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Broncos' defensive effort should help quiet some skeptics

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The Broncos' defense
held Cowboys RB
Marion Barber to just
41 rushing yards.
(Jack Dempsey / Associated Press)

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Broncos 17, Cowboys 10
Denver's defense proved that it was for real with an outstanding performance against the Cowboys. The unit held Dallas' formidable running game to only 74 yards and forced Tony Romo into two turnovers. In addition, the Broncos' aggressive 3-4 produced five sacks and repeatedly knocked Romo around in the pocket. Elvis Dumervil, in particular, was sensational with two sacks and made life miserable for Romo. Although the Broncos entered the game ranked No. 1 in total defense, the impressive showing against an explosive offense will undoubtedly serve as an eye-opener to skeptics.

Saints 24, Jets 10
The Saints' defense stole the show after being ignored during most of the pregame hype. Led by Darren Sharper's two interceptions, the unit harassed the Mark Sanchez into the worst performance (14 of 27 for 138 yards and three interceptions) of his young career. Gregg Williams' troops confused Sanchez with their disguises and the rookie appeared flustered by the ever-changing looks. Additionally, aggressive pressure packages resulted in four sacks and a forced fumble by their defensive line. The Saints entered the game as the league's highest-scoring team, but the defense took the honors as they scored twice in an impressive win.

49ers 35, Rams 0
The 49ers' defense continues to make a statement that it belongs among the ranks of the elite. The unit only allowed 177 total yards and bullied the hapless Rams with five sacks and two defensive scores. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky unleashed a ferocious blitz package that featured Patrick Willis going at Kyle Boller from multiple angles. Willis recorded 2.5 sacks and took back an interception 23 yards for a touchdown. Not to be outdone, fellow linebackers Takeo Spikes and Manny Lawson combined for 1.5 sacks as the 49ers completely smothered the Rams.

Bears 48, Lions 24
Matthew Stafford had a coming out party against the Bears' aggressive defense on the way to completing 24 or 36 for 296 yards with two touchdowns. He got off to a fast start, which helped the Lions score touchdowns on their first two possessions. The key for Stafford may have been the decision of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to open the game with an assortment of quick rhythm throws designed to get the rookie into a flow early. With Stafford's confidence soaring, he was able to display poise in the pocket in the face of the blitz. Although Stafford failed to finish the game after succumbing to an injury, his performance should help his confidence and give Lions fans hope for the future.

Bengals 23, Browns 20 (OT)
The Bengals' special teams miscues continue to haunt them in critical moments. Shayne Graham had a field goal and an extra point blocked, which nearly cost the team a win. In addition, the coverage unit struggled to contain Josh Cribbs (212 total return yards) and the hidden yardage routinely set the Browns up with good field position. Though the Bengals were able to overcome the numerous mistakes in the kicking game to pull out an overtime win, the team must solve its special teams woes to challenge for the AFC North title.

Texans 29, Raiders 6
The Raiders' offense is in disarray due to the lack of production from its running game, young receivers and inconsistent quarterback. The combination resulted in the team amassing only eight first downs and producing two field goals in a loss to the Texans. While most offenses occasionally experience an off day, the fact that the Raiders struggled against a unit that ranked last in total defense illustrates their ineptitude. The Raiders took a huge gamble by playing so many youngsters at key positions, but based on their performance the risk hasn't paid off to this point.

Colts 34, Seahawks 17
The offense generally steals the headlines, but the Colts' defense deserves kudos for the way the unit played against the Seahawks. Fueled by the unexpected appearance of Dwight Freeney, the Colts smothered the Seahawks with a swarming pass rush that relied on a lot of four-man pressures. Robert Mathis, Raheem Brock and Freeney took turns pressuring Seneca Wallace off the edge, which led to five sacks and two turnovers. Though the Seahawks put up some meaningless points at the end of the game, the Colts put on a dominating performance en route to an easy win.

Jaguars 37, Titans 17
An 0-4 start for the Titans rests squarely at the feet of the team's slumping pass defense. The defense entered the game ranked among the league's worst and the woes continued Sunday. The Titans surrendered 323 yards through the air and allowed David Garrard to throw three touchdowns. The secondary repeatedly was victimized for "explosive" plays (receptions over 20 yards) and routinely lost coverage on assignments. Tennessee had two sacks, but failed to generate suitable pressure on Garrard for most of the contest.

Giants 27, Chiefs 16
Steve Smith has officially assumed the role as the Giants' No.1 receiver. He tallied 11 receptions for 134 yards with two touchdowns and repeatedly came up with big plays in key moments. Seven of Smith's receptions resulted in first downs or touchdowns. He his ability to effectively work the middle of the field opened up the rest of the passing game. The Giants entered the season wondering who would step up to replace Plaxico Burress as the team's top target, but it is apparent that Smith has answered the call.

Patriots 27, Ravens 21
The return of Wes Welker steadied the Patriots against the blitz-happy Ravens. While he only tallied 48 receiving yards, Welker led the team in receptions (6) and gave Tom Brady a reliable outlet against pressure. In recent weeks, Brady was unable to connect with Welker's replacements (Joey Galloway and Julian Edelman) in critical moments. With his favorite slot receiver back in action, Brady connected on 21 of 32 for 258 yards and a touchdown. While those numbers aren't eye-popping they are closer to the stats expected from the Patriots' signal caller.

Redskins 16, Buccaneers 13
The Redskins' offense continues to sputter under the direction of Jim Zorn, but the unit found its stride in the second half due to the play of four key veterans ( Jason Campbell, Clinton Portis, Santana Moss and Chris Cooley). The quartet made a handful of plays that snapped the unit out of its malaise and sparked a 16-point third quarter. Campbell overcame three interceptions to finish with 170 passing yards and two scores, including the winning 59-yard toss to Moss. While Washington's aerial attack provided the points, it was the steady running of Portis against the Bucs' eight- and nine-man fronts that keyed the win. The Redskins' 16-13 win won't win the team any style points, but it may give them a formula for offensive success for the remainder of the year.

Dolphins 38, Bills 10
In a performance that evoked memories of Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris running roughshod in the 1970s, the Dolphins rode their dynamic tailback tandem to a win over the Bills. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries. The impressive grind-it-out performance enabled the Dolphins to wear down the smallish front line of the Bills in second half and protect Chad Henne in his first career start. The Dolphins may sport a disappointing 1-3 record, but their imposing rush attack makes them an opponent that few teams want to face.

Steelers 38, Chargers 28
After struggling to find an offensive identity through the first three weeks of the season, the Steelers may have found their way behind a gritty running game led by a youngster with a lot to prove. Paced by the strong inside running of Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers returned to a balanced offensive attack against the Chargers. Mendenhall -- banished from play a week ago by Mike Tomlin for not paying attention to details -- ran with purpose and flashed impressive stills as a backfield workhorse. While the renewed commitment to the run didn't prevent the Steelers from airing it, Roethlisberger got to throw in favorable situations. The Steelers allowed the Chargers to get back in the game, but Pittsburgh’s balanced offense effectively drove down the field for one last drive to clinch the win with a field goal by Jeff Reed.

 

Seven from Sunday

A look at seven statistical highlights from games played during the fourth week of the 2009 season.

» New Orleans safety Darren Sharper registered his 10th career interception-return touchdown ( good for 99 yards) in the Saints' 24-10 win over the New York Jets. Sharper joins Pro Football Hall of Famer Rod Woodson (12) as the only players in NFL history to record at least 10 career interception returns for touchdowns. Sharper, who had a 97-yard interception return for a touchdown in Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles, also joins Deion Sanders (1994) as the only players in league annals with two interception returns for touchdowns of at least 90 yards in one season.

» Jacksonville wide receiver Torry Holt had three receptions in the Jaguars' 37-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Holt, who has 884 career receptions, surpassed former Jaguar Keenan McCardell (883) and moved into 10th place on the all-time receptions list.

» With 353 passing yards in the Colts' 34-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning recorded his fourth consecutive 300-yard passing game. Manning is the third player in NFL history to start a season with four consecutive 300-yard passing games. Only Kurt Warner (2000) and Steve Young (1998) had longer streaks in NFL history (six consecutive games).

» Wide receiver Steve Smith posted a career-high 11 receptions in the New York Giants' 27-16 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith has 34 receptions through Week 4, the most receptions through the first four games of a season in Giants history.

» Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler registered a 100.4 passer rating in the Bears' 48-24 victory over the Detroit Lions. Cutler is the first Bears quarterback since 1970 to have a 100-plus passer rating in three consecutive games (minimum 15 attempts).

» New England wide receiver Randy Moss posted his first touchdown of the season in the Patriots' 27-21 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Moss has 137 career touchdowns and now ranks sixth all-time on the NFL's TD list.

» Rookie head coaches Jim Caldwell of the Colts and Josh McDaniels of the Broncos have led their teams to 4-0 starts. This is just the second time in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) that two rookie head coaches have guided their teams to 4-0 starts in the same season (2000: Al Groh, Jets; Mike Martz, Rams).

Monday night

Packers at Vikings: As if a matchup between two teams expected to compete for the NFC North title wasn't big enough, throw in the fact that a certain No. 4 will make his first start against the team that helped build his immense legend.
» Game preview

Injury report

» Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions: Knee.
More ...

» Jared Gaither, LT, Ravens: Neck. More ...

» Eli Manning, QB, Giants: Heel. More ...

» Devin Hester, WR, Bears: Shoulder. More ...

» NFL.com blogs: More updates

Fantasy studs

Who was this week's best fantasy player? Was it Peyton Manning? What about his brother, Eli? Or was it Ronnie Brown? Check out all of Michael Fabiano's nominees and cast your vote.
» Vote for Week 4 fantasy stud

Photos

The NFL delivered more exciting games and performances in Week 4, including the pivotal Patriots- Ravens showdown and an overtime thriller in Cleveland. Check out the memorable moments with the best images from a Week 4.

» NFL cheerleaders during Week 4
» NFL.com photo gallery archives

Weekly Countdown

NFL Weekly Countdown, which airs each Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network, lets fans program the show. Check out the 15 nominations for the best performances, and then rank those in the order you want to see them on the show. Come back Wednesday to see the results.

Top 15 moments of Week 4:
» Bengals-Browns late drama | Vote
» Brown, Williams power Dolphins | Vote
» Cutler leaps in for a touchdown | Vote
» Denver, Dallas go down to wire | Vote
» Garrard goes off against Titans | Vote
» Peyton and Eli move to 8-0 | Vote
» Mathis makes a mess of things | Vote
» Mendenhall electric against Bolts | Vote
» 49ers' defense dominates Rams | Vote
» Ochocinco's one-handed catch | Vote
» Saints pick off Sanchez thrice | Vote
» Air Big Ben lands at Heinz Field | Vote
» Giants' Smith catches on | Vote
» Knox, Jacoby's special returns | Vote
» Talib's INT hat trick for Bucs | Vote

» Vote: Week 4's top performances

Ahead ... Week 5!

Sunday (all times ET)
Cincinnati at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Cleveland at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Washington at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Pittsburgh at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Dallas at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Oakland at N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m.
Tampa Bay at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Minnesota at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Atlanta at San Francisco, 4:05 p.m.
Houston at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
New England at Denver, 4:15 p.m.
Jacksonville at Seattle, 4:15 p.m.
Indianapolis at Tennessee, 8:20 p.m.
Monday
N.Y. Jets at Miami, 8:30 p.m.

Bye week: Chicago, Green Bay,
New Orleans, San Diego.

» Complete schedule


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