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Week 4 Judgements: Take Vikings seriously

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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Let's just cut to the chase: Yes, Minnesota is legit, and it's not just because the Vikings found a quarterback to complement their franchise running back and wide receiver; it's because they rediscovered a defense. Look at their last two wins: They held Detroit and San Francisco to 13 points each, and contrast that to a year ago when Minnesota blew leads of 10, 17 and 20 points in their first three games. That doesn't happen anymore, and it shows. The Vikings are on top of the NFC North. Moreover, they just overcame their worst nemesis -- namely, the rest of the division. Their defeat of Detroit was the Vikings' first over an NFC North opponent in 12 straight games. Their last division win happened in 2010, and it came ... you guessed it ... at the expense of the Detroit Lions.

2. Make that four straight games without a Christian Ponder interception.

3. Finally, mercifully, officials came to the rescue of the Green Bay Packers -- and this time they got the call right. I'm talking about that holding call that nullified what could've been a game-winning field goal, and how appropriate: It was the Packers' Sam Shields who was pulled down, the same guy pushed to the floor on that game-winning touchdown in Seattle. Replacement refs missed that call, and the Packers lost. Jeff Triplette's crew caught this one, and they won. Now, let's be honest, people: Until then, the Packers could have made a case that it didn't matter who officiated their games. They were doomed. There was an apparent offensive pass-interference that wasn't called on the Saints' first TD. There was a Jimmy Graham catch when it appeared replays would overturn it. And there was a blown call on a Darren Sproles fumble that could've made a big difference in the fourth quarter. I guess there's a lesson there, and it's this: It doesn't matter who or what you are; all refs miss calls. It just seems like they miss more of them when the Packers are involved.

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4. Just a hunch, but Houston clinches its division somewhere around, oh, say, Dec. 1. That doesn't mean the Texans don't have plenty to worry about. They do. It's called complacency.

5. Guess Peyton Manning is OK after all.

6. So Billy Cundiff nailed a game-winning field goal. Great. Washington still must consider replacing him. He misses from 41. He misses from 57. He misses from 31. Then he barely drops the clincher inside the left upright. He could've cost Washington a game, just as he cost Baltimore a possible AFC championship. The Redskins can't survive this. Start auditioning replacement candidates and start now.

7. Does that 0-4 start mean Drew Brees is the first head coach on the bubble?

8. People who said the Wildcat was dead apparently never heard of San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick.

9. Talk about a perfect ending. When Drew Brees breaks Johnny Unitas' record for consecutive games with touchdowns next week it will come against San Diego, the team that not only drafted him but let him walk in 2006.

10. One week they lose their best player on defense; the next they lose their best player on offense. Turn out the lights on the New York Jets.

11. Yeah, OK, so Mark Sanchez's completion percentage (49.2) stinks, but cut the poor guy some slack. If you want to blame anyone for the Jets' miserable offense, blame the front office for not giving Sanchez more playmakers. He had one, Holmes, and now he's gone. Dustin Keller didn't play Sunday. Stephen Hill didn't play Sunday. So what was Sanchez supposed to do? Exactly what he did do. Zilch.

12. I haven't seen anything like that New England response since ... well, since the last time the Patriots played Buffalo. In that game, they spotted the Bills a 21-0 lead before running off 49 straight points. That wasn't supposed to happen after the fixes Buffalo made to its defense ... but it did. Only this time, the Patriots put up 52. Guess that answers the question about who's in charge in the AFC East.

13. Since starting 5-0 last season, the Detroit Lions have been 6-10, including the playoffs. Just saying.

14. At this pace, Detroit's Calvin Johnson finishes with four touchdowns. The Madden Curse lives.

15. Buffalo spent big bucks on pass rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson so they -- and the Bills' defense -- could put a lid on Tom Brady. The intention was right, but look what happened in their first crack at the Pats' quarterback: Nothing. Williams and Anderson combined for no pressures, no quarterback hits and no sacks.

16. I'll tell you why Kansas City is going backward: Turnovers. Through four games, the Chiefs already have more (15) than they did in 2010 (14) when they won the AFC West.

17. The more I watch Carolina tight end Greg Olsen, the more I wonder why on earth Chicago gave up on him.

18. Here's why that Denver beatdown of Oakland is notable: Because the Broncos didn't wait until the fourth quarter to make a move. Prior to Sunday, they outscored opponents 45-6 in that last period. That's the good news. The bad: Opponents outscored them 71-32 in the first three. The Broncos scored nearly as many points in the first three quarters vs. Oakland (31) as they did in the first three quarters of their opening three games combined.

19. Maybe San Francisco should work out in Youngstown, Ohio, more often. A year ago the 49ers beat Philadelphia after practicing there. Now they blank the Jets at home after another week in Ohio, and this just in: That makes Jim Harbaugh 5-1 in the Eastern Time Zone, with his only loss last Thanksgiving night after the 49ers played in San Francisco the previous Sunday.

20. It looks as if San Diego may have found a cure for Ryan Mathews' fumblitis ... especially at or near the goal line. It's called Jackie Battle.

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. Rookie kickers. Minnesota's Blair Walsh, Baltimore's Justin Tucker and the Rams' Greg Zuerlein are a combined 29-for-31, with Walsh hitting three field goals of 50 or more yards in each of his first three games and Zuerlein nailing kicks of 57 and 60 yards Sunday. Oh, yeah, Zuerlein also is 12-for-12.

2. New England's offensive line. It had to play without its best player, guard Logan Mankins, and responded with its best performance of the season. Not only did the Patriots run for 247 yards, but Tom Brady threw for 340 and three TDs. Oh, yeah, he also scored one himself. With the victory, Brady moves to 19-2 against the Bills, and the only thing more certain in Buffalo than another Brady win is another long winter.

3. Arizona in overtime. The Cards won 11 of their last 13 starts, including five in overtime. The Cards were 4-0 there a year ago, and they're 1-0 after Sunday, thanks to Kevin Kolb. It was his last-minute touchdown pass on fourth down that sent the game into a fifth quarter, and don't tell me the Cards don't have a quarterback. Kolb is unbeaten in three starts this season.

4. Jeff Fisher's decision to fake a field goal on fourth-and-goal at the Seattle 2 with 1:16 left in the first half. Down 7-3, the Rams looked like sure things to take the three points and go into the locker room down 7-6. Then holder Johnny Hekker stood up and threw a pass to a wide-open Danny Amendola. Gutsy? Maybe. But the Rams are pushing the envelope, and you can't help but like their attitude. Basically, they're warning opponents that they'll be nobody's easy out ... and they aren't.

5. The Giants' goal-line defense. Philadelphia had first-and-goal at the New York 1 early in the third quarter but gained nothing with three LeSean McCoy rushes. In fact, the Eagles lost a yard and were forced to settle for a field goal. Then they had third-and-goal at the 2 with just under two minutes left and took the field goal again. I know the Giants lost, but they had a chance to win at the end because of their short-yardage D.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. The Jets' chances of escaping last place in the AFC East. Look, they shouldn't have beaten Miami last weekend, but they did. OK, it happens. But now they've lost Revis and Holmes. So tell me how they avoid a sinkhole without their best offensive and defensive playmakers. They don't.

2. C.J. Spiller's goal-line fumble. He could've put the Bills up by 14 at the half, but he lost the ball at the New England 1. That hurt, especially when Buffalo pushed the margin to 14 in the third quarter. It could've been 21 by then, but no lead ever seems enough for Buffalo vs. New England.

3. Cam Newton's fourth-quarter fumble with just under two minutes left. He could've picked up a first down to finish Atlanta ... and he did. Only he fumbled, with the ball rolling backward. Yes, it was recovered by Carolina, but, no, it wasn't good enough for a first down. So, with fourth-and-a foot, the Panthers decided to punt ... and lost the game. Newton was terrific most of Sunday, but he couldn't close out a game when he had the chance. That should haunt him and his teammates.

4. Detroit's special teams. Bad enough they don't tackle Percy Harvin on the opening kickoff. But they didn't catch Marcus Sherels on a 77-yard punt return, either. Those were Minnesota's only TDs and, yep, it always seems to happen with these guys. In fact, they're the only team in league history to have touchdowns on kickoff AND punt returns in three games.

5. Icing the kicker. I'm with Michael Vick. Enough already. Let's junk the timeouts immediately before field goals. All they do is give kickers a practice kick.

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME 'SPLAINING TO DO

1. New York Giants wide receiver Ramses Barden -- It was his pass-interference penalty in the last half-minute of play that cost the Giants 10 yards they desperately needed to nail a game-winning field goal. Of course, they wouldn't have been there without critical pass-interference calls vs. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie that kept their last series alive.

2. Carolina safety Haruki Nakamura. I mean, what in the world was he doing on that 59-yard completion at the end of the Panthers' game with Atlanta? Wait, I know: Nothing. With the Falcons pinned at their 1, down by one point and having no timeouts left, they needed a big play to get a shot at a game-winning field goal ... and they got it when Nakamura played centerfield on a bomb to Roddy White. Instead of making a play on the ball, he let the ball play him. Result: A heartbreaking Carolina loss.

3. Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel. He has seven interceptions through four games. When the Chiefs won the AFC West two years ago he didn't suffer his seventh interception until the last game of the season when the division was clinched. He had seven the entire season. He had three on Sunday.

4. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill. I know, Miami found itself a quarterback. In fact, he probably should've won this game. I mean, he threw for 431 yards and led the Dolphins from behind in the fourth quarter. But he committed two costly mistakes on Miami's last two series. On the first, he fumbled when he was sacked. That led to Arizona's game-tying touchdown. Then he threw an interception in overtime. That led to the game-winning field goal. He's a rookie, so he gets a wide margin of error. But he's got to clean up those mistakes.

5. New Orleans tight end David Thomas. It was his holding call that cost the Saints a go-ahead field goal with just under three minutes left. So the ball was moved back, the kick was tried again, and this time it was missed. New Orleans never saw the b all again.

JUST ASKING BUT ...

 When does it become Tebow Time?

 And when does it becomes Nervous Time in Detroit?

 Does that make Philadelphia the team to beat in the NFC East?

 Too soon to say it's over for New Orleans?

 Which of the three undefeated teams loses first?

NUMBERS TO REMEMBER

4 -- Philadelphia's margin of victory in three wins
7 -- Carolina sacks of Matt Ryan
18 -- Straight Jay Feely field goals
24 -- San Diego points off turnovers
39.9 -- Mark Sanchez passer rating
101 -- New England points in last two games vs. Buffalo
130 -- Peyton Manning passer rating
253 -- Brian Hartline yards receiving
431 -- Ryan Tannehill yards passing
1974 -- Last time Arizona started 4-0

MY TOP FIVE

1. Houston
2. Atlanta
3. Baltimore
4. Arizona
5. San Francisco

MY BOTTOM FIVE

32. Cleveland
31. New Orleans
30. Kansas City
29. Indianapolis
28. Miami

NEXT WEEKEND'S THREE BEST GAMES

Philadelphia at Pittsburgh ... Who gets hit more, Vick or Roethlisberger?

Denver at New England ... It's Manning vs. Brady. What's not to like?

Atlanta at Washington ... RG3 vs. the defense that shut down Manning. This I gotta see.

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