The Top NFL Storylines of Week 4: Mac Jones, C.J. Stroud and Dan Campbell

Plus, Patrick Mahomes is a consummate professional

October 3, 2023 5:30 am
Lions coach Dan Campbell.
Dan Campbell has the Detroit Lions off to their best start in years.
Nic Antaya/Getty

With the NFL season’s fourth installment of Monday Night Football in the books, Week 4 is complete and the bye weeks will commence. While we can’t get to everything — like the pair of Caleb Williams Bowls that took place on Sunday — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from the NFL’s second week.

Mac Jones is not a franchise quarterback

A week after taking the field against a quarterback from his draft class who played the worst game of his life when the Patriots knocked off the Jets, Mac Jones attempted to lead New England to victory on Sunday afternoon in Dallas and failed miserably.

The final stat line for Jones (two interceptions, one fumble, 150 passing yards, zero touchdowns) does not really give justice to how terribly he played his position against the Cowboys. Now 17-18 as a starting quarterback and a winner in just three of his last 11 games, Jones did nothing to help New England (1-3) win and everything to help his team lose as the Patriots were run out of the building 38-3 in Dallas

There clearly are shortcomings on New England’s roster, but Jones was both ineffective and indecisive as he oversaw the Patriot offense in the worst loss in Bill Belichick’s 29 seasons as a head coach, 24 of them in New England. Pulled in the second half of the blowout loss, Jones did nothing to show he deserves to the the starting quarterback for the Patriots or any other NFL team.

Defenders of Jones will cite that he is working with inferior skill position players and a poor offensive line. True. But he’s also done nothing to make the players around him better and plenty to make himself look worse. Drafted with the knowledge that his ceiling was limited due to his lack of athleticism and far-from-sturdy arm, Jones bottomed out on Sunday in a game that could have been a signature moment. It was — and it wasn’t a good one.

“Expiration date? Mac Jones may have one on him after that awful cross-field pick-six he threw at the Cowboys,” according to Peter King of NBC Sports. “But this is looking very much like the fourth straight year since Tom Brady walked that New England won’t win a playoff game, and the way Robert Kraft thinks, the head coach and draft czar has to be responsible for that.”

Now in his third year, Jones started his rookie year at 1-4 before winning eight out of his next nine starts to help get New England to the postseason. Unless Jones can do that again, his time in New England, maybe the NFL, is running short.

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Dan Campbell has a legit shot at Coach of the Year

Following a 3-13-1 season and an appearance on HBO’s Hark Knocks leading into Dan Campbell‘s second year as the head coach of the Lions, Detroit opened last season by splitting their first two games before losing five in a row to fall to 1-6. Scoring at a decent clip but constantly tripped up by being overly aggressive on fourth down and unable to stop a nosebleed on defense, the Lions appeared to be the same old Lions and it certainly looked as if Campbell, despite being a fan favorite, probably would not be back for a third season.

Then, with the season on the brink of spiraling down the drain, the Lions were able to knock off the Packers at home even though quarterback Jared Goff threw for just 137 yards, his lowest total of the season. Detroit went on to win seven of their next nine games, capping the season with a win over the Packers at Lambeau Field that denied Green Bay a playoff berth and pushed the Lions to 9-8 on the year. It was the first time the Lions had finished above .500 since 2017.

The momentum Detroit generated to close out last season has carried over into the current campaign as the Lions now have sole possession of first place in the NFC North at 3-1 following Thursday night’s win over the Packers in Green Bay. Slightly favored in what was billed as a battle for first place in the division, the Lions did not get much resistance from a Packer team that allowed running back David Montgomery to rush for 121 yards and a trio of touchdowns.

A former Bear, Montgomery had never beaten the Packers during four seasons in Chicago. “It just felt real different coming in with the group of guys that I’m with,” Montgomery said following the 34-20 win. “I’m blessed to come out here with these guys and get the ‘dub.’ That’s big for me. I can tell my son that I beat the Packers, so I’m excited to say that and excited to be a part of this team.”

He should be as the Lions have a ton of winnable games remaining on their schedule and have an excellent opportunity to finish in first place in their division for the first time since 1993 when a guy named Barry Sanders was manning the backfield in Detroit. All due respect to Montgomery, but if the Lions are able to do what Sanders’s Detroit team did and lock up first place in the NFC North, it’ll be because of Campbell, not him.

The subject of far more mockery than fanfare when he was hired because of his propensity to come off like a massive meathead, Campbell turned out to be exactly what Detroit needed to help the franchise reset after dealing longtime franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Rams and then promptly watching him win the Super Bowl during his first year in LA after never even winning a playoff game during more than a decade in Motown.

Campbell has gotten the most out of a roster that is flawed yet talented and succeeded in turning Goff, who was viewed as a reclamation project when he was sent to Detroit in the Stafford deal, back into an efficient, albeit limited, NFL quarterback. With the Dolphins setting scoring records with second-year coach Mike McDaniel running the offense, Campbell is not the favorite for Coach of the Year, but he’s certainly in the running for the award through four weeks of play. Campbell may not win it, but if the Lions make the playoffs he’ll have earned it.

C.J. Stroud should not have been the No. 2 overall pick

Selected by the Houston Texans with the second overall pick in the NFL Draft after the Carolina Panthers traded up to snag Bryce Young at No. 1 overall, C.J. Stroud has managed to get the Texans to 2-2 on the season and has now thrown for 1,212 yards, six touchdowns and zero picks through his first four starts. Stroud, 21, has now thrown 151 passes without an interception, the longest stretch to start a career in NFL history.

An underdog against the Steelers on Sunday, Stroud completed 16-of-30 passes for 306 yards with two touchdowns against a Pittsburgh defense that was supposed to be one of the better u has nits in the league. With 1,212 yards passing yards through four weeks, Stroud has the second-most yards through four starts to start his career behind only Cam Newton (1,386).

The Texans, who have been searching for a quarterback to replace Deshaun Watson, appear to have found their guy.

Granted, expectations for Stroud and the Texans entering this season were not all that high so perhaps they’ve been easier to meet and exceed, but the fact that Houston is tied for the lead in the AFC South with every other team in their division (Colts, Jaguars, Titans) is significant. Prior to Sunday’s win, the Texans had not won a game in Houston in 644 days. Thanks to Stroud, that streak is history.

“I just want to say, we’re going to keep fighting every day just so y’all can walk around with that swag,” Stroud said after Sunday’s win. “I think that’s huge for this team. That’s something that we want to keep building on, and it’s a blessing to be able to be in Houston, a great town with a lot of stuff to do, great people, Southern hospitality to its finest, and I’m falling in love with the city little by little. It’s a blessing.”

As it was for the Texans to get Stroud at No. 2. He should’ve gone first.

Patrick Mahomes has his eyes on the prize

Operating with a three-point lead and the game on the line, Patrick Mahomes had the opportunity to run in an easy touchdown and almost certainly put Sunday night’s matchup against the Jets on ice.

Instead, the 28-year-old quarterback pulled up short and slid to the ground short of the goal line, allowing the Chiefs to run out the clock without any chance for the Jets to score points, recover an onside kick, and score again.

For Mahomes and the Chiefs, who completed 18-of-30 passes for 203 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, it was a winning play. Apparently, for many, many sports bettors, the decision not to put the ball in the end zone was a costly decision as the spread of the game was 9.5 points. If Mahomes had scored and KC had kicked the extra point, they would’ve covered the spread. Instead, Kansas City left New York with a 23-20 win.

Understandably, there were plenty of fans who were upset with Mahomes for not taking the points and giving the Chiefs a shot to cover the spread by kicking the extra point. Perhaps rightfully so, but Mahomes turning down the chance to pad his stats in favor of guaranteeing his team what would almost certainly have been a victory anyhow is just one more example of what he really cares about: winning.

Until that changes, and there’s really no reason to believe that it will, the rest of the NFL is going to keep losing.

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