Seattle's latest road victory sends message to rest of NFC; more Snaps
NFL Week 4 Snaps (cont.)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we review the results of Week 4 in the NFL, and watch the surprising 3-1 Titans dispatch the Jets at LP Field. ...
• Mathematically, the Seahawks didn't clinch anything with Sunday afternoon's stirring comeback win at Houston in overtime. I mean, it's not even October yet. But realistically, who beats these guys? Seattle this season is proving it can win anywhere, against anyone, no matter the level of adversity it faces.
Down 20-3 at the half to the Texans, and missing three starting offensive linemen, the always-confident Seahawks showed the grit and resiliency they're now known for, outscoring shell-shocked Houston 20-0 the rest of the way, including 17-0 from the start of the fourth quarter on. It is the first time the Seahawks have won a game after trailing by at least 14 points in the fourth quarter since Dec. 29, 2002 against San Diego. The 23-20 victory makes Seattle 4-0 for the first time in the franchise's 38-year history, and sends the message to the rest of the NFC that Pete Carroll's Seahawks are almost impossible to stop. If Houston's defense couldn't put them away with a 17-point halftime lead at home and the Texans' two-headed ground game rolling, who can?
Remember when Seattle inspired absolutely no confidence on the road? That label has been ripped off and disposed of, like it was in one of those Hanes T-shirt commercials starring Michael Jordan. The Seahawks have now won four consecutive regular-season games on the road dating to Week 13 of 2012, and if you include Seattle's 1-1 road mark in the playoffs, it has won five of six away from CenturyLink Field, which supplies the Seahawks with the NFL's most overwhelming homefield advantage.
Give the biggest share of credit for this win to Seattle's Russell Wilson, the mobile second-year quarterback who continues to play like he has never met a moment too big for him. Wilson didn't have much going for him through the air on Sunday -- he finished just 12-of-23 for 123 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception -- but that didn't keep him from getting the job done. Wilson instead carved up the Houston defense with his feet, running 10 times for 77 key yards, most of those drive-extending gains coming in the second half as the Seattle comeback mounted.
The Texans defense greatly missed play-making linebacker Brian Cushing, who left with a concussion in the second half. But given the opportunity to make a game of it, the Seahawks took advantage of Houston's generosity, finally tying the game at 20-20 on Richard Sherman's ridiculously clutch 58-yard interception return for a touchdown off Matt Schaub with 2:40 remaining. That's what great teams do. They hang around until you help them win it.
Seattle got another well-timed break handed to it when Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson was flagged for a hugely pivotal unnecessary roughness penalty on the Seahawks game-winning field goal drive in overtime. That call pushed Seattle into field goal range, and Steven Hauschka made them pay moments later, with a 45-yard effort that had plenty of leg.
The Seahawks defense wasn't dominant for the first time all season. Seattle entered play having given up a league-low 27 points (nine per game), but Houston almost matched that with its 20-point first half. No matter, the Seahawks pitched a shutout in the second half and overtime, with the Texans getting two cracks at the ball in the extra period and producing nothing. And Seattle lost a key defensive starter, too, just like Houston. Defensive end Michael Bennett, who has been a destructive force so far in his first season as a Seahawk, exited late in the first half on a stretcher, the victim of a lower back injury suffered when his head was bent back grotesquely while in on a tackle.
Seattle maintains a healthy two-game lead over San Francisco and Arizona (both 2-2) in the NFC West, but its road challenges are far from over. The Seahawks travel to Indianapolis (3-1) next week, and complete a stretch of four road games in five weeks with trips to Arizona and St. Louis in Weeks 7 and 8. But the venue really is starting to not matter so much to Seattle. With September almost in the books and the season's quarter mark having arrived, the Seahawks are the clear-cut class of the NFC and look unstoppable.
• Well that performance isn't going to help convince anyone in Houston that Matt Schaub is the guy to lead the Texans to the Super Bowl. Schuab's game-changing interception to Sherman marked the third consecutive game in which he has thrown a pick-six, and that's about two too many for a quarterback who wants to be considered elite.
Schaub has to know by now that you can't throw late to the outside edges of the field off your back foot, certainly not against the NFL's best cornerback (Sherman) with the game hanging in the balance. The Texans are wedded to Schaub thanks to the contract extension they awarded him last season, but it's clear that he's fueling his critics in Houston. He completed 31-of-49 passes against Seattle, for 355 yards and two touchdowns, but with two costly interceptions and a mediocre 81.6 passer rating. The Texans lost despite outgaining Seattle 476-270, which is always a sure-fire sign of a team that doesn't handle the game's defining moments well enough.
The Texans are 2-2 and suddenly trail both Indianapolis and Tennessee by a game in the AFC South. The heat on Schaub is only going to grow after this one, and his habit of poor decision-making is reaching some sort of tipping point. (The fans seem to already be running out of patience with Schaub, reportedly burning his jersey in the parking lot after the game.) This is a 10-year veteran making these mistakes and being outplayed by the second-year QB on the other team, and that can't happen if Houston wants its Super Bowl hopes to be more than mere pipe dreams.
• Nice week for the Ravens. It started with Jacoby Jones' full-contact encounter with a Washington, D.C.-area stripper named Sweat Pea, and ended with a barrage of Joe Flacco interceptions (a career-worst five) in Buffalo. Maybe the post-Super Bowl hangover is going to hang around all season in Baltimore.
The Ravens' 23-20 loss to the Bills puts Baltimore right back in worry mode. The offense is spotty at best, and the running game was non-existent. Baltimore ran the ball just twice in the second half, and finished with nine rushes for 24 yards. Ray Rice, who led the way with all of 17 yards on five attempts, didn't get his fourth carry of the game until about four minutes remained in the final quarter.
And while we're at it, Buffalo rushed for 213 yards against a Ravens defense that looked a lot less impressive than it did in last week's 30-9 conquest of Houston at home. Buffalo's Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller combined to gouge the Ravens for 164 yards on the ground, and a touchdown, on 39 carries. Baltimore had allowed only 224 yards on the ground all season prior to this game.
I wouldn't call it a signature win for Buffalo based on the Ravens' inconsistency this season, but I'll bet it's been a while since the Bills handled the defending Super Bowl champion, so there's that to build on.
• Starting to think maybe Cleveland should have traded Trent Richardson earlier, like just before Week 1. The Browns are 2-0 since they decided to surrender their season and trade their lead running back to Indianapolis.
What a great put-the-game-away drive that was by Cleveland in the fourth quarter, a 12-play, 91-yard march that was capped by Brian Hoyer's 1-yard touchdown pass to Chris Ogbonnaya. Don't look now, but after their 17-6 beat-down of the Bengals, the Browns are tied for first-place in the AFC North, with fellow 2-2's Baltimore and Cincinnati. And Cleveland can grab sole possession of the top spot if it can defeat visiting Buffalo in the Week 5 Thursday Night game.
• I don't think there's any suspense left to the quarterback situation in Cleveland after Sunday. This is Hoyer's job for the foreseeable future. Former starter Brandon Weeden's thumb should be healed by this coming week's game, but he won't get his old job back. With Hoyer under center, the Browns have looked like a pretty efficient offense.
Hoyer threw for 269 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Bengals' tough defense, and he had no interceptions in completing 25-of-38 passes. He and tight end Jordan Cameron continued their uncanny connection, with Cameron catching another 10 passes for 91 yards, plus a first-half touchdown. Cameron has five touchdown catches this season and has emerged as one of the best and brightest young starring tight ends in the NFL.
• Looks like it'll be Denver versus Seattle in the Super Bowl next February and the next four months just represents needless buildup.
The Broncos were machine-like again at home on Sunday, dismantling Philadelphia 52-20, which set a record for the most points Denver has scored in its 54-season franchise history. Despite taking the entire fourth quarter off, Peyton Manning turned in another Arena Football-like showing, completing 28-of-34 passes for 327 yards with four touchdowns and no picks.
Another week, another blowout for the Broncos. Manning now has 16 touchdowns in four games, with no interceptions. That's a record for the first four games of the season, and only Cleveland's Milt Plum has matched Manning's streak of throwing 16 touchdowns without at least one interception.
As for the 1-3 Eagles, they've got to be sick of the AFC West. After beating Washington in Week 1, Philly has lost to San Diego, Kansas City and now Denver, with every defeat being worse than the last one.
• On another quarterback front, rookie Mike Glennon did nothing to change the bottom line in Tampa Bay. The Bucs blew a 10-point second-half lead at home and lost 13-10 to Arizona, falling to 0-4 and completely out of the NFC South playoff picture.
Tampa Bay has lost five straight home games, while the Cardinals hadn't won on the road since Week 2 of last season, when they went to Foxboro and shocked the Patriots. Arizona's nine-game road losing streak was the NFL's longest at the start of play on Sunday. The Cardinals erased a 10+ point fourth-quarter deficit to win in regulation for the first time since Dec. 28, 2003 against Minnesota.
Glennon wasn't bad by any means, but the two fourth-quarter interceptions he threw to Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson were the difference in the game. You can't blame this one on Josh Freeman, Bucs fans. Glennon was 24-of-43 for a respectable 193 yards, with one touchdown and those two big picks. But in the second half, with a double-digit lead to protect, Glennon connected on just nine-of-19 pass attempts.
• They made it uncomfortably close at the end, but break up the Lions, who are 3-1 and have the lead in the NFC North after a month of the season. Detroit got huge contributions on both sides of the ball, but running back Reggie Bush was spectacular, accounting for 173 yards of offense and a touchdown on 22 touches in the Lions' 40-32 conquest of visiting Chicago. Bush's highlight moment was when he hurdled Bears safety Major Wright on a 37-yard second-quarter scoring run.
Any time you hang up 40 points against the Bears defense, you've done something. Especially since quarterback Matthew Stafford entered the game just 1-5 against the Bears in his career, and Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler had owned Detroit to the tune of a 7-1 career record.
• With his three interceptions against the Lions, Cutler came back to earth pretty rapidly after his stellar start to the season. Same goes for the 3-0 Bears, who gave up 27 second-quarter points to Detroit. All told, the Lions scored 24 consecutive at one point, and held Chicago to a dismal 1-of-13 showing on third downs. Ugh. The first real challenge of the Marc Trestman coaching era in Chicago has officially arrived.
• I don't think you can keep running Blaine Gabbert out there in Jacksonville. In his two starts this season, both at home, Gabbert has presided over losses of 28-2 to Kansas City and 37-3 to Indianapolis, a 65-5 deficit overall. His passer rating was 30.8 against the Chiefs and an even worse 30.6 against the Colts.
Gabbert tossed three more interceptions against Indy, and has five on the season. He's averaging 150 yards passing per game, has absorbed 10 sacks and with him under center, the Jaguars aren't even threatening to do damage in the red zone, let alone actually scoring. I'm not saying Chad Henne is any great improvement, but how do the Jags keep serving up Gabbert to the hometown fans after two horrendous outings like the ones he has turned in this month? The 2014 draft can't come soon enough in Jacksonville.
• It was a nice, business-like road rout for the Colts, and I'm starting to think I was wrong when I predicted Indy would take a slight step back this season and miss the playoffs. This team seems like it's still getting better and wants to make last year's 11-5 playoff-qualifying run just a starting point.
And when exactly did Andrew Luck decide to become such a running threat? The Colts' quarterback doesn't do the read-option thing, but he has turned in some very big scrambles already this season, including his game-winning touchdown run in Week 1 at home against Oakland. Luck was at it again against the Jaguars, running twice for 26 yards, including a key 17-yard pickup for a first down in the first half.
• One month down and the 2-2 Cowboys are on pace for another maddening 8-8 season. Dallas is back in can't-stand-prosperity form, losing 30-21 at San Diego on Sunday despite racing to a 21-10 lead in the second quarter on Sean Lee's 52-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The Cowboys had their lack of a killer instinct come back to bite them against the Chargers, and have now dropped a pair of road games to AFC West teams (at Kansas City and at San Diego) that were both eminently winnable. The Chargers are usually the ones who blow leads and find ways to lose, but San Diego scored the game's final 20 points and showed some mental toughness when it fell way behind early.
Makes you think that Dallas hasn't really gotten over the hump yet when it comes to beating the teams its supposed to beat. The Cowboys are still in first place in the NFC East, but they're just one slim game ahead of both Washington and Philadelphia (1-3), and hold only a two-game edge over the winless Giants (0-4). Dallas could look back late this season and rue September's missed opportunities.
• I don't think the Vikings really have a choice. They have to stick with the hot hand of Matt Cassel when they face off against visiting Carolina in Week 6, after next week's bye. Minnesota's new starting quarterback wasn't spectacular in the Vikings' 34-27 win over Pittsburgh in London, but he did a very professional job at the position and contributed plenty to Minnesota's first win of the season.
If I'm Leslie Frazier, I make the move from Christian Ponder (who missed the game with a broken rib) to Cassel and make the announcement quickly this week.
Cassel sparked the Vikings offense and took care of the football. He completed 16-of-25 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, without throwing an interception or losing a fumble. Cassel also got No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings heavily involved, something Ponder has struggled to do. Jennings caught just three passes, but two went for touchdowns. Also, Adrian Peterson returned to form with a passing threat at quarterback for Minnesota, gaining 140 yards on 23 carries. The Steelers couldn't stack the box and dare the Vikings to beat them through the air after Jennings scored from 70 yards out in the first quarter.
• All in all, the Vikings and Steelers put on a jolly good show at Wembley, as the Brits like to say. And Pittsburgh made a game of it with a nice second-half comeback, scoring 17 of its 27 points after the break.
The best news for the Steelers was the regular-season debut of rookie second-round running back Le'Veon Bell, who ran 16 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns. Those were the first two rushing scores for the Steelers since Week 15 of last season, believe it or not.
• The Chargers hired new head coach Mike McCoy last January in part because they thought he could breathe life into quarterback Philip Rivers' flagging game. You'd have to say it's mission accomplished through the season's first four weeks. Rivers was outstanding against Dallas, with 35 completions in 42 attempts, for 401 yards and three touchdowns. The Chargers finished with an eye-popping 506 yards of offense, 27 first downs and gained 7.2 yards per play.
• It's a great sign for the 4-0 Chiefs that they can win with less than their A game on any given day. Kansas City started slowly against the winless Giants, slogging to a 10-7 halftime lead. But then the Chiefs turned it on, and won going away, 31-7.
And that Dexter McCluster 89-yard punt return touchdown in the third quarter was the most ridiculous play of the day in the NFL. It was like watching a real-life video game touchdown, with his effortless change of direction.
• How much longer can the Ravens keep throwing in the direction of stone-handed tight end Ed Dickson? Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has to be losing confidence in Dickson, if he had much to begin with entering Week 4. Dickson had another Flacco pass bounce off his hands, with this one going right to Bills safety Jim Leonhard for an interception in the first half.
• With the benched Josh Freeman declared inactive and told to stay off the Bucs' sideline -- reportedly he watched the game from a stadium suite somewhere -- things have gotten remarkably ugly, remarkably fast between Tampa Bay and its former franchise quarterback. There's no way the Bucs can let this situation fester for much longer. Somehow the two sides have to negotiate a settlement and go their separate ways. This can't continue to be an open sore for another 13 weeks.
There hasn't been this much animosity in the air in Tampa Bay since head coach Jon Gruden banished lead receiver Keyshawn Johnson from the team for the final seven games of 2003. Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said the decision to not have Freeman on the sideline was mutual, but Freeman's agent told the Tampa Bay Times that Schiano's comments were lies.
The situation only grows worse by the moment in Tampa Bay.
• Comeback of the week goes to Washington's defense, which was torched in historic fashion in the season's first three games (1,464 yards allowed, the most by anyone since 1951). Jim Haslett's guys looked to be in trouble again with Oakland leading 14-0 after the first quarter, but Washington stiffened and in essence kept its season alive and relevant with a 24-14 win over the injury-prone Raiders.
Imagine if Washington hadn't beaten this Raiders team, which was missing starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, and lost running backs Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece early on. As if we needed confirmation, there will be no quarterback controversy in Oakland, where backup Matt Flynn got the start in place of Pryor.
Flynn was largely ineffective and looked like a sitting duck for Washington's defense, which sacked him seven times. His 21-of-32 passing for 227 yards included one interception and a lost fumble that set up a mid-fourth quarter game-clinching 14-yard touchdown run by Roy Helu Jr.