Going into Week 4's showdown between the Dallas Cowboys and the undefeated Carolina Panthers, the only defense anyone was talking about was the one in Carolina. The Panthers went into the game giving up the fewest passing yards in the NFL, the fewest rushing yards and had dominated their way to a 3-0 start. The Panthers defense was expected to dominate on Sunday, but instead, it was the Cowboys defense that put on the show during Dallas' wildly impressive 36-28 win.
Last year, the Cowboys fielded one of the worst defenses in football, but that now seems like an eternity ago thanks to Dan Quinn, who has completely revamped the unit. Under Quinn's leadership, the Cowboys have quietly become one of the better defenses in football and their improvement was on full display against the Panthers.
The Panthers tried to throw the ball early and often, but that plan blew up in their face thanks to an unexpectedly impressive Cowboys pass rush that had Sam Darnold running for his life for the better part of four quarters. The Cowboys recorded five sacks in the game, marking the first time since 2019 that they've hit that number. The pass rush was led by Randy Gregory, who was playing in just his second game this season due to COVID-19 issues.
Even when the Cowboys weren't sacking Darnold, they were still giving him fits as they hurried him more than 10 times. That pressure caused Darnold to rush several throws, including two in the second half that led to two different interceptions by Trevon Diggs. You can see his second one below.
Both of Diggs' picks came during a dominating third quarter where the Cowboys outscored the Panthers 20-0. After trailing 14-13 at the half, the Cowboys went into the fourth quarter with a comfortable 33-14 lead.
The interceptions by Diggs played a huge part in the dominating quarter as the Cowboys ended up turning the two picks into 10 points.
The Cowboys also got a brilliant performance from their offense -- Dak Prescott threw four touchdown passes and the rushing attack totaled more than 240 yards for just the sixth time this century -- but we're talking about the defense because no one saw this coming.
With Prescott returning this season, everyone expected to the Cowboys to have a high-powered offense, but no one expected their defense to be this good, this fast. If the defense keeps playing at the level that it's playing, the Cowboys might end up coasting to the NFC East title.
Dallas 36-28 over Carolina
|It was the tale of two halves for the Panthers, who basically landed an "A" for the first two quarters and an "F" for the final two sessions. The best defense in the league held one of the best offenses in the league in the Cowboys to only 13 points at halftime, and Darnold rewarded them by scoring two rushing touchdowns to give the Panthers a one-point lead on the road. But, in the second half, Darnold and the defense both collapsed under pressure, with the former being sacked five times in the game and throwing two back-breaking interceptions -- both to Diggs -- which led to touchdowns by the Cowboys offense. It was a game the Panthers could've won, but when the Cowboys adjusted, Carolina didn't (or at least not until it was too late).|
|It felt like the Cowboys were only a handful of mistakes from having a strong lead in the first half, but instead had a one-point deficit going into the half. They did a lot of good things in the first two quarters, though, especially from Ezekiel Elliott and Gregory, with Elliott running freely over the Panthers vaunted defense while Gregory racked up his first two sacks of the 2021 season. Those two sacks would add to a total of five on the day for the Cowboys defense, and toss in two interceptions by Diggs and Prescott and Co. had plenty of extra possessions to play with. And played with them they did, tap dancing around the 40-point mark with an explosive third quarter that saw them never look back. |
Panthers-Cowboys grades by Patrik Walker (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
L.A. Chargers 28-14 over Las Vegas (Monday)
|The Raiders got flat out embarrassed in the first half and they were just never able to recover after that. During the first half, the Raiders had more penalty yards (53) than offensive yards (51), which was big reason why they trailed 21-0 at the break.The first-half yardage total was the lowest ever by a Jon Gruden offense. Although the Raiders did show some signs of life in the third quarter with two quick touchdowns, the fact of the matter is that they simply made too many mistakes to overcome. They couldn't run the ball, they couldn't throw the ball and defensively, they couldn't stop anything the Chargers were doing. It was ugly performance from a team that went into the game as the AFC's final undefeated team.|
|This was almost a perfect all-around game from the Chargers, who dominated from start to finish. The domination started with Justin Herbert, who spent most of the first half toying with the Raiders defense, throwing for 175 yards and three touchdowns through the game's first two quarters. Austin Ekeler also had his way with the Raiders defense in a game where he averaged 7.8 yards per carry (15 carries for 117 yards, plus two total touchdowns). The Chargers defense also got in on Monday night's run with four sacks and an interception of Derek Carr. With wins over the Chiefs and Raiders over the past two weeks, the Chargers suddenly feel like a team that could end up winning the division.|
Indianapolis 27-17 over Miami
|The Colts offense got off to a slow start in this game, but it didn't end up hurting them too much and that's because their defense absolutely shut down the Dolphins. Not only did the Colts limit Miami to just 73 yards in the first half, but they only gave up one drive that went for more than 7 yards during that span, which allowed the Colts offense to build a 7-3 halftime lead that Indy would never relinquish. The Colts offense did finally wake up in the second half and a lot of that was thanks to Jonathan Taylor, who had a 38-yard carry on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Taylor (103 yards on 16 carries) and Carson Wentz (228 yards and two touchdowns) helped spur the Colts offense over the game's final two quarters.|
|Whatever the Dolphins are doing on offense, it's not working. It didn't work with Tua Tagovailoa and it's not working with Jacoby Brissett. The Dolphins had less than 100 yards of offense through the first three quarters and didn't start moving the ball until it was way too late. Defensively, the Dolphins just seemed to tire out in the second half, which is what happens when you're on the field for more than 37 minutes like Miami's defense was on Sunday.|
Chicago 24-14 over Detroit
|The red zone was more like the Twilight Zone for the Lions on Sunday and that's why they ended up losing this game. During the first half alone, the Lions got inside of Chicago's 8-yard line on THREE separate drives, but on each drive, they came away with zero points. The first drive ended on a bizarre fumble. The second drive ended on a failed fourth down and the third drive ended on a strip sack of Jared Goff. Those three drives pretty much summed up Detroit's red-zone woes. To add insult to injury, the Lions also got inside of the Bears' 10-yard line in the second half and once again came away with zero points after another failed fourth down.|
|One week after pulling off one of the most inept offensive performances in NFL history, the Bears bounced back with an impressive showing against the Lions. David Montgomery's ability to run the ball (23 carries, 106 yards, two touchdowns) made things much easier for Justin Fields and the rookie quarterback took advantage of that by making some big plays. Field threw for 215 yards, including a perfect 64-yard strike to Darnell Mooney that set up a TD in the first half. This was the Fields the Bears were hoping to see last week and if he keeps playing like this, the Bears could be a playoff contender this year.|
Buffalo 40-0 over Houston
|Buffalo is hard place to play for any quarterback, but especially a rookie quarterback. The first road start of Davis Mills' career was a total nightmare for both Mills and the Texans. During an ugly first half, Mills actually completed more passes to Bills players (2) than Texans players (1). The Texans only totaled 8 yards in the first half and things didn't get much better in the second half. The Texans finished with just 109 yards of offense, which was the third-lowest total in franchise history.|
|Thanksgiving isn't until next month, but don't tell that to the Bills defense, who got to feast on the Texans in this game. The Bills defense dominated Houston in every way that an opposing defense can: They racked up three sacks, they picked off three passes and they even recovered a fumble. This is the second time this season that the Bills have pitched a shutout, marking the first time since 1990 that they've pitched multiple shutouts in a single season. The 109 yards by the Texans were the fewest the Bills have surrendered in a game since 2013.|
Washington 34-30 over Atlanta
|When the 2021 season started, the belief was that Washington's defense would have to carry the team this year, but that definitely wasn't the case on Sunday. The defense surrendered 30 points, but they were bailed out by a high-flying offense that totaled more than 400 yards. Terry McLaurin gashed up the Falcons secondary with six catches for 123 yards and a TD. Taylor Heinicke had his best showing of the season with 290 passing yards and three touchdowns, including two that came in the final four minutes. Dustin Hopkins added some drama to this game with two missed extra points, but he also got bailed out by the offense's impressive performance.|
|Cordarrelle Patterson put on a show in Atlanta, but it wasn't enough to carry the Falcons to a win. Patterson had three TD catches, but the Falcons still lost because their defense collapsed down the stretch (It seems like there's been a Falcons collapse every week since Super Bowl LI). The Falcons surrendered 12 points over the final four minutes, including a 30-yard TD to J.D. McKissic that came on a third-and-7. The loss overshadowed an impressive performance by Matt Ryan, who threw for 283 yards and four touchdowns.|
N.Y. Giants 27-21 over New Orleans (OT)
|This game was the Daniel Jones show for New York. The Giants quarterback threw for a career-high 402 yards and New York needed every single one of them. Jones completed two touchdown passes of more than 50 yards with the biggest one coming in the fourth quarter on a 52-yard scoring throw to Saquon Barkley. Jones led the Giants to scores on each of their final three possessions of the game, which allowed New York to steal the win in New Orleans. The Giants got some surprising performances, especially at receiver where rookie Kadarius Toney (6 catches, 78 yards) and John Ross (3 catches, 77 yards, 1 TD) both had big days.|
|It's not often you see the Saints defense get gashed up, but that's exactly what happened in this game. The New Orleans secondary got diced up for 402 yards, marking just the fourth time since 2015 that the unit has surrendered more than 400 yards. With Drew Brees, the Saints would regularly win these games, but with Brees gone, the Saints offense hasn't been making enough big plays. In the first half alone, the Saints got inside of New York's 40-yard line on two different drives, but came away with zero points (failed fourth down, plus missed field goal).|
N.Y. Jets 27-24 over Tennessee (OT)
|When you're missing your two best receivers, it's hard to move the ball and the Titans found that out the hard way in what was easily the most embarrassing loss of the week for any NFL team. With A.J. Brown and Julio Jones both out, Ryan Tannehill's day turned into a nightmare. The Titans QB threw 19 incomplete passes and he was pressured on nearly every pass. Derrick Henry gave the Titans a heroic performance (33 carries, 157 yards, one TD), but it wasn't quite enough. The Titans had a chance to tie things up at the end, but Randy Bullock missed a 49-yard FG on the game's final play.|
|It took four weeks, but the Jets finally have a win and they did it by putting together a nearly perfect performance in all three phases of the game. Defensively, Quinnen Williams led a unit that absolutely suffocated Tannehill. Williams tallied two of New York's seven sacks, which marked the first time in three years the Jets have recorded that many sacks in a game. The Jets also finally got a breakout performance from Zach Wilson, who threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson threw a 29-yard pass in OT that helped set up a Matt Ammendola field goal that ended up being the game-winner.|
Kansas City 42-30 over Philadelphia
|The Chiefs just had to make sure they didn't beat themselves against the Eagles -- and essentially did. Kansas City scored six touchdowns on seven possessions and dominated Philadelphia at the line of scrimmage in the process, rushing for 200 yards in the win. Patrick Mahomes threw for five touchdowns in the win -- three of which went to Tyreek Hill -- and had just six incomplete passes. The Chiefs defense also was better, holding the Eagles to just 3 of 6 in the red zone (and one of those touchdowns was in the final seconds) after allowing 91.7 percent of opponents red-zone trips to score heading into the game. Andy Reid had a well-coached game against an inferior team, scoring on all their red-zone trips. The Chiefs took care of business and got back on track, even though there's still work to do.|
|Philadelphia was able to move the ball against Kansas City, not even punting in the game. The Eagles finished with 461 yards and scored 30 points (seven of which in garbage time) behind an offensive line missing four of five starters. What doomed the Eagles were failed opportunities in the red zone (three times converted field goals), the nine penalties, and rushing for only 103 yards against one of the league's worst run defenses. Philadelphia's defense also couldn't get stops, allowing Kansas City to convert 9 of 10 third downs and score touchdowns on six of seven possessions. The Eagles finally got a takeaway on defense, yet could only muster three points off a Mahomes interception. They can't stop a good offensive team, which is a major problem going forward.|
Chargers-Chiefs grades by Jeff Kerr (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Cleveland 14-7 over Minnesota
|The defense was sensational yet again. The Minnesota ground game was held to 2.8 yards per carry despite Dalvin Cook's return to action. Greedy Williams essentially ended the game with an interception. The reason this grade was not higher is because Baker Mayfield was awful. Odell Beckham Jr. had a step on more than one occasion but Mayfield was off-target. The first required some pocket movement from the quarterback but it still should have been completed. The Nick Chubb-Kareem Hunt tandem was huge again.|
|The defense played somewhat well, although Baker Mayfield certainly aided their efforts. They recorded three sacks and made a big fourth-down stop in the first half. The ground game was awful and Kirk Cousins was good, but not great after an effective and efficient opening drive. The opening drive ended with a TD, but the Vikings wouldn't sniff the end zone for the rest of the game. |
Browns-Vikings grades by Josh Edwards (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Seattle 28-21 over San Francisco
|The Seahawks only put up 234 yards of offense, but they were able to win thanks to the magic of Russell Wilson and a bend-but-don't-break defense. On Wilson's end, he threw two TD passes, including a miraculous 13-yard TD in the third quarter where he looked like he was going to be sacked (You can see the play here). Wilson also tacked on a rushing TD on an impressive 16-yard run. Defensively, the box score will tell you the Seahawks weren't great -- they gave up 457 yards of offense -- but they came up with big plays when they had to. The Seahawks held the 49ers to just 2 of 14 on third-down conversions and they also forced a turnover.|
|The biggest problem for the 49ers in this game was definitely their special teams play. With Robbie Gould injured, punter Mitch Wishnowsky had to handle kicking duties and he responded by missing two kicks (41-yard field goal and an extra point) and that wasn't even the worst of the special teams play. Returner Trenton Cannon muffed a kickoff in the third quarter, which led to a short 14-yard TD drive for the Seahawks. Offensively, the 49ers just weren't good enough to make up for mistakes like that. Although the offense got off to a hot start with a TD on its opening drive, they fell apart after that as the rest of the first half was just one disaster after another with an interception, a missed field goal and multiple punts. After Jimmy Garoppolo was lost to a calf injury, Trey Lance had a chance to come in and spark the offense, but that didn't happen. The rookie QB did throw a 76-yard TD, but he also struggled with his accuracy, completing just 9 of 18 passes.|
Arizona 37-20 over L.A. Rams
|Kyler Murray is firmly in the MVP conversation, or should be. He outdueled Matthew Stafford from the jump, and fortunately he also had Kliff Kingsbury behind him, with the Cardinals deploying their ground game with full force. And how about that defense, frustrating Stafford early with some unusually sticky coverage? It's time to start calling them a true contender in the NFC, because only a few teams know how to keep up with them.|
|Their defense stood firm in a few key spots, like a red-zone stand at the end of the first half. And they're still a good team, maybe one of the best in the NFL. But Stafford was not his usual self in the face of stingy coverage, Darrell Henderson's decent day on the ground was wasted, and most concerning of all, Raheem Morris had barely any answer for Murray and Co. This was probably a hiccup more than a sign of true sickness, but it was a lopsided loss no matter how you slice it.|
Cardinals-Rams grades by Cody Benjamin (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Baltimore 23-7 over Denver
|The Ravens did not have to do anything spectacular on Sunday, as they just had to defend a double-digit lead from a backup quarterback in the second half. Still, credit to Lamar Jackson and the defense for showing up and taking care of business. This wasn't the fun matchup we expected due to Teddy Bridgewater's concussion, but Baltimore didn't let anything funky happen in the second half. Good win. That's three straight now for the Ravens.|
|The Broncos did not lose just because Bridgewater went down with a concussion at halftime. It's not like he was playing incredibly well, as "Teddy Two Gloves" completed 7 of 16 passes for 65 yards and one touchdown in the first half, and was outscored 17-7. Drew Lock couldn't come in and lead a comeback, but that was probably expected from the home fans, as some actually booed him as he entered the game. This was the first decent opponent the Broncos faced this season, and that was evident at times. Denver's secondary had several miscues which led to big plays, such as Marquise Brown's 49-yard touchdown in the second quarter. This was actually Lamar Jackson's second-ever regular-season game where he threw for more than 300 yards!|
Ravens-Broncos grades by Jordan Dajani (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Green Bay 27-17 over Pittsburgh
|Pittsburgh's offense continues to struggle. While Najee Harris rushed for 62 yards, no other Pittsburgh player gained a single yard on the ground. The Steelers' offensive line allowed two sacks of Ben Roethlisberger, who on Sunday passed Brett Favre as the second-most sacked quarterback in league history. The Steelers' defense did a good enough job containing Davante Adams, who caught six passes for 64 yards. But they were unable to contain the rest of Green Bay's playmakers. The unit did receive a solid afternoon from T.J. Watt, who had two sacks and a forced fumble of Aaron Rodgers.|
|Green Bay dominated in all three phases. On offense, the Packers piled up 23 first downs and 369 total yards. They were excellent on third down, converting on 9 of their 15 third-down situations. Randall Cobb came up clutch with two touchdown catches. Rodgers totaled three touchdowns and was complemented extremely well by running backs A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones. Dillon rumbled for 81 yards on 15 carries, while Jones had 99 total yards on 18 touches. The Packers' defense held Pittsburgh to just 4 of 11 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down. Green Bay received two field goals from Mason Crosby, who has now hit 24 straight kicks, which is a new franchise record.|
Steelers-Packers grades by Bryan DeArdo (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Tampa Bay 19-17 over New England
|An imperfect night for Tom Brady, pronounced by the hype of the matchup. But even though they lacked explosive plays, they played ground-and-pound pretty well, with Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones and even Brady himself all logging some tough yards in inclement weather (The Buccaneers rushed for 119 yards on 30 carries). The defense, meanwhile, allowed Mac Jones to put together some long, beautiful drives but also came through in crunch time and flashed off the edge. Not a championship performance, obviously, but they won in a gritty way, and that matters.|
|They didn't get the "W," but they deserve a lot of credit. With a clearly inferior roster, they took it to the wire for a number of reasons, none bigger than Jones. The rookie QB looked nothing like a rookie for much of the contest, shrugging off the pressure of the moment with sustained efficiency to spread the ball around and execute a balanced game plan from Josh McDaniels. Not only did he throw for 275 yards, but he also completed 19 straight passes at one point, which is the longest streak by a rookie QB over the past 30 years. The "D" was active and energetic, with Matt Judon headlining a real fight to upset Brady, which looked like it might happen until Nick Folk's 56-yard field goal doinked out in the final minute. |
Buccaneers-Patriots grades by Bryan DeArdo (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
2021 NFL Crucial Catch returns in October
The NFL's Crucial Catch: Intercept Cancer initiative returns in October. You'll see coaches and players wearing sideline gear to promote Crucial Catch, which has helped raise $23 million for the American Cancer Society. Get screened early, and check out the 2021 gear here.
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