Panthers head coach Ron Rivera learned an important lesson in the worst way possible in Week Four of the young 2012 season — the longest possible field and little time to work with is not going to shake Falcons QB Matt Ryan.
Rivera opted to punt on 4th-and-short with Carolina clinging to a one-point lead Sunday in Atlanta and about a minute to play. The league’s frontrunner for the MVP award a quarter of the way through the season made him pay for that decision.
The Panthers downed rookie Brad Nortman’s punt at Atlanta’s one-yard line with 59 seconds to play. Ryan promptly fired a 59-yard bomb to WR Roddy White on first down, threw an incompletion, benefited from a five-yard pass-interference penalty on CB Captain Munnerlyn and completed a couple short passes to TE Tony Gonzalez and WR Harry Douglas to set up PK Matt Bryant’s 40-yard FG attempt.
Bryant connected, and the Falcons are still undefeated. Ryan finished off his fourth straight game with a passer rating of 100 or better, and he certainly is staying put in the top slot on this week’s Meter.
(Last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Falcons QB Matt Ryan (No. 1) — Ryan is tied for second in completion percentage (69.4), tied for sixth in passing yards (1,162), second in touchdown passes (11) and he has been intercepted only twice. He is the league’s highest-rated passer (112.1).
2. Texans DE J.J. Watt (No. 3) — Move over Clay Matthews. Watt is the new league leader in sacks after adding two more to his total in the Texans’ win over the Titans. Watt, who has 7½ sacks, had three total tackles for loss Sunday and also recovered a fumble. He continues to dominate like few players at his position — the five-technique — ever have.
3. Giants QB Eli Manning (No. 2) — Manning and the Giants came up just a bit short Sunday night in a 19-17 loss at Philly. While we have witnessed his late-game heroics this season, Manning just could not make the big play the Giants needed late vs. the Eagles. He went 1-for-6 on the Giants’ final drive, and an offensive pass-interference penalty by Giants WR Ramses Barden proved very costly as New York tried to move closer before attempting a potential-game winning field goal. The 54-yarder PK Lawrence Tynes had to attempt was just out of his range.
4. Patriots QB Tom Brady (No. 4) — They started slow, but the Patriots exploded for 52 points vs. a Bills defense that was supposed to be improved this season. Brady racked up a season-high 340 yards and four TDs (three passing, one rushing). He scored all of his TDs in the second half. Brady is on pace for only four picks this season, or one fewer than Cowboys QB Tony Romo threw Monday night.
5. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (No. 5) — Packers backup QB Graham Harrell did a fine job of illustrating Rodgers’ value to the Packers in Week Four. Harrell subbed in for Rodgers, who had been poked in the eye on the previous play, in the third quarter with the ball at the Saints’ two-yard line. Harrell lost a fumble on his first and only snap of the game. Rodgers returned to finish off the Saints. He threw all four of the Packers’ touchdowns in their 28-27 win and he leads the league in completion percentage (69.9).
6. Ravens QB Joe Flacco (No. 6) — Only Drew Brees (1,350) and Eli Manning (1,320) have thrown for more yards than Flacco (1,269), who has a good chance of keeping pace against Kansas City’s defense, which has allowed the second-highest passer rating (114.7) in the league.
7. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (No. 8) — With a 1:42 left to play and only one timeout remaining vs. the Bucs on Sunday, RG3 accounted for every yard gained on a seven-play, 56-yard drive to set up Billy Cundiff’s game-winning field goal. Only Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub have a better passer rating than Washington’s rookie QB.
8. Broncos QB Peyton Manning (not ranked) — A week after setting a career high with 26 incompletions, Manning had only eight as he shredded the Raiders’ defense in Denver’s 37-6 win. He completed 30 passes to eight different receivers. Aside from that disastrous first quarter vs. Atlanta in Week Two, Manning has not thrown a pick.
9. Bengals WR A.J. Green (not ranked) — Cincinnati’s second-year receiver is tied for fifth in the league in receptions (27), second in yards (428 yards) and is among the league leaders in TD catches (three). The Bengals’ passing game would have no juice without him.
10. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (No. 10) — Coming off a bye, Roethlisberger — the second-highest rated passer in the league (109.2) — will face the Eagles’ seventh-ranked pass defense, which has more interceptions (six) than touchdowns allowed (five). We will not bump a player up or down on the Meter coming off a bye, but Roethlisberger could make a big jump with a strong performance vs. the Eagles.
On the cusp (in alphabetical order): Bengals QB Andy Dalton, Texans RB Arian Foster, Bears CB Tim Jennings, Lions WR Calvin Johnson, Packers OLB Clay Matthews, Vikings QB Christian Ponder, Chargers QB Philip Rivers, Texans QB Matt Schaub, 49ers QB Alex Smith.