What we learned from Week 4 in the NFL
By Derrik Klassen
Quarterbacks were put to the test in Week 4 of the NFL season. Some, including rookie Kenny Pickett, were trying to prove themselves for the first time. Others, including newly reestablished starter Geno Smith, showed why they had earned their spots in the first place. And Baker Mayfield found a new low, while Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson just continued doing their thing.
The Steelers picked the right time to play Kenny Pickett.
A quick look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ schedule made it clear that this week’s game against the New York Jets was going to be make-or-break for the quarterback situation. Pittsburgh’s next four games are against the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles. Either the Steelers’ offense needed to get right versus a Jets pass defense that had allowed the fourth-highest quarterback rating in the NFL or accept that what they had at quarterback wouldn’t be good enough for the upcoming gantlet. In the second half, coach Mike Tomlin chose the latter, rolling out 2022 first-round pick Kenny Pickett.
Pickett showed the full spectrum of the rookie experience. With 10:59 to go in the third quarter, Pickett’s first pass, a deep shot to Chase Claypool, was intercepted.
Despite the bad omen to start, Pickett settled in shortly afterward. Toward the end of a 12-play touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter, Pickett fired a laser to tight end Pat Freiermuth over the middle to set the Steelers up inside the Jets’ 5-yard line. The resiliency under pressure and willingness to throw a tough ball over the middle felt like breaths of fresh air compared with starter Mitch Trubisky.
Pickett went back to rookie mode on the next drive with 3:43 remaining in the game. On second-and-15 at the Jets’ 36-yard line, Pickett tossed a late throw into the flat to Freiermuth that was tipped for an interception. Throwing late outside the numbers is bad as is, but Pickett’s high throw also made it tough for Freiermuth’s outstretched fingertips to bring in the ball. That’s not all on Pickett, but the risk was never worth the reward on a throw like that.
The Jets scored the go-ahead touchdown on the drive following the interception. That put them up, 24-20, with just 16 seconds left, setting up a two-play sequence that ended with a Pickett interception on a Hail Mary attempt.
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Chiefs 41, Buccaneers 31: The final score was a lot closer than the game ever felt. Patrick Mahomes ascended in the first half, ripping off three consecutive scoring drives to open the game. Mahomes capped off the third drive with a stylish flick from outside the pocket, adding to his ever-growing file of signature touchdowns. Tom Brady fought back valiantly, but with a rushing offense that produced just 3 yards — yes, 3 — on six carries, he did not have enough support to match Kansas City’s firepower.
Cardinals 26, Panthers 16: The mid-timeout spat between Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray was the memorable part of this game. The Cardinals’ offense scraped together a fine performance, but the shortest receiving corps in the league again made things tough. Matt Rhule and Baker Mayfield managed to be much, much worse on the other side. Timing and accuracy issues, as well as poor pass protection, plagued Mayfield again.
Raiders 32, Broncos 23: By beating the Broncos, the Raiders saved whatever hope they have left for this season. The Las Vegas rushing offense looked awake for the first time all year as Josh Jacobs tore through a Denver run defense that had been impressive through the first three weeks. Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson found a handful of explosive plays, but between a poor rushing attack and inconsistent passing underneath, the Denver offense struggled to string together drives and match the Raiders blow for blow.
Packers 27, Patriots 24 (OT): Take a bow, Bailey Zappe. Although the Patriots lost this game, Zappe deserves praise for coming off the bench as the third-string quarterback on the depth chart and leading two touchdown drives to force overtime on the road against Green Bay. Alas, Aaron Rodgers had an even bigger second half. After a slow start, Rodgers ripped off several throws down the seams to find explosive gains, including a touchdown to Robert Tonyan with 9:20 left in the third.
Bills 23, Ravens 20: No two teams ask more of their quarterbacks, and it showed. The Ravens’ defense swarmed on all of the Bills’ underneath passing to start the game but wore down, eventually crumbling to Josh Allen’s superhero ways. Allen was up and down as a passer, but he was a force on the ground, making a number of third- and fourth-down plays to keep drives alive. Lamar Jackson, on the other end, looked excellent in the first half before receiver Rashod Bateman missed the second half.
Giants 20, Bears 12: Justin Fields and the Bears’ offense collapsed again. Fields was sacked five times in the first half and once more in the second, again making it difficult for the Chicago offense to get in a rhythm. The Giants’ passing offense looked just as pitiful, in part because Daniel Jones momentarily left with an ankle injury. But Saquon Barkley showed up big for the Giants, carrying the ball 31 times for 146 yards.
Falcons 23, Browns 20: The Falcons’ offensive box score looked like that of a triple-option team. Marcus Mariota went 7-of-19 for 139 yards and a pick, while the rushing offense fought for 202 yards and two scores on 35 carries. Five different Falcons had a carry.
Eagles 29, Jaguars 21: The wet, rainy conditions in Philadelphia were ideal for the home team. The Eagles had no issue running the ball, ending the day with 50 carries to just 25 passes. Quarterback Jalen Hurts played a major role in the run game as the Eagles called a number of option runs. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence also helped them out a bit, losing four fumbles and throwing an interception despite otherwise being able to move the ball.
Titans 24, Colts 17: Week by week, the Titans’ offense looks more like what it’s supposed to look like. Running back Derrick Henry erupted in the first half, allowing the Titans to dip into their play-action and screen game and setting up a number of chunk plays over the middle of the field. Their offense fell flat in the second half, thanks in part to penalties, but their first half was as promising as any that they have played this season.
Chargers 34, Texans 24: Justin Herbert doesn’t need to be 100% healthy to obliterate a team such as the Texans. Despite battling a rib injury, Herbert was clinical from the pocket and daring outside it, completing several throws to keep the chains moving. Perhaps more important, the Chargers’ rushing game looked competent for the first time all year, at least in the first half, with Austin Ekeler springing a couple of nice runs.
Seahawks 48, Lions 45: A 22-point Lions fourth quarter made this game look closer than it should have been. The Seahawks’ offense dominated for four quarters: Geno Smith was lethal to every level of the field, and Rashaad Penny rampaged around for 151 yards, his first time over the 100-yard mark this season. Detroit is still a fun, scrappy team, but its youth on defense makes it susceptible to games such as this one.
Cowboys 25, Commanders 10: The Cowboys’ offense goes as CeeDee Lamb goes. When the offense was humming Sunday, it was because Kellen Moore, the offensive coordinator, found creative ways to get Lamb into favorable positions. Enabling Lamb to be the engine for the offense seems critical for the Cowboys’ hopes of success this season, both now and when Dak Prescott returns.