What We Learned

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2021 NFL season, Week 3: What we learned from Sunday's games

Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Sunday's action in Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:

Green Bay Packers
2021 · 2-1-0
San Francisco 49ers
2021 · 2-1-0

Grant Gordon's takeaways:

  1. Aaron and Co. are all right -- and then some. After a miserable Week 1 loss for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, there were doubters aplenty. Now the Packers have won two in a row highlighted by Sunday night's comeback in which Rodgers took over with 37 seconds left and drove Green Bay down and set up a clutch 51-yard Mason Crosby field goal for the win. Thirty-seven seconds and no timeouts should've conceivably been enough for a 49ers win, but it wasn't. Rodgers is back in Rodgers form. And so is Davante Adams, who somehow came back from a savage and scary hit to the chin earlier in the fourth quarter and caught two balls for 42 yards on the game-winning drive. Said drive was those two completions to Adams, an incompletion to him, two spikes and Crosby's excellence. With Rodgers and Adams, anything feels possible for the Packers. After a horrendous season debut, perhaps that was in doubt. It shouldn't be anymore.
  2. Give Jimmy his due even in the loss. With a depleted rushing corps, some suddenly suspect play with his wideouts and a first-round QB breathing down his neck, Jimmy Garoppolo ran the gamut of great, bad and really ugly on Sunday night. He had a touchdown pass dropped in the first half only for Trey Lance to come in and score on a run two plays later. He had a horrendous second-half turnover and he was under seemingly constant pressure. But Garoppolo was also the key to a comeback in which the 49ers were down 17-0 and roared back only to have victory disappear into the Bay Area evening. He piloted four touchdown drives -- two that ended with Lance at QB. And he hit fullback Kyle Juszczyk for a 12-yard go-ahead score with just 37 seconds to go. The 49ers came back and fought and scratched and Garoppolo was emblematic of that effort, whether he gets the credit or not.
  3. Pressure with/without the Smiths. Even with Za'Darius Smith on the mend, the Packers brought the pressure and kept bringing it all night, much to the dismay of Garoppolo. The Packers had three players -- Preston Smith, Kenny Clark and Rashan Gary -- with five quarterback pressures apiece. Meanwhile, Green Bay smothered a hobbled 49ers rushing attack, holding San Francisco to 67 yards rushing and 3.2 yards per carry. As aforementioned, with Rodgers and Adams clicking, anything seems possible for Green Bay. When the Packers defense is on its game, Green Bay remains a heavy favorite to repeat in the NFC North and a contender to once again be one of the elite in the NFC.

Next Gen stat of the night: Jimmy Garoppolo was pressured on 34.1% of dropbacks (pressured on 17.9% of dropbacks in Weeks 1-2).

NFL Research: 49ers tight end George Kittle has not scored a touchdown this season or since Week 6 of last season, which includes missing six games due to injury.

Los Angeles Rams
2021 · 3-0-0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2021 · 2-1-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Rams offense a divebombing dream. Matthew Stafford is enjoying life in L.A., scorching defenses in an offense perfectly tailored to his skills. The Rams QB uncorked a bevy of deep shots, puncturing a shaky Tampa secondary. The kill shot came on the first drive of the third quarter when Stafford heaved a bomb to a still-fast DeSean Jackson, who skipped for a 75-yard TD, which blew open the game. The score coming on a third-and-10 highlighted just how good the QB was on third downs the entire game, going 10 of 12 with two TDs on the pivotal down. Stafford's ability to gun the ball all over the field opens up Sean McVay's offense in ways we didn't previously see. When he wasn't heaving deep shots, Stafford picked apart the Bucs underneath (21 of 25, 166 yards, three TDs on passes of fewer than 10 air yards). Stafford's mind-meld with Cooper Kupp (9/96/2) just three games into their relationship is otherworldly.
  2. Bucs sputter in first defeat. Welcome back to earth, Tom Brady. The Bucs' streak of nine straight games with 30-plus points got snapped with their first loss since Nov. 29, 2020. Brady moved the ball well, tossing for 432 yards on 41 of 55 attempts with a garbage-time TD and a QB sneak score. But a slow start (two three-and-outs to open the game) and a few missed opportunities put the Bucs behind the eight ball. Brady is going to kick himself for a few missed throws, including not seeing a wide-open Mike Evans in the end zone after being pressured by Aaron Donald -- Tampa settled for a FG. The Bucs picked up chunk gains through the air, but couldn't keep pace with the high-flying Rams O. Five Tampa players caught at least one pass of 20-plus yards on the game. Converting just six of 13 third downs is unusual to see from a Brady team. Unlike its first two games, the offense couldn't pick up for a defense that has been burned.
  3. The Rams defense forces defenses into shooting themselves. It's not every day a D allows 446 total yards and doesn't force a turnover, but you walk away thinking, "Dang, they're good." It's a solid group that doesn't have holes, flies all over the field and misses very few tackles. As usual, Donald wreaked havoc, playing in the backfield all game. At times it felt like Donald lived in Brady's lap. Safety Kenny Young was all over the field, dishing out punishing hits, compiling 10 tackles, a sack and three massive tackles for loss. On the day, the Rams generated six TFL and three sacks. Those negative plays are how you change the game without forcing turnovers. The Rams have not allowed an opponent to score 30-plus points in any of their last 16 regular-season games.

Next Gen stat of the game: Matthew Stafford was 6 of 12 for 162 yards and two TDs on vertical routes (post, corner, go and wheel). He has six TD passes on vertical routes this season, most in NFL (Jared Goff threw six such TDs all last season).

NFL Research: DeSean Jackson scored his ninth career TD reception of 75+ yards (tied HOFer Lance Alworth for most in NFL history). With his three-catch, 120-yard, TD game, D-Jax earned his fourth game with three or fewer catches, 100 or more yards, and at least one touchdown (ranks T-3rd since 1950).

Minnesota Vikings
2021 · 1-2-0
Seattle Seahawks
2021 · 1-2-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. The Vikings' defense certainly has a spine. After giving up 34 points in a heartbreaking loss last week, Minnesota returned home intent on preventing the same outcome. It did just that, keeping the Seahawks off the scoreboard in the second half and forcing Russell Wilson to throw away a handful of passes due to good downfield coverage and a pass rush bearing down on the play-extending quarterback. Though the Vikings gave up nearly 400 total yards of offense, by the time they reached the latter portion of the fourth, the Vikings had the Seahawks in a position where they had to toss a couple of prayers while down two scores. They didn't break, denying Seattle a touchdown to pull within a possession and capping an impressive defensive turnaround.
  2. Seattle's second-half woes continue. After scoring a combined 41 points in the first half of each of their last two games, the Seahawks have put a mere six points on the board in the second halves of their games in Week 2 and Week 3. Seattle's 17-point first half Sunday had the Seahawks in position to add to their halftime lead, but instead, they gained just 42 yards of offense in the second half until an essentially meaningless final possession saw Seattle pick up 39 yards on four plays. The Seahawks couldn't really do much of anything in the final two quarters, with Wilson being stifled by a suddenly effective Vikings defense. Until his incompletion intended for Freddie Swain early in the fourth quarter, Wilson had only one other incompletion that wasn't a spike or throwaway in the entire game. That was the common theme in the Seahawks' final two quarters: Seattle needing some heroics from Wilson and being forced to settle for another chance on the following down. Those chances ran out too quickly to produce a win.
  3. Who needs Dalvin Cook when you have Alexander Mattison?! Kidding aside, a tip of the cap is due to Mattison, who filled in remarkably well for the injured Cook, gaining 112 yards on 26 attempts, ripping off three runs of 10-plus yards and helping Minnesota achieve the balance it needs to properly operate its offense. The result produced a passing game that saw Kirk Cousins throw for 323 yards and three touchdowns, but didn't need a single deep attempt in the entire game to do so. Cousins and Co. made their money underneath, and the quarterback continued his impressive start to the season, becoming the sixth player over the last 25 seasons to own a 70-plus completion percentage, eight-plus passing touchdowns and zero interceptions in his team's first three games of the season. The Vikings wish that would be worth more than one win at this point, but they'll take the victories where you can get them.

Next Gen stat of the game: Kirk Cousins owns a 67.9 completion percentage, a 4-0 TD-INT ratio and a 150.3 passer rating on passes of 10-plus air yards this season. His passer rating on 10-plus air yards attempts is the best in the NFL.

NFL Research: The Vikings have broken 400 total yards and 24 points 11 times since 2020 (tied with the Cardinals for the most games reaching these marks), and have done so in each of their first three games this season. They've lost six of these games, but came away victorious Sunday.

Las Vegas Raiders
2021 · 3-0-0
Miami Dolphins
2021 · 1-2-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. The 2021 Raiders will take what you give them -- and then some. Derek Carr continued his statistical onslaught in Week 3, completing 26 of 43 passes for 386 yards and two touchdowns. His only significant mistake -- an interception thrown to Elandon Roberts, who returned it for a touchdown -- came plenty early enough for the quarterback to overcome later in the game. He did that and more, spreading the ball among nine different pass-catchers and avoiding a reliance on one specific pass-catcher throughout the game. Instead, it was all about who was open, and Carr certainly found those targets for plenty of production (including a receiving touchdown for a fullback!).
  2. Let's all take a moment to praise Jacoby Brissett. The football world knew what type of challenge was ahead of the veteran this week in Las Vegas, home to a team that was getting after opposing quarterbacks at a high rate through two weeks. The Raiders did pressure Brissett a good amount, but the backup weathered the storm, completing 32 of 49 attempts for 215 yards and leading a thrilling touchdown drive and two-point conversion to send the game to overtime. He nearly got them to an unlikely tie, keeping the Dolphins barely alive by converting a fourth-and-20 pass to Mike Gesicki. It wasn't enough to win, but he should certainly receive his due amid adverse circumstances.
  3. Las Vegas knew it needed to be better defensively in 2021, and its front seven is answering the call. The pressure-producing Raiders again stepped up, recording 18 QB pressures (35.3%) and sacking Brissett twice. The Raiders stopped a drive late that appeared to be Miami's final chance at tying the game, held the Dolphins to six of 18 on third down and did enough to give the Raiders time to overcome a quick 14-0 deficit. It wasn't perfect, but it was complementary and has the Raiders at 3-0.

Next Gen stat of the game: Jacoby Brissett was 5 of 16 for 53 yards under pressure (sacked twice).

NFL Research: With wins against the Ravens, Steelers and Dolphins, the Raiders have become the first team in NFL history to win each of their first three games in a season in which their first three opponents all had 10-plus wins the prior season.

Denver Broncos
2021 · 3-0-0
New York Jets
2021 · 0-3-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. Too much Teddy. It's fair to point out that Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was operating with every advantage his counterpart Zach Wilson wasn't on Sunday -- from good pass protection to a solid running game to a strong defense -- but credit him anyway for once again moving his offense with calculated command and being largely mistake-free. Bridgewater finds open receivers on the second and third reads of his progression with ease, and Sunday against the Jets was no different. His deep completion to Tim Patrick in the fourth quarter, placed perfectly out of a defender's reach along the sideline for 31 yards, was a thing of beauty. Against the blitz, Steady Teddy was 5 of 6 for 99 yards, and in sum, he finished 19 of 25 for 235 yards and no turnovers. With the Broncos off to a 3-0 start, the sixth-round pick they spent to trade for Bridgewater is looking like an absolute steal.
  2. Help wanted. Watching the Jets offense was exhibit "A" for the argument that rookie quarterbacks are better off holding a clipboard when there isn't enough help around them to succeed or develop. That's not to say the Jets first-round pick didn't make his share of mistakes -- Wilson threw two more interceptions (only one was on him), held the ball too long and threw a few short passes in the general direction of his target's shoe tops. At the same time, there's no way to assess his long-term potential when his pockets crumble before they even form, and his receivers struggle to get open. Lumps like these aren't developmental for Wilson. It's a mess for Gang Green, which hasn't scored a TD since the season opener.
  3. Woes up front. The Jets offensive line was positively overwhelmed. It didn't help that Mekhi Becton is now on injured reserve, but the leaks sprung everywhere, not just at Becton's left tackle spot. Broncos star pass rusher Von Miller spent his day penetrating from the right side, and pressure up the middle made it hard for Wilson to step up in the pocket. Because the Jets played from behind all day, the running game was a non-factor. In fact, the Jets line gave up nearly as many yards in sack losses (41) as it paved for the rushing attack (43). Meanwhile, Wilson's place as the NFL's most oft-sacked quarterback is looking safe after the Broncos notched five for a total of 15 on Wilson for the year.

Next Gen stat of the game: Broncos rookie RB Javonte Williams averaged 6.5 yards per carry (4 for 25) when running left.

NFL Research: The 15 sacks Zach Wilson has taken this season are the fourth-most ever for a first-year player in that time frame in the Super Bowl era. Ahead of him: David Carr (19), Archie Manning (18) and Kyler Murray (16).

Los Angeles Chargers
2021 · 2-1-0
Kansas City Chiefs
2021 · 1-2-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. Bosa grinds one out. Give Chargers pass rusher Joey Bosa credit for guts. Questionable to play at all with foot and ankle injuries, he lacked his usual explosiveness from the outset, then appeared to aggravate his ailments in the first quarter while trying to change direction in a non-contact situation. He was in and out of the lineup, but played most of the way with 53 defensive snaps, and beat right guard Trey Smith for a big assisted sack in the first half. The allure of playing against a division rival, against Patrick Mahomes, and against the rookie right side of the Chiefs offensive line was bound to be too much to keep Bosa off the field, and he came through.
  2. Air show not in the cards. The high-flying quarterback showdown that promised to come from a Mahomes-Justin Herbert matchup didn't fully materialize. A rash of early turnovers sent the Chiefs to halftime with only three points, including an interception of a Mahomes' signature no-look pass that was dropped and deflected into the wrong hands. A late Mahomes pick doomed Kansas City after it had mounted a second-half comeback. Herbert certainly did his part with four touchdown passes and no interceptions, and his connections with wide receiver Mike Williams really exposed the K.C. secondary. But with the benefit of four turnovers, even the Chargers' offensive output would've figured to be stronger.
  3. Keeping the rock. Credit Chargers coach Brandon Staley for recognizing that a field goal try at the end of the game wasn't the right play against a Mahomes-led offense. Within long-distance field goal range, he went for a fourth-and-9 with under a minute to play and got the conversion, which eventually led to the game-winning touchdown. It should also be noted he went for a fourth-and-4 from the K.C. 31 on the previous snap, only to be pushed back on a false start flag. His clock management at the end of the possession left something to be desired -- he could've forced the Chiefs to take their last timeout, and didn't -- but he played to win on the fourth-down call that mattered most.

Next Gen stat of the game: Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire averaged 6.5 yards per carry on runs between the tackles (11 for 72).

NFL Research: The Chiefs currently have a losing record for the first time since Week 10, 2015, and will finish a week in sole possession of last place in the AFC West for the first time since Week 6, 2015

Cleveland Browns
2021 · 2-1-0
Chicago Bears
2021 · 1-2-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Myles Garrett, Browns D destroys Justin Fields. This was the nightmare Bears coach Matt Nagy feared when insisting Andy Dalton was the starting QB to open the season. Garrett (4.5 sacks) and Co. swarmed Fields from start to finish, pummeling the rookie to tune of nine sacks. Garrett clowned veteran left tackle Jason Peters all afternoon. The Bears' offense was DOA against the Browns' ferocious pass rush, and sticky coverage didn't provide Fields easy reads/throws. Fields' head was spinning early as the Bears offense ran just 16 first-half plays for a net 41 yards. It didn't get better in the second half. Fields completed just 6 of 20 passes for a meager 68 yards. Even when he had time, receivers weren't open. As disappointing as the rookie's debut was, it was worse for Nagy. The coach did little to help the young QB. Where were the moved pockets utilizing Fields' mobility? Where were the creative designed runs and pass plays? Where were the schemes to get receivers open? Trying to make Fields a drop-back passer behind a sieve offensive line was faulty from the start. Nagy will feel the heat all week in Chicago with his offense putting up 47 total yards on 42 plays. Even Bishop Sycamore could average more than 1.1 yards per play.
  2. Odell Beckham looks good in return. In his first game back from last season's ACL tear, OBJ played well and showed no aftereffects of the injury. Beckham made quick cuts on the repaired knee, providing Baker Mayfield a go-to target with Jarvis Landry out. Beckham caught five of nine targets for 77 yards, leading Cleveland on the day. Perhaps OBJ's best play was an acrobatic sideline snare that was just too wide for the WR to tap his toes in bounds. It was an incompletion in the box score, but showed Beckham still has sticky hands. He'll make that play in the coming weeks.
  3. Kareem Hunt pinballs way for big day. Sunday was emblematic of the trouble the Browns can cause. If Nick Chubb isn't bullying past defenders, it's Hunt skirting to the edge for chunk gains. Hunt was a tackle-breaking machine against the Bears, gobbling up 81 yards and a TD on just 10 carries. He bounced off defenders like a pinball, eating up yards. Hunt gained +38 yards over expected, per Next Gen Stats. With the Browns sporting the best screen game in the league this year, Hunt was also prolific in the passing game, catching six for 74 yards. With Mayfield on point on third downs (5 of 8), the Browns moved the ball at will, gobbling up 418 yards. If it weren't for the Bears' D-line winning early in the game (five sacks, two turnover on downs forced), this would have been a blowout before halftime.

Next Gen stat of the game: Justin Fields pressured on 16 of 29 dropbacks. Pressure on 55.2 percent of dropbacks is the third-highest by any QB in a game since 2020, min. 14 attempts.

NFL Research: Myles Garrett has set the Browns single-game sack record, surpassing Andra Davis who recorded four on Nov. 9, 2003. The nine total sacks on Fields are the most times a QB has been sacked in his first career start since Greg McElroy was sacked 11 times in his only career start in Week 16, 2012.

Cincinnati Bengals
2021 · 2-1-0
Pittsburgh Steelers
2021 · 1-2-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. The Bengals' offseason investments are paying off. We can start with Ja'Marr Chase, who teamed with Joe Burrow to take advantage of a questionable roughing call by catching a 34-yard strike for a touchdown just before half. The returns on investment continued with Cincinnati's defense, which sacked Ben Roethlisberger four times and recorded 17 QB pressures, its most in a game since Week 17 of 2019. Second-year linebacker Logan Wilson had himself a day, intercepting Roethlisberger twice and finishing as the Bengals' leader in tackles with 14. Free-agent signing Larry Ogunjobi made a difference along the interior, finishing with a team-high two run stuffs (three total tackles). The Bengals played as if they not only weren't intimidated by the defending division champions, but sensed an opportunity. They capitalized with a statement win.
  2. We're approaching an offensive crisis in Pittsburgh. After scoring 16 offensive points in Week 1 and 17 in Week 2, the Steelers fell short of that mark with a mere 10 Sunday. The worst part of their lack of production: The Steelers haven't been able to move the ball quickly, even when they go up-tempo. Their lone touchdown-scoring drive took eight minutes 32 seconds to complete, and when it came time to mount a comeback down 17 in the fourth, it was painfully evident they weren't going to be able to do so. Pittsburgh outgained Cincinnati 342-268, but turnovers, a lack of consistent offensive line play in both the running and passing game, and an inability to create explosive plays have left the Steelers stuck in thick mud offensively. Roethlisberger was forced to check down often, targeting Najee Harris an incredible 19 times, including on a fourth-and-10 play late that ended up in a loss of one and a turnover on downs. When their defense can't bail them out, it makes for an ugly Sunday.
  3. An injured Steelers defense simply can't carry the load. Without T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, Pittsburgh struggled mightily to get after Burrow. The Steelers failed to register a single sack, while Burrow completed 14 of 18 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns. Burrow had all day to throw on his second touchdown pass to Chase, and the only blemish on his stat line for the day -- one interception -- came via a deflection. Joe Mixon averaged five yards per carry, and even after converting just 33.3% of their third-down attempts, the Bengals still built a comfortable lead that wasn't seriously threatened in the second half. With a struggling offense, the Steelers can't afford to give opposing offenses time to throw and room to run. That all happened Sunday.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Steelers registered just one QB pressure Sunday for a pressure rate of 5.6%. Both results were the lowest by the Steelers in a game in the Next Gen Stats era.

NFL Research: With two receiving touchdowns Sunday, Ja'Marr Chase became the youngest player (and first 21-year-old) in NFL history to have four-plus receiving touchdowns in his team's first three games, surpassing Randy Moss, who scored three receiving touchdowns in his team's first three games.

Buffalo Bills
2021 · 2-1-0
Washington Football Team
2021 · 1-2-0

Jelani Scott's takeaways:

  1. Washington couldn't slow Allen's aerial attack. It took about a quarter and a half for it to become clear that Washington's defense, most notably its secondary, was in for a rough day. Josh Allen's final stat line -- 32 of 43, 358 yards, four touchdowns, zero sacks -- provided more than enough film to review in the days ahead. Last week, Ron Rivera warned his team needs to monitor when Allen is on the move. Only thing is, whenever the Bills QB was flushed out of the pocket, his targets did a great job of creating separation. That high degree of success made Allen's rushing less of necessity; he carried the ball four times for 9 yards and a late TD. Stefon Diggs chipped in 62 yards on five catches, but it was Cole Beasley (11 receptions, 98 yards) and a spry Emmanuel Sanders (94 yards, two TDs) who saw the most work. In all, Washington's zone defense provided little resistance as Allen looked more than content taking advantage underneath, which he did all game long.
  2. Heinicke highlights hard to find. The Taylor Heinicke era has had its share of fun moments. Week 3 was not one of them. Save for his involvement on a pair of second-quarter TD drives -- a 73-yard Antonio Gibson catch-and-run score and a signature scramble-and-dive on a four-yard scamper -- the Washington QB looked flustered against Buffalo's defense. An early 21-0 hole combined with the running game's struggles (54 combined yards from Gibson and J.D. McKissic) placed more onus on Heinicke's shoulders, which led to several errant throws. Two of those attempts were picked off on poorly thrown balls that would've been better off sailing out of bounds. While his story has been inspiring, Heinicke's play on Sunday (14-of-24, 212 yards. 2 TD, 2 INT) doesn't exactly scream long-term solution.
  3. Bills defense, special teams do just enough. When your high-powered offense is rolling like Buffalo's, it makes life a little easier for the other two phases. The Bills defense and special teams did just enough to make sure Allen's big day was not squandered. The aforementioned picks gave Allen and Co. a short field, which produced a TD and FG. A Tre'Davious White punch-out following a Logan Thomas reception during WFT's second drive led to a Matt Milano recovery and set the table for an eventual seven-yard TD toss to Zack Moss. Kicker Tyler Bass' perfect day (3/3 FGs, 4/4 XPs) provided the cherry on top to what was a dominant showing for the home team.

Next Gen stat of the game: Josh Allen completed 12 of 17 attempts on passes of 10-plus air yards for 218 yards and 3 TDs.

NFL Research: The Bills recorded 21 unanswered points to start the game. Dating back to the fourth quarter of Week 1, they have scored 59 unanswered points, the second-longest such streak in franchise history (86 points in 1972).

Atlanta Falcons
2021 · 1-2-0
New York Giants
2021 · 0-3-0


Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. Matty Ice cold-blooded. Credit Matt Ryan for a brilliant fourth-quarter touchdown drive that did everything to flip this game in Atlanta's favor. Trailing 14-7, Ryan connected on 9 of 10 pass attempts on the possession, and overcame a sack on the drive to knot the game at 14. With a short TD pass to Lee Smith, the Falcons pulled late momentum away from the home team and managed to hang on for their first victory. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was on this drive that talented rookie tight end Kyle Pitts -- absent from the offense all day -- made his first catch of the game. It wasn't a pretty offensive effort overall -- Atlanta's offense will have to do much more to carry this team, but Ryan showed he can still pull out games late.
  2. Same old, same old. New York's offense sputtered. Rinse, wash, repeat. This time, there were red zone problems in the form of an 11-yard sack allowed to Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, and a muffed shotgun snap that Giants quarterback Daniel Jones had to fall on for a loss of 11 more. Both those plays helped Atlanta's defense force early field goals. There were game-ending hamstring injuries to wideouts Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton, and tight end Evan Engram lost a fumble in his first game of the season. Jones didn't throw an interception, had a few timely runs and did some damage in play-action. But overall, it was another disjointed effort at home.
  3. Patterson comes through. Using Cordarrelle Patterson at running back is paying dividends in Atlanta. The veteran has always been too good an athlete not to be more productive, but the Falcons are simply getting the ball in his hands in easier ways. He recorded a game-high 82 yards receiving with six catches on seven targets, slipping out of the backfield and forcing the Giants into tough open-field tackling situations. He had a 26-yard catch on the aforementioned fourth-quarter TD drive, and gave Atlanta's offense a much-needed spark.

Next Gen stat of the game: Matt Ryan was 24 of 29 for 189 yards and two touchdowns on passes of fewer than 10 air yards.

NFL Research: Sunday was Matt Ryan's 39th career game-winning drive, which tied Matthew Stafford (entering his game Sunday afternoon) for most among active QBs.

Arizona Cardinals
2021 · 3-0-0
Jacksonville Jaguars
2021 · 0-3-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Cardinals survive. It wasn't pretty, with mistakes and head-scratching decisions leading to the Cards trailing 19-10 deep into the third quarter. But good teams make plays in the clutch on the road. Arizona is a good team. After getting down nine points, Kyler Murray quickly got the Cards back on track with a blazing five-play, 75-yard TD drive highlighted by laser throws from the MVP candidate. Two scrimmage plays later, corner Byron Murphy housed an interception, making up for a defense that'd got run over the previous drive. Deficit erased. It wasn't a picture-perfect day from Murray, who missed several passes and threw a wayward INT into double coverage. Still, the QB proved he's one of the most dangerous players in short yardage, scampering for an easy TD early and icing the game late on a fourth-and-1. The sign of good teams is winning when they aren't playing their best ball. The Cards got the W.
  2. Trevor Lawrence's rocky season continues. Lawrence played the best game of his young career. It still wasn't enough. With surrounding talent still missing, each mistake by the Jags signal-caller is magnified. Lawrence made a brutal error, throwing a flea-flicker pass under heavy pressure that was an easy pick-six. Lawrence showed better pocket presence Sunday, going through his reads well. His gorgeous TD pass in the corner of the end zone to D.J. Chark, on what looked to be his third read, showed the type of QB Lawrence will become. There are growing pains in the meantime. The rookie's first INT of the game wasn't his fault (Jacob Hollister dropped a good ball), but Lawrence's two fumbles late snuffed out any prayers of a comeback. Even with the INT's piling up, Lawrence continues to grow each week, which is all we can ask from the young QB in Jacksonville.
  3. A.J. Green reminds defenders he's not washed. The veteran receiver consistently got open in one-on-one matchups and found soft areas in zone coverage. Green gobbled up five catches for 112 yards on the day, including a big 36-yarder in which he boxed out a defender. Green might not be as spry as he once was, but facing second and third corners in Arizona, the veteran can still be a key piece. Murray's trust in Green was evident, with several targets coming in heavy traffic. With Green eating well on a day in which DeAndre Hopkins (3/21) was quiet, the Cards once again showed they have an array of weapons and aren't overly reliant on Nuk.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Jaguars' win probability hit 71% after James Robinson's TD to go up 19-10 in third quarter.

NFL Research: Jamal Agnew returned a missed 68-yard field goal attempt 109 yards for a TD for Jags, tied for the longest TD in NFL history (3rd return of 109 yards). Antonio Cromartie (missed FG) and Cordarrelle Patterson (kick return) scored the other 109-yard TDs.

Tennessee Titans
2021 · 2-1-0
Indianapolis Colts
2021 · 0-3-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. Is it worth playing an immobile Carson Wentz? Things already seemed difficult at times for Wentz when he was healthy, and on Sunday, he looked as if he was painfully aware of his inability to move. Wentz surrendered on multiple passing plays, throwing the ball into the turf when he realized he wouldn't be able to extend with his feet. On a third down late, Wentz had room to scramble up the middle, stepped up and instead attempted an ill-fated backhand toss to Nyheim Hines. Harold Landry was one of a few Titans who got after Wentz consistently, finishing with a career-high 12 QB pressures, which was undoubtedly made easier by the QB's ankle ailments. Wentz is Indianapolis' best quarterback, of course, but an injured Wentz didn't help the Colts much outside of their occasional focus on a shorter passing game. It's fair to wonder whether they might have had a better chance with Jacob Eason or Brett Hundley, even if their ceilings are certainly lower.
  2. Even on a sloppy day, the Titans' offensive balance can still produce a win. Tennessee was far from perfect Sunday, with Ryan Tannehill throwing two interceptions (one via a deflection) and rookie Nick Westbrook-Ikhine fumbling away a scoring opportunity, but Tannehill's mobility and the ever-present threat of Derrick Henry allowed the Titans to gain 368 yards of offense and convert 50 percent of their third-down attempts. Tennessee punted just once and won the time-of-possession battle by a little over eight minutes, and the Titans ruined fantasy owners' dreams by scoring touchdowns with a cast of unknowns: Westbrook-Ikhine, Chester Rogers and Jeremy McNichols. When it came time to put the game out of reach, a measured approach to a fourth-quarter drive took 7:22 off the clock and produced a field goal that gave the Titans a two-score lead. It wasn't a pretty afternoon offensively, but it was enough to win a bit of a strange game. Sometimes, that's what it takes to triumph in divisional meetings.
  3. Henry remains a machine. Henry gained 113 yards on 28 attempts and caught three passes for 31 yards, helping Tennessee maintain offensive momentum and producing a highlight when he caught a screen pass and ran over Darius Leonard for a first down. Henry was again a key figure in Tennessee's offense, finishing with 31 touches after registering 41 in the Titans' overtime win last week. The Titans are at their best when they can rely on Henry to produce 100-plus rushing yards and carry a significant portion of the offensive load, and though it wasn't quite an offensive explosion on Sunday, it was enough to win.

Next Gen stat of the game: Carson Wentz was pressured 18 times (pressure percentage of 46.2) and sacked twice on 39 dropbacks Sunday.

NFL Research: Derrick Henry has rushed for 353 yards through three weeks, tying the franchise record (held by Chris Brown, who did so in 2004) for most rushing yards in the team's first three games.

New Orleans Saints
2021 · 2-1-0
New England Patriots
2021 · 1-2-0

Adam Maya's takeaways:

  1. Saints not ditching the QB platoon. Jameis Winston won an open competition before the season that most expected him to. That doesn't mean he's always the best option for New Orleans. Taysom Hill continues to demonstrate, as he often did while Drew Brees was still under center, that he can give the Saints another dimension of offense. They might need it even more in the post-Brees era. New Orleans struggled to move the ball consistently for the second week in a row. Leading by eight early in the fourth, Payton deployed Hill on a series of designed runs. The Swiss Army knife effectually drained the clock while moving the sticks for a 75-yard touchdown drive, which he capped off with a 4-yard scamper. The threat of him taking off also opened things up for Alvin Kamara, who rebounded in a big way from a quiet Week 2. New Orleans needs both its QBs.
  2. Mac Jones is a microcosm of the Pats. After an eventful preseason for rookie QBs, some observers concluded that the No. 15 overall pick was the most pro-ready among the five passers selected in the first round. That isn't quite so clear through three weeks. Jones struggled with accuracy (and was the victim of drops) in a three-INT performance. While he pushed the ball downfield a bit more, he wasn't on the same page with his receivers. It's a bit of a surprise given how in sync they all seemed to be in August and that his protection has been fairly good in the regular season. More often than not, he's just missing guys. He did fare better in the second half, with his team trailing by double digits and New Orleans knowing he'd be throwing. He isn't getting much help from his run game, either. The Pats' offensive problems run deeper than their rookie QB. But their projected return to the postseason might have been premature.
  3. Don't forgot about the Saints' defense. Everyone predicted a Saints regression in 2021 in the aftermath of Brees' retirement. They'd logged consecutive 13-3 campaigns and have been a title contender for the past four years. Many thought their playoff window might have closed, too. If it's still open, it's because of the defense. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has been about as good with his unit in recent years as Payton has been with his, and even better through these first three weeks. The secondary and linebackers are still producing at an elite level and the defensive line has been serviceable despite not being intact. That's been the backbone of the Saints' 2-1 start. With their offensive performance likely to fluctuate a lot from week to week, defensive excellence will be required to return to the postseason. Of course, that's not exactly new for New Orleans.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Saints defense generated 18 QB pressures, two sacks and a turnover caused by pressure on 53 dropbacks (34.0 pressure pct).

NFL Research: The Patriots have lost three home games by 15-plus points since 2020 (T-4th-most in NFL) and had just two home losses by 15-plus in the previous 11 seasons combined (T-fewest in NFL in that span).

Baltimore Ravens
2021 · 2-1-0
Detroit Lions
2021 · 0-3-0

Adam Maya's takeaways:

  1. Justin Tucker is the G.O.A.T. Lions fans have seen this movie before. They knew the ending. It wasn't a surprise for many of us. Tucker had never missed a field goal in 15 tries in the final minute of regulation. Then again, he'd never missed in a dome, either, until booting one wide right in the first quarter at Ford Field. So maybe there was some hope for Detroit before the buzzer. Sixty-six yards and a bounce off the crossbar later, Tucker had not only fulfilled the Lions' fears, he'd made history. It was the longest field goal of all time and had a 10.4 percent probability of going in, per Next Gen Stats. The 2021 season is three weeks old and all three Ravens games have been decided in the final seconds. They could easily be 3-0 or 0-3. A week after Lamar Jackson's heroics against the Chiefs, Baltimore is a winning team (2-1) again because its kicker continued to make his case as the greatest of all time.
  2. Jackson deserves a pass on this game. Since becoming a starter midway through the 2018 season, Jackson has caught continual flak for his inconsistency and limitations as a thrower. It's fair. But it's not all on him. Marquise Brown deserves that same energy. The former first-rounder hasn't played to his draft standing through two-plus seasons. He especially underperformed Sunday against the Lions. Brown dropped three would-be touchdowns, including two on the same drive. The first would have given the Ravens a two-score lead. The next two came just before halftime with Baltimore leading 10-0. This game, not to mention Jackson's numbers and the perception of his play, would have been dramatically different if Brown had done his job. Jackson, who converted a fourth-and-19 with his arm on the game-winning drive, still needs to improve. But his receiving corps does, as well.
  3. The Lions are halfway there. The adage about playing hard for 60 minutes is as old as the NFL. No team actually keeps it up for every minute, but in a league filled with parity, the good ones will for longer than the bad ones. Through three weeks of the season, the 0-3 Lions again belong to the latter group. It's worth noting, they've put together a great half in each game this season, outplaying the likes of the 49ers, Packers and Ravens. Perhaps it's a sign of progress under first-year coach Dan Campbell. But falling behind 10-0 at home in the first half -- and the margin should have been greater -- to a depleted Ravens squad one week after no-showing in the second half against the Packers is confounding for a squad that swore its effort would be relentless in this new regime. Instead, it's looked a lot like the old Detroit.

Next Gen Stat of the game: Lamar Jackson attempted 20 (of 27) passes for 10+ air yards (74.1%, excludes four throwaways). His previous career high was 52.9% in Week 10 of the 2019 season versus the Bengals.

NFL Research: Justin Tucker's previous career long was a 61-yard game-winner versus Detroit in 2013.

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