NFL Week 4 Reactions: Brady’s Bucs Escape Boston With Win in Thriller

Bill, why would you kick that? 56 yards, in a monsoon? Why? It was 4th and 3! Go for the 4th down conversion. Even if you hit that field goal and go ahead 20-19 with a minute to play, do you really like your chances against Brady?

Far be it from me to question the greatest coach ever, but I thought he should’ve gone for it on 4th down. Bill had a great game plan in that game defensively. The rain obviously helped, and I think there were more than a few balls the Tampa receivers probably would’ve caught had it not been raining (especially the Antonio Brown one in the endzone at the end), but ultimately both teams had to play in the rain.

I had a feeling the game would be close, and it was. I really think Bill Simmons was right when he said Belichick was holding some stuff back in the first three games in preparation for Brady. The Patriots looked like a very mediocre team the first three games, but against Tampa, they looked the best they have all season, by far.

The big takeaway for New England was Mac Jones: he looked great. Tampa was constantly throwing blitzes at him all game long, and he stood tall in the pocket and made good throws. It’s a lot to ask of a rookie to go toe-to-toe with the GOAT and the Super Bowl Champions in a driving rain storm, but Mac Jones stepped up to the plate and Did His Job. He got the Patriots into position to kick a go-ahead field goal with a minute to play; it’s not his fault his kicker missed. Patriot fans have to be excited about Mac Jones’ potential going forward.

Tampa’s already banged-up secondary got another blow when Carlton Davis went down on a non-contact injury in the second half of the game. I think they said it was a quad, but when it’s non-contact, you immediately fear the worst. Richard Sherman, who was just signed this week, was thrust into the starting lineup and the Patriots immediately started picking on him. If Tampa didn’t have such a nasty pass rush, I’d be more worried about them. But this was a nice bounce-back win for them–it was probably one of the toughest games a team can play given the unique circumstances, plus the pouring rain.

But at the end of the day, Tampa is just so much more talented than New England. Even without Gronk, Tampa still had Mike Evans, AB and Chris Godwin. All three guys are better than any wideout New England has, and it’s really not very close. I’d say Tampa has better running backs, too, especially with James White going down for the season. Tight ends is kind of a wash, but you could argue the Bucs with Gronk, Brate and OJ Howard are even better than Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Defensively, it’s close, but when Tampa’s healthy they’re probably better.

The only thing Tampa doesn’t have is Belichick, and that’s why that game was so close.

Next let’s go to the Thursday Night game, which I jotted a few thoughts down about immediately after the game so I wouldn’t forget anything:

The Bengals did not look good in the first half of that game. They were shut out and could barely move the ball. But Joe Burrow is not a guy you can bottle up for an entire game. Eventually he’s going to start rolling and scoring points.

It looks like Burrow’s already got that “We’ve got a chance in every game as long as we have him under center” quality that is the mark of great quarterbacks in this league. You know what I mean: the Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson ability to erase deficits. Anytime you’re playing against the Chiefs, the Bucs, the Packers, or the Seahawks, you know they’re never really out of it, even if they’re down 2-3 scores, because of their QBs.

That’s what having a game-changing quarterback means for a team. I’m not going to put Joe Burrow into that category just yet, but he looks like he’s getting there.

As for the Jaguars, I’ve been saying this after their past two games: I know they’re 0-4, but a lot of people may have written them off after their week 1 blowout loss to the Texans, but they’ve looked better and better with each passing week of the season. They were up 14-0 in the first half and lost on a late field goal. Trevor Lawrence had 0 INTs for the first time this season, and he also had this incredible throw on the run to Laviska Shenault that really emphasizes why he was such a highly-touted draft prospect (you’ll have to go to YouTube to watch it as for some reason the NFL doesn’t allow you to embed their YouTube content on other websites):

The Jags have one of the worst rosters in the league. They simply don’t have enough guys to compete for 60 minutes. You could tell their defense, which looked stout in the first half, just couldn’t hang at the end.

Trevor Lawrence needs a #1 receiver, too. The Jags’ receiving corps. is just a bunch of random guys at the moment. And it didn’t help that DJ Chark fractured his ankle just a few plays into the game last night. The Jags need a #1 receiver for Trevor Lawrence, badly. They should already be targeting Clemson’s Justyn Ross in the 2022 Draft: Lawrence played with him at Clemson with a lot of success, and he’s considered one of the top WR prospects right now.

Also, an interesting video of Urban Meyer surfaced over the weekend. He was pretty drunk at a bar and some young blonde chick was grinding up on him–or at least trying to–as he sat on a barstool. I don’t know if anything’s going to come of it in terms of his job security, it’s not like he was doing anything illegal. But he’s probably going to catch hell from his wife.

On to the Sunday games:

Bears 24, Lions 14: The Bears offense looked, dare I say, competent. Wow. It was night and day compared to last week, when Matt Nagy was trying to get Justin Fields killed with his horrible play-calling. This week, Bill Lazor called the plays and it made a world of a difference. Now, granted, this week it was the Lions as opposed to Cleveland, so that may have had a lot to do with it, but the Lions have played tough this year. Justin Fields was only 11-17 with an INT, but he had 206 yards and connected on a really nice deep bomb to Darnell Mooney, which may have been the greatest pass play in Bears history, and I’m not even kidding about that. Mooney also had an incredible catch on the first series of the game. He’s an up-and-coming guy who has a lot of potential.

The Bears’ offense looked good early in the game, but kind of started faltering in the second half. I don’t know if that was game-script or they got figured out, but you’d like to see them put together a full game offensively. Also concerning is that the Bears lost David Montgomery to a knee injury, and it did not look good. Hoping he dodged a bullet, but I have a bad feeling about it. That’s a huge blow for them–they lean on him big-time. He already had 2 TDs by the time he went down.

Washington 34, Falcons 30: New coach, same old choking Falcons. Sheeeesh. It’s like the whole franchise is cursed or something. Maybe it’s Matt Ryan. Maybe he has PTSD from the Super Bowl and just mentally implodes when his team is up in the 4th quarter. I don’t know.

But it’s not just on Matt Ryan. It’s on their defense, too. There was a play late in the game where Heinicke was under pressure and just chucked one up into the endzone for Terry McLaurin. The Falcons’ DBs were jostling for position with him, but when he got away from them, literally two Falcons’ DBs just sat there and stared at him as he caught the touchdown. It was baffling. I went back and rewatched it and I guess the one DB on the Falcons (21, whoever he is) wasn’t covering McLaurin and did make an effort to close the gap, but he was too far away to get there in time.

It was 39 who was tangled up with McLaurin and then just watched him catch the TD. Maybe he was worried about getting flagged, as he was behind McLaurin and probably had no way to disrupt the play without getting called for PI. It just looked really bad on TV, is all I’m trying to say. It just looked so low-effort. I don’t know. It felt like Taylor Heinicke and the Washington Football Team wanted this one more than the Falcons did.

Bills 40, Texans 0: Look out, folks. The Bills are back. And they have a defense. After losing to the Steelers in week 1, the Bills have now won their past three games by a combined score of 118-21. Two of the three games have been shutouts. I know they played against Davis Mills today, but still. It’s hard to shut teams out in the NFL. Bills look scary right now. They’re now best in the league in point differential with a massive +90 over just 4 games, which is way more than anybody else. Huge matchup next Sunday Night in Kansas City, a rematch of the AFC Championship.

Cowboys 36, Panthers 28: Don’t let the final score fool you–this was a blowout. The Cowboys were up 36-13 at one point. The Panthers hung with the Cowboys early on, and Sam Darnold was running in TDs like he was Lamar Jackson, and the Panthers were even leading at halftime. But Zeke started running wild, Dak was dropping dimes, the pass rush was getting to Darnold, and breakout star Trevon Diggs continued his hot start to the season with 2 more INTs. Dallas was too much. So much for the Panthers and their vaunted defense, I guess. It now looks like Carolina’s great start was more a product of playing the Jets, the Texans and the Saints minus half their coaching staff.

The Cowboys, however, are for real, it appears. Dan Quinn has that defense completely turned around. The offense looks high-powered. The Cowboys are a really good team, as crazy as it sounds.

Colts 27, Dolphins 17: My shoulder is gonna hurt from patting myself on the back for this one, but I said last week that the Colts were 0-3 not because they’re a bad team, but because they just played 3 teams that were better than them in their first three games. In this game, they played a team they were better than, and they won. The Dolphins, however, suck. They’re 1-3 and have a -47 point differential, tied for 3rd-worst in the league (the Texans are -49 after today and the Falcons are -50).

Browns 14, Vikings 7: Kevin Stefanski goes back to Minnesota and defeats his former boss, Mike Zimmer. It wasn’t a pretty offensive showing for the Browns, but they found a way to get it done. Baker did not look great, and he definitely needs to still get on the same page as Odell Beckham, but that’s why you have Chubb and Hunt and that elite offensive line. The real story is that the Browns defense looks to be legit: that is a very strong Vikings offense with tons of elite playmakers, and the Browns just completely shut them down after allowing a first quarter TD.

Giants 27, Saints 21 (OT): How did the Saints blow this one? They were up 21-10, at home, with about 7 minutes to go in the game, but then just folded it in. I don’t get it. They punted, and the Giants’ next three possessions (including OT) went TD, field goal, TD. Saquon Barkley is finally looking like his old self, which is a welcome sight because he’s one of the most electrifying players in the league. But the Saints should not have lost this game. Jameis played pretty well, 17-23 for 226 yards and TD, no picks. Alvin Kamara had 120 yards rushing. They just couldn’t seal the deal. I’ll cut them some slack because transitioning to a new QB after 16 years of Drew Brees was never going to be seamless. I still think the Saints are a good team.

Jets 27, Titans 24 (OT): Both the winless New York teams went to overtime against superior teams, and somehow both emerged with their first victories of the year. I’ll tell ya: I saw some very impressive throws from Zach Wilson in this game. He didn’t have a great first half, but in the second half, I don’t know what it was, but he really looked like Mormon Mahomes out there. He led his team back from a 4th quarter deficit and turned it into a 24-17 lead, and ultimately secured the win on OT. There were some absolutely beautiful throws. The kid is not afraid to chuck it. He has supreme confidence in his arm. 4 weeks into his NFL career, it looks like he’s making real strides. As for the Titans, that defense looked rough, especially the secondary. It hurt a lot to be without Bud Dupree–plus Julio and AJB on offense–but the Titans still could’ve won this game, or at least tied it. They set up for a 49 yard field goal at the end of OT, but Randy “Fat Randy” Bullock shanked it and that was that.

Chiefs 42, Eagles 30: This game was both not as close as the final score indicated, but also it kind of was close, at least at one point in the first half. It looked like the Eagles were hanging tough early on, but then Tyreek Hill just went thermonuclear on them: 11 catches, 186 yards and 3 TDs. I guess this was a good win for Kansas City, but the Eagles really aren’t a good team. I’m not going to say all the Chiefs’ problems are in the rearview just yet. They have to prove it against the Bills.

Cardinals 37, Rams 20: Who saw this coming? The Cardinals going into SoFi and just absolutely housing the best team in the league? Now, it is a division rivalry, so these things can and do happen. But still, the Cardinals looked damn impressive. Are they the best team in the league? Maybe, but it’s hard to anoint them when they haven’t shown us anything in the playoffs. I just think they’re too inexperienced to be given the Best Team In the League Title. However, I also don’t know who I’d put over them, so there’s that. Kyler Murray was incredible, AJ Green looks like he’s found the fountain of youth, and their defense was stellar against a Rams offense that really nobody has been able to stop this year. Arizona has scored 38, 34, 31 and 37 in their first four games. They are now the only undefeated team in the NFC and are second in the league in point differential at +55, behind only the Bills.

Seahawks 28, 49ers 21: We got our first extended look at Trey Lance, who replaced Jimmy G at halftime after the latter went down with a calf injury. The issue I see with the 49ers is that they’re not dynamic enough on offense, and their defense isn’t as good as it was during the Super Bowl run. Trey Lance looked herky-jerky and frantic in the pocket, and he missed a few throws, but that’s to be expect in his first real playing time at QB. He’s a raw prospect, and he needs more time to develop and learn. That’s okay. But he had better figure it out soon because the 49ers offense is looking kind of sluggish. The Seahawks, on the other hand, finally put together a complete game.

Ravens 23, Broncos 7: The Broncos, like the Panthers, surprised a lot of people in getting out to a 3-0 start to the season and looking impressive on defense. However, the Broncos, also like the Panthers, didn’t really play anybody good over those first three games. And, also like the Panthers, the Broncos ran into a real team this week and got humbled pretty good. Now, unlike the Panthers, the Broncos lost their starting QB Teddy Bridgewater to a concussion halfway through the game. Once Drew Lock went in the game for Denver, I think we all knew it was a wrap. I still think the Broncos are a pretty decent team, but they’re coming back down to earth.

Packers 27, Steelers 17: The freefall continues for the Steelers. Big Ben missed some key throws, and looked like he was only really comfortable dumping it down to Najee Harris. There was a 4th down attempt the Steelers had in the 3rd quarter and Ben threw a swing pass to Najee behind the line of scrimmage. It of course got blown up. But that’s the type of thing we’re seeing out of Ben this year. It’s not good. Steeler fans are already doing mock drafts to see which QB they might be able to get next year, because we all see the same thing: Big Ben is spent. Finished. He can’t get it done anymore. However, in the Steelers defense, I will say that offsides call on the blocked field goal was BS. Joe Haden was not offsides. And he knew it, too:

I know, man. I know. These refs are unreal this year. If they hadn’t blown that call, the Steelers would have gone up 17-14 because they returned the field goal block for a TD. Instead, the Packers got another shot at the field goal from 5 yards closer, Crosby nailed it, Green Bay went up 17-10 and the game was completely changed. The Packers won the game fairly easily, and that’s even with TJ Watt playing for Pittsburgh. The Steelers are in trouble.

Speaking of the refs, does anybody else feel like there have been an insane amount of flags this season? I know the refs were told to “emphasize” taunting, but NBC Sports also reported the other week that there have been way more “illegal man downfield” penalties this year: 14 through 2 weeks vs. just 1 through 2 weeks in 2020.

So I wanted to look at the data and see if there really are more flags being thrown this year, or if it’s just my imagination. I use this website NFL Penalties for my statistical rankings, and I wanted to check the penalty figures for this year compared to years past. I’ll just divide the total number of penalties by the total number of games for each season (256 for every year other than 2021):

  • 2021: 811 through 63 games = 12.9 per game average
  • 2020: 2,876 through 256 games = 11.2 per game
  • 2019: 13.5 per game
  • 2018: 13.5 per game
  • 2017: 13.4 per game
  • 2016: 13.4 per game
  • 2015: 13.8 per game
  • 2014: 13.2 per game

As you can see, penalties were pretty consistent from 2014-2019: about 13.5 per game. But then we saw a major dip in 2020, and now we’re seeing more penalties this year than we saw in 2020.

So it probably feels like we’re seeing a ridiculous amount of flags, but that’s only because we saw so few of them last year, relatively speaking.

Now, obviously the 32 teams vary in how many flags they get per game. For instance, this year the Rams have only been penalized 12 times, while the Eagles, the most penalized team, have been flagged 44 times. So our perception of how many flags are being thrown has a lot to do with which games we’re watching.

And this penalty data tells us nothing of the quality of the calls the refs are making: we might feel like there’s more flags this year because there have been some really bad calls made, and those stand out to us more than indisputable flags where it’s pretty obvious a penalty was committed.

I’m not going to get into that, because that’s a subjective business. But the new taunting rules are obviously crap, and we all agree on that. Thankfully the NFL seems to have scaled back on that after all the outrage.

But bottom line, we’re seeing more penalties this year compared to 2020, but 2020 itself had an abnormally low number of penalties called. I’m sure a lot of this has to do with the pandemic and the fact that there were no fans in the stands. I don’t know how, exactly, no fans equal fewer flags, but come on, what other explanation could there be?

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