1. Cowboys rolling, shaking up NFC
By Danny Kelly
The Cowboys moved to 5-1 Sunday by going into Seattle and beating a team that had won 18 of its last 19 at home. They did so by playing the brand of football that helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl last season -- leaning on a dominant run game, mixing in some explosive action in the passing game, and sprinkling in a few against-all-odds, absurdly awesome plays from their quarterback.
While Dallas' special teams tried to give the Seahawks the win by allowing a punt to get blocked for a touchdown and losing the ball later on a muffed punt, the Cowboys' run game dominated throughout. DeMarco Murray rushed 29 times for 115 yards, becoming just the second NFL running back in history (joining Jim Brown) to rush for 100-plus yards in his first six games. The Dallas offensive line proved it's the class of the NFL, helping the Cowboys finish with 162 yards on the ground against a team that had until Sunday led the league in rush defense.
Of course, it's worth pointing out that Seattle was actually leading the game as late as the 3:23 mark of the fourth quarter, but that go-ahead score by Murray came on the shoulders of this amazing catch by Terrance Williams, which he reeled in on a 3rd-and-20 from the Cowboys' 31-yard line. Play of the game.
Dallas is, without a doubt, the real deal this year. Seattle, on the other hand, showed some vulnerability and its preeminent position in the NFC (even in its own division) is certainly now a big question mark. Seattle showed no semblance of its identity in this one, handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch only 10 times and manufacturing a shocking minus-1 total yards from Percy Harvin on three catches and three carries. Russell Wilson played maybe his worst game since the first half of his rookie year, and overall the Seahawks just looked out of sorts. The defense didn't look a lot better.
Making matters worse, their depth is starting to get tested. After suffering a high ankle sprain in this one, it looks like starting corner Byron Maxwell will miss some time. Kam Chancellor missed practice last week with a hip injury and didn't look like himself. Center Max Unger is nursing an ankle sprain that kept him out this week, and Zach Miller had surgery on his ankle as well, which should keep him out a few more weeks. Bottom line, Seattle will be tested over the next few weeks. Will the Seahawks bounce back and play better football or will things spiral on them?
2. Another Packer comeback
By Eric Sollenberger
Miami managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as Aaron Rodgers led the Packers on a last-minute drive that ended with a game-winning 4-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless. The Dolphins had taken a 24-17 lead with nine minutes left in the game, but gave up 10 unanswered points to fall to Green Bay.
The Pack survived without much of a rushing attack but took advantage of three Dolphins turnovers to hang around close enough to win. Rodgers is probably the best all-around quarterback in the NFL, and he proved it in the fourth quarter. He put together a masterful 60-yard drive that included completions to five different receivers, as well as one fake spike that ended up getting Green Bay an easy first down.
Packers beat Dolphins
Rodgers and Co. got a little help from a confused Joe Philbin. With the Packers trailing by four points and out of timeouts, the Dolphins made a strange decision to call a timeout of their own on 4th-and-10 with 1:07 left in the game. The break allowed Rodgers to get a play called and get his offense set, and sure enough, he hit Jordy Nelson for 18 yards and a new set of downs. Miami called another timeout after Green Bay used a fake spike play to get them to the 4-yard line with six seconds left on the clock.
The Dolphins are possibly the most average team in the entire NFL. They seem hardwired to finish the season somewhere in the 6-9 win range, which should be enough for their traditional 2nd-3rd place finish in the AFC East. It's tough to gauge their defense but we've likely seen their ceiling and their floor over their last two matchups between Oakland and Green Bay.
The Packers remain tied for first place in the NFC North despite the complete lack of production out of their running backs over the past few weeks. To be fair to Eddie Lacy, the Packers offensive line has dealt with some injury issues, so it's not really surprising that they would struggle to get a push off the line of scrimmage. Fortunately, Rodgers is so good at manipulating the pocket and rolling out that Green Bay will have a chance to beat any team in the league even without much in the way of a ground game.
3. Browns on the rise, AFC North wide open
By Danny Kelly
Do the Browns quietly have one of the league's most efficient offenses? Going into Sunday's tilt with the Steelers, Cleveland was ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per play (6.0), third in yards per pass attempt (8.2), and sat just behind the Niners at 4.4 yards per carry (13th). They didn't produce anything prolific this week, but the Browns continued with that efficient, steady equation, running for 158 yards and three touchdowns on the ground while while benefiting from a few well timed and crucial big plays downfield by Brian Hoyer to the electric Jordan Cameron. Here's the biggest one:
Behind a strong offensive line and the improving Kyle Shanahan zone-blocking scheme, the Browns have been competitive in every game this season, and move to 3-2 with a huge win over rival Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, the Steelers drop to 3-3, raising more questions about just how good this team is. Two weeks after losing to the Buccaneers, Mike Tomlin figures to spend another week explaining another ugly loss by his punchless team. And Snoop Dogg apparently has the right idea when it comes to offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
With a rising Browns team and an apparently reeling Pittsburgh group, has the power structure in the AFC North been shuffled?
4. The highest scoring tie ever
By Danny Kelly
After playing for 75 straight minutes, Cincinnati and Carolina had an identical amount of points, and, by then, everyone was forced to go home, confused and bewildered at the prospect that no one won. The 37-37 tie, which wrapped up after both teams could only muster a field goal apiece in overtime, was the highest scoring tie ballgame in NFL history, and marks the third straight season in which the NFL has to use the annoying third option in the W-L-T standings nomenclature. (The Vikings and Packers registered a tie game last season, and the Niners and Rams "accomplished" this feat in 2012).
NFL, Week 6
After neither winning nor losing, the Bengals remain in first place in the AFC North and sit at 3-1-1. Their offense rebounded from a tough game at New England last week by putting up over 500 total yards, but their defense again struggled, surrendering 430 yards and four touchdowns to the Panthers.
Cam Newton was running the ball again, with big results. He entered this game with just 14 rushing attempts on the season, but with his ribs evidently feeling better, the Panthers mixed in more read options and other calls to take advantage of the quarterback's feet. He finished the game with 107 rushing yards on 17 attempts, and scored his first rushing touchdown of the season.
As for the Panthers, behind a big game on the ground, they too remain in charge of the underwhelming NFC South at 3-2-1 after the Falcons and Bucs both lost again this week.
5. Bad week for bad teams ... again
By Ryan Van Bibber
The NFL's lofty ideal of parity took another hit this week when the league's worst teams swept the field with losses across the board. The winless Raiders had the best showing of any cellar dweller. Rookie quarterback Derek Carr returned to the lineup, and threw four touchdown passes (something his brother David, a one-time No. 1 draft pick, failed to do in his career) to give the Chargers a scare. Tony Sparano's going to have to try burying something else this week.
The Jaguars also saw glimpses of hope in their rookie quarterback in a loss to the Titans this week. Blake Bortles completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 336 yards and led a last-minute drive that nearly gave his team the win.
Troubles continued to mount for the Jets. A better performance from the defense and a decent outing from Geno Smith had them within a score. Naturally, Smith threw a game-changing interception late in the fourth quarter that the Broncos then turned into a touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Washington put forth a better effort this week, and was even tied with the Cardinals very briefly in the first quarter when Kirk Cousins and DeSean Jackson hooked up for a 64-yard score. However, KC Masterpiece then threw three picks that helped bury his team.
There wasn't much effort to be seen from the Buccaneers. A week after a near-upset in New Orleans, they let the Joe Flacco throw five first-half touchdowns -- four in the first quarter -- before the Ravens eventually decided to let up on kicking the pirate's corpse later in the game.
Every team has down years, but in the NFL, it's easy enough to bounce back. That hasn't been the case for these five teams (and the St. Louis Rams, who play Monday night against the 49ers). Of all these franchises, the Jets are the only one with more than one winning season in the last five years, but they haven't been above .500 since 2010. The Jaguars haven't had a winning season since 2007. It's been more than a decade for the Raiders and Rams.
It's hard for the NFL to make a case for balance and parity when nearly 20 percent of the league's teams can't seem to find a way to break out of their losing cycles.
Here are our favorite highlights and things to smile about from Sunday's NFL action.
2. Aaron Rodgers beats Miami with a fake spike (unofficial tribute to Dan Marino?)
Giants WR Victor Cruz suffered a torn patellar tendon.
Eagles RB Darren Sproles left the game with a knee injury.
The Patriots lost RB Stevan Ridley and LB Jerod Mayo to knee injuries.
Browns All-Pro center Alex Mack, who has never missed a game, suffered a fractured leg/ankle. Cleveland DE Armonty Bryant also suffered a knee injury.
Seattle lost CB Byron Maxwell to a high-ankle sprain, and LB Bobby Wagner left the loss to Dallas with a foot injury.