game Sunday in windy Buffalo in which their starting quarterback,
A lifetime contract in Cleveland no doubt awaits Anderson. But if you're Browns backup
• I would say losing 6-3 to the hapless Browns at home is your basic firing offense if you're the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. Who knows, maybe Bills owner
But could anyone blame Wilson if he says enough's enough after Sunday's debacle, which dropped the beleaguered Bills to 1-4? Good luck to the Bills in whipping up interest in that Week 13 home game against the Jets in Toronto. This might just be the low point of Buffalo's entire lost decade.
• Speaking of embattled coaches who lost to winless teams on Sunday,
• And it's a good thing his Cowboys escaped in overtime at Kansas City, or the bye week might have turned into bye-bye week for
It's kind of fitting that a guy named Austin played such a huge role in a game pitting the Cowboys against a Chiefs team wearing the 1960-era helmets they featured when they were the AFL's Dallas Texans. Austin set a team record with 250 receiving yards, and he had three of his 10 catches for 153 yards in the fourth quarter alone.
• I think I speak for
• I couldn't help but think that if the mid-'70s San Diego Padres had played in the NFL, they would have looked a lot like the 1960 throwback uniforms that Denver wore Sunday at home.
You thinking what I'm thinking? That this whole 50th AFL anniversary celebration might have just gone a bit too far with Denver's get-up against New England?
• That's exactly the kind of game a healthy-again
McNabb asked the Eagles to get him some new offensive weapons, and on Sunday he developed an instant big-play rapport with rookie first-round receiver
• If you're keeping track, it was another game of very, very low impact for
• You can take
• And the stars and planets must have been aligned just so in Carolina as well, because another missing-in-action defensive end,
What's next? A two-touchdown game from
• I knew it. I told someone this week that
• Just wondering, but when Oakland takes its bye in another four weeks, will anyone notice? The Raiders haven't really shown up in any game since their opener against San Diego, and Sunday's 44-7 mail-in job at the Giants was the worst effort of the bunch.
At one point on Sunday, the Giants led the Raiders 13-0 in first downs, 262-9 in total offense, and 173 to -2 in passing. Even Giants backup quarterback
And what exactly does
Oh, yeah, we almost forgot. In an interview this week with CBS, Russell confirmed he weighs 275 pounds, and has been fined by the Raiders for being overweight. Nice week, J.M.
• Hard to believe, but
• Nice seeing those old yellow and blue Rams throwback uniforms, the ones
• That said,
• It's been a big six days for
• What was up with all the Steelers fans in Detroit? It was like watching Red Sox Nation take over Camden Yards in Baltimore. I know there are tickets available in the hard-hit Detroit market, and the Lions are a local blackout threat every home game, but after
• While drawing the Week 4 bye isn't real popular in the NFL, it apparently did some good for the teams that were forced to take last week off. The Panthers finally got their first win of the season; the Eagles rolled at Tampa Bay; the Falcons went on the road and destroyed first-place San Francisco; and struggling Arizona beat Houston on the strength of a last-minute goal-line stand.
• What a night and day difference for the Seahawks when
• I guess we can all back off on those Jacksonville-is-better-than-we-thought pronouncements. Back-to-back wins in the tough AFC South didn't amount for much in Seattle. The Seahawks dismantled any notion that the Jaguars offense is starting to come together.
• Enjoy your bye week, 49ers. But I wouldn't want to be anywhere near
I'm willing to bet San Francisco's demonstrative head coach will spend time this week removing any illusions of grandeur. The 49ers are slow in both the secondary and at receiver, and the Falcons exploited those weaknesses in ways no one had been able to yet this season.