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NFL Game Recaps: Week 3, 2018
Browns 21, Jets 17
Tonight was the end of one Browns era and the beginning of a new one. Going into this contest, it had been 635 days since Cleveland won a game. Despite the expectations - there was lots of excitement in Cleveland following near victories against the Steelers and Saints - things were bleak in the early going, as the Jets established a 14-0 lead. Tyrod Taylor struggled mightily, but things changed when he was knocked out of the game with a concussion.
Baker Mayfield entered the game and gave the Browns new life. He zipped his first pass to Jarvis Landry, then his second throw was a dart to David Njoku, who made a sliding catch. His next completion put the Browns into field goal range, and they were finally on the board. The Browns went into intermission down 11, but there was great optimism that Mayfield would be able to engineer a comeback, and the first-overall rookie did just that.
Mayfield led three scoring drives, all of which featured impressive throws. Mayfield escaped a sack by juking a defender, rolling right, and finding a receiver for a first down on third-down throw. His first touchdown drive was possible because he fired a tremendous pass down the seam, which Jarvis Landry stabbed with one hand. The decisive possession saw Mayfield hit Antonio Callaway to convert a third-and-10. Several plays later, Carlos Hyde ran into the end zone to put Cleveland up for good.
The Browns finally won. The losing is over, and Mayfield was absolutely incredible. If Mayfield continues this level of play, and the defense doesn't suffer substantial injuries, it's very possible that the next 635 days will feature a divisional title.
It's still way to early to make permanent judgments, but it certainly looks like the Browns made the correct decision to select Mayfield over Sam Darnold. Mayfield, in slightly more than a half of action, went 17-of-23 for 201 yards. He showed off his great arm and accuracy, and his leadership was apparent based on the amount of energy he breathed into a lifeless team. The thing is, as good as those numbers look, Mayfield was even better than the stats indicate. Rather than settling for checkdowns like his counterpart, Mayfield constantly took shots downfield. Also, a couple of his passes were dropped.
Mayfield only had two bad moments. The first was when he fumbled on his first drive. He was very lucky to have guard Joel Bitonio there to scoop up the loose ball. The second was when Mayfield was nearly picked in the red zone. Outside of that, Mayfield had an A+ performance, and his presence on the field gives the Browns a chance to beat anyone.
Moving on, it's clear that Taylor is done. It's almost sad to rehash how he performed. He went 4-of-14 for only 19 yards. He had some nice scrambles, but he routinely missed open receivers. The worst example of this was when Antonio Callaway had cornerback Trumaine Johnson beaten by 10 yards, but Taylor threw the pass too late, allowing Johnson to knock the ball away.
Both of Cleveland's touchdowns were scored by Carlos Hyde. He nearly hit the century mark, gaining 98 yards on 23 carries. He had a great performance, especially when considering that he was late to the stadium because he was at the hospital for the birth of his child.
Jarvis Landry had his usual stellar PPR line, catching eight balls for 103 yards. His one blemish was a drop in the red zone. Next on the box score was Njoku, who made two grabs for 36 yards.
Callaway, meanwhile, had a very interesting night. As mentioned, he should've had a long touchdown, but Taylor underthrew him. Callaway was in position for another score earlier, but he was interfered with - except the officials didn't throw the yellow flag for some reason. Callaway also had a deep drop, but made up for it with a third-and-10 conversion. He caught four passes for 20 yards, but saw a whopping 10 targets. He could have a nice fantasy season with Mayfield throwing to him.
As for the Jets, this was a discouraging result. They led for most of the game, but couldn't put the Browns away when Taylor was struggling. Darnold threw way too many checkdowns, and yet failed to complete half of his passes. He went 15-of-31 for 169 yards and two interceptions. Both picks came late in desperation mode, but at the same time, Darnold had a potential interception that was dropped in the second quarter by Joe Schobert. The linebacker made amends by snatching Darnold's first pick in the 2-minute drill at the end of regulation.
To be fair, Darnold was constantly under siege behind Cleveland's monstrous defensive line. Plenty of quarterbacks are going to struggle going up against Myles Garrett and company, and Darnold was just a victim of battling a superior defense. Still, Darnold has seldom taken shots downfield, and he needs to begin doing that before he's called the next Sam Bradford.
The Jets were able to move the chains in the opening half by running the ball successfully on the left side with Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell. I'm not sure why the Jets shied away from that following intermission. The two had 19 combined carries in the first half, yet only 11 after the break. Powell gained 73 yards on 14 carries, while Crowell scored twice, but managed just 34 yards on 16 attempts. Crowell was flagged for "wiping his a**" with the football for his touchdown celebration, as he was clearly getting revenge - at least in his mind - for his disappointing years in Cleveland.
Darnold continued to target Quincy Enunwa heavily. Enunwa saw a team-high eight targets, hauling in four balls for 57 yards. Robby Anderson (2-22) lost a fumble that set up a Browns field goal. Anderson can be dropped in fantasy, as Darnold doesn't go deep enough as Josh McCown did last year, which, as mentioned, is becoming a concern.
Saints 43, Falcons 37
This was an old-fashioned shootout between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks where it seemed like whichever team had the ball last would win. That's exactly what happened, as the Saints won the coin toss in overtime and used seven of the 10 minutes in the extra session on their lone drive. The possession concluded with Drew Brees leaping over the goal line to take New Orleans to 2-1. The Falcons, conversely, dropped to 1-2, as their defensive concerns in the wake of Deion Jones' injury are very real.
Beginning with the victors, Brees was prolific. He misfired just 10 times on his 49 pass attempts, and he was especially terrific following halftime. Brees was 19-of-22 for 153 yards and three total touchdowns in the second half and overtime. Atlanta, missing its best defensive player in Jones, had no answer for him.
Brees ended up 39-of-49 for 396 yards and three touchdowns. He also had a fourth score on a sneak. If he continues to play this way, the Saints will be a difficult out, no matter how bad their defense happens to be.
Alvin Kamara had a ridiculous stat line. His 66 yards on 16 carries shouldn't get a second look - he also missed out on a touchdown at the end because of replay review - but he saw a whopping 20 targets. He caught 15 of them for 124 receiving yards. The Saints recognized the Saints' liability at linebacker and made sure to get Kamara in space. This was great recongition by Sean Payton, who undoubtedly saw what Christian McCaffrey did to the Falcons' defense a week ago. I hate to keep harping on this, but this is going to be a continuous problem for the Falcons because Jones is hurt.
Michael Thomas, meanwhile, had more receiving yards than Kamara, racking up 10 catches - on 10 targets - for 129 receiving yards. He broke the NFL record for most receptions through three games in an NFL season. He now has 38 catches, and he's on pace for 202 receptions for the year!
Elsewhere in the Saints' receiving corps, Ben Watson also took advantage of the Falcons' weakened linebacking corps, catching five balls for 71 yards. Watson had a sixth reception for a nice gain, but it was negated by a hold. Ted Ginn, meanwhile, logged three receptions for 12 yards and a touchdown. Cameron Meredith (1-11) also scored.
Backup quarterback Taysom Hill was on the field for some trick plays. One really panned out, as Hill scrambled for 35 rushing yards to set up a late touchdown.
As for the Falcons, this loss spoiled a brilliant performance by Matt Ryan and a breakout performance by rookie receiver Calvin Ridley. Ryan constantly threw bombs to his talented first-year player, and Ridley rewarded him with some tremendous catches. Of Ryan's five touchdowns, three went to Ridley.
Ryan went 26-of-35 for 374 yards and five scores, and like Brees, he was especially lethal after halftime. Following the break, Ryan was 15-of-18 for 188 yards and three scores. As written earlier, whichever team held the ball last was likely winning the game. Had the Falcons won the coin toss, they likely would've prevailed because there was no stopping Ryan.
Ridley, meanwhile, snatched seven of his eight targets for 146 yards and three touchdowns. Following a dud debut at Philadelphia, Ridley has improved each week. He caught numerous deep passes from Ryan, and he came up with a clutch third-and-10 conversion early on to set up his own score one play later. Ridley looks like a stud, and Atlanta's offense will be very difficult to stop as long as Ryan and the two dynamic receivers are healthy.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Julio Jones caught five passes for 96 yards. Jones was having a mostly quiet afternoon until he hauled in a 58-yard bomb late in regulation. This set up a touchdown to Mohamed Sanu (4-36) after a Falcons' field goal was negated by a Saints personal foul.
The Saints have stopped the run well thus far, and that continued to be the case. Tevin Coleman mustered only 33 yards on 15 carries, but he bailed out his fantasy owners with a receiving touchdown in the second half. However, Coleman blew a protection on a crucial third down late in the game. Devonta Freeman's return will help in that regard.
Chiefs 38, 49ers 27
The Chiefs celebrated yet another impressive victory, but the big story coming out of this game is that Jimmy Garoppolo suffered what the 49ers fear to be a serious knee injury. It was a non-contact play that occurred when San Francisco was attempting a comeback in the second half. Hopefully Garoppolo will be OK, but it doesn't look good. The 49ers will finish with one of the worst records in the NFL if Garoppolo is out for the year.
As for more positive things, Patrick Mahomes set NFL records last week, and he continued to do so in this game. When Mahomes fired his third touchdown - in the opening half, no less - he broke the NFL record for most passing scores in the first three weeks of the season with 13, inching past Peyton Manning's 12 from his historic 2013 campaign. Mahomes is on pace for 69 touchdowns on the year.
Mahomes could've thrown more than three touchdowns, but the Chiefs took the air out of the ball in the second half because they were up 35-7 at one point. It's a shame, as it ruined a potentially record-breaking afternoon for Mahomes, who had 252 yards by halftime, giving him a shot at the all-time single-game yardage record.
Mahomes didn't begin well, overthrowing Sammy Watkins and then made a poor read on a play that should've been a big gain. He also just missed out on a touchdown on a bomb to Tyreek Hill, as Richard Sherman did a good job of breaking up the pass. However, Mahomes shook it off, as he helped draw a pass interference on a third-and-16 deep shot to Chris Conley, setting up a Kareem Hunt touchdown. On the next drive, Mahomes had consecutive completions of 25 and 42 to Travis Kelce and Hill, but the best play occurred when Mahomes, under a heavy rush, scrambled away, turned around and ran the other way, and then fired a laser to Conley for a touchdown, putting Kansas City up 21-7.
Mahomes wasn't done. He overthrew Demarcus Robinson for a touchdown on the next possession, but then got the 49ers to jump offside and made them pay with a deep completion. He followed that up with a 13-yard touchdown strike. The next possession concluded with a touchdown as well, as Sammy Watkins broke three tackles on the 49ers, who struggled to bring down defenders all afternoon. It was a pitiful display by a defense that was welcoming back Reuben Foster from suspension.
Mahomes finished 24-of-38 for 314 yards and three touchdowns. If you can do the math, Mahomes had fewer than 100 receiving yards following intermission, as the Chiefs were more than willing to run out the clock. Mahomes threw just nine passes after halftime.
Neither Kelce (8-114) nor Hill (2-51) reached the end zone, but both had impressive plays in this game to help move the chains. Watkins hauled in a 42-yard bomb in double coverage, while Kelce made a great, one-handed catch where he extended his arm as far as he could. Watkins (5-55), Conley (2-13) and Demetrius Harris (1-13) were the ones who scored the touchdowns.
Kareem Hunt scored twice, as he was gifted a pair of touchdowns by getting set up at the 1-yard line on a couple of occasions. Hunt mustered 44 yards on 18 carries otherwise.
As for the 49ers, this was a very sloppy performance. They were guilty of numerous penalties, while George Kittle and Pierre Garcon had some killer drops early in the game. Garoppolo also took a bad sack to knock his team out of field goal range. San Francisco was guilty of a ridiculous 14 penalties, compared to only six from Kansas City. Those 14 infractions racked up 147 penalty yards. It's astonishing how miserable they were in that regard, as they gave themselves no chance.
The 49ers finally got moving in the second half. It looked like they had a chance to put together a miraculous comeback, but Garoppolo got hurt, and that sucked the life out of the Chiefs. Garoppolo went 20-of-30 for 251 yards and two touchdowns.
San Francisco appeared to suffer another scary injury in the opening half when the league's leading rusher heading into Week 3, Matt Breida, suffered a non-contact malady of his own. Amazingly, he re-entered the game in the second half. He ended up gaining 90 yards on 10 carries, while Alfred Morris (14-67) had some tough runs. Morris also scored once.
The 49ers' leading receiver was Kittle, who overcame the early drop to snatch five balls for 79 yards. He had a touchdown negated by a bogus offensive pass interference penalty. Marquise Goodwin (3-30) caught a touchdown.
Bills 27, Vikings 6
Last year, I wrote that teams need to consider sitting their starters on Thursday night games so that they don't suffer injuries. The Seahawks lost so many players in their Thursday night affair last season, and it should've served as a lesson to other teams. Apparently, Mike Zimmer is a reader of the site, only he took a different approach: He sat some starters prior to the Thursday game, and the starters who were on the field didn't bother showing up mentally.
It was apparent early that the Vikings had checked out of the game on Buffalo's opening drive, which concluded with a touchdown. It was packed with sloppy penalties and bad plays by some defenders, particularly Anthony Barr. The offense was also at fault afterward. Kirk Cousins was strip-sacked on back-to-back drives in the opening quarter. This allowed the Bills to take over twice deep in Minnesota territory, and the two give-aways set up 10 points for Buffalo. The Bills quickly went up 17-0 and never looked back.
While the Vikings were lethargic and sloppy, this result should not take anything away from Josh Allen, who showed great improvement from last week's sub-par performance. He was very effective as a runner, picking up a first down on a third-and-10 run in which he leapt over a linebacker to get a first down. He then drew a horse-collar tackle on Anthony Barr, prompting the CBS color analyst to chuckle, "Barr wants no part of Josh Allen in open space."
Allen was also effective as a passer, as he misfired just seven times. Granted, his longest reception, a 55-yarder by Chris Ivory, came on a short pass where there were no Minnesota defenders in sight. However, Allen also missed out on a touchdown because Charles Clay had a drop in the end zone, which was one of four drops I counted, including one deep drop by someone named Robert Foster. Allen finished 15-of-22 for 196 yards and one touchdown to go along with 10 scrambles for 39 rushing yards and two scores on the ground. He was nearly picked on a couple of occasions, including one where Trae Waynes dropped an interception.
With LeSean McCoy out, Ivory handled most of the workload. He had the aforementioned long reception, which was part of his three-catch, 70-receiving yard stat line. He also mustered 56 yards on 20 carries.
Ivory was the only Bill with more than 29 receiving yards. Kelvin Benjamin (3-29) once again didn't do much besides drop a couple of passes.
Moving back to the Vikings, some of the facts from this game were humorous. For example, the Vikings had as many first downs (3) as turnovers by the end of the third quarter. They didn't cross midfield until the second half, and they didn't achieve their second first down until the middle of the game.
Cousins, who had the two aforementioned lost fumbles, was just 9-of-14 for 44 yards, so don't look at his final stat line - 40-of-55, 296 yards, one touchdown, one interception - and think that he had a good game. All of Cousins' yardage came in garbage time. That said, Cousins' pick wasn't his fault, as it bounced off the arms of Latavius Murray.
Speaking of Murray, he was a huge disappointment. Starting for the injured Dalvin Cook, Murray mustered a single yard on two carries. He caught five passes for 30 receiving yards, but as mentioned, he was responsible for Cousins' lone pick.
Stefon Diggs also played poorly. He caught four passes for only 17 yards, as Tre'Davious White was smothering him all afternoon. He dropped a bomb in the end zone. Adam Thielen (14-105) had much more success, while Kyle Rudolph (5-48) caught Cousins' garbage-time touchdown.
Eagles 20, Colts 16
Carson Wentz was making his first start since shredding his knee in a December victory against the Rams. He proved instantly that his passing ability wasn't diminished at all, as he hit a receiver for 17 yards on his second pass after a first attempt that wasn't accurate. The Eagles scored a touchdown on the opening drive, as Wentz was 5-of-7 for 55 on the possession.
There still may have been some concern if Wentz could take a hit, and that was answered soon after. Wentz was crunched after moving around in the pocket and completed a pass. The Eagles were granted extra yardage on a roughing-the-passer penalty. A couple of plays later, Wentz was sacked on third-and-13 after trying to scramble, and he got up just fine. Wentz later avoided some defenders in the backfield and scrambled for a first down. Wentz didn't look like the mobile quarterback we're used to seeing, but he showed that he can at least move around somewhat, and I expect his scrambling ability to improve as the year progresses.
Wentz, however, showed some rust. He made some mistakes, as he was intercepted when a linebacker read his eyes, setting up an Indianapolis field goal. Wentz was strip-sacked after that. These are not mistakes Philadelphia fans are used to seeing from Wentz, but it was his first game back against an improved Indianapolis defense.
That said, Wentz had a solid performance, as his passing ability compared to Nick Foles' was stark. Wentz took shots downfield, unlike Foles last week, and he finished 25-of-37 for 255 yards, one touchdown and an interception despite playing in rainy conditions. One of Wentz's best plays was when he managed to throw the ball while getting wrapped up by a defender. He hit Nelson Agholor on a third-and-9 play in the middle of the fourth quarter to move the chains. This ultimately led to the game-winning touchdown.
Those expecting Corey Clement to shoulder the workload with Jay Ajayi out were disappointed. Clement and Wendell Smallwood both had 56 rushing yards, with the latter scoring a touchdown. Clement, who saw a gain of 20 yards negated by a hold, had slightly more carries, 16-10, but Smallwood's usage was frustrating. Clement and Smallwood both had three catches for 19 and 35 receiving yards, respectively. Undrafted rookie Josh Adams (6-30) also saw some work, and he looked pretty good
Philadelphia's leaders in receiving yards were the two tight ends. Both Zach Ertz and rookie Dallas Goedert tied with 73 receiving yards. Goedert actually had more catches than Ertz, 7-5, and he scored a touchdown. With the Eagles' having a banged-up receiving corps, it's not a surprise that both tight ends were so active. Ertz could've posted a better number, but he was interfered with on Philadelphia's game-winning drive.
Agholor (4-24), meanwhile, was expected to produce more, though he did have that clutch reception on third down to help Philadelphia prevail. Jordan Matthews (2-21) caught both of his targets in his second debut with Philadelphia. Alshon Jeffery could be back next week.
As for the Colts, they scored an early touchdown as a result of a Jake Elliott missed 55-yard field goal, but they couldn't produce much otherwise. Their offensive line, missing left tackle Anthony Castonzo, struggled to pass protect, so Andrew Luck had to dink and dunk for the most part. That would explain why Luck had just 35 receiving yards on 16 pass attempts in the opening half.
Things were only marginally better after halftime, as Luck engineered some field-goal drives, but missed on T.Y. Hilton for a potential touchdown when it mattered most. It's also notable that Luck was taken out of the game on the final play, as Jacoby Brissett was brought in to attempt the Hail Mary. It showed that the Colts' coaching staff doesn't have much faith in Luck's arm strength, which is understandable in the wake of his shoulder procedures.
Luck finished 25-of-40 for 164 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 33-yard scramble. Luck's offensive line was overmatched, and Philadelphia has one of the best front sevens in the NFL. This was evident when Luck nearly threw an interception as he was getting drilled, but safety Rodney McLeod dropped the possible pick. Luck will be better in easier matchups, especially when Castonzo returns.
Hilton, who had a chance for the aforementioned touchdown, had a middling stat line with five catches for 50 yards. However, he played better than the numbers indicate, as he drew two pass interference flags. Luck's sole score went to Ryan Grant (3-35) on a perfect fade pass. Eric Ebron (5-33) had a chance for some scores as well, but couldn't convert in the end zone.
The Colts struggled to run the ball versus Philadelphia's prolific front seven. Jordan Wilkins mustered only 19 yards on six carries.
Redskins 31, Packers 17
No one is breaking any news by saying that Aaron Rodgers isn't himself, but that was apparent in this game. The Packers struggled to maintain drives and keep pace with the Redskins, who rebounded nicely from their loss to the Colts last week.
Rodgers was clearly in pain when he took a hit early in the second quarter. He went down hard on his injured knee and got up very slowly. Amazingly, he scrambled for a first down on the next play, or at least it seemed that way prior to a holding penalty being called. This ruined a scoring drive, and instead of getting back to within seven, the Packers kicked a field goal, and Washington remained up 14-3.
The Packers struggled to move the chains for most of the first half, as the Redskins won the yardage battle, 323-179, and that's even factoring in Rodgers' bomb to Geronimo Allison for 64 yards in which Allison was wide open over the middle of the field. Take out that play, and Rodgers was just 8-of-14 for only 62 yards by intermission. Rodgers was also to get some garbage yardage late in the game, but his team continued to struggle to keep drives alive for a variety of reasons.
Rodgers finished 27-of-44 for 265 yards and two touchdowns. He also scrambled twice for 13 rushing yards. Box score observers may think that Rodgers played a decent game, but he's definitely not nearly himself. He's not taking as many shots downfield, and he's not nearly as mobile. That said, Rodgers would've done better had his teammates not killed him with drops. An injury to Bryan Bulaga also hurt.
Randall Cobb was most responsible for the drops. Cobb had an absolutely miserable game, murdering the Packers' chances of coming back from a large deficit. Cobb saw 11 targets, but caught only four of them for just 23 yards. He had a terrible drop on third-and-long to prevent the Packers from moving the chains, and then had a drop on a fourth down. To top it off, he also lost a fumble and was nearly responsible for a Rodgers interception because of a miscommunication. Lance Kendricks also had a crushing drop on third-and-long, but a veteran like Cobb should play better than he did. With a $9 million salary, it's apparent more than ever that Cobb is vastly overpaid.
Despite Rodgers' troubled state, Allison (2-76) and Davante Adams (7-52) are still producing. They also both scored touchdowns. The fact that they can still be effective fantasy players is a testament to how good Rodgers is, though it's worth noting that Adams had a drop on third down.
With the Packers trailing throughout, they didn't get a chance to establish the run. Jamaal Williams gained 29 yards on five carries, while Aaron Jones, making his return from his suspension, tallied 42 yards on six attempts. Jones looked better than Williams, as the Packers seemingly had more energy when he was on the field. Ty Montgomery saw the most action because he's the best receiver of the three. He caught six of his seven targets for 48 receiving yards.
As for the Redskins, Alex Smith set the tone early with a 46-yard touchdown bomb to Paul Richardson. Smith appeared to have a chance at a second score when a pass of his went to Josh Doctson in the end zone. The pass fell incomplete, but Doctson managed to draw an interference flag, giving Adrian Peterson a chance to reach the end zone on the next play. Just like that, the Redskins were up 14-0, and they never looked back.
Smith continued to play well for the rest of the afternoon. He went 12-of-20 for 220 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, which wasn't really his fault because there was a miscommunication. Smith's numbers would've been better if Green Bay's secondary didn't constantly interfere with his receivers; three were three interference flags on one drive in the opening quarter!
Smith was tackled on one play by Clay Matthews, and Matthews was flagged for landing with his full body weight on the quarterback. This hit was more blatant than the one last week, but it still shouldn't be a penalty. Mike McCarthy agreed, as he was absolutely irate on the sideline, visibly upset that the new NFL rules don't make any sense.
Peterson had a tremendous game. He gained 120 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries. His best run was a 41-yarder in which he made two defenders miss in the backfield and exploded down the right sideline. It was vintage Peterson, and a welcome sight to see following his struggles in 2016 and 2017.
Vernon Davis led the Redskins in receiving with two grabs for 70 yards, while Jordan Reed snatched four passes for 65 yards. All of Reed's stats came in the opening half, as Smith threw just five passes after halftime because Washington had such a big lead.
Panthers 31, Bengals 21
The Panthers looked like they were half-asleep to start this game. Cincinnati defensive tackle Andrew Billings blew up the interior of the Carolina offensive line to stuff Christian McCaffrey during a three-and-out, while the Panthers' defense looked lifeless, struggling to tackle and committing penalties. The Bengals zipped the ball down the field, as Andy Dalton didn't throw an incompletion until A.J. Green dropped the ball in the end zone. It didn't matter, as Giovani Bernard ended up scoring a touchdown.
Things turned around, however, when Cincinnati began committing turnovers and A.J. Green left the game with an injury. Dalton threw a pick when Panthers cornerback James Bradberry made a great play. Dalton appeared to get strip-sacked a bit later as well, but the call was overturned, and the Bengals were able to score a touchdown on the drive. However, Dalton tossed three interceptions following intermission, perhaps as a result of Green's groin problem. One was a desperation heave at the end, but the killer occurred when the ball bounced off Josh Malone's hands and into the arms of a Panther. Cincinnati gave the ball away four times, while the Panthers didn't commit any give-aways, and that was the difference in this game.
Carolina's greatest producer was McCaffrey. The second-year back shook off the early stuff and managed to run for 184 yards on 28 carries. Cincinnati's defense is never the same without Vontaze Burfict, and that proved to be the case in this contest. McCaffrey just blazed by the Bengals, though he surprisingly caught only two passes for 10 yards.
Cam Newton threw nearly half as much as Dalton, as he went 15-of-24 for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Newton also rushed for two scores on the ground, scrambling 10 times for 36 down yards. He did a good job of consistently moving the chains, converting 6-of-13 third-down opportunities.
Newton's touchdowns went to Devin Funchess (4-67) and C.J. Anderson. Rookie receiver D.J. Moore caught one of his two targets for only three yards.
Going back to the Bengals, Green caught five passes for 58 yards, in just over a half of action. Green, who dropped the aforementioned touchdown, was knocked out of the game with a third-quarter groin injury. Green was actually shaken up earlier in the afternoon when he committed the drop in the end zone, but was able to stay on the field. The good news for the Bengals is that Green expects to play in Week 4.
Dalton finished 29-of-46 for 352 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. He started well, but wasn't the same once Green was knocked out of the lineup. Instead, Dalton had to resort to throwing to Tyler Boyd, who caught six of this seven targets for 132 yards and a touchdown. Tyler Eifert (6-74) was also productive.
Bernard scored an early touchdown, as mentioned. He didn't get a chance to carry the ball very much, as he gained 61 yards on just 12 attempts. He was also productive as a receiver, catching five balls for 25 yards.
Titans 9, Jaguars 6
Anyone who believes the Jaguars were going to win the Super Bowl in the wake of their impressive victory over the Patriots were hit by a hard dose of reality. The Titans, armed with a scrub backup quarterback and a hobbled signal-caller, went into Jacksonville as double-digit underdogs and pulled the outright upset.
The problem for the Jaguars can be summed up in two words: Blake Bortles. The first-round bust had the game of his life against the Patriots, thanks in part to the injury to top Patriots pass-rusher Trey Flowers. He came crashing back down to Earth in this loss. Bortles was atrocious, and his inability to lead the Jaguars to more than six points ended up costing his team the game. With Marcus Mariota not being able to challenge Jacksonville downfield, all the Jaguars needed to do was establish a comfortable lead to take the Titans out of their running game. They could not do that.
Bortles finished 21-of-34 for only 155 yards. He threw countless checkdowns throughout the afternoon, and when he tried to go downfield, he was woefully inaccurate. He had Keelan Cole wide open down the field on a third down prior to halftime, but badly overthrew him. He later heaved a miserable pass to Cole on a third-and-4 try. This is what occurred throughout the entire contest, as Bortles gave the Jaguars no chance to win. He stinks, and Jacksonville desperately needs to replace him next offseason. Here are the 2019 NFL Draft Quarterback Prospect Rankings.
Cole would've enjoyed a much better game had Bortles not played like he had a massive hangover. Cole saw a team-high nine targets, catching five of them for 40 yards. He led everyone but T.J. Yeldon in receiving, while Dede Westbrook snatched three balls for 31 yards.
Speaking of Yeldon, he split the workload with Corey Grant. He gained 44 yards on seven carries, while Grant mustered 11 yards on six tries. Yeldon also caught six passes for 46 receiving yards, which is an indication of how often Bortles checked it down.
The Titans, meanwhile, improved to 2-1 despite their injuries at quarterback. Blaine Gabbert started this game, but was quickly knocked out on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Dante Fowler on a strip-sack. Leave it to Fowler, who has been a disappointment as a former first-round pick, to upgrade Tennessee's quarterbacking situation. Gabbert (1-of-3, 8 yards), left the game for good, forcing Mariota into the lineup. Mariota, like Bortles, also dinked and dunked, but he had a valid excuse, as his injured elbow was clearing hindering him. What Mariota did accomplish was threaten Jacksonville with his scrambling ability. He rushed seven times for 51 yards. His passing numbers (12-18, 100 yards) were meager in comparison, but Mariota's presence as a scrambler allowed the Titans to move the chains enough to keep the Jaguars off the field.
Mariota also kept the Jaguars honest on Derrick Henry, who gained 57 yards on 18 carries. Those stats aren't impressive, but Henry had some key runs to put the Titans in favorable down-and-distance situations. Dion Lewis (9-26) wasn't as successful.
Thanks to Mariota's aerial limitations, only two Titans logged more than 14 receiving yards: Corey Davis (2-34) and Taywan Taylor (4-30). Tajae Sharpe (0 catches) had a big drop on third down.
Ravens 27, Broncos 14
Things looked promising for the Broncos in the opening half. They blocked a Ravens punt to set up a touchdown, and then they blocked Justin Tucker's field goal and would've returned it for six had the run-back not been negated by a blind-side block. That was one of a few crucial mistakes the Broncos made in this game, and another occurred in the second quarter. The Ravens were in field goal range, but that changed when star rookie running back Phillip Lindsay lost his mind and began throwing punches in the middle of the pile. Lindsay was ejected, and the penalty took Denver out of field goal range. Denver's chance at three points turned into three for the Ravens, who were able to move into kicking range themselves.
The Broncos didn't have the same special-teams luck in the second half, while the mistakes continued to persist. Case Keenum had a 39-yard completion to Demaryius Thomas negated by a Garett Bolles hold on Terrell Suggs. Bolles had another hold on a separate drive when Denver was in the red zone, and Keenum was then picked off when he panicked. The interception ruined Denver's chances of making it a one-score game.
While the Broncos made critical errors, the Ravens' offense played a clean game. Joe Flacco completed most of his passes, going 25-of-40 for 277 yards and a touchdown. Flacco consistently moved the chains and was very effective on third down, converting on 8-of-16 tries.
Flacco spread the ball about evenly between his top two receivers. John Brown hauled in five of his nine targets for 86 yards, while Michael Crabtree secured seven of the 10 passes thrown to him for 61 yards. Flacco's lone score was a toss to Buck Allen (3-19).
Allen also scored once on the ground, as did Alex Collins. Unsurprisingly, Collins was way more effective as a runner, gaining 68 yards on 18 carries, while Allen mustered just seven yards on six attempts.
Going back to the Broncos, Keenum was a disappointing 22-of-34 for 192 yards and the aforementioned interception. Baltimore's front seven bothered Keenum, and especially his left tackle Bolles. It's also worth noting that the Broncos didn't score a single point after losing Lindsay to an ejection. Keenum just couldn't get things going for the most part with his dynamic backfield threat out of commission.
Lindsay, by the way, gained 20 yards on just four carries. He didn't catch a pass, but was targeted twice. All of this occurred in less than a half of action. Royce Freeman, meanwhile, registered 53 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
Demaryius Thomas led the Broncos with five catches for 63 yards, while Emmanuel Sanders was limited to just five grabs for 38 yards. However, Sanders scored on a 35-yard end-around.
Giants 27, Texans 22
The Texans have three major liabilities, and all three were on display in this game. The first is the offensive line. Deshaun Watson had no help from his blockers. He saw tons of pressure throughout the afternoon. The blocking unit was also guilty of penalties as well. They were whistled for three infractions in the first 20 minutes alone. Tackle Julie'n Davenport was flagged for three false starts by himself in the opening half! Meanwhile, a late penalty was costly, as a Watson touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins was negated by a hold. Earlier, the line surrendered a sack in the red zone, which ultimately led to an interception, which I'll discuss in a bit.
The second liability is the secondary. Houston's cornerback group is a mess, and the team had no answer for Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard. Eli Manning completed almost every pass, going 25-of-29 for 297 yards and two touchdowns. Manning looked done in his first two games of the season, so it was very telling that he was nearly flawless at Houston. Manning looked like he was in his prime again, which is remarkable.
Last but not least, Bill O'Brien. The inept O'Brien was once again out-coached and out-schemed throughout the afternoon. O'Brien also wasted a timeout in the second half. He's arguably the worst head coach in the NFL, and it should not be a surprise that his incompetence has caused Houston to begin 0-3 despite having so much promise entering the season.
It's worth noting that Watson just isn't progressing like he should, which is also O'Brien's fault. Watson's stats look great - 24-of-40, 385 yards, two touchdowns, one interception - but he didn't play nearly as well as those numbers indicate. Watson completed just eight of his 15 passes in the opening half, and he had 249 of his 385 yards after intermission when the Texans threw often in garbage time, trying to come back from a 20-6 deficit. Watson also scrambled five times for 36 rushing yards. His pick was a foolish decision in which he rolled out and threw a helpless pass in the red zone, negating a scoring opportunity.
Watson led his team in rushing. Lamar Miller found no running room, mustering 10 yards on as many carries. He also lost a fumble in the red zone, which was forced by Kerry Wynn, who had an outstanding game. Miller at least helped out his fantasy owners with five catches for 41 receiving yards and a touchdown. However, he's playing on borrowed time, as he'll be benched once D'Onta Foreman returns from injury.
DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller surely enjoyed garbage time. The two combined for just three catches for 31 yards by halftime, but they both finished with terrific numbers. Fuller caught five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown, while Hopkins logged six receptions for 86 yards. As mentioned, Hopkins was robbed of a touchdown because of a hold.
Moving on to the winners, I mentioned earlier than the Texans didn't have an answer for Beckham or Shepard. Beckham hauled in nine of his 10 targets for 109 yards, while Shepard snared six receptions for 80 yards and a score.
Houston also had problems bringing down Saquon Barkley, who broke tons of tackles in this game. Barkley gained 82 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, while also catching five passes for 35 receiving yards.
The dark cloud for the Giants, besides having their draft position worsened, is that Evan Engam injured his knee. He caught one pass for 19 yards. He'll have an MRI on Monday.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Man, I can't wait for Dolphin fans to e-mail me and complain that I have their team so low in my NFL Power Rankings even though Miami is 3-0. It'll make for some great hate mail entries.
The Dolphins are 3-0, and the revolution of the locker room undertaken by head coach Adam Gase is really paying off for Miami. The Dolphins were down throughout this game before showing their resilience with a furious fourth-quarter comeback against which the Oakland defense wilted in the South Florida heat. Once again, Derek Carr played well, but the depleted Raiders were unable to hold the lead.
The second play from scrimmage saw Carr hit Jordy Nelson on the run, and he exploded down the field for 61 yards before getting tracked down inside the 15. Two plays later, Nelson got wide open for a 12-yard touchdown. On the next Oakland possession, Carr picked on Dolphins rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick and hit Nelson running down the seam, wide open, for a 66-yard gain. On fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line, the Raiders' fullback was stuffed for no gain, and that proved to be a pivotal play in the game.
The Dolphins were able to reverse the field and got a drive starting in Oakland territory. Another horrible roughing-the-passer penalty on a routine tackle gave Miami an extra play, and Tannehill lofted in a 34-yard touchdown to Kenny Stills (3-61-1) to tie the game at seven. Late in the second half, Carr led a field goal drive to give Oakland the lead. Tannehill started moving the ball again using Danny Amendola (3-42) and A.J. Derby (1-16) to cross midfield. A penalty by Stills canceled out a first down, and a sack by Clinton McDonald knocked Miami out of field goal range to keep the Raiders up 10-7 at the half.
In the third quarter, Carr led Oakland down the field using Martavis Bryant (2-30) to convert a third-and-long. The drive ended with Marshawn Lynch going airborne over the scrum for a 1-yard Raiders touchdown. Tannehill responded by lofting in a perfect pass for a 36-yard gain to DeVante Parker (2-40) to crack the 20-yard line, and Jakeem Grant (2-70-2) took a shovel pass around the corner for an 18-yard touchdown. Miami took the lead on a gadget play with a reverse to wideout Albert Wilson, but Wilson pulled up to throw as Grant leaked down the sideline and was wide open for Wilson to loft a pass into him. Grant coasted down the sideline for a 52-yard touchdown. That gave Miami a 21-17 lead with just over seven minutes remaining.
Carr moved the ball close to the Miami end zone, but then threw one of the few bad passes he had all day, and it was picked off by Xavien Howard. To put the game away, Tannehill found Albert Wilson in busted coverage for a 74-yard touchdown. Oakland added a field goal late in the fourth quarter, but wwas unable to get the onside kick to attempt a Hail Mary.
Tannehill completed 17-of-23 passes for 289 yards with three touchdowns. Miami had no running game to speak of, ending up with Tannehill as its leading rusher with 27 yards on two carries. Frank Gore (6-12) and Kenyan Drake (5-3) were non-factors.
Wilson led Miami with two receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown.
Carr was 27-of-39 for 345 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Nelson led Oakland with six receptions for 173 yards with a touchdown. Amari Cooper (2-17) disappointed, including dropping a deep ball that really hurt.
Howard had an excellent game with two interceptions.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Don't look now, but the Bears are leading the NFC North. I took them at 12/1 odds to win the division prior to the start of the season, so fingers cross that they remain on top!
In the early going, the Bears looked like they were going to imitate the Vikings by losing to a winless team that could be one of the worst in the NFL in 2018. Chicago fell behind 14-0, and while Mitchell Trubisky was underwhelming, the Bears' defense slammed the door shut and enough offense was created to squeak out a road win. Sam Bradford's turnovers played a big role in helping the Bears to get their 2-1 start to the 2018 season.
On the first drive of the game, the Cardinals got moving as Bradford hit Christian Kirk on the run for a 30-yard gain to convert a third down. To finish the drive, Bradford found tight end Ricky Seals-Jones wide open in busted coverage for a 35-yard touchdown. Chicago quickly answered with chunk runs by Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen (5-53 rushing, 3-15 receiving) moving the Bears well into Arizona territory, but Trubisky took a terrible sack of a loss of 17 yards on a third down and then kicker Cody Parkey missed a 46-yard field goal. Trubisky's rough game continued as Robert Nkemdiche strip-sacked Trubisky and defensive tackle Corey Peters recovered the loose ball. On the next play, Bradford found David Johnson wide open for a 21-yard touchdown pass.
Chicago got moving midway through the second quarter when Trubisky found Trey Burton (4-55) for 25 yards. A roughing-the-passer penalty on Markus Golden and then one on Nkemdiche led to the ball being placed inside the 5-yard line. Trubisky made some bad passes though, forcing Chicago to settle for a field goal.
Before halftime, it looked like the Cardinals were going to score more, as Trubisky had Chandler Jones tip a pass and Tre Boston made a diving interception to set up Arizona in Chicago territory. Khalil Mack then came up with a clutch sack after beating guard Mike Iupati, which forced a punt to keep Chicago down 14-3 at the half.
Early in the third quarter, Bradford had an overthrow deep downfield that Bears safety Eddie Jackson tracked down for an interception. Trubisky responded by hitting Allen Robinson (3-50) for a 39-yard gain, and Robinson soon converted a fourth-and-1 on a shovel pass to set up a short touchdown run for Jordan Howard.
Chicago got in position for more points when Sherrod McManis intercepted Bradford at the Arizona 44-yard line. Howard ran for 13 yards, and that set Parkey up for a 41-yard field goal to cut the Cardinals lead to one. Arizona was driving down the field when Bradford was stripped by Mack, and Danny Trevathan recovered the loose ball. The Bears' ensuing drive ended with Parkey adding a 43-yard field goal to give them a 16-14 lead.
With four-and-a-half minutes remaining in the final quarter, Arizona benched Bradford and put rookie Josh Rosen in the game. His first pass was a dart to Jermaine Gresham for a first down. At midfield, Bears defensive tackle Bilal Nichols made a huge tackle for a loss on third-and-2. On fourth-and-5, Rosen was under pressure and threw a bad pass that fell right into the the breadbasket of Bryce Callahan for an interception. Rosen got one more chance with 43 seconds remaining, starting at his 20-yard line. Rosen threw a terrible pick-six to Eddie Jackson, but an offsides on Khalil Mack saved Rosen. But then, he took a sack on the last play of the game to end it for Arizona.
Trubisky was 24-of-35 for 220 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Howard ran for 61 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown, plus caught two passes for 20 yards.
Bradford was 13-of-19 for 157 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. David Johnson was held to 31 yards on 12 carries, and Larry Fitzgerald had only two receptions for nine yards.
Defensively, Mack had five tackles with two sacks and a forced fumble, but a painful offsides penalty took away a Bears touchdown. The Cardinals got good performances from their safety combination of Budda Baker and Tre Boston.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Why did Earl Thomas get flagged for bowing after his second interception? They called it a celebration penalties, but that was pretty tame compared to the other nonsense we typically see from showboaters.
The Seattle Seahawks came into this game 0-2 after losing both of their road games to start the season, and they very much didn't want to get down 0-3 to the Dallas Cowboys, especially at home. Both teams came into this game with some poor offensive stats and strong defensive numbers, but the Cowboys actually had a win, which came at home and was due to their defense for the most part. And when you looked at the sacks and pressure that Russell Wilson has been seeing, and couple that with the Cowboys' nine sacks through two games, the Cowboys did have a weakness to exploit.
Coach Pete Carroll vowed to get Chris Carson more work this week, and he made good on that promise, as Carson rushed an amazing 32 times. That workload was likely more to do with keeping Wilson upright, as he had been sacked 12 times in the first two games before getting sacked just twice in the contest against Dallas.
The Seahawks turned the table on the Cowboys in this game, taking Dak Prescott to the ground five times for sacks after just notching three in the first two games. It was yet another poor display by Prescott and the Cowboys' offense. Even with some garbage-time numbers, Prescott still completed just 19-of-34 passes for 168 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, both by Earl Thomas. Prescott has now thrown for fewer than 200 yards in nine of his last 11 games.
Thomas' strange week, in which he missed practice without permission and his holdout to start the season, plus the rumors that he is/was going to Dallas in a trade, made his game even more exciting. He now has three interceptions on the year and is making it tough for the Seahawks to let him go in a trade.
Russell Wilson was able to hit Tyler Lockett and Jaron Brown for first-half touchdowns to get a sizable lead, but all-in-all, he didn't throw the ball much, completing just 16 passes on 26 attempts for 192 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. This game was all about slowing down the pass rush with the running game, which in turn helped Wilson cut down on errors, as he had two turnovers in each of their first two games and zero against Dallas.
Ezekiel Elliott did well on a per-carry basis, rushing just 16 times but for 127 yards. Unfortunately, many of his yards came too late and he also lost a costly fumble. Elliott was the only offense the Cowboys had though, as Geoff Swaim and Cole Beasley led the tight ends and wide receivers in targets, while Elliott led the team as a whole in targets with eight, but only caught three for 11 yards. The Dallas receivers are so bad that Seattle could pay extra attention to Elliott out of the backfield, keeping him from breaking any big plays.
At some point, we can't blame the lack of receiving weapons for Prescott, but the lack of any good ones is no doubt a part of his trouble. But as it is, the Cowboys will need to rely on their defense and Elliott to get wins, and that is going to be tough.
Chris Carson's 32 carries only resulted in 102 yards for a 3.18 yards-per-carry clip, but the Seahawks' ability to get to Prescott and the three turnovers they forced, allowed Carson to continue running at a sub-optimal rate. Despite coach Carroll's game plan of running Carson more, it's not a sustainable one in games during which the other team has a working offense.
The Seahawks played good defense against a bad offense, and Wilson made the throws he needed to, while Carson kept Wilson from running for his life every other play. It's a step in the right direction to help Seattle's efficiency, but one that may not be sustainable against better offenses.
Rams 35, Chargers 23
It's always Groundhog Day for the Chargers. Each week, it seems as though they find a way to screw up and hand the opponent a victory on a silver platter. They were guilty of plenty of blunders in this contest, beginning when Derwin James intercepted Jared Goff in the red zone. James read Goff's eyes perfectly and came away with the pick, which would've been a great play - except James really hurt his offense by senselessly running out of the end zone and going out of bounds at the 1-yard line. The Chargers ran two predictable runs during their three-and-out, which concluded with a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown.
Costly error No. 2 occurred when Keenan Allen lost a fumble in Rams territory. The Rams took over, and Goff made them pay by extending a third-and-8 play under pressure and hitting Cooper Kupp, perfectly in stride. Kupp did the rest, breaking a Trevor Williams tackle for a 53-yard touchdown. Costly error No. 3, meanwhile, occurred at the end when an Austin Ekeler catch and run on fourth down ended with a fumble, which the Rams recovered.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the Chargers' loss was their defense. They had absolutely no answer for any aspect of the Rams' offense. Joey Bosa and Corey Liuget were out, but there's still no excuse for how bad they were. The Rams practically did whatever they wanted, and they were only stopped by turnovers and penalties. The Rams racked up 521 net yards and were a ridiculous 8-of-11 on third down. As a result, they won the time of possession by about nine minutes.
Goff, at one point, completed 13 passes in a row, and the only reason that streak ended was because Todd Gurley dropped a pass. Goff finished 29-of-36 for 354 yards, three touchdowns and an interception that James snatched, which really was Goff's only mistake. Goff should've thrown a fourth touchdown, but Brandin Cooks' initial ruling of a score was moved to the 1-yard line following replay review. Gurley ran into the end zone on the next play.
Gurley had an early blunder when he fumbled, but he shook it off and had a big game. Gurley gained 105 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. He also caught all five of his targets for 51 receiving yards.
Cooks, who missed out on the touchdown, had just a middling standard fantasy day instead. He caught seven passes for 90 yards. Goff's other receivers had better luck in reaching the end zone. Kupp logged four receptions for 71 yards and a score, while Robert Woods hauled in 10 of his 11 targets for 104 yards and two scores. The Chargers were supposed to have a talented secondary, but they couldn't cover any of Goff's weapons.
This is all great for the Rams, but they had major bad news, as cornerback Marcus Peters left the game with a foot injury. Peters couldn't put any pressure on his leg, and it looked like the team doctors were checking his Achilles. A bit later, Aqib Talib was knocked out with an ankle.
Back to the Chargers, if there's a silver lining, it's that Mike Williams is turning into a very dependable receiver. Williams caught four passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns, which has to be a relief for any Charger fan who has been tired of watching Kelvin Benjamin commit mental blunders.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Allen caught three passes for 44 yards. He got banged up at the end, but that didn't affect his stat line. Antonio Gates, meanwhile, finally got in the box score with three grabs for 44 yards.
Philip Rivers finished 18-of-30 for 226 yards and two touchdowns. He played well, save for a couple of red-zone trips late in the game. He sailed some passes in the end zone. As a result, the Chargers scored just three points in two trips to the red zone in the fourth quarter. Rivers was nearly intercepted early in the afternoon, but managed to rebound against tough competition. One of his best plays was when he fit a ball in between two defenders to Allen on a third-and-17 for 25 yards as he was getting crunched by a defender.
Melvin Gordon posted a strong stat line considering the competition, gaining 80 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Ekeler (4-47), who had the costly fumble, nearly scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but couldn't stay inbounds along the sideline.
Lions 23, Patriots 10
Wow. That's all I have to say about this. Wow. Although, I suppose you came here for a detailed analysis of this game, so here it is...
The Patriots look terrible. I know they typically have early-season swoons - remember, they were blown out against the Chiefs and nearly lost to the Buccaneers last year - but I've never seen anything like this. The Jets crushed the Lions in Detroit, yet the Patriots never had a chance. They were outgained in the opening half, 231-70, as Tom Brady couldn't remain on the field. New England had three consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game, while the defense had no answer for Matthew Stafford and the Detroit offensive play-makers.
Brady had a miserable stat line, going 14-of-26 for only 133 yards, one touchdown and an interception, which was a desperate heave to Phillip Dorsett into double coverage. It's not like Brady played poorly, however. He just never had a chance. The Lions opted to double cover Rob Gronkowski on most plays, so Brady didn't have any other viable options at his disposal.
The silver lining here is that this won't be the case much longer. The newly acquired Josh Gordon should be able to play next week, and Julian Edelman will be back from suspension right after that.
Despite being smothered by double teams, Gronkowski still managed to lead the Patriots with four catches for 51 yards. Next was Chris Hogan (3-31) who has been a major disappointment this year. If Gordon plays next week, that'll hopefully be the end of Dorsett, who couldn't haul in any of his five targets. This is the guy the Patriots acquired for Jacoby Brissett.
Rookie running back Sony Michel had a rough evening. He handled most of the workload, but was stuffed on a pair of third-and-1 opportunities early in the evening. He also dropped passes on consecutive plays in the second half. Michel finished with 50 yards on 14 carries.
As for the victors, Stafford was stellar, going 27-of-36 for 262 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, which was an underthrow over the middle of the field. Stafford was excellent otherwise, as he was aided by an absent New England pass rush. The Patriots really need their top edge rusher, Trey Flowers, back from a concussion, which he suffered seven snaps into the Jacksonville game.
Stafford's touchdowns went to Marvin Jones (4-69) and Kenny Golladay (6-53). Golden Tate didn't find the end zone, but he caught six of his eight targets for 69 yards.
It had been four-and-a-half years since the Lions had a 100-yard rusher - specifically on Thanksgiving of 2013 - but Kerryon Johnson snapped that streak. Johnson barely eclipsed the century plateau, gaining 101 yards on 16 carries. Johnson was excellent, as he was able to evade New England defenders all evening. However, the offensive line deserves a ton of credit as well. The Detroit front pushed around the Patriots' defensive linemen, who looked like they were playing on ice skates.
My only criticism here is that Johnson didn't get the ball enough. He split the workload evenly with LeGarrette Blount, who gained 48 yards on his 16 carries. Johnson is so much better that it almost seems like a wasted down whenever Blount touches the ball.
Steelers 30, Buccaneers 27
This game ended up being a nail-biter, but for a while, it looked like the "Fitzmagic" had turned into a pumpkin. The fake beards all the Tampa fans were wearing would surely be shaven.
Ryan Fitzpatrick came into this game as one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL, but he had a disastrous first half. He was guilty of three interceptions prior to intermission. Not all of them were his fault. The first occurred when the pass was batted into the air by linebacker Jon Bostic. The second may have seemed like an overthrow, but Mike Evans ran a poor route. The third was certainly on Fitzpatrick, as he seemed to panic while releasing the ball under pressure in his own end zone. The ball sailed on him and into the arms of Bud Dupree, who took the turnover back for six.
With these give-aways, as well as some big plays on offense, the Steelers were able to establish a 30-10 lead going into halftime. It appeared as though the game was over, and that Tampa would be moving forward with Jameis Winston, who would be coming off suspension as of midnight.
And then, the game completely flipped. Fitzpatrick caught fire. He torched the Steelers relentlessly. He appeared to throw a 56-yard touchdown to Chris Godwin, but Godwin was ruled down by contact following replay review. Fitzpatrick later converted a fourth-and-7 try to Cameron Brate, which led to a touchdown pass to Godwin to trim the margin to 30-20. On the next possession, Fitzpatrick launched a 51-yard bomb to Mike Evans in the end zone. Just like that, the score was 30-27.
It certainly seemed like the Steelers were going to blow it when they were forced to punt after Ben Roethlisberger had a miscommunication with Antonio Brown on third down. However, Fitzpatrick threw some near-interceptions on a couple of throws, and Tampa had a three-and-out. The team could've gone for it on fourth-and-10, and probably should have because it never got the ball back after punting. Thanks to Roethlisberger's pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster, which he released while getting hit, and a James Conner tough run, the Steelers were able to drain the clock and escape with their first win of the season.
Fitzpatrick struggled early, yet still threw for 400-plus yards again. That's three consecutive 400-yard performances, which is an NFL record. Fitzpatrick finished 30-of-50 for 411 yards, three touchdowns and three picks. This was a very mixed performance. Fitzpatrick was magical in his comeback, but made some crucial mistakes. He was also lucky to get away with some interceptions on his final offensive drive.
Fitzpatrick's touchdowns went to Evans (6-137), Godwin (5-74) and Brate (3-34). O.J. Howard (6-72) also had a big game, while DeSean Jackson didn't do much offensively (3-37), but appeared to have a punt return for a score. It was called back because of a penalty, however. Godwin, as mentioned, nearly had a long touchdown, but he also made a mistake when he lost a fumble, which the Steelers turned into a touchdown.
The Buccaneers once again didn't get much out of their running game. Peyton Barber mustered only 33 yards on eight carries. Fitzpatrick almost outgained him, scrambling five times for 27 rushing yards.
The Steelers, meanwhile, took the air out of the ball in the second half; otherwise, Roethlisberger would've posted even better stats. Roethlisberger went 30-of-38 for 353 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The pick occurred early in the evening, and it came when Roethlisberger was under pressure. Justin Evans read his eyes perfectly and jumped the route. However, Roethlisberger bounced back and torched Tampa's poor secondary.
Roethlisberger's scores went to Vance McDonald (4-112), Brown (6-50) and Ryan Switzer (3-9). McDonald's touchdown came on a 75-yard reception where he caught an intermediate pass and shoved Chris Conte out of the way before running into the end zone with no one else in sight. Brown didn't have a good game, dropping a pass and running the wrong route on a third-down attempt. Smith-Schuster, meanwhile, caught nine of his 11 targets for 116 yards.
Conner didn't run well for most of the evening, but he had some clutch carries toward the end to drain the clock. Conner gained 61 yards on 15 attempts versus a strong Tampa rush defense. Conner also caught five passes for 34 receiving yards.
The one dark cloud over this game for the Steelers was Chris Boswell. The struggling kicker continued to whiff. He missed an early extra point, then doinked a 47-yard try off the upright.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.