Julio Jones goes off, unbeatens fall off and more of the biggest stories of Week 4
- The Falcons strafed the Panthers' defense, the Patriots took a beating from an old adversary and the Raiders won another nail-biter. Check out everything worth remembering from an eventful Sunday around the NFL.
Just when it seemed like some patterns were beginning to form, Week 4 flipped the script for several teams around the NFL. Three winless clubs got off the schneid early on Sunday, as the Jaguars outlasted the Colts in a shootout at Wembley Stadium, the Bears held off the Lions in Chicago and the Saints staged a late rally in San Diego. Meanwhile, the ranks of the unbeaten got a little thinner when the Patriots and Ravens lost home games in the early window, and with the Steelers and Vikings facing prime-time tests, the idle Eagles are the only team guaranteed to enter Week 5 unblemished.
Read on for all the standout performances and biggest stories from an eventful Sunday in Week 4, as selected by SI.com’s editors.
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones absolutely shredded the Carolina Panthers
The Falcons staked a claim to the NFC South on Sunday, dismantling the Panthers defense in a 48–33 win.
Just look at these guady stats: Matt Ryan, 28-of-37 for 503 yards, four touchdowns. Julio Jones, 12 catches for 300 yards, one touchdown. People like to throw around the phrase video-game numbers a lot—those are actually video-game numbers. Those numbers are a 10-year-old running the same play over and over again because they’ve exposed a glitch in the game.
The glitch in the Panthers defense? Their young secondary. Carolina fans should rightly demand answers from management after Sunday’s performance, with the decision to let go of Josh Norman in the off-season now looming larger than ever. Not helping matters is an injury to Cam Newton, who left Sunday’s game to undergo concussion testing. (NFL be damned, Cam’s almost certainly suffered multiple concussions this season after what happened in Denver in Week 1.)
Even with Newton, the Panthers offense wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring against Atlanta. Derek Anderson provided the typical backup boost until two interceptions dashed any faint comeback hopes in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons look like the class of the division right now, but it’s too early to crown them after Atlanta fell apart last season following a 3–0 start. The key has been the performance of Ryan, who has put up massive numbers in every game so far this season. You can make the case for Ryan as the best quarterback of the 2016 season, and he’ll have an absurdly high passer rating after Week 4 to back it up.
As for the Carolina, the Panthers hardly resemble last year’s Super Bowl squad. Carolina could be 2–2 if not for a missed field goal in Week 1, but the Panthers have lost convincingly to back-to-back contenders, which is not a good sign for any serious playoff hopes.
Rex Ryan's bravado pays dividends as Bills shut out hapless Patriots
Almost to his own detriment at times, Rex Ryan is unapologetic for how he wants his team to play: physical, mean, aggressive. In short, he wants Buffalo to be a bully.
That doesn’t always work when the opposition can punch back, but Ryan and the Bills clearly saw an opportunity in Week 4, in Tom Brady’s final game out of the Patriots lineup. As soon as Buffalo closed out its Week 3 upset of Arizona, Ryan turned his focus to the reigning kings of the AFC East.
“I don’t care who plays quarterback,” Ryan said last Sunday. “Steve Grogan can play quarterback. If [Bill] Belichick’s playing quarterback, we’re coming after him, I promise you that.”
It wasn’t Grogan or Belichick under center, but rather rookie Jacoby Brissett who felt the full force of Buffalo’s attack Sunday. The Bills controlled the line on both sides of the ball and clobbered Brissett numerous times, en route to an emphatic 16-0 win that might reestablish them as an AFC playoff threat—if not a challenger to the Patriots in the East. Tom Brady's return and the Patriots' 3-1 record without him still make them the team to beat, but the Bills at least kept the conversation open for another week or two.
Already, the Bills are about as far removed from their Week 2 selves as possible.
On Sept. 15, the Bills fell to 0-2 with a miserable Thursday night effort against the Jets, allowing 493 yards. They fired their offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, shortly thereafter, firmly placing Ryan under the microscope for the remainder of the season. With a difficult scheduling awaiting, including the back-to-back against Arizona and New England, Ryan was running short on time to get his house in order.
Be it the Roman firing or sheer desperation, though, the Bills have spent the two weeks since looking like world-beaters. They got the job done Sunday in Foxborough by outmuscling the Patriots, who responded in turn with an uncharacteristic series of mistakes.
Buffalo actually fired the opening salvo before the game even started. As Brissett and Malcolm Mitchell jogged off the field following warm-ups, Buffalo’s Robert Blanton initiated a scuffle that also featured his teammate Aaron Williams twice shoving the head of Patriots assistant Chad O’Shea.
Patriots president Jonathan Kraft thought the whole incident reeked of Ryan’s influence, saying in an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub: “I think if you are less-than-disciplined in your personal approach, your team will take on the attitude of the coach. I think for different people, different strategies work. I guess you’d have to ask Rex but my guess is that Rex probably loves that. That’s why Rex is Rex and that’s why Bill is Bill.”
Whether that all had a lasting effect on Sunday’s game is impossible to say, but it is safe to assume Blanton doesn’t step to Brady in similar circumstances. Perhaps the Bills thought they could rattle Brissett.
Eventually they did. The rookie QB coughed up a critical fumble in the first half when was popped by linebacker Zach Brown. In the third quarter, he stayed down for an extra beat after Lorenzo Alexander nailed him as he slid following a scramble attempt. (Given the attention paid to QB safety and concussions, by the way, it was startling that the refs did not pull Brissett for evaluation following the Alexander hit.)
There were all sorts of issues for the Patriots beyond their QB, on both offense and defense, but Brissett on Sunday looked far more like a rookie than he did in carving up the Texans last week.
A pair of critical penalties, plus a missed field goal kept the Patriots from making Sunday’s game competitive. Brissett’s first pass attempt of the day—on the game’s first snap, no less—actually went for 90 yards to Julian Edelman, only for the play to be called back by an offensive pass interference call against Chris Hogan. Later, a holding flag cost New England a first-and-goal attempt; Brissett’s fumble came one play later.
Meltdowns like the Patriots had Sunday are rare, which is all the more reason that Buffalo deserves credit. New England may have been looking ahead to tomorrow, when Brady can return from his suspension, but the Bills took full advantage.
After that quick strike to Edelman early, they put the clamps on Brissett and the Patriots’s offense for the remainder of the game. Brissett attempted all of three passes in the first half and finished 17 of 27 for 205 yards, much of that damage coming late with Buffalo in control.
This was a beatdown by Buffalo, aided by New England’s self-inflicted wounds. The end result marked the first time the Patriots had been shut out at home since the 1993 season (Miami, 6-0).
More importantly for the Bills, it could represent a real, even sustainable turn in the right direction. The situation was as dire it could be two weeks ago, for coach and team. But all of a sudden, Ryan’s boys have life, and they’re feeding off his style.
The Jaguars almost blew it, but the Colts blew it first
If you didn’t wake up to watch the early game today, the Colts and Jaguars played the most AFC South game of all time Sunday morning in London. Both teams played uninspiring football for most of the game, with one of them (the Jags) taking a lead almost by default. Then the losing team (the Colts) unleashed a furious comeback that somehow made the end of the game way more interesting than it deserved to be. (Jacksonville ultimately won 30–27, but that really doesn’t matter.)
The Colts and Jags both seemed to be operating at peak Colts and Jags capacity Sunday—that is, Andrew Luck was all set to record a come-from-behind win while Jacksonville was about to blow its third game of the season. But Luck and the Colts bailed out the Jags by blowing the game themselves.
Let's actually start late in the fourth quarter with the Jaguars, who in an attempt to run out the clock, uncorked a three-play, 18-second drive that set up the Colts with the ball, two timeouts and over two minutes left on the clock to finish their seemingly inevitable comeback. It was the kind of drive that showed you how exactly Jacksonville let two wins slip out of its hands against the Packers and Ravens earlier this season.
Taking over after the Jags’ embarrassing display of four-minute offense, it was hard to imagine the Colts doing anything else besides marching down the field for a relatively easy game-winning score. Then you remembered why the Colts perennially fall short despite having who is supposed to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Facing a fourth-and-one early in the drive, Luck threw incomplete to Dwayne Allen to seriously deflate any comeback attempt.
Why wasn’t Frank Gore in the game? Why did the Colts line up in the shotgun? Why didn’t Luck run into the wide open field in front of him instead of passing? Why didn’t the Colts just run a sneak for what was really just a half-yard? Instead of simply picking up the first down, the Colts elected to go with the play every impatient Madden player chooses to a hilariously disastrous result.
The Colts and Jaguars are now both 1–3, while the Titans and Texans haven't exactly inspired much confidence this season as well. This division should play all its games in London.
Watch: Browns WR Terrelle Pryor imitates LeBron James after first TD catch
Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor hauled in his first NFL touchdown catch on Sunday and celebrated in style.
Cody Kessler found Pryor in the end zone to tie the game midway through the second quarter. It wasn’t quite as impressive as ending Cleveland’s decades-long title drought, but Pryor celebrated like LeBron James anyway.
After coming down with the ball, Pryor did not one but two iconic LeBron celebrations.
It was also Kessler’s first touchdown pass in the NFL, but he did not celebrate like J.R. Smith.
The Ravens’ luck finally ran out against the extremely fun Raiders
Of the NFL’s five undefeated teams entering Week 4, the Ravens were shakiest of the bunch. Baltimore’s three wins entering Sunday were by 13 points combined, and the Ravens’ margin of victory decreased each week (from six to five to two).
Going up against the Raiders, the Ravens’ luck in close games finally ran out, as Oakland eked out a 28–27 win to improve to 3–1. The Raiders have been no stranger to close games themselves, as their three victories have come by a combined nine points, but they surely win in much more fun ways than Baltimore.
From their opening week decision to go for two (and the win) against the Saints, the Raiders have been putting a large burden on Derek Carr—and he’s delivered. Carr threw for four touchdown passes against the Ravens, including the go-ahead score to Michael Crabtree (who caught three scores) with just over two minutes to go on Sunday. Carr now has nine touchdown passes (against only one interception) so far this season, and he’s thrown at least 35 passes in every game. After years of watching the Raiders plod along on offense, it’s refreshing watching them sling it around aggressively with success.
The Ravens, meanwhile, had been winning in spite of Joe Flacco. The former Super Bowl MVP has thrown only four touchdowns as well as four interceptions in 2016. Flacco has now posted pedestrian passer ratings of 72.6, 64 and 83.7 in the last three weeks, and he failed to do much against Oakland’s porous pass defense until the fourth quarter. Flacco threw a whopping 52 times Sunday, but the Ravens may have been better served feeding Terrance West, who ran for 113 yards on 21 carries.
In any case, the NFL would be a lot more interesting if both these teams kept finding ways to play in and win these incredibly close games. Oakland gets the Chargers at home next week, while Washington will visit Baltimore.
Watch: Patriots, Bills players scuffle during pregame warmups
Several Bills players and at least one Patriot were involve in a pregame scuffle on Sunday.
The incident occurred as Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett was jogging near his team’s sideline. Bills safety Robert Blanton pushed Brissett and New England receiver Malcolm Mitchell retaliated by shoving Blanton. Several Bills players and coaches from both teams then joined the fray.
As ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio points out, any unsportsmanlike conduct penalties handed out as a result of the incident would have count toward the two-per-player limit. No penalties were called, however.
Under a new NFL rule this season, players are ejected after receiving their second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the game. Last week, Giants center Weston Richburg became the first player ejected under the rule.
NFL Week 4 injury roundup: Cam Newton, Kevin White exit
The banged up Redskins defense was dealt another blow Sunday when Ryan Kerrigan left the game with an elbow injury.
Washington lost two key members of the secondary last week—Bashaud Breeland and DeAngelo Hall. Linebacker Su’a Cravens also left this week’s game to be evaluated for a concussion.
More notably, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton headed to the locker room after a big hit. His status is unknown.
Elsewhere, Bears receiver Kevin White, who missed his entire rookie season last year with a leg injury, injured his ankle.
A full list of injuries we’re tracking is below.
Cam Newton, Panthers — Concussion test, did not return
Newton took a heavy hit on a two-point conversion and was taken to the locker room for a concussion test.
Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins — Knee, did not return
Kerrigan injured his left elbow and was downgraded from questionable to doubtful.
Su’a Cravens, Redskins — Concussion test, did not return
The rookie’s absence left Washington thin at linebacker.
David Bruton Jr., Redskins — Concussion, did not return
The safety’s injury means Josh Norman is the only starter in the secondary who is not hurt.
Kevin White, Bears — Ankle, did not return
White had six catches for 55 yards before he was injured.
Eric Ebron, Lions — Ankle/knee, returned
Detroit’s starting tight end was sidelined temporarily but was able to play through the pain.
Darrelle Revis, Jets — Thigh, did not return
Jets cornerback Buster Skrine also left the game with an injury but was able to return
Devin Funchess, Panthers — Toe, did not return
Funchess had two catches for 56 yards, including a 48-yard reception, before he was injured.
Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers — Calf, did not return
The four-time Pro Bowler was injured in the second quarter. Rookie DaVonte Lambert is listed as his backup.
Trevor Siemian, Broncos — Shoulder, did not return
Siemian was taken to the locker room on a cart and replaced by rookie Paxton Lynch.
NaVorro Bowman, 49ers — Leg, did not return
The veteran linebacker was carted off following a non-contact injury.
Carson Palmer, Cardinals — Head, did not return
Palmer was lifted after a hard hit late and was evaluated for a concussion.
NFLPA drops Deflategate appeal
The NFL Players Association has dropped its appeal of Deflategate after consulting with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, it announced on Sunday.
This means that the saga has finally come to an end, with Brady dropping his appeal back in July and serving the final game of his suspension on Sunday. Though the ban was up, the NFLPA was still seeking to get Brady some of the money that he was owed as a result of the case.
There is always the chance that Brady could bring a defamation lawsuit, but that does not seem likely. The controversy seems to be dead for good.
– Kenny Ducey