EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Musings, observations and the occasional insight from a Week 3 in the NFL that has been long on backup quarterbacks and back-and-forth lead changes.....
• It’s tempting to think the Pope’s visit changed all that bad karma in Philadelphia, but more likely it was the Eagles’ ground game that did the heavy lifting this time. Whatever the case, Chip Kelly’s team had to have this one, and it earned itself a little redemption Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium, avoiding the abyss of an 0-3 start with a faith-restoring 24-17 upset of the previously undefeated Jets.
It got ugly in Philly last week on the heels of that debacle against Dallas, and there was no team in the NFL that had its back to the wall in Week 3 more than the Eagles.
“It’s a long year and I tried to tell everybody to relax, but it wasn’t easy,’’ Philadelphia offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said, just before heading for the team bus. “We were one game out of first place in our division and everybody was ready to fold up the whole team.”
The Eagles didn’t fold up against the Jets, even though a 24-0 lead became a 24-17 margin in the fourth quarter, and when it was over, you could almost hear an entire city exhale, roughly 90 miles to the south. It’s too early to call Philadelphia’s win a season-saver, but the Eagles knew they had to get their first win of the season to stave off a civic sense of panic, boost their own lagging confidence, and solve their burgeoning identity crisis.
“I think it can do a lot,” said Bradford, of the win. “Especially for us. I feel like the first couple weeks there was just a lot of pressure on us, feel like we all pressing a little bit. It’s just nice to get that first one. It wasn’t perfect today, and there are things we need to correct, but I think this is a great building block for this team.’’
The Eagles’ performance wasn’t artistic by any means, and Kelly got it right when he called it a “gritty” and “ugly” win, built around doing what Philadelphia had to do to win the game. Namely that was run the ball, even if starting running back DeMarco Murray missed this game with a hamstring issue. Into the lineup stepped Ryan Mathews, and finally the Eagles ground game took off, with the ex-Charger rushing for 108 of his team’s 123 yards, on 25 hard-working carries.
Could it be that Mathews’s running style fits better than Murray’s in Kelly’s offense? Or was it just a matter of the Eagles offensive line finally showing up ready to play? Both runners love to get up field and don’t dance around before they choose a hole, but the results speak pretty loudly so far. Murray had that galling 11-yard rushing total on 21 carries in Weeks 1-2, while Mathews ran determined against the Jets, ripping off an early 27-yard gain and also catching a 23-yard touchdown pass from Bradford in the second quarter.
Running back controversy anyone?
“He’s a real decisive, one-cut runner, stick his foot in the ground and go,” Kelly said of Mathews. “You’re going to have to run through some arm tackles and he did. He’s got some size to go along with his explosion. ....We really just kind of went back to basics, in terms of what we’re doing run-wise. And I thought Ryan hit it up in there a few times.”
To be sure, the Eagles aren’t going to win many games this season in which they finish with a modest 231 yards of net offense, and Bradford throws for just 118 yards on 14 of 28 passing. But the combination of an opportunistic Philly defense that generated four Jets turnovers, plus the team-record 89-yard Darren Sproles punt return touchdown at the beginning of the second quarter, was good enough to produce the victory the Eagles desperately needed. With Dallas losing at home (2-1) to Atlanta in its first game without quarterback Tony Romo in the lineup, the Eagles are now tied for second with the Giants and Washington (both 1-2) and have at least stopped the bleeding.
Shurmur is right, of course. It’s a long year. But if the Eagles didn’t find a way to get a W on Sunday against the Jets, somehow the season already would have felt like it was slipping away as September draws to a close.
• All you needed to see to know the Jets weren’t going to be getting to 3-0 on Sunday was that monumental brain cramp that veteran receiver Brandon Marshall suffered late in the first half, when he tried to lateral the ball to tight end Jeff Cumberland, who was trailing the play. Cumberland didn’t remotely seem to be expecting the ball, and there was an Eagles player between Marshall and Cumberland when he unwisely decided to play option quarterback.
Rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks recovered the ball, returning it 11 yards to the Jets 36 and setting up a short-field Philadelphia touchdown drive that made the score 24-0 and provided the eventual winning points for the Eagles. Thank you, very much, Brandon, said all of Philadelphia.
“He knows he can’t make that play,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said, channeling his best Mike Singletary. “We both know he can’t make that play. He can’t pitch the ball. He understands that. He knows that. We can’t have those type of plays during the game. Can’t do it.”
Marshall, to his credit, concurred, calling his horrible decision “probably the worst play in NFL history. You can’t do that. The damage outweighs the reward so much. You can’t do that. That’s backyard football. It was a bonehead play.”
The Jets won a big game on the road Monday night in Indianapolis, but they seemed to suffer the proverbial can’t-handle-success letdown against the Eagles. And now New York heads for London this week and next Sunday’s game against AFC East foe Miami in the Jets’ divisional opener. I’m not sure exactly what the Brits are getting at this point when it comes to New York. Bowles’s team looked like one of the turnaround stories of the young season in Weeks 1-2, beating the Browns and Colts decisively. But then came Sunday’s meltdown and now you have to wonder which version of the Jets is the real one?
• Baltimore is 0-3 for the first time in Ravens history, and it’s a well-earned distinction. The Ravens were a Super Bowl team in the eyes of many, but they look completely lost in pass defense and they’ve been uncharacteristically sloppy this season. Baltimore committed a whopping 13 penalties in its 28-24 loss to the Bengals, including five in the opening quarter. And that was after last week’s 10-penalty showing in the blowout loss at Oakland. After holding the Broncos without an offensive touchdown in Week 1, the Ravens have given up touchdowns in seven of their past eight quarters.
Are the Ravens toast in the AFC North, sitting in last place and trailing first-place Cincinnati by three games, and second-place Pittsburgh by two? No. Still, the Ravens shouldn’t kid themselves that they’re not in serious trouble. And things could very well get worse before they get better. They have a short-week road game at the Steelers this week, and that means they’re staring 0-4 squarely in the face.
Of the 0-2 clubs that lost on Sunday, maybe only the Saints come even close to rivaling the Ravens for biggest early season disappointment. John Harbaugh is suddenly facing the most difficult on-field challenge of his eight-year Baltimore coaching tenure.
• Credit the Bengals for winning a game they seemingly tried to lose, blowing a 14-0 first-half lead, and needing to rally twice in the game’s final six-plus minutes to put down Baltimore’s bid for a comeback victory. The “Bad Andy” Dalton threatened to show up for a while there, with his first interception and lost fumble of the season, but the Cincinnati quarterback made amends, throwing for a career-best 383 yards and three touchdowns on just 20 completions.
The Bengals, as usual, used receiver A.J. Green as a one-man wrecking crew against Baltimore, with Green catching 10 balls for a career-best 227 yards and two scores, both of which put the Bengals in the lead in the fourth quarter.
“One of these days we’ll figure out how to cover A.J. Green,” Harbaugh said, no doubt not lightheartedly. “It would be nice if we did that before he retires.”
• In the game of the day, Indianapolis Colts gave up 27 unanswered points to the Titans in Nashville, and still found a way to pull out a ridiculously entertaining 35-33 win that came down to a failed two-point conversion by Tennessee in the final minute. That kind of win has to be worth something significant to an organization that has been mired in early season turmoil.
If nothing else, Indy showed that as long as it has Andrew Luck at quarterback, it has hope. Luck threw for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 11 of 13 passing in the final quarter, after a pretty ugly first three quarters (7 of 17 for 116 yards and two picks).
The Colts can’t claim all their offensive issues are solved, but the win puts a huge band-aid on Indy’s troubles and gives Chuck Pagano’s team a chance to climb to .500 next week at home against Jacksonville. There’s nothing like the AFC South to fix what ails the Colts, who now have a 14-game winning streak in division play, and haven’t lost to the Titans, Texans or Jaguars since 2012.
By the way, the AFC South looks like this year’s version of the 2014 NFC South. Through three weeks, everybody in the division is tied for first, and last, at 1-2.
• Well, that ought to cool down Brandon Weeden Fever a tad. Not that you can blame the Cowboys’ backup-turned-starting-quarterback for Dallas’s 39-28 loss to visiting Atlanta. The Cowboys defense gave up 25 unanswered points to the Falcons after Dallas had built a 28-14 second-quarter lead.
Weeden was accurate, completing 22-of-26 for 232 yards, but he rarely connected downfield, and his second-quarter interception to Falcons defensive back William Moore helped turned the game’s momentum in Atlanta’s favor. Weeden started the game 9-of-9, but the nine that really mattered the most when all was said and done is that he’s 0-for-his-last 9 now as a starter, dating from his days in Cleveland. Pretty passes or not from Weeden, the Cowboys’ bid to piece things together in Tony Romo’s eight-week absence is off to an uninspiring start.
• If you’re scoring at home, it was not a stellar day for the No. 2 quarterbacks who were pressed into No. 1 roles due to injuries to their teams' starters. Weeden lost his first start for Dallas. Luke McCown could not get it done for the Saints at Carolina. Jimmy Clausen and the Bears took their expected beating at Seattle. And we’ll give Pittsburgh’s Michael Vick a so-so save after helping to secure the Steelers’ 12-6 win at St. Louis. If the Steelers have to play the sloppy Vick for long, after Ben Roethlisberger suffered a left knee injury in the third quarter, Pittsburgh could be in trouble.
• Pittsburgh’s defense got humbled in Week 1 at New England, but new coordinator Keith Butler must have figured some things out in that 10-day gap between games, because San Francisco and St. Louis have done next to nothing against the Steelers the past two weeks. Pittsburgh limited the Rams to a pair of field goals and frustrated quarterback Nick Foles for most of the game, limiting him to 197 yards passing and picking him off once in costly fashion. Rams running backs Tre Mason and Todd Gurley went nowhere, gaining a measly 25 yards combined on 15 carries.
It’s a nicely timed development for Pittsburgh, because with Roethlisberger reportedly out at least four weeks, the Steelers are clearly going to have to win with defense for the period of time that Vick leads the offense.
• The Rams' rookie running back who carried the ball six times for nine yards is certainly not the Todd Gurley that Rams fans have waited months and months to see, but he’ll require some patience to get back into game shape after his 10-month knee rehabilitation. You just wonder if the Rams are ever going to look like a big-league offense after watching them lose at Washington and home to Pittsburgh? What happened to all that Week 1 potential they flashed against Seattle?
• A pre-game fire on the field in St. Louis? You can’t blame this one on Rams owner Stan Kroenke. He was nowhere near the scene of the accident. And besides, burning bridges is more of his thing.
• I consistently seem to sell Carolina short, but the Panthers are one of only six 3-0 teams in the league (pending Green Bay’s Monday night game against Kansas City) and they seem to do whatever it takes to win each week. I keep thinking Carolina doesn’t have enough offensive play-makers to deserve mention among the NFL elite, but that defense is very stout, and maybe Cam Newton-to-Greg Olsen is all the Panthers really need.
• A road win for the Raiders? And you thought Sunday night's lunar eclipse was rare? Oakland got out of Cleveland with an impressive 27-20 win, and that pushes the Silver and Black above .500 for the first time since Week 16 of the 2011 season, when they stood 8-7 en route to a .500 finish. Oakland had lost 11 in a row on the road, and hadn’t won in the Eastern Time zone since winning at Pittsburgh in 2009.
Beating the Browns doesn’t pass for a quality win these days—when has it?—but the arrows are all pointing upwards for the Raiders. Oakland’s young aggressive defense had five sacks of Josh McCown, and Charles Woodson iced the game with a late interception.
And the Raiders are making strides on offense, too, getting a 314-yard, two-touchdown passing game out of second-year quarterback Derek Carr, with 134 yards receiving by standout rookie Amari Cooper. Oakland rolled up a whopping 471 yards against the Browns, who came into the season touting their Pro Bowl-laden secondary.
• Texans owner Bob McNair has shown some impatience with oft-injured Arian Foster this year, so I’m sure he’s the biggest Alfred Blue fan in the organization after Sunday. Blue, Foster’s replacement, ran for for 139 yards and a touchdown in Houston’s 19-9 win over Tampa Bay, and that may be the blueprint, if you will, for the Texans’ success this season: defense and a ball-control running game.
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston took another dip on the rookie rollercoaster after last week’s encouraging win at New Orleans. Winston was an ineffective 17 of 36 for 261 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, but he’s not Tampa Bay’s major liability. That would be soon-to-be-ex-kicker Kyle Brindza, who boomed a 58-yard field goal, and then managed to miss three other field goal attempts and an extra point.
Tampa Bay isn’t good enough offensively to be giving away a potential 10 points, as the 10-point loss in Houston nicely underlined.
• San Francisco played host to the Vikings in Week 1, with the 49ers beating Minnesota decisively. But if there were a rematch in store, I’d like the Vikings even more than I did the first time I picked that game. Minnesota has blown out both the Lions and Chargers at home since losing in Week 1, while San Francisco has gotten trounced at Pittsburgh and Arizona since then.
Sunday’s results: Minnesota 31, San Diego 14, in a game that didn’t seem as close as the score indicates; and Arizona 47-7 over the 49ers, in a game that should serve to turn up the heat on San Francisco rookie head coach Jim Tomsula, not to mention the two men who gave him the job: General manager Trent Baalke and owner Jed York.
I thought the 49ers would struggle mightily this season, but after their Week 1 victory, I reconsidered. My mistake. Won’t let that happen again.
Hey, Trent and Jed, how’s that Jim Harbaugh guy doing at Michigan so far?
• Did I really pick San Diego to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl? Yes, yes I did. Doesn’t look too shrewd so far, but the Chargers have always been a streaky team, and I still expect them to get hot and run down the Broncos in the AFC West at some point before the regular season is over. But I admit my faith in the Bolts is shaken after losses at Cincinnati and Minnesota. The good news is that with home games against Cleveland (1-2) and perhaps a Roethlisberger-less Steelers team just ahead, San Diego could be 3-2 and climbing in a couple of weeks.
• If Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin goes on to lose his job at some point in the coming months, as he is sure to barring a playoff berth, the defeat that could wind up marking the beginning of the end for him is likely Sunday’s embarrassing 41-14 no-show home-opener against Buffalo.
The Bills and Dolphins spent big this off-season to try to run down the Patriots, but what exactly is Miami getting for its money’s worth so far? That Ndamukong Suh-led defense that the Dolphins field just allowed the Bills 429 yards, with Tyrod Taylor riddling it for three touchdown passes and 277 yards. The Bills led 27-0 late in the third quarter, and picked off Miami’s big-money quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, three times.
The Dolphins have now lost two in row, with only a lackluster Week 1 victory at Washington to fall back on. Shots of Miami’s fans in the stadium had them looking either bored or disgusted, and it may be a good time to get out of the country if you’re the Dolphins, who play a “home” game against the Jets in London next Sunday.
• The Patriots aren’t messing around, people. They really are doing the whole 2007 thing, channeling all their frustration at the rest of the league into a game-day scoring-fest. New England hammered the Jaguars 51-17 in Foxboro, and that’s more points than Jacksonville has ever allowed in franchise history. And it has been far from a glorious history at that in recent years.
Tom Brady hit the 400 career touchdown plateau in the win, and to the Jaguars it must have felt like almost all them came on Sunday.
• To paraphrase Dennis Green: The Bears are who we thought they were. They’re who we thought they were. Especially with Jimmy Clausen at quarterback.
Seattle looked almost disinterested in the first half of its home opener, and still woke up in time to pummel Chicago 26-0, handing the Bears their first shutout loss since 2002. John Fox’s team has to be the worst thing going in the NFL this season, and punted on all 10 of its possessions against the Seahawks. And to think Chicago fired Lovie Smith not all that long ago after a 10-6 season. Those were the days.