The Broncos and Jaguars got into a bit of a Twitter war this week, only building even more excitement for quite possibly the most lopsided victory in NFL history. But last week’s shootout in Dallas was equally as entertaining.
Peyton Manning and Tony Romo combined for 920 passing yards and 10 total touchdowns. The Broncos and Cowboys also combined for 58 first downs and 99 points, which is the fourth-most all time. It was a barn burner for the ages and arguably the best game we’ll see in the NFL all season.
In the end, Tony Romo did what Tony Romo is known best for and the Broncos kept the undefeated dream season alive, improving to 5-0. The New Orleans Saints and division rival Kansas City Chiefs followed suit, keeping their perfect records intact as well. Meanwhile, the younger Manning dropped his fifth consecutive game, falling to 0-5 on the season and forcing one gentleman’s club to ban the Giants altogether.
There was so much more to the weekend than just Cowboys and Broncos, though. So, before we get all jazzed about 28-point spreads and more epic Manning faces, let’s take a gander through the week that was in the NFL.
**Editor’s Note: Each week, I’ll break down 10 thoughts from around the NFL in the NESN.com “First and 10.” That being said, here are 10 more thoughts from around the NFL after another week of football.
1. Red-zone inefficiencies killing Patriots – The Patriots lost their first game of the season on Sunday, and it was the ugliest one they’ve played, offensively at least, in almost seven years. Tom Brady didn’t throw a touchdown for the first time since 2010 and the offense failed to score seven points for the first time since 2006. Yet, the Patriots’ biggest worries still lie down near the goal line. They rank 31st in the NFL in red-zone efficiency this season (35 percent), scoring touchdowns on just six of their 17 trips inside the 20. That’s a pretty steep drop from the third-best 67 percent rate they posted in 2012. Rob Gronkowski‘s expected return should help boost that number some, but he can’t fix the problem all on his own. Tom Brady‘s accuracy troubles are to blame as much as the young receivers right now, and he and the rest of the offense will need to step up to fix things.
2. The Raiders found their quarterback of the future – It’s been a longtime coming, but the Raiders have seemed to finally stumble upon their franchise quarterback. Terrelle Pryor has dazzled with his feet time and again this season, but there’s more to his skill set than his mobility. Pryor is completing better than 68 percent of his passes on the year, and he hasn’t thrown an interception since tossing two in Week 1. His performance (18 of 23 passing for 221 yards and two touchdowns) in Oakland’s win against the Chargers on Sunday night earned him plenty of praise and even more fans in the Bay Area. The Raiders’ decision to release Matt Flynn on Monday only further established their confidence in Pryor.
3. Learn the name — Alterraun Verner made his way into my initial MVP power rankings last week, sliding in at No. 6 on the top 10. It’s rare a defensive back would find their way onto such a list, but he’s been so good so far this season that he might even climb a bit higher this week. The Titans’ cornerback didn’t have another interception to add to his league-leading total (four), but he did have his way against Chiefs receivers Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery. Verner had three pass breakups in the game, adding to his NFL-leading tally of 11 and giving him four games with multiple PBs on the season. He isn’t exactly Darrelle Revis or Richard Sherman just yet, but the 24-year-old is building quite the reputation as a premier cover corner.
4. Don’t dwell on Romo’s one mistake — Tony Romo battled Peyton Manning tooth and nail on Sunday, giving the Broncos maybe the best challenge they’ll see all year. Yet, all anyone can focus on is Romo’s ill-advised interception that cost them a chance at a win on Sunday. What most people are overlooking, though, is that the Cowboys wouldn’t have even been in position for a win if not for Romo’s incredible 506-yard, five-touchdown performance against the NFL’s best team. The mistake was inexcusable and falls in line with the choke-artist persona he’s built, but Romo did show the poise and grit necessary to win for 58 minutes on Sunday. There was too much good to just focus on one mistake.
5. Brandon Marshall needs to assert himself — Alshon Jeffrey has supplanted Brandon Marshall as the Bears’ No. 1 receiver in each of the past two games. Jeffrey’s emergence is a good thing for Chicago’s offense, offering more options for Jay Cutler to throw to, but it’s also a sign that Marshall isn’t asserting himself the same way he did last season. Marshall still has 31 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns through five games, which are nothing to scoff at, but he’s not dominating on the outside like he did in 2012. He even managed just four catches and five targets total against the Saints in Week 5 — his lowest single-game totals since Week 11 last year. The Bears’ offense has shown flashes of brilliance this season, but it can only excel if Marshall allows it.
6. Surprise, Surprise! – If you had the Browns, Cardinals, Dolphins, Jets and Titans at above .500 through Week 5 before the season then raise your hand. No one? Yeah, I thought so. Now, I’m still not sold on any of these teams as legitimate playoff contenders just yet, but there are some considerations to be made. The Jets (second), Browns (fourth) and Titans (ninth) boast top-10 defenses. Ryan Tannehill has been efficient and reliable under center in Miami. And the Cardinals are just finding ways to win, even in lieu of Carson Palmer (five touchdowns, nine interceptions). Meanwhile, the Giants, who won the Super Bowl just two season ago, fell to 0-5 over the weekend and the Falcons, last year’s No. 1 seed in the NFC, are 1-4. Oh, how much difference a year can make.
7. It’s more than Luck – The Colts are 4-1 on the season and 13-3 since Week 6 last season, yet they still aren’t getting the due they deserve. Andrew Luck is playing as well any quarterback in football not named Peyton Manning, but Indy’s winning ways are based on more than just the quarterback. They rank 11th in the NFL in total defense (330 yards per game), fifth in scoring defense (15.8 points) and they boast the league’s fourth-best rushing offense (142 yards per game). Put all that together and we’re talking about one very balanced and well put together football team. Wins against the 49ers and Seahawks are legit, but the Broncos will give us some better perspective on them when they come for a visit in Week 7.
8. Stump the Schaub — Matt Schaub threw another pick six on Sunday night, giving him the not-so-glamorous record as the only quarterback to throw a pick six in four straight games — yeesh! Gary Kubiak was so aghast by his quarterback’s performance that he even opted to give T.J. Yates the reigns in his place late in the game. Kubiak’s decision seems to be an early sign of things to come for Schaub in Houston. Off to a 2-3 start, which easily could be 0-5, Schaub doesn’t have the offense moving like it should be and he appears to be the primary issue. He’ll probably finish out the season as the starter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is his last, especially with such a talented quarterback class upcoming in the draft.
9. No Julio, No Playoffs – After Monday night’s game and a quick peek ahead to the rest of Atlanta’s schedule, I was ready to say they could still make the playoffs. Now that Julio Jones appears to be done for the season, I rescind that notion. Jones leads the NFL in receptions and is second in receiving yards, meaning he’ll be damn hard to replace — as if his miraculous one-handed catch against Antonio Cromartie didn’t prove that already. Matt Ryan relies on Jones, especially to stretch the field, and has targeted him on almost 30 percent of his passes this season. With Roddy White still working his way back from injury and Steven Jackson out until who knows when, the Falcons might need to start looking toward 2014 — oh, and places to trade Tony Gonzalez so he still has to chance to go out on top.
10. Parity still abound — After five weeks, there are only three teams left with no losses on their resumes. There also just so happens to be the same number with just one loss on the season. So, if you’re worried that your team is out of playoff contention already — here’s to you Giants, Steelers and Falcons fans — just remember that 26 of the 32 NFL teams already have at least two losses on the years and that 15 of them are still below .500, including the entire NFC East — maybe we should start calling them the NFC Least. The league-wide parity doesn’t stop there, though. There have been a record 54 games this season that have been within seven points at some point in the fourth quarter — that’s the most since 1999, which featured 53 such games. Also, just for kicks, 38 of the 79 games played (48 percent) have been decided by seven points or less this season. How’s that for parity?