The late Roddy Piper once said “Just when they think they’ve got all the answers, I change the questions.” That, in a nutshell, was NFL Week 3.
One week after a fairly predictable set of NFL games, we got a week that went completely off script early and often. It started on Thursday night with the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers and would not stop giving us surprises.
The effort that the Seattle Seahawks’ famed defense put forth against the Tennessee Titans was certainly surprising. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens must not gotten their collective football talents through customs, as they put on an absolute stinker of a performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.
The New York Jets — a team that we weren’t sure would win a game — not only won on Sunday, but handily defeated a playoff team from a season ago. The Cincinnati Bengals lost to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. That part is not surprising. We just can’t put any part of the loss on Andy Dalton. That part is.
The NFL Week 3 slate gave us many strange, odd and ridiculous developments to chew on. These were the biggest among them.
Seahawks’ defense loses its composure, gets trucked in Music City
The Seattle offense has been under the microscope a lot in 2017, and with its performance on Sunday it will be again. The offensive line can’t protect Russell Wilson. Other than Doug Baldwin, the receivers don’t get open quickly enough to offset any of those woes. But here, we’re focusing on the defense, a unit that was worse than the team’s offense in Tennessee.
Richard Sherman could have been ejected from the game not once, but twice. As a leader of the defense and future Hall of Famer, he has to have better composure. But the defense wasn’t just plagued by a few bad plays from Sherman. The Titans ran all over the Seahawks, totaling 195 yards on 35 carries (5.6 yards per attempt). Tennessee scored touchdowns on plays of 24, 55, and 75 yards. Remember, this is a defense known for not giving up big plays.
Generally speaking, Seattle’s losses can be attributed to the defense failing to bail out a poor performance from the offense. But the defense deserves at least half of the blame for Sunday’s debacle.
Case Keenum lights up Buccaneers
While we certainly can’t say that we saw the Minnesota Vikings beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the final result wasn’t an overwhelming surprise. But did anyone who saw Case Keenum play for the Los Angeles Rams a season ago (or even for the Vikings in Week 2) see his performance coming? Anyone?
Keenum was sublime against the Buccaneers. He finished 25-for-33 with 369 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and an overwhelming 142.1 passer rating. Tampa is supposed to be a good team. But this game was simply never close. The Minnesota defense did its part in shutting Jameis Winston and company down. But Keenum deserves equal praise. He more than held up his end of the deal in guiding the Vikings offense and leading the team to a dominant win.
Ravens go to England, leave their games in United States
If you played any member of the Ravens in a fantasy league in Week 3, you have our sympathies. After starting 2-0, Baltimore went to London and got absolutely waxed by the Jaguars. Joe Flacco was pulled after going 8-for-18 for 28 yards with two interceptions. The defense was no better, allowing 410 yards and 44 points to the Jaguars. Baltimore is supposed to be a well-coached, well-prepared team. This should not happen to those kind of squads.
If you’re a fan of the Ravens, just hope that in a few weeks, the Jags are a legitimately good team and not the on-again, off-again squad that we’ve seen in 2017 thus far. If they’re not, then this has the potential to go down as one of the biggest surprises we’ll see all year.
Rams defeat 49ers in rare exciting Thursday night game
More often than not, the brand of football seen on Thursday nights is not entertaining. At best, it usually produces close, low-scoring games igniting the “This is terrible football vs. This is great defense” debate that we’ve all come to know and love. But the Rams and 49ers put on a true offensive show, combining for 80 points. Not only is that nine more points than the teams scored in their two combined games a season ago, but it’s the only NFL game this season to even crack 70 points.
Sure, that high point total was aided by some short fields created by an interception from Brian Hoyer and special teams fumbles from Los Angeles. But both the Rams and 49ers offenses had moments where they genuinely shined brightly. It was the first game where Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan matched up as opposing head coaches. If that’s a sign of things to come, sign us up for another decade.
Steelers lay an absolute egg in Chicago
We understand that while the Chicago Bears do not have a good team, they do have talented running backs. With that said, there was absolutely no reason that the Pittsburgh Steelers should have let those backs dominate like they did on Sunday.
Collectively, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen ran the ball 35 times for 216 yards. That’s not only nearly 6.2 yards per carry, but it’s nearly 6.2 yards per carry from an offense with essentially no vertical passing threat. Mike Glennon completed 15 passes for 101 yards. The Steelers’ defense certainly didn’t need to worry about the deep ball. Those great backs should have been kept in check with eight-man fronts.
Offensively, things weren’t any better. With Ben Roethlisberger struggling, it’s hard to understand why Pittsburgh only went to Le’Veon Bell for 15 carries and 21 touches. He ran for better than four yards a carry and added 37 yards on six receptions. It’s not like he was being shut down.
This was just a dud of an effort.
Jaguars feel right at home in London
We’ve already detailed the struggles of the Ravens. But we’d be wrong to not give credit to Jacksonville for its effort. The Jags’ defensive front won the early battle against the Baltimore line and won it decisively. That helped establish a good lead and obviously threw the Ravens off of the rest of the game.
As a team, Jacksonville went for 166 yards on the ground at 4.7 yards per carry. Blake Bortles was anything but a game manager, completing 20-of-31 passes for 244 yards with four touchdowns (three of which to Marcedes Lewis) for a 128.2 passer rating.
The Jags have certainly been inconsistent, with a bad loss sandwiched between two wins. But one win was a road blowout against a playoff team from 2016, and another was a neutral site rout against a perennial postseason contender. Inconsistent? Sure. But that’s absolutely impressive.
Cowboys line slow to develop in win over Cardinals
When all was said and done, the Dallas Cowboys’ 28-17 defeat of the Arizona Cardinals was not surprising. What was surprising was how long it took the Dallas offensive line, universally regarded as the NFL’s best, to really get into the game.
The Cowboys didn’t get on the board until late in the first half. Ezekiel Elliott couldn’t find any holes. Dak Prescott faced consistent pressure. Only a combination of the Dallas defense and Arizona’s shaky offense kept the Cowboys in the game during the first half.
Through three weeks, the Cardinals don’t look like an especially good team. If the strength of the Dallas struggles to find its form (like it did in Week 2 in Denver), this team will have problems in future weeks.
Andy Dalton plays well, Bengals still lose
After an 0-2 start, the Bengals needed Andy Dalton to return to his game manger role that helped lead the team to five straight playoff appearances from 2011-2015. He didn’t do that on Sunday. Dalton was better. He was 21-for-27 for 212 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Factor that performance in with a pick six from the Cincinnati defense, and the Bengals should have won at Lambeau Field. It just didn’t happen.
Even with the earlier touchdown to its credit, the Cincinnati defense came up small in the game’s biggest moments. Combining Green Bay’s last drive of regulation (which tied the game) and overtime (which won it), Aaron Rodgers was 10-for-13 for 137 yards with a touchdown and a 135.7 rating. Even if we eliminate the 77-yard reception which set up the winning field goal, he still had a 114.9 rating on those drives.
The Bengals are a team that should be winning with their defense. That defense can’t be that bad with the game on the line, even against a quarterback like Rodgers at home.
Jets bring early end to 0-16 talk
Prior to Sunday, you wouldn’t have had to look too hard to find someone predicting an 0-16 season for the Jets. Maybe they’d squeak a late season win against the reserves of another bad team. But a decisive early season win against a team that made the playoffs a year ago? Not a chance.
Well, that’s what happened on Sunday. New York was absolutely dominant against the Miami Dolphins. The Jets outgained the Dolphins by more than 100 yards and won by two touchdowns. Heck, even the 20-6 final was deceptive, with Miami scoring the ultimate garbage-time touchdown on the last play of the game. Entering Week 3, the Dolphins were 5-2 against the Jets in MetLife Stadium. So, it’s not like that venue had been a house of horrors.
It may not make sense, but now the 0-16 focus can go towards the NFL’s five remaining winless teams.
Cam Newton can’t find his game against Saints
It was small sample size, but the New Orleans Saints defense was beyond dreadful in Weeks 1 and 2. Going against the deep ball, the New Orleans secondary looked like a team of third graders going against a varsity lineup. Week 3 was a golden opportunity for Newton to get it together and — even if only for a week — look like the guy who won the MVP two years ago. He couldn’t come close to that.
Newton finished the day 17-for-26 for 167 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. And while the team is a respectable 2-1, if Newton isn’t right, the Panthers aren’t right, either.
Bills move to 2-1 with strange win over the Broncos
There are a handful of things that a team normally needs to do to pull off an upset in the NFL. The Buffalo Bills achieved some of those in Week 3 against the Denver Broncos.
The main one is that Buffalo won the turnover battle 2-0. One interception didn’t halt a likely score, nor did it set one up. The other one ended a scoring drive and set up a field goal, potentially creating a 10-point swing. Given that the final score was 26-16, we have to acknowledge the significance that sequence. But in so many other areas, the Bills fell well short of doing what teams need to do to pull an upset.
Buffalo didn’t run the ball at all on Denver. The Bills rushed 33 times for 75 yards. That helped make the time of possession battle a wash. The lack of a running game also forced Tyrod Taylor to throw the ball 26 times. That’s rarely ever a good model for Buffalo, especially against the No Fly Zone defense. But Taylor completed 21 of those passes with two touchdowns. In other words, the Bills won despite being forced to rely on a relative weakness that went directly up against the absolute stength of their opponent. Good luck figuring this result out.
Texans defense fails to deliver in big spot
One member of the Houston Texans was stellar against the New England Patriots on Sunday. More on him later. But the defense, which should be the strength of this team, just didn’t come through.
In many ways, Houston’s defense was similar to Cincinnati’s. Like the Bengals, the Texans scored a defensive touchdown. Like Cincinnati, Houston had a chance to close the game out. And like the Bengals, the Texans fell short against a legendary quarterback.
We have full respect for the greatness of Tom Brady. But a championship defense has to do better than allowing the opposing quarterback to throw for 378 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. A championship defense has to do better than surrendering a 153.3 passer rating to that quarterback on the final drive of the game. If the Texans are going to become a championship team, they’ll have to clear this hurdle and beat teams like the Patriots. They let a golden opportunity get away on Sunday.
Giants offense suddenly wakes up in Philadelphia
For three quarters, the New York Giants offense was in its familiar state — completely inept. The Philadelphia Eagles hadn’t played a perfect game but still led 14-0 heading into the fourth quarter. Then, something changed.
Eli Manning had a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the fourth quarter, going 14-for-15 for 204 yards with three touchdowns. Odell Beckham Jr. hauled in two of those scores, with Sterling Shepard getting the other on a 77-yard catch-and-run.
This was a weirder series of events than if the Giants had just had a good offense all game. Then, we could at least wonder if New York had found something, Instead, we can only assume that an invisible bolt of lightning hit the Giants bench, causing a complete 180 in the team’s fortunes. Yes, New York lost anyway when Jake Elliott hit a 61-yard field goal as time expired. But for the first time all year, the Giants have some genuine reason for optimism. You just wouldn’t know it if you turned this one off after three quarters.
Raiders no-show vs. Redskins
We know that the Oakland Raiders traveled across the country for a football game against the Washington Redskins. They just didn’t come to play when it was game time. While we knew that Washington could potentially find holes and put up some points on Oakland’s defense, there was nothing to predict what happened to the Raiders offense.
Oakland scored one touchdown. Even that came as a result of a short field off of a fumbled punt from the Redskins. The Raiders didn’t even go over 100 yards of total offense until the final possession of the game. Derek Carr threw three interceptions. Oakland rushed for 32 yards as a team. Amari Cooper caught only one more pass than you did sitting at home on your couch.
Maybe this will end up as a sign of things to come. Maybe it was just a particularly bad game. But from what we’d seen in the first two games, nothing that the Raiders offense did in Week 3 made sense.
Deshaun Watson takes huge leap forward for Texans
Rookie quarterbacks have historically struggled against Bill Belichick. In Foxborough, a first-year signal caller has never beaten a Belichick led New England team. If it weren’t for the brilliant play of one of the best players this game has ever seen, that stat would be different right now.
Make no mistake, Watson did not play a flawless game. He threw two interceptions (one on the final Hail Mary attempt) and was lucky to have two fumbles recovered by his team. But despite that and the fact that Houston’s running game was nothing better than okay, he threw for 301 yards with two touchdowns. If Bill O’Brien had managed the clock better, the Texans might have even had a chance to tie (or even win) after Brady’s heroics.
The Texans didn’t win in Foxborough in Week 3. But if Watson is really like Michael Jordan (as his college coach Dabo Swinney said), maybe we’ll look back on Sunday’s game like we do Michael Jordan dropping 63 at the Boston Garden in a double-overtime loss in the 1986 playoffs.
NFL’s continued bungling of replay
For the most part, NFL Week 3 will be remembered for the protests. It’s hard to judge how much that impacted what we saw on the field. But from an in-game perspective, what we should remember most about this week is the absolute mishandling of the end of the Atlanta Falcons win over the Detroit Lions.
One of two things should have happened with what turned out to be the game’s final play. One, it should have been ruled that Golden Tate wasn’t touched down with control of the ball until he was in the end zone. In which case, it would have been a touchdown. If not that, then the replay should have ruled Tate down by contact with 11 seconds remaining on the clock. Then, even with the 10 second runoff, Detroit would have had one second remaining.
The natural reaction of an Atlanta fan upon reading that is likely to be defensive. We get that. Just understand that we’re not saying that the Falcons didn’t deserve their win. We’re not saying that they wouldn’t have stopped the Lions, anyway. Shoot, we’re not even saying that they wouldn’t have scored a defensive touchdown and won by 11. The point is that we should have had one more play. If you’re going to review the play, you have to review all elements. That’s basic.
Instant replay was brought back to the NFL in 1999. For 19 seasons, they’ve been trying to get it right and made little to no progress. Truthfully, it might be worse now than it was in 1999. For a multi-billion dollar league, the consistent inability to get this right despite too many great games between great teams (like this one) ending in controversy is baffling.