<
>

Every week's a different animal

Hakeem Nicks (three TD catches) helped the Giants run through the Texans in Week 5. Kirk Sides/Icon SMI

The Houston Texans crushed the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1. Just one week later, those same Colts embarrassed the New York Giants in front of a national television audience.

So naturally, when the Texans played host to the Giants in Week 5, it was a completely one-sided contest with the Texans taking it to the Giants early and often, right?

Yes and no. Yes, it was a completely one-sided contest, but it wasn't the Texans who did the dominating (New York won 34-10).

Most NFL fans have come to realize that it doesn't work that way. There is very little carryover from previous games, and looking at scores of common opponents is a fruitless exercise. That is true at the high school and college levels as well, of course, but it is not nearly as pronounced as it is in the NFL.

That's because in the NFL, every single game, and the week of preparation leading up to it, is its own entity, unique unto itself. What happened in any of the previous weeks is virtually meaningless outside of a major injury, which of course could have an impact on the outcome of a future contest.

There are some head coaches and coordinators who seem to fare better against certain coaches for whatever reason, and their game plans for that week may give their teams a better chance to win than they had against some common opponent a week or two earlier. Although football is the ultimate team sport, it typically comes down to 11 individual matchups on every single play. That may be why a team such as Cleveland, for example, with an elite left tackle in Joe Thomas, may match up better with a team that is led by a superb pass-rusher -- such as the Cowboys, Bears or Vikings -- than a team that has a pedestrian left tackle.

Plus, even though they are pros, they are still human beings. Players can play better or worse from week to week, often without rhyme or reason. And then there are always the breaks and the "way the ball bounces" factor. Sure, it's a cliché, but the oblong shape of the ball can create unpredictable and unexpected plays. Just look at how Arizona Cardinals QB Max Hall's fumble went right to offensive tackle Levi Brown, who took it in for a touchdown in Sunday's upset victory over the New Orleans Saints.

The little things

Week 5 in the NFL saw the return to action from suspension of stars such as the Jets' Santonio Holmes and the Texans' Brian Cushing. This week will give us more of the same as the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and the Chargers' Marcus McNeill make their season debuts, albeit for very different reasons.

I had a chance to talk with Cushing before Sunday's game and he was positively giddy about having the chance to get back on the field. It occurred to me that if Cushing, Roethlisberger, Holmes or McNeil are anything like me, the itch to come back was about a lot more than just picking up a paycheck or playing the game itself. A lot of times it can be the little things that players miss as much as anything.

I know I dearly miss the ritual of putting on a football uniform and then going over to the mirror to see how it looks. Kind of like a gladiator before battle. It's amazing to me to this day how I could look at myself in some team's regalia and think I was going to be the baddest dude on the field that day, even if I clearly wasn't.

Or even just the breakdown that the different position groups do in the locker room or on the field during pregame warm-ups. Looking into the eyes of five or six other men and knowing that you have their backs and they have yours and that there is a mutual trust to physically protect the other from harm. It's such a pure feeling that you simply can't replicate anywhere else in life.

From the inbox

Q: I'm a huge Kevin Kolb fan and I am saddened to see him getting yanked around by Andy Reid because Michael Vick played well against the Jags and Lions. Do you think Reid would be wise to just let the Kolb era begin already instead of wasting this season on a free agent who will just go to the Vikes next year anyway once Proposition 4 finally signs off?

Brian in Calgary, Alberta

A: Though I likely would have stuck with Kolb myself, I really don't think there is any conspiracy in play here. Seems to me Reid is just playing the guy he thinks gives the team the best chance to win. Isn't that his job? And I wouldn't worry about Vick's impending free agency. If he plays at an elite level for the rest of the season, I don't think the Eagles will allow him to go anywhere.

Q: How can we tell when a QB checks out of a run play and audibles to a pass or vice versa? All of us in cheesehead land are mad at Mike McCarthy for not running enough, but I think Aaron Rodgers audibles quite often.

Wayne in Winnetka, Ill.

A: You really can't, because even when quarterbacks call a check that is typically related to a run, like "opposite, opposite" or "alert, alert" it still might just be a dummy call aimed at confusing the defense.

Q: I've heard your rant on Sirius NFL Radio a couple of times now in relation to the Seattle Seahawks picking up Marshawn Lynch from the Buffalo Bills. The essence of your position is that if the Bills got fleeced, then all the other teams in need of a running back were knuckleheads for not jumping on the deal. I believe that you feel that Bills simply waited too long and got what they could in a buyer's market. What I would like to know is how do you feel Lynch will contribute to the Seahawks' offense? Do you foresee an immediate impact?

Richard in Mission, British Columbia

A: I'd say you are right on in your assessment of how I feel about the trade. And yes, the Bills likely could have gotten more for Lynch in the offseason, but how do we know that for sure? I think Lynch will have an immediate impact for Seattle in the running game, but it may take him some time to know the offense well enough to contribute on obvious passing downs because of the intricacies of pass protection for running backs.

Q: What are the showers like in NFL locker rooms? Individual stalls or one giant prison-style room with showerheads? Any towel popping or other hijinx?

Michael in Houston

A: Odd question. Every team I played on had group showers, and even though NFL players can still be fairly adolescent at times in the locker room, in my experience that never carried over into the shower.

Q: I was curious, how much money does a player actually take home from his salary after agent fees, dues or other necessary costs, and taxes? I figure that will be a big factor with the labor issue.

Spencer in Burke, Va.

A: Agent fees are typically 3 percent, and in fact it is mandated that they cannot be higher than that. Union dues are $10,000 per player. Every active-roster NFL player is in the highest tax bracket, so I'm sure you can figure that out. Then there is the money players dole out to massage therapists, chiropractors, offseason trainers, etc., in order to take care of their bodies. Players don't get nearly the take-home pay that some might expect when they first hear the reported contract numbers, but it is still a lot of money anyway you slice it.

Q: Ross, is it me or is there a helmet epidemic in football? Every Sunday I'm watching helmets fly off during the game from every team. I can't recall ever seeing so many players have their helmets come off during the game. I know the game is more physical now -- everyone's bigger, faster, stronger -- but why is it we're seeing it happen so often now?

Matt in Baltimore

A: I've noticed the same thing and I don't really have a good explanation for it other than there are more helmet manufacturers now than ever before and I think more guys are experimenting with different helmets and chinstrap settings than ever before. I know for some reason when I was in Dallas in 2002 my helmet would come off all the time and that wasn't a problem for me previously or afterward.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.