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NFL Thoughts Week 4: Chicago Bears and Beyond

Week four of the National Football League is nearly in the books. It was another wild weekend of games, historically highlighted by the returning referees being applauded in every stadium.

Leon Halip - Getty Images

Every game this weekend started out as "Referee Appreciation Day", to welcome back the real refs after the lockout, but fans quickly let them have it as soon as a call went against the home team. Such is the life of a sports official.

As much as we cringed at every bad call made by the replacements, we complain about the calls made by the pros too. I think us, as NFL football fans, owe the temp refs our gratitude. If it wasn't for them stepping in for the preseason and weeks 1-3 of the regular season, there may have been no NFL for us to watch. The lockout could have drug on and games could have been cancelled.

I doubt the NFL owners would have allowed that to happen, then again I doubted they would allow the integrity of their sport to be questioned by having unqualified officials work the games in the first place. One replacement ref has spoke up about his experience, and he makes a solid point. Here's what Mike Peek, a former D1 college ref and replacement official, had to say;

"We did what we had to do. We kept the league afloat during the pre-season and during the first few weeks of the regular season," he says.

As for the standing ovation when the real refs returned Thursday, he says, "You know, they're the heroes now. They are the stars, they are the saviors of the game. I wish them well, I hope they have a great season."

It's great to see the experienced referees back in the NFL, but kudos to the other guys for stepping in and keeping the game around while they did. Now onto my on thoughts...

1) I'd say the New England Patriots put the AFC on notice with their 31 point 4th quarter explosion. As great as I think Tom Brady is, if the Pats can consistently establish the run, that offense is nearly unstoppable.

2) When is Mario Williams going to be Mario Williams? Buffalo made him the highest paid defensive player in the history of the league, and so far through 4 games Williams has given the Bills 9 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

3) As good as think the Pats can be, the Houston Texans are the best and most complete team in the AFC. J.J. Watt is playing like a prototypical 5 technique defensive end, and he's an early candidate for defensive player of the year.

4) I think the 'over the hill' talk about Peyton Manning was too premature. The Broncos are 2-2, having lost to quite possibly the two best teams in the NFL, and Manning has some damn good numbers after 4 weeks.

5) Brian Hartline, really? In his first 3 games this year for Miami he had 13 receptions for 202 yards. In week 4 against a very good Cardinals defense he went for 12 catches, 253 yards, and an 80 yard touchdown. Are the Dolphins starting to come around or is 4-0 Arizona a mirage?

6) I'm not sure if the 49ers beating the Jets would count as a good bounce back win, or if the Jets are just imploding. Mark Sanchez isn't even completing over 50% of his passes for N.Y., and they have a far more athletic QB on the roster that can be that bad.

7) A crazy end to the Sunday Night game last night with 3 pass interference penalties in the last 7 pass attempts by Eli Manning. All calls correct by the way. I wonder which coach will stand up and realize that icing the kicker is dumb. It nearly cost the Eagles the game.

8) Robert Griffin III is having a damn good rookie season, but he better learn how to slide. I don't think the Redskins want their guy taking all those unnecessary shots, especially with Rex Grossman waiting in the bullpen.

9) Raise your hand if you predicted the Vikings would be in first place in the NFC North after 4 weeks. Now slap yourself for lying. But in all seriousness, Minnesota is playing smart football right now. Christian Ponder is the only starting QB that hasn't thrown a pick and he's managing the game beautifully. If Adrian Peterson continues to get better as the season progresses, they could stay in the NFC playoff mix.

10) There are a couple of parallel story lines with this game tonight. Both Dallas (2-1) and Chicago (2-1) have two very good defenses and both offenses, in particular the QBs, have been plagued with inconsistency. It's early, but this intra-conference match up could have playoff implications down the road.