Four games into the books. What a start to the 2013 NFL season.
Everything went as we expected, right?
Always good for a little mystery, the NFL hasn’t failed to deliver intrigue, excitement and controversy in the early going.
So with those themes in mind, Yahoo’s Shutdown Corner crew came up with a list of the All-Pro team, the best moments and the biggest disappointments from the first month of the season.
Quarter-pole All-Pro team
We picked 12 players each on each team, with three receivers and two backs on offense and a 4-4 front to the defense, so that we could account for different schemes and fronts (and hedge just a tiny bit). Don’t hold it against us.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning, Broncos
You had someone else in mind? Sixteen touchdowns, zero interceptions, 4-0 record. A record-tying seven touchdown passes in Week 1. No brainer.
Running back: LeSean McCoy, Eagles; Matt Forte, Bears
No Adrian Peterson? It’s not all his fault, and he easily could have made this team. But we’ll go with the ever-valuable Forte and McCoy, who is the one shining star on a fading Eagles team.
Tight end: Jimmy Graham, Saints
Cleveland's Jordan Cameron has been one of the terrific stories of the early going. But no one makes the Saints’ engine hum the way the incredible Graham does. He’s in line for a monster contract that will rewrite the economics of the position.
Wide receiver: Julio Jones, Falcons; Demaryius Thomas, Broncos; Calvin Johnson, Lions
So many worthy candidates — Victor Cruz, Anquan Boldin, DeSean Jackson, Torrey Smith, Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown — could make this position. But we’ll stick with the Big 3. And we mean big. Who could defend this trio? Johnson’s work in the slot has been just one more thing defenses must contend with, and Jones and Thomas are in line for career seasons.
Offensive tackles: Nate Solder, Patriots; Michael Roos, Titans
We’re cheating a bit by picking two lefties here, but they’ve been the best that we’ve seen. Very close to making it: Doug Free (seriously), Zach Strief and Cordy Glenn, all who have been strong. But Solder and Roos (each with zero sacks allowed, one penalty) have been huge for their respective teams.
Offensive guards: Louis Vasquez, Broncos; Evan Mathis, Eagles
Vasquez has been a hidden gem for the high-flying Broncos. And don’t blame the Eagles’ hot and cold performance to date on Mathis, who has been excellent, especially as a run blocker. Logan Mankins, Ben Grubbs and Kevin Zeitler all were in play here.
Center: Chris Myers, Texans
A strong position league-wide, but Myers gets the nod for his balanced, strong play and leadership in the pivot.
Defensive tackles: Ndamukong Suh, Lions; Dontari Poe, Chiefs
It has been a revival season at the position, and Suh has come back as strong as any defensive player — a certain DPOY candidate to date. Poe has been perhaps the most improved player up front, warranting his lofty draft position in 2012. So Scott Pioli was right.
Defensive ends: Robert Quinn, Rams; Michael Johnson, Bengals
The Bengals sent Johnson a message when they gave Carlos Dunlap a long-term deal, and Johnson has responded with a quietly excellent start. Quinn has been a force off the right edge and is one of the few standouts in St. Louis. Again, lots of good candidates to choose from.
Outside linebackers: Justin Houston, Chiefs; Tamba Hali, Chiefs
Just couldn’t pull the trigger on the Browns’ Jabaal Sheard, who missed one game, although he has been excellent. Houston, the NFL’s sack leader, and Hali, who has been extremely well-rounded this season, are the picks.
Inside linebackers: NaVorro Bowman, 49ers; Kiko Alonso, Bills
With apologies to Sean Lee, David Harris, Derrick Johnson, D’Qwell Jackson, Luke Kuechly, Wesley Woodyard and others, we went with Alonso for his amazing coverage skills. And Bowman has been a near-lock pick; he has held the defense together with Patrick Willis banged up.
Cornerbacks: Richard Sherman, Seahawks and Joe Haden, Browns
What a debate. You could make a case for Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib, Leon Hall, Alterraun Verner, Brent Grimes, Patrick Peterson — any or all of them. But Haden has locked down some impressive receivers (near blankings of Mike Wallace and A.J. Green) and had only nine passes completed for 99 yards on his watch. Sherman has backed up his talk with stunningly good play. U mad bro?
Safeties: Eric Berry, Chiefs; Earl Thomas, Seahawks
We thought about Troy Polamalu, who looks like his old self, but in the end, it goes to Berry, who looks like a different player than in the past, and Thomas, who might be the best safety in the league, even with a few missteps in coverage now and then.
Kick returner: Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings
There have been two kick-return touchdowns this season, one of them by Patterson — a 105-yard beauty against the Bears at Soldier Field.
Punt returner: Dexter McCluster, Chiefs
His 89-yard score in Week 4 turned the tide when the Chiefs were holding onto a tight 10-7 lead over the Giants late in the third quarter.
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots
Where would they be without him? The team has scored 89 points total — 41 by Gostkowski — and all but two of his 22 kickoffs have been touchbacks.
Punter: Johnny Hekker, Rams
His net average of 44.5 yards and total of 21 return yards all season give him the nod here.
Coverage: Jeremy Lane, Seahawks
He has been incredible on kickoff coverage in what is the NFL’s second-best unit in this category.
Go reread the comment from above. It’s a slam dunk thus far.
Defensive player: Sherman
The game-changing interception against the Texans and his blanketing of Anquan Boldin in Week 2 were as good of corner play as you’ll see in this league.
Coach: Sean Payton, Saints
If you want to argue for Andy Reid, Marc Trestman, Mike Munchak, Joe Philbin, Pete Carroll, Bill Belichick or Chuck Pagano, you’d be justified. But one look at the Saints with Payton this season and without in 2012 tells you everything you need to know. His hire of Rob Ryan, roundly questioned at the time, has been an inspired one thus far.
Offensive rookie: EJ Manuel, Bills
Quarterback bias? Perhaps. And his numbers (74-of-130 passing, 856 yards, five touchdowns) are good but not earth-shattering. But he has looked poised and capable of much more down the line.
Defensive rookie: Alonso
Four interceptions, most among linebackers. Eight passes defended, tied for the most. One sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery. And for the Bills, much-needed hope at a glaringly bad position before.
Comeback player: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Coaching matters. Rivers looked increasingly lost the past two seasons, but he has come back with a vengeance and has been reborn under Mike McCoy’s watch. Also, he's doing it without a full arsenal of weapons.
Best game: Bears 31, Vikings 30, Week 2
A see-saw affair that had the Vikings on the verge of a terrific road win before Jay Cutler drove the Bears down and hit Martellus Bennett for a game-winning touchdown in the waning seconds. This one had it all.
Biggest disappointment (team): New York Giants
Their championship resume still fresh and the core of a talented team intact, the Giants were expected to be the favorites in a volatile NFC East. The division has been weak, but the Giants have been the worst of the bunch at 0-4. Crazy enough, they have every chance to steal the division back, but it will be a serious climb.
Biggest disappointment (player): C.J. Spiller, Bills
What happened to the run-him-until-he-vomits approach? Spiller only has been on the field 133 snaps this season, and he has but 75 touches for a combined 259 yards, with no scores. His receiving average (3.2) is actually lower than his rushing average (3.5). Take away his 46-yard run against the Panthers, and Spiller is averaging 2.8 yards per run. Fred Jackson has been the Bills' best back, by far.
Biggest surprise (team): Kansas City Chiefs
Even if you thought the Chiefs would be way better than the 2-14 mark from last year, a 4-0 start is still pretty impressive. The 3-1 Titans are a close second.
Biggest surprise (player): Doug Free, Cowboys
Offensive tackles don't get a lot of attention, but Free has earned it. He had a bad 2012 and took a major pay cut in May to stick with the Cowboys. He is currently the top ranked tackle in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. Nobody saw that coming.
Top 3 plays
1. Brian Cushing’s diving interception: An incredible display of balance, anticipation and concentration, and a game-changing play in a Texans Week 1 victory over San Diego.
2. Justin Hunter’s TD catch: Hunter’s first NFL catch couldn’t have been sweeter: A game-winning leaping catch in the final moments of a dramatic victory.
3. Antrel Rolle’s insane interception: It didn’t result in a Giants victory, but it was one of the freakiest interceptions we’ve seen in a few years.
Best story: Manning’s run at history, and his near-perfect quarterbacking. You might be sick of the story, but it has been a stunning display to date, one that cannot be denied.
Worst story: Josh Freeman’s back-and-forth battle with the Buccaneers that was equal parts immaturity, irresponsibility and pettiness, which ended in Freeman’s release Thursday. Both sides could have handled the issue far better than they did. It didn’t need to come to this.
Interesting trend: The rash of fines for defensive players and hard hits. The fines have been outrageously high, and some of the plays in question didn't look that out of line. Fans might not pay much notice to what players get fined, but they certainly will when repeat offenders get suspended. Oh, it’s coming.
Lasting image: Andy Reid getting doused with a Gatorade bath after the Chiefs’ emotional victory in Philadelphia over the Eagles, who honored him with a pre-game tribute. Reid had to feel pretty good about that moment.