Another incredible and unpredictable week in the NFL.
Wild results. Major statements. Big-picture questions.
Lotta variance to sift through. So, in this edition of the Schein Nine, I'm all over the good, the bad and the ugly.
1) DAK and the Dallas Cowboys
I'll write it again, for the third straight week: The Cowboys are legit contenders with rookie Dak Prescott at quarterback. If you didn't believe me before, I'm guessing you have to know it's true after seeing Prescott throw for 247 yards and three touchdowns in a major statement win in Green Bay. Outdueling Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field, Prescott pushed the Cowboys to 5-1 on the season.
Now, Prescott wasn't perfect, fumbling a couple of times (losing one) and getting picked for the first time in his neophyte campaign. But he overcame it. It was his game. Prescott displayed his smarts, arm, accuracy, athleticism and "it" factor. How about that dagger drive in the fourth quarter? In that seven-play, 75-yard march that put the 'Boys up 18, Prescott completed all four of his passes for 55 yards, including the play-action scoring strike to Cole Beasley.
The Cowboys, as I've been writing, are clearly a different, tougher team in 2016. And it's impossible to overstate the impact of a dynamic rookie duo in the backfield: Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott, who eclipsed 130 yards rushing for the fourth consecutive week. (On Monday morning, fresh off his season-high, 157-yard effort, Elliott led the NFL in rushing by over 100 yards.)
OK, yes, it's time to address the elephant in the room: Tony Romo. The four-time Pro Bowler is working his way back from a preseason injury that saw him break a bone in his back. The Cowboys are on bye this week, but what happens when they return to action? And more importantly, what if Romo is good to go?
Well, first of all, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport continues to report that Dallas is looking to push the decision back as far as possible, making sure that Romo is 100 percent ready. But when he is? Well, like I alluded last week, I'd be inclined to stick with the rookie. That isn't easy for me to say, as I've been singing the praises of Tony Romo -- an elite quarterback who never gets the credit he deserves -- for years. But at age 36, Romo's body continues to fail him. How can I trust that he'll be able to make it through a game, much less the rest of the season?
With a 7:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 103.9 passer rating, Prescott clearly deserves immense credit for Dallas' five-game win streak. And he deserves to be entrenched as the Cowboys' starting quarterback.
2) Andy Reid
Maybe I should've suspected the outcome, as Reid's teams are now 16-2 after a bye week. That's incredible -- a credit to Reid's brilliance and self-evaluation.
Oh, and Reid put the cherry on top with one particular play call: a screen pass to ... defensive tackle Dontari Poe! With the Chiefs facing a third-and-goal at the Raiders' 1, Poe entered the game as a fullback, then motioned out wide with three blockers in front of him. Smith snapped the ball and quickly tossed a pass to the 346-pound Poe, who barreled into the end zone to put the Chiefs up 20-10. Awesome.
3) Buffalo Bills
I was a leading voice in pulling the plug on the Rex Ryan era when Buffalo started 0-2. Heck, I'm on record saying the Bills never should've hired him in the first place. One month later, Rex's crew is 4-2, and I've got egg on my face.
Rex fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman following the Week 2 loss to his old team, the Jets -- a move criticized by many, myself included, because the offense didn't seem to be the problem in the 37-31 defeat to New York. But the proof is in the pudding. Since Roman's firing -- and the promotion of Anthony Lynn to OC -- Buffalo hasn't lost a game.
After beating the Cardinals, Patriots and Rams (with the latter two wins coming on the road), the Bills refused to overlook a lackluster opponent -- something Rex-coached teams have done in the past. Buffalo rampaged past the lowly 49ers, 45-16, in front of the Bills Mafia in Orchard Park. LeSean McCoy (19 carries for 140 yards and three touchdowns) was excellent -- again -- reminding Niners coach Chip Kelly that he shouldn't have traded him back when he was running the Eagles. Nobody has benefited from Lynn's promotion more than Shady. After totaling 117 yards over the first two games of the season in Roman's offense, the 28-year-old back has averaged 118 yards rushing per outing under Lynn. Tyrod Taylor continues to impress, as well, routinely making big-time, clutch throws. Overall, the Bills admirably have handled early adversity and a series of crippling injuries.
Is Buffalo a legit playoff contender? Does Rex Ryan deserve major credit for this turnaround? I've been an outspoken critic, based upon reality to the contrary. But I have to acknowledge how impressed I've been with this team over its last four wins.
4) AFC North
Every team lost on Sunday, and the division is a combined 3-9 since Week 4.
I thought Pittsburgh would smoke an overmatched Miami team. I forgot about the annual, inexplicable Mike Tomlin loss to an inferior opponent. This was batty. Jay Ajayi, of all people, gashed the Steelers' run defense to the tune of 204 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Adding injury to insult, Ben Roethlisberger suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee. The timetable for Big Ben's return is unclear at the moment, but he certainly won't be out there this coming Sunday. This was not the way the Steelers wanted to go into Patriots week.
Speaking of the Patriots, Tom Brady and New England's offense trounced a Bengals defense that just hasn't been the same this year. And that unit certainly isn't alone in its ineptitude: Cincinnati is scoring just 18.2 points per game (ranking 30th in the NFL). The Bengals fell to 2-4. Thought this team would take a step back after losing key players and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson in the offseason -- and you're seeing how much those guys are missed on a weekly basis.
Baltimore had a golden opportunity to snap a losing streak and get a win against the Giants, but the Ravens blew it on a late fourth-and-1 for New York. With the ball at his own 34-yard-line, Eli Manning hit Odell Beckham Jr. over the middle, and the explosive wideout scampered all the way to the end zone for the go-ahead score. Joe Flacco drove Baltimore deep into Big Blue territory in the ensuing drive, but the Ravens couldn't punch it in. Might've helped if John Harbaugh had taken the points at the beginning of the fourth quarter instead of going for it on fourth-and-goal -- and getting stoned. Another field goal-related goof for the former special teams coach.
5) Green Bay Packers
Mike McCarthy didn't like questions about his offense last week. Guessing this week won't be a walk in the park for the Packers coach.
Green Bay was uncharacteristically dreadful at home on Sunday, getting blown off Lambeau Field by the Cowboys. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense not only played poorly, but they were booed! When was the last time that happened? Well, it was deserved. No. 12's play of late is especially disconcerting. Rodgers threw a horrible pick, fumbled the ball away on the doorstep of the end zone and missed open receivers throughout the day. Jordy Nelson didn't look like himself, either.
No rhythm. No confidence. No familiar execution.
6) Carolina Panthers
Carolina's 1-5 start marks a Super Bowl hangover of historic proportions. This is also the Panthers team I expected in the preseason last year, before the Super Bowl run. You almost have to jog the mental rolodex to recall Carolina's fantastic, tough and stingy defense from a season ago. The unit is a shell of its former self. The pass rush isn't there, while the secondary is clearly missing something -- and by something, I mean Josh Norman. General manager Dave Gettleman foolishly jettisoned Norman in the offseason. I never understood this move -- easy first-guess. And suddenly, "Riverboat Ron" Rivera's looking more like "Titanic Ron," the way this ship has sunk. Drew Brees lit up the Panthers' defense like a Christmas tree in December.
7) John Fox
How was your week, John Fox?
It started out with the head coach rightly getting roasted for saying the Bears"don't have a plan" at quarterback in last Monday's press conference. And in that same presser, when asked fair questions by the great Chicago media about the usage of Alshon Jeffery, Fox foolishly quipped, "When you're out there playing quarterback, it looks a little different than when you're up in the press box having hot dogs." It was a foolish comment and a bad look, basically telling the press they know nothing. That's ignorant.
Well, the folks eating hot dogs should swing the pen mightier than the sword after Sunday's effort. Fox's expansion-like team played with no energy and blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead in a game Jacksonville begged Chicago to win.
When you lose to the Jaguars -- at home -- and fall to 1-5, chances are you are going to have a lot of free time to eat hot dogs sooner rather than later.
8) Indianapolis Colts
I was ready for bed. And many of you probably were, too. Much of the Houston crowd had left. Why not? The game was over.
Until it wasn't.
But this was about the Colts inexplicably blowing a 14-point lead late in the fourth quarter -- and, inherently, missing an opportunity to jump into a first-place tie in the AFC South. Horrible tackling and overall defense. Zero toughness and clutch play. Horrendous pass protection in overtime.
Gruesome. Season-changing. Yet, sadly fitting for this franchise of late.
9) Pass interference??
And a missed pass-interference actually might have cost Atlanta a win. With the Falcons trailing by two points and less than two minutes remaining, Matt Ryan lofted a fourth-down pass deep to Julio Jones. Richard Sherman clearly grabbed the star receiver before the ball arrived -- Atlanta should've had the ball with a fresh set of downs at the Seahawks' 35. But the refs swallowed the whistle. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn lost his mind on the sideline -- and rightfully so. It was a blatant instance of pass interference that could've set up the Falcons for a game-winning field goal.
I'm not a believer in pass interference being subject to review. Too many issues and subjectivity. And it would take too long.
But I'm a believer in getting it right on the field, especially when it's obvious.