B/R Staff NFL Week 5 Report Card: Alex Smith Makes Miraculous Comeback
Excuses should be eschewed by Week 5 of an NFL campaign. Yes, extenuating circumstances made life difficult for everyone leading into this current season. At the same time, literally everyone had to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic setup.
By now, squads and individuals—those capable of playing at the moment—are showing their true colors. As others watch, real contenders and pretenders are making themselves known.
As Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio aptly told reporters, "You see who the whiners are ... and who can handle the adversity."
Washington quarterback Alex Smith didn't make any excuses after suffering a life-threatening leg injury and found himself on the field when he had every reason to give up on the game. The Las Vegas Raiders didn't cave to the reigning Super Bowl champs. Romeo Crennel led the Houston Texans to their first victory after the team fired its head coach last week.
All of those involved dealt with adversity. Some did great, and others reacted poorly.
Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers—Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski, Gary Davenport, Kalyn Kahler and Master Tesfatsion—graded each of these setups and more.
Chase Claypool's Odds to Be the Next Great Steelers WR
How good was Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool in Sunday's 38-29 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles? He became the first rookie in the modern era with three receiving touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in a contest, according to NFL Research.
In total, this year's 49th overall draft pick caught seven passes for 110 yards with three carries for six yards and the aforementioned scores.
"He has got some God-given abilities that not many people in this world have," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters. "He's big, fast and strong, and he's very, very smart. So we're able to do those things like move him around and do some things with him."
The Steelers have fielded a string of great receivers who weren't first-round draft picks. What are the odds Claypool is next in line?
Brad Gagnon: B
The only reason this isn't an A is that the sample remains small and the Steelers are loaded with weapons in the receiving corps. There's still a chance he flames out, and there's a strong chance other wideouts have big days soon.
Brent Sobleski: A
There's no reason to wait before anointing Claypool. His physical skill set is readily apparent as a massive target with legit top-end speed and fantastic body control. Ben Roethlisberger is clearly getting comfortable targeting the rookie receiver. The only question at this point is how much the Steelers will utilize him this season before he becomes the focal point next year after the franchise doesn't sink a massive contract in JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Gary Davenport: B-
Claypool certainly had himself a day against a banged-up Eagles secondary. He's going to be a popular fellow on fantasy waiver wires, and his combination of size, speed and soft hands makes him a handful for defenders. However, one huge game does not a season make—much less a career. So let's all just take a breath, enjoy the big game and let the rookie string a few of those together before we set aside a slot in Pittsburgh's Ring of Honor.
Kalyn Kahler: B
I haven't seen enough from the rookie yet to say for certain. Claypool had a limited role in the Steelers offense in their first two games and took on a bigger role in Week 3 when Diontae Johnson left the game with a concussion. In the first three weeks, he was only targeted nine times. This week, Roethlisberger targeted Claypool 11 times, which was almost twice the amount of the next-most-targeted player (Eric Ebron, six), so it's evident the quarterback is starting to trust the rookie. He'll likely continue to have a significant role.
Master Tesfatsion: A-
I don't know what it is, but Pittsburgh can't miss on scouting young wide receivers. I slept on this dude during the draft process, but Claypool continues to be productive when targeted. A four-touchdown performance makes it obvious he's a good player, but he also flashed in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos. Claypool is legit and has the makings of a WR1 with size (6'4", 238 lbs) the Steelers haven't seen since Plaxico Burress and Martavis Bryant.
Matt Miller: A+
The Steelers face an offseason in which Smith-Schuster will be a free agent, which is why Claypool was drafted as early as he was for a team with an otherwise strong stable of receivers. With rare speed on a big, strong frame, Claypool has all the tools to become an even better player than JuJu has been and could enter 2021 as the team's WR1.
Raiders' Odds of Winning the AFC West
The Las Vegas Raiders are in the middle of a brutal stretch of games yet still have a winning record. Moving to 3-2, they responded Sunday after two straight losses by knocking off the rival Kansas City Chiefs.
In doing so, the Raiders scored 40 points, quarterback Derek Carr threw for 347 yards, including a few big downfield plays to first-round wide receiver Henry Ruggs III, and the team ran for 144 yards.
Despite it being relatively early in the season, the Raiders understand the importance of a victory against the reigning Super Bowl champs.
"Again, we have to be able to win football games against these guys to make it a rivalry," Carr told reporters. "We haven't done that in a long time."
Now, the Raiders are only one game behind the Chiefs. Could Las Vegas have reached a turning point in the AFC West?
Brad Gagnon: F
Brent Sobleski: D
No one should write the Raiders off because they're playing well and just proved themselves against the reigning Super Bowl champs. With that said, the next three weeks should be quite difficult with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Chargers on the docket. Yes, you read that last line correctly.
Gary Davenport: F
Overreacting is fun! Yes, the Raiders played a great game Sunday in Kansas City. Derek Carr was sharp, Josh Jacobs was a force, and the defense played its best game in a good long while. The Chiefs also (outside of a decisive win over the Baltimore Ravens) haven't looked great (by their standards) of late. But Kansas City is still far and away the best team in the AFC West, and it's going to rebound from this misstep and win the division. If the Raiders make the playoffs, it will be as a wild card.
Kalyn Kahler: D
It's not happening. The Raiders are exciting and capable, but this is still the Chiefs' division.
Master Tesfatsion: F
Look, it was a good win. But relax. Oakland has been a surprise, especially as it's getting wins against teams like the New Orleans Saints and the Chiefs with a laundry list of injuries on defense. Kansas City didn't have the second half of backbreaking plays we've grown accustomed to seeing during the Patrick Mahomes era. Credit to the Raiders for limiting a very powerful offense, but I'm still going with the Chiefs. Unless something happens to Mahomes (knock on wood, please), they are still the team to beat.
Matt Miller: C
Don't let one game fool you. The Chiefs were coming off a week filled with uncertainty over when or if they would play. The Raiders are talented, and they're getting great production from Mike Mayock's draft classes, but the Chiefs are still the team to beat.
Alex Smith's Return to Washington's Lineup
The unthinkable happened Sunday when Alex Smith played in an NFL game again.
Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury nearly two years ago that required 17 surgeries to rectify. When the Washington Football Team's Kyle Allen, who started instead of Dwayne Haskins Jr., endured a head-on collision with Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Smith entered the contest and didn't leave.
In the 30-10 loss, the 36-year-old signal-caller completed nine of 17 passes for 37 yards. But Smith's actual performance didn't matter to many, including his counterpart on the other sideline Sunday.
"That is really one of the most amazing things, I think—not only that we've ever seen, but one of the most amazing things in football history, is him getting back from that injury and coming back," Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff told reporters.
How should Smith's return to professional football be viewed?
Brad Gagnon: C
It's never good when 61 percent of one's dropbacks result in incomplete passes or sacks, and his longest completion gained 12 yards. Still, it was a tough spot, and his comeback story is worth something.
Brent Sobleski: A
The mere fact everyone outside of those within the Smith household believed the quarterback's career was over only to see him get cleared by doctors for football activities this summer then make the regular-season roster then serve as the backup then take the field as Washington's quarterback makes his comeback the best sports story in a long time. Unfortunately, the team's offensive line couldn't hold up to turn this into a true fairytale ending.
Gary Davenport: A
OK, so Smith's numbers against the Rams weren't good—in part because Aaron Donald was in the backfield approximately 137 percent of the time. But just seeing him on the playing field again after a grisly leg injury and subsequent infections nearly ended not just his playing career but also his life was one of the highlights of Week 5. If Washington is done with Dwayne Haskins Jr., start the veteran the rest of the way.
Kalyn Kahler: A
Smith could do anything on the field and I would grade this out as an A. The man nearly lost his leg, and not even two years later, he's back out there getting sacked by Aaron freakin' Donald! He's the Comeback Player of the Year even if he never takes another snap. I don't agree with Washington's decision to demote Dwayne Haskins Jr. to third-string quarterback because it felt premature for an extremely young quarterback in a new offense, and it doesn't seem like there is much of a long-term plan for him. If he doesn't get significant reps in practice, how will he improve? I think Haskins gives Washington a better chance to win than Smith does, but it was nice to see the veteran achieve his dream of getting back out there and playing.
Master Tesfatsion: D
I'm really glad Alex Smith was able to have a successful recovery from one of the most gruesome injuries you'll see in sports, but seeing him back on that field was one of the most uncomfortable feelings I've ever had watching football. He's been cleared by independent and team doctors to play, and the titanium rod in his leg is supposed to be able to sustain collisions, but it did not feel good wondering if it could sustain horrendous pass protection. Smith was sacked six times by the Rams and Aaron Donald, who at one point in the game was riding on Smith's back before taking him down. I'm glad he was able to accomplish what he set out to prove: that he could return to the field again after 17 surgeries. I just hope he doesn't have to go under the knife again.
Matt Miller: A+
Give him the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award right now. Smith's ability to fight back from nearly losing his leg to actually completing passes in a real NFL game is a story I can't get enough of.
Romeo Crennel's Texans Head Coach Debut
Things are quite different in the Houston Texans' facility after Bill O'Brien's firing, and the team's performance during a 30-14 victory over the rival Jacksonville Jaguars reflected the personality of interim head coach Romeo Crennel.
"He was very loose," quarterback Deshaun Watson told reporters of Crennel's approach to the workweek. "The meetings are very hilarious. He doesn't do it on purpose. That's just his personality. He's very enthused. He's got guys laughing.
"He lets the staff do what they want to do. We play as one, complementary football. It's about being a family and supporting each other."
How good were the Texans in Crennel's debut under the interim designation?
Brad Gagnon: A
You can't argue with a double-digit-point divisional victory. The Texans looked reenergized and inspired, which goes to show how bad things got under Bill O'Brien.
Brent Sobleski: B+
When teams have head coaches fired in the middle of the season, one of two things happens. Either the squad plays inspired football for a short period of time, or the group falls entirely apart. The Texans clearly fall in the former category, which speaks well of Crennel and his ability to rally a team. Even so, a victory over a better opponent could have turned this into an A.
Gary Davenport: B
Houston's first win of the season came against an awful Jacksonville team missing a handful of defensive starters. But there's no denying that Houston played its best game of the year. Whether it was Deshaun Watson throwing the ball, David Johnson running it or Brandin Cooks (remember him?) catching it, the Texans looked like a team that woke up from a bad dream in Week 5.
Kalyn Kahler: A
As expected, the interim head coach got Houston's first win of the season. The Texans player I spoke with last week said that after O'Brien was fired, he was excited to go to practice to see how his teammates felt and to feel the culture shift that he expected to take place without O'Brien. The player was right, and the Texans played with a different energy.
Master Tesfatsion: C
It was the right time to fire O'Brien because the Texans had the Jaguars on the schedule. There's nothing that can uplift an organization fed up with its previous head coach more than a 1-0 start for the interim. It was the fewest points Houston has allowed all season. David Johnson and Brandin Cooks actually had productive days. Are good times ahead for the Texans? Probably not. And this game will probably be as good as it gets this season.
Matt Miller: B-
Crennel is good at this. We've seen him come in before as an interim head coach and rip off victories. It was a good debut even with Deshaun Watson starting the game shaky and turning the ball over twice, but Crennel is the steady hand this team needs to get back into the AFC South hunt.
San Francisco 49ers' Decision to Bench Jimmy Garoppolo
The Miami Dolphins throttled the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday and came away with an impressive 43-17 victory. The 49ers simply don't look the same after suffering a multitude of injuries.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been counted among the walking wounded with a high-ankle sprain. Once the Dolphins built a 30-7 halftime lead, head coach Kyle Shanahan pulled his starting quarterback.
"Watching how we were playing as a whole [and] watching how he was playing, you can tell he was affected by his ankle," Shanahan told reporters. "I know he doesn't normally throw the ball that way and I think he was struggling a little bit because of it. The way the game was going, I wasn't going to keep putting him in those positions knowing we were going to have to throw it a lot to come back."
Considering the circumstances, how did Shanahan handle the situation?
Brad Gagnon: A
They were getting blown out, and he wasn't playing well coming off an injury. It was the smart thing to do.
Brent Sobleski: C
The 49ers are not good. Injuries have taken their toll. While it's understandable to pull a player based on performance and situations, Shanahan still has to manage egos, too, especially with the organization's franchise quarterback. The decision may have been the smart move, but it could very well backfire over the long haul.
Gary Davenport: A
Don't get me wrong. This isn't meant as an endorsement of Shanahan's decision-making. If you saw Jimmy G cruise to a robust passer rating of 15.7 after throwing two picks in a horrendous half of football against the Dolphins, you know he had no business being on the field Sunday. That's the thing, though: Garoppolo never should have been out there to begin with. After losing to the Eagles last week, Shanahan panicked and started a quarterback who obviously wasn't physically ready to play. Way to "protect" your quarterback, coach.
Kalyn Kahler: B
Jimmy G was clearly not right in the first half. Although the Niners are desperate to win and are in a tough division, benching him was the right choice until he's fully confident putting pressure on that right ankle.
Matt Miller: A+
I'm not even convinced Jimmy G is the 49ers' best long-term option at quarterback, so the move to bench him after two interceptions and what looked like a hobbled ankle was the right one. C.J. Beathard isn't the option, either, and we saw what Nick Mullens did in his opportunity. But in an embarrassing loss to the Miami Dolphins, it became more clear that the 49ers have a lot of issues on the roster. Quarterback is one people need to start looking at.
Andy Dalton's Performance in Relief Duty for Dak Prescott
During the worst moment of Sunday's action, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a right ankle compound fracture and dislocation that required immediate surgery.
Despite concern for the organization's franchise player, the Cowboys still managed an important 37-34 victory over the New York Giants to claim sole possession of the NFC East's top spot despite a 2-3 record.
In relief duty, Andy Dalton completed nine of 11 passes for 111 yards.
"Andy has a lot of pelts on the wall," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters. "I expect Andy to keep our offense moving forward. We have great confidence in Andy."
Without looking too far ahead, how did Dalton's performance rank in Prescott's stead?
Brad Gagnon: A
Great catches often require great throws, and Dalton deserves a ton of credit for those sideline passes to Michael Gallup on the game-winning drive. He was also 7-of-9 prior to that. You can't ask for much more from a backup quarterback in a close game.
Brent Sobleski: A
A win is a win. It doesn't matter if it's against the reigning Super Bowl champs or one of the NFL's bottom-feeders. The Cowboys suffered a major blow with Prescott's injury, and the fact the team didn't completely collapse beyond that point is a testament to the squad's mental makeup and Dalton playing well enough to win. Now, Dallas is sitting atop the awful NFC East.
Gary Davenport: B-
Were the Cowboys playing in a division with actual NFL teams, they would be toast after losing Prescott for the season. But the Cowboys may well be able to win the NFC Least with Dalton under center. His lost fumble was ugly, but he missed on just two of 11 attempts and threw a pretty deep pass to Michael Gallup to set up the field goal that vaulted Dallas into first place. Dalton isn't going to post video-game numbers like Prescott, but he's a capable veteran presence. Let him manage the game while riding Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys can win the seven or eight games necessary to be the "champions" of the league's worst division.
Kalyn Kahler: B
It's helpful to have a backup who has been a starting quarterback before—and in this case, one who has started 133 games over nine seasons with the Bengals. In Dalton, the Cowboys have an experienced leader who can fill the role of a game manager. As long as Dalton has Ezekiel Elliott to take pressure off him, the Cowboys will be able to contend, particularly in the lowly NFC East.
Matt Miller: B
It can't be easy to see your friend and position mate go down with a terrible injury and have to buckle your chin strap and run out onto the field to replace him. Andy Dalton did all he could be expected to do given the situation and helped the Cowboys get a much-needed win in Week 5.