The key to success over the course of a season, however, is consistency.
"Anybody in this league can go out and make a play or two plays," says New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, whose team leads the AFC East with a 3-1 mark. "There's plenty of talent on the field, but if you want to be a good team, you have to sustain it play-after-play, week-after-week. That's the big challenge.
"It's tough to win in this league."
Head coach Brian Billick of the Baltimore Ravens (4-0) knows there is more work to be done: "That's what life in the NFL is all about. ‘What have you done for me lately?'"
BALTIMORE: Fifth-year linebacker Bart Scott, who did not start a game for the Ravens until last season, is currently tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 5.0. Scott stands second on the team with 43 tackles to linebacker Ray Lewis' club- best 53, helping the Ravens reach 4-0. Kicker Matt Stover has made 29 field goals in a row dating back to last season – his career-longest streak and the longest active such streak in the league.
BUFFALO: The backfield tandem of J.P. Losman and Willis McGahee is clicking for the Bills. Already this season Losman has passed for his career game-high in yards (328) while McGahee has done the same in rushing yards (150). McGahee tops the NFL with 389 rushing yards and now has 13 career 100-yard games, tied with Joe Cribbs for the third most in club history (Thurman Thomas, 46; O.J. Simpson, 41).
CINCINNATI: The Bengals (3-1) aim for consecutive division championships for the first time in club history. Quarterback Carson Palmer has six TD passes thus far, three behind the league-leader (Donovan McNabb, Phil.) in aiming to lead the NFL in that category for the second year in a row. Running back Rudi Johnson is tied for the league lead with four rushing touchdowns. Cincinnati's defense has allowed only three touchdown passes against seven interceptions, led by safety MADIEU WILLIAMS with two picks.
CLEVELAND: Young offensive skill position players are growing together along Lake Erie as quarterback Charlie Frye, wide receiver Braylon Edwards, and tight end Kellen Winslow compose a formidable threesome. Through four games, Frye has accounted for eight TDs (five passing) to tie for the most among AFC QBs; Edwards stands third in the NFL in average yards per catch (19.1) among players with more than 15 receptions; and Winslow leads NFL tight ends with 22 catches. Defensive end Kamerion Wimbley tops AFC rookies with 3.0 sacks.
DENVER: Proving he can continue the team's tradition of rushing excellence, Tatum Bell leads all NFL players with at least 50 carries with a 5.1-yard per-carry average. Wide receiver Javon Walker is proving to be every bit the standout performer he was in Green Bay. A tough matchup for nearly any defensive back, Walker has 250 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns on 11 receptions in three games.
HOUSTON: Under the tutelage of head coach Gary Kubiak, quarterback David Carr owns the NFL's best passer rating of 108.9. Carr paces the AFC with seven touchdown passes and is completing a league-high 73.0 percent of his attempts. A significant pair of hands contributing to Carr's success is wide receiver Andre Johnson, whose 30 receptions tie for the most in the NFL. Johnson's 410 receiving yards trail league-leader Marvin Harrison (413) of Indianapolis by three.
INDIANAPOLIS: In addition to leading the AFC in passing yards (1,112) and tying for the second most TD passes in the conference with six, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is running it across the goal line as well with two rushing TDs on the year. Manning entered the season not having rushed for a score since 2002. In his first four NFL games – all victories for the Colts – rookie running back Joseph Addai is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, nearly a yard more than former Colts rusher Edgerrin James (3.7) posted in his first four rookie games in 1999.
JACKSONVILLE: Cornerback Rashean Mathis leads the NFL with four interceptions and with his most recent pick Sunday at Washington, now owns the franchise record with 16 just four games into his fourth season...Quarterback Byron Leftwich is finding third-year vet Reggie Williams open often as Williams is fourth among AFC WRs with 21 catches. His three TD receptions tie for the league high. No AFC rookie running back has as many third-down receptions as Maurice Jones-Drew, who has six for 83 yards (13.8 average) with two going for touchdowns.
KANSAS CITY: Continuing to churn out stellar performances, running back Larry Johnson leads the AFC in scrimmage yards with 457. Johnson has 11 100-yard rushing games in his past 12 dating back to 2005. The Chiefs' defense has not allowed a touchdown pass in its first three games of the season, marking the first time in franchise history that the club has accomplished that feat.
MIAMI: Defensive end Jason Taylor, with 3.0 sacks on the season, now has 95.5 in his career and is 4.5 sacks shy of becoming the 23rd player in history with 100. Ronnie Brown is one of four NFL running backs with at least 200 rushing yards (239) and 150 receiving yards (156). The Dolphins aim to become the 19th team since 1990 to begin a season 1-3 and advance to the playoffs. The 2001 New England Patriots, who began 1-3, won Super Bowl XXXVI.
NEW ENGLAND: Running back Laurence Maroney leads the Patriots and all NFL rookies with 294 rushing yards. His two TDs in a 38-13 win at Cincinnati Sunday marked the first time a New England rookie registered multiple rushing touchdowns in a game since Curtis Martin (five) did it in 1995. The Patriots are one of two AFC clubs (Jacksonville) to have six players with at least eight receptions, led by tight end Ben Watson with 12. Last season, Watson recorded his 12th reception on Nov. 13 in the ninth game of the year.
NEW YORK: Wide receiver Laveranues Coles is tied for the NFL lead in receptions with 30. Al Toon was the most recent Jets player to lead the league for a season with 93 catches in 1988. Kevan Barlow is tied for the league lead with four rushing TDs, tying for the second-most TDs overall. The last Jets player to lead the league in that category for a season was Emerson Boozer, whose 14 TDs in 1972 tied the Giants' Ron Johnson.
OAKLAND: The Raiders' defense stands ninth in the NFL in total yards allowed per game (283.0) – a 19-slot improvement from their 28th ranking (371.0) in the category through four weeks in 2005. Kick returner Chris Carr stands fifth in the AFC with a 27.1-yard average. If he maintains that figure, he would become the first Raider since Greg Pruitt (28.4) in 1982 to average more than 27.0 yards per return.
PITTSBURGH: Black helmets and gold pants continue to spell doom for opposing rushers. The Steelers own the fourth- best mark in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (78.3) and have posted a top-five league ranking in this area for four of the past five seasons. Despite an early season bye, Heath Miller (146) has the sixth-most receiving yards among AFC tight ends. His 87-yard touchdown reception on the season's opening night remains the longest in the league through four weeks of play.
SAN DIEGO: In his first season as the team's starting quarterback, Philip Rivers has proven worthy of the task. His passer rating (96.7) is the seventh-best in the league while his shiny 67.6 completion percentage is the NFL's third-most accurate mark. Led by 4.0 sacks from defensive end Shawne Merriman and two Quentin Jammer interceptions, the Chargers have yet to allow a rushing touchdown and lead the league in fewest yards allowed per game (184.3).
TENNESSEE: Rookie quarterback Vince Young started his first NFL game last Sunday and has thrown a touchdown pass in consecutive weeks. As its quarterbacks have dropped back to pass 143 times, the Titans' offensive line has only allowed six sacks. In fact, Tennessee – behind the pass-rushing exploits of defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (2.0 sacks) and rookie defensive back Cortland Finnegan (2.0) – owns a plus-two mark in sack differential (eight to six).
There's more excitement in store this week as the NFL kicks off the second quarter of its season with a bunch of intriguing games including a pair of always interesting NFC East matchups as the Washington Redskins visit the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys are hosted by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington all earned impressive victories in Week 4 – while the New York Giants had a bye –including the Eagles' 31-9 win over Green Bay on Monday night, highlighted by a four-touchdown performance from quarterback Donovan McNabb.
After missing significant playing time due to injury a year ago, McNabb leads the NFL with nine touchdown passes, including his 45-and 30-yard touchdown strikes on Monday, and is on pace for a career-best 36.
"I looked up on some of the highlights and I saw Peyton Manning score, so I had to outdo him," says McNabb of his career-best two rushing touchdowns against the Packers. "We have to focus on the mistakes we made in this game and try to eliminate them. Next week is a division game against Dallas and we need it. We look forward to the challenge."
A look at some of the NFC's sizzling starts through the first quarter of the season:
ARIZONA: The Cardinals receiving duo of third-year pro Larry Fitzgerald and fourth-year man Anquan Boldin continues to impress. Fitzgerald and Boldin are on pace to each post 1,000 yards receiving for the second consecutive season. On the defensive side of the ball, safety Adrian Wilson set the NFL single-season record for sacks by a defensive back with eight in 2005 and is on pace to equal that number with two sacks through four weeks.
ATLANTA: The Falcons' ground game has been a major reason for the club's 3-1 start. Atlanta leads the NFL with an average of 234.3 rushing yards per game and seeks to become the first team since the 1983-86 Chicago Bears to lead the league in rushing in three consecutive seasons. No team has averaged 200 rushing yards per game for a season since the Bears accomplished the feat in 1977. The Falcons are the only team in the NFL with three players to have rushed for at least 200 yards: Warrick Dunn (365), Michael Vick (333) and rookie Jerious Norwood (217).
CAROLINA: After an 0-2 start, the Panthers have evened their record at 2-2, winning consecutive games decided by three points or less, and that might be a positive sign. In two playoff seasons under head coach John Fox (2003, 2005), Carolina has posted a 13-6 (.684) record in games decided by seven points or less. Defensive end Julius Peppers has been a dominant presence, posting five sacks in the season's first four games, the best start of his six-year career.
CHICAGO: The Bears completed a perfect 4-0 first quarter of the season for the sixth time in the Super Bowl era, joining the 1985-87, 1989 and 1991 teams to accomplish the feat. Four of those five fast starters reached the playoffs (not in 1989). With eight touchdown passes, tied for second most in the NFL, and 1,061 passing yards, fifth-best in the league, quarterback Rex Grossman is on track to set franchise single-season records in both categories.
DALLAS: Third-year running back Julius Jones has rushed for 288 yards in three games, the best start of his career. Jones has now rushed for at least 70 yards in 18 of 22 career starts, including each of the first three weeks. Wide receiver Terry Glenn has three touchdown receptions in three games and may challenge Frank Clarke's franchise record of 14 established in 1962.
DETROIT: Three of the Lions four losses have been by seven points or less. Wide receiver Roy Williams ranks fourth in the NFL with 384 receiving yards, 29 behind the leader, Marvin Harrison. If Williams can lead the league, he would be the first Lion to accomplish the feat since Pat Studstill in 1966 with 1,266 yards. The club's defense has limited opposing rushers to 3.0 yards per carry, fourth best in the NFL.
GREEN BAY: Quarterback Brett Favre's six touchdown passes tie him for fifth-best in the NFL. The 16-year veteran needs 19 TD passes to eclipse Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino (420) for the most in NFL history. Rookie wide receiver Greg Jennings is quickly proving to be an impact player. The second-round pick from Western Michigan ranks second among rookies with 259 receiving yards and third with 15 receptions. The club's all-time rookie receiving leader is Sterling Sharpe, who had 55 catches in 1988, while Billy Howton holds the rookie receiving yards mark with 1,231 in 1952.
MINNESOTA: The trend in Minnesota this season has been to play close, exciting games. Each of the club's first four contests has been decided by five points or less, the first time that has happened in franchise history. Kevin Williams ties for fourth among NFL defensive tackles with two sacks. Pressuring the passer is nothing new for the fourth-year pro. Since Williams' 2003 rookie year, he ranks second in the NFL among defensive tackles with 28 sacks.
NEW ORLEANS: It's been quite a first quarter for the Saints, as the club has raced to a 3-1 start. Not only did they reopen the Louisiana Superdome in grand fashion on September 25 with a win over Atlanta, they also have successfully integrated a pair of rookies into the offensive attack. The NFL's No. 2 overall pick Reggie Bush has rushed for 147 yards and leads all running backs with 23 receptions. New Orleans plucked Marques Colston at the other end of the draft, as the seventh-rounder from Hofstra was the 252nd player selected. Colston leads all rookies and ranks sixth in the league with 336 receiving yards (20 catches) and ties for the NFL lead with three touchdown receptions.
NEW YORK: Running back Tiki Barber continues to be a key player for the Giants, both rushing and receiving. Now he's on the verge of a significant milestone. His 225 rushing yards bring his career total to 9,012, the most in club history. With 132 receiving yards, he now stands at 4,850. With 150 receiving yards, he will join NFL greats Marcus Allen (12,243 & 5,411) and Marshall Faulk (12,279 & 6,875) as the only players in NFL history with 9,000 rushing and 5,000 receiving yards.
PHILADELPHIA: Fourth-year tight end L.J. Smith continues to be a potent offensive option for the Eagles. His 18 receptions and 224 receiving yards each rank third in the NFL among tight ends. At this pace, Smith will surpass the single-season club record for receiving yards by an Eagles tight end, set in 1988 when Keith Jackson finished with 869. Second-year defensive end Trent Cole ties for the NFL lead with 5.0 sacks. In 19 career games, the 2005 fifth- round pick has 10 sacks.
ST. LOUIS: Torry Holt continues to cement his position as one of the NFL's premier wide receivers. Holt ties for the NFL lead with three touchdown catches, and ranks fourth with 26 receptions while his 332 yards receiving are seventh most in the league. The former North Carolina State star is on track for his seventh consecutive 1,300-yard receiving season. Running back Steven Jackson ranks second in the NFL with 367 rushing yards and bids to become the first Rams player to lead the league since Charles White (1,374) in 1987.
SAN FRANCISCO: Second-year running back Frank Gore has been effective both rushing and receiving, totaling 460 yards from scrimmage, the second-best total in the NFL. The 49ers' defense has kept the pressure on opposing quarterbacks through four weeks as the club's 12 sacks tie for the fifth-best total in the league. Linebacker Manny Lawson, a first-round pick from North Carolina State, ties for third among rookies with two sacks.
SEATTLE: The Seahawks are off to a 3-1 start in their quest to become the first Super Bowl loser to return to the game the following season since the 1992 Buffalo Bills. Safety Ken Hamlin has played a major role on defense for Seattle, returning from his injuries in 2005 to earn NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors in September, helping the club to a perfect 3-0 month. With two interceptions through four games, he is on pace for eight, which would be the most by a Seahawk since Darryl Williams' eight in 1997.
TAMPA BAY: The Buccaneers look to turn things around this week when they travel to New Orleans to face the Saints. Rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski makes his first NFL start after being selected by the club in the sixth-round from Toledo, where in 2003-04 he became the first quarterback in NCAA history to complete more than 70 percent of his pass attempts in consecutive seasons.
WASHINGTON: The Redskins closed the first quarter of the season with consecutive wins as the club has now posted 30+ points in five of its last seven regular-season games. Quarterback Mark Brunell guides an offense that ranks third in the NFL, averaging 371.8 yards per game and 5.9 yards per play. Wide receiver Santana Moss is averaging a stellar 19.2 yards per catch, eighth in the NFL among players with at least 10 receptions.