It was not the day many people expected. The Broncos, the Falcons and the Bears all pulled off upsets on the road. The Buccaneers made easy work of the Packers, the Eagles gave the Ravens a scare, and the Browns went from looking like an offensive juggernaut in Weeks 2 through 5 to being absolutely humiliated by the Steelers.
But when you consider that several N.F.L. teams dealt with closed practice facilities this week because of positive coronavirus tests, the fact that the games were even played was nearly as surprising as the results on the field.
Here’s what we learned:
It doesn’t matter if Derrick Henry is the chicken or the egg. Has quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s efficiency in the passing game prevented teams from stacking the box, allowing Henry to reach his true potential? Or has playing with Henry made life easy for Tannehill, who had been a disappointment in Miami? Whatever it is, it’s working.
The numbers in Sunday’s overtime win over Houston were eye-popping even by Tennessee’s high standards. Tannehill passed for 364 yards and four touchdowns, which was almost an afterthought since Henry’s 264 total yards from scrimmage included a 94-yard touchdown run, a 53-yard reception in overtime and a 5-yard game-winning touchdown in which he got the ball on a direct snap with Tannehill split out as a decoy receiver.
In all, Tennessee had 601 yards of offense — just the 38th 600-yard game since 1940, according to Pro Football Reference — and is now 5-0 this season and 12-3 since Tannehill became the team’s starting quarterback last season.
Pittsburgh-Cleveland is a rivalry in hate only. The teams have often had a chippy past, but that has not made for competitive football games. Playing the Browns seems to bring the best out of the Steelers, and Pittsburgh demolished their rival, 38-7, on Sunday to improve to 5-0. Just about everything was clicking for the Steelers, who got a pick-six from safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and big offensive games from running back James Conner and the rookie receiver Chase Claypool. In doing so, the Steelers improved their record against the Browns to 36-7-1 since that team’s resurrection in Cleveland in 1999.
How bad was it for the Browns? The team came in with its best five-game start since 1994 and by halftime their fans had Case Keenum, the team’s backup quarterback, trending on Twitter. Cleveland did switch to Keenum in the second half, but it didn’t matter.
Joe Burrow is the N.F.L.’s future, but Philip Rivers can still sling it. Burrow was the first overall pick in this year’s draft, and he’s had an impressive start to his career — regardless of his win-loss record. On Sunday, he looked like he might be taking the next step as he got his team off to a 21-0 lead against the Indianapolis Colts. But there’s a reason the Colts wanted Rivers, and the 17-year veteran showed why. He stayed cool, outscoring Cincinnati by 31-6 the rest of the way while throwing for 371 yards and three touchdowns. There’s every reason to believe that Burrow, who has thrown for 300 or more yards in four of his six games, will be a star once his team adds some talent around him. But he’s not ready to beat a playoff contender with a potential Hall of Fame quarterback just yet.
Lamar Jackson’s legs still work. Last week Jackson rushed for just 3 yards, bringing his season average down to 47.6 yards rushing per game after he’d averaged 80.4 a game during his M.V.P. campaign in 2019. It appears he can still get loose when he wants, as he had another quiet passing day but ran the ball nine times for 108 yards and a touchdown. The highlight reels will show you Jackson’s 37-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but his best run of the day might have been a 21-yarder with less than two minutes to play, as it gave Baltimore a first down that allowed the team to run out the clock in a game that very nearly went sideways.
Rob Gronkowski remembers how to spike the ball. It had been 679 days since his last touchdown, but the tight end who went from the Super Bowl with New England, to happily retired, to joining Tom Brady in Tampa Bay (with a few WWE appearances mixed in there just for fun) found the end zone in Tampa Bay’s blowout of the Green Bay Packers, hauling in a 12-yard diving score before getting up and doing one of his signature over-the-top spikes. He finished the day with five catches for 78 yards, both of which are his best marks for Tampa Bay, and he helped his team improve to 4-2.
The state of New Jersey will not be winless in 2020. It was not an impressive win, and there’s little reason to expect it to happen again this season, but the Giants just barely hung on for a 20-19 win over the Washington Football Team. As coming into the game the Giants and Jets were both 0-5 for the first time in their shared history, a 1-point win over one of the worst teams in the N.F.L. qualified as a high point for the co-tenants of MetLife Stadium.
The Jets, meanwhile, were absolutely crushed by Miami. They fell to 0-6 for just the second time in franchise history, lack a game on their schedule that looks winnable, and with Bill O’Brien (Houston) and Dan Quinn (Atlanta) already fired, Coach Adam Gase seemingly has the least job security in the N.F.L.
The Bears are probably a playoff team. It has not always been pretty. In fact, it has been mostly not pretty. But Chicago held off a Carolina comeback on Sunday to improve to 3-0 on the road and 5-1 over all. In the last 10 seasons, only five of 29 teams that started 5-1 failed to make the playoffs — though that list of five teams includes the 2012 Bears.
Sunday’s Top Performers
Top Passer: Matt Ryan
It was an outrageous game in Tennessee, with Deshaun Watson and Ryan Tannehill each throwing for more than 330 yards and four touchdowns. But they were both overshadowed by Derrick Henry, and Ryan was as good or better than either while picking up his first win of the season. In Atlanta’s first game under interim coach Raheem Morris, Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 371 yards and four scores, looking as good as he has at any point in the last several seasons.
Top Receiver: Justin Jefferson
Adam Thielen was seen berating Kirk Cousins on the sideline during a disastrous first half on Sunday, but even in a loss there was a silver lining for Minnesota, as Jefferson continued a terrific rookie season by catching nine of 11 passes thrown his way for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Jefferson has topped 100 yards receiving in three of his last four games and is part of a special draft class of wide receivers that is living up to its hype so far.
One* Sentence About Sunday’s Games
*Except when it takes more.
Buccaneers 38, Packers 10 Just about everything went Tampa Bay’s way, but the most stark thing about this game was likely the lack of pass protection for Green Bay, as Aaron Rodgers, who had been sacked just three times over his team’s first four games, was put down four times by the Buccaneers. Rodgers finished the day with a passer rating of 35.4, the third-worst mark of his career.
Titans 42, Texans 36 (overtime) It’s hard to quibble with a game in which a team’s offense managed 601 total yards, but Tennessee really should be concerned about its defense, which allowed 412 yards and 36 points to a team that fired its head coach and general manager two weeks ago.
Steelers 38, Browns 7 Cleveland averaged 37.5 points over its previous four games but could do absolutely nothing against Pittsburgh, with quarterback Baker Mayfield looking beat up and ineffective while throwing for 119 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The Browns have topped 30 points four times and been held to less than 10 twice.
Colts 31, Bengals 27 It was an emotional week for Indianapolis, as the team had to briefly close its facility because of a few false positive tests for the coronavirus, fell behind by 21-0 to Cincinnati and then raced back to win, tying the franchise’s record for largest comeback in a regular season game.
Ravens 30, Eagles 28 Baltimore was overwhelming Philadelphia with its running game during its 17-0 start, but in a rare instance of the Ravens taking their collective foot off the gas, they very nearly let the Eagles pull off an upset only to be bailed out when Carson Wentz couldn’t run the ball in for a 2-point conversion with just under two minutes remaining.
Bears 23, Panthers 16 It is hard to get excited about Chicago’s offense, regardless of the team’s record, but the Bears’ defense had a throwback day, forcing three turnovers including a game-saving interception in the final two minutes.
Falcons 40, Vikings 23 The firing of Coach Dan Quinn and the return of Julio Jones were certainly factors in Atlanta’s first win of the season, but having Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins melt down to the tune of three interceptions in the first half helped stake Atlanta to such a wide lead that the team was in cruise control for most of the day.
Broncos 18, Patriots 12 It seemed like New England would have an easy win at home once it was announced that Cam Newton was active, but Denver got six field goals from Brandon McManus and just barely held off a comeback. Newton took his team to Denver’s 24-yard line in the final minute of the game, down by just six points, but the Patriots turned the ball over on downs when Newton’s pass to N’Keal Harry fell incomplete.
49ers 24, Rams 16 San Francisco did nearly all of its damage in the first half, but that proved to be enough as the 49ers neutralized Aaron Donald by having Jimmy Garoppolo get rid of the ball quickly, and the team’s receivers did most of their damage after the catch.
Dolphins 24, Jets 0 It was the full Ryan Fitzpatrick experience, as the veteran quarterback threw for three touchdowns, was intercepted twice, and did a Patrick Mahomes impersonation by completing a short left-handed pass in the easy victory. Tua Tagovailoa made his N.F.L. debut, but it was to mop up a laugher rather than to replace his team’s volatile starter — and Fitzpatrick was leading the cheers for the rookie who will eventually replace him.
Lions 34, Jaguars 16 Matthew Stafford threw a touchdown pass — he now has one against all 31 teams besides Detroit — D’Andre Swift ran for 116 yards and the Lions won so convincingly that Jacksonville Coach Doug Marrone acknowledged after the game that his job may be in jeopardy.
Giants 20, Footballers 19 Tae Crowder’s fumble recovery for a touchdown put Big Blue up by seven with less than four minutes to play, but this game between also-rans was decided when Coach Ron Rivera, desperate to stay in the N.F.C. East playoff race, had his Footballers gamble with a 2-point conversion attempt in the game’s final minute, only to have Kyle Allen throw an incomplete pass under pressure. Rivera wanted a clean win rather than to chance it in overtime, but he had to settle for a loss.