Sky is starting to fall on Saints after costly loss to Chiefs; more Snaps
The Saints' offense and defense each had a hand in the team's loss to the Chiefs
Replacement refs again made news, particularly giving 49ers two extra challenges
Robert Griffin III's play has been declining since his stellar rookie debut in Week 1
BALTIMORE -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we catch our breath from a dizzying afternoon of football...
Week 3 gave us those three thrilling doses of overtime football in the early games, but I imagine Saints fans could have done without it. They don't need to see more, because as late September arrives, it has already been a very long season in New Orleans.
The Saints are 0-3, and it's remarkable to even write that sentence, let alone contemplate it. New Orleans has not only already matched its total of regular season losses from 2011, but also the Saints would be bucking some serious history if they're to overcome their dismal start and make the playoffs. The last team to dig out of an 0-3 hole and still make the postseason was the 1998 Buffalo Bills.
New Orleans' 27-24 overtime defeat by the Kansas City Chiefs at the Superdome was the stunner of the season so far in the NFL. The Chiefs and Saints came into the game as two of the league's six winless teams, and Kansas City looked all but dead down 24-6 midway through the third quarter.
But the Chiefs got a 91-yard Jamaal Charles touchdown run to kickstart their comeback, and Kansas City wound up scoring the game's final 21 points to drop New Orleans to a depth we did not think we'd ever see from a Drew Brees-led team. But it's hard to know where bottom is now for the Saints, and next week's trip to Green Bay only promises more pain for a New Orleans defense that disintegrated against the run on Sunday.
Charles wound up rushing 33 times for 233 yards, and Kansas City's Matt Cassel contributed 248 more yards through the air, and that's going to make life all the more difficult this week for new Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, whose out-matched unit continues to look completely devoid of confidence and consistency.
The Saints offense did enough to win, but it's not blameless in this loss. The New Orleans offensive line has been horrible at times, and Brees took a pounding from the Chiefs pass rush. At this point, there are no silver linings to grasp onto in New Orleans. Other than the obvious one: Sean Payton might end up getting a few Coach of the Year votes out of this debacle.
Three weeks don't make a season, but it's obvious nothing's going to come easily in New Orleans this year. Even the wins, whenever they come, are going to be exhausting to sweat out for Saints fans. If New Orleans can't handle the Chiefs, who entered fresh off blowout losses against the Falcons and Bills, who can it handle? This is a team that didn't lose at home last year, going 9-0, but it's already 0-2 there and about to hit panic mode.
So much for the notion of the dominant 49ers. Minnesota just put the lie to San Francisco being the most complete team in the league. The 49ers clearly stayed in the NFC North one week too long, because after humbling the Packers at Lambeau in Week 1, and handily beating the Lions at home in Week 2, San Francisco got pushed around by a Vikings team that almost everyone predicted would finish last in the division.
Credit Minnesota's execution level on both offense and defense all game long. The Vikings were the aggressor in the 24-13 win and kept the pressure on San Francisco, never letting Alex Smith get comfortable and never backing off from their physical style of play. It was the kind of win that makes you wonder where Minnesota's ceiling is this season, and the type of loss that should underline how beatable the 49ers are when they fail to be the most aggressive and hardest-hitting team on the field.
Here's the best news about Atlanta's ridiculously impressive 3-0 start: The Falcons might double that and be 6-0 by the time they hit their Week 7 bye. Their next three games are all against teams that exited Week 3 with 1-2 records. First comes a home game next week against Carolina, with the Panthers reeling from the butt-kicking they just absorbed Thursday night at home against the Giants. In Week 5, the Falcons travel to Washington and face a Redskins team that just lost its home opener to Cincinnati on Sunday. And then in Week 6, the Raiders visit the Georgia Dome. Three winnable games await. Will Atlanta take advantage?
This is going to sound like a recording from Week 2, but the replacement refs were again far too visible and topical in Week 3. There were many head-scratchers, but the worst was in Minnesota. If you thought teams without timeouts couldn't make replay challenges, you obviously didn't see the 49ers-Vikings game.
San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh somehow challenged a Toby Gerhart fumble with 3:29 left, even though the 49ers had called their third and final timeout just before Harbaugh threw the challenge flag. The officials actually let the 49ers keep that timeout for later, and allowed the San Francisco challenge to proceed. The call was overturned and the 49ers got the ball after it was ruled Gerhart fumbled. Minutes later, Harbaugh challenged another Gerhart fumble.
The Vikings held on to win, and that will mute a lot of the protest that would have resulted if those gaffes had decided the outcome, but the league is only getting lucky in these instances where the officials' lack of experience is coming close to being the determining factor in who wins and who loses.
Speaking of the officials, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said he doesn't think the NFL will fine him for grabbing the arm of a game official as the replacement ref was leaving the field Sunday night, but I'm betting he's wrong. The league is already hyper-sensitive to the idea that players and coaches have started bullying or trying to intimidate the new refs, and I'd be very surprised if Belichick isn't hit with a five-figure fine for running after the official and grabbing his arm to scream at him over some of the calls that went against New England.
"I'm not going to comment about that,'' Belichick said after the game. "You saw the game. What did we have, 30 penalties called in that game?''
Actually there were 24 accepted penalties, with Baltimore called for 14 of them for 135 yards, and New England having 10 flags for 83 yards. It was another sloppy and ragged performance by the over-matched replacement refs, but something tells me NFL commissioner Roger Goodell won't see it that way. And he'll make Belichick pay for his own illegal contact foul Sunday night.
That was a pretty low-impact homecoming for Randy Moss in Minnesota (three catches for 27 yards). Seeing the 49ers veteran receiver sitting on the San Francisco bench late in the game, nowhere near the rest of his teammates, must have seemed like old times for Vikings fans.
That Lions-Titans overtime classic had so many ridiculous numbers you almost don't know where to begin. But I suppose Tennessee becoming the first team in league history to record five touchdowns on plays of more than 60 yards is as good a place as any. The Titans scored on a 65-yard Tommie Campbell punt return, a 105-yard kickoff return by Darius Reynaud, a 72-yard fumble return by Alterraun Verner, a 71-yard magic trick of a scoring catch by Nate Washington (video below) and a ho-hum 61-yard touchdown reception by Jared Cook.
And mind-boggling enough, that wasn't enough to assure victory for Tennessee, thanks to the Lions scoring a pair of touchdowns in the final 18 seconds of regulation to produce overtime. Lions backup quarterback Shaun Hill might have had the all-time relief appearance in this game. He didn't enter the action until after the two-minute warning, replacing the injured Matthew Stafford, and still managed to pass for 172 yards. With his help, the Titans and Lions combined to score 46 points in the fourth quarter alone.
And did we mention that Tennessee entered play on Sunday with just two touchdowns scored in the season's first two weeks? You can not predict what will happen in this league and expect to get anything right.
Robert Griffin III didn't deliver a victory in his regular season home debut, but he did show flashes in the second half as Washington rallied to make a game of it before losing 38-31 to the visiting Bengals. Griffin threw for 221 yards and ran for 85 more on 12 rushes, but I don't like his chances of starting 16 games if he keeps absorbing the type of pounding the Bengals subjected him to. Griffin took six sacks, fumbled three times (losing one) and took several big shots while running the ball, sometimes in the triple option formation.
The reality is Griffin's performance was near perfect in Week 1, less so in Week 2, and Sunday was easily his most challenged day yet in the NFL. That's not trending in the right direction for Redskins fans. Does it have a direct correlation to how much contact he has taken just three weeks into the season? Who knows. But he's not big enough to withstand too much pounding and still remain effective.
On another young quarterback front, Christian Ponder's big day in the Vikings upset win over the 49ers was his finest game as a pro. Ponder started faster than he finished against San Francisco, but he still wound up with 198 yards passing and two touchdowns (both to tight end Kyle Rudolph), plus seven runs for 33 yards and another touchdown.
Ponder is playing with a confidence he rarely displayed last season, and he's taking care of the football, having not thrown an interception in three games this year. With a pair of home wins to their credit already, over Jacksonville and San Francisco, the Vikings are just one win away from matching their victory total for all of 2011.
Talking to several Panthers veterans in training camp, there was real hope that Cam Newton's pouting problem was just a byproduct of him being so unaccustomed to losing as a rookie, and that his increased maturity in his second year in the league would eradicate the issue. But that doesn't appear to be so in light of Newton's sideline demeanor late in Carolina's blowout loss at home against the Giants Thursday night.
Newton got talked to late last season by the likes of Panthers center Ryan Kalil regarding his inability to turn the page and move on quickly enough after a defeat. There's a point where moping in the wake of defeat is counterproductive, and only serves to distract you from winning next week's game. Part of being a professional is handling failure, and it's that part of the starting quarterback job Newton is failing most glaringly.
With a huge AFC East showdown looming next week at home against New England, Buffalo losing running back C.J. Spiller to a shoulder injury early on Sunday against the Browns is terrible timing. But the Bills backfield may be as deep as anyone's in the NFL, and they're proving it. When Fred Jackson went down with a Week 1 knee injury, Spiller stepped up and more than filled the void, and to some degree, Tashard Choice did the same thing in the 24-14 win at Cleveland. Choice gained 91 yards on 20 carries against the Browns, and the Bills might get a boost from the return of Jackson in time for next week's game.
Good comeback win for the Jaguars at Indy, but Jacksonville's offensive game plan still seems to be feed Maurice Jones-Drew and hope we can hit a pass or two at some point. The Jaguars play a boring brand of ball, even if Gabbert did connect with receiver Cecil Shorts on an 80-yard game-winning slant pattern with 45 seconds remaining, giving them a 22-17 win and leaving both teams at 1-2.
MJD rushed a whopping 28 times for 177 yards, and Gabbert gained more than half of his 155 yards passing (10 of 21 attempts) on the touchdown pass to Shorts. In other news, Jones-Drew handed the ball to the referee after scoring on a run against the Colts, thereby forcing Jacksonville head coach Mike Mularkey to donate money to a charity. Jones-Drew usually celebrates his touchdowns, but Mularkey has asked his team to go old-school in that regard this year, even putting his money where his mouth is.
By now, NFL coaches should pay to have a study conducted on the wisdom of icing the opposing kicker. Miami's Joe Philbin is the latest coach to make the wrong call with that move, icing the Jets' Nick Folk on the 33-yard kick that wound up being blocked by the Dolphins. Naturally, Folk nailed his second attempt, giving the Jets an ugly but much-needed 23-20 overtime win at Miami.
It seems to be a 50-50 call, because New York's Rex Ryan had better luck earlier in overtime, freezing Miami's Dan Carpenter, who went on to miss his 48-yard attempt.
Maybe the Jets should get some Wildcat package formation help from the Bengals. Cincinnati used that form of trickeration to perfection in the win at Washington. First, Bengals rookie receiver Mohamed Sanu lined up at quarterback in the shotgun and threw a beautiful 73-yard scoring bomb to A.J. Green on the first play from scrimmage, seemingly taking everyone at FedEx Field by surprise.
Later in the first half, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis took a direct snap and scored on a one-yard run, just another indication of how wide-open and creative Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was with the Cincinnati game plan.
As for the Jets' Tim Tebow package, it was a mixed bag, to say the least. He did pick up a first down on a five-yard fake punt rush, but he also took a sack on a 2nd-and-goal play, a mistake New York doubled down on when Mark Sanchez re-entered the game on the next play and threw a pick in the end zone on third down.
I love the week-in, week-out aggressiveness of Tampa Bay's defense, but there's still no real progress being made by that Josh Freeman-led Bucs offense. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and the Tampa Bay D-line is really wreaking havoc, as Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo can attest, but Freeman and Co. have to find a way to put more points on the board. Freeman was just 10 of 28 for 110 yards, with one touchdown and one interception in the 16-10 loss at Dallas, and he hasn't had a game yet with more than 16 completions.
I'm not sure if Houston's 31-25 win at Denver tells us more about the Texans or the Broncos, but I'm inclined to see that result as another indication of Houston's strength rather than Denver's weakness. The Texans can beat you with offense or defense, and after being the NFL's biggest tease for several years, they've learned to play consistently and bring the same effort week after week.
Peyton Manning's team trailed 31-11 entering the final quarter, but Manning led a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives that at least made things interesting at the end. Manning didn't play his Week 1 best, but he wasn't his shaky first-quarter self of Week 2 in Atlanta either. That's about where his game is right now: Not as good as it has been, but likely to improve as the season wears on.
Is every Eagles game this year going to be just like the last one? Too many turnovers, too many hits on Michael Vick, too many scoring opportunities squandered? So far, it's like Groundhog Day watching Philadelphia play in 2012.
Give credit to the 3-0 Arizona Cardinals for the beatdown the Eagles absorbed in the desert. The Cardinals defense absolutely swarmed Vick and the Eagles, and No. 7 lost two more fumbles, one of which was returned for a back-breaking 93-yard touchdown by Arizona's James Sanders on the final play of the first half.
And let's not slight Kevin Kolb. The ex-Eagles backup and starter got the last laugh on his old teammates, with a very efficient 17-of-24 passing day, for 222 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. This is a Cardinals team that may hang around all season, and no team in the league has done more of a 180 from the preseason to the regular season.
With Oakland's 34-31 comeback victory over visiting Pittsburgh, only two teams in the league remain winless: Cleveland and New Orleans (both 0-3). The Raiders and three other teams got their first wins in Week 3: Jacksonville, Kansas City and Tennessee.
The Raiders this time weren't the mistake-prone team when it mattered. Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown fumble in the fourth quarter got Oakland back in the game, and two Sebastian Janikowski field goals won it for the Raiders.
You gotta love games in Oakland, where the strategy of making sure your kicker doesn't have to kick on the infield dirt -- at least during baseball season -- is a big component of the game. Janikowski's game-winning 43-yard field goal was just off the dirt, about a half-yard onto the outfield grass.
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