They threw their season away, everyone said. A slap in the collective face of their fans, people shouted. How could they give up on a guy they selected with the third pick in the NFL draft last year, the masses asked. Then the Browns played their first game after trading Trent Richardson, and we learned yet again that the NFL loves making fools of us all.
With backup quarterback Brian Hoyer at the helm and 31-year-old running back Willis McGahee, who was signed on Thursday, leading the team in carries, the Browns went into the Metrodome and scored an upset win over the Vikings, 31-27. They threw the kitchen sink at Minnesota, successfully pulling off a fake punt and fake field goal. The defense held Adrian Peterson to 88 yards on 25 carries. Hoyer threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns, though it took him 54 attempts to do so, and he turned the ball over three times. Jordan Cameron did his best Jimmy Graham impression, while Josh Gordon returned from suspension with a bang. At the end of the day, the Browns picked up their first win of the season and gave us our second big survivor loss of the season.
The unspoken goal may still be to tank for Teddy, but the Browns looked nothing like a team that threw its season away just five days ago. Instead, we were reminded how foolish we are whenever we think we have the NFL figured out.
Let's get to the rest of the Week 3 news.
Now that every team has played three games, we can start believing some of the unexpected things we've seen. In that vein, it appears there are two surprise defenses fantasy owners will have to watch out for the rest of the season. Let's start in Tennessee, where the Titans held Philip Rivers under 200 yards and limited the Chargers to 3.8 yards per carry. San Diego racked up 401 yards per game in the first two weeks, though that was a bit skewed by the big game against Philadelphia. Still, that the Titans held the Chargers to 5.2 yards per play was impressive. They shut down Pittsburgh in Week 1 and held Houston in check until late in their game in Week 2. This is not the defense owners could exploit last year.
Speaking of 2012's exploitable defenses, the Saints posted one of the worst defensive years in NFL history, giving up 440.1 yards per game. They dominated the Cardinals on Sunday, keeping Carson Palmer to 5.3 yards per attempt and intercepting him twice. After holding Atlanta to 17 points Week 1 and completely locking down the Buccaneers last week, despite a big game from Doug Martin, the Saints defense, it's clear, is much improved.
The Colts seemed like a great matchup for Colin Kaepernick. Terrelle Pryor ran for 112 yards against them Week 1, then Ryan Tannehill put 319 yards, 9.4 YPA and a touchdown on them last week. So it was shocking that Kaepernick had a terrible game, throwing for just 150 yards, 5.6 YPA and an interception. He didn't pass the 100-yard mark until late in the fourth quarter, and the Colts also held him to 20 yards on seven carries. He clearly missed Vernon Davis, but that doesn't excuse his spotty play against a defense that had been quite friendly to opposing quarterbacks each of the first two weeks. That makes two poor performances in three games for Kaepernick, and that may force us to recalibrate our expectations for him the rest of the year.
We're only three weeks into the season, but quite possibly saw the Ugliest Ugly we'll see all season. The Giants fell to 0-3 on the season in embarrassing fashion, losing to the Panthers 38-0. The score somehow doesn't capture the Panthers' dominance either. Eli Manning was sacked on six of his first 10 dropbacks. The Giants finished with just 150 yards, and most of those were in garbage time. They turned the ball over three times and held it for just 23 minutes. They ran for 60 yards, and that includes a 14-yard Manning scramble. It was a disaster from start to finish.
Carolina has a strong front seven, but the Giants' offensive line has become a real hindrance. The only player in this offense you can count on from week to week is Victor Cruz. After another stinker, David Wilson is persona non grata. Hakeem Nicks didn't catch a pass against the Panthers. Manning has eight interceptions against five touchdowns and is no more than a matchup play. The defense has been torched in all three games. The only hope for things getting better is that they can't possibly get any worse.
Week 3 observations
• Varying on a phrase made famous by Tom Petty, even the best players come up short sometimes. Aaron Rodgers threw for 244 yards, 5.7 YPA, one touchdown and two picks in Green Bay's loss to Cincinnati. The Packers have a bye next week, so be ready to turn to your backup.
• On the other side of that game, Andy Dalton was very efficient, completing 20-of-28 passes for 235 yards, 8.4 YPA, two scores and one interception. You can throw on the Green Bay defense.
• Tom Brady had to fight for everything he got Sunday, but his owners couldn't be upset with 225 yards and two touchdowns, all things considered. It looks like he'll get Rob Gronkowski back next week, and Danny Amendola shouldn't be too far away, either.
• Robert Griffin III looked a lot more comfortable this week, and he really drove the ball downfield well on what would have been a touchdown pass had the ball not been jarred loose when his receiver landed in the end zone. He also ran for 37 yards on six carries, including a 21-yard scamper. With each passing week, he gets closer to where fantasy owners expect him to be.
• Matthew Stafford had 385 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. The best quarterback every week might be whoever is playing Washington.
• Cam Newton finally had a day, throwing for 223 yards and three touchdowns while adding another 45 yards and a score on the ground. You can step back from the ledge.
• Russell Wilson predictably had a big day against Jacksonville, throwing four touchdowns in Seattle's rout. This was Wilson at his best, notching 9.6 YPA.
• Geno Smith had his best game as a pro, throwing for 331 yards and two touchdowns while also scoring on the ground in the Jets' 27-20 win over the Bills. He got 11.4 YPA against a team that had done a very nice job against Tom Brady and Cam Newton in its first two games.
• After getting just 5.0 yards per attempt on 48 passes, Sam Bradford, I feel pretty safe saying, probably isn't going to get it.
• Christian Ponder made plays with his legs against the Browns, but he came back to earth after a really strong second-half, Week 2 performance against the Bears. He threw for 228 yards, 5.4 YPA, zero touchdowns and a pick. The two rushing touchdowns were great, but you can't count on that coming through on a regular basis.
• Two weeks ago, the Packers were mired in a three-year, 100-yard rusher drought. They've had two guys eclipse the century mark the last two weeks. Johnathan Franklin picked up 103 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries after relieving an injured James Starks on Sunday. Franklin is worth pursuing on the waiver wire, but this is a tricky situation. Eddie Lacy is expected back after Green Bay's Week 4 bye.
• Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis each got 10 carries against the Packers. Bernard ran for 50 yards. Green-Ellis totaled 29. Bernard also caught four passes for 49 yards while Green-Ellis wasn't targeted once. The Bernard takeover is here.
• DeMarco Murray loves playing the Rams, huh? He didn't quite equal the franchise-record 253 yards he posted against the Rams in 2011, but 203 total yards and a touchdown ain't bad.
• Daryl Richardson didn't get a carry after dealing with a foot injury all week. Even when healthy, I don't think he's anything more than a bye-week replacement.
• The fact that Willis McGahee led the Browns with eight carries 72 hours after signing should tell you who will own this role going forward.
• Adrian Peterson has 281 yards on 69 carries this year, good for an average of 4.1 YPC. He got an even 6.0 last year. Is he the best back in the league? Yes. But this is a big reason the Vikings regression was so easy to see coming.
• It was one thing when Shane Vereen outperformed Stevan Ridley in Week 1. After Ridley was lapped by LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden in Week 3, his owners should definitely start worrying.
• Joique Bell did his best Reggie Bush impression Sunday, running for 63 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries and catching four passes for 69 yards. He has enough of a role in this offense to be considered a bye-week replacement even when Bush returns from injury.
• Bernard Pierce subsisted on volume against the Texans, but he didn't look all that impressive in picking up 65 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. He's going to have a role, but isn't too serious a threat to Ray Rice once the latter comes back from his hip injury.
• DeAngelo Williams had another productive day, going for 120 yards on the ground. He continues to be a quiet, reliable starter, though he has yet to find the end zone.
• Trent Richardson ran for a touchdown on his first carry as a Colt, but it was Ahmad Bradshaw who had a huge game, running for 95 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. The coaching staff said it was going to limit Richardson to 15 carries, but it's safe to say Bradshaw will have a role in the offense. He's way too impactful a runner and receiver to just entirely cede the backfield to Richardson. I wouldn't be surprised if we were looking at a 70-30 timeshare.
• Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling both had useful fantasy games, and that means we'll have to take them seriously as long as Steven Jackson is out. Rodgers got 18 carries to Snelling's 11, and I'd consider the former a solid flex play against the Patriots.
• Geno Smith wasn't the only Jet with a big day. Bilal Powell ran for 149 yards on 27 carries, completely dominating the touches out of the backfield. Chris Ivory got just four carries, indicating Powell will be the feature back as we move through the season.
• After two more ridiculous tightrope catches by Jordy Nelson, I feel safe saying there isn't a better sideline receiver in the league.
• Eddie Royal had two catches for 34 yards against the Titans. Yeah, that's more like it. I'd expect a whole lot more performances along those lines the rest of the year.
• Josh Gordon had a huge season debut, catching 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown. There were some rumblings that Cleveland would be open to trading him, and that would do wonders for his fantasy value. Despite the big game, there may not be a worse team for a receiver than Cleveland.
• Kenbrell Thompkins finally showed up, catching three passes for 41 yards and two touchdowns. He may not see the same level of targets once Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola return, but this could go a long way toward keeping him in Tom Brady's good graces.
• Vincent Jackson left Sunday's game against the Patriots with a rib injury. There's no word yet as to its severity, but for now consider him questionable for the Bucs' Week 4 game against Arizona.
• Nate Burleson came up with a huge game, catching six passes for 116 yards. I wouldn't go crazy to add him, though. I'm chalking up his performance to facing Washington more than anything.
• After Ted Ginn Jr. caught three more passes for 71 yards and another touchdown, it might be time to consider him as a rosterable player. Brandon LaFell had two touchdowns in that same game, but I prefer Ginn.
• Andre Johnson was likely out there at less than 100 percent against the Ravens. Houston visits Seattle next week, but you'll still want him in your lineup. Teammates DeAndre Hopkins caught six of his seven targets for 60 yards, and looks like a WR3. You might want to look elsewhere next week, though.
• Be honest. You never thought the Jets would have four different players contribute huge fantasy days all season, let alone in the same game. Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes joined Smith and Powell as top performers in Week 3. Hill caught three passes for 108 yards and a touchdown while Holmes had five receptions for 154 yards and a score. It doesn't much change their rest-of-season outlook, but I do feel a bit better about both as depth receivers as a result of their outbursts.
• Stevie Johnson got 13 more targets Sunday, catching six of them for 86 yards. He has 29 targets on the season and should be started every week in nearly all formats.
• Sidney Rice had a bit of a coming-out party, catching five of his seven targets for 79 yards and two scores. He should be a fantasy factor now with the bye weeks starting.
• This week's garbage-time All-Star was Cecil Shorts, as he took advantage of the soft defense Seattle played after building a huge lead; he finished with eight catches for 143 yards. Chad Henne has not looked good in either of his starts, but I still like him better than Blaine Gabbert for Shorts' stock.
• Jermichael Finley suffered a concussion early in Sunday's loss to the Bengals. Keep an eye on his practice involvement this week.
• I have to admit I was wrong about Antonio Gates, who scored another touchdown and totaled 55 yards on five catches. He's looking like a guy you should start weekly at a deep position.
• Rob Gronkowski is expected back Week 4 against the Falcons. Pay attention to his practice schedule this week, but I'll be recommending him as a starter if he plays.
• Coby Fleener had just two targets in the Colts win over the 49ers. Even with Dwayne Allen out for the rest of the year, maybe we should pump the breaks on Fleener as a starter.
• Vernon Davis missed that same game with a hamstring injury. There's no word as to his availability this coming week, but given that he was a game-time decision, I'd bet that he suits up. The Niners do have a short week, though, traveling to St. Louis to play the Rams on Thursday.
• Zach Miller's two-TD game was awfully fluky. They were his only two catches, going for just five yards. He remains a fantasy afterthought.
• The vaunted San Francisco defense allowed 27 points to the Colts, sacked Andrew Luck just once, and didn't force any turnovers. It has struggled in two of its three games, and now will be without Aldon Smith indefinitely. This might not be the rock-solid fantasy defense we thought it was.
• The Bengals showed us why sometimes you should trust a good defense, no matter the matchup. Sure, Green Bay scored 30 points, but the Bengals had four takeaways, four sacks and a touchdown. Don't get too hung up on supposedly bad matchups for a defense.
• Carolina pitched a shutout, sacked Eli Manning seven times and forced three turnovers. That's two strong performances in three weeks. This is starting to look like a unit you can trust weekly because of its front seven.
• Speaking of a defense you'll want to start every week, the Chiefs kicked off Week 3 with a dominant performance against the Eagles. Kansas City shut down the previously unstoppable Eagles, limiting Michael Vick to 13-of-30 passing for 201 yards. The Chiefs picked him twice and sacked him five times. LeSean McCoy had a monster day, but the Chiefs defense was the best unit on the field in that game.
MORE WEEK 4 FANTASY FOOTBALL CONTENT:
GONOS: Start 'em, sit 'em -- Who should start in place of Rodgers or Newton?
BELLER: Week 4 player stat projections -- Expect big things from the Colts this week
SI STAFF: Week 4 composite player rankings -- Manning tops QB rankings for second week
FLOOD: Waiver wire -- Uncovering the best replacements for players with Week 4 byes
BELLER, FLOOD: Weekly Roundtable -- Will Spiller start performing like a first-rounder?
McQUADE: Risers, Sliders -- Richardson will continue to rise with new team
BELLER: Fast Forward -- Browns aren't crazy; Giants' offense a disaster