The 32 things we learned from Week 6 of the 2021 NFL season:
1. The No. 1 team in the NFL, at least in terms of its record, remains the Arizona Cardinals. The franchise is 6-0 for the first time since it left St. Louis following the 1987 season, embarrassing the Browns 37-14 in Cleveland on Sunday and without the help of head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Beat the lowly Houston Texans next weekend, and the Cards will match their 1974 brethren for the hottest start in club annals.
1a. And in the ever-evolving MVP race, Arizona QB Kyler Murray appeared to create some breathing room from the pack after totally outclassing the Browns’ Baker Mayfield, Murray’s former teammate at the University of Oklahoma and a fellow Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall draft pick. Murray matched his career high, established in Week 1 of this season, with four TD passes in Cleveland and now has 14 this season.
2. However, the No. 1 story in the NFL has been Jon Gruden’s swift and stunning fall as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. Silver and Black players spent the week answering questions about their disgraced coach – many offering Gruden grace and support despite the abhorrent torrent of emails that led to his ouster – yet somehow managed to rally behind interim boss Rich Bisaccia while whipping the AFC West rival Broncos 34-24 in Denver. The victory puts the Raiders right back into the AFC playoff picture as the second projected wild card.
3. The Green Bay Packers have won 19 of their past 22 meetings with the Chicago Bears in the teams’ century-old rivalry and lead 102-95-6 overall after Sunday’s triumph at Soldier Field. No two NFL teams have met more times.
3a. Or said another way (by Packers QB Aaron Rodgers), “I still own you!” Green Bay is 21-5 against Chicago with Rodgers under center.
4. Former Alabama QBs Tua Tagovailoa (12 NFL starts for the Miami Dolphins) and Jalen Hurts (10 for the Philadelphia Eagles) haven’t been afforded much NFL experience. But Week 6 was a reminder that neither looks especially entrenched with his current team … especially as the Nov. 2 trade deadline approaches, and the specter of mothballed Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson looms larger. The Eagles and Dolphins both have the extra first-round draft pick capital to consummate a deal with the Texans, it just remains to be seen if either will pull the trigger this year.
5. With the Broncos and Browns both falling to 3-3 on Sunday – Mayfield (3 turnovers) again struggling to pass the ball while getting beaten up, and Teddy Bridgewater giving up the ball an uncharacteristic four times – you also have to wonder how quickly Denver and Cleveland will aggressively enter the quarterback market. Could one of them become Mr. Rodgers’ neighborhood in 2022?
6. Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes has eight INTs in the past five games. He’s never had more than 12 in one season. (It’s worth noting some of those picks should really be charged to WR Tyreek Hill.)
7. Is “Playoff Lenny” showing up early this season? After Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette hung 127 yards from scrimmage and two TDs on the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, he’s upped his output over the past three weeks to 376 yards and three scores. Who says all the Bucs do is pass?
8. The Dallas Cowboys scored the 2,500th touchdown in franchise history Sunday, the most in the NFL since they joined the league in 1960.
9. Dallas’ 2,501st TD came on CB Trevon Diggs’ 42-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter. The early front-runner for defensive player of the year, Diggs’ league-high seven interceptions make him the second player (Rod Woodson, 1993) since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger with that many INTs through six games. Diggs also joined Brian Russell (2003) as the only players in the Super Bowl era – since 1966 – to pick off a pass in each of his team’s first six games.
10. Dallas’ 2,502nd TD came in overtime – a 35-yard strike from QB Dak Prescott to WR CeeDee Lamb that enabled the Cowboys to escape New England with a 35-29 victory over the Patriots in a contest that wasn’t nearly as close in the box score. Now 5-1, the Cowboys already have a three-game lead over the rest of the NFC East.
10a. The Cowboys snapped a six-game losing streak to Bill Belichick and prevailed against New England for the first time since 1996. Prescott’s 445 yards through the air were the most ever surrendered by one of Belichick’s teams.
11. The Patriots had never started a season 0-4 at Gillette Stadium … until now. The last time they dropped their first four home games was 1993, when rookie QB Drew Bledsoe was toiling at old Foxboro Stadium.
12. After making 149 consecutive regular-season starts since he was taken in the third round of the 2012 draft, Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (finger surgery) missed his first NFL game Sunday night.
12a. Backup Geno Smith made his first start since 2017, when he was infamously tabbed to end former New York Giants QB Eli Manning’s string of 210 consecutive starts.
12b. Smith was the first quarterback not named Wilson to start for the Seahawks since the late Tarvaris Jackson on Jan. 1, 2012.
13. The Jacksonville Jaguars hadn’t made a single field goal during this season’s 0-5 start. But Matthew Wright drilled three Sunday in London, including the two longest of his career – a 54-yarder that had a dramatic draw left and game-winning 53-yarder at the gun – as the Jags broke their 20-game winless skid for a 23-20 victory, coach Urban Meyer’s first in the NFL.
13a. Maybe the Jags should remain in the United Kingdom, where they’re now 4-4. With the exception of last year, when the NFL’s International Series was paused amid the pandemic, the Jaguars have played in the U.K. every year since 2013.
13b. Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence became the first rookie quarterback to notch a victory in a London-based game.
14. The Detroit Lions (0-6) are now the NFL’s lone winless team, but Sunday’s 34-11 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was the first time Dan Campbell’s team truly looked non-competitive.
15. Afterward, Campbell said Jared Goff isn’t in danger of being benched … yet the quarterback has also clearly been put on notice. “I feel like he needs to step up more than he has,” Campbell said of his quarterback. “And I think he needs to help us. Just like everybody else. And I think he’s going to need to put a little bit of weight on his shoulders here and it’s time to step up and make some throws and do some things. … But I want to see him step up, I do. (Because) I think he can do it.”
16. If the regular season ended today – it doesn’t – the Bengals (4-2) would be a wild-card team and the AFC’s fifth playoff seed. The Broncos (3-3) would be the conference’s third and final wild card, while the Chiefs, Browns and Steelers wouldn’t currently qualify for the postseason field.
17. Perhaps the strangest look in the aftermath of the NFL’s altered rules for jersey numbers is Baltimore Ravens RB Le’Veon Bell donning No. 17. But it worked Sunday, Bell scoring his first TD of 2021.
17a. Since you were wondering, Ravens S Geno Stone wears No. 26, which Bell has featured for the balance of his NFL career.
18. NFL general managers are killjoys. Two weeks after the Carolina Panthers traded TE Dan Arnold to the Jaguars, breaking up the “(Sam) Darnold to Arnold” connection, the Eagles unloaded TE Zach Ertz – the end of “Hurts to Ertz.”
18a. But it’s good news for Ertz, who gets to finish out his contract this season with a relevant team in Arizona.
COVID-19: The virus sidelined several key folks, including Kingsbury, OLB Chandler Jones and other members of the Cardinals, Eagles TE Dallas Goedert and Bears RB Damien Williams, who opted out of the 2020 season, among others.
20. The Washington Football Team defense entered the season with quite a bit of hype, but most of the headlines since haven’t been positive. The WFT has now allowed at least 29 points in five games, matching the entire 2020 regular season.
21. Though Washington admittedly botched the announcement of its plans last week, it honored former S Sean Taylor by retiring his No. 21 jersey Sunday. Taylor was murdered in his Florida home 14 years ago at the age of 24. He was remembered at FedExField, WFT DE Chase Young imitating Taylor’s facemask, and widely on social media.
.@youngchase907 honoring Sean Taylor with his mask 🙏 pic.twitter.com/LMCmOfDIVy
❤️ 21 💛 pic.twitter.com/9AnDYX7wRP
RESPECT FOR THE 🐐
22. The Los Angeles Rams defeated the New York Giants, 38-11, the first time in the NFL’s 102 seasons a game ended with that score.
22a. The Rams are now 39-0 when leading at halftime under coach Sean McVay.
23. Pittsburgh OLB T.J. Watt is eventually going to be NFL defensive player of the year, his overtime strip sack of Smith the difference in the Steelers’ 23-20 win Sunday night.
23a. Seahawks S Jamal Adams? Welp, safe to say he’ll never be defensive MVP.
Had to be done.pic.twitter.com/SqmZVmopYI
24. The most disappointing game of Week 6 featured the Baltimore Ravens jolting the Los Angeles Chargers in a matchup of teams that entered Sunday 4-1. But the Bolts looked severely overmatched on a day when neither QB Justin Herbert nor Ravens counterpart Lamar Jackson did much to bolster their MVP résumés. Baltimore ends Sunday with the AFC’s best record, but the Buffalo Bills can also move to 5-1 with a win in Nashville on Monday night.
25. However, Jackson did make a nice bit of NFL history, earning his 35th NFL victory in his 43rd career start. No quarterback has ever racked up so many wins before turning 25. Jackson had been tied with Hall of Famer Dan Marino entering the weekend but could put this mark way out there given he won’t be 25 until Jan. 7.
26. And even with Major League Baseball’s playoffs heating up, Jackson is also making a case as the new Mr. October. He’s now 9-0 in the month.
27. Rams RB Darrell Henderson has done a tremendous job filling in for injured Cam Akers this season. Henderson has at least 80 yards from scrimmage in the past five games, the longest active streak among NFC players. He finished with 107 yards and two TDs against the Giants.
28. Indianapolis Colts RB Jonathan Taylor snapped off an 83-yard run Sunday, the longest in franchise history. Pretty impressive considering the likes of Alan Ameche, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, Lydell Mitchell and Lenny Moore are among the backs who wore the Horseshoe. Taylor finished with 145 yards and two scores in a 31-3 rout of the Texans.
29. Giants QB Daniel Jones gave the ball away four times (3 INTs, 1 fumble) and now has 45 turnovers in 33 NFL games. His shelf life in New York seems increasingly closer to expiring.
30. The Minnesota Vikings piled up 571 yards of offense in their 34-28 overtime win against Carolina. It was the Vikes’ third-highest total in team history and most in any game in 17 years.
31. The Panthers are 3-0 with All-Pro RB Christian McCaffrey … and 0-3 since he’s been out with a hamstring injury. Unfortunately for Carolina (and fantasy) fans, McCaffrey – he was hurt in Week 3 – only went on injured reserve Saturday, meaning he can’t return before Week 9.
32. Every week of this season has featured at least one overtime game, just the second time in league history that’s happened over the first six weeks of the schedule. A (mostly) exciting campaign has also featured 23 games with a game-winning score in the final minute of regulation or in overtime, most ever through Week 6.
With the @Vikings overtime victory today, 2021 joins 2018 as the only seasons in @NFL history with an overtime game in each of the 1st 6 weeks of the season. pic.twitter.com/dFvrlgS0n6
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
The 32 things we learned from Week 6 of the 2021 NFL season: