And then there were three. With three weeks in the book, only three teams remain unbeaten in the National Football League. The Cincinnati Bengals remain the lone AFC team without a loss while the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles sit atop their respective divisions in the NFC, with 3-0 marks. The chance to make the playoffs starting 3-0 are very good in the NFL. Since 1990, when the current playoff format was adopted, 75.2 percent of teams (91 of 121) to start 3-0 have qualified for the postseason.
Of the three current unbeaten and despite finishing 10-6 last season, only the Cardinals missed the playoffs in 2013. Excluding the postseason and going back to last season the hottest team is the Philadelphia Eagles. Head Coach Chip Kelly and his high flying birds have won 10 of their past 11 regular season games.
The other birds in the mix, the Cardinals aren’t far off their ornithological foes, in terms of carrying over success from last season. Arizona has won 10 of their past 12 regular season games and done so competing in the tough NFC West. It is only the third time in the past 41 seasons (1974, 2012); the Cardinals have started a season 3-0. And with a bye this week, Arizona will finish the first month of the season with a perfect record, marking the third time since the 1970 merger that the franchise posted an undefeated record in September (1974, 2012). Philadelphia is 3-0 for the first time since 2004 when the Eagles last appeared in the Super Bowl. That season, the club finished 13-3, claimed the NFC East division title, earned the top seed in the conference, won the NFC Championship Game, and advanced to Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Eagles have reached their undefeated mark in the most dramatic fashion of the three unbeaten. The Eagles have overcome deficits of at least 10 points in each of the team’s first three games and are the first team in NFL history to start 3-0 when trailing by at least 10 points in all three games. That includes wins in the club’s first two games when Philadelphia trailed by at least 14 points in the second half. The Eagles are the only team in league annals to start 2-0 after trailing by at least 14 points in the second half of each game. Philadelphia has scored 74 second-half points – the most in the league – and the club’s +50 point differential after halftime leads the NFL.
Philadelphia has scored 101 points (33.7 per game), the second-most in the league (Atlanta, 103), and is the only team in the NFL to score at least 30 points in all three games. They have the sixth best offense in the NFL and since Kelly took over as the head coach in 2013, the Eagles have scored at least 30 points in a game 11 times and are 9-2 (.818) in those contests.
While the Eagles are getting it done with offense, the Bengals and Cardinals are playing great on defense. Cincinnati (33) and Arizona (45 tied with Detroit) have allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season. For the third straight week, the Cardinals had a shutout in the fourth quarter. Arizona has now outscored its opponents 30-0 in the final 15 minutes.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM:
Seven teams entered the week with an opportunity to remain winless. Three of the seven teams cashed in and enter week four 0-4. The Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Oakland Raiders remain the NFL’s only winless teams. Being winless after three weeks isn’t an enviable position if you entered the season with playoff aspirations. Coming back from an 0-3 start is a feat only five coaches in NFL history have managed to accomplish: Bobby Ross (Chargers, 1992), Walt Michaels (Jets, 1981), John McKay (Buccaneers, 1982), Wayne Fontes (Lions, 1995) and Wade Phillips (Bills, 1998). One of those seasons was a strike year, and obviously, no one has done it since 2000.
THE NOT SO SUNSHINE STATE
Notorious for its football talent, the state of Florida is currently home to the reigning national champions of college football and No.1 team in the country in the Florida State Seminoles. The Florida Gators have stumbled in the mighty SEC the past two seasons but not so long ago won two (2008 &2006) BCS National Championships. In fact, Florida college teams won five of the 16 BCS crystal footballs. Most of that talent was recruited from Florida High Schools.
However, the NFL in the state of Florida is another story altogether. The Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Jacksonville Jaguars are a combined 1-8 and have been outscored 147-297 (-150). Combined, they are averaging 16 points per contest while allowing 33 points.
Poor play and injuries on offense has led to change at the QB position in two of the three cities. In Tampa Bay, quarterback Josh McCown has a sprained right thumb and is expected to miss at least one game. With McCown expected to sit out Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh, second-year pro Mike Glennon is expected to get the start. In a strange way, that’s a good thing for new head coach Lovie Smith. For better or worse, the coach is going to find out what he has in Glennon. Smith previously has called Glennon the quarterback of the future. That time period might be coming faster than Smith wanted, but he has no choice.
In Jacksonville, head coach Gus Bradley stated that the No.3 overall pick in May’s NFL Draft would sit the bench and develop and then step onto the field as the team’s starting quarterback in 2015. Many considered the strategy a smart approach, especially with the struggles that emerged along the offensive line and the three rookie receivers that made double-digit mental mistakes. By the end of third quarter in Jacksonville’s Week 2 loss to the Redskins, QB Chad Henne had eight completions and had been sacked eight times. This past Sunday and after a lackluster first half in which the offense gained only 55 yards, generated two first downs, and scored zero points, Bradley benched Henne and handed the job to Bortles. The Jags QB of the future starting in 2015 took the field for good just 10 quarters into the 2014 season.
Bortles completed 14 of 24 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. He started 1-for-5 on his first drive and went 13-for-19 the rest of the half. He also threw a pair of interceptions, including one on a terrible throw across his body that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. But in the end, the standout at Central Florida, who passed for 7,598 yards and 56 touchdowns in his career there, breathed life into the Jags offense and that’s all it took. Following the game Bradley announced Bortles would start this week vs. San Diego.
In south Florida, the Ryan Tannehill era began at the start of the 2012 season and it appears to be in danger of ending sooner than later. The former Texas A&M Aggie is under fire in Miami. Following Sundays’ 34-15 loss at home to the Chiefs, many believe Tannehill has not made the proper strides thus far in an important third year, and fans in Miami are tired of waiting. Tannehill’s passer rating has gone down each week. He had an 80.0 rating in Week 1, a 73.6 rating in Week 2 and 70.4 rating in Week 3. At least statistically, Tannehill has regressed in Miami’s new offense under Bill Lazor. There is talk and “no talk” that a quarterback change could soon be in the works. During his Monday presser, Philbin, on four separate occasions, declined to answer whether Tannehill be the starter for this week.
In all fairness, Tannehill isn’t getting much support. According to Pro Football Focus research, the Dolphins are second in the NFL with 11 drops after three games. Only the Baltimore Ravens (12) have more dropped passes. Miami had three drops in Sunday's 34-15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He was sacked and NFL high 58 times last season and so far this season, has been sacked nine times, which is tied for third most through weeks and on pace for 48 total in 2014.
SPEAKING OF ROOKIE QB’s:
Five quarterbacks, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles (3), Cleveland’s Johnny Manziel (22), Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater (32), Oakland’s Derek Carr (36), and the Patriots Jimmy Garoppolo (62), were selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft in May. Only Carr has started for his team, as he beat out veteran Matt Schaub during the preseason. Carr has performed like a rookie on a bad team. His completion percentage is nearly 63 percent but he’s averaging less than 200 yards passing per game with three TD’s and three INT’s. Only Garoppolo has yet to see any game time—in one form or another.
The Browns are creating packages for Manziel where he shows up for a play or two and then exits the game. Manziel lost out to Brian Hoyer in Cleveland and is 0-1 passing this year. But he was involved in some illegal trickery Sunday vs. the Ravens. After replacing starter Brian Hoyer and handing off on a running play, Manziel appeared to be leaving the field when he ran toward the sideline. He stopped a little short of the sideline, and with his back to the action, pretended to have an animated conversation with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan when the ball was snapped. Shanahan, who was keeping an eye on what was going on behind Manziel, told him”, ‘Go”, and the former Heisman Trophy winner took off.
Manziel caught a short pass from Hoyer and sprinted down Cleveland's sideline before he was shoved out of bounds at the Baltimore 23. The play worked to perfection but Browns rookie running back Terrance West was called for an illegal shift, negating Manziel's 39-yard pickup. However, the play was illegal because the NFL ruled on Monday that a player who lines up less than five yards from the sidelines cannot do so between the 32 and the 32 yard line—this is the area the teams are allowed to stand on the sidelines.
Teddy Bridgewater debuted in Minnesota this past week after starter Matt Cassel left the game with a foot injury. Bridgewater hit 12 of his 20 passes for 150 yards and ran six times for 27 yards. He was impressive versus Rob Ryan’s blitz packages as well. When New Orleans brought extra pressure, though, Bridgewater was poised, which is what many NFL teams like about him last spring. He went 6-for-9 against the blitz, throwing for 70 yards, and scrambling once for another 15. Bridgewater also completed four of his five passes that traveled at least 10 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and gained 69 yards on those throws. He connected with Greg Jennings on a 30-yard corner route — on a play where Cordarrelle Patterson was also wide open in the vicinity of the throw.
Cassel is expected to miss significant time with broken bones in his left foot. Along with the Bortles era starting in Jacksonville this week, it’s likely so is Bridgewater’s. It’s worth pointing out the Patriots currently have the NFL’s 26th ranked offense and Tom Brady is struggling to get the offense moving—could Garoppolo see some snaps in his future—not likely!.
Other news & Notes from around the NFL Week 3
With a little Luck:
The Colts avoided a disastrous 0-3 start with a 370-yard, four-touchdown day from quarterback Andrew Luck (31-39-4-0). In doing so, Luck became the first Colts quarterback with 350+ yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 75+ completion percentage in a game since Johnny Unitas did so in 1967. Luck completed eight passes for 20 yards or more, one short of his personal high, and he became only the second player in Colts history to throw four TD passes of less than 10 yards in one game. The first was Jack Trudeau against the Dolphins in 1989
In losing for the 12th time is their past 13 games against the Ravens, the Cleveland Browns once again figured out how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But losing may start to become a thing of the past as their young players continue to develop and find the end zone. Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West both scored in the Browns' 23-21 loss to Baltimore. That marked the first time since 1990 that a pair of rookie running backs both scored a rushing TD in the same game for the same team this early in a season. The last rookie RB teammates to do so in Week 3 or earlier were Johnny Johnson and Anthony Thompson of the Cardinals in 1990.
Staying with the Browns & Ravens—with a 101-yard receiving game Steve Smith now has 25 career 100-yard receiving games on the road. Only Jerry Rice (39) and Marvin Harrison (26) have more since 1960. Smith passed Randy Moss, Isaac Bruce, Michael Irvin, and Terrell Owens. The five catches for 101 yards pushed Smith to 290 yards for the season, the most by a player in the first three games with the franchise since Anquan Boldin's 287. Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk caught a nine yard TD pass from Joe Flacco and is the first player from Harvard with a receiving TD since Pat McInally on Dec. 21, 1980. McInally was the Bengals punter from 1976 to 1985, and also was a wide receiver during the first half of his career. In that game, the Harvard grad scored on a 59-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 24 against—you guessed it—the Cleveland Browns. The Browns actually won that game, 27-24, when Don Cockroft booted the 22 yard game winner. `
The Dallas Cowboys erased a 21-0 deficit to defeat St. Louis 34-31. This marked the fourth time this season a team has overcome a deficit of at least 17 points to win, tied for the most through the first three weeks of a season since the 1970 merger (2011). This is the first time each of the first three weeks of a season has had at least one 17+ point comeback win since 1982.
The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos 26-20 in overtime. The game was the sixth Super Bowl rematch in the following regular season and the first since 1997 (Green Bay vs. New England). The defending Super Bowl champion has now won four of the six meetings in the rematch.
QB Russell Wilson was a big reason why legendary QB Peyton Manning didn’t complete his comeback. Wilson was at his best with his legs in overtime Sunday. Five of Wilson's six pass attempts during the game-winning drive came from outside the pocket, and he completed three of them for first downs. Wilson also rushed four times for 21 yards on the drive, earning two first downs via scrambles. Wilson is a now a combined 6-0 vs. Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
Despite the game tying drive and subsequent two-point conversion to help his team force overtime, Peyton Manning threw a costly pick in the fourth quarter deep in Seahawks territory. Since the start of the 2013 season, six of Manning’s 11 interceptions have come in the 4th quarter.
ACCORDING TO THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU:
Eight touchdown passes in three games for Cutler
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler threw two touchdown passes in Chicago's 27-19 win against the Jets on Monday night. Cutler has thrown eight TD passes in the Bears first three games this season, which breaks the old franchise record of seven in the team's first three games, set by Sid Luckman in 1946.
Foles and Cousins put on a show
Norm Snead vs. Sonny Jurgensen in 1967, Joe Theismann vs. Ron Jaworski in 1982, and yesterday, Nick Foles vs. Kirk Cousins. The Eagles and Redskins have faced each other in 158 regular-season games, but only those three quarterback matchups produced a pair of 300-yard passing performances. And among those three games, only yesterday's shootout, which resulted in the 37-34 Eagles, featured three or more TD passes by both QBs.
Murray sets all-time rushing mark vs. Rams
DeMarco Murray gained 100 yards on 24 carries in the Cowboys' 34-31 victory at St. Louis. Murray, who rushed for 253 and 175 yards in his two previous games against the Rams, set an all-time NFL record for rushing yards in a player's first three games against one team. Murray's total of 528 rushing yards versus St. Louis exceeded Eric Dickerson's three-game total against the St. Louis Cardinals by 3 yards.
Seattle's long OT drive denies Denver, ties record
The Seahawks drove 80 yards in 13 plays to deny the Broncos possession in overtime and win the rematch of Super Bowl XLVIII, 26-20. Seattle made a total of only five Touchdown drives of 13 or more plays over the past four seasons (2010-13), and added another in its opening-day win over Green Bay two weeks ago. But of greater historical importance, the Seahawks tied the NFL record for the longest overtime touchdown drive, as measured by the number of plays, in a regular-season game. Two other teams drove 13 plays to an OT TD: Denver at Kansas City in 1978, and the Giants at Philadelphia in 2006.
Sanu & Dalton reverse roles
Andy Dalton didn't throw a touchdown pass in the Bengals' 33-7 win over the Titans. But wide receiver Mohamed Sanu did, to Dalton himself. Sanu is now 4-for-4 as a passer in his three seasons in the NFL, and his 18-yarder to Dalton was the shortest of those four completions. He previously connected with A.J. Green (a 73-yard TD), Giovani Bernard (25 yards), and Brandon Tate (50 yards last week). Over the last 30 seasons, only one other player completed each of his first four passes in the NFL, each for more than 10 yards, and he wasn't a quarterback either. Frank Wycheck, a tight end, did it for the Titans (1999-2001).