Sunday got off to a rocky start when the N.F.L. announced it would delay this week’s game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots because of continuing issues with the coronavirus. The decision led to a cascade of changes in the coming schedule, and is sure to be a frequent topic of conversation as teams adjust on the fly.
As for the day’s action, there were surprising results, multiple close games and a feel-good comeback by Alex Smith that almost no one predicted. It was not all good news, however. The 0-5 Atlanta Falcons fired their coach and their general manager, and Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys sustained a gruesome injury that appears to have ended his season.
Here’s what we learned:
Dak Prescott’s record-setting season is almost assuredly over. Prescott had scrambled for a 9-yard gain in the third quarter of Sunday’s game against the Giants when the Cowboys quarterback had his legs tangle underneath him as he was tackled. His right foot appeared to spin around and the veteran sat on the field clenching his calf as medical staff ran to help him. He was in tears as he was taken off the field on the back of a cart and was replaced by Andy Dalton, who led the team to a narrow 37-34 victory.
Prescott, who threw for at least 450 yards in each of his three previous games — an N.F.L. first — set a record for the most passing yards through the first four games of the season, with 1,690. The outburst of productivity followed an off-season in which he failed to come to terms with Dallas on a long-term contract extension.
No official timetable was given for his recovery, but the team confirmed that Prescott sustained a compound fracture and dislocation of the ankle and that he would have surgery on it immediately. Team owner Jerry Jones said he has “no doubt” Prescott will be able to return as the team’s leader eventually and Prescott’s brother shared a photo of Dak in the hospital smiling. But on top of an arduous recovery, the ramifications of the injury will likely affect Prescott’s contract negotiations with Dallas this off-season.
Top Passer: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick has had more than his fair share of ups and downs in a 16-season career, and this was one of his bigger ups. Whether it is enough to give him job security with Tua Tagovailoa waiting in the wings is only truly known by Coach Brian Flores, but Fitzpatrick’s current ratio of three good games to two bad ones this season certainly makes an argument for keeping him on the field.
Top Runner: Ezekiel Elliott
Todd Gurley II of the Falcons had more rushing yards (and an absurd 8.6 yards a carry), but in addition to his 105 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, Elliott deserves credit for keeping his team together after the loss of quarterback Dak Prescott. Elliott scored his second touchdown just three plays after Prescott’s injury, and those points proved vital in a game that came down to the final seconds.
Top Receiver: Chase Claypool
Claypool had just six receptions over the first three games of his career, taking the field for less than 40 percent of his team’s snaps in two of the three games. In his fourth game he was absolutely dominant, becoming the third rookie wide receiver in N.F.L. history to have four touchdowns in a single game, joining Jerry Butler (Sept. 23, 1979) and Harlon Hill (Oct. 31, 1954).
One* Sentence About Sunday’s Games
*Except when it takes more.
Browns 32, Colts 23 In October 1994, “Pulp Fiction,” “Forrest Gump,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and “Jurassic Park” were all in theaters and the Browns, coached by Bill Belichick, were 4-1. Since then, the Browns picked up and moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season, were resurrected in Cleveland in 1999 and had 56 players throw at least one pass. But until Sunday they had not managed another 4-1 start.
Raiders 40, Chiefs 32 Not only did the Chiefs lose for the first time since Nov. 10, 2019, they did so at home while watching a team look an awful lot like them: the rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs III used his game-changing speed to burn Kansas City’s defense for 113 yards on just two receptions, one of which was a 72-yard touchdown.
Cowboys 37, Giants 34 Dallas has to be happy that they invested in a veteran backup, as Andy Dalton may not be perfect, but he’s a lot better than what many teams would have if they lost their franchise quarterback for the season. Salvaging a win in this game was a start, but the execution will obviously need improvement.
Ravens 27, Bengals 3 Lamar Jackson had a day well below his typical standards, but Baltimore didn’t need much from its offense thanks to a terrific effort from its defense, which reminded Joe Burrow that he is a rookie. Seven players record a sack for the Ravens, including Patrick Queen, who had nine tackles, a sack and two fumble recoveries, the second of which he returned 53 yards for a touchdown.
Seahawks 27, Vikings 26 Seattle isn’t the only undefeated team, but they are the first team to 5-0 thanks to Green Bay’s bye week and various delays for other teams caused by the coronavirus. For Minnesota, the biggest concern (besides dropping to 1-4) was a groin injury sustained by running back Dalvin Cook that could affect him going forward.
Steelers 38, Eagles 29 A win is a win, but Pittsburgh should be concerned both by its secondary struggling against Philadelphia and one of the team’s top off-season acquisitions, tight end Eric Ebron, having a rough fourth quarter in which he fumbled the ball away in a key situation on one drive and got pushed out of the way for a near interception — the ball hit the ground before it was caught — on the next one.
Dolphins 43, 49ers 17 Miami outgained San Francisco by nearly 200 yards, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three touchdown passes and Jimmy Garoppolo was benched for his own safety in a game that went off the rails immediately for the defending N.F.C. champions.
Rams 30, Footballers 10 Los Angeles got an easy win on the road as Jared Goff threw for 309 yards, the rookie running back Cam Akers returned from an injury to average 6.8 yards a carry, Robert Woods hauled in a 56-yard touchdown pass and Aaron Donald tied his career high with four sacks.
Cardinals 30, Jets 10 DeAndre Hopkins’s injured ankle appeared to be healed, as he torched the Jets for six catches, 131 yards and a touchdown, ruining Joe Flacco’s first start since Week 8 of last season.
Panthers 23, Falcons 16 Todd Gurley turned the clock way back with 121 yards (on just 14 carries) and a touchdown, Calvin Ridley had eight receptions for 136 yards and Atlanta still lost by a touchdown, at home, to a team missing its best player. It makes you wonder how this team, as constructed, could ever win a game. So it makes sense that the team fired Coach Dan Dan Quinn and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff.
Texans 30, Jaguars 14 You’d have to work hard to find a play executed more poorly than a fourth-and-1 at the opponent’s 8-yard line in which a team trailing by 13-7 (Jacksonville) did a direct snap to a running back (James Robinson), had him roll out as if he was going to pass only to have him simply drop the ball with no contact for a turnover that all but decided the game in Houston’s favor.