So much to like about Week 4 ...
... Matt Ryan's moon shot to Roddy White with the unblemished Atlanta Falcons on the brink of a bad loss. The Houston Texans' defense imposing its will on the NFL. Getting the regular referees back, mistakes and all.
First, we have some Power Rankings accounting to address. We're at the point in the season when Team A beating Team B doesn't necessarily mean Team A will be ranked higher than Team B. Case in point: The Oakland Raiders upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3 (by a thread). Of course, the Raiders didn't jump from No. 32 to the Steelers' spot in the rankings, considering Oakland has looked awful every other time out. The Minnesota Vikings upset the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3, yet the Vikes still lag behind in the rankings because they just don't stack up, 22 on 22, on both teams' best day. The Indianapolis Colts beat those Vikings in Week 2, but of course, they trail Minnesota due to losses -- one a blowout and the other at home to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.
On another note, there was a lot of Twitter traffic regarding this week's games. My favorite was a response to my tweet about the Cowboys' prime-time woes that addressed Dez Bryant's Monday night showing:
Not sure any wideout in football hurts his team more than No. 88 in Dallas, and where the 'Boys rank this week reflects that. As far as the other 31 clubs and your opinions ...
... come on with your come on. (As always, I'm available at @Harrison_NFL.)
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)
Houston's defense pretty much always keeps the pressure on. It's like the Banana Republic credit-card people, who start collection-calling you to death the moment your bill is due. (The second, actually.) #firstworldproblems
Boy, people were sure ticked off when these Power Rankings had San Francisco at No. 2 following a loss to Minnesota. Well, how does a 34-0 spanking on the road back that up? We certainly believe in the Atlanta Falcons, but on Sunday against the Jets, the Niners showed why they are as good as any team in the NFL. Vic Fangio's defense allowed 145 total yards and two third-down conversions.
Atlanta's 4-0 record is NO fluke. Yet, some of the cracks in this team's armor were revealed in a narrow win over the Carolina Panthers, starting with some poor tackling. That aside, Ryan-to-White proved as clutch as Bradshaw-to-Swann and Staubach-to-Pearson. What a finish! The kind that a highlight just doesn't quite encapsulate, as compared to watching (or in my case, hearing) it play out live.
Solid overall team performance from the Ravens on NFL Network last Thursday night. Sure would be lovely if offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would give Ray Rice the rock in the running game five to six more times per contest. If someone can explain why one of the league's premier tailbacks is tied for 15th in the league in rushing attempts while playing on a team that has either been ahead or in close games each week, please hit me up at @Harrison_NFL. Ridiculous.
If Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall can play like they did in a blowout win over the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night, look out for this team. The Bears finally played like the Super Bowl contenders this writer predicted them to be. Nice effort on several plays from Nick Roach, Chicago's other linebacker.
Kevin Kolb is just terrible sometimes ... then he suddenly makes plays when Arizona needs them most. There was absolutely no excuse for the fourth-quarter pick in the red zone with the Cardinals nursing a 14-13 lead. THROW THE DAMN BALL AWAY! Maybe the worst play I've seen from a veteran NFL quarterback this season. But then, Kolb brought his team back late, ultimately delivering an OT win (with a lot of help from the defense). Kolb's inconsistent play must be absurdly maddening, stressful and generally Favre-ian for Cards fans to watch.
There is no shortage of fans who hate the Pats, and that's fine. But if you don't admire the resilience of Bill Belichick's club, you're missing the boat. On Sunday afternoon, New England faced a 21-7 deficit ... in the third quarter ... on the road ... against a division rival. Just over 15 game-minutes later, the Pats led, 42-21. Five unanswered touchdowns. It happens that fast.
How about that Andy Reid (who isn't allergic to the running game after all)? LeSean McCoy got 23 carries and made the Giants pay for Reid's confidence in the ground attack with 123 rushing yards. In total, Philadelphia had 36 running attempts compared to 30 passes. The play selection was integral to keeping Michael Vick off his back. (Oh, and to the win.)
Easy to play armchair coach, but even if Lawrence Tynes had made the 54-yard field goal to win the game, the thought here is that 15 seconds is a wee bit too much time to leave on the clock. It would have been nice to at least see the Giants try to hit something outside near the sideline to get Tynes closer. Either way, the poor defense on the edge against McCoy was a huge reason New York lost this game.
San Diego's inconsistency might annoy some folks, and there is no debating the lack of a No. 1 wideout and a shortage of impact players on defense. The Bolts don't care. They're 3-1, sitting atop the AFC West, with a road trip to face the ailing Saints next on the docket. Still, it sure would be interesting to know how big a doghouse Ryan Mathews is in, and how much of a workload Jackie Battle gets going forward.
Haven't seen anyone talk about rookie Harrison Smith much, but the thought here is that this guy is going to be a player. I've been a shill for Christian Ponder for weeks now; time to look at the other side of the ball. The safety out of Notre Dame leads a secondary that is competing much better than league analysts anticipated.
Didn't see the loss in St. Louis coming, but probably should have. After that incredibly emotional (and highly controversial) win two Mondays ago that was the talk of the football world, it shouldn't have surprised any of us football heads that Seattle was a little flat on Sunday. The most surprising thing was that the Seahawks took the opening kickoff and drove right down the field for a touchdown. The issue with Pete Carroll's bunch is that it's not a come-from-behind-style team, especially with so few weapons in the passing game.
Jon Gruden brought up a great point on the Monday Night Football broadcast regarding the apparent lack of a home-field advantage at Cowboys Stadium. Other teams get fired up to play at JerryWorld. The Dallas owner wanted to build the premier venue in sports -- ironic that it might hurt his team more than it helps.
Heard in a sports watering hole: "Brandon Pettigrew would be THE tight end in pro football, if he could hold on to the football." Good to know, except he doesn't make plays when his team needs them. Hard to believe this team is 1-3. If you think about it, Detroit could be winless if not for some home-clock engineering versus the Rams in Week 1. The 2012 season is slipping away fast. Bad time for a bye.
Mark Sanchez looks like he's winging it out there, and not in a John-Madden-love-affair-with-Brett-Favre way. He's just not making enough big plays to compensate for poor football discernment, accuracy issues and falling just short on key vertical throws. He's certainly not the only young player who has struggled for this team ... just the most important one.
Tough to get behind Buffalo Bills football right now, but they don't free-fall this week because five of the six teams immediately behind them in last week's rankings also lost. What should be a much-improved defense let Chan Gailey down, time and again on Sunday. The Bills looked like they were getting bad ROI on the money they pumped into the D-line over the offseason during a 24-point loss to New England. Offensively, Ryan Fitzpatrick can't throw some of those balls that red-carpeted the Pats' offense with a short field.
Mike Shanahan is not playing around these days. Alfred Morris continues to get a massive workload, and the kid is making it count. The rookie running back out of Florida Atlantic got 21 more carries in Tampa, and now has 82 for the season. Who would have thought Morris would be in the top five in rushing, or even tied for third in carries? Washington moves up eight spots because of the strong play of Robert Griffin III, the development of a true lead tailback and nearly every team that was right ahead of Washington in last week's rankings losing.
Tampa Bay continues to be in games, but can't close out. In fact, the defense was atrocious on the first couple of downs after Connor Barth's go-ahead field goal late in the fourth quarter. Santana Moss beat the Bucs' zone on a quick slant, and then Fred Davis gashed Tampa Bay for 20 yards over the middle after RG3 properly identified the blitz. Two plays, 35 yards, and the 'Skins were almost immediately knocking on the door. If I were a Bucs fan, I'd be ticked.
Charles Johnson competed his arse off
Sunday in Atlanta, with eight tackles and 3.5 sacks, but his teammates ultimately couldn't hold the fort. On another note, it sure would be nice if
Cam Newton realized this simple concept by the end of the season:
Just playing football > gloating in a Patrick Crayton-esque way after every big play you make
Dwayne Bowe can really make things happen when your team is behind by three touchdowns.
It's a good thing the showers came, or else the Jaguars would've mounted a huge comeback. Except not at all. Jacksonville fans have to be so sick and tired of not seeing any playmaking whatsoever on the outside. The wideouts combined for 10 receptions, 89 yards and no end zone appearances. The usual.
Fresh off a tough loss to the Jags in the waning moments, last week wasn't the best time for Indy to have a bye. And now the Colts encounter far tougher times with the news that head coach Chuck Pagano has been diagnosed with leukemia. This space gave Pagano his deserved respect last week, and the entire football world wishes him a full recovery.
I would like to meet the one guy in Gun Barrel City, Texas who picked Brian Hartline for his NFL.com Perfect Challenge Team. Hartline's, uh, line from Sunday: 12 catches, 253 yards and a touchdown. I came thisclose to picking the Dolphins in a road upset in my picks column. Miami's front seven can hang with anyone, and has been a bright spot for a team everyone assumed would go 3-13.
Resilient effort by Drew Brees and the Saints' offense on the road with their 2012 season slipping away. Alas, it wasn't enough. One of the more surprising developments this season is just how bad Steve Spagnuolo's defense has been thus far. New Orleans has no chance of even making it to 7-9 if Spags can't get his unit turned around.
Tennessee has gotten blown out in three of four games now. Spoke with a colleague in the business -- a closeted Titans supporter, too -- regarding the state of this football team. He wondered aloud if Tennessee will make a move on a quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft should this season take a nose dive. It would be awfully early for them to bail on the eighth overall pick from just two drafts ago, but Mike Munchak's future is somewhat tied to Jake Locker. In the interim, the Titans need Matt Hasselbeck to dial up 2004 again.
Every time someone looked up at the Raiders game from their Chotchkie's bar stool, they saw safeties Matt Giordano and Tyvon Branch (17 combined tackles) running someone down or huffing and puffing. The best play Oakland's defense made all game was when Demaryius Thomas inexplicably fumbled the ball (without contact) and a Raider was there to recover it.
Sure would be nice if Trent Richardson would get the ball in his belly more. Cleveland was right in that ballgame last Thursday, down one score, yet Pat Shurmur disregarded the run. The run-pass ratio: 17 rushing plays to 53 passing plays. That's not going to cut it, at least not with a rookie quarterback devoid of weapons (who can catch).
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.