Top 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 4 NFL action

By Vincent Frank

Week 4 of the NFL season presented us with a whole heck of a lot of drama. From the get-go, we knew that something might be different than the first three weeks of the campaign.

The Indianapolis Colts laid a complete egg against a previously winless Jacksonville Jaguars team in London. That got the full slate of games kicked off.

From there, two previously undefeated teams lost their first games of the season. For the New England Patriots it came in the form of a shutout defeat at the hands of Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens lost a heartbreaker against what is suddenly maturing Oakland Raiders squad.

These are among the top 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 4 NFL action.

1. New England Patriots shut out for the first time since 2006

The last time Bill Belichick and Co. put a goose egg up on the scoreboard, Matt Cassel was starting for the injured Tom Brady back in 2006.

Now, just one game before Brady himself is set to return from suspension, New England put up a zero on the scoreboard for the first time in over a decade. It came with Jacoby Brissett starting under center and Jimmy Garoppolo sidelined to injury (more on that here).

It also came against a Buffalo Bills team that entered Sunday’s game riding high after a surprise win over the Arizona Cardinals last week. Interestingly enough, it also came a week after New England pitched a shutout of its own.

For fans in Western New York, this might potentially be the biggest win the team has put up since back in 1999, the last time Buffalo made the playoffs.

While it did come against a rookie third-string quarterback, no one should discount what Buffalo did here. Head coach Rex Ryan talked a good game leading up to Sunday’s matchup.

Heck, the two teams got into prior to the game, at which point Patriots president Jonathan Kraft called Ryan out (more on that here).

This was the fuel that Buffalo’s defense needed to hold an undermanned Patriots offense to 13 first downs and 1-of-12 on third-down conversions in the shutout win.

For the Bills, it was a much-needed win. Now at 2-2 on the season, Buffalo is just one game out in the AFC East. A loss here, and it would have been three games out. That’s a huge difference at the quarter point of the season.

For the Patriots, it’s now all about getting back on track with Brady returning from suspension. Should that happen, they will be just fine.

Though, there’s not a single person out here that thought New England would put up a big fat zero in a 16-0 loss to Bufffalo. That’s a shocking outcome between these two division rivals.

2. Carolina Panthers are now in trouble 

Cam Newton

More so than their 1-3 record, the Panthers seem to be a team destined for a disappointing season.

It could have to do with the 571 yards of offense it gave up to the Atlanta Falcons in a 48-33 loss on Sunday. That’s simply not the type of Panthers football we’ve become accustomed to under Ron Rivera.

Even more troubling, Carolina continues to struggle in the trenches. This was evident last week when Cam Newton was sacked eight times against the Minnesota Vikings. It also reared its ugly head in Sunday’s loss to the Falcons.

New was hit a half dozen times and pressured on over a quarter of his drop backs. And while he was sacked just once, this impacted Carolina’s timing on offense.

For his part, Newton took yet another unnecessary hit (watch here) that led to the reigning NFL MVP being forced from the game with a concussion.

If you’re not winning the trench warfare battle, you are not going to come out on the favorable end of the scoreboard too often. When you can’t do anything on defense, that’s magnified even further.

At 1-3 on the season and with Newton now having to pass through the league’s concussion protocol to return to the field, Carolina is in trouble. Add in the Falcons’ 3-1 record, and the Panthers are looking at a substantial deficit in the NFC South a quarter of the way through the season.

3. Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense continues to dominate 

On the other hand, there’s not one fan in Atlanta that isn’t pleased with what this team did on Sunday. It was absolute domination on offense from the get-go. Historical domination.

Ryan completed 28-of-37 passes for 503 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Those 503 yards represent a franchise record.

Meanwhile, Julio Jones showed no side effects of a calf injury he’s been battling through during the early part of the season. Heck, Jones became just the sixth receiver in NFL history to put up over 300 receiving yards in one game.

All said, he took advantage of a young Panthers secondary to the tune of 12 receptions for 300 yards, the latter number also representing a franchise record.

Now, through four games, the Falcons are averaging an absurd  38 points and 479 total yards per game. For his part, Ryan is now on pace for 5,900 passing yards and 44 touchdown passes. Yes folks, these are Arena Football League numbers right here.

4. Injuries mar an otherwise fun day 

Both Cam Newton and Carson Palmer had to exit Sunday’s action with potential concussions. Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian was carted off the field with a shoulder injury.

Meanwhile, NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate NaVorro Bowman suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury in the San Francisco 49ers’ loss to the Dallas Cowboys (more on that here).

It’s horrible when a tremendous slate of action is marred by injuries. These are players who have put everything into helping their teams. Now, they have to wait in order to see when they can return to the field.

It’s specifically troublesome for the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals. Both teams are 1-3 at the quarter point of the season. Both are facing the possibility of having to play without their franchise quarterbacks over the short term.

For the Cardinals in particular, it’s worrisome. They are presented with a short turnaround, having to play San Francisco at Levi’s Stadium on Thursday evening. Should Palmer not pass through the concussion protocol, Drew Stanton would start against the divisional rivals. At this point, that seems like a good bet.

Speaking of the NFC West, Bowman’s injury is potentially the hardest for fans and players alike to deal with. He appeared to have suffered a ruptured Achilles, which would end his season.

This comes after Bowman earned All Pro Honors  last season while returning from a serious knee injury he suffered during the 2013 NFC Championship game.

Any time injuries become part of the story, it’s simply not good. That’s magnified by the extent of these injuries and who suffered them on Sunday. Let’s hope for the best on all accounts.

5. Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals, two vastly different directions 

Carson Palmer

Did we expect too much from Arizona heading into the 2016 season? Potentially. But it seemed that the Cardinals were primed for a run to the Super Bowl in Houston this upcoming February.

While that still might be the case, Bruce Arians and Co. head into the second quarter of the season with just one win in four attempts. Their latest loss came at the hands of a Rams team that was expected to cellar dwell throughout the season. It also came in the desert, where Arizona had posted a 13-3 record over the past two seasons.

Despite statistically dominating their division foes, Arizona put up just a touchdown and two field goals in a 17-13 loss. That was primarily due to the fact that the Cardinals turned the ball over a whopping five times, bringing their total to 10 over the past two games. Not many teams will win consistently coughing the ball up like that.

Now, with Carson Palmer unlikely to go Thursday night against San Francisco, the Cardinals are staring a potential 1-4 starts to the season right in the face. That’s not where most experts had this team at the start of the year.

On the other hand, things were looking incredibly bleak for Los Angeles following a 28-0 shutout loss to San Francisco to open the season. Since then, all the Rams have done is take out the two NFC West playoff teams from a season ago.

Sunday’s win over Arizona was defined by ball-hawking defense and one opportunistic special teams play. Despite yielding over 400 yards of total offense and 26 first downs, Los Angeles held the Cardinals to a grand total of 13 points.

Of course, this was aided by carelessness on the part of Arizona, but the Cardinals definitely made their own breaks here. Four of the Cardinals’ five turnovers came in Los Angeles side of the field.

Down 13-10 with just over five minutes left, Tavon Austin returned a Cardinals punt 47 yards deep into Arizona territory. A personal foul penalty on the home team added 15 more yards to the return. And just five plays later, Brian Quick caught a Case Keenum pass for the eventual game-winning touchdown.

No one can say for sure the Rams are a legitimate contender in the NFC West. What we do know is that this team is in first place at the quarter point of the season. That’s something not a single reasonable person expected to say just three short weeks ago.

6. Kansas City Chiefs embarrass themselves on national television 

Alex Smith

We’re not too sure how a team can fail to show up for a conference game on national television to start the month of October. But that’s exactly what happened to Andy Reid and the Chiefs on Sunday night.

After just 15 minutes of action, the Pittsburgh Steelers led 22-0. Ben Roethlisberger had put up three touchdown passes compared to a total of three first downs for the Chiefs.

By the time the game hit the half, Kansas City found itself down 29-0 en route to what would end up being a 43-14 whitewashing in Pittsburgh’s favor.

There’s not a darn thing that went right here. Even when Kansas City mounted an 18-play, 80-yard drive down 36-0 in the third quarter, it came up empty. That’s primarily because tight ends Travis Kelce and Ross Travis dropped sure-fire touchdowns from Alex Smith.

At the end of the day, it’s one of those games you simply want to forget about. But it leaves a stench for the entire NFL to consume. It didn’t happen on a regional broadcast or get lost in all the action that is Sunday afternoon football. It took place on national television for the entire league to see, both the Denver Broncos (4-0) and Oakland Raiders (3-1) included.

It will be interesting to see how the Chiefs respond to this blowout loss. That will tell us where the 2-2 squad is headed moving forward on the season. For now, Kansas City completely embarrassed itself in front of us all.

7. Indy’s struggles in London underscore coaching issues 

Following last week’s dramatic win over the San Diego Chargers, it looked like the Indianapolis Colts were about to turn the corner.

That lasted all of six days, as Indianapolis took one on the chin against the previously winless Jacksonville Jaguars in London on Sunday morning.

As Andrew Luck has done throughout his career, Indianapolis made a late-game run at it but was not able to come away with the win. Instead, the Colts lost another close game by the score of 30-27.

More than anything, it appeared that in-game failures in terms of coaching played a role here. Even with Frank Gore averaging well over four yards per rush, Indianapolis abandoned the run game. It did so with Luck under fire all game long.

The end result was Luck going down to the tune of six sacks against a Jaguars defense that had recorded six total sacks in the first three games.

It’s in this that Chuck Pagano failed to comprehend what he was going up against, especially considering the injuries along Indianapolis’ offensive line.

Now at 1-3 on the season, the Colts find themselves two games out in the AFC South. While it might be premature to call for Pagano’s job, this is something to definitely keep an eye on moving forward. Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville did nothing to change this.

8. Big boy win for the Oakland Raiders 

Derek Carr, Michael Crabtree

Taking on an undefeated and overrated Baltimore Ravens team on Sunday, Oakland had the opportunity to go 3-1 in a season for the first time since 2002.

After it looked like the Raiders were on the verge of giving the game away following a late fourth quarter fumble by rookie DeAndre Washington, the offense and Derek Carr took over.

Down 27-21, Carr led the Raiders on a six-play, 66-yard drive culminating in a beautiful touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree (watch here). It was their third scoring strike of the game and put the Raiders up one with just under two minutes left.

Even then, some figured the Raiders’ defense would find a way to blow this game. It did not happen, as the Ravens turned the ball over on downs to put an end to the game.

This is one of those wins that can define a young team. Going on the road against a superior opponent. Doing so with an opportunity to make their mark in the AFC West. Despite some issues here and there, that’s exactly what the Raiders did.

They’re now fully in the AFC Playoff conversation at the quarter point of the season. A road win against a winning squad might possibly act as the springboard for more success as the season progresses.

9. Dak Prescott’s historical run 

Prescott almost threw an interception on Sunday. It really almost happened. It came at a time when the rookie quarterback looked shook. Maybe it was the raucous crowd at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara or something else, but Prescott didn’t look himself early on.

Down 14-0 early in the second quarter, Prescott calmed down. He got a hold of his emotions. And when all was said and done, the rookie from Mississippi State led his Dallas Cowboys to a third consecutive win.

In the process, Prescott made some history. He completed 23-of-32 passes for for 245 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Prescott has now gone an NFL record 131 pass attempts without throwing a pick to start his career.

Under pressure more than we saw earlier this season due to injuries to both L’ael Collins and Tyron Smith, Prescott found a  way to escape the pressure. Dallas found a way to scheme away from the pressure. And the end result was a 24-17 win over a game 49ers squad in Northern California.

This all came on the heels of reports surfacing Sunday morning that Tony Romo might be able to return by Week 8 (more on that here).

If that’s the case, one has to wonder what direction the Cowboys might head at quarterback. Let’s say the team boasts 5-2 or 6-1 record at that time? Can it justify benching Prescott for Romo? If the first four weeks of Prescott’s career is any indication, it’s a conversation worth having.

10. Can the San Diego Chargers justify retaining Mike McCoy?

It’s getting to the point where the Chargers’ ownership group has to start answering to its fans. We couldn’t care less if this is the team’s last season in San Diego. In fact, that should definitely play a role here.

Following yet another Chargers’ late-game meltdown, this at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, Mike McCoy and Co. have lost 12 games by one score since the start of the 2015 campaign. That’s not acceptable at any level of football, let alone the NFL.

And in reality, it speaks to the coaching. What is happening when it comes to in-game strategy? Why aren’t the players executing at a level expected of them? These are questions the brass in San Diego must ask itself.

Up 34-21 with under seven minutes left, San Diego imploded big time. It started with a Melvin Gordon fumble that set up a short field for the Saints. Within the matter of just four plays, New Orleans was able to score a touchdown to pull within six.

Then, on the very next offensive play, Travis Benjamin coughed the ball up to give the Saints another short field. Sensing a theme here?

New Orleans would go on to take a 35-34 lead on a three-yard pass from Drew Brees to John Kuhn. It ended up being the game winner, as Philip Rivers was intercepted on a desperation heave to put the Chargers out of their misery.

Now at 1-3 on the season, San Diego finds itself three games behind the Denver Broncos in the AFC West. It is also two games behind the Oakland Raiders for second place.

When is it going to become apparent to the Chargers’ brass that McCoy needs to be shown the door? Will it take for the 2016 season to be considered a lost one in San Diego or will the organization pull the plug on this disaster before then? These are answers we will get here in short order.