NFL Winners and Losers: After a week of angst, the Browns are tied for first place

After last Sunday night, you’d have thought the sky was falling in Cleveland.

There was good reason. The Cleveland Browns lost in a bad way to the Los Angeles Rams to fall to 1-2. They gave away a game they could have won. Freddie Kitchens’ play-calling was criticized by just about everyone. Baker Mayfield was deep in a sophomore slump and getting heat from all corners, like Rex Ryan and Antonio Brown.

As it turns out, it was too early to pour dirt on the Browns.

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The Browns started 1-2 and it looked like it might be the same old Browns as they headed into Baltimore, but they blasted the Ravens 40-25 on Sunday. The offense clicked, with Nick Chubb having a huge day. The play-calling looked just fine for the first time this season. The defense, even down three key defensive backs, did a good job against Lamar Jackson.

And despite a rough start, the Browns finish September tied for first place, with a road win over the Ravens that will come in handy if tiebreakers get involved at the end of the season. Not bad.

The Ravens might regret Sunday’s loss. They just gave the Browns life, and it already looks like a two-team race. The Bengals and Steelers could be cooked already, after three weeks. The Ravens, with a home win over the Browns on Sunday, could have looked like the runaway favorite in the NFC North at 3-1. Had the Browns slipped to 1-3, the finger pointing and heat would have gotten much worse in Cleveland.

That didn’t happen. When the Ravens cut Cleveland’s lead to 24-18 in the fourth quarter, Baltimore immediately gave up an 88-yard touchdown run to Chubb. It was the kind of moment in which the Browns looked like they could go into a shell and fold. No offense to Cleveland, but nobody is used to the Browns being resilient. Instead, Cleveland pulled away in the final minutes. It was impressive.

The Browns were showered with endless hype over the preseason, and it wasn’t unwarranted. Cleveland has a very talented roster. There was, however, some doubt through three weeks. They got blown out by the Titans, were unimpressive in a win over a decimated Jets team and blew the game against the Rams. But this is the team everyone on the bandwagon expected to see. They’ll gladly take a share of first place a quarter of the way into the season.

Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns celebrates a Nick Chubb touchdown. (Getty Images)
Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns celebrates a Nick Chubb touchdown. (Getty Images)

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Sunday’s action in Week 4 of the NFL season:

WINNERS

Jon Gruden and the road-weary Raiders: When Oakland’s schedule came out, a stretch of games stood out. From Sept. 15 to Nov. 3, the Raiders wouldn’t play one game in Oakland. That’s ridiculous.

Before heading to London for a game next week, the Raiders got a big win. They came out hot against the Indianapolis Colts and controlled the game from the start. Derek Carr was efficient, the defense held up well and had a big touchdown late in the game after the Colts cut the lead to seven points. The Raiders evened their record at 2-2 with the 31-24 victory.

Gruden’s Raiders didn’t look very good the last couple weeks, being blown out by the Chiefs and Vikings. This stretch of away games could have gotten really ugly. An upset victory at Indianapolis keeps the Raiders afloat.

The winning-ugly Kansas City Chiefs: How many games would you expect the Chiefs to win with Patrick Mahomes throwing zero touchdowns? “Not many” is an acceptable answer.

The Chiefs showed they don’t need Mahomes to be a superhero every week, and they can win games without their “A” game. Kansas City didn’t play particularly well, but got a late 34-30 over the Detroit Lions to remain undefeated. Mahomes still was good, throwing 315 yards and picking up a huge fourth-down conversion on a run to extend the Chiefs’ game-winning drive.

It wasn’t a vintage performance. And the Chiefs still won. On the road. Against a Lions team that was 2-0-1.

Mahomes will have plenty of enormous games as he looks like the early favorite to win a second straight MVP award. But the Chiefs can also win when he’s not his dominant best.

Wayne Gallman Jr.: Gallman was like plenty of players around the NFL, stuck behind a very good player and waiting for a chance.

Saquon Barkley’s injury is bad for the Giants but it gave Gallman a great opportunity. He took advantage.

The Giants went out to an early 14-0 lead on two Gallman touchdowns. He caught a 6-yard touchdown from Daniel Jones and got in on a 1-yard touchdown run. It wasn’t Gallman’s first career start, but it was a big spot for him and he looked good. He had 63 yards rushing and 55 yards receiving in a 24-3 win. Barkley is already looking like he could beat his timetable and return from a high ankle sprain sooner than expected. Gallman’s strong performance Sunday means he won’t have to rush back.

Panthers defense: For all the praise for Kyle Allen last week, it was lost a bit that the Panthers defense put up eight sacks and throttled the Arizona Cardinals’ offense.

Allen has been good, but the defense is leading the Panthers back to relevance without Cam Newton.

Carolina went on the road, without defensive tackle Kawann Short and cornerback Donte Jackson, and still shut down the Texans.

Deshaun Watson is one of the NFL’s best players, but this was his line against the Panthers: 21-of-33 for 160 yards and no passing touchdowns. The Panthers held on to a huge 16-10 win.

The Panthers started 0-2 with Newton hurting. He’ll be out awhile with a foot injury. The Panthers’ defense has played a big role in getting the team back to 2-2, and the defense could keep them in the playoff race this season no matter who is playing quarterback.

Any good teams against the Kirk Cousins-led Vikings: Since signing Kirk Cousins, the Vikings beat the bad teams they play and are incapable of beating good teams. That’s who they are.

They have earned 2-2. They beat the Falcons and Raiders. They lost at the Packers and Bears. They will not surprise anyone. Just check if they’re playing a good team. Pick accordingly.

The Bears have a good defense but it was still shocking how inept the Vikings were most of the day on offense in a 16-6 loss. They were shut out until late in the fourth quarter. Cousins being strip-sacked to start the second half by Khalil Mack summed up the effort. Chase Daniel had to come in for Mitchell Trubisky after Trubisky was hurt and he was better than Cousins, who has an $84 million guaranteed contract.

The Vikings look great at times. Usually against inferior competition. It’s hard to make the playoffs if you can never get a quality win.

LOSERS

Jay Gruden: Perhaps by the time you read this, Gruden won’t be coach of the Washington Redskins anymore.

There was a report that a Week 4 game at the New York Giants could determine if Gruden kept his job. If that was the case, Daniel Snyder isn’t likely to keep him around another week.

The Redskins, coming off a terrible game against the Chicago Bears, looked terrible again as they fell to 0-4. The Giants didn’t have Saquon Barkley, but Wayne Gallman had a nice game. Rookie first-round quarterback Daniel Jones played fairly well for the Giants while rookie first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. struggled once Gruden put him in for Case Keenum. Haskins threw a pick-six that practically sealed Washington’s loss. New York ended up winning 24-3.

Washington’s season is beyond repair, and it seems hard to believe Gruden will survive the season. If reports are to be believed, he might not last another week.

Dan Quinn: Like Jay Gruden, Quinn might be concerned coming to the office on Monday.

The Atlanta Falcons are too talented to be this bad. They got worked by a Tennessee Titans team that had played poorly two straight weeks. Marcus Mariota looked like a superstar in what ended up being an easy 24-10 win. Mariota threw for 227 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions with rookie A.J. Brown having a huge game. At home, the Falcons’ offense moved the ball but couldn’t score against a decent Titans defense. Atlanta is 1-3 and the only win happened because Julio Jones saved them with a long fourth-down touchdown against the Eagles.

Since the Falcons blew the Super Bowl against the Patriots, Quinn’s stature in Atlanta has been slipping. He fired his offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators after the season. It’s early in the season, but it’s time to start wondering when Quinn might be next to go.

The Bills’ decision to go for it: It’s hard to blame the Bills for going for it, trailing 16-10 to the Patriots and facing fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line early in the fourth quarter. It’s hard to beat New England kicking short field goals.

That fourth-down pass fell incomplete, and the decision to go for it looked bad later in the game. The Bills, hoping to pull off an upset even after quarterback Josh Allen was knocked out of the game, got back into Patriots territory in the final two minutes. Instead of needing a field goal to tie, the Bills needed a touchdown to win. Cutting the deficit to 16-13 with a short field goal looked better in hindsight.

Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. A tipped interception after the two-minute warning ended the game. But perhaps the play-calling would have been different. Either way, it was a missed opportunity for a big win on a day when Tom Brady had just 150 yards. That doesn’t come along often. New England’s dominance in the AFC East looks like it will continue.

Miami Dolphins: Hey, at least the Dolphins led in this game. And Josh Rosen looked passable, with 180 yards and a touchdown.

It’s only four weeks into the season, but it’s looking each week like we’re seeing a historically bad team. The Dolphins lost 30-10 to the Los Angeles Chargers at home, and if Miami can’t keep the score within 20 points in that situation, can they beat another NFL team?

There are some truly bad teams in the NFL this season, but the Dolphins might be the worst. Ever.

The Air Raid offense: One edge the Arizona Cardinals might have had early in this season was the element of surprise. Nobody had seen Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. Perhaps there would be an adjustment period for NFL teams.

There’s an adjustment period but it’s not for Arizona’s opponents. A week after the Panthers sacked Kyler Murray eight times and won, the Seattle Seahawks came to Arizona and blew out the Cardinals 27-10. Murray had a fourth-quarter touchdown run when the game was practically decided. He didn’t do much other than that. Murray had 241 yards, no touchdown passes and an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Jadeveon Clowney.

The Cardinals are 0-3-1. Nobody seems fooled by their offense.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

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