- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Each week, it's becoming harder and harder to figure out this league.
Conventional logic just isn't there through five weeks of the 2004 season. Home field is supposed to be an advantage. In six of the 13 games Sunday, home teams lost. For the season, the home team is 38-35, barely above .500. In the NFC, home teams are 16-20.
Thanks to parity, the meek inherit hope. But to this degree? Of the 10 teams that won five or fewer games last season, the Falcons and Giants have won four, the Chargers, Jaguars and Lions have won three. To make that stat more amazing, some of those teams have won almost as many as games in five weeks as they won all last season even though four of them were playing each other Sunday. The Lions beat the Falcons. The Chargers beat the Jaguars.
Unleash them on the rest of the NFL and watch out.
Sunday was a day of crazy comebacks and strange decisions. The Texans, Rams and 49ers rallied from deficits of at least 16 points to force overtime, with the 49ers and Rams winning and the Texans suffering a tough loss. And just because the team that won the overtime coin toss won all three of the games (although the Vikings didn't win on their first possession), let's not revisit the idea of changing the overtime rule. The overtime rules are set to minimize ties.
The system has worked for more than two decades. Leave it alone.
Overall, things might not be as out of whack as some would think. Seven of last year's playoff teams are still in either first or second place. As always, life is more structured in the AFC, where the Patriots, Ravens, Colts and Broncos are still on pace for playoff seasons. The Jets replaced the Dolphins as the Patriots' biggest threat. The Jaguars are holding the Titans' spot until they can get their season on track. The Chargers are holding second in the AFC West until the Chiefs can rebound.
The NFC is usually the conference in flux, but the Eagles, Seahawks and Rams are still on path for postseason play. The Vikings, as expected, are tied for the NFC North lead, but they are tied with the Lions, not the Packers. The NFC South is like a tossed salad -- with the Falcons on top at 4-1 and the Panthers in third at 1-3 -- but this division is always a toss-up.
Here's a look at some of the crazy things that happened Sunday.
1. Don't look now but the NFL's second best offense to the Colts is, of all teams, the Chargers. Well, the Chargers are actually tied with the Vikings, but let's not ruin a great story. When the Chargers used the third-round choice acquired from the Giants for kicker Nate Kaeding, critics wondered whether he would just be a kickoff specialist. The Chargers are averaging 28 points a game, and they are doing it with Kassim Osgood and Reche Caldwell as the starting receivers. LaDainian Tomlinson tried two trick plays at quarterback but couldn't finish the game because of a third-quarter groin injury. So Jesse Chatman came off the bench to rush for 103 yards and did it against a Jaguars team that is supposedly one of the best at stopping the run. Even though Drew Brees is out at the end of the year, he's had a great first half so far.
2. Franchise players feel as though they are invincible and can take one-year guaranteed contracts, forever. Julian Peterson's Achilles tendon tear could affect that thinking as much as Willis McGahee's impact on underclassman running backs turning pro. Peterson turned down a $15 million signing bonus from the 49ers because he felt his talent could last forever. He held out of training camp and signed a one-year, $6.074 million franchise tender, figuring the 20 percent increases from being a franchise player would net him $22.1 million over the next three years without having to come to training camp. Any Achilles tendon tear is serious. Though surgeries have improved enough to give Peterson hope he can play next year, will he be the same player? His game is mobility and range. If he's not a franchise players, those big guarantees could be gone. It was ironic that franchise cornerback Chris McAlister of the Ravens agreed to a seven-year contract Saturday.
3. Sometimes, coaches make mistakes in trying to find sparks for slumping teams. Jon Gruden's decision to go to Chris Simms didn't feel good from the beginning. With so many problems along the offensive line and at wide receiver, the least experienced of the Bucs quarterbacks couldn't fix what was wrong with that offense. Plus, the idea of having Simms grow with this offense didn't make much sense either. How many of those Bucs skilled players do you think will be back with the team next year anyway? As it turned out, Brian Griese was the player who offered the most spark. He came off the bench to complete 16 of 19 passes for 194 yards and lead the Bucs to a 20-17 victory over the Saints. Simms, meanwhile, appears to have suffered a serious shoulder injury. The Bucs were on the phones with veteran quarterback Jason Garrett Sunday night as a possible replacement.
4. Welcome to the wild, wild, NFC West. Even though it's a two-way race between the Rams and the Seahawks, Sunday's division games were insane. Marc Bulger threw for 202 yards and scored 24 points in 10 minutes to lead the Rams into a stunning 33-27 overtime victory over the Seahawks. Tim Rattay produced scoring drives of 17 points in the final eight minutes -- overtime included -- to beat the Cardinals 31-28. The 49ers appeared to be dead for the season, and the Rams were about ready to hand the NFC West crown to the Seahawks. As Yogi Berra says, it's not over until it's over, and that's the case in the NFC West.
5. Matt Willig isn't Orlando Brown. He doesn't have a father with an eye condition. And after Brown suffered a potentially blinding injury that led him to flip out on the field five years ago, the league went to a safer flag. No more weighted bean bags. Willig can complain the false start flag thrown by the official that wiped out a game-tying field goal hit him in the face, but his safety wasn't in danger. Throwing the flag back to the official was stupid. The Panthers trailed, 20-17, with 6:42 left in the fourth quarter. The false start was dumb enough because it took points off the board. The 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty cost the Panthers any chance to kick a field goal and possibly the chance to win a game. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.
6. Julius Peppers' 101-yard interception return has to be disturbing to Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. For years, he's been trying to groom offensive skilled players in the mold of Rod Smith, and someday Rod Smith won't be around. Throwing an end zone pick to a defensive end is bad enough. What's got to be killing Shanahan on Monday is watching tape of young offensive players taking bad angles and eventually stopping as Peppers ran down the sidelines. Smith, at the age of 34, kept chasing Peppers and caught him from behind, almost causing a fumble that needed a replay challenge for the Panthers to keep the ball near the goal line. Smith is a magnificent player and a great example. Someday he isn't going to be there, and unless the young Broncos players gain more accountability and start following that example, they will be in trouble.
7. The idea that MAC quarterbacks can't be immediately ready for the NFL has been destroyed by Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger. Leftwich was the best of the rookie quarterbacks by far last year because he was the most efficient on the field. Roethlisberger is doing the same in Pittsburgh. He's 3-0 as the starter. Against the Browns, he used his feet as well as his arm in picking apart the Browns defense in a 34-23 victory. With Eli Manning and Philip Rivers sitting as backup quarterbacks for the immediate future, they will be the ones trying to catch up to Roethlisberger, not the other way around.
8. Jeff Garcia and others hinted to Butch Davis that the idea of having William Green and Lee Suggs sharing the halfback position was hairy. Garcia wondered how a back can get into a groove just getting 50 percent of the snaps. Against the Steelers, Garcia ended up being the leading rusher, with 41 yards. Suggs had 30 yards on 11 carries. Green had 27 yards on three carries. While Davis can say the notion of running the ball went out the door when the Browns fell so far behind in the first half, he need only look at Rams coach Mike Martz, who is known for being pass crazy. Martz called nine running plays in a 10-play drive to open the second half, and he was down 17 to the Seahawks. Stick with Suggs and run him more.
9. The impatience with Michael Vick is getting a little ridiculous. Folks, he's five games into learning the West Coast offense. Except for Josh McCown in Arizona, Vick is the least-experienced West Coast offense quarterback of the 11 teams employing that offense. Even Kyle Boller has more experience than Vick in the system. Rattay has been around the system four more years than Vick. Joey Harrington is in his third season and showing signs he's getting into a groove. Matt Hasselbeck, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Aaron Brooks, Chad Pennington and Jake Plummer have years of games and practices in the West Coast offense. Vick has one offseason, 29 training camp plays and five games. Complain if he's struggling two years from now.
10. Even though the Bills lost to the Jets, 16-14, Drew Bledsoe made two throws that prove he's not over the hill. His laser pass to tight end Mark Campbell for a 16-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter was a rope. He also lofted a perfect fade pass that Lee Evans caught for a 46-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. The problem for Bledsoe is that time is running out for the Bills' offense and their team. They are 0-4. Bledsoe rarely is getting 200-yard passing days. The offense is averaging 12.75 points a game. J.P. Losman is going to be healthy at the end of the month. If things don't change, the team could be his in November.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
From the surprising Chargers to the wild NFC West, there was plenty going on during a crazy weekend of NFL football.