“We’re a quarter of the way through the season and we’re right where we need to be in terms of our record,” says quarterback MATT RYAN of the 4-0 Atlanta Falcons. “We feel like we can get a lot better and that’s what we’re going to set out to do. We’re going to keep trying to improve and hopefully play better.”
All 32 teams know there’s room for improvement. And, while not every club has gotten off to a hot start, nothing is a given in the NFL. Since 1990, when the current 12-team playoff format was adopted, 94 teams (35.6 percent of the 264 playoff clubs) have advanced to the postseason after starting the season 2-2 or worse. There were four such teams – Atlanta, Cincinnati, Denver and Pittsburgh – last season.
“We’re 2-2, it’s not a great record, but we’re getting better,” says New England Patriots quarterback TOM BRADY. “We have to keep building on the good things and try to eliminate the bad things. We’re trying to make improvements every week.”
In five of the past 11 seasons, a team that has started 2-2 or worse has advanced to the Super Bowl. Three of those clubs – 2001 Patriots (1-3), 2003 Patriots (2-2) and 2007 Giants (2-2) – went on to win the Super Bowl.
That’s the unpredictability of the NFL. So entering Week 5, while it certainly helps to be near the top of the standings, don’t count anyone out.
Through the first quarter of the season, there have been 36 games decided by one score (eight points or fewer), tied for the third-most through a season’s first four weeks in NFL history. And games have gone down to the wire. In the past two weeks, there have been 10 games in which the game-winning points were scored in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. What’s in store in Week 5? Some of the key games this weekend:
ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-0) at ST. LOUIS RAMS (2-2)
(Thursday, NFL Network, 8:00 PM ET)
The Cardinals are 4-0 for the first time since 1974 and have won 11 of their past 13 games, the best record in the NFL over that span. In last week’s 24-21 win over Miami, Arizona quarterback KEVIN KOLB (324 yards, 3 TDs) connected with wide receiver ANDRE ROBERTS (118 yards, 2 TDs) on a 15-yard touchdown on fourth down to tie the game with 22 seconds remaining and force overtime. In the extra session, JAY FEELY kicked a 46-yard field goal to cap a stirring comeback for the Cardinals, who won for the first time since 1999 after trailing by at least 13 points at halftime.
“We’re not where we want to be yet,” says Feely, “but we’re 4-0.”
Arizona will travel to St. Louis to face the 2-2 Rams in a key NFC West matchup. The NFC West leads all divisions with 11 combined wins this season.
St. Louis defeated Seattle 19-13 in Week 4 as rookie punter JOHNNY HEKKER threw his first career touchdown pass (two yards to DANNY AMENDOLA on a fake field goal) and rookie kicker GREG ZUERLEINkicked four field goals and became the first player in NFL history with a 60-yard (60) and 50-yard (58) field goal in the same game.
“We’ve got a quick turnaround going into this week, so it’s definitely much nicer to come off a win than a loss,” says Rams quarterback SAM BRADFORD. “It’s going to be a challenge and we’ve got to get our minds ready for Arizona.”
DENVER BRONCOS (2-2) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2-2)
(Sunday, CBS, 4:25 PM ET)
PEYTON MANNING will lead his new team into New England to face TOM BRADY and the Patriots in a matchup of two of the game’s marquee quarterbacks.
Last week, Manning passed for 338 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Broncos’ 37-6 win over Oakland. It marked Manning’s first such performance in just his fourth game with Denver; in his previous four active seasons (2007-10), he only recorded two games with at least 330 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“He’s getting more comfortable,” says Broncos head coach JOHN FOX about his quarterback. “The type of guy he is, he’s going to get better and better.”
Brady passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots’ 52-28 win at Buffalo. Brady extended his streak of consecutive games with a TD pass to 36 games – tied for the third-longest in NFL history – and the Patriots became the second team ever with two 100-yard rushers (BRANDON BOLDEN and STEVAN RIDLEY) and two 100-yard receivers (WES WELKER and ROB GRONKOWSKI) in the same game (Green Bay, 12/28/08).
The Patriots, who trailed 14-7 at halftime, scored 45 second-half points. New England is the first team since the 1950 New York Giants (48 points) to score at least 45 second-half points in a game in which it trailed at halftime.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (3-1) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (0-4)
(Sunday, NBC, 8:20 PM ET)
The Chargers and Saints will meet for the first time since 2008 when the teams played in the International Series game at London’s Wembley Stadium.
New Orleans quarterback DREW BREES, who began his career with San Diego (2001-05), has thrown a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games and will look to surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHNNY UNITAS (47) for the longest streak in NFL history. He will also aim to guide the Saints to the team’s first victory and build momentum as the season enters the second quarter.
“I’d obviously love to be talking about a win,” said Brees after the Saints’ 28-27 loss at Green Bay, “but certainly it’s significant to even be mentioned in the same realm as Johnny Unitas. His career speaks for itself.”
The Chargers sit atop the AFC West with a 3-1 record after last week’s 37-20 win at Kansas City. San Diego quarterback PHILIP RIVERS passed for 209 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. He also surpassed the 25,000-yard passing mark, reaching the milestone in 3,144 attempts. He is the fifth-fastest to accomplish the feat in NFL history.
HOUSTON TEXANS (4-0) at NEW YORK JETS (2-2)
(Monday, ESPN, 8:30 PM ET)
The AFC’s lone unbeaten team – the 4-0 Texans – will travel to MetLife Stadium to face the Jets on Monday night.
Houston is 4-0 for the first time in franchise history. Last week, the Texans defeated Tennessee 38-14. Quarterback MATT SCHAUB is second in the AFC with a 105.3 passer rating with seven touchdowns and one interception. Defensive end J.J. WATT leads the NFL with 7.5 sacks and is the first player since KEVIN GREENE in 1998 to record at least 1.5 sacks in each of his team’s first four games.
“It feels great to end the month of September 4-0,” says Schaub. “It’s great for our team and organization. But there are a lot of things that we can correct. We’re fortunate and happy to be 4-0.”
The Jets will look to rebound after last week’s loss to San Francisco. Despite the loss, New York enters Week 5 tied for first in the AFC East with New England and Buffalo at 2-2.
“I know the character of the men in that room and that’s what I’m betting on,” says Jets head coach REX RYAN. “We’ll get it done. We’ll get it fixed. We need to start being better and we need to start now.”