NFL Week 4 Round-Up

A comprehensive look back at all of Sunday's action

LEAD OFF

We'll get to the re-birth of Patriot Nation, contenders becoming pretenders, Earl Thomas's hand signals and plenty of overtime madness. But let's start in Atlanta in the biggest game of the weekend as the upstart Bengals roared into town. Marvin Lewis's team are on a brutal run of playoff-type games: two weeks ago against Baltimore, in Carolina last Sunday, AFC East leading Miami in a week's time followed by Pittsburgh, Kansas City, New Orleans and the Ravens again. Defeat here would have dropped them to 2-2 at the league's quarterway point and a game off the pace in the division. It was a match-up of two high powered offenses but on this day, Andy Dalton - one of football's most middle of the road passers - outduelled former league MVP Matt Ryan inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, driving Cincinnati down the field and hitting AJ Green in the corner of the endzone with six seconds left to snatch victory from the Falcons, 37-36.

The winning score came after the Bengals converted a pair of fourth downs on a 16-play, 75-yard drive and had a sure interception go through the hands of cornerback Desmond Trufant. Atlanta, who were many people's tip to return to the Super Bowl (after losing to New England two years ago), fall to 1-3 and their season hangs by a thread. Injuries to key defenders haven't helped but this is now a team on the brink. A trip to Pittsburgh on Sunday awaits.

Over the last seventeen seasons, the New England Patriots have won five Super Bowls. The records of those chammpionship teams over the first four weeks of their respective seasons were: 1-3, 2-2, 4-0, 2-2 and 3-1. That's why nobody in Foxboro was too concerned about a 1-2 start this year that included back to back defeats against Jacksonville and Detroit, despite the prospect of a crunch game against the upstart 3-0 Miami Dolphins. And with good reason. Tom Brady's men dissected an atrocious Miami side who were looking to validate their unbeaten start to the season but instead simply validated their mediocrity. Rookie Sony Michel was the star of the day, rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. The Dolphins were as embarrassing as New England were dominant and rumours of the Patriots demise seem, on this evidence at least, vastly overblown.

Three games were decided in overtime on Sunday and three more came down to the final play. In Nashville, the Eagles contrived to throw away a game that they led by two touchdowns in the second half, and when they had the ball in the red zone during the last drive of regulation and the first drive of overtime. The Super Bowl champions showed why it's so hard to repeat the feat, as little by little Tennessee wore Doug Pederson's defense down. A game that should never had reached the additional period was won by the Titans as Marcus Mariota converted three fourth downs on the final drive in OT before hitting Corey Davis for the game winner.

It was a signature win for rookie head coach Mike Vrabel who made a number of gutsy calls late in the game, and for his Mariota who did just enough on this day to secure victory. The 3-1 Titans now go to Buffalo.

There was another wild game in Oakland where the Cleveland Browns continue to show signs of life after so many years in the doldrums. Frankly, the Browns, who won only one game in the last two seasons, should be unbeaten at 4-0 were it not for back to back kicking disasters against New Orleans and Pittsburgh in weeks one and two, and a terrible catalogue of umpiring decisions in the Bay Area on Sunday. Midway through the fourth quarter, with Cleveland clinging to a one-point lead, this, inexplicably, wasn't ruled a fumble but instead a dead play after Derek Carr's forward progress had been stopped:

Then, even more egregiously, with under two minutes to go and the Browns up by eight, Carlos Hyde appeared to pick up a game-sealing first down. The Raiders had one timeout remaining, so all the Browns had to do was take a few knees to end the game. But the play was reviewed and the officials decided that he was down just short of the line, forcing Cleveland to punt. Oakland then drove down the field to tie the game (and eventually win in overtime).

Former NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino said on FOX: “I don’t see any way they can change this call.” Yet it was changed and the Browns, with number one overall pick Baker Mayfield in his first NFL start, lost 45-42. People can complain about players kneeling for the anthem being the reason why viewing figures are down, but decisions like this are far more damaging for the game longterm. For Oakland, it was head coach Jon Gruden's first win since November 30th 2008 after stepping into the commentary booth for almost a decade.

There was an equally baffling decision in Indianpolis as the hometown Colts faced off against division rivals Houston. The Colts had sent the game into overtime with Andrew Luck's ten yard touchdown pass to rookie running back Nyheim Hines. Both teams traded possessions in the extra period and Indy were driving but faced a fourth and four at their own 43 with just 27 seconds left. Instead of punting the ball away and accepting what almost certainly would have been a tie, head coach Frank Reich decided to go for it. Luck's pass to Chester Rodgers fell incomplete and gave the ball to Houston just outside field goal range. Three plays later Ka'imi Fairburn kicked a 37 yarder and the Texans recorded their first win of the season. For a team like the Colts who'll struggle to make the playoffs, you can respect Reich's decision. After all, you play to win the games. And give me fearless over gutless anyday. But it's fuel for the city's sports talk radio jocks all week and, as one local columnist put it, the end of the new coach's honeymoon period. After four games.

THIS AND THAT

Elsewhere on Sunday, the Cowboys rallied in a must-win game to beat Detroit. The victory was due in large part to a huge day from superstar running back Ezekial Elliott who had 152 yards rushing and added 88 more through the air including an outstanding over the shoulder catch to put the Cowboys in field goal range at the end of the game.

Brett Maher then booted the winning 38-yarder at the gun and the Cowboys edged the Lions, 26-24.......Josh Rosen's first game as the future of the Arizona Cardinals ended in dramatic defeat. After Phil Dawson missed a 45 yard field goal with 1.55 left, Russell Wilson drove Seattle down the field and 19 year veteran Sebastian Janikowski boomed a 52 yarder straight down the middle to win it 20-17 with no time left. The game was overshadowed by a serious injury to future Hall of Fame safety Earl Thomas who broke his leg in the 4th quarter and then flipped the bird to the Seahawks sideline as he left the field on a cart.

Thomas, one of the best players of a generation, is in the final year of his contract and would like either a new deal or to be traded. But the injury clouds his future as big deals are harder to come by for 30 year olds coming off back to back season-ending leg injuries...... In Los Angeles, the Chargers held on against the 49ers, who were playing for the first time since star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL. They got a decent performance from his back-up CJ Beathard who hit tight end George Kittle for an 82 yard touchdown in the third quarter, the longest of the season in the NFL so far. But, fuelled by three touchdowns from Philip Rivers and despite a calamatous day of kicking from Caleb Sturgis - who missed a field goal and two extra points - the Chargers held on to go to 2-2......The Bills who led this column last week after their beatdown of the Vikings, failed to score a point as they lost to Green Bay in Lambeau. The game was notable for the re-appearance of notable flaws in rookie quarterback Josh Allen's game and for the appearance of Aaron Rodgers who appeared to be moving more freely after the knee injury he suffered in week one. Despite that, it wasn't one of Rodgers's finest games and he'll be grateful to Mike Pettine's defense who turned in four very strong quarters of play.....One of the NFL's great rivalry games was served up in primetime yesterday evening and fizzled for a while at 14-14 before Baltimore eased away to win 26-14 thanks to 363 yards passing from QB Joe Flacco, a stifling defense and another flawless performance from kicker Justin Tucker. The under the radar Ravens could be a team to watch late in the year.

The star of the weekend was unquestionably Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky who threw for six touchdowns in the Bears' destruction of Tampa Bay. It's been a very slow start to his NFL career - the second year man threw for just seven scores all of last season - but something's started to click for Trubisky and if he can find some consistency then Matt Nagy's team, led by a fearsome defense, could be a legitimate challenger in a crowded NFC.

On the flip side, it was a little over eight days ago that Bucs passer Ryan Fitzpatrick was leading the MVP race, but he was benched for the returning Jameis Winston as his side fell apart in Soldier Field losing 48-10......Speaking of struggling quarterbacks, the Jets' Sam Darnold has yet to find his feet in the NFL. The third overall pick in April's Draft was unable to find any rhythm against the Jaguars, whilst his defense made Blake Bortles look like vintage Dan Marino as he threw for a career high 388 yards. The clock is most certainly ticking on the tenure of head coach Todd Bowles and it's hard to find a single thing his team did well on Sunday.....Another head coach who could be in trouble is Pat Shurmur of the Giants who was an outstanding offensive co-ordinator with the Vikings but, in his second spell as a head coach after a torrid time in Cleveland, is proving that his ceiling might be as a playcaller and not the top dog. Not that he's entirely to blame for his team's latest flop: much of that falls on the shoulders of Eli Manning whose game has totally deserted him over the last couple of seasons. The 37 year old who has some terrific offensive targets at his disposal looks like a once great musician for whom the songs have dried up, the gigs are no longer packed and the dancer he was shacked up with has left town.

The Saints meanwhile had running back Alvin Kamara to thank after his 19 carry, 134 yard performance. The second year star, last season's Offensive Rookie of the Year could be the most dangerous weapon in all of football.

New Orleans, who looked vulnerable in the first couple of weeks, have steadied the ship and welcome back Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram from suspension today. He'll be eligible to face Washington in the Superdome next Sunday.

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL

Patrick Mahomes is the NFL's most exciting player through the first quarter of the season and the second year pro has a chance on national television to show America what all the fuss is about as the unbeaten Chiefs take on division rivals Denver in the Mile High City. The Broncos defense, led by All Pro LB Von Miller, will have its hands full and Kansas City should have enough to move to 4-0

PREDICTION: Kansas City 45-21 Denver