Despite all the success the Green Bay Packers have had the past few years, they have developed a bit of reputation for being soft. Fair or unfair, that's the perception.
There was nothing soft about the Packers' win at the Ravens. Without Clay Matthews on defense, and after they lost receivers James Jones and Randall Cobb to injuries, the Packers ground out a hard-fought 19-17 win against the defending Super Bowl champions. This Packers team looks a little different than years past. This one can run the ball, and the defense has played pretty well after a Week 1 fiasco at San Francisco.
This Packers' running game and its commitment to it appears legit. Rookie Eddie Lacy had 120 yards on 23 carries, but the running game isn't just about him. James Starks and Johnathan Franklin also had 100-yard games this season when Lacy was out. The offense isn't just the Aaron Rodgers show anymore (although he's still one of the best, as he showed on a long touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson).
The defense played well too. Through three quarters, Baltimore had just three points. And that was without Matthews, the only proven pass rusher the team has, and inside linebacker Brad Jones. Linebacker A.J. Hawk had a surprising career-high three sacks, and the defense held Baltimore's running game to 47 yards on 22 attempts.
The Packers are just 3-2, so they aren't getting a lot of attention. The Packers will be significantly favored in their next six games, and it's not out of the question they could be favored in four or all five of their games to finish the season (seriously, the schedule gets really, really easy).
We've become used to the Packers being very good. Their record is going to improve rapidly before December comes. They're going to be a contender again, just not playing the same style of ball we're used to seeing from them.
And here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 6:
Patriots defense: Tom Brady and his incredible game-winning throw was the biggest highlight from Sunday's win, but New England beat New Orleans because of its defense.
Drew Brees, who owns the top two single-season completion percentage marks in NFL history, completed just 17-of-36 passes for 236 yards. Tight end Jimmy Graham, on a historic pace through five games, was held without a catch. And two times in the last three minutes, the Patriots kept the Saints from getting a first down, which allowed the offense to win the game.
Cornerback Aqib Talib, acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay last year, has made an enormous difference for the Patriots. He has blossomed into a star that can take a receiver out of a game. He was the main defender responsible for covering Graham. He is slated to be a free agent after the season, and the Patriots are going to have to find a way to pay him.
Kansas City's pass rush: Give the Chiefs a raucous home crowd and some top pass rushers, and it's going to be a long day for the opponent's offensive line. Kansas City had 10 sacks against Oakland on Sunday, its most in a game since 1998. The Chiefs have 21 sacks on the season, which leads the NFL. Not coincidentally, the Chiefs are 6-0.
The trio of defensive tackle Dontari Poe and outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are as good as it gets. Hali had three-and-a-half sacks on Sunday. Houston already has 9.5 this season. Being able to rush the passer that well gives them a chance to win against anyone ... including division foe Denver, whose offensive line looked pretty shaky at times against Jacksonville.
Josh Freeman: There's no doubt after Sunday that Freeman is going to start at quarterback for the Vikings sooner than later. The Vikings are now 1-4 after an embarrassing 35-10 loss to the Panthers. Minnesota's offense didn't score until the final two minutes. Matt Cassel dinked and dunked all game, and his 44 attempts went for 241 yards. The Vikings looked awful against a 1-3 Panthers team.
There's just no reason anymore to wait on Freeman. As soon as he's has a fundamental grasp of the Vikings' offense, he needs to start. That was very clear on Sunday.
Vernon Davis: Every once in a while, I'll go look at Davis' combine numbers. They're unbelievable. The 49ers tight end is one of the league's top few athletes. And given that, his inconsistency has been maddening. When Davis is good, he's unstoppable.
Against Arizona, Davis seven catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns in the first half (he had just one catch for 9 yards in the second half ... again, inconsistency). Colin Kaepernick desperately needs some receivers who can get open. Davis is his best option. But Davis needs to play at a high level like this every week, something that has been a problem.
Kiko Alonso and Buffalo's draft class: The Bills lost 27-24 in overtime to the Bengals, but there's not much shame in losing a good team while starting a quarterback (Thad Lewis) who was on the practice squad last week. What's apparent is that the Bills have a heck of a rookie class.
Alonso, a prime candidate for defensive rookie of the year, had 22 (!!!) total tackles from his middle linebacker spot. Athletic receiver Marquise Goodwin, criminally underused at Texas, scored a 40-yard touchdown with 1:08 to tie the game. Receiver Robert Woods has had his moments, and of course quarterback EJ Manuel looks like he belongs. You can build a consistent winner with draft classes like these.
Greg Schiano and Gary Kubiak: It's not ideal to fire a coach in the middle of a NFL season. But sometimes it's necessary. And in Tampa Bay and Houston, you have to wonder if the respective owners are wondering if that time has come.
Schiano is probably on the hottest seat right now. Tampa Bay, now 0-5, is a mess on and off the field. According to the Tampa Bay Times, fans booed Schiano loudly as he left the field after a 31-20 loss to Philadelphia. It's growing harder to believe Schiano keeps his job much longer.
Kubiak is a much more surprising candidate to be fired during the season, but the Texans' embarrassing loss to a bad Rams team at home puts him on high alert. Houston was very, very close to being 0-6 this year. They pulled out two wins late, but a 2-4 record with two straight losses by 56 combined points is hard to ignore.
Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan: New Orleans' defense wasn't all that bad, but we just wanted to use this humorous GIF again ...
Tom Brady's horribly awkward hug with an unappreciative Darren Sproles: Again, just because it's hilarious (h/t to SI.com's Jimmy Traina) ...
Broncos defense: That's two pretty bad weeks in a row now, Denver.
Last week, Tony Romo threw for more than 500 yards and the Cowboys scored 48 points. Then Jacksonville looked better than it has all season on offense. The Jaguars came in averaging 251.8 yards, 31st in the NFL, and a NFL-worst 10.2 points per game. Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne threw for 303 yards, the Jaguars gained 362 yards and scored 19 points. Giving up 362 yards and 19 points isn't that bad, but it's troubling against an offense that bad, a week after getting torched by Dallas.
Von Miller's return next week will help, and perhaps this is just picking nits on a 6-0 team. But Denver is 28th in the NFL in yards allowed (only three teams have allowed more than their 6.1 yards per play, if you think that ranking is skewed because of the offense's pace), and is giving up 26.3 points per game against a schedule that hasn't included many offensive juggernauts. Peyton Manning is capable of carrying this defense to a Super Bowl, but odds are he's going to need some help at some point.
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