Week 4 of the NFL season is almost in the books and only three teams are left undefeated. One of them — the 3-0 49ers — had a bye, while the other two had to survive on the road to move to 4-0. On Sunday, the Chiefs narrowly beat the Lions, 34-30, and the Patriots survived in Buffalo, 16-10.
It’s unrealistic to expect even the elite NFL teams to win all their games with ease, but it’s not hard to see how we can get fooled into thinking that. The Chiefs and Patriots dominated their opponents over the first three weeks and looked headed for a rematch in the AFC Championship Game come January. People assumed both teams would glide to road victories Sunday over historically hard-luck opponents.
In fact, each was favored by nearly a touchdown. It wasn’t that simple, and both won ugly — which is actually a sign of a great team.
Every team, even the Dolphins, can win a game when everything is clicking. The offense is humming, the defense is stout, and special teams is flawless. But only the best of teams can win the ugliest games, where one unit just can’t get it going. They hang around long enough, though, and when they see their opening, they take it.
No example is better than the Chiefs on Sunday.
The Chiefs took advantage of the Lions’ mistakes, and the Lions couldn’t do the same
The Lions outplayed the Chiefs. There’s no way around it. They forced three Chiefs fumbles and limited their offense to 13 points at halftime, far less than the 24.7 points they were averaging in the first half of their previous games this season. Patrick Mahomes looked off and didn’t score a touchdown, ending a streak when he had thrown at least two touchdowns in 14 straight games.
The Detroit offense was able to control the line of scrimmage and even made six trips to the red zone. However, the Lions had two plays they’d love to have back, plays where the Chiefs saw a small opportunity and took advantage.
The Chiefs received the ball to start the second half and promptly fumbled on the return. The Lions took over and drove deep into the red zone. On third down, Matthew Stafford was flushed to his left and for some odd reason, attempted to run away from a defensive lineman who was closing in. No surprise, it goes as you’d expect. Stafford fumbled and Detroit lost out on a chance to score points.
But alas, they forced another Chiefs fumble on the next drive! All was about to be right in the world.
The Lions got down to the 1-yard line and on first-and-goal, they rushed the football. That’s when the Chiefs found another opportunity. Kerryon Johnson attempted to stretch the ball into the end zone, but the ball go knocked loose, most likely by accident, and was picked by Bashaud Breeland and taken back for a 100-yard touchdown.
After review, the play was upheld and just like that, it was a 14-point swing. The great team made a play, fluky or not.
Credit the Lions, though, because they came right down the field and added a field goal. They also went ahead 30-27 with just over two minutes left, which was just enough time for Patrick Mahomes to make them them pay. He drove down the field — including his fourth-down scramble with no spy — and the Chiefs won the game with a late touchdown.
Again, the Chiefs won ugly and the Lions lost a game they should have won. That’s the difference between a great team and one that’s just OK.
The Patriots leaned on the other units on a day when the offense struggled
The Patriots had a tougher day in Buffalo than the Chiefs did in Detroit. The Bills’ defense was outstanding. They swarmed the Patriots, who averaged just 3.6 yards per play. Tom Brady was awful, finishing 18 of 39 for 150 yards and an interception. He was hit often, which is the recipe to stop the New England offense. The Patriots only scored a single offensive touchdown, early in the first quarter, and added a field goal in the second half.
Their second touchdown was a blocked punt, though, once again proving that the best teams don’t miss their chance to make a huge play.
The Patriots’ defense hounded the Bills quarterback Josh Allen all game until Allen was knocked out of the game from a vicious hit. They took advantage of some terrible throws by Allen, but mostly were able to make plays on the ball because they were in the right place at the right time — a staple of the New England defense. Also, they actually caught the football, which can be tough for defensive backs at times. The Patriots ended up with four interceptions: three off Allen and one off Matt Barkley.
They almost had another when the Bills were driving to try to get the lead early in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-goal, Barkley tried to find Zay Jones in the end zone. The call was initially ruled a Patrick Chung interception, but the refs changed it to an incompletion. Either way, the Patriots got the ball back and the Bills didn’t threaten again.
So where do these results leave the Lions and Bills going forward?
The Lions have improved under second-year head coach Matt Patricia, and I think they are heading in the right direction. However, I’m worried about them making bad decisions by the coaching staff, like leaving Mahomes with no spy on fourth down and having these poor plays in critical situations. If they can improve on those — which history shows don’t just change overnight — they can totally contend for the NFC North, especially with holes on the other teams in the division. Plus, I just like Stafford. Dude is a gamer.
The Bills starting 3-0 would indicate they are alive for the wild card. The loss to the Patriots doesn’t change that feeling for me. Their offense will always be slightly limited with Allen.
Allen is actually best in chaos, like end-of-half or late-game situations, which can be exciting and worrisome. It’s exciting because you should always have a chance in close games. You have a quarterback who’s not fearful of the moment and will use everything he’s got, including his legs, to make plays. It’s worrisome because that’s not how you beat good teams. Your quarterback needs to make the routine plays from the pocket time and time again. But, the season is still young and we will see Allen improves.
Even if the offense is limited, the defense is not. That will keep the Bills in every game this season, as they can stop physically stop the run and have the athletes in the back end to stop the pass game. Add in a fierce pass rush, and they are trouble for opposing offenses. I think the Bills are a legit contender for the playoffs.