Without any question, week five was a statement week across the league. In San Francisco, the 49ers made sure the entire NFL knows that they're still the team to beat in the NFC, and that they may just even be better than they were last year.
In Indianapolis, Andrew Luck made it clear that he's just as good as advertised, looking like a seasoned veteran while leading the Colts to a comeback victory over the Packers.
Statements were made by individual players and teams all over the country this weekend. What were the biggest ones?
Down 21-3 at half time, things were going pretty much as expected for Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Facing one of the most talented teams in the league, and with their own head coach in the hospital, a blow out loss could have been reasonably anticipated all week.
It was a moment where as a rookie quarterback Luck could either fold or take control of his team and lead a comeback effort, marking a major step in his development. Most rookie quarterbacks would have predictably crumbled. But with the help of a veteran that many thought was well past his prime, Luck led the Colts to a win that could define the rest of their season.
Luck may never be able to fully escape the shadow of Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, at least not without winning multiple Super Bowls. But Sunday afternoon he took a step towards making his own place in Colts’ history. He led the Colts back from that big halftime deficit, and helped put Indianapolis in position to win late in the fourth quarter.
The truly amazing part of this game wasn’t the comeback, but the final game winning drive. If you hadn’t known it going into to the drive, there would have been no way to tell that it was a rookie quarterback leading the thirteen play drive down the field.
Luck went 8-10 on that drive, throwing for 90 yards and the eventual game winner to Reggie Wayne, who had a career game himself. Luck knew when to check down to his tight end Coby Fleener, but he didn’t hesitate to stretch the field with Wayne, either.
The quarterback was cool, collected, and directed the no huddle offense to a score with 35 seconds left on the clock. He ended the day looking every bit like the franchise quarterback he was sold as leading up to the draft, throwing for 362 yards and two touchdowns and running for another score.
Luck’s best decision of the day? Looking to his veteran play maker Wayne early and often. Wayne had plenty of big days with Manning calling the shots, but none of those were bigger than his outing on Sunday. Wayne reeled in thirteen passes for 212 yards, including a spectacular one handed grab behind Charles Woodson that led to his game winning touchdown reception.
It was a performance that silenced many who thought Wayne was washed up. Sure, the Colts have some younger weapons like T.Y. Hilton and Donnie Avery that have a place in the offense. But Wayne is still clearly at the top of his game, and that’s going to go a long way making sure Luck develops into the franchise quarterback he already so closely resembles.
Recapping the Match-ups to Watch
Washington OLB Ryan Kerrigan vs. Atlanta RT Tyson Clabo
Ryan Kerrigan made one of the biggest plays of the game for Washington, picking off Matt Ryan and returning it for a touchdown. It was a great, instinctive play. Kerrigan could have gone for the sack, like most pass rushers would have done in his situation. But instead, after beating his blocker he elected to go for the pick, and easily scored. It was the exact sort of play that Washington will be asking Kerrigan for in 2012 with Brian Orakpo out for the season.
However, that was the only impact Kerrigan would have on the game. Kerrigan only was only able to hurry Ryan on one additional play. Tyson Clabo did an excellent job against Kerrigan, but he wasn’t working entirely alone. The Falcons pass protection was clearly geared towards stopping Kerrigan, and it worked. With the second year linebacker the only real pass rushing threat still healthy on the roster, that’s likely going to be a problem for the rest of the season in Washington. Will Kerrigan and the Redskins be able to overcome it?
Minnesota’s Front Seven vs. Tennessee’s OL
This was perhaps the most lop-sided result of the week, and predictably so. The Vikings’ defense and the Titans’ struggling offensive line was a big mismatch on paper, and it played out that way on the field.
Chris Johnson was held to just 24 yards, and although he’s taken a ton of heat for questions about his effort, you can’t discount the effect Minnesota’s defense had on the game. The entire line had no problem pushing Tennessee backwards off the snap, and more often than not Johnson had no where to run. It was an ugly performance across the line for the Titans: even guys like David Stewart, regarded as one of the league’s best tackles, were abused for 60 minutes.
New Orleans’ QB Drew Brees vs. San Diego’s Defense
There was surprisingly little doubt in New Orleans that Drew Brees would break Johnny Unitas’ record for consecutive games with a touchdown. No one was worried that there’d be a freak injury early in the game, or that perhaps San Diego’s defense would put on a strong performance and keep the former Charger from making history.
And really, there was no reason to doubt the quarterback. Brees simply is too smart, and far too good at what he does, and it showed again Sunday night. The play that made history – a deep pass to Devery Henderson – wasn’t a particularly great throw or catch. It was, however, an example of what makes Brees great. He knew as the Saints lined up exactly what route would beat the Chargers’ coverage. He knew how to get Henderson isolated on Quentin Jammer, and he knew Jammer would be confused. The result was a wide open Henderson, and of course, NFL history.
Stat of the Week
Arian Foster has reached 5,000 career rushing yards in only 40 games. The only two running backs to reach that mark faster? Edgerrin James and Eric Dickerson.
Scouting Notes from Across the League
- Philadelphia’s rookie nickel back Brandon Boykin was accused of being the weak link of the Eagle’s secondary by Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday. Both Nndami Asomugha and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie had poor games against the Steelers. Still, it was Boykin that gave up a 3rd down conversion to Brown on Pittsburgh’s game winning drive.
- It’s almost always worthless to project season stats after just five games, but it’s worth noting that JJ Watt is on pace to rack up 25 sacks this season. We may be early in the season, but it’s worth talking about Watt as an MVP candidate. With Brian Cushing likely out for the season with a torn ACL, the Texans will be looking to Watt to carry their defense for the remainder of the year.
- The most overwhelming performance of week five was that of the San Francisco 49ers. The offense racked up over 300 yards both through the air and on the ground, meaning guys like Alex Smith and Mario Manningham have been the talk of the town. They certainly played great, but we can’t overlook the job their interior offensive line did on Sunday. Neither Marcel Dareus nor Kyle Williams had any success, as they were both mauled by the 9ers OL.
- Miami’s Jonathon Martin has continued to struggle to protect Ryan Tannehill, but that hasn’t hampered the rookie quarterback’s development yet. Tannehill played another good game in week five, earning a win on the road at Cincinnati.
- Tannehill’s early success may be one of the surprises in this rookie class, but it’s not the biggest. That distinction may just belong to the Bengals’ Vontaze Burfict. Leading up to the draft Burfict was best described as a train wreck of a prospect, but he’s already earned a starting spot in Cincinnati’s defense. He played every snap against the Dolphins, and by my count only gave up one reception on the day.