NFL Nation: rapid reaction 5

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Sorry about the late post. I was catching my breath after one of the most bizarre games in recent memory.

For most of Monday night's affair, the Vikings seemed to be mere bystanders as the Saints rode a roller coaster. New Orleans gave Minnesota a 20-10 lead and then took it back on a pair of punt returns by Reggie Bush and was leading 27-20 midway through the fourth quarter.

But Vikings coach Brad Childress got real dividends from his early-season decision to turn to quarterback Gus Frerotte. The veteran's late-game leadership -- and aggressive attitude -- won the game for the Vikings. Frerotte wasn't perfect Monday night, but there's simply no way former starter Tarvaris Jackson makes either of the fourth quarter's key throws:

  • A 33-yard touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian on what had to be a busted route by either Berrian or Aundrae Allison.
  • An incomplete pass to Berrian that resulted in a 42-yard pass-interference penalty, putting the Vikings in position for Ryan Longwell's game-winning 30-yard field goal.

Most of this game was about what the Saints did and didn't do. But when it counted the most, Frerotte stepped up and saved the Vikings' season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints wasted one of the greatest performances in "Monday Night Football" history.

New Orleans managed to lose 30-27 on a night when Reggie Bush returned two punts for touchdowns to give the Saints a fourth-quarter lead. A late pass-interference call on safety Kevin Kaesviharn set up a 30-yard field goal by Minnesota's Ryan Longwelll with 13 seconds left.

The Kaesviharn penalty and a touchdown pass from Gus Frerotte to Bernard Berrian came after Bush had put the Saints up 27-20. Blame a defense that fell apart late, an offense that couldn't hold onto the ball early, a couple of controversial calls by the officials and kicker Martin Gramatica, who had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown and missed another attempt late in the game.

That all helped the Saints squander a franchise-record 354 yards in punt and kickoff return yardage. This was New Orleans' chance to right its season. Instead, the Saints are 2-3 heading into Sunday's home game -- their last in the Superdome for more than a month -- with Oakland. After what happened against the Vikings, the Saints can't even take a game with the Raiders for granted.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The Jaguars identity is based on their run game.

When they fell to 0-2 to open the season, it was in large part because they could not get it going on the ground. When they bounced back with two consecutive wins, it was largely because they rediscovered life with 236 and 139 rushing yards in wins over division rivals Indianapolis and Houston.

Against the Steelers tonight, a team they'd beaten four times in a row, Jacksonville managed just 38 net yards rushing -- 19 from Fred Taylor, 12 from David Garrard and 7 from Maurice Jones-Drew. The result was a 26-21 loss to Pittsburgh.

It's pretty simple but it's holding true for them this season. Run well and win, don't and lose.

At 2-3, they now have to get ready for a trip to Denver. The good news is the Broncos ranked 24th against the run at the start of the day, giving up 132.8 ground yards a game and while they beat Tampa Bay 16-13, they allowed the Buccaneers 139 rushing yards.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers gained a marquee road win right before the bye week in Sunday's 26-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The win broke a four-game losing streak for the Steelers (4-1) against the Jaguars (2-3).

This contest was just as hard fought as last year's two games. Neither team led by more than a touchdown at any point and the Steelers got the final lead change with less than two minutes to go.

The key play was a late third-down pass from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to receiver Hines Ward for 18 yards that put Pittsburgh into Jacksonville's red zone. Roethlisberger also connected with Ward also on an 8-yard touchdown pass with 1:53 remaining to cap an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive.

Pittsburgh enters its bye week with an opportunity to get healthy. Key starters such as running back Willie Parker (knee) and defensive linemen Brett Keisel (calf) and Casey Hampton (groin) did not play Sunday and have a chance to return in two weeks when the Steelers take the field against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Considering Pittsburgh's tough strength of schedule, the team should feel good about its standing at 4-1 heading into the break.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

This one was over early. The Giants didn't miss Plaxico Burress at all because his replacement, Domenik Hixon, was superb. Hixon had four catches for 102 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game with a concussion in the first half.

The Giants spent a ton of time in training camp working on the deep ball, and Hixon received a lot of those reps because Burress was recovering from an injury. New York also gashed the Seahawks with the run. Brandon Jacobs had his biggest day of the season with 136 yards and two touchdowns.

By the end of the first quarter, the Seahawks were completely one dimensional on offense. Mathias Kiwanuka and Dave Tollefson each had a sack but defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo called off the dogs before the first half ended. The Giants had 342 yards at the half.

Quarterback Eli Manning was brilliant, finishing 19-of-25 for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Tom Coughlin didn't want to talk about Burress' absence after the game, but this was obviously a statement game. Coughlin preaches that no one is bigger than the team, and there was evidence of that on the field Sunday.

Sinorice Moss took advantage of some rare playing time and scored two touchdowns in the second half. Tight end Kevin Boss told the Daily News is was like an old-fashioned high school blowout. And for one day, that was a fitting description for the Seahawks.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

If the Cowboys truly want to be considered an elite team, it's not simply about winning and losing. After taking a 17-0 lead over the Bengals, the Cowboys let them back in the game.

The Bengals were a two-point conversion away from tying it at 24 in the fourth quarter. With the win, the Cowboys moved to 4-1 on the season to keep pace with the surging Redskins. The Giants are the division's only unbeaten team at 4-0.

A week after being criticized for not running the ball in a loss to the Redskins, the Cowboys ran it 38 times against the Bengals. Rookie Felix Jones had nine carries for 96 yards, including a sensational 33-yard touchdown run.

Marion Barber did the heavy lifting with 23 carries for 84 yards. The Cowboys, though, were not in a celebratory mood. This isn't a team that's allowed to be satisfied with relatively narrow wins over bad teams. I'm told that Phillips had a run-in with a Fort Worth columnist after the game, so I'll try to track that story down for you.

Chad Ocho Cinco had threatened to kiss the Cowboys star at midfield if he scored a touchdown, but he was a non-factor for much of the day. T.J. Houshmandzadeh led the Bengals with seven catches for 85 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

Tony Romo threw for three touchdowns, but he also threw an interception in his eighth consecutive game. That's the longest streak in the league, but the most alarming part, is that it occurred when the game was still in doubt. A team like the Cowboys has to put the Bengals away. On Sunday, they weren't up to the task -- until late.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Back in training camp, who could have imagined that beating the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5 would be critical for the New England Patriots?

The Patriots scored a significant 30-21 triumph Sunday at Candlestick Park. What made winning so important was that the Patriots were coming off a humiliating, no-answers defeat to the Miami Dolphins.

A loss on Sunday would have compounded that blow, a true faceplant. The defending AFC champs would have been 2-2 with another California game to go before returning to their homes. The Patriots will play the San Diego Chargers next Sunday night and are staying out West in between.

The Patriots survived a tough scenario to remain within striking distance of the Buffalo Bills, who suffered their first defeat and are 4-1 atop the AFC East.

What should be encouraging to Patriots fans is that receiver Randy Moss looked like he was having fun. A 66-yard touchdown play in the first quarter will do that. His touchdown also seemed to liven up the team.

Although the Patriots lost running back LaMont Jordan with a leg injury, they dominated time of possession. They ran 80 plays, while the 49ers ran one less than their moniker. The Patriots held the ball for an amazing 39:52.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills suffered two losses on Sunday, but their upcoming bye will help them cope.

The Bills couldn't reach their off week with an unblemished record, and their 41-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in University of Phoenix Stadium didn't have as much to do with Trent Edwards' injury as many might think.

It had more to do with the Bills' inability to handle a team that can throw.

Edwards left the game after three passes because of a concussion brought by a dizzying sack. The Bills couldn't recover, and although J.P. Losman had his moments, that precious bye week couldn't have come at a better time.

By all accounts, Edwards is the offensive leader. Losman, the man Edwards supplanted, hasn't exactly embraced a supporting role, but as Bills fans gulped hard while Edwards was being escorted off the field, having a serviceable backup had to provide a bit of relief. But not a huge sigh.

Losman completed 15 of 21 passes for 220 yards, much of it coming on an 87-yard touchdown hookup with Lee Evans. Losman also scampered for a touchdown. But he also threw an interception and lost a fumble.

The Bills never were in the game because their defense couldn't contain the first legitimate passing attack it faced. Not having top cornerback Terrence McGee (knee) certainly didn't help, but he couldn't have made a big enough difference had he played.

Even without Anquan Boldin, quarterback Kurt Warner threw for 250 yards and two TDs. He used nine different receivers to help the Cardinals hold the ball for 36:16. Of their 28 first downs, 17 of them were on pass plays.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers have started 2-3 for the second consecutive season. Their offense showed promise early against the Patriots before devolving into a game of chase-the-quarterback. J.T. O'Sullivan ran for his life much of the second half, sometimes throwing passes almost randomly to avoid sacks.

The Patriots took control late in the second quarter and held the ball in the third. Frank Gore, the only player the 49ers think commands a minimum number of touches each week, did not have a rushing attempt in the third quarter.

Mike Nolan's job security figures to become an issue again as the 49ers head into games against the Eagles and Giants. The road to 2-5 appears to be a slippery one for the 49ers.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

It's something about playing NFC East teams on the road that brings out the best in the Cincinnati Bengals.

Cincinnati put up another tough fight against the NFC East but still lost its fifth game in a row during a 31-22 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys.

As promised by receiver Chad Ocho Cinco, the Bengals brought everything they had against heavily-favored Dallas (4-1). Cincinnati fell behind 17-0 before scoring 16 unanswered points and eventually running out of gas. A pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo put the game out of reach.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, falls to 0-5 with its next two games on the road against the New York Jets and at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The playoffs appear are out of reach for the Bengals early in the season. But perhaps a performance like this can jumpstart the team's likely role of playing "spoiler" for opponents the rest of the way.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Most of the attention at Lambeau Field was on the right shoulder of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. If anything, however, it appears the Packers' rash of defensive injuries finally caught up to them in their 27-24 loss to Atlanta.

Yes, Rodgers' fourth-quarter interception put the Falcons in position for what turned out to be the deciding points. But from what I could see, that play was one of his few mistakes in an otherwise admirable performance.

The Packers' defense, however, was simply outmanned by an Atlanta offense that hadn't scored a touchdown in two previous road games this season. They were missing three starters -- and one replacement starter -- while using a clearly debilitated A.J. Hawk at weakside linebacker.

Falcons tight end Justin Peelle beat Hawk on his first-quarter touchdown reception, and reserve cornerback Will Blackmon was defending on Roddy White's 22-yard pass in the second quarter. And in the first game since defensive end Cullen Jenkins was declared out for the season because of a chest injury, the Packers gave up 176 rushing yards.

Rodgers proved he could play in pain Sunday, but the Packers' undermanned defense couldn't match his efforts.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals needed this one. So did their quarterback.

Kurt Warner wasn't happy when his six-turnover showing in Week 4 raised questions from reporters about his job status. Warner silenced critics by delivering the efficient performance Arizona needed to right its season following consecutive road defeats. Warner's job was never in jeopardy and he removed any lingering doubt in this game.

Buffalo was due for a game such as this one, but that doesn't diminish the victory for Arizona. Warner attempted more than 40 passes without taking a sack, significant progress for the Cardinals heading into their home game against Dallas in Week 6.

The Cardinals' defense needed to recapture the physical, borderline violent tendencies it showed at times earlier in the season. Safety Adrian Wilson knocked Bills quarterback Trent Edwards from the game with a concussion after only three pass attempts. The Cardinals' defense tends to play with swagger when Wilson leads the way. His return from a hamstring injury came just in time.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Don't be surprised if Jon Gruden starts putting flowers in Jeff Garcia's locker in the next few days.

Gruden, who Garcia once said only dates quarterbacks, but doesn't marry them, could be turning back to the one he dumped a few weeks ago. After a season-opening loss to New Orleans, it looked like Garcia might have started his last game for the Bucs.

Just goes to show how quickly things can change when it comes to Gruden and quarterbacks. Garcia got into Sunday's loss at Denver after starter Brian Griese suffered a shoulder injury.

It remains to be seen how serious Griese's injury is, and that alone could prompt a switch back to Garcia. But even if Griese is healthy enough to play next week against Carolina, I think there's a good chance Gruden will go with Garcia anyway.

Griese threw six interceptions in the previous two games and wasn't able to move the ball against a Denver defense that's struggled most of the season. Garcia led Tampa Bay to its only touchdown. That may be enough to get Garcia back in the lineup.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- So, Denver won another game by a field goal or less.

But this game was a lot less wild than Denver's wins over San Diego and New Orleans (which Denver won by a total of three points) at Invesco Field at Mile High.

Tampa Bay scored a late touchdown to make it close, but otherwise Denver controlled this game.

And it did in a curious way -- on defense. Defense carried the day in Denver. After allowing 33 points to Kansas City last week, and allowing a total of 113 points in the past three games, Denver's defense tightened. Sure, Tampa Bay was offensively challenged, but it was a nice effort by Denver.

The Broncos blitzed often and had its best pass-rushing day of the season.

On a day where the Denver offense was halted by a strong defense, the only way Denver was going to win this game was on defense. That didn't seem possible.

But the Denver defense came through and now the Broncos are 4-1 and lead the AFC West by two games.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

There are a lot of people in Charlotte who have been saying rookie running back Jonathan Stewart should be starting ahead of DeAngelo Williams.

That was a decent argument -- until Sunday's game against the Chiefs. Maybe John Fox knows what he's doing, after all. Williams ran for a career-best 123 yards and scored three touchdowns. He carried 20 times and Stewart had 72 yards on 19 caries.

That's about as good a balance as you can get. It's been said before that Fox is too loyal to his veterans, but, in the case of Williams, there's a reason for that. The former first-round pick has lots of talent. He hasn't always had the chance to show it, but that wasn't his fault.

Carolina now has the personnel to help Williams succeed and Fox and offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson finally have figure out how to use him.

By the way, I know all about Dallas and Washington, but isn't about time Carolina starts getting mentioned as one of the NFC's elite teams?

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