It’s already here. The quarter-season benchmark has arrived, as the calendar turns to October. Some teams, like the Patriots and Cowboys, haven’t even reached their respective ceilings yet, because they’ve been playing with backup quarterbacks— albeit impressive backups. Others, such as Arizona and Carolina, have too much talent to underperform all year, one would assume.
Regardless, four games in, division landscapes have settled in and will only cement with each passing week. Still, unexpected performances were all over the place in week 4, beginning with the league’s ever-impressive defending champions.
Paxton Lynch dealing in Tampa Bay: Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise given Gary Kubiak’s track record, which is aging like fine wine. When he left the Texans, the team was a mess. In hindsight though, his offense brought out the best in middling quarterbacks such as Jake Plummer, Matt Schaub, Joe Flacco (arguably his best pupil), Brock Osweiler, an over-the-hill Peyton Manning, and most recently Trevor Siemian. Lynch looked comfortable and poised, despite coming in during the middle of the game. For any rookie to make a debut under those circumstances is impressive.
The Panthers are 1-3: If last week’s loss at home was a hard dose of reality for Panthers fans, yesterday’s game in Atlanta must have been unwatchable. Cam Newton left the game with a concussion and the defense got shredded. There isn’t a corner in this league who can shut down Julio Jones, but the Panthers defense gave up over 500 passing yards and 5 touchdowns. That’s unacceptable from a unit that was downright elite last year. Meanwhile, the offense looked inept much of the game against the normally weak Atlanta defense.
Joe Buck calling Ezekiel Elliot just “Ezekiel”: It felt uncomfortable the first time, but when it happened again, Joe’s wife Michelle Beisner probably started checking his D.M.’s on Instagram. Commentators have a tough job, and nobody’s perfect, but this didn’t sound like a mistake. This sounded like a proud papa “trying” to act professional while watching his son play ball. Awkward. FOX has to be pleased though. Buck is a staple of postseason baseball, so perhaps this uncomfortable new habit will get football fans tuning into the MLB playoffs for more Buck blunders.
The Colts are officially trash: Where to begin with this team? The defense is dreadful, the offensive line is pathetic, and Andrew Luck looks like he belongs on a practice squad. It’s hard to say the team is underperforming because their roster is paper-thin. Aside from Luck, T.Y. Hilton, and Vontae Davis, there isn’t much to get excited about. They deserved to lose to San Diego last week. Jim Irsay just handed out extensions to GM Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano, so it will be interesting to see how long the leash lasts for either of them.
Jimmy Graham: Will the real Jimmy Graham please stand up? Once the NFL’s top tight end, Graham seemed a perfect fit in Seattle with the big-play arm of Russell Wilson. Between poor play and injuries, Graham has been M.I.A. since arriving. With a couple of impressive catches on Sunday against the Jets, the former Pro Bowler showed signs of life. The Seahawks offense has been struggling all season. The team needs consistent playmakers now more than ever. If Graham can continue to elevate his play, it could be the difference between Seattle making the playoffs and watching them from home.
Jeff Fisher’s team is winning: After failing to score a touchdown in the first two games of the season, the Rams offense has done just enough to win. The defense has settled into midseason form and should help keep them in most games. Todd Gurley continues to impress and Case Keenum is improving, but it’s still hard to see this team playing in January.
The refs stopping a play for 12 men: Early in the 4th quarter, the Texans blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown, but the play was ruled dead because of a phantom penalty on Houston for 12 men on the field. This is not a false start. There was no reason for the officials to stop play, even if the infraction had occurred. The Texans ended up winning the game anyway, but if they hadn’t, the refs may not have escaped NRG Stadium with their lives.
Things that shouldn’t have surprised anyone
The Coin Flip QBs: Jay Cutler, Ryan Tannehill, and Matt Stafford walk into a room. Nobody knows what happens next because these are the coin-flip quarterbacks. Any game could feature spectacular throws or inexplicable decisions. In fact, most games consist of a heavy dose of both. They’re consistently inconsistent. Stafford tossed two big ones on Sunday, Tannehill one. Cutler was sidelined with an injury, but still threw several… somehow, some way.
Julio and AJ being Julio and AJ: It’s hard to decide which of these receivers has had the better career up to this point, but their greatness makes the 2011 draft feel more historic with each passing year. Converted receiver Tony Lippett stood no chance against Green on Thursday night. Neither did third round rookie Daryl Worley for the Panthers on Sunday. Jones and Green combined for nearly 500 receiving yards this week.
The Dolphins Sherbet Uniforms looked awful: The sherbet Orange Miami switched to with its 2013 rebranding has been used as complementary shading to their white and aqua primary colors. That is, until the NFL’s Color Rush put it on display for the world to see. The viewing audience probably didn’t watch much of the game, as the Bengals ran away with an easy home victory. Dear Color Rush, go quietly into the night. Signed, every NFL fan.
Steve Smith abusing people: If Steve Smith and Anquan Boldin had a son, he would look like this guy. It wasn’t enough to beat Oakland, thanks to an impressive game-winning drive from Derek Carr, but fans are getting vintage Smitty in his curtain call season. Baltimore needs more big plays from Mike Wallace, yet the league’s loudest trash talker continues making big plays back up his big talk.