Need a recap of this past weekend's NFL games? Here is everything you need to know, in four quick takeaways:
1. The Patriots return to form
“The Patriots came from behind for the win, however, thanks to Tom Brady, who led a last-minute scoring drive in the fourth quarter to save New England.”
That sentence, or some variation on it, has appeared in Patriots game recaps seemingly without end over the last decade or so. And that sentence will likely appear in every recap of Sunday’s Saints-Patriots game, when Tom Brady — you guessed it — rallied New England for a final scoring drive in the fourth quarter to a 30-27 win.
Down four points with just 73 seconds on the clock and no timeouts, Brady took his offense 70 yards on five different completions, including the game-winning touchdown to rookie wideout Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds left to complete the comeback. It was a stunning turn of events for a New Orleans team all but assured of its sixth straight win, and a bit of redemption for Brady after his two earlier fourth-quarter drives with the Patriots trailing ended in a three-and-out and an interception, respectively.
The drive also helped paper over what had been a sluggish day for Brady, who finished 25-of-43 for 265 yards, a pick and the late score. Brady’s cast on offense didn’t give him much help, however; aside from Stevan Ridley, who rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns, the Patriots’ offense was plagued by drops and inconsistency. It didn’t help that Brady lost his most experienced wide receiver, Danny Amendola, to a concussion in the third quarter. But the rookie tandem of Thompkins and Aaron Dobson (six catches, 63 yards) made some crucial catches on the last drive, as did Austin Collie, signed off the street the week prior, who pulled in a nine-yard catch with 24 seconds left to convert a fourth down.
Not to be overlooked, however, is New England’s defense, which did strong work against a Saints offense that had torn apart its competition through the first five weeks. The Patriots’ secondary held Drew Brees to 17 completions on 36 attempts, only the second time since 2006 that Brees has posted a completion rate under 50 percent, and kept the league’s best tight end, Jimmy Graham, from coming down with a single ball. And they did that without shutdown cornerback Aqib Talib, who left with a hip injury, and top linebacker Jerod Mayo, who hurt his arm late in the game.
For New England, the win moves the team to 5-1 ahead of a big division showdown with the not-actually-horrible Jets in Week 7. As for New Orleans, the loss snapped their perfect start to the season, but at 5-1, the Saints are comfortably in control of the NFC South.
2. And then there were two
New Orleans’s loss leaves just two teams undefeated this season, and they both reside in the AFC West. One is Denver, which continued to lay waste to football with a 35-19 win over Jacksonville. The other is Kansas City, which pounded Oakland, 24-7. Both teams are now 6-0, but they got there by different paths Sunday.
In Denver, what was billed as one of the most titanic mismatches in NFL history ended up being a surprisingly close contest between the Broncos and the winless Jaguars. Thanks to some sloppy play by Denver, including a pick-six from Peyton Manning, Jacksonville was down just 14-12 at halftime and 21-19 in the third quarter after going into the game as a 28-point underdog. But then the universe, knocked astray momentarily, re-ordered itself, and the Broncos ran off two quick scores to keep their perfect season alive.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, used their defense to smash their way to win No. 6. Kansas City abused Oakland’s league-worst offensive line, sacking Terrelle Pryor 10 times and picking him off thrice, returning one for a touchdown, as the NFL’s best defense had its way with the Raiders. Pryor became the first quarterback to be sacked 10 times and throw three interceptions in 22 years. His team committed 11 penalties, most of them false starts on offense, in the most stereotypical Raiders game ever.
The Chiefs and Broncos won’t meet until Week 11 in Denver, but you have to wonder if Kansas City’s defense will be the one to slow down Manning and the Broncos. The Chiefs will certainly need a better performance from Alex Smith to take out Denver, however; against Oakland, Smith went just 14-of-31 for 128 yards.
3. Tampa Bay’s race to the bottom
Jacksonville isn’t the only team still searching for their first win. Their in-state rivals for Florida failure, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are now 0-5 after falling to the Philadelphia Eagles, 31-20. It’s the tenth loss for Tampa in its last 11 games, coming after a dismal week in which the Bucs released their onetime franchise quarterback Josh Freeman, then had to contend with an apparent staph infection outbreak in their facilities.
The split with Freeman, which happened during the team’s bye week, brought about a fresh wave of criticism for head coach Greg Schiano, who hasn’t won over fans or his players with his borderline dictatorial style of coaching. Already this season, there have been allegations that Schiano and his staff have routinely snooped through the Bucs’ locker room, spied on their own players, and in the case of Freeman, leaked confidential medical information on the quarterback’s participation in the league’s substance-abuse program.
Then there are the on-field results. Schiano, who came to Tampa with a reputation as a defense-first coach, allowed the Eagles to pile up 425 yards on his team. That included three touchdowns from backup quarterback Nick Foles, starting in place of the injured Michael Vick. In his second week as the starter, rookie Mike Glennon had a decent afternoon, throwing for 273 yards and two scores, but the team is getting little from running back Doug Martin (67 yards on 16 carries) and has struggled to maintain any kind of offensive consistency.
Now firmly in competition with the 0-6 Jaguars and 0-6 Giants for the first pick in next year’s draft, it’s unclear how much longer the Bucs will go with Schiano. Barring a miracle turnaround, it’s unlikely the former Rutgers head coach will survive all the negative attention and bad results his team has accrued.
4. The NFC East continues to be the NFL’s weirdest division
How many people predicted this preseason that, by Week Six, New York and Washington would have 10 losses between them, or that the NFC East leader might not finish the year above .500? That’s been the case so far this year: The Eagles and Cowboys, despite being 3-3, are pulling away from the Redskins and Giants in the division race.
We already touched on Philadelphia’s day, with Foles excelling in place of Michael Vick. In Dallas, the Cowboys overcame a sluggish day on offense thanks to an even worse performance from Robert Griffin III and the Redskins, edging them 31-16. A week after a historic offensive performance, Tony Romo came back to earth, going 18-of-30 for 170 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. RGIII wasn’t any better, though, managing to complete only 19 of his 39 pass attempts for 246 yards and a pick on Dallas’s 23-yard line. Griffin also lost a fumble on a sack that was recovered by Dallas.
Next up for Dallas: The Eagles in Philadelphia with first place in the NFC East on the line. The Cowboys will have to hope that two key members of their team who were hurt against Washington will be ready for that tilt. Running back DeMarco Murray left Sunday’s win with a sprained left knee, and top-flight defensive end DeMarcus Ware had to exit the game with a quad injury.