Option 1, Week 3’s Burning Question: What gives in Ravens-Chiefs megaclash?
I delayed the publication of this weekly column, typically on Mondays at 1 pm central, for the sole reason of the week’s Monday Night Football clash. Normally, I disregard MNF — I have plenty of stuff to do during the week anyways. But I’m not about to miss Ravens-Chiefs, an early season test of NFL supremacy.
What gave was the Ravens. Baltimore suffered a rough first half playing at home, scoring only three points on offense and crossing the field on their first drive. Lamar Jackson bashed the Chiefs on the ground but couldn’t get it done through the air, missing receivers deep and running into sacks. In a much-hyped battle of the last two NFL MVPs, Jackson threw for almost 300 fewer yards than his KC counterpart. A couple key drops from Mark Andrews didn’t help the cause, and a 27-10 Kansas City lead proved insurmountable.
Patrick Mahomes’ destruction of Baltimore’s passing defense was most jarring. Mahomes’ offense converted 10 of 13 third downs, two of them touchdowns. The unit got two second-half stops, one on a fumble and another fourth down stand, but otherwise Mahomes and Co. had their way. Even when the Ravens’ pass rush got in Mahomes face, they could not faze Mahomes. He threw touchdown passes to his fullback and his offensive tackle.
As a Ravens fan, I was frustrated by the result. I was hardly devastated. This loss might hurt the Ravens’ home-field advantage chances and hurt morale as it pertains to Kansas City, but any NFL team has to develop over the course of a season. Lamar Jackson knows what he needs to work on, the defense has time to patch its holes, and the wake-up call the Ravens need comes sooner rather than later. Let the haters hate. They didn’t look like it on Monday, but Baltimore is the second-best team in the NFL. KC, now 3-0, made a pretty strong statement for first.
Option 2, Week 3’s Huge Performance: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
I’m late on this Josh Allen train. I witnessed his hair pulling Jekyll-and-Hyde act in the Wild Card Game against the Texans last year and saw his rise as a key to the Bills launching themselves into true contender status, but I did not take much note after two big time statistical performances in the first two weeks. Well, I can’t look away any longer, and Allen has earned his way into his very own “Josh Allen Watch” in this column.
Allen is his own breed of quarterback: a quarterback who is an elite rushing threat with a Cam Newton-like build, a rocket of an arm and decision making that would seem better suited for a middle schooler playing Madden. It makes for fascinating football, and on Sunday, that fascination was of the good ilk for New Yorkers. Allen capped off the day with five total touchdowns, four through the air and one on the ground, as the Bills held off the Los Angeles Rams. Let’s dig deeper and truly appreciate the Josh Allen experience.
The Bills go three-and-out on drive one with two Allen incompletions. Then, on the next time up, Allen ducks a surging pass rusher and rolls out, then finds a receiver to advance the Bills into the red zone. A couple plays later, Allen underthrows a receiver screen to Stefon Diggs, who, being Stefon Diggs, naturally snatches it and rolls into the end zone, only for the pass to be ruled incomplete. The Bills go pass again, and Allen, backpedaling for about 15 yards, connects with a wide-open Diggs, only for another penalty to negate it. On third down, Allen jumps in the air and does a bizarre 360 spin, deception, as running back Devin Singletary catches the snap and gets tackled for a minimal gain. Fourth down and Allen goes another play action, backpedaling again and finding tight end Tyler Kroft in the middle of the end zone for a legal touchdown. This was one drive.
On the next offensive play, Allen rolls opposite his throwing side to the left on play action and heaves a Wilson-esque deep ball along the left sideline to rookie Gabriel Davis. Allen fills up the highlight reel again on a quarterback designed run, faking a handoff to his right, then turning and faking a pitch to the left (no, this isn’t Cha Cha Slide) before spinning around a couple LA defenders for a first down. He finishes the job with a quarterback power to the right, the third of three-consecutive QB runs. The next drive, a quick drill before half, sees two Allen deep throws, first to an open Davis in the middle of the field and sideline grab on a hitch and go by slot threat Cole Beasley, capped off by a rainbow into the arms of Kroft to go up 21-3.
The second half brings a new side of Josh Allen. He starts off the half hot, unloading a throw from a crowded pocket to Diggs for a touchdown to go up 28-3. Then, as has happened in all-too-many games before, the 28-3 lead starts to erode. The next three Bills drives go interception, three-and-out, and punt, while the Rams take off and build a 32-28 lead with 4:30 to go. The interception is particularly Allen-esque, a dangerously high deep ball that Allen throws as he jumps, turned, off his right foot (only after a spin, of course), and is wrestled away by the defensive back. The lead is gone, and Allen has one more shot to keep the Bills’ undefeated start alive.
The drive gets off to a good start, a completion to Cole Beasley. Then, Allen does Allen things, dodging two defenders, fumbling the ball, then catapulting a nearly two-handed pass as he’s being dragged down by two defenders. On 3rd and 22, Allen rolls to the right and throws across his body to Beasley, who extends a couple yards for the first down. Another dart to Beasley gets the Bills to the 15, with just 1:29 left. First down brings an Allen lateral out of bounds, followed by three stiff-arms (one being a face mask) of defenders on a miraculous scramble, then an incompletion and then a catch in close quarters by Stefon Diggs to set up fourth down. Fourth down is not particularly Allen-esque but his pass ends in a baffling penalty that literally breathes life into the Bills. Allen takes advantage with his fourth touchdown pass of the day to give the Bills their third win of the season.
I used to think of Allen in the context of the Lamar Jackson draft, or liken him to an unfun, turnover-prone, expensive Gardner Minshew. No longer. Every incompletion and five-yard QB rush is an adventure with this guy. He’s a playmaker in the vein of a Mahomes or Jackson, but is even more fun to watch on a play-by-play basis because, unlike the consistent brilliance of those two MVPs, you don’t know whether Allen’s “heroics” are going to end in disaster or be destined for the highlight reel. How he’ll fare against the Ravens and Chiefs remains to be seen, obviously, but his emergence sets the Bills squarely in the driver’s seat of the AFC East and in the second class of AFC contenders. He earns the POY nod from me off his four touchdown passes, his touchdown run, his late-game rebound drive, and a million other things in between.
Option 3, Week 3’s Crucial Decision: Benching Mitch Trubisky.
Week 1’s Crucial Decision was keeping Mitch Trubisky in the game. Week 3’s was benching him.
The Bears are 3-0, thanks to the late heroics of Super Bowl MVP and Chicago backup Nick Foles or the scheduled choking of the Atlanta Falcons, depending on who you ask. But let’s look at the Chicago side of the equation because we’re here to celebrate Foles. Given the nod after Trubisky’s ineffective 13-22, one interception start (he did run for a 45 yard gain and was the Bears’ leading rusher on the day), Foles found paydirt three times in the fourth quarter and nearly had a fourth that was pulled out of the hands of Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson. After missing most of last season and his job to Gardner Minshew, Big —— Nick is back to his old routine.
Put in the game after Trubisky’s interception, Foles suffered a pick of his own on Robinson’s near catch in the end zone. The next drive had a similar fate as the Bears failed to convert on fourth and goal, but then again, maybe they were just saving up for the last frame. The Bears’ offense came to life with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, including touchdown drives of 2:50, 0:59 and 2:06, putting Chicago up 30-26 before a Matt Ryan interception sealed the comeback. Foles, who started out 8-17, hit multiple money throws: Ted Ginn in stride for a fourth-down conversion, an on-point jump ball to tight end Jimmy Graham, the third-and-long go-ahead score on a play in which Foles’ hand was knocked back during his release. Any of those are a little off the mark and the Bears likely don’t pull out the win.
I’m not sold on Foles at all — the Bears benefited from a lot of run-after-catch yards, used the running game to great effect and, of course, got to play the Falcons. Whether Foles can sustain that magic over the course of a whole game is questionable. But from a decision standpoint, coach Matt Nagy’s decision was sound, regardless of the result. Nick Foles gives the Bears, a defense-first team with some backfield weapons, a chance to legitimately contend for a Wild Card spot. Mitch Trubisky’s reign as starter was solely based on the team’s investment, and at this point the Bears needed to make a decision before the season started to take a turn for the worse. I predicted the Bears to go 9-7 because I thought Foles could take the starting role and provide competent quarterback play, and so far he’s lived up to that. Mitchy Dimes, you were fun while you lasted.
Checkdown: Which 3-0 starts are legit?
Not the Bears, first off. Chicago has two miracle comebacks under their belt three weeks in, but both were against mediocre NFC pretenders and reflect poorly on the Bears’ ability to start off on a semi-good note. The schedule gets much tougher going forward, and while I would take the Bears over any non-Green Bay team in the NFC North going forward, they have already had a quarterback change and seem to lack the power of the 2018 squad. I mean, is there any team in the NFC West you would pick to lose to the Bears?
Factor the Bears out of the equation and the 3-0 starts look a lot less suspect. All six other teams are legit, battle-tested contenders: Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Kansas City, Green Bay and Seattle.
In the NFC, it’s the Packers and Seahawks’ conference to lose. The Packers, notorious for their slow starts over the years, beat the Vikings and Saints handily. Aaron Rodgers is making the most of his receiving corps and Aaron Jones is the best backfield mate 12 has had to date. Seattle’s defense is atrocious, resulting in plenty of shootouts and close games, but Russell Wilson on an MVP-level is the quarterback no one wants to face. The Cowboys found success putting hands in his face and couldn’t stop him from dropping five touchdowns. The best factor in those teams favor might be the rest of the conference. The favorite, New Orleans, has two consecutive losses and Drew Brees’ age is showing, while reigning champ San Francisco has been ravaged by injury. Minnesota and Philadelphia, as I have discussed in my Week 2 column, look awful and do not have a single win between the two of them. Arizona is a year away, and Dallas and Tampa Bay have potential but also work to do before they reach the top tier of the NFC.
Sharpie in the four undefeated AFC teams in the playoffs. The Ravens and Chiefs were already virtual locks to begin with, but Tennessee, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh have matched their expectation by taking their first three (albeit in some pretty close games). The Titans have won off the efforts of Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill in alternating games, and while they could easily be 0-3 without the heroics of Stephen Gostkowski, they have three wins under their belt and have a fantastic coach in Mike Vrabel. Pittsburgh has the infrastructure to make it unless Big Ben goes down, while Buffalo is the class of the AFC East.
Game Notes: The Eagles. Tied. The Bengals. As I told my friend Daniel, I think I derive more pleasure from the Eagles’ defeats than the Cowboys’ few successes and vice versa, and he agrees. Philly is now 0-2-1 and Carson Wentz looks really, really off his game. To put the Eagles’ dysfunction into context, the Browns also played the Football Team and the Bengals and won both. Philly couldn’t muster a win against either cellar dweller…My rooting interest in the Battle of the Facial Hair lost as Beard topped Mustache, but congrats to Miami on their first win of the season. Of any team that started 0-2, I’m the most excited to watch them and feel that they could factor into playoff contention late…Justin Herbert failed to follow up his Kansas City debut in style, losing an interception and a turnover against the significantly worse Panthers defense as the Chargers fell to 1-2. Keenan Allen’s errant lateral to Austin Ekeler would have been the play of the year if it was complete, to not connect on a makeable toss is brutal. Also, I love the Chargers colors, but the yellow pants look garish. Just stick with the white jersey and white pants and let the colors do the talking…We can always trust New England to humble opponents, even without Brady. Las Vegas got a spanking from the Pats after upsetting the Saints in their new home stadium. Buffalo’s in the lead, but New England has to be thrilled with its start, especially considering their COVID-related departures and lack of offensive weapons…Houston had no favors from schedule makers as it pertains to their brutal three-game start, but I don’t see this as a legit team, no matter the schedule. Watson is legit, but both the Titans and Colts are better coached and better built, not to mention they each hold at least a two-game lead over the Texans…You always love to see backup quarterbacks get their time in the spotlight, and for every Jeff Driskel we get a Nick Mullens. In the role of Jimmy Garoppolo, Mullens tore apart the Jets defense. If I’m Kyle Shanahan watching this team the next couple months, I’d have to be a fool to not look at Mullens as a potential starter in the long term. With Mullens, the Niners should at least stay afloat…I used to think that being a fan of Washington was the worst fate that any fan could have, but the New York Jets could change my mind. They have squandered a franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold and have been flat-out unwatchable. The Jets have a name, but the Football Team actually might have a future. I think it’s a four-way wheel of misery between the FT, the Jets, the Lions and the Browns.
Lamar Jackson Watch
Stat Line: 15-28, 97 yards, 1 touchdown, 73.1 passer rating, 83 rushing yards, 1 fumble, 20-34 loss
The Skinny: See above.
Gardner Minshew II Watch
Stat Line: 30-42, 275 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception, 1 fumble, 79.0 passer rating, 13-31 loss
The Skinny: The Jaguars were overhyped going into their Week 3 Thursday Night Football bout against intrastate rival Miami. Okay, they contended and split games against much better divisional foes in their first two weeks and Gardner Minshew was on his “A” game, but having every host of the NFL Network pregame show pick the Jaguars, a consensus terrible football team, to beat a well-coached Dolphin team was folly at best.
I tuned into the first half of that game (mainly for the uniform matchup), and while the score became lopsided early, I wouldn’t attach all of the blame to Minshew. While he didn’t have the lights out start of Ryan Fitzpatrick and complete his first 10 passes, Minshew was on point as well. He connected on nine of his first 12 passing attempts. The rest of the offense didn’t hold up their end: a Chris Conley drop effectively ended the Jags’ first drive, and the O-line completely failed to block the Miami pass rush on fourth down on another drive. Still, Miami took full advantage and blew the game open, and some blame has to go to Minshew for scoring just a touchdown in the opening half against the lackluster Miami defense.
Is this enough to call for Minshew’s job? No. While fantasy owners may not be happy, these clankers are inevitable with a roster as flawed as Jacksonville’s. These Jaguars won’t win many games, but Minshew’s future job prospects are on the line, and with every win, he inches the Jags further from the top overall pick and closer to more Minshew Mania.
Tom Brady Watch
Stat Line: 25-38, 297 yards, 3 touchdowns, 115.8 passer rating, 28-10 win
The Skinny: The Broncos are one of the teams that have consistently given Tom Brady problems during his career. Donning the pewter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brady had no such turbulence in this cross-conference bout as the Bucs rolled over a duo of Denver backup quarterbacks.
Brady’s transition into the Bruce Arians offense is going to take some time, and cohesion certainly wasn’t at 100 percent even in Week 3. But Bucs fans have to be pretty happy with Brady throwing three touchdowns to no turnovers against a traditionally stout Denver defense. Brady has found his new red zone weapon in Mike Evans, who had a remarkable stat line of two catches for two yards and two touchdowns and threw picture-perfect deep balls to Scotty Miller and O.J. Howard. Rob Gronkowski even got in on the action, catching six passes and nearly hauling in a touchdown. With the running game taking the load of the action, the Bucs scored on four of their first five drives, putting the game out of reach, as any true contender should.
The best sign for the Buccaneers, other than their new division lead, might be Brady’s supporting cast. The special teams unit came up big on the opening drive by blocking a Denver punt and setting up an early touchdown, while Tampa’s defense forced a pair of interceptions and held the undermanned Broncos to ten points. That’s the type of help a 43-year old quarterback appreciates and will need going forward.
Dak Prescott Watch
Stat Line: 37-57, 472 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 26 rush yards, 1 fumble, 93.6 passer rating, 31-38 loss
The Skinny: For just the second time in NFL history, a player threw for over 450 passing yards in consecutive weeks. And there was plenty more to unpack than just gaudy stats for the Mississippi State product, both the good and the bad.
The good: Prescott made do with an offensive line that started multiple rookies at key positions and had to do so much reshuffling that All-Universe guard Zack Martin had to move to right tackle, a running game that generated just 35 yards on a 2.9 yard per carry clip, and, down 30-15 midway through the third quarter, led the Cowboys on three straight scoring drives to turn a two-possession deficit into a 31-30 lead. Like last week’s wild comeback against the Falcons, Prescott showed poise post-disaster and demonstrated an ability to put the Cowboys on his back. Four receivers had over 65 receiving yards, with Michael Gallup’s 138 yards leading the way and the breakout of Cedrick Wilson with 107 and a pair of scores.
The bad: Prescott was outplayed by Russell Wilson, which may not sound that awful considering Wilson’s historic start. The turnovers were killer: a misplaced pass that was intercepted for Prescott’s first pick since late 2019, a fumble after a double pump-fake that led directly to Seattle points, and the game-sealing interception (which, though Prescott avoided the sack on the play, he should have thrown away instead of forcing it into a bad spot). Also, it bears mentioning that the Seahawks’ pass defense has been porous, to the effect of two 450-yard passing performances allowed and another 397 yards to Cam Newton.
All in all, it was a good start — Dallas contended against a top NFC team and Prescott shined when he needed to be the guy. The Cowboys don’t need Dak Prescott to be Russell Wilson to win their putrid division, thankfully, but their five upcoming games, each of them eminently winnable, provide Dak ample opportunity to fill up the win column as much as he has the stats sheet.
Kyler Murray Watch
Stat Line: 23-35, 270 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 1 rushing touchdown, 72.3 passer rating, 23-26 loss
The Skinny: When you’re a team emerging from a rebuild, you’ll take your lumps. Losing to a team that was on a double-digit losing streak and throwing three picks in the process counts as a lump in my book.
Murray’s start mixed highlight reel plays with a couple atrocities. Murray absolutely embarrassed top pick Jeff Okudah on a red zone juke en route to his rushing touchdown, and a lofted pass to the end zone found Andy Isabella for an impressive score. Kliff Kingsbury has plenty of options to show off Murray’s skills, and really, the only thing stopping Murray from adding another great game to his 2020 resume was himself. He overthrew one receiver on a ball that went out of the guy’s hands and into Detroit’s, then criminally underthrew Larry Fitzgerald and DeAndre Hopkins on out routes, each giving the Lions possession within Arizona territory and leading to scores. The defense did its best, forcing Detroit into four field goals on the day, but Murray’s turnovers were too much to overcome.
Josh Allen Watch
Stat Line: 24-33, 311 yards, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception, 128.9 passer rating, 1 rushing touchdown, 1 fumble, 35-32 win
The Skinny: See Above. There’s a lot.