The 32 things we learned from Week 6 of the 2019 NFL season:
1. Shoutout to one of my esteemed former colleagues, Tom Pelissero, who continues doing stellar work for NFL Network ever since leaving USA TODAY Sports. But more important is the redoubtable character of Tom P. and his wife, Sara, who more than covered the spread during her successful bout with breast cancer. Heartwarming to see the Vikings and the NFL honor Sara and Tom at halftime of Minnesota’s game against Philadelphia as part of the league’s “Crucial Catch” initiative to fight cancer. The NFL takes plenty of heat for being a corporate leviathan so often focused on its bottom line and public relations. But let’s give the guys at 345 Park Avenue credit when it’s deserved — and it is as it pertains to defeating this scourge of a disease. And let’s give the Pelissero family a boatload of plaudits for flourishing in the wake of what they’ve overcome.
2. I tried to get “32 things” done an hour earlier this week … but Titans G Nate Davis and I have been plagued by false starts. We’ll watch the film and get it cleaned up.
3. With the Jets and Redskins breaking into the win column Sunday, the Bengals (0-6) and Dolphins (0-5) are now in a virtual heat for the top pick of the 2020 draft. Will this get “settled” in Week 16, when the Fins host Cincinnati? Mark your calendars … or don’t.
4. If the season ended today — it doesn’t — the Raiders would make the playoffs. Still, Oakland’s Week 4 win at Indianapolis, which wouldn’t currently qualify for the field, could loom large as a tiebreaker come December.
5. Steelers rookie Devlin “Duck” Hodges became the 43rd quarterback to start a game league-wide this season. Will Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill become No. 44 in Week 7?
6. How about those 49ers (5-0)? They remain the NFC’s lone undefeated squad after knocking off the Rams, recently kings of the NFC West. And despite a resurgent offense, the Niners are really riding their top-five defense.
6a. But give QB Jimmy Garoppolo and Co. credit for going into Los Angeles and getting a win with three of the primary cogs of their devastating running game (FB Kyle Juszczyk and starting OTs Mike McGlinchey and Joe Staley) all on the shelf with injuries for the foreseeable future.
6b. Word of caution, though … what’s up with San Francisco K Robbie Gould? He made 97% of his field-goal tries in 2018, missing just once (after missing twice in 2017). Gould is just 9-for-15 in 2019, though simultaneously dealing with a new holder and long snapper is surely hindering him. A 15-year vet, Gould has never missed more than six FGs in a season.
7. The Rams were 0-for-13 Sunday on third and fourth down.
7a. The Rams’ 165 yards of total offense marked the first time they failed to finish with at least 200 under coach Sean McVay.
7b. With 78 yards passing, Rams QB Jared Goff looked a lot like that wide-eyed rookie from 2016, not a dude who just pulled down a record $110 million guarantee with his recently signed extension.
8. So San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan ousts McVay in this battle of veritable wunderkinds. To think, both were on the Redskins’ staff not too long ago.
9. Seems the Broncos have finally picked up rookie head coach Vic Fangio’s defense. After going sackless during the first three weeks, Denver has 12 in its past three games. And after Sunday’s shutout of the Titans, possible signs of life amid a modest two-game winning streak?
10. The Jets aren’t so bad with an NFL quarterback in the lineup. Sam Darnold returned Sunday, and New York scored three offensive TDs, one more than the team’s first four games combined.
10a. Jets WR Robby Anderson’s 92-yard TD catch from Darnold was the longest in the NFL this season.
10b. Darnold (22 years and 130 days old) became the youngest player in the Super Bowl era to throw a TD pass of at least 90 yards.
10c. The J-E-T-S, who entered Sunday with an offense ranked last in the NFL, posted a respectable 382 yards in their upset of Dallas after totaling 233 in their previous two games.
11. Meanwhile, on the heels of Jason Garrett’s first 3-0 start, the Cowboys are suddenly 3-3 for the third year in a row and sixth time in Garrett’s career. BTW, you knew Jerry Jones had let the coach enter the walk year of his contract, right?
11a. And after fattening up on the dregs of the league over the first three weeks, Dallas QB Dak Prescott is now on a three-game run of uninspired performances. BTW, you knew Jones still hasn’t opened the vault for his underpaid — if, arguably, average — quarterback, right?
11b. The Cowboys hadn’t dropped three straight since RB Ezekiel Elliott’s 2017 suspension.
11c. Now, as much as folks like to argue over the merits of the Eagles and Cowboys, the NFC East is suddenly looking like a one-playoff team kind of division. Dallas hosts Philadelphia next Sunday night in a contest that should be revelatory.
11d. Though, after the NYJ did the NYG a solid this weekend, you can’t even count the Giants out of this thing given they’re now on a mini-bye and should be getting RB Saquon Barkley and other weapons back soon.
12. Going into the Sunday night game in L.A., home teams are 40-49-1 this season.
13. After getting blown out by Tennessee in their regular-season opener, QB Baker Mayfield suggested, “Everybody is going to throw this in the trash.” Welp. We didn’t then … but we are now, poor officiating or not. Cleveland enters its bye week at 2-4 — worse than at the same point last season — and will go to New England on the other side of it.
14. Much has been made of teams finding the “blueprint” to beat the Chiefs — they’ve suddenly lost two in a row — a prevalent notion suggesting defenses not heavily rush QB Patrick Mahomes and lay back in man-to-man coverage.
14a. Sure, fine. But how about this blueprint? Run the ball down Kansas City’s throat and keep the ball out of Mahomes’ hands. The K.C. defense has been overrun for 761 yards on the ground the last four weeks, including 192 Sunday by the Texans, who held the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
14b. The Chiefs gave up a lot for DE Frank Clark in the offseason, including a $105 million contract and a package of draft picks, one a first rounder. Clark has responded with 12 tackles and one sack in six games.
14c. As for that defensive blueprint, many thought the return of Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill would render it null and void. Back from a clavicle injury, Hill definitely had a major impact (5 catches, 80 yards, 2 TDs) against Houston, but it wasn’t enough to right the ship.
14d. After scoring at least 25 points in a record 25 consecutive games, the Chiefs have fallen short of 25 the past two weeks.
15. Mahomes meter: With 273 yards passing — including an amazing 116 in a single drive — it was a sub-par day for the reigning MVP. But Mahomes is still on pace for 5,610, which would eclipse Peyton Manning’s single-season record (5,477).
16. And let’s give Houston deserved credit. Now 4-2, looking increasingly tougher by the week and with a tiebreaker in hand against the Chiefs, are the Texans ascending as the primary challenger to the Patriots in the AFC?
16a. And though I still think Houston vastly overpaid for LT Laremy Tunsil — the package included two first-round picks and a second rounder going to Miami — the Texans offensive line is starting to jell, protecting QB Deshaun Watson from a sack in consecutive games for the first time in his career.
16b. A little revenge: RB Carlos Hyde is on his fourth team since the end of the 2017 season and was traded to the Texans in August by the Chiefs, who signed him in the offseason. He racked up 130 yards and a TD from scrimmage while Kansas City, which sure seems like it could use Hyde about now, rushed for 53 yards collectively.
17. McCaffrey meter: With just 57 yards from scrimmage Sunday, including a mere 31 on 22 carries, Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey has 923 on the season. That now puts him about 40 yards behind the pace of Chris Johnson’s single-season standard of 2,509.
18. A little more revenge: Panthers DL Gerald McCoy bagged Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston, his teammate for four years, 2½ times.
18a. After racking up a league-best nine sacks in his first four games, Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett has been shut out the past two.
19. Winston set a career high with five INTs against Carolina and matched his all-time worst by getting sacked seven times. Not the optimal way to get a new contract.
19a. Titans QB Marcus Mariota threw two INTs in Denver as part of Tennessee’s pop-gun offense before getting benched for Tannehill. Not the optimal way to get a new contract.
20. NFL Network carried both Panthers-Bucs game this season. I’d suggesting trying to corner the market on a better rivalry …
20a. Though Carolina K Joey Slye’s free kick 60-yard FG attempt to the end the first half was pretty cool … cooler if he hadn’t been wide right.
21. With McCaffrey and Mahomes having tough days, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson seems to be the clear-cut MVP favorite after putting up three TDs in Cleveland as Seattle (5-1) won again.
21a. And imagine that team without Wilson. Throw out a Week 4 blowout at Arizona, and Seattle’s four other wins have come by a total of eight points. #GoHawks.
22. With all due respect (and props) to QB Teddy Bridgewater, the Saints defense has really carried this team during its 4-0 stretch without injured Drew Brees. In the past three outings especially, the unit has been especially stout, surrendering 257 yards or fewer in each and a total of 40 points.
23. Tom Brady piled up 334 passing yards in the Patriots’ 35-14 win over the Giants on Thursday night. Brady, who overtook Peyton Manning as the second-most prolific passer in NFL history, now has 72,257 career yards, which trails Brees by 2,588.
23a. Perhaps more impressively, with two rushing TDs against Big Blue, Brady (42 years, 68 days old) became the oldest player in the Super Bowl era to run for a pair of touchdowns in a game.
23b. Brady now has 22 career rushing TD, matching Brees but four more than Peyton Manning.
24. The Patriots defense has allowed three TDs in 2019 and scored three.
25. Rookie Giants QB Daniel Jones threw three INTs at New England. In five career starts against the Patriots, including two Super Bowl matchups, Eli Manning totaled three INTs vs. Bill Belichick and Co.
25b. Belichick has never lost to a rookie quarterback in Foxborough.
26. Still, despite their league-best 6-0 record, is there a sense of vulnerability around the reigning Super Bowl champs? The defense is virtually airtight, but the kicking is suddenly a question. Meanwhile, Brady has absorbed seven sacks while operating a depleted offense the past two weeks (he was taken down just thrice in the first four contests of the season).
27. Congrats to Washington, getting its first win of the season six days after firing Jay Gruden.
27a. But Miami’s two-point attempt for the win on its final offensive play looked very “Tank for Tua”-esque.
27b. But at least the Dolphins posted second-half points for the first time in 2019. Progress.
27c. Redskins RB Adrian Peterson rushed for 118 yards Sunday. He entered the game with 108 in his first four appearances this season.
27d. Any argument that third-round Washington WR Terry McLaurin has been the steal of the 2019 draft so far? The Gardner Minshew case is probably the only one that holds any water.
28. Remember when the Redskins had a Pro Bowl quarterback in his prime, thanks largely to Gruden’s coaching? I’m naturally referring to current Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, who passed for 333 yards and four TDs in Sunday’s rout of the Eagles.
28a. After combining to catch all of Cousins’ TD throws against Philadelphia, here’s hoping Minnesota WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs take their resurgent teammate out to dinner given the grief Cousins has weathered recently — some of the friendly fire variety.
28b. And here’s wondering if Cousins will get another “random” congratulatory phone call from President Trump, who’s definitely no fan of the Eagles but seems to enjoy watching Cousins make the Vikings great again.
29. Biggest mismatch of Week 6? Ravens run game (269 yards) against Bengals run defense.
29a. Maybe the second-biggest mismatch? Ravens run defense against Bengals run game (33 yards).
30. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker has a long way to go to reach Adam Vinatieri’s rarefied air as the best kicker of all time. (Feel free to make a counterargument on Vinatieri but not on my time.) But Tucker remains the best in the business today and in recent seasons, on Sunday becoming the fastest kicker to surpass 1,000 points in only his 118th game.
31. Speaking of Vinatieri, 46, he should call fellow antediluvian K Matt Bryant, 44, whose missed extra point inside the final two minutes cost the Falcons any shot of a comeback in their 34-33 loss at Arizona, a game Atlanta trailed 27-10 at one point in the second half. Don’t be too hard on yourself, Matt … your 1-5 team inexplicably stinks for reasons that go well beyond your unfortunate miss. (Hint: Defense.)
32. Back to my esteemed colleagues … I’ll be the first to say Jori Epstein (usually) is one of them. But Sunday, Miss Epstein proposed I laud the Seahawks for their NSYNC TD celebration in Cleveland. Uh, noooo. You think I’m positively recognizing this when it occurs in the shadow of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Noooo. Get back to me when U2 gets their justly deserved end-zone shoutout. I’ll even settle for Pearl Jam, Led Zeppelin or Metallica. Heck, I would even accept a callback to recent Rock HOF entrees like Def Leppard or The Cure. But, Jori, this shall remain a Timberlake-free zone.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
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