It’s Tuesday so we – Shaun Blundell and Sean Tyler – are back to pick six things from the Week 3 NFL slate that caught our eye. This time, our interest was piqued by an explosive offense, a brick-wall defence, a struggling quarterback, underdogs upsetting the odds, another tight one between two one-score-game specialists and a record-breaking kicker. So let’s just crack on, shall we?
Myles in motion for dominant Browns D
Myles Garrett has dominated every game this season. On Sunday, for those of you who only judge a player by his ‘stat sheet’, he dominated there too. He sacked Ryan Tannehill 3.5 times as the Cleveland defense continued its early season form, limiting Tennessee to just 94 yards as the Browns cruised to a 27-3 win. It was a historically bad day for the Titans, who recorded their lowest offensive output since the days of the Oilers. The previous low for the Titans of Tennessee, as we know them today, was 98 yards against Jacksonville in 2006.
Derrick Henry was curtailed to 20 yards on 11 carries. The Titans managed a measly six first downs the whole game and poor punter Ryan Stonehouse had as many punts as any wide receiver had targets. The only score for the Titans came on a drive that started on the Browns’ 17-yard line and went as follows: Henry -3 yard run; Garrett sack and forced fumble -7 yards; completed pass -2 yards. It is the only time any opponent has been inside the Browns’ red zone all season and they went backwards.
Tannehill was under siege the whole time. He was sacked five times, completed 13 of 25 passes for 104 yards and never got Tennessee’s offense moving. Andre Dillard was abused all game by Garrett, Za’Darius Smith and company. And on one play, Garrett had two tight ends following him in motion across the formation in a futile attempt to block him. He continued to motion to the opposite side and in comedic fashion, the offense continued to follow. It led to a delay of game penalty against the Titans and highlighted the fear the All-Pro strikes in his opponents.
An exclamation point for Cleveland’s defense came on the first two plays of the fourth quarter, when Alex Wright and Garrett recorded sacks on consecutive plays, much to the delight of coordinator Jim Schwartz, smiling away on the sideline. This Browns defense is playing at a historic level through three weeks. They have allowed -36 rushing yards before contact this season, while the league average is +94! With the offense showing signs of life and the Browns looking competitive, maybe this is finally the year that Garrett enters the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. [SB]
Every dog has its day
Before this weekend’s action, the Texans and Cardinals occupied the last two positions in every power ranking I saw. And while they may not be tanking as such, a successful season seemed like wishful thinking for both franchises.
And so to Sunday. In my Yahoo! Survivor game, 25% of players picked the Jaguars to sink the 0-2 Texans, and a further 15% picked the Cowboys to see off the winless Cardinals. The betting lines reflected this consensus, with Jacksonville giving up 7.5 points and Dallas favoured by 13 on the road. And yet, both ‘dogs rose to the occasion.
In Houston, the new kids continued to make their mark in a comfortable 37-17 win over their divisional foes. Rookie QB CJ Stroud maintained his hot start to the campaign with 280 passing yards and two touchdowns, making him only the third quarterback ever to pass for over 900 yards in their first three career games (his 906 place him 4th in the league). And don’t forget, he’s yet to throw an interception. Fellow newbie Tank Dell had five receptions for 145 yards and a TD.
Meanwhile, Arizona finally showed they can put it together for a whole game for a change, having outscored their opponents by 34 points in the first half of their previous games but losing both. In beating the Cowboys 28-16, QB Joshua Dobbs impressed with 189 yards and a TD, completed 80.9% of his passes (17 of 21) – including a 69-yard pass to rookie Michael Wilson – and set the tone on the second play of the game with a 44-yard run. Elsewhere, Matt Prater kicked a 62-yard FG, the longest we’ve seen this season so far, and Kyzir White made a red zone INT to close out the game.
So if you had either of these teams pegged as this year’s whipping boys, maybe it’s time to think again. They may be full of young and inexperienced players but they showed spirit in picking up their first wins of the season and perhaps they’re not cannon-fodder after all. In fact, if I were a gambling man, I’d wager the loser of next week’s Bears v Broncos matchup may be a better bet to make the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft than either Houston or Arizona. [ST]
The Jets are too talented to not make a move, surely?
This year was supposed to be different for the Jets. They were supposed to have Aaron Rodgers leading them to success but a cruel Achilles tear later, the team is now in the hands of Zach Wilson. Their roster is too talented for this to remain the case, surely? Even against a struggling Patriots team, the Jets weren’t able to get the win.
The dreaded coach speak of “he gives us the best chance to win” was thrown out by Robert Saleh after a second consecutive loss with Wilson at the controls. It is scary to think just how bad QB Tim Boyle may be, as the only other quarterback on the depth chart. Wilson was 18 of 36 for 157 yards and no touchdowns, and took three sacks for a loss of 24 yards. Garrett Wilson led the team in receiving with five catches for 48 yards while on the ground, Dalvin Cook and Breece Hall posted 18 yards each.
Wilson didn’t turn the ball over but his day was illustrated perfectly on the Jets’ penultimate drive. Down 5 points, on a 4th-and-10 from their own 45, he completed the pass to tight end Tyler Conklin. For 2 yards, on a checkdown, with a Patriot defender right there to effectively seal the ball game for New England. Football is cruel though and there was more heartbreak for the Jets as Randall Cobb should have come down with the Hail Mary on the final play of the game to secure the unlikeliest of victories. Emphasis on the word should.
Wilson is still a developmental QB who hasn’t developed into a starting-calibre player. He’s paying the price of being overdrafted and facing the intense scrutiny of the New York market. The boo birds were out in droves on Sunday night for the franchise’s 15th consecutive loss to Bill Belichick’s team. Some teams just have your number but for the Jets, this is a nightmare they simply have to find a way out of. Teammates and coaches arguing on the sidelines in Game 3 should send warning signals through the building. GM Joe Douglas must do something.
Oh well, it’s the Chiefs up next. Maybe Carson Wentz might get yet another redemption shot? [SB]
With the Colts missing their starting QB Anthony Richardson, as well as PUP-list running back Jonathan Taylor (remember him?), it was going to take something special for Indy to go to Baltimore and beat the Ravens, one of only two AFC teams with a perfect record after two weeks. Back-up Gardner Minshew fought hard (227 passing yards, 1 TD), Zack Moss posted a career-high 122 rushing yards and the defense largely held Lamar Jackson and co. in check. But in the end, the difference-maker in this intriguing, attritional 22-19 overtime battle was a kicker.
If I’d said that before the game, I reckon 99% of you would’ve put this month’s mortgage or rent payment on it being the Ravens’ Justin Tucker. After all, he’s the best in the league, holds the NFL field goal record at 66 yards and has won many games in clutch moments. But on Sunday, the plaudits went to Colts kicker Matt Gay for his own clutch, record-breaking day. Even the wind and rain from the tail-end of Tropical Storm Ophelia couldn’t blow him off course.
Tucker himself missed a chance to win the game for Baltimore with 1 second left, his 61-yard attempt falling just short of the crossbar, so into OT we went. With the tension building, the teams traded three-and-outs and then both failed on 4th downs, but a 13-yard run from Moss eventually brought Indianapolis within range. Gay obliged, coolly nailing the walk-off winner from 53 yards. Even more impressively, that was his fourth successful kick from over 50 yards in the game, something never before achieved in the NFL. Earlier, he’d drilled home from 31, 54, 53 and 53, the last of which tied the game with under a minute of regulation remaining.
The former Rams kicker, acquired as a free agent in March, has now made his last seven 50-yarders and puts his success down to his ‘tunnel vision’ mentality. “You jog on, kick it and jog off,” he explained afterwards. “That’s the mindset I like to have. I don’t like to think too much about what’s going on. I’m just in blackout mode.”
With ice in his veins and former Colts QB Matt Ryan now in the commentary booth, maybe we’ve discovered Matty Ice 2.0? [ST]
Close, but this time, no cigar
The Minnesota Vikings were 11-0 in games decided by 7 points or fewer in 2022. After another game that saw the Vikings involved in a close tussle – a 28-24 loss to the LA Chargers – their record this year drops to 0-3 in such games.
It really does highlight the small margins by which NFL games are often decided. With just 55 ticks left on the clock, Kirk Cousins dialled up a deep ball to Jordan Addison. It looked for all the world it was going to land right in his bread basket. Chargers safety Alohi Gilman, however, had other ideas. He leaped into the air and managed to somehow get his fingertips on the ball, disrupting the potential catch. It fell incomplete, although a penalty elsewhere on the field kept the drive alive.
Three plays later, the Vikings faced 4th-and-5. Cousins zipped a pass over the middle for TJ Hockenson for 9 more yards to extend the drive again. With no timeouts remaining, the Vikes inexcusably let more than 20 seconds drain off the play clock and then called a play that appeared to cause some offensive confusion. Cousins dropped back, looked for Hockenson again but the coverage was tight, the ball was deflected and it looped up towards Kenneth Murray who made a diving interception in the end zone. On another day, maybe even just last season, it sticks in the tight end’s hands.
These two teams are always involved in one-score games so it was almost guaranteed that this contest would boil down to the final play of the game. Their victory moves the Chargers to 1-2 while the Vikings remain winless at 0-3. It is really difficult to say if either of these teams are good, bad or indifferent. What is easy to say, however, is that this is why we love the NFL because games like this are the norm every weekend. For the Vikings’ sake, they need to get on the right side of one of these close outcomes soon before the season is lost before it has truly begun. [SB]
Miami turn it up to 10
Taking a knee to close out a big win is akin to a victory lap and usually worthy of high-fives and backslapping all round. But in the case of Miami’s 10-touchdown (yes, 10!) mauling of the Denver Broncos on Sunday, some fans might have been slightly disappointed. That’s because, had their team successfully attempted a field goal from the Broncos’ 28-yard line instead, they’d have equalled the all-time NFL record of 73 points, set by Chicago in a postseason game back in 1940.
As it was, HC Mike McDaniel didn’t want to rub salt into some very raw wounds, and his team’s 70-20 win still brought the second-highest points tally ever in the regular season (Washington hit the Giants for 72 in 1966). His team also became the first to score five rushing TDs and five receiving TDs in a game.
In a non-contest described by Broncos HC Sean Payton as “embarrassing”, Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa – the bookies’ current favourite for MVP – posted a perfect first half, completing 16 of 16 for 206 yards with two TDs and no INTs. Along with some other starters, he was pulled in the fourth quarter, so finished with ‘only’ 309 yards and four touchdown passes.
With a hugely dominant Miami offense racking up 726 total yards – the second-most in NFL history – players were literally lining up to score. No doubt, fantasy owners were rubbing their hands with glee as Raheem Mostert rushed for 82 yards and 3 TDs, and logged 60 yards and a TD through the air. Meanwhile, De’Von Achane posted 203 rushing yards with two scores, plus a further 30 yards and two TDs receiving (both from absolutely filthy no-look backwards shovel passes from Tua). On another day, Tyreek Hill’s 157 yards/1 TD, or even Chosen Anderson’s 68-yard TD, might have been newsworthy but not today.
Even without WR2 Jaylen Waddle (concussion protocol), Miami’s offense cruised to the top of the league in yards per play, yards per game and points per drive. The defense also forced multiple turnovers for the second straight game. So are they the best team in the AFC East, the conference or even the league right now? Maybe, but we should know more next week when they face the Bills, scorers of 75 points over the last two games themselves. So get your sparklers, marshmallows and hot chocolate ready, there’s gonna be fireworks! [ST]