$.01--Entering the weekend there were eight undefeated teams. Two of those squared off at Ford Field in Detroit in a thoroughly enjoyable back-and-forth contest between the Lions and the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.
Most people thought the Lions had no real business being listed with the unbeatens. A Week 1 tie to the lowly (and still winless) Cardinals after blowing a 16-point 4th-quarter lead brought out the nonbelievers. After beating the Chargers and Eagles in successive weeks, this Chiefs visit was the litmus test to see if Detroit was good, or if they were getting lucky.
To quote the great band Coheed and Cambria,
All nonbelievers stand beside and fear
A new day’s marching through the door
The Lions gave the mighty Chiefs everything they could handle. Missing their best defensive player, CB Darius Slay, the Lions held MVP Patrick Mahomes without a passing TD for the first time since he took over as the Kansas City starter. Detroit forced four turnovers and forced Mahomes into several bad throws. On offense, the Lions crushed their previous season highs with 29 first downs, 186 rushing yards (125 from Kerryon Johnson) and over 33 minutes of possession time.
Detroit played a great game...and it still wasn’t enough. To continue Coheed’s The Running Free,
How could you ever think you'd make it here?
The fifth lead change of the second half was the last one, and it gave the Chiefs the 34-30 win with under 30 seconds to go. It was the kind of game challenge the Chiefs needed to validate their own lofty status in the eyes of some, and Andy Reid’s team passed the test. Facing adversity on the road against a quality opponent, the Chiefs still had enough of a combination of talent and grit to eke out an impressive win in a game that definitely had a playoff atmosphere.
$.02--It has not been an easy start to the season for the Cleveland Browns or their fans. A 1-2 start that included a blowout loss to the schizophrenic Titans in Week 1 silenced the hype and brought out the sharp knives from increasingly vocal and confident critics of Baker Mayfield, Freddie Kitchens and the offseason media darlings.
Sunday changed that narrative quickly. Blowing out the rival Ravens in Baltimore will do that for a team...a Browns team that now sits in first place in the AFC North after four weeks despite the venom, the vitriol and the poor play.
This was the kind of win a floundering young team desperately needed. As much as Kitchens, Mayfield, Jarvis Landry and the leadership of the team would deny or downplay it, these Browns hear and react to the outside noise more than most teams. A loss here would have sent them to 1-3 and two games behind the Ravens plus losing the tiebreaker with Baltimore. Mayfield had not been sharp and Kitchens wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire with his game management or playcalling prowess as a rookie head coach.
That all changed with the 40-25 blowout, a margin made much closer by a garbage-time TD drive from Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. Mayfield was much better, avoiding his recent bad habit of drifting to his right and holding the ball too long. He was greatly aided by Kitchens remembering he’s got Nick Chubb to hand the ball to, and Chubb’s 165-yard, 3 TD effort was the big catalyst. Jarvis Landry also had a monster game, as did Ricky Seals-Jones, but Chubb ran away with the win with his sustained 21+ MPH sprint on his 88-yard TD run.
Cleveland’s defense, playing without three starters in the secondary, cooled Jackson and the Ravens offense effectively. Baltimore was hellbent on not letting Myles Garrett beat them, and their extra attention on Garrett worked. Unfortunately for the Ravens, Sheldon Richardson, Olivier Vernon and Joe Schobert all turned in fantastic games to compensate. Devaroe Lawrence, Jermaine Whitehead and even Chad Thomas, too.
That was the Browns team many of us expected all year. For Browns fans, it’s better late than never. And the fact they sit atop the division despite the humdrum start sort of makes the blowback against them seem like port-a-potty exhaust.
$.03--Chargers RB Melvin Gordon finally called it quits on his ill-fated holdout, one which should make Gordon the new poster child for why running backs should never hold out.
Gordon wanted a new contract after four good-not-great seasons with the team, demanding to get paid as one of the top RBs in the league. That’s an ambitious quest for a player with one career 1,000-yard season (2017) and one season (2018) topping 4 yards per carry. Gordon has proven himself a pretty solid receiver, but he just has not produced like a transcendent talent worthy of more than $13 million a year, a figure that would rank him 4th among running backs.
He lost any semblance of leverage when his Chargers replacement, Austin Ekeler, posted a better yards-per-carry average and proved an even more dangerous weapon in the receiving game. It’s a good thing Gordon got in before Sunday’s 30-10 yawner of a win over the hapless Dolphins. Ekeler posted 60 yards rushing on 18 carries and 62 receiving yards on 5 catches, scoring a TD each way. Gordon is not bettering those figures, and Ekeler put them up while playing on a contract that pays him $645K in his final year before restricted free agency.
For his holdout, Gordon cost himself just under $900K in game checks. He also accrued over $1.1 million in fines for missed mandatory team events. There is some speculation the Chargers will not waive the full amount of the fines, either. Normally teams do that when a player comes back, but the Chargers are noted for their frugality and there are some (former GMs Mike McCagnan and Mark Dominik to name two) who have publicly speculated the team will use the hardline against refunding the fines as a deterrent for future holdouts.
Hopefully other running backs realize the folly of Gordon’s decision and see it as a deterrent for future holdouts, too. The supply of RBs who can come within spitting distance of what the top-level guys produce is a lot greater than the likes of Gordon--who hasn’t exactly cemented himself in that status--would like to think it is.
$.04--Any Given Sunday, Week 4 edition
There were a couple of candidates here but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers channeling their inner James Polk and going 54-40 or fight over the Rams in Los Angeles is the winner for the most surprising outcome of Week 4.
It’s not so much that the Buccaneers beating the Rams is crazy; the Bucs have some talent on both sides of the ball and the Rams didn’t look great in Week 3. But hanging 54 points on the defending NFC champs is not something anyone saw coming. Heck, the over/under on the game was 48 points total.
Jameis Winston threw for 385 yards and 4 TDs. The Buccaneers offense converted 8-of-13 third downs. Most impressively, they held last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald, to being an afterthought. Donald did not touch Winston and managed just one solo tackle. Instead, Donald got to watch the early front-runner for his DPOY title seal the win for Tampa Bay.
That would be Shaq Barrett and his nine sacks through four games, a figure which ties the NFL record (Marc Gastineau). His sack late in the fourth quarter was of the stripper variety, and Ndamukong Suh scooped up Jared Goff’s loose change and cashed it in for point No. 54 (they missed the extra point). Barrett also picked off Goff and broke up two other passes as his early season tour de force continues. Not bad for a guy who managed just 14 sacks in four years in Denver, eh?
The Rams fall from the undefeated ranks despite Goff throwing for 517 yards on a freakish 68 pass attempts. He completed 45 of those, tying Drew Bledsoe’s NFL record. Goff turned the ball over four times and the Rams committed 13 penalties, overshadowing the hugely prolific passing day. Goff and Winston did set an NFL record for most combined completions in a game with 72.
$.05--You can tell a lot about a man by how he handles adversity and awkwardness. It’s a measure we in the media like to judge the players we cover, seeing how they respond to criticism or failure. It’s not always for public discourse or consumption, but we do pay attention.
So when a player like Eagles WR Nelson Agholor gets publicly roasted by an Eagles fan, it’s interesting to gauge the reaction. Agholor was lambasted by a Philadelphia man, Hakim Laws, who had just saved a baby from a burning building. His deadpanned “unlike Agholor” right into the TV camera when asked about catching the infant thrown from the inferno instantly went viral.
Agholor could have fired right back, going for the “Boom roasted” comeback on Twitter. He could have ignored it and pretended it didn’t happen. He chose the path not enough players, nor those of us who cover them, would choose. He decided to help.
This was Agholor’s response:
Thank you for being a hero in the community, would like to invite you and your family to the next home game— Nelson Agholor (@nelsonagholor) September 24, 2019
Twitter help me out and get me in touch with him https://t.co/uqML3eJ0QT
Ladies and gentlemen, that is class. It would have been real easy for Agholor to go in a different direction. Now he’s at least earned the respect from fans for being a stand-up guy. Laws is too. He is trying to capitalize on the attention by selling merchandise and is giving all proceeds to families impacted by the fire. We don’t hear enough about athletes doing good things and being good human beings. Too often when a player gets shot at like Agholor was, nothing good comes from it. He and Mr. Laws did the right thing, and that deserves mention and respect.
$.06--The New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers did not play this week. Even though it’s just Week 4, the NFL schedule dictates those two teams are penalized with the freakishly early bye week. It also means it’s time for the annual plea for the NFL to fix the unfair bye system.
It’s really not that hard. Four weeks of byes, and four weeks only. The entire division gets the bye at the same time for competitive equity.
Here’s an example of how it should work:
The AFC West and NFC North are divisions that play one another across the conferences this year. Those two full divisions--all 8 teams--get their bye in one of the weeks between Week 6 and Week 9. Coming out of the bye, each team gets a home game and an away game in the cross-conference division. Using the Raiders as an example, Oakland would get a bye in Week 6, play their home game against Chicago in Week 7 and hit the road to Green Bay in Week 8. The Bears would head home from Oakland and play the Chargers the next week.
It’s patently unfair for the teams within the same division to have widely scattered by weeks. Take the AFC East this year. The Jets have already had their bye week before the end of September. New England doesn’t get its bye until Week 10, the second weekend in November. The Bills and Dolphins are off in between.
Aside from it looking stupid in the standings to have a different amount of games played within the same division, it’s not fair and balanced to have one team get a bye so early and another they are directly competing with for the division title so much later. It’s long past time the NFL puts an end to this needless madness.
$.07--Speaking of madness that is long overdue for the NFL to end, I give you Vontaze Burfict. The pariah was up to his dirty tricks once again, and it needs to be the last time.
Burfict now plays for the Raiders, but the linebacker’s extensive history of illicit and dirty hits dates way back to his early days with the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s the man responsible for scrambling Antonio Brown’s brain with a terrifying illegal hit in the playoffs. Burfict has been fined 13 separate times for illegal hits since 2012 and was suspended for 11 total games as a result.
There will be a No. 14 in the fine department. It needs to be the last one. Burfict was ejected from the Raiders win over the Colts for this blatant cheap shot on Indy TE Jack Doyle.
KICK VONTAZE BURFICT OUT FOREVER!!! pic.twitter.com/91IQghasuf— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 29, 2019
He lowers his head and launches himself into Doyle’s helmet while Doyle is on the ground. Another player might get some benefit of the doubt for the fact Doyle is trying to get up and make a move, but not Burfict. The Raiders’ captain (!?!) long ago forfeited any claim to decency.
For a league that places such a heavy emphasis on player safety, and for an NFLPA which embraces that emphasis, it’s blindly hypocritical for both the league and the player’s association to enable Burfict to prove time and again he should not be in the NFL.
--Jacksonville pulled off the last-second win over Denver with a Josh Lambo FG cashed in some more Garnder Minshew magic. The Jaguars, who had players who had to be separated from fighting immediately after the Lambo kick went through, are a weird group. The Broncos, meanwhile, hold the NFL’s longest active losing streak at 7 games. Even worse for Denver: every team left on their schedule is at least 2-2. They’re the only team with a remaining schedule that does not have a single foe with a losing record right now.
--The Bears beat the Vikings, 16-6. Two stories from Chicago’s home win, which vaulted them to 3-1 while dropping the Vikings into last place in the NFC North at 2-2. First, Chicago QB Mitchell Trubisky injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder early in the game and did not return. The sporadically effective Trubisky will be out for at least a couple of weeks according to early speculation.
Second, the Bears keep winning with a fantastic defense. How good are they at keeping opposing offenses subdued?
The @ChicagoBears are now 5-1 when scoring fewer than 20 points since 2018.— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) September 30, 2019
The rest of the NFL is 28-186 in such games in that span entering Sunday night.
--Scary seeing Josh Allen depart from the Bills hard-fought loss to the Patriots after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit. New England stays atop the AFC East in a defensive struggle, a 16-10 win which featured just one offensive TD for each team.
--In that Bills game, RB Frank Gore became the 4th player to ever top 15,000 yards rushing. Congrats to Gore, who got there despite having just one season where he finished in the top five in rushing (so far). Slow and steady is not typically a compliment for running backs, but that’s Gore and his fantastically long career.
--The NFL needs to sorely address the issue of officiating consistency of calls. There are too many examples from Week 4 to even begin to list where it’s a foul for one team but the other gets away with a more blatant version of the same foul later in the game. Nothing frustrates players or coaches more than inconsistent application of arbitrary rules.
--I don’t know what the heck has happened to Maryland after their electrifying start, but it’s not pretty. The Terps got blown away by visiting Penn State, 59-0, on Friday night. My observations between the extended bouts of my DirecTV not working because of a torrential rainstorm: their speed-based offense is too obvious and Penn State was ready with defensive speed of its own.
--If Houston QB D’Eriq King is indeed redshirting simply because his season, and the Cougars season, wasn’t off to the expected start, that’s a very bad application of the new rules allowing players to participate in up to four games and still redshirt. I really hope that’s not the case, but that’s the word out of Houston.
--Rutgers fired coach Chris Ash after an inept, lifeless 52-0 loss at Michigan. Coaching at Rutgers is a perennial no-win situation, so I feel for Ash. But his Scarlet Knights were not getting better at anything in his fourth season. His final record is 8-32, including just 3 Big Ten wins, and the team has not been remotely competitive. Good luck to his successor; he’s going to need it.
--It’s time to start considering Jalen Hurts more seriously as an NFL prospect. It can be tough to separate the schematic production of the Oklahoma QBs, but Hurts’ ball placement and decision-making has my attention.
--Utah State QB Jordan Love continues to get draftnik love, but he did not have a good outing from a scouting standpoint in the Aggies’ win over Colorado State. Love threw two INTs and also gave up a bad fumble while barely completing half his passes. He had processing speed issues once again, something he showed in the other USU game I’ve watched this year (an opening loss to Wake Forest). There is still quite a bit of potential, but Love isn’t ready to be an NFL franchise’s designated savior just yet.
$.10--My 8th grade son is in the midst of his first season ever playing organized football. To say it’s been a rewarding experience is an understatement.
This week saw Layne record his first-ever football statistic. Late in a win, my son caught a 2-pt. conversion on a fade pattern. His reaction is a moment I will never forget as a parent. Nor will I forget the reaction from his teammates, his friends and his coaches.
He’s done amazing things on the basketball court, including a triple-double in a 7th grade game and sealing an AAU tournament championship by stealing a ball and nailing the free throws after wanting to get fouled, but doing it on the football field was different. Different for him and different for me.
There’s something special about football and the bonds there. The size of the team, the more disparate group of kids it brings together, the physicality, the intensity of the moment, they’re all something uniquely appealing to football. My wife and I are so very happy he decided he wanted to play and that we didn’t stand in the way despite worrying about concussions or him just not being very good. Football has been a fantastic experience for him, even though he’s still green as a player and doesn’t see much playing time at WR or DB.
So if you have a young boy who is thinking about playing football and you’re troubled or conflicted, please don’t dismiss it. It can be great for your son. It sure has been for mine.