NFL Weekend Recap:

Opening with the return of the replacement officials on Thursday night, week four of the 2012 NFL season marked the first weekend of normalcy yet and was a somber reminder that we are now one quarter of the way done with football this year.

Coming off their huge late-game win against New England, Baltimore was able to keep the momentum rolling on short rest, beating Cleve-land 23-16 in Baltimore. Despite some impres-sive yardage from both Brandon Weeden (320 passing yards) and Joe Flacco (356 passing yards), neither team looked terribly good on offense. While this type of output is merely the continuation of a trend for a Cleveland team that has looked overwhelmed on offense for much of the season, the Ravens will need to return to the offensive form that helped them beat New Eng-land, which means getting more out of Ray Rice than his meager 49 yards on 18 carries.

On Sunday, we saw five games decided by a field goal or less, some of which had more sig-nificant implications than others. Arizona beat Miami in what turned out to be one of the strangest games this season, bringing Arizona to 4-0 this year. The unremarkable rookie quarter-back Ryan Tannehill nearly broke Cam New-ton’s single-game rookie passing record with 431 passing yards.

In addition, little-known receiver Brian Har-tline put up a baffling 253 yards receiving, and as Grantland’s Bill Barnwell points out, nearly every other receiver who has had a game with 250 plus receiving yards has shown consistent production in their career. For the sake of Tan-nehill, the Miami Dolphins and Brian Hartline, let’s hope he does not buck the trend. More im-portantly, Arizona’s defense recovered all six of their forced fumbles, and in a league in which fumble recoveries have been shown to be almost entirely random, this was an incredible stroke of luck. In fact, for the season thus far, Arizona’s defense has recovered over 80 percent of their forced fumbles, a very high mark. Noting this, as well as the fact that Arizona has won three of four games by four points or less, it is becoming more reasonable each week to expect a regres-sion from this over-performing team. However, only time will tell how long Arizona’s run of luck will last, and consecutive games later this season against San Francisco, Green Bay and At-lanta will surely prove a litmus test for the most surprising team of the season.

Speaking of luck, the New York Jets have had quite a different experience from the Cardinals this year. The Jets lost all-pro corner Darrelle Revis last week and their top (and only legiti-mate) wide-receiver Santonio Holmes this week in a freak play in which he severely injured his foot and fumbled the ball (which San Francisco returned for a touchdown) on a catch in which no one touched him. San Francisco, meanwhile, continues to show why they are one of the early Super Bowl favorites, choking the Jets offense all game, and adding an interesting wrinkle to the offense with their use of young backup quar-terback Colin Kaepernick. Although San Fran-cisco’s defense makes most quarterbacks look bad, Mark Sanchez’s terrible decision-making on Sunday adds another sample to the increasingly lengthy list of mediocre games for him. Unfortu-nately, despite the folklore, Tim Tebow does not seem to be much of an upgrade, and between the injuries and the men behind center, the future looks bleak for the Jets.

Following the Jets in the unfortunate circum-stances pity parade is New Orleans and Green Bay. The former appears completely out of sorts. Between the various punishments and bounty suspensions, the one that appears most harmful is the loss of their head coach and leader, Sean Payton. The latter, Green Bay, had a victory ripped from their hands in Seattle last Monday, though in all fairness the larger concern is that the offense has looked much worse this year. Remember: they only scored 12 points in the referee debacle against Seattle. However, Green Bay turned it around Sunday by squeezing out a one-point victory over the now 0-4 Saints behind four Aaron Rodgers passing touchdowns.

To recap the rest of the weekend, Houston and Chicago asserted their dominance on both sides of the ball this week, quietly asserting them-selves as two of the better ball-hawking teams in their respective conferences. Philadelphia, Wash-ington and Atlanta squeezed out narrow wins over the New York Giants, Tampa Bay Bucca-neers and Carolina Panthers, respectively. What to take from these games? Michael Vick finally shook the turnover bug, and Atlanta got to 4-0 in a game in which they only had the opportu-nity to win because of a poor coaching decision by Carolina to punt on a late-game fourth-and-short. Washington is drinking the same Kool- Aid as Arizona, recovering a huge portion of forced fumbles while building the RGIII legend.

The Vikings advanced to 3-1, beating a De-troit team that hasn’t started the same four players in their secondary yet this season. Peyton Man-ning finally looked like, well, Peyton Manning as Denver demolished the Raiders 37-6 in a game in which the real story, Denver’s stalwart defense, will surely get overlooked. St. Louis beat Seattle and Cincinnati beat Jacksonville in possibly the two least important and interesting games of the season, unless of course you have an affin-ity for average young quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton and Blaine Gabbert, respectively.

Contact Keith England at [email protected].