The season is now five weeks old and the NFC might have itself another legit Super Bowl contender. The 49ers demolished the Browns on “Monday Night Football” to move to 4-0. The Niners and Patriots are the only undefeated teams remaining in the NFL. General NFL truth: Sharing company with the team Bill Belichick coaches is almost always a good thing. Almost.
The Niners’ perfect start was enough to push them up several more spots in the Power Rankings, but I’m not ready to put them in the top three just yet. If you need to vent about this hideous miscarriage of justice, hit me up on Twitter @DanHanzus.
Let’s get to it.
NOTE: The previous rankings referenced in the lineup below are from the Week 5 Power Rankings.
Patriots‘ passing game has struggled of late, so Josh McDaniels called on his ground attack to spark the offense. That did the trick. After a first half in which
Tom Brady threw the ball 31 times and New England managed just 12 points against the lowly
Redskins, the Pats shifted gears and ran over Washington in a
Sony Michel led the way, finishing with 91 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown. The ground game freed up Brady, who passed for 348 yards and two touchdowns a week after one of his worst passing performances in
a narrow win over the
Bills. The defense was its dependably dominant self, though the challenge wasn’t exactly steep against
Colt McCoy and a lost
Redskins team that
fired its head coach a day after the game. The Pats are 5-0, with more layups to come
against the Giants and Jets.
Saints are now 3-0 in games started by
Teddy Bridgewater. The difference in
the latest win is that Bridgewater was a major factor against the Bucs. The backup quarterback threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns, significantly outplaying fellow former first-round pick
Jameis Winston in
a 31-24 victory at the Superdome. In fairness to Winston, Bridgewater has a vastly superior supporting cast on both sides of the ball.
Michael Thomas finished with 11 catches for 182 yards and two scores, and cornerback
Marshon Lattimore shut out Bucs
Pro Bowl wideout
Mike Evans on three targets. The
Saints‘ front seven was especially fearsome, hitting Winston eight times and finishing with six sacks. Bridgewater enjoyed the opposite experience: He was rarely touched as the O-line shut down NFL sack leader Shaq Barrett. The final score doesn’t reflect the superiority of the
The best offense in football looked anything but on Sunday night, managing just 13 points in
an eye-opening loss to the
Colts at Arrowhead. The
Chiefs took a turn for the mortal when
Patrick Mahomes aggravated
an ankle injury after being stepped on by a teammate in the third quarter. The reigning MVP had a noticeable limp for the rest of the game and lacked the mobility that helps make him the game’s most dangerous talent. With the reigning MVP compromised, the rest of the
Chiefs were unable to pick up the slack. The run game managed just 2.6 yards per carry, and the defense was unable to come up with a big stop, as the
Colts ran the ball repeatedly in the final quarter. So … is this game an aberration for the
Chiefs, or is it a hint of more struggles to come? We imagine a lot of that depends on how quickly Mahomes heals up.
Nick Bosa is a bad man. The No. 2 overall pick announced himself as an NFL star on “Monday Night Football” against the
Browns, stuffing the stat sheet to the tune of two sacks, two tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Yes, he
planted his flag in more ways than one. Bosa was the face of
a nearly perfect performance by the 49ers, who are 4-0 for the first time since 1990 and have an NFC-best +70 scoring differential. The blowout of the
Browns sets up
a Week 6 matchup against the defending NFC champion
Rams. It’s the Niners’ biggest game since Jim Harbaugh roamed the sidelines.
Have a day,
Aaron Jones. The running back scored four touchdowns and piled up 182 yards of total offense to lead the
a truly impressive 34-24 win over the
Aaron Rodgers is now 4-0 in his career at Jerrah World, an atmosphere that seems to bring out the best in the quarterback. Entering the game, it seemed as if the
Packers would struggle to move the ball without
Davante Adams, the team’s only proven receiver threat (unless you count The Artist Formerly Known as Jimmy Graham), who is dealing with
a toe injury. Moving the ball efficiently minus Adams counts as a major step forward for Matt LaFleur’s offense — even if there seemed to be some feisty moments between LaFleur and Rodgers as Green Bay tried to run out the clock in the final minutes. There’s nothing more fun in 2019 than studying the
Packers‘ sideline like the Zapruder film.
Eagles cruised to
a second straight win because of their defense. This was a fever dream for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who watched his unit pile up 10 sacks, 16 QB hits and two touchdowns.
Nate Gerry’s pick-six put the
Eagles up 14-0 and extinguished any sense of drama in the proceedings.
Orlando Scandrick tore the ball out of the hands of overmatched
Luke Falk and
took it to the house for the exclamation point. The
Eagles were far less impressive on offense, managing just 265 yards against Gregg Williams’ stubborn
Jets unit, but in the end, it didn’t really matter. This was the
Eagles in cruise control against an opponent that could give the
Dolphins a run for the No. 1 pick. We’ll learn a lot more about the
Eagles over the next three weeks during
a hellacious three-game road swing through Minnesota, Dallas and Buffalo.
Greg Zuerlein. The
couldn’t convert on a 44-yarder in the final seconds on Thursday night, allowing the
Seahawks to escape with
a 30-29 win at a raucous Clink.
That was a great football game.
Russell Wilson stood out as the best player on the field, throwing four touchdown passes with just six incompletions in a near-perfect effort. By the end of the game,
Seahawks fans were chanting “M-V-P!” at their quarterback — and it’s not a crazy thought. Through five games, Wilson has career-high marks in completion percentage, passing yards, yards per attempt and passing touchdowns for the 4-1
Seahawks. On Thursday, he was unstoppable. According to NFL Next Gen Stats data, Wilson threw for 130 yards on the run, the highlight being
an almost impossible TD pass to the back corner of the end zone hauled in by
Tyler Lockett. The play had a catch probability of 6.3 percent. Six. Point. Three.
Sometimes, the kicker just has to make a kick.
On Thursday night,
Greg Zuerlein didn’t, and so the entire vibe around the
Rams will be different in the walk-up to
Sunday’s huge game against the Niners. That’s football. Final outcome notwithstanding, the wild back-and-forth affair with the
Seahawks featured positives for the
Rams, who are still in good shape at 3-2.
Jared Goff heated up after a slow start,
Cooper Kupp continues to look better now than he did before his ACL injury, and Sean McVay made an obvious effort to get
Todd Gurley involved from the start. Gurley had two touchdown runs, gained 57 total yards and lost a fumble in the red zone over 18 touches, his second-highest number of touches this season (after logging 19
in Week 2 against the Saints). Giving Gurley more work certainly gave the
Rams some more balance on Thursday, but this was hardly a vintage display from the former All-Pro. Is that guy coming back?
Bills defense was at it again on Sunday in Nashville, pounding
Marcus Mariota for four quarters in
a 14-7 win over the
Titans. Buffalo sacked the Tennessee starting quarterback five times, despite the return of
Pro Bowl left tackle
Taylor Lewan from suspension.
(The Bills weren’t impressed.) Tennessee converted just four third downs in 14 attempts and managed just 252 total yards. This type of dominance is starting to become a weekly thing for the
Bills under head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
Josh Allen escaped from concussion protocol and made enough plays while avoiding a killer turnover. Buffalo is built to win games 14-7. It’s unlikely to be the last time.
What a disappointing performance
in London by the
Bears, who fell behind by 17 points at halftime, rallied all the way back to take the lead, then allowed the
Raiders to march 97 yards for the game-winning score in the fourth quarter. That type of march — led by the middling
Raiders, no less — is not supposed to happen against the
Bears‘ defense, which is supposed to be the best the NFC has to offer. You can perhaps write the lapse off to an uncomfortable environment, but the
Bears‘ running game isn’t working on either side of the Atlantic. Chicago must do a lot better than 3.4 yards per carry (29th in the NFL) to ground-and-pound their way to victory while Mitch Trubisky recovers from his shoulder injury.
Sunday was another reminder that the
Texans can look like a bona fide AFC superpower when they hammer the throttle down.
Deshaun Watson had one of his Jordan-like days against the Bucs, finishing 28-of-33 for 426 yards and five touchdowns in
a 53-32 win over the
Falcons. It was a totally different scene after the
Panthers shut down the Houston offense
in Week 4. Watson is a superstar on a team that has a few.
DeAndre Hopkins is a top-five wide receiver, while defensive lineman
J.J. Watt is one of the greatest to ever play. No. 2 receiver
Will Fuller isn’t in that club yet, but he played like a damn Hall of Famer against Atlanta. The incredible 14/217/3 line was Fuller playing at the top of his abilities — as we saw before last year’s knee injury, when he had 15.7 yards per catch, he’s a special talent in his own right. The
Texans are scary.
Give Matt Patricia credit: He had his share of doubters after a mostly choppy first season on the sidelines in Detroit, but the
Lions look like a much more cohesive group in Year 2. The sample is obviously small, but September brought optimism that the team is buying into a system that’s working. That hasn’t typically been the case for Belichick disciples who go it alone. One of Patricia’s best offseason moves was to bring in Darrell Bevell as offensive coordinator. The
Lions are averaging 120.5 yards per game on the ground (up from 103.8 a season ago), and quarterback
Matthew Stafford is off to arguably the best start of his career. Through four weeks, Stafford has posted career-best rates in yards per attempt (12.8), adjusted yards per attempt (8.0) and yards per completion (12.8). His go-to receiver has been
Kenny Golladay, currently on pace for a Megatron-like 144 targets this season.
“We came into their home when nobody expected us to beat their ass.” Those were the blunt
postgame words of
Justin Houston, the former
Chiefs star who returned to Arrowhead as a visitor and ended the night celebrating
a huge road win. Consider it yet another reminder of the resilience and toughness of these
Colts, who may no longer have Andrew Luck but can still fight it out with anybody in the AFC. Indy was undoubtedly aided by the ankle injury that slowed reigning MVP
Patrick Mahomes, but Frank Reich’s team beat the
Chiefs in the trenches. This was most apparent on a 14-play, 35-yard
Colts drive that produced just three points but chewed up more than half of the fourth quarter. The undermanned defense did the rest, led by Houston, whose
fourth-and-1 stop of Damien Williams with 5:02 left served as the biggest play of the game.
Christian McCaffrey is playing out of his mind right now. The
Panthers‘ season would already by over if not for their dynamic superstar running back, who has carried the offense week after week while
Cam Newton works his way back from a serious foot injury. On Sunday
against the Jaguars, McCaffrey was in “Madden”-on-easy mode. He ended the day with 237 total yards and three touchdowns — his incredible production is even more amazing when you consider he sat out the end of the game with cramps. It seems silly to have MVP discussions in early October, but McCaffrey has a chance to be the first running back to win football’s greatest individual award since
Adrian Peterson in 2012.
Kirk Cousins can offer up
weird podcast apologies all day, but the only real way to repair his on-field relationship with
Adam Thielen is to turn that contrition into action. On Sunday, the
Vikings‘ maligned quarterback targeted his No. 1 receiver eight times
against the Giants, and Thielen responded with seven catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns in
a 28-10 win. It was part of an important bounce-back effort for the Minnesota offense, which piled up nearly 500 yards a week after
a Week 4 meltdown against the Bears. Cousins found great success in play action, an element of the offense that had been all but invisible during Minnesota’s early-season funk.
Dalvin Cook — who absolutely deserves way-too-early MVP consideration — accounted for 218 yards (132 rushing, 86 receiving) in his latest fantasy masterpiece. The Vikes’ defense also showed up, holding New York to 211 yards of total offense.
Justin Tucker is so great that we wouldn’t be surprised if he purposely bent his
game-winning field goal juuuuust inside the left upright solely to mess with the hearts of
Steelers fans at Heinz Field.
A win over Pittsburgh is always big, but it’s even bigger when you can drop your forever rival to 1-4 — the NFL’s version of life support. It was an important get-right day for the defense, which had been savaged in back-to-back weeks, surrendering more than 1,000 yards in
losses to the Chiefs
and Browns. The Big Ben-less
Steelers are perhaps not the greatest litmus test for the defense, but progress is progress.
The visiting 0-4
Denver Broncos should have been money in the bank for the
Chargers on Sunday. Instead, the Bolts gave up the first 17 points of the game, blew a pair of goal-line scoring opportunities and fell short in their comeback attempt in
a 20-13 loss. Disappointment was everywhere in this one, but let’s focus on the backfield, where the return of holdout running back
Melvin Gordon was supposed to bolster an attack that had thrived with
Austin Ekeler leading the show. Gordon showed a ton of rust, held to 38 total yards from scrimmage and no first downs for the first time in his career. Ekeler had almost no role as a rusher, but he did have a whopping 15 receptions, nearly half of
Philip Rivers‘ total completions for the game. The
Chargers are a work in progress right now.
Even a Jon Gruden hater has to admit it: The
Raiders have made undeniable progress in Year 2 under Chucky. Sunday in London represented the highpoint so far for Gruden 2.0 in Oakland:
A dramatic 24-21 win over the Bears and old friend
Khalil Mack. The star was
Josh Jacobs, who probably wouldn’t be a Raider if not for the Mack trade that sent first-round picks back to Oakland last September. Jacobs ran for two touchdowns and set a career high with 123 yards on 26 carries.
His impressive leap over a goal line pile was the exclamation point on a touchdown drive that covered 13 plays and 97 yards in the fourth quarter and put the
Raiders ahead for good after the
Bears had wiped out an early deficit. After the game, Gruden did some
“disco dancing” in the winning locker room — clearly a shot at the
Bears‘ so-called “Club Dub” after wins. Jon Gruden lives for this.
Minshew Magic wasn’t enough on Sunday.
Gardner Minshew put together another strong effort against the
Panthers, but three end-zone prayers in the final seconds went unanswered in
a narrow loss. Minshew also had a costly fumble in the final quarter, but he wasn’t the reason Jacksonville fell. It was the defense’s complete helplessness against the great
Christian McCaffrey, who piled up 237 yards and three touchdowns. The Jags allowed an astounding 285 yards on the ground (10.6 yards per carry!). Up next on the schedule?
The Saints and Superman running back
Alvin Kamara. Good luck.
So much for momentum. Last week’s
complete victory over the Ravens felt like a distant memory as the
49ers pulled away from an utterly overmatched
on Monday night at Levi’s Stadium. Cleveland was bullied in all phases, but the greatest concern coming out of the loss has to be with QB
Baker Mayfield, who played poorly on a national stage. Last season, Mayfield set an NFL record for TD passes by a rookie. This year? He leads the NFL with eight interceptions despite the much-hyped addition of
Odell Beckham Jr., who was quiet again. Mayfield will have nightmares about
Nick Bosa, who lived in the backfield and
settled an old score with one celebration. This was not supposed to be the script in Cleveland.
Titans. Tennessee had a chance to string together back-to-back impressive performances after
a balanced win over the Falcons in Week 4, but instead
got smothered by the Bills in their own building. Buffalo’s defense has done that to several teams this season, and will do it to several more, but with the
Titans, there is always that hope they can put it together and find the consistency that will shut up all the critics. Instead,
Marcus Mariota was under constant attack from a
Bills pass rush that finished with five sacks. The
Titans managed just 252 yards on offense, but still could have come out of this defensive dogfight with a win if
Cairo Santos doesn’t fail on four field-goal attempts (three misses, one blocked). The nightmare outing
cost Santos his job and kept the 2-3
Titans in one-step-forward-two-steps-back mode.
Every young NFL quarterback learns quickly how, well,
hard the job is, and the
Vikings were happy to deliver the lesson to
Daniel Jones on Sunday at the Meadowlands. Danny Dimes was sacked four times, harassed constantly and held to less than 5 yards per attempt in
a 28-10 loss. It would have been a different game had Jones not missed two crucial throws to Sterling Shepard: in the first quarter, an overthrown deep ball with Shepard alone behind the secondary and, in the third quarter, a high red-zone pass that carried Shepard out of the end zone. Big Blue settled for three points on two possessions that could have produced 14. The
Giants fared no better on the other side of the ball: The
Vikings‘ Big Three of
Adam Thielen and
Dalvin Cook found prairie fields of open space in the middle of a New York defense missing multiple linebackers dealing with injuries.
The Bucs were unable to keep the positive momentum going after last week’s
eye-opening 50-burger against the Rams. The
Saints‘ defense posed a much bigger challenge to
Jameis Winston, who was harassed regularly in
a 31-24 loss at the Superdome. New Orleans did an excellent job neutralizing both
Mike Evans and
Shaquil Barrett. The wide receiver was held without a catch on three targets, thanks to blanket coverage from
Marshon Lattimore. Barrett, meanwhile, finished without a sack or quarterback hit (he still stands at a robust nine sacks through five weeks). Sunday taught us that Tampa Bay is not at New Orleans’ level … but we already knew that.
It may be too little, too late, but it appears the
Broncos‘ defense has finally come to life. The unit broke through with its first three sacks of the year in
the Week 4 loss to the Jaguars, and this past Sunday, Denver claimed its first three takeaways vs. the
Chargers. Even better, Vic Fangio’s team finally found a way to close out
a win. That was supposed to be the formula here: Play great defense, lean on
Phillip Lindsay and the running game and have
Joe Flacco pilot the offense like the accomplished vet he is. Against the Bolts, it all finally went to script. Can it be replicated?
Falcons fancied themselves as playoff contenders when the season opened. Through five weeks, they are one of the worst teams in the NFC. Dan Quinn’s defense has been an issue all season, but it reached a nadir in
Sunday’s 53-32 loss to the Falcons. This stat (
from ESPN) says it all: Atlanta’s D surrendered gains of 21-plus yards to six different
Texans, including a 51-yarder and the 44-yarder. When you don’t get to the quarterback and you don’t cover in the secondary, well, 1-4 happens. With Jay Gruden now out in Washington, Quinn might be the head coach with the hottest seat in the business.
Cardinals‘ final drive on Sunday act as a turning point in their season? Kliff Kingsbury had watched as a 23-9 lead turned into a 23-23 tie in the final quarter. Arizona needed a big moment from their No. 1 pick — and
Kyler Murray delivered it. Murray led the Cards 62 yards on six plays capped by
Zane Gonzalez’s chip-shot field goal as time expired. Murray gained most of the yardage on two plays: a 24-yard pass to
David Johnson and 24-yard scramble that set up Arizona’s first win. Progress.
Bengals faced a pair of winless teams in the past two weeks and somehow failed to secure their own first victory. That’s when you know you’re one of the worst teams in football. The culprit, once again, was a listless offense that took forever to get going against a
Cardinals defense that no one will confuse with the ’85
Bears. You can’t accurately judge Zac Taylor until you give him more pieces to work with, but the first-year coach has not been able to make much with what he has. The hope was that
A.J. Green would be back by now, but the star wide receiver remains sidelined with an ankle injury. If he does return and looks like his old self, it makes sense for Cincinnati to entertain the thought of trading him before the Oct. 29 deadline. This is a tomorrow team and Green is a now player. Would the
Bengals ever pull the trigger?
Is this rock bottom for the
Jets? You never know with this star-crossed franchise, but Sunday’s
31-6 loss to the
Eagles was about as ugly as it gets.
Luke Falk, who got the start despite seeing
fewer first-team practice reps than
Sam Darnold, was absolutely savaged by an
Eagles pass rush that piled up 10 sacks and 16 QB hits. Falk threw
a pick-six and also
had the ball torn out of his hands for another touchdown. Yeesh. The good news? The
Jets finally scored an offensive touchdown (their first since Week 1), and Gregg Williams’ defense showed backbone not evident elsewhere on the team. This is all a terrible look for Adam Gase, who can’t put all of New York’s titanic struggles on Darnold’s absence. This team will have to show significant improvement down the stretch — especially now that
Darnold has been cleared to play again — to ensure Gase gets a second year on the sideline. Yes, it’s been that bad.
Jay Gruden, you’re free now. The
Redskins head coach was
fired on Monday after the
Redskins fell to 0-5 with
a 33-7 loss to the Patriots. Speaking about his dismissal on Monday, Gruden said
he wasn’t bitter, but added that he wished he had more say in how Washington’s roster had been constructed during his run. This is a very fair comment, and you wonder if the
Redskins‘ power structure will scare off quality coaching candidates come January. For now, making the
Redskins respectable falls on interim head coach Bill Callahan. He said first-round pick
Dwayne Haskins is not a candidate to start right now, meaning
Redskins fans will get more
Colt McCoy and
Case Keenum in the weeks — and perhaps months — to come. These are not the good times.
A bye week means the
Dolphins don’t lose. Is this the last time Miami avoids an “L” in 2019? The 0-16 watch is very real, and you have to wonder if team brass saw it coming. Well, the rest of us saw 0-4 coming after Miami ‘s very naked attempt to, um,
shun talent in a quest for the first overall pick and, ostensibly, the hotshot quarterback who will change everything. In the
Dolphins‘ defense, they’re hardly the first team to blow things up with an eye on tomorrow — but there’s just been something more, I don’t know,
audacious about how they’ve have gone about it. Here’s a fun question: What would
Josh Rosen have to do for the
Dolphins to pass on taking a quarterback at No. 1? I’d say throw 40 touchdowns and stop climate change, but I’m not sure even that gets it done.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.