Week 6 hot reads: These Cowboys a great thing for NFL
Ten snap reactions from the sixth Sunday of the NFL season:
— Love them or hate them, it’s a great thing for the NFL when the Cowboys are playing like this. And Sunday’s 30-23 stunner over the defending champs in Seattle erased any doubt about whether they can compete with the best. The Cowboys just keep riding RB DeMarco Murray — the second player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in each of his team’s first six games — behind their solid young offensive line. They have an elite matchup threat in WR Dez Bryant when QB Tony Romo needs to throw. (Bryant even lured Seahawks CB Richard Sherman away from his usual left side in the second half.) And week after week, a defense sparked by MLB Rolando McClain’s stunning comeback makes enough plays to get by. The schedule provides an apparent break now, too, with home games against the Giants and Redskins the next two weeks. Is this the year America’s Team returns to glory? Or will it collapse in another inglorious heap? Either way, it’ll be worth watching.
— Since telling Packers fans to “relax” heading into a Week 4 matchup with the Bears, QB Aaron Rodgers has thrown 10 touchdown passes with no interceptions and Green Bay has won three straight to stay knotted with Detroit atop the NFC North. Rodgers sure stayed cool himself on the final drive of Sunday’s 27-24 triumph at Miami. He converted fourth-and-10 with a flick to WR Jordy Nelson for 18 yards. He faked a spike with 13 seconds to go and found Davante Adams for 12, then hit the back shoulder on a 4-yard touchdown to TE Andrew Quarless for the win. And those weren’t even the toughest throws Rodgers made on a day the Packers needed every one of them. This is the stuff MVP seasons are made of, and if Rodgers keeps it up, don’t count him out for his second.
— TV microphones caught Broncos TE Julius Thomas yelling “It’s so easy!” after his second TD in Sunday’s 31-17 win over the Jets, and why not? Four years ago, Thomas was just learning to play the game in his lone season with the Portland State football team after exhausting his basketball eligibility. Now, in a contract year, Thomas leads the NFL with nine touchdowns through five games — putting him on pace for 29, just two shy of LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-season NFL record. The Broncos are a relatively anonymous 4-1, in part because QB Peyton Manning’s numbers are great, not historically off the charts like they were a year ago. But Manning’s passer rating has exceeded 110 in every game but the Week 3 loss at Seattle, and he has matched Rodgers so far with 15 TD passes, with Thomas his favorite target. The next three games may not be quite as easy: Home against the 49ers and Chargers in a five-day span, then at New England.
— While the Browns rise on the strength of young talent, the Steelers team they routed 31-10 on Sunday just looks old and slow on defense. That shouldn’t be a huge surprise, given the ages of some of the players Pittsburgh is relying on. But the past three weeks — a home loss to the woeful Buccaneers, a one-score win at Jacksonville and then Sunday’s runaway loss at Cleveland — have provided plenty of cause for concern. Five of Browns QB Brian Hoyer’s eight completions went for 24 yards or more, including a 51-yard TD to TE Jordan Cameron. RBs Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell combined for 155 yards on 36 carries (4.3 average). The thought coming into the season was Cleveland would play good defense under new coach Mike Pettine and just needed to score enough to get by. But the Browns offense keeps delivering — and now is just six weeks away from top WR Josh Gordon’s scheduled return from suspension. One caveat: The impact of losing Pro Bowl C Alex Mack to a broken leg shouldn’t be underestimated.
— The Patriots took hits of their own in a 37-22 win at Buffalo, where ILB Jerod Mayo and RB Stevan Ridley suffered knee injuries. It was a big blow last October when Mayo went down with a torn pectoral muscle, and Ridley has accounted for half of New England’s rushing attempts this season. No doubt QB Tom Brady is rolling again, tossing four TDs Sunday. The Patriots find ways year after year to plug holes and be there at the end. It’s the core philosophy behind coach Bill Belichick’s program: No one player defines the Patriots’ success. But certainly, if the injuries to Mayo and/or Ridley are significant, it won’t help.
— For the second time in a month, the Buccaneers played the type of game that can get a defensive coordinator fired, letting Ravens QB Joe Flacco become the first player in 28 years to throw four TD passes in the first quarter of what became a 48-17 laugher. But coach Lovie Smith surely isn’t firing himself, even though defense is supposed to be his area of expertise. Dumping fellow Tampa-2 disciple Leslie Frazier, who never has been regarded as a great strategist, would seem like seeking someone to take the fall. Something has to change, though. This wasn’t a team that thought it was in rebuilding mode. (If it did, there wouldn’t have been a trade for expensive 32-year-old G Logan Mankins in August.) Right or wrong, the Bucs had expectations, and they’re falling shorter of them than anyone could’ve imagined.
— The Giants might want to think twice before breaking down the pregame huddle on the Eagles’ logo. Their offense barely saw midfield again, didn’t net 20 yards on a possession until garbage time and lost WR Victor Cruz to a left knee injury in a 27-0 defeat. It was the Giants’ worst loss in the series since 1980 and snapped a three-game winning streak that seemed to show QB Eli Manning and company were making progress in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system. As usual, the NFC East is a tough division to peg, the Cowboys’ hot start notwithstanding. But Eagles coach Chip Kelly appears to be in Belichick mode, moving on from experimentation as midseason approaches and going to what works — namely RB LeSean McCoy, whose 22-carry, 149-yard effort was his best this season.
— The Bengals’ talented defense hasn’t been itself since the bye. One week after giving up 43 points and 505 yards in a loss to the Patriots, Cincinnati allowed the Panthers to put up 37 and 431 in the highest-scoring overtime tie in NFL history — a game that nonetheless would’ve been a Bengals win had Mike Nugent not shanked a 36-yard field goal as OT expired. Granted, one of Carolina’s three TDs came on a short field after an Andy Dalton interception. But the Panthers also converted eight of 17 third downs, yielding a handful of 10-plus play drives, and were 4-of-7 in the red zone. The Bengals have just one takeaway over those two weeks, and that won’t work if they’re going to tackle their toughest challenge yet: A visit to Indianapolis to face QB Andrew Luck and the high-flying Colts.
— Bears RB Matt Forte is on an impressive run of multipurpose productivity, and it finally contributed to a win at Atlanta. QB Jay Cutler’s 381-yard passing day got the attention in Chicago’s 27-13 victory, but Forte finished with 17 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns and 10 catches for 77 yards — the third consecutive game and fourth this season in which Forte has accounted for over 150 yards of offense. If only the Falcons could figure out how to get the same from RB Antone Smith as they try to keep their season from spiraling out of control. Smith has just 23 touches the entire season, but his 66-yard TD catch Sunday was his fifth score — all on plays of 38 yards or longer.
— The Jaguars had a field-goal attempt blocked in the final seconds of a 16-14 loss to the Titans. The Raiders had a pass intercepted on their final drive in a 31-28 loss to the Chargers. The NFL’s two remaining winless teams both made a lot of personnel moves in hopes of returning to respectability in 2014. Both are rolling with rookie quarterbacks. Both are set up well in terms of cap flexibility for the future. But right now, this has to hurt.
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.
GALLERY: BEST OF WEEK 6 AROUND THE NFL
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