By Nick Shook
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What a bounce-back week for the road squads!
A week after the teams in unfriendly confines struggled to a 5-11 mark, visiting clubs have gone 8-7 through the first 15 games of Week 4. One team — the New Orleans Saints — even pitched a shutout.
Our winners include a rare appearance from a guy who isn’t lining up on offense or defense. Yes, you guessed it: We’re going with a kicker this week.
Onward and through the uprights!
Greg Zuerlein and Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
By my count, this is the first time I can recall us awarding a tie. But before you take to bashing us for putting a kicker on the same plane as one of the league’s best backs, hear me out.
Gurley is back for the second week thanks to another fantastic performance, this time against the Dallas Cowboys. Gurley’s monstrous game (23 carries for 121 rushing yards, seven receptions for 94 receiving yards and a touchdown) was undoubtedly what powered Los Angeles’ 35-point output. There’s no denying any of this — but we must turn to Greg the Leg, who outscored 12 teams by himself on Sunday.
Zuerlein’s perfect 7-for-7 (and 2-for-2 on extra points) day was good for 23 of the Rams‘ 35 points. We can sit back and bash kickers for doing little more than, well, kicking before returning to the sideline, but in a time when high picks (looking at you, Roberto Aguayo) struggle to find any semblance of consistency, and we’re seemingly seeing more kicks doink uprights than we can recall, it’s exciting to see a talented specialist boot his team to victory.
The Rams are for real. Their kicker is, too.
Also considered …
LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles
Blount led the league in rushing touchdowns last season, but the knock on him after Philadelphia signed him in the offseason was he’d never be anything more than a back useful in a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust scenario. Well, take a look at this run. You tell me how many clouds of dust that was worth.
Blount churned up 136 yards on 16 attempts, stiff-armed a defender three times on one play and put the game on ice with a clutch third-down run late in the fourth. Philadelphia improved to 3-1 on the back of Blount, whose ground success can only mean more good things for Carson Wentz and the Eagles in Year Two of the Wentz/Doug Pedersen pairing.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton had a rough Week 3. He did not have a rough Week 4.
Carolina’s star quarterback completed 22 of 29 pass attempts for 316 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, including four strikes to Kelvin Benjamin for 104 yards. The Panthers carved up the Patriots‘ defense, causing great concern for the unit back along the northeastern coast, and sprinted home with a buzzer-beating win on the leg of Graham Gano.
Things are looking up for the Panthers, who took home their third win in four weeks, and their most unexpected triumph of a young 2017 season.