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.