At first blush, perhaps you don’t link Frank Gore to three of the NFL’s greatest running backs: Emmitt Smith (18,355 yards), Walter Payton (16,726) and Barry Sanders (15,269).
Each of those three spent the bulk of his career with one team — yes, I, too, try to erase Smith’s last two seasons with Arizona — and Smith and Payton earned Super Bowl rings.
Gore failed to come home with a Super Bowl victory in his only appearance to date, and his 15 years in the league have been spread over four teams: San Francisco, Indianapolis, Miami and Buffalo.
Yet Gore has built a legacy with a different virtue: perseverance. In an age where the average career length for an NFL running back is 2.57 years, according to the NFL Players Association, Gore is still playing effectively at 36.
On Sunday, he broke 15,000 career yards against New England, which has one of the league’s best defenses, and did it in style by rushing for 109 yards on 17 carries. Gore’s longevity, a testament to his reportedly insane offseason regimen and attention to diet, may come to an end after this season, but not because he can’t keep going.
He told ESPN earlier this year he may hang up his cleats so he can see his son, Frank Jr., play at Florida Atlantic next year.
Close games, underdogs emerge in Week 4 action
Entering Sunday, 26 of 48 games (54.2 percent) had been decided by seven points or less, tied for third in league history after three weeks. The trend continued Thursday night with the Eagles beating the Packers 34-27, and then four of Sunday’s eight early games were decided by a touchdown. The most surprising outcome may have been Oakland’s 31-24 victory over Indianapolis. The Raiders entered the game with only two scores on their previous 18 drives, but they scored three touchdowns on their first four possessions and then held on to beat the Colts.
Oakland snapped a two-game losing streak with the win, and Carolina extended its winning streak with a victory at Houston. The Bucs, Raiders and Panthers were three of five underdogs that went on the road and won. The Bucs upset the Rams 55-40, Cleveland went into Baltimore and won 40-25, and Tennessee beat host Atlanta 24-7. Road favorites also got into the act with the Chargers, Patriots and Chiefs winning.
Of the 14 games completed heading into Monday night, the only home teams to have won were the Giants (24-3 versus Washington) the Bears (16-6 over the Vikings) and the Saints (12-10 over the Cowboys). Since the merger in 1970, the fewest home wins in any week was two on the opening weekend in 1983.
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Falcons grounded, boo birds fly as Atlanta falls to 1-3
Before the season, I picked Washington’s Jay Gruden to be the first coach fired, but he now has competition from Atlanta’s Dan Quinn.
Even in their lone victory against the Eagles, the Falcons didn’t look great. On Sunday they dropped to 1-3 with a lackluster 24-10 home loss to the Titans. Fans booed the Falcons at halftime, never a good sign when you’re playing in a fairly new stadium. “It is a tough loss, and we’re as disappointed as our fans are,” Quinn said. “You better believe we’re going to look at everything. When you’re sitting at 1-3, you want to make sure you’re finding the answers.”
The Falcons were stopped on three fourth-down plays. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked on two fourth-down plays in the second half. Devonta Freeman was stopped by Jurrell Casey on a fourth-and-1 run in the second quarter. Freeman, who is dealing with an ongoing set of injuries, may be one of the Falcons’ biggest problems. He entered Sunday’s game with 129 yards on 35 carries and gained only 28 yards on 12 carries against the Titans.
Meanwhile, Tennessee continues to play well. Before the season, Atlanta seemed slightly more formidable among the Bucs’ opponents. Now it’s Atlanta dealing with troubles. The announced paid attendance at Mercedes-Benz Stadium was 72,108, but there were thousands of empty seats. “When you’re playing poorly, you’re not giving them much to cheer about,” Ryan said. “We want to give them something to get loud about. We’ve got to find a way to make plays to get energy in the building going.”
No Tampa Bay love for the Fins
How bad are the Dolphins? So bad that our CBS affiliate, which traditionally airs AFC games, opted for the Patriots-Bills game over Dolphins-Chargers. Once upon time, the Dolphins held sway in Tampa Bay behind the Bucs, with many old-timers clinging to Miami’s glory days before the NFL awarded our area a franchise. Apparently, that was a long time ago. By the way, the game choice proved to be a good call. The Bills played a competitive game against the Patriots while the Chargers steamrolled the Dolphins 30-10.
More Daniel Jones? Really?
You could find a lot to hate about the Bucs’ last-second Week 3 loss, but that it came against the Giants adds to the sting. The overhyping New York media spent a week crowing about quarterback Daniel “Danny Dimes” Jones (I guess they forgot about those draft-night insults), and we’ll hear even more this week after Jones completed 23-of-31 for 225 yards and a touchdown as New York beat winless Washington 24-10. No team gets hyped in the world’s media capital more than the Giants.
Comebacks curbed in Week 4
Teams dotted the NFL’s first three weeks with comeback victories, but the trend didn’t really continue in Week 4. In 12 of 48 previous games (25 percent), a team came back to tie or win after trailing in the fourth quarter.
On Sunday, Kansas City was one of the few teams to pull off the feat. The Chiefs fell behind by 10 early, rallied to take a 20-16 lead but still found themselves trailing the Lions 23-20 as they entered the fourth quarter. The lead changed hands three times in the fourth, with Kansas City posting the final score to win 34-30 and hand Detroit (2-1-1) its first loss of the season. Anther team to master a comeback: Jacksonville (see below).
Meanwhile, New England negated Buffalo’s comeback attempt. The Bills fell behind 13-0 but narrowed the deficit to 16-10 entering the fourth quarter. The Patriots’ Jamie Collins intercepted backup quarterback Matt Barkley with 1:25 remaining to hand the Bills their first loss. Barkley replaced Josh Allen after Allen left with a possible concussion.
The Chiefs, Patriots and 49ers, who had the week off, stood as the only undefeated teams entering the Sunday night game between the Cowboys (3-0) and Saints (2-1).
Jags’ Minshew: more than flamboyant guy with a mustache
Jacksonville rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew continues to enjoy the good life. He and his teammates fell behind 17-3 against Denver but rallied against the winless Broncos to pull out a 26-24 win.
Minshew was 19-of-33 for 213 yards and a touchdown, and benefited from a monster game from running back Leonard Fournette.
But credit the man with the mustache — that’s what gets the Washington State product on the page every week — for helping the Jags bounce back after giving up a late touchdown to go down 24-23. His throws of 17 and 26 yards helped set up Josh Lambo’s winning field goal. Also, the win had to negate the Jaguars’ ongoing feud with cornerback Jalen Ramsey, at least for a week. Ramsey has demanded a trade and didn’t play because of a reported back injury.
Are the Browns overrated, underrated or just really young?
One week, an opponent mocks them as being crowned way too soon. Another week, a former coach calls their quarterback overrated.
And then they go out and stick it to a division rival and look like the team everyone hyped up in the offseason.
Maybe we can’t figure who the Browns are until they figure out what their identity is. On Sunday, the Browns reminded everyone they can be a force, especially when Nick Chubb rushes for 165 yards, including a magical 88-yard run in a 40-25 win over the Ravens.
Chubb – who had a 92-yard touchdown run in Week 10 of the 2018 season – joins Bob Hoernschemeyer (two touchdown runs from 1946-47) and Chris Johnson (three from 2008-09) as the only players in league annals with at least two touchdown runs of 85 yards or more in their first two seasons.
Chubb and Baker Mayfield’s 365 yards passing helped the Browns top the Ravens, who look vulnerable after starting the season with wins against lowly Miami and Arizona. Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson continues to play well, but the defense is struggling, having yielded more than 500 yards in each of losses to the Browns and Chiefs.
For the Browns, the win comes on the heels of their latest public feud, a spat between Mayfield and former coach turned ESPN analyst Rex Ryan, who said the second-year quarterback and 2017 Heisman Trophy winner is greatly overrated. Mayfield, who rarely shies away from criticism, said you don’t matter if you aren’t wearing Browns colors. So, Ryan wore orange and brown on his studio show Sunday. After Mayfield’s 20-of-30 performance, reporters asked the quarterback if Ryan’s comments fueled his effort.
“Absolutely not,” Mayfield said. “Rex Ryan does not get any credit for this week’s win. No.”
Panthers’ CMC does it again
How significant was the Bucs’ shutdown of Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey in Week 2? Well, in every other Panthers game, he has shined as a dynamic dual threat, sustaining the greatness he set forth in his first two seasons.
In the Panthers’ 16-10 win over the Texans, Run CMC registered 179 scrimmage yards (93 rushing, 86 receiving) and a rushing touchdown. McCaffrey, who had 209 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns in Week 1 and 188 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in Week 3, joins Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown (1963) as the only players in league annals with three games of at least 175 scrimmage yards and one touchdown in their team’s first four games of a season.
What did he do against the Bucs? A mere 37 yards rushing and 16 yards receiving.
Will Kyler Murray’s performance impact Jalen Hurts’ chances?
Every Saturday my friends and I marvel at the success of Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts and wonder what his NFL future holds. Granted, he hasn’t faced a capable defense — not sure if there’s one capable of coping with coach Lincoln Riley’s offense — but he looks remarkably better with the Sooners than he did with Alabama, and that’s saying a lot. Hurts may become the third consecutive Heisman Trophy winner guided by Sooners coach Lincoln Riley, after Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Whether he becomes the third consecutive No. 1 overall draft pick out of Oklahoma may hinge on how Mayfield and Murray play this season. All three bring different skill sets to the table, but NFL scouts may wonder if its system or superstar. And so far, Murray and his Arizona Cardinals have struggled. The Cards are 0-3-1, and though Murray can’t be solely blamed — he completed 22-of-32 for 241 yards in a 27-10 loss to Seattle — the wins must come.
Who else needs a victory?
Arizona, Denver, the Jets (bye week), Washington, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati remain winless. Either the Steelers or the Bengals will snap that skein when they meet tonight.
And the Chuck D. Award goes to
Remind me again how much money the Vikings paid Kirk Cousins? Oh yeah, $84 million. Sure, with six sacks, the Bears had him under duress for most of their 16-6 win over the Vikings, but for that kind of money, you need to produce more than six points.
Give the defense a break
Every rule seems to benefit the offense and create more scoring, but maybe cornerbacks and safeties need an edge. Going into Sunday night, there had been a league-record 13 150-yard receiving performances this year, surpassing 2013 (12) for the most through four weeks. Maybe the refs need to allow a little more hand checking.