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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 5 of the 2015 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- Packers Defense Continues to Roll– For a guy whose usually prolific offense hasn’t put up the kind of numbers it’s accustomed to the past few weeks, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy was in a good mood Monday.Why? Because the offensive-minded McCarthy is thrilled that his defense played well enough again in Sunday’s 24-10 victory over the St. Louis Rams to render the offense’s struggles meaningless.
“To turn the football over three times and still win, have a decisive victory at home by 14 points, that tells you something about your team,” said McCarthy, whose team is 5-0 for the second time in his 10 years as head coach.
“We want to be a football team that can beat you a number of different ways. That’s been the goal since April. We’re making steps toward that.”
With quarterback Aaron Rodgers throwing a pair of interceptions — breaking a lengthy streak of consecutive attempts at Lambeau Field without one — and also losing a fumble, Green Bay’s offense generated just 17 points for the second straight week.
But the defense more than picked up the slack.
Not only did the Packers intercept four Nick Foles passes (including one that rookie Quinten Rollins returned 45 yards for a touchdown), but they sacked Foles three times (and hit him on nine other drop-backs).
And they made sure that the Rams’ two explosive plays in the fourth quarter — Todd Gurley’s 55-yard run and Stedman Bailey’s 68-yard catch — did not lead to points.
Still, with a team that has the reigning NFL MVP and has long been known for its offensive prowess, the Packers certainly would like to return to form on that side of the ball.
Rodgers was off his game against the Rams, by his standards. He completed 19 of 30 passes for 241 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions, two sacks and a passer rating of 82.8 — but his receivers had a tough time getting open against the Rams secondary.
Without No. 1 wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who was lost for the season on Aug. 23 when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in an exhibition game at Pittsburgh, and without Davante Adams, who was promoted to the No. 2 receiver spot after Nelson’s injury but has been battling an ankle injury since the team’s Sept. 20 victory over Seattle, the Packers appear to lack a deep-ball threat.
That’s had an effect on the Packers’ run game, as running backs Eddie Lacy (13 carries for 27 yards) and James Starks (five carries, 17 yards) saw the Rams bring an eighth defender down into the box on most downs, according to associate head coach/offense Tom Clements.
In fact, Rodgers led the team in rushing Sunday, scrambling for 39 yards.
In addition, the offensive line lost veteran right guard T.J. Lang to a right knee injury with 5:58 left in the first half, on the same day the unit got veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga back after a three-game absence due to a left knee injury suffered during a Sept. 17 practice.
“(We are) happy to be 5-0, but we need to play a little bit better on offense,” Rodgers said after Sunday’s game. “We struggled. We’ve got to adjust a little bit better, we’ve got to run routes a little bit better and we have to be able to get open outside better. And obviously, I’ve got to throw it better than I did and clean some of those things up.”
And yet, McCarthy believes that this is good for his team.
- There is a new Star Running Back in Atlanta– Devonta Freeman stops by his locker, but not for long.He hurriedly pulls on his No. 24 jersey, then hustles off to the weight room to get in a few more lifts before practice.
For Freeman, there’s always a little more that can be done.
As the tattoo on his left arm says, “Failure Is Not An Option.”
“Nothing was ever given to me,” Freeman said Tuesday, at the end of another long day at the Falcons training complex. “A lot of times, I wasn’t better than a lot of players on my team. There was more talent than me. I just always worked harder.”
From surviving the streets of Miami to ignoring skeptics who wondered if he was big enough to make it on the gridiron, Freeman has spent most of his 23 years overcoming the odds.
“I feel like I’ve been an underdog my whole life,” he said.
Maybe not anymore.
Five weeks into his second NFL season, Freeman has emerged as an unlikely star on one of the league’s most surprising teams. The Atlanta Falcons (5-0) are off to the second-best start in franchise history heading into Thursday night’s game at New Orleans.
Their 5-foot-8 running back is a big reason why.
Freeman, who missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury and didn’t even get his first start until Week 3, leads the league with eight rushing touchdowns, is tied for second with 405 yards on the ground, and has given quarterback Matt Ryan another weapon in the passing game with 24 receptions. Actually, baseball was Freeman’s first love. He still goes to the batting cages around Atlanta when he’s got some free time. Lately, he’s been teaching himself how to switch-hit.
But football was his way out, earning Freeman a scholarship to Florida State.
In his final season, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and helped the Seminoles win the national championship. Even then, he entered the NFL draft projected as more of a part-time back, a guy who could catch passes on third down but not handle the job on a regular basis. As a rookie, he showed flashes of his potential but played infrequently behind Steven Jackson, hauling in 30 receptions and rushing for 248 yards.
After a disappointing 6-10 season, the Falcons fired coach Mike Smith and brought in Dan Quinn. Jackson was let go as well, and Freeman went into training camp looking to battle for the starting job with rookie Tevin Coleman. But the hamstring injury derailed those plans, handing the starting job to Coleman for the first two games.
That setback pushed Freeman to work even harder.
“I saw the competitor,” Quinn said. “I saw how frustrated he was when he was injured. But he got a chance to go for it again.”
When Coleman was sidelined by a rib injury, Freeman stepped in to rush for six touchdowns in his first two games as the starter — the youngest player since Jim Brown in 1958 to pull off that feat. Last Sunday, Freeman rushed for a career-best 153 yards in an overtime victory over Washington.
No matter how much success he has, Freeman vows never to forget where he came from. He thinks of his mother and his grandmother, who provided such a steadying influence. He thinks of mentors such as Jackson and Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew fame.
“Football seems like a piece of cake,” Freeman said, as the sun set on another long day. “I can grind all day long.”
- Bears overcome injuries in 2nd straight win in a row vs. the AFC West– After starting the season with a three-game losing skid, the Chicago Bears found themselves searching for an identity.Following two straight comeback victories with a makeshift lineup, they seem to have found it.
“Right now, that is our identity — we are a resilient team that’s going to keep on fighting until the end,” guard Matt Slauson said.
They will have to: Backup running back Jacquizz Rodgers was lost for the season due to a fractured arm, the Bears said Monday, and linebacker Shea McClellin has an injured knee. His prognosis is less clear.
Injuries have piled up at an alarming rate, but the Bears (2-3) have won consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 2 and 3 last season. Heading into a game against the winless Detroit Lions (0-5) on Sunday, they’ll lean on their newfound depth and keep taking coach John Fox’s advice.
“Foxy always tells us ‘don’t flinch,’ ‘don’t blink,'” tackle Kyle Long said. “Things are going to happen, that’s the nature of the game. It’s not going to be all uphill or downhill for us. It’s going to be you’re going to have some tough spots throughout the game and you need to be able to survive the body blows and keep working.”
The “body blows” on offense included hamstring injuries to Jay Cutler and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, an ankle injury to wide receiver Eddie Royal, a concussion to left tackle Jermon Bushrod and a season-ending broken leg suffered by center Will Montgomery.
With Cutler back the past two weeks, and with rookie center Hrnoiss Grasu and second-year left tackle Charles Leno blocking up front, the Bears put themselves in position to be .500 at their bye week.
Fox credited the coaching staff with continuing to get backups prepared, and called Cutler’s role in pulling it all together for the final drive Sunday a vital one.
“Any time players get injured, there’s a frustration level,” Fox said. “There’s a frustration level on their side, there’s a frustration level on the coaches’ side. The reality is, it’s part of the game. Faith and patience are part of everything, including working through injuries.”
The injuries have not been confined to the offensive side. Losing McClellin to a knee injury Sunday deprived the Bears of their defensive signal caller, so inside linebacker Christian Jones took on that duty. LaRoy Reynolds, cut by Jacksonville, was signed Sept. 29 and found himself playing in McClellin’s place on Sunday.
Cornerback Alan Ball suffered a groin injury and missed the last two games, but veteran free agent acquisition Tracy Porter has stood out in his place after overcoming a preseason hamstring injury of his own.
With veteran safety Antrel Rolle out due to an ankle injury, the Bears’ secondary now has Porter, second-year cornerback Kyle Fuller and rookie safeties Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey.
The Bears held Oakland to 173 passing yards and Kansas City to 170 the last two games, and Porter credited the secondary with overcoming inexperience through communication.
“Having young guys like that doesn’t mean anything as long as you’re communicating,” Porter said.
Notes: After putting Rodgers on injured reserve, the Bears signed RB Antone Smith. Smith appeared in 59 games over five seasons (2010-14) with the Atlanta Falcons. He rushed 29 times for 286 yards and four touchdowns, and also contributed on special teams.
- It was Comeback Sunday during Week 5– Wow, what a comeback. Make that comebacks.You know, the ones in Cincinnati and Kansas City. In the Meadowlands and Music City. In Baltimore and the ATL.
Six teams either staged huge rallies to win on Sunday or executed timely drives to score the decisive points in a frantic Week 5. Two of the winners, the Bengals and Falcons, remained unbeaten thanks to their clutch work.
Two more, the Giants and Bills, gave themselves winning records — and well-earned pats on the shoulder pads — by displaying plenty of gumption despite being outplayed.
Meanwhile, the Browns and Bears, both already written off in NFL circles as much because of turmoil as lack of talent, fooled the critics with uplifting victories.
Sure, it’s one win for each of those six clubs. But it really is more than that.
Ditto in Chicago after an 18-17 win at Kansas City during which the Bears drove 88 and 67 yards for fourth-quarter touchdowns as both their maligned offenses and defenses came through for the second straight week.
“Right now, that is our identity,” Bears guard Matt Slauson said. “We are a resilient team that’s going to keep on fighting until the end.”
Naturally, that’s what it takes to put together the kind of comebacks those teams did. For some, it might even be a one-off.
But that’s never the way coaches and players approach such stirring victories.
Cleveland (2-3) has made a habit of losing the tight ones, regardless of which side was trying to rally. This time, down by 12 in the third quarter before twice blowing leads, the Browns survived 33-30 in overtime.
The Giants, now 3-2 and on top of the mediocre NFC East after a last-minute drive and sensational TD catch by Larry Donnell vanquished San Francisco 30-27, have struggled mightily in the final period in four of their outings.
With a bit more composure and better decision-making, they might be undefeated, too. Instead, they were bitten by comebacks by Dallas and Atlanta in the first two weeks.
Yet after putting together their own sizzling return from the dead, they also looked at the win as a building tool. Which it will need to be with division matchups against Philadelphia and reeling Dallas upcoming. Forget Super Bowls, they don’t even make the postseason in Buffalo, where it’s been 15 years since the Bills were in the playoffs. Rex Ryan brought a new kind of bravado to Western New York, and Sunday’s rally to edge Tennessee 14-13 was all about guts for his undermanned team.
Most impressive were the Bengals — again. They haven’t been 5-0 since 1988, when they won the AFC championship. They erased a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit against two-time defending NFC champ Seattle and sent it to overtime before Mike Nugent’s field goal won it 27-24.
True, nothing the Bengals do in the regular season — not even 16-0 — will prove much if they falter for a fifth straight postseason. Still, to climb out of a 24-3 hole against the Seahawks shows plenty of mettle.
- Lions are sitting at rock bottom– Golden Tate was ready when reporters approached him at his locker.The Detroit receiver made some pointed comments about the home crowd after the Lions were routed by Arizona on Sunday amid quite a bit of booing.
A day later, Tate tried to mend some fences with Detroit’s frustrated fans.
“I understand where our fan base is coming from as far as their patience with this organization,” Tate said. “They’ve been waiting for a long time, and I’ve been here for one and a half years. That’s one thing, I will step back and put that in perspective. I do understand. I still appreciate the heck out of our fans and still love our fans to death and wouldn’t choose anybody over us. We’re going to get this together.”
The Lions were in disarray during their 42-17 loss Sunday. Fans booed, and they headed for the exits early. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was benched in the third quarter.
It was hard to believe this was the same team that went 11-5 during the regular season in 2014 and reached the playoffs, but this five-game losing streak to start this season has wiped out just about all of the optimism the Lions had created.
Coach Jim Caldwell says Stafford is still the starting quarterback for the next game against Chicago. The loss to Arizona was a huge step back after the Lions nearly upset Seattle in their previous game. Detroit turned the ball over six times against the Cardinals in a listless performance.
Caldwell said he’s spoken with team owner Martha Ford, although he didn’t say when. He said the Ford family is “not happy, obviously.”
“They were certainly as upset about this game as anybody, like they have been about the entire season,” Caldwell said. “So it’s our job to get that turned around.”
The Lions are the only team to go 0-16 in a season, and although there would seem to be too much talent on this team for that to happen again, the winless 2008 campaign serves as a reminder of how quickly things can go downhill. Detroit was actually 6-2 at one point in 2007.
Now it’s fair to wonder if another rebuilding process awaits. Stafford is in his seventh season, and his trend is not encouraging. Since throwing for 5,038 yards in 2011, he’s passed for progressively fewer yards in each season since.
Last year, he was expected to take a step forward in Caldwell’s first season as Detroit’s coach, but instead it was the defense that lifted the Lions to the playoffs.
Calvin Johnson, meanwhile, is 30 years old and has been limited to 32 catches for 322 largely inconsequential yards this season.
The offense that a few years ago looked so dynamic is now sputtering, and the Lions seem no closer to figuring out the answers than they were at the beginning of the season.
- 49ers have dropped 4 straight– Sure, after that long cross-country flight, a tired coach Jim Tomsula could still point to some improvements in yet another disappointing defeat.His San Francisco 49ers were in it until the very end this time on the heels of three lopsided losses. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick found a groove in the second half and succeeded several times throwing into traffic to go without an interception, while Anquan Boldin went over 100 yards receiving and Carlos Hyde nearly ran for 100 in a balanced offensive attack.
“I can’t say like my old self, but I thought the team played well,” Kaepernick said afterward. “Offensively I thought we came out, we got a rhythm, we had players make big plays for us.”
Then, the Niners (1-4) lost it Sunday night to the New York Giants on Eli Manning’s 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Larry Donnell with 21 seconds left. That sent San Francisco to a fourth straight loss.
“The record’s the record. That’s just the fact and the reality of it, and that’s not good enough,” Tomsula said Monday. “We’ve got to change that.”
There are still some glaring concerns, most notably defensively after surrendering 525 yards of offense Sunday to the Giants. That included 41 completed passes by Manning for 441 yards and three touchdowns while allowing New York 30 first downs.
Not that linebacker NaVorro Bowman sounded overly concerned after the game or his teammates a day later — even considering the 49ers have given up 127 points during this skid after opening the season with an impressive 20-3 victory against the Minnesota Vikings.
San Francisco’s next opponent — Baltimore with its franchise-worst 1-4 start — is struggling, too, for a drastic difference from when these teams played in the Super Bowl nearly three years ago. None of the Ravens’ games this season have been decided by more than six points.
The last time the 49ers and Ravens played a game that counted, Baltimore beat San Francisco 34-31 at the Super Bowl following the 2012 season in a matchup of former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and his big brother, John. Now, John comes to the Bay Area looking to beat the struggling 49ers while his brother is long gone and thriving at Michigan.
Tomsula hadn’t thought that far ahead yet, only just beginning his prep for Baltimore after arriving home early Monday morning and giving his players some time to sleep.
The way they lost made for a tougher trip.
- Seahawks blew another 4 Qtr on the Road– Pete Carroll could have been talking about the season opener at St. Louis, or Week 2 in Green Bay, or even the Super Bowl loss last February to New England.”No matter how many times I look at this I can’t get the end to change,” Carroll said Monday.
He was referring to one of the worst fourth-quarter collapses in franchise history on Sunday when Seattle let a 17-point lead slip away and lost 27-24 in overtime to the Bengals. That’s three times this season Seattle has led in the fourth quarter only to come out on the losing end.
If not for Kam Chancellor punching the ball free from Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and a fortunate non-call on K.J. Wright last Monday night, the Seahawks could be sitting at 1-4.
As it stands, there are plenty of concerns at 2-3.
Seattle led 24-7 starting the fourth quarter and Cincinnati’s comeback matched the largest fourth-quarter rally against the Seahawks in franchise history. St. Louis came from 17 down in the fourth quarter in 2004 to beat the Seahawks in overtime in Seattle. The Ravens did the same in 2003 in Baltimore, tying the game on the final play of regulation and winning on a field goal in overtime.
The culprit this time was a combination of not being able to get off the field on defense and terrible third-down execution on offense by the Seahawks.
The Seahawks were 1 of 6 on third downs in the fourth quarter and overtime. They could not stay on the field to sustain a drive and give their defense a break. And, as Carroll pointed out, even one of those conversions could have changed how the final minutes played out with Cincinnati having to run its field goal unit on at the end of regulation to kick the tying score.
Even more frustrating for the Seahawks, the missed third downs in the fourth quarter were manageable. Seattle twice missed on third-and-4 and failed on third-and-2 in the fourth quarter, attempting passes on all three. The Seahawks also missed on third-and-15 and third-and-8 in overtime.
“It’s not just one thing. We just didn’t convert them. It was unfortunate,” Carroll said.
While the offense was unable to remain on the field, the Seahawks defense watched Andy Dalton pick them apart late. Dalton threw for 135 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime and completed 13 of 15 passes. The Seahawks held Cincinnati scoreless after its opening drive then gave up 203 yards of offense in the fourth quarter and overtime.