Following a week of political tension, the NFL returned to something approaching normalcy in Week 4 on Sunday. Just as many people were focusing on the implications of a slate of close games and surprise outcomes than how national anthem demonstrations would be interpreted.
After roughly 200 players took a knee during the anthem in Week 3, the number dropped off significantly this past Sunday. Several teams opted to mimic the Dallas Cowboys' strategy from last week, which involved kneeling before the anthem then standing when "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played. Unlike the previous Sunday, no team avoided the anthem entirely by remaining in the locker room, for those keeping track of such things.
Nevertheless, there were plenty of fans who were still irritated. In Baltimore, fans booed even after the public address announcer explained the kneeling was part of a prayer for unity to be conducted before the anthem. And Jets fans at MetLife Stadium booed players for kneeling before the anthem was played.
Ravens fans cheered as announcer said team endorses kindness, unity, equality & justice then immediately boo when team kneels before anthem pic.twitter.com/GyIHKOsWLB- Jessie 🇰 (@JMKTV) October 1, 2017
Some players continued to demonstrate during the anthem. The Seahawks' defensive line sat during the Sunday night game. Two Detroit Lions player knelt during the anthem before their early game against the Vikings. Marshawn Lynch sat during the anthem before the game against Denver, and was oddly cordoned off by a passel of team security guards.
NFL teams appear determined not to let the anthem talk dominate the season from here on out. Will it work? More games like Sunday's may help.
The Patriots are shockingly vulnerable and the Rams look legit
Analysts have eaten crow for years for counting out the Patriots following early season defeats. Yet it's hard to remember a time the Pats have seemed this shaky. Tom Brady has played just fine. It's the defense that's a disaster so far. The next three games come against the Buccaneers, the suddenly competent Jets and the Falcons, a deceptively tough stretch that culminates with their Super Bowl rematch that Atlanta should be fired up for.
Meanwhile, the Rams just keep on winning. In their most impressive victory yet, Los Angeles took a road victory in Dallas, one of the teams expected to contend for the conference. Should the Rams defeat the Seahawks next week at home, it might be time to start taking them seriously as not only a likely playoff team, but a dark horse Super Bowl contender. Crazy to think for a squad that not many saw losing fewer than 10 games coming into the season.
Cutler anything but wild
Cutler really selling his role in the Wildcat at the bottom of the screen pic.twitter.com/WgHxXvxlHL- Mike Tunison (@xmasape) October 1, 2017
The first half of the London game between the Saints and Dolphins yielded just three points. It did provide perhaps the most amusing moment of the day. On a Wildcat play, Miami had Jay Cutler split out wide, a common tactic for quarterbacks when teams run that formation. Usually, though, QBs will at least feign like they might run a route or block. But not Cutler. He just stood there, refusing to budge or remove his hands from his hips. Keep doing you, Jay.
Another week, another bad sign for LA
In NFL's smallest stadium, seats are covered...wow pic.twitter.com/RA3kwV35EH- Les Bowen (@LesBowen) October 1, 2017
In what is shaping up to be a continuing theme for the 2017 season, there were more signs that a love affair has yet to take hold between Los Angeles and its two NFL franchises. Eagles fans far outnumbered Chargers supporters in their home stadium, but Chargers officials still felt it necessary to cover portions of a 27,000-seat stadium with tarp.
Fan of the Week
Only an absolute legend could wear his OWN T-Shirt.- CSN Philly (@CSNPhilly) October 2, 2017
Jason Peters can. pic.twitter.com/3eCDFcgUFs
You try telling Eagles tackle Jason Peters he can't wear his own shirt. It likely won't end well for you. Carson Wentz was glad to have him on Sunday. Chargers rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram only managed two hits on Wentz and no sacks going against Peters and Lane Johnson.
1. Denver's run defense
According to NFL Research, the Broncos run defense has held Marshawn Lynch, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy and Melvin Gordon to 95 yards on 50 carries, for a staggeringly low 1.9 yards per carry.
2. Cam Newton
Up until this week, the Panthers had been waiting for the first standout performance of the season from their franchise quarterback. They got it when they needed it most, on the road in New England, as Cam threw for 316 yards and three scores. With the Falcons losing, Carolina moves into a tie for the top of the NFC South.
3. Le'Veon Bell
The Steelers really put their workhorse to work against Baltimore. Bell got a whopping 35 carries in the victory. That rate probably won't be sustainable over a full season, but it paid off to the tune of 144 yards rushing, 42 receiving and two touchdowns against the Ravens.
4. Larry Fitzgerald
He had only 13 yards on three catches late before he brought in the game-winner in the waning moments of overtime on Sunday against the Niners. Fitz had one of the season's most impressive catches the week before against Dallas. If this indeed is going to be his last season, he's still been capable of making impact plays here and there.
5. Deshaun Watson
He couldn't quite get the upset against the Patriots in Week 3. This Sunday, however, he put to rest any lingering doubt that he has supplanted Tom Savage as starter for the remainder of 2017. In putting up 57 points on Tennessee, Watson threw for four touchdowns and 283 yards. Not bad for a rookie going against that notoriously complex Dick LeBeau defense.
1. Patriots defense
It's among the league's worst through four weeks. It would be foolish to assume it's going to stay that way all season. Still, rare is the moment when a Bill Belichick-coached unit has been this easy to pick apart. Take away a last-second touchdown against the Texans, and the Pats would be sitting at 1-3 right now.
2. Duke Riley
The Falcons linebacker was one of several reasons why Atlanta struggled to contain LeSean McCoy in its first loss of the season. Riley missed four tackles as Buffalo rushed for more than 100 yards and Charles Clay had a big receiving day getting matched up with linebackers.
3. Joe Flacco
Losing big at home to the Steelers puts the Ravens only a game back in the AFC North, but that's without the comfort of knowing they usually take care of business at home. Flacco was quite candid about his performance, saying after the game, "I sucked." Unfortunately for him and the Ravens, not much about their offense is faring better these days.
4. Jerick McKinnon
The Vikings fear breakout running back Dalvin Cook has a torn ACL, meaning the team will have to turn to a combination of Latavius Murray and McKinnon. Murray missed time in the offseason, so his orientation to the offense is a little behind McKinnon's. That said, Jerick did himself few favors on Sunday by fumbling on Minnesota's opening possession of the second half, leading to a Detroit field goal.
5. Jimmy Graham
The Seahawks eventually pulled away toward the end of the third quarter on Sunday night against the Colts. But a big reason Indy was able to hang around as long as they did was two interceptions on plays where Graham was targeted. On the latter, the play went right through his hands on a very catchable pass, leading to points for the Colts.
When football goes Dragon Ball
Kamehameha!!!!!! 😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/imIDxN4pUW- JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) October 1, 2017
At the age of 20, Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is thought to be the youngest player in the NFL. Not that the Dragon Ball franchise hasn't been around for a while, but it's still something you might expect the league's youngest player to be availed with. Smith-Schuster performed one of the signature attacks from the show following a touchdown against the Ravens. Having the ball dribble just kind of out of his arms really made it special in a way that forcefully flinging it would not have. And if you think anime dorks would be excited to see a beloved thing of theirs represented on an NFL field, you would be right.