The Final Word: Odell Beckham Jr, the year of the comeback and impossible situations

It was a challenging week in the NFL with two Sunday games being postponed, but once the action on the field got underway, there were all the usual exciting plays, dramatic comebacks and big talking points. With Week 4 in the books, here are my reflections.

Five Major Takeaways from Week Four

1) Impossible situations coming

The New England Patriots played the Kansas City Chiefs tough in a hastily-arranged Monday Night Football clash which came off the back of star quarterback Cam Newton testing positive for Covid-19. But Bill Belichick’s men eventually fell to a 26-10 defeat, running out of steam after only trailing by three with nine minutes remaining.

It’s hardly surprising his group ran out of legs. The Patriots travelled to Kansas City on Monday, landing about seven hours before kickoff. That’s plenty of prep time but also a lot of hours spent on the road and kicking heels waiting for the game. Also, quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham had little time to prepare and, not surprisingly, tossed up three interceptions.

It was just an impossible situation for the Patriots and more of them could be coming down the road if another coronavirus outbreak occurs, which it surely will. These are the types of competitive imbalances the NFL warned us about if the 2020 season were to go ahead. It’s not fair, but this is going to be a bumpy season and such imbalances are likely and have to be accepted.

2) The first head coach casualty

I would have put good money on the first head coach casualty of the season being Adam Gase, of the New York Jets, or Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons. I’ve been warning for months now that Bill O’Brien would be in trouble in 2020 if the Houston Texans stuttered. But I thought he might be safe for a while given that he was also the team’s general manager.

I was wrong! O’Brien headed into this season on shaky ground having traded away superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals, thus ripping the rug from underneath franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson.

An 0-4 start has not helped and things look even bleaker in Houston when you consider Miami own the Texans’ first and second round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft courtesy of a previous O’Brien trade for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. O’Brien the general manager made some questionable moves that eventually got O’Brien the coach fired.

3) The Browns have an identity

It’s not easy being a Cleveland Browns fan. There has been years of losing, the rotating of failed quarterbacks and a steady coming and going of head coaches. Even last season – which was supposed to promise so much – proved to be a disaster.

Throughout all of the turmoil that has swirled around this team for the past two decades has been one constant. The Browns seem to lack an identity and we don’t really know who or what they are. That obviously is the result of constant change at the top and on the field.

We’re only four weeks into the 2020 season and Kevin Stefanski’s reign as head coach, but it is clear what he wants these Browns to be. We saw it during Sunday’s eye-opening 49-38 win over the Dallas Cowboys. The Browns ran the ball to the tune of 307 yards and totally controlled the line of scrimmage.

But they are about more than just pounding the rock. Cleveland got creative off the threat of the run with Baker Mayfield compiling an excellent quarterback rating of 100+ for the third game in a row. There were even end-around runs to Odell Beckham Jr. (more on him later) and a touchdown pass from one receiver to another as Jarvis Landry found OBJ deep downfield. The Browns have a plan and have the look of being a playoff team.

4) Defense letting Dak down

I feel sorry for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who seems to need more than 450 passing yards every week just to give his team a shot at victory. To that point, Dak threw for 502 yards against the Browns and became the first quarterback in NFL history to top 450 yards through the air in three straight weeks on Sunday… and he still lost by 11 points.

The Cowboys might have made an expensive mistake not signing Dak to a long-term contract in the offseason. Prescott is on pace to throw for 6,760 yards (the single-season record is 5,477 set by Peyton Manning in Denver in 2013). You don’t think Dak and his agent will hold those numbers against the Cowboys at the negotiating table?

As for that Dallas defense. It is truly terrible. They were awful against the pass in the first three weeks of the season and were even worse against the run on Sunday. They were pushed around, bullied and played with a total lack of fire and discipline. Dallas have now allowed at least 38 points in three straight games for the first time since 1960 – the first in franchise history.

5) The year of the comeback

Week Four was a reminder that this 2020 season is becoming the year of the comeback. On Sunday, Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers came from 17 points down to beat the Los Angeles Chargers in a 38-31 thriller.

There were many incredible numbers from that game, but the most jarring might have been this one… that result means there has now been a comeback win from at least 16 points down in every week of this 2020 campaign. That is pretty incredible.

New Orleans also came from 14 down to beat Detroit and that was the sixth such comeback this season – the most in NFL history through four weeks. No team is out of a game in this already-weird season and I’m not sure if that speaks to the mental strength of those who come back or the mental frailty of those blowing leads. Either way, it’s entertaining for us fans!

Players of the Week: Odell Beckham Jr.

Others around the league had bigger numbers but few made as big an explosive impact as Odell Beckham Jr. during Cleveland’s big win in Dallas. Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said after the game that he is making it a priority to feed OBJ the ball early in games. That makes sense. He thrives in the spotlight and wants to be the centre of attention. Go away from him and OBJ can disappear. He was sensational on Sunday, scoring on catches covering 37 and four yards; and a game-clinching 50-yard run just as the Cowboys were threatening one of the more miraculous comebacks in recent NFL history.

Play of the Week

My favourite play this week was not some X’s and O’s masterpiece, drawn up by a mad scientist of a head coach after hours of breaking down film. This was pretty simple. Toss the ball to your playmaker on a wide receiver screen and let pure and unadulterated athleticism take over. That was the case on Brandon Aiyuk’s 38-yard catch and run in San Francisco’s 25-20 loss to Philadelphia. After receiving a short lateral from Nick Mullens, Aiyuk was off to the races after bouncing away from two would-be tacklers 12 yards downfield. But the explosive rookie saved the best until last as he hurdled Marcus Epps at the eight-yard line before landing – on the same foot so he could stay in bounds – at the three to race in for one of the most memorable touchdowns I have seen in a long time.

Coach of the Week

Ron Rivera’s Washington Football Team lost 31-17 to Baltimore on Sunday in a game that was never that competitive. But Rivera still gets my vote because I cannot believe how he is coaching on while undergoing chemotherapy treatment as he battles cancer. Rivera had IV fluids before the game and had to lean on a staff member as he walked off at halftime, yet he was still there for his team. Amazing. That said, I hope coach puts his health and safety first and takes some time off soon. I think he needs it and his team and the NFL will be there when he comes back stronger and fitter than ever. It’s time for coach to put himself first for a little while.

On my Radar

I’m worried about this recent nose-dive from the Arizona Cardinals, who were the talk of the offseason and supposed playoff contenders in 2020. I picked the Cards to make the postseason this year because I truly believe that quarterback Kyler Murray is going to be special. But playoff teams who start the season 2-0 do not drop back to back games against Detroit and Carolina, with all due respect to those clubs. Arizona’s offense has struggled to move and protect the football over the past two weeks and that is concerning and surprising. Let’s see if they can respond.

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