Sports

Kyler Murray, Cardinals have statement win; Tom Brady gets bragging rights.


Tom Brady’s triumphant return against the New England Patriots, in the stadium he called home for 20 seasons dominated Week 4 in the NFL.

And while Brady yet again can claim bragging rights, other teams made statements in their respective games. None was more significant than the Arizona Cardinals exorcizing their struggles under the Kyler Murray-Kliff Kingsbury era against the Los Angeles Rams. In a battle of undefeated NFC West teams, the Cardinals took care of business on the road, and Murray and Kingsbury secured their first-ever victories against the Rams.

The defending AFC champion Chiefs also have something to celebrate, namely their breaking out of a funk in a victory over the Eagles. But Kansas City still has some weaknesses to fix in order to get back to top form.

Kyler Murray helped the Cardinals move to 4-0 with Sunday's big win over the Rams.

Kyler Murray helped the Cardinals move to 4-0 with Sunday’s big win over the Rams.

Here are the winners and losers of Week 4 in the NFL.

WINNERS

The Chiefs get right … for now

It says something that Patrick Mahomes had one fewer touchdown (five) than he had incompletions in a dominant 42-30 victory on the road against the Eagles and it was a secondary storyline in Week 4. That’s just the standard that the Chiefs have set in Mahomes and coach Andy Reid’s time together. The Eagles are not the best barometer, but Kansas City broke out of its offensive slump in two specific areas.

The Chiefs had gotten off to slow starts so far this year, but Mahomes threw three touchdowns before the first half ended. And Kansas City achieved balance on offense, rushing for 200 yards. It didn’t hurt that the Chiefs also converted 9 of 10 third-down attempts to strengthen their spot as the top team in the NFL in that area (55.2%). But the defense continues to be a liability and can still cost Kansas City in the future if the offense doesn’t show up in a given game. In fact, if the Eagles hadn’t stalled in three of their first four trips inside the red zone and had scored touchdowns instead of field goals, it may have been a different game. It was fine against the Eagles. Against some of the league’s best, however, that may not be the case.

The Kyler Cardinals

There was no statement victory in Week 4 bigger than Arizona’s 37-20 takedown of the Rams in what was a battle of undefeated NFC West teams. Now, the Cardinals are the only NFC team to remain undefeated at 4-0, and join the Raiders (who play the Chargers on Monday night) as the only unblemished teams left in the NFL. The Cardinals unleashed explosive plays in both the passing and running game and lit up the talented Rams defense for 465 yards. The architect of all that is quarterback Kyler Murray, who, through the first four weeks of the season looks like an early candidate for the NFL MVP award.

Murray is a true dual-threat quarterback and so difficult to defend. The Rams dropped defensive backs to try to slow his productivity in the passing game, but that meant that running back Chase Edmonds faced favorable matchups that allowed him the shred L.A. on the ground. The result is that the Cardinals are one of the most explosive offenses going in the league right now. They became just the fifth team in NFL history to score at least 30 points and earn 400 yards of total offense in each of their first four games. Though none of the other four teams — the 2002 Raiders, the 2007 and 2011 Patriots, and the 2013 Broncos — won the Super Bowls those seasons, they all made it.

Matt Nagy giving up play calling

This may have come longer than it should’ve, but Bears fans should be glad it came at all. After Chicago’s 24-14 victory against the division-rival Lions, Bears coach Matt Nagy acknowledged that he gave up offensive play calling, ceding it to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Even though it was the first public admission, anyone watching the Bears could’ve picked up that something was different. Chicago diversified its offense and relied on play-action, pre-snap motion, a deep passing game, moving the pocket and sporadic designed quarterback rushes. Those are all features that play into the strengths of rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who was making his second career start. In particular, the downfield passing — with Fields having very good deep-ball accuracy — opened up the offense. According to NextGen Stats, Fields went 5-of-7 for 172 yards on passes that traveled more than 15 yards.

Compare that to last week’s disaster, when Nagy called plays that did nothing to help Fields. The Bears were also successful against the Lions because they could establish the rushing game early; running back David Montgomery popped off for 106 yards and two scores on 23 carries, while backup Damien Williams added 55 yards and one score on 8 rushes when Montgomery was sidelined with a knee injury. After the game, Nagy said of the offense and play calling that “ultimately, it goes through me.” Based on what we saw against the Lions, maybe he should trust his coordinator and stay out of the way.

New York, New York

For the first time in NFL history, both the Jets and the Giants won overtime games held on the same day. It was the first victory of the season for both teams, and the first for rookie head coach Robert Salah of the Jets. The Jets needed a Randy Bullock 49-yard field goal try in overtime to sail left to beat the Titans, 27-24. The Giants traveled to New Orleans and got a big day from quarterback Daniel Jones to topple the Saints, 27-21.

Both squads battled back from fourth-quarter deficits. The Jets were down seven at one point, while the Giants were down 11, but scored 17 unanswered. Though these teams both look like they’re still some pieces away from contending in their divisions, both of these victories were earned by overcoming issues that had previously plagued these teams. Against a very good Saints defense, Jones limited turnovers and surpassed 400 passing yards. Against the Titans, rookie passer Zach Wilson protected the ball — after one early interception — and improvised to throw his receivers open. The most important thing for both these young teams is to build consistency.

LOSERS

Bill Belichick

This is perhaps an unfair way to measure Tom Brady’s departure from the New England Patriots, but it’s hard not to put Brady on top — yet again. Brady will hold bragging rights after his Buccaneers pulled out a fascinating 19-17 victory in the first game against the team he spent 20 seasons with. To be clear, this was an excellent job of coaching and preparing for the greatest quarterback of all time. Perhaps Brady was battling emotions, which may have led to some of his passes being overthrown, or perhaps it was the rainy weather, but Belichick deployed a bunch of two-safety looks on defense that limited Tampa’s passing game from taking the top off the Patriots defense. New England disguised their pressures to force Brady to adjust in the pocket.

On offense, the rushing game was a massive disappointment, but credit Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for setting up a plan that helped rookie passer Mac Jones put New England in a position to nearly win the game. The decision not to go for it on the fourth-and-3 and instead trot out kicker Nick Folk for a 56-yard field goal attempt certainly deserves some scrutiny, but it did nearly sneak through the uprights. Unfortunately for Belichick, though, Brady has already won a Super Bowl and a Super Bowl MVP without him, and has now claimed a victory against his former coach. So, fair or not, it’s hard not to say that in all of this, Brady has been the victor.

The no-identity Saints

The season-opening blowout of the Packers seems so distant right now for the Saints, losers of two of their last three. The latest defeat, 27-21 in overtime, will sting, after New Orleans blew an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead to the previously winless Giants. When New Orleans has won this season, coach Sean Payton has opened up the playbook and let quarterback Jameis Winston take chances down the field.

Against the Giants, Payton went uncharacteristically conservative in the fourth quarter and took the ball out of Winston’s hands as New York battled back. The first pass Winston threw in the fourth quarter came with 6:11 left to play. He would go on to attempt only four throws in the final period. And it’s not like Winston was playing poorly. He finished 17-of-23 passing for 226 yards and one touchdown. Payton tried to get running back Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill to seal the victory with the rushing game. It didn’t work and Payton didn’t adjust. It would help, too, if the Saints would get the ball in Kamara’s hands on dump offs, something that worked in the past. Instead, the Saints are just inconsistent on offense and lacking a defined identity.

Davis Mills and the Houston Texans

Asking a rookie quarterback to make his first road start in Buffalo, in rainy weather, was always going to be difficult. But what quarterback Davis Mills and the Texans did in their 40-0 meltdown was ineptitude of historic proportions. It was the worst loss in the history of the Texans franchise.

In the first half, Mills was 1-of-7 passing for 3 yards, with two interceptions. Because he was sacked three times for a combined 26 yards lost, the Texans finished the first half with negative-23 net passing yards. That marked the fewest passing yards by any team in a first half since November 1999. Houston finished the half with four total yards of offense and only one first down. The numbers at the end of the game were a little better: 109 total yards, six first downs. But Houston converted just one of nine third downs and turned the ball over five times, including four Mills interceptions, and this team looks like it could challenge for the first overall draft pick before it could challenge for a playoff spot.

Ben Roethlisberger on fourth down

If there’s one thing that’s emblematic of how much the Steelers offense has struggled this season, it’s how inept the team has been when it most needs to gain yards. In its 27-17 loss against the Packers, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continued an alarming trend of throwing well short of the sticks on fourth-down passing attempts. Pittsburgh is now 0-5 this year on fourth-down attempts after it could not convert either of its two against Green Bay.

Roethlisberger now has completed 64.1% of his passes this season for 1,033 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. That’s simply not enough to elevate Pittsburgh’s skill position players. Part of the biggest issue is that his ball placement on throws he would normally make, despite his solid completion rate, has been unreliable. Roethlisberger’s arm strength and mobility have also waned in recent seasons — as is customary with almost all aging quarterbacks. At this point, he is holding the Steelers offense back.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Week 4 winners, losers: Kyler Murray, Cardinals unleash vs. Rams

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