First Down/Fourth Down: Ryan Tannehill gets the job done again for Dolphins
Ryan Tannehill was the third quarterback selected in the 2012 draft, seven picks after Andrew Luck and six after Robert Griffin III. While those two players (and Seattle QB Russell Wilson, pick No. 75) stole the spotlight last season, Tannehill toiled in relative anonymity on a very average Dolphins team. He struggled all season to make plays, wrapping the year with just 12 TDs in 16 starts.
Both Tannehill and the Dolphins insisted the young QB was ready to take an important leap in 2013. So far, he certainly has.
After grinding out a win over Luck's Colts in Week 2, Tannehill led a last-minute drive Sunday to carry Miami past Matt Ryan and the Falcons, 27-23. Tannehill went 9-for-12 on that march and culminated it with a 1-yard TD pass to Dion Sims. With that and a quick ensuing stop by their defense, the Dolphins improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2002,
"We talk all the time about [how] quarterbacks have to make great decisions, they have to throw the ball accurately and they have to make plays at critical times in a game," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "Obviously, that drive ... we had to have points on that drive."
Tannehill has improved in almost every measurable stat from 2012 to '13 -- completion percentage (58.3 to 66.4), yards per game (205.9 to 275.7) and QB rating (76.1 to 94.3), to name a few. The only glaring issue at the moment: sacks. Tannehill has taken 14 in three games, most in the league, and is on a pace for 74 this season, 23 more than Aaron Rodgers' NFL-worst number in 2012.
The Dolphins are winning in spite of those blocking issues, with Tannehill thriving alongside a receiving corps that added Mike Wallace in the offseason.
Tannehill has a chance to really announce his presence to the casual NFL fan in Week 4, as the undefeated Dolphins visit 3-0 New Orleans on Monday night. Last year, Tannehill would have had no shot to hang with Drew Brees. Now? Tannehill appears more than capable of giving his team a chance to win, no matter the foe.
Don't look now, but the Dallas Cowboys have taken a fairly firm grip on the NFC East -- they're one game up on Philadelphia and two up on the winless Giants and Redskins. There will be more wins on the way, too, if Murray runs as he did Sunday against the Rams.
Murray rumbled through the St. Louis defense for 175 yards on 26 carries, despite losing two yards on his only fourth-quarter attempt in Dallas' blowout victory. That 175-yard total was the second best of Murray's career ... behind the 253 he gained against St. Louis in 2011.
49ers CEO Jed York announced after his team's 27-7 thumping at the hands of Indianapolis that Aldon Smith, who was arrested Friday on suspicion of DUI at 7 a.m., would take an indefinite leave from the team to receive treatment. So what in the world was Smith doing on the field Sunday?
The distraction of having Smith around might have played a role in San Francisco's humiliating loss. "First off, I wanted to apologize to the team, the organization, my family, everybody I let down," Smith said afterward. "I also want to let it be known that this is a problem and something I will get fixed."
This was an issue that went beyond the game's outcome, though. Smith inexplicably was allowed to practice Friday, mere hours after crashing his car and being taken into custody. Jim Harbaugh then declared after that practice that Smith would play in Sunday's game.
Everyone involved should have taken a step back here -- the 49ers to collect more information on the incident, and Smith to get his head together. Smith leaving now is a better-late-than-never situation, but it's hard to find the reasoning in the 49ers' young star playing on Sunday.
Separated by about three hours, the Titans' Hunter and Jets' Holmes delivered two of Sunday's most clutch catches. Hunter's came with his team down four to San Diego in the closing seconds. The rookie wide receiver leapt over CB Crezdon Butler for the game-winning TD -- Hunter's first pro catch.
Holmes later saved the Jets from a disheartening collapse against the rival Bills, reeling in a strike from Geno Smith and taking it to the house for a 69-yard TD. That score also stood as the game-winner, with the Jets overcoming 20 penalties to get the W.
• Fourth Down: Anyone doubting the Browns.
The Browns insisted after trading Trent Richardson that they were not giving up on 2013. Pretty much everyone (including yours truly) scoffed at that claim, only to be shut up when Cleveland came away with a 31-27 upset in Minnesota on Sunday.
QB Brian Hoyer, who might unseat Brandon Weeden permanently as the starter, overcome three INTs to throw for 321 yards and three touchdowns. The run game was stagnant without Richardson (Cleveland's leading rusher, DB Josh Aubrey, picked up all 34 of his yards on a fake punt), but the Browns got it done anyway. While this may not be a playoff team, it appears ready to scrap for the remainder of the season.
Stafford has at least a few passes in every game that are head-scratchers. Some he's throwing away; the others, he's just trying to get in the vicinity of Megatron. The duo hooked up for an enormous touchdown in the fourth quarter Sunday, one that pushed the Lions' lead to 27-17 and helped them snap a 22-game losing skid in D.C.
Johnson finished with seven catches for 115 yards (one less than teammate Nate Burleson). He also had another highlight-reel grab earlier, going high along the sidelines and somehow managing to keep both feet inbounds to open the drive that gave Detroit a lead.
• Fourth Down: Tom Coughlin, Mike Shanahan and Mike Tomlin.
Between them, this trio of coaches owns 415 NFL wins and five Super Bowl titles. Through three weeks of the 2013 season, they're a combined 0-9. The Steelers joined the Giants and Redskins at 0-3 late Sunday night, as their comeback fell short against the Bears. Giants fans usually have a hot seat ready for Coughlin when his team struggles; could Shanahan and Tomlin start feeling the heat, too?
"We’ve got to get better," Tomlin said following Pittsburgh's 40-23 loss to Chicago. "We know it. We understand it. It doesn’t make it any less painful but that’s just the reality of where we are."
• First Down: Baltimore and Chicago's ability to go old-school.
Speaking of Chicago, Marc Trestman's bunch is one of just seven undefeated teams remaining in the NFL. The Bears offense delivered the knockout punch Sunday, but the defense came through with a prototypical performance -- five turnovers forced, three sacks, two touchdowns scored.
The reliance on a throwback approach was even more prominent in Baltimore, where the Ravens awoke from a first-quarter slumber with a Daryl Smith INT return for a score and an 82-yard Tandon Doss punt return TD before halftime. The Ravens headed into the half with fewer than 80 yards of total offense ... and a 17-6 lead.
• Fourth Down: London.
Promote the game! Grow the brand! Watch two 0-3 teams play!
The first of two London games this regular season will take place in Week 4, with the winless Steelers and winless Vikings meeting in Wembley Stadium. Not quite the treat that Roger Goodell had in mind for the British fanbase. Game 2 of the international series, San Francisco vs. Jacksonville in October, may not be any better.
• First Down: Rob Ryan.
Another week, another stalwart showing from the Saints defense. This time, new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan put the clamps on visiting Arizona in a 31-7 victory. The Cardinals actually led 7-0 after marching 80 yards on the game's opening drive. They would generate zero points and only 167 more yards of offense from then out, with the Saints forcing a pair of turnovers.
• Fourth Down: Bill Leavy's crew.
It's not too much to expect the NFL referees to know the rulebook, right? Referee Bill Leavy and the league had to explain away a pair of blown calls from the 49ers-Packers Week 1 showdown. Leavy then botched another one Sunday, hitting Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier with a 15-yard penalty after Frazier challenged an automatically reviewed play (a miscue famously made by Jim Schwartz on Thanksgiving 2012).
The problem is the league has since adjusted the rule to first take away a team's timeout if they have one -- and Minnesota had three. Missing a call here or there is understandable. Consistently failing to implement the rules correctly, at this level of football, is pretty inexcusable.