In addition to the rainy Tom Brady- Mac Jones matchup, Week 4 featured the first chapters in what promises to be a storied NFC West race. The New York teams also presented rays of hope, while the Cowboys continue to assemble their bounce-back effort. Here is a look at Week 4's top storylines, along with grades from around the league.
On an unsustainable run that had them hobnobbing in zany ESPN graphics with the 2013 Broncos and 2011 Saints, the Raiders fell back to earth Monday. After averaging 471 yards per game, the Las Vegas offense managed 213 against the Chargers in one of the friendliest road environments in NFL history. The Raiders (3-1) struggled to handle the Bolts' blitzes and moved the chains just 13 times (to the Chargers' 25). Justified September Derek Carr praise aside, the Raiders entered Monday 24th in rushing. They gained 48 ground yards in Week 4. The team's formula will not last without Carr receiving more ground help, as he did in 2019 and '20.
RAIDERS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Bears (Sun.)
Ekeler earned his $24 million contract after a dynamic 2019 receiving season, not as a between-the-tackles grinder. Given atypical smash-mouth responsibilities, Ekeler delivered a career-best 117 rushing yards on 15 carries while running behind an upgraded offensive line. Ekeler entered Monday with one 100-yard game in 59 career contests. The ex-undrafted free agent operated like a traditional back for the Chargers (3-1), burying the Raiders late after performing his usual outlet work. After years behind a bad Bolts O-line and being known mostly as a PPR fantasy monster, Ekeler has an opportunity to truly breakthrough this season.
CHARGERS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Browns (Sun.)
Bill Belichick did plenty to throw off his former business partner, with Tom Brady completing barely 50% of his passes in the 3-1 Buccaneers' second straight uneven offensive performance. Buoyed by a run game that outgained the Patriots' 119 to minus-1, Brady escaped New England with a coveted victory. Brady finished without a touchdown pass for the first time since the Saints' 38-3 rout last November. Though, Antonio Brown dropped a perfectly placed toss late. With injuries piling up on defense, however, it will be on Brady and Co. to accomplish more in the coming weeks.
BUCCANEERS GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Dolphins (Sun.)
Given the lack of ground support, Mac Jones outshined his ageless QB opponent Sunday night. The No. 15 overall pick was masterful, completing 19 straight passes at one point in the second half and doing so with a fraction of Brady's weaponry. In sloppy conditions, Jones delivered his best performance as a pro. After a disastrous offensive season in 2020, the Patriots have air support. Belichick's defensive troops, sans Stephon Gilmore, proved they remain capable of high-end work. Even in defeat, the Pats (1-3) showed they remain a factor in the AFC.
PATRIOTS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Texans (Sun.)
Mocked for their offseason featuring the additions of a few thirtysomethings, the Cardinals (4-0) were largely expected to finish last in the NFC West. They now have a blowout over the team most placed atop post-Week 3 power rankings. Murray eluded Ram rushers with ease and relied on his reassembled skill-position corps. Last season's DeAndre Hopkins-dependent crew limited Murray's talents, as did the QB's shoulder injury. A.J. Green, Rondale Moore, and Chase Edmonds' expanded role have further unleashed Murray, who accounted for 307 yards against a defense that stymied the Bucs. Arizona's outing/official legitimacy adds more heat to a simmering NFC West race.
CARDINALS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. 49ers (Sun.)
Murray overtook Matthew Stafford in the not-yet-relevant MVP conversation, and the Rams saw their offense sputter against a defense that -- on paper -- presented opportunities. Arizona's cornerback corps features emerging standout Byron Murphy and little else of note, as far as reliability goes, but the Cardinals won the battle with a healthy Rams receiving arsenal. Los Angeles only produced three plays of 20 yards. Cooper Kupp's ascent stalled, to some degree, with three of his five catches coming after the Rams (3-1) trailed by two scores. Sean McVay's first stumble against Kliff Kingsbury adds intrigue to the Rams' Seattle trip.
RAMS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: at Seahawks (Thu.)
With Jimmy Garoppolo's latest injury forcing the 49ers forced to turn to Trey Lance, the Seahawks pounced with two quick third-quarter TDs to take control of a game they needed. Russell Wilson's numbers (149 passing yards, 6.5 per attempt) were far from spectacular, but the perennial Pro Bowler led Seattle (2-2) on three scoring drives to swing a game the 49ers controlled for most of the first half. Wilson's broken-play location of Freddie Swain for a 13-yard TD showed the Seahawks, even as they navigate usual defensive issues and adjust to Shane Waldron's offense, will not be bowing out early in this year's historic NFC West competition.
SEAHAWKS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Rams (Thu.)
Trey Lance's time was coming soon; his draft status dictated that. But the historically unusual QB prospect showed his lack of seasoning Sunday, and it will put Kyle Shanahan to an interesting challenge during a season in which the 49ers (2-2) lack much margin for error. A Seahawks blown coverage, which led to a 76-yard Deebo Samuel score, aided the one-year North Dakota State starter's 157-yard stat line. The NFL's best division features MVP candidates quarterbacking its other three teams, making this year perhaps ill-timed for the 49ers to try this. On the other hand, Shanahan grooming Lance in a high-stakes season will be must-see.
49ERS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)
Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton's absences did well to ground Jones against the Falcons. Against a better defense, the third-year passer came alive and crafted an 11-point fourth-quarter comeback. Using new weapons Kadarius Toney and John Ross, in a Giants receiving corps oozing recognizable names even without the two holdovers, Jones eclipsed his career yardage high by 50 in a 402-yard performance. This included the Giants (1-3) denying the Saints an overtime possession, preventing Jabrill Peppers' R-rated Matt Hasselbeck coin-toss routine from backfiring. The Giants still need more answers on their QB, but this was probably his best game.
GIANTS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Cowboys (Sun.)
The Giants could not sack Jameis Winston and did not register a hit on the new Saints quarterback. Alvin Kamara also amassed 120 rushing yards. New Orleans (2-2) still blew a two-score lead late in its return to the Superdome, losing to the Giants in Louisiana for the first time since 1994. Its secondary limiting Mac Jones in Week 3 aged better by Sunday night, but that seasoned group allowed a shaky QB with two missing wideouts to run amok. Saquon Barkley proved a problem as well, with his 54-yard TD catch-and-run leading to a rough highlight for Saints cover men. A notable step back for a defense still required to lead this post-Drew Brees operation.
SAINTS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Washington (Sun.)
Thankfully, the Titans have Derrick Henry. Not much else went right for them Sunday. Zach Wilson, whom the Patriots and Broncos rendered inept in his previous two outings, awakened against Tennessee (2-2) by throwing for 297 yards on 8.7 a clip. The Titans, who were again missing their top 2021 defensive acquisitions (Bud Dupree and Caleb Farley), notched one QB hit and allowed former Titan Corey Davis and fellow ex-AFC South wideout Keelan Cole to combine for 203 yards. Allowing the Jets to accomplish what they did is a warning sign regardless of injuries for the Titans, whose grip on the NFL's worst division may not be firm.
TITANS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)
A parting gift from the previous Jets regime, Quinnen Williams continues to play like one of the NFL's best defensive tackles. He led a Jets pass rush that sacked Ryan Tannehill seven times, posting 1.5 sacks and manipulating Tannehill's pocket on others. Quinnen and older brother Quincy, a linebacker recently claimed off waivers, became the first brothers to record sacks as teammates in a game since the NFL begin charting sacks in 1982. The Jets' blitzes were effective as well. While this could be a long season, Gang Green (1-3) enjoying this kind of day without top pass rusher Carl Lawson represents considerable progress.
JETS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Falcons (Sun., in London)
Twenty-fifth in defensive DVOA last year, the Browns threw all their notable resources at that unit this offseason. The three-level effort is paying off. Cleveland (3-1) minimized both Kirk Cousins and the Vikings' ground game, which just doused the Seahawks without Dalvin Cook. Neither Cook nor Alexander Mattison could save the Vikings on Sunday, and the Browns held the hosts to 65 rushing yards and 6 of 18 on third and fourth downs. Troy Hill allowed two catches on six targets, while ex-Rams teammate John Johnson denied Cousins' final try. There is a lot to like about this Browns defense, which showed it did not need an overmatched rookie to impress.
BROWNS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Chargers (Sun.)
A bad Baker Mayfield showing opened the door for the Vikings, but in addition to their issues replicating their September offensive output, they could not contain the Browns' historically potent running back tandem. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 169 rushing yards. The Vikings (1-3) allowed an 18-play drive that covered just 64 yards to lead to six points and saw Hunt break free on a 33-yard run later in the second quarter, setting up what turned out to be the decisive field goal in the Browns' atypically assembled 14-point day. Minnesota let a prime opportunity slip and now ranks 25th in total defense.
VIKINGS GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Lions (Sun.)
It became clear in the second half the Ravens did not need to do much offensively to stave off the Drew Lock-constrained Broncos, but Marquise Brown led the way in creating Baltimore's edge when the game was in doubt. Brown's diving 49-yard TD grab atoned for his end zone struggles in Michigan and drove the Ravens (3-1) to a two-score halftime lead. The diminutive wideout moved his breakout season back on track. Brown caught four passes for 91 yards and leads an improved receiving corps, one that will feature a third former first-round pick once Rashod Bateman returns soon.
RAVENS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Colts (Mon.)
Teddy Bridgewater's concussion left Denver down eight starters, including both guards -- which led to the QB's head injury -- and staring at a crossroads. A familiarly erratic Lock showed Bridgewater's value in a 10-punt game -- two more than any other team has mustered in a 2021 game -- and the Broncos (3-1) are headed back to Pittsburgh, where their 2020 season careened off course. Denver lost Lock and Courtland Sutton against the Steelers last year, continuing an injury barrage that left the team gutted. This year's squad can fall back on its 3-0 start, but Lock seeing much time against tougher October opponents will threaten to bury a talented team.
BRONCOS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Steelers (Sun.)
The past two Chiefs' opponents made sure to restrict the NFL's most dangerous aerial threat and take their chances with everyone else. Both teams beat Kansas City. The Eagles employed a laxer approach with Tyreek Hill, preferring to bottle up Kelce (23 receiving yards). Hill (186) nuked Philadelphia's secondary, beating former teammate Steven Nelson for a TD and breaking open by at least 10 yards on his third score. The Eagles (1-3) allowed both 200 rushing yards and for the Chiefs to convert 9 of 10 third downs. After allowing Dalton Schultz to crush them in Dallas, they did stop a better tight end. Otherwise, rough week for Philly's experienced defense.
EAGLES GRADE: D | NEXT: at Panthers (Sun.)
A week after being transported to a Kansas City hospital, Reid was at the controls against his former team. The ninth-year Chiefs coach, who is already sixth on the all-time NFL wins list, became the first to lead multiple teams to 100 regular-season victories. Showing a greater willingness to run against the Eagles, Reid's offense displayed more control than it did in faster-paced losses to the Ravens and Chargers. The Chiefs (2-2) have significant defensive issues, but the Reid-Mahomes partnership covers up for most of them. Reid (223-132-1) is now three wins away from Curly Lambeau's fifth-place spot on the all-time wins list.
CHIEFS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Bills (Sun.)
The Panthers entered the season with some weak spots on their offensive line. Chief among the deficiencies: they surprisingly signed journeyman Cam Erving to play left tackle. The Cowboys swarmed the Panthers' offensive front in a five-sack performance, doing so without the services of Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. While the Panthers (3-1) are down guard Pat Elflein, this game certainly highlighted some predictable issues given the team's offseason plan. Erving and right guard John Miller combined to allow 11 of the 14 pressures Dallas amassed, and the onslaught ended with Sam Darnold taking 11 hits.
PANTHERS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Sun.)
At a crossroads entering the season, Elliott faced some heat from elusive backup Tony Pollard. In six days, the two-time rushing champion has quieted concerns and re-established himself as one of the NFL's top backs. Elliott's 143-yard rushing day featured 7.2 yards per carry -- the best mark of Zeke's career in a game in which he logged at least 20 handoffs -- and he even outpaced Pollard (6.7 yards per carry on 10 handoffs) on a per-tote basis. In Elliott and Pollard, Dallas has the best 1-2 backfield punch outside of Cleveland. Flooded with weapons and featuring an improved defense, the Cowboys (3-1) are easily the NFC East's best team.
COWBOYS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Giants (Sun.)
For the second time in four weeks, the NFL ran into an issue regarding an offside foul on a field goal attempt. While this one did not directly impact a result like Week 2's Dexter Lawrence whistle, it did erase a potential turning point for a Steelers team in need of all the non-offensive help it can get. Officials ruled Joe Haden offside on a second-quarter Packers field goal try , which negated a Minkah Fitzpatrick would-be return TD and stopped the Steelers (1-3) from taking a 17-14 lead. It preceded a one-sided second half in what was almost certainly the final Ben Roethlisberger-Aaron Rodgers matchup.
STEELERS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Broncos (Sun.)
Facing a healthier Pittsburgh defense than the ones Derek Carr and Joe Burrow encountered, Rodgers leaned on a player with whom he forced a reunion. Randall Cobb's five-catch, 69-yard day included two TDs and a pinpoint connection on a third-and-long to set up a field goal. Cobb's first tenure with Green Bay included peaks but extended stretches of injuries and average play. Rodgers insisting the Packers (3-1) reacquire the now-31-year-old wideout seemed like overkill, but the two have a strong rapport in their ninth season together. This is the most potent Packers receiving group since before Jordy Nelson's 2015 ACL tear.
PACKERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Bengals (Sun.)
Staring at the prospect of Dexter Lawrence's questionable offside call generating its only win through four games, Washington (2-2) saw its No. 1 weapon provide a rescue effort. After an in-traffic touchdown in the first half, McLaurin outmaneuvering Falcons cornerback T.J. Green for his second bailed out Taylor Heinicke. The third-year wideout's 123-yard day powered Washington's two-score comeback. Washington's offseason effort to acquire receiving help has not panned out just yet, but McLaurin -- months away from extension eligibility -- rescued his reeling team.
WASHINGTON GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Saints (Sun.)
Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith have the lead jobs in Atlanta due in large part to the 2020 team's failure to close out games. The 2020 Falcons, adept at unique fourth-quarter collapses, went 4-12 despite a minus-18 point differential. Smith's squad endured a similar ending, losing to a Washington team after mounting an eight-point lead -- effectively a two-score edge after a failed WFT two-point try -- with a minute remaining. J.D. McKissic's open-field stroll-turned-TD dive provided a stark reminder of the issues that led the Falcons (1-3) to this point and how far they have to go.
FALCONS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Jets (Sun., in London)
"Open for business" signs are coming for a Texans team that has a host of veterans but a squad that is seeing its forced quarterback transition year go off the rails quickly. Davis Mills' four-INT outing in Houston's 40-0 loss ended with a 0.8 QBR, the worst single-game figure in three years. With Deshaun Watson's trade request and off-field drama relegating the Texans (1-3) to a gloomy 2021, their bevy of veteran assets -- Brandin Cooks, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, etc. -- should be available before the Nov. 2 trade deadline. Tyrod Taylor's return will be a welcome sight, but it will be too late to salvage the season.
TEXANS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Patriots (Sun.)
By halftime, the Texans had minus-23 team passing yards -- the worst, per ESPN Stats and Info, by a team since November 1999. The Bills (3-1) forced five turnovers, with five different players responsible, in their second five-score shutout in three games. Buffalo's pass defense, which regressed last season after two elite slates to close the 2010s, has feasted on below-average QBs. A less-than-100% Patrick Mahomes carved up a familiar-looking Bills crew in last year's AFC championship game. It is difficult to tell how much Buffalo's defense has bounced back, but this defense is in better form going into its Kansas City trip.
BILLS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Chiefs (Sun.)
Joining only the Jaguars at 0-4, the Lions accelerated that path by completing a rare sequence. Each of Detroit's first three drives reached Chicago's 10-yard line. The Lions came away with zero points, with a fumbled snap and a Robert Quinn sack-strip highlighting the misfortune. While little was expected of a Lions team that made no secret it was rebuilding, Dan Campbell's bunch did not bounce back from Justin Tucker's kick and slumped through a winnable game.
LIONS GRADE: D | NEXT: at Vikings (Sun.)
Opponent notwithstanding, Fields deserves credit for recovering after one of the worst debuts in modern NFL history. With Matt Nagy benching himself as Bears play-caller for the second straight year, Fields effectively executed several of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's offerings. While the rookie quarterback did not do too much to ease the pain of Allen Robinson's fantasy GMs, Fields sprayed multiple dimes to second-year target Darnell Mooney (125 receiving yards) and took just one sack. The Ohio State product is far from a sure thing, after an 11-for-17 day with an INT, but this is progress for a Bears team (2-2) in crisis.
BEARS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Raiders (Sun.)
The Titans' loss to the Jets opens the door for the Colts to claw their way back. In a division with two teams going nowhere, Indianapolis (1-3) will have opportunities in its one-on-one battle for the AFC's No. 4 seed. Saddled with a worse O-line situation than in previous games, with All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson on IR, Carson Wentz completed 75% of his passes and navigated a Dolphins squad plagued by ill-timed turnovers. Since the NFL moved to a 12-team playoff field in 1990, only four 0-3 teams went on to qualify. With nine wins perhaps enough to secure the AFC South title, the Colts cannot be written off.
COLTS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Ravens (Mon.)
After next week's Buccaneers tilt, five of the Dolphins' next eight games come against zero- or one-win teams. Jacoby Brissett and Jakeem Grant losing fumbles doomed Miami (1-3), but the team offered little for a Colts team without two premier O-linemen and trotting out a quarterback rehabbing two sprained ankles. Tua Tagovailoa is set to return to start the Dolphins' easier stretch. For a quarterback who was drafted in the top five coming off a severe injury, he will face an unreasonable amount of pressure upon returning.
DOLPHINS GRADE: D | NEXT: at Buccaneers (Sun.)
After oddly doubling down on running back investments this offseason -- Carlos Hyde in free agency, Travis Etienne in Round 1 -- the Jaguars have again turned to James Robinson. The back who managed more scrimmage yards than any undrafted rookie in NFL history (1,414) managed to re-wrangle his job, impressing a second coaching staff. Robinson can be controlled on low salaries through 2023. His re-emergence has not led to a win, but the Robinson-Trevor Lawrence tandem -- with Etienne's future uncertain due to injury -- represents a promising backfield for a team without much else.
JAGUARS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)
Through four games, the Bengals rank seventh in points allowed and ninth against the run. Based on where they were the past two years defensively, that is cause for celebration. The Bengals devoted extensive resources to restocking its defensive line, bringing in Trey Hendrickson and Larry Ogunjobi via free agency to the team with 2020 addition D.J. Reader. The trade piece Cincinnati netted for Billy Price, however, is paying off as well. B.J. Hill leads the Bengals in sacks (three) and joins Reader in Pro Football Focus' defensive tackle top 10. It is early, but the Bengals defense has not generated positivity like this in years.
BENGALS GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Packers (Sun.)
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.