Week 5 of the 2021 NFL season began with bad news for the Seattle Seahawks. Not only did they lose their game Thursday night to the Los Angeles Rams to fall to 2-3, they also lost quarterback Russell Wilson to a fractured middle finger on his right hand for at least four weeks.
The NFL resumed its international series of games after a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19, which also meant a return of Sunday morning football for fans in the States. The New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons played in London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with the Falcons holding on for a 27-20 win behind a big day from rookie tight end Kyle Pitts.
Our NFL Nation reporters react with the major takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about the team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.
Atlanta 27, N.Y. Jets 20
What to know: Down their top two wide receivers and top two slot corners, the Atlanta Falcons looked potentially outmanned and bereft of playmakers. Instead, the franchise put together its best game of the season. Behind another 300-yard day from Matt Ryan (342 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions), the Falcons found a groove using tight end Kyle Pitts (nine catches, 119 yards, one TD) and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (114 offensive yards) as their main playmakers. Even without Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage, this is the type of offense coach Arthur Smith wanted: Versatile, difficult to defend, unpredictable in where they can line up and what they can do on a specific play. Sunday against the Jets, they showed exactly what the Falcons offense could look like. And the defense took another step, holding the Jets under 200 yards entering the final drive and intercepting their first pass of the season. — Michael Rothstein
Is Pitts’ breakout game sustainable? It could be as Pitts had been building to something like this. Once Ridley was out, Pitts became the obvious focal point of the offense. He thrived in the role in every facet. His 10 targets spanned from short to deep routes and he was effective in each spot, from a 2-yard touchdown catch where he just beat the defender to the corner to a 39-yard downfield post route where he made the grab in front of two defenders. There still might be some rough days for Pitts ahead — it’s life for rookie tight ends — but Sunday showed what Pitts could evolve into as a player. — Rothstein
Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 4.7. Yes, the Falcons beat the lowly Jets but to doing so, as injured as Atlanta was, showed yet another sign of progress for a team figuring itself out.
Next game: at Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, Sunday, Oct. 24)
What to know: Zach Wilson went from NFL Rookie of the Week to Typical Rookie Quarterback in a span of seven days. He never found a rhythm in a 27-20 loss to the Falcons, providing no spark for an offense that failed for the fifth straight week to score a first-half touchdown. Wilson finished with 192 yards and an interception, but he had 65 yards with 9:30 left in the game. The Falcons kept him in the pocket, negating his best quality — his ability to make off-script plays. To be a winning quarterback, Wilson must learn to play in a phone booth. Another concern: He missed to many gimme throws. This was a step back for the talented, but still raw quarterback. — Rich Cimini
What happened to their ascending defense? The Jets were schooled by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and coach Arthur Smith, both of whom were one step ahead of the defense and the Jets’ coaches. They had no answers for tight end Kyle Pitts (nine catches for 119 yards, one TD) and their third-down defense was terrible (9-for-14). What happened? The defense looked gassed after 92 plays last week and a cross-Atlantic trip. The pass rush, which generated seven sacks last week, was invisible. — Cimini
Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, down from 4. The Jets offense stunk against the 32nd-ranked scoring defense — a big step backward.
Next game: at Patriots (1 p.m. ET, Sunday, Oct. 24)
L.A. Rams 26, Seattle 17
What to know: Similar to a Week 2 win at Indianapolis, Thursday night wasn’t pretty, but the Rams found a way to grind out a victory on the road inside a hostile environment at Lumen Field. Quarterback Matthew Stafford overcame an uneven start, and an injury to his right index finger, to lead four second-half scoring drives to give the Rams the win as they improved to 4-1 and rebounded from a disappointing division loss to the Cardinals only four days earlier. The win keeps them firmly in second in the division race and sends them into a weekend off with a chance to recharge before a long Week 6 trip to New York to play the Giants. — Lindsey Thiry
What has caused consecutive slow starts on offense? Stafford was 13-of-19 for 131 yards with an interception in the first half. He overthrew receivers and intended to throw a ball away out the back of the end zone, but instead threw an interception. However, in the second half, Stafford found wide receiver DeSean Jackson for a 68-yard reception that set up a touchdown and finished 25-of-37 for 365 yards and a touchdown, with his passer rating improving from 65.9 to 97.2. — Thiry
Thiry’s confidence rating (0-10): 8, no change from 8. The Rams won on the road against a division rival and in a challenging atmosphere, but the confidence rating remains steady because of inconsistencies in all three phases — offense, defense and special teams.
Next game: at Giants (1p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Quarterback Russell Wilson is going to miss at least four weeks after having surgery on the fractured right middle finger that knocked him out of Seattle’s loss to the Rams, meaning the Seahawks must rely on backup Geno Smith to keep their playoff hopes alive while Wilson recovers. But the Seahawks can forget about the postseason unless they can fix a defense that’s once again giving up yards at a historic rate. The turnaround last year started with their pass rush coming alive. They have just as much pass-rushing firepower now, which is one reason to think they can pull out of their awful start. — Brady Henderson
What’s up with Jamal Adams? We don’t know the answer yet to the biggest question of all, which is whether Wilson will miss time. As for Adams, he’s yet to record a sack in five games and isn’t having the type of impact you’d expect of a guy who just got a $70 million extension. It’s not all his fault. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Adams has rushed the passer 17 times after averaging 8.25 per game last season. Coach Pete Carroll says that’s a function of the style of offenses they’ve faced. Either way, Adams doesn’t help the Seahawks as much in coverage as he does as a blitzer, especially with their pass rush needing a spark. — Henderson
Henderson’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.2, down from 7.3. Being without Wilson is a major concern, but Smith is a good enough backup to give the Seahawks a real chance to beat a broken-down Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger next week.
Next game: at Steelers (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
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