Neil Reynolds' Week 4 Wrap

You thought I was going to start at Foxboro and Tom Brady's return to New England to take on the Patriots team he led to six Super Bowl victories in his 20 years at the club, didn't you? Fooled you!

It was, of course, the biggest story of this weekend. Brady faced off against the coach he divorced after the 2019 season in Bill Belichick and his old boss almost got one over on him. On a rainy night when Brady became the NFL's all-time passing yards leader but didn't throw a touchdown pass, the Bucs hung on for a 19-17 win.

There was a brief and somewhat cold hug between Belichick and Brady at midfield after the game but it should be noted that the coach found his former player in the Tampa locker room a few moments later and the pair spent 25 minutes together.

So, while that was THE story of the weekend and I kind of did start with it in the end, it was not the most compelling performance. Not even close. That belonged to the Arizona Cardinals, who moved to 4-0 with a stunning 37-20 road win against a Los Angeles Rams team that had won eight in a row against their NFC West division rivals.

The numbers don't do justice to what a complete team performance this was from Arizona. Don't get me wrong, the numbers are good – they just won't blow you away. But this was one-sided pretty much from start to finish as Kyler Murray threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns while getting seven different receivers involved.

The defense forced a couple of timely turnovers and held Matthew Stafford to just 280 passing yards and two scores, with one of them coming in garbage time with the result in the bag. What really stood out to me was Arizona taking the Rams' will by rushing for 216 yards and two scores on 40 carries. That was a kind of physicality I have not seen from the Cardinals in recent years.

After Sean McVay inexplicably didn't challenge what would have been a Matthew Stafford touchdown in the second half, the Cardinals took over on their own one-yard line. While they didn't score a touchdown on the drive, they did march 93 yards to the Rams' five in 10 plays. Matt Prater kicked the short field goal and it was game over.

We should always beware of statement wins, especially early in a season. I remember in 2018 when the Jacksonville Jaguars recorded a comprehensive 31-20 win over the New England Patriots to move to 2-0 in that season. We gushed over that performance in the Sky Sports studios and called it a "statement win" and a possible "changing of the guard" game.

Since that 'statement win' over New England, Jacksonville have won 10 games and lost 40!

Even with that warning in my mind, I cannot help but be excited about what the future holds for the Cardinals. They came up huge in the biggest of spots on Sunday night. Now, they need to keep it together – this team opened 2020 with a 6-2 record and fell away, losing five of their last seven.

But on this form, and if they can keep it rolling, the Cardinals look like contenders. And not just division contenders, either – they can compete for the whole thing.

Who's Hot…

Joe Burrow… I don't go back to Thursday Night Football nearly enough in this column because the Sunday action is so fresh in my mind. But I have to give a nod to Joe Burrow's form, growth and development with the 3-1 Cincinnati Bengals. Burrow threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns in Thursday's 24-21 win over a feisty Jacksonville team but what impressed me most was his mental acumen. He expected a full blitz from the Jags on the final drive of the game and quickly got the ball into the flat to tight end C.J. Uzomah, who raced downfield to set up Evan McPherson's winning kick. Burrow was prepared for what the defense was throwing at him and stood strong as he got smacked right in the mouth on the throw. Cincinnati have themselves a good one, a really good one.

Kansas City's Offense… There was an early Patrick Mahomes interception in Philadelphia that had us wondering if the Chiefs were going to put forth another error-strewn display after committing six turnovers in their first three games. No need to worry. They blew the Eagles out of the water with 471 total yards, six touchdowns, five scoring strikes from Mahomes and a big day from Tyreek Hill, who went for 11 receptions for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Mahomes did it all on Sunday… an underhand ten-pin bowling touchdown pass, a wicked sidearm for a score to Hill and a shovel pass for a touchdown to Jody Fortson. The Chiefs reminded us all how much firepower they boast and how quickly they can obliterate an opposing defense.

Dak and Dallas… Heading into Week 4, Carolina's top-ranked defense had allowed just 10 points and 191 yards per game. By the time Dak Prescott and the Dallas offense were done, the Panthers had given up 36 points and 433 yards as the Cowboys romped to a 36-28 that was only made to sound close by a couple of late D.J. Moore touchdowns. Dak threw four touchdown passes and topped a passer rating of 130 for the second game in a row. But this was a complete offensive performance as Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, while Tony Pollard added 10 for 67. It's been a case of 1a and 1b in the running game in Dallas this season. Zeke reminded us on Sunday that he is 'a' in that equation.

Who's Not…

Pittsburgh's offense… The Steelers were never really at the races in Sunday's 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. And not for the first time this season, Pittsburgh were held back by a stagnant and creaking offense. How many times are they going to throw swing passes to the running back in the flat on fourth downs? Ben Roethlisberger had another poor game on a day when he threw his 400th career touchdown pass. That was the only highlight as he posted a passer rating of 78.3 and led just two touchdown drives. But it's not all Big Ben. The line is struggling, the running game amassed just 62 yards and new offensive coordinator Matt Canada's play calling leaves much to be desired. Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season in Pittsburgh – he better prepare himself for one because his 1-3 team is in trouble.

Miami's offensive line… The Miami Dolphins have followed a season-opening win in New England with three straight losses, two of which have been very worrying indeed. Either side of last week's solid effort in Las Vegas which resulted in a 31-28 overtime defeat to the Raiders, the Dolphins lost 35-0 at home to Buffalo and 27-17 to Indianapolis, again on home turf. With Tua Tagovailoa still proving himself in the NFL and Jacoby Brissett clearly just a backup option, Miami continue to be linked with troubled Houston Texans passer Deshaun Watson. But how much can he do behind what has to be one of the worst lines in the league right now? Miami gave up three sacks on Sunday and only opened holes in the running game to the tune of 35 yards. Watson would satisfy those who enjoy star power (and that might include Dolphins owner Stephen Ross) but their problems are more fundamental and they start up front.

Jimmy Garoppolo's body… San Francisco gave up three first-round draft picks for the rookie quarterback breathing down Jimmy G's neck, so the last thing he needs is to be in the medical room and not on the field. But that's where Garoppolo is heading as he injured his calf during Sunday's loss to Seattle. Jimmy G has missed 23 games since 2018 and seemed very down when admitting he is likely out for a couple of weeks at least. It was a bit frantic and less-from-ideal when Trey Lance was in there, but the rookie has a chance now. Let's see if he keeps Jimmy G out of action for even longer than expected.

The Fast Five…

  1. Tampa Bay's run defense featuring Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh up front and Devin White attacking from the second level is getting close to being historically great. On a night when both teams needed to run the ball due to the inclement weather, the Bucs held New England to minus one yard on eight attempts. It's like the Patriots knew it wasn't going to work and didn't even bother.
  2. Kirk Cousins had been in MVP form in the first three weeks of the season, but he struggled in a 14-7 home defeat to Cleveland, throwing just one touchdown pass – on the game's opening drive – and posted a rating of 66.0. The offensive line was overwhelmed by Cleveland's pass rush and Kirk just couldn't make enough good things happen on a difficult day.
  3. I was pleased to see Robert Saleh get his first win as head coach of the New York Jets. I'm interviewing New York's boss on Friday as part of our Sky Sports NFL coverage of next Sunday's game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. It always helps to be speaking to a coach coming off a win!
  4. The Buffalo Bills are rolling now. Sunday's 40-0 defeat of the Houston Texans was their second shut-out win in three weeks, so it's not all about the high-scoring offense. Although that group is looking pretty good right now, putting up 35 against Miami, 43 against Washington and now 40 against the Texans. I feel Buffalo need a quality win to show us they are genuine Super Bowl contenders – they get the opportunity to deliver one on Sunday Night Football next week as they take on KC.
  5.  Saquon Barkley is back! And that is great news for the New York Giants and their fans. Barkley caught a 54-yard score and then ran for the winning six-yard sprint in overtime, giving Big Blue a 27-21 win in New Orleans. Perhaps the bigger story was the form of quarterback Daniel Jones, who threw for 402 yards and two touchdowns.

Fact of the Week

With one game remaining (Monday Night Football) road teams have won nine games this week after winning eight games in each of the first three weeks of the season. This is the first season since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger in which road teams have won as many games as home teams through four weeks.

Finish That Sentence

Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we so often did on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…

From Philip Gordon (@philgordon28) I'm looking forward to the Jets-Falcons London matchup even more now because… both teams are playing hard for their head coaches. The Falcons were unlucky to lose a close one against Washington and Matt Ryan and the offense are showing signs of life. The veteran QB threw four touchdown passes, including three to Cordarrelle Patterson, and Calvin Ridley made some plays. It is going to take time for Arthur Smith's influence to be fully felt, but I feel like the Falcons are coming around. And I am very excited to see Zach Wilson play for the Jets. I thought he put out his best display of the season in Sunday's overtime win over Tennessee. And the defense flew to the fooball all night long. Robert Saleh coaches with passion and his team plays the same way. The records may not be inspiring, but I'm feeling a sneaky-good game coming our way on Sunday.

From Stuart Taylor (@Stu7Tay) As we look ahead to London, I'm looking forward to… seeing you horrible lot again. I cannot wait to be around the fans so we can celebrate the return of this great game that we all love. I'll be out on the mini pitch outside the stadium from 10.30am until 11.30am interviewing some big-name guests. Make sure you come and say hello. Then I will head inside our Sky Sports studio where I will stay perched to the edge of my seat for the next 11 hours. I cannot wait. The NFL is back in London and I'm going to enjoy every single minute of it!

From Mark Liversedge (@liversedge) The most complete team in the league right now is… probably the Buffalo Bills. As I mentioned earlier, their three-game winning streak has been built on offensive firepower but also on defensive muscle. I still have no idea how Buffalo lost to Pittsburgh on opening weekend. I know I gave a lot of praise to Arizona above, but the other 'complete' team for me seems to be the Dallas Cowboys. They can throw the football, they can pound it on the ground and while they give up yards, they come up with timely turnovers. Trevon Diggs had two more picks on Sunday night. He now has an interception in every game this season and five on the year. The Cowboys almost won in Tampa on opening night and certainly look like true contenders, albeit we are only a month into this thing.

Final Thought…

This will go largely unnoticed on a weekend of big headlines, but Aaron Rodgers tied Dan Marino's mark of 420 touchdown passes during Sunday's win over the Steelers. It's an indication of how the game has moved on. When Marino retired with that record in his trophy cabinet, it felt like he would be on top of the pile forever. Rodgers joined Marino last night with his second touchdown to Randall Cobb – but the pair are only sixth in the all-time list. The game is becoming more pass-heavy than ever.

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