The sixth Sunday of the 2021 NFL season provided plenty of noteworthy developments, but in the grand scheme of things, which ones truly matter?
In this edition of the Schein Nine, I'm sorting different outcomes into one of two categories: BIG DEAL or NO BIG DEAL. Let's get to it!
1) Cowboys win a game they usually lose
Heading into Dallas' trip to New England, I liked the Cowboys a lot. But still, facing the greatest coach of all time is always a daunting task -- especially when the 'Boys shoot themselves in the foot with penalties, and Mike McCarthy manages the game like a first-time head coach. Honestly, when Dallas followed up Trevon Diggs' pulsating, fourth-quarter pick-six by immediately yielding a 75-yard, go-ahead touchdown, I was afraid we were witnessing a "same old Cowboys" bubble burst.
But something strange happened on the way to some vintage Dallas disappointment: The Cowboys won!
After forcing overtime via an inspired two-minute drill that ended with a 49-yard field goal, and the Cowboys forced a punt on the Patriots' opening possession of OT and then walked it off with a majestic 35-yard scoring strike from Dak Prescott to CeeDee Lamb. These are not your older brother's Cowboys! Dallas would've lost this game over the past 25 years, but not on Sunday!
I believed in this team's promise all offseason, lauding Dak Prescott's extension, hyping Ezekiel Elliott's bounce-back potential and reserving a seat on the CeeDee breakout bandwagon. I thought this team would be different -- and it is! Dak just shredded a Bill Belichick defense, completing more than 70 percent of his throws for 445 yards and three touchdowns. Dan Quinn's defense ranks second in turnovers, thanks in large part to Diggs' amazing six-game total of seven picks. This is a well-rounded NFC power player that'll win the East by at least four games and have a fine opportunity to make a deep playoff run.
"America's Team" is for real. That's a big, BIG deal.
2) Cardinals remain the NFL's only undefeated team
Despite Kliff Kingsbury's absence due to a positive COVID-19 test, the Cardinals still stormed Cleveland and smacked around the Browns, jumping out to a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter before ultimately prevailing 37-14. Kyler Murray continued his MVP push, tossing four more touchdown passes despite being without his play caller (Kingsbury) and quarterbacks coach (Cam Turner, who also tested positive for COVID-19). DeAndre Hopkins (two touchdowns), A.J. Green (5/79/1) and Christian Kirk (5/75/1) were excellent in Arizona's pick-your-poison offense, while J.J. Watt enjoyed his most dominant game yet as a Cardinal, headlining a defense that flummoxed Baker Mayfield early and finished him late.
The Cardinals are the last unbeaten team left, and they're winning in style. Sunday's 23-point triumph over a perceived AFC power came two weeks after a 17-point beatdown of the hyped Rams, with both victories taking place on the road! Anyone who still thinks this Arizona team is a fluke is living in denial. And Steve Keim just traded for Zach Ertz. The best is yet to come!
3) Raiders roll without Jon Gruden
The contents of Jon Gruden's emails were disgraceful, gut-wrenching and flat-out sickening. There's no two ways about it. But I was fascinated to see which way these Raiders would go after the head coach's abrupt exit, and boy did they ever answer the bell. It's one thing to preach focus and togetherness in the immediate wake of a shocking resignation, but it's quite another to travel to Mile High blow past the Broncos to create a tie with the Chargers for first place in the AFC West. What a performance!
Derek Carr set the tone on the very first drive of the game with a beautiful, 48-yard touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs III. The quarterback continues to prove bullheaded doubters wrong, torching Vic Fangio's for 341 yards and two touchdowns on just 27 attempts. That's a whopping 12.6 yards per throw -- remember when people said Carr couldn't throw downfield? Meanwhile, Las Vegas' defense racked up four takeaways and five sacks, with Maxx Crosby returning to dominant form. The Raiders entered the fourth quarter with an eye-popping 31-10 lead before eventually prevailing 34-24.
Long story short, these Raiders are 1-0 without Gruden. Where will interim coach Rich Bisaccia lead the Silver and Black from this point on? Can't wait to see. But for a moment, let's just marvel at how the Raiders performed on Sunday, at the end of a very long and trying week for the franchise.
4) Aaron Rodgers owns the Bears
I literally laughed out loud watching Aaron Rodgers scamper into the end zone and then yell "I still own you!" to the Bears fans. This falls under the umbrella of "It's funny because it's true." Rodgers is now 22-5 against Chicago, with an 11-3 mark at Soldier Field. Over his last five starts against the Bears -- all wins -- the Packers quarterback has thrown 12 touchdown passes against zero interceptions. Ownership indeed!
Could this be the last time Rodgers hits Soldier Field in a Packers uniform? Quite possibly. And I love how much another win clearly meant to him.
Oh, an by the way: Green Bay's 5-1, leading the NFC North by two games. Remember when everyone freaked out over the 38-3 season-opening loss in New Orleans? The Pack haven't lost since. This team has legit Super Bowl aspirations because Rodgers is the quarterback -- and quite frankly, he owns more than just the Bears.
5) Bengals take care of business
Trap game in Detroit after going toe-to-toe with the Packers before losing in heartbreaking fashion? No way. Not on Joe Burrow's watch. In a 34-11 win that was even more one-sided than the final score indicates, Burrow threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns, while Joe Mixon piled up 153 total yards and a score, and rookie sensation Ja'Marr Chase caught four balls for 97 yards. (Chase also played a crucial part in Mixon's score, laying a spectacular block on the running back's 40-yard catch-and-run.) Led by fine free-agent acquisition Trey Hendrickson, Cincy's defense had Jared Goff out of sorts all day. On 42 passing attempts, the Lions QB could only produce 202 yards passing with zero touchdowns and one pick.
Detroit has been in a lot of games this year only to lose late. Cincy spanked them from start to finish. And now the Bengals (4-2) have a better record than the Browns (3-3).
6) Dolphins lose to the formerly winless Jaguars
Miami is a mess. I didn't pick the Dolphins to make the playoffs, but really thought they would win double-digit games and resemble a strong, functional squad. Nope. I spent much of last week on the airwaves talking about how the Fins have been the biggest disappointment of the 2021 season, and then they go out and hand the Urban Meyer Jaguars their first win. Brian Flores completely botched the clock and game management late, putting Jacksonville in position for the game-winning 53-yard field goal. This was the Jags first win since last year's season opener. What a disaster. Speaking of which ...
The Dolphins clearly blew the No. 5 pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. With Justin Herbert still on the board, Miami instead opted for Tua Tagovailoa. How's that working out, Fin fans? Sure, hindsight's 20/20, but I tried to tell you that Herbert was the superior signal-caller on multiple occasions. I also wanted Miami to draft Jonathan Taylor or D'Andre Swift with one of their latter two first-rounders in 2020. Instead, they went with OT Austin Jackson and CB Noah Igbinoghene, both of whom are playing below-average football in Year 2.
It wasn't long ago when the Flores-led Dolphins were the toast of the town, competing on a weekly basis with draft picks coming out of their ears. Now Flores' defense is a sieve, he can't find an offensive coordinator to save his life and the quarterback position remains one big question mark.
NO BIG DEAL
7) Steelers survive Russell Wilson-less Seahawks
Sure, give T.J. Watt the plaudits he deserves. The NFL's highest-paid defensive player was all over the field, stuffing the stat sheet with two sacks, two QB hits, four QB pressures, three tackles for loss, six total tackles and a forced fumble. In overtime, he ended Seattle's opening drive with a third-down sack, then he essentially ended the game with a strip-sack in Seattle's second drive. This man is a freaking force of nature.
But Ben Roethlisberger still cannot throw. The Seahawks rank dead last in total defense, but in a game that included seven minutes of bonus football, the Steelers managed just 345 total yards and 23 points on 13 drives. After starting the season at 1-3, Pittsburgh's back to .500 following a pair of close wins over a Broncos team led by Teddy Bridgewater and a Seahawks team missing Russell Wilson. How impressed can you really be?
8) Chargers snap three-game win streak with blowout loss in Baltimore
Credit Baltimore for an inspired showing at home; don't rip Los Angeles for its first stinker of 2021. This win speaks volumes about the Ravens, who, as my colleague Judy Battista astutely pointed out, deserve way more R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Baltimore's running game got back on track with a 187 ground yards, while Don "Wink" Martindale's defense made burgeoning superstar Justin Herbert look mortal. John Harbaugh's team is 5-1 despite a devastating series of injuries that began before the season kicked off. Give the Ravens their due!
But I still love L.A. I think these upstart Bolts remain a great team under first-year head coach Brandon Staley. Now is not the time to hop off the Chargers bandwagon. They head into the Week 7 bye tied for first place in the AFC West with the Las Vegas Raiders, and look at the remaining regular-season schedule:
- Week 8: vs. New England Patriots (current record: 2-4)
- Week 9: at Philadelphia Eagles (2-4)
- Week 10: vs. Minnesota Vikings (3-3)
- Week 11: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3)
- Week 12: at Denver Broncos (3-3)
- Week 13: at Cincinnati Bengals (4-2)
- Week 14: vs. New York Giants (1-5)
- Week 15: vs. Kansas City Chiefs (3-3)
- Week 16: at Houston Texans (1-5)
- Week 17: vs. Denver Broncos (3-3)
- Week 18: at Las Vegas Raiders (4-2)
Not exactly a murderer's row of opponents, is it? How many losses do you forecast there? I see a whole lot more wins. Sunday's 28-point loss was a humbling bump in the road, but Herbert and the Chargers will be just fine.
9) Vikings earn first road victory of the season in Carolina
Credit Minnesota for the win, but let's hold off on the parade. The 34-28 overtime triumph evened the Vikings' record at 3-3, but that doesn't take the heat off Mike Zimmer, especially when you look ahead to the four-game slate that awaits the team after its Week 7 bye: vs. Cowboys, at Ravens, at Chargers, vs. Packers. Not hard to imagine the Vikes being back below .500 on Thanksgiving.
OK, it was a nice win. A needed win. After kicking off the 2021 campaign with tight road losses at Cincinnati and Arizona, Minnesota notched its first win away from U.S. Bank Stadium of this season. And although the Panthers rallied late in the fourth quarter to force overtime, the Vikings dominated most aspects of this game, easily outgaining Carolina in total yards (571-306), winning the turnover battle (3-1) and controlling time of possession (37:38-26:34). Kirk Cousins posted another sparkling passing line (373 yards, three touchdowns, 112.6 rating), evenly distributing the football to Adam Thielen (11 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown), Justin Jefferson (8/80/0) and emerging WR3 K.J. Osborn (6/78/1). After missing Minnesota's narrow win over Detroit with an ankle injury, Dalvin Cook returned to action in style, running for 140 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
That said, it wasn't all sunshine and lollypops for the men in the purple helmets. Cousins was off target on a few would-be scoring throws, Greg Joseph missed a pair of fourth-quarter field goals and the Vikings gave up a return touchdown off a blocked punt. Minnesota allowed Carolina to hang around, even though the Panthers' backfield was missing Christian McCaffrey and their receiving corps forgot how to catch the football.
At the end of the day, I don't think the first-place Packers are shaking in their boots.