Unexpected losses by solid favorite host teams in Week 4
By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer
The two most recent Super Bowl teams were at home against big underdogs. So the Patriots and Falcons lost.
Dallas held the Rams to two touchdowns in Jerry’s Palace. That seems like a sure bet.
Nope, should have taken Los Angeles, which got a career-high seven field goals from Greg The Leg.
Baltimore rarely loses at home to archrival Pittsburgh. On Sunday, the Steelers cruised in the NFL’s most physical rivalry.
Throw in Minnesota falling to visiting Detroit — we’ll ignore the Bengals winning in Cleveland because the Browns rarely win anywhere — and it was a strange Week 4.
It’s not unusual for visitors to have happy trips in the NFL, particularly early in the schedule when weather doesn’t play much of a role. Seeing top-level hosts play so poorly at home is hard to fathom, though.
Take the Ravens, who have dominated the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium, winning four straight in the series, plaguing Ben Roethlisberger so much that he was 2-7 in Baltimore.
Well, he’s now 3-7, and in the 26-9 victory the Steelers’ points were the most they’ve scored in Baltimore with Roethlisberger at quarterback.
“They’ve owned us here, and it’s no secret. I take that personally,” Roethlisberger said. “When you feel like you can’t come to this place and win a football game, it bothers you.”
Late Sunday afternoon, Big Ben was wearing a huge smile.
“It’s here. It’s hostile. My goodness, that’s fun,” he said. “It’s fun to come win this football game, here especially.”
Why did Pittsburgh basically romp in a den of horrors? Maybe the Steelers are just a whole lot better than the Ravens. They have a more efficient offense, particularly on the line and with the trio of Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. And while Baltimore’s defense normally is staunch and stingy, it was the Steelers’ developing unit that held sway.
To say the Panthers are better than the Patriots would seem a stretch, particularly at Foxborough. New England lost its opener to Kansas City, collapsing in the fourth quarter, so another home defeat in the first month of the schedule was absurd.
Except that, right now, the Patriots can’t stop anyone. Sure, Tom Brady and Co. can pile up points galore: New England has scored an AFC-high 129 points. It’s also surrendered a league-high 128. Had Houston converted a late third-and-1 last week, the Patriots would be 0-3 at Gillette Stadium.
Teams see the Chiefs putting up 42, the Texans and Panthers getting 33 apiece, and the intimidation factor lessens. Or disappears entirely.
“I thought their attitude, their effort and the way they prepared was what you have to do to give yourself a chance to win the game,” coach Ron Rivera said. “And we talked about it and we talked about it last night, that you shouldn’t come here hoping, you should come here expecting. And that’s what I think our guys did. They expected good things to happen today.”
The Rams apparently felt the same way in Dallas. Each time the Cowboys appeared ready to take control, Zuerlein slammed through another field goal. Or Jared Goff, looking more and more like a worthy choice as the top overall draft pick in 2016, completed a big pass. Or Todd Gurley, resembling his Offensive Rookie of the Year self of 2015, broke off a huge run.
All of a sudden, the Cowboys were falling 35-30, another example of a road team feeling right at home.
With the Rams, it might simply be a case of their being too young and inexperienced to recognize how uncomfortable another team’s stadium can be. Could be a lot of that going on.
“Big,” Goff said. “To finish this quarter 3-1 and having them be with big road wins with our defense on the field needing to make a stop and they do. It’s been a lot of fun so far and we look to continue it.”
It just might continue for a while because, with the exception of Denver, saying there’s no place like home doesn’t fit the NFL this season.
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