*Welcome to Week 5! Tom Brady returned with a vengeance in Cleveland, while the Browns lost their third quarterback due to injury. The Battle for the Beltway came down to the last minute. Marcus Mariota and the Titans got back on track in South Beach. The Vikings are still undefeated. Here's what we've learned so far: *
- The Ravens appeared to have the game under control after jumping out to an early lead on a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, but injuries changed the complexion of the game. Top receiver Steve Smith went down with an ankle injury late in the first quarter and never returned. By late in the second quarter, guard Marshal Yanda was forced to kick outside to right tackle, leaving only center Jeremy Zuttah in his original position among Baltimore offensive linemen. Minus Smith, the wide receivers couldn't shake free of man coverage. Unable to protect Joe Flacco against Redskins defensive linemen Ziggy Hood and Trent Murphy, play-caller Marc Trestman apparently didn't feel comfortable dialing up downfield strikes to test that tight man coverage.
- The Ravens can point to a series of missed opportunities, starting with the fake field goal and two potential difference-making plays that came up short for Perriman. The back-breaker, though, was an athletic C.J. Mosley interception that went from a pick-six to the Redskins' possession when the linebacker fumbled out of the end zone while reaching for the pylon.
- As a former special teams coordinator, Ravens coach John Harbaugh has to be livid that a long return contributed to his team's loss for the second straight week. With five minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Redskins had just 33 yards of offense but 130 yards on returns -- including Jamison Crowder's 85-yard touchdown on a punt return.
-- Chris Wesseling
- Tom Brady (406 yards, 3 TDs) was locked in from his first throw back from suspension, directing touchdown marches on his first three drives. (The fourth one stalled at the one-yard line.) He showed a little bit of everything: beautiful deep balls, completions under pressure and a goofy first down celebration on the Browns sideline. It didn't feel like a road game as "Brady" chants echoed in Cleveland.
- Brady's razor-sharp return was almost overshadowed by the return of the real Rob Gronkowski. Cleveland's defense had trouble identifying who should cover Gronk and Martellus Bennett on any given snap. While Bennett had the better fantasy day with three touchdowns, Gronkowski (109 yards) was the bigger difference maker with physical catches, rumbling yards after the catch and great blocking. This Patriots offense will be incredibly hard to match up against with Chris Hogan (114 yards) also making noise on the outside.
- It's a shame that Browns quarterback Cody Kessler was knocked out of the game early in the second quarter with injuries to his chest/ribs. He directed a confident first quarter touchdown drive and was playing heady ball overall in his three starts. Charlie Whitehurst took most of the snaps to replace Kessler, but he was also knocked out of the game late. (Whitehurst returned for a kneel down, so perhaps it wasn't serious.) Kessler's injury could be the tipping point for this looking like an NFL offense.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- People of Earth: It's time to take the Vikings very, very seriously. Sam Bradford continued to look like an ideal match for Norv Turner's offense. After directing a pair of precise, surgical touchdown drives to open the game -- marches that showed off Bradford's crisp arm -- the Vikings passer went on to calmly destroy the Texans with a rash of screens, wise throws and pinpoint lobs downfield. Bradford took plenty of shots from Houston's front seven but never flinched, hitting 22 of 30 passes for 271 yards and two scores -- all of this without Stefon Diggs in the lineup.
- Brock Osweiler's four-year, $72 million contract -- packed with $37 million in guarantees -- looks hyper-shaky after five weeks of play. It can't be easy for Texans fans to watch a rash of rookies already display better footwork, decision-making and accuracy than Houston's ultra-pricey passer. The offensive line of the Texans was no help, though, doing little to stop a flurry of Vikings defenders from rattling and blasting their starting quarterback time and again.
- One painful issue for Osweiler was a super-sticky Vikings secondary that swallowed up DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller to help unleash a wild Minnesota pass rush that sacked the Texans passer four times, registered four tackles for loss and posted 13 quarterback hits. The Vikings are playing at a Super Bowl-level on this side of the ball and look just as powerful as last year's Broncos. The sky is the limit.
-- Marc Sessler
- It was easy to see the confidence Ben Roethlisberger has in the raw but tremendously athletic Sammie Coates. After a 72-yard touchdown, Coates dropped a handful of passes including a sure fire mid-range hurry throw in the end zone. However, Roethlisberger was determined to establish a true No. 2 pass catching threat with Antonio Brown (9 catches, 78 yards and a touchdown) swarmed all afternoon in double coverage. Coates is the league leader in catches over 40 yards (6), which is also worth noting.
- Without Eric Decker in the fold and with Brandon Marshall still clearly working his way back to 100 percent, the charm of Ryan Fitzpatrick's gunslinger campaign from a year ago seems to be fading quickly. He used the term to brush off his six-interception farce from a few weeks ago, but the truth is that he is not the cog in Chan Gailey's system that he was a year ago without the talent from 2015.
- There is a legitimate argument to be made for the Steelers as the No. 1 team in football. Le'Veon Bell rushed for 66 yards on 20 carries and caught nine balls for 88 yards, easily leaving a 100-yard game on the table after Roethlisberger sailed a check down throw under pressure midway through Sunday's contest. His arrival and offensive coordinator Todd Haley's creative placement of the dynamic running back adds a different dynamic to a team that was already expected to finish in the top five offensively this year.
-- Conor Orr
- Big Play Slay lived up to his moniker Sunday. Darius Slay forced a Ryan Mathews fumble with 2:41 remaining, which the Lions recovered, leading to the go-ahead field goal. Slay then intercepted a Carson Wentz heave on the next Eagles play from scrimmage to seal the win. Philadelphia avoided Slay most of the day, and instead picked on weaker Lions defensive backs. When the Eagles went his way late, the corner made them pay. Slay signed a big-money contract extension this offseason to little fanfare outside of Detroit. He'll get nationwide attention after winning and sealing the game for the Lions.
- Wentz threw the first interception of his career on his 135th pass of the season to quickly stifle any last-minute comeback. The rookie quarterback played sublime otherwise. Wentz picked apart a banged-up Detroit defense in the final three quarters with precision passes, heady rollouts, timely runs and great line calls. Too much is made of Wentz dinking-and-dunking. That's the offense Doug Pederson calls. When asked to throw down the field Wentz displayed pin-point accuracy -- his ball placement on a 28-yard back-shoulder throw to Jordan Matthews late in the first half was Pro Bowl caliber. Wentz led the Eagles back from a 14-0 deficit to start the game. If the Eagles defense wasn't so sleepy in the first quarter, it would have been a different outcome.
- It was a tale of two halves for Jim Schwartz's defense. The Eagles looked sluggish out of the gate. Matthew Stafford carved them up with quick passes on three straight touchdown drives of 11 plays, 9 plays and 12 plays to open the game. Philadelphia could not cover or tackle running back Theo Riddick (two TD catches) in the first half. Jim Bob Cooter used a plethora of misdirection early to gash Schwartz defense.
*-- Kevin Patra *
- Ezekiel Elliott is a fascination. The Cowboys rookie runner roared out to a hot start with 42 yards and a touchdown on the team's opening march, setting the table for another dominant performance -- blasting for 134 yards and two scores at a wild 8.9 yards per carry. Elliott has improved weekly, growing mentally and showing better decisiveness with every start. This rout -- filled with clock-chewing drives -- is exactly what the Cowboys hoped for when they chose Elliott with the fourth-overall pick.
- Elliott's electric start shouldn't take away from the brilliant play of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Drafted after seven other signal-callers, the fourth-rounder has looked at home recording a league-leading 15 drives of five-plus minutes and an NFL-best 16 marches of 10-plus plays. The Cowboys opened the game with 10 first downs on their first 18 plays against a good Bengals defense, while Prescott's rushing score -- his third of the year -- made him the most effective Dallas passer on the ground since Danny White had four scores in 1983.
- It was awkward to see 20 minutes of play float by before A.J. Green saw his first target. Nearly just as much time passed before Jeremy Hill saw his initial carry. The Bengals really miss tight end Tyler Eifert, but that alone doesn't explain Sunday's disaster. They also clearly feel the loss of wideouts Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu and savvy play-caller Hue Jackson. Few teams in the NFL are as consistently run as the Bengals, but the talent-drain eventually catches up.
-- Marc Sessler
- Making his NFL starting debut, Paxton Lynch was a clear downgrade from starting quarterback Trevor Siemian. After overthrowing his targets early in the game, Lynch began to regress in the pocket as the offensive line made the league's most feckless pass rush look ferocious. Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley took advantage of Donald Stephenson's absence at right tackle, beating fill-in starter Ty Sambrailo for three sacks and two forced fumbles. As soon as Siemian's shoulder is healthy enough to play, he'll be back under center -- perhaps for the duration of the season.
- No other team can replicate the NFL's most complementary backfield tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, now leading the league with 1,026 yards from scrimmage after accounting for 286 on Sunday. Although Freeman is the key to the chain-moving ground attack, Coleman's speed and playmaking ability are a nightmare for linebackers in space. Both backs run routes as well as wide receivers, enabling play-caller Kyle Shanahan to take advantage of mismatches while Matt Ryan distributes like an all-star point guard.
- Ryan did nothing to jeopardize his standing in the early MVP discussion. He entered the game leading the NFL in every major passing category. If not for his final pass attempt of the afternoon, he would have broken Denver's streak of 29 consecutive games without allowing a passer rating of 100 or better.
-- Chris Wesseling
- Aaron Rodgers sat comfortably in the pocket all night long, many times past five seconds, thanks to the work his linemen. The Packers' O-line stifled a reworked Giants defensive line that boasts Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul, but has yet to put any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. New York's inability to sack or hit Rodgers off the snap allowed the quarterback to do what he does best: scramble and ad-lib.
- Fresh off a week of criticism, Odell Beckham (five receptions, 56 yards) had his moments, including a toe-tapping touchdown late. But where were his friends? With Green Bay's top two cornerbacks out due to injuries, Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz were primed to feast on an undermanned Packers secondary. Instead, two of New York's vaunted trio went M.I.A.
- Message to future opponents: Don't run on the Packers. Or try and fail, whatever you prefer. Sans starter Rashad Jennings, the Giants struggled to establish a running game early against Green Bay's league-best run defense with Orleans Darkwa and Bobby Rainey toting the rock. It was only late in the game, with the Packers dropping rushers back, that New York found any room to run. The Packers came into Sunday night's contest allowing just 1.8 yards per rush and boosted that reputation even further, allowing just 43 yards on 15 attempts.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- After Buffalo lost twice in five days and fired their offensive coordinator to start the season, the league wrote off Rex Ryan and his team up north. Three games later, the Bills are back above .500, and their absent running game is alive and thriving. Under new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, LeSean McCoy has found his stride, recording his third straight game with 100-plus total yards on Sunday. McCoy's patience and shifty speed fooled the Rams' injury-riddled defensive line all day, as he ran for a season-high 150 yards and paced the Bills to their third consecutive victory.
- The Rams under Jeff Fisher always regress to the mean; that much was clear when Fisher gave his "7-9 bull----" speech on Hard Knocks in the offseason, deflecting criticism of his own failings onto his team. Fisher's bull was in full effect on Sunday, as demonstrated by two odd coaching decisions. Down seven with less than six minutes to go in the game, the Rams opted to settle for a field goal from the Bills' four-yard line instead of roll the dice. After L.A. went three-and-out on its next drive, Fisher called a bizarre fake-punt zone-run on a fourth-and-3 from his own 23-yard line that came up one yard short. The coach's inverted, demented don't-risk-it-until-we're-out-of-biscuits strategy failed beautifully, and brought Fisher and his Rams one game closer to their happy place: .500.
- Buffalo's running game isn't the only unit that has improved since Greg Roman's axing; the Bills' defense continued its recent resurgence and feasted on Case Keenum all day. The Rams QB was hurried constantly and sacked four times, thrice by linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who upped his season total to seven sacks. Keenum also threw the game away to Bills cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman twice. The former USC defensive back returned home to the Coliseum to record a lead-stealing pick-six in the third and a game-winning interception with less than two minutes to go.
*-- Jeremy Bergman *
- The exotic smashmouth was fun to talk about in the preseason. Who doesn't enjoy exotic things? But when Tennessee's offensive line is creating holes wide enough for dump trucks to barrel through, that's when it truly flourishes. That was Sunday for the Titans, who rushed for 235 yards and rarely saw a running play end without of a gain of at least five yards. DeMarco Murray ran with authority finishing with 121 yards on 27 carries. Tennessee mixed up traditional power runs with zone read plays, leading to a 60-yard rushing day for Marcus Mariota. Derrick Henry deserves credit for his 54 yards on seven carries, too.
- This was a battle of quarterbacks who make you wonder if life is really ever fair. Mariota has struggled in Mike Mularkey's offense, showing issues with completing passes beyond 15 yards. He did connect with Delanie Walker on perhaps his prettiest pass of the day, a 20-yard completion down the seam for a Tennessee touchdown. Mariota's stat line -- 20-of-29 passing, 163 yards, three touchdowns -- looks better than his performance did, but that's been the case for much of the season.
Ryan Tannehill, meanwhile, continued to struggle, completing 12 of 18 passes for 191 yards and hitting most of his safely open receivers, but also tossing two interceptions, including a late pass he sailed beyond the window and directly into the hands of safety Daimion Stafford.
- The Dolphins are 1-4 and are struggling to remain afloat. Coach Adam Gase lamented a defense trying too hard to help other teammates who missed assignments, or needed assistance bringing down ball carriers, which he said led to "leaks" springing elsewhere. The situation under center doesn't help -- but neither does a defense that has acted more as a sieve than anything.
-- Nick Shook
- NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday morning the starting quarterback job in Chicago was Brian Hoyer's to win Sunday in Indianapolis. While Hoyer's Bears lost the game, the quarterback did more than enough to prove he can run the offense as good as or better than the injured Jay Cutler. Hoyer threw for 397 yards and two scores on 23-of-43 passing. He had zero turnovers and led a 96-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown drive that gave the Bears a late second-half lead. Cutler's time as Chicago's starting QB looks like it could soon be over.
- Frank Gore put another bullet point on his application for the Hall of Fame. With 75 yards on 14 carries, the veteran back passed Jim Brown to move into ninth place on the NFL's all-time career rushing yards list. His 13-yard, first-down run with a minute left in the game salted away the win for the Colts.
- The Bears appear to have found a workhorse in rookie Jordan Howard. Filling in for the injured Jeremy Langford for the second straight week, Howard was a star, powering his way through tight holes for 118 yards on 16 carries. He added 45 receiving yards and a touchdown in the passing game. Like Hoyer and Cutler, Langford's starting running back job will likely not be there when he gets back from his ankle injury.
*-- Edward Lewis *
- This game opened with a comedy of errors. Brandon Mebane was intercepted Derek Carr, and San Diego responded with an Antonio Gates fumble. Philip Rivers got in on the action before the end of the first, tossing a pass that was intercepted by Sean Smith. Sebastian Janikowski missed a 50-yard field goal attempt at the end of the ensuing drive. Oakland cut down on the mistakes after that, but failed to get in the end zone in the first half. The Raiders created more opportunities via San Diego turnovers in the second half, which is where things got interesting.
- So much of this contest was about the improvement of Derek Carr, and the trust head coach Jack Del Rio has in him. Carr's gunslinging, fearless approach shined through on a pivotal fourth-and-2, when Del Rio opted to go for it and his quarterback made him look like a genius. Carr took the snap from the 21, dropped and launched a perfect strike to Michael Crabtree, who came down with a touchdown reception. Immediately after, Carr stood in the pocket and fired a dart to Amari Cooper -- who also ended his touchdown drought on Sunday -- for a successful two-point conversion to cap a drive that swung the game.
- Another week, another blown lead and another loss for the Chargers. Entering the game, San Diego was tops in the league in time of game spent with the lead, yet had only one win to show for it. Sunday didn't help, as the Chargers watched an eight-point lead slip away before the beginning of the fourth. There is hope though, in the form of Joey Bosa, with whom San Diego might regret haggling so much. Bosa immediately improved the Chargers' pass rush and finished with two sacks in his NFL debut. They could have used that pressure in past games that ended in close defeats.
-- Nick Shook