On Julio Jones’s historic day, Aqib Talib, Rex Ryan and Adam Vinatieri were among the other outstanding performers in an eventful Week 4
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Many deserving candidates, including Matt Ryan, who had the league’s 19th game of 500 passing yards Sunday. However, just one winner.
Julio Jones, wide receiver, Atlanta. Twelve catches, 300 yards, 25.0 yards per catch, second man since 1990 to have 300 receiving yards in a game.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Aqib Talib, cornerback, Denver. Actually, Derek Wolfe, who was unblockable for the parts of the rout of Tampa Bay that I saw, might have been in this space with his 2.5 sacks and two additional quarterback hits. The NFL had Denver hitting Jameis Winston 16 times in the 27-7 win. But I’m giving it to Talib, for his star turn early in this game. He ended two of the Bucs’ first four possessions with interceptions—against the team that made him its first-round pick eight years ago—and the Broncos turned both interceptions into touchdowns. They’d never relinquish the lead after the second one.
Zach Brown, linebacker, Buffalo. In the first home shutout suffered by New England in 23 years, Brown starred all game long. After four starless seasons in Tennessee, Brown found the kind of seek-and-hit defense that suits him, along with a cadre of linemen in front of him that keeps him clean. He had 18 tackles, two forced fumbles and one sack of Jacoby Brissett. Brown is only 26, but he’ll be hard-pressed to have another game like this in his career, and against the dominant team in Buffalo’s division for years.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Andy Lee, punter, Carolina. The Panthers were in danger of getting blown out when Lee had the best 20 minutes of his career Sunday in Atlanta. With Carolina down 14-0 and four minutes left in the first quarter, Lee boomed a 50-yard punt that pinned Atlanta at its 2-yard line. In the second quarter, he hit a 42-yard punt that was downed at the Atlanta 1-yard line, and then a 54-yarder downed at the Falcons’ 2. Three punts, 20 minutes, all pinning the Falcons inside their own 3-yard line. Anyone question about Carolina paying a fourth-round pick for him now?
Adam Vinatieri, kicker, Indianapolis. Dude’s amazing. With his 44th birthday less than three months away, Vinatieri on Sunday hit 53-yard and 49-yard field goals in the 30-27 loss to Jacksonville, on the slippery Wembley Stadium pitch.
Will Fuller IV, wide receiver/punt returner, Houston. He supplemented another good game catching passes (seven receptions, 81 yards, one touchdown) with a 67-yard weave-and-sprint through a Tennessee punt team that looked like it was playing in slow-motion. The return TD was the final score in a 27-20 Houston win that was tougher than it should have been.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Rex Ryan, head coach, Buffalo. Ryan’s fifth win over the Patriots in eight seasons of coaching against Bill Belichick (Belichick is 12-5 versus Rex, so this recent run hasn’t been anything like a Ryan domination) was his most impressive in a regular-season game. Yes, the Patriots were quarterbacked by a third-string rookie, but winning 16-0 when the Patriots were on a 3-0 season-opening roll and looking like the best team in the league, and winning in Foxboro, was a great accomplishment. Ryan played this one smart, pressuring Jacoby Brissett from the start. New England didn’t have a drive over four plays until the second half.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Melvin Gordon, running back, and Travis Benjamin, wide receiver, San Diego. I cannot believe I’m writing this. With the Chargers leading 34-21, San Diego had three more possessions against the Saints’ porous defense (that’s being charitable) in the final seven minutes. Gordon coughed up one fumble with 6:50 to play, leading to a Saints touchdown. And on the first play of the ensuing series, with Benjamin barely touched, he fumbled away another gimme to New Orleans, handing the Saints the chance for the winning touchdown. Which, of course, they scored. Ridiculous errors for a team that deserves to be 1-3.
Right Combination of the Week
Derek Carr, quarterback, and Michael Crabtree, wide receiver, Oakland. The most beautiful throw-and-catch of the day belonged to these two, and it came at the biggest moment of the day. With 2:12 left in the game and Oakland down 27-21, Carr took the snap from the Baltimore 23, and Crabtree went up the right seam, making a neat move on two defenders and breaking two steps away from coverage near the goal line. Carr lofted a perfect strike right into Crabtree’s hands for the winning touchdown … on a day when Carr and Crabtree combined for three touchdowns in all—of 5, 13 and 23 yards. Don’t forget: In addition to Crabtree, the Raiders also have young star Amari Cooper. Carr is going to be in this space a few more times, because he’s young and full of talent, and because he’s got a great crew of offensive skill players with him.
Stat of the Week
One of the popular points among special-teams coaches and lots of fans in the first month of the season is how the new kickoff rule—with kickers booting from the 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line—is having the unintended consequence of actually promoting more returns instead of more touchbacks. The NFL adopted the rule last March in hopes of limiting the concussive blows that occur from the high-speed collisions on kickoffs.
In the 49 September games, ending with the Thursday night Miami-Cincinnati game, here were the numbers compared to 2015:
(Note: Percentages don’t add up to 100 because some kickoffs go out of bounds.)
There’s no guarantee that these percentages will hold up as the weather worsens, or as coaches try to gain competitive advantages. But through 1/5th of the regular season, touchbacks were up 4 percent—not down.