First Down, Fourth Down: 49ers, Vikings keep on rolling
First Down, Fourth Down takes a weekly look at the good (First Down) and bad (Fourth Down) from NFL Sunday.
Everyone thinks defense when the San Francisco 49ers are the topic of conversation, and rightfully so. The 49ers feature one of the league’s premier defenses — a unit that held Buffalo to 204 yards and three points Sunday.
But that 49ers’ offense? It’s not half bad, either.
Against the Bills’ porous defense, San Francisco enjoyed a 300-yard passing day, a 100-yard rusher and a pair of 100-yard receivers. Six different 49ers scored touchdowns, including Anthony Dixon from three yards out with 1:11 left and San Francisco already up 35. Alex Smith posted a 156.3 QB rating, two points off a perfect mark, as he threw for 303 yards and three TDs on 75-percent passing.
Of course, everyone’s hanging points on the Bills right now. In Buffalo’s three losses (at the Jets, vs. New England, at San Francisco), its defense has watched its opponents score an eye-popping 145 points — 48.3 per game.
It’s hard to stay competitive with those numbers, especially you’re matched up against a team like San Francisco that can get it done on both sides of the ball.
Here’s a look at the rest of Week 5′s best and worst.
First Down: The Minnesota Vikings.
Are you a believer yet? If not, you may be running out of time to claim a spot on the Minnesota bandwagon.
The Vikings continued their impressive early-season roll, following up wins over San Francisco and Detroit with a complete annihilation of Tennessee. The final of 30-7 was not even totally indicative of how completely Minnesota controlled the game.
Minnesota put up 433 total yards (258 through the air, 175 on the ground) on offense and if not for one breakdown that allowed Jared Cook to take a Matt Hasselbeck pass for a score, would have pitched a shutout. Adrian Peterson’s return and the continued utilization of Percy Harvin’s versatility have turned Minnesota’s offense into a force.
Fourth Down: The Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars ought to consider themselves lucky that they scored a Week 3 win in Indianapolis, because efforts like Sunday’s will leave them scrambling to put another notch in the win column.
Jacksonville played Chicago to a 3-3 halftime time in front of a sparse home crowd, then proceeded to send people for the exits by being outscored 38-zip in the final two quarters. That collapse included a pair of pick-6s by Blaine Gabbert, who averaged all of 4.3 yards per pass attempt. Still, pinning this whole mess on him would overlook Jacksonville’s total disinterest in competing Sunday once things went downhill.
First Down: Andrew Luck and Reggie Wayne.
Maybe Robert Griffin III’s highlight-reel start has overshadowed how well Luck has played thus far in his rookie season. Sunday ought to clear that up.
Luck outdueled Aaron Rodgers in Indianapolis, leading the Colts back from a 21-3 halftime deficit for a stunning 30-27 win. He could not have done it without the help of Reggie Wayne, who had 13 catches for 212 yards and the game-winning TD — he was downright unstoppable on Indianapolis’ final drive.
A tip of the cap, too, to Indy’s defense. Without the Colts holding Green Bay’s potent offense to six points over the final 30 minutes, Luck’s heroics would have been for naught.
Fourth Down: Kirk Cousins.
On the other end of the rookie QB spectrum …
Cousins found himself in a brutal situation — making his NFL debut in the fourth quarter of a close game, after Griffin left with a concussion. He responded well, initially, hitting Santana Moss for a 77-yard touchdown to put Washington up 17-14. But after Atlanta responded by tying the game at 17 and then taking the lead, 24-17, Cousins fired a pair of interceptions to seal a tough Washington loss.
First Down: Rashard Mendenhall.
And, just like that, Pittsburgh’s run-game woes appear to be gone.
Mendenhall made his 2012 debut Sunday, just a few months removed from a significant knee injury. Without him, the Steelers probably do not pull out a 16-14 win over the Eagles. Mendenhall turned in 101 total yards and a touchdown (plus had a long run in the first half called back by a penalty). He averaged 5.8 yards per carry on the ground and reminded the Steelers of exactly why they had been missing him so much.
Fourth Down: The Chiefs’ offense.
Jamaal Charles rushed 30 times for 140 yards on Sunday … and Kansas City lost. That’s not supposed to happen, and if the Chiefs had gotten out of their own way for just a few minutes, it wouldn’t have. Kansas City (and, more specifically, Matt Cassel) turned the ball over four times, including a muffed snap on the Baltimore 1.
First Down: Ahmad Bradshaw and Victor Cruz.
Bradshaw coughed the ball up on the first play from scrimmage Sunday, and the Giants found themselves down 14-0 to Cleveland just five minutes into the game. They more or less took over from there, storming back for a 41-27 win.
Bradshaw had a huge hand in the comeback, as Tom Coughlin stuck with him despite the early mistake. New York’s RB wound up hitting 200 yards rushing on the nose and scored the TD that tied things at 17. Cruz, meanwhile, had five catches, three of them for touchdowns.
Fourth Down: Cam Newton.
Sophomore slump? It’s certainly starting to look that way for Newton, whose early-season issues hit another low Sunday. First, with Carolina down six late and facing a 4th-and-goal from the Seattle 1, Newton buried one in the turf when he looked to have an open receiver. Then, given a chance to redeem himself late, he was strip-sacked by Bruce Irvin.
In three of Carolina’s four losses, the Panthers have scored 12 points or less.
First Down: Miami’s front seven.
Cincinnati running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis finds himself slumping (nine carries for 14 yards Sunday) and Andy Dalton had another disappointing game. But the fact of the matter is that the Dolphins’ defensive line — and its front seven, as a whole — has developed into one of the league’s best.
Miami entered Sunday having allowed the least rush yards in the league (227) and of the Bengals’ 80 yards, 29 came on one Bernard Scott carry and another 21 on Dalton scrambles.
The Dolphins took Dalton down three times for sacks and forced three turnovers in a 17-13 road win.
Fourth Down: Denver’s decision not to go for two.
A lot of factors conspired to keep Denver from winning in New England on Sunday, not the least of which being Stevan Ridley’s 151 yards rushing and a solid effort from Tom Brady. The Broncos trailed 31-7 in the third quarter and a pair of Willis McGahee mistakes — he dropped a wide-open 4th-and-1 pass early in the fourth quarter, then fumbled in the red zone late — kept Denver from erasing that deficit.
But when Peyton Manning hit Eric Decker for a TD with 1:08 to go in the third, the Broncos kicked an extra point to cut the lead to 31-14. Had they gone for two and made it, the score would have been 31-15 and Denver would have been within two possessions. Do the same on their next TD, and the Broncos could have cut the lead to 31-23. Instead, Denver found itself needing three fourth quarter scoring drives, and McGahee’s miscues put the nails in the coffin.