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Ten Observations from Week 5 in the NFL

1. It doesn’t get more inspiring than the Colts’ performance vs. Green Bay.
When it’s all said and done, we’ll look back on the Colts’ 30-27 victory over the Packers as one of those defining moments in a season. The players in Indianapolis found out earlier this week that their head coach Chuck Pagano has a long road ahead of him as he gets ready to fight leukemia. So they fought for him on Sunday, turning in an inspiring performance against a Green Bay team that’s banged up yet still dangerous. The Colts struck gold in Andrew Luck, who joined Cam Newton as only the second rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300 or more yards in three of his first four starts. The kid is for real, and he’s tougher than a bad piece of meat. All elite passers take risks and Luck is no exception. He continuously fired passes into tight windows today and it’s incredible how quickly he’s developed chemistry with Reggie Wayne. But this win wasn’t just about Luck. The Colts could have thrown in the towel when the Packers jumped out to a 21-3 lead. But they didn’t. Granted, Green Bay is banged up and lost a couple of more players today, including defensive tackle B.J. Raji. But the Packers have some of the best depth in the league and the Colts are devoid of overall talent on both sides of the ball. Greg Jennings or no Greg Jennings, what Indy did today was impressive.

2. The Falcons’ offense is dangerous but not complete.
It’s hard to nitpick a team that’s 5-0. Matt Ryan is having the finest season of his career, Tony Gonzalez has thrived with the amount of attention that opponents have to pay to Roddy White and Julio Jones, the defense has been fantastic, and the change from Mike Mularkey to Dirk Koetter at offensive coordinator has made a massive difference for the undefeated Falcons. But if there’s one thing holding Atlanta back, it’s a lack of a dominant running game. Michael Turner has had success the past two weeks, but it’s come when the opposing defense is worn down. And even though Koetter has wisely built his scheme around Ryan (where as Mularkey kept the focus on Turner), the Falcons won’t be as dangerous as they could be without a power running game. What made the 2009 Saints so dangerous is that once Sean Payton had a defense back on its heels trying to slow down the New Orleans passing game, he would pound Pierre Thomas inside to draw those safeties back up. Balance remains the key for NFL offenses, even in a passing league. There were times on Sunday when the Redskins dared the Falcons to run the ball and Atlanta just couldn’t do it with much consistency. So while the Falcons should be thrilled about their 5-0 start, at some point Koetter needs to figure out a way to develop a power running game. Unfortunately Turner’s skills are declining and second-year player Jacquizz Rodgers has made a limited impact.

3. Are the Vikings for real? They just might be.
In looking at the Vikings’ schedule up to this point, it would be easy to dismiss their 4-1 start. Three of their four wins have come against teams with losing records and three of their first five contests have come at home. But they did beat a team in the 49ers that many consider to be the class of the NFC and when you watch the Vikings play you realize they haven’t shown many flaws. They’re the team that doesn’t excel in one single area (outside of many run defense), but they do everything just well enough. Their offensive line does a decent job protecting Christian Ponder, who hadn’t thrown an interception until he threw two in Minnesota’s 30-7 win over Tennessee on Sunday. Percy Harvin continues to be the team’s best weapon, although Adrian Peterson has already exceeded expectations coming off knee surgery and tight end Kyle Rudolph is quickly becoming one of Ponder’s favorite targets. Is this a great team? No, but the schedule is very favorable until after they come back from their Week 11 bye. So for those waiting for Minnesota to come back to earth, you may be waiting a while.

4. Thanks to the Broncos’ sloppiness, the game of the week was a dud.
There was a moment in yesterday’s Denver-New England game when you thought we were going to have a classic Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady finish. But then Denver coughed the ball up inside the red zone (its third turnover of the day), and it sent most viewers scrambling for the remote. Arguably the best storyline coming into Week 5 was Manning vs. Brady, but the game was a loser right from the start. Thanks in large part to the Broncos’ miscues, the Patriots built a 17-7 halftime lead and increased the deficit to 31-7 with under five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Manning did cut the lead down to 31-21 but when New England gave Denver a golden opportunity to get within three points, the Broncos gave the gift right back. You were left wondering whether or not Denver is nothing more than a 9-7 team posing as a serious contender.

5. The last two weeks identify what the Eagles are.
Last Sunday night Michael Vick didn’t turn the ball over and played within himself. The result was an Eagles’ victory over the Giants. On Sunday, Vick turned the ball over twice, including once on the goal line, and the result wasn’t as favorable for Philadelphia. Granted, he did orchestrate an outstanding 17-play, eight-minute touchdown drive to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. But all of Vick’s comebacks this year is largely due to the fact that Vick himself put the Eagles in a hole. Pittsburgh’s now-healthy defense had a lot to do with Vick’s struggles, so let’s give credit were credit is due. But it’s getting to be pretty simple to define Philadelphia. When Vick doesn’t turn the ball over, they win. When he does, he either has to lead them to a fourth quarter comeback or the team falls flat. With how well the defense has played this season, Philadelphia should challenge for the NFC East crown. But it’s gotten to the point that as Vick goes, so does the Eagles.

6. That was a real stinker by the Ravens.
Let’s get all of the clichés out of the way first: You earn everything you get in the NFL. A win is a win. All that matters is that “W.” Having said that, what a brutal performance by Baltimore yesterday in Kansas City. The Chiefs have been dreadful for every game but one this season (an overtime victory in New Orleans), were on the verge of replacing their starting quarterback coming into the week, and have been a total disaster at times defensively. And yet a well rested Ravens team could only muster 9 points? A win is a win but Baltimore has some underlying problems. Edge rushers have given the offensive tackles problems and the defense can’t stop the run (as evidence in Kansas City’s 214 yards on the ground yesterday). Despite the changes Cam Cameron implemented this offseason, the Ravens’ offense is still a work in progress as well. There’s no doubt that Baltimore is going to be in the playoff mix at the end of the season and hey, sometimes good teams don’t play well. But some of Baltimore’s issues were on full display in Kansas City.

7. Gailey’s seat just got hotter in Buffalo.
Chan Gailey challenged his team’s toughness heading into Sunday’s game with the 49ers and his players responded by rolling over in a 45-3 San Francisco victory. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for only 126 yards with no touchdowns and one interception as his arm strength continues to limit what Buffalo can do offensively. The new high-priced defense also allowed Alex Smith to throw for 303 yards and at one point in the second half the Bills’ defenders gave up trying to tackle anyone. This is a 2-3 team that already looks defeated. They lack an identity on defense and thanks to Fitzpatrick, there’s a ceiling on what the offense can do. With Gailey at the controls, it’s unlikely that the Bills figure it out and turn things around. In fact, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

8. The Saints’ skid is over, but…
All things considered, it was a great night in New Orleans. Drew Brees threw a touchdown pass in his 48th straight game, moving him past Johnny Unitas for the all-time record. He also threw for 730 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception as the Saints beat the Chargers and finally got into the win column in 2012. But even though the numbers were eye-popping, you can tell there’s still something off with this New Orleans team. The defense did cause two turnovers but it’s ready to wilt at every turn, and without Sean Payton the offense isn’t as dominant as it has been in years past. We’re so used to holding out breath because the Saints could score at any moment. But without Payton’s brilliant play calling, this offense is missing its punch. Either way, it was a good win for a team that can finally let out a sigh of relief. The Saints have a long ways to go in order to get back into the NFC South race (especially with Atlanta sitting at 5-0), but that first victory is always the hardest.

9. The Panthers will continue to be hamstrung by Newton.
As Michael Vick goes, so do the Philadelphia Eagles. And as Cam Newton goes, so does the Carolina Panthers. Newton is a phenomenal young talent. He really is. He has the ability to put his team on his back, do his Superman thing and will Carolina to victory. He also has the ability to sink the Panthers in the blink of an eye and as we’ve found out the past two weeks, he’s not a closer. While leading 16-12 on Sunday, the Seahawks put the game in Newton’s hands by taking a safety with just under a minute left to play. It’s not easy for any quarterback to drive down the field in less than a minute and score a game-winning touchdown, nevertheless a second-year signal caller. But the Panthers didn’t even sniff mid-field because Newton had the ball stripped out of his hands. He also skipped a pass to Ben Hartsock on a 4th-and-1 from the goal line two series before that would have given the Panthers the lead had he put the pass on the money. Part of the problem in Carolina is that Ron Rivera is too conservative with his game plans. First and second-year head coaches will often play not to lose and they wind up losing a lot of close games. But at some point Newton has to be expected to raise the level of his play. That’s why Carolina drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick last year and why they’ve installed him as the face of the franchise. At some point he simply has to get it done in the fourth quarter.

10. The Dolphins might own the most underrated defense in the NFL.
After their 17-13 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, it’s time to pump the breaks on the Bengals. Entering today they were 3-1 but their wins came against the Browns, Redskins and Jaguars, which isn’t exactly a Murderers’ Row of elite NFL talent. The Bengals can’t run the ball with any success, which makes them one-dimensional offensively, and they struggle stopping the run on defense. That said, Miami’s defense is solid. In fact, it might be the most underrated defense in the league next to Pete Carroll’s squad in Seattle. Opponents are having a difficult time running against that front seven and Cameron Wake is a fierce pass rusher. The secondary has bouts of inconsistency, but the Dolphins have been in every game outside of a 30-10 loss to the Texans in Week 1. Unfortunately there’s a ceiling on how good Miami can be thanks to a rookie quarterback and a lack of explosive weapons. But Kevin Coyle’s defense gives the Dolphins an opportunity to compete week in and week out.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Tony Romo: ‘Cowboys will win a Super Bowl at some point.’

Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo is seen on the sidelines as the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on September 12, 2010. The Redskins defeated the Cowboys 13-7. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

Actions speak louder than words but at least Tony Romo hasn’t lost his confidence.

While speaking to the media recently, Romo promised that the Cowboys would win a title at some point. Of course, didn’t say whether or not “some point” would be any time soon.

“This team’s going to win a Super Bowl at some point, and it’s going to be exciting when that time comes,” Romo said. “And when we look back we’ll know who was on what side of he fence during the tough moments. That’s exciting for us as competitions that we get a chance to get better and go out there and have a chance one day.”

That “one day” won’t come soon if Romo continues to play like he did against the Lions in Week 4. The Cowboys were up 20-3 at halftime and extended their lead to 27-3 early in the third quarter before Romo suffered a meltdown. Detroit linebacker Bobby Carpenter returned a 34-yard interception for a touchdown and then corner Chris Houston followed suit with a 56-yard pick-six of his own.

Romo’s horrific second half didn’t stop there. He threw another interception late in the fourth quarter that set up a 2-yard Calvin Johnson touchdown reception to give the Lions a 34-30 lead with under two minutes to play. Detroit eventually hung on to win by that same score as Romo and the Cowboys dropped to 2-2 on the season.

Romo has always been a polarizing figure in Dallas, but even more so this season. He was chastised for his play in Week 1 against the Jets and then lauded for his gritty performance against the 49ers a week later when he played with broken ribs and a punctured lung. Despite the team’s issues at wide receiver and center, he willed the Cowboys to a victory over the Redskins in Week 3 on Monday night before suffering his collapse against the Lions in Week 4.

His Super Bowl comments only open the door wider for fans and the media to question whether or not he’s the right man for the job in Dallas.

Fade Material: NFL Week 5 Predictions

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning calls a play at the line of scrimmage against the St. Louis Rams during the first quarter of their NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, September 19, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Oh, how I crashed and burned in glorious fashion last Sunday.

I picked the Cowboys, who coughed up a 27-3 lead to the Lions.

I had the Bears, who were covering with just over a minute to play before they allowed Cam “Backdoor Cover” Newton to waltz right down the field and score a meaningless touchdown on a fourth-and-goal with just seconds remaining.

I had the Cardinals, who were beating the Giants with five minutes remaining in the game before losing and finally, I had the Broncos, who were promptly hammered by the Packers in Green Bay.

For those scoring at home, that was an 0-4 Sunday, which runs my season record to 5-11 on the year. If you’re not cashing these puppies in, then I highly recommend you start doing so. The pickings don’t get any better than this…

Eagles @ Bills, 1:00PM ET
The Eagles’ offensive line, secondary, and run defense have struggled mightily over the last three weeks and yet Michael Vick and Co. still find themselves as 3-point road favorites in Buffalo. What a slap in the face to a good Bills team, which got a lesson in humility last Sunday in Cincinnati. Buffalo is a better team right now than Philadelphia, plain and simple. So I’ll gladly take the points with the home dog.
THE PICK: BILLS +3

Seahawks @ Giants, 1:00PM ET
I’m going to eat a lot of chalk today but I don’t really mind. The Seahawks may have played well in the second half last week against the Falcons, but Atlanta inexplicably went to a shell defense in the third quarter and completely took its foot off the gas offensively. That allowed Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks to get back into a game they should have been blown out in. I thought Eli Manning and the Giants would suffer a letdown last Sunday in Arizona and for three and a half quarters, it looked like they would. But his New York team is playing with a ton of confidence right now and I like the G-Men to roll against a Seattle squad that is brutal on the road.
THE PICK: GIANTS –9.5.

Jets @ Patriots, 4:15PM ET
I’m highly aware that the Jets went into Foxboro during the playoffs last season and beat the Patriots in impressive fashion. But Mark Sanchez and the Jets also have mystical powers that apparently only work in the postseason. During the regular season, Sanchez is liable to throw for 76 yards and two interceptions in any given game. New York can’t run the ball and has major issues on offense. If the Patriots get up big, don’t expect Bill Belichick to let up after his team was embarrassed in Buffalo after squandering a 21-0 first half lead. I think this game will be more like the 45-3 thrashing the Pats served the Jets in the regular season last year than the New England’s home playoff loss a few months later.
THE PICK: PATRIOTS –7.5.

Packers @ Falcons, 8:20PM ET
This the second big mismatch on the Week 5 schedule behind Jets-Patriots. Forget the fact that the Packers went into Atlanta last year and drubbed the Falcons 48-21 in the playoffs. Green Bay is simply leaps and bounds better than Atlanta at this point in the 2011 season. The Falcons have major issues along the offensive line and Aaron Rodgers will feast on the likes of Dunta Robinson in the passing game. I think it was a bad omen that the Falcons blew a 27-7 lead last week in Seattle. They may have won the game but the coaching staff gets too predictable and too conservative once this team builds a lead. Fortunately for Mike Smith and Co, the Falcons probably won’t have too many leads come Sunday night.
THE PICK: PACKERS –5.5

Last Week: 0-4
Season: 5-11

Check out Bullz-Eye.com for a list of Sunday’s NFL Odds.

Frank Gore: The Eagles gave up

San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore scrambles across the goal line for the winning touchdown for San Francisco during fourth quarter San Francisco 49ers-Philadelphia Eagles game action at Lincoln Financial Field October 10, 2011. San Francisco defeated Philadelphia 24-23. UPI/John Anderson

Not only are they 1-3 after losing three-straight games, but now the Eagles are being called out by 49ers’ running back Frank Gore, who says they flat out gave up last Sunday in Philadelphia.

From ESPN.com:

“I think playing that second half and the way we came out, the Eagles didn’t want to play no more,” Gore said in an interview on ESPN’s “First Take.”

The victory gave the 49ers the lead in the NFC West at 3-1; it dropped the 1-3 Eagles into the cellar of the NFC East.

“We just kept pounding and kept pounding and making plays and we kind of knocked the fight out of them,” Gore said.

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, speaking to reporters Friday, disputed Gore’s version of events.

“I don’t think the team quit,” Vick said. “I think we put up the effort for all four quarters.”

Whether they threw in the towel or not, Reid has a ton of work to do before the Eagles right the ship. The pass protection for Vick has been bad. Despite adding Nnamdi Asomugha to the secondary, the pass coverage has been bad. And thanks to the fact that Andy Reid hired his former offensive line coach to be his defensive coordinator, the run defense ranks among the worst in the league.

Honestly, Gore saying that the Eagles gave up last week is about the least of Philly’s concerns. The Eagles should have one focus right now: Beating the Bills and trying to get the ship righted.

2011 NFL Week 5 Primer

New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick encourages his team against the Oakland Raiders at the Coliseum in Oakland, California on October 2, 2011. The Patriots defeated the Raiders 31-19. UPI/Terry Schmitt

Titans @ Steelers, 1:00PM ET
Want to know how dire the Steelers’ situation is along their offensive line? They just signed a guy (Max Starks) whom they released in preseason. Ben Roethlisberger’s bruised foot was in a walking boot as he watched practice on Wednesday and the Titans have a couple of linemen in Karl Klug and Derrick Morgan that can get after the passer. Don’t be shocked if we see an upset in Pittsburgh this Sunday.

Eagles @ Bills, 1:00PM ET
Michael Vick says that the “Dream Team” moniker is now dead in Philadelphia and that the Eagles no longer want to be called that. Seeing as how they’re 1-3 and taking on a Buffalo team that has been unbeatable at home this year, I don’t think anyone will have a problem obliging Mikey’s request.

Saints @ Panthers, 1:00PM ET
Don’t be surprised if Cam Newton has another big day passing this week. The Panthers figure to be trailing in this one and the Saints have struggled defensively this year. Will Smith and Sedrick Ellis are about the only linemen who have helped generate a pass rush, while guys like Roman Harper have struggled in coverage. As expected, all three linebackers have had their issues as well. Jonathan Casillas has two sacks and four QB pressures, but he has struggled in coverage while Jonathan Vilma has been suspect against the run. There’s certainly holes in New Orleans’ defense that Newton can take advantage of.

Seahawks @ Giants, 1:00PM ET
Assuming the Giants win this week, who would have thought that their only loss this season would be against the Redskins in Week 1 and not at Philadelphia in Week 3? Give Tom Coughlin’s squad credit. They could have easily lost last Sunday in Arizona and looked like they would with about five minutes left to play. But they persevered and now have what should be an easy win this Sunday. Tarvaris Jackson played well against Atlanta’s soft zone last weekend but the Seahawks are a completely different team on the road than they are at home. New York should roll.

Bengals @ Jaguars, 1:00PM ET
Andy Dalton has certainly had his ups and downs through the first quarter of the season, but the Bengals have to be pleased with the way he’s battled. With the Bills up 17-3 last Sunday, Dalton and Cincinnati could have shut it down in the second half, especially considering how inept the offense looked versus the 49ers the week before. But they picked up a huge win and now go on the road to face a Jaguars team that has struggled with rookie Blaine Gabbert under center. It’s pretty remarkable to think that he Bengals could be 3-2 after this week when you consider how messy their offseason was.

Cardinals @ Vikings, 1:00PM ET
Is Leslie Frazier starting to warm up to the idea of starting Christian Ponder? Here was Frazier’s comments on the rookie this Wednesday: “He’s working hard in practice, doing the same thing in meetings. We feel like he’s progressing well and we’re optimistic, that, when his time comes, he’ll be ready to go.” A couple of more brutal showings by Donovan McNabb and Ponder’s time might be coming soon.

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