Bill Belichick has a saying he uses to deflect credit when the Patriots win big games: “It’s a player’s game.”
“The game is between the lines. They have to make the plays,” he said at the end of the documentary, “Do Your Job: Bill Belichick and the 2014 Patriots.”
But if Sunday’s games taught us anything, it’s that the NFL is really a coach’s league. Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, a flop in his first four seasons, is finally playing like a No. 1 pick under new coach Bruce Arians. And Kirk Cousins, a former fantasy superstar and the prize of 2018 free agency, is floundering in Minnesota under his second offensive coordinator in two seasons.
The contrasting fates of Winston and Cousins are where we begin the Week 4 Review:
■ Winston and the surging Bucs were the biggest story Sunday, setting a franchise record for points with a 55-40 win at the Rams. The Bucs improved to 2-2, and they would be 3-1 had they not blown an 18-point lead to the Giants the week before.
“This team is starting to believe and see what they can be,” Arians said.
Winston has been on fire the last two games, throwing for 765 yards, seven touchdowns, and two interceptions. His completion percentage is up, his decision-making is much-improved, and he is pushing the ball down the field to his playmakers, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Winston is on pace for a career year in passing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, and passer rating.
The timing couldn’t be better for Winston, who is in the last year of his contract. The Bucs purposely are letting him play it out to see if they want to invest in him for the future.
Winston stalled in his development in 2017 and 2018 under former Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter, but Arians and assistant coaches Byron Leftwich and Clyde Christensen are getting the most out of Winston.
Arians may have messed up the game-ending field goal situation against the Giants, but the man knows how to coach quarterbacks and offense. In his five years in Arizona, he helped resurrect Carson Palmer’s career, the Cardinals twice made the playoffs, and they led the NFL in offense in 2015.
■ Meanwhile, the Vikings probably are wondering whether they can get a refund on Cousins. They dropped to 2-2 with a disappointing 16-6 loss at Chicago in which they gained just 83 yards (including penalties) through three quarters.
In 2018, the Vikings gave Cousins a three-year deal worth $84 million fully guaranteed, and it is looking like a big bust. The Vikings missed the playoffs last year, and the offense has been a mess this season.
“Everybody’s frustrated right now,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
The Vikings parted ways with last year’s offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, but Cousins has been even worse under the replacement, Kevin Stefanski. Cousins is throwing for just 183.8 yards per game, his completion percentage is down 5.5 percent from last year, he has only three touchdown passes in four games, and his 88.6 passer rating is his lowest since he became a full-time starter in 2015.
Cousins spent his first six NFL seasons playing for Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, two of the best quarterback coaches and play-callers in the NFL. Cousins beat out Robert Griffin III, took the Redskins to the playoffs, and made the Pro Bowl.
But he hasn’t been able to recreate the same magic in Minnesota. And the Vikings are basically stuck with him, owing him $29.5 million fully guaranteed next year.
■ A full-blown case of Minshew Mania has broken out in Jacksonville, with rookie sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew leading the Jaguars to a 26-24 comeback victory at Denver.
Minshew’s stats aren’t always pretty — he threw for just 213 yards Sunday — but he threw two touchdown passes against no interceptions, and he has shown impressive poise and improvisation for a rookie. On Sunday, he brought the Jaguars back from a 17-3 deficit, then led the game-winning field goal drive in the final 1:30.
The Jaguars improved to 2-2, and may have to keep riding Minshew’s hot hand even when Nick Foles returns from injury.
“You just go out there and feel like he’s going to be able to do it,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “The kid’s tough. It’s really remarkable what he’s doing.”
■ The Lions lost a tough one at home, 34-30 to the Chiefs, but they look legit in Matt Patricia’s second season as head coach. They nearly pulled off the upset, and gave Patrick Mahomes one of his toughest days as a pro. Mahomes completed just 57 percent of his passes, went 0 for 9 on deep passes, and was held without a touchdown for just the second time in 20 career starts.
The Lions ultimately didn’t get it done, as the Chiefs scored the winning touchdown with 20 seconds left. But they finished the first quarter of the season at 2-1-1, with solid wins over the Eagles and Chargers and the encouraging loss to Kansas City.
■ Sunday was “Regress to the Mean Day” in the AFC North. The Browns finally played up to their potential, and the Ravens came crashing back to earth, in Cleveland’s 40-25 thumping that was more of a blowout than the score suggests.
The Browns improved to 2-2 as Baker Mayfield played mostly mistake-free football, throwing for 342 yards, one touchdown, and an interception. And the Ravens fell to 2-2 as Lamar Jackson threw his first two interceptions of the season and Baltimore’s defense was exposed.
Mayfield got motivation from all of the recent criticism of the Browns.
“Threw us in the trash, we won’t forget it,” he said.
■ The Texans drafted an offensive tackle in the first round, then traded two future first-round picks for Laremy Tunsil, and yet Deshaun Watson is still second in the NFL with 18 sacks in four games (a pace for 72).
It’s becoming pretty obvious that the issues are not with the offensive line, but with Watson’s style of play.
■ The bad news for the Dolphins: They lost to the Chargers, 30-10, and for the third straight game couldn’t cover a three-score point spread (17 this time).
The good news: They doubled their scoring output! They entered the game averaging a league-worst 5.3 points per game.
DeVante Parker’s 34-yard touchdown reception Sunday was the Dolphins’ second of the season. They have allowed 21.
■ Bill O’Brien: His Texans once again tripped over themselves, turning in a pathetic 16-10 home loss to the Panthers and backup quarterback Kyle Allen, who became the first quarterback since 2005 to lose three fumbles and still win.
The Texans dropped to 2-2, and comically self-destructed, with O’Brien calling a double-pass in the red zone that resulted in DeAndre Hopkins throwing an interception.
■ Mike Vrabel: Pulled off a nice road win, 24-10 at Atlanta, to get the Titans back to 2-2. Marcus Mariota responded to a horrible loss to the Jaguars with an efficient 227 yards and three touchdowns.
■ Brian Flores: The 0-4 Dolphins have been outscored, 81-0, in the second half this season.
Flores is going to regret taking this job when owner Stephen Ross gets tired of all the blowouts.
■ Titans RB Dion Lewis: Another frustrating week, rushing four times for 16 yards and catching four passes for 4 yards. Lewis has just 67 total yards on 22 touches this season.
■ Lions WR Danny Amendola: Missed Sunday’s game with a chest injury. Has 11 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown this year.
■ Lions DE Trey Flowers: Had his second solid game in a row, with four tackles, a quarterback hit, and a forced fumble against the Chiefs.
■ Raiders RT Trent Brown: Played 55 of 67 snaps in the 31-24 win over the Colts.
Derek Carr was sacked only once, and the Raiders rushed for 188 yards on 5.9 yards per carry. But Brown has four false starts this year.
■ Raiders RG Jordan Devey: Remember the former tuba player and Patriots lineman from the 2014 season?
He has started the last four games for the Raiders at right guard. But he is likely out for the season after tearing a pectoral muscle.
(via NFL Research and ESPN Stats and Info)
■ The entire AFC South is now 2-2, the first time this has happened in a division since the 1970 merger.
■ The Bucs-Rams game was the first 55-40 game in NFL history, and the first game in which both teams hit a field goal of at least 58 yards.
■ The Bears are now 5-1 since 2018 when scoring fewer than 20 points. The rest of the NFL is 29-187.
■ Cardinals QB Kyler Murray has taken more sacks this year (20) than he did in 14 games last year at Oklahoma (18).
■ Bucs DE Shaq Barrett’s nine sacks tie him with the Jets’ Mark Gastineau for the most in NFL history through four games.