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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 6 of the 2015 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- Bengals match their best start ever at 6-0– The Bengals have never been better six weeks into a season. Next comes a bye to rest and get several injured players healthy.The AFC North leaders are in a very good place.
A 34-21 win in Buffalo on Sunday left the Bengals one of five unbeaten teams in the NFL. Their 6-0 mark matches the best start in franchise history — they also did it in 1975 and in 1988, the last time they went to the Super Bowl.
“It’s a great thing to be 6-0, there’s no doubt about it,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said on Monday. “It’s a great thing to win and have that opportunity to look at our season and say, ‘Man, we have an opportunity to make the playoffs.’ But it doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything.”
One more win would accomplish plenty.
The Bengals are in control of the division with a two-game lead over the Steelers (4-2), who are still missing Ben Roethlisberger to a knee injury. After their bye, they play in Pittsburgh with a chance to open a three-game lead.
They still have two games left with Cleveland (2-4), and they host Baltimore (1-5).
With the Bengals, it’s all about winning a playoff game. They haven’t done that since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest postseason drought in NFL history. They’ve reached the playoffs each of the past four seasons and lost their opening game, three times on the road.
The fast start has put them in position to play for home-field advantage during the postseason. The Bengals are the first AFC North team to start 6-0 since realignment in 2002.
The biggest change this season has been at quarterback. Andy Dalton has emerged during his fifth season, growing into one of the NFL’s top passers for the first time. His 116.1 passer rating trails only the Patriots’ Tom Brady, and he leads the league in fourth-quarter passer rating.
The win on Sunday was Dalton’s 22nd on the road, which trails only Dan Marino, Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan — all at 23 — for most by a quarterback during his first five seasons in the Super Bowl era.
Dalton has completed 67 percent of his throws for 1,761 yards with 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Brady leads the league with only one interception.
So far, Dalton has been the leader in keeping them perfect.
- Panthers go 5-0 in Seattle– Despite being one of two undefeated teams in the NFC, Ron Rivera was not prepared to proclaim the Carolina Panthers among the elite of the conference.Even if the Panthers had just given validity to their 5-0 start by knocking off the two-time defending NFC champs.
Carolina proved they belong in the conversation among the best teams in the conference after rallying to stun Seattle 27-23 on Sunday. Along with Green Bay, the Panthers are the only unbeaten team in the NFC and answered a lingering question of whether their strong start was the result of a soft schedule or a true indication of their talent.
The answer is likely somewhere in the middle. But a win in Seattle is nothing to be scoffed at.
Cam Newton capped Carolina’s rally with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen with 32 seconds left when Seattle’s secondary was caught playing two different coverages. Newton threw for 269 yards but was at his best in the fourth quarter, completing 12 of 15 passes for 162 yards and leading two 80-yard touchdown drives.
- Steelers’ Bryant shines in return from injury, suspension– Martavis Bryant ran out of running room in the middle of the field, swerved back to his right and took off.Somewhere behind him, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell watched and waited for his teammate to get caught from behind. Bryant, after all, was being chased by one of the fastest players in the league in Arizona’s Patrick Peterson.
While Peterson closed in on Bryant, he never did catch him.
Then again, neither did any of the other 10 Cardinals on the field.
By the time Bryant crossed the goal line — complete with a well-intentioned if somewhat shoddily executed flip — the second-year wide receiver had put Arizona and his own turbulent start to 2015 behind him. Suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and forced to sit out another with a minor knee injury, Bryant wasted little time making amends. He caught six passes for 137 yards and two scores, including his 88-yard zigzag across Heinz Field that finished off the Cardinals and provided a needed reminder of his still somewhat untapped potential.
Primarily a deep threat a year ago, when he averaged 21.4 yards per reception and caught eight touchdowns after being activated in Week 6, Bryant showcased more than just his speed against Arizona.
He used every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame to haul in Landry Jones’ 8-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to give the Steelers the lead. He channeled his inner Antonio Bryant, forcing players to miss as he navigated traffic in front of him on his way to Pittsburgh’s longest play of the season.
Yet Bryant understands he needs to prove he’s more than dynamic. The Steelers have no issues with his playmaking. It’s his decision-making they’re worried about. Bryant spent a portion of his suspension in Houston at a facility operated by former NBA player and coach John Lucas — a recovering drug addict. He returned to the locker room the morning after a Thursday night loss to Baltimore chastened and eager to move on.
He tweaked a knee in his second practice back, but was anxious to get going when he was finally cleared to face Arizona. With Michael Vick at quarterback, offensive coordinator Todd Haley called a couple of short throws and an end-around, none of which really went anywhere.
It wasn’t until Jones — who’d spent plenty of time throwing to Bryant during the past two preseasons — took over for an injured and ineffective Vick that Pittsburgh took off.
All four of Bryant’s receptions from Jones either ended with him in the end zone or extended drives that resulted in Chris Boswell field goals that padded Pittsburgh’s advantage.
While Brown remains one of the best in the league, Bryant’s presence will only make the Steelers (4-2) more dangerous as they try to keep pace with unbeaten Cincinnati (6-0) in the AFC North.
- It’s all going wrong for some NFL slumpers– There are slumps in the NFL, and there are SLUMPS.
Sure, the Jaguars, Titans, Browns, Bears and Redskins have poor records so far. That was pretty much expected.
What is going on in Seattle, Baltimore, Kansas City and Detroit, those are major flops so far.
And no, we’re not writing off the Seahawks as an NFC contender; conference teams have learned the past two years how unwise it is to underestimate what Seattle is capable of.
Still, the struggles those supposed Super Bowl candidates are experiencing are mind-boggling.
Pete Carroll recognized that after the Seahawks’ latest debacle, yet another blown lead in the fourth quarter in a 27-23 loss to Carolina. At home, no less.
Carroll immediately addressed Seattle’s standing at the bottom of the NFC West.
“We’re a team that has tremendous expectations,” he said. “To be where we are right now it puts us in a position of tremendous adversity for a team. It calls on you a lot of stuff, but it calls on us to believe in the guys in the locker room and believe in what we’re doing and hang together until we get things right.”
Most NFL observers believe the Seahawks will get things right, at least to the point they won’t be languishing with the dregs of the league for long. They get their first chance to make amends Thursday night at bitter rival San Francisco.
Here’s a look at what has ailed the most disappointing teams of 2015, and what might be ahead.
Surprisingly, the play of the defense has been most distressing. The Legion of Boom doesn’t have as much bite — All-Pros Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas were left to stare at each other in disbelief after a wide-open Greg Olsen caught the winning TD pass Sunday. The pass rush is so-so, and when middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, another All-Pro, is hobbled or out of the lineup, the D struggles.
Only recently has TE Jimmy Graham begun to fit in the offense, whose line has been a huge problem; does Seattle miss center Max Unger, dealt for Graham, more than it is helped by the tight end’s presence?
Seattle also appears to be playing with too much confidence; yes, that can happen. Players believe their talent naturally will win out rather than working to make sure it does.
“We’ve been through too much together,” Carroll said. “We’ve got tremendous leadership, guys that really care. Not just about the game of football, but about one another. With all of the history that we’ve had, there isn’t anything over.”
There’s enough talent, know how, coaching acumen and pride for the Seahawks to right the ship. But it must be soon.
This is more of a mess than Seattle.
The Ravens desperately miss their prime playmaker on defense, Terrell Suggs (torn Achilles tendon). When there’s no pass rush, their secondary gets carved up, surrendering huge gains.
Like Seattle, they can’t close out games. The passing attack is patchwork, especially when Steve Smith is out or playing hurt. QB Joe Flacco looks as if he is forcing things.
“Execution in the clutch moments and giving up big plays when we can’t afford to,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “There’s no excuse. I’m not going to say it’s because we’ve been playing from behind. We’re in every single game, so that means we have the opportunity to win. It’s more magnified when we’re losing games.”
Turning this around will be extra tough: The AFC North is strong and the Ravens already are five games behind Cincinnati.
KANSAS CITY (1-5)
The Chiefs’ demise is particularly depressing because their best offensive player, Jamaal Charles, is done for the season, and the rest of their weapons pale in comparison. They’ve become undisciplined, too, and such standouts on defense as All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry aren’t having much impact.
After basically handing away their only two home games, to Denver and Chicago, there’s not much comfort in Arrowhead, usually one of the most unnerving stadiums for opponents.
Coach Andy Reid and his staff need to re-evaluate while this season likely continues to spiral.
Had the Lions not responded Sunday when Chicago nearly put them away, who knows if coach Jim Caldwell would have lasted? Motor City is particularly sensitive about 0-fers (remember 2008’s 0-16).
One obvious issue here is the regression of QB Matthew Stafford. But when opponents know a team can’t run the ball — and Detroit can’t — it makes covering the likes of Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate more manageable.
Offseason decisions to let Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley walk as free agents haven’t helped, either.
At least the Lions won’t be going winless.
Just Plain Dumb
- Colts’ fake punt among NFL’s dumbest plays ever– The Colts’ attempt to fool the Patriots with a fake punt Sunday night only made Indianapolis look foolish.
It might not have been the dumbest call or execution of a play in NFL history, but it certainly ranks down there in the litany of failures.
And there are many to rival this one, in which Indy, trailing by six points in the third quarter, lined up nine players to the right, with only the snapper (wideout Griff Whalen) and the quarterback (safety Colt Anderson) on the left.
New England wasn’t tricked a bit, and the Colts’ plan was supposed to include taking a delay of game. Instead, Anderson took a premature snap and was at the bottom of a tidal wave of Patriots tacklers.
Game over, basically.
“The whole idea there was on fourth-and-3 or less, shift our alignment to where you either catch them misaligned, they try to sub some people in, catch them with 12 men on the field, and if you get a certain look, you can make a play,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “Alignment-wise, we weren’t lined up correctly, and then there was a communication problem on the snap, and I take responsibility for that.”
Who gets the blame on some of the other classic Bozo plays in NFL annals? Read on:
ABNER HAYNES — The star running back for the AFL’s Dallas Texans in 1962 misunderstood coach Hank Stram’s directions on the coin flip for overtime. He won and chose to kick off into a hefty wind. Fortunately for Haynes, the Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs) held off the Oilers and won in double OT.
JIM MARSHALL — One of the most durable players in NFL history, the defensive end is best known for going the wrong way with a fumble. The Vikings standout recovered a fumble by the 49ers’ Billy Kilmer and, disoriented, returned it 66 yards to his own end zone. Safety, San Francisco. (Video: http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-videos/09000d5d825bb452/Best-Shots-Wrong-W…)
GARO YEPREMIAN — Perhaps the most infamous play in a Super Bowl, Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian had his attempt blocked by Washington in 1973. He picked up the ball, made a clumsy attempt to pass, and it flew directly to the Redskins’ Mike Bass. He went 49 yards for a TD, but Miami held on to close out its perfect season.
JOE PISARCIK, JOHN MCVAY, BOB GIBSON — The “Miracle at the Meadowlands,” when Giants QB Joe Pisarcik followed the orders of coach John McVay and offensive coordinator Bob Gibson to hand off to future Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka when kneeling would have clinched a victory over Philadelphia. Pisarcik’s attempt never got to Csonka, hit the turf and Eagles DB Herman Edwards picked up the ball and ran into the end zone for the winning points.
LEON LETT — Late in Dallas’ 1993 Super Bowl rout of Buffalo, Cowboys DL Leon Lett picked up a fumble and headed down the right sideline undisturbed. As he approached the goal line, he began showboating, sticking the ball out front. Bills receiver Don Beebe caught him and knocked the ball out of Lett’s hands for a touchback.
LEON LETT (again) — This time, Miami was trying a field goal in the snow in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day — seriously. The kick was blocked and sat on the white stuff untouched. Until Lett, despite claiming he knew the rules that it was a dead ball if no one touched it, tried to pounce on the pigskin. It slid away, the Dolphins recovered and kicked the winning field goal. Lett called it “brain freeze.”
DAN ORLOVSKY — In the midst of the NFL’s only 0-16 season, the Lions QB obliviously stepped out of the back of the end zone while scrambling, awarding the Vikings a safety.
MARK SANCHEZ — New England could give thanks to Jets QB Mark Sanchez on Thanksgiving night when his running back missed a handoff, so Sanchez took off and smacked into the butt of guard Brandon Moore. Out came the ball, scooped up by Patriots DB Steve Gregory, who trotted into the end zone for a touchdown.
DWAYNE RUDD — Cleveland linebacker Dwayne Rudd blew his top and cost the Browns a win. Rudd was penalized for ripping off his helmet and flinging it in celebration during the final seconds against Kansas City. That extended the opening game in 2002, and the Chiefs won.
JIM SCHWARTZ — What is it about Thanksgiving? Jim Schwartz threw his red flag on a play that already would be reviewed, Justin Forsett’s 81-yard TD run for Houston. But because the Lions coach challenged — considered a delay of the next snap by league rules — the replay official couldn’t initiate a review. What should have been an 8-yard rush because Forsett was down by conduct turned into a touchdown. Detroit lost in overtime.
DARIUS REYNAUD: The Titans opened the 2013 season at Pittsburgh in fine fashion. Darius Reynaud botched handling the opening kickoff outside the end zone, and stepped back over the goal line to down the ball. Two points for the Steelers.
PETE CARROLL, DARRELL BEVELL: A “Beast” of a botched play. With perhaps the best short-yardage back in football, Marshawn Lynch, on the field, the Seahawks threw on second down from the Patriots 1. The ball was intercepted to clinch New England’s victory.
In the Super Bowl.
Did we say dumb?