Week 4 Fantasy Care/Don't Care: Tom Brady wins ugly in New England return

·13 min read

5 Things I care about

The Buccaneers win ugly

Tom Brady got his win over his former team in New England. It just didn’t come in the way we all expected.

Sunday night was meant to be a statement from Brady. A rainy night put a damper on the usually explosive Tampa Bay offense. The Bucs went just 9-of-19 on third down and Brady specifically made it known in the post-game interview he wasn’t happy with their performance in the red zone. It wasn’t clean and you can be sure Bill Belichick was excited to put a stopper in Brady’s typically high-flying passing game.

The Bucs did, however, rush well, running for eight first downs in the game. Leonard Fournette was the key cog in the backfield. He handled 20 carries for over 90 yards and snared three passes, as well. Ronald Jones punched in a red-zone touchdown — majorly tilting fantasy managers for sure — but providing a huge boost to the eventual win.

As Tom Brady said after the contest, football is a team game. While the week leading up to Sunday Night Football was all about hyper-focusing on the alluring storyline of Brady’s return to New England, the legendary quarterback knows better than anyone it isn’t all about him. We were still right to hammer the storyline. If you think it’s possible to over-talk a moment this huge — literally the best and most decorated player in the sport returned to the spot where he did it all for 20 years — you must be new to how this whole thing works.

That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for football fans. We won’t see anything like that ever again — book it.

Still, at the end of the night, it was more about Brady. It always has been for Tampa Bay. He’ll always be the north star but even he knows he didn’t just come to take a roster full of duds to the Super Bowl last year. The Bucs are one of the best teams in football because they can win when Brady goes wild as a passer or in an ugly, rainy fistfight.

Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brady was victorious in his return to Foxborough. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

A different Cardinals team

Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury got a monkey off their back. Kingsbury had never beaten Sean McVay since taking the Arizona job and was decidedly the little brother in this dynamic. No longer.

The Cardinals absolutely took it to their white-hot rival, toppling them 37-20.

It wasn’t even that close. The Rams inched up a bit thanks to a Robert Woods touchdown with 1:17 left in the fourth quarter. At least it made the ultra-frustrated fantasy gamers who drafted Woods somewhat happy.

It’s just all about Kyler Murray for the Arizona Cardinals. He’s what’s different between 2019-2020 and now. Murray once again didn’t make major noise as a rusher; it was all about his passing. He leads all quarterbacks this year with a 9.2 completion rate over expectation. He’s doing more than just taking what’s there; Murray is making more out of what he’s given than he should be.

That’s why he’s fully elevating every receiver on this team, not just DeAndre Hopkins, who is not going to come anywhere close to his absurd target share from 2020. The supporting cast is just too good now. A.J. Green hauled in a deep touchdown and continues to show he’s just much better than fantasy Twitter wants to admit. It was a quiet game for Christian Kirk and Rondale Moore but no matter for Murray — he’ll just get the best out of Maxx Williams. Murray's progression is also unlocking a great running game once again. Chase Edmonds as the between-the-'20s-plus passing-game threat and James Conner as the goal-line guy both look like fantasy FLEX plays.

That’s the mark of a great quarterback: Becoming the rising tide that raises all boats. Murray has now officially entered that territory.

The Giants are a functional offense

I’m skeptical about the Giants as an overall operation. You will never convince me that Jason Garrett is the man to unlock the potential of the offense.

Nevertheless, it needs to be said that Daniel Jones is leading what at least looks like a solid NFL scoring unit.

The Giants ranked 14th in offensive DVOA coming into Week 4 and played spoiler to New Orleans in their home-stadium season debut on Sunday. It took until overtime but a banged-up Giants unit was able to post 27 points and rip some big plays against a talented Saints defense. Jones threw for 402 yards with two scores and tacked 27 more yards on the ground. It’s most likely going to be his second week finishing inside the Top-12 fantasy quarterbacks.

Free-agent addition Kenny Golladay finally broke through for a huge game. He racked up 116 yards on seven targets, at long last looking like the true vertical X-receiver the team desperately needed to emerge.

With Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard injured, fellow newcomers Kadarius Toney and John Ross also made an impact. Toney took 29 snaps from the slot and did well with some layup looks. Ross was a huge splash in his first game back from an injury. He averaged over 18 air yards per target on just 20 routes run and snared three deep catches, including a 52-yard touchdown.

It’s a good bet that Shepard remains the best receiver on the team because he’s always open and Jones has massive trust in the veteran. However, Slayton may cede some snaps to those two reserves in Toney and Ross.

Either way, the fact New York can throw multiple punches and Jones can take advantage of them is only good news for fantasy managers and Giants’ hopefuls. A tough schedule awaits but this offense can hang.

A good Jets signal

We got a case of the stoppable force vs. the movable object in Week 4 when the Jets offense welcomed the Titans defense to New York. The force moved the object this time around.

We finally saw some signs of life from Zach Wilson and the New York passing game. The Jets had gone over nine quarters without a touchdown but finally broke through the dam against an ultra-forgiving Titans pass defense.

Wilson still threw a pick but was sacked just once and averaged 8.7 yards per attempt en route to a Jets win. It was by far his most encouraging game.

Of course, we are wary this was just a result driven by matchup but it still matters. If the Jets and Wilson hadn’t passed this test, we’d basically be ready to call it on the season for New York. As it stands now, we can have some optimism things will get better than the disaster they lived through while playing the Patriots and Broncos.

It’s especially pertinent that rookie back Michael Carter continues to look like he’s rising in this backfield. Carter punched in a goal-line score and ran the most routes on the team. He’s still splitting passing-game reps with Ty Johnson but he’s clearly usurping the rushing work, as he drew 13 carries while Johnson and Tevin Coleman combined for seven.

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The Jets’ Week 5 opponent in the Atlanta Falcons brings yet another weak defense. We’ll have another good week to scrape for signs of life from this team.

The Cowboys are multi-dimensional

Coming into the season, we thought the Cowboys would be a great offense that exclusively flowed through the wide receivers and Ezekiel Elliott on the ground. They’d be doing all their work while chasing points because their defense would be putting them in negative game scripts.

That is looking way off from the truth of the matter.

Dak Prescott threw four touchdowns against the Panthers and only one of them went to one of the top-two wide receivers. Dalton Schultz continues to run as the top tight end in Dallas but both he and Blake Jarwin made it into the paint today.

Amari Cooper #19 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates a touchdown with Dalton Schultz #86
It's not just the wideouts doing work for the Cowboys. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Tony Pollard continues to mix in for explosive plays but Elliott remains an RB1. He turned 20 carries into 143 yards and a score. These guys complement each other extremely well.

The biggest surprise about the Cowboys, however, is easily their defense. The group has taken to Dan Quinn’s scheme extremely well. They fly around and create havoc. Dallas sacked Sam Darnold five times and intercepted him twice. The unit gets stops when they need to and continues to make game-altering plays. It helps that last year’s second-round pick, Trevon Diggs, has emerged as a star. He has an interception in every game to start 2021.

Any multi-dimensional team is going to be more difficult to predict on a weekly basis. The Cowboys might be a little more of a challenge but it’s no question this makes them a better football team.

5 Things I don’t care about

Anyone who wants to overshadow Mac Jones

We knew the Patriots wouldn’t be able to run again the Bucs. No one does. Bill Belichick barely tried.

New England ran just six times for seven yards. The box score almost looks like an error but it was real. Belichick put it all on Jones — and the rookie kept pace.

Jones threw 40 passes (Jakobi Meyers chipped in with two) and posted a 101.6 passer rating. Jones completed 4.6 percent of his passes over expectation. He had a handful of rough mistakes that will certainly get heat but I don’t want to hear any shade about him. For a rookie on this offense and in that situation, Jones played well.

Meyers continues to be the one steady piece for Jones in the pass-catching corps. He handled an absurd 12 targets and caught eight balls. We can never expect much of a ceiling game from this version of the Patriots but efficient and competitive will do for now.

It’s hard to fault the Patriots for how they competed against this stacked Bucs team. Bill Belichick will get his deserved due for mixing up schemes all night against Brady, but let’s not lose sight of Jones’ steady night. New England is in good hands as Brady leaves Foxboro for perhaps the last time as an active NFL player.

What happened with Trey Lance

When Trey Lance trotted out to start for the 49ers in the second half, it looked like a new arrival may be on the horizon. Once Jimmy Garoppolo confirmed he’d get an MRI for his calf injury and he would “hope it’s just a couple of weeks or something,” it looked like a lock.

Unless Trey Lance throws up all over himself over the next month or so, it’s difficult to imagine him not holding this job the rest of the season.

There were certainly shaky moments for the rookie when he took the field, but I don’t care. Kyle Shanahan himself said, “The gameplan wasn’t built for [Trey Lance]” and they didn’t know Garoppolo wasn’t going back in the game until the last minute post-halftime.

It’s worth being nervous about highly drafted guys like George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk at this point just because of how this offense has functioned through four weeks. Just keep in mind that we might get an entirely different offense when Lance makes his first career start. Expect Lance and several others to look better than they did when that is fully installed.

My Sam Darnold priors

Sam Darnold made a handful of mistakes against Dallas but unlike his New York days, he made plenty of positive plays along with it.

I’ll admit to being one of the more skeptical voices surrounding the Darnold experiment heading into the year. The returns continue to be strong, on balance. He has a natural connection with DJ Moore, who has clearly made the leap to No. 1 wide receiver status. Moore had another 12 targets in Week 4 and scored twice.

Darnold has also scored five touchdowns as a runner this year. That wasn’t something I saw coming. While unlikely to be sustainable, it has boosted his overall fantasy production. However, given the way he’s worked so well with this offensive ecosystem and the big plays he’s adding that Teddy Bridgewater didn’t last year, Darnold is looking like a fringe QB1 in fantasy football going forward. He might hang out just outside the Top-10 in weekly rankings but he’s someone that can get you through a stretch.

Darrell Henderson reservations

It was not the best day for the Los Angeles Rams, who were taken to task by a division rival in the Arizona Cardinals. Fantasy managers got a surprisingly strong development, however.

Darrell Henderson looked like he is still the Rams’ feature back.

It stood to reason that the Rams would be cautious with Henderson. The team appeared to be worried about Henderson’s ability to hold up to a full workload given that they traded for Sony Michel when the season was just about to start. So when he was coming back from a short layoff following a rib injury, we all assumed Henderson would not return to the 90-percent player he was in Weeks 1 and 2. We were wrong.

Henderson was on the field for 57 snaps to just seven for Michel. That was a stunner. Henderson ran 35 routes on 40 passing plays and touched the ball 19 times. He had a decent box score against a Cardinals defense that’s struggling with their run fits.

Perhaps it was all a result of Michel’s early fumble but nevertheless, Henderson handled and thrived with a huge workload in his return. We must use the information that’s presented to us.

If Henderson is going to continue to get this level of work, he’ll push for RB1 status moving forward. The Rams get the Seahawks, Giants, and Lions in their next three games. That’s about as good as it gets for a running back.

Trying to figure out Cordarrelle Patterson

Cordarrelle Patterson is about to be a top scorer at multiple positions this week. What reality are we living in?

Patterson ran just 12 routes and played only 21 snaps overall. Starting running back Mike Davis ran 31 routes and played 48 snaps. Patterson plays a variety of positions and does plenty of things for this Falcons offense, so it’s not as if he’s just a complement to Davis.

It’s weird that this is the best thing the Falcons offense is doing, what with all their talent and all that Arthur Smith did in Tennessee. The fact that Matt Ryan finally hit a downfield pass and it was to Patterson on a busted coverage just doesn’t sit right.

It’s clear Patterson isn’t going away. It’s also painfully obvious he will be a tough player to project every week or confidently start in fantasy. We should also say with the same degree of certainty that something else has to start to click for the Falcons offense to return on the optimism most of us had coming into 2021.

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