It was not the day many people expected. The Broncos, the Falcons and the Bears all pulled off upsets on the road. 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 from Sunday’s early games:
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.
Derrick Henry gained +140 total yards over expected in the Titans win today, tied for the 3rd most in a game since 2018.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 18, 2020
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 seemed to bring the best out of the Steelers, with Pittsburgh demolishing their rival, 38-7, 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 probably show you Jackson’s 37-yard 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 and allowed the team to run out the clock in a game that very nearly went sideways.
The Bears might be 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. It has been five seasons since a team with 10 or more wins failed to make the playoffs, and the Bears, regardless of the team’s issues on offense, need to go just 5-5 the rest of the way to finish 10-6. In the last 10 seasons, only five teams have started 5-1 and failed to make the playoffs — though that list includes the 2012 Bears.
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, but the Giants just barely hung on for a 20-19 win over the Washington Football Team. As last week wrapped up with the Giants and Jets both being 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 tenants of MetLife Stadium.