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What to know from NFL Week 4: Bill Belichick should’ve gone for it against Tom Brady’s Buccaneers

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady looks to pass while being pressured by Patriots defensive back Kyle Dugger on Sunday night. (Elise Amendola/AP)
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The ceaseless hype concluded with Tom Brady on the sideline, dressed in road whites, hoisting his arms in celebration after a football clanged off the upright. “Pretty surreal,” Brady said in an NBC interview. “You know?” Brady won a nail-biter in his return to New England, which capped a wild day in which three unbeaten teams lost and the Arizona Cardinals rose to the top of the league. Here is what to know.

Bill Belichick should have gone for it. Belichick and his staff coached a great game against Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Patriots rarely showed the same defensive alignment, played different defenses after the snap than they showed before it and crowded the middle of the field, forcing Brady to concentrate on throwing outside the numbers. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called plays that allowed Mac Jones to find a rhythm, even as defensive tackle Vita Vea and the rest of Tampa Bay’s line limited the Patriots to minus-1 yard rushing. The Patriots weren’t the more talented team, and they had a rookie quarterback against Brady. But they could have won.

At the end of the Patriots’ 19-17 loss, Belichick made a suboptimal choice that contributed to the loss. Jones moved the Patriots across midfield, and the drive stalled at the 37-yard line with the Patriots facing fourth and three with 59 seconds left. Crucially, the Buccaneers had two timeouts left, which would give Brady plenty of time against a defense that had stiffened in the red zone but allowed the Bucs to move the ball all second half.

Bucs edge Pats in Brady's return

By going for it, Belichick could have given Nick Folk a shorter kick than 56 yards, which would have been a career long. Maybe even more important, it would have prevented a response from Brady. The Patriots needed a 56-yard field goal and they needed to stop Brady, two low-percentage scenarios.

Belichick had reason to kick, too. He had reason to believe in Folk’s leg — even in the driving rain, Folk’s kick nailed the left upright about a quarter of the way up. He also had reason to doubt his offense. McDaniels’s play-calling had mostly kept the Patriots out of third downs, but when they needed a conversion, they usually failed. The Patriots finished 2 for 9 on third down.

It wasn’t an easy call, and there’s no way to prove which choice was right. But even if Folk’s kick had sneaked inside the upright, the Patriots still would’ve needed to stop Brady one more time. New England had a better chance to win by trying to get the first down.

As it stands, the Patriots are 1-3 and two games back of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. Given the full-blown shellacking they suffered a week earlier against the New Orleans Saints, nearly knocking off the Super Bowl champions counted as significant progress. Jones looked ready to lead a playoff team. But Brady had beaten Belichick.

Ezekiel Elliott is good again. And that has helped make the Dallas Cowboys one of the best teams in the NFC. In a 36-28 victory over previously unbeaten Carolina, Elliott ran 20 times for 143 yards and a touchdown, with a long run of 47 yards that set up another score.

The Cowboys for years have built their offense around Elliott. This season is showing how effective he can be when deployed as a modern running back. He is a great pass catcher and one of the NFL’s best pass protectors at his position. The Cowboys also have used him in a running back share with Tony Pollard. They are keeping him fresh, using him in multiple ways and letting him be a complement to Dak Prescott’s passing.

With Dallas’s offense putting up 30-plus every week and Trevon Diggs — who intercepted his league-leading fifth pass Sunday — becoming one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks, the Cowboys can play with any team in the league.

WFT's defensive issues persist, but it rallies for a win in Atlanta

The Arizona Cardinals are legit. The Cardinals are the only 4-0 team in the NFL after they pounded the Los Angeles Rams, 37-20, in an upset that felt nothing like a fluke. (The Raiders could get to 4-0 on Monday night against the Los Angeles Chargers.) The Cardinals possessed the ball for more than 35 minutes and rushed for 216 yards. Even when the Rams knew the Cardinals would run late in the game, Arizona still pounded them.

The Rams entered as the consensus best team in the NFL, riding high after a convincing victory over Tampa Bay. Kyler Murray was brilliant as usual, but the Cardinals’ defense stood out most. The Cardinals faded last year because their defense faltered. Linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who looked overwhelmed as a rookie, has come on in his second year. Defensive lineman J.J. Watt has more in the tank than expected. Safety Budda Baker has become one of the better defensive playmakers in the NFL. Coordinator Vance Joseph’s defense held the Rams to their lowest point total with Matthew Stafford at quarterback.

Some of the Cardinals’ victories have been unconvincing, but Arizona looked like the real thing Sunday.

Trey Lance is getting closer to taking Jimmy Garoppolo’s job. It might be by necessity. A calf injury forced Garoppolo out of Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks at halftime, and Lance played the entire second half as a 7-7 tie turned into a 28-21 San Francisco 49ers loss.

Coach Kyle Shanahan thought Garoppolo would be able to play through the injury and didn’t realize Garoppolo wouldn’t be able to play until right before the 49ers left the locker room at halftime. The process made Lance’s transition even more difficult. “We have packages” for Lance, Shanahan said, “but the game plan wasn’t built for him.”

Even in a loss, Lance showed what he provides the 49ers. He led a late touchdown drive with scrambles, which were available because the Seahawks played deep to prevent big gains through the passing game. But the threat Lance presents with his legs mattered just as much — off one play-action pass that looked like a zone read, Lance hit Deebo Samuel deep down the sideline, where he was standing all by himself.

It’s not clear whether Garoppolo will be available next week, Shanahan said. Lance, a 21-year-old rookie who only played one game last season in college, may not have the experience or knowledge necessary to run the entire San Francisco playbook yet. Sunday made clear that the second he is, Shanahan will act. The 49ers traded up to the third pick to take Lance, and he gives them their highest ceiling. The 49ers have their bye in Week 6, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Lance is their starting quarterback in Week 7 — regardless of Garoppolo’s health.

John Harbaugh let the Ravens tie an obscure record. You may not have known the Ravens had run for 100 yards in 42 consecutive games, one shy of a record the Pittsburgh Steelers set in the mid-1970s. Harbaugh sure did.

On the final play of the Ravens’ 23-7 victory over the previously undefeated Denver Broncos, all the Ravens needed to do to ensure a win was kneel. They had only run for 97 yards — the Broncos walled off running lanes, and Lamar Jackson burned them for 316 passing yards, the second-highest total of his career.

But Harbaugh didn’t kneel. He called a quarterback sweep for Jackson, who scampered five yards and kept the streak alive to tie the record. Harbaugh said it was “100 percent” his decision. “As a head coach, I think you do that for your players and you do that for your coaches,” Harbaugh said. “It’s something they’ll remember for the rest of your lives.”

It may seem unnecessary or maybe even foolish to risk injury, no matter how small that risk was. But if Ravens players care about the streak and Harbaugh had a chance to improve morale heading into next week, then it was smart. Few coaches have a better handle on their locker room than Harbaugh. If he thought it was the right move, that can be trusted.

Justin Fields and Zach Wilson won. Fields bounced back from a brutal starting debut, averaging 12.3 yards per pass attempt with plenty of help from Darnell Mooney, who received 125 of Fields’s 209 passing yards, in the Chicago Bears’ 24-14 victory over the Detroit Lions. Fields needs refinement, as his sack for a 24-yard loss and an interception showed, but he also flashed the rocket arm and wicked speed that make him such a promising quarterback.

After a dismal start to his career, Wilson led the New York Jets to their first victory, a 27-24 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans. Wilson passed for 297 yards and led a drive to a field goal in overtime. He threw another interception but appeared far more in control than in the first three weeks of the season.

What to read about the NFL

Scores | Stats | Standings | Teams | Transactions | Washington Commanders

The latest: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, announced that the committee intends to issue a subpoena to compel the testimony of Commanders owner Daniel Snyder.

Exclusive: An employee of Washington’s NFL team accused Snyder of asking for sex, groping her and attempting to remove her clothes, according to legal correspondence obtained by The Post. A team investigation concluded the woman was lying in an attempt to extort Snyder.

Civil suits settled: Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has reached settlement agreements in 20 of the 24 active civil lawsuits filed against him by women who accused him of sexual misconduct, the attorney for the women announced.

Jerry Brewer: “The Browns were prepared for initial turbulence, but they assumed they were getting Watson at the end of his troubles. Now his disgrace is their disaster.”

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