The Cardinals and Ravens offered statement victories, while the Raiders prevailed in their first post-Jon Gruden game. Aaron Rodgers reveled in his Chicago dominance to extend the Packers’ win streak as well. Here are the grades from around the NFL’s sixth week.
Week 6 byes: Falcons, Jets, Saints, 49ers
1 of 26
Ground surge nearly allows Seahawks to steal win
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
The Seahawks have at least three games without Russell Wilson, though the 149-game starter did everything but suit up Sunday by going through an extensive pregame routine and calling the overtime coin toss. Seattle’s depleted backfield, powered by Alex Collins‘ 101 yards, nearly allowed the Geno Smith-led team to escape Pittsburgh with a win. Smith relied on the team’s third-, fourth- and fifth-string backs — with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny out — for 191 of the team’s 345 yards, with the low-end investments leading a third-quarter charge. This bodes well for the team’s chances with Smith, who must face the Saints and Jaguars, before its Week 9 bye.
SEAHAWKS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Saints (Mon.)
2 of 26
Big day for the Watts
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The defenders in the Watt family went 2-for-2 in postgame interviews Sunday. After J.J. continued to power Arizona’s defense, T.J.’s late-game rampage saved Pittsburgh (3-3) from a potential loss to a Wilson-less Seattle squad. The youngest Watt brother registered both his sacks in overtime and his strip on Smith led to a Steelers win and Michele Tafoya questions for the 27-year-old star. Watt now has six sacks and three forced fumbles this season. His 2017 arrival coincided with the Steelers’ four-season run atop the NFL in sacks, launching a potential Hall of Fame career. With Ben Roethlisberger near the end, Watt’s impact matters more now.
STEELERS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Browns (Oct. 31)
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
In Bill Belichick‘s first 366 games as Patriots head coach, no quarterback compiled yardage like Prescott did Sunday. Even in this era of garbage-time production, the 445 passing yards Prescott posted are the most the Pats have allowed in Belichick’s career — regular season or playoffs. Prescott, who took 82 snaps in the Cowboys’ win, rebounded from two first-half turnovers and thrived in and out of the pocket. Dak completed 9 of 11 passes on the run, including the game-winner to CeeDee Lamb. The Comeback Player of the Year favorite suffered a calf strain on that play, but he has the Cowboys (5-1) in their most consequential position since his 2016 rookie year.
COWBOYS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Vikings (Oct. 31)
4 of 26
Patriots on right path, even if record indicates otherwise
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Though Belichick is not ready to turn Mac Jones loose, the rookie keeps showing signs he will be with the Patriots long after the Hall of Fame-bound coach retires. The Pats opted for kneel-downs with nearly 1:30 remaining in the first half, and Prescott had a 51-21 attempt advantage on his QB adversary. But, like in New England’s loss to Tampa Bay, Jones displayed early development — despite minimal production from some of the team’s offseason pickups. His fourth-stanza laser to Kendrick Bourne provided the latest evidence of said progress. It is too early to give up on the Pats (2-4), even though they look a year away.
PATRIOTS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Jets (Sun.)
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Like the Browns did when Kevin Stefanski contracted COVID-19 last season, the Cardinals reeled off a double-digit win without their head coach. Murray’s Kliff Kingsbury-less outing elevated him to the top of the MVP conversation, which is approaching relevance. Cleveland’s defense is not facing the injury issues its offense is, and Arizona’s franchise QB — down Kingsbury, who never hired a true offensive coordinator — lit up the retooled Browns unit. Center Rodney Hudson’s absence resulted in a few botched exchanges, but Murray (229 yards, four TD passes) kept finding his wideout array for chunk gains. Since the 1970 merger, 57 of the 60 teams to start 6-0 made the playoffs.
CARDINALS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sun.)
6 of 26
Browns reeling as AFC North heats up
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
The AFC North’s other three teams won in Week 6, a division without a sub-.500 team and the Browns (3-3) are nearing the injury cliff. Kareem Hunt‘s calf malady and Baker Mayfield’s left shoulder issue intensified the concern level for a team missing both starting tackles and Nick Chubb on Sunday. The Browns draw a Thursday game at the wrong time. They needed a Hail Mary completion to pull within two scores at the half against the Cardinals and, like the Steelers in January, could not come close to exploiting an opponent missing its head coach and play-caller.
BROWNS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Broncos (Thu.)
7 of 26
Rushing attacks keep gouging Chargers
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Undoubtedly improved and employing a quarterback with franchise-changing capabilities, the Chargers must address a glaring flaw. The Ravens walloped the Bolts (4-2) in just about every aspect, but they set the tone for the 28-point drubbing by rushing for 174 yards. Three Ravens — Lamar Jackson and two-thirds of their running back senior tour, Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman — surpassed 40 rushing yards. Through six games, the Chargers have allowed 975 rushing yards. The league’s 31st-ranked run defense — the Texans — is at 848. The Bolts have faced elite rushing attacks, but this issue has reached Defcon 1 for the would-be contenders.
CHARGERS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Patriots (Oct. 31)
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Brandon Staley flew too close to the sun Sunday, and his fourth-down aggression helped the Ravens (5-1) assemble their blowout. The first-year Chargers coach was riding a 7-for-8 fourth-down clip, but when he gave the go-ahead for tries from his own 40- and 19-yard lines, Humphrey made sure it burned the Bolts. The top Ravens cornerback was in coverage on both attempts, starting his impressive outing by breaking up a second-quarter pass intended for Mike Williams. Humphrey, who gave up the Raiders’ walk-off touchdown (to the Mannings’ befuddlement) in Week 1, allowed just two catches for 19 yards in Baltimore’s statement win.
RAVENS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Bengals (Sun.)
9 of 26
Raiders receivers burn Broncos’ retooled secondary
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
In the wake of Jon Gruden’s departure, the Raiders turned to Greg Olson, an offensive coordinator who had not called plays since the Jaguars fired him in 2016. Olson’s debut calling Las Vegas plays did not produce extensive chain-moving, but when the Raiders (4-2) needed a key strike, their wideouts emerged. Henry Ruggs beat Ronald Darby for a 48-yard score on the Raiders’ first drive, and Ruggs’ 40-yard grab on a third-down 50-50 ball — also against Darby — powered Vegas to a 31-10 lead. Bryan Edwards followed suit in the fourth, on a 51-yarder, to bury the Broncos and buy the Raiders time in this suddenly tumultuous season.
RAIDERS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Sun.)
10 of 26
Underwhelming Vic Fangio era on last legs
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
The Broncos have now lost seven home games by double digits under Fangio , their most under one coach since Lou Saban more than 50 years ago. This might have been Fangio’s most disappointing defeat, with the matchup a referendum on Bronco and Raider teams that slipped from 3-0 to 3-2. Denver’s pass rush struggled to affect Derek Carr without blitzes, but the Raiders frequently harassed Teddy Bridgewater. This Denver season doubles as an audition of sorts to be Aaron Rodgers’ 2022 team; the Broncos (3-3) are making a poor case. Whomever the team’s 2022 QB becomes, Fangio likely will be out of the picture.
BRONCOS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: at Browns (Thu.)
11 of 26
Dalvin Cook leads historic Vikings performance
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
After failing to move inside the Lions’ 30-yard line in the second half of Week 5, the Vikings amassed 571 yards — their most since 2004 and the third-highest total in the team’s 61-year history. Playing through an ankle injury that prevented full participation since Week 2, Cook stepped back into the lead role and rushed for 140 yards. He out-carried super-sub Alexander Mattison 29-3. While the Vikings (3-3) would be wise to narrow that split, Cook being back in form is a considerable boon for Minnesota’s increasingly viable playoff hopes. Cook, who now has a bye week to keep rehabbing, was one of four Vikings to surpass 75 scrimmage yards.
VIKINGS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Oct. 31)
12 of 26
Sam Darnold’s descent wounding Panthers
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Although Darnold led a late rally to force overtime — in a game in which his defense allowed nearly 600 yards — the Panthers quarterback has cooled off to the point this is now the team’s central issue. In dropping from 3-0 to 3-3, Carolina saw its QB post a 1977-like 17-for-41 accuracy clip and average 5.0 yards per attempt. A Justin Jefferson fumble set up the Panthers’ first touchdown, and they scored on a blocked punt for the second straight week. Darnold has delivered rough outings in two straight home losses. The team that was once the clubhouse leader in Deshaun Watson rumors suddenly has a big problem at sports’ premier position.
PANTHERS GRADE: C | at Giants (Sun.)
13 of 26
Run game continues to support Aaron Rodgers
Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK/USA TODAY NETWORK
Following Ryan Grant’s 2010 injury, the Packers did not equip Rodgers with much backfield help during his early-’10s ascent. And Eddie Lacy‘s prime was short-lived. Aaron Jones has changed the equation for the Packers (5-1) and is proving worth the $12 million-per-year extension he inked in March. Jones and A.J. Dillon combined for 135 rushing yards against a Bears defense that muzzled Josh Jacobs last week; each Packer averaged north of five yards per carry. This came without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari and with center Josh Myers going down on the first drive. Jones keeps making a significant impact on the late-30s portion of Rodgers’ prime.
PACKERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Washington (Sun.)
14 of 26
Bears’ formula not viable against top competition
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports
The Bears sacked Rodgers thrice, with their talented thirtysomething trio of Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Robert Quinn getting home. Chicago’s defense allowed 24 points to one of the NFL’s best offenses, but Sunday’s 10-point loss illustrates a similar problem. The Bears (3-3) do not have the firepower to threaten top teams, as losses against the Rams and Packers have shown. Chicago ranks 32nd in total offense, allowing Rodgers to continue celebrating his mastery in the NFL’s longest-running rivalry. The way Justin Fields is developing, the Mack-Hicks-Quinn troika will not be around by the team he realizes his potential (should that happen).
BEARS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Buccaneers (Sun.)
15 of 26
Rookie-deal role players keep producing for Rams
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Big on splash trades and monster extensions, the Rams have needed to part with several higher-end role players to make this formula work. Safeties Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson were among the exiting contingent. With money scarce and first-round picks not in play, the Rams’ Los Angeles 2.0-era model mandates hitting on Day 2 and Day 3 draftees. Taylor Rapp kept this cycle going Sunday by vexing Daniel Jones. Rapp, a 2019 second-rounder, intercepted Jones twice — setting up two TDs — and broke up three passes in the Rams’ romp. A Rams secondary missing No. 2 cornerback Darious Williams had no trouble dominating in New Jersey.
RAMS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Lions (Sun.)
16 of 26
Was 2020 an aberration for Giants defense?
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Despite evergreen edge-rushing issues, the Giants finished ninth in points allowed in defensive coordinator Patrick Graham‘s first season. A year later, Graham’s troops are being gashed routinely. A mediocre Broncos team moved the chains at will on the Giants, who could not stop Taylor Heinicke or Cordarrelle Patterson. Running into the Rams posed a bigger problem, and Matthew Stafford dissected Big Blue’s defense. Although top tackler Blake Martinez is out for the season, the Giants (1-5) have plenty invested on their D-line and in the secondary. Still, Stafford (four TD passes) and Cooper Kupp (130 yards, two TDs) did not need the second half to cinch up this W.
GIANTS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)
17 of 26
Chiefs defense shows signs of life
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Fantasy GMs who chose to stream Taylor Heinicke (4.7 yards per attempt) against a Chiefs defense ceding a whopping 7.1 yards per play did not have much fun. Kansas City’s beleaguered unit, still missing its top player (Chris Jones) and seeing its second-best defender (Tyrann Mathieu) suffer a broken thumb, locked down Washington’s attack after a gaffe produced a long Ricky Seals-Jones TD. The Chiefs (3-3) subbed out linebacker Ben Niemann and safety Daniel Sorensen for Willie Gay and Juan Thornhill. The changes helped. This defense still looks closer to 2018’s than the Super Bowl-winning crew, but Patrick Mahomes should be able to buy it time to regroup.
CHIEFS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Titans (Sun.)
18 of 26
Washington’s steep decline persists
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Washington’s defense did well to produce more oddly mediocre Mahomes play, and the underdog hosts held a lead late in the third quarter. Mahomes igniting late, being the latest to expose Washington’s secondary, the WFT offense being unable to string anything together against one of the NFL’s worst defenses was alarming. Washington (2-4) is a questionable offside penalty and a Terry McLaurin rescue effort away from being 0-6. Will the soon-to-be 39-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick’s return make much of a difference? Top-10 draft real estate appears imminent.
WASHINGTON GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Packers (Sun.)
19 of 26
Texans make life easy on Colts offense
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
Before Jonathan Taylor buried the Texans in the second half, their defense gave up a 51-yard Parris Campbell touchdown reception and allowed chief Texan tormentor T.Y. Hilton — an aging version of deep threat who had not played yet this season — to haul in a 52-yard bomb. Carson Wentz averaged 11.2 yards per attempt on Houston, which is deploying a host of experienced secondary cogs despite trading Bradley Roby. Each of Houston’s DB starters is at least a fourth-year veteran. Most will not be part of the Texans’ actual rebuild, which still has not started. Thirteen weeks to go.
TEXANS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)
20 of 26
Jonathan Taylor concludes big week
Robert Scheer/IndyStar/USA TODAY NETWORK
The Colts’ top weapon ripped off 76- and 83-yard gains this week, scoring on a screen against the Ravens and busting loose around left end in a non-scoring run Sunday. Although the Colts are without all-world left guard Quenton Nelson and well-paid right tackle Braden Smith, Taylor accumulated a season-high 145 rushing yards and two TDs in Week 6. After the Colts led just 10-3 at halftime, the second-year back slammed the Texans’ comeback window shut. The Colts (2-4) have Taylor tied to second-round money through the 2023 season. With Indianapolis’ O-line becoming expensive, and Wentz’s deal now atop the payroll, Taylor is vital to the team’s blueprint.
COLTS GRADE: A | NEXT: at 49ers (Sun.)
21 of 26
Hendrickson, Bengals defense proving plenty capable
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
A host of problems plagued the Bengals in Zac Taylor‘s first two seasons, which produced a 6-25-1 record. But their defense was one of the NFL’s worst. That is no longer the case. The Bengals (4-2) now rank in the top eight in scoring and total defense, aiding Joe Burrow in his ACL recovery. Trey Hendrickson helped further swing the early Ja’Marr Chase-or-Penei Sewell returns, beating the Lions’ first-round tackle for a sack. It does not look like Hendrickson was a Saints contract-year wonder; the March addition has 5.5 sacks. Cincinnati’s secondary also won its battle, finishing up the biggest win — by margin, 23 points — of Taylor’s tenure.
BENGALS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Ravens (Sun.)
22 of 26
Jared Goff already at crossroads in Detroit
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Regardless of any coach- or GM-speak coming out of the Motor City this offseason, Goff was unlikely to be Matthew Stafford‘s long-term successor. The former No. 1 overall pick is now 0-13 for coaches not named Sean McVay. That is not entirely fair, with the 2016 Rams and the current Lions overmatched offensively. Goff is not showing signs he can play out what the Lions (0-6) hoped would be a two-year run — based on a recent restructure that upped Goff’s 2022 dead-money figure to $30.5 million. The team converted 1 of 10 first downs through three quarters and failed to threaten the Bengals. Will the favorites for the No. 1 pick be forced into one of 2022’s scrutinized QB prospects?
LIONS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Rams (Sun.)
23 of 26
Dolphins regime’s plan has drifted off course
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
After the Dolphins committed to rebuilding in 2019, fielding an abysmal roster, Brian Flores‘ 2020 squad appeared to skip a step by finishing 10-6. This season’s course correction continued in London, and Miami is now 1-5 after giving Urban Meyer his first NFL win. The Dolphins were missing top cornerback Xavien Howard, whom Antonio Brown burned in Week 5, but they are still flush with corner investments. They could not contain a below-average Jaguars receiving corps. Flores’ late-game decision-making did not help matters, either. Mirroring Washington, the Dolphins have taken a big step back. Though, Flores’ 2020 season should buy him more time.
DOLPHINS GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Falcons (Sun.)
24 of 26
Young kicker gives Urban Meyer first NFL win
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Partially responsible for the Jaguars’ field goal-less first five games, Matthew Wright helped Meyer mix a win into his turbulent NFL debut. The second-year kicker nailed 54- and 53-yard field goals in the final four minutes to topple the Dolphins in the 1-5 Jaguars’ second home. In a game featuring some interesting fourth-quarter decision-making, Wright — a three-game Steeler in 2020 who succeeded Josh Lambo with the Jags this year — made the biggest difference. The post-London bye marked the team’s easiest Meyer exit window — this year, anyway. Wright likely helped prevent that course of action.
JAGUARS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Seahawks (Oct. 31)
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Fournette is 35 yards away from matching his 2020 regular-season rushing total. He’s at 332 after Week 6. The former top-five pick commandeered Tampa Bay’s top backfield spot from Ronald Jones, who is lumbering through a rough contract year. Fournette totaled 125 scrimmage yards and scored twice in the 5-1 Bucs’ win over the Eagles. Building on his “Playoff Lenny” run, the fifth-year back is showing the kind of ability that prompted the Jaguars — foolishly, but still — to ignore their QB need and take Fournette fourth overall four years ago. The LSU product will have a much bigger say on the Bucs’ playoff seed this year than he did in 2020.
BUCCANEERS GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Bears (Sun.)
26 of 26
Eagles turn page, greenlight Goedert audition
David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
Brent Celek played 11 Eagles seasons and passed the torch to Zach Ertz, who made it to Year 9 in Philly. Ertz’s trade to the Cardinals ends one of the better careers in modern Eagles skill-position history, with the tight end making three Pro Bowls and scoring Super Bowl LII’s game-winning touchdown. Dallas Goedert’s contract expires at season’s end. The former second-round pick stands to have more difficulty proving worthy of a big-ticket extension than Ertz did. Jalen Hurts is not a consistent passer. But Goedert’s time is here, and with tight ends harder to replace than wideouts, he should obtain leverage soon.
EAGLES GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Raiders (Sun.)