After three weeks of uninterrupted football, the NFL faced its first pandemic-related challenges heading into week four. Last Tuesday, a rash of positive Covid-19 cases rocked the Tennessee Titans. The eight positive cases included three players and five team personnel. It was the first full-blown outbreak in the NFL. Team facilities were shut down immediately, as was the case with the Minnesota Vikings, whom the Titans had played only two days prior. Fortunately, every Minnesota test came back negative. Tennessee was not as fortunate. The following day, a fourth Titans player tested positive and the matchup for week four, Titans-Steelers, was pushed to Monday or Tuesday. That move turned out to be too optimistic.
The Tennessee outbreak continued to spread. On Thursday and Friday, four more Titans players tested positive, forcing the league to postpone the game until later in the season. The decision forced the Titans and Steelers into an unexpected bye week. Since then, additional players have tested positive, putting the Titans’ week five game in jeopardy too. The NFL is also investigating if Tennessee acted against the league’s health guidelines. Per the new, stricter guidelines, if evidence proves the Titans conducted any illegal activity, the team could either lose draft picks or forfeit a game.
Another wrinkle emerged last Friday when New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton also tested positive. His was the first positive case on the New England roster, but because of the proximity to Sunday’s matchup, the league delayed the Patriots-Chiefs game until Monday night. No other Patriots players or personnel tested positive in the subsequent days, so the game was played on Monday, which might have been a mistake. Per the CDC, it can take 2-14 days for the coronavirus to appear. Just this week, New England Pro-Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore tested positive, forcing the Patriots to wait and see if a cluster of positive cases emerge.
Despite the Tennessee outbreak and Newton’s positive case, the NFL had 14 other games play on business as usual. The Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills continued their undefeated starts with wins on the road. Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow led the Cincinnati Bengals to his first career win and the Philadelphia Eagles secured their first win of the season to take over first place of the terrible NFC East. Here are some of the best and worst performances of week four.
Tom Brady is finally finding his footing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers faced the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, a team energized by the emergence of rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. The Chargers spent much of the first half with a large lead; at one point, Los Angeles lead 24-7. Brady led the Bucs on a touchdown drive with 90 seconds left in the half, cutting the Chargers lead and establishing momentum that carried Tampa Bay through the remainder of the game. The second half was dominated by Brady and Bucs. Brady led four 70-yard drives, three of which resulted in touchdowns and powered the Bucs to a 38-31 victory. He finished the day 30-46 with 369 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Wide receiver Mike Evans had a big day, bringing in 7 receptions for 122 yards and 1 touchdown. Tight end O.J. Howard also caught a touchdown pass before an Achilles injury ended his game. Although Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay’s other tight end, has been used primarily as a blocker and on goal-line plays, he will likely see his role expanded given Howard’s injury. Since dropping the opening game against the New Orleans Saints, the Buccaneers have won three straight games in decisive fashion.
The Green Bay Packers have been stellar to start the season. The Packers played the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football, looking to extend their undefeated record and that’s exactly what they did. Green Bay got out to an early lead courtesy of running back Aaron Jones and they never looked back. In the absence of injured wide receiver Davante Adams, Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan had a monster game, catching two touchdowns in the second quarter and another in the third, contributing mightily to the Packers 30-16 victory. Those touchdowns served as half of his receptions, but Tonyan’s six catches still went for 98 yards. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was again superb. Rodgers went 27-33 with 327 yards and 4 touchdowns, connecting with Tonyan and Jones in the endzone. Green Bay’s 30 points is the lowest they have scored this season, showing how potent their 2020 offense is. After the game, Rodgers slammed his critics, many of whom believed his time was nearing an end with Green Bay. “Down years for me are career years for other quarterbacks,” Rodgers said defiantly. This marks the first 4-0 start for the Packers since 2015.
The Cleveland Browns are off to their best 4 game start since 2001. The Browns defeated the Dallas Cowboys in an offensive slugfest, 49-38. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott threw 502 yards and 4 touchdowns, but the Dallas defense once again collapsed under pressure. The Browns exploded in the second and third quarters, building a lead as big as 41-14, and although the Cowboys tried mounting a massive fourth quarter comeback, the Browns prevailed. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield had an average day, throwing 19-30 for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns, yet it was the weapons around him that powered the Cleveland offense. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. caught 2 touchdowns, including one from fellow receiver Jarvis Landry on a trick play. Odell also ran for a crucial 50-yard touchdown in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. Running backs Duke Johnson and Kareem Hunt had a busy game, combining for 24 carries and 166 yards. Hunt added two touchdowns of his own. By fighting off the late Dallas rally, the Browns advanced to 3-1 and look competitive in a division with the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.
It is hard to argue that the Houston Texans have had the most difficult schedule to start the season. It is also hard to argue that the Texans have had one of the worst starts. The Texans drew the impossible task of playing the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers, three of the AFC’s premiere teams, in the first three weeks. An 0-3 start was both conceivable and understandable. However, their fortunes were supposed to turn in week four, when the Texans played the Minnesota Vikings, another 0-3 team struggling mightily. Instead of battering the Vikings and showing a sign of life, the Texans laid another egg and lost 31-23. The Houston defense allowed Vikings running back Dalvin Cook to run over them for 130 yards. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins finally sizzled on Sunday, thanks to a connection with receiver Adam Thielen. 0-4 is a horrible look for the Texans, who made the playoffs in 4 of the last 5 seasons. Houston ownership made their feelings known Monday afternoon by firing Head Coach Bill O’Brien. In the eyes of many, it was a shocking firing, but the move was a result of blunders and disappointments. The Texans blew a double-digit lead to the Chiefs in the 2019-2020 playoffs and that was followed up by O’Brien, acting as the Head Coach/General Manager, trading away fan favorite receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Bill O’Brien was a steady leader for seven years, but his early departure may signal a lost season.