Another compelling NFL Sunday is in the books, with 13 teams coming away victorious. But not all wins are created equal — some carry more meaning than just a positive mark in the standings. And this week had a bevy of outcomes with notable bigger-picture implications.
Let’s take a look at Sunday’s most significant statement wins, Schein Nine style.
1) Indianapolis Colts 19, Kansas City Chiefs 13: Reich/Eberflus put on clinic
Wow. Are you kidding me? Toughness. Coaching. Chemistry. Accountability. Dealing with adversity. These are your 2019 Indianapolis Colts.
What a sensational win for Indianapolis, knocking off Patrick Mahomes and the previously undefeated Chiefs in prime time and in Kansas City. No Darius Leonard. No Malik Hooker. Yet, an incredible job by Matt Eberflus and the Colts‘ defense. Prior to Sunday night, the Chiefs had never scored fewer than 26 points with Mahomes as their starting QB. Indy held them to half that.
On the Colts‘ offense, Quenton Nelson is both a mauler and a baller. I firmly believe the Indianapolis guard is a legit top-four candidate for league MVP at this moment. The second-year stud has changed everything for the Colts. In an attempt to limit the electric Mahomes’ field time, Indianapolis ran the ball 45 times for 180 yards, with Marlon Mack piling up 132 yards on 29 carries. Nelson laid the ground for so many of Indy’s biggest rushing gains, bulldozing gargantuan holes through the first two levels of the defense.
Frank Reich is just an amazing, smart, aggressive, tone-setter of a coach. This game was obviously initially picked for “Sunday Night Football” back in April because it figured to pit the reigning MVP (Mahomes) against the reigning Comeback Player of the Year (Andrew Luck). Of course, Luck’s comeback was short-lived. But Reich never let the sudden retirement become an excuse, and he is putting Jacoby Brissett in positions to be successful.
Biggest upset of the year thus far. Just incredible to watch.
2) Green Bay Packers 34, Dallas Cowboys 24: Jones drives huge road win
With Green Bay on the road in this classic showdown, and playing without injured star Davante Adams, Dallas was my pick to win the game. But Aaron Jones put together a brilliant, powerful, heroic performance, carrying a heavier workload than usual with Jamaal Williams still on the shelf after suffering a concussion in Week 4. Jones carved up a very talented Dallas defense with 182 yards on 26 total touches, pounding out four rushing touchdowns in the process. Aaron Rodgers was Aaron Rodgers in Dallas. OK, well, despite not accumulating big fantasy stats, the veteran signal-caller flummoxed the Cowboys with a number of special throws. Mike Pettine’s defense was excellent early and clutch late.
I’d make the case that the Packers‘ win in Dallas was the signature win of the first five weeks of the NFL season, thinking about postseason implications down the line. This is the kind of game that ultimately impacts seeding, byes, two divisions and NFC wild cards. This was a major statement about the talent, coaching and resolve of Green Bay.
3) Carolina Panthers 34, Jacksonville Jaguars 27: Run CMC for MVP?
We interrupt Minshew Mania to bring you The Christian McCaffrey Show.
There is no debate: McCaffrey is the best running back in the NFL this year, bar none. He’s on the short list of MVP candidates, trailing only Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson on my current ballot. McCaffrey is the catalyst and star of the Panthers, and the reason why Carolina beat the Jags in a highly entertaining, competitive and meaningful game. The third-year back’s numbers were unreal: 19 carries for 176 yards and a couple touchdowns on the ground, as well as six catches for 61 yards and a score in the passing game. McCaffrey was flying through the air for scores, brilliantly utilizing his perfect blend of speed and power.
Meanwhile, Kyle Allen remains undefeated as the Panthers quarterback. He still has yet to throw an NFL interception. And Carolina plays with a different energy and execution with Allen in for a hobbled Cam Newton. Given how Newton looked in his two starts (both losses) last month, Allen is legitimately an upgrade in 2019. The defense is flying around and making key plays.
The Panthers are back in business at 3-2, thanks to a legit megastar back and a jolt at quarterback.
4) Houston Texans 53, Atlanta Falcons 32: When Watson’s on, good luck
This was an absolute clinic by Deshaun Watson at quarterback. The Texans pasted the Falcons, and Watson reminded you — if for some reason you forgot — that he’s special and a bona fide star. Completing 28 of 33 passes (84.8 percent) for 426 yards and five touchdowns, while also running for 47 yards on four carries, Watson absolutely eviscerated Dan Quinn’s defense. And then he showed off his beautiful football mind in the postgame presser once again. As Watson explained, the Falcons were pretty hell-bent on containing DeAndre Hopkins (who still gained 88 yards on seven catches). Consequently, Will Fuller enjoyed a career day: 14 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns.
I wrote last week that I expect Houston to win the AFC South. This team is quite explosive when its firing on all cylinders. Sunday was a harbinger of things to come.
5) Oakland Raiders 24, Chicago Bears 21: Marquee win for Gruden
I will always believe the Khalil Mack trade to Chicago will go down in NFL history as an all-time bone-headed transaction. Having said that, the Raiders got the best of Mack and the Bears across the pond.
Rookie Josh Jacobs was fantastic running the ball, with 26 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns. The Raiders‘ offensive line was outstanding, pushing around the vaunted Chicago defense. Mack was a stunning non-factor.
For esteem, with the Mack shadow omnipresent, this was a huge win for Jon Gruden and the Raiders. A 3-2 record for Oakland is highly impressive at this point, especially after Antonio Brown did his best to torpedo their season.
6) New Orleans Saints 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24: No Brees? No prob!
Teddy Bridgewater (26 of 34 for 314 and four touchdowns, with one pick) played his best game in a Saints uniform, fostering a prolific connection with Michael Thomas (11 catches for 182 yards and two scores). New Orleans’ defense was excellent yet again, slowing down the previously smoking-hot Tampa passing attack, with Marshon Lattimore throwing an absolute blanket on Mike Evans (zero catches on three targets).
The Saints can beat anyone, anywhere. Come January, they will be in position to make a long playoff run.
7) Buffalo Bills 14, Tennessee Titans 7: Defense travels
Your 2019 Buffalo Bills are 4-1. My 2019 Cinderella pick is 4-1. A great defense — a team with a great culture — has the ability to be portable and take that D anywhere. Buffalo pounced on the Titans‘ mistakes and missed field goals on Sunday. This is how you take the positives from the Week 4 loss to a great New England team and build off them. This is how you make sure a tight loss doesn’t become a losing streak.
I can’t wait to jump through a table, Bills Mafia style, when Buffalo returns to the playoffs.
8) Minnesota Vikings 28, New York Giants 10: 84 Million Dollar Man delivers
I disagree with Kirk Cousins’ decision to apologize to Adam Thielen. I disagree with Stefon Diggs missing practice and then not exactly running away from a reported trade request. And I disagree with Mike Zimmer’s over-the-top obsession with pounding the football on the ground like it’s 1959. But Sunday brought the perfect remedy for shifting the conversation away from Minnesota’s offensive soap opera: the Giants‘ defense. This team needed a win more than anything, and that’s what Minnesota got.
Cousins, who was dreadful in the season’s first month, completed 22 of his 27 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns. Dalvin Cook returned to transcendence, with 218 yards on 27 total touches. Thielen enjoyed his most productive day of the season (seven catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns), and while Diggs posted underwhelming numbers (three catches for 44 yards), he didn’t seem too upset in the postgame. (Though that wink was kind of interesting …)
9) Baltimore Ravens 26, Pittsburgh Steelers 23: Survive and advance
The only thing that matters is the final score. This game was the definition of that.
With Mason Rudolph knocked out in scary fashion, Baltimore simply couldn’t lose to someone named Devlin Hodges. It would’ve been the third straight defeat. But in a game littered with questionable officiating and spotty play, the Ravens escaped the madness in overtime with a win. They did what they had to do — and that’s a good sign for this team that is still figuring things out on both sides of the ball.
Baltimore is 3-2. And in this year’s AFC North, that’s a rather huge deal.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.