Week 3 had several shocking wins on Sunday. Here are some of our big takeaways:
» A Dolphins offense without a rushing threat is a Ferrari without an engine.
» Minnesota’s offense was cooking early and often, building a lead for its defense to hang onto later in the game.
» Everybody owes an apology to DeMarco Murray.
» What a difference a week and a new offensive coordinator can make for the Bengals.
Here’s what else we learned on Sunday:
1. After Buffalo generated just 10 yards in the first quarter, quarterback Tyrod Taylor went on to author his best outing of the season, hitting 17 of his first 21 passes and throwing a pair of touchdowns. Generating just 176 total yards against Carolina last week, the Bills cooked up six scoring drives and battled with fury against one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses. The play of the game for Taylor came on a fourth-quarter scramble that saw the nimble runner stumble to his feet with Broncos defenders swarming, only to jump up and frolic for a 7-yard, chain-moving scramble and a fresh set of downs. The Bills went on to put Denver away with a chip-shot field goal just minutes later.
2. All that talk about the Bills tanking was ultra-rubbish. While the roster is missing pieces, Buffalo’s defense came to play once again for first-year coach Sean McDermott. A third-quarter sequence saw the Bills coax Trevor Siemian into an ugly pick before snuffing out a fake punt in Denver territory on the following drive. While Siemian showed flashes of arm strength, decisiveness and touch — making a pristine, highlight-reel throw down the sideline to Bennie Fowler — he also hurt the team with another second-half interception that displayed troubling decision-making. It’s a reminder that Siemian is still developing under center.
3. C.J. Anderson (8/36) spent the first two weeks of the season as the unquestioned engine of Denver’s offense. The fifth-year runner was a ghost on Sunday until ripping through the Bills for 32 yards, a second-quarter gallop that set up a 12-yard scoring run by Jamaal Charles. The former Chiefs star played a pivotal role for Denver on Sunday, gaining 56 yards and the touchdown off nine carries. The Bills had a tougher time corralling Charles, but Sunday’s outing saw Buffalo successfully force Siemian into a slew of ill-fated, third-down passing situations. Future opponents will take notice.
1. The Panthers finally encountered a legitimate aerial attack after becoming the first defense since 1981 to allow three points or fewer in each of the season’s first two games. Drew Brees and Michael Thomas picked apart Carolina’s secondary, which tackles better than it covers. Stingy against the anemic 49ers and Bills, Steve Wilks’ defense surrendered big plays to Thomas, Ted Ginn, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Brees produced his highest passer rating (131.4) since last November while the Saints pounded out 149 yards on the ground.
2. Facing a beleaguered Saints defense that had allowed a staggering 88 completion rate on passes of 15 or more yards over the season’s first two weeks, Cam Newton generated a minuscule 43.8 passer rating with three interceptions in one of the worst performances of his career. Newton never looked right from the opening whistle, as the Panthers leaned even heavier than normal on the ground attack in the first quarter. Showing little faith in his quarterback with an 18-point deficit in the middle of the third quarter, “Riverboat Ron” Rivera opted to punt on 4th-and-5 from New Orleans’ 35-yard line. Once the game was out of reach, Derek Anderson came on to replace Newton near the five-minute mark in the fourth quarter. Rivera explained after the game that the late QB switch was simply “self-preservation mode” for Newton.
3. Coach Sean Payton acknowledged to the FOX broadcast crew that he has yet to figure out how best to utilize his three-headed backfield of Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara. Although Peterson flashed his trademark power and persistence on a few tackle-breaking runs, his presence on the field is too often a “tell” for defenses bracing against the run. Per play-by-play man Kenny Albert, Payton also praised Kamara as one of the smartest players he’s ever coached. The rookie should be in line for more playing time after putting the game away with an impressive 25-yard touchdown run.
1. The Jets sure didn’t look like the team we saw in the first two weeks of the season. Josh McCown earned himself a rare QB win, completing 18 of 23 passes for 249 yards and one touchdown, a 69-yard strike to Robby Anderson. The Jets also combined to rush for 96 yards on 30 carries split among Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire and Matt Forte. We aren’t putting the Jets in the AFC title game, but it was refreshing to see them put together an above-average performance and play with a greater desire than Miami, which was visible from the first snap.
2. New York showed the product of focusing on the run fits in the week’s preparation, bottling up Miami’s ground attack with relentless energy and enthusiasm. The Jets held the Dolphins to 11 yards rushing in the first quarter and kept the clamps on Jay Ajayi all afternoon, limiting him to 16 yards on 11 carries. Ajayi’s best run went for less than 10 yards. The Jets will remember their Week 3 win, a dominant defensive performance, as one of their highest moments of the season.
3. A Dolphins offense without a rushing threat is a Ferrari without an engine. The result was some ugly, ugly football from Jay Cutler and the Dolphins, with the passer often being forced to step up and out of the pocket before slinging passes into low, difficult areas for his receivers. Too often, plays ended with Cutler whipping passes into the knees of his targets. Also too often, Cutler ended up on his back. Miami avoided a shutout by scoring on the final play of the game, a pass from Cutler to DeVante Parker. Kicker Cody Parkey pushed the ensuing extra point wide left, appropriately capping a miserable day for the Dolphins.
1. What is it about the combination of Houston and Tom Brady that always produces amazing comebacks? Needing more than a field goal to overcome a last-minute deficit, Brady pieced together a marvelous drive that culminated with a 25-yard, bearing-astute TD catch by Brandin Cooks to seal the win. It stung for the Texans, but it was exactly what the Patriots needed to avoid what would have been a bizarre second straight loss in Foxborough. Brady completed 25 of 35 passes for 378 yards and five touchdowns. Cooks had 131 yards and two TDs on five catches. Not bad at all.
2. Deshaun Watson seems like a faster learner. In only his second NFL start, he made a habit out of schooling the Patriots‘ secondary with some fabulous passes that seem indicative of a man capable of truly being the Texans‘ franchise quarterback. He finished the game connecting on 22 of 33 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns while displaying a pocket confidence beyond his 22 years.
3. The Patriots had to win in amazing fashion because the Texans‘ pass rush made it difficult for Brady to match Houston’s offensive output. Jadeveon Clowney had two sacks and scored on a 22-yard fumble return and Whitney Mercilus also had a sack. This isn’t the same Texans team that lost to the Jaguars in Week 1.
1. Following a pair of three-and-outs to start the game, the Colts offense woke with a shudder, ripping through the Browns for four straight touchdown drives before the half. For the second straight week, Jacoby Brissett put a rash of positive moments on tape, gashing Cleveland for a pair of rushing scores and showing juicy chemistry with T.Y. Hilton (7/153/1). Brissett and Hilton combined for gains of 20, 25 and 31 yards, along with a 61-yard scoring bullet that put this game away in a hurry. Hilton has missed Andrew Luck as much as any player on this roster, but Brissett’s performance on Sunday — despite a quiet second half — speaks to how quickly he’s picked up Rob Chudzinski’s offense. The Scott Tolzien nightmare is over.
2. DeShone Kizer can’t take all the blame for a game that saw his receivers drop a whopping eight passes. The Browns rookie quarterback was again a mixed bag of ups and downs, putting together an admirable 10-play, 75-yard touchdown march before the half, but also hurting the team with two ugly interceptions after the break. A smattering of highlights — Duke Johnson‘s acrobatic, 19-yard touchdown run and Jordan Leslie‘s outrageous one-handed, 26-yard grab — don’t mask an attack that lacks an anchoring force on the ground and commits far too many costly penalties week to week. We also saw Kizer (22 of 47 for 242 yards with two passing scores, a rushing touchdown and three picks) miss open targets downfield and throw a handful of dangerous lobs, but it’s hard to see your pass-catchers when you’re constantly on the run.
3. This is a painful loss for the Browns, who saw their rebuilt defense flamed for a flurry of big plays before the unit jumped offsides on a key fourth-quarter, fourth-down attempt by the Colts. This was a generally sloppy performance by Cleveland, with 113 yards lost to penalty and too many mistakes by the team’s wideouts. This team still lacks identity in Year 2 of the new regime.
1. Eagles rookie kicker Jake Elliott made one of the greatest field goals in NFL history with a 61-yarder as time expired to win a topsy-turvy game. But Elliott would have never been in that position if not for a shanked punt by the Giants‘ Brad Wing to give the Eagles a shot at a last-second drive. Carson Wentz and Alshon Jeffery also deserve a huge assist for a difficult 19-yard connection, the longest reception for the Eagles all day, to set up the field goal with only one second left on the clock.
2. Eli Manning and the Giants offense finally heated up against a banged-up Eagles defense, but it was ultimately too late. Trailing 14-0 after 29 drives with only one touchdown all season, the Giants reached the end zone on three straight possessions to open a 24-point fourth quarter. New York focused on short throws and a hurry up offense to save their beleaguered offensive line, but a complete lack of a running game (again) and inability to make the Eagles pay early for their injuries came back to haunt the team. At least the real Odell Beckham was back, with a ridiculous pair of touchdown catches highlighting a nine-catch performance.
3. The Eagles will be grateful to get a win on a day they were missing four key pieces to their secondary entering the game, then lost star defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf), emerging linebacker Jordan Hicks (ankle) and running back Darren Sproles (wrist) all left with injuries and did not return. Winning a division game like this despite the injuries is a great example of managing the schedule, putting them at 2-0 in the division while the Giants go to 0-2.
1. Stefon Diggs was the champion of the day. With Sam Bradford still not healthy enough to play, backup quarterback Case Keenum went to Diggs early and often. Diggs finished with eight catches for 173 yards and two scores and was undoubtedly the best weapon on the field for either team, serving as the guy for Keenum (25 of 33, 369 yards, three touchdowns). Combined with a solid outing from fellow wideout Adam Thielen (five catches, 98 yards) and another good day from running back Dalvin Cook (27 carries, 97 yards, one touchdown), Minnesota’s offense was cooking early and often, building a lead for its defense to hang onto later in the game.
2. Tampa Bay had one of the more frustrating first halves of football that you’ll see. Loaded with talent at the skilled positions, the Bucs mustered just three points in the first half after multiple drives evaporated via incompletions and a Jameis Winston interception. The same issues dragged into the second half, though Tampa Bay did mount a comeback attempt with consecutive touchdown drives before another interception ended those hopes. Blame primarily falls on Tampa Bay’s complete lack of a running game (26 yards on nine attempts as a team), which never got going thanks to an early deficit. Winston was forced to throw 40 times and take more risks as time wound down (28 of 40, 328 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions) as Tampa Bay was playing from behind for the majority of the game.
3. Minnesota has to be happy with what its gotten in two of the first three weeks of action. Sam Bradford was magnificent in Week 1, and Case Keenum bounced back from a pedestrian Week 2 to light it up at home. Usually, losing a starting quarterback can derail a team aiming for contention. Minnesota didn’t miss a beat on Sunday. Credit Diggs, Cook, Thielen and a rock-solid defense that kept most everything in front of it against Tampa Bay for a 2-1 start to 2017.
1. Jordan Howard dashing for a 19-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime was a fitting way to end a sloppy contest at Soldier Field. Playing through a shoulder injury, Howard powered the Bears offense, dashing through Steelers arm tackles to the tune of 138 yards on 23 totes with two scores. The Bears ripped Pittsburgh on the ground, with rookie Tarik Cohen chipping in 78 yards on 12 carries. Behind an offensive line that opened holes, Howard and Cohen are a deadly twosome when they get rolling. If not for the ground game, the Bears wouldn’t have moved the ball. Mike Glennon did not play well for the second straight week. The quarterback tossed for just 101 yards on 15-of-22 passing (4.6 average) with a touchdown and interception. With wayward accuracy, Glennon could have tossed several more picks. The win might help keep him in the starting gig, but the calls for Mitchell Trubisky are likely to get louder after Glennon’s poor play continued.
2. The Steelers started the game half asleep and it cost them against an NFC cellar dweller. Ben Roethlisberger was slightly off target all game and couldn’t find the range deep. Le’Veon Bell still isn’t breaking tackles. Eli Rogers muffed a punt. Big Ben held the ball too long on a sack fumble. Only Antonio Brown (10 catches for 110 yards) came to play on offense. The defense got gashed on the ground against a team it knew couldn’t pass the ball. Pittsburgh fans have seen this sleepwalking road story before from Mike Tomlin’s team.
3. Marcus Cooper joined the Leon Lett club. The Bears defensive back scooped up a blocked field goal attempt at the end of the first half. Cooper, however, slowed and started celebrating before getting to the end zone. Steelers tight end Vance McDonald hustled from behind, knocking the ball out. The Steelers batted the ball out of bounds, which gave the pigskin to Chicago at the spot of the fumble. After a false start, the Bears settled for a field goal. The four-point swing could have ended the game in regulation. Luckily for Cooper, Jordan Howard saved the victory.
1. On a day in the NFL that was far more about fortifying free speech rights and respecting the experiences and tribulations of our fellow Americans than football, Jaguars owner Shad Khan linked arms with tight end Marcedes Lewis and linebacker Telvin Smith during the national anthem in London on one sideline Sunday. The Ravens also linked arms in a display of solidarity on their sideline, with a few of their highest-profile players like Terrell Suggs, Mike Wallace and Lardarius Webb taking a knee, according to The Baltimore Sun. Some Jaguars players also took a knee during the anthem. For complete coverage of what has been a somber but unifying day in league history, please follow links here and here.
2. All you need to know about the Jaguars‘ defense: Joe Flacco did not complete a pass until the 4:13 mark in the second quarter. Cornerback A.J. Bouye made one of the more athletic interceptions we’ll see all year on a midfield fade throw that Flacco has made so many times to his top receiver over the years that it’s become nearly mechanical. Calais Campbell, according to Pro Football Focus, logged pressures on a majority of his pass rush snaps in the first half, freed the backfield for another Dante Fowler sack and forced Terrance West‘s first fumble in 126 carries. The Ravens punted five times in their first 30 minutes. Baltimore’s 15 net yards were the fewest in one half in team history and they didn’t get to 100 until the 11:04 mark in the fourth quarter.
3. Has the offense reached a crisis point in Baltimore? Despite the team being 2-1, the Ravens entered Sunday morning’s game against the Jaguars as unbalanced as they were a year ago. Before their International Series tilt, Joe Flacco and Co. were 32nd in pass attempts and second in rushing attempts — the reverse of a team that finished almost dead last in rushing attempts and first in passing attempts in 2016. There were plenty of mitigating factors on a surreal Sunday for the Ravens and the rest of the NFL, of course, as many players took the field with heavy hearts. The Ravens could also blame their first trip across the pond, which has the potential to sap a team’s energy quickly.
1. Matthew Stafford came up a hair shy of another fourth-quarter come-from-behind victory. Trailing by four points, Stafford drove Detroit to the 1-yard-line with 12 seconds to play. Catching a quick slant, Golden Tate appeared to dive into the end zone. After officials reviewed the play, however, it was deemed the receiver was touched down just short of the goal-line, taking the score off the board. With only eight seconds remaining on the clock, by rule a 10-second runoff ended the game.
2. Devonta Freeman showed he was worth the big-money contract he signed this offseason. The bulldozing running back was a menace, trucking defenders to the tune of 106 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 totes. Freeman powered the offense up and down the field, churning out yards for a Falcons offense that didn’t punt until late in the fourth quarter. When the Lions loaded up the secondary to stop Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, Freeman made them pay. Credit the Falcons‘ offensive interior for opening huge lanes up the gut, and setting the edge to spring Freeman and Tevin Coleman on a bevy of stretch runs and sweeps.
3. Matt Ryan had gone 309 straight passes without throwing an interception. Then the Falcons quarterback tossed three in 15 throws. The first was a pick-six that safety Glover Quin read the whole way. The latter two were deflected passes that landed in the arms of corner Darius Slay. The turnovers allowed the Lions to stay in a game that Atlanta controlled handily most of the afternoon. The Falcons offense was a balanced force. Outside of two sacks given up by replacement right tackle Ty Sambrailo, the offensive line dominated. It’s clear after the last two weeks, Atlanta’s high-flying offense will be fine under Steve Sarkisian.
1. What a difference a week and a new offensive coordinator can make. Bill Lazor’s imprint on the offense was noticeable from the opening drive, in which Andy Dalton marched the Bengals down the field in 10 plays and 5:20 with a healthy run-pass balance. Cincinnati ended its touchdown drought on the drive with a 10-yard pass to A.J. Green, and visited the promised land again later on a well-designed pass to Giovani Bernard, who snuck out of the backfield against the flow of the play to catch a wide-open pass from Dalton and walk into the end zone. Cincinnati might be 0-3, and Dalton was a missed deep ball or two away from putting this thing to bed in the middle of the fourth, but its offense is night-and-day better than it was in the first two weeks.
2. Aaron Rodgers is off the overtime schneid! The Packers quarterback notched his first overtime win (improving to 1-7 in his career) thanks to a long completion to Geronimo Allison on a free play via an offsides penalty. Two snaps later, a Mason Crosby kick split the uprights and Green Bay completed the comeback. It didn’t come without struggle, though. A game that was primed to be a shootout hit a rut around halftime and lasted through the middle of the fourth before the giants awoke. The contest couldn’t have started much worse for the Packers, who matched Cincinnati’s opening touchdown but surrendered two more touchdowns in the first half, including one via William Jackson‘s pick-six of Rodgers (only the second in Rodgers’ career). The grind that was the third quarter made things look rather bleak for the Packers until the fourth, when Green Bay reeled off 10 points, including a hurried-yet-methodical drive in the final two minutes that ended with a touchdown pass from Rodgers to Jordy Nelson (stop us if you’ve heard that one before). Green Bay’s offense, which was booed by the home fans at one point during the game, came alive with just enough time to secure a victory.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Rodgers said of his first overtime win in a postgame interview with CBS’ Tracy Wolfson. “Glad to get that one off my back, get rid of that pick six and start a new streak on that one too.”
3. Today was the day Joe Mixon took over as the future of the Bengals at running back. The numbers — 18 rushes for 62 yards, and three catches for 39 yards — didn’t show it for a while (and neither did a slip on third-and-1 late in the fourth with the Bengals trying to put the game away), but the tape does. Lazor got Mixon involved early by way of the swing pass in the flats, and as the game wore on, the running back consistently gained 4-6 yards per carry, including a nice cutback on a zone play that moved the chains for the Bengals. If we’re just now noticing it, it seems as though Mixon’s ascension was in Cincinnati’s plans: The back received 57 percent of the offensive snaps (Jeremy Hill 23 percent, Bernard 20 percent) on Sunday.
1. It was fitting that 17 of Kansas City’s 24 points Sunday came off of three Philip Rivers interceptions, as for most of the game, the Chargers outplayed and outdrove the Chiefs only to lose the turnover battle (3-0) once again. Rivers set the tone early with a pick on the first drive of the game, adding two more in the first half as the Chiefs built their solid lead. Rivers had been relatively mistake-free in his first two games this season, but fell back into old habits against a familiar foe. The veteran quarterback’s mistakes hampered L.A. from the start and should raise questions as to who is to blame for the Chargers‘ 0-3 start. Is it Anthony Lynn’s conservative game-management — which surfaced again Sunday when he chose against having Younghoe Koo kick a 52-yard field goal in the second half? Is it Koo’s late-game misfortunes? Or is it Rivers, the veteran beyond reproach who has yet to navigate a successful transition to Los Angeles?
2. Handed great field position and scoring opportunities early, the Chiefs played a conservative game on offense, giving the bulk touches to Kareem Hunt, who went over 100 yards from scrimmage for the third time in as many career games. Hunt (17 carries, 172 yards) is the first rookie to do so since Matt Forte in 2008. His 69-yard touchdown — Hunt’s third score of 50-plus yards — iced the win and cemented his status as one of the sport’s great game-breakers and difference-makers.
3. When Hunt wasn’t picking up 10.1 yards per carry, his quarterback, Alex Smith, was getting smothered by the Chargers‘ pass rush, namely Melvin Ingram. The sixth-year linebacker was unstoppable against Kansas City, tallying three of Los Angeles’ five sacks on the day. The pairing of Ingram and second-year stud Joey Bosa is bound to be one of the most feared in the league, if it isn’t already, and is something — one thing — for Chargers supporters to look forward to as this winless transplanted franchise continues to find its footing in Carson.
1. Everybody owes an apology to DeMarco Murray (14/115/1). Largely written off, the veteran Titans back broke the game open with a 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, a feat that surprised a general public expecting Derrick Henry (13/54) to be crowned as the team’s unquestioned workhorse. The second-year back spent much of the game watching from the sideline. It’s worth noting that Seattle’s much-ballyhooed defense was gashed for 196 yards on the ground after allowing the Niners to blast away for 159 yards in Week 2.
2. What to make of Seattle’s offense? After an ugly — and, frankly, boring — start on Sunday, Russell Wilson leaned on a monster game from star wideout Doug Baldwin (10/105/1) to keep the Seahawks alive and kicking. With no hint of a ground game, Wilson threw for a career-high 364 yards with completions of 46, 36, 34, 27, 26 and 22 yards. Still, it was concerning to watch Wilson running for his life behind a messy offensive line and trying to complete passes with defenders dragging him to the ground. Wilson nearly led a magical comeback — pulling the Seahawks within six points with 1:50 to play — but it was too much to ask. It doesn’t help that Seattle’s once-epic ground game, with 69 yards at 3.1 yards per carry on Sunday, simply cannot impose its will in 2017.
3. Sunday marked a decisive step forward for Marcus Mariota, who was asked to make plays in obvious passing situations. He did just that on a well-blocked, 55-yard, catch-and-run scoring strike to Rishard Matthews before later unfurling a perfect touchdown pass down the sideline to rookie tight end Jonnu Smith. Mariota (20-of-32 passing with 225 yards and two scores) is a fascinating, lightning-quick scrambler, which sometimes overshadows how pretty of a passer he is inside an offense that saw him spread the ball to eight separate targets.
1. Kirk Cousins made his first, and maybe his finest, case for a big-time contract extension on Sunday evening. In his first prime-time game since signing a second franchise tag, the Redskins quarterback made mincemeat of Oakland’s defense, spreading the ball around to receivers at every position, en route to a 365-yard, three-touchdown evening. Thanks to a clean pocket, Cousins had time to lead three seven-plus-play touchdown drives and make decisive, accurate throws. The quarterback’s touchdown toss to fill-in tight end Vernon Davis (5 rec, 58 yards) was a thing of beauty. His first-half efficiency (17 of 19 for 173) was otherworldly. After two so-so outings, Cousins’ Week 3 performance will likely be Exhibit A when contract negotiations pick up after the season.
2. With Rob Kelley out, running back responsibilities fell to rookie Samaje Perine and newly minted Chris Thompson. While Perine was rather ineffective as a yard-gainer and lost a bad fumble in ‘Skins territory, Thompson proved his indispensable worth for the second game in a row. Washington’s leading receiver, Thompson caught six balls out of the backfield for 150 yards, including one back-breaking 74-yard gainer after Oakland had pulled within two scores. Thompson’s elusiveness and pinpoint cuts in the open field had Raiders linebackers and defensive backs on skates. Having compiled over 100 yards from scrimmage in back-to-back weeks, Thompson is earning every cent of his two-year extension.
3. Derek Carr will want to forget this game ever took place. The Raiders quarterback, who had been considered an MVP front-runner before Sunday night, looked completely unlike the 2016 Carr who was an accurate, deliberate gunslinger. Carr finished with an anemic stat line: 14-for-26 for a near-career-low 110 yards. After two first-half downfield attempts ended up as underthrown interceptions, Carr looked shaken. The quarterback was flat-footed in the pocket, taking four sacks for the first time since December of 2015. It doesn’t get any easier for Carr and Oakland’s passing game. Up next: the No Fly Zone in the Mile High City.
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