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Snap Judgments for Week 4

Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take in a Week 4 that turned into a veritable points-palooza in so many NFL locales (six of Sunday's early eight games saw the winner score 30 points or more) ...

• With Oakland and St. Louis both blowing early leads to lose again at home in Week 4, the NFL's firing season could get a very early start this year. Both the Raiders (1-3) and Rams (0-4) are headed into their bye week, meaning it's probably the most opportune time for Oakland and St. Louis to lower the boom on their embattled head coaches -- Lane Kiffin and Scott Linehan.

It'll be no surprise if either or both moves come about, since Kiffin and Linehan have been dead men walking for weeks now. They ranked 1-2 in some order on the hot-seat list throughout the offseason, and things are disintegrating almost daily in St. Louis, where Linehan's decision to bench quarterback Marc Bulger nearly sparked an open player revolt.

Kiffin has a much better rapport with his players, but of course, owner Al Davis has the only opinion that matters in Oakland -- and he has wanted Kiffin gone since January. It certainly didn't strengthen Kiffin's hand when the Raiders gave up 25 fourth-quarter points to the Chargers on Sunday, losing 28-18 in a game they led 15-0 at halftime.

Want to hazard a guess as to when the last time an NFL team fired its head coach just four games or fewer into a season? Of course, it was Davis's Raiders, when Mike Shanahan was canned at 1-3 in 1989. How'd that one work out for you, Al?

• Uh, oh. That would be Green Bay's worst-case scenario, losing starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers with a shoulder injury with only rookies Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm behind him. Bad day all around for Rodgers. Besides the late third-quarter injury, he threw three picks in the Packers' 30-21 loss at Tampa Bay.

Having lost 27-16 to Dallas at Lambeau last Sunday night, combined with Week 4's depressing events, the Packers look like they may not be running away with the NFC North after all.

• Not this time, Broncos. No late miracle unfolded in Kansas City on Sunday. There was no Ed Hochuli blunder to bail them out, either.

Four turnovers by Denver's high-powered offense certainly didn't help the cause, but the inability to stop anyone on defense finally caught up with Shanahan's previously unbeaten team in Week 4.

It just proves a point that almost every NFL fan knows: You can't camouflage a shaky defense every week with an offense averaging 38 points per game. Sooner or later, you pay the price, as the Broncos did in Kansas City, losing 33-19 to a Chiefs team that hadn't won a game since Week 7 of last year. Kansas City's 12-game losing streak was the league's longest active skid, and Sunday was only 23 days shy of the one-year anniversary of its most recent win.

Denver's offense entered the day averaging 432 yards per game, tops in the AFC. The Broncos did nothing to hurt that average, posting 446 yards against Kansas City, with quarterback Jay Cutler throwing for 361. But the Broncos' Swiss-cheese defense averaged 28 points and 431 yards allowed per game in the season's first three weeks, and even the previously woeful Chiefs were able to hang 370 yards and 33 points on Denver.

Unlike past weeks, the Broncos weren't gouged through the air. Kansas City quarterback Damon Huard threw for just 160 yards -- about 155 fewer than Denver's season average. But with a rejuvenated Larry Johnson rumbling for 198 of K.C.'s 213 rushing yards, the Broncos defense proved it can be beaten any number of ways. And that's not a good development for a 3-1 team that still holds sole possession of first place in the AFC West.

The Broncos offense looks capable of scoring early and often against almost anyone. But you can't live as dangerously every week as Denver had previously managed this season. This time, the offensive fireworks sputtered a bit in a hail of turnovers, and the defensive high-wire act didn't prove survivable. The Broncos re-learned a lesson that may prove to be a season-long echo. You can't win an offensive slugfest every week in the NFL. Sooner or later, you've got to stop somebody.

• There was not a thing fluky about the Redskins' road upset of the previously 3-0 Cowboys. Washington beat Dallas soundly, even though the final score was only 26-24. This should put a dose of smelling salts under the Cowboys' noses, because while they generated talk of being the NFL's best team in the season's first three weeks, the reality is they're not even the best team in their division. In fact, they're not even the second-best team in the NFC East. I'll take the Giants (3-0) and the Redskins (3-1) over them, and the Eagles are just a half-step behind.

What a division. It's a shame the NFC East can't supply three wild-card playoff teams.

• I guess that's what we all should have expected when the 0-3 Browns visited the 0-3 Bengals -- an ugly battle of field goals and anemic offenses that stood 6-3, Cincinnati, heading to the fourth quarter.

The Browns at least averted a citywide panic in the streets of Cleveland by scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter, putting the game away and garnering their long-delayed first win of the season, 20-12. But anyone who thinks that Cleveland's offensive problems are a thing of the past, or that quarterback Derek Anderson has dismissed the looming specter of Brady Quinn with that performance, wasn't paying attention.

The Browns' 17 fourth-quarter points were seven more than they had scored in any of their first three games, but we still haven't seen anything resembling the explosive offense that put 402 points (25.1 per game) on the scoreboard last season. Even with Sunday's 20 points, the Browns have scored just 46 points this season, or 11.5 per game.

And to think we've still got four more chances to watch the Browns play in prime time this season.

• Wow. Week 4 provided us with a Braylon Edwards sighting. The Browns Pro Bowl receiver had a very modest three catches for 22 yards against the Bengals, but his four-yard, one-handed stab in the end zone early in the fourth quarter was his first touchdown of the season and proved to be the game-winner.

• So much for Arizona's masterstroke of staying on the East Coast last week, rather than traveling home between its Week 3 game in Washington and Sunday's game in New Jersey. The Cardinals lost 24-17 to the Redskins and 56-35 to the Jets, giving up 34 points in the second quarter -- a Jets team record. How much worse could it have been if the Cardinals had slept in their own beds all week?

Good teams win on the road, no matter where they happen to spend their week, and mediocre teams struggle away from home, no matter their sleeping arrangements. Although I did find it altogether fitting that Arizona practiced all week at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Where else should a bunch of Cardinals gather?

Kurt Warner's lack of ball-security prowess astounds me. If there's an NFL starting quarterback who's sloppier at taking care of the football, I don't know who it would be. Sunday was somehow a fitting example of where I think Warner's game is these days.

He can pile up some pretty, pretty statistics for you, witness Arizona hanging 35 points on the board in the second half, and Warner ending up 40 of 57 with 472 passing yards. But in the first half, Warner was picked off twice, and fumbled three times, losing two of them. Those four turnovers had more to do with the Jets leading 34-0 at the break than anything New York did.

More than ever, I say the longer the Cardinals continue to play the prolific but mistake-prone Warner over Matt Leinart, the greater chance Arizona is going to wind up stunting the development of its 2006 first-round pick.

• Speaking of old, gray-haired quarterbacks, not a bad day for Brett Favre, who I think would have been subject to more than a little bit of criticism if this once-promising Jets season had slipped to 1-3, with three straight losses since opening day.

In all those years in Green Bay, Favre had never thrown six touchdowns in a single game, but he did that against Arizona on a drizzly Sunday in the Meadowlands.

• We're not even really used to seeing Favre in the green and white of the Jets just yet, so how jarring was it to watch No. 4 do his stuff in those ugly navy and brown-mustard New York Titans throwback uniforms the Jets like to trot out a couple times a year?

I'm betting once Favre saw himself dressed in those puppies, he absolutely knew he wasn't in Green Bay anymore.

• It was a good news, bad news day for Houston. True, the road weary Texans dropped to 0-3 with their 30-27 overtime loss at Jacksonville, and that's a long way from where they hoped to be record-wise, after last year's franchise-best 8-8 finish. But on a brighter note, they at least were competitive throughout the game, unlike their first two defeats -- 38-17 at Pittsburgh in Week 1 and 31-12 at Tennessee last week.

And most importantly, Houston quarterback Matt Schaub answered the challenge of defending his job in the starting lineup by throwing for 307 yards and three touchdowns against the Jaguars. Schaub was an efficient 29 of 40, and threw no interceptions for a passer rating of 119.5. There should be no cries in Houston this week for the promotion of veteran backup Sage Rosenfels. Schaub did his job against Jacksonville.

• Don't underestimate how big that comeback win was for Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, who has been drawing his share of criticism in Jacksonville this season. I did a radio show in the Jacksonville market last week and one of the hotter topics among the Jags fan base was whether Garrard is the quarterback who can take the team to the promised land?

Not only was Garrard a solid 23 of 32 for 236 yards and a touchdown against Houston, but also he threw no interceptions and tied for the team lead in rushing with 41 yards on seven carries. The last of those rushes was the biggest, a five-yard touchdown with 1:48 remaining that put the Jaguars up 27-24.

• I'm not sure Jacksonville is wise to let it come down to a game-winning, last-second Josh Scobee field goal every week, but you can't say it hasn't worked out nicely the last two weeks. Scobee's 51-yarder with four seconds remaining got the job done at Indy last week, and his 37-yard field goal with 11:25 remaining in overtime on Sunday proved that he has become money in such situations.

• Now that's the improvement on defense that I thought we'd see from New Orleans this season. The Saints held San Francisco without a touchdown until 4:08 remained in their 31-17 homefield win, and don't forget the 49ers had scored 33 and 31 points in winning their last two games at Seattle and home against Detroit.

In the first half, the Saints sacked 49ers quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan four times, by four defenders -- defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, and cornerback Tracy Porter. New Orleans ended up with six sacks, while allowing just six points, six first downs and 121 yards of offense in the first half.

• Fifteen carries for 20 yards and a costly fumble for Ryan Grant? The Packers' out-of-nowhere running sensation of 2007 is starting to look a little like a flash-in-the-pan to us. Grant had just 166 yards rushing yards coming into Week 4, with no touchdowns and no receptions.

He averaged just 1.3 yards rushing against the Bucs, and his fumble with six minutes left in the third quarter was returned 38 yards for a touchdown by Tampa Bay safety Jermaine Phillips, a score that gave the Bucs a 20-7 lead at the time.

• Week 4 was tough on offensive left tackles. Kansas City lost its rookie first-round left tackle Branden Albert late in the first half against Denver when he dislocated his right elbow and taken off the field in a cart. Carolina's Jordan Gross left early against Atlanta, the victim of an apparent head injury. He too left the field on the back of a cart.

• If nothing else, Damon Huard's game against the Broncos -- 21 of 28 for 160 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions -- should at least settle once and for all the question of which Chiefs quarterback gives Kansas City its best possible chance to win.

Here's a hint: It's not Tyler Thigpen or Brodie Croyle. Huard should stop the Chiefs' quarterback carousel. They started someone different for the fourth consecutive week on Sunday.

• If it's true that Plaxico Burress has been fined "40 to 50 times'' in his Giants career, as was reported on Sunday, what in the name of Wellington Mara was New York thinking in rewarding him with a five-year, $35 million contract extension just before the Giants' regular-season opener?

Seems to me that as good a receiver as Burress has proven to be, anybody who requires being fined 40 to 50 times, no matter how small the infraction, is what you would consider a major reliability issue. How do ever expect to get the attention of -- and a sense of discipline from -- a guy who has been fined maybe four dozen times?

• Hey, I'm not surprised because I've been listening to the guy talk since 1996, when I covered him as the Vikings offensive coordinator, but ex-Ravens head coach Brian Billick is pretty darn good as a FOX game analyst. Got my first chance Sunday to listen to his work, on the Cardinals-Jets game, and came away impressed.

• No one in the NFL has a better formula for victory right now than the 4-0 Titans. They do all the right things on defense, punishing you in the process, and have veteran QB Kerry Collins taking care of the football on offense. Mix in the play-making of rookie running back Chris Johnson and Tennessee is a lock to head back to the playoffs.

The Titans defense gave up 333 yards of offense to Minnesota, but Tennessee makes the plays you have to make to win. The Titans had four sacks, recovered three fumbles and intercepted Vikings quarterback Gus Frerotte once.

• I admit I was skeptical when Carolina re-acquired veteran receiver Muhsin Muhammad last offseason, wondering how much the 35-year-old could have left? But Muhammad is still capable of having a big day if teams pay too much attention to his fellow receiver, Steve Smith.

Muhammad's eight catches for 147 yards and a touchdown in the 24-9 win over Atlanta gave him more receiving yardage in just one game than he had totaled in the previous three weeks (140 yards, on 14 receptions). Moose apparently can still get loose.

• Not only did the Chiefs win their first game in almost a year, as noted above, but also, before Sunday's upset of Denver, Kansas City hadn't even so much as held a lead in a game since a Week 15 loss against the visiting Titans last year. That represented a span of 21 quarters, or more than five games.

• Down 14-6 early in the second quarter against a desperate team in St. Louis, the Bills did exactly what you'd hope to see a young, on-the-way-up team do. They responded to the adversity, scoring the game's next 25 points to bury the reeling Rams, 31-14.

It's pretty obvious, isn't it? These Bills will eventually lose a game. But they're not going away. They're going to the playoffs. For the first time since Wade Phillips was their coach in 1999.

• What a weapon Darren Sproles has become for the Chargers. It was Sproles' critical 67-yard kickoff return with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining that set-up Nate Kaeding's go-ahead 47-yard field goal, giving San Diego a 21-18 lead. It may sound like blasphemy, but when he gets his opportunities to affect the game, Sproles is giving opponents more trouble than LaDainian Tomlinson.

• I'm liking my preseason pick of Drew Brees to win the NFL's MVP award more by the week. Even with Jay Cutler going nuts. Is anybody in the league playing his position as well as the Saints' quarterback?