I feel like we’ve been here before. The conclusion of Week 4. The Atlanta Falcons, coming off a 48-point explosion, appear to be an unstoppable force in the NFL. Why déjà vu? Why are you bothering me today?
Oh, right because this has happened before; last season to be exact. Atlanta opened the year like gangbusters, racing out to a 5-0 record before collapsing down the stretch to finish at 8-8. The Falcons 3-1 start this season looks like small potatoes by comparison, until you consider how thoroughly they dominated the reigning NFC champions on Sunday. The Falcons’ 48-33 thrashing of the Panthers was a statement.
Whether it stated that Carolina is in trouble or that Atlanta is legit, we aren’t sure yet. But it was the best offensive performance we’ve seen so far this season, and that includes Pittsburgh’s 43-14 domination of Kansas City which followed later in the evening.
As we look back on the week that was, we have to start in the home of the realest, real housewives: Hotlanta.
Week 4 in a Nutshell
Shout-out of the Week
Julio Jones and Matt Ryan, WR & QB: Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan has thrown Julio Jones’ way nearly 700 times in the receiver’s six-year career, for an average of about ten targets a game. Despite all those times Ryan has had tunnel vision for number 11, Sunday was the first time Jones ever topped 300 yards in a game.
The biggest reason for this outburst? The improved supporting cast for the Falcons. Last year, Jones commanded a third of the team’s targets, and defenses were able to key in on him. That was a big part of the Falcons’ drop off. This year, that drop off may not come if the offense is able to stay healthy.
Obviously, Ryan is playing much better out of the gate than he did to close 2015, but it’s no coincidence that he completed passes to nine different receivers during his 503-yard performance through the air. Having Jones and Mohamed Sanu streaking up the sidelines is opening up more room underneath for checkdowns to the running backs and tight ends. Ryan is also benefiting from perhaps the best blocking he’s ever had, thanks to newly acquired center Alex Mack. On Sunday, the Falcons had two touchdown drives of 98 yards or more; that screams team effort.
Given all the time and weapons he has in the passing game (not to mention the support of an excellent ground attack), Ryan hasn’t had to force the ball into Jones. That may explain why a receiver of his talents saw more single coverage against the Panthers than he ever should. Unless opposing defenses can slow down the rest of Atlanta’s pieces, Jones will continue to draw matchups he can exploit (which is basically any matchup against single coverage).
If Ryan continues to prove me wrong, this Falcon offense is good enough to get the team to the playoffs, regardless of how underwhelming their D is.
Teams in need of a “Redemption Sunday”
Mike Tomlin had his team rally around the idea of Redemption Sunday following an embarrassing loss to the Eagles, and they responded. Here are some teams who should steal that idea this weekend.
What’s worse than a 1-3 record? What’s worse than having your quarterback going through concussion protocol? Having Jeff Fisher take shots at you! The only way things could get worse than that would be to lose on national TV to a team coached by a complete clown … and, right on schedule, the 49ers are next. This would technically be a Redemption Thursday, but titles aside, the Cardinals need a huge win in the worst way.
Roughly half of the Miami Dolphins’ losses qualify as embarrassing, but one player in particular needs to rebound badly from the team’s 22-7 stinker against Cincinnati. With Adam Gase preaching accountability, he’d be hypocritical to keep trotting Ryan Tannehill out their with his 6:7 TD to turnover ratio. The QB needs a strong performance against Tennessee.
New England Patriots
I mean, they need to get the awful taste of losing to Rex Ryan out of their mouth; but this was going to be a redemption day for one player regardless of what happened last week. Welcome back, number 12!
Other great things from Week 4
Winless teams getting off the schneid.
Chicago, New Orleans, and Jacksonville all found a way to crack the goose egg in their win column. Whether it was a sign of things to come, divine intervention, or the most likely cause, playing some bad opponents, these teams have at least guaranteed they won’t be a part of history, which is nice. That pressure, however, continues to hang over Cleveland. And with a date against Tom Brady next week, I don’t think we’ll be crossing them off in next week’s nuts.
John Kuhn screwing everyone’s fantasy team.
Twelve combined yards. Three touchdowns. Just another day in the life of John Kuhn: touchdown vulture. The fullback has made a career drawing the ire of fantasy footballers, playing for top offenses, then stealing scores out of the mouths of real fantasy starters. Sunday wasn’t even the first TD hat trick of his career, notching one back in 2010.
As frustrating as an afternoon like that is for Mark Ingram or Brandin Cooks owners, it is pretty funny when you step back. And if you step far enough back, you’ll see that I was playing an Ingram owner, and then it becomes hilarious.
Mankind is never going to stop running onto fields during games; we simply love exercising in front of 80,000 fans far too much. But just when you think it’s become so tired that only Kevin Harlan can spice it up, a true field-charger comes along. That fan was in Chicago this week, commandeering an otherwise boring game to call for gorilla justice. I don’t think he got it.
Other bad things from Week 4
Eric Ebron: the perfect Lion.
There’s potential there; but we rarely get to see it, because it’s clouded by constant, fundamental errors. Am I describing third-year tight end Eric Ebron or the Detroit Lions? The fact that the answer is both proves these two are made for each other.
Ebron had another fundamentally poor day, as the Lions blew a very winnable game at Chicago. The tight end had two penalties to push Detroit into long downs, dropped a pass, appeared to have a miscommunication with Stafford on his second interception, and completely gave up on blocking for Theo Riddick midway through a play!
Given how many close games the Lions have blown in recent years, you’d think “play to the whistle” would be carved over every doorway in Ford Field by now. But alas, brain farts seem to dog this team no matter who’s coaching. Perhaps there’s something in the water in Michigan?
Ruling on fumbles early.
In typical NFL fashion, the league addressed yesterday’s Washington-Cleveland fumble controversy by admitting they totally biffed the call. (Pause for laughter.) Of course, they backed their referee after Duke Johnson wasn’t awarded the ball, despite being the one who was holding it. But I’m not as angry about the missed call as I am about how it was initially handled.
Finding out who has the ball at the bottom of a pile is supposed to be one of the most dramatic calls in all of sports. I wanted to see refs clawing through a pile of bodies ten Browns high before they could get a good look. I wanted a lengthy pause before the ref pointed to possession with the enthusiasm of Cam Newton getting a first down. That fumble was completely devoid of excitement and everybody involved can do better!
Tampa Bay weather.
Watching the Buccaneers lately has been painful enough. Mother Nature adding torrential downpours and hour-long delays to the experience is just beyond cruel. Next time, the NFL should just call the game: Tampa has proven extra time to plan doesn’t make their offense look any sharper.