Around the NFL  

 

Forty-two takeaways from Sunday's Week 4 games

Print
  • By Around The NFL staff NFL.com
More Columns >

The games on Sunday during Week 4 had several upsets and big plays. Here are some of our big takeaways:

» The Rams are legit with rookie head coach Sean McVay.

» Cam Newton's shoulder looks just fine.

» Behind rising star quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Texans scored the most points in a single game in franchise history.

» The Chargers have too many weapons to be this inconsistent on offense.

Here's what else we learned on Sunday:

Rams 35, Cowboys 30


1. The reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Month, Gurley took control of the game in the final two quarters, finishing with a career-best 215 yards from scrimmage. The highlight was a 53-yard catch-and-run touchdown on a post route, as Gurley scored via reception for the third consecutive game. New coach Sean McVay has not only rejuvenated Gurley on the ground, but has also tapped into the former Georgia star's ability to make plays in the aerial attack. Gurley fell just six yards shy of becoming the first Rams back since Steven Jackson in 2006 to reach 100 receiving yards in a game. Needless to say, Dallas' defense sorely missed All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee, who sat out with a hamstring injury.

2. Credit Rams coordinator Wade Phillips for key halftime adjustments after his defense failed to stop Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys' offense on four first-half possessions. Taking a decisive 287-126 edge in net yards into the third quarter, Dallas' first four second-half possessions resulted in three punts and a Mark Barron interception before Dak Prescott found a wide open James Hanna for a fourth-quarter touchdown. The Rams dominated time of possession, stonewalled Elliott and came through with big stops on third downs, playing keep away throughout the second half.

3. Already armed with three-time All-Pro Johnny Hekker as the premier punter in football, the Rams' special teams have also benefitted from the league's most productive place kicker at the season's quarter mark. After entering Week 4 with the most kicks (field goals and extra points) converted, Greg Zuerlein drilled seven field goals without a miss, accounting for 23 of the team's 35 points.

-- Chris Wesseling

Panthers 33, Patriots 30


1. Cam Newton's shoulder looks just fine. After an early interception, Newton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another on a day where Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula absolutely owned Bill Belichick and his defense. (That feels strange to type.) The Panthers didn't punt until midway through the fourth quarter, with Newton picking up a few key third down conversions on called runs. He finished with 44 yards rushing and 350 yards of the team's 444 yards of offense, many of which came after Patriots mistakes in the secondary.

2. The Patriots may have the worst defense in football through one quarter of the season. They lack any edge defenders rushing the passer and continue to be flummoxed by confusion in the secondary. Free agent pickup Stephon Gilmore was involved in at least one miscommunication that led to a big play and was called for two costly penalties that kept drives alive, including on the Panthers' game-winning march.

3. Tom Brady is being asked to do way too much. He was hit seven times and sacked three more in another 300-yard game. Brady engineered two beautiful fourth quarter drives to tie this game up, but at other times all the pressure appeared to be rushing him into some missed open throws. New England has no explosive element in the run game (80 yards total) and a defense that can't get stops. At a certain point, Brady is going to buckle under all this weight.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

Lions 14, Vikings 7


1. This divisional clash took a pivotal turn five minutes into the second half when Minnesota rookie workhorse Dalvin Cook crumbled to the turf with a noncontact knee injury. The second-round running back was quickly ruled out following a play that saw him lose a fumble, sending the Lions on their way toward a five-play, 29-yard touchdown march that put Detroit up for good at 14-7.

Back to Cook, whose loss cannot be understated: After the game coach Mike Zimmer told reporters that they are "concerned about his ACL, will get an MRI." The initial diagnosis is a nearly complete ACL tear, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported. The former Florida State star leads the team this season with 354 yards on the ground at 4.8 yards per rush with another 90 yards through the air off 11 receptions. The drop off from Cook to Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray is steep and puts Minnesota's season in a truly dark place. From an injury perspective, this feels like one of the unluckiest franchises league-wide.

2. Detroit's backfield came into Sunday having gone a "league-leading" 55 straight games without a 100-yard rusher. The Lions came painfully close to snapping that streak after Ameer Abdullah gashed Minnesota for 94 yards at 4.7 yards per attempt. While the Lions struggled in pass protection, the line successfully opened holes for Abdullah, who gained extra yards with his highlight-reel cutting ability, despite failing to cross the 100-yard threshold. It was a rare site to see Matthew Stafford checking down into successful run plays to keep the offense chugging.

3. This was a sleepy affair out of the gate with both teams combining for three points and six punts over the first 29 minutes of play before Cook raced off left guard for a five-yard score before the half. Coming off his monstrous, 369-yard, three-touchdown explosion in Week 3, Case Keenum (16-of-30 passing for 219 yards) returned to the land of mortal signal-callers. Sam Bradford's backup was out of sync with his wideouts for multiple drives at a time, especially on Minnesota's final two possessions. On third-and-goal from Detroit's 3, with 2:31 left in the game, Keenum drifted backwards before taking an 11-yard sack from Anthony Zettel. On the following play, Keenum sailed the ball high out of the end zone. The Vikings got the ball back with 1:51 on the clock, but it was not to be as Adam Thielen caught a 11-yard strike from Keenum only to fumble the pigskin away. Game over.

-- Marc Sessler

Bills 23, Falcons 17


1. This is rookie head coach Sean McDermott's signature win on the season. The Falcons, trailing by six points deep in Buffalo territory, attempted a cheeky play action fake on fourth-and-1 only to find all available receivers covered beautifully. If there has been a hallmark of the early McDermott regime it was encapsulated in this moment -- tight, smart defense. The win over Atlanta shows just how tight. It took until the seven minute mark in the fourth quarter for the Bills to give up their first passing touchdown of the season. Matt Ryan was hit seven times and picked twice. Tre'Davious White returned a Jerry Hughes forced fumble more than 50 yards for a score. Throughout the tail end of the Rex Ryan regime, one couldn't help wondering what another coach would do with this glut of first-round picks on defense. It seems McDermott, who has the Bills in first place in the AFC East, has found a temporary solution.

2. Kudos to the Falcons, who battled despite losing both Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu at the half. Jones' hip injury may be one of the most significant developments on a Sunday with a few high-profile injuries. Early on in the third quarter, after already having a fumble returned for a touchdown, Ryan attempted to get Atlanta's high-flying offense in gear with a deep bomb. Who was left? Taylor Gabriel, who, unfortunately, was bodied by Micah Hyde. Hyde came up with a crucial pick.

3. If the Bills are able to find a breakthrough on offense, this team will be extremely hard to stop. Tyrod Taylor's only deep threat seems to be tight end Charles Clay, who finished Sunday as the team's leading receiver with five catches for 112 yards. It's not for lack of trying -- Taylor has the ability to hit receivers on deep passes and lofted a few beautiful downfield balls on Sunday -- but something still seems stagnant on offense.

-- Conor Orr

Steelers 26, Ravens 9


1. Pittsburgh's offense remains a work in progress. After scoring on four of their five first-half possessions (2 field goals, 2 touchdowns) to build a 19-0 halftime lead, the Steelers offense went into hibernation. Pittsburgh punted three straight times in the final two frames, missed a field goal and had an interception on an odd replay review. Le'Veon Bell added a game-sealing TD to end the day after a Ravens INT.

Bell was a workhorse. The running back toted the ball a whopping 35 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns, consistently getting to the edge against Ravens young linebackers. He also added four receptions for 42 yards. It was Bell's first game of 100-plus yards from scrimmage this season. He popped a few big runs (long of 21), but Bell mostly leaned on his patience and vision pushing forward to keep the clock moving. Handing off to Bell on seemingly every first down, the Steelers were content to churn time after taking a big lead. With the defense shutting down a struggling Ravens offense, it was a formula for the win.

2. Joe Flacco entered Sunday having thrown 69 total passes this season. He put up 49 Sunday. It was an inefficient day for the Ravens quarterback, piling up just 235 yards on 31 completions, for a 4.8 average per pass with a touchdown and two interceptions (one tipped on 4th down and one awful decision). Flacco rarely looked deep, and when he did he was either off target or didn't get help from his receivers (Mike Wallace had an inexcusable drop on a deep sideline toss). The banged-up Ravens offensive line gave Flacco no help. The QB was under siege all day, suffered six QB hits and was sacked four times. As we saw last week, this Ravens offense is not built to come back when they get in an early hole.

3. It wasn't a pretty day for either quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger was held under 300 passing yards for the 10th straight game. Big Ben compiled 216 yards on 18-of-30 passing with a touchdown and was officially charged with an interception. The Steelers threw the ball just 10 times following halftime. After earning 175 yards through the air in the first two frames, Roethlisberger completed five passes for only 41 yards in the second half. His rapport with his wideouts still seems slightly off, and Big Ben can't find the touch down the field.

-- Kevin Patra

Jets 23, Jaguars 20 OT


1. Chandler Cantanzaro's 41-yard field goal with 1:10 to play in overtime was the difference for the Jets, who kicked away a 20-10 second-half lead but managed to win for the second straight week. If the Jets are supposed to be tanking for the No. 1 pick, Todd Bowles and his team simply aren't playing their part.

2. Matt Forte's days as the Jets' primary ball carrier are numbered. Thrust into a starting role after Forte was scratched with turf toe, Bilal Powell ran for a career-high 163 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown. Sixth-round rookie Elijah McGuire also flashed, ripping off a 69-yard scoring run that sent the Meadowlands into a frenzy. The Jets ran for 256 yards on Jacksonville's highly touted defense.

3. Blake Bortles still doesn't look like the answer behind center for the Jaguars, but don't hang this loss completely on the beleaguered quarterback. Bortles should have had a game-swinging third-down conversion to Marqise Lee in overtime, but the receiver couldn't hold on to a well-thrown pass that would have put Jacksonville in field-goal position. Lee later misplayed a punt that helped set the Jets up for Cantanzaro's eventual game-winner.

-- Dan Hanzus

Buccaneers 25, Giants 23


1. Coming off last week's disastrous loss to the Vikings, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston came out firing on Sunday, zipping an early touchdown strike to Mike Evans before finding rookie tight end O.J. Howard all by himself in a wide-open prairie land for the 58-yard score in a driving rain. Winston cooled from there until authoring a pair of edgy, fourth-quarter, game-saving scoring drives capped by a nine-play, 59-yard march that saw Nick Folk -- rescuing an awful afternoon -- barely nail a 34-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.

2. This game looked over early with the Bucs nursing a 13-0 lead against a Giants team clawing for dear life. Big Blue climbed back into the contest, though, using a familiar method: Eli Manning winging endless passes into coverage. Throwing the ball a whopping 27 times in the first half alone, Manning (30-of-49 passing for 288 yards and two touchdowns) spread the ball to eight different targets, scrambled for a 14-yard score and nearly won the game with a lively fourth-quarter drive that saw Odell Beckham (7/90) make a flurry of clutch catches and play through an ankle injury before Eli unfurled a pretty touchdown strike to Rhett Ellison that put New York up 23-22 with 3:16 remaining.

3. Back to Folk, who botched an extra point on a chewed-up field before flubbing field goals of 46 and 49 yards (while New York's Aldrick Rosas flubbed a 43-yarder of his own). Folk's up-and-down afternoon forced Bucs coach Dirk Koetter to dial up a failed pass attempt on fourth-and-2 from New York's 35 with 10 minutes left in the game. The Bucs aren't in position to have endless kicking drama holding them hostage on a day that saw division-rival Carolina knock off the Patriots, a team Tampa will face at home on Thursday night.

-- Marc Sessler

Eagles 26, Chargers 24


1. The Eagles offense, when balanced, is scary efficient. LeGarrette Blount broke out of his preseason and early-season slumber against the Chargers, setting the tone for Philadelphia with 136 rushing yards. His Beast Mode-esque 68-yard bruising run in the fourth quarter set up the game-winning score -- and sent a Eagles-friendly StubHub crowd into hysterics. Blount, fellow back Wendell Smallwood and even rookie runner Corey Clement picked up the slack in the first tilt after Darren Sproles' season- and potentially career-ending injuries, wearing out the Chargers' stout front seven all game long. Thanks to a steady ground attack, Philly maintained a healthy run-pass balance (42 to 32) and dominated time of possession (39:18 to 20:42). That's a recipe for dominance in a wide-open NFC East.

2. The Bolts find new ways to lose every week. First, it was a blocked kick. Then, a missed kick, followed by a back-breaking touchdown run. On Sunday, Los Angeles' comeback attempt was thwarted, simply because they weren't on the field. After the Chargers got within two on Hunter Henry's spectacular one-handed TD catch -- note to fantasy owners: Hunter Henry is alive! -- Philadelphia followed with a game-sealing 13-play drive that killed the remaining 6:44, on which the Eagles converted three third-and-shorts, a testament to their success in the run game on early downs. The Chargers are 0-4 for the first time since 2003, with three of those losses coming in Carson, despite being within seven points of victory in the fourth quarter of each defeat. Oy.

3. Los Angeles has too many weapons to be this inconsistent on offense. Philip Rivers' attack is lethal in doses; he completed separate 50-plus-yard passes to Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams, arguably his top two receivers. But too often, Rivers chucks it up to his playmakers or takes unnecessary risks. His first-quarter fumble put L.A. behind the eight ball for the second straight week and, without a reliable run game, Rivers was frustrated by an Eagles secondary prepared for the pass. Melvin Gordon's second disappearing attack of the season (10 car, 22 yds) precipitated the Chargers' frustrations on offense Sunday and will continue to do so. Rivers can't carry this offense, despite his bounty of pass-catchers.

-- Jeremy Bergman

Cardinals 18, 49ers 15 OT


1. The 49ers are still very much hamstrung by Brian Hoyer on offense, but they have a defense of which to be very proud. San Francisco's front seven harassed Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, hitting him 11 times and hurrying him 13 times in his first 27 dropbacks of the game and racking up a total of six sacks. The result was plenty of pocket chaos and stalled Cardinals drives, which helped San Francisco stay in the game.

"Their front four is phenomenal," Palmer told FOX Sports' Jen Hale immediately after the game.

Unfortunately for the Niners, who have an offense that was even more anemic, the game turned into a slog, a football version of trench warfare. San Francisco is better than it was last season, but mistakes -- 13 accepted penalties against them for 113 yards -- hurt in many moments, including on the final drive in overtime. Three of the Niners' four losses this season have come by three points or less. It's a heartbreaking way to lose, and when it keeps happening, can wear a team down, but this Niners team is making strides, and the penalties shows they're just a handful of corrections away from bringing home a win.

2. The Cardinals' offensive line continues to struggle. With a veteran quarterback in the twilight of his career, this becomes even more paramount than usual, because eventually Palmer isn't going to keep getting up. Arians had a spirited talk with his linemen in the middle of the fourth quarter, per Hale, but that didn't do much to improve their play. If Arizona wants to seriously contend this season, it needs to get things fixed up front, and quickly.

3. Kickers! On the same day Greg Zuerlein outscored 11 teams by himself, Robbie Gould and Phil Dawson went toe to toe (pun unintended), matching each other in the kicking game deep into the overtime period. The lone touchdown through two and a half quarters was an Andre Ellington grab -- and then it wasn't (Bruce Arians wasn't happy). What we got instead was an overturned would-be score, and a touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer to Matt Breida nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty. It took a completion from Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald, a 50/50 ball that Fitz leapt and caught in the final minute of overtime, for either team to finally break into the promised land, but it was worth the wait.

-- Nick Shook

Broncos 16, Raiders 10


1. The Derek Carr injury will obviously set the tone for this week in Oakland. The Raiders made a slight upgrade at backup quarterback this offseason, swapping Matt McGloin with former Bills first-round pick E.J. Manuel, but will be crossing their fingers for good news from any follow-up testing Carr will undergo this week. Jack Del Rio did quell some concerns, telling reporters Carr suffered back spasms and doesn't believe it will a long-term issue. After watching Carr go down with a broken leg on Christmas Eve last year, the sight of him getting up gingerly and walking to the sidelines had to be nerve-wracking. Back injuries are fickle, but the Raiders were obviously interested in playing this one safe with 75 percent of the season ahead of them.

2. Del Rio went wild on Sunday, and he'll certainly get beat up for it. But ... not here. Was faking a punt with 2:32 to go in the third quarter at your own 33-yard line crazy? Was allowing your offensive coordinator to run a play against the Denver Broncos defense in an empty set on your own 1-yard line ill-advised? Was burning your last timeout with more than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter probably not what you'd want? Yes would be the answer to all of these questions, but Del Rio somehow has the presence to pull it off. When the referee came to him on the sidelines to let him know he was out of timeouts, Del Rio made a "zero" gesture with his hands, smirked and nodded. Oakland was in a funk heading into this game after last week's blowout loss to the Redskins. Del Rio lost his quarterback, watched his offensive line get shoved around and tried to do something about it.

3. It's a shame we're still about a month from DEN-KC, Part One. One could argue that the Raiders would be a first-place team in a few other divisions, but are instead buried beneath one of the league's best defenses and one of the league's best all-around teams. The Broncos held Marshawn Lynch to 12 yards on nine carries (1.3) in the type of tight, low-scoring game that is supposed to be Lynch's battlefield of choice. They logged three sacks and five total quarterback hits and, in moments like Oakland's fourth-and-1 attempt in the second quarter, showed why their defensive scheme can be so unforgiving. What will they be able to do against Andy Reid and his offense?

-- Conor Orr

Seahawks 46, Colts 18


1. Watching Russell Wilson is a frustrating exercise, weekly. The Seahawks quarterback opened Sunday night the way he had played most of the season -- error-prone and wandering -- only to pull himself together in the second half. Wilson, still wary of his shoddy offensive line, continues to play, clinically and by the seat of his pants, outside the pocket -- and Seattle lives and dies by his decisions there. Sometimes he's special, buying time before galloping and diving for a 23-yard touchdown or launching an off-balance laser to Tyler Lockett. Sometimes he's antsy, underthrowing his high-balling tight end for a momentum-shifting pick.

It's easy to trust Wilson to eventually get it right at home against a suspect defense -- he's a Super Bowl champion whose unorthodox pocket play has often been to his benefit, not his Achilles' heel. But something doesn't feel right about Wilson and this year's Seahawks, more so than previous years. Wilson's performance in this win (81 comp pct., 295 yards, 3 total TD) should be celebrated, but don't just marvel at the stat line. The tape tells another story.

2. Jacoby Brissett's Colts prime-time debut went as you'd expect. There were brilliant flashes; Brissett looking off the great Earl Thomas to throw a dime score to Donte Moncrief was easily the highlight. But the second-year fill-in was his own worst enemy, throwing an early pick-six and then taking a game-sealing strip-sack, which was returned for a touchdown. Until Andrew Luck returns -- the dawn that never comes -- Brissett will do. He's a competent backup with a champion's pedigree, who has kept Indy in every game he's started so far. But against veteran defenses like Seattle's, the young gun will be exposed.

3. Seattle's running back room remains a confounding position group. Relying this season mostly on seventh-round rookie Chris Carson, the Seahawks sat injured pass-catcher C.J. Prosise and healthy scratch Thomas Rawls in favor of Eddie Lacy (just three yards entering Sunday night) and practice-squad jitterbug J.D. McKissic. While Lacy was once again irrelevant until garbage time, the latter roster move proved prescient. On McKissic's second career carry in the third quarter, the rookie speedster out of Arkansas State broke a 30-yard touchdown run, putting Seattle up for good; his late TD catch was the work of a seasoned wideout.

Carson unfortunately suffered a nasty lower leg injury late in the game, one that could knock him out for some time. His absence would be a massive blow to this offense, which, a season-plus removed from the Marshawn Lynch, has yet to find the right formula at the position.

-- Jeremy Bergman

Texans 57, Titans 14


1. Deshaun Watson was spectacular, and not just because he tied an NFL rookie record with five touchdowns and, for a time, posted a perfect passer rating. Having watched all of Watson's NFL snaps to this point, Sunday resembled a turning point for me. Watson developed that in-pocket comfort; the rhythmic bounce behind the line that nearly all of the league's premier passers have. It takes some quarterbacks three years to find it. It took Watson three weeks. What stood out? Watson having barely practiced with Will Fuller, missed him by about 5 yards on a deep shot in the end zone. On his next attempt on a similar route, it was right at Fuller's chest and drew a significant pass interference penalty. Watson is converting the difficult third-and-8s, with down-and-away throws to his tight end. The velocity on his football is invaluable in the 5-15-yard range. He's also completely unafraid to take the deep shot.

2. This, by the way, might have been the most fun I've seen Texans head coach Bill O'Brien have as a playcaller. In the fourth quarter, before Watson's fifth touchdown, he dialed up a jet sweep option that set Houston up at the goal line. There is no section of O'Brien's playbook that is off limits right now. Sometimes, patience pays off. This set of playcalls is almost 2015 Panthers-like, without the power element forcing Watson to carry the ball up the middle.

2a. We mentioned Fuller's return and, moreso than last year, this could mean something for DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins was incredible in his own right, with a toe-tap grab that will probably be overlooked on most highlight shows but was one of the single most impressive acts of precision I've seen all season. Fuller will still slice a defense open with his deep routes, but he seems to be evolving in the red zone. Diversifying your target list when you're close to points is never a bad thing.

3. No disrespect to Houston's defense, but something seemed off about Marcus Mariota from the get-go. He ended his day (6 of 10 for 96 yards, 2 INT, 4 rushes, 39 yards, 2 TD) at halftime with a hamstring injury -- a devastating blow to Mike Mularkey's offense. Mariota was shoving passes into bracketed coverage. For the better part of 30 minutes, he was all but inviting Houston to bait him into leaving the pocket. Tennessee is smart to have rested him Sunday in the second half. Despite Houston's significant point total, a loss still counts the same and having Mariota healthy a week from now still matters more.

-- Conor Orr

Saints 20, Dolphins 0


1. Coach Sean Payton is curtailing his running back rotation and it's benefiting the Saints' offense. Alvin Kamara was the star of the show in London. The rookie running back was deployed all over the field. Payton isn't afraid to call runs for Kamara between the tackles, which helps keep the Saints' offense balanced and doesn't give away play calls with personnel (something they tipped the first two weeks). Kamara is a mismatch in the passing game, catching 10 balls for 71 yards, including a shovel pass for a game-sealing touchdown. Mark Ingram got the most of the snaps, but Kamara's usage should rise.

The bursting out rookie relegated Adrian Peterson to a bystander. Peterson spent almost all day watching the offense from the sideline. He carried the ball just four times for 4 yards. Peterson was even on the sideline as the Saints salted away the clock. Barring an injury, Peterson doesn't have a role in the offense. He doesn't catch the ball well and isn't a great pass blocker (as evidenced by getting run over on his first snap of the game). If his name weren't Adrian Peterson, there wouldn't be a question he should be out of the rotation. How the future Hall of Famer handles being a clear third-fiddle will be interesting to track moving forward.

2. Michael Thomas is pushing his way up the receiver ranking. Drew Brees' go-to target was unstoppable Sunday, catching 8 of 11 targets for 89 yards and a touchdown. Thomas wins off the line of scrimmage, giving Brees easy pitches on slants. The wideout runs crisp routes, which gets him open against zones or man coverage. Thomas' run-after-catch is sublime, evidenced by a third-quarter weaving first down on a third-and-11 play in which he caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage. The Dolphins started rookie corner Cordrea Tankersley with Byron Maxwell (hamstring) inactive. Thomas picked on the rookie early, but no Miami DB was stopping him Sunday.

3. The same ol' Jay Cutler showed up in London. The Dolphins' quarterback threw an opening drive interception in the red zone after Miami had chewed up 8:23 off the clock driving 81 yards to the 4-yard-line. A sleepy Cutler took sacks, held the ball too long at times, fumbled, chucked off-target heaves and played with no urgency. Basically, close your eyes and picture every Cutler poor start you can remember during his Bears career and you pretty much have it. If coach Adam Gase was furious with his offense last week, his head might explode after getting shut out in London and scoring a measly six garbage-time points the past two games. The head coach said changes could come this week, but we saw no significant ones. Perhaps it's time for Gase to bench Cutler and take Matt Moore for a spin, but he dismissed the notion after the game.

-- Kevin Patra

Bengals 31, Browns 7


1. For the second straight week, Cincinnati has looked significantly better on the offensive side of the ball, and it's made them look like a completely different team from the first two weeks of the season. Week 2 under Bill Lazor produced a near-perfect first half from Andy Dalton, Joe Mixon took another step toward owning that starting back role -- at 17 carries Sunday against Jeremy Hill's and Giovani Bernard's combined nine, he essentially has it -- and Cincinnati bullied Cleveland early and often, seemingly always a step ahead of their Buckeye State rivals. The Bengals pitched a shutout until a garbage time touchdown (that required many doorstep snaps before finally succeeding) finally put Cleveland on the board when it was long decided.

2. Big games for less-than-big names: Tight end Tyler Kroft and linebacker Nick Vigil. Kroft caught two touchdown passes (six total receptions for 68 yards) and Vigil was all over the field, constantly getting his nose dirty. The Bengals, who had an 0-3 record that matched Cleveland's entering Sunday, are on a totally different plane than the Browns. That much was clear in the play of players like Kroft and Vigil, who were having memorable days while finally getting that much-needed first win.

3. For the third straight week, Cleveland has taken another step backward. Hue Jackson admitted as much immediately after the game. The Browns were largely inept on offense, starting with a receiving corps that was yet again unreliable. Kenny Britt had a couple of nice grabs, but many more ugly drops, including one that caused an interception. When Emmanuel Ogbah forced an early turnover, the Browns promptly wasted great field position, capped by Zane Gonzalez missing a 48-yard field goal. Defensively, Dalton and Co. carved up Gregg Williams' unit in what was undoubtedly its worst performance of the season. Cleveland was missing key defensive starters, including Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton, but even considering that, this was still an inexcusable afternoon.

"That was as bad as we've played all year," Jackson said of his team's performance after the game.

Jackson pulled DeShone Kizer in the fourth with the game out of reach, but reaffirmed afterward that he remains entrenched as the team's starter.

-- Nick Shook

Print

Fan Discussion