We are through four weeks of the NFL season, and the action has been historically competitive: 23 games have been decided by three points or fewer this season, the most in NFL history through a season's first four weeks. We witnessed some star performances from around the league and some big stars not shining as brightly as usual, both swinging the outcomes in what has started out as the NFL's most competitive season yet.
Welcome to NFL Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players getting the most buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn't necessarily a good thing -- it simply means you're capturing the NFL world's attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order. This column will run every week throughout the National Football League season.
Mahomes is the NFL's brightest shining star. Nearly everything he did in the Kansas City Chiefs' 41-31 win at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on "Sunday Night Football" was flawless. Mahomes and company waltzed their way to three touchdowns on their first three drives, getting out to a 21-3 lead that never dropped lower than 10 despite Tom Brady on the opposing sideline.
It's safe to say the Chiefs thoroughly exorcised their Super Bowl LV demons as their 41 points are the most anyone has scored on this Buccaneer defense since current head coach Todd Bowles arrived as Bruce Arians' defensive coordinator in 2019. The Kansas City quarterback finished with 249 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, and one interception on 23-of-37 passing, a performance that included one of the most mind-bending touchdown passes in league history. On second-and-goal early in the second quarter, a play-action pass to the right evolved into Mahomes breaking out of the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Month's grasp, Buccaneers linebacker Devin White, with a picturesque spin move and finishing as a Mahomes' flick of the wrist touchdown to running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire while the quarterback is being deep-cleated into the grass. Ninety-nine percent of quarterbacks could only dream of executing a broken play like that, but Mahomes is a dream come true.
Mahomes made the play sound mundane after the game, but his tight end Travis Kelce gave the sequence and his quarterback the effusive praise they both deserve.
"I was able to use my speed, well a little bit of speed, to get around the edge there," Mahomes said. "Then I was going to run for it, and they kind of flew around, and then I realized I wasn't going to make it, and I saw Clyde, so I just kind of flicked it up to him. When I spun -- I kind of, I think the spin made me kind of decide to throw it again because I knew once I spun that I wasn't going to have the speed to get in (the end zone). Before that, I was thinking about getting to the pylon, but once I spun, I realized that Clyde was open."
"The NFL hasn't seen anything like [Patrick] Mahomes…I promise you that," Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said after the win on Sunday. "You saw it today -- he's the Houdini of our era. The guy just finds ways to make plays throughout the game -- big-time third down, big-time goal line plays [and] just willing our team to the end zone -- willing our team to win. That's our ultimate leader, man."
Not only is he the ultimate team leader, but Mahomes is rapidly stacking his individual statistics as he became the fastest player to reach 20,000 career passing yards, doing so in 67 career games. That's four fewer games than the next-closest player, current Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, who reached 20,000 yards in 71 games. Highlights and records galore, Mahomes definitely has much more in store this season.
The Giants are 3-1 this season, for the first time since 2011, the last time they won the Super Bowl, with quarterback Eli Manning. The revival of running back Saquon Barkley as an NFL superstar is one of the biggest reasons for the team's hot start under first-year head coach Brian Daboll.
Barkley led the NFL in scrimmage yards (2,028) as a rookie in 2018 joining Eric Dickerson (1983) and Edgerrin James (1999) as the only rookies with over 2,000 scrimmage yards in NFL history. He followed that year up with another solid season, 1,443 scrimmage yards, in 2019 before missing the final 14 games of the 2020 season with a torn ACL. Last year was a slog as he finished with 856 scrimmage yards, his first season under 1,000 when playing at least 10 games, as he shook off the rust from the ACL injury. This season, he's already over halfway to his 2021 total with his NFL-best 570 scrimmage yards through the first four weeks.
In the last year of his contract, Barkley showcased his durability with a career-high 31 carries, his first game with 30+ carries, as he compiled 146 rushing yards in a 20-12 victory against the Chicago Bears. It was a game that required his best, since both starting quarterback Daniel Jones and backup Tyrod Taylor exited with injuries. Barkley even took snaps as the Wildcat quarterback out of necessity for a series until Jones returned to the game, running read option plays.
Midway through the second quarter, Barkley displayed his breathtaking agility and burst that prompted the Giants to make him the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, when he turned a 3rd down broken screen that seemed destined to be a loss of at least five yards, into a 15-yard gain and a first down. A textbook example of what an NFL superstar looks like.
"Just let your body react, my ball security was awful in the beginning, but I wanted to make sure we got back on track. It was a heck of a block by DJ [quarterback Daniel Jones]. There aren't a lot of quarterbacks out there that would go out there, fight for his team by making those blocks. O-line kept blocking too, and we were able to pick up the first down," New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley said with a shrug.
Making the extraordinary seem like just another day at the office, Barkley continues to remind us that he is arguably the NFL's most dangerous player with the ball in his hands.
Deebo Samuel looked like Deebo Samuel for the first time this season, recording six catches, 115 receiving yards, and a touchdown in the San Francisco 49ers' 24-9 physical beatdown of their division rival, the Los Angeles Rams. His 57-yard receiving touchdown was one in which the final 50 or so yards came thanks to his legs, shaking off would-be tacklers and leaving Rams defenders grasping at air.
The score that increased the 49ers' lead to eight, 14-6, was the third-longest touchdown of Samuel's career. He now has more plays with over 50 yards after catch (4) since the start of last season than 31 teams. The Cincinnati Bengals have the same amount of those plays as Samuel has collectively with four.
The freshly-paid "wideback" (signed three-year, $71.6 million contract extension this offseason) tallied his fourth game with 100 or more yards after the catch since 2020, double the number of any other player. Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara have two each.
With Samuel tallying his first game with over 100 receiving yards this season and the 49ers back even at 2-2 through four weeks, both the dual-threat dynamo and his team are just getting going in 2022.
Justin Jefferson is BACK! After a dormant last two weeks (nine receptions, 62 receiving yards, zero receiving touchdowns) at the Philadelphia Eagles and against the Detroit Lions, the third-year wide receiver exploded for a season-high 10 receptions, 147 receiving yards, and a rushing touchdown in a down-to-the-wire 28-25 win against the New Orleans Saints in London. Sunday across the pond marked Jefferson's 16th career game with over 100 receiving yards, which makes him tied for the third-most through a player's first three seasons since at least 1950. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss (19) and Odell Beckham Jr. (19) have more than Jefferson in their first three seasons in that span.
However, Jefferson wasn't thinking about history on Sunday. He was thinking about getting back to dancing in the end zone.
"It felt great to hit my first "Griddy" in front of the London fans," Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson said. "It was definitely exciting and I definitely needed to get in the end zone this time for sure."
Justin Jefferson This Season
|Week 1 vs GB||Weeks 2-3||Week 4 vs NO|
* Had 3-yard rush TD in win vs Saints in London
Superstars that achieve at the highest level think differently, and Jefferson definitely qualifies as a different kind of thinker, expressing his excitement when the Saints decided to charge 4-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore for shadowing him from sideline to side in Week 4. Lattimore defended Jefferson on 10 of his 13 targets, and the Minnesota pass-catcher won the matchup catching seven out of 10 for 93 yards.
While double-teaming Jefferson for entire games could allow for the rest of the Vikings' offense to put up big numbers, not doing so may be more perilous because it could lead to Jefferson breaking out "The Griddy" once or twice while demoralizing an entire secondary.
The Indianapolis Colts offense has been stuck in the mud in 2022, averaging 14.3 points per game, the second-lowest total in the entire NFL ahead of only the San Francisco 49ers' 13.5 points per game. One of the biggest reasons for that is the performance of the 2021 rushing champion, running back Jonathan Taylor. The third-year pro ran for 42 rushing yards on 20 carries while fumbling in the Colts 24-17 defeat against their AFC South rival, the Tennessee Titans.
The 42 yards were his fewest in a game since Week 10 of his rookie year in 2020 when he had 12 rushing yards on seven carries, also against the Titans. Taylor's 2.1 yards per rush were the fewest in his career when carrying the football at least 20 times, replacing his previous career-low of 3.4 yards per carry from the Colts' game narrow victory against the Chiefs last week. Following his fumble while getting stuffed on a third-and-one run in the fourth quarter, Taylor limped off the field and did not return.
After the game, he divulged that his ankle was "tweaked up a little bit, but feeling good now". His status against the Denver Broncos on "Thursday Night Football'' is up in the air, just as the Colts' playoff hopes are without his presence.
Josh Allen is one of the few quarterbacks in football today worthy of staking an opposing claim to Patrick Mahomes as the NFL's top signal-caller. Following an interception off of a pass that was tipped on the first drive of the game, Allen and his Bills blinked and they found themselves trailing 20-3 with 3:39 left to play in the first in Baltimore against Lamar Jackson's Ravens. However, Allen kept his composure and led an 11-play, 76-yard drive that he finished with his only passing touchdown of the day that brought Buffalo back within 10, 20-10 at the half.
"To get points before the half knowing that they got the ball right after half, we received the kickoff, was huge for us," Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen said. "Instead of going down 20-6 or 20-3, it's 20-10 and we're one stop away and we're back in this thing."
His fourth quarter rushing touchdown from 11 yards brought the Bills completely back from the 17-point first-half hole and then he was able to lead a clock-melting drive of 12 plays that traveled 67 yards in order for his kicker Tyler Bass to nail a chip-shot, 21-yard field goal for the win as time expired.
The 17-point comeback was the largest comeback of his career and the Bills' first comeback of 17 or more points since Weeks 2 and 3 in 2011, when Amazon "Thursday Night Football" analyst Ryan Fitzpatrick was the Bills' starting quarterback. Allen finished with 213 passing yards, one passing touchdown, an interception, 70 rushing yards and another touchdown on the ground. Week 4 wasn't his best showing, but it was Allen's 22nd game with both a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown since entering the NFL in 2018, seven more than anyone else in that time.
His 22 games with a passing and rushing touchdown are now the second-most in a player's first five seasons in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) behind only Cam Newton's 31 such games from the 2011-2015 seasons. The seventh overall pick in the 2018 draft now has 147 offensive touchdowns in his career, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning for the fourth-most in a player's first five seasons. Allen needs 25 touchdowns in his final 13 games (about two touchdowns a game) this year to break Hall of Famer Dan Marino's first five seasons NFL record of 171. Up next on the list for this superstar is Mahomes (159) and the artist formerly known as Superman, Newton (160) as the Bills face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5.
On the disappointing side of a historic comeback, for the second time this season and second consecutive home game was quarterback Lamar Jackson and his Baltimore Ravens. Jackson finished with 144 passing yards, a passing touchdown, two interceptions, and 73 rushing yards as his Ravens blew a lead of 17 or more (20-3, 17 points in Week 4 vs the Bills, 2, 21 points, from leading 35-14 in Week 2 vs the Dolphins) once again. Prior to this season, the Ravens were 100-3 in games where they held a 17-point lead, but in 2022, they are 1-2.
His second interception, on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line with 4:09 remaining and the score tied at 20, proved costly as Baltimore never possessed the football again. Jackson has showcased his ability to be the most dynamic quarterback in the NFL many times already this season, but the Bills did just enough in the second half to corral the slippery superstar.
"If we would have executed, we would have scored a touchdown, that's not even a question," Jackson said after the game. "Next time we'll get it."
Lamar Jackson This Season
|Weeks 1-3||Week 4 vs BUF|
Up next is Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, providing Jackson a huge opportunity for redemption as the Bengals swept the Ravens a year ago, winning both matchups. No doubt the 2019 NFL MVP will be chomping at the bit to get back to work in Week 5.
Derrick Henry hadn't looked like the NFL's most punishing running back, a reputation he rightfully earned since dominating the league since 2019, through the first three weeks of the 2022 season. That changed in Week 4 in the Titans' 24-17 road win against their rival, the Indianapolis Colts.
Henry broke away from the pack for a 19-yard touchdown burst, running the Tennessee lead to 14-0 early in the first quarter. The Titans continued to bludgeon the Colt defense with their battering ram as Henry finished with 22 carries, 114 rushing yards, and that touchdown for his first game this season topping the century mark.
Derrick Henry This Season
|Weeks 1-3||Week 4 at IND|
"I don't care about that, we won, happy to be able to make plays that we needed to on offense and get a W," Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry said when asked about totaling his game with over 100 yards rushing this season.
Both he and his team are heating up with the Colts back to .500 at 2-2 and Henry rushing for a touchdown in his third straight game. The score was his 68th career rushing touchdown, which ties him with some of the better ball carriers of the last 30 years: Maurice Jones-Drew, Thomas Jones and Eddie George for 35th on the NFL's all-time list. The Titans go as King Henry does, which at this time, looks onward and upward.
Trevon Diggs is playing the best football of his career, deflecting or intercepting all three of the passes in his vicinity when he was the primary defender of Carson Wentz's intended target in the Cowboys 25-10 home win against the Washington Commanders, their third win in a row this season.
Even though he was a 1st-Team All-Pro selection last season and led the NFL with 11 interceptions, Diggs was caught out of position with regularity, allowing a league-high 1,016 yards in coverage last season according to Pro Football Focus. This season, Diggs still has the usual numbers, leading the NFL in passes defended (9) and tied for the fifth-most interceptions (2), but he's trimmed his yards allowed per game from 63.5 per game in 2021 to 39 a game in 2022.
His improved positioning is evident, as he put himself stride-for-stride with Commanders wide receiver Jahan Dotson, making it appear as if Wentz's deep heave was intended for him.
"It was," Diggs remarked when it was mentioned that the throw on his interception looked like it was heading for him all along. "I just feel like the ball is coming to me. It's one ball, it's two of us, and one of us has to end up with it, that's how I look at it."
With the way Diggs is looking this season, another All-Pro seems like it's also coming his way.
The two-time reigning NFL MVP could not have had a more rollercoaster afternoon in the Packers 27-24 overtime victory against the New England Patriots, who were down to their rookie, third-string quarterback Bailey Zappe. Rodgers threw his fourth interception to be returned for a touchdown in his 18-year career, right before the conclusion of the first half. The Zappe-led Patriots entered the locker room with a 10-7 edge. Rodgers' 11.2 passer rating was his career-worst in any first half including the playoffs (239 career games). His previous low was 26.8 against the Buccaneers in a regular season thrashing in 2020, a 38-10 defeat.
Then, Rodgers looked like the player who dominated the NFL the prior two seasons in the final two quarters and overtime, throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions while completing two-thirds of his passes to lead the Packers all the way back for their third consecutive win, a victory they had to have.
Aaron Rodgers vs Patriots
Week 4, 2022 Season
|1st Half||2nd Half/OT|
* Worst in any first half of Rodgers' career including playoffs
"This is a game we had to win, for sure," Rodgers said. "I mean, you can't be 2-2 losing to a third-string quarterback and not playing great in all three phases. So we had to have this one. That doesn't take anything away from the joy of winning, but this was one we had to have."
Rodgers also took plenty of personal accountability for the offense's sputtering throughout the contest.
"This way of winning, I don't think, is sustainable," Rodgers said. "Because it puts too much pressure on our defense, and obviously I've got to play better and will play better."
Sunday just wasn't Tom Brady's or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' night. Their 41-31 loss against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs looks prettier in the box score than it was in reality since the Chiefs took their foot off the gas pedal after taking a 21-point lead, 38-17, with 5:42 remaining in the third quarter. The game essentially ended in the second quarter after Brady was strip-sacked by Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed, flying off the edge so fast, the 45-year-old quarterback didn't see Sneed until it was too late.
The Chiefs took advantage of the miscue, going up 28-10 with 2:11 left in the first half with a direct-snap, one-yard touchdown run by tight end Noah Gray.
Brady being the competitor he is, didn't throw in the towel, passing for 385 yards and three touchdowns. Week 4 this season was just his fifth career defeat in 23 seasons when throwing for over 350 yards and at least three touchdowns.
"We didn't play great on offense, we didn't help them [their defense] much either," Brady said after the loss. "Too many missed opportunities on third down, turnovers. Tough game, tough team. They're a good team. We got to play a lot better to beat good teams. It hasn't been our best yet this year. It will be good to see what it looks like when we do play our best."
Personally, Brady played his best football of the season thus far, so perhaps a crushing primetime defeat can springboard the living legend back to the level he's been accustomed to for over two decades.