The third Sunday of the NFL season brought us a lot of drama and intrigue. Seemingly in must-win mode, some teams were able to stave off early-season disaster by pulling out victories. Meanwhile, teams like the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers couldn’t get out of their own way in what can be considered horrible road losses.
As we have done each week this year, it’s time to look at 10 takeaways from Sunday’s NFL action.
1. The San Francisco 49ers are a Disaster Right now
Let’s make one thing perfectly beforehand. For the second consecutive week, officiating did not cost the 49ers a football game. It might have helped, but a lack of composure and big-time penalties are what cost the 49ers two games that they should have won.
On Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, it was a stupid head-butt penalty by veteran receiver Anquan Boldin after making a catch inside the five-yard line in the fourth quarter of a one-score game that stands out. But there were many more where this came from, a taunting penalty by Chris Culliver earlier in the half on a play where Arizona was called for holding comes to mind. These are mistakes that veteran-laden Super Bowl contenders simply cannot make.
When calling the 49ers a disaster, there are other things to take into account here as well. Six rush attempts for Frank Gore against a team that he’s averaging nearly 80 yards a game against in his career and an unwillingness to continue an up-tempo spread set that had the Cardinals on their heels in the first half are two other things that comes to mind.
Simply put, the 49ers are not executing like a playoff team right now. And as little sense as it might make to blame the coaching staff for this, Jim Harbaugh needs to be held to account. Though it’s also important to note that San Francisco was 1-2 and coming off two consecutive blowout losses entering Week 4 of the 2013 season. All is not lost here. But you simply can’t put up an average of over 100 yards in penalties a game and expect to win consistently in the NFL.
2. Kirk Cousins Should Remain Starter in Washington
Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s rather obvious that Cousins is the better short-term option than Robert Griffin III, who is still sidelined with an ankle injury. The third-year quarterback connected on 30-of-48 passes for 427 yards and three scores in the Redskins 37-34 loss in Philadelphia. He led four touchdown-scoring drives of 80-plus yards, a total that RGIII has not tallied in his last 13 games combined.
It’s this type of offensive performance that could help Washington overcome what has to be considered a horrendous defense. While the 511 yards that Washington put up on Sunday might not have been enough to overcome an equally dynamic Eagles offense, it does speak volumes about how much better the Redskins’ offense is with Cousins under center compared to RGIII. This season may not result in a playoff berth, but Washington will have some decisions to make when all is said and done.
3. Rookie Quarterbacks to See Plenty of Action Moving Forward
By virtue of the poor quarterback play of Chad Henne in Jacksonville and a gruesome foot injury to Matt Cassel in Minnesota, two rookie quarterbacks will likely finish out the season as starters for their respective teams.
Blake Bortles took over for Henne with the Jaguars down 30-0 at the half against Indianapolis. While he made some rookie mistakes in the second half, the 2014 top-five pick was able to lead Jacksonville to three second-half scoring drives, which was the total amount that they had in Henne’s last 32 possessions as the starter. Gus Bradley and Co. didn’t want to throw Bortles to the wolves, but that has become a necessity due to Jacksonville’s lackluster performance thus far this season. And now, the rookie from Central Florida is slated to start Week 4.
Meanwhile in Minnesota, Teddy Bridgewater took over for an injured Matt Cassel and looked pretty good in his first regular season action. The numbers weren’t sexy, but the former Louisville standout didn’t turn the ball over and kept Minnesota in the game against the New Orleans Saints until a fourth quarter Drew Brees’ touchdown pass. Considering that the Vikings were having major issues running the ball (even with Adrian Peterson in Week 1), Bridgewater’s ability to get the ball down the field and act as a running threat himself could be huge for this team’s success moving forward.
For his part, Derek Carr continued to play darn good football for the Oakland Raiders and almost led them to a late-game win against the New England Patriots on the road. He has improved in all three of his starts and has the look of a franchise quarterback moving forward. If I were a betting man, Carr would be one of my top picks for Offensive Rookie of the Years by season’s end.
Interestingly enough, the most-talked about quarterback of the 2014 draft class is the only top pick that’s not currently starting for his team. And it’s highly unlikely that Johnny Manziel will be under center any time soon with the Browns remaining competitive week in, week out.
4. Cincinnati Bengals Remain the Best Team in Football
Another dominating peformance from Marvin Lewis’ squad. Another week atop most power rankings. Cincinnati threw the gauntlet down on Tennessee early and often, racking up a 33-0 lead before a garbage time score from Titans running back Shonn Greene late in the fourth quarter.
The statistics won’t tell a story of domination. Tennessee put up more yards and held the ball longer. But from what I saw of this game, Cincinnati controlled the trenches on both sides of the ball. Andy Dalton, who even caught a touchdown in this game, was barely hit in the offensive backfield. This enabled him to hit seven different receivers and keep the chains moving on third down. Overall, the Bengals have simply been the best team in football through three weeks. And as one of the most-talented units in the league, there is no reason to believe that this is going to change anytime soon.
5. Russell Wilson’s ‘Game Manager” Label is Gone
The “game manager” label that some have thrown Wilson’s way since he came into the league out of Wisconsin is about one of the biggest examples of box score scouting that I have ever come across. Just because Wilson hasn’t been asked to do a whole lot for Seattle in his first two-plus years in the league, it doesn’t mean that he can’t. Anyone who watched the Super Bowl-winning quarterback play in college fully understands this.
In need of a big overtime drive after Peyton Manning led the Denver Broncos to a last-minute game-tying drive of his own towards the end of regulation, Wilson came through big time. Wilson accounted for 66 of Seattle’s 80 yards in a prolific opening drive in the overtime period to lead the team to a 26-20 victory. Overall, the third-year quarterback put up 298 yards and two scores in the impressive performance. While this was only the eighth time in Wilson’s career that he has put up 30-plus attempts in a regular season game, he showed the skeptics that he has the ability to lead a potent offensive attack. But don’t expect those skeptics to be quieted any time soon, as they will always try to find an issue with his game. That’s been the case since Wilson was pretty much ousted at North Carolina State in lieu of Mike Glennon.
6. The Green Bay Packers are Playing Bad Football
Whether it’s the Packers offense just not clicking (223 yards against the Detroit Lions) or something else, they just aren’t the same team that we have seen with Aaron Rodgers under center in recent seasons. The future Hall of Famer completed 16-of-27 passes for 162 yards with one score. Not helping matters much, Eddie Lacy tallied just 36 yards on 11 attempts. That latter figure has to be more worrisome for a Packers coaching staff that was expecting the second-year running back to build off what was a great rookie campaign.
In reality, Detroit absolutely dominated the Packers in nearly every category. It out-gained the road team by 130 yards and held on to the ball for nearly twice as long throughout the game. Now at 1-2 on the season, with that one win coming by virtue of a late-game New York Jets meltdown, the Packers are in trouble. They’re going to need to get it together quickly if they’re expected to be considered conference title contenders as the season moves forward.
7. The Kansas City Chiefs Aren’t Finished
Just when you thought the Chiefs were finished, they go into Miami and defeat a good Dolphins team without the services of Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles. In what has to be considered failed logic by Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, back-up running back Knile Davis tallied 32 rush attempts. For comparison’s sake, Charles didn’t record more than 22 rush attempts in a single game last season. With this type of balance on offense, Alex Smith can manage the game and avoid the turnovers that plagued the team over the first two weeks.
When all was said and done, Kansas City’s strong start helped it overcome a comeback attempt by the Dolphins in an impressive 34-15 victory. It controlled the clock, converted on third down and put consistent pressure on Ryan Tannehill throughout the game. These were three keys to the Chiefs success through the first half of the 2013 campaign and could help them overcome what was a disastrous 0-2 start.
8. The Pittsburgh Steelers Offense Can be Good…if Todd Haley Allows it to be
When the Steelers offense is clicking, it is one of the most dynamic in the NFL. It took about a full half on Sunday Night Football for that to happen, but Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown found their slice of heaven against what has been a good Carolina Panthers defense. Brown caught all 10 of his targets and added two scores, while Le’Veon Bell added 147 yards on 21 attempts, including a beautiful 81-yard stamper in the third quarter. LeGarrett Blount also gained 118 yards of his own on 10 rushes in the dominating win.
It’s all about Haley calling the right plays and utilizing his talents to the best of their ability. That has been an inconsistent aspect of his job since taking over as the Steelers offensive coordinator. It also helps that Pittsburgh put up 250-plus rushing yards in this game. If the Steelers can continue to show domination on offense, they could act as a prime challenger to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North.
9. The Arizona Cardinals are Legit
It might have been an ugly performance from the San Francisco 49ers and the officiating crew, but Arizona protected its home field against a team that many consider to be one of the top Super Bowl contenders in the NFC. Avoiding turnovers on offense, Drew Stanton was able to find holes in the 49ers secondary throughout the game. That’s a huge deal moving forward with Arizona’s weapons in the passing game and Carson Palmer slated to return, potentially following the team’s Week 4 bye.
The performance wasn’t indicative of the Cardinals’ team we will see throughout the remainder of the year. For all intents and purposes, it was an average performance from a really good team. But that’s what gets contenders through the season…winning a game in which they didn’t necessarily play at the best of their ability.
Arizona’s biggest test (until they travel to Seattle and San Francisco) on the season will come following its Week 5 bye against the Broncos in Denver. That will be a huge barometer of where this team is at moving forward this season. But for now, the Cardinals sit alone in first place in the toughest division in football.
10. Chip Kelly Early Favorite for Coach of the Year
At 3-0 on the season, the Philadelphia Eagles could very well be in the process of running away with the NFC East. Despite more breakdowns on the defensive side of the ball, Chip Kelly’s team was able to hold off the Washington Redskins to the tune of 37-34 on Sunday afternoon. Nick Foles put up 325 yards and three scores as the Eagles offense compiled nearly 400 yards with a hobbled LeSean McCoy in the backfield. This is evidence that Kelly can almost literally get water from a rock, especially considering how Foles had performed through the first two weeks of the season.
Philadelphia now has a difficult road game against a struggling San Francisco 49ers team next week. A win there and this team can easily be considered one of the top Super Bowl contenders in the NFL. And that, above everything else, is a testament to Kelly’s game planning and ability to get the most of his team’s talent. It’s now going to be about improved play on the defensive side of the ball. Once that happenes, watch out.