John Clayton's Last Call: Surprising Bengals stand alone atop AFC North
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Week 5 observations: Five things I learned
By John Clayton, ESPN.com1. Bengals defying logic: The Cincinnati Bengals arrive at stadiums on road trips with "reject" stamped on their equipment boxes. Quarterback Carson Palmer has been considered damaged goods because of a reconstructed knee and a right elbow that needed Tommy John surgery. Chad Ochocinco, who drew limited trade interest when he wanted out of Cincinnati, was supposedly in decline. Starters Laveranues Coles, Cedric Benson, Tank Johnson, Roy Williams, Chris Crocker and many others were cast off by other teams and forgotten.
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Thrilling victories are becoming commonplace for Carson Palmer and the Bengals.
Sunday's 17-14, come-from-behind victory over the Baltimore Ravens put the Bengals in first place in the AFC North. The team that was featured in HBO's "Hard Knocks" knows how to take a punch. Ochocinco, who used boxing as his offseason training, took a high hit to the head from Ray Lewis with 48 seconds left that left a welt above his eye and gave the Bengals a first down at the Ravens' 35-yard line. Lewis was penalized for a personal foul, one of three penalties that helped the Bengals in an 11-play, 80-yard game-winning touchdown drive."lt was a good hit, but I think he should have pushed me down instead of hitting me because I was in mid-air and I had no way of protecting myself," Ochocinco said. By taking the face-jarring hit, Ochocinco gave the scrambling Bengals one more chance. With 22 seconds left, Palmer hit Andre Caldwell in the middle of the field for a 20-yard touchdown -- Cincinnati's third last-minute victory in four weeks. It was fitting Caldwell got the game-winning score. He symbolizes the team. Caldwell is the designated slot receiver replacement for T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and he's added deep speed and return ability to the three-receiver set. The words "Against All Odds" are tattooed across his back. Against all odds, the Bengals lead the AFC North when few gave them a chance to be contenders. "We didn't deserve to be talked about," Palmer said. "Sometimes it's good to be the underdogs. It takes the pressure off you." 2. Division of power? The NFC East is clearly overrated when you discuss the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys struggled to beat the Chiefs in overtime (26-20), and the Redskins lost to the previously winless Panthers 20-17. Although Dallas and Washington still have decent records, neither team looks like a contender. The Cowboys can take solace in the fact that they won in overtime. Dallas had 13 penalties and four fumbles (losing two). Tony Romo threw for 351 yards, but the Cowboys trailed most of the game. The Redskins can't take solace in victory. They lost to the Panthers by giving up 11 points in the final quarter. Every time the Redskins take a step forward, they seem to take two steps back. In the second quarter Sunday, safety LaRon Landry stopped Panthers fullback Brad Hoover at the goal line on fourth down to protect a 7-0 lead. Two plays later, running back Clinton Portis got stopped in the end zone for a safety. The Redskins' biggest blunder was a muffed fourth-quarter punt return by Antwaan Randle El at the Redskins' 12. The mistake set up Jonathan Stewart's 8-yard touchdown run, which proved to be the game-winner. With their schedule, the Redskins should be 4-1. Instead, they are 2-3 and play the Chiefs in Week 6. The Redskins and Jim Zorn are running out of easy games to play -- well, at least they're easy on paper. 3. Jauron on thin ice: Dick Jauron's tenure as the Buffalo Bills' head coach has reached a crossroads. The problem facing owner Ralph Wilson is figuring out what to do. Sunday's 6-3 home loss to the Cleveland Browns was unexplainable, and almost unforgivable. Jauron is 1-4 this year and 22-31 overall. It wouldn't surprise me if he's fired in the coming weeks, or even days.
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Trent Edwards appears to have regressed, and the Bills appear to have no confidence on offense.
The switch to an interim coach usually isn't a good idea unless the replacement is viewed as the permanent successor. The Bills could give the job to defensive coordinator Perry Fewell or special teams coach Bobby April, but will it fix the offense? No. The Bills' offense has collapsed because of a failed plan to go to a no-huddle attack. Each week, Trent Edwards has gotten worse, and now you have to wonder if the Bills have to go back into the quarterback market after going through Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman and so many others.Edwards' passing numbers have gone down like the stock market. He was 16-of-32 for 152 yards and an interception Sunday. His quarterback rating was 52.1 -- the third consecutive week his rating has been in the fifties. His completion percentage has dropped from 67.7 in Week 2 to 57.1 in Week 3 to 53.8 in Week 4 to Sunday's worst showing of the season. He hasn't had a 200-yard game since Week 2. The Bills were also plagued by nine false-start penalties -- in a home game. That has to be some kind of record. "It's frustrating because we have guys that know the snap counts," Edwards said. "We know the cadence and we're trying to use that as a weapon." Apparently, the no-huddle is creating self-inflicted wounds. And the Bills fired an offensive coordinator to have this? If you notice, teams that changed offensive coordinators before the season are at the low end in scoring. The Bills are averaging 15.4 points a game. The Chiefs are averaging 16.8. The Bucs are averaging 12.2. But the Bills may be the only team on this list making a head-coaching change soon. 4. Short story: The Houston Texans' inability to convert 1-yard plays Sunday is the reason they are 2-3 and once again fell short in a disappointing 28-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. One-yard plays require blockers who fire out and dominate the line of scrimmage. Plus, you would figure Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who has his line-blocking schemes designed through all-time great line coach Alex Gibbs, could win a 1-yard battle. The Cardinals won these mini-battles and grabbed the victory. The Texans had a third-and-1 incompletion in the first half. In the third quarter, trailing 21-0, they had a second-and-1 at the Cardinals' 22. Steve Slaton was stopped twice on running plays and Matt Schaub threw an incompletion on fourth down. Schaub led a furious second-half comeback that gave the Texans a chance to tie it in the final seconds of the game. They had a second-and-goal at the Cardinals' 1 with 59 seconds left. Chris Brown was stopped on second down for no gain. An incompletion on third down set up the game-deciding play. Led by defensive tackle Gabe Watson, the Cardinals stopped Brown for no gain on fourth down, preventing the game from to going overtime. 5. Broncos sitting pretty: The Broncos' 20-17 overtime win over the New England Patriots was bad news for the San Diego Chargers. Now, next Monday night's Broncos-Chargers game in San Diego is a must-win for the Chargers. At 5-0, the Broncos lead the AFC West by 2½ games. With a victory, the Broncos can run away with a division that many thought was going to be a runaway for the Chargers. As the Chargers review the scouting report of Denver's latest victory, they have to be concerned. The Broncos did so many things well. Kyle Orton passed for 330 yards. Rookie Knowshon Moreno (88 yards on 21 carries) was able to consistently find running room. Both Brandon Marshall (eight catches, two for touchdowns) and Eddie Royal (10 catches for 90 yards) are getting hot at the right time. And the Broncos were able to contain the explosive Patriots defense. Randy Moss was a non-factor with one catch for 36 yards. Holding Tom Brady to 215 yards isn't easy, but the Broncos contained him. The Broncos are the league's biggest surprise team. They can start to claim the AFC West as early as next week.
Clayton's short takes
John Clayton's game balls
Sunday Countdown | ESPN.com • Coach Ratings: Week 5 • NFL Blog Network
Week 5 rundown
One of the ugliest games of 2009 -- and the Redskins weren't even involved. So much for Derek Anderson (2-of-17, 23 yards) giving the Browns' offense a boost.
• Pittsburgh 28, Detroit 20
The Lions are more competitive, but they can't shake adversity. A week after franchise QB Matthew Stafford hurt his knee, their best player (WR Calvin Johnson) left Sunday's game with a leg injury.
Minnesota 38, St. Louis 10
Maybe the 0-5 Rams would be competitive in the UFL. Maybe.
N.Y. Giants 44, Oakland 7
The Giants' mini-vacation is over. They face the Saints, Cardinals and Eagles over the next three weeks.
Carolina 20, Washington 17
An 11-point fourth quarter possibly saved the Panthers' season. The Redskins' Clinton Portis finally found the end zone, but he's still looking for his first 100-yard game.
Cincinnati 17, Baltimore 14
Another thrilling win for the now-first-place Bengals. Several key penalties, including three on Cincy's game-winning drive, buried the Ravens.
Atlanta 45, San Francisco 10
Is the Falcons' offense this good? Or is the 49ers' defense a bit overrated? Hmm.
Denver 20, New England 17 (OT)
5-0. A win over the mighty Patriots. The Broncos are making a pretty convincing case that they're for real.
Another 300-yard passing game for Peyton Manning. And yes, he's earned the right to pad his stats. MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL • N.Y. Jets at Miami (ESPN, 8:30 ET) -- ESPN.com
• N.Y. Giants (5-0) at New Orleans (4-0): The first real test for the Giants since Week 2.• Baltimore (3-2) at Minnesota (5-0): No one has been able to stop the Vikings' offense. Is the Ravens' D up to the task? • Denver (5-0) at San Diego (2-2): The Broncos haven't won in San Diego since 2005. • Week 6 schedule