Top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 4 NFL action

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday’s Week 4 NFL action started out with a thud as it looked like there were going to be multiple blowouts. While Chicago and New England did thump their opponents, other games inched closer as the early slate moved forward.

It led to both the Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans coming from behind with stirring performances. That left NFC foes, Atlanta and Philadelphia, wondering what could have been.

Meanwhile, Colts head coach Frank Reich made his first blunder in that role. It led to a third loss in four games to start the season. And in the later afternoon slate, the Cleveland Browns were back to being the Cleveland Browns in an overtime loss to the Raiders. At that very same time, Alvin Kamara was throwing his hat into the MVP ring.

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

A star is reborn 

Very punny, right? The Dallas Cowboys needed their all-everything running back to come up big time Sunday against a Lions defense that entered Week 4 ranked No. 1 in the NFL defending the pass. That’s exactly what Ezekiel Elliott did in what was ultimately a career-best performance from the talented ball-carrier.

The stats will tell us a story of a running back that put up 240 yards on 29 touches. But his brilliance wasn’t limited to that. In need of a big play with the Cowboys down one late in the fourth quarter, Elliott caught a 34-yard bomb from Dak Prescott. It set Dallas up for the game-winning field goal to move to 2-2 on the season. Equally as important, Elliott’s performance in the backfield created enough balance for Prescott to rebound from early-season struggles. Big time stuff right here from Zeke.

The Buccaneers should be ashamed of themselves

Following last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, most figured a surprising Buccaneers squad would get right against the Chicago Bears and struggling quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Instead, Tampa Bay’s defense decided that it made sense not to show up at all. Trubisky threw five first half touchdowns to go with just four incompletions en route to leading Chicago to a 38-3 lead heading into the intermission. During that span, the second-year quarterback threw for nearly 300 yards.

After replacing Ryan Fitzpatrick with Jameis Winston to start the second half, Tampa Bay pretty much rolled over and played dead. Without much oomph the remainder of the way, these Buccaneers lost by the score of 48-10. Now at 2-2 on the season, any good early-season vibes can be thrown completely out the window.

Alvin Kamara is a bad, bad man

We’re still not sure how Kamara makes opposing defenses look so silly. In just his 20th NFL game, he took the New York Giants’ defense and spit it out like no one else’s business. Whether it was a nine-yard touchdown run to open scoring in the third quarter or the 49-yard run to put things away in the final stanza, Kamara made the home team look absolutely silly.

The running back’s second-half performance was more than needed after the Saints had to settle for four first-half field goals. It came with Drew Brees having somewhat of an off day. In the end, Kamara totaled 181 yards and three touchdowns on 24 touches en route to leading New Orleans to a 33-18 win. Through the first quarter of the season, he’s on pace for 2,444 total yards and 24 touchdowns. He’s also on pace to break the single-season reception mark. In case you hadn’t heard, Kamara plays running back.

Same old for Andrew Luck and the Colts

Thus far this season, the Frank Reich-led Colts have been a carbon copy of previous years. With Andrew Luck back under center, the hope was that this team would turn it around. At least for the first drive on Sunday against the Texans, it looked like that might happen. Then, the same old Colts showed up. No rushing attack to speak of. Horrible offensive line play, leading to four first half sacks and a defensive touchdown for Houston. When all was said and done, the Colts had put up 41 yards on 17 attempts while watching Luck toss the rock 62 times.

Despite this, Indianapolis had a chance to win or tie the game in overtime. But on fourth-and-4 from their own 40-yard line, the Colts decided to go for it. The conversion failed, setting Houston up for a game-winning field goal. In that situation, a tie would have been better than the alternative. And even if the Colts had converted, the chances of them winning was minimal. It’s in this that Reich made the first major mistake of his head coaching career.

Calvin Ridley changes dynamic of Falcons offense 

Anyone who watched Ridley dominate elite SEC competition at Alabama knew full well that he was as pro-ready as they come. Not a single objective person could envision what the rookie would do throughout the first quarter of his initial campaign, however. Ridley capped off said stretch with two more touchdowns from Matt Ryan in Sunday’s heartbreaking loss to Cincinnati. He now has six touchdowns through his first four games, a number that had not been matched in the NFL since Billy Howton in 1952. Yes, that Billy Howton.

While Atlanta has major concerns on the defensive side of the ball, Ridley’s performance tells us something about the team’s offense moving forward. Steve Sarkisian seems to be getting into a groove calling plays. Matt Ryan is playing at an MVP level. And now with Ridley to team up with Julio Jones, this unit will flourish moving forward.

The good Blake Bortles shows up

Consistently inconsistent. That’s the best term we can use for a quarterback in Blake Bortles that has either looked elite or absolutely lost through the first quarter of the season. The good Bortles was on full display against a lesser Jets team on Sunday, completing 18-of-21 passes for 229 yards in the first half.

He struggled a bit more in the second half, but the Jaguars had already imposed their will against a lesser team at that point. With Leonard Fournette having to exit due to another hamstring injury, Bortles ultimately tossed for 388 yards en route to leading Jacksonville to a convincing 31-12 win. Whether that translates to next week against the Chiefs remains to be seen.

Joe Flacco is playing elite football 

If Mr. Flacco continues to play the way we saw Sunday night, his Ravens are going to have a say in the AFC North before all is said and done. He vastly outplayed Ben Roethlisberger, completing 28-of-42 passes for 363 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions en route to leading Baltimore to a 26-14 win over Pittsburgh. Through the first quarter of the season, Flacco has now thrown eight touchdowns compared to two interceptions. He’s also on pace for over 5,000 passing yards.

It’s not just that Flacco is playing elite football. He’s doing so within the confines of an offense that seems to be built for him. Sunday night’s game saw him complete passes to 11 different players. It’s that type of ball distribution that has the Ravens playing tremendous football through the first quarter of the season.

The Giants still have no clue what they’re doing 

We would’ve thought that head coach Pat Shurmur and Co. learned a lesson last week. In winning their first game of the season against the Houston Texans, balance was the name of the game on offense. Eli Manning attempted 29 passes while New York ran the ball 27 times. For his part, Saquon Barkley put up 82 yards on 17 attempts. It was the perfect balance for a team that’s relying on the No. 2 pick to do great things.

Fast forward a week, and the Giants were back to their old tricks. Even in a game that was 12-7 at the half, Manning dropped back to pass a whopping 46 times. For comparison’s sake, Barkley attempted 10 runs. Yes folks, 10 rush attempts for a player that had put up 100-plus total yards in each of his first three NFL games. The end result was New Orleans’ offense being on the field too much, and Alvin Kamara taking advantage in a 33-18 Giants loss. Yuck.

Do the Texans plan on killing Deshaun Watson?

Houston might have come out on top against Indianapolis for the first win of the season. In reality, it was all about a dominating performance from the likes of Jadeveon Clowney, J.J. Watt and the Texans’ defense. That’s the good news. The bad news? Watson was sacked seven more times and hit a total of 13 times in the overtime win.

This isn’t sustainable. Coming off a rookie season in which his debut ended prematurely due to a torn ACL, Watson has now been sacked 17 times in four games. Sure some of that is on him. He holds on to the ball too long attempting to make plays. Even then, the makeshift tackles Houston throws out there on a consistent basis is going to continue acting as a detriment to Watson’s long-term health.

Bengals offense comes up big 

Down 36-31 and facing the possibility of blowing an early-game lead, the Andy Dalton to A.J. Green connection came up absolutely huge. On second down with just 12 seconds left, the battery mates connected on a 13-yard touchdown to give Cincinnati the win and move the team to 3-1 on the season.

The play itself was extraordinary by a receiver in Green who finished the afternoon having caught just 4-of-8 targets for 71 yards. But it tells us a story of a talented Bengals offense that doesn’t have to rely on just one player. Dalton threw for 337 yards and three scores, 11 of his completions going to Tyler Boyd. Meanwhile, Giovani Bernard put up nearly 100 total yards in the backfield. Yeah, this offense is legit.

C.J. Beathard gives the 49ers some hope 

When San Francisco lost Jimmy Garoppolo to a torn ACL last week, it pretty much ended the team’s playoff aspirations. Already an imperfect entity, losing a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback was the death knell for Kyle Shanahan’s squad. At the very least, this was the narrative being thrown around. Despite seeing his squad fall 29-27 to the Chargers on Sunday, second-year quarterback C.J. Beathard might have put an end to said narrative.

Continuing to show himself to be as tough as nails, Beathard overcome hit after hit to toss for nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns en route to keeping the 49ers close. While he did have two interceptions, one came near the end zone on a perfectly thrown pass. Garrett Celek simply dropped it, leading to the Chargers returning it 80-plus yards in the other direction. Overall, Beathard was great. And if nothing else, it gives fans in Northern California hope that the final 12 games aren’t going to be unwatchable.

Eagles blow golden opportunity 

Having built a 17-3 lead after a 75-yard touchdown scoring drive to open up the second half, most figured the defending champs would romp all over a less-talented Tennessee Titans squad in Nashville. That did not happen. Tennessee would score a touchdown on the next drive before a Carson Wentz fumble ultimately netted the home team another three points. Game on!

Unfortunately for the Eagles, they just couldn’t get out of their own way on both sides of the ball as the afternoon continued. It led to a tie game after regulation. But with an opportunity to at least tie, Philly’s defense came up small. With just five seconds left in regulation, Marcus Mariota hit Corey Davis for a walk-off touchdown. It moved Philly to a pedestrian 2-2 at the quarter point in the season.

The Earl Thomas’ situation is now even uglier 

We knew that Thomas was not happy about Seattle failing to extend him this past offseason. Even after reporting prior to Week 1, he made this known. But on the field, Thomas had showed out through the first three games. That included three interceptions in a secondary that needed his experience.

Unfortunately, it now looks like Thomas’ career in Seattle is over. He suffered a broken foot in the team’s win over Arizona on Sunday and is out for the remainder of the season. Once Thomas was carted off the field, he was seen throwing up the bird at Seattle’s sideline. It’s going to lead to an ugly divorce in a relationship that was going so swimmingly just a couple years back.

Say what, Mitchell Trubisky?

If you had Trubisky in your fantasy lineups Sunday, can we get your lotto numbers? After what we saw from the second-year quarterback over the first three games, there was no reason to believe he’d be able to take advantage of a weak Buccaneers past defense. That’s until Trubisky, who had nine career touchdowns heading into Week 4, put up one of the finest quarterback performances in recent Bears history.

He tossed five first half touchdowns en route to leading Chicago to a 38-3 halftime lead. Trubisky would finish the afternoon having completed 19-of-26 passes for 354 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. All said, the Bears romped to a 48-10 win in the most-impressive performance of the young Matt Nagy era.

Browns are back to being the Browns

We can blame a bad reversal late in the fourth quarter that gave Oakland another opportunity. We can point to questionable calls in favor of the Raiders throughout the game. That’s fine. It all played a role. But in the end, Hue Jackson and his Browns lost a game they had no business losing. It came with the defense taking a major step back after showing out over the first three weeks. And it has a Browns team that could easily be 4-0 heading into the second quarter of the season with a 1-2-1 mark.

Up 28-21 heading into the fourth quarter, Cleveland yielded four scoring drives in the final 15 minutes of regulation. Two of them came with Oakland starting deep in Cleveland territory. Then, in overtime, Cleveland’s defense allowed a couple huge passing plays to a quarterback in Derek Carr who finished the game having thrown for 437 yards. It led to a heartbreaking 45-42 loss for the Browns in a game they should have easily won. Yuck.

AFC East is still the Patriots’ division. Period!

New England entered Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins with the possibility of falling three games back in the division through four weeks. As much as any game in September could be, this was a must win for Tom Brady and Co. Like clockwork, the Pats absolutely dominated in front of their home crowd.

After throwing an ugly first-half interception, Brady was nearly perfect in the 38-7 win. He completed 23-of-35 passes for 274 yards with three scores. Meanwhile, rookie running back Sony Michel went off to the tune of 112 yards on 25 attempts on the ground. For the Dolphins, a disastrous overall performance couldn’t come at a worst time. And in the end, Adam Gase’s squad proved they still weren’t quite ready for prime time.

What we learned about the Vikings

If Buffalo’s performance Sunday against the Packers at Lambeau Field was any indication, Minnesota is in a world of trouble. Indirectly, what we saw from the Vikings Thursday night and the Bills on Sunday tells us a story of a team that’s nowhere near ready to even be a playoff contender. Already with just one win through the first quarter of the season, Minnesota’s trajectory is now on a downward spiral.

After beating up the Vikings’ defense last week, rookie Bills quarterback Josh Allen reverted to form. He was a complete disaster in every possible way, completing just 16-of-33 passes with two interceptions while taking seven sacks in a 22-0 shutout loss to the Packers. Given Minnesota and Green Bay had tied earlier in the year, it stands to reason one team has progressed. That team obviously isn’t the Vikings. And it should be of utmost concern moving forward.