By Tyler Dunne
New York Times
Imagine being Mason Crosby, trotting onto the field for a fourth — fourth! — attempt at a game-winning field goal.
After missing earlier from 36, 51 and 40 yards to win the game, Crosby, the Green Bay Packers’ kicker, was given the green light to try again, from 49 yards, on fourth-and-1 with 1:55 remaining in overtime.
Crosby drilled it.
On the surface, the Packers’ 25-22 win over the Cincinnati Bengals was as odd as it gets. The waning minutes were littered with turnovers, doinks and sliced kicks from both teams. Bengals kicker Evan McPherson had even started to celebrate a win before his field-goal attempt hooked for a miss.
To fail at anything that many times, with millions watching, then to finally deliver is impressive. Crosby’s final connection, on a 4 of 7 day, allowed the Packers to breathe one massive sigh of relief.
Green Bay is now 4-1 and, despite not putting a feisty Cincinnati team away early, the Packers provided a huge takeaway in Week 5.
Aaron Rodgers has more than enough talent surrounding him in Green Bay.
Almost lost in the kicking madness at Paul Brown Stadium was a defense of general manager Brian Gutekunst’s roster.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ offseason of malcontent was spurred by his demands for more involvement in personnel management after what he perceived as dismissals of his opinion — most notably when the team drafted his potential replacement, Jordan Love, in the first round in 2020 despite calls for receiver help.
Sunday’s game showcased the Packers’ second pick that year: unicorn running back A.J. Dillon, who added 49 receiving yards and flashed power and footwork on a 12-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
An offensive line down to its third-string left tackle held its own, giving up just five hits (two sacks) on Rodgers’ 41 drop-backs.
Rodgers was animated, staring down blockers who missed assignments and criticizing receivers who messed up routes. But he also let his playmakers go to work.
Rushing for 103 yards, Aaron Jones proved again that he is a top-five running back. Davante Adams was spectacular making one highlight reel catch after another.
On his 5-yard touchdown catch in the second half, Adams plucked the ball from atop cornerback Trae Waynes’ head.
In the fourth quarter, Adams split right through a double team and ran past Cincinnati’s Jessie Bates, one of the best safeties in the NFL. Rodgers had mostly thrown short and intermediate passes Sunday, but uncorked a 59-yard strike to Adams, setting up a Crosby field goal that put Green Bay ahead, 22-14. Adams finished with 11 receptions for 206 yards and a touchdown.
After the Bengals tied the game, 22-22, with 3:57 left, Jones ran upfield for a 57-yard run. The Packers could have ended the game on that drive, where Rodgers had a shot at a touchdown pass but overthrew an open Adams in the end zone, and Crosby missed from 36 yards, one of his four potential game-winners.
There were more missed kicks.
Twitter lost its mind.
And then, as he tends to, Rodgers saved his absolute best for last. On the fourth possession of overtime, facing third-and-16 at the Bengals’ 47-yard line, he faded and faded and faded backward to buy time before lacing a 15-yard completion to Randall Cobb, the receiver Rodgers had needled the Packers to acquire when he finally did report to training camp in late July. Cobb hung on to the ball despite taking a hard shot from Bates.
Then on came Crosby, who connected on the 49-yard attempt that finally ended the Packers’ win.
Arizona’s defense balances things.
After storming out to a 5-2 start in 2020, the Cardinals’ second-half swoon — going 3-6 the rest of the way, seemed to put coach Kliff Kingsbury on the hot seat.
Kingsbury’s offense is again the team’s biggest strength but, as Sunday’s 17-10 win over the San Francisco 49ers showed, he and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph have built quite a defense, too.
Up 7-0 in the first quarter, and facing first-and-5 against a 49ers offense with Trey Lance under center, the Cardinals’ defense had the sort of goal-line stand they simply could not put together in 2020, holding Lance to two incompletions and stuffing him when San Francisco went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Safety Budda Baker had an interception, defensive end J.J. Watt had three quarterback hits and Arizona produced the kind of grimy win that’s necessary to compete in the cutthroat NFC West and beyond.
This being a Kingsbury offense, there have been improvements on that side of the ball, too. Kyler Murray is healthy and his 75.2% completion rate leads the league. He didn’t throw an interception Sunday and has been balancing his creative style with efficient decisions.
Rookie receiver Rondale Moore has emerged as a sensational second option behind DeAndre Hopkins. Moore fought off coverage and made a mind-boggling sideline catch for 33 yards in the second quarter.
Now the Cardinals are 5-0 heading into a Week 6 meeting with the Browns in Cleveland.
Miami is speeding toward another total reset.
This 45-17 loss to the reigning champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers was no shocker. Expectations are low for the Miami Dolphins, who started backup Jacoby Brissett against Tom Brady and the Bucs’ tremendous pass rush.
But the pairing should have team owner Stephen Ross asking himself hard questions about why his Dolphins have not built their own Florida powerhouse.
After the 2019 season, Tampa Bay wooed Brady, signed a slew of veterans and are now the toast of the NFL.
Miami tanked in 2019, traded away as many assets as possible to get draft positioning and remain a hamster on a spinning wheel.
Last season, coach Brian Flores got his team to fight as the team rebuilt. He ran off his best player, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, in exchange for three draft picks (including a first-rounder this year), then Flores and general manager Chris Grier chose quarterback Tua Tagovailoa fifth overall in the 2020 draft, over Justin Herbert.
Sunday’s loss at Tampa Bay was a troubling revelation: Flores, who made his bones as a defensive assistant with the New England Patriots, hasn’t been able to build anything resembling a defensive power in Miami.
If anyone should know how to stop a Brady attack, it’s Flores. Yet Brady was back to his terminator ways, completing 30 of 41 passes for 411 yards with five touchdowns.
That performance came a week after Patriots coach Bill Belichick had Brady thinking an extra split-second in a tight matchup that presumably provided some reproducible looks. But Sunday’s game was a defensive meltdown in every conceivable way. With Miami in man coverage in the second quarter, Brady knifed a pass to Antonio Brown on a crossing route, and Brown sprinted 62 yards for the touchdown. One nearby Dolphins defensive back who had his head turned couldn’t even see Brown whisking by.
The Bucs finished with 33 first downs and 558 total yards, going 8 of 11 on third down, and never turned the ball over.
In Year 3, Flores’ defense should be humming. Instead, it’s floundering.
Tagovailoa, now a second-year quarterback, will return from his fractured ribs at some point this season, but there’s little hope that he will be able to lead the offense to relevance. The ultraconservative play that doomed him to getting benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick as a rookie, along with the elementary screens and check downs that have been his hallmark, is unlikely to confound division rivals.
The Dolphins’ potential trade for Deshaun Watson will hang over the team until the Nov. 2 trade deadline. Watson faces a potential suspension as part of the investigation of 22 sexual misconduct lawsuits against him.
So where do the Dolphins go from here? Likely toward another massive roster reconstruction and a change at general manager and coach, too. Unless, of course, the Dolphins can woo their own future Hall of Famer via trade.
AROUND THE NFL
Los Angeles Chargers 47, Cleveland Browns 42: Oh, it was just a casual 398-yard, four-touchdown passing outing from Justin Herbert. He also scored a rushing touchdown, dominating a Browns defense that has embarrassed other opposing quarterbacks. The Chargers scored four fourth-quarter touchdowns to ruin Cleveland’s Sunday.
Dallas Cowboys 44, New York Giants 20: Give credit to Dallas coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who mixed in the run as much as possible and gashed the Giants for 201 yards on the ground (including 110 from Ezekiel Elliot).
Chicago Bears 20, Las Vegas Raiders 9: Jon Gruden’s Raiders offense was a mess at home. Derek Carr flip-flopped between looking MVP-ish to subpar and was ultimately held without a touchdown pass as Bears rookie Justin Fields got his second win and both teams pulled to very different 3-2 records.
Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Denver Broncos 19: The Steelers are the most Jekyll-and-Hyde team in the NFL. With the entire country writing this team’s obituary, the Steelers looked like a playoff contender for the first time since Week 1. Here’s why: They took the ball out of Ben Roethlisberger’s hands. Pittsburgh attempted 14 passes versus 17 Najee Harris carries in the first half, and that was the difference. The merits of drafting a running back 24th overall are debatable, but Harris’ special talent was on full display against an excellent Denver defense.
New England Patriots 25, Houston Texans 22: An emotional letdown might’ve been expected after the events in Foxborough last week, but probably not a 312-yard, three-touchdown day from Texans rookie Davis Mills. The talent-deprived Texans had Bill Belichick and the Patriots on the ropes, but New England came up with a 15-play, 84-yard field-goal drive in the fourth quarter to win.
Tennessee Titans 37, Jacksonville Jaguars 19: The AFC South is shaping up to be a smidgen uglier than anticipated, but, as expected, Derrick Henry (130 yards on 29 carries, three touchdowns) ground out this win over Urban Meyer’s beleaguered team. Trevor Lawrence has been good for one or two true “wow” moments a game, but the Jaguars’ game plan continued to perplex: Receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. — Jacksonville’s best playmaker last week — was targeted only three times Sunday.
New Orleans Saints 33, Washington Football Team 22: Jameis Winston finally delivered big plays, with a 72-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Harris and a 49-yard Hail Mary score to Marquez Callaway. The Saints needed them. Winston hasn’t resembled the turnover machine he was at Tampa Bay; coach Sean Payton has held him back from unleashing one of the strongest arms in the league.
Minnesota Vikings 19, Detroit Lions 17: Besides an incredible one-handed interception by linebacker Eric Kendricks, this game didn’t offer much in terms of aesthetics. Not that the Vikings cared. Their three losses this season were progressively uglier, so Minnesota will welcome the outcome.
Atlanta Falcons 27, New York Jets 20: Tight end Kyle Pitts was every bit the dominant force Atlanta hoped he would be when it drafted him with the fourth overall pick in April. The Jets had no answer for Pitts, who caught nine balls for 119 yards with a touchdown.
Philadelphia Eagles 21, Carolina Panthers 18: One moment, the Panthers are an undefeated 3-0. The next, they’re without their star player, running back Christian McCaffrey, riding a two-game losing streak. Jalen Hurts ran for two touchdowns in the second half for Philadelphia, which rallied from a 12-point deficit to beat Carolina.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.