NFC East hits rock bottom with winless Giants, Redskins; more Snaps
There are the 2-1 first-place Dallas Cowboys, and then there are disasters everywhere you look in the NFC Least. Let us detail the ineptitude, which includes a combined 3-9 record by division teams, with two of those wins coming in head-to-head play:
• Not sure how much meaning to attach to Cincinnati's win, its second at home in a seven-day span. The Bengals and Packers were my Super Bowl picks, but both teams turned the ball over four times, and looked ragged for different portions of the game. It was a modest step forward for Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, however. He completed 20-of-28 passes, for 235 yards, with two touchdowns, one interception and one fumble lost.
In the astounding stat of the week department, the Bengals are the first team in NFL history to ever lead by 14 points, trail by 16 points, and then win a game. It was that kind of rollercoaster ride at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
• The Browns' front office may be already thinking about 2014, but Cleveland's players stayed in the moment at Minnesota, showing they haven't given up on this season with a resilient 31-27 comeback win over the Vikings.
Who needs Trent Richardson when you've got receiver Josh Gordon, tight end Jordan Cameron and quarterback Brian Hoyer? OK, don't answer that one. It was rhetorical. But Hoyer, making just his second career start, did provide Cleveland's offense with a boost, starting well, overcoming three interceptions and then leading the Browns on a game-winning touchdown drive that ended with him hitting Cameron in the end zone from 7 yards out with 51 seconds remaining.
Hoyer completed 30-of-54 passes, for 321 yards, with three touchdowns and those three picks. Cameron had just six catches, but half of them went for scores, and Gordon was a beast, with 10 receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown. Even better, the Browns were fun, pulling a fake punt to set up a field goal, and executing a fake field goal that saw punter/holder Spencer Lanning throw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Cameron in the second quarter.
Lanning had quite the day. Not only did he throw that scoring pass, but he also subbed for injured kicker Billy Cundiff, kicking the PAT after the Browns' game-winning touchdown. I'll bet he didn't wake up on Sunday thinking he'd be the first player with a punt, extra point and a touchdown pass in a single game since Sam Baker did it in 1968.
As for the Browns' starting quarterback next week at home against Cincinnati, it has to be Hoyer. With him at the helm, Cleveland hung up 31 points on the road and got head coach Rob Chudzinski his first career win. The Browns had scored all of 16 points combined in their losses to Miami and Baltimore.
• Don't think for a minute the league office was thrilled with the decision of the 49ers' organization to go silent for two days and apparently leave it up to the NFL to mete out the disciplinary action against San Francisco's Aldon Smith, who was arrested early Friday morning on the suspicion of driving under the influence. The league would have been fully supportive if the 49ers had taken the lead and announced some punishment of Smith, but they have unsurprisingly opted to let the NFL play the enforcer role.
Shame on the 49ers, too, for letting Smith play against Indianapolis on Sunday, rather than taking a stand and making a strong statement about Smith's continued reckless behavior. Smith reportedly is being encouraged to seek rehabilitation for his substance abuse issues (and it was announced after the game that he will take an indefinite leave from the team), but the league is fully expected to add to his time away from the game at some point in the future. This was Smith's second DUI arrest, and as a repeat offender he could be in for a three- or four-game suspension, with the league expected to wait for the legal process to play out before making any announcement on his fate.
Wasn't it just the other day that Von Miller and Smith looked like the bright, young defensive superstars in the NFL stratosphere? Their resumes have lost plenty of luster this year.
• You have to look past a bunch of bad football to feel good about the Jets' 27-20 conquest of the visiting Bills, like a mind-blowing 20 penalties for 168 yards and two Geno Smith interceptions. But there were bright spots, and plenty to build on for New York. Smith threw for 331 yards on 16-of-29 passing, and also had a first-quarter 8-yard touchdown run.
And the Jets offense produced big plays for a change, with Santonio Holmes -- remember him? -- hauling in the game-winning 69-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, and receiver Stephen Hill catching a 51-yard scoring pass in the second quarter. Holmes had a huge, five-catch, 154-yard game, while Hill caught three passes for 108 yards and that touchdown. Balancing New York's offense out nicely was running back Bilal Powell, who rushed 27 times for a game-best 149 yards.
The Jets are 2-1, and even though they might not hang around with New England and Miami (both 3-0) in the AFC East all season long, they're in a whole lot better shape than the Giants (0-3), and who saw that coming?
• What a dream performance by the Saints defense against Arizona. So far this season, everything is going exactly as planned in coordinator Rob Ryan's makeover of the New Orleans defense. The Cardinals scored first on Sunday, going 80 yards for a touchdown drive, but it was all Saints after that in the 31-7 New Orleans victory.
The Saints are 3-0 for the first time since their Super Bowl season of 2009, and Ryan's defense has given up just four touchdowns in three games. Facing Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, the Saints sacked him four times, picked him off twice and held him to 187 yards passing with a 43.4 rating. That's the Palmer who has lost a ton of games in his past three-plus seasons, and the Saints kept him under pressure all day.
New Orleans also got interceptions from both of its key offseason acquisitions on defense, rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro and veteran free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis. Arizona's blowout loss will serve to tamp down some of the enthusiasm Bruce Arians' team had generated as a dark-horse contender in the tough NFC West. Of course, the Cardinals, at 1-2, are tied with San Francisco and St. Louis, so there's that.
• It's time to officially take the Dolphins seriously, courtesy of that 27-23 win over Atlanta in Miami's home-opener. Joe Philbin's team is 3-0 for the first time since 2002, and it's obvious second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has taken a step up in weight class this season. Tannehill out-dueled Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the guy Dolphins football czar Bill Parcells passed on in favor of offensive tackle Jake Long in the 2008 draft.
Tannehill endured five sacks by the Falcons, but he stood tall in the end, directing a game-winning touchdown drive that ended with his pretty 1-yard pass to rookie tight end Dion Sims with 38 seconds remaining. The only real downer for Miami was the loss of Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake to a knee injury in the second quarter. The Dolphins can't afford to be without Wake for long, but the undefeated September helps ease the pain of his loss.
• The Green Bay Packers have to be wondering where this version of the 49ers came from. San Francisco has lost two games in a row after beating Green Bay at home in Week 1, and Sunday's 27-7 drubbing at the hands of the inspired Colts at Candlestick Park forces us to contemplate that we might have over-rated the defending NFC champions.
And underrated the Colts, who I thought would take a slight step back this season after their 11-5 wild-card-qualifying efforts of 2012. Indy's running game was much improved as expected, but more credit goes to the emergence of veteran Ahmad Bradshaw than the acquisition of Trent Richardson. The ex-Giant came to life against the 49ers, rushing for 95 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Richardson scored on his first running attempt as a Colt, but totaled just 35 yards on 13 attempts.
Suddenly the 49ers are under .500 for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh coaching era, they trail first-place Seattle by two games and their offense looks quite mediocre. The Colts held Colin Kaepernick to just 150 yards on 13-of-27 passing, and Indy outgained the 49ers 336 to 254 yards, possessing the ball for more than 36 minutes.
San Francisco has been outscored 56-10 in the past two weeks, and now must face a short week and a trip to St. Louis for the Thursday night game. The Rams (1-2) have played San Francisco tough, going 1-0-1 against the 49ers last season.
• Seattle (3-0) didn't call it a bye week, but that was pretty much the end result in its pummeling of visiting Jacksonville 45-17. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson played just two-plus quarters, and still threw a career-tying four touchdown passes against the 0-3 Jaguars.
We're running out of ways to describe Wilson's game, but the NFL came through for us on Sunday, announcing that Wilson is now 10-0 at home in his career, becoming just the fifth quarterback to manage that kind of start to his career since the 1970 merger.
• Whatever mojo the Vikings had in winning their final four regular-season games to make the playoffs as a surprise NFC wild-card last season, it did not survive the offseason. Minnesota is 0-3 after the devastating home loss to the Browns, and for a second week in a row the Vikings gave up the game-winning touchdown in the final minute. Minnesota's defense is getting shredded, having given up at least 31 points for three weeks in a row.
And there's a decent chance the Vikings' secondary might need Antoine Winfield after all. Minnesota was already thin in the back, and against the Browns it saw defensive backs Chris Cook, Jamarca Sanford and A.J. Jefferson leave the game due to injuries. Winfield, the ex-Viking cornerback, is retired, but his phone might be ringing shortly, even if Minnesota is headed across the pond on Monday to prepare for next Sunday's game against Pittsburgh in London.
• If you haven't seen that last play of the Chargers' 20-17 loss at Tennessee, go find it. It had everything but the Stanford band in the end zone. San Diego's desperate attempt to keep the game alive included seven laterals and a Philip Rivers' kick of the ball. It didn't work, of course, but I'm sure it will be set to music and go viral in the coming days.
• Jake Locker was the star of Tennessee's win. The third-year quarterback might have had his best game yet, throwing for 299 yards, running for 68 yards and a touchdown, and capping his day by hitting rookie receiver Justin Hunter on a 34-yard scoring pass with 15 seconds remaining.
Locker connected with six receivers for 94 yards on the game-deciding drive, and the touchdown was the first catch of Hunter's career.
• Yes, the team's young receivers stepped up in New England's dominating 23-3 win over Tampa Bay, but don't sleep on the Patriots defense. Tampa Bay got very little going against New England, and the Bucs were just 5-of-18 on third downs, with the Patriots generating three fourth-down stops and taking the ball away via an Aqib Talib second-quarter interception.
The Patriots defense is better than many realize, and it's getting better by the week. After giving up 21 points in the opener at Buffalo, it held the Jets to just 10 points in Week 2, and dropped that number to three points against Tampa Bay.