Unpredictable, stunning, confusing and at times just strange is the best way to describe the events of Week 5. But this time of the year, there are always games that leave us asking how could this happen.
How could the Raiders beat the Chargers? What about the Bengals blowing a lead at home to the Buccaneers? Better yet, how did the Cardinals take down the defending Super Bowl champion Saints with an undrafted rookie quarterback? When you look closely, it is not hard to figure out.
Imagine Saints coach Sean Payton standing in front of his team last Wednesday, trying to make the Cardinals look better than the team they beat 45-14 in the divisional round with Kurt Warner under center, not Max Hall from BYU. The players might have listened to every word that Payton preached about the matchup being a trap game, but in reality, they did not hear a word he said. They knew, or believed, all they had to do was show up and they would win easily. Forget attention to detail, forget hungry to prove they are the new NFC power and forget Payton's message. The players believed they would win. And what happened, they fumble, throw three interceptions and miss a 29-yard field goal, which, in essence, count for five total turnovers. Even though the Saints outgained the Cardinals by almost 200 yards, they lost by 10 points.
Imagine Chargers coach Norv Turner standing in front of his team, trying to make the Raiders sound better than their 1-3 record and better than the last thirteen times they have beaten them. Sure, every player listened to Turner's plea to take the game seriously. They listened to him preach the value of winning the kicking game, but they did not hear a word. Every player believed, much to the caution of their coach, that all they had to do was show up and the Raiders would self-destruct. Once again, the Chargers gained over 500 yards and, once again, their special teams let them down leading to a road loss.
Imagine Bengals coach Marvin Lewis preparing to host the Buccaneers, returning home after the team's first AFC North defeat since 2008. The players were not worried about the Buccaneers; forget all that Lewis said about being concerned about an opponent coming off a bye. The Bengals must have thought that all they had to do was get a lead and the Buccaneers would easily go away. Yet, the Buccaneers were resilient and the Bengals were in a giving mood, especially late in the game. Now the Bengals are faced with a two-game losing streak as they enter their bye.
Even though there is only one game a week, getting your team ready to play its best is a hard job for most coaches, especially when facing a perceived bad team or an opponent that you have dominated. It requires serious motivation from the coach, but it also calls for leadership in the locker room to respond to the task at hand or an event that can get the players to go from listening to hearing.
The challenge facing every coach on a weekly basis is to get his players to hear and listen to his words and to take each opponent seriously. Often during the 16-game season, the challenge becomes daunting. However, for the fans, it makes for an entertaining week, which is exactly what we saw Sunday.
» I was in Washington to watch the Packers and Redskins. If you look at the stat sheet, you would have never thought that Donovan McNabb had a good game. But when evaluating McNabb, you have to throw out the completion percentage and just focus on the two or three plays he makes to win the game. He made those plays against the Packers, and despite taking a physical beating from the Packers, McNabb hung in there and led his team to the victory. Stats are for losers, McNabb just wins.
» How about those Jacksonville Jaguars? Yes, beating Buffalo does not entitle you to the Sunday Best, but spotting the Bills a 10-point lead on the road and coming back to win does. The Jaguars have not been a good road team but fought back behind the play of tight end Marcedes Lewis and took the game over.
» The Titans rotate eight defensive linemen after five plays, calling the first group the Alpha unit and the second Bravo. Call them whatever you want, but they can dominate games and pressure the quarterback into making mistakes, which is what they did in Dallas. Jason Jones, who took over for Albert Haynesworth, is going to be a Pro Bowler soon. He dominated inside and sent Cowboys high-priced guard Leonard Davis to the bench.
» The Lions have been playing hard the entire season. They might not play well all the time, but their hard work finally paid off with a convincing win at home against the Rams. The Lions' defensive front is the best part of their young team and they took over the game, harassing Rams quarterback Sam Bradford all day and forcing him into mistakes.
» I thought the Giants-Texans game could define both teams one way or another. The Giants have to prove they can handle a team with speed and a great passing game. Meanwhile, the Texans need to show they can handle success and play physical. This verdict was quicker than the Tyson-Spinks fight as the Giants proved they can run, dominate defensively and that receiver Hakeem Nicks is a big-time player. All this was accomplished while proving all over again that the Texans are soft and not ready for primetime. Why did I fall for them three weeks ago? I should have known better. I hate soft teams and the Texans are soft with a capital S.
» The Carolina Panthers have moved from bad to unwatchable. I know they are rebuilding, but this is tough to take. In fact, I might not be watching much more tape on them this season. How can the opposing quarterback throw four interceptions and you still lose by 17 points?
» I would love to have sat in the meeting at Halas Hall when the Bears decided it would be wise move to bring in Todd Collins as their only real backup to Jay Cutler. Collins had only thrown 23 passes in the last two years. Of the 16 he threw Sunday, four went to Carolina defenders. Had the Bears played a real team, this move would have backfired and they must now find someone, anyone who can be their No. 2. After yesterday, all Bears fans know it is not Collins.
» The Chargers lost another road game because of their special teams. San Diego has allowed six offensive touchdowns and six non-offensive touchdowns (two kick returns, two fumble returns, one punt return and one blocked punt return) this season. Add two red-zone turnovers, and the Chargers keep beating themselves.
» Green Bay lost some key players early in the game, but what cost the Packers was their inability to stay on the field on third down. Although the Redskins allowed the Packers to move the ball up and down the field in the first half, on third down, they took over the game. The Packers were 2-13 on third down and failed on their only fourth-down attempt. The Packers have to be careful as they are becoming one-dimensional offensively and will start losing toughness on the offensive line with all the pass protection. Even though they rushed for 157 yards, including 71 on a Brandon Jackson jaunt, all their good runs occurred from the shotgun and they could not move the Redskins off the line.
On the lookout
The Ravens completely dominated the Broncos in every phase, particularly controlling the ball for 36-plus minutes. The Ravens seem to have reacquainted themselves with their best player, Ray Rice, and now the rest of the crew understands their role within the offense. They are a complete team when that happens.
Off the beaten track
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has won two consecutive road games with the victory in Cleveland. Ryan was steady, not spectacular, and the Falcons avoided the "overlooking" syndrome that plagued many teams as they took care of the weaker Browns. The Falcons appear to have that hunger to prove they are for real, and are clearly listening as well as hearing the message of their coach Mike Smith.
» The Packers have lost two games to inferior teams and Sunday's defeat in Washington will be tough to handle for a long time. A failed challenge by coach Mike McCarthy will give my Game Management column on Wednesday a topic for discussion. ...
» The entire NFC West is going to play bad on the road. The team that wins the division might be the one that can muster more than two road wins. Arizona is the leader with one. Each time the NFC West travels, bad things happen. ...
» Coach Mike Singletary might be getting a vote of confidence from the York family for now, but it won't last long if he cannot find a way to win a game and fix the turnover problems that plague his team. ...
» The Redskins are going to have to improve their pass protection, or else McNabb will not last the season. ...
» You have to admire how the Chiefs played the Colts, especially on defense, practically in the red zone, holding Peyton Manning and Co. to just one touchdown in three trips. While their defense played the Colts the right way, their offense is a long way from being good. How much more of Matt Cassel playing this badly can the Chiefs endure? ...
» Slide next time you run Max Hall. Love the effort, but worry about your health. ...
» Now the Saints are carrying two kickers that cannot convert inside of 30 yards. John Carney missed a chip shot against Arizona. ...
» Speaking of misses, how much longer will the Cowboys keep watching David Buehler fail from outside of 40 yards (he's 3-5 on the season)? If they want to keep him on the roster, then they need to adjust their play-calling and go for it on fourth-down calls in this range. ...
» Cowboys guard Leonard Davis is big and powerful, but he struggles in the heat, with quickness, blocking on the second level and to be productive. But this did not just happen Sunday; it has been going on since last year. ...
» I will be in the Meadowlands for the Vikings-Jets game (I can hear Springsteen singing "Jersey Girl" from here). It will be interesting to see how the Vikings play on the road and deal with the Jets' pressure package. The last two weeks, the Jets have relied on their offense to carry the team, but it will take a total team effort against the Vikings. I like the Jets to win.
» Follow me on Twitter @michaelombardi.