Regular referees were welcomed back to stadiums after they ratified a new eight-year contract with the league to end a lockout that began in June and saw replacement officials controversially handle games in the campaign’s first three weeks.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan completed 25 of 40 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns to spark the Falcons over visiting Carolina 30-28 on Sunday, but the Panthers did not fall until Matt Bryant’s 40-yard field goal with five seconds to play.
“We made the plays when we needed to,” said Ryan, who passed for 369 yards and three touchdowns. “That’s what you need to do week to week in this league.”
At Arizona, Jay Feely kicked a 46-yard field goal only 6:31 into overtime to give the host Cardinals a 24-21 victory over Miami for the 4-0 team’s best start since 1974, when it was based in St Louis.
Ryan Tannehill threw for a Dolphins’ rookie-record 431 yards but Miami lost in overtime for the second week in a row, falling to 1-3.
Houston reached 4-0 for the first time in club history with a 38-14 romp over Tennessee, which fell to 1-3.
Green Bay Packers, whose last-play loss last week at Seattle on a botched call by replacement officials helped spark a settlement with the regular referees 48 hours later, bounced back by edging winless New Orleans 28-27. Aaron Rodgers completed 31-of-41 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winning 11-yard scoring throw to Jordy Nelson with 7:00 to play. Drew Brees completed 35-of-54 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns, matching Johnny Unitas for an NFL record by completing a touchdown toss in his 47th consecutive game, but his Saints are 0-4 for the first time since 2007.
Reigning Super Bowl champions New York Giants fell to 2-2 with a 19-17 loss at Philadelphia. Alex Henerey kicked four field goals and Michael Vick threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Desean Jackson for the Eagles, whose three wins in four games have come by a total of four points.
New England’s Tom Brady threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns to rip Buffalo 52-28. San Diego downed Kansas City 37-20 to remain atop AFC West while Minnesota defeated Detroit 20-13 to move a game ahead of Chicago in the NFC North. St Louis beat Seattle 19-13, Washington edged Tampa Bay 24-22, San Francisco blanked the New York Jets 34-0, Denver dumped Oakland 37-6 and Cincinnati defeated Jacksonville 27-10.