32 things we learned from Week 5 of 2021 NFL season: MVP-caliber performances from top QBs

Nate Davis
USA TODAY

The 32 things we learned from Week 5 of the 2021 NFL season:

1. Is it any surprise that a pair of head coaches who have severely undermined themselves are watching their teams lose? Days after Jon Gruden's damning 2011 email about NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith emerged, his Las Vegas Raiders – they began the season 3-0 – played lifelessly in a 20-9 defeat to a limited Chicago Bears squad Sunday. Earlier in the day, former NFL stars and current ESPN analysts Randy Moss and Tedy Bruschi offered scathing criticism of Gruden, whose racist trope describing Smith left Moss in tears. Just as it seemed Gruden's organization was finally turning a corner in his largely disappointing second stint, it's now worth wondering how tenable his tenure is.

1a.Gruden apologized again for his “insensitive remarks” after the loss to Chicago, saying: “I’m not a racist. ... I can’t tell you how sick I am. I apologize again to De Smith, but I feel good about who I am and what I’ve done my entire life. … I had no racial intention with those remarks at all. I’m not like that at all. I apologize."

2. Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars were blasted 37-19 by the Tennessee Titans, dropping the Jags to 0-5 under new coach Urban Meyer and running the franchise's losing streak to 20 games. The latest setback came after a week of Meyer apologizing for his off-field behavior in Ohio following Week 4's loss in Cincinnati, and his players answering questions about it. The most ballyhooed hire of the NFL offseason also seems increasingly likelier to be a short-lived one.

3. Let's talk football, where the Los Angeles Chargers' 47-42 track meet victory over the Cleveland Browns is the early front-runner for game of the year. The matchup featured more than 1,000 yards of offense, nearly 90 total points and seven lead changes. It may have also vaulted Bolts QB Justin Herbert (398 yards, 4 TDs passing plus a rushing TD) onto the short list of MVP candidates.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) celebrates his touchdown pass with offensive tackle Storm Norton (74) during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif.

4. Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is also in the thick of the MVP chase after lofting at least three TD passes for the fourth time this season in Sunday's 44-20 defeat of the New York Giants

4a. Dallas is 4-1 for the first time since 2016, Prescott's rookie year, which included an NFC East crown.

5. Josh Allen was the MVP runner-up to Aaron Rodgers in 2020 but got off to a relatively slow start this season. That appears to be behind him now, the Bills star throwing for 315 yards and three TDs while rushing for 59 and another score in Sunday night's 38-20 statement win over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Buffalo had been feasting on a soft schedule in recent weeks, but now Bills Mafia has definitive evidence their team might be ready to claim that elusive Lombardi Trophy after trampling K.C. in a rematch of last season's AFC championship game.

6. If the season ended today – PSA, it doesn't – the still-undefeated Arizona Cardinals (5-0) and Chargers (4-1) would be the No. 1 playoff seeds in the NFC and AFC, respectively. Just like everyone predicted ... pfft.

7. Cards QB Kyler Murray came back to the MVP pack Sunday even though his team remains unbeaten. However Arizona offered its most uninspired showing of 2021 against the battered San Francisco 49ers, failing to reach 30 points or 400 yards for the first time this season after entering Week 5 as the league's No. 1 scoring and overall offense. 

8. Titans RB Derrick Henry is (once again) circling on the periphery of the MVP conversation as well. After a 130-yard, three-TD effort at Jacksonville, he remains in position to secure a third consecutive rushing title and is on pace to rush for nearly 2,200 yards, which would eclipse Eric Dickerson's 37-year-old record (2,105). Henry's seven rushing TDs also pace the NFL.

9. Did we forget three-time MVP Tom Brady? Sunday marked the ninth time Brady threw for at least five TDs in a game. Only Drew Brees (11) has more. TB12 has turned in four of these performances since he turned 40, and his 15 TD passes are tops in the NFC.

10. Brady's Bucs blasted the Tua-less Miami Dolphins 45-17, improving Tampa Bay to 4-1. The Buccaneers have started this well two other times, including their 2002 Super Bowl-winning edition.

10a. Brady averaged 13.7 yards per completion (30 of them) against Miami and 13 yards per rush (one).

11. Does anybody want to win this game? It was the only question preceding the Green Bay Packers' (eventual) 25-22 overtime triumph over the Bengals in Cincinnati, which Mason Crosby finally ended with a 49-yards field goal with 1:55 remaining in not-so-sudden-death. Prior to Crosby's game winner, the teams combined for five missed field goals and an interception on the six preceding drives, Crosby misfiring thrice on the heels of his team record 27 consecutive converted FGs. Rodgers was "confident" Crosby, one of his closest friends, would come through.

12. Bengals rookie K Evan McPherson was similarly confident – and celebrated accordingly – that he'd won the game with a 49-yard shot on the previous drive. Alas ...

13. The Detroit Lions were similarly confident they were on their way to victory after scoring a TD and converting a gutsy two-point play to take a 17-16 lead at Minnesota with 37 seconds remaining ... 37 seconds before Vikings K Greg Joseph drilled a career-long 54-yard field goal. The Lions remain the NFC's only winless team.

14. It's been 11 years since the Lions won a game without QB Matthew Stafford, who's currently enjoying career bests with a 113.2 passer rating and 317.4 yards per game in his first season with the Rams, who are 4-1. Detroit hasn't been 4-1 in 30 years.

15. Pretty cool that London's Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has a synthetic NFL field under the Premier League club's grass soccer pitch. Even cooler to see the facility transform for football, which returned to the United Kingdom on Sunday for the first time since 2019. The host Atlanta Falcons beat the New York Jets 27-20.

16. Falcons QB Matt Ryan (342 yards, 2 TDs passing) was all-world Sunday, registering his 5,000th career completion while passing Eli Manning for eighth place on the all-time passing yards list. Next up for Ryan (57,099 yards)? Dan Marino (61,361).

17. USMNT and Chelsea star (and Pennsylvania native) Christian Pulisic is a Jets fan. Who knew?

18. And who would have guessed the New England Patriots would struggle so much against Patriots West, the Houston Texans? Pats rookie QB Mac Jones was outplayed by Texans freshman counterpart Davis Mills, only the second rookie to hang three TD passes on the Patriots since Bill Belichick's arrival in 2000.

COVID-19. However, definitely worth noting the Pats were without four starters on their offensive line, including two – G Mike Onwenu and LT Isaiah Wynn – relegated to the reserve/COVID-19 list.

20. Kudos to Bears rookie QB Justin Fields, who's put Chicago in the win column in two of his three starts. Fields has hardly been the highlight machine he was in preseason, but he's displayed toughness, limited mistakes and threw his first TD pass Sunday. The Bears (3-2) currently hold the NFC's second wild-card slot.

21. A week after Saints RB Alvin Kamara was not targeted in the passing game, New Orleans QB Jameis Winston threw to him a season-high eight times. Kamara caught five for 51 yards, plus a 19-yard TD, in a 33-22 win at Washington.

22. It was Kamara's ninth game with a rushing and receiving TD and 12th with both 50 yards rushing and receiving. Each is a Saints franchise record, as are his 19 games with multiple TDs.

23. Three-time NFL defensive player of the year Aaron Donald needed seven-plus seasons to become the Rams' franchise leader in sacks (88½) ... though that doesn't account for what Hall of Famers like Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen accomplished prior to 1982.

24. Thursday, the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson made his 149th consecutive start since being drafted in 2012, the longest streak to start a QB's career with the exception of Peyton Manning (208). That will end in Week 6 following Wilson's finger surgery.

25. The next question is, what happens to the Seahawks? They've never finished with a sub-.500 record in the Wilson era and have never placed last in the NFC West but currently reside in the divisional basement.

26. And questions are only going to grow about Seattle's acquisition of and subsequent contract extension to former Jets S Jamal Adams, who's become quite the liability in pass coverage. 

27. Following a 3-0 start, Panthers QB Sam Darnold has thrown five interceptions the past two weeks, both losses, with RB Christian McCaffrey sidelined. Apparently, Darnold plays like a New York Jet when Carolina's talent level skews Jets-esque.

28. The Steelers (2-3) remain in last place in the AFC North but got a needed win over the Denver Broncos that suggested reports of QB Ben Roethlisberger's demise might have been slightly premature. Big Ben had multiple TD passes for the first time this season in Pittsburgh's 27-19 victory.

29. No rookie quarterback has ever won a game in London, Sunday's loss by Zach Wilson and the Jets dropping the record for first-year passers across the pond to 0-5.

30. San Francisco's Trey Lance became the sixth rookie quarterback to start this season ... and sixth to lose that inaugural start. Lance did rush for 89 yards against the Cardinals, bringing a dimension not seen by this offense since the days of Colin Kaepernick.

31. Gotta feel for a crippled Giants team that lost QB Daniel Jones (concussion) and RB Saquon Barkley (ankle) to injuries. Big Blue could be dead by the Week 10 bye given they'll have to face the Rams, Panthers, Chiefs and Raiders before reaching that pause.

32. Can't anyone here kick? Crosby was hardly alone with his wayward leg, which also misfired on an extra point. League-wide, there have already been 12 missed PATs in Week 5, tied for the most (Week 11, 2016) during the Super Bowl era.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.