With another week of NFL regular-season games in the books, it's time again to take a look at what we've learned. I've narrowed it down to 25 items that most caught my eye from the 15 games played through Sunday.
After a wild day of football, there is a lot to talk about. One thing is for sure: Today was further proof that you just can never tell how a football game will turn out.
After three games this season, he is already just one touchdown catch away from equaling that mark.
From the moment the Dallas Cowboys drafted him, Bennett couldn't seem to get out of his own way. Everyone saw his obvious physical gifts, but it never seemed to transfer to the games. Much of this was attributed to his perceived lack of seriousness and focus, and his sometimes nonchalant attitude didn't help.
Now with a change of scenery to the Giants, it seems that he has finally "got it." If he continues his strong play, there's no telling how good he could become.
Not in my wildest dreams did I believe the Minnesota Vikings had a shot to beat one of the best teams in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers. Not the same Vikings that barely beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1 and lost at the last minute to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2.
I'm sure that their performance can't be totally be blamed on travel, but once again, It couldn't have helped.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon started this season off smoking hot, with four catches for 109 yards and a touchdown in a win against the New Orleans Saints. He hurt his foot in that game and hasn't played since, however.
Not coincidentally, the Redskins have lost their two games since, and the offense hasn't looked the same without him. In Week 3's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Robert Griffin III threw for only 221 yards, and the leading receiver was tight end Fred Davis with seven catches for 90 yards and no touchdowns.
The Redskins still managed to score 31 points thanks to a late surge in the second half, but they don't look nearly as explosive with Garcon out. For them to get back on the winning track, either he will have to come back and not lose a step or another receiver will have to step it up big time.
I feel weird just typing that.
After a rookie season that saw Ponder struggle mightily in 10 starts, he has four touchdowns and (maybe more importantly) zero interceptions in three games to start this season. In the Week 3 win against the San Francisco 49ers, he also put his legs to good use, rushing for 33 yards on seven carries with a touchdown.
Not many people thought the Vikings would make any noise this year, and Ponder was one of the major reasons why. After three games, however, he has answered the bell and been a part of the solution, rather than continuing to hold his offense back.
The Tennessee Titans sorely needed a win against the Detroit Lions after coming up empty in their first two games. Considering how poorly they played in the earlier games and the fact that the Lions are a quality team, there was no reason to believe they would pull it off, however.
Unfortunately for the Lions, logic goes out of the window when a team decides to throw the kitchen sink out in an effort to pull off the upset.
The Titans weren't all that much better overall on offense, though Jake Locker had a big game. Their defense gave up almost 600 yards combined. Thanks to some incredible plays on special teams, they were still able to win the game, though.
I had a feeling the Titans might pull off the upset, but even I was surprised at how they did so. On paper, the Lions would be considered a much better team in my opinion, but none of that matters once the game starts.
The Titans proved yet again that on any given Sunday, any NFL team has a shot to win. It won't be easy, and it wasn't today, but sometimes a shot is all you need.
In recent years, the NFL has changed their overtime rules to ensure that the team that gets the ball first can't just kick a field goal on the opening drive and win the game without the opposing team ever having a possession.
Maybe it doesn't mean anything, but that's one heck of a coincidence.
Pro Football Focus rated Bennett a "Secret Superstar" for his play last season, but if it had not been for an injury to 2011 second-round pick Da'Quan Bowers, he likely wouldn't have even been starting this year.
His performance in a loss against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3 was somewhat of his coming-out party. He notched four total tackles, two tackles for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble and was a force throughout the game. He also forced a holding penalty on Cowboys right tackle Doug Free.
His forced fumble on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo could have changed the game had the replacement refs not blown the play dead.
The rest of the teams on the Buccaneers schedule have now been put on notice. They had better scheme a way to block him, or he is going to make them pay.
The Kansas City Chiefs have the luxury of having several tall wide receivers who can jump up and go get the ball when it's in the air. Their quarterback Matt Cassel seemed to think he needed to exploit that advantage by throwing the ball high to them on almost every pass in Week 3.
That was definitely not a unique occurrence, however.
The Chiefs still managed to pull out a win in their game against the Saints, but if Cassel continues to sell his wide receivers out like he did today, one of them is going to get hurt.
At the least, they will completely lose confidence that he won't put them in harm's way and will stop going up for the ball for him.
How this was supposed to help, I still have no clue.
What is painfully obvious is that it didn't.
Once again, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was harassed by defensive linemen all day. The only thing that changed from Week 2 was the color of the uniforms chasing him.
It wasn't all on Webb, but as the picture attests, he definitely contributed to the problems.
Luckily for the Bears, they were able to win the game because they have a great defense that scored as many touchdowns (one) as the offense produced.
I still believe that the best way for the Bears to fix their pass protection problems is to run the ball a lot more. If they can turn into a ground-and-pound team first, the production through the air will eventually come.
Alternately, if they are just dead set on benching someone, maybe they should go with Webb next time.
By the end of the game, Charles had carried the ball 33 times for 233 yards and a touchdown. He added another 55 yards on six catches in the passing game for their first win of the season.
Call me crazy, but maybe continuing to feed Charles the ball is the winning formula the Chiefs had been lacking to start the season.
Maurice Jones-Drew held out this offseason in hopes of getting a new contract, and plenty of people questioned the wisdom of the move. What was obvious from the outset was that he didn't have much leverage against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The one major thing he could do to prove his worth was to withhold his production, so that's what he did. For whatever reason, he finally came to the conclusion that it wasn't going to be enough to get the Jaguars to cave, so he ended his holdout and reported to the team.
After he came back to the team, first-year Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey decided he wouldn't start the first game. Instead, Rashad Jennings would be the Jaguars starting running back against the Minnesota Vikings.
Unfortunately, Jennings got hurt in that game, meaning Jones-Drew would have to get the lion's share of the carries for the rest of the game.
All Jones-Drew did was end that first game with 77 yards on 19 carries along with 18 yards through the air on three catches in a game the Jaguars were in position to win at the end.
Against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3, with the rest of the offense sputtering, Jones-Drew exploded for 177 yards on 28 carries, helping the Jaguars stay close until the end, when an 80-yard touchdown catch by Cecil Shorts from quarterback Blaine Gabbert gave them their first win.
I don't know if the Jaguars are going anywhere this year, and the start of the season hasn't been very promising. If there has been a bright spot, however, it has been Jones-Drew's production despite missing training camp.
There is one thing I know, however: Being one of the best players in the NFL isn't just about your potential to produce; it's about being available the overwhelming majority of the time so that you can actually produce.
Despite a heavy workload since the 2009 season, Jones-Drew has never missed more than two regular-season games.
When he has a workhorse performance the way he did today, it's hard (if not impossible) to argue he isn't underpaid.
Wait a minute. What's that you say?
Dolphins first-year coach Joe Philbin called a timeout before the block to try to ice Jets kicker Nick Folk?
Yes, that's exactly what happened.
And thanks to Philbin, Folk got another opportunity, of which he took full advantage and sent the ball through the uprights for the win.
Just another example of when icing bros goes wrong.
Early in the week, the NFL sent out a memo warning the head coaches of each team against berating and belittling the replacement refs, because somehow this kind of behavior affects the integrity of the game more than, you know, having replacement refs in the first place.
That's why near the end of the game, when there was what appeared to be a bogus pass-interference call on a member of the Ravens secondary, the crowd in unison started chanting loudly and very clearly a phrase that rhymes with "full mitt."
One has to wonder if the crowd reaction to that call and a few others affected the replacement refs at the end of the game. In particular, the Ravens kicked what proved to be the game-winning field goal as time expired, but it definitely was questionable as to whether the kick was actually good.
Nevertheless, the replacement refs called it good and then made a beeline to the locker room. After a performance like this one with the whole world watching, you have to ask yourself just how bad would it have to get before the NFL owners decided to bring back the regular refs.
I have a very bad feeling that we are about to find out.
You never know which Josh Freeman is going to show up at quarterback from week to week for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He looked great in a win against the Carolina Panthers to start the season, then he was good but not great in a loss to the New York Giants in Week 2.
In Week 3's loss to the Dallas Cowboys, he reverted back to his 2011 form and looked confused and tentative for long stretches of the game. Bad footwork, locking onto receivers, holding onto the ball too long—name a bad habit for quarterbacks, and Freeman did it at some point today.
To make matters worse, on the broadcast, Troy Aikman said the Cowboys coaches told him that Freeman would focus on one side of the field and never go through his progressions, so they were game-planning him for that habit. If your quarterback has flaws that obvious, that is a major problem for your team.
The time is drawing near when the Buccaneers will have to make a choice between investing in Freeman as the franchise quarterback of the future or moving on and trying to find that guy in free agency or the draft. If he continues to play with the kind of inconsistency he displayed against the Cowboys, he will make the latter choice a lot easier.
The San Diego Chargers came into their Week 3 contest at home against the Atlanta Falcons undefeated and riding high. By the end of the game, they had been dominated by the Falcons and looked more like a pretender than a contender.
To be fair, the Falcons are one of the most complete teams in the NFL this year. Their offense can score on anybody, and they have playmaking ball hawks on defense. Still, I expected the Chargers to at least hang tough with the Falcons; instead, they were pretty much blown out.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw 38 times but ended the game with fewer than 200 yards passing and two interceptions. The Chargers offense also lost fumbles by running back Ryan Mathews and tight end Dante Rosario.
The Falcons, on the other hand, netted 384 yards combined through the air and on the ground.
Maybe it was a just bad day at the office, but the Chargers didn't look good at all. The Falcons, however, showed why they are one of the top teams in the NFL and why many people have high expectations for them this year.
One way to force rookie quarterbacks into mistakes is to keep consistent pressure on them throughout the game. The Cincinnati Bengals obviously recognized this, as their defensive line harassed Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III throughout their Week 3 matchup.
Dunlap and Atkins had a sack apiece, with Dunlap adding a forced fumble to boot. Johnson notched three additional sacks all by himself, quite an impressive feat indeed.
When you can get that kind of pressure out of your front four, it makes a defensive coordinator's life easy. They didn't totally shut down Griffin, but they made just enough plays so they could come out of the game with a win.
Listen, I have no problem with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton taking losses hard. I hated to lose so much, I'm not sure I can find the words to appropriately express it. I would definitely much rather have a quarterback on my team that cares too much rather than not caring at all.
Whether he likes it or not, his teammates as well as the media will look to how he handles adversity every time he steps on the field.
If his teammates believe that he will go in the tank when things don't go his way, then they won't trust him to lead them at crucial times.
If the media comes to the conclusion that the hard times will eventually break him, some of them will try to see if they hasten the process.
I don't know if Newton likes to gamble, but he had better find a poker face fast. Winning in the NFL is hard, and he is going to take his lumps; however, when he sulks like he did against the Giants, he gives people even more negative stuff to talk about.
The simple truth is, no matter how well he performs individually, if the Panthers don't start winning soon, the pressure on him is going to be turned up immensely. If he thinks things are bad now, just wait 'til the sharks start circling.
As much as people talk about Indianapolis Colts rookies quarterback Andrew Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener, and Dwayne Allen as well as running back Vick Ballard, another guy stepped up and balled out in Week 3: wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
I don't know how many games the Colts will ultimately win this year, but it seems pretty clear they are built for long-term success with all these quality young players on the roster.
Yes, I know the Arizona Cardinals were a mess in the preseason, and their offensive line is still pretty scary. You also don't have to remind me that Kevin Kolb is only their starting quarterback because John Skelton went down to injury in the first game.
On the other hand, after their win in Week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles, I also can't discount the fact that they are now 3-0 to start to season. Those wins happen to be over some pretty good teams, also.
No, I can't explain it either.
Their defense is carrying them so far, and there is no shame in that. They recovered three fumbles against the Eagles, including one they took back for a touchdown just before halftime. The defense also came home with five sacks and laid several vicious hits on quarterback Mike Vick.
By the same token, on this day, their offense was productive as well. Kolb took good care of the ball and threw two touchdowns, including one to All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Running back Ryan Williams also had a good game, notching 83 yards on the ground on 13 carries.
I wish I could tell you how they are pulling this off, but I am as confused as anyone else. What I do know is that they have shown they aren't a fluke, and teams better start taking them seriously from here on out.
I certainly will.
Last week on Monday Night Football, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning threw three interceptions in the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons before you could finish popping a bag of popcorn.
Even with that terrible start, he just about brought the Broncos back to win the game in the second half. In the end, the hole he had already dug was too deep.
No, he didn't throw three interceptions this time, but he just didn't look very comfortable in the pocket in the first half. In fact, through three quarters, the Broncos offense only produced nine points.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Manning was the Manning we are used to seeing. He threw two touchdowns on consecutive drives and suddenly the Broncos had at least a shot to win the game with 20 seconds left after having been down 20 points with just less than 10 minutes left in the game.
Whatever it is Manning is doing in the second half—more specifically, the fourth quarter—he has to find a way to start games that way. If not, the Broncos are going to have a tough time overcoming second-half deficits week after week.
Notching a sack-and-a-half for someone like Williams isn't considered breaking news. As most defensive linemen agree, however, sacks usually come in bunches.
Now that Williams has the monkey off his back of not coming home with a sack in the first two games, I expect that he will start to turn it up and return to the double-digit sack form we are used to from him.
Yes, I said 49 times. No, I'm not joking.
You're thinking the Steelers were down early and had to throw it a lot to get back in the game, right?
After the first quarter, the Steelers led the Raiders by seven; at halftime they led by three; at the end of the third quarter, they led by 10; and yet they lost.
Maybe throwing 49 times isn't a big deal; after all, it had the Steelers ahead for most of the game. I have to believe that it came back to bite them in the butt, however.
When a team like the Steelers—who prides themselves on being physical—starts throwing the ball around like that, they tend to lose some of their identity.
Then, at the end of the game, when you really need to be able to run the ball, there is no rhythm there. That means you're forced to throw the ball try to move the chains, even if it means poor clock management.
The Steelers are still missing starting running back Rashard Mendenhall, but surely there's a running back on the roster who could have carried the ball more than 10 times in this game. I have to believe this was more of a game-plan issue and not about a lack of talent.
To his credit, Roethlisberger threw for over 380 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions on all those attempts. He played a magnificent game overall.
In the end, it wasn't enough, as the Raiders rallied in the fourth quarter and hit a late field goal to bring home the win.
I don't have a problem with Bill Sheridan calling blitzes; they are an important part of any defensive game plan. If the Bucs are having success getting to Romo with the front four, I just don't think you have to blitz as much as they have the last two games, especially when it hasn't exactly been very successful.
On the other hand, in Week 3, the Bucs had four sacks from defensive linemen that came without blitzing.
There are many reasons why the Bucs lost this game, and I don't think the play of the defense, overall, was one of them.
However, the defense could have limited the Cowboys offense even more and better put the team in position to win if Sheridan was just a tad more conservative.
There was a skirmish of some kind in every NFL game I watched in Week 3, regardless of how little I watched some contests. Some were a lot more serious than others, but at the end of the day, this is a very bad look for the league as well as the players.
A lot of blame goes to replacement refs for letting the games get out of hand, but at the same time, guys have to remember that all eyes are on them, especially when this crap keeps happening.
At some point, the replacement refs will be gone, everyone will move on, and things will likely settle down. If guys keep engaging in fights through out the games, those images won't be as easily forgotten.
I totally understand not letting someone punk you in a game, but there also is something to be said for letting little stuff go and just walking away.
Ironically, just last week, the big story in New England was that Welker was being phased out of the offense. It appears he didn't like the sound of that and decided to do something about it.
I didn't buy that the Patriots were getting ready to show Welker the door, but you just can never tell when Bill Belichick is involved.
After his performance in Week 3, however, it's safe to say Welker is staying right where he belongs.