Broncos, Cowboys duel in instant classic; more Week 5 Snaps
• What a brutal few weeks it's been when it comes to quarterback carnage. Week 5 got underway with Cleveland's Brian Hoyer and Buffalo's EJ Manuel both going down in Thursday night's Browns' win, with Hoyer cruelly lost for the season due to an ACL injury and Manuel expected to miss four-to-six weeks with a knee sprain.
Then came Sunday, when Philadelphia's Michael Vick was forced to leave the Eagles' win over the Giants with a hamstring injury that is still being evaluated. The same fate belonged to Jacksonville's oft-injured Blaine Gabbert, who was knocked from a loss in St. Louis with a hamstring pull.
This after Tennessee's Jake Locker (hip), Oakland's Terrelle Pryor (concussion) and Minnesota's Christian Ponder (rib) all were hurt in Weeks 3-4, resulting in at least one game missed each. Yeah, I think they'll be a market for Josh Freeman's services all right. There might never be enough league-wide depth at the quarterback position.
• On Vick's injury, that's what you get with No. 7. You live by his ability to make plays with his legs, and sometimes you die with him running the ball. He carried seven times for a productive 79 yards in the win over the Giants, but he didn't even make it to halftime without getting hurt. That's the same double-edged sword his game has always presented.
And now here comes backup Nick Foles, who probably started the quarterback controversy debate in Philly, throwing for 197 yards and a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in relief of Vick.
Eagles rookie head coach Chip Kelly said Vick will be his starter when he's healthy again, and I take him at his word. At least at the moment. Philadelphia's offense is more explosive with Vick under center, and Kelly covets that quick-strike ability.
That said, Foles did a very nice job in Philadelphia's much-needed win, posting a 114.9 rating with 16 completions in 25 attempts and taking just one sack. If Foles has to play next week at Tampa Bay, at least he'll be on familiar ground. His only win as a rookie starter last season was a 23-21 comeback effort at the Bucs in Week 14. That was Andy Reid's last coaching victory in Philadelphia.
• Oh, and don't forget to call them the first-place Eagles. Thanks to the Cowboys' loss at home to Denver, the NFC East is officially completely under water. Dallas and Philadelphia are tied for the top spot at 2-3, with Washington taking its bye this week at 1-2, and the woeful Giants sitting 0-5 for the first time since 1987.
• Love that Bengals defense, and have for two seasons now. But that Bengals offense? Not so much. Cincinnati's seven-point win over New England keeps things in a three-way knot atop the AFC North, with the Bengals, Ravens and Browns all standing 3-2. But that red-zone interception, Andy Dalton? That was a mistake you simply can't continue to make if Cincinnati is to be taken seriously as an AFC Super Bowl contender.
• The Dolphins, with back-to-back losses after that 3-0 start, aren't ready to slug it out with the heavyweights in the AFC. Not with pass protection becoming such a glaring weakness in Miami. Baltimore was ripe for the taking on Sunday, but the Dolphins gave up another six sacks of Ryan Tannehill and lost 26-23 in a back-and-forth struggle with the defending Super Bowl champions.
Miami's offensive line is abysmal. Tannehill has been dropped 24 times in five games, and the Dolphins lost 35 yards due to sacks against Baltimore. At least Miami has some time to try to find a fix up front. The Dolphins are on their bye in Week 6, before getting a visit from Buffalo in Week 7.
• For a good bit of the day, the Ravens seemed to be staring at the reality of being under .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2008, John Harbaugh's rookie year as the team's head coach. But Baltimore's stars really showed up when needed in Miami. Running back Ray Rice ran for a season-high 74 yards, scored twice and caught six passes for 28 yards. No. 1 receiver Torrey Smith came through with six receptions for 121 yards, including a long gain of 41 yards. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs abused Miami on the pass rush, collecting three of his team's six sacks.
Most importantly, quarterback Joe Flacco bounced back from that five-interception debacle in Buffalo last week, throwing for 269 yards and leading Baltimore on scoring drives of 80, 72 and 94 yards on the Ravens' first three second-half possessions. That took the game from a 13-6 Miami lead, to a 23-13 Baltimore advantage. Not bad considering the Ravens dressed only three healthy receivers against Miami: Smith, Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson. Marlon Brown (thigh) and Jacoby Jones (knee) were inactive, and the team released Brandon Stokely on Saturday.
• Speaking of interceptions, Eli Manning threw three more in Week 5, all in the fourth quarter. He has 12 in five games, and seems to be forcing things more than we've ever seen before. At 0-5, the Giants aren't dead, because they're only two games out of first in the wacky NFC East, with 11 games remaining. (I know, I know, but it's true. Facts are stubborn things.) No 0-5 team has ever made the NFL playoffs, but maybe no 0-5 team has ever had a division this bad to hang around in.
Still this is as ugly as it gets on both sides of the ball for New York. The Giants had a 21-19 lead late in the third quarter and wound up losing by 15 points. New York's defense has given up at least 31 points in all five games this season, and there hasn't been a team that started that porously on defense in the NFL since the 1954 Chicago Cardinals. Was the 36-21 loss to Philly progress in any way? Only given that the Giants had lost by a combined 69-7 in its most recent two games.
• I'm starting to think the officials don't know what a safety looks like any more. Maybe they've gone the way of the legal catch, and are nearly impossible to define. For the second week in a row, I saw a safety not called on a play that really looked like a safety. It happened on that carry by Giants running back David Wilson against the Eagles, when Wilson was hit on about the 1-yard line and driven back into the end zone. (Wilson hurt his neck on the play and left the game for good.)
I get the concept of forward progress, but in this case, Wilson came free in the end zone without being tackled, and tried to run again. Philadelphia at that point tackled him, and he was still awarded his forward progress at about the 2. It was a generous interpretation, to say the least.
Last week, there was another dubious decision made by the game officials in the Titans-Jets game, when New York's rookie quarterback Geno Smith seemed to be tackled in the end zone. The officials all kind of looked at each other on that play, waiting for someone to make the call. Finally it was decided Smith's forward progress was just beyond the goal line and he was given a very gracious spot, avoiding the damaging two-point play.
• Carolina was coming off a bye and the positive vibes of that 38-0 blowout of the Giants in Week 3, but now the Panthers (1-3) are right back at square one on offense. Slow-starting Carolina lost 22-6 at Arizona, and it's the fifth straight year that the Panthers have been 1-3 or worse after four games.
How bad did Carolina look offensively? Cardinals quarterback Carson "I used to be good'' Palmer threw three interceptions, and he was the game's "hot'' quarterback. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton tossed three picks, fumbled once and was sacked seven times, including for a safety. Newton even hit a game official with one of his errant throws.
The Cardinals improved to 3-2, but make no mistake, they're not a juggernaut. This was a game Carolina had every expectation to win, and it wasn't even all that competitive. Arizona has a quality defense, but the Panthers look lost once again early in the season on offense, and that's another brick in the wall when it comes to head coach Ron Rivera's ultra-shaky job status.
• Every time you think Jacksonville's misery can't deepen, it does. The Jaguars put up a good fight at St. Louis, before losing 34-20, but the loss of rookie offensive left tackle Luke Joeckel to a season-ending broken ankle is another disheartening development for Gus Bradley's winless team. Jacksonville, of course, just days ago traded former starting left tackle Eugene Monroe to Baltimore and shifted Joeckel, the draft's No. 2 overall pick, from right tackle to the left side.
Getting receiver Justin Blackmon back in the lineup after his four-game suspension was a plus for Jacksonville, and he contributed a 67-yard touchdown reception on his first touch of the season. But his five-catch, 136-yard day was offset by the loss of Joeckel, and the Jags took another body blow when starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert left the game with a hamstring injury.