Week 5 of the 2021 NFL season featured a few wild endings Sunday, including a thrilling overtime game between the Packers and Bengals. After five missed field goals between the two teams, Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby finally hit a game winner. And after the Lions had thought they pulled off an improbable victory against Minnesota, the Vikings’ Greg Joseph hit a 54-yard field goal to get the win.
Elsewhere, the Buccaneers’ and Saints’ offenses were on full display, the Steelers’ defense showed up in a big way against the Broncos, the Eagles engineered a comeback in Carolina, the Patriots hung on for a closer-than-expected win against the Texans and the Jaguars’ rough start to the season continued. Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts had a big day in London, and the Rams slid past the Seahawks on Thursday night — after Seattle lost quarterback Russell Wilson to an injury.
In the late games, the Giants lost QB Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley and wide receiver Kenny Golladay in a loss to the Cowboys. The Chargers beat the Browns in a shootout, the Bears beat the Raiders, the Cardinals stayed undefeated and the Bills knocked off the Chiefs.
Our NFL Nation reporters react with the major takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about the team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.
What to know: This was the all-around statement win that the Bills needed — with an exclamation point. The Bills bested the Chiefs in all three phases. The offense had success downfield, with quarterback Josh Allen completing 5 of 6 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns on throws of 15 yards or more. The Bills have scored 35 points in four straight games for the second time in team history (2004).
After entering the game never having intercepted Patrick Mahomes, the defense picked him off twice in a half, including a pick-six by safety Micah Hyde. The special teams even recovered a fumble on a kickoff in the first half.
It wasn’t always pretty — the offense struggled at times and there were plenty of mistakes (10 penalties) — but getting past the Chiefs was a hurdle the Bills would have to clear at some point. In the team’s first major test of the season, Buffalo dominated, putting the rest of the NFL on notice. — Alaina Getzenberg
Is the inconsistency of the Bills’ rushing attack a long-term concern? Yes, to an extent. The Bills were always going to remain a pass-first team — that’s part of the way this unit was built. But the inability to get things going consistently on the ground has been a recurring theme, extending to last season.
Zack Moss has played better than Devin Singletary as of late, but both struggled against Kansas City. The Chiefs came into the game allowing the second-most rushing yards per game in the NFL (146.0 yards per game). Buffalo finished with 121, including 59 by Allen, who finished as the team’s leading rusher, while Moss and Singletary combined for 62 yards on 17 carries. The offensive line has been adjusted somewhat with rookie Spencer Brown starting the past two games at right tackle, but troubles remain.
Against a mediocre Chiefs defense, it was less of a concern. The big passing plays were there. But the offense has been more successful when the Bills are closer to balanced. — Getzenberg
Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.9, up from 7.7. The Bills visited the site of the team’s AFC Championship loss and came away as arguably the biggest threat in the conference, becoming the ninth team to have a +100 score differential through five games in the past 50 seasons (+108), with half of the previous eight winning the Super Bowl that year.
Next game: at Titans (Monday, Oct. 18, 8:15 p.m. ET)
What to know: If it wasn’t evident already, merely making the playoffs will be a struggle for the Chiefs. They ran into one of the best defensive teams in the NFL in the Bills and found they won’t always score on almost every possession as they did the week before against the Eagles. And without scoring on almost every possession, the Chiefs won’t often be able to overcome their dismal defense. — Adam Teicher
Why are the Chiefs struggling so much on defense? A lot plays into it. For starters, they aren’t overly talented, with just two former first-round picks on defense. So they need to get production from their higher-priced players such as Frank Clark, Chris Jones and Jarran Reed, and that hasn’t happened. The Chiefs have also missed on some defensive players they have drafted in recent years with early- and middle-round picks. — Teicher
Teicher’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 6.7. A fourth straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game is unrealistic. Even a wild-card playoff spot seems far-fetched.
Next game: at Washington (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: With their 24-point win against the New York Giants, the Cowboys keep raising the possibilities of what they can be in 2021. Yes, the Giants were decimated by injuries to Saquon Barkley, Daniel Jones and Kenny Golladay, but the Cowboys were able to put away their NFC East rivals thanks to three Dak Prescott touchdown passes, a third straight game of at least 95 yards rushing from Ezekiel Elliott and a fifth straight game with a pick by Trevon Diggs. It’s their fourth straight win. The Cowboys did not reach their fourth win a year ago until Week 14. What does a four-game win streak mean? Since Jerry Jones became owner in 1989, they have had 15 seasons in which they have had win streaks of four or more games. Only twice did they not make the postseason — 1990 and 2011. — Todd Archer
Do the Cowboys have an issue with center Tyler Biadasz? He has trouble with bigger defensive tackles, and on Sunday he had issues with his shotgun snaps. He also was late with a snap that led to a false start credited to everybody else on the offensive line but him. Prescott dropped one shotgun snap, but it was not that bad a delivery from Biadasz; however, earlier Prescott was able to corral an off-kilter snap. The issue the Cowboys have is their backups — Connor Williams, Connor McGovern and Matt Farniok — have no game experience. Williams took snaps in the preseason, but he had difficulties with shotgun snaps. McGovern played center for a year at Penn State but has worked at the position only since the regular season started. — Archer
Archer’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.9, no change from 8.9. There are just too many ways the Cowboys can beat a team offensively and the defense continues to be opportunistic. They have found their formula for success.
Next game: at Patriots (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Who is left standing? The Giants lost quarterback Daniel Jones (concussion), running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) and wide receiver Kenny Golladay (knee). Add in that starting left tackle Andrew Thomas (foot) was active but didn’t play, and the Giants were down seven of their 11 Week 1 offensive starters by the second half of Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys. This is wild. The Giants finished the game with Mike Glennon at quarterback handing off to Devontae Booker and throwing to John Ross. Not how the front office drew it up in the summer. — Jordan Raanan
How bad are the injuries to Barkley, Jones and Golladay? The Giants can’t survive without their most important offensive players. They have the Los Angeles Rams, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on deck. The Chiefs and Bucs are Monday night contests on the road. They probably need two of the three back to have any chance in any of those games. — Raanan
Raanan’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.6, down from 4.4. This team is in trouble. The Giants are three games back of Dallas in the NFC East with a head-to-head loss and nobody is healthy. Sound the alarm!
Next game: vs. Rams (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Chargers coach Brandon Staley says he’s not a gambling man. That he just bets on the percentages, which have treated him well. Three times in the second half on Sunday against the Browns, he went for it on fourth down and made it — including at his own 24 when the Chargers were down 27-13 in the third quarter — and he’s 7-of-8 on the season. His bold decision-making along with the play of Justin Herbert (398 passing yards, five touchdowns combined) and Mike Williams (eight catches, 165 yards, two touchdowns) led the Chargers to a shootout win and a 4-1 start. The players say they appreciate the trust Staley shows in them to convert. It certainly showed Sunday. — Shelley Smith
How big of a problem is the Chargers’ run defense? While the Browns have the top rushing offense in the NFL, allowing them 230 yards on the ground is unacceptable and magnifies a larger problem, as the Chargers have had problems this year stopping the run. And what about the continued kicker woes? How long will they hang on to Tristan Vizcaino, who missed two PATs that would have made for a far less stressful ending? — Smith
Smith’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.2, down from 6.9. The Chargers have to be stronger in the rush defense and find a reliable kicker.
Next game: at Ravens (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Cleveland kept exchanging haymakers with the Chargers. But in a wild fourth quarter, the Browns couldn’t come up with a game-clinching play, offensively or defensively. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was otherworldly. But the Browns had opportunities on both sides of the ball to put the game away late. And they just couldn’t do it. — Jake Trotter
What did quarterback Baker Mayfield prove? After taking heat all week for his poor showing in Minnesota, Mayfield responded with a crisp performance against the Chargers, completing 23 of 32 passes for 305 yards and two touchdown passes. He simply got outdueled by Herbert, then ran out of time on a potential game-winning drive. Despite the prolific running game, Cleveland needs Mayfield to play at a high level to be a legit contender in the AFC. Sunday’s performance was definitely encouraging. — Trotter
Trotter’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.3, up from 8.1. The Chargers are an excellent team, and despite so many key injuries, Cleveland could’ve won.
Next game: vs. Cardinals (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: David Montgomery, who? The Bears desperately want their running back to return from a knee injury, but veteran Damien Williams and rookie Khalil Herbert more than filled the void in Vegas. Both were outstanding as the Bears dominated the Raiders on the ground. Williams and Herbert combined to rush for well over 125 yards and one touchdown, and each picked up important first downs at various points in the game. What’s the best way to help your strong defense? Run the ball and take time off the clock. That’s exactly what the Bears did in Week 5. — Jeff Dickerson
Has the Bears’ offense finally turned the corner with coordinator Bill Lazor calling plays? It might have. The Bears’ offense has been much more efficient the past two weeks with Lazor in charge. The weekly game plan still runs through head coach Matt Nagy, but the offense was more balanced in Chicago’s wins over Detroit and Las Vegas. Lazor asked quarterback Justin Fields to manage the game on Sunday, more so than to go out and win it, and the approach worked. Fields is not putting up gaudy statistics, but he’s playing with good tempo and confidence. Whatever Lazor is doing, it is clearly working. — Dickerson
Dickerson’s confidence rating (0-10): 6, up from 5. The next couple of weeks (vs. Green Bay and at Tampa Bay) could be bumpy, but the Bears deserve credit for knocking off a good team on the road.
Next game: vs. Packers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Email controversy or not, the Raiders’ offense has been an absolute mess the past two weeks — or before coach Jon Gruden became the focal point on Friday afternoon. Really, after the way Las Vegas’ offense was piling up yards in a 3-0 start, that is the biggest question in the Raiders’ locker room, as they dropped their second straight game Sunday to the Bears. Consider: Entering the fourth quarter, the Raiders had compiled 410 yards of offense over their past seven quarters. They averaged 471 yards of offense per game in their first three games. Uncharacteristic drops (looking at you, Bryan Edwards and Darren Waller), untimely penalties (Yannick Ngakoue‘s early roughing penalty ignited the Bears) and another unproductive reshuffling of the offensive line doomed Las Vegas. — Paul Gutierrez
Has Jon Gruden lost the locker room? Tough to tell, though this felt uncannily similar to Week 4 of the 2017 season at Washington, when, after a high-flying 3-0 start, the wheels simply fell off following a national anthem controversy in the nation’s capital. Gruden’s leaked 10-year-old emails, which included a racial trope about NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith and a vulgar description of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, can either bond or fracture a team. Stay tuned. — Gutierrez
Gutierrez’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.5, down from 7.5. With discipline possible for Gruden and questions remaining in the locker room, things do not look good. The offense is a mess (Las Vegas moved first-rounder Alex Leatherwood from right tackle to right guard, to no avail), the defense is trying but tiring and the locker room is a huge question. Yikes.
Next game: at Broncos (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: There were so many — too many — reasons the Cardinals could’ve lost to the 49ers: the emotional letdown after last week’s big win over the Rams, the challenge of playing another NFC West opponent, injuries. But the Cardinals didn’t let any of that impact the bottom line, in the process showing that they’re truly a different team from past years — with their defense leading the way — while improving to 5-0. They have the mental fortitude to withstand a bevy of outside influences and still win. That could be the difference between sitting at home during the playoffs and playing in them. — Josh Weinfuss
How will all the Cardinals’ injuries impact them in the next few weeks? Arizona lost some key players Sunday in center Rodney Hudson and tight end Maxx Williams, in addition to not having two of its starting cornerbacks in Byron Murphy Jr. and Marco Wilson. Williams was having a career season, but Hudson might be the biggest loss considering he has been the glue for the offense since he arrived this offseason. The Cardinals can’t afford any more injuries to starters if they want to keep considering the playoffs. QB Kyler Murray could be the difference in the injuries curtailing a hopeful season and them just being a speed bump. — Weinfuss
Weinfuss’ confidence rating (0-10): 8.8, down from 9.2. They’re 5-0 and a win is a win is a win, but injuries are concerning for the upcoming couple of weeks.
Next game: at Browns (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: No matter who is at quarterback, the supporting offensive cast must be better if the 49ers are going to end this three-game losing streak and get their season back on track. Rookie quarterback Trey Lance (15-of-29 passing for 192 yards with 89 rushing yards) had his share of bumps during his first start, namely a bad interception, a handful of tipped passes and holding the ball too long. He also did some good things, especially on off-schedule plays in which he could create with his legs. But Lance was the least of the Niners’ offensive concerns. The 49ers had at least three drops from their receivers, and they were flagged for five offensive holding penalties (all in the second half). And while they were aggressive, some of the playcalling was puzzling, as they were 1-of-5 on fourth down. San Francisco’s defense was up to the task against Arizona, but the offense didn’t deliver. — Nick Wagoner
Can the 49ers defense keep this up? Things didn’t start well for the Niners’ defense, but to limit Kyler Murray & Co. to 17 points should be enough to pull off an upset for a team with as much offensive talent as the Niners have. Given the 49ers’ offensive struggles, it might require similar efforts from the defense every week to right the ship. The talent is mostly in place to do this every week, but that’s a tall order given the team’s cornerback issues and first-year coordinator. — Wagoner
Wagoner’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.8, no change from 5.8. There are no moral victories, but the Niners went toe-to-toe with the NFL’s lone undefeated team, and many of their mistakes seem fixable, which leaves us holding steady this week.
Next game: vs. Colts (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday, Oct. 24)
What to know: They always say, don’t give Mason Crosby four chances at a game-winning field goal. Actually, no one’s ever said that because Crosby has never had four chances to win a game in the final minutes of regulation and overtime. Until Sunday. And the fourth time was the charm — good from 49 yards with 1:55 left in overtime. Crosby had chances to give the Packers the lead or win it three previous times in the final 2:12 of regulation plus OT. He missed a go-ahead 36-yard field goal attempt with 2:12 left in regulation. That ended a streak of 27 straight made field goals in the regular season, dating back to Week 17 of 2019. He missed again from 51 yards on the last play of regulation and again from 40 on the Packers’ first possession of overtime. He had not missed multiple field goals in a game since the 2018 disaster in Detroit, when he missed four field goals and an extra point. Crosby became the first kicker to miss three field goals in the fourth quarter and/or overtime since the Giants’ Jay Feely in Week 12 of the 2005 season against the Seahawks. — Rob Demovsky
How many teams can win on the road without three of their five offensive line starters — one an All-Pro and another a Pro Bowler — and without their two best defensive players? The Packers showed they’re deep enough to do it Sunday against an upstart Bengals team in Cincinnati. Or perhaps it wasn’t depth, but rather just Aaron Rodgers (27-of-39, 344 yards, two TDs), Davante Adams (11 receptions for a career-high 206 yards and a TD) and Aaron Jones (14 rushes for 103 yards) doing what they normally do. Either way, the Packers are now 4-1. Elgton Jenkins (ankle) was a game-time scratch for the third week in a row. The Pro Bowl left guard had been filling in for All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (who remains on the PUP list). Take away rookie center Josh Myers, who missed his first game of the season because of a hand injury, and only two regular starters were left up front. The day before the game, the Packers put All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) on injured reserve, where he joined Pro Bowl pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith. — Demovsky
Demovsky’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, no change from last week. It’s still too early to tell exactly how good the Packers are or can be. Much of that might depend on the defense, and if that unit can figure out a way to avoid the big-play meltdowns (like Joe Burrow‘s 70-yard touchdown to Ja’Marr Chase late in the first half), the team might be on to something special.
Next game: at Bears (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Cincinnati Bengals learned just how difficult making the playoffs will be. Against their toughest opponent so far this season, the Bengals couldn’t pull off the comeback in a 25-22 overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers. Cincinnati erased an eight-point deficit and was in position to score the winning field goal. But rookie kicker Evan McPherson, who has hit two winners already this season, had his 57-yard attempt clank off the right upright. Ultimately, the Bengals needed to be more consistent offensively and have a better defensive showing to win. And Sunday’s game will be the type Cincinnati must win if it wants to end a postseason drought that dates back to 2015. — Ben Baby
Is Ja’Marr Chase becoming Cincinnati’s true No. 1 receiver? It’s certainly looking that way. When the Bengals needed a big play, Burrow turned to the rookie wide receiver. Chase had six catches for a career-high 159 yards and a touchdown. Chase’s strong start to the season continued when the Bengals needed it most. — Baby
Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, down from 7. Cincinnati is playing too unevenly to beat quality teams and must improve its consistency.
Next game: at Lions (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The defense and special teams might have saved the season. Cornerback Darius Slay had his best day in an Eagles uniform, intercepting Carolina quarterback Sam Darnold twice while shadowing one of the best receivers in the league, DJ Moore. T.J. Edwards‘ fourth-quarter punt block set up quarterback Jalen Hurts‘ second rushing touchdown of the day, helping the Eagles (2-3) to a win that keeps them relevant in front of Thursday night’s home tilt against Tom Brady and the Bucs. Philadelphia’s defense was under fire after yielding more than 850 yards and 76 points over the previous two weeks against the Cowboys and Chiefs, but it rebounded in a big way. — Tim McManus
What’s with the Eagles’ unbalanced attack? Coach Nick Sirianni’s playcalling continues to be off-kilter. In a defensive battle that was tight most of the way, he dialed up 37 passes to 21 runs — eight of which were by Hurts. The running backs received 13 carries total. Their lack of usage is a trend that spans three weeks. Hurts is not consistent enough at this point of his career to carry that much of the offensive weight. — McManus
McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 4.5, up from 3.7. There were some encouraging signs, particularly on defense, but with the Bucs and Raiders up next, it’s a little early to get excited.
Next game: vs. Buccaneers (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: Quarterback Sam Darnold is only as good as those around him. Those around him were bad in Sunday’s loss, which made Darnold look bad. He had three picks, as many as he had in the first four games. Dropped passes also hurt on a day when he was off target only four times, but pressure hurt him worse. As in 18 pressures on 37 dropbacks (49%). The good news is running back Christian McCaffrey likely will be back next week. — David Newton
What can the Panthers do to shore up the offensive line that’s been horrible in pass protection the past two games? Carolina attempted to cover the loss of left tackle Cam Erving (neck) by moving right tackle Taylor Moton to the left side and starting rookie Brady Christensen on the right. That group gave up pressure on 43% of Darnold’s dropbacks in the first half, second only to 50% against Dallas last week. It continued in the second half, and Darnold’s completion percentage was 56.8%, significantly less than his 67.8% for the season. The Panthers don’t have many other options. — Newton
Newton’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.8, down from 6.2. Unless the offensive line can be fixed, those struggles will continue, but the defense will get better after Week 7, when Pro Bowl corner Stephon Gilmore is eligible to play.
Next game: vs. Vikings (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Let’s be honest: A win over the Lions wasn’t going to affirm the Vikings as a good football team, but the way Minnesota allowed its NFC North rival to stay in the game down to the final minute was atrocious. It should never have taken a 54-yard field goal as time expired for the Vikings to beat Detroit, but that’s what happened. Minnesota’s offense has looked terrible since finding its way around Arizona’s stout pass rush and whipping a terrible Seattle defense. As the Vikings’ offense trends downward, the defense showed signs of improvement by holding the Lions to 3-of-11 on third down and 288 total net yards. But again, it’s the Lions. Take that progress with a grain of salt. — Courtney Cronin
What happened to the Vikings’ offense? Minnesota’s approach is regularly too conservative and predictable, but the playcalling against Detroit was inexcusable and the reason this game was so close. Justin Jefferson had 104 yards receiving on five catches in the first half, yet at the end of the second quarter with 41 seconds remaining and two timeouts, the Vikings called back-to-back runs instead of taking a shot to Jefferson to at least get themselves in field goal range to extend their lead. Another example of this rotten approach happened with 12:53 left in the fourth quarter, when the Vikings opted to run the ball on third-and-3 instead of taking a shot down the field. — Cronin
Cronin’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, down from 6. The Vikings aren’t making anyone believers after the way Week 5 played out.
Next game: at Panthers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Turnovers continue to haunt the Lions, who dramatically dropped to 0-5 for the first time since 2015. Fumbling has been a problem for quarterback Jared Goff, whose first-half fumble was his sixth this season, tops in the NFL. He has also lost four of those six fumbles. Then he threw an interception in the third quarter for his seventh turnover of the season. Since entering the league in 2016, Goff now has 81 turnovers, third most of any player over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He helped the Lions mount another late rally Sunday, but he will need to play cleaner games going forward. — Eric Woodyard
Should the Lions be concerned with rookie Penei Sewell giving up two early sacks? Detroit had to change its attack after offensive tackle Penei Sewell gave up two early sacks to Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen on back-to-back plays in the first quarter, with the second resulting in a Goff fumble. Sewell was originally listed as questionable to play after missing two practices this week because of an ankle injury, but he was able to suit up. The rookie is going through the usual first-year growing pains, but the Lions aren’t going to give up on him. Overall, the Lions’ offensive line allowed Goff to be sacked four times. — Woodyard
Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, down from 3.5. This game wasn’t all that encouraging, honestly. Adding to that, Detroit suffered yet another injury to a key player with wide receiver Quintez Cephus (shoulder) being ruled out after the first half.
Next game: vs. Bengals (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Sunday’s performance is exactly what the Steelers envisioned when they drafted running back Najee Harris in the first round. He had 100 rushing yards by early in the third quarter and finished with 122 yards on 23 carries, plus his second career rushing touchdown. Nearly a whole season had passed since the Steelers last had a 100-yard rusher (James Conner had 101 yards against the Cleveland Browns in Week 6 of 2020). Harris, though, dealt with cramps late in the fourth quarter and was on the sideline when the Steelers needed to chew up clock clinging to a five-point lead. Outside of some penalties, the offensive line looked better, and it paved the way for runs like Harris’ 20-yard gain in the opening minutes of the second quarter. After the Steelers’ loss to the Green Bay Packers, QB Ben Roethlisberger said he wanted Harris to play like Jerome Bettis. Harris channeled that energy Sunday, and the Steelers’ offense was much better for it. — Brooke Pryor
Did Roethlisberger fix the mechanics that led to his inconsistencies against the Packers? If the results are any indication, it certainly looked like it Sunday. Playing with a more balanced offense, Roethlisberger attempted just 25 passes against the Broncos — the fewest he has attempted all season — and had completions that included two touchdown passes that traveled at least 15 air yards. He had one in the first four games of the season, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. Roethlisberger completed 15 of 25 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns — including one on the opening drive that looked identical to the one he and Diontae Johnson had against the Packers. Though improved, Roethlisberger wasn’t perfect. He was sacked once — when right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor let Malik Reed through — and Roethlisberger fumbled the ball as he was hit. He also had at least two near interceptions that were either dropped or broken up by Steelers players. But even if Roethlisberger still makes some errors, Sunday’s version of the quarterback can win games, and that’s the most important thing. — Pryor
Pryor’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.9, up from 3. The Broncos’ record is inflated thanks to their easier strength of schedule, but the emergence of the Steelers’ run game and balanced offense infuses hope in a season that got off to a very rocky start.
Next game: vs. Seahawks (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The narrative of the Broncos’ 3-0 start being attributed more to the opposition’s combined 1-11 record rather than Denver’s playoff-type improvement got a little louder with the Broncos’ second consecutive loss — this time to a Steelers team that appeared to struggle more offensively than the Broncos did. But the Broncos’ offense, despite a late push from QB Teddy Bridgewater, has too often been a jumbled, disjointed operation when games are in the balance (they were just 1-of-10 on third down midway through the fourth quarter Sunday). The unit hasn’t protected the quarterback well enough and it abandoned the run game early in each of the past two losses. That has cranked up opposing pass rushes. And with the Raiders, Browns, Washington and Cowboys coming over the next four games, if the Broncos can’t protect the quarterback any better, they will continue to punt, kick field goals and wonder why the quarterback keeps taking so many hits instead of scoring touchdowns. — Jeff Legwold
What’s up with the Broncos’ secondary? The Broncos spent big in the offseason on the secondary and have had moments when they have been the most dominant unit in the league. But a week after surrendering a 300-yard passing day to Lamar Jackson, the Broncos allowed Ben Roethlisberger — who had averaged fewer than 6 yards an attempt in three of four games — to consistently find just enough room to work on third downs and in the red zone, starting with a 50-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-7 early in the game. Roethlisberger worked the check-down much of the day (he had 13 completions deep into the fourth quarter), but the Steelers had two pass plays of at least 50 yards in the first half after having one in the previous four games combined. Pittsburgh targeted Kyle Fuller when it needed a play and others will follow suit if Ronald Darby misses more time. Darby hasn’t played since injuring a hamstring in the opener, but he practiced this past week, and his return will help. But the rush-cover combination has not worked over the past two weeks, as two proven quarterbacks have consistently found the soft spots. — Legwold
Legwold’s confidence rating (0-10): 6, down from 6.5. The offense clearly misses WR Jerry Jeudy. Late heroics on Sunday aside, Denver’s inability to consistently threaten the opponent’s side of the 50, let alone score a touchdown or two before they’re in desperation mode, has pulled the Broncos back to 3-2 after a 3-0 start. It will drag them down even more if they don’t find a solution.
Next game: vs. Raiders (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Saints finally opened up their passing offense after ranking last in the NFL in pass attempts through four weeks. And they got the full Jameis Winston experience as a result. He threw four touchdown passes, including a career-long 72-yarder in the first quarter, a 49-yard Hail Mary before halftime and a game-clinching 19-yarder to Alvin Kamara in the final five minutes. The Saints had to overcome Winston’s interception on the opening drive, his lost fumble in the first quarter and just a 50% completion rate (15 of 30 for 279 yards). But the big plays made up for the miscues. — Mike Triplett
Will this offense finally find its identity after the Week 6 bye? This might be a work in progress all season as coach Sean Payton continues to develop trust in Winston and a depleted cast of pass-catchers. However, the Saints’ offense should be much more polished once it gets top wide receivers Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith, top offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Erik McCoy and kicker Wil Lutz back from injuries. All are possibilities as soon as Week 7. — Triplett
Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 6.8. Just a slight bump from last week since this game was closer than the final score indicated. But 3-2 is a pretty good record for a Saints team that needed to stay afloat with eight projected starters missing most of this season.
Next game: at Seahawks (8:15 p.m. ET, Monday, Oct. 25)
What to know: Washington’s defense has gone from underachieving to bad. The back seven continue to make coverage mistakes — if safety Landon Collins was indeed responsible on the 72-yard touchdown, it’s curious why a coverage would have a guy who is good in the box back deep. Regardless, it was blown. This happens every week and every week they talk about paying attention to details. Coaching? Safety Bobby McCain has missed too many tackles. Nobody was even close to breaking up a Hail Mary pass at the end of the half. With Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes up next, it’s only going to get worse. If the same mistakes keep getting made, then coaching must be questioned. It’s an all-around bad job. — John Keim
What has quarterback Taylor Heinicke shown? That he’s not the long-term solution. He’s a terrific story and teammates respond to him. He’s capable of excellent moments. But his arm strength, or lack thereof, was an issue on multiple throws Sunday and it’s a problem for some tight-window passes. It didn’t help having key players missing with injuries. But if Heinicke doesn’t throw with anticipation, it becomes a bigger problem. He forces throws that good defenses (Buffalo, New Orleans) pick. He can get the job done, but he’s limited. If he’s a good backup, that’s OK and more than anyone anticipated from him a year ago. But it’s why Washington will be in the market for quarterback in the offseason. — Keim
Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 5. Washington makes too many mistakes each week, whether it’s coverage or a big penalty, to beat anyone good, especially with players such as Logan Thomas and Curtis Samuel injured. It has not yet taken the step the organization, or its fans, hoped for entering the season.
Next game: vs. Chiefs (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: This was never about style points for the Patriots. They needed a win badly, and while they played poorly for long stretches Sunday, they hung tough mentally to stay in the game and ultimately pulled it out. Can they play, and coach, a lot better? Absolutely. But coming away with a win to improve to 2-3 trumps everything … for now. — Mike Reiss
Did we just watch Mac Jones grow up? The rookie quarterback showed he was up to the pressure moment in helping direct a game-winning fourth-quarter drive that began at the Patriots’ 13-yard line, chewed up seven minutes and set up a 21-yard field goal with 15 seconds left. That was the first time they held a lead in the game. A roughing the passer penalty on third-and-18 helped keep the drive alive, but when Jones needed to make the critical throws, he came through. His overall poise to direct the offense in that situation bodes well for the future. — Reiss
Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, down from 5.2. The Patriots are doing things that the worst teams in the NFL generally do — losing fumbles at the goal line, coverage busts on third-and-long and a lack of competitive coverage against slant patterns on got-to-have-it fourth-down situations. They deserve credit for hanging tough mentally into the fourth quarter and making the plays when it counted, but they were fortunate they weren’t playing a better team.
Next game: vs. Cowboys (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Rookie quarterback Davis Mills had by far his best game, but he hasn’t shown enough yet to keep the starting job when Tyrod Taylor, who is eligible to return from injured reserve in Week 6, is healthy. In the loss to the Patriots, Mills completed 21 of 29 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns, joining Russell Wilson as the only quarterbacks to throw for three touchdowns against the Patriots as a rookie in the Bill Belichick era. But his second touchdown — a 67-yard pass to Chris Moore — had a completion probability of 39.7%, the lowest mark of any Texans passing touchdown this season. His third touchdown was a flea-flicker. Mills certainly has shown improvement over his first two starts, but the offense could not keep the pace up in the final quarter to hold on to the victory. — Sarah Barshop
Is Ka’imi Fairbairn the Texans’ kicker in Week 6? Fairbairn, who was on injured reserve for the first three games of the season and did not attempt a kick in Week 4, missed two extra points and a 56-yard field goal in the loss. The Texans lost by three points. It was the second time in Texans history that Houston missed two extra points. While Fairbairn was on IR, the Texans signed kicker Joey Slye, but Slye is no longer available after signing with the 49ers earlier in the week. — Barshop
Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 1.8, up from 1.5. For three quarters, the Texans looked like they had turned a corner after a 40-0 loss to the Bills in Week 5. But they couldn’t finish it off, and they now sit at 1-4, with their only victory coming against the 0-5 Jaguars.
Next game: at Colts (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing had perhaps his best display of play design on Sunday. He put together a series of plays with bunch formation and other times stacked wide receivers at the line. Downing also used layered route combinations to easily get various wide receivers open, especially on third downs. The Titans converted on just under half of their third-down opportunities against Jacksonville. Downing also did an excellent job attacking reserve CB Chris Claybrooks. Downing dug deep into the playbook, even employing some Wildcat. The Titans still managed to get Derrick Henry 29 carries to the tune of 130 yards and three touchdowns. — Turron Davenport
What’s going on with the run defense? At times, the Jaguars gashed the Titans’ defense with the rushing attack. James Robinson broke off a 58-yard run when Rashaan Evans was caught in the wrong gap and created a crease. The Titans’ defense was plagued by missed tackles as well. Robinson finished with 18 carries for 149 yards and a touchdown. The Titans will catch a break next week when they face the Bills, who don’t run the football as well. The run defense still leaves room for concern. — Davenport
Davenport’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, up from 5.5. The Titans won a game they should have but didn’t put the game away early. Kevin Byard‘s touchdown return of an Elijah Molden forced fumble opened up the scoring, but the defense returned to the field and allowed the Jaguars to answer by driving down the field for a touchdown. There were opportunities to end the game early, but the Titans allowed Jacksonville to stick around. The defense allowed a 58-yard completion from Trevor Lawrence to Laviska Shenault Jr., making it the sixth time they’ve given up a pass play of 40 yards or more. The good thing is, Downing had the offense going in the passing game and on the ground.
Next game: vs. Bills (8:15 p.m. ET, Monday, Oct. 18)
What to know: The Jaguars now stand alone in second place in NFL history with 20 consecutive losses. They are only six losses shy of tying the 1976-77 Buccaneers’ record of 26 losses in a row. The Jaguars play the Dolphins in London next Sunday before a bye week and then have a trip to Seattle, so there is a real chance the team can come close to tying the record. — Mike DiRocco
What do the Jaguars do at kicker? Matthew Wright came up short on a 53-yard field goal attempt (after coming up short and right on a 50-yarder in pregame) and also bounced a PAT off the right upright. The Jaguars are 0-for-4 on field goal attempts this season, and with Josh Lambo struggling and Wright not reliable, the Jaguars need to bring a few other options in — and quickly, because they leave for London on Thursday. — DiRocco
DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.5, down from 3. This is partly because of the kicker situation and injuries to some key players (C Brandon Linder and LBs Myles Jack and Dakota Allen) but also because the defense just can’t force turnovers or get enough stops in key situations.
Next game: vs. Dolphins (9:30 a.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Bucs regained their scoring firepower after converting just once in four trips to the red zone last week on the road against New England. Receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Evans each had two touchdowns and topped 100 yards, running back Giovani Bernard caught a first-quarter TD pass, and running back Leonard Fournette added a sixth TD on the ground. But injuries continue to mount, with inside linebacker Lavonte David leaving the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury. A source told ESPN that X-rays revealed no fractures. As for the rest of the defense — it got to Dolphins quarterback Jacoby Brissett but struggled to bring him down, allowing a Dolphins team averaging just 13.8 points per game and playing with a backup quarterback to score 17 before clamping down in the fourth quarter. — Jenna Laine
Can the Bucs survive this rash of injuries to their pass defense? As if missing three starting defensive backs wasn’t enough of a challenge, the Bucs lost David, their best linebacker in coverage, to an ankle injury. If there’s a silver lining to this happening now versus later on in the season, it’s that the Bucs’ next three opponents — the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints — are all in the bottom half of the league in scoring. The bad news is that the Bears and Saints also boast top-10 defenses and the Bucs face the Saints on the road. But this affords Tampa Bay some time to get cornerback Richard Sherman more comfortable in the Bucs’ scheme and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. healed up from his concussion. The big question will be David’s status. — Laine
Laine’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, up from 6. They improved to 4-1 despite missing three starting defensive backs, but they let the Dolphins, another 1-3 squad (although the Patriots were a different caliber team), hang around way too long.
Next game: at Eagles (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: Stop the presses — the Dolphins showed life on offense! And before the fourth quarter this time! In all seriousness, Miami was aggressive from the start, scoring on each of its first two possessions as Brissett completed eight of his first 10 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown to running back Myles Gaskin. And speaking of Gaskin, after being relegated to an afterthought the past two weeks, he was the focal point of the Dolphins’ game plan with receiver DeVante Parker out, catching all 10 of his targets for 74 yards and two scores. Brissett powered through an early hamstring injury and seemed to be more in sync with his receivers. It won’t look good on paper considering the 45-17 final score, but the Dolphins’ offense was noticeably better than it had been over the past few weeks. Their defense, on the other hand, was torn apart by a nearly flawless Tom Brady, allowing 558 total yards and 45 points. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
How quickly can Tua Tagovailoa right the ship? The second-year QB reportedly will make his return in Week 6 after a three-game absence with fractured ribs. It might be unreasonable to ask him to single-handedly resuscitate the Dolphins’ season after they lost all three games without him, but he showed signs of improvement as a downfield passer during the preseason and the season-opening win at New England. He will have back-to-back opportunities to shine with games against the Jaguars (0-5) and Falcons (2-3) up next. — Louis-Jacques
Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 4, up from 3. Miami’s offense looked better despite the final score, but this defense was torn to shreds. It’s easy to chalk it up as an outlier against one of the best offenses in the NFL, but this performance was worse than expected.
Next game: vs. Jaguars (9:30 a.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Down their top two wide receivers and top two slot corners, the Atlanta Falcons looked potentially outmanned and bereft of playmakers. Instead, the franchise put together its best game of the season. Behind another 300-yard day from Matt Ryan (342 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions), the Falcons found a groove using tight end Kyle Pitts (nine catches, 119 yards, one TD) and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (114 offensive yards) as their main playmakers. Even without Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage, this is the type of offense coach Arthur Smith wanted: versatile, difficult to defend, unpredictable in where they can line up and what they can do on a specific play. Sunday against the Jets, they showed exactly what the Falcons’ offense could look like. And the defense took another step, registering its first interception of the season and holding the Jets under 200 yards entering the final drive. — Michael Rothstein
Is Pitts’ breakout game sustainable? It could be, because Pitts had been building up to something like this. Once Ridley was out, Pitts became the obvious focal point of the offense. He thrived in the role in every facet. His 10 targets spanned from short to deep routes and he was effective in each spot, from a 2-yard touchdown catch in which he just beat the defender to the corner to a 39-yard downfield post route in which he made the grab in front of two defenders. There still might be some rough days ahead for Pitts — that’s life for rookie tight ends — but Sunday showed what he could evolve into as a player. — Rothstein
Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 4.7. Yes, the Falcons beat the lowly Jets, but to do so, as injured as Atlanta was, showed yet another sign of progress for a team figuring itself out.
Next game: at Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, Sunday, Oct. 24)
What to know: Zach Wilson went from NFL Rookie of the Week candidate to Typical Rookie Quarterback in a span of seven days. He never found a rhythm in the loss to the Falcons, providing no spark for an offense that has managed only 13 first-half points in five games. Wilson finished with 192 yards and an interception, but he had 65 yards with 9:30 left in the game. The Falcons kept him in the pocket, negating his best quality — his ability to make off-script plays. To be a winning quarterback, Wilson must learn to play in a phone booth. Another concern: He missed too many gimme throws. This was a step back for the talented but still raw quarterback. — Rich Cimini
What happened to their ascending defense? The Jets were schooled by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and coach Arthur Smith, both of whom were one step ahead of the defense and the Jets’ coaches. They had no answers for tight end Kyle Pitts (nine catches for 119 yards, one TD) and their third-down defense was terrible (9-for-14). What happened? The defense looked gassed after 92 plays last week and a cross-Atlantic trip. The pass rush, which generated seven sacks last week, was invisible. — Cimini
Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, down from 4. The Jets’ offense stunk against the 32nd-ranked scoring defense — a big step backward.
Next game: at Patriots (1 p.m. ET, Sunday, Oct. 24)
What to know: Similar to a Week 2 win at Indianapolis, Thursday night wasn’t pretty, but the Rams found a way to grind out a victory on the road inside a hostile environment at Lumen Field. Quarterback Matthew Stafford overcame an uneven start — and an injury to his right index finger — to lead four second-half scoring drives to give the Rams the win as they improved to 4-1 and rebounded from a disappointing division loss to the Cardinals only four days earlier. The win keeps them firmly in second in the NFC West race and sends them into a weekend off with a chance to recharge before a long Week 6 trip to New York to play the Giants. — Lindsey Thiry
What has caused consecutive slow starts on offense? Stafford was 13-of-19 for 131 yards with an interception in the first half. He overthrew receivers and was intercepted on a pass that he intended to throw away out of the back of the end zone. However, in the second half, Stafford found wide receiver DeSean Jackson for a 68-yard reception that set up a touchdown and finished 25-of-37 for 365 yards and a touchdown, with his passer rating improving from 65.9 to 97.2. — Thiry
Thiry’s confidence rating (0-10): 8, no change from last week. The Rams won on the road against a division rival and in a challenging atmosphere, but the confidence rating remains steady because of inconsistencies in all three phases: offense, defense and special teams.
Next game: at Giants (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Seahawks are bracing for the possibility that quarterback Russell Wilson will miss at least a month and up to eight weeks, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, after having surgery on the middle finger of his right hand. He injured the finger during the loss to the Rams. With Wilson sidelined for the first time in his career, Seattle must rely on backup Geno Smith to keep their playoff hopes alive while Wilson recovers. But the Seahawks can forget about the postseason unless they can fix a defense that’s once again giving up yards at a historic rate. The turnaround last year started with their pass rush coming alive. They have just as much pass-rushing firepower now, which is one reason to think they can pull out of their awful start. — Brady Henderson
What’s up with Jamal Adams? Adams has yet to record a sack in five games and isn’t having the type of impact you’d expect of a guy who just got a $70 million extension. It’s not all his fault. Per ESPN Stats & Information research, Adams has rushed the passer 17 times after averaging 8.25 per game last season. Coach Pete Carroll says that’s a function of the style of offenses they’ve faced. Either way, Adams doesn’t help the Seahawks as much in coverage as he does as a blitzer, especially with their pass rush needing a spark. — Henderson
Henderson’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.2, down from 7.3. Being without Wilson is a major concern, but Smith is a good enough backup to give the Seahawks a real chance to beat a broken-down Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger next week.
Next game: at Steelers (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)