What we learned in NFL Week 4: Contending Bills, slumping Steelers and a rookie QB shines

Forty minutes after one of the finest afternoons of his successful, seven-year tenure in Buffalo, Bills coach Sean McDermott sat at the postgame dais and praised his team’s preparation and performance. Then he singled out two players specifically, the two that had spearheaded a 28-point demolition of the hottest team in football in the biggest game of the week.

“It’s a team win, but your star players have to play at star levels in these games,” McDermott said.

Sunday felt like a statement: McDermott’s team isn’t going anywhere, not anytime soon. Not after the Bills rolled the Dolphins, 48-20, in a game that wasn’t close after halftime. Buffalo looked like Super Bowl contenders from the start, and the two players McDermott was referring to — quarterback Josh Allen and wideout Stefon Diggs — were utterly unstoppable. Allen slid his name into the MVP conversation, if it wasn’t already there, piling up more touchdowns (five) than incompletions (four), while Diggs torched the Dolphins’ secondary for 120 yards and three touchdowns.

A week after lighting up the Broncos for 70 points, Miami was humbled, thoroughly and convincingly, by the team it is still chasing in the AFC East. This was the Bills flexing their muscle, reminding the rest of the league how formidable they can be when they’re at their best. On Sunday, they were.

After this one, the Bills (3-1) belong in the conversation among the league’s elite, two of which remain unbeaten after Sunday: Philadelphia edged Washington in overtime, and San Francisco finished off Arizona to join them at 4-0. The 49ers also became the first team since the 2013 Broncos to score 30 or more points in seven consecutive games (San Francisco’s streak dates back to Week 16 of last season).

Meanwhile, the Cowboys, another NFC contender, looked whole again after a stunning loss to Arizona last week. They dismantled the Patriots, 38-3, New England’s worst loss in the Bill Belichick era. It was the Cowboys’ third win by 20 or more points in four games this season.

Here’s what we learned from the afternoon slate of games in Week 4:

Josh Allen and the Bills make a (very loud) statement

The marquee game of the NFL’s fourth weekend featured the hottest offense in football — fresh off a historic, 70-point eruption seven days prior — and the division rival they can’t seem to beat, at least not when it matters most. The story stayed the same Sunday, serving up two stark reminders: The Dolphins still haven’t proven they can get the best of the Bills, and Buffalo absolutely, unequivocally remains a Super Bowl contender.

Forget their Week 1 loss to the Jets. As evidenced by the Bills’ 48-20 throttling of the Dolphins, they look like a completely different team now, one that can win it all come February.

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On a warm, sun-splashed day in western New York, the Bills put together a stunningly complete performance. This was Allen at his MVP-worthy best. Same for Diggs. Same for McDermott, who showered the Dolphins’ high-powered offense with praise all week, then owned Miami for three hours Sunday afternoon, badly outcoaching Mike McDaniel in the process.

The Bills scored on four of their first five drives, forced two turnovers and sacked Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa four times. “A humbling,” both Tagovailoa and receiver Tyreek Hill called it — and they’re right. A week after torching the Broncos, Miami came back to earth. The Dolphins have now lost 10 of 11 to the Bills and haven’t won in Buffalo since 2016.

How long ago was that for the franchise? It was Adam Gase’s first year as coach.


C.J. Stroud has yet to throw an interception in his rookie season. (Leslie Plaza Johnson / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

C.J. Stroud isn’t coming — he’s here 

A rookie passer is coming into his own in Houston, making all those who doubted him and knocked him and picked him apart during the draft process look foolish. C.J. Stroud has arrived — earlier than plenty believed he would. And his quick ascent has helped the Texans rip off a pair of convincing victories, placing them squarely in the AFC South race. Houston is 2-2 for the first time since 2019, and you can add Stroud’s name to the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation, if not place it right at the top. He’s been that good.

Stroud — the No. 2 pick in April’s draft behind Bryce Young — has thrown for 1,212 yards over his first four games, second-most in league history, trailing only what the Panthers’ Cam Newton did in 2011. Stroud passed Andrew Luck (1,208) on Sunday. His deliberate dissection of the Steelers’ defense netted 306 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-6 win. And this comes a week after the Texans rolled the Jaguars, 37-17.

“I’ve got a better chemistry faster than I did in school,” Stroud said, comparing his start with the Texans to his college days at Ohio State. He’s been accurate, composed in the pocket, creative when he needs to be — among the chief concerns he faced ahead of April’s draft. Throw those knocks out the window now. Stroud has tossed six touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three starts for a passer rating of 111.3. He’s been excellent.

Beyond the QB, first-year coach DeMeco Ryans is building something in Houston. Stroud’s at the heart of the Texans’ turnaround, but Ryans’ impact is showing up all over the field, especially on a defense that’s been terrific two weeks in a row. On Sunday, the Texans didn’t allow the Steelers to cross midfield until the second half.

“This is what I envisioned Texans football looking like,” Ryans told his team in a raucous locker room. “We got greatness in this room. Let’s keep going.”

Bears on pace to pick 1-2 next spring

If you know a Bears fan, give them a hug. It’s been a rough month. It’s been a rough decade, really. Sunday was especially cruel, even for a perpetually tormented fan base that’s lived through a soap opera of a season four weeks in.

Chicago played some inspired football Sunday against the Broncos, racing to a three-touchdown lead after halftime. They benched Chase Claypool. They watched Justin Fields throw for four touchdowns before the third quarter was over (he finished with the first 300-yard game of his career). They led 28-7.

Finally, it seemed, Chicago had found something.

Then they turned into the Bears again.

Denver scored 24 in a row to escape with a 31-28 victory and avoid the embarrassment that would’ve come with a loss.

The Bears’ losing streak now stands at 14, dating back to last season. It’s the longest in the team’s history, which began in 1920. The good news, if you’re looking for it: Chicago now stands to hold the top two picks in next April’s draft. On top of their own pick, they also own Carolina’s by virtue of last year’s trade. The Panthers are the league’s only other winless team.

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Awful Sundays for two AFC North contenders

Early on, it was easy to dismiss, or even excuse, the Bengals’ bumbling start. The franchise quarterback was out for most of the preseason. The offense needed time to jell. The season-opening loss in Cleveland came in sloppy conditions against a stifling defense. They’ve climbed from this type of hole before.

But a full month in, it’s getting harder. As Bill Parcells once quipped, “You are what your record says you are.” Cincinnati — a perennial AFC contender and trendy Super Bowl pick this season — is a struggling football team with a quarterback who’s not 100 percent.

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The Bengals were pounded by 24 points Sunday in Tennessee, mustering a measly field goal before allowing 27 unanswered. Joe Burrow, fighting through a nagging calf injury, doesn’t look right, and so far, that feels like the story of Cincinnati’s season. The Bengals are 1-3 and had to eke out a 19-16 victory against the Rams for their only win.

“This is not acceptable,” frustrated Bengals coach Zac Taylor said, rightly adding that his team was beaten in every way Sunday in Nashville.

Burrow managed just 165 passing yards (67 of which went to Ja’Marr Chase). The Bengals went 2 for 11 on third downs and were outgained 400-211.

“I always feel like we are in it,” Burrow said, and he’s earned the right to say that.

But, so far, there’s little tangible evidence this is going to turn. Instead, Sunday felt like a sizable step back.

Another AFC North contender — or supposed contender — also looked utterly awful Sunday. For the Steelers, start with some biting postgame comments from a fed-up Mike Tomlin. Asked if there will be any changes following his team’s 30-6 loss in Houston, Pittsburgh’s coach was both abrupt and honest.

“Hell yeah, there’s going to be changes,” Tomlin said.

What those changes exactly look like will play out over the coming days and weeks. But a month in, the Steelers’ offense has been objectively bad. That unit has scored four total touchdowns in four games and is averaging just 10.5 points, among the worst in the league. Second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett has not progressed as hoped (his QBR ranks 29th of 32 starters thus far), and the fan base has grown tired of offensive coordinator Matt Canada. On Sunday, Houston’s defense limited Pickett to just 15 completions and 115 yards, intercepting him once.

Something to keep in mind, however: Pittsburgh has never had a losing season under Tomlin during his 17-year tenure.

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Rookie QBs: 5 starts, 1 win

Sunday saw five different rookie quarterbacks start, and only Stroud came away with a victory. The Colts’ Anthony Richardson — the fourth pick last spring— returned from a concussion, which kept him out of last week’s win in Baltimore. Indianapolis fell in overtime to the Rams, 29-23, after scoring 23 consecutive points to force the extra period. (Of note, at least one game across the league has gone to overtime each of the four weeks so far this season. That’s only happened five times in NFL history.)

Young’s Panthers dropped a fourth consecutive game to start the year, 21-13 to Minnesota. The top pick is still searching for his first NFL win.

Additionally, a pair of fifth-round selections, taken five spots apart in April, got the first starts of their career. Neither went particularly well. In a bit of a surprise move, the Raiders chose Aidan O’Connell to step in for Jimmy Garoppolo (concussion), over veteran backup Brian Hoyer. O’Connell finished 24 of 39 for 238 yards and an interception in a 24-17 loss to the Chargers, who’ve now won two straight after a concerning 0-2 start.

And for a pivotal, early-season matchup against the Ravens, the Browns gave the start to Dorian Thompson-Robinson while Deshaun Watson recovered from an injury to his throwing shoulder. Thompson-Robinson finished 19 of 36 for 121 yards and three interceptions, and the Browns were never competitive in a 28-3 loss to the Ravens, who are 3-1 and in front in the AFC North. Watson is expected to return for Cleveland next week.

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(Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig / Getty Images)


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