NFL Week 5 overview
The Chicago Bears know all about winning with a mediocre quarterback or worse.
Except that they're not winning this year, which is why they almost certainly need a victory Sunday night in Green Bay to save their season.
While Brett Favre has been brilliant in leading the Packers to a 4-0 start, Rex Grossman and now Brian Griese have been the opposite, the main reason Chicago is 1-3 and could fall four games back in the NFC North after just five games.
"Brian is our quarterback, yes," Lovie Smith said this week after more than a year of maintaining: "Rex is our quarterback." That reaffirmation came after Griese threw a Rex-like three interceptions in a 37-27 loss in Detroit, one returned for a TD.
The Bears also started 1-3 two years ago with Kyle Orton as a caretaker QB after Grossman broke his ankle. They went on to win the NFC North. The difference: No one else in the division was much good, and Chicago's defense was healthy then. It isn't now -- four defensive starters were missing against the Lions last week and may be out again.
The Packers are getting production from a young defense, but not from a running game averaging 2.7 yards per rush.
But Favre, who threw two touchdown passes in Minnesota last week to set the NFL career record with 422, is spreading the ball around better than ever. He hit 10 different receivers in that game.
"I think our football team has a very good understanding of where they are as far as the progression of being a great football team, a championship football team," coach Mike McCarthy says. "I'm not a psychology major. I'm not into false confidence, just trying to build them up real high one week. I just tell them the truth."
The truth for the football team called the Bears is a lot more grim.
In other games Sunday, Miami is at Houston; Atlanta at Tennessee; Detroit at Washington; the New York Jets at the New York Giants; Seattle at Pittsburgh; Arizona at St. Louis; Carolina at New Orleans; Cleveland at New England; Jacksonville at Kansas City; Tampa Bay at Indianapolis; Baltimore at San Francisco; and San Diego at Denver.
Dallas is at Buffalo on Monday night.
Cincinnati, Oakland, Philadelphia and Minnesota are off.
Seattle (3-1) at Pittsburgh (3-1)
The last meeting of these teams was a memorable one: the 2006 Super Bowl, won by the Steelers 21-10. "I'll have flashbacks on that game, yeah," says Mike Holmgren, who was unhappy with the officiating and made it known very loudly.
One difference: Mike Tomlin is now Pittsburgh's coach in place of Bill Cowher, who stepped down after last season. Tomlin's hiring may be the reason the Steelers lost in Arizona last week -- Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm, Pittsburgh assistants who were passed over for the job, knew the Steelers' offense so well that the Cardinals held the Steelers to 77 yards rushing. That had been averaging nearly 200 yards in three wins.
Tampa Bay (3-1) at Indianapolis (4-0)
That the Colts are unbeaten isn't surprising. That the Bucs are one short of their victory total for last season certainly is.
Both teams have injuries.
RB Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and tackle Luke Petitgout were lost for the season in last week's 20-7 win in Carolina. Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman will replace Williams at running back.
The Colts could be without Marvin Harrison, Joseph Addai and Bob Sanders, three of their most important players. But the most important, Peyton Manning, will be starting his 148th straight regular-season game -- every game since he entered the NFL in 1998.
Dallas (4-0) at Buffalo (1-3) (Monday night)
ESPN is going to have to shill harder than usual to keep folks from tuning out what figures to be a one-sided game to watch baseball.
Yes, the Bills beat the Jets 17-14 last week behind Trent Edwards, the first rookie quarterback to win his first start since Drew Henson for the Cowboys three seasons and 12 QBs ago. But Dallas is in a different weight class from the Jets. Tony Romo ran Henson and Drew Bledsoe out of town and continues to shine.
Cleveland (2-2) at New England (4-0)
Since being routed by the Steelers in the opener, the Browns have played well. They would be 3-1 if a field-goal attempt in Oakland hadn't been blocked. Derek Anderson, who has nine touchdown passes in three starts, has silenced for now the folks who were yelling: "Brady Quinn!"
But Romeo Crennel's return to Foxborough, where he was Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator, is unlikely to go well for Anderson and the Browns. The Patriots have beaten their four opponents by an average of 37-12, and the closest game they've played was Monday night's 34-13 win in Cincinnati.
San Diego (1-3) at Denver (2-2)
The Chargers, 14-2 a year ago, are one of the NFL's biggest disappointments. Norv Turner, thrust into the head coaching job after the firing of Marty Schottenheimer, seems over his head. Last week, San Diego led 16-6 at the half at home to Kansas City and lost 30-16 as LaDainian Tomlinson, who finally broke out of his funk with 116 yards rushing in the first half, got only six carries after intermission.
Still, the Chargers are only a game out of the lead in a very average AFC West. They don't do very well in Denver, losing six straight times until they won there last season. But they can win if they let Tomlinson run against a defense yielding 181 yards a game.
Arizona (2-2) at St. Louis (0-4)
The Cardinals have become one of the NFL's more intriguing teams. Their start, believe it or not, ties for the best they've had since moving to the desert in 1988 from, yes, St. Louis. And they are succeeding with a QB platoon of second-year man Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner, who won two league MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP with the Rams. Leinart, the nominal starter, isn't thrilled, but it's worked.
The Rams may be the NFL's most battered team.
Star running back Steven Jackson is out again and Marc Bulger, with two broken ribs, will be replaced at quarterback by Gus Frerotte behind a makeshift offensive line that includes backups for backups.
Detroit (3-1) at Washington (2-1)
A historically lopsided series in which the Redskins have won 20 of 22 since 1968. But the Lions equaled last season's victory total by beating the Bears 37-27, and a pass defense that had allowed 56 points in Philadelphia the week before intercepted Brian Griese three times.
The Redskins, off last week, need to get more people involved on offense. Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El are the only Redskins wide receivers with a catch, and Moss is uncertain to play because of a strained groin. As insurance, the Redskins signed 37-year-old Keenan McCardell this week.
New York Jets (1-3) at New York Giants (2-2)
The Giants allowed 97 points in the first 10 quarters of the regular season. They've allowed only three in the last six, capped by their 12-sack performance, six of them by Osi Umenyiora, in the 16-3 win over the Eagles. The players have finally adjusted to the aggressive schemes installed by new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Chad Pennington was 32-of-39 for 290 yards in Buffalo last week, but the Jets lost, in part because Pennington threw two interceptions, one setting up the Bills' winning touchdown, the second aborting a late drive with New York trying to get in field-goal range.
Atlanta (1-3) at Tennessee (2-1)
Joey Harrington, run out of Detroit and Miami, was 23-of-29 with two touchdown passes as the Falcons beat Houston 26-16. The week before, he passed for 361 yards in a loss to Carolina, an indication that when protected, he's a legitimate NFL QB.
Vince Young, in his second season, is certainly that and gives a young and rather faceless Tennessee team a good shot at competing for a playoff spot. The Titans are off to their best start since 2003.
He and Harrington have one thing in common: each was the third overall pick in a draft, Harrington by the Lions in 2002, Young by the Titans last year.
Carolina (2-2) at New Orleans (0-3)
The Saints, a preseason Super Bowl favorite, are down there with the Chargers and Bears as disappointments and will play the rest of the season without Deuce McAllister. That forces Reggie Bush into the uncharacteristic role of semi-regular running back, not his strongest suit even at Southern Cal.
The Panthers are hurt and squabbling. Defensive tackle Kris Jenkins accused his teammates of having no heart after a loss to Tampa and star receiver Steve Smith was seen yelling at coaches for not getting him the ball enough. Injured are QB Jake Delhomme and LB Dan Morgan (as usual).
Jacksonville (2-1) at Kansas City (2-2)
Improbably, the Chiefs are in a three-way tie for first in the AFC West with Denver and Oakland (equally improbable). That's the result of their 24-0 second half in San Diego and a big start by rookie Dwayne Bowe, who has 18 catches for a 16.6-yard average and three TDs.
The Jaguars are probably the NFL's most boring team, but they can be boringly effective. They've allowed just 11.3 points a game, better even than New England, losing 13-10 to Tennessee, beating Atlanta 13-7, then having a "breakout" game with a 23-14 win in Denver.
Baltimore (2-2) at San Francisco (2-2)
Uncharacteristically, the Ravens are allowing 22.5 points per game. One theory is that they're getting old, another that they miss Adalius Thomas, the do-everything defender who signed with New England, where he's doing everything.
This week they'll go against the quarterback who started for them when they won the Super Bowl in 2001. That's Trent Dilfer, who's playing for Alex Smith, out with a shoulder separation incurred in last week's 23-3 loss to Seattle.
Miami (0-4) at Houston (2-2)
The Texans have lost two straight after the best start in their history. Last week, they handed Atlanta its first win in QB Matt Schaub's return to the city where he had backed up Michael Vick.
The Dolphins are just bad. Trent Green, supposed to be the answer, has thrown seven interceptions, and a once-good defense is allowing an astounding 199 yards rushing per game.