NFL Week 4's Top Performers from Around the League
Another week in the National Football League, and another dozen fresh new storylines appear. We can start from New York in the Tim Tebow circus, to the Matt Ryan MVP bandwagon, to Detroit's season spiraling downhill after a promising playoff appearance, to Arizona winning yet another game, to Robert Griffin III's superhuman rookie campaign, to Green Bay where the loser's playoff chances seemingly dwindle to zero, and lastly to Philadelphia for yet another Andy Reid time mismanagement.
Wherever you find yourself, it is always eventful in the NFL: Where some teams are just hitting their stride (Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers), others find their seasons in limbo (New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks), or looking toward the end (Oakland Raiders, New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, and Jacksonville).
It's only Week 4, people, so try not to overreact until at least midseason, but here are your top performers of the week.
Coming into the season, Matt Ryan had plenty of pundits backing him as a potential breakout performer. Who would have known he'd become this good? Simply put, with another huge performance on Sunday, Matt Ryan is the NFL MVP at this moment.
Not only did he throw for 369 yards and three touchdowns, he engineered a game-winning drive in the final minute when the Panthers mysteriously decided not to go for it on a fourth-and-one at midfield with super-runner Cam Newton at the helm.
Ryan's gorgeous deep ball after a play-action (not sure why, but it worked) from their 1-yard line to Roddy White helped get them down the field and eventually led to the game-winning field goal by Matt Bryant.
Despite getting sacked seven times and hit in numerous other drop-backs, he was able to stand in the pocket and deliver strike after strike against a helpless Panthers defense. They haven't played the best, and Ryan's schedule stands to get tougher as the season wears along.
With tough teams like Philadelphia, Dallas and New Orleans (one would believe they would bounce back) ahead, an undefeated schedule for Matt Ryan could help him wrestle away the trophy from Aaron Rodgers a little past midseason.
So of course, in typical letdown fashion, the Seahawks went into Edward Jones Dome and put up a stinker. The Rams, got a superhuman effort from their kicker, Greg Zuerlein, who not only hit four field goals but hit from 48, 58 and 60 yards. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, this is the only kicker that's ever hit a 50-yard and a 60-yard field goal in the same game.
With the Rams offense struggling and doing just enough to get into position, they did enough to get them past Pete Carroll's team. While this game showed how much fight a Jeff Fisher-led team has, it ultimately exposed the Seahawks' offensive woes. Russell Wilson struggled mightily, throwing for only 160 yards and three interceptions. Pair that along with the Golden Tate lucky touchdown, and they could easily be 1-3 at this point.
But the focus should be on Zuerlein and his golden leg, kicking the Rams into relevancy. They may not make the playoffs this year, but with an improving defense paired with an improving Sam Bradford, the Rams have a chance to play spoiler against NFC West favorite San Francisco and the upstart Arizona Cardinals.
New England Patriots Running Backs Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley
The New England Patriots rebounded from a tough loss in Baltimore with a 52-28 victory in which they scored 45 points in the second half. This is the most in any half by a team in 40 years, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. Even though Tom Brady tossed three touchdowns and 340 yards with no turnovers, this game was about the running backs.
As everyone knows, anyone from the Patriots can step up any week because they game-plan for their opponents, and their strategies are all fluid. While Stevan Ridley has been the lead back and goal-line back this year, last week he had only 13 carries compared to Danny Woodhead's 15.
Well, this week he got back on track, running 22 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns, and his running mate, Brandon Bolden, ran 16 times for 137 yards and one touchdown. The most impressive part of their runs was the punishing style in which they bulldozed their way through the Buffalo defense.
Gone is the tricky, catch-you-off-guard running style of Woodhead and Kevin Faulk; that style was replaced by a punishing style of power and burst by both runners. Considering their improving defense, which includes the additions of Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, and the prolific offense that will get Aaron Hernandez back, it would not be surprising if the Patriots lose only one game for the rest of the season.
San Francisco Defense
After a very surprising loss a week ago against Christian Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings, the San Francisco 49ers stayed in Ohio for the week and rebounded in a big way against the New York Jets, stomping them to the tune of 34-0. In reality, it wasn't even that close. This one could have been in the 50s had Alex Smith not overthrown a couple players and David Akers not missed two field goals.
This loss was so bad, Jets fans didn't know whether to boo Mark Sanchez or root for Tim Tebow. It wouldn't have mattered which quarterback was out there. Facing constant pressure and a non-existent run game, the Jets "led" by Mark Sanchez sloughed their way to 145 yards on 50 plays (2.9 yards per play) and three turnovers, including a fumble returned for a touchdown.
Aldon Smith rebounded from a poor game against the Vikings in which he struggled with pass defense; on Sunday he recorded two sacks and two tackles-for-loss. Patrick Willis had an interception and NaVorro Bowman had another one slip through his hands. With Parys Haralson out for season and newly signed Clark Haggans suspended for three games, linebacker depth is a concern, but they came out of this game unscathed.
After a tough loss and poor showing from their defense last week, they will look to keep this going.
After two straight lackluster performances against the Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Texans, Peyton Manning came back in a big way, albeit against the hapless Oakland Raiders. After Ben Roethlisberger picked apart the Raiders for 384 yards and four touchdowns last week, Manning torched them to the tune of 338 yards and three touchdowns and only missed on eight of 38 pass attempts.
Although some of his passes were characteristically wobbly, as in earlier weeks, his accuracy was not to be denied. He was finally able to hook up with Eric Decker, who had seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown, and the run game helped balance the offense. In typical Manning fashion, he completed passes to eight receivers and targeted two others, distributing the ball evenly and keeping the Raiders defense on its heels.
Right now, with the Chiefs' struggles and the Raiders' consistently terrible play, the AFC West could come down to the San Diego Chargers and Manning's Broncos. Although the Chargers are 3-1, they haven't been impressive and most likely will not run away with the division.
Coupled with arguably the best defense in the AFC West, Peyton Manning can lead his collection of possession receivers (Joel Dreesen, Jacob Tamme, Eric Decker and Brandon Stokley) and one dynamic wideout in Demaryius Thomas to the division title.
Through the rubble of the Dolphins' offseason—the Chad Johnson distraction, and the Hard Knocks filming—stepped out a rookie quarterback who may be able to replace the big shoes Dan Marino has left behind in Miami since 1999.
Against one of the best defenses in the league that shut down Tom Brady and Michael Vick, head coach Joe Philbin released the shackles, and Tannehill responded by going 26-for-41, with 431 yards and a touchdown. Although he had two interceptions, only one was his fault, as the second one he had was due to a breakdown in pass protection, causing a quarterback hit that caused the ball to loft into the air into the waiting Cardinals defense.
Tannehill also managed to break Marino's rookie record by more than 100 yards. If breaking a legendary quarterback's franchise record in your fourth start doesn't make you a top performer, I don't know what does. Tannehill will look to keep progressing next week against the Cincinnati Bengals even with lackluster playmaking options around him.
While Brian Hartline had an excellent game, neither he nor Davone Bess (another player with a solid game) present the type of game-breaking speed that would pair well with Tannehill's cannon. However, he has shown much promise in four games, especially when the realization of the fact comes that he played wide receiver at Texas A&M before switching to signal-caller. He was able to drop back, make aggressive reads and snap the ball out the pocket with accuracy and speed.
An impressive showing in a tough matchup for the rebuilding Dolphins. Robert Griffin and Andrew Luck be damned; don't forget Ryan Tannehill.
Robert Griffin III
Speaking of which, just another superb passing and running performance from the Washington Redskins savior. With Andrew Luck on a bye this week, there isn't anyone to compare Griffin to, but we may start having to put him in the top 10 quarterbacks of the league.
Not only is he an excellent runner, rushing seven times for 43 yards and a touchdown (should have been two, but he fumbled and Pierre Garcon recovered), but he can also toss the pigskin, going 25-for-35 for 323 yards while passing to nine receivers. Those numbers, along with his game-winning drive, may be impressive, but the most stunning part is the zero turnovers. 42 touches against a tough Buccaneers defense, and he did not give it up once. Extremely rare for a quarterback, not to mention a rookie.
Not to heap on the praise, but Griffin also wasn't wearing a headset during his game-winning drive and was calling his own plays. How he overcame Billy Cundiff's three missed field goals beats me.
The only issue is the amount of hits Griffin does take. While his numbers compare to Cam Newton's campaign, he is built more like Michael Vick than Cam, and we know all about Vick's struggles with injuries.
While Griffin's future is bright, the Redskins, with the loss of pass-rushers Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker are more pretenders than contenders and should start thinking about limiting the amount of runs he has per game. His recovered fumble came in a bone-jarring hit at the goal line that dislodged the ball from his body. Showing no fear, coach Mike Shanahan drew up the play again later, and Griffin scored. Brave, but probably not smart long-term.
Don't let that detract from his extraordinary performance. Robert Griffin III will be a star for years to come.
The Real Referees
Despite the egregiously bad call in Green Bay on the Darren Sproles should-have-been fumble and a questionable pass-interference call against Nnamdi Asumogha at the end of the Philadelphia-New York game, it was an otherwise uneventful day throughout the league, which is always a good thing.
There weren't any especially game-changing calls like the one in the Green Bay-Seattle game last Monday night that so happened to spark the beginning of the end of the labor dispute. Most importantly, the games flowed smoothly as the officials were able to operate pedestrian things such as setting the ball up and calling fouls on the correct players without wasting extra time.
While the real referees aren't perfect, they most certainly command the player's respect, thus keeping the game in control. There was no Josh Morgan throwing the ball at Cortland Finnegan because the referees weren't clued in to one of the dirtiest players in all of sports.
All in all, there were no newsworthy material from the referees this week, and after the tumultuous first three weeks, that's all football fans can ask for.