Time to push the reset button on New England. In one evening, the Patriots restored order in the AFC East, and don’t tell me you were surprised … because you shouldn’t be. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick don’t lose back-to-back often (they’re 37-8 under Brady in games following defeats), especially when that second game is home. The Patriots were determined to make a statement, and they did — with it going something like this: Never, ever, ever underestimate these guys. They pulled their offensive line together. They ran effectively. They forced turnovers. They scored more points on Cincinnati (43) than the Bengals surrendered all season (33), and, most importantly, they got Tom Terrific back. In short, they looked like themselves again, and, if that doesn’t change, everyone else in the AFC East is in a familiar position — playing for second.
2. Just when you want to believe in Cincinnati, something like this happens. It’s hard to take the Bengals seriously when you combine an 0-5 playoff record under Marvin Lewis with a 1-11 finish since 2005 in prime-time road contests. They had a chance to show who they really are, and maybe they just did.
3. The problem with the New York Jets isn’t their quarterback or their head coach. It’s a remarkable lack of talent on offense. Their offensive line can’t pass protect, their backs are little more than ordinary and quarterbacks Geno Smith/Michael Vick don’t have a receiver opponents fear. I don’t blame Rex Ryan for sticking with Geno. I know, Smith stinks, making way too many mistakes, but Michael Vick is no better … and he proved it Sunday. He’s simply an older version of Smith. At least you might have a future with Geno, with the emphasis on might. OK, maybe not. Denver is up next, followed by New England.
4. When you’re 4-1 you make the playoffs 77 percent of the time. So why don’t I feel comfortable about the Dallas Cowboys? Answer: December. Tony Romo is 12-17 in December and couldn’t close the deal in season finales in 2008, 2011 and 2012 when a win would’ve put Dallas in the playoffs. Instead, he committed eight turnovers. Yeah, I know, these Cowboys aren’t all about Romo. They can and do run the ball. OK, fine. They still have to prove they know how to close.
5. And that’s why I make the Giants, not Dallas, the biggest threat to Philadelphia in the NFC East — provided, of course, the Eagles learn how to play defense. The Giants do know how to win big games, and Eli Manning is back to playing like Eli Manning — with eight TDs and one interception in his last three starts, all wins. Plus, he just added another weapon in Odell Beckham.
6. In case you missed it, the last two unbeaten teams just got carpet bombed by a combined 84-37 — an average margin of 23.5 points per — which begs the question: Who’s the team to beat now? The answer may be San Diego, partly because the Bolts are on a four-game roll and partly because they’re the only team to beat Seattle since last December. They also have a cake schedule that offers just one winning opponent (Denver) in their next six dates. But Denver and New England just reminded us not to forget them in the AFC, Indianapolis is starting to flex its muscles and Seattle … well, the Seahawks are the Seahawks. Bottom line: Parity rules.
7. Another reason to like San Diego: There’s no quarterback anywhere playing better than Philip Rivers. None. In his last four games he has 11 TDs, one interception and four victories.
8. Memo to Jed York, CEO of the San Francisco 49ers: That’s not what I’d call a denial. Now, more than ever, I believe Jim Harbaugh won’t coach the 49ers next season.
9. Will the real Joe Flacco please stand up?
10. Yes, defense made the difference with Carolina. It usually does when the Panthers win. Carolina had no takeaways the two games prior to Sunday. They lost both. Then they had four vs. Chicago, and you saw what happened.
11. Whatever Antonio Gates eats for breakfast, I’ll have it.
12. Please tell me Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz didn’t ask players to carry him off the field in Detroit. Someone? Anyone?
13. The better move was awarding Ralph Wilson’s widow, Mary, the game ball. It was the last game of the Wilson era, and, just a hunch, but she didn’t ask Doug Marrone for it.
14. Congratulations, Jacksonville. That marks the first time the Jags have come within 16 points of anyone this season.
15. Arizona coach Bruce Arians has every reason to be steamed, and I’m not talking about losing to Denver. I’m talking about losing Calais Campbell. Arians is right: Julius Thomas will get fined, but it’s the Cards who suffer. They lose Campbell to a sprained knee for 3-4 weeks.
16. So that’s what happens when opponents cover Giants’ tight end Larry Donnell.
17. Jake Locker hurt? Shocking.
18. Imagine if Detroit had a placekicker. Matt Prater, please stand by.
19. It’s fair to ask if Drew Brees is in decline. He sure doesn’t look right, and against Tampa Bay he made hurried throws and, frankly, dumb and costly mistakes. Brees’ problem is the same one Brady was fighting until Sunday night: An offensive line that can’t protect him. But that’s not all. He’s missing Darren Sproles, too. The Saints let him go in the offseason, and don’t ask me why. The guy’s a big-play specialist who can turn a 2-yard gain into a 20-yarder. San Diego was never the same after he left. New Orleans isn’t, either.
20. Jerry Angelo was right. The Bears never should’ve given up Greg Olsen.
FIVE HALL-OF-FAME SIZZLES
1. Dallas QB Tony Romo. He leads the Cowboys to their fourth straight with, with two TD passes, one remarkable escape from J.J. Watt and a bail-out 37-yard bomb to Dez Bryant just before he gets sand blasted on the Cowboys’ game-winning drive. And he did all of it in front of the afternoon’s biggest home-field disadvantage, with so many Houston fans squeezed into Jerry World that Romo had to go to a silent snap count. Honest.
2. Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The Bills carry him off the field, mostly because … OK, mostly because he asked them to do it. Still, his defense stuffed Detroit on all but one series, holding the Lions to one touchdown (their other score was via an interception return) and no more than one first down on 10 of their 14 series. Kyle Orton didn’t win this game; Jim Schwartz’s defense did.
3. San Diego RB Branden Oliver. All the fourth-string running back did was rush for 114 yards vs. the league’s best running defense, lead the Chargers in receiving yards (68) and score twice. How appropriate he wears No. 43. He reminds everyone of Darren Sproles.
4. Carolina TE Greg Olsen. For the first time, all three of his children attended his game. Their timing was right. Olsen was the hero, with two TDs, including the game-winner vs. his former teammates.
5. San Francisco PK Phil Dawson. He nails five field goals, including two over 50 yards, in a much-needed defeat of Kansas City. Dawson is 11 for 13 this year, with three field goals of 50-plus, and thank you, Cleveland. Your loss is the 49ers’ gain.
FIVE HALL-OF-FAME FIZZLES
1. Detroit QB Matt Stafford. In his last seven home games, he’s averaged two interceptions per start.
2. N.Y. Jets QB Geno Smith. It’s been a forgettable week for the guy. First, he gets fined for F-bombing fans. Then he chews out reporters and fails to show for a Saturday night team meeting. Now, he gets benched. Forget Broadway Joe. We’re looking at Broadway Schmo.
3. Arizona CB Antonio Cromartie. Now you know why the Jets moved on without him. He surrendered a gazillion yards and two TDs vs. Denver, including an 86-yarder to DeMaryius Thomas — a receiver he could not cover. “He got the best of me today,” said Cromartie,” and that’s all I can really say.”
4. New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. A year ago, he had a Top-5 defense. Now the Saints stink, and the evidence was there Sunday. Tampa Bay scored 30 or more points on the road for the first time since Week 9 of 2012, and don’t tell me you’re surprised. The Saints twice have allowed 34 or more points this season and ranked 28th prior to Sunday’s overtime win.
5. Detroit K Alex Henery. Say goodnight, Alex. You can’t miss four of five field goals in two weeks, including a potential game-winner, and expect to stay.
WHAT WOULD LOMBARDI DO?
Houston is driving for a game-tying score when running back Arian Foster bangs the ball to the Dallas 1 where it’s second-and-goal. There are under 45 seconds left, and the clock is moving. So W.W. L.D.? Let the clock run, of course. You have three snaps, and you don’t want to leave time on the board for Dallas. But Bill O’Brien doesn’t. Instead, the Texans run a hurry-up, snap the ball immediately and score. Tie ballgame. That’s the good news. The bad? Forty-one seconds remain, and Dallas has three timeouts. So the Cowboys drive to the Houston 34, where they can kick the game-winning field goal … except they don’t. Dan Bailey pulls it, and Houston lucks out. Except it doesn’t. Bailey nails the game-winner in OT.
ON THE HALL-OF-FAME RADAR
1. New England QB Tom Brady. He surpasses 50,000 career passing yards and leads the Patriots to a rout of previously unbeaten Cincinnati. More than that, he forces overanxious obit writers to call for re-write.
2. Cleveland QB Brian Hoyer. Down 28-3 at the half, he figured to sit down in favor of Johnny Football. But Mike Pettine didn’t take the bait, and smart. Hoyer led the Browns to the greatest road comeback in league history and quieted any calls for Manziel … at least for the moment.
3. Denver WR DeMaryius Thomas. All he did was produce 226 yards receiving and two TDs in another Denver victory. Oh, yeah, he also set a franchise record for most receiving yards in one game. And all that happened after he was victimized by atypical drops earlier this season. “All that talk is done now, right?” teammate Emmanuel Sanders asked reporters. I think he can answer that.
4. Houston RB Arian Foster. He was the Houston offense, running for 157 yards and scoring twice. Too bad he can’t play quarterback. Foster had three more yards running than Ryan Fitzpatrick had passing.
5. Dallas RB DeMarco Murray. He breaks 100 yards (136) for the fifth straight time and adds 56 yards more in catches. No wonder the Cowboys are 4-1. They’re not relying on Romo. They’re leaning on the league’ s most productive running back.
THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME NOMINEE
Denver QB Peyton Manning. All he did was throw for four more touchdowns and a career-best 479 yards, plus close in on Brett Favre’s career TD record (508). Manning is five TDs away, and that’s good news for Bruce Arians. The Arizona coach had said that if Manning broke Favre’s record Sunday he wasn’t getting on the team charter home.
THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME QUOTE
“I apologize to our fans … those that are left.”— N.Y. Jets coach Rex Ryan
1-10 — Atlanta in its last 11 road games
2 — Haloti Ngata interceptions this season
3 — NFC East teams with winning records
3 — Marcel Dareus sacks Sunday, a personal high
5-0 — Kyle Orton vs. Detroit
7 — Return touchdowns by Philadelphia this season
13 — Peyton Manning career 400-yard passing games, tying him with Dan Marino
18 — Straight home wins for Sean Payton
27 — San Diego points this season off turnovers
31 — Jay Cutler career games with two or more interceptions
226 — Frank Gore yards rushing the past two games