The Bills' counterpunch in Kansas City changed the AFC race, and the Cardinals' first 5-0 start in 47 years has kept their surprise story atop the NFC. Justin Herbert finishing another high-scoring duel on top continues the Chargers' resurgence. Here are the grades from Week 5, with a look around the league.
The Colts and Titans play 14 common opponents, but on the disparate three, last year's second-place AFC South finishers landed a tougher docket. Retooling Saints and Steelers teams are on the Titans' schedule; the Colts drew the Ravens and Buccaneers. The Colts' Baltimore trek ended poorly enough the team's early-season hole may be too deep to catch the Titans. After blowing a 16-point fourth-quarter lead, which featured a narrow forward-lateral replay amendment, and Rodrigo Blankenship's hip injury costing the team a win, the Colts (1-4) still must face the 49ers, Bucs, Bills, and Cardinals. Indianapolis' 2018 resurgence from 1-5 did not feature this schedule strength.
COLTS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sun.)
Lamar Jackson's skeptics are unlikely to be silenced until he makes his unique M.O. work in multiple playoff games. But Monday's performance was so dominant it gave the run-oriented QB a 10-8 round in this perpetual fight. After his goal-line fumble seemingly sank the Ravens' effort, bringing forth doubt about a team that escaped against the Chiefs and Lions, Jackson delivered by far the best passing display of his career. His 442 passing yards were a career-high by 118. In leading the Ravens (4-1) to 22 unanswered points, Jackson accounted for a college-like 504 yards. The NFL's first 400-yard passing game with an 85% completion rate came from the unlikeliest of sources.
RAVENS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Chargers (Sun.)
Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce combined for 22 catches and 290 yards in last year's AFC title game. A Bills defense featuring similar personnel derailed the Chiefs' historically explosive passing attack Sunday. Missing standout linebacker Matt Milano, the Bills still forced at least three turnovers for a fourth straight game. They hit Patrick Mahomes eight times, with first-round pick Gregory Rousseau leading the remodeled wing of Buffalo's defense -- a two-deep D-line brigade -- to fluster the superstar passer in spots. The Bills (4-1) passed their biggest defensive test of the Josh Allen era. Backing this Allen version with an elite defense creates tantalizing possibilities.
BILLS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Titans (Mon.)
Now effectively three games behind the Bills, whose division lacks the AFC West's punch, the Chiefs are in a strange position. The Bills became the third team in four games to prioritize eliminating Tyreek Hill explosions and are the third team in four games to beat the Chiefs. Other teams will copy this blueprint. Hill (14 targets, one catch of 15-plus yards) being a nonfactor moves the Chiefs (2-3) closer to station-to-station football, and Mahomes failed to effectively take this route against the Bills. Mahomes' 5.0 yards per attempt from a clean pocket were the lowest of his career, per Pro Football Focus. Buffalo's defense won on all fronts.
CHIEFS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: at Washington (Sun.)
Cleveland could not hold a 14-point second-half lead, but its offense did more than enough to win. The Browns (3-2) became the first team in NFL history to score 40 points, commit no turnovers and lose, per the Elias Sports Bureau. Previous teams who accomplished this: 463-0. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 222 rushing yards and three TDs, mashing the Chargers and limiting the pressure on Baker Mayfield. The unmatched Cleveland backfield's potency helped a team that kept losing defenders and finished the game without tackles Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin. Chubb and Hunt represent a rare weapon in a deep AFC race.
BROWNS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Cardinals (Sun.)
By Sunday night, the Chargers held a two-game lead on the Chiefs and have a win in Kansas City. Herbert's rapid rise will make the Bolts (4-1) tougher to catch. In a conference with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson, the Chargers have a passer rapidly approaching the top tier. Herbert accounted for 427 yards and five TDs, making the Browns pay for coverage busts while proving unstoppable amid a two-score comeback. The second-year QB keeps makes Brandon Staley's fourth-down aggression possible; the Bolts went 3 of 3 Sunday and are 7-for-8 this year. Their 26 fourth-quarter points were the franchise's most since 1991.
CHARGERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Ravens (Sun.)
With Kyle Shanahan expectedly reshaping his offense around Lance, the 49ers' prized rookie quarterback amassed 89 rushing yards and made a few throws to confirm his long-term starter potential. The Lance-adjusted offense still struggled. The Division I-FCS product completed 52% of his throws, sailed an interception well over his target's head in the first quarter, and had San Francisco (2-3) 1-for-5 on fourth downs. Shanahan leaving no doubt about Jimmy Garoppolo reclaiming his job upon returning to health differs from the typical routine once first-round QBs debut, but it makes sense here.
49ERS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Colts (Oct. 24)
The 49ers outgained the Cardinals and disappointed Kyler Murray's previously giddy fantasy GMs, holding the star QB to one passing touchdown and one rushing yard. Arizona's defense compensated, with the Cards' future Hall of Fame defensive lineman showing up often. Watt hit Lance a team-high three times, posted two TFLs, and deflected a fourth-down pass to produce one of the Cardinals' four turnover-on-downs sequences. Isaiah Simmons and Tanner Vallejo's goal-line Lance denial produced another such stop, helping a defense missing top corner Byron Murphy. The Cardinals are 5-0 for the first time since the Don Coryell era (1974); their defense led the way Sunday.
CARDINALS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Browns (Sun.)
In his 17th Packers season, Crosby has job security. But on an eventful NFL kicker day, the veteran Packer's outing produced the most turbulence. Crosby made his first three field goals, running a consecutive-make streak to 27, but missed his next three -- including a go-ahead 36-yarder late in the fourth quarter. Crosby finished his uneven day with a game-winner, and this marks just the second three-miss day for the NFL's longest-tenured kicker, who missed four kicks in Detroit in 2018. But a team missing its top two defenders (Za'Darius Smith, Jaire Alexander) has a reduced margin for error. The Packers (4-1) will not be able to withstand this often.
PACKERS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Bears (Sun.)
Chase continues to vindicate the Bengals for bypassing Penei Sewell at No. 5 overall. The rookie wideout kept enhancing his Offensive Rookie of the Year file, torching the Packers for 159 yards and a touchdown. Chase also accounted for nearly half of Cincinnati's total yards (367) Sunday. No non-Chase Bengal play produced 12 yards, and the team could not convert late to help out rookie kicker Evan McPherson, who missed 57- and 49-yard field goals to give Crosby more chances. The Bengals (3-2) rank 24th in total offense nearly a third of the way through the season -- a notable letdown given this team's roster construction.
BENGALS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Lions (Sun.)
The Broncos have four games against the Chargers and Chiefs and face the Browns and Cowboys over the next month. Their schedule is light on non-contenders for a while. Their defense was unable to hold up against a vulnerable Steelers offense. Although Denver's first-half offensive woes kept its defense at work, Pittsburgh's receivers won matchups on their opening drives of each half. A near-the-end Ben Roethlisberger, who hit Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool for TDs, did enough against the Broncos' high-end cornerback crew to stave off more "Ben is toast"-based TV segments. This could be a costly loss for a suddenly reeling Denver squad (3-2).
BRONCOS GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Raiders (Sun.)
Although the Steelers still rank 31st in rushing, the ground game sprang to life to end a losing skid. The Steelers' 147 rushing yards were their most since Week 3 of last season . The bottom fell out quickly after that aberration, leading to Pittsburgh drafting Najee Harris in the first round. Harris, who has frequently lacked run lanes and faced tenacity-themed criticism from Roethlisberger last week, kept Teddy Bridgewater and Co. off the field with 123 ground yards. The Steelers (2-3) still have significant questions about an inexperienced O-line, but it won a battle against an upper-echelon defense.
STEELERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Seahawks (Sun.)
Kadarius Toney broke Odell Beckham Jr.'s franchise rookie receiving mark, zooming for 189 yards and revealing a potential cornerstone target for an already-deep skill-position corps. However, by the game's end, the Giants (1-4) were without Toney, their other top receivers, Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones. Barkley's injury jumps out. Although the dynamic back is believed to have sustained a low ankle sprain, a lesser malady than his high ankle sprain (2019), and knee ligament tears (2020), his career has hit a crossroads. As Barkley guns for a long-term extension, each injury works against him -- and the Giants' blueprint.
GIANTS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: vs. Rams (Sun.)
With rules tilting toward offenses, quarterbacks have never had it easier. This era's interception totals are down from previous periods. No one from this century ranks in the top 25 in single-season INTs. This makes Diggs' start all the more impressive. Diggs' deep theft of a Mike Glennon pass gave him six INTs in five games and a pick in all five Cowboys contests this year. Diggs is the first player since 1984 (Sam Washington, Steelers) to intercept six passes in his team's first five games. Diggs' Year 2 breakout will result in QBs dodging him more often, limiting offenses' options against the improved Cowboys (4-1).
COWBOYS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Patriots (Sun.)
Terry McLaurin saved Washington from a loss in Atlanta, but New Orleans' top cornerback prevented him from doing so in Week 5. Lattimore won his primary matchup, with McLaurin finishing with four catches for 46 yards on 11 targets. A McLaurin Ohio State teammate, Lattimore forced seven incompletions -- a 2021 NFL best, per PFF -- and allowed just two receptions on nine throws in his direction. This forced more from Washington's unproven auxiliary targets. The Saints saw Tampa Jameis Winston emerge Sunday, a reminder that top-class defense will be required to win certain games. Lattimore remains capable of leading such a charge.
SAINTS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Seahawks (Oct. 25)
Although Washington forced two Winston turnovers, his TD-turnover ratio was still 4-2. Washington's secondary committed coverage busts on two Winston touchdown passes and offered rather passive Hail Mary resistance -- at least, compared to the Chargers' take-no-prisoners approach this season -- as Marquez Callaway maneuvered for his half-ending snare. A Saints team down to Alvin Kamara as a truly reliable weapon became the latest to slice up Washington's DBs, even though Winston completed 50% of his throws. Washington (2-3) is 31st in points allowed with arguably better personnel than 2020's defense.
WASHINGTON GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Chiefs (Sun.)
The Raiders found a gem in Maxx Crosby, but the player they drafted to primarily replace Mack -- Clelin Ferrell -- has been a bust. This led the team to inquire about reacquiring Mack this year . The Bears edge rusher made his former team pay for the 2018 trade Sunday, registering eight tackles, a sack, and a de facto sack to deny a fourth-quarter two-point try. The Bears (3-2) received just 111 passing yards from Justin Fields, whom they are oddly not using as a runner (four rushing yards), but won by two scores. Mack, whose team lost his first reunion matchup (in London) in 2019, led the way in creating a Raider losing skid.
BEARS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Packers (Sun.)
Derek Carr's back-to-back top-11 QBR showings came alongside an upper-crust rushing attack; the Raiders ranked in the top half on the ground in each of the past two years. Through five games, they sit 29th. Las Vegas reconfigured its O-line this offseason, trading away Pro Bowlers Rodney Hudson and Trent Brown and seven-year starter Gabe Jackson. The replacements are mostly struggling, leading to the Raiders moving first-round tackle Alex Leatherwood to guard this week. The Raiders (3-2) averaged 3.2 yards per carry but tried 22 runs; Josh Jacobs notched just one eight-plus-yard gain on 15 carries. Back to reality for a one-dimensional offense.
RAIDERS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Broncos (Sun.)
Rebounding from an awful coverage outing against the Chiefs, the Eagles intercepted Sam Darnold thrice and saw their secondary's leader come through. Slay picked off Darnold twice, one of those thefts setting up the Eagles (2-3) in the Panthers' red zone, and only allowed 22 receiving yards in the team's upset win. The Eagles gave Slay a three-year, $50 million extension, after trading for him in 2020, but he did not deliver during a miserable-on-most-fronts Philly season. The ex-Lions stopper has fared a bit better this year, and the Eagles defense and special teams did enough to boost an inconsistent offense in Charlotte.
EAGLES GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Buccaneers (Thu.)
In an easily winnable game, the Panthers quarterback let the Eagles off the hook. Carolina (3-2) held a 12-point halftime lead but failed to score a touchdown after the first quarter. Darnold ended three of Carolina's drives with INTs and now has five picks in his past two games. He averaged 4.8 yards per attempt on a humbling day, one that reminded him of his Jets tenure. The Panthers received a 100-yard showing from Christian McCaffrey's backup, Chuba Hubbard, but Darnold's woes -- and the rather untimely blocked punt that set up the Eagles' game-winner -- sank them and offer questions about their contender viability.
PANTHERS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Sun.)
Bouncing back after two substandard games, Brady shredded a Dolphins team deep at cornerback for 411 yards and five touchdown passes. This was Brady's ninth five-TD game -- second-most all-time (Drew Brees -- 11). Tampa Bay's 44-year-old legend repeatedly finding Antonio Brown and Mike Evans bodes well after the Rams and Patriots limited the Bucs offense. The defending champs have two over-.500 teams on their schedule until Dec. 12, and those squads -- the Bears and Saints -- are not exactly Super Bowl threats. Pass defense issues notwithstanding, the Bucs (4-1) look set for a run at the NFC's top seed.
BUCCANEERS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Eagles (Thu.)
The Dolphins have the field lapped in cornerback investments, rostering two making more than $15 million annually (Byron Jones, Xavien Howard) and signing veteran slot Justin Coleman after drafting Noah Igbinoghene in Round 1 last year. Brady still razed this group, which featured Igbinoghene a healthy scratch (not ideal), and targeted Jones most. The ex-Cowboys stopper gave up 120 yards on 12 targets, and Brady also fired two TD passes past Howard. For a Dolphins team (1-4) missing Tua Tagovailoa, Will Fuller, and DeVante Parker, this was an unacceptable performance from its strongest position group.
DOLPHINS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Jaguars (Sun., in London)
A hero to eliminator pool entries worldwide, Henry delivered his best game as a Patriot and did plenty to stop an embarrassing loss. Jonnu Smith and Henry signed the third- and fourth-richest tight end contracts this offseason but had not exactly led the charge in Mac Jones' early efforts. Henry did Sunday, hauling in a team-high six passes for 75 yards -- 33 more than his previous top effort this season. The sixth-year pass catcher's sliding TD on a third-and-6 tied the game late, preventing a lackluster Pats effort from dealing the reloaded team (2-3) a potential death blow.
PATRIOTS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Sun.)
Davis Mills followed his historically dismal Buffalo day with a 312-yard outing against the NFL's most consistently reliable pass defense. Buoyed by a flea-flicker in which Mark Ingram offered a more convincing run sell than most backs commit to, Mills completed seven 10-plus-yard passes -- including three touchdown passes -- and became the second rookie to throw three TDs against the Bill Belichick-era Pats (after Russell Wilson). The third-round pick nearly overcame yet another bizarre David Culley fourth-down decision -- the zany punt motions that led to a game-turning sequence -- and offered a ray of hope for the 1-4 Texans.
TEXANS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: at Colts (Sun.)
Another 19-17 loss on a game-winning field goal to an NFL purple proponent dropped the Lions to 0-5. Unlike Urban Meyer's team, Dan Campbell's squad does seem to believe in its coach and continues to battle until games' conclusions. After halftime, the Vikings had seven possessions. None of them advanced past the Lions' 30-yard line. Two of those drives resulted in turnovers -- an Alex Anzalone INT and Jalen Reeves-Maybin fumble recovery -- leading to Detroit's go-ahead two-point conversion. A bottom-tier roster is making progress, though it keeps enduring kicker-fueled agony.
LIONS GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Bengals (Sun.)
The NFL would have zero unbeatens through five games had Joseph made a 37-yard field goal in Arizona three weeks ago, but the Vikings kicker rebounded Sunday. A Minnesota offense that did little after halftime relied on its kicker, sending him out for 55-, 49- and 54-yard field goals. Joseph missed from 49 but was 2-for-2 from 50-plus -- the last of which was a walk-off effort that saved the 10-point favorites. The Vikings (2-3) have not enjoyed true kicker stability since Blair Walsh's playoff miss six seasons ago, and Joseph is on his third team in four years. Still, the ex-Browns and Titans specialist proved valuable Sunday.
VIKINGS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Panthers (Sun.)
A Titans team down Julio Jones and A.J. Brown at various points this year keeps leaning on its top weapon, and Henry keeps delivering. He gashed the Jaguars for 130 yards on 29 carries, adding three touchdowns. Henry's 9-yard TD resembled an NBA regular-season dunk, with Jags defenders wanting no part of a goal-line collision. The two-time reigning rushing champ is on a tear. That said, here are his touch totals since Week 2: 41, 31, 35, 29. He is on pace to shatter Larry Johnson's carries record (416). Henry out-carried backup Jeremy McNichols 29-1 in a three-score win. The Titans (3-2) need to do better to conserve their bulldozer.
TITANS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Bills (Mon.)
The Jaguars have lost 20 consecutive games. They join only the 1976-77 Buccaneers, who lost 26 straight to start their run in a haves/have-nots era that occurred decades before free agency, in losing 20 straight. Urban Meyer is 0-5 and 1-for-5 in managing to lose by single digits. Nothing about this season and the embattled coach's many missteps point to this experiment working. The Jags did net three sacks and eight QB hits. Certain players will naturally progress on 53-man rosters. But this regime will not be the one to turn around the franchise. Jacksonville's bye looms in Week 7. Will a post-England decision change take place?
JAGUARS GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Dolphins (Sun., in London)
Coming off by far his best game as a pro, Zach Wilson could not keep pace with Matt Ryan -- despite this being one of the easier tasks on the Jets' schedule. A Falcons team without Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage jumped to a 20-3 lead on the Jets, who gained 80 yards in the first half. Although the Jets awakened in the second half, the second of their touchdown drives was buoyed by a 41-yard pass interference penalty. The Jets (1-4) have been outscored 75-13 in the first half of games this season.
JETS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Patriots (Oct. 24)
Down their top two wideouts, the Falcons leaned on Kyle Pitts. The rookie proved trustworthy, helping Ryan climb a spot on the all-time passing ranks (into eighth) by catching nine passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Doing most of his damage flexed out as a receiver, Pitts scored his first NFL TD from a goal-line set. His 39-yard grab in double coverage led to the Falcons (2-3) closing out the Jets. The highest tight end drafted in the common draft era, Pitts offered an important building-block performance after failing to stand out in his first month as a pro.
FALCONS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Dolphins (Oct. 24)
After Robert Woods asked Sean McVay for a meeting, the fallout proved swift: 14 targets and 12 catches in the Rams' Thursday win. The clear No. 2 target behind Cooper Kupp during the Rams' first four games, Woods carved up the Seahawks for 150 yards -- his fourth 150-yard day with Los Angeles. Having a midrange game that worked well with Jared Goff, who certainly lacks Matthew Stafford's deep-strike capabilities, Woods proving a fit with L.A.'s new quarterback stands to benefit Kupp and others going forward. The Rams (4-1) keeping their other high-salaried wideout involved showed another layer to the Stafford-piloted attack.
RAMS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Giants (Sun.)
For a second straight season , the Seahawks have started so poorly on defense they are on a record pace. The Rams' 476-yard night put the Seahawks (2-3) on pace to break the 2012 Saints' record for most yards allowed in a season (440 per game). Seattle's troops are at 451 presently. It is too early, and Ken Norton Jr.'s crew rebounded down the stretch last year. But Jamal Adams continues to struggle in coverage, calling Seattle's blockbuster trade and moving him onto his own safety salary tier into question. More will be required of Seattle's defense for a while, with Geno Smith suddenly set for QB1 duty.
SEAHAWKS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Steelers (Sun.)
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.