NFL Week 5 reaction: Chargers among contenders starting to create separation

Los Angeles Chargers tight end Jared Cook (87) celebrates with quarterback Justin Herbert (left) and center Scott Quessenberry (61) after catching a pass for a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders.
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Ricky Dimon

NFL· 5 days ago

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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

With an 18-week schedule for the first time in the NFL history, the 2021 season offers even more time than usual for contenders to separate themselves from pretenders. But we probably won’t have to wait until Week 18, or anything close to Week 18, to see that separation. In fact, it’s happening right now.

Among the winners on Sunday were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Chargers, and Green Bay Packers, just to name a few. On the losing end of games were the Carolina Panthers, Las Vegas Raiders, and Denver Broncos.

Let’s take a look at three things we learned from Week 5 in the NFL.

Chargers do whatever it takes to win

A 47-42 win over the Cleveland Browns won’t be memorialized in the Smithsonian (at least not from a defensive standpoint), but the Los Angeles Chargers are proving that they can win in multiple ways.

They beat the Washington Football Team 20-16 in Week 1 and limited the Las Vegas Raiders to 14 points in Week 4. Although the defense did not come close to replicating that success when it faced Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and the vaunted Cleveland rushing attack on Sunday, the offense picked up the slack. Justin Herbert continued his early-career assault on the NFL by throwing for 398 yards and 4 touchdowns to go along with 29 rushing yards and another score. With weapons like Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams, and Keenan Allen at his disposal, Herbert is becoming borderline unstoppable.

At 4-1, it’s time to get on the Chargers’ bandwagon.

Pretenders starting to be separated

The Chargers are for real, and they could not have asked for a more productive Week 5. In addition to their own win, they watched all three of their AFC West rivals lose. The Raiders fell at home to the Chicago Bears, the Denver Broncos lost at the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Kansas City Chiefs succumbed to the visiting Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football. Obviously the Chiefs remain a serious contender in the division, the conference, and the entire league. The Raiders and Broncos? Not so much. Las Vegas is just decent in all departments; nothing special. “Decent” isn’t going to cut in the AFC West. Denver is great on defense, but its offense can’t come close to KC or LA It’s not even a playoff offense. At this point, the Raiders and Broncos would do extremely well just to sneak into the playoffs as wild cards.

In the NFC, the Carolina Panthers’ early-season honeymoon is over. A 36-28 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that ended their 3-0 start was not particularly discouraging, but a home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles is cause for concern. Sure, Christian McCaffrey didn’t play. But that was hardly the reason why Carolina lost. Backup running back Chuba Hubbard accounted for 134 total yards of offense. The problem was that Sam Darnold turned back into the New York Jets’ Sam Darnold and was picked off 3 times while throwing for just 177 yards.

With two games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, plus road tests against the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills still on the schedule, Darnold will have to get better in a hurry.

Cardinals undefeated, but Bucs are the best

Speaking of the Cardinals, they are still undefeated — the last team in the NFL with that distinction — after scraping past the San Francisco 49ers 17-10.

That’s all well and good, but give me the defending champion Bucs all day long in the NFC. In year one with Tom Brady under center, Tampa Bay started a modest 7-5 and then promptly won 8 games in a row, all the way to a Super Bowl victory. This time around, Brady and company are already a well-oiled machine just 5 weeks into the year. They blasted the Miami Dolphins — whose defense is above average — via a 45-17 decision. Brady passed for 411 yards and 5 touchdowns.

I’m not saying to start planning another parade, but the Bucs are the best team in the NFC. We’ll find out in Week 14 against Buffalo if they are the best in the entire league.

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