All of you who said before the season that the Eagles would be 3–0 with Carson Wentz, that the Vikings would be undefeated without Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson, and that the Rams would be leading the NFC West with the Cardinals dragging behind at 1–2 … well, you’re all a bunch of liars. Nobody said that. In any event, let's go spinning through a Week 3 that featured everything from some sick one-handed grabs, Odell Beckham Jr. getting in a fight with a kicking net (and losing) and a Cam Newton that may have a permanent indentation in the Bank of America Stadium turf. As always, if you witness a good/bad coaching or officiating decision or have a nomination for the play of the day, be sure to tweet me @GregABedard or hit me up on Facebook @gregbedardNFL.
Your resident “Wet Blanket of Reason” takes the temperature of the most intriguing storylines out of Week 3 of the 2016 NFL season:
Go crazy, folks:
The Vikings aren’t going away: With Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson inured, you’d figure the rubber would meet the road for Minnesota during its two-game stretch against the Packers and on the road at Carolina. Yeah, about that ... after trouncing the Panthers 22–10, the Vikings are now 3–0 and have two straight home games coming up against the Giants and Texans. If it wasn’t for Bill Belichick, Mike Zimmer would be running away with the Coach of the Year Award.
The Eagles are Super Bowl contenders: Looks like we have a new contender in the NFC. After dismantling the Steelers 34–3, the Eagles are very much in the conversation as a Super Bowl contender. It might seem a little early to say that, especially with rookie QB Carson Wentz, who will come back to Earth as teams see more of him, but the Eagles are playing that well in all three phases. Much of the adoration will go to Wentz (23 of 31, 301 yards, two touchdowns, 125.9 rating) and deservedly so. But at least on this day, the Eagles’ defense deserves a standing ovation. Jim Schwartz’s unit was all over the Steelers’ vaunted attack both in the running game (29 yards) and passing (54.5% completions) and it takes a huge effort to keep Ben Roethlisberger & Co. to just three points.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day: Ryan Fitzpatrick’s six interceptions were the most in the NFL since Peyton Manning did it for the Colts against the Chargers in 2007. And it actually could have been worse. Fitzpatrick threw at least three more passes that could have been intercepted. That’s the nature of the beast with Fitzpatrick. He was on the week before against the Bills and torched them. This time, he was the one who was torched. That’s what happens when you make your living on 50-50 balls.
Marcus Peters and the Chiefs' defense on display: The Chiefs’ defense limited Jets receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker to four receptions and 58 yards combined in their 24–3 victory. Peters was terrific with two interceptions.
Welcome back, Bills and Redskins!: Both Buffalo and Washington faced a torrent of warranted criticism in their 0–2 starts but rebounded to “save” their seasons with tough victories (the Bills beat Arizona 33–18; the Redskins eked out a 29–27 win over the Giants). Washington’s victory was especially impressive because it came after losing two starters in the secondary (CB Bashaud Breeland, S DeAngelo Hall) to injury. The Bills completely dominated a Cardinals team that appeared to forget its 10 a.m. (Phoenix time) wakeup call for kickoff.
Redskins WR Jamison Crowder is fun to watch: Washington trailed New York 21–16 early in the third quarter when it faced a third-and-15 at its 45-yard line. Crowder took a little slip screen and wound 55 yards for a touchdown that breathed new life into the Redskins.
Blocking problems in Carolina: The Panthers’ tackles, Michael Oher and Mike Remmers, still can’t block when they need to. Cam Newton was sacked eight times and hit another four times officially.
Breathe easy, Indianapolis: The Colts were very close to starting 0–3 and sending GM Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano into scorching hot seat mode, but survived 26–22 against the Chargers. Andrew Luck had a fumble returned for a touchdown and an interception lead to a field goal, but his 63-yard scoring strike to T.Y. Hilton allowed the city of Indianapolis and the Colts’ brass to breathe a little easier for a week.
Stop blowing it, San Diego: Just think (because you know Mike McCoy will be later tonight): The Chargers could be 3–0 and sitting on top of the AFC West if they didn’t blow two fourth-quarter leads on the road at Kansas City and Indianapolis.
A Rams rebirth ... maybe!: Not only did the Rams score their first offensive touchdowns of 2016 (four total!) but they beat the Buccaneers 37–32 after a weather delay to improve to 2–1 and, with tiebreaker in hand from a Week 2 win over Seattle, are in first place in the NFC West. Much-maligned QB Case Keenum put the Rams ahead to stay with a 43-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin on third-and-2 with 4:38 remaining. Who would have thought that next week’s game between the Rams and Cardinals (1–2) would loom so large so early?
Slow your roll:
We're still not buying the Ravens: Baltimore may be 3–0, but I'm not convinced. So far the Ravens have beaten Buffalo by six, the Browns by five and the Jaguars by two. They’ll get better as the season goes along, and after last season’s tour de bad luck they’ll certainly take 3–0, but Joe Flacco has thrown three touchdowns against four interceptions and has a 77.4 passer rating. That is nowhere near good enough.
Packers aren’t back to normal just yet: The Packers looked like they were back in action as they held a 31–3 lead on the Lions in the second quarter. But after that, they were outscored 24–3 for the rest of the game and barely hung on for the 34–27 victory. The offense is still too static and dependent on Aaron Rodgers and his receivers to win one-on-one battles. Mike McCarthy needs to scheme things up a little more if Green Bay is really going to become the contender it should be.
Tyrann Mathieu can’t be flubbing fumble recoveries: Tyrann Mathieu may be one of the better players in this league, but if he wants to be great, he has to fall on the fumble with just over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter in Buffalo when Arizona was down two scores. Honey Badger made a great play to strip Tyrod Taylor at the Arizona 33-yard line, but then he missed at least three chances to recover the ball as he bumbled it out of bounds from the middle of the field all the way to the sideline at the Arizona 40. Because Arizona never had possession, the ball went back to Buffalo.
No, Blake Bortles is not good: Can we officially stop with the “Blake Bortles is good” talk? Bortles, after another rough outing, led the NFL with six interceptions—until Ryan Fitzpatrick completely imploded against the Chiefs. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill is still the same guy under new coach Adam Gase: The Dolphins QB has zero pocket awareness, and he shares a lot of the blame for all the hits and sacks he takes.
Odell Beckham Jr. needs to chill out. While throwing a temper tantrum on the sideline, Beckham Jr. got in a fight with a kicking net and lost, as he got hit in the head. Dude, it’s a long season.
About Sunday Night
Not much to be said about the Sunday night game between Chicago and Dallas. Even without Pro Bowl LT Tyron Smith, the Cowboys’ offense finally looked like the balanced version most envisioned as the game started to slow down for rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott (30 rushes for 140 yards). Mix in QB Dak Prescott’s efficient 19 of 24 for 248 yards and his first career touchdown pass (one running), and you have the Cowboys building a 24–3 halftime lead and then comfortably winning 31–17. The Bears threatened to make it a one-score game a few times in the second half, but QB Brian Hoyer (30 of 49, 317 yards, two touchdowns to Zach Miller) couldn’t close the gap. The Cowboys have a chance to move to 3–1 without QB Tony Romo if they win at San Francisco next week.
A look at the best and worst coaching decisions from Sunday.
The normally risk-averse Lions coach Jim Caldwell could have taken the field goal on fourth-and-goal at the Green Bay two-yard line, since there was 8:26 left in the third quarter, but his decision to go for it helped make a game of it when Matthew Stafford hit Anquan Boldin to make it 31–17.
He ended up getting away with it, but what was Redskins coach Jay Gruden thinking with six seconds left in the first half? With no timeouts left, trailing 21–16 at the New York four-yard line, quarterback Kirk Cousins tried to make a play after his initial read was covered, took a sack, and time ran out. The Redskins have to get a field goal, or Cousins has to throw the ball immediately. That’s poor coaching.
Seems like Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was just as asleep as his players were when he declined to challenge a 24-yard pass to Bills WR Robert Woods with 1:13 left in the first quarter. The ball appeared to bounce off the ground. On the next play, LeSean McCoy ran 24 yards for a touchdown.
Everybody loves to hate the refs, but let’s take a closer look at how the zebras performed today:
— Clear and obvious evidence is still the standard for replay reviews, right? Then why did the officials reverse the play in the 49ers-Seahawks game where Jimmy Graham was ruled down by contact?
— Officials in the Jaguars-Ravens game initially ruled a diving touchdown catch by Allen Robinson incomplete because at the end of the play, the ball was knocked away. But after reviewing the play, the officials finally made a common-sense catch call: Robinson scored a touchdown and the ball was popped out too late. Good job Gene Steratore!
— Offensive holding needs to be called more throughout the league. There are wrestling matches going on in the trenches, and offenses already have enough advantages. Keep it fair for defensive linemen.
— Can Dean Blandino please whisper in the officials’ ears and tell them that if they’re going to call a 66-yard pass interference penalty—like the one against Lions CB Nevin Lawson guarding Packers WR Trevor Davis—that it needs to be blatant? A little hand jockeying should be let go, on both sides. What a cheap touchdown for the Packers.
— I didn’t mind the officials in the Giants-Redskins game making New York center Weston Richburg the first player tossed because of two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Richburg just needs to shut up and play the game. You’re an offensive lineman. No one wants to hear anything from you.
— Great call by the Raiders-Titans officials to flag Tennessee LT Taylor Lewan for unnecessary roughness for diving late and really hard into a pile, trying to push Tajae Sharpe into the end zone. The penalty, which occurred with the ball at the Oakland three-yard line with 27 seconds left, probably cost the Titans a legit shot to tie the game.
Coolest thing I saw
Patrick Peterson’s incredible one-handed interception going out of bounds with 14:10 left in the second quarter was just about the only thing the Cardinals did right on Sunday. It would have been a great play for a receiver to make, but for a cornerback to do that, it’s almost unbelievable.
— Lions RT Riley Reiff showed a lot of hustle and athletic ability chasing down Packers CB Damarious Randall on a 44-yard interception return early in the second quarter with the Lions down 21–3. Green Bay only got a field goal off the turnover.
—Redskins TE Jordan Reed made a great one-handed catch with 5:25 left in the third quarter, and then he had the presence of mind to break three tackles on the way to a first down.
Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself…
A look at a previously unheralded player (or players) who popped this week:
Trevor Siemian, QB, Broncos: O.K., everybody knows he’s the starting QB for the Broncos, but he didn’t officially arrive until his sterling performance against the Bengals in a huge road victory for Denver. Siemian was 23 of 35 for 312 yards and four touchdowns in the 29–17 victory. It was just the third time ever that a Broncos QB threw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns in a road game (Peyton Manning did it twice in his 2013 MVP campaign). Compare Siemian’s performance with that of Brock Osweiler’s in the Texans’ shutout loss to the Patriots on Thursday night and ... O.K., John Elway, you’re a genius. We’re on board with every decision you make from now on.
Quinton Dunbar, CB, Washington: Not only did the 2015 undrafted free agent out of Florida make a tremendous catch on a fourth-and-15 fake punt pass, but he had an incredible one-handed interception of Eli Manning in the end zone with 13:42 left in the game.
Terrelle Pryor, Athlete, Browns: Cleveland’s loss at Miami certainly wasn’t due to any lack of effort from the former Ohio State quarterback. Pryor had 144 yards receiving, 35 yards passing and 21 rushing yards. According to the NFL, he was the first player with over 120 receiving yards, 30 yards passing and 20 rushing yards in a single game since Frank Gifford on Dec. 6, 1959.
Numbers sometimes lie
Christine Michael’s final line of 20 rushes for 106 yards and two touchdowns makes it look like the Seahawks’ rushing offense is back after a 37–18 victory over the 49ers, but take away his 41-yard score and he averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt, and that’s the same average when you factor in backups Alex Collins and Terrence Magee (seven rushes for 24 yards combined). While Russell Wilson (15 of 23 for 243 yards and a touchdown) was sensational before his serious-looking left knee injury (MRI pending, though it's believed he has sprained his MCL), Seattle’s offensive line still has to be better, especially if Wilson is out.
Numbers sometimes don’t lie
The Bengals were penalized nine times for 69 yards against the Broncos including five that gave the Broncos first downs (three came on third down). Cincinnati continues to be an undisciplined group that seems to disintegrate in the biggest games.
After the whistle
Well, we’re almost through Week 3—let’s take a look at the standings. The Patriots, who have started two different quarterbacks and won’t have Tom Brady back for another week, are 3–0 and have a two-game lead in the AFC East. The Ravens are 3–0 in the AFC North while the Bengals are 1–2, the AFC South is more terrible than normal after watching division leader Houston lose to Jacoby Brissett, and the AFC West has three teams with winning records (and another in the Chargers that could have been 3–0). In the NFC, the Eagles are 3–0 with a rookie quarterback, and so are the Vikings with a quarterback (Sam Bradford) that was Philadelphia’s starter up until three weeks ago. The entire NFC South could be 1–2, including the Panthers, depending on how the Buccaneers and Saints finish up, and the Cardinals have the same record (1–2) as the 49ers. In other words, pretty much everything we thought we knew before the season began has been turned upside down. However, there is a long way to go in the season and a lot will change. We can say this: Next week’s games to conclude Week 4, Chiefs at Steelers on Sunday night and Giants at Vikings on Monday, look like must-see TV.