The reigning AFC champions are on the upswing, having righted the ship with a 38-7 beatdown of the Miami Dolphins this past weekend following a concerning 1-2 start to the season.
Though they’re already heading in the right direction, the Patriots now get two more reasons to feel confident: the return of Julian Edelman after his four-game suspension, and an opponent they’ve owned in recent years.
With Edelman back, Tom Brady will once again have his most trusted receiver as part of his arsenal.
It’s been almost two full seasons – 31 games to be exact – since Brady and Edelman have shared the same field for a regular-season game, as the wide receiver missed all of last year with a torn ACL.
When he’s been at Brady’s disposal, Edelman has been a target vacuum and reliable safety valve in the middle of the field – something that has been missing in the offence this season as New England’s receivers have often struggled to create separation.
While Edelman will carve up defences from the slot, the Patriots should also start to have more of a vertical threat in Josh Gordon, whose time on the field figures to increase after getting his feet wet against Miami.
The physically-gifted wideout only saw 18 snaps this past weekend, but contributed with two third-down receptions to move the chains, along with a key block on a rushing score and a penalty drawn to afford New England a fresh set of downs.
However, based on the recent history between the Patriots and Colts, it’s not as if Bill Belichick’s side needed much more ammunition entering the match-up.
The ‘rivalry’ has been one-sided since the departure of Peyton Manning, with New England winning the past seven meetings – including two playoff showdowns – dating back to 2009.
And some of those clashes featured an Indianapolis team that was one of the best in the conference – a far cry from where the Colts currently stand.
Even with Andrew Luck back under centre, Indianapolis have looked middling on both sides of the ball. Luck has managed to move the ball with quick underneath throws, but has had no support from the running game, which ranks 29th in the league with 72.0 rushing yards per game.
While the Patriots are getting reinforcements, the Colts are expected to be without several key players on Thursday, including wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Jack Doyle, left tackle Anthony Castonzo and running back Marlon Mack.
CHANCE FOR REVENGE
As if Indianapolis needed any more motivation to beat New England, they may have a little extra juice to get revenge on Josh McDaniels.
The Patriots’ offensive coordinator was all but bound for the Colts’ head coaching job this past offseason before pulling out in the eleventh hour after agreeing to contract terms.
As such, Indianapolis had to scramble and settle for Frank Reich, who made the move from the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was the offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champions.
McDaniels’ decision was painful for the Colts, but it was made even worse by the fact that their rivals were behind it.
The players may not care as much as Indianapolis’ front office and ownership, but it does add another chapter in the feud between the two franchises, coming a little more than three years after Deflategate.
This was the game Mitchell Trubisky needed.
Okay, so it didn’t have to be six-touchdown good, but after failing to show much improvement through the first three weeks of the season, the second-year quarterback was under pressure to break through.
His six touchdown throws – including five in the first half – were one shy of the NFL record, while his 354 yards came on just 19-of-26 completions for a passer rating of 154.6.
Matt Nagy’s game plan and play-calling couldn’t have put Trubisky in a better position to succeed as the 24-year-old had throwing windows with acres of space. Bears receivers were seemingly open every dropback as the scheme completely befuddled Tampa Bay and kept them guessing.
The Buccaneers defence also came into the game ripe for picking, allowing 433.3 yards and 34.7 points per game after the first three weeks, which is why it was almost a now-or-never moment for Trubisky.
But he still had to make the throws and show signs of development – something that was missing in the past three games when his eyes were quick to drop and he would impatiently abandon the pocket. On Sunday, Trubisky confidently scanned the field and waited for receivers to come open, and the results were telling.
Trubisky may not have a better game all season as Sunday was a perfect storm of ideal scheme and opponent, but at least Chicago now know he has it in him and is trending in the right direction.
Combined with their dominant defence, it’s a recipe that could make the Bears legitimate contenders this season.
Here are other takeaways from Week 4.
PATS REASSERT DOMINANCE
Entering the week, Sunday was important for both the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, with the former eager to break out of a funk and the latter hoping to wrest control of the AFC East.
Somewhat predictably, the Patriots looked like themselves again with a 38-7 trashing at home to quell concerns and get back on track.
New England certainly played well, but it’s not as if they made massive changes from the previous two weeks when they were steamrolled by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions. It was a case of better execution on both sides of the ball, and they were also helped by Miami having a stinker.
Tom Brady was far from perfect, but the running game dictated everything and kept the chains moving, while the defence was arguably more encouraging as they shut down Ryan Tannehill and weren’t beaten by the Dolphins’ trickery and gadget plays.
As much as a bounce-back was expected from the Patriots, it was a missed opportunity for Miami to deliver a knockout blow and prove they’re the division’s new kings.
THOMAS HARD DONE
This is exactly why Earl Thomas was sitting out practices.
The Seattle Seahawks star safety had his worst fears come true in the 20-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals when he suffered a lower left leg fracture to end his season.
The good news is Thomas’ break is reportedly clean and features no ligament damage or displacement, meaning he should be back to full strength by the Super Bowl – which the Seahawks are extremely unlikely to reach.
Still, this just further validates Thomas’ approach of leveraging his position to earn a new long-term contract.
Thomas has received criticism for taking his unrelenting stance, but it makes no sense to blame players when they’re putting their livelihood at stake every week without the safety net of a deal.
Seeing Thomas go down may not change Le’Veon Bell’s plans, but if the Pittsburgh Steelers running back had any doubts over his holdout, they’re probably squashed today.
It’s another reminder of how cruel and unfair this business can be.
Don’t look now but the Tennessee Titans are 3-1 and appearing dangerous.
For the third week in a row, they won a game they probably had no business winning, but it’s time to accept the Titans aren’t just getting lucky.
These clutch wins show resolve and mental toughness, and the past two have also come against Jacksonville and Philadelphia, two of the better teams in the league.
On Sunday, their offence finally found a rhythm as Marcus Mariota carved up the Eagles for 344 yards in a game their run game was nonexistent.
It should be a scary thought for the rest of the AFC that they’ve won three of four so far without putting together a complete performance.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots emphatically answered their doubters on Sunday, as the five-time Super Bowl champions avoided a third-straight defeat by thrashing the Miami Dolphins 38-7.
Victory over the previously unbeaten Dolphins saw Bill Belichick’s men avoid losing three straight games for the first time since the 2002 season.
New England led 38-0 before the Dolphins put a touchdown on the board late in the fourth quarter, improving to 2-2 as they avoided falling three games behind AFC East division leaders Miami.
The Phins were denied their first 4-0 start since Hall of Fame coach Don Shula’s final season in 1995.
Brady threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns and the Patriots demonstrated the consistency they lacked in defeats to Jacksonville and Detroit.
The only downside for the Patriots was the departure of tight end Rob Gronkowski with a right ankle injury in the third quarter.
“Today is a big one to build on,” said Brady, who was nevertheless already focusing on a looming Thursday clash with Indianapolis.
“It’s a short week and we’ve got to get ready and try to go beat the Colts,” he said.
The Dolphins next take on the Cincinnati Bengals, who shook off an ugly leg injury to tight end Tyler Eifert to edge the Falcons 37-36 in an Atlanta thriller.
The Bengals built a 28-24 halftime lead before losing Eifert, who was in obvious pain after he was brought down following a third-quarter catch with his right ankle twisting badly. He was carted off the field with the leg in an air cast.
The Bengals fell behind 36-31 before Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton authored a last-gasp touchdown drive, connecting with A.J. Green on a 13-yard scoring pass to seal the victory.
“There’s no quit in our guys,” Dalton said. “Even with the setbcks we didn’t flinch, we just kept going.”
Elsewhere in the NFL, the Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders all won in overtime, while the Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Chargers notched narrow victories.
The Raiders rallied past the Cleveland Browns for a 45-42 win in overtime, denying the Browns a second-straight win. Derek Carr threw four touchdown passes and a two-point conversion with 30 seconds left in regulation and Matt McGrane then converted a 29-yard field goal in the extra period to win it.
The Titans converted three fourth downs in overtime to beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles 26-23.
The Texans snapped a nine-game losing streak as they edged the Indianapolis Colts 37-34.
Houston’s Ka’imi Fairbairn nailed a 37-yard field goal as overtime expired to seal the Texans’ first win since last November.
The defeat spoiled a landmark day for Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who surpassed Morten Andersen for most career field goals in NFL history. Vinatieri passed Andersen with his 566th career field goal in the first half and his 567th had given Indianapolis a 34-31 lead in overtime.
Sebastian Janikowski’s 52-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Seahawks to a 20-17 win over Arizona. Coach Pete Carroll called it a “bittersweet” victory after Seattle saw safety Earl Thomas carted off with a broken left leg in the third quarter.
In Dallas, Brett Maher booted a 38-yard field goal as time expired to seal the Cowboys’ 26-24 victory over Detroit.
The Chargers rallied from an early 14-0 deficit to edge the Jimmy Garoppolo-less San Francisco 49ers 29-27.