The NFL season continues to excite, with high-powered offenses and comebacks again being the norm. Sports News Ireland reviews week four in the NFL.
Lions Comeback and Cowboys Choke Again
The most dramatic match of the weekend came in Dallas as the Detroit Lions pulled off another brilliant comeback. The Dallas Cowboys led by 24 in the third quarter before the second Tony Romo melt down of the season helped the Lions to a 34-30 victory. The Cowboys had never lost after leading by 24 points in their history.
The two plays that brought Detroit back into the match came in the third quarter when Romo had two passes intercepted and returned for touchdowns. Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson then hooked up for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, as the Lions took the lead with 1:44 left in the match.
The Lions have been impressive this season and are one of two unbeaten teams in the league. Matt Stafford, injury permitting, is on his way to a breakout season, already throwing for 1217 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. Calvin Johnson is also cementing his position as possibly the best wide receiver in the NFL, catching two touchdowns in each of the Lions first four games, which is an NFL record. Meanwhile, the Ndamukong Suh lead defence is becoming a stout, aggressive unit.
Cowboys fans will be worried after Tony Romo’s second collapse in four weeks, however. All the Cowboys matches have been decided by less than four points and they have won or lost depending on Romo’s late game performances. Dallas have a bye week to regroup before they face the New England Patriots.
No Need for Offense
The Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets played out one of the more bizarre matches of the season so far. Despite neither offence being effective, the Baltimore Ravens won a surprisingly high scoring match 34-17. Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco completed less than a third of their pass attempts, while lead running backs Shonn Greene and Ray Rice averaged less than 2.6 yards a carry.
Both teams managed to overcome their lacklustre defences to a certain extent, however, as an NFL record five returns went for touchdowns. The Ravens returned two Mark Sanchez fumbles and one interception from Lardarius Webb for touchdowns. The Jets had a 107 yard kickoff return from Joe McKnight, while David Harris returned an interception for a touchdown.
Dream Team Drops to 1-3
The Philadelphia Eagles, nicknamed the “Dream Team” in the preseason by Vince Young, dropped to 1-3 on Sunday. The Eagles were expected to be a contender after opening their cheque book regularly in the off-season, but Philadelphia are bottom of the NFC East after four matches. Surprisingly, their vaunted secondary, which includes Nmandi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, has been a large part of the problem. Over the last three matches, the Eagles have been outscored 36-0 in the fourth quarter, while the San Francisco 49ers scored three unanswered touchdowns in the second half to win 24-23 on Sunday.
The offense was not blameless, but Michael Vick threw for a career high 416 yards and ran for 75 as the 49ers failed to control the mercurial quarterback. The Eagles travel to Buffalo and Washington in the coming weeks and the “Dream Team” must win these games to stay in contact with the NFC East leaders.
New Coaches Off to a Good Start
New coaches are rarely successful in their debut seasons as they normally take over weak rosters with losing attitudes. With the lockout limiting preparation time this season, new coaches could be forgiven for getting off to a slow start. Five coaches are bucking the trend, however.
Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers are 3-1 and enjoy a two game lead in the admittedly weak NFC West. Mike Munchak’s Tennessee Titans, despite stud running back Chris Johnson’s slow start, are 3-1 and joint top of the AFC South. The Cleveland Browns are 2-2 under Pat Shurmur, while the Carolina Panthers, who were the league’s worst team last season, have become a thrilling offensive team under Ron Rivera. The Oakland Raiders under Hue Jackson have also enjoyed a decent start and are second in the AFC West.
Surprisingly, the two new head coaches who were interim coaches last year have been less impressive. Jason Garrett’s Dallas Cowboys have thrown away two matches and are 2-2, while Leslie Frazier’s Minnesota Vikings have endured three second half collapses en-route to a 0-4 record.
The passing records continue to tumble in the NFL. The overall passing yards (31,446) after four weeks are bigger than in any other NFL season. There have also been more 300 yard (44) and 400 yard (8) games. The number of points (2916) and touchdowns (321) are also at an all-time high after four weeks.
Six quarterbacks are also on course to beat Dan Marino’s single season record for passing yards. Tom Brady already has a sensational 1,553 yards through four weeks and is on course for 6,212 yards and 52 touchdowns, which would also top the NFL record 50 touchdowns he threw in 2007.
Drew Brees threw for 5,069 yards in 2008 and is on pace for 5,640 yards, while Aaron Rodgers (5,300) and rookie Cam Newton (5,544) could also beat Marino’s record. Rodgers 73 per cent completion percentage would also break another NFL record.
Tony Romo, despite his late game troubles, is projected to finish with 5,092 yards. Philip Rivers was on course to beat the record last year and ended with 4,710 yards. With the high-powered Chargers offence, Rivers is on pace for 5,144 yards.
Losing Teams Up Against It
The 4-0 Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers can feel confident about the playoff hopes, but the time for 1-3 and 0-4 teams to panic is almost at hand. Since 1990, 82 per cent of teams that have started 4-0 have made the playoffs.
The winless Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings have dug themselves a big hole as a mere one per cent of 0-4 teams have made the playoffs since 1990. Meanwhile, the Eagles may also be slightly concerned that only 15 per cent of teams have made the playoffs after a 1-3 start in the same period. 65 per cent of 3-1 teams and 35 per cent of 2-2 teams have made the playoffs since 1990.
Eli Manning has had his share of critics through his career, but the New York Giants quarterback has been in brilliant form in recent weeks. The Giants have come from behind to win in the last two weeks with Manning completing 20 out of 24 throws for 265 yards, four touchdowns and a 152.3 passer rating in the fourth quarter.
Chargers Finally Make Decent Start
The Chargers are notorious for making slow starts to the season despite boasting a talented roster. After their 26-16 win over the Miami Dolphins the Chargers sit at 3-1. For the first time in Norv Turner’s stint as Chargers, San Diego will not have a losing record after week five. The Chargers are armed with a top tier quarterback, playmaking defence and easy division and could be a serious contender in the postseason.
The Miami Dolphins’ miserable season continued this week as they dropped to 0-4 and lost Chad Henne for the season with a shoulder injury.