By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
With one-fourth of the season complete, the biggest surprise isn’t Minnesota with Sam Bradford, Philadelphia with Carson Wentz, Denver with Trevor Siemian and/or Carson Lynch or New England with anybody. It's Oakland … and the Los Angeles Rams.
Yes, Oakland. And the Los Angeles Rams .
Not only are the Raiders 3-1; all three of their victories were on the road, and two were accomplished with late last-gasp rallies – with Sunday's come-from-behind defeat of previously unbeaten Baltimore the latest. Those are games the Raiders would’ve lost a year ago. But they're games they're winning now, and stay tuned.
Maybe, just maybe, this is Oakland's year.
The three-game road winning streak is the Raiders' first since 2000, and that’s significant. Reason: The last time these guys had a winning season … a winning season … was 2002. And in 2000?Uh-huh, they reached the AFC conference championship game, losing at home to Baltimore.
But there's more. Not only are the Raiders bullet-proof on the road, but the last two games their defense held when it had to – and, remember: This is a unit that leaked like the S.S. Minnow, hemorrhaging over 500 yards in its first two starts.
Bottom line: Yes, it's early, but it's not too soon to pay attention to what's happening in Oakland. The Raiders are a factor again, and, yes, that is news.
Now look at the Rams. They haven’t had a winning season since 2003, and they're 3-1, too, having just overcome Arizona at Arizona, where the Cards won 20 of their last 26. What's more, they did it with Case Keenum, not Todd Gurley, making the big plays. That’s three straight for the Rams, and two straight on the road.
As I said, it's early, but keep this in mind: They’ve beaten Seattle and Arizona, division champs the past three years, and they held them to a combined 16 points. In a league where defense matters, maybe the Rams make like the Raiders and do the improbable – make themselves matter again.
It's about time.
- Another big surprise: Carolina. And not in a good way. The Panthers lost one game all last season en route to the Super Bowl but have lost four of their last six regular-season games and five of their last nine, period. Not good. Worse, they just lost the reigning MVP, Cam Newton, to a concussion. The Panthers were supposed to run away with the NFC South, but they're doing little more than running in place right now.
- Cam Newton's father was right. His son is taking too many hits and deserves to be protected … by his offensive line.
- First-quarter MVP: My vote goes to Atlanta's Matt Ryan, the NFL passing leader who has the Falcons on top of the NFC South and who just completed his second straight defeat of the Panthers. Oh, yeah, the Falcons also scored 45 or more points in back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history and 35 or more in their last three.
- Mike Tomlin called it "Redemption Sunday," but that wasn't redemption. It was a beatdown. Steelers' fans, you can come in off the ledge.
- Just a hunch, but had you polled Patriots' fans prior to the season they would've taken 3-1 in a heartbeat. Yes, the Pats were just blanked for the first time at Gillette Stadium since … well, since ever. But fear not, people: Tom Brady and the Pats are about to wreak havoc on the rest of the schedule. This is what is known as payback time, and, if you don’t know what I'm talking about, check out the last 15 games of the 2007 regular season.
- Russell Wilson on one leg is better … and I mean way better … than Ryan Fitzpatrick on two.
- It's time someone starts appreciating Wilson for the elite quarterback he's become. The guy completed his 25th game with two or more TDs and no interceptions, the most by any NFL player in his first five seasons.
- Attention, Ryan Pace: Tell me again why releasing Robbie Gould was the right thing to do.
- The Redskins may support DeSean Jackson's decision to make a statement by wearing police-tape cleats, but, guaranteed, the league office won't. Expect a fine.
- No J.J. Watt, no problem for Houston. The Texans will win the AFC South not because they're so good but because the rest of the division is so bad. The Texans are 3-1. Everyone else is 3-9.
- Maybe the Jags should move to London. That was their second straight win at Wembley Stadium. They’ve had one two-game winning streak in three seasons.
- Frank Gore passed Hall-of-Famers Marcus Allen and Marshall Faulk, as well as Hall-of-Fame finalist Edgerrin James, for 10th on the all –time NFL rushing list. But who sees Gore as a Hall of Famer?
- Let's hear it for Buffalo linebacker Zach Brown. No, there was no Tom Brady in New England. But there was plenty of Brown … everywhere, with the Bills' linebacker making 18 tackles, including one sack, and forcing two fumbles.
- If only Carolina had someone like, say, Josh Norman to cover Julio Jones.
- The more I see of DeMarco Murray, the more I'm convinced it wasn’t him … but the Eagles' offensive line … that was the problem in Philadelphia. You can't run to daylight when there is none.
- That was a HUGE win for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. It happened on the road without Dez Bryant, and it happened with another big game from Ezekiel Elliott and no Prescott turnovers. Connect the dots, people.
- Maybe Cody Parkey should attempt no field goals under 50 yards. Hes 5-for-5 there in his career. He missed three inside the 50 last week.
- Consider that Josh McCown injury a blessing, Cleveland. You're beginning to see the future in Cody Kessler.
- Someone leave wake-up calls for Arizona and, oh, by the way, bring some glue, too. The Cards have zero first-quarter points in their first four games and 10 turnovers in their last two .
- I guess it doesn’t matter who quarterbacks Denver. Anyone but Mark Sanchez … and the Broncos are OK.
WHAT WE LEARNED …
(Andrew Luck photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)
Andrew Luck should be outfitted for a suit of armor. His offensive line cannot pass protect.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are who we thought they were.
Nobody beats the San Diego Chargers like ... the San Diego Chargers.
Chip Kelly should go back to college football.
Even the weather in Tampa has had enough of the Bucs. That’s the second straight week thunderstorms interrupted a Bucs' loss in the fourth quarter.
Michael Crabtree is the perfect complement to Amari Cooper.
Ezekiel Elliott is the early favorite not only to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year but the league's rushing title.
Time for Fantasy-Football owners to wake up to San Diego's Hunter Henry.
… AND WHAT WE DIDN’T
(Darrelle Revis photo courtesy of the N.Y. Jets)
If that Jets' game was, as Darrelle Revis called it, "a must-win," what do we make of his team now?
Why the Colts had Frank Gore on the bench on a fourth-and-1, with a minute-and-a-half left. Stupid.
Why officials didn’t send New England's Jacoby Brissett to the sidelines after he took a hit to the head in the third quarter. I thought that was what the concussion protocol was supposed to do.
What Jordan Howard was doing as the Bears third-string back.
What it takes for San Diego to protect a fourth-quarter lead.
What's wrong with Kansas City. The Chiefs were lucky to beat San Diego in Week One and scored just 24 points last Sunday when it forced eight takeaways. Now this. The Chiefs need a break ... and they get one next weekend with a bye.
Why the Ravens' John Harbaugh accepted a third-down penalty vs. the Raiders rather than declining it to force them to settle for a field goal. It cost him a touchdown … and, eventually, the game.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMER
(Julio Jones photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons)
Atlanta WR Julio Jones. He had a franchise-record 300 yards in catches, including 170 in the first half, and a game-clinching touchdown late vs. Carolina. Jones had catches of 75, 53, 43, 32 and 22 yards against a defense that a year ago was one of the best. But not Sunday. The Panthers were gashed for 571 yards, including seven plays of 20 or more yards and four of 42 or more, and tell me the last time you remember that happening.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF SHAMER
San Diego coach Mike McCoy. He blows a 21-point second-half lead to Kansas City. He blows a late lead vs. Indianapolis. He blows a 13-point fourth-quarter lead to previously winless New Orleans. Enough is enough. McCoy is 23-29 in his career and lost 18 of his last regular-season 24 starts – which means he's not getting better; he's getting worse. Yeah, I know, the Chargers have injuries … but so does just about everyone. And, uh-huh, I get that he wasn't the guy who fumbled away those footballs in the fourth quarter. The Chargers could be ... should be ... 4-0. But bad teams find ways to lose, and the Chargers are proof. There are no more excuses. It's time to admit what the Chargers should have realized a year ago – McCoy is overmatched.