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NFL Week 4: Across the league, teams have hit the ground running this year

Saquon Barkley (right) had 146 of the Giants' 262 rushing yards in their win over the Bears.John Minchillo/Associated Press

Passing the ball effectively will always be the best way to generate points and win games in the NFL. The run game is really just a side attraction that is necessary for controlling the clock and closing out games in the fourth quarter.

That said, NFL teams are running the ball really, really well in 2022. The leaguewide rushing average of 4.44 yards per carry is the highest in history through four weeks. The combined 234.8 rushing yards per game is the second-highest number since 1990. The league is on pace for the most 200-yard rushing games since 1983.

And Sunday’s action was the best running week yet of the season, which is where we begin the Week 4 review:

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▪ Five teams rushed for 200 yards in Week 4, the most since Week 12 of 2018. All five teams won, though we shouldn’t get the cause and effect confused.

But the Giants ran for 262 yards in their win over the Bears. The Seahawks ran for 235 in a track-meet win over the Lions. The Raiders rushed for 212 in their win over the Broncos. The Eagles ran for 210 in a win over the Jaguars. The Falcons rushed for 202 in their win over the Browns.

Also, the Packers (199 yards) took down the Patriots, and the Chiefs (189) defeated the Bucs.

The Falcons’ win was reminiscent of the leather-helmet days. Trailing, 13-10, late in the third quarter, they ran the ball on 14 consecutive plays, and on 18 of their final 21 plays overall, to pull out a 23-20 win.

“We knew it was going to be a big-boy fight,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said.

▪ On the other end of the spectrum are Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, who rushed just six times for 3 yards in their 41-31 loss to the Chiefs. The six attempts tied for second-fewest in an NFL game since the 1970 merger; the record belongs to Brady and the 2020 Bucs, who rushed just five times for 8 yards against the Saints. Brady also had a game in 2004 against the Steelers in which the Patriots rushed just six times for 5 yards.

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The Bucs ignited their passing game with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin back in the lineup, and Brady throwing for 385 yards and three touchdowns. But the Bucs need more balance.

▪ The Jaguars aren’t exactly a big measuring stick, but that was still an impressive 29-21 win by the Eagles in the Doug Pederson Bowl. Overcoming a 14-0 deficit after the first quarter is difficult no matter the opponent, and the Eagles didn’t flinch, rattling off 29 consecutive points.

The 4-0 Eagles are the last undefeated team for the first time since 2004, a year they reached the Super Bowl.

The Eagles have racked up at least 400 total yards in all four games, and the defense leads the NFL with 10 takeaways. That formula is tough to beat.

▪ Speaking of not flinching, the Bills deserve a lot of credit for overcoming a 17-point deficit, on the road, in the pouring rain, against a really good Ravens team. It was the largest comeback win of Josh Allen’s career, and the Bills’ first win in 40 games when trailing by at least 17.

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Josh Allen helped rally the Bills from a 20-3 first-half deficit in Baltimore.Nick Wass/Associated Press

The Bills still need to be concerned about their offense being too Allen-centric — he completed just 19 of 36 passes for 213 yards, with a touchdown and an interception — but they showed impressive mental toughness.

▪ If only the Ravens could hold a three-score lead, they’d be 4-0 and cruising atop the AFC standings. Instead they are 2-2 after choking away a 21-point lead against the Dolphins and a 17-point lead to the Bills — both games at home, to boot.

Coach John Harbaugh tried to justify going for it on fourth down instead of kicking a short field goal late in the game, but with four minutes left, you have to take the easy points. The Ravens are going to regret these losses come playoff time.

▪ Another day, another concussion controversy for the NFL. A week after Tua Tagovailoa was curiously allowed to keep playing despite looking woozy, the same thing happened Sunday night to Bucs tight end Cameron Brate. He appeared disoriented after hitting his head on the ground, but played an entire drive in the third quarter before eventually being ruled out.

NBC’s Tony Dungy, who was at the game, called the NFL’s concussion protocols a “broken system” on Monday.

“I was on the sideline very close to Brate — obvious he had his bell rung,” Dungy tweeted. “There’s a league-appointed spotter in the press box who should stop play and alert the referee. Brate shouldn’t have been allowed to return until after an evaluation. Why didn’t that happen?”

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▪ If you want excitement, turn on a Lions game. Sunday’s 48-45 loss to the Seahawks featured 11 touchdowns, two punts, and was just the second game in NFL history in which the teams combined for at least 90 points and 1,075 yards of offense (Browns-Bengals in 2007).

Sunday’s game was nothing new for the Lions, either. They are the first team in NFL history to average 35 points per game on offense and defense through the first four weeks of the season. The 281 combined points scored in the Lions’ first four games are the most in league history.

The Lions are also the only team among 30 in NFL history to score at least 140 points in their first four games yet still have a losing record (1-3). The Lions will never stop being the Lions.

Quick hits

▪ Geno Smith might be for real. He’s 2-2 as the Seahawks starter, is averaging a healthy 7.9 yards per attempt, and his 77.3 completion percentage not only leads the NFL by a wide margin but is the highest all time through Week 4. He threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns and added 49 rushing yards and a touchdown in a superb performance Sunday.

Former Jet Geno Smith had another good game in Seattle's win over Detroit.Gregory Shamus/Getty

▪ The Colts are still dealing with the fallout from Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement in 2019. Matt Ryan is their fourth quarterback in as many years, he is not playing well, and the Colts are just 1-2-1 after a loss to the Titans.

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“Not an excuse, but every year we have a new quarterback,” running back Nyheim Hines said. “Each year we’re restarting and we have to turn the page. So that sucks a little bit.”

▪ The Tyreek Hill trade is turning out to be a rare win-win. The Dolphins are 3-1 and sit atop the AFC while Hill leads the NFL by a wide margin with 477 receiving yards. And the Chiefs are still No. 2 in points scored and No. 1 in points per drive while also sitting at 3-1.

▪ It was long overdue for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to bench Mitchell Trubisky for rookie Kenny Pickett. But Pickett may not be the answer, either, if he’s going to throw three interceptions in just 13 attempts.

Tracking former Patriots

49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Benefited from a lot of yards after the catch from Deebo Samuel, but was efficient with 239 yards, a touchdown, and no turnovers in a big win over the Rams Monday night. The Niners’ offense still looks a bit rusty, which is reasonable given Garoppolo missed training camp, but they are still finding ways to win games with Jimmy G.

Browns QB Jacoby Brissett: Threw for 234 yards with a late interception in the loss to the Falcons. But the Browns surely are OK with a 2-2 start with their backup QB.

Falcons RB Cordarrelle Patterson: Rushed nine times for 38 yards and a touchdown, but went on injured reserve Monday for a knee injury. He’s currently fourth in the NFL with 340 rushing yards.

Chargers CB J.C. Jackson: Has played in just two of four games because of an ankle injury, but did play all 57 snaps in Sunday’s win over Houston.

Raiders coach Josh McDaniels: Finally got his first win after three losses. And it came against his former team, the hated Broncos. Hope McDaniels popped a big bottle of champagne Sunday night.

Josh McDaniels embraced quarterback Derek Carr after a second-half touchdown by the Raiders.Abbie Parr/Associated Press

Giants coach Brian Daboll: It doesn’t matter that the Giants have played a soft schedule. They should throw a parade for Daboll in New York City for getting this undermanned team to 3-1.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel: Convincing wins over the Raiders and Colts have the Titans back atop the AFC South and ready to roll.

Stats of the Week

▪ Seahawks-Lions was the first 48-45 game in NFL history.

▪ Ryan’s nine fumbles are the most through the first four games since Kurt Warner had 10 in 2006.

▪ With the Eagles’ win, NFL teams are now 10-88 over the past five years when trailing by 14 points after the first quarter.

▪ Patriots QB Bailey Zappe threw the first touchdown pass by a rookie this year. Week 4 is the latest in the season that has happened since 2007.

▪ Zach Wilson became the first quarterback in Jets history to catch a touchdown pass.

▪ Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence became the first player since 2000 with four lost fumbles in a game.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.