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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 5 of the 2016 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- Tom Brady’s return brings normalcy to Patriots– Tom Brady’s return has restored a sense of normalcy to the New England Patriots.Brady triumphantly re-emerged from his four-game “Deflategate” suspension with a 406-yard, three-touchdown effort in Sunday’s 33-13 win over the Cleveland Browns.The occasion left Brady’s teammates “all amped up,” in the words of tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“All is well now that 12’s back,” wide receiver and special teams captain Matthew Slater said Monday.
But in typical Patriots fashion, they’re shifting their focus to next week’s opponent. Only this time they won’t have to answer questions about life without Brady.
“I guess one could say that (it’s back to normal),” Slater said. “It felt as normal as it could be the first four weeks, but we tried to just continue to approach our craft the same way regardless of the circumstances.”
The Patriots went 3-1 in Brady’s absence with a combination of third-year backup Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett handling the snaps under center.
Their only defeat was a stinging 16-0 loss to division rival Buffalo at Gillette Stadium in Week 4, marking the first time New England was shutout at home since 1993.
“The way we performed against the Bills was very disappointing for everybody in this locker room,” Slater said. “So to come out and get that bad taste out of our mouth and obviously get Tom and Rob (Ninkovich) back, it was a good day for us.”
Ninkovich also sat out the team’s first four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He made one tackle in his first game back against the Browns.
The returns of Brady and Ninkovich covered up another concerning day for kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who missed a field goal for the third time in four games.
Gostkowski missed a 50-yard attempt Sunday, but he did make a 31-yarder. He missed his only attempt against Buffalo and was off target from 39 yards in Week 2 against Miami.
Nevertheless, the Patriots still have confidence in the franchise’s career leading scorer.
“Stephen’s one of our hardest-working players and I’d say one of the most respected players on the team because of the way he does work and how team-oriented he is,” coach Bill Belichick said on a conference call Monday.
A more consistent performance from the 11-year veteran would help take pressure off Brady in his first home game back against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Of course, it seems as if the stage has never been too big for the 39-year-old quarterback.
“Old Benjamin Button hasn’t slowed down yet,” Slater said.
- Sam Bradford has been fitting right in with 5-0 Vikings– Sam Bradford has started all of four games for Minnesota.The Vikings aren’t yet one-third of the way through their schedule.The early return on that expensive emergency trade the Vikings made for Bradford, though, could not have been better.
They’re the only undefeated team remaining in the NFL, and Bradford has the second-best passer rating in the league (109.8) among quarterbacks with a qualifying amount of attempts.
“Obviously, it’s a great start,” said Bradford, who was fetched from Philadelphia for a first-round draft pick in 2017 and a conditional selection in 2018 that’ll be in the second, third or fourth round. “You couldn’t ask for anything more than being 5-0 going into your bye week.”
Waiting for the Vikings after the welcomed break is a road game on Oct. 23 against those Eagles (3-1), who haven’t missed Bradford one bit because of the success of rookie Carson Wentz.
Coach Mike Zimmer cracked a couple of smiles after Minnesota’s 31-13 victory over Houston on Sunday, but he’ll soon enter his usual state of anxiety about the upcoming opponent and how to slow its offense.
“Like Coach Zimmer said after the game, it’s still a lot of work this team needs to do,” Bradford said. “I think they’re still rooting for us to improve, and I think that’s our mindset going forward. We’re not satisfied. It’s early in the year, and we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
No, but the Vikings have at least mastered the art of resilience, after losing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, running back Adrian Peterson, left tackle Matt Kalil and now right tackle Andre Smith, all perhaps for the rest of the season.
Bridgewater’s colossal injury to his left knee triggered the deal for Bradford eight days before the opener , and the 28-year-old former No. 1 overall draft pick has meshed with his new teammates and picked up offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s playbook as if he’s been in purple his whole pro career.
“The offensive coaches have done a great job of getting him prepared,” Zimmer said. “The one thing about Sam is that he will communicate the things that he likes to do.
“If we have a play in the game plan that he doesn’t like, he’s going to tell Norv, and we get rid of the play. We try to do things that he’s comfortable with, even though it’s been a short period of time.”
When wide receiver Stefon Diggs (groin) was held out on Sunday against the Texans, Adam Thielen stepped up with seven catches for 127 yards and a tone-setting touchdown on the opening drive .
“I really didn’t know much about this team at all, to be honest, before I got here. I think I learn a little bit more each week,” Bradford said. “I think we’ve definitely got a lot of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, a lot of guys that we feel if can get the ball in their hands then good things will happen.”
According to the NFL, the Vikings are only the second team since 1933 to go five games into the season without throwing an interception while also winning all five. Roman Gabriel and the Los Angeles Rams also did so in 1969, when Gabriel went on to be voted the NFL MVP.
Peterson won the award in 2012 and led the league in rushing again last year, but he had only 50 yards on 31 carries before damaging his right knee.
His absence, as strange as it sounds, could actually have been a productive development for the offense provided Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata remain healthy as a viable two-man fill-in.
Bradford, who has completed 70.4 percent of his passes for 990 yards and six touchdowns, acknowledged on Sunday the creative spark that followed the loss of Peterson.
Rather than lining up in traditional setups for power running plays, the Vikings have been operating predominantly out of the shotgun and frequently using spread formations for a quick-passing, up-tempo attack.
“I think that’s a little bit different than what the offense has done in the past,” Bradford said. “I think it’s just us getting to know each other, us getting familiar with where we’re going as an offense. But I think it’s just guys buying in.”
- Raiders thrive in tight games to get off to 4-1 start– The Oakland Raiders have been playing with fire this season and mostly have come out unharmed.All five games they’ve played have come down to the closing minutes and Oakland has more often than not made the big play — or benefited from the big mistake — to win. That has led to a 4-1 record that has the Raiders tied with Denver atop the AFC West and off to their best start in 14 years.But if the Raiders want to end their 13-year playoff drought and really be contenders in the AFC for the first time in years, it would probably help to come up with a couple of easy wins rather than nail-biters.
“We have a healthy perspective of what we want to look like and knowing that we’re not quite there,” coach Jack Del Rio said Monday. “There’s a lot of work in front of us. I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. There’s a long season in front of us, a lot of things we must do better as we go forward.”
They had a chance for a comfortable finish Sunday against the Chargers when they took a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter. But instead they quickly allowed San Diego to drive down the field for a touchdown, went three-and-out on the next possession and then needed to stop Melvin Gordon on third-and-2 and have holder Drew Kaser drop a snap on a potential game-tying field goal attempt to hold on for a 34-31 victory.
Those types of games have been a pattern for Oakland this season. The Raiders took the lead with a touchdown and 2-point conversion with 47 seconds left in the opener against New Orleans and held on for the 35-34 win when Will Lutz missed a 61-yard field goal on the final play.
The following week, the Raiders came up short when they failed to convert a fourth-and-2 down seven points to Atlanta and then couldn’t get a third-down stop late to get another chance in a 35-28 loss .
Oakland bounced back from that loss with its first three-game winning streak in five years but none of the victories came easy. Tennessee had a potential game-tying TD called back by penalty in the final minute and missed on a final throw into the end zone in the Raiders’ 17-10 win .
Derek Carr then threw the go-ahead TD pass to Michael Crabtree with 2:12 left and the defense got one last stop near midfield in a 28-27 win at Baltimore the following week.
All five Raiders games have been decided by seven points or fewer with Oakland getting a pair of one-point wins. The Raiders have outscored the opposition by just five points, tied for the second-lowest mark in the past 20 years for a team that started at least 4-1. Only the 2006 Seahawks, who were outscored by three points in the first five games, were worse, according to Pro Football Reference.
“One thing about this team is we don’t give up,” safety Reggie Nelson said. “We showed that numerous times now and I think we really don’t want to be in that position, but it just so happens to be it. We just got to keep on getting better each week and not put ourselves in those positions.”
While a defense on pace to allow an NFL-worst 7.0 yards per play this season has gotten plenty of the blame, the Raiders offense could do a better job keeping the team out of these tense situations.
In five drives with the lead starting in the final 10 minutes of games, the Raiders have gone three-and-out three times, lost a fumble another time and gained two first downs before punting the fifth time.
That’s in contrast to Oakland’s great success when losing late. Carr has led the team to four TDs in five attempts when Oakland has trailed in the final 10 minutes. The only failure came when Jalen Richard was stopped on a fourth-and-2 run against Atlanta.
- HC Dan Quinn says Falcons better prepared to make good on 4-1 start– A fast start through five games? The Atlanta Falcons have been there, blown that.One year ago, the Falcons were 5-0 and appeared certain to land in the playoffs. Instead, they won only three more games for an 8-8 finish in Dan Quinn’s inaugural season as coach.Now, the Falcons again are leading the NFC South with a 4-1 record. Quinn believes the optimism generated this season is not just another path to a letdown for Atlanta’s fans.
For evidence, the Falcons can point to their ability to find different ways to win. They also can point to back-to-back wins over last season’s Super Bowl teams.
“It is different, it feels different for us,” Quinn said Monday during a conference call. “We have a much better way that we reset. We learned a lot from last year’s start and learned a lot from last year’s season.”
Two weeks ago, the Falcons dominated through the air in their 48-33 home win over Carolina. Matt Ryan passed for a team-record 503 yards with four touchdowns, including 300 yards to Julio Jones, a team record for yards receiving in a game.
On Sunday, Jones had only two catches for 29 yards, but Atlanta rode strong defense, including a surprising six sacks, to beat the Denver Broncos 23-16. Vic Beasley Jr. had 3 ½ sacks.
Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman led the offense. Freeman ran for 88 yards with a touchdown and Coleman was the Falcons’ leading receiver with four catches for 132 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown from Ryan.
The Falcons found other ways to score when Denver’s defense focused on Jones.
“The versatility is probably the thing that jumps out to us,” Quinn said, noting that running backs, receivers and tight end Jacob Tamme have taken turns as Ryan’s favorite target.
For a team coming off a 6-10 record in 2014, last year’s .500 record was a step up. The problem was 8-8 felt like a big letdown following five straight wins to open the season.
Atlanta began this season with a home loss to Tampa Bay, but will take a four-game winning streak into this week’s game at Seattle.
“We love the style and identity of this year’s team and the attitude and style we like to play with,” Quinn said.
For Quinn, it is a return to the city where he served as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator under coach Pete Carroll. Quinn was hired by Atlanta before the 2015 season.
Quinn said Carroll “had a huge impact on me as a coach in a lot of ways.” But Quinn was reluctant to say much about his time in Seattle.
“My biggest focus this week is I want it to be about the guys,” he said.
- Ravens fire Trestman, make Mornhinweg offensive coordinator– Convinced that the Baltimore Ravens’ sputtering offense wasn’t going to improve with Marc Trestman calling the shots, coach John Harbaugh fired his offensive coordinator Monday and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg.The move came less than 24 hours after the Ravens scored only one touchdown in a 16-10 loss to Washington.”I just think we need a different chemistry in there right now to get to where we need to go,” Harbaugh said.
“I think we all know what it needs to look like. It’s what plays get called in certain situations, but it’s also the physicality of our offense, it’s the attack-mentality of our offense, it’s how we go about our business. Those are things that just weren’t getting there.”
And so, it was time for a change.
“We need to ramp things up,” Harbaugh said.
The Ravens (3-2) performed miserably on offense against the Redskins, who entered with the 29th-ranked defense in the NFL.
After scoring a touchdown on its opening drive, Baltimore added a field goal in the second quarter and was blanked in the second half.
During one stretch, the Ravens had seven straight possessions that lasted four plays or fewer. Trestman inexplicably abandoned the running game in the second half, even though Baltimore was averaging 5.7 yards per carry over the opening 30 minutes.
“When you go back and look at it, I feel like we were running the ball well enough to run the ball a lot more than we did,” Harbaugh said.
Trestman was in his second season as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator. Last season, the Ravens had the second-most total net yards in team history but went 5-11.
This is the second time during Harbaugh’s nine-year run in Baltimore that he fired his offensive coordinator in the middle of the season.
In 2012, he dismissed Cam Cameron after a loss to the Redskins and the Ravens ended up winning the Super Bowl.
There’s no guarantee that will happen again. But, as in that situation, Harbaugh knew it was time to make a change.
“It’s more about direction. It’s a big-picture type of a feel thing,” Harbaugh said.
“Are we heading in the right direction? Do I see us getting there doing the things we’re doing now? I think as a coach, you’ve got to assess that and make that call.”
By late Sunday night, Harbaugh was convinced that the Ravens will have a better chance to win with Mornhinweg running the offense.
Mornhinweg, 54, joined the Ravens as quarterbacks coach in 2015. Prior to that, he spent the 2013-14 seasons as offensive coordinator of the New York Jets. He was head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2001-02 before working as offensive coordinator of the Eagles from 2004-12.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity to see where we can go with Marty,” Harbaugh said. “I know there will be some things that he’ll tweak, but the basic system is not going to change.”
Trying to find a balance between the run and pass would be a good start. Joe Flacco has thrown more passes than anyone in the NFL, but ranks near the bottom with 5.9 yards per attempt. The Ravens threw 47 passes on Sunday compared to only 19 runs — and that was in a tight game.
“We’re not putting enough points on the board, and we’re not putting enough yards on the board for the amount of times that we’re throwing the ball,” Harbaugh said.
Mornhinweg already has a close relationship with Flacco, who couldn’t mask his frustration after going 30 for 46 getting sacked three times against the Redskins.
“Our defense is putting up awesome plays week after week and we’re just running off the field,” Flacco said. “It doesn’t feel good as a quarterback, the leader of this offense, to do that.”
The Ravens will seek to snap a two-game skid and test out their new offense against the New York Giants on the road Sunday.
- Woeful Bears look to eliminate inconsistency at 1-4– Brian Hoyer’s three straight 300-yard passing efforts suggest the quarterback position for the Chicago Bears is in good hands until quarterback Jay Cutler returns from a thumb sprain.Inconsistency in other areas continues to plague the Bears (1-4) following their 29-23 loss Sunday at Indianapolis.Linebacker Willie Young said coach John Fox addressed the issue in talking with players ahead of a home game Sunday against Jacksonville.
“Just to sum up his message to the team is that we’re so close,” Young said. “I guess every game, wins or losses, come down to a few plays. And to see how close we are is a lot of motivation to see that maybe if we can just avoid having this mistake, this offsides penalty, this dropped ball.”
Hoyer’s season passer rating climbed to 108.5 against the Colts, though he missed seeing wide receiver Alshon Jeffery open in the end zone on the Bears’ final offensive play, an incompletion. The Bears offense produced 522 yards, its most for a game since Mike Ditka’s 1989 team. But the offense sputtered in the red zone with one touchdown in three tries.
Wide receiver Cameron Meredith filled in well for injured Kevin White with nine catches for 130 yards, then fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter.
“I think we’ve gotten betetr at moving the ball offensively, distributing it,” Fox said. “I think our timing’s been better. All in all, though, we still need to capitalize on more points.”
Fox said he has no timetable yet on when or if Cutler will be back.
“Right now, that’s not a reality, so I don’t like to get too much into that,” Fox said. “But I think Brian’s played well. Unfortunately, we didn’t play quite well enough.”
Fox chastised the media for questioning whether Hoyer should have thrown the final pass Jeffery’s way instead of incomplete to Meredith.
“It could have been an option,” he said. “I don’t know that you can be super-critical. When you’re out there playing quarterback it looks a little different than when you’re up in the press box having hot dogs.”
The Bears’ defense hampered the Colts’ running game and at times harassed quarterback Andrew Luck. The defense had five sacks, but Luck still threw two touchdown passes and led the victory
“Our mindset was made up by how we wanted to get to the quarterback and that’s what we all sold out to do that,” Young said. “And from this point on, we’ve just got to be consistent in doing it.”
- Bengals at a low point after getting overrun in Dallas– Asked how surprising it was to see his team get run over so completely, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis answered with a question.”You want the press conference answer or the honest answer?” Lewis said. Told that honesty was preferred, Lewis responded, “Can’t give that one.”His hesitance said it all. A 28-14 loss in Dallas that was essentially over early in the third quarter left the Bengals (2-3) in a very uncomfortable spot. They played their worst game in years, and now are off to their worst start since 2010, when they won four games.
Up next is a trip to New England (4-1) for Tom Brady’s home opener. The Bengals haven’t won in New England since 1986, losing six straight there, so it seems foreboding.
“If I watched the way we played yesterday, I’d say the same thing,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said.
The Bengals spent Monday re-watching the game at Dallas, with no more insight as to why so much went so wrong. The Cowboys (4-1) scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and led 28-0 early in the third quarter before easing up.
“There was not a lot to be happy about,” Lewis said.
The biggest issues were on defense. The Bengals knew that Dallas would run right at them, trying to keep rookie quarterback Dak Prescott out of stressful situations. The Cowboys did whatever they wanted to do, with Ezekiel Elliott running for 134 yards on only 15 carries — his 60-yard touchdown run put the game away early in the third quarter.
Prescott threw for a touchdown and ran for another. The Cowboys piled up 180 yards on the ground, the most allowed by a Bengals defense since Seattle ran for 200 in the fifth game last season.
Last season, the Bengals allowed only seven opponents to rush for 100 yards in 17 games; they’ve already done it three times in five games.
Cincinnati figured the defense would be back in form with linebacker Vontaze Burfict back from his three-game NFL suspension, but everything was out of sorts in Dallas.
“You can’t have games like that,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said, taking a break from watching video of the Patriots’ 33-13 win in Cleveland on Sunday.
“It’s just uncharacteristic, and quite honestly I was surprised how the game came out. I give Dallas credit. They beat us up front.”
The Bengals are at a crossroads. The defending AFC North champions already trail Pittsburgh (4-1) by two games and Baltimore (3-2) by one. The previous time they started 2-4, the Bengals ended up at 4-12.
“I’m motivated from yesterday,” Dunlap said. “We have a challenge now to get back to playing our way.”