Times are dim in Atlanta as quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons have started the season 1-4.
The story goes that every person on Earth is just six steps away from meeting somebody else, as told by the old six degrees of separation paradox. Every week, Six Yards of Separation compiles the NFL action on Sunday and connects one player to another unsuspected player through four other players by way of statistics, facts and idiosyncrasies.
Another week in the NFL induced another headache in its aftermath.
Teams that were supposed to be world-beaters were beaten—badly—by teams that were supposed to be bad. Case(s) in point: The New York Jets’ 30-28 win over the Falcons in Atlanta on Monday night; the NFC East—Dallas, Philadelphia, New York—going a combined 0-7 against the AFC West—Denver, Kansas City, San Diego—thus far.
This week, one of the league’s best quarterbacks is linked to one the NFL’s emerging elite safeties.
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England Patriots
The heavens parted in Cincinnati and a torrential downpour ensued. When the rain cleared, Tom Brady’s streak of 52 games with a touchdown evaporated with it.
The Bengals beat the Patriots 13-6 in a sloppy game.
Why New England hasn’t gone out and signed a free agent wide receiver is baffling and when Rob Gronkowski will finally return is vital. Brady’s NFL hourglass is nearing its end, and the Patriots are choosing to waste his final years by putting Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins around him.
The Patriots’ remaining schedule won’t be easy—especially with an offense only averaging 19 points per game—beginning with a tough matchup against the Saints next week.
Another quarterback known for streaks had one broken on Sunday.
Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees threw for 288 yards in the Saints' 26-18 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, which snapped his streak of nine-straight games with at least 300 passing yards.
But even when Brees is ending a streak of his own, he’s perpetuating a streak for a teammate.
New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham accounted for 135 yards of Brees’ 288 total yards. Graham has gone for at least 100 yards receiving in his last four games—135 in Week 5, 100 in Week 4, 134 yards in Week 3 and 179 yards in Week 2. Overall, Graham (593 receiving yards) is responsible for 34 percent of Brees’ total passing yards (1,722) this season.
The reinstated Sean Payton is back on his perch as the best play-calling head coach in the NFL, turning Darren Sproles back into the all-purpose X-Factor he used to be. The addition of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has transformed the Saints defense into a turnover machine—forcing 11 so far this season.
Individual streaks are nominal for Brees at the moment, as the Saints are 5-0 to start the season. That’s the only streak that matters in New Orleans.
Brees’ cumulative quarterback rating in his career is 94.7, which is just shy of the time it took for Dallas to score two touchdowns on Sunday.
The Dallas Cowboys, NFC East
The Dallas Cowboys found the end zone twice in a 96-second span at the end of the third quarter (00:14) and beginning of the fourth quarter (13:48) in their 51-48 loss to Denver in Dallas on Sunday.
The first touchdown was a 2-yard pass from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant. The second touchdown came in the form of a 10-yard strike from Romo to tight end Jason Witten.
Witten and Bryant were two of Dallas’ three wide receivers with over 100 yards receiving on Sunday by way of Romo—the other being rookie Terrance Williams with four catches for 151 yards and a touchdown.
Sunday was Romo’s best performance of his career: 506 passing yards and 5 touchdowns on 25-of-36 passing. However, that sentence only becomes very Romo when the one interception thrown by Romo on the Cowboys' last possession that ultimately led to a Matt Prater game-winning field goal for the Broncos is added into his stat line.
Nobody will remember the five touchdowns, the 506 yards or the fact that the only reason the Cowboys had a shot was because Romo played out of his mind. Because it’s Tony Romo.
Another game featured five offensive touchdowns combined between the two teams.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was targeted six times by Andrew Luck on Sunday in the Colts shootout 34-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Hilton played so well that he received a game ball during this emotional Chuck Pagano post-game speech.
The Colts and Seahawks demonstrated ultimate symmetry all throughout the game. At one point, Russell Wilson’s line was 15-of-27 passing for 210 yards and two touchdowns. At that same point, Andrew Luck’s line was 15-of-27 passing for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
It’s also worth noting that Russell Wilson has never lost a game by more than one possession in his NFL career, which only means that we can expect more games like this between Luck and Wilson for the next decade.
As for the short-term, both teams sit at 4-1 on the season and looked primed to win their respective divisions.
Another key receiver was targeted six times in his team’s win.
James Jones, wide receiver, Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers threaded two touchdown passes to James Jones that could not have been handed off any more accurately than he passed them.
Jones finished the day with 127 yards on four catches. His longest catch of the day went for 83 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter, which was one of the aforementioned beauties from Rodgers. (And yes, I had him on my bench in fantasy.)
The Packers beat the Lions handily on Sunday at Lambeau Field, which only furthers the Lions' woes at Green Bay—the Lions haven’t beaten the Packers in Green Bay since 1991. To put that in perspective: Randall Cobb was one-year-old.
Jones is 29 years old. One cornerback wearing No. 29 is emerging as the best safety in the NFL.
Eric Berry, cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Berry was the No. 2-rated safety this week on ProFootballFocus.com. Berry has been one of the site’s top five safeties in three of the first five games this season.
In a 26-17 win in Tennessee, the Chiefs needed accelerated play from Berry and the defense as a whole to edge the Titans. That’s been Kansas City’s formula all year.
Why fix something that isn’t broken?
The Chiefs are one of three remaining undefeated teams left in the NFL (Saints, Broncos), and the defense is a cornerstone of that.