Sunday marked the quarter pole for most teams in the NFL, and helped make for yet another high-scoring, drama-filled week of action. The NFL’s three unbeaten teams continued their flawless 2012 campaigns, with the Cardinals (pictured) and Falcons doing so in dramatic fashion in the final moments of their respective wins (and the Texans blowing out yet another victim). The Saints lost again, the Lions’ special teams unit continued to burn Detroit, and the “real” refs stubbed their toes quite a few times, too. Imagine that. Here are my 10 Takeaways from Week 4. —Peter Schrager
The 49ers have more than a few offensive tricks in their bag
You know about Frank Gore and Randy Moss. But Sunday marked the official coming-out parties for 49ers backup QB Colin Kaepernick (No. 7), newly acquired wideout Mario Manningham and backup running back Kendall Hunter. Kaepernick played the “Tebow” role the Jets brass likely dreams the real Tim Tebow could play, running the ball five times for 50 yards and a touchdown and nearly connecting with Moss on another score late in the second quarter. The 49ers' offense has a lot of tricks in its bag. And we haven’t even seen rookie running back LaMichael James yet. The D’s great. The offense is darn good, too.
If RG3 stays upright this season, the Redskins could make a run at this NFC East title
Sunday marked the first time the Redskins came from behind in the last minute of a game to win since October of 1999. How’d they do it? RG3. Word out of Tampa Bay on Sunday night was that Griffin’s headset wasn’t working the entire final drive, meaning he called his own plays and made magic happen without the assistance of his coaching staff. Billy Cundiff got some of the headlines, but the hard-fought victory was all about RG3. As long as he’s healthy, the Redskins (currently 2-2) are going to be a contender in the loaded NFC East this season.
The Giants need a healthy Kenny Phillips
The Jets' Darrelle Revis’ ACL tear dominated headlines last week in New York, but the other team in town has serious issues in its defensive backfield, as well. Terrell Thomas was lost to an ACL injury in August, rookie Jayron Hosley’s out, Bruce Johnson’s out with an Achilles injury, Michael Coe’s hurt, Prince Amukamara can’t seem to stay on the field, and Corey Webster’s playing with a broken hand. The Giants are getting by with a defensive backfield held together with scotch tape. Phillips (pictured), a safety, went down with an injury in the first quarter of Sunday night’s19-17 loss to the Eagles. I’m sure Deon Grant’s number is in Jerry Reese’s iPhone. He might want to give it a ring.
The Vikings’ defense will keep them in the playoff hunt all season long
Sure, Matt Stafford threw for 319 yards on Sunday. But the bulk of those passing yards came in the fourth quarter of a two-score game. I wish there was a stat in the box score for “catch-up yards” — because that’s all they were. Minnesota’s defense was incredibly stout against a good Lions offense in the Vikes’ 20-13 win on the road. Stafford was sacked five times, the Lions running game compiled just 55 rushing yards on 20 carries and Calvin Johnson was held to just five receptions for 54 yards. This was a unit that struggled immensely last season. It’s not all Jared Allen and a bunch of scrubs this season. Allen, Antoine Winfield, Chad Greenway and Jasper Brinkley are having Pro Bowl-caliber seasons. If the D continues to play this way, the Vikings will be in the thick of the playoff hunt come December.
Russell Wilson still has a long, long way to go
It’s easy to like the Seahawks’ rookie QB. Just 5 feet 11 and not blessed with a golden arm, the former minor league second baseman isn’t your prototypical NFL starting quarterback. His journey to the NFL, his workmanlike demeanor and his never-say-die attitude make him one of the real feel-good stories this season. But let’s not put him in the Aaron Rodgers-Tom Brady conversation just yet. He’s still a rookie, and on Sunday, he struggled mightily. Wilson was sacked twice, threw three interceptions and had issues with the Rams’ pass rush all afternoon in Seattle’s 19-13 loss in St. Louis. He’s shown some promise, but Wilson still has a long way to go before he’s the quarterback Pete Carroll wants him to be.
The Lions have been awful since they lost to the Saints in the playoffs last season
Last January’s wonderfully entertaining wild-card matchup between the Saints and Lions brought us 73 combined points and 895 combined total yards of offense. The two teams have gone a combined 1-8, including New Orleans' playoff loss to the 49ers, since the Saints’ 45-28 victory. Though the Sean Payton-less Saints have gotten the bulk of the negative media spotlight this season, the Lions are a last-seconds Week 1 victory over the Rams away from being 0-4 themselves. Detroit’s been terrible this season. Sunday may have been its worst effort yet. Though the defense played well, the offense and the special teams were atrocious. A lot of pundits had the Lions in the mix to win the NFC this season. At this pace, they’ll be in the mix for a top-10 pick next April.
The Saints will never win a game with whatever they're currently calling a "pass rush"
Talk about Sean Payton, talk about Jon Vilma, talk about Joe Vitt, talk about Carl Nicks, talk about Drew Brees’ holdout, talk about whatever you want to talk about. Bottom line: The Saints will not win a game until they show something that at least resembles NFL-caliber pressure on the QB. The Packers’ offensive line, which gave up eight sacks last week against Seattle, looked like the 1980’s Redskins against the Saints on Sunday. Aaron Rodgers (No. 12) had all day to assess five options on the field, the Saints D-line failed to apply any pressure whatsoever, and the game ended with New Orleans having recorded zero sacks. There are a lot of problems with the 2012 Saints. There’s no more glaring weakness than the team’s non-existent pass rush. Philip Rivers will eat them alive next weekend. The worst part? The Saints drafted pass rushers in the first round in two of the last five years. Yet, neither Sedrick Ellis nor Cam Jordan has done a thing this season.
Cam Newton was more Superman than Hello Kitty, but still came up short in the end
Four days after the Charlotte Observer printed a controversial “Hello Kitty”-inspired cartoon mocking Newton's Superman routine, the second-year quarterback was within a minute of an inspiring upset victory over the previously undefeated Falcons in Atlanta. Playing in his hometown for just the second time in his pro career, Newton fumbled on third and 2 with the Panthers up 28-27 and with a chance put the game on ice with less than two minutes remaining . Then, after the Panthers recovered the ball to set up a crucial fourth and 1 from midfield with 1:44 to play, head coach Ron Rivera opted to run down the clock, take delay of game and punt rather than give Newton the opportunity to grind out a yard for a first down. Sure enough, Matt Ryan hit Roddy White for 59 yards and Matt Bryant nailed a 40-yard game-winner just seconds later. Hey, it’s easy to second guess a coaching decision after a loss, but Rivera’s got to give Newton the chance to pick up the yard and seal the much-needed win. The Panthers D had its hands full with Ryan and White all afternoon. You’ve got to put the game away on the road when you have the chance. And in this particular circumstance — with the local media eating him alive all week — you've got to let the face of your franchise decide the game. They left it up to the defense, a unit that hasn't done squat in the two seasons Newton's been there.
The Texans D conjures memories of the 2000 Ravens
The Texans improved to 4-0 for the first time in franchise history and eclipsed 30 points scored for the third time in four games this season. But make no mistake —while Andre Johnson and Arian Foster may get the headlines, this squad’s all about Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense. J.J. Watt’s the clear-cut front-runner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year and on Sunday the defense scored two TDs, had four sacks and knocked Titans quarterback Jake Locker out of the game early in the first half. The 2000 Ravens put up better stats of course, but this Texans defense continues to only get better with every passing week. Brian Cushing had 10 tackles on Sunday, Watt (pictured with ball) had two sacks, and Kareem Jackson and Danieal Manning each went 50-plus yards on pick sixes. The offense is good. The defense? It’s dominant. With a manageable schedule from here, there's no reason this team can't lock up home-field advantage in the AFC.
D-O-N-E . . . put a fork in the Jets
On paper, it might not look so bad for the New York Jets. They’re 2-2, tied atop the AFC East standings, and their next two games are being played at home in MetLife Stadium. But don’t be fooled. The Jets are done. Rex Ryan (pictured) fancies himself a tough-guy coach with a tough-guy team, but a West Coast squad just flew across the country and beat the ever-living snot out of the Jets in their own building. Had it not been for two missed field goals and a merciful quarterback slide at the one-yard line by Colin Kaepernick in the final minute, the 49ers would have beaten the Jets 47-0. New York's final 11 possessions on Sunday looked like this: seven three-and-outs and four turnovers . . . and one of the three-and-outs culminated with a blocked punt. With no Darrelle Revis, potentially no Santonio Holmes, and truly no quarterback under center, Gang Green fans could be looking at a very, very long final three quarters of the season. It only gets worse for New York. After what will surely be a week full of Tebow talk in the Big Apple, New York has the 4-0 Houston Texans next week. If there's a better defense than Vic Fangio's in San Francisco, it's Wade Phillips' unit down in Houston.