The Philadelphia Eagles are the only NFC East team that hasn’t gotten a rush of positive publicity at some point in the first four weeks of the NFL season. The Redskins are riding the wave of RG3 hype. The Cowboys played their brilliant opening game in New York. And the Giants hammered Carolina with several second-stringers in the lineup. Philadelphia, meanwhile, turns the ball over, barely escapes games and its quarterback and head coach both are under the gun. But it’s Philadelphia that’s alone atop the NFC East with a 3-1 record, while their rivals are all 2-2.
Philly’s win over New York on Sunday night brought together the possibilities and the problems that exist for this team and showcased them to a national NBC audience. The Eagles did a lot of good things—they ran the ball well with LeSean McCoy, who got 123 yards on the ground. The stopped the Giants from doing the same. They got error-free football from Michael Vick and let Eli Manning make the game’s defining mistake, a horrible first-down pass into the end zone that was easily intercepted and swung the momentum Philadelphia’s way.
But the Birds also failed to execute inside the 10-yard line, and had to survive a final missed field goal attempt by the Giants to escape with a 19-17 win.
You find yourself asking that if, on a night when Philly did so much of what they need to do in terms of taking care of the ball, when they won the battle in the trenches, when they had the homefield in a matchup that usually favors them, and still can only escape with a last-second win, how much longer they can survive. But in the NFL survival is all that matters and its Philadelphia that’s in sole possession of first place.
Dallas might have joined Philly at the top, but Tony Romo turned in a complete disaster of a performance last night at home against Chicago. In spite of the Bears not getting consistent pressure, Romo still threw five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Right now, Romo is coming in for a lot of heat. I think we should make sure to remember this the next time Romo plays a flawless game, like he did against the Giants in Week 1, and everyone gets carried away on a Super Bowl bandwagon for Dallas.
Both extremes are a part of the quarterback’s package and until Dallas finds a replacement who can be consistent and still have a high ceiling—not exactly an easy find—it’s going to be this way.
We know Robert Griffin III has a high ceiling and he’s got the intangibles of clutch performance going for him. In spite of being beaten down as a Redskins fan for the better part of twenty years, in spite of watching the team blow a 21-6 lead, when RG3 got the ball back with a chance to drive it for the winning field goal, I was completely convinced he would do it. And when he did it on a scramble where he cut back to the inside of the field to take a hit for the sake of five extra yards, I was going nuts (in a good way). It turned out those yards were needed because Billy Cundiff barely made the game-winning field goal.
Washington’s still got significant defensive problems, but they’ve got a running game going with Alfredo Morris and RG3 has given them the hope that any game can be won.
Around the rest of the league as we wrap up NFL Week 4…
NFC NORTH: Minnesota needed two special-teams touchdowns to beat Detroit, but the Vikings are carving themselves an identity as a team that will run the ball, play mistake-free and execute on special-teams. There’s a limit to how far you can go with that formula, but that limit is considerably higher than any expectations anyone had for the Vikes coming into this year. Kudos to Leslie Frazier, who’s showing he can get it done as a head coach.
NFC SOUTH: I know Atlanta’s 4-0 and at the end of the day that’s all that matters. But this team is getting way too pass-happy, and neglecting Michael Turner, even as he ran for 103 yards on 13 carries in the home win over Carolina. The Panther defense was very comfortable teeing off on Matt Ryan and sacked him seven times. If Atlanta doesn’t get more balance, this will be another Falcon team that piles up wins and Fantasy points in the regular season, but comes up short of the Super Bowl.
NFC WEST: St. Louis’ win over Seattle wasn’t dazzling, as Russell Wilson threw three interceptions and the Seahawks undoubtedly had trouble refocusing after their bizarre win over Green Bay the previous Monday. But the Rams, like the Vikings, are showing they can within a certain formula that centers on letting the opponent beat themselves.
AFC EAST: As much you have to be impressed with New England’s newfound running game—Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley both went over 100 yards in Buffalo—the bigger story has to be the implosion of both the Bills and Jets. Buffalo was unable to generate a pass rush in spite of New England’s offensive line problems and in spite of Buffalo’s massive offseason expenditure on Mario Williams. The loss per se isn’t devastating, but giving up 35 straight points on your homefield says something about where you’re at as a football team, and it’s not at playoff-level. And the Jets are simply a train wreck, even at 2-2.
AFC NORTH: Cincinnati has slowly gained steam since their opening week disaster against Baltimore, and with a 27-10 triumph over Jacksonville, the Bengals are 3-1 and tied with the Ravens for first place. The Cincy pass rush had its second straight big game, sacking Blaine Gabbert six times and they ran the ball efficiently behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
AFC SOUTH: Chris Johnson finally had a breakout game for Tennessee, running for 141 yards against Houston, and the Titan defense did a credible job in slowing down Arian Foster. Then the quarterbacking situation becomes a disaster. Jake Locker left with an early injury and Matt Hasselbeck threw a pair of pick-6s. Tennessee played well enough to be closer than the 38-14 final, but the turnovers did them in.
AFC WEST: San Diego might be 3-1, but this division is still about deciding what you think of Denver. Peyton Manning showed his old brilliance in carving up Oakland for 30/38 for 338 yards, and no interceptions. Yes, the Oakland secondary is bad and the pass rush non-existent, but we also needed to see that Peyton could still dominate a defense like that. We’ve seen he’ll have problems against teams like Houston or Atlanta.
The truth of who will win the AFC West though, lies between the extremes of the Raiders on one side and the Texans/Falcons on the other and that’s where Peyton’s Broncos are still an unknown quantity.