What we learned: 40 takeaways from Week 4

Tom Brady was dead last among NFL starting quarterbacks in yards per attempt entering Week 4, having just completed one of the least effective three-game stretches of a Hall of Fame career.

Brady stemmed that tide Sunday night, leading the New England Patriots to a 30-23 victory over the Atlanta Falcons that had to leave the rest of the AFC's teams shaking their heads at a lost opportunity in September.

Despite a greenhorn wide receiver corps, an inconsistent running game and an ineffective Vince Wilfork, the Patriots are one of just four NFL teams to win their first four games.

The other teams in the division can bemoan New England's fortuitous early-season schedule, but Brady's injury-depleted squad is in control of the AFC East at the quarter-season mark.

Even with Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola on the mend, it's natural to infer that the battle-tested Patriots remain the biggest threat to the juggernaut-level Denver Broncos in this conference. Here's what else we learned during Sunday's 13 games:

  1. Reggie Bush has been the most important piece of the Lions' offense thus far in 2013. Without him, Detroit's offense is a Ford Fiesta. With him they are a Mustang.
  1. We were overdue for a classic Jay Cutler game. After looking superb through three weeks, Cutler had the wheels fall off. He threw three interceptions and was erratic most of the day. He looked like 2012 Cutler, constantly waiting to get hit. The Lions' defensive line clearly was in his head. The body-language police will have a field day with Cutler this week.
  1. The Lions' defensive front taught the young right side of the Bears' offensive line its first lesson of the season. Ndamukong Suh finally got the stats (two sacks and a forced fumble) to go with his great play through the quarter mark of the season.
  1. Joe Flacco can't throw to Ed Dickson because the tight end already has six drops this season. He couldn't throw to Brandon Stokley because the slot receiver was inactive. As a result, Tandon Doss and Dallas Clark combined for 18 targets. Clark was on his couch when the preseason started. Doss couldn't last through final cuts. The Ravens desperately need Marlon Brown and Deonte Thompson to gain Flacco's full trust.
  1. The Ravens' lack of playmakers shouldn't overshadow the early season ineptitude of the offensive line. The tackles have struggled to open running lanes while the interior has been a sieve against the pass rush.
  1. The Bills' rookie class put on a show. Kiko Alonso became the first linebacker in franchise history with interceptions in three consecutive games. Wide receiver Robert Woods, a second-round pick, totaled 93 yards and a touchdown on five touches. He had a second score that was overturned on replay. EJ Manuel completed just 10 passes, but led the Bills on scoring drives when they absolutely had to respond.
  1. Keeping pace with Reggie Bush as unlikely tailback MVP candidates behind Peyton Manning, Charles effectively salted the game away with an unstoppable clock-killing, fourth-quarter drive for the third consecutive game. Andy Reid's latest chess piece is the team's leading rusher and receiver through Week 4, on pace for 1,156 yards on 280 carries to go with 92 receptions for 852 yards and 16 total touchdowns.
  1. The Giants have scored seven points in their last eight quarters while starting 0-4 for the first time since the 1987 "scab" season. Eli Manning's 77 turnovers since 2010 are the most in the NFL over that span. The offensive line can't block, and Victor Cruz is the only reliable weapon in the passing game. Just like last season, Hakeem Nicks simply isn't winning one-on-one matchups.
  1. Tom Coughlin continues to cut off his nose to spite his face in the Giants' backfield. David Wilson is running tentatively with no opportunity to get in a groove in a committee attack. The current version of Brandon Jacobs is one of the slowest NFL running backs we've ever seen. The Giants will discover what they have in Wilson at some point this season. In the meantime, the season has slipped away.
  1. Peyton Manning broke Brett Favre's NFL record with his 24th game of at least four touchdown passes. He also broke Kurt Warner's record for most touchdown passes through four games while matching Browns quarterback Milt Plum's 1960 start with 16 touchdowns versus zero interceptions. After topping the 50-point marker for the first time in franchise history, the Broncos now are on pace for 716 points -- which would shatter the Patriots' 589 in 2007. Manning's on-pace numbers are even more absurd at 468-of-624 (75.0 percent) for 5,880 yards and a 64:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

  1. For the second consecutive week, an inconsistent Michael Vick was able to move the offense up and down the field only to fall short in the red zone. The defense and special teams were still a bigger issue than Vick's offense. Nick Foles came on for a quick garbage-time score, but Vick is in no danger of losing his job.
  1. Wes Welker is up to six touchdowns on the season. Tom Brady started Sunday night's game with just five touchdown passes.
  1. Blaine Gabbert continues to show nothing. He averaged just over five yards per attempt and threw three interceptions, one of which was brought back for a game-turning touchdown in the second quarter. We already knew Gabbert wasn't the answer. Each game only reinforces that notion.
  1. Trent Richardson scored a touchdown from in close for a second consecutive week for the Colts, but he brought his yards-per-carry issues with him from Cleveland. He finished with 60 yards on 20 carries.
  1. Maurice Jones-Drew will be playing elsewhere next season. His production is bound to crater given the Jags' plight, meaning there's a good chance his new team will get the veteran running back at a bargain rate.
  1. Mike Glennon showed promise. There were errors and a few ugly reads, but the rookie quarterback's best quality was evident: He isn't afraid to get rid of the ball. Glennon rolled away from the rush, checked down to second and third options and capably built a 10-0 halftime lead before throwing it away with two interceptions in the final four minutes.
  1. For three quarters, Darrelle Revis won his battle with Larry Fitzgerald, who went into halftime without a catch. Revis didn't key on Fitzgerald exclusively -- sometimes pushing him into zone coverage -- but their matchup should be a Game Rewind sensation this week. Revis had a pick on a pass intended for Fitzgerald, but the All-Pro wideout roared back with six second-half catches and the game's key touchdown reception.
  1. Nice win by the Cardinals, but their offensive line is a problem. The Bucs were held to one sack but controlled the line of scrimmage. Carson Palmer is a dead man walking until offensive tackle Levi Brown and friends get this fixed.
  1. Aided by a stifling defense, quarterback Brian Hoyer guided Cleveland to a second consecutive victory since replacing Brandon Weeden in the starting lineup. He wasn't perfect, but Hoyer -- again -- was decisive throwing the ball and led the Browns on a long fourth-quarter scoring march that salted away the win.
  1. If you listen to the "Around The League Podcast," you know our gang of scribes has its issues with Andy Dalton. Sunday was a perfect example of why. The Bengals quarterback passed for a whopping 69 yards in the first half and failed to take advantage of good field position. Dalton doesn't lift the play of the guys around him. We can't help but wonder what this talented team could do with a gunslinger at the helm.
  1. This was a statement game for Cleveland's young defense. Joe Haden locked down A.J. Green in man coverage, and the Browns badgered Dalton with a disguised pass rush that unleashed rookie Barkevious Mingo and saw cornerback Chris Owens strip-sack the Bengals passer to open the third quarter. This is a well-coached unit that doesn't give up big plays.
  1. Philip Rivers for MVP? Yes, it's still early, but Rivers is playing as good as any quarterback not named Peyton Manning. Rivers threw for 401 yards and three touchdowns, completing 83 percent of his passes. Rivers is back, and it's made the Chargers an AFC player.

  1. Shame on the Cowboys, who had a chance to establish themselves as a legit NFC contender and instead let another game slip away. Dallas had a 21-10 lead in the second quarter, but surrendered the game's final 20 points. You won't read any Monte Kiffin fluff pieces this week.
  1. Antonio Gates is alive and well. The veteran tight end was a beast, finishing with 10 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown. Rivers' resurgence has done wonders for Gates, who looks healthy and is producing like his mid-2000s heyday.
  1. Jake Locker was on the way to the best game of his career when he went down with a potentially serious right hip injury in the third quarter. If he misses extended time, the Titans will lose their opportunity to properly evaluate what they have in the 2011 first-round pick. Locker was hospitalized with the injury.
  1. Any good will Geno Smith built up over the Jets' first three weeks was undone over four heinous quarters in Nashville. Smith looked rattled, finishing with four turnovers that led to 28 Titans points. Smith didn't give his team a chance, and the Jets are right to be nervous about the quarterback situation -- again.
  1. The Titans' decision to deactivate wide receiver Kenny Britt didn't set back their offense at all. You have to wonder if Judgment Day is coming on that front this week.
  1. The Texans played 40 perfect minutes, and then 32 awful minutes into overtime to blow a 20-3 lead. That's the story of their season. They are an imbalanced team with a great defense and a mediocre offense. Matt Schaub played great for most of this game but threw a back-breaking interception. He's made too many mental mistakes.

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the Seattle Seahawks' 23-20 win over the Houston Texans from Week 4 on Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

  1. Seattle's pass protection issues are something to watch in the coming weeks. Russell Wilson could barely get a pass off most of the game. This comeback was about Seattle's defense and Wilson's ability to scramble. With nothing happening through the air, Wilson ran for 77 yards down the stretch, including an enormous fourth-down scramble near the goal line.
  1. Texans running back Ben Tate was benched after a costly fumble in the third quarter. Houston missed his juice late in the game.
  1. A frenetic Steelers comeback fell 6 yards short when Ben Roethlisberger lost a fumble in the red zone with under 20 seconds left. It was a fitting ending. Minnesota's pass rush rag-dolled Pittsburgh's pathetic pass protection all day. Mike Adams was schooled by Jared Allen. The Steelers seem to have no solution for their offensive line.
  1. Look for the Vikings to stick with Matt Cassel as their starting quarterback. He wasn't as good as his numbers indicated in this game (25 throws for 248 yards and two touchdowns), but you can't argue with the results. Cassel was aggressive trying to throw the ball down the field.
  1. Greg Jennings looked like himself for the first time all year on a 70-yard touchdown. Perhaps the veteran wideout still has some juice after all. Pittsburgh's tackling and pass coverage was miserable all day. It's not all about the offensive line.
  1. It's amazing how much the Raiders missed Terrelle Pryor. With running back Darren McFadden (hamstring) and Marcel Reece (knee) hurt early in the game, Oakland needed to throw. Flynn got poor protection overall and couldn't create plays out of the pocket on his own. He threw a crippling interception returned for a touchdown. The Raiders' offensive line requires a quarterback like Pryor who can make his own magic.
  1. The Redskins lost running back Alfred Morris to a rib injury in the fourth quarter. Roy Helu did a solid job closing the game out. After the game, coach Mike Shanahan announced that Morris didn't break any ribs.
  1. The key to Robert Griffin's game was his decision-making. He ran for just 10 yards, but he connected a lot of nice third-down throws and avoided big mistakes. He's thrown the ball well the last two weeks.
  1. Bill Belichick is known for taking away what an offense does best. He used Aqib Talib and safety help to put the clamps on Julio Jones until the final minutes, daring the Falcons to beat them with Tony Gonzalez, a less-than-100 percent Roddy White and the ground attack. It worked. Even with Jones padding his stats late in the game, the Patriots have held opposing No. 1 receivers to an average of just 58 yards through four games. The combination of Talib and safety Devin McCourty has been Pro Bowl-caliber.

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the New England Patriots' 30-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons from Week 4 on Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. ET.

  1. All of that extra attention on Jones freed up Gonzalez for a career-high 149 yards to go with a pair of touchdowns on a dozen receptions. If Gonzalez needed a few games to get into football shape after missing training camp, it looks like he's finally made it back to 2012 form.
  1. Of the Patriots' undrafted training camp sensations, Kenbrell Thompkins looks like a keeper while Zach Sudfeld appears to be a dud. Thompkins dropped a couple of passes, but also showed playmaking ability in catching six passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. Sudfeld has yet to record a reception this season and muffed an onside kick Sunday night.

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