Welcome to the Fifth Quarter, the only NFL recap column you’ll ever need. It’s the only one to provide a full day’s supply of Vitamin C, after all. Here’s what was going on around the rest of the league while you were selfishly focused on your home team and your fantasy players.
When Cam Newton came rolling into the league a couple years back, he was riding high off a national championship in which he led the Auburn Tigers to total dominance in the college football world. That's a notable achievement, all Jacksonville-belongs-in-the-SEC jokes aside. But Newton didn't pick up on the fact that what worked just fine on campus doesn't play so well on a national scale, and so the whole wearing-No.-1, Superman-busting-out routine came off as unearned arrogance. Pride is fine — welcome, even, in a professional sports landscape that's getting more regulated by the second — but at some point, you've got to back it up with results.
[Related: Is Panthers' Cam Newton an MVP candidate?]
As of Monday night, Newton has done just that. No matter who you are or where you are in your career, you engineer a game-winning comeback against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, refereering controversies aside, you've done something notable.
Newton threw for three touchdowns, including the game-winner with just under a minute left, as part of a total quarterbacking package. He was elusive on the ground, able to keep mobile and keep the New England defense confused. And when Brady brought the Patriots back to take a late lead, as Brady does, Newton didn't give up or pout or rip his teammates, all hallmarks of his younger days. Instead, he led Carolina on a 13-play, 87-yard drive that devoured more than five crucial minutes of fourth-quarter clock. That's some Man of Steel work right there.
Newton's not yet in that elusive "elite" category of Manning/Brady/Rogers/Brees. We won't even try to justify what does and doesn't qualify as "elite," but a Super Bowl ring would seem to be the cost of entry. But Newton has passed the "close your eyes and hope for the best" category, and he's deep into the "wish we had him on our team" range. Think about this: would you rather have Cam Newton, Matt Ryan or Tony Romo under center for your team? The fact that it's even a question now shows how far Newton has come in just 11 games this season.
The farther Newton goes this season, the more you'll hear this "redemption" narrative — you know, the gentle, soft-music pregame shows documenting how Newton is a "changed man" who's "faced down his demons" or whatever. It's all easily-digestible mush. Newton didn't suddenly go from enfant terrible to saint. What he did do is recognize he's part of a team and realize he has the ability to inspire that team with his words and his actions. Nobody ever won a Super Bowl throwing tantrums.
Newton's got a long way to go and two gargantuan hurdles in his own conference in New Orleans and Seattle. But he's on the right path, and he's improving every game. That's everything you could want out of your quarterback. If he plays the rest of the year like he did Monday night, Carolina's going to be must-watch from here on out.
In which we recap every game in seven words. Ready ... go!
Indianapolis 30, Tennessee 27. Players, please: don't head-butt the helmetless.
Buffalo 37, New York Jets 14. Nobody wants that sixth AFC playoff spot.
Chicago 23, Baltimore 20. Ugly weather, then slightly less ugly football.
Cincinnati 41, Cleveland 20. Andy Dalton, dominator? Bengals are now legit.
Oakland 28, Houston 23. Texans fans boo Schaub. Season's a goner.
Arizona 27, Jacksonville 14. Heads up, San Francisco: Arizona's right there.
Philadelphia 24, Washington 16. Redskins have a problem beyond just "Redskins."
Pittsburgh 37, Detroit 27. Tough to take Detroit seriously after this.
Tampa Bay 41, Atlanta 28. Falcons will score negative points next week.
Maimi 20, San Diego 16. "Free Richie" is the dumbest protest ever.
New Orleans 23, San Francisco 20. Drew Brees rolls, rubber neck and all.
New York Giants 27, Green Bay 23. Holy heaven, New York's making a run.
Seattle 41, Minnesota 20. Seattle scores by land, air, probably underground.
Denver 27, Kansas City 17. Chiefs' undefeated season ends. Any more questions?
Carolina 24, New England 20. Amazingly, somebody finally held Rob Gronkowski down.
Teams on bye: Cowboys, Rams
Champ: Mattt McGloin, Oakland Raiders. How was your first day at your job? Probably not as good as Sunday for Matt McGloin, who threw for three touchdowns in his first NFL start despite looking like a "Breaking Bad" heavy. What's even more impressive? McGloin wasn't flinging genius for an established team; no, he did it for the freaking Raiders. That's like driving a Flintstones car to victory in a NASCAR race.
Chump: The entire Atlanta Falcons organization. The Atlanta Falcons really need to begin renting themselves out as mobile spreaders of good cheer. Anybody having a bad day, a bad week, a bad season, the Atlanta Falcons are here for you. The latest feel-good story? Bobby Rainey, who came out of nowhere to run for 163 yards and three touchdowns against the pathetic Falcons. Seriously, the healthcare website is more functional than Atlanta at this point.
Miami fans were out in force with their "Free Richie" and "Jonathan Martin [activity censored]" signs, which you'd expect. Crazy Crab-Leg-and-Demon-Skull fan here is fascinating, but here's what I'm wondering: is the young lady to his left with him? If she is, she really didn't bring a whole lot of game. If she's not, she must have gotten to her seat, looked at the masked man-beast next to her, and sighed. That's got to be worse than ending up next to Chatty Chad the sales rep on a cross-country flight.
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There's plenty of good writing every day on the NFL. Here are a few choice reads to keep you busy while there's no football. Because the other alternatives are talking to your family or doing chores, and nobody wants that. (Send us your favorite words of the week.)
• Rex Reed pulled quite a recruiting job to get Ed Reed on the Jets, writes Eric Adelson. (Yahoo Sports)
• Great story of Drew Brees, Sean Payton, and the ways the Saints have become one of the strongest teams in the NFL once again. (ESPN the Magazine)
• The Jay Glazer/Richie Incognito interview last week came with plenty of controversy. Now Glazer speaks. (The MMQB)
• Rather than looking for a franchise quarterback, teams could find success by shoring up resources in other areas. It's mostly worked for the Chiefs. (NFL Philosophy)
Each week, we’ll make a random Super Bowl pick based on trends, stats or general nonquantifiable gut feelings. One of these weeks, we’ll be right. Probably right after both conference championships.
Broncos vs. Saints. Denver looked absolutely methodical in decimating the previously undefeated Chiefs, and the Broncos are clearly several lengths ahead of the field in the AFC horse race. Over in the NFC, the battle remains strong between Seattle and New Orleans; this one's coming down to home field in the NFC championship. Right now, we give the slight edge to the Saints, but we reserve the right to change that on a moment's notice.
Super Bowl picks, full season: Denver 4x, New Orleans 3x, Seattle 2x, San Francisco 2x, New England 2x, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Kansas City, Carolina.
And that's a wrap for this week's edition of Fifth Quarter. Got a question? Comment? Concern? Rant? Hit me up at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee. We’ll run your words here or in Thursday’s weekly letters column. For now, enjoy the week. It's not long 'til more football!
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