1. Denver (6-0). Funny line, and apt, after Montee Ball dropped a pass in the 35-19 win over Jacksonville, from CBS color man Dan Fouts: “Do you think he eats with those hands? He’d starve to death.”
2. Kansas City (6-0). Now the match of 9-0 titans in five weeks looks real. The Chiefs have Houston at home, Cleveland at home and the Bills on the road (and a bye) before traveling to Denver Nov. 17. Denver does have to get through an emotional Sunday nighter at Indy next week.
3. New England (5-1). Where does that rank on the Tom Brady all-time list of great wins? I say it’s got to be in the top six or eight. Let’s see. Three Super Bowls, and two AFC title wins over the Colts, then … what else?
4. New Orleans (5-1). In a couple of days, the utter shock of Patriots 30, Saints 27, will wear off, and the team will go on its bye week, and New Orleans coach Sean Payton will appreciate where the team is. Think of the Saints on Oct. 14, 2012: 1-5, in the midst of a horsecrap bye week with no hope. Think of the Saints on Oct. 14, 2013: 5-1, and in 14 days, they beat the 3-0 Dolphins by 21 at home, beat the 3-1 Bears by eight at Soldier Field, and almost beat the 4-1 Patriots by a point in Foxboro. This team’s got a ticket to the NFC title game, minimum, barring a major injury streak.
5. Indianapolis (4-1). Comparing the first 21 games of the Indianapolis careers of Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck: Record—Luck 15-6, Manning 6-15. Passing yards—Luck 5,518, Manning 5,134. Touchdown-interception differential—Luck plus-10, Manning plus-2.
6. Seattle (5-1). Now for Arizona on Thursday night, on the road. Even without Calais Campbell (assuming the injured Bird doesn’t play), the Seattle line is in for a tough night.
7. San Francisco (4-2). So this is what the 49ers have been waiting for: an 18-play, 89-yard drive led by Colin Kaepernick, lasting over nine minutes, in the fourth quarter of a 22-20 game against Arizona. That made it 29-20, and was exactly what Kaepernick, who has struggled often in the first six weeks of the season, needed.
8. Cincinnati (4-2). Taking overtime to beat Buffalo is a worry. But Andy Dalton made enough plays when Cincinnati needed them.
9. Green Bay (3-2). Pack’s allowed 26 points in the last two games, showing signs of life on defense that have been missing for, oh, about a year.
10. Detroit (4-2). Waiting for the time when there’s a dance in Grand Rapids called “The Fauria.”
11. Chicago (4-2). Not saying Marc Trestman has completely overhauled Jay Cutler’s game, because he hasn’t. But I think Trestman is helping Cutler play smarter, and not taking some of the risky chances he’s taken in the past. He’s a 70 percent passer with no interceptions in the last two games, including the win over the Giants Thursday..
12. Dallas (3-3). The Cowboys are playing on offense (79 points in two games) the way Chip Kelly hoped his Eagles would be producing by now. Dallas at 3-3 Philly, Sunday at 1, for the NFC East lead. Looks like a Romo-Foles duel.
13. Miami (3-2). Out of the bye, Dolphins have the Bills at home, the Pats in Foxboro and the Bengals at home on a Thursday night.
14. Philadelphia (3-3). Finally, some impact plays from DeSean Jackson.
15. Baltimore (3-3). I don’t know what the stranger stat line is. Ray Rice rushing (71 carries, 197 yards, 2.8 per carry) or Ray Rice receiving (20 catches, 87 yards, 4.4 yards per catch).
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Tom Brady, QB, New England. A meh day on the stat sheet (25 of 43, 269 yards, one TD, one pick, six drops), but the 30-27 victory over New Orleans was one of the great ones of a great player’s career. Against one of the best defenses in the league, after two fruitless and frustrating late drives, Brady took the Patriots and their cast of newbies (Austin Collie, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, etc.) 70 yards in eight plays to the winning touchdown with five seconds left. While a third of the crowd was already on its way out of the place on Route 1, headed home.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay. Down to two wide receivers after a spate of injuries in Baltimore, Rodgers was trying to add to a shaky 9-3 lead late in the third quarter. With Jordy Nelson split wide right against ace Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb, Nelson got a step on Webb, who was caught peeking into the backfield at play-action. Launching the ball from his 34, Rodgers threw a perfect pass 56 yards in the air. The ball landed in Nelson’s arms at the Ravens’ 11, and he sauntered in for the first touchdown of a defensive battle. Not Rodgers’ best stat day (17 of 32 for 315 yards with one TD and one pick), but the mark of a great quarterback is coping in adverse conditions on the road—against the defending Super Bowl champs, I might add.
Defensive Players of the Week
Tamba Hali, OLB, Kansas City. For 40 minutes, KC and Oakland were cuffing each other around in a 7-7 tie at Arrowhead. But the pressure D, led by Hali’s 3.5 sacks, finally made Terrelle Pryor crack. Pryor was sacked seven times in the last 29 minutes of the 24-7 Kansas City victory, three times by Hali.
Ryan Clark, FS, Pittsburgh. In a typically stingy game for the Steelers defense, Clark had the first Pittsburgh takeaway of the year—an interception of Geno Smith near the end zone, preventing a New York touchdown—and totaled eight tackles plus a pass defensed.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Garrison Sanborn, LS, Buffalo. Long-snappers don’t get noticed much. But on the last play of the third quarter in a tight game with Cincinnati, Sanborn snapped from the Buffalo 44-yard line to punter Brian Moorman and took off sprinting. Sanborn ran 51 yards to the Cincinanti 5-yard line, where Adam Jones was trying to find the handle on the punt. Just as he did, Sanborn wrapped up Pacman and downed him at the 5. Great example of hustle and what a big factor a special-teams play can be.
Rodney McLeod, S, St. Louis. With the Rams up 24-6 in the third quarter over an increasingly desperate team of Texans, Greg Zuerlein kicked off, and McLeod came flying in from the left, popping Keshawn Martin and forcing a fumble. Fellow undrafted rookie free agent Daren Bates picked it up and ran 10 yards for the touchdown. That finished off Houston—maybe for the season.
Mason Crosby, K, Green Bay. He might have been one of two big misses from losing his job at a couple points in the last 12 months, but Crosby repaid Mike McCarthy’s faith on Sunday in Baltimore. He hit on field goals in every quarter—from 45, 31, 50 and 31 yards—in a 19-17 Packers win.
Coach of the Week
Bob Sutton, defensive coordinator, Kansas City. Same cast, basically, as the 2012 defensive team that allowed 26.6 points a game. This year’s D is allowing 10.8, and the defenders swear by Sutton’s send-blitzers-from-anywhere scheme. Against the Raiders Sunday, it was typical 2013 Kansas City defense: 274 yards allowed, 10 sacks of Terrelle Pryor, three interceptions.
Goats of the Week
The Candlestick fans who did the Wave while Calais Campbell lay injured on the turf. Galling. Made worse because Campbell appeared to be seriously injured. As Niners CEO Jed York tweeted late Sunday night: “To say I’m disappointed some fans did the wave this afternoon while @Campbell93 was down is understatement. Hope you get well soon Calais.”
Terence Newman, CB, Cincinnati. I know, I know. The Bengals came back to win in overtime. Lucky for them after Newman’s fourth-quarter gaffe. How Newman, singled against rookie Marquise Goodwin with the Bengals nursing a seven-point lead, lets the kid get two steps on him to catch the tying touchdown pass and force overtime is beyond me. But he did, thus earning the goat horns.