25 Things We Learned from NFL Week 4

Stephen WhiteFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2012

25 Things We Learned from NFL Week 4

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    After four weeks of NFL football most teams are fully a quarter into their season. The games today were just another step toward getting to the playoffs for some teams, and for others it was a step toward having to plan for next year instead.

    As always there were a few surprises, some crucial coaching decisions and several outstanding individual performances from the players. Here are the 25 things that were most interesting to me about Week 4.

Sometimes People Power Works: Replacement Refs Edition

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    Count me as one of those who, at this point, had become so cynical about the NFL owners and their negotiation tactics that I didn't think even the replacement ref debacle at the end of the Green Bay Packers' loss to the Seattle Seahawks would be enough to push them to strike a deal with the regular refs.

    Thankfully, I was wrong.

    Not only did both sides agree to a new eight-year contract this week, they got it done in time for the regular refs to work the Thursday Night Football game

    Now the spin is that this might have happened even without that play, but I'm not buying that at all. Just remember while you hear of commissioner Roger Goodell apologizing for putting fans "through that" after the deal was agreed to, last week the league spokesman was sending out a statement claiming the replacement refs were "performing admirably."

    It is just impossible for me to believe that the tremendous backlash from social media to politicians after the Monday Night Football game didn't greatly contribute to a deal getting done.

    So hats off to all of us who took the time to complain about what happened; it looks like this is rare win for the little people. 

You Better Not Forget About Anquan Boldin

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    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith is rightfully getting a lot of the attention on offense this year, but teammate Anquan Boldin showed in a win over the Cleveland Browns that he can still get it done as well.

    With nine catches Boldin almost equaled his production in the first three games combined, and with 131 yards receiving he actually exceeded his previous production on the year.

    Boldin is probably never going to be seen as a big-play guy because he doesn't have elite top-end speed. He can still make big plays, however, because he can beat out physical guys on deep throws against man-to-man coverage, and on short throws he does a great job running after the catch.

    Those skills were both on full display Thursday night and if the Ravens get him more involved the rest of the way, that offense is going to be tough to stop. 

Aldon Smith Is on Fire

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    San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith has had a relatively quiet start to the season considering his awesome rookie year last year. Today he made up for lost time, exploding for two sacks and a forced fumble in a blowout win over the New York Jets.

    Smith was already getting a lot of pressure but just wasn't closing the deal for a bunch of sacks. Now he just needs to try to continue the momentum he created today for the rest of the season and the 49ers' defense will be just fine.

The NFL Is a Copycat League: Option Runs Edition

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    Last week the Washington Redskins broke out the triple option in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Today the San Francisco 49ers followed suit.

    The Carolina Panthers, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals, among others, all run Wildcat or zone-read plays as well.

    With the NFL changing the rules in recent years to allow another quarterback to be active on game day and the proliferation of mobile quarterbacks in the NFL, how long will it be before every team is running at least some option during the course of a game?

    Not long, I'd imagine.

    That's something I never thought I would be saying even five years ago.

The Buffalo Bills Aren't Going Anywhere This Season

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    The Buffalo Bills appeared to have the New England Patriots on the ropes when they went up 21-7 in the third quarter of their game today. They then proceeded to give up five consecutive touchdowns before they scored another point. 

    Yes, that's correct, five consecutive touchdowns.

    All told, Patriots ended up scoring 31 points in the fourth quarter alone to beat them 52-28 with the Bills turning in one of the most embarrassing second-half performances by an NFL team that I can recall in recent memory.

    The Bills stand at 2-2 on the season, but the way they played today showed they are not going to be able to compete with the better teams on their schedule. When the playoffs come around at the end of the season they will once again be on the outside looking in. 

You Can't Stop J. J. Watt, You Can Only Hope to Contain Him

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    With another two sacks against the Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans defensive end J. J. Watt has 7.5 sacks and has had at least 1.5 in every game so far this season.

    That level of consistent production is very rare to see in the NFL, especially from a 3-4 defensive end. I'm not sure what opposing offenses can do to keep him off their quarterbacks, but they better figure something out—and soon.

Drew Brees Can't Do It by Himself

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    New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 35 of 54 passes for a whopping 446 yards and three touchdowns in the game today against the Green Bay Packers

    Unfortunately that outstanding effort was squandered as Saints kicker Garrett Hartley missed a field goal to win the game at the end and the Saints ended up losing.

    I can't imagine how demoralizing it must be for the Saints to have their quarterback give that kind of effort and still fall up short. I do know that there are a bunch of guys other than just Hartley on that team that have to be feeling like they let him down.

    At the end of the day they still haven't won a game and it appears they have already dug a hole so deep that they won't be able to crawl out of it.

Understatement: The New York Jets Will Struggle Without Darrelle Revis

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    With New York Jets All Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis out with an ACL tear it was expected that the team would have a hard time replacing him. I'm not sure anybody expected them to get dominated so completely by the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, however.

    Without Revis the Jets are simply not able to generate enough turnovers to cover for a mediocre-at-best offense. If somebody doesn't step up soon as a playmaker on either side of the ball it's going to be a long season for Jets fans. 

The Minnesota Vikings Are for Real

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    The Minnesota Vikings sit at 3-1after today's win over the Detroit Lions and are tied atop the NFC North with the Chicago Bears.

    Quarterback Christian Ponder has been fantastic so far, bouncing back from an average-at-best rookie season a year ago. Percy Harvin is listed as a wide receiver but has done a little bit of everything so far this season.

    Running back Adrian Peterson, still less than a year from tearing his ACL, looks like he hasn't lost a step at all. The offense also got Jerome Simpson back from suspension and he made an immediate impact today.

    The defense under new coordinator Alan Williams is also playing lights out. 

    I don't think many people had the Vikings as a playoff team this year, but if they can stay healthy and keep playing like they have up until this point that's definitely where I see them by the end of the season. 

When They Aren't Playing the Falcons, the Chargers Are a Pretty Good Team

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    If the San Diego Chargers had a hangover after their blowout loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week, you couldn't tell watching their 37-20 win Sunday over the Kansas City Chiefs

    The Chargers dominated the game from start to finish, scoring at least 10 points in every quarter except the third.

    Defensively they grabbed three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, and notched two sacks in the game. Aside from giving up a few big plays they almost shut down the Chiefs' offense completely.

    The lesson here may be that the Chargers are indeed a good team but the Falcons are just on another level this year. 

It's Not Always Good to Be Greedy

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    The New York Giants were already in the field-goal range of their kicker Lawrence Tynes at the Philadelphia Eagles' 26-yard line at the end of the Sunday Night Football game. Instead of running the ball a couple of times or just trying to get close to the middle of the field, Giants quarterback Eli Manning decided to take one more shot downfield. 

    Instead of the pass just falling incomplete, Giants wide receiver Ramses Barden was called for pass interference, which moved the Giants back 15 yards to the Eagles' 36-yard line.

    That ended up being a huge difference as Tynes' 54-yard kick attempt came up just short and the Eagles escaped with a win.

    I understand trying to stay aggressive, but sometimes you just have to take what you already have so you don't screw it up. 

A Reminder That NFL Players Earn Every Cent They Make

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    I know that its popular for some fans and some sports media to complain about some NFL players being overpaid.

    I can even understand the sentiment to a certain extent because professional athletes in general make a lot more money than society at large in this country. It can seem unfair.

    The one thing about a hit like the one Josh Cribbs endured on Thursday night is it reminds everyone the risks professional football players face to their health on every single play.

    That was a totally legal hit and neither player did anything wrong, and yet Cribbs lay on the field unconscious. Before he eventually got up and walked off under his own power, one had to worry if he hadn't sustained even more serious injuries.

    That play or one similar could literally happen to anyone on an NFL football team and the results would likely vary with the individual.

    That doesn't mean you have to empathize with them, but it does mean they are absolutely right to seek maximum compensation for as long as they play the game. 

Chris Johnson Ain't Dead Yet

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    Yeah, so last week I completely wrote off Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson for this season and maybe beyond. He just hadn't looked good at all to start the year and I had no reason to believe that would change anytime soon. 

    Looks like I was wrong and I have no problem admitting it. 

    Johnson ripped the Houston Texans defense for 141 yards on 25 carries on the ground. It wasn't like he had one big run to inflate his numbers either, as his longest carry on the day was 18 yards.

    His effort was in vain as the Titans went down hard to the Texans, but Johnson did show he still has something left in the tank against an above-average defense. 

Letting Roddy White Behind You at the End of the Game Is Dumb

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    The Atlanta Falcons lined up at their own 1-yard line down 27-28 to the Carolina Panthers with 59 seconds left in the game.

    For some reason the Panthers' secondary decided this was a good time to let wide receiver Roddy White, who had already caught seven passes for 110 yards, behind them.

    The end result was a 59-yard reception by White that put the Falcons at the Panthers' 40-yard line and went a long way toward setting up their game-winning field goal five plays later.

    I don't necessarily think prevent defense was in order at that point but you can't let a guy like White get behind you in that situation. He is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL when it comes to plucking the ball out of the air, and if you give him a chance to make a play like that he generally is going to make it.

Matt Cassel Has to Go

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    Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel was just awful in a loss to the San Diego Chargers today. I'm not even sure awful is a strong enough word.

    Three interceptions before halftime, one of which was returned for a touchdown?

    I mean it isn't like the Chiefs don't have weapons on offense around him either. 

    So what, exactly, will it take for the Chiefs to finally move on to someone else? I can tell you this much after watching him for the first four games; anybody they turn to couldn't be much worse.

Captain Obvious: The 49ers Really Like to Run the Ball

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    In a win over the New York Jets today the San Francisco 49ers had three different players rush for at least 50 yards and a touchdown. 

    With the NFL being seen as a passing league these days the 49ers have shown that you can still win going old school and pounding the ball on the ground at people.

The Rumors of Peyton Manning's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

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    Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning completed 30 out of 38 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns in a win today over the Oakland Raiders.

    That's about as dominant a game as you will see from a quarterback on the NFL level.

    After two weeks in which Manning got off to slow starts and questions popped up about his abilities, Manning put to rest most of those concerns for at least another week.

It's a New Day in St. Louis

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    I didn't give the St. Louis Rams much of a chance to win their game today against the Seattle Seahawks, but they made me eat my words. Watching them play since the regular season started, I think it's clear new head coach Jeff Fisher has this team believing they can win any game. 

    The Seahawks were coming off an emotional and controversial win over the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football but they still appeared to be the better team on paper. As I keep saying though, the games are played on the field.

Connor Barth Is the Best Kicker You Probably Have Never Heard of

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Connor Barth extended his current NFL-best streak of 25 kicks made with out a miss Saturday against the Washington Redskins. That also happens to be a team record for the Bucs.

    He even had a chance to be the hero at the end after he made his third field goal of the day, but the defense gave up a game-winning field goal on the ensuing Redskins drive.

    Barth has been putting up Pro Bowl-like numbers for a couple of years now. Unfortunately for him, unless the Bucs start winning more games, few will even know his name. 

Cameron Wake Finally Woke Up

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    Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake played well in the first three games but had yet to record a sack. In a loss to the Arizona Cardinals he more than made up for lost time.

    By the time the final horn had sounded Wake had notched 4.5 sacks and vaulted himself up among the league leaders in that category. I wouldn't expect him to have a bunch of games like that one but I would bet you will see him racking up sacks on a more regular basis now. 

Don't Look Now but the Bengals Have Only Lost One Game

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    Yeah, I know that the Cincinnati Bengals haven't exactly beaten three world beaters, but 3-1 is 3-1 and that's what they are after beating the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday.

    They have lost to the Baltimore Ravens in their division so they aren't exactly on top of the AFC North, but if they keep beating the teams they are "supposed" to beat they may well find their way into the playoffs by season's end.

Poor Clock Management at the End of the Game Will Kill You: Buccaneers Edition

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    I'm not quite sure what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were thinking at the end of their loss to the Washington Redskins.

    They had the ball already in field-goal position on second down with the ball on the Redskins' 33-yard line coming out of the two-minute timeout. In that situation you have to run the ball to either force the Redskins to use one of their last two timeouts, or if they don't, have the clock run down to the point where they wouldn't have much time left after the field goal is made.

    Instead the Bucs chose to throw a pass that was almost intercepted and ultimately ruled incomplete. This stopped the clock, and after the Bucs did eventually kick a field goal two plays later the Redskins still had 1:42 left to work with after a touchback.

    They made good use of that time, driving down to the Bucs' 24-yard line and kicking the winning field goal with just seven seconds left on the clock.

    You can make the argument that as bad as the Bucs played in the first half they didn't deserve to win this game anyway—and I would have a hard time disagreeing.

    Still, they were in position to win at the end and didn't, at least partially because of some dumb clock management at the end of the game.

The Arizona Cardinals Are Undefeated

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    After beating the Miami Dolphins in overtime today the Arizona Cardinals are one of only three teams in the entire NFL that are still undefeated.

    I would probably have more to say about this but I don't understand it either.

When You Give LeSean McCoy the Ball Good Things Happen

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    The Philadelphia Eagles' offense has been sputtering to start the season and one of the remedies that seemed obvious was to give the ball to their Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy more.

    Even though Eagles head coach Andy Reid claimed there was nothing wrong with his game plans earlier in the week, he did just that tonight against the New York Giants.

    The results were remarkable.

    McCoy rushed for 123 yards on 23 carries and helped to open up the Eagles' passing game by making the Giants' linebackers respect the run threat on a play-action pass. The end result was that the Eagles' offense looked better than it has all season, and they walked off the field with a win against their division rival. 

    Hopefully Reid sees that as a good reason to continue to employ a similar game plan for the rest of the season. 

Order Has Been Restored

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    The regular refs weren't perfect in their return to the field this weekend, but the one thing I noticed is that things ran a lot more smoothly in every game.

    During the late games it also occurred to me that all of the scrums and fights that were common just last week seemed to be largely missing from the games today. That in and of itself is a positive step forward.

    They say you never miss what you had until it's gone. Well let me take time out to welcome the regular refs back because they were definitely missed.