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It's starting to become clear who the really good teams in the league are, and the New England Patriots are leading that charge.
But there were other teams on Sunday who had the opportunity to separate themselves. Instead, they showed a lot of question marks – teams like the Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons. They started out hot. But now you have to wonder whether they were for real to begin with.
(Those who made great strides in Week 5)
1. Streaking Patriots. Tom Brady threw for only 76 yards … and the New England Patriots still won. You never feel like they're going to lose. Nearly all of the games are close but you never feel like they're going to lose the game. Such confidence comes from the fact that they're used to winning now. They don't seem to panic, and it's not like they have to make a lot of big plays all the time. They just play well enough and allow the other team to make mistakes.
2. Daunte Culpepper. He has gotten so composed as far as where the ball is going to go. You don't see him throw into coverage while trying to get the ball to Randy Moss (who had two touchdowns but two other Vikings – Marcus Robinson and running back Mewelde Moore – had more receptions). It's just another sign of how Daunte Culpepper has taken his game to the next level. Besides Peyton Manning, I don't see any other quarterback in the league playing better than him. That includes Tom Brady. Why? Because Culpepper has to do more than Brady every week.
3. Giants' O-line. Here we are in Week 5 and the New York Giants already have matched their win total from last season. We can talk about Tom Coughlin or Kurt Warner, but you can't talk about this team's success without talking about its offensive line, which has done a remarkable job and has been consistent every week. It has not only been consistent in delivering a running game but also has been consistent in protecting Warner.
(Those who dropped the ball in Week 5)
1. Mike Holmgren. He will have to take the blame for Sunday's collapse against St. Louis. The Seattle Seahawks simply got too conservative after dominating the game for basically three quarters. It shows the difference between them and New England. Blowing a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter never would have happened to the Patriots. Somehow, someway, the Seahawks should have been able to come up with two or three first downs, which is all they needed on their last three drives. If they get one first down, the Seahawks win.
2. Kerry Collins. Another week, another three-interception game for Kerry Collins. He can't continue to put the Oakland Raiders into bad situations because they don't have the talent. Going into Indianapolis, the Raiders knew they needed to control the clock and keep the Colts' offense off the field. He's making the mistakes of a quarterback who's just coming into the league.
3. Jim Haslett. It's easy to make excuses when you don't have Deuce McAllister, but he came back Sunday. Jim Haslett will be one of the first coaches besides Dave Wannstedt to be fired. When a team performs or does not perform with any type of consistency, you have to look at the coach. One week they can't run the ball, and one week they can't throw the ball. The Saints are a disappointment. You would think they would have bounced back after losing at Arizona, but they played just as poorly at home against Tampa Bay.
The Patriots' record 19-game win streak isn't the final confirmation that they're a dynasty, but it is final confirmation that they are very good.
The second-best team in the AFC? The Indianapolis Colts. They match up well with New England and they played the Patriots tough in the season opener. They also have Peyton Manning.
You can't be a quality football team in the NFL if you don't win on the road. After losing 24 straight away from home, the Detroit Lions have won twice away from Ford Field. Too many good things have to happen for you to win on the road. It's a great sign of maturity. And probably the most surprising thing about Detroit is its defense, which has given up only 18 points a game. If you play D like that in this league, with Steve Mariucci calling the offensive plays, you're going to win some games.
Reuben Droughns ran for 193 yards for the Denver Broncos, but whoever Mike Shanahan puts back there at running back, that guy is always going to look good. I think Quentin Griffin is still the guy, but that's not going to matter much if Jake Plummer keeps playing the way he has been playing. In a crucial game when you can't run the ball, you have to be able to throw it, and Plummer is so inconsistent. He makes so many bad decisions.
We knew the San Diego Chargers had one of the best running games in the league. But now, they're no longer one-dimensional with Drew Brees at quarterback. They've become very hard to defend because they can throw the ball as well as they can run it.
So what happened to the Jaguars' defense in San Diego? Sometimes, you just don't match up well. And some days, you have a bad day at the office. Jacksonville had both.
I don't believe in Brian Griese. He had a good game but I don't believe in him. He has been a starter in this league and he has had plenty of opportunities, but I'm not a believer. Now, there are times when a player in a different system and under a different coach can turn his career around, but I have to see more out of Brian Griese to believe that.
The St. Louis Rams' come-from-behind win in Seattle gives them confidence in what Mike Martz is doing. When he started to lose, the media began to say things and the players began to ask questions. Is coach Martz as good as he thinks he is? Will he finally run the football? Winning, and the way they won in Seattle by throwing the ball, will re-instill the belief that he is indeed a good coach.
Blame injuries for the Carolina Panthers' problems. But I don't think they'll be able to recover from a 1-3 start to defend their NFC crown.
Jamal Lewis' two-week suspension made Sunday night's game against Washington far more important because the Baltimore Ravens are chasing the Steelers, who look very good so far, in the AFC North. The Ravens didn't want to go two games down to Pittsburgh before losing their featured running back for a while.