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NFL Power Rankings, Week 4: Houston Texans claim No. 1 spot

Speechless in Seattle. Tate Gate.

The last play of the Seattle Seahawks' 14-12 "win" over the Green Bay Packers on Monday night will be recalled for years to come. Combine that with the bogus pass-interference call on Green Bay's Sam Shields -- not to mention a series of other questionable calls, including one on Seattle's Kam Chancellor -- and the overall result in the Great Northwest felt a wee bit unsatisfying, as a few folks have noted in the aftermath ...

Lombardi: Enough is enough

After three weeks of bad penalties and bad calls, Michael Lombardi is ready for the regular officials to return. **More ...**

But let's put aside what the rest of the sports world is opining about -- the Golden Tate touchdown/M.D. Jennings interception -- for a moment and go in a slightly different direction. The Packers-Seahawks game further illuminated an issue that is tough to stomach -- namely, that illegal contact and pass-interference penalties on defensive backs are creeping up on absolute absurdity (thank goodness Dwyane Wade doesn't play receiver). These calls are as inconsistently flagged as any judgment in the game today. Bottom line: A defensive back has the right to try to catch the ball. It's not the cornerback's fault when a quarterback makes a poor throw, or when he jumps a route that fooled no one. The Denver Broncos got an uber-important gimme against the Houston Texans (fortunately, it didn't change the outcome), and we all saw what happened on Monday Night Football (outcome altered). But we move on, as the league always does. So ...

... Tennessee looked like a professional football team. Oakland woke up. Ditto Kansas City. On a related note, the once-formidable Saints are the NFC's only winless team. Dallas still can't block anybody -- but is 2-1. There's also a new sheriff in town, and for the first time in a long time, it's not an NFC team.

Per usual, you can bestow your football brilliance upon @HarrisonNFL. So let's push off on this deal...

(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)

PREVIOUS RANKINGS: Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1

The Texans darn near let the game in Denver slip through their fingers ( Ben Tate) -- thanks in part to the aforementioned pass-interference penalty, which was unfortunately called on Kareem Jackson. The Texans might not feel like the best team in football, but at 3-0 with a pair of road wins, they've earned this spot. Matt Schaub continues to be quite effective (290 passing yards and four touchdowns Sunday), though he took a beating from the Broncos.

On any given Sunday, one team can lose to another. So much went wrong for the Niners in Minnesota. Frank Gore's fumble, Dashon Goldson playing Christian Ponder's bootleg perfectly only to see Ponder make a perfect tear-drop throw over the top for a touchdown, the David Akers blocked kick, Alex Smith's late pick -- his first in 250 pass attempts ...

... on any given Sunday.

Matt Ryan is playing at such a high level right now that the game appears to be slow for him. He threw a pick to Antoine Cason on Sunday, but that single miscue was dwarfed by several outstanding intermediate throws, an excellent (almost indefensible) connection with tight end Tony Gonzalez and a relationship with play-caller Dirk Koetter that's firing on all cylinders.

I'm not dropping Green Bay more than one spot for that loss (win). And I even feel bad about that one little spot.

Ray Rice looked quick Sunday night. John Harbaugh? Frustrated as hell. An absentee pass rush will do that to a man. Torrey Smith, you *are* the man.

If Andre Brown gives this team the kind of production he did last Thursday night in Charlotte (113 rushing yards, two touchdowns), look out. What's nice about Brown is his decisiveness when it comes to picking running lanes. Now, if he could only play corner ...

Third-and-9, 10:16 to go, Cardinals up 24-6, Eagles in field-goal range (at least). This was Michael Vick's shot to get his guys back in the game. Unfortunately, the dude never had a chance. Arizona's pressure was suffocating, with Sam Acho forcing an intentional grounding. Fourth-and-29 = game over. Ray Horton's defense is the reason this team has won 10 of its last 12 games.

If you can figure out Bill Belichick's running-back rotation, hit me up at @HarrisonNFL. Or hit my beeper. Or the car phone. Also, Julian Edelman's early departure from the game in Baltimore ensured Wes Welker would get all those targets Belichick has allegedly been stingy with. Whatever; let's not knee-jerk over Welker. He'll catch 75 to 80 balls in an offense that doesn't require him to be a 122-catch guy.

Jay Cutler is still leaving plays on the field. So is Brandon Marshall. But at the end of the day, the defense imposed its will on the Rams while the passing game was at least able to contribute. Marshall and Alshon Jeffery each caught five balls in the 23-6 win over St. Louis, but safety Major Wright's catch -- er, pick -- was the tide-turner. The jury is still out on these Bears. Let's see how the offensive line fares against a tough Dallas Cowboys defense on a national stage Monday.

M.D. Jennings caught the ball; Golden Tate caught M.D. Jennings.

OK, getting away from the play we've all seen 35,000 times by now, what a performance by the Seahawks' front seven, which dominated in the first half with eight sacks. Some of those guys push off better than Golden Tate, and that's really saying something. (Sorry, I can't help myself.)

A lot of Eagles fans were upset over their franchise's "ridiculous" No. 9 ranking last week. Well, let's go "Spaceballs" and take it from ridiculous to *ludicrous*. There is no glossing over 12 giveaways in three games. Forget any other stat. That easily paces the entire National Football League. Huge test next week with the red-hot Giants coming to town. The way this season is going, Philadelphia will not only win, they won't so much as bobble a ball.

Dallas is 2-1, but that second win was ugly. The offensive line is killing this team. Right tackle Doug Free had an awful outing. Mackenzy Bernadeau sounds like a French painter whose piece has been discovered on "Antiques Roadshow." Owner Jerry Jones says the Cowboys "are built to win now." Yes, they can beat ITT Tech's defensive line.

Peyton Manning, meet the new boss, not the same as the old boss. These aren't the Texans you abused in Indianapolis for nine years. The Joel Dreessen Bowl had an exciting finish, but more importantly, it brought into question how the Broncos will fare against the Ravens, Steelers, and, of course, Texans, should they reach the playoffs.

Was that Heath Miller we saw catching the Steelers' first two touchdowns of the game? Yes, and with an up-and-very-down running game that just couldn't get going against the Raiders, that offense needs an additional threat. If there's one thing we learned from the Steelers' loss in Oakland, it has to be that it's darn near impossible to decipher who's good in the NFL anymore. (As if this was the only game that reflected that notion ...) Either way, Pittsburgh takes a big hit for losing to our 32nd-ranked team from last week.

Jets fans might holler, but there was nothing impressive about the win down in Miami. New York is extremely inconsistent, and drops in these rankings after losing its best player for the entire season. In the search for positives, give quarterback Mark Sanchez credit for making a couple of big throws late: a touchdown strike to Jeremy Kerley on third down in the fourth quarter and a nice deep ball to Santonio Holmes after Miami's Dan Carpenter missed a game-winning field-goal attempt. Still, losing Darrelle Revis means so much to Rex Ryan's club.

Hate to quote last week's rankings, but, alas, here goes: "Minnesota ran out of luck in Indy on Sunday. Bad pun. But not as bad as all of us league analysts completely overlooking Christian Ponder's fine play through two games ..." Ponder was solid again Sunday, completing 21 of his 35 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns, with a really nice touchdown scamper as the icing on the cake. All against the best defense in the league. Hey, this club is 2-1.

The Chargers started 2-0, but these rankings had them lower than some 1-1 teams. Call it a lack of trust in San Diego's ability to play with the big boys. This tepid enthusiasm was more than validated on Sunday. Atlanta spread out and completely dominated John Pagano's defense before tapping the brakes in the fourth quarter. (Yes, the Chargers' 24-point loss could've been much worse.) Time to regroup in Kansas City.

Raise your hand if you aren't a Bengals fan and you know who Andrew Hawkins is. The former undrafted free agent from Toledo has made some big plays so far in the young season, including a 59-yard touchdown Sunday at FedEx Field. Meanwhile, that's two straight strong performances from Andy Dalton. The redhead's past two weeks have included six touchdown passes and passer ratings of 128.2 and 132.9. That's tight.

The name Shaun Hill just rolls off the tongue. Especially if you're a Vikings fan.

Can anyone at the Buffalo Applebee's find that panic button that was lying around two weeks ago? Another solid win for the Bills, highlighted by a strong defensive showing -- one that kept Browns rookie Trent Richardson (27 yards) in check. The secondary caught two balls, and kept Brandon Weeden guessing on third down. The No. 20 ranking is partially due to uncertainty at the running-back position, with C.J. Spiller potentially on the shelf. Next up: New England.

If Greg Schiano gets his offense as fired up as his victory-formation defense, the Bucs will have more than a shot against the Redskins, who can't stop anybody. On another note, what an impressive game by defensive lineman Michael Bennett. The guy completely destroyed the Cowboys' O-line. Four tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble is a pretty good line for a guy who was cut by the Seahawks a few seasons back.

While Steve Smith scraps way too much, we have to agree with his assessment of Cam Newton's sideline sulking. Fantasy points are one thing ... leadership is quite another.

After all the hoopla over who would start at tailback -- a banged-up Steven Jackson or rookie Daryl Richardson -- it didn't really matter, as the offense struggled mightily in Chicago. St. Louis produced 160 yards of total offense and was a putrid 3-for-13 on third down. Jeff Fisher definitely has a defense that will compete, but the looming problem is how often those guys will have to be on the field. The Rams only had the ball for 26 minutes in the loss.

Resilient performance on the road by a team that was lambasted in this space last week. The key now is to keep the ground momentum going ... and going ... and going ... When Jamaal Charles explodes, it opens up the field for Matt Cassel and gives the defense a chance to rest (as well as something to play for). From an overall standpoint, this team is still very much in the thick of the AFC West madness, especially with both the Chargers and Broncos falling on Sunday.

Where did that offensive output come from? The Titans came into last Sunday's game having produced just four passing plays of 20-plus yards, and Detroit had allowed just three (fewest in the NFL). So, naturally, Jake Locker completed five such balls in the league's most ridiculous contest on Sunday. Nate Washington's 71-yard touchdown gets my early vote -- and I'm guessing a lot of other people's -- for Play of the Season.

The Jags could not afford to go 0-3. Thankfully for them, they didn't. Gene Smith and the rest of the front office need to get this deal turned around. Although quarterback is always the centerpiece, Jacksonville's development (or lack thereof) transcends Blaine Gabbert. One big highlight of Sunday afternoon's win over the Colts was Maurice Jones-Drew's monster performance (177 yards). Despite notching the season's first victory, the usual holes were omnipresent, as the pass rush didn't log a single sack and the wideouts combined for five catches. Thank goodness one of those catches went for 80 yards and a touchdown, or the Jaguars would have gotten a harsh reminder of the aforementioned issues in the form of an 0-3 record.

It looked as though we had another Andrew Luck-engineered game-winning drive on our hands after Adam Vinatieri connected with less than a minute remaining. That's when Cecil Shorts happened. Yet, take stock of how competitively Chuck Pagano has these Colts playing. Through three weeks, Pagano seems to be the right hire in Indy.

Miami just could not afford to lose Reggie Bush against the Jets, as Daniel Thomas does not possess the same explosiveness, even though he made some plays. The Dolphins' offense pretty much did everything it could late to keep New York in the game. The most frustrating aspect of Miami being 1-2 (instead of 2-1) was Dan Carpenter's two missed field goals, including the 48-yard attempt in OT. This team is built to play close games with stout defense and a ground attack, ideally providing the opportunity to win late. Carpenter must come through in that situation for a club that doesn't stack up with its opponents at the skill positions -- even if it's not a gimme kick.

So nice to see Darren McFadden bust one to the house. It almost makes up for a defense that can't stop anybody. Through three weeks, the Raiders are giving up 29.3 points (26th in NFL) and 381 yards per game (23rd) while allowing a 50 percent success rate on third-down conversions (t-29th). Dennis Allen must turn around that side of the ball and give Carson Palmer some help. The process continues in Allen's old haunts -- the Raiders need a "W" in Denver this week.

The injuries on the defensive side of the ball are responsible for this ranking. In Sunday's 38-31 loss to the Bengals, you saw a defense that had just lost Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker for the season, with a secondary that was letting receivers run around like little kids at a public swimming pool. Through three games, Washington has allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for 1,050 yards and 10 touchdowns.

For all of us who thought the Saints would be viable playoff contenders sans Sean Payton, the 0-3 record is a wake-up call underlining the importance of a head coach/organizational leader. There might be no underrating the importance of a franchise quarterback in relation to winning, but perhaps there is something to be said for overrating it a bit. Drew Brees is a Hall of Fame quarterback who can't play defensive tackle or cornerback.

When I spoke to Brandon Weeden last week, he felt the Bills wouldn't change what they had shown defensively, that they would play it pretty straight. Unfortunately, Buffalo did enough to frustrate Cleveland on third down while picking off two Weeden passes. While he does have six picks on the young season, the rookie quarterback hasn't received a whole lot of support. Greg Little has put on a disappearing act, and 27 yards rushing from your stud running back ( Trent Richardson) isn't gonna get it done.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

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