Here we are seven weeks into the NFL season, and there are still a lot of teams trying to find themselves. Aside from the top-four or -five teams, it's still hard to say who will be there at the end of the season in the playoffs and which teams will falter along the way.
This week, we saw several teams that had a chance to make a move to get back to a winning record. Some of those teams made the most of their opportunities, while others fell even further back from the pack.
No matter what, every game offered some valuable lessons and learning experiences, and here are the 25 I noticed this week.
With the Washington Redskins down four points to the New York Giants in the fourth quarter, quarterback Robert Griffin III looked for one of their most reliable receivers over the last decade, Santana Moss.
Moss beat man-to-man coverage from the slot, and Griffin threw the ball right on target as they connected for a 30-yard-touchdown bomb to put the Redskins up, 23-20.
Unfortunately, the Redskins' secondary completely fell asleep on the ensuing drive and let Giants quarterback Eli Manning answer with a 77-yard touchdown bomb of his own to Victor Cruz to retake the lead, 27-23.
Thankfully because the Giants scored so fast, the Redskins still had 1:13 to answer the bell one more time. When Griffin connected with Moss for what looked to be a first down, things didn't turn out quite so well.
Moss had the ball secured and even covered it up so he couldn't be stripped, but a big hit by a Giants defender still knocked the ball loose. The Giants recovered the ball, and any hopes of a comeback drive were dashed. New York knelt down to close out the last-minute win.
It's rare to see a guy go from hero to goat so quickly in the same game, but that's exactly what happened to Moss Sunday, and I'm sure he can't be happy about it.
Rodgers completed 30 of his 37 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns and made it look so easy all game. The Rams looked as if they didn't know what hit them and had very few answers.
This is the Rodgers we were spoiled with for the previous two seasons that we hadn't necessarily seen until a week ago. Now that he is back on track, I would have to say the Packers are back to being one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL.
The Seattle Seahawks' secondary plays a very physical brand of football and it starts at the line of scrimmage. Their cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, play a lot of bump-and-run and they beat opposing wide receivers up all the way down the field.
On Thursday night in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers, they were once again in rare form. They were so physical that after the game the 49ers notified the league office to complain, even though they won the game.
The thing is, this wasn't a one-game anomaly; this is how the Seahawks play all of the time. It will be interesting to see, with the increased scrutiny, if they will start to tone their act down a bit, though.
I have to say, considering the success they are having from playing this way, I highly doubt they plan on changing unless the referees make them, however.
When Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles early in the offseason, most people thought he was lost for the season. Sunday, in a loss to the Houston Texans, he made an unreal return to action just six months later with a very strong game.
Suggs was so good that if you didn't know any better, you might not believe it was his first game back from injury. He was all over the field making plays and even came home with a sack.
I admit I was initially worried upon hearing he was playing because I thought the risk of injury was too great. After watching him move around, I found myself forgetting he had even been hurt.
Suggs' strong play didn't equal a win, but the Texans aren't exactly pushovers. If he can somehow continue to play at that level and stay healthy, that won't be the case against most other teams.
Late in regulation of the eventual overtime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece was hit so hard that his helmet flew off. As he tried to gather himself to get to his feet and pick his helmet up, he stumbled several times and looked disoriented.
Reece's reaction to the hit was so bad that you could see several teammates grab him and motion for him to get out of the game, which he did. Evidently, the Raiders' doctors on the sideline didn't see him wobbling after he stood up, however, because a few plays later, he was back in the game.
Now I am nobody's doctor and I can't be sure that Reece suffered a concussion from that hit. I can say for sure that he should have been checked out, and there is no way he was out of the game long enough for that to have happened.
With all the lip service the NFL has given to protecting guys with concussions, this is exactly the kind of situation that needs to be investigated. Players are always going to want to go back out there when the game is on the line, and they need the medical staff to protect them from themselves.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder only completed 8 of his 17 passes for 58 yards and also threw two interceptions with only one touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals. His team still won the game by a touchdown because of its defense and Adrian Peterson's big day running the ball.
The defense tallied seven sacks, and rookie safety Harrison Smith returned an interception for a touchdown.
Peterson ran 23 times for 153 yards and a touchdown against a normally stout Cardinals defense.
I don't know how many more games the Vikings can win like this when Ponder has such a bad day. For the Vikings, it is nice to know that he isn't the only key to victory, because considering the division that they play in, there is definitely a chance he will have another game like Sunday.
All told, Johnson racked up 195 yards and two touchdowns on just 18 carries and helped lead his team to a road win over the Bills.
There's just no way to know when he will have a game like this, and that's what makes his play this year so frustrating. As soon as you believe in Johnson, he will rush for less than 20 yards again. As soon as you say he's finished, he will put up almost 200 yards on a team.
As frustrating as it is for fans, I imagine it's a heck of a lot worse for his teammates. If they could only count on Johnson to give that kind of effort each week, they might still have a shot at playing in the postseason this year.
With his inconsistency, however, it's very hard to see that happening.
The Baltimore Ravens limped into their game against the Houston Texans without Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb, who were lost for the season to injury last week. During the game, they also lost Haloti Ngata after reinjuring his knee, and after that, it was all downhill.
The Texans smashed them, 43-13, and I'm not sure the score is even indicative of how truly bad the loss looked. It's rare to see a good team get beaten that way, but the Ravens are simply too banged up right now to compete with a team like the Texans.
Now, they have to hope that they can get guys like Ngata back quickly, or this season will quickly spiral out of control.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had an interception early in the game Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that led to a Bucs touchdown. The Saints' defense couldn't stop the Bucs' offense for much of the first half and at one point, the score was 21-7.
Then all of a sudden, the Saints seemed to find their groove on both sides of the ball. Brees was on fire and the defense got off the field on third down.
By early in the fourth quarter, the score had flipped to 35-21 in the Saints' favor, and they were the ones that had to hold on to the lead all the way to the end to fend off the home Buccaneers.
Having only won one game before Sunday, there were plenty of reasons for the Saints to give up after their early troubles. Instead, they put their heads down, mashed on the gas and went home with a division road win.
When he hits people, it's like a ton of bricks just fell on them, and you rarely see him miss a tackle. He finally notched his first sack of the year in that game and he had seven tackles to boot.
You can't say Willis doesn't deserve a lot of accolades, because he is one of the best young linebackers in the game. You can say that Bowman deserves some of the same attention, however, because at the moment, he might actually be playing better than Willis.
This is something I've been advocating for the Cowboys for some time, so I couldn't be happier about it. When you have as much talent as they do on offense, there is no need to try to trick defenses in order to be successful.
There's still a lot of football left to be played this season, and I would bet now that the Cowboys will be in the playoff hunt by the end if they keep this up.
Coming into the game, Watt had notched at least one sack in every game this season and has nine and a half this year.
Let's all take a moment to think about how impressive a feat that is for a guy who is essentially an interior pass-rusher, because I don't think you will see it again anytime soon. I expect Watt to start another streak next game; the only question will be how many games that one will last.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck may not break off ridiculously long runs like fellow rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, but he reminded everyone Sunday that he is pretty nifty with his feet as well.
Considering that the Colts were without their starting running back and only won by four points, those two touchdown runs definitely ended up being very important.
The New York Jets went out and signed two safeties in free agency with an eye toward trying to defend New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. If their loss to the Patriots Sunday was any indication, those signings didn't help all that much.
Gronkowski caught six balls for 78 yards and two touchdowns and didn't appear to be slowed down by the Jets' defense in the least. If the Jets expect to win the rematch later in the season, they had better come up with a better game plan by then.
I expected Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden to have a rough go of it with his running game pretty much nonexistent. Instead, he put forth a pretty solid effort, even though his team came up just short in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
For the day, Weeden completed 25 of his 41 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns, and maybe more importantly, he didn't turn the ball over all game. It wasn't quite enough to get the win, but it shows a definite step forward in his decision making.
I have to imagine at this point that every defensive lineman in the NFL that doesn't have the Arizona Cardinals on his schedule is disappointed. That's because they continue to hand out sacks like they're a charity.
Vikings defensive ends Brian Robison and Jared Allen combined for five of those sacks. I'm not sure what the record for sacks given up in a season is, but I have to believe the Cardinals will shatter it this year.
At this rate, they had better start working out quarterbacks every week, because there's no way Skelton won't end up hurt again—just like Kevin Kolb—if they don't get their pass protection figured out, and soon.
Coming off their bye week, I was interested to see if the Carolina Panthers would play better against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday. While "better" is a relative term, there were definitely some areas where they just didn't show any improvement in the loss.
For one, they still can't run the ball, which renders their offense pretty impotent. The Panthers have a very expensive roster of running backs, but those backs combined for only 48 yards rushing on the day.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a big day running the ball with 64 yards on the ground, but he simply can't carry the running game by himself.
The Panthers also still have problems with ball security, and this time, much of the blame is indeed on Newton. He lost a fumble and threw a crucial interception in the game, and with the way the offense is playing, they simply can't afford that.
On defense, the Panthers were not able to sack Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo even though the Cowboys lost their starting center during the game. This season, Romo has been getting sacked quite a bit, but somehow, the Panthers couldn't come home with even one.
At this point, the Panthers' players are going to have to take a long look in the mirror because their season is going down the drain, and the time for a turnaround is quickly passing by.
The Bengals didn't have a single play running or passing that went for 20 yards or more. In fact, quarterback Andy Dalton threw the ball 28 times, but only passed for 105 yards for the game.
Whether it was a product of their game plan or Steelers players just balling out, that is an impressive feat for any defense. It's especially noteworthy when you hold a big-play receiver like A. J. Green to a single catch for eight yards.
Forcing the Bengals to work for every single yard went a long way toward winning this game.
It's fair to say that Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been a big part of why that team has won four games so far, but it's also fair to say that he hasn't exactly been lighting it up in most games.
In five of the first seven games, Wilson has thrown for 160 yards or less, and he has thrown almost as many interceptions as touchdowns on the year.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, considering how well their defense has been playing and their success running the ball, but it does show that the Seahawks will have problems in games where they have to make plays passing the ball.
That was the case on Thursday night in a loss to the division-rival San Francisco 49ers, and it proved to come back to haunt them. In that game, Wilson completed just under 40 percent of his passes for only 122 yards, both season lows for him thus far.
If the Seahawks expect to win the NFC West, Wilson is going to have to find a way to play much better in those kinds of games. If not, the Seahawks will find it almost impossible to accomplish that goal.
I expected New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees to complete passes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense, even with tight end Jimmy Graham out because of injury. What I did not expect was that the guys catching the passes would routinely be so wide open.
It's always hard to see from the TV copy exactly what went wrong when a secondary gets torched. No matter what coverage the Bucs were playing Sunday, however, their execution was often embarrassing.
This isn't a one-game occurrence, of course, as the Bucs ranked 31st in the NFL in pass defense coming into the game. Still, it's hard to understand how there were Saints wide receivers running down the field without a Bucs jersey even in the frame on so many different plays.
Whether they need a better scheme, guys playing better or better players, the Bucs had better find some answers soon because the NFL is definitely a copycat league, and teams will start getting off the bus throwing the ball against them.
When New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes went down to injury and was lost for the rest of the season, I expected the Jets to sign a veteran receiver to take his place. They were already short on playmakers in the passing game, and with Holmes out, it seemed like the cupboard was bare at wide receiver.
The Jets had other plans and pretty much stood pat with the guys already on the squad. Maybe they knew that they had something special in Jeremy Kerley and just needed to give him some time to mature.
If he can continue to have that kind of production, he will totally validate the Jets' faith in him. Kerley may also help quarterback Mark Sanchez keep his job by giving him a reliable option in the passing game that he didn't have with Holmes out of the lineup.
Not bad for a guy who was called out by his head coach during training camp because he had been a disappointment this past offseason.
When Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert went down with an injury in their game against the Oakland Raiders Sunday, there was reason to believe that his backup, Chad Henne, would be able to come in and lead the team to victory.
Henne had, after all, been a starter in Miami for the Dolphins, and Gabbert hasn't exactly been a worldbeater so far.
They say you never miss what you have until it's gone, and I would bet there are plenty of Jaguars players who weren't high on Gabbert that are now hoping for him to get healthy as quickly as possible. I mean it's not like the Raiders were playing awesome defense; Henne just looked like a deer in the headlights.
As proof, I offer the fact that Gabbert himself was torching that same defense before he got hurt, throwing for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Henne, on the other hand, threw for just 71 yards, completed less than half of his passes and did not throw a touchdown in more than two quarters of play.
I realize that the Jaguars aren't going anywhere this year anyway, but they should at least consider signing a backup to Gabbert that can actually play quarterback.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers' top-two running backs, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, along with two of their starting offensive linemen out due to injuries, the Steelers needed someone to step up and help get their running game going against the Cincinnati Bengals. Jonathan Dwyer answered the bell and did so in impressive fashion.
After only rushing for 70 yards on the season coming into the game, Dwyer banged out 122 yards on 17 carries to help lead the Steelers over the Bengals. He didn't score a touchdown, but he helped the offense keep moving the chains all game.
In particular, he sealed the win at the end by breaking a long run for a first down on 3rd-and-7 with the Bengals out of timeouts and only 1:20 left in the game.
It is the sign of a good team that you can go on the road with some of your best players out and still find a way to win a division game. Dwyer filled in masterfully at running back and showed the Steelers that he can hold the position down until the other guys get back, and maybe even longer.
Freeman completed 24 of his 42 passes for a whopping 420 yards and three touchdowns, with 216 of those yards and one touchdown going to Vincent Jackson, the Bucs' big free-agent acquisition this offseason. All of that still wasn't enough, as the Bucs ended up losing the game.
Freeman did have the Bucs in position to tie it up with five seconds left, but the referees threw a flag on what appeared to be a touchdown catch by Mike Williams because they said he illegally touched the ball after being pushed out of bounds.
It was a crushing blow for a team that had already started celebrating, and it made Freeman's heroics at the end all for naught.
Whatever it was Freeman worked on during the bye week, it appears to be paying dividends because the last two games, he has been playing remarkably better.
Unfortunately for him, playing better just wasn't enough against the Saints, but if he continues to play this way, the Bucs should finish the season strong.
Both the New England Patriots vs. New York Jets game and the Oakland Raiders vs. Jacksonville Jaguars game went into overtime Sunday afternoon, and in both games, a turnover helped decide the outcome.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez fumbled after he was sacked, and the Patriots' fumble recovery ended the game, as they had already kicked a field goal.
Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts fumbled after catching a pass on the first drive of overtime, and the Raiders were able to capitalize with a game-winning field goal from Sebastian Janikowski.
Moral of the story is take care of the dang ball if you are fortunate enough to make it to overtime.