Snap Judgments (cont.)
For me, there's no bigger surprise this season than Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers throwing his seventh interception in the Packers' sixth game of the year. Rodgers had just seven picks last season and looked primed for an MVP-level season in 2010.
Banged up Green Bay keeps losing overtime games, but it still only trails first-place Chicago (4-2) by a game in the NFC North. Things are ugly right now, but the Packers just have to figure out a way to hang around the division race until their myriad of injured players start getting healthy again.
With three sacks of Green Bay's Rodgers, Miami outside linebacker Cameron Wake is officially a beast in my book. Wake now has six sacks in five games, and the second-year veteran seems like he has played the entire season in the opposing team's backfield.
That's about what I was expecting from Ben Roethlisberger in his anticipated return to the Steelers lineup -- a performance that wasn't always pretty, but featured some hugely clutch plays. We saw again what Big Ben can do for the Steelers with big throws to Mike Wallace (50 yards) and Heath Miller (36 yards) late in the third quarter, with Pittsburgh up just 7-3 over Cleveland. Has anyone ever thrown the ball better with tacklers hanging all over him than No. 7?
So, the Steelers starting quarterback is back, but so is the Pittsburgh tradition of winning with the running game and defense. We know from the past, both distant and recent, that it's a winning combination.
All I could think of when I saw Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson blow up Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson with that crushing first-half hit was Philly's season from hell on the significant injury front continues. From fullback Leonard Weaver (knee), center Jamaal Jackson (torn bicep), quarterback Kevin Kolb (concussion) and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley (concussion) going down against Green Bay in Week 1, to quarterback Michael Vick (rib cartilage) being knocked out of the Week 4 showdown with Washington, the Eagles have taken more than their fair share of body blows already this year.
But with its first home win of the season, in convincing 31-17 fashion over Atlanta, no less, Philadelphia is right there in the NFC East, tied for first at 4-2.
And we do have another quarterback controversy in Philadelphia, thanks to Kolb's strong 326-yard, three-touchdown, one-interception showing. At the very least, Kolb has made it very difficult for Eagles coach Andy Reid to put Vick back into the lineup if he's healthy next week at Tennessee.
It's got to be the proverbial good problem to have, but why is it always so complicated on the QB front in Philly?
When the Falcons play the Eagles, it's pretty apparent that Atlanta's offense features no explosive playmakers in the mold of Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. And no matter how far Atlanta goes this season, that lack of game-breakers might just be the Falcons' downfall.
The overall numbers weren't anything to write home about (44 yards rushing on 17 attempts), but that Marshawn Lynch trade paid instant dividends for Seattle -- in the form of his pivotal game-sealing touchdown (1 yard) early in the fourth quarter of the Seahawks' 23-20 upset at Chicago.
Lynch broke two tackles as he bulled in from the left side, giving Seattle the kind of power running it was in desperate need of this season. Maybe pushed a bit by Lynch's arrival, Justin Forsett responded with a strong 67 yards and a touchdown (on 10 carries) to lead Seattle's rushing game.
The Bears' three-point loss to a Seattle team that had dropped both of its previous road games by 17 points should provide a little smelling salt beneath the nose of the Chicago fandom. This is not a Bears team that's good enough to overcome its glaring pass-protection problem. The returning Jay Cutler absorbed another six sacks (giving him 15 in his last six quarters of play) on Sunday, and at this rate, he'll be in a body cast by Thanksgiving.
That said, Cutler continues to hold the ball too long at times and is still making some questionable throws as he runs for his life out there.
A touchdown catch for Kansas City linebacker Mike Vrabel? That must have been like old times for Chiefs offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. The pairing teamed up for more than a few TDs in New England.
What an impressive calm-the-nerves win for the Saints at Tampa Bay, against a Bucs team that has bedeviled Sean Payton and Co. in recent years. Drew Brees looked like Drew Brees again, throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns, and the Saints running game might have found a new star in Chris Ivory. The rookie running back rumbled for 158 yards on just 15 carries against the Bucs (an eye-popping 10.5 average).
Um, I regret to inform the rest of the NFL, but Devin Hester is back. Hester had gone more than two seasons without a return touchdown, and now he's had two in a three-game span. Hester took one back 89 yards late in the Bears' loss, following up on his punt return touchdown in that Week 3 upset of Green Bay.
It may be time to again ask what was once the most obvious question in the NFL: Why would anyone risk kicking it to No. 23?
Uh, oh. Another chip shot missed by Garrett Hartley (from 33 yards), and does that mean John Carney is on his way back into a Saints uniform any minute now? Or will New Orleans' impressive win at Tampa Bay whitewash all potential problems in Saints-land this week?