Bleacher Report's Week 3 NFL Awards
We're three weeks into the 2015 NFL season, and some things are taking shape.
We know that the New England Patriots are a good football team.
We know that the Chicago Bears are not.
We know that the Atlanta Falcons are a better football team than many folks gave them credit for.
We know that the opposite holds true for the Baltimore Ravens.
As we do every week here at Bleacher Report, the NFL National Lead Writers and Analysts have gathered around the proverbial water cooler to offer their takes on the best and worst of Week 3.
Here's what they had to say.
Author's Note: Votes for the Week 3 awards were submitted prior to the Chiefs vs. Packers Monday night game. Settle down, Cheeseheads.
Team of the Week
Winner: Arizona Cardinals (4 votes)
It was coast-to-coast beatdown week in the National Football League.
Granted, the Atlanta Falcons didn't obliterate the Dallas Cowboys to win their third straight contest to start 2015. However, NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier cast his TOTW vote for the Falcons after they came back in a big way to start 3-0 under head coach Dan Quinn:
I tripled down on Falcons in the awards this week (or quadrupled down or something—I picked a lot of Falcons). Beating three straight NFC East opponents is hard. Winning in Dallas, even against a backup quarterback, is hard. Coming back from a 28-14 deficit is hard. Matt Ryan had to play from behind for most of the game and kept delivering the ball downfield. Dan Quinn made adjustments and kept the young defense from going in the tank after getting steamrolled early. Kyle Shanahan kept the Falcons balanced instead of pulling a Joe Philbin or Jim Caldwell and leaving the running game on the convent steps. The Falcons have been resilient and fundamentally sound for three weeks. Let's give them their due!
Three other voters, including NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman, cast their votes for a New England Patriots team that looks to be in full-on 2007 "screw you!" mode in the wake of the offseason brouhaha surrounding Deflategate.
"I picked the Patriots as the team of the week," Freeman said, "because anytime you hang 50 on an NFL team, no matter how terrible that team is, it's pretty remarkable."
This week's winner didn't hang 50 on its opponent, but it came close—for the second week in a row.
After dropping 48 on the hapless Chicago Bears a week ago, the Arizona Cardinals hung 47 on the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
And as the Sports Xchange of UPI.com pointed out, the Redbirds may be playing the best football of any team in the NFL right now:
They're taking care of business. New Orleans, Chicago and San Francisco might not be world beaters this season, but the Cardinals have defeated all three of them to sit atop the NFC West and hold a two-game lead over everyone else. Coach Bruce Arians greeted his players a day after last week's 48-23 rout of the Bears in Chicago by telling them, "You're not s---!" Asked after Sunday's 47-7 wipeout of the 49ers if that's still what he's telling his team, Arians replied with a smile, "They smell just a little better."
Ninety-five points in two games is a compelling argument.
Others receiving votes: New England Patriots (3 votes), Atlanta Falcons (1 vote)
Coach of the Week
Winner: Dan Quinn, HC, Atlanta Falcons (3 votes)
It would appear the Atlanta Falcons chose wisely.
After they seemed to regress the past couple of years under head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons replaced him with Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. It wasn't hard to see why Atlanta went that route. The team was, um, horrible on that side of the ball.
Granted, the Atlanta defense isn't going to be confused with the Legion of Boom anytime soon. In fact, the Dallas Cowboys rocked the Falcons defense early in Week 3.
However, rather than fold, Atlanta rallied, dominating the second half en route to a 39-28 win that propelled Atlanta to a perfect 3-0 record. And while speaking to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, veteran defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux credited his rookie head coach for helping to keep the team on track:
We haven't reached our potential yet; that's what the mindset is. We know what type of team we are. We're a finishing team. Obviously, we didn't finish the first half like we wanted to or start the first half like we wanted to. They got 131 yards in the first half and minus [four yards] in the second half, so we came out and played Falcon ball in the second half.
Our voters are crediting Quinn as well.
Others receiving votes: Bruce Arians, HC, Arizona Cardinals (2 votes), Bill Belichick, HC, New England Patriots (1 vote), Wade Phillips, DC, Denver Broncos (1 vote), James Bettcher, DC, Arizona Cardinals (1 vote)
Goat of the Week
"Winner": Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Jets (4 votes)
In Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall reeled in 10 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. The five-time Pro Bowler eclipsed 10,000 receiving yards for his career.
But Marshall is not only the Goat of the Week; the 31-year-old managed to sweep both of the categories in our weekly awards that no one wants to win.
How did Marshall manage this feat on what at first glance appears to be a good day at the office?
Rich Cimini of ESPN.com explains:
He was the best player on offense ... But he also cost his team at least 10 points. His ill-advised lateral/fumble set up an Eagles touchdown and, late in the fourth quarter, he alligator-armed a pass that was deflected off his hands and intercepted in field-goal range. All told, you might say he was a minus-3 on the scoreboard. Afterward, Marshall said he played like "crap." He called his lateral "probably the worst play in NFL history." We know why he did it: Frustrated, he was trying to spark his team, but action speaks louder than intent. It was a foolish play.
The attempted lateral in question came on a second-quarter 1st-and-10 with the Jets down 17-0. The Eagles took a 24-0 lead as a result.
This was not a "Brandon Marshall the Pro Bowl receiver" day.
This was a "Brandon Marshall loses a wrestling match to a piece of furniture" day.
And to his credit, Marshall was the first person to admit it.
Others receiving votes: Joe Philbin, HC, Miami Dolphins (2 votes), Colin Kaepernick, pick-six machine, San Francisco 49ers (2 votes)
Rookie of the Week
Winner: Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders (8 votes)
Allegedly, Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden is one of the best players at his position in the NFL. In this year's NFL Top 100 list, Haden was ranked as the 23rd-best player at any position in the entire league.
Someone apparently forgot to tell Oakland Raiders rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper, who spent much of Sunday's 27-20 win over the Browns making Haden look like Justin Gilbert.
That's not a compliment, folks.
Cooper finished the game with eight grabs for 134 yards, the second straight week the former Alabama star has eclipsed the century mark. That's the first time in over two decades that an Oakland rookie (James Jett) has accomplished that feat and the first time since Randy Moss did it 10 years ago that any Oakland receiver has.
As Al Saracevic of the San Francisco Chronicle reports, it hasn't taken Cooper long to make an impression on head coach Jack Del Rio, who said: "He's a talented guy that we're fortunate to have. Off to a terrific start to his career. I think the way he conducts himself every day and the seriousness in which he pursues his profession ... and works on his skill sets ... are what allow the guy to have that kind of start to his career."
It also hasn't taken Cooper long to demonstrate that Oakland's long streak of early-round misses at the wide receiver position in the NFL draft appears to be over.
Best QB Performance
Winner: Tom Brady, New England Patriots (7 votes)
Here's a news flash for you, folks.
Tom Brady is pretty good at the whole being an NFL quarterback thing.
In fact, through the first three weeks of the 2015 season, Brady is playing some of the best football of a career that will one day end with his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
One thousand, one hundred twelve passing yards. Nine touchdowns. Zero interceptions. A passer rating of 119.6.
All with a properly inflated football.
As Jared Dubin of CBSSports.com reported after Brady carved up the Jacksonville Jaguars for 358 yards and two scores in a 51-17 thrashing, the quarterback isn't wasting any time delivering said properly inflated football:
Through three weeks of the 2015 season, the Patriots have taken the quick game to another level. According to data tracking done by Pro Football Focus, Brady has gotten the ball out in an average of 2.09 seconds over the course of his 133 passes this season, the fastest time since PFF began recording the stat back in 2011. Before 2015, the quickest anyone had averaged before throwing the football was Peyton Manning's 2.24 seconds last season.
Brady's 80.58 percent rate of passes within 2.5 seconds of the snap also leads the NFL. It's not only safely ahead of the next-closest quarterback (Philip Rivers at 74.56 percent), but it is also the highest rate in the history of PFF's database. Manning's 2014 rate of 68.1 percent was the previous high for a full season. For what it's worth, five different quarterbacks -- Brady, Rivers, Manning, Matthew Stafford and Andy Dalton -- have topped that mark so far this year.
I'm not saying that the AFC East race is already over...
Oh, who am I kidding? How long has it been since that division was a race?
Others receiving votes: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (1 vote)
Best RB Performance
Winner: Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons (8 votes)
Heading into the 2015 season, one of the bigger storylines swirling around the Atlanta offense was the looming camp battle and potential timeshare at running back between second-year pro Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman.
Well, with Coleman sidelined in Week 3 with a rib injury, Freeman got a chance to make his case for why he should be the lead dog.
And as D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, in a comeback win over the Dallas Cowboys, that dog was barking:
Freeman, making his first NFL start, amassed 193 total yards and scored three touchdowns. He was dazzling as he ran with authority on 30 carries. He also caught five passes for 52 yards. ...
With Tevin Coleman out with a fractured rib, Freeman had 30 carries for 141 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught all five of his targets for 52 yards as a receiver. In the first half, Freeman had 12 carries for 52 yards and 18 for 89 yards in the second half. He said that he’s a rhythm running and he got stronger as the game went on. He ran with power and authority. Freeman’s three rushing touchdowns marked the first time a Falcon running back has rushed for three touchdowns since running back Michael Turner accomplished the feat in 2010. Additionally his 141 rushing yards were the most by a Falcons running back since Turner rushed for 172 yards in Week 17 of the 2011 season.
The performance made an impression on our voters, including NFL Analyst Sean Tomlinson:
The Atlanta Falcons offense is quickly getting scary, which will happen with any team that can trot out wide receiver Julio Jones each week. But both Jones and the entire unit will become downright petrifying if the Falcons can establish a consistent rushing attack. That was the goal when the team invested a third-round pick in Tevin Coleman, and now Devonta Freeman has emerged with his 193 yards from scrimmage Sunday. The pieces could be in place for a well-rounded Falcons backfield.
Coleman might want to find a comfortable spot on that bench. If Freeman keeps running like this, the rookie is going to be there for a while.
Best WR Performance
Winner: A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals (6 votes)
There were some monster performances by wide receivers in Week 3. Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons torched the Dallas Cowboys for 164 yards and two scores on 12 catches. Steve Smith of the Baltimore Ravens went one better, abusing the Cincinnati Bengals for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 13 grabs.
And Smith's showing wasn't even the biggest explosion by a pass-catcher in that game.
That honor, and the title of this week's top wide receiver, goes to A.J. Green of the Bengals, who caught 10 balls for an eye-popping 227 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 28-24 Cincinnati win.
It continued a history of Green making Baltimore defensive backs look silly, one that left Ravens head man John Harbaugh at a loss for words.
As Paul Dehner of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported, Harbaugh quipped after the game: "One of these days, we'll figure out how to cover A.J. Green. It'd be nice if we did it one time before he retires."
If it makes you feel any better, coach, when it comes to getting torched by Green, the Ravens are hardly alone.
Others receiving votes: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (2 votes)
Best TE Performance
Winner: Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers (7 votes)
With wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin out for the season with a torn ACL, the belief entering 2015 was that tight end Greg Olsen would have to carry the load in the Panthers passing attack. However, Olsen got off to a sluggish start to the year with seven receptions for 81 yards over the first two games.
Well, Olsen woke up in a big way in Week 3 to the tune of eight grabs for 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 27-22 win over the New Orleans Saints.
After having a second touchdown this year called back for a penalty, Olsen spiked the ball emphatically after finally hitting paydirt. The 30-year-old told Eric Boynton of the Spartanburg Herald Journal that the spike was equal parts jubilation and relief:
Guys were giving me a hard time. I'm not a big celebrator. It's not really my thing. It felt good to finally score and that drive was a struggle there for a while. I don't know the last time I had a holding call. That was my second touchdown called back (this year) and touchdowns are hard to come by. You can't give those away.
Olsen then insisted numbers don't really matter to him:
I don't get overly wrapped up in catches and fantasy football issues, it's not the way I view the tight end position. I take a lot of pride impacting the game with or without the ball. That's something where only a few guys in the league are going to do that. The balls are going to come and when they come, maximize the plays.
Of course, that's a lot easier to say after a monster game.
Others receiving votes: Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys (1 vote)
Best Defensive Performance
Winner: Seattle Seahawks (5 votes)
Granted, there are those who will say the Seahawks' 26-0 whitewashing of a lowly Chicago Bears team led by backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen carries an asterisk of sorts. NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman allowed as much even as he cast his vote for the team's performance.
"Shutouts are incredibly rare," Freeman said, "whether Jimmy Clausen is at the helm or not."
While speaking with Larry Stone of the Seattle Times, Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril echoed a similar refrain while crediting the return of strong safety Kam Chancellor as a key factor in Seattle's first win of the 2015 season: "That was awesome. Shutouts are so hard to do in the NFL. ... People respect him [Chancellor] around the league. Sometimes people will cringe if they know he’s around. It’s big having him out there."
Chancellor, for his part, said it felt good to be back at it after ending his contract holdout, although he wasn't on board with missing 10 of Seattle's 46 defensive plays: "It wasn’t my plan. It came out of nowhere. They came up and said, 'We’re going to sit you one series.' I said, 'Why?' They just said they want to take you out for a series. I guess so I wouldn’t have as much of a load on myself for the first game."
It was a performance that was part Clausen, part Kam—and all beatdown.
Others receiving votes: Arizona Cardinals (3 votes)
Winner: Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas on 4th-and-1 (4 votes)
Heading into Sunday night's matchup in Detroit between the Lions and Denver Broncos, Detroit cornerback Darius Slay was feeling his oats in regard to how he would perform against Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.
Well, as Daniel Boniface of the Denver Post wrote, just before halftime, Slay got those oats fed back to him—along with a healthy serving of crow:
Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay said this week he would have a pen in his pocket Sunday so he could get Peyton Manning to autograph a ball if the 24-year-old picked one off.
Instead, Manning and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas turned the tables on Slay, connecting for a crucial 45-yard touchdown on 4th-and-1 with only seconds remaining in the first half to make the score 14-6 heading into the intermission.
Thomas was flagged for taunting on the play, but no word on if Manning asked Slay to sign the ball afterward.
It was a great play call and even better execution, and it completely changed the tenor of a game that saw the Broncos go to 3-0 and the Lions fall to 0-3.
In other words, it was the sort of play that can define a season.
Others receiving votes: Seattle Seahawks getting the ball to Jimmy Graham (2 votes), Atlanta sticking to a balanced attack with Devonta Freeman (2 votes)
"Winner": Brandon Marshall's lateral (5 votes)
For three of our voters, including NFL Analyst Brad Gagnon, the worst decision of Week 3 was the reason teams like the Cleveland Browns stay teams like the Cleveland Browns. They just can't get out of their own way.
"It's not as though Josh McCown was horrible in a loss to the Raiders, but he still completed only 57 percent of his passes and threw the game-clinching interception," he said. "Johnny Manziel gave this offense a much-needed jolt in Week 2, and that was gone against Oakland. Not sure what Mike Pettine is thinking."
Frankly, there isn't any guarantee Pettine is thinking.
But as I wrote earlier, this week's categories no one wants to win are all about New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
When your team is trailing 17-0, the last thing you want to do is get cute.
As Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated reported, that's exactly what Marshall did against the Philadelphia Eagles: "Marshall himself called it 'probably [the] worst play in NFL history,' per ESPN.com. Not sure it was quite that bad, but it was pretty terrible. As he was being tackled after a 15-yard reception, Marshall tried to flip the ball to his nearby teammate. It never made it there."
Not only did it not get there, but it hit an Eagles defender—in the face. Philly recovered and converted the gaffe into a 24-0 lead, and just like that, the J-E-T-S were S-U-N-K.
Others receiving votes: Browns going back to Josh McCown at quarterback (3 votes)
Player of the Week
Winner: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (7 votes)
OK, this is going to get old.
It's going to get old for me because I'm going to have to come up with new superlatives to describe New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady every week.
And it's going to get old for the rest of the NFL because Brady appears hellbent on taking out his Deflategate outrage on defenses across the league.
As Doug Kyed of NESN reported, Brady's making it look easy:
Tom Brady completed 78.6 percent of his passes Sunday, going 33 of 42 for 358 yards with two touchdowns, including the 400th of his career, in the Patriots’ 51-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was just another day at the office, though, according to wide receiver Julian Edelman.
"Par for the course," Edelman said. "He works his tail off, and everything he does, you understand why. It’s great seeing him lead our team."
Brady currently is on pace for 48 touchdowns, 5,931 yards and, most importantly, no interceptions while completing 72.2 percent of his passes and averaging 8.4 yards per attempt — the best stat line of his career. If he keeps this up, there’s no doubt he’ll take home his third NFL MVP award.
Brady declined to comment on if this is the best he’s ever played. "You know, I’m just happy we’re 3-0, so thank you," Brady said.
Granted, it's hard to say this is the best Brady has ever played. We're talking about a player who has twice been MVP. Brady has raised the Lombardi trophy four times. No quarterback in NFL history has played in the Super Bowl as many times as he has.
But it's not a stretch to say Brady is playing some of the best football of his career.
And that does not bode well for the other 31 teams in the NFL.
At least someone else will get a moment in the sun next week.
The Patriots have a Week 4 bye.
Others receiving votes: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons (1 vote)