The idea of “tests” in the N.F.L. is usually a figurative one — how will Team X respond to the test of So-and-So’s defense? Until this week, pro football had been blissfully unencumbered by the scrambling and rescheduling to deal with positive coronavirus tests that other leagues have dealt with.
Despite the highly anticipated Cam Newton vs. Patrick Mahomes matchup being delayed due to Newton and a Chiefs practice squad quarterback testing positive for Covid-19, much of the N.F.L.’s Week 4 slate goes on, as scheduled. After Saints fullback Michael Burton tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday, his re-test and a rapid test reportedly came back negative, keeping the New Orleans-Detroit game on pace to play. Elsewhere, Tom Brady was pushed to the brink by a rookie quarterback 20 years his junior, Odell Beckham Jr. had a career day, and the league’s unbeatens tried to stick with what’s working.
Bills force fumble, extend lead against Raiders.
In his Bills debut, cornerback Josh Norman, who missed their first three games with a hamstring injury, supplied Buffalo’s most important moment of the game, forcing – and then recovering — a Darren Waller fumble early in the fourth quarter.
With the Raiders trailing by 7, Waller was fighting for extra yards when Norman dislodged the ball from him a la Charles Tillman — punching it out with his fist — and fell on it at the Bills’ 40-yard line.
On the next play, Stefon Diggs toasted the Raiders’ secondary, running a gorgeous route to catch a deep ball over the middle from Josh Allen. The 49-yard reception set up Devin Singletary’s 2-yard touchdown with 11 minutes 17 seconds remaining and pushed Buffalo ahead by 30-16.
Rivers ends Bears’ surprising run.
The ageless Philip Rivers, now with the Indianapolis Colts, wasn’t pretty on Sunday in a 19-11 victory over the Chicago Bears. There was no 400th career passing touchdown to celebrate like last week. No 60,000th passing yard, either.
But Rivers quietly drove the Colts down the field like an old pro, leaning on rookie running back Jonathan Taylor (67 yards rushing) and connecting on passes to nine different receivers. Rivers finished with 190 yards passing and one touchdown. Reluctant to scramble despite a strong Chicago pass rush, Rivers worked the clock, especially in the fourth quarter when he engineered a 13-play, 66-yard drive that ate up more than 7 minutes and ended in a field goal that put the Colts up, 19-3.
Chicago couldn’t muster much offense, though they came alive late in the game to score a touchdown on a pass from quarterback Nick Foles to Allen Robinson. They fell to 3-1. The Colts (3-1) moved into first place in the A.F.C. South, a half game ahead of the Tennessee Titans (3-0), whose game this week was postponed because of a Covid-19 outbreak in their clubhouse.
Giants’ scoring drought continues in loss.
The winless Giants let another opportunity slip away. Their defense kept the high-powered Rams (3-1) offense to just 17 points in Los Angeles, but their touchdown drought stretched another four quarters as they mustered only three field goals, and lost 17-9, falling to 0-4.
The Giants now haven’t scored a touchdown since the third quarter of Week 2 in a loss to the Chicago Bears. They almost broke the streak late against the Rams. Quarterback Daniel Jones, who has won just three times since taking over at starter last year, hit running back Devonta Freeman with two passes. But with under three minutes to go, the Giants failed to convert on fourth-and-11 and turned the ball over at the Rams’ 31 with a little over two minutes remaining.
Jones made another late push down the field, hitting Darius Slayton for a 33-yard strike on the first throw of the Giants’ final drive. But Jones threw his only interception of the day with under a minute to go to seal the game for the Rams.
The Giants have scored just three offensive touchdowns this season. Remarkably, they remain just one game out of first place in the N.F.C. East because the Cowboys and Washington Football team lead the division with just one win.
Goff-to-Kupp touchdown busts out Rams offense.
After a woefully inept third quarter, where neither the Rams nor Giants could do much offensively, Jared Goff found Cooper Kupp wide open behind the Giants secondary for a 55-yard touchdown that put Los Angeles up, 17-9, with seven minutes remaining in the game.
Josh Allen shaken, but returns for Bills.
The Buffalo Bills’ frisky start to the season was briefly imperiled just before halftime Sunday when their quarterback, Josh Allen, landed awkwardly on his left shoulder after completing an improbable pass while falling down.
But Allen, who returned to the sideline after a brief examination off the field, overcame that scare to lead Buffalo to a third touchdown, sneaking it in to extend Buffalo’s advantage to 23-16 — the extra-point attempt was missed — early in the fourth quarter.
Before his 1-yard plunge, Allen completed three straight passes, including a 14-yard dart to John Brown in double coverage that was reviewed to determine whether he crossed the goal line.
Jason Witten scores one for the “old” guys.
Most of the league’s oldest players this season are either quarterbacks or specialists. An exception is Jason Witten, a 38-year-old tight end, who caught his first touchdown as a Las Vegas Raider to cut Buffalo’s lead to 17-13 at halftime. Rolling right, Derek Carr found Witten in the back of the end zone with 19 seconds left in the first half, a reception that helped Witten attain another milestone: 13,000 career receiving yards.
Witten ranks second in receiving yards by tight ends, trailing only Tony Gonzalez, who recorded 15,127, in a career interrupted by a brief foray into broadcasting, in 2018, when he joined ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast.
It’s relatively common for specialists — long snappers, punters and kickers — to have long careers because they tend not to endure the types of high-speed collisions that players at other positions do. Far less so for cornerbacks and linebackers, running backs and receivers — and tight ends like Witten. According to Pro Football Reference, the only other so-called skill player aged 37 or older who has played this season is Jets running back Frank Gore, who is 37.
Rivers still rolling for Colts.
Philip Rivers had been so closely associated with the Chargers, having played there since 2004, it is still jarring to see him in a Colts uniform.
But in Indianapolis, he has continued his almost metronomic success. He surpassed 60,000 yards and 400 touchdown passes last week in a blowout over the Jets. This week, Rivers, who hasn’t missed a game in more than 14 seasons and is now 39, continues to march down the field.
Against the Bears in Chicago, he threw his 401st career touchdown pass and was 10 for 18 with 133 yards passing to put the Colts up, 13-3, at halftime. He spread the ball around, hitting seven different receivers and keeping the Bears pass rush at bay. Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor has handled much of the rest, rushing for 29 yards.
Nick Foles era off to a rough start.
The Chicago Bears won their first three games despite lackluster quarterback play. Now they’ll see how far swapping starting quarterbacks can get them. In Week 3, Coach Matt Nagy benched Mitchell Trubisky in favor of Nick Foles, who threw three touchdowns to give the Bears the win. It came over Atlanta, but still.
Foles has been rustier in his first start of the season — and his first in Chicago after playing in Jacksonville last year. Late in the first half, Foles is 10-16 and 107 yards passing and no touchdown passes. The Bears have started their drives deep in their own territory, which hasn’t helped. The Colts turned a blocked punt into a touchdown to go up, 7-0.
The Bears’ defense has covered for Foles, who went 5-6 passing for 82 yards on a drive that ended with a field goal. With four minutes left in the first half, Colts quarterback Philip Rivers was nearly intercepted on a potential touchdown pass. The Colts settled for a field goal to go up, 10-3.
Josh Allen keeps up Bills attack in Las Vegas.
Imagine being quarantined for the first three weeks of the N.F.L. season, blissfully untethered from television and Twitter and news reports, and then emerging on Sunday to find the Buffalo Bills atop the A.F.C. East at 3-0.
Not that surprising, considering Buffalo was a playoff team last season.
Imagine scanning the league leaders and discovering that in a conference loaded with dynamic young quarterbacks, from the former league M.V.P.s Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes to Deshaun Watson, it is the Buffalo Bills who have the A.F.C.’s most prolific passing attack.
Entering Sunday, Josh Allen led the A.F.C. in passing yards, touchdown passes, yards per pass attempt and yards per completion, adding an explosive dimension to a franchise generally regarded over the last few decades for its rushing prowess.
Already Allen has thrown for touchdowns on Buffalo’s first two possessions at Las Vegas, a 26-yarder to Gabriel Davis and an 11-yarder to Cole Beasley, who held onto the ball as a Raiders defender upended him at the goal line. With about 9 minutes left in the second quarter, Buffalo leads, 14-6.
Allen is, according to the league, the fourth player in league history to amass at least 1,000 passing yards, 10 touchdown passes and a passer rating of at least 120 through his team’s first three games, joining, according to Pro Football Reference, Peyton Manning (2013), Patrick Mahomes (2019) and a Buffalo forebear, Ryan Fitzpatrick who did so with Tampa Bay in 2018.
If he tops 300 passing yards Sunday — he has 122 through two drives — Allen will become the first player to throw for at least that many yards and at least two touchdowns in each of his team’s first four games since Manning in 2013.
The Giants and Rams are playing something like football.
The Giants (0-3) have been atrocious this season with an anemic offense and a middling defense. And remarkably, they are only a half game out of first place in the N.F.C. East.
By day’s end, they could earn a share of first place in the division.
Despite their various woes, the Giants ended the first half of their game against the Rams (2-1) in Los Angeles behind by just four points, 10-6.
The Rams, led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, have kept the heat on quarterback Daniel Jones, who has been sacked four times. But Jones has done just enough to keep the Giants in the game, putting together a 12-play, 65-yard drive to add a field goal just before the half ended.
The Giants defense has kept Jared Goff (89 yards passing) and the Rams offense largely in check for now, and kept alive — for now — a chance to gain a share of first place. The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Football Team, after all, each only have one win.
Odell Beckham Jr.’s third TD was a monster.
It wasn’t Odell Beckham Jr.’s first touchdown Sunday, off a trick play from former L.S.U. teammate Jarvis Landry, that best showcased his absurd combination of talent, speed and athleticism. Nor was it his second touchdown, a 7-yard slant that shook the Dallas defensive back.
It was his third.
On a reverse, Beckham took a pitch 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, evaded Aldon Smith deep in the backfield and then darted down the right sideline, cutting back to dodge would-be tacklers, for a 50-yard touchdown. Coupled with a wild 2-point attempt converted after Cleveland recovered a blocked extra point in the end zone, that touchdown extended the Browns’ lead to 49-38, which became the final score.
It was Beckham’s first three-touchdown game since Nov. 1, 2015, when he caught 8 passes for 130 yards in the Giants’ 52-49 loss to New Orleans. On Sunday, Beckham accounted for 154 yards — 73 on the ground, as the Browns’ second-leading rusher — in helping boost Cleveland to its third consecutive victory.
For the first time since 2001, the Browns are 3-1. They missed the playoffs that season, but made it the following year. Cleveland hasn’t been back since, but one-quarter through the season, it seems poised to contend in the A.F.C., if not the rugged South division.
Tom Brady spread the love in win over Chargers.
The Buccaneers scored on their last five consecutive possessions — four of them touchdowns — to a 38-31 win over the Chargers. The last score was a 25-yard field goal by Ryan Succop late in the fourth quarter. The first in the streak was a 6-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans late in the second quarter that cut the Chargers lead to 24-14. Opening the second half, Brady threw touchdown passes to tight end O.J. Howard, Scotty Miller and Ke’shawn Vaughn.
Brady has thrown eight touchdown passes in his last two games. A last drive by the Chargers ended with an interception of Chargers quarterback Justin Hebert by Tampa Bay’s Carlton Davis.
The Detroit Lions are very good at taking leads.
They are very, very, very (very) bad at preserving them.
In Week 1, they led Chicago by 17 points in the fourth quarter — and lost by 4
In Week 2, they led Green Bay by 11 points after the first quarter — and lost by 21.
In Week 3, they traded leads with Arizona most of the game — and won on a field goal as time expired.
In Week 4, they led New Orleans by 14 points not even 5 minutes into the first quarter — and trailed by 14 at halftime before losing, 35-29.
Only three other teams, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, have led by at least 14 points at the half after trailing by the same margin: the 2011 Jaguars led Tampa Bay, the 1985 Jets led Tampa Bay and the 1965 Vikings led the Rams.
That’s quite an unenviable distinction, and the Lions sure would like to avoid another: None of those three teams that endured the undesired end of a 28-point, first-half swing went on to win more than four games that season. At 1-3, the Lions are on pace to reach that exact total.
Can Tom Brady keep this up?
Brady vs. Herbert is turning into a slugfest in the fourth quarter. Brady found Ke’Shawn Vaughn for a 9-yard touchdown to regain the lead, 35-31, over the Chargers. Vaughn was the fifth Buccaneers receiver to catch a touchdown pass today. Los Angeles went three-and-out on their next possession, putting the ball (and the clock) back in the Buccaneers’ hands with five minutes remaining.
One of Brady’s top targets, tight end O.J. Howard, is out with an Achilles’ injury but Tampa Bay leads Los Angeles, 35-31.
Justin Herbert just did this.
Bolts back on top, 31-28, with 12 minutes remaining in the game.
Tom Brady’s not done yet.
Tom Brady fired the latest salvo in his daylong battle against Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Miller, to give the Buccaneers a brief 28-24 third quarter lead over the Chargers.
It was Brady’s second touchdown on as many possessions after a 28-yard, touchdown pass to tight end O.J. Howard trimmed the Chargers lead to 24-21. Brady, on the eighth play of a drive, waited in the pocket as Howard split two defenders and then outran Chargers linebacker Kyzir White into the end zone where he caught Brady’s pass in stride.
Chargers place-kicker Michael Badgley missed a 47-yard field goal attempt with one minute and 44 seconds remaining in the third quarter to set up the drive, in which Brady completed four other passes — two to Mike Evans — for 36 yards. The Buccaneers had trailed 24-7 early in the second quarter until Brady threw a 6-yard touchdown to Evans with 28 seconds left in the first half.
It’s not Dak Prescott’s fault.
At halftime, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott had completed 13 of 16 passes for 197 yards and two long touchdowns. So how come the Cowboys went down, 31-14, to the Cleveland Browns?
Two partly entwined reasons.
The Cowboys’ defense, atrocious the last two weeks, has been atrociouser Sunday. It’s allowed 333 (!) first-half yards, 5 of 6 third-down conversions (!!) and 9.1 rushing yards (!!!) per carry. However, it’s also been undermined by critical Dallas fumbles — on consecutive offensive snaps (!!!!) — that Cleveland parlayed into touchdowns.
On the first, Prescott double-clutched on his dropback, allowing Myles Garrett — matched up against an undrafted rookie, Terence Steele — another split-second to dislodge the ball. Olivier Vernon recovered, and four plays later, Baker Mayfield connected with Austin Hooper for a touchdown.
On the Cowboys’ next play, Ezekiel Elliott lost the ball at the end of a 24-yard run. The Browns fell on it at their 49 and capitalized on the good field position by converting the takeaway into a Kareem Hunt touchdown.
After throwing for 922 combined yards the last two weeks, Prescott seems en route to another staggering passing performance. It might not be enough to counteract his team’s defensive misery — and his own unit’s penchant for turning the ball over.
Lamar Jackson has his first rushing TD of the year.
With a spectacular sprint up the middle of the field, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson ran for one touchdown, adding to one passing score as Baltimore surged to a 21-10 halftime lead over the Washington Football Team. Mark Ingram opened the scoring for the Ravens with a 1-yard touchdown run. Later in the first quarter, Jackson dashed around right end then cut inside and ran virtually untouched into the end zone on a 50-yard score.
Washington responded with a 10-play possession that ended with 2-yard touchdown rush by Antonio Gibson. Jackson came back with a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mark Andrews, but an interception of a Jackson pass late in the half led to a 43-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins that cut the Ravens lead to 21-10.
Jackson completed six of 13 passes in the first half for 103 yards and ran for 57 yards on four rushing attempts. Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins completed 16 of 22 passes for 149 yards.
Jags-Bengals is turning out to be … compelling?
A 28-yard pass from Jacksonville’s Gardner Minshew to wide receiver Laviska Shenault in the final seconds of the first half of the Jaguars game at Cincinnati led to a 20-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas that gave Jacksonville a 13-10 halftime lead.
The Bengals had tied their game, 10-10, roughly two minutes earlier when quarterback Joe Burrow flipped a 9-yard swing pass to running back Joe Mixon, who tiptoed up the right sideline and leapt into the end zone. Both Minshew and Burrow have thrown a costly interception in the game.
With Chubb out, Browns run it up with Kareem Hunt.
Five possessions, four touchdowns for the Cleveland Browns, who are pummeling a porous Dallas defense. The latest score, a 2-yard run by Kareem Hunt that extended the Browns’ lead to 28-14 midway through the second quarter, is the first on the ground Sunday by the A.F.C.’s second-leading rushing offense.
Hunt is assuming a heavier workload after one of the N.F.L.’s leading rushers, Nick Chubb, sustained a knee injury that sidelined him in the first half. He is out for the game. Chubb’s injury came on a freak play: As Baker Mayfield escaped the pocket and rolled right, away from him, the Dallas defensive lineman Trysten Hill was blocked into Chubb, causing him to fall at an awkward angle.
Entering Sunday, Chubb, who had 6 carries for 43 yards before getting hurt, had rushed for 292 yards, trailing only Tennessee’s Derrick Henry (319), Green Bay’s Aaron Jones (303) and Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook (294).
Tom Brady vs. Justin Herbert has a 20-year age gap.
The Chargers-Buccaneers game pits Tom Brady, 42, and rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, 22, and the 20-year, 219-day gap in age between the quarterbacks is the biggest in N.F.L. history. But midway through the second quarter, Herbert is having the better day.
Herbert threw his second touchdown pass to tight end Donald Parham to put Los Angeles ahead, 21-7. At the end of a 13-play drive, Herbert lofted a nifty touch pass that Parham, who is 6-foot-8, jumped over a defender to snatch out of the air. Herbert has completed eight of 11 passes for 116 yards. Brady has struggled to move Tampa Bay since its opening drive, which led to a touchdown.
Alvin Kamara leads Saints out of deficit.
The Saints might be playing without six starters, and they nearly lost two more players to injury on one series, but at least they still have a healthy Alvin Kamara. Three plays after extending the drive with a 29-yard catch on fourth-and-4, Kamara bulled into the end zone from 1 yard out to even the score in Detroit at 14-14.
The Saints, after a rough start, are coping well without tight end Jared Cook, defensive end Marcus Davenport, cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore, receiver Michael Thomas and offensive lineman Andrus Peat, all of whom were ruled out on Friday. After Kamara’s touchdown, the Saints thwarted a promising Lions drive by intercepting Matthew Stafford in the end zone. New Orleans has scored 21 straight points to go up 21-14 on Detroit with under three minutes remaining.
Tom Brady continues INT troubles against Chargers.
Tom Brady began the game with a smooth and efficient opening drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown to tight end Cameron Brate — the Buccaneers’ third opening drive touchdown of the season.
But the Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert answered with a long touchdown — a 53-yard bomb to Tyron Johnson — on his team’s first drive to tie the score, 7-7.
On the Buccaneers next possession, Brady threw his fourth pick-six in his last six games when Chargers cornerback Michael Davis stepped in front of Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans and intercepted a sideline pass, returning it 78 yards for a touchdown that put the Chargers ahead, 14-7. On the Buccaneers previous possession, Evans had beaten Davis on a similar route along the left sideline.
Los Angeles running back Austin Ekeler appeared to sustain a serious injury to his left knee late in the first quarter of the Chargers game with Tampa Bay. Running to his right, Ekeler avoided a low tackle but his left leg seemed to hyperextend. He continued upfield but could not put weight on his left leg and was knocked to the ground. Ekeler was helped off the field and eventually hopped on one leg to a cart which transported him off the field.
Saints start in a quick hole.
After a night spent contact-tracing and testing players in the wake of their starting fullback’s false positive test, the New Orleans Saints have gotten out to a horrific start in Detroit.
On the Lions’ opening drive, Matthew Stafford exploited a diluted Saints defense on third-and-9 from their own 36-yard line for a 50-yard pass play. He connected with Danny Amendola, who turned a short pass into a long catch, dodging tacklers to set up Detroit’s first touchdown, a 7-yard reception by running back D’Andre Swift.
Drew Brees’s first play from scrimmage, a short pass over the middle intended for Emmanuel Sanders, was picked off by Detroit cornerback Darryl Roberts and returned to the New Orleans 16-yard line. The turnover positioned the Lions for a three-play drive, capped by Stafford’s 15-yard pass to Kenny Golladay.
Not even 5 minutes into the game, New Orleans trailed by 14-0. But the Saints responded with a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive that Latavius Murray finished with a flourish, a powerful 3-yard run.
Landry-to-OBJ TD puts Cleveland on the board.
When Jarvis Landry heard that his team, the Cleveland Browns, acquired Odell Beckham Jr. before last season, he started to sob. “He was like, say it ain’t so, coach,” the former Browns receivers coach Adam Henry recalled last summer. “He was just quiet, like he was crying on the phone.”
Beckham and Landry have a deep connection. They grew up an hour or so apart in Louisiana, where their friendship blossomed in high school. They played together at L.S.U. They wanted to play together in the N.F.L. someday, to share the same locker room, to make dazzling catches in warm-ups together, to collaborate on plays that produced the Browns’ first touchdown on Sunday.
On first-and-10 from the Cleveland 37-yard line, Landry took a pitch from Nick Chubb and whipped a magnificent spiral downfield to Beckham, who was open in the end zone.
It was another encouraging sign from a Cleveland offense that has relied on the run — the Browns are the only team, with Chubb and Kareem Hunt, to have two 200-yard rushers this season — to win the last two games. But it was also another discouraging moment for the Cowboys’ defense, which was torched by Russell Wilson last week and, over all, allowed nine touchdown passes heading into Sunday.
Make that 10.
Ranking the likelihood that teams can get to 4-0 on Sunday.
With Tennessee and Pittsburgh inadvertently idle, Green Bay playing on Monday and Kansas City having to wait for their game until Monday or Tuesday, just three teams have a shot at improving to 4-0 on Sunday. Here is a ranking of the likelihood that each of them gets there.
1. Seattle — The Seahawks are setting N.F.L. records on offense, and doing absolutely nothing to help on defense. It’s an issue as far as the team’s Super Bowl prospects, but it is unlikely to matter against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Miami Dolphins (1-2), even on the road.
2. Buffalo — The Bills have a lot to work out before they can truly be considered a contender, but quarterback Josh Allen is loving life with wide receiver Stefon Diggs. That dynamic duo gives the team a solid shot at victory in a road game against the Las Vegas Raiders (2-1), but Buffalo’s defense will need to play far better than it has this season if they want to continue their winning streak.
3. Chicago — There is no reasonable explanation for the Bears being 3-0 other than luck. The team’s defense is not terrible, but it’s hardly good enough to make up for an offense in such turmoil that they had a quarterback controversy without ever losing a game. Now, with Nick Foles set as the starter, they are hosting the 2-1 Indianapolis Colts, and while anything is possible, Chicago won’t want to bank on the Colts simply handing them a victory like Detroit and Atlanta did.
Can the Browns party like it’s 2001?
A road game against the Dallas Cowboys (1-2) is a fairly stiff test, but the Cleveland Browns would come away with something sensational if they were able to win: a 3-1 record for the first time since 2001 and just the second time since the franchise was resurrected in 1999.
If they make it through this week unscathed, the Browns would then host Indianapolis in Week 5 with a chance at 4-1. They have not started that well since the 1994, when their 4-1 start turned into an 11-5 finish and a wild-card round win over New England — the last playoff win in franchise history.
The best Browns start, however, came in 1948, when Otto Graham led them to a 14-0 regular season and the A.A.F.C. championship.
Chiefs-Patriots moved to Monday night.
With no new positive coronavirus tests among the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, the N.F.L. announced that their game — scheduled for Sunday afternoon — will be played Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
The game will start at 7:05 p.m. Eastern time, and to accommodate that change, the league pushed back the Monday Night Football matchup between Atlanta and Green Bay to 8:50 p.m.
The league on Saturday postponed the Chiefs-Patriots game after two players — New England quarterback Cam Newton and the Kansas City practice-squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu — tested positive, delaying one of the early season’s more intriguing games and casting doubt upon the N.F.L.’s ability to contest a full season.
Additional testing of players and employees conducted Saturday and Sunday revealed no new positive tests, giving the N.F.L. confidence that the game could be played this week. The N.F.L. said that Kansas City and New England worked with the players’ union and infectious disease experts to conduct contact tracing, though it is still possible, given the incubation period of the virus, that other positive tests emerge.
The Tennessee Titans, fighting to contain an outbreak within their organization that is known to have infected 20 members, have had players or personnel test positive for six consecutive days, causing their scheduled Week 4 game against Pittsburgh to be postponed and imperiling their next game, at home Buffalo on Oct. 11.
These are not Tom Brady’s Patriots.
It’s almost impossible to estimate how big of an impact it will be for the New England Patriots to play without Cam Newton this week, as he has quickly spearheaded a radical challenge in the team’s offense in just three starts for the team. Thanks to Newton, Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead, the Patriots are leading the N.F.L. in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns and are fifth in the N.F.L. in yards per carry.
How unusual is that? In the entire Brady era, the Patriots never finished better than fifth in rushing yards and were a top-10 team just seven times. Meanwhile, they finished in the N.F.L.’s bottom 10 in rushing yards four times, with a low mark of 30th in 2015.
New England’s change in style would have been incredibly relevant this week, as the Kansas City Chiefs are perhaps the N.F.L.’s best team, but their closest thing to a weak link is their ability to defend the run, with their defense ranked 30th of 32 teams in run defense efficiency, according to Football Outsiders.
But to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, the Patriots would have needed the threat of Newton’s passing to set up the team’s running game, and Brian Hoyer simply does not have that same level of respect from opposing defenses.
The Titans and the Steelers will have to wait.
As players and staff members of the Tennessee Titans continued to test positive for the coronavirus throughout the week, it was clear that the team’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers could not be contested. The league had initially hoped they could play Monday or Tuesday, but instead this matchup of 3-0 teams has been pushed to Week 7 — the Titans’ bye-week and an easy enough switch for Pittsburgh, which will have its game against Baltimore pushed ahead to what would have been both of those teams’ bye weeks in Week 8.
That the change in schedule only affected three teams, and won’t require anyone to play outside of their normal seven-day preparation cycle, is fairly impressive, but the change will mean that both Tennessee and Pittsburgh will finish the regular season playing in 13 consecutive weeks without a break. If either were to wear down at the end of the season, this compromise will surely be cited.