B/R Staff NFL Week 3 Report Card: Young QBs Rise to the Occasion
The NFL experienced an unintended youth movement at the game's most important position in Week 3. Multiple quarterbacks became first-time starters Sunday. In fact, 25 percent of the preseason's projected starters didn't take the field during this week's slate.
The results were unpredictable as always.
The New York Giants' Daniel Jones and Carolina Panthers' Kyle Allen shined and helped lead their teams to a victory—just like everyone thought. On the other hand, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mason Rudolph and New York Jets' Luke Falk endured losses.
Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins' Josh Rosen and New Orleans Saints' Teddy Bridgewater also started their first games of the season.
Professional football turned into the wild, wild West with plenty of new gunslingers in town. Yet, the old guard continued to cruise in most instances.
Some of those new signal-callers played better than others. To evaluate the play of each—including other key topics from Sunday's action—Bleacher Report's NFL writers banded together to discuss and assess each performance.
Each new quarterback could inspire hope or signal defeat. Whatever the case, the transition usually takes time, and early grades can be difficult.
The weekend's marquee matchup didn't develop as planned.
The expected quarterback duel between the Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes and Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson turned into a one-sided affair. Mahomes completed 73.0 percent of his passes for 374 yards and three touchdowns, while Jackson faltered with a 51.2 completion percentage and 6.2 yards per attempt.
The Chiefs walked away with a 33-28 victory. Mahomes and Jackson entered the contest as early-season MVP favorites. How will be they be viewed going into Week 4?
Ty Dunne: Jackson, C; Mahomes, A+
The Chiefs (for the most part) made Jackson beat them from the pocket and he completed only half his passes. A regression, for sure, after Jackson's torrid start. Mahomes was Mahomes, setting yet another defense ablaze with a ridiculous 10.1 yards per pass attempt. It's scary how good this offense has been without Tyreek Hill.
Mike Freeman: Jackson, B-; Mahomes, A
The Chiefs made Jackson one-dimensional, something teams hadn't been able to do in the first two weeks. Mahomes was his usual spectacular self. He's on his way to again being the league MVP.
Mike Tanier: Jackson, C; Mahomes, B+
Jackson's big problem right now is that he tries to mash all the game controllers at once when the pocket breaks down. It looked like he outgrew that in the first two games, but the pocket didn't break down very much in the first two games.
Yeah, 374 yards and three touchdowns for Mahomes is a B-plus. He only has himself to blame for blowing his own curve.
Brent Sobleski: Jackson, C; Mahomes A
Let all of the detractors swarm because Jackson wasn't the same efficient passer seen during the first two weeks of play. Yes, he must be better than he showed Sunday, but he kept his team in the game by making plays with his feet (and a few prayers). As for Mahomes, what's there to say at this point? He's the NFL's best quarterback and shredded one of the league's top defenses.
Brad Gagnon: Jackson, C-; Mahomes, A
Against a bad defense, Jackson was actually worse as a passer than his bad numbers would seem to indicate. He was bailed out on a couple prayer-type heaves in the second half, and without those plays, this would have been a 2018-like dud through the air. Meanwhile, Mahomes is somehow playing even better than he did last season. So much for that inevitable regression, huh?
Gary Davenport: Jackson, C; Mahomes, A
Mahomes is like having Bo Jackson on Tecmo Super Bowl—it just ain't fair. Jackson is a joy to watch, and any debate about his viability as an NFL starter is settled. But Sunday's loss at Arrowhead Stadium was a reminder that the second-year pro has a ways to go as a passer.
Patriots Offense Without Antonio Brown
The New England Patriots took a chance on wide receiver Antonio Brown to help in their journey for yet another championship after the Raiders released him following various issues he had with the league and team. After New England signed him, multiple allegations of sexual assault and misconduct surfaced against him, and the Patriots released him 11 days after his signing.
Brown's departure didn't slow the Patriots offense, and Bill Belichick and Co. dominated the hapless New York Jets. New England scored 30 points and accumulated 381 yards from scrimmage two days after releasing the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver.
As a whole, how did the Patriots offense look without Brown?
Ty Dunne: A
The Patriots didn't need Brown to begin with, which made the risk—even for them—odd. The rib injury to Julian Edelman isn't ideal, but we've seen this story now for two decades. They'll adapt, they'll keep winning, they'll treat all these regular-season games as one extended tune-up for the postseason.
Mike Freeman: A
The Patriots have won 8,000 Super Bowls without Brown. They'll win more without him as well. Yes, it was only the Jets, but as long as the Patriots have Tom Brady, that offense will be deadly.
Mike Tanier: B
The Patriots looked like they were missing James White a tiny bit. They lacked the quick-passing and checkdown game the Super Bowl hero provides. But he was celebrating the birth of his child, which is wonderful, and the Patriots won easily anyway. So, yep, missing James White had a slight impact. Wait, that's not who we are talking about? Oh, that's right: They had some other receiver for 11 days or something. Who cares?
Brent Sobleski: B
New England already featured a talented offense long before Brown arrived. They'll still be one of the top offenses long after his departure. Josh Gordon is mega-talented and a true difference-maker. As long as he isn't lost to another suspension, the Patriots already have a star receiver in the lineup.
Brad Gagnon: A
They also didn't have Gordon and Edelman for extended stretches, and neither White nor James Develin played. If you can score 30 points in 42 minutes under those circumstances, you deserve an "A."
Gary Davenport: B
It's hard to glean too much from one game against an overmatched opponent, but the Pats didn't miss a beat against the Jets. Still, the run game has struggled this year, and if Edelman is out for an extended amount of time, the champs might have a problem.
Daniel Jones' First Start
Receipts are due. For everyone who slammed the New York Giants after selecting quarterback Daniel Jones with this year's sixth overall pick, the rookie signal-caller proved his worth in his first start.
Jones completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns in his debut. The mobile quarterback added 28 rushing yards and two more scores in the 32-31 comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Was Jones everything the Giants needed and more when organization made the switch from long-term starter Eli Manning?
Ty Dunne: A+
Jones had everything working against him in his first start. No Saquon Barkley. Against a Todd Bowles defense. On the road. Down 28-10 at halftime. And somehow, he found a way. Nobody's laughing at the Giants this week.
Mike Freeman: A
Everyone—including the Giants—was stunned at his performance. He was brilliant. He showed why the Giants have said through the preseason they felt confident in Jones. The most amazing part of his performance: his calmness.
Mike Tanier: A-
Wooooooo! Imagine how good Jones would have looked if the Giants gave him some real first-team reps in the offseason instead of trying to gaslight everyone (including themselves) into thinking Eli could still play.
Brent Sobleski: A
As Mike stated, the handling of Jones feels a little like Baker Mayfield last year when a better option sat the bench because the franchise was too stubborn to give up on its subpar starting option. Like Mayfield, Jones looked fantastic in his first start and brought different elements to his offense.
Brad Gagnon: A
He wasn't perfect, but you couldn't have asked for a better debut performance on the road against a tough defense. He won, and in comeback fashion. He made plays with his legs, which has to be refreshing for Giants fans, and he was in on all four New York touchdowns. This is going to be fun.
Gary Davenport: A
The Jones hype is going to be off the chain after he topped 300 passing yards and accounted for four scores, but the kid earned the attaboys by bringing the Giants back to win despite Barkley being sidelined by an ankle injury.
Kyle Allen's First Start
The biggest surprise of Sunday's slate came courtesy of the Carolina Panthers' Kyle Allen and his standout performance in a dominant 38-20 victory over the hosting Arizona Cardinals.
Allen sliced and diced his way through the Cardinals secondary for 261 yards and four touchdowns. Clearly, the 2018 undrafted free agent filled in for starter Cam Newton quite well. He became the first Carolina quarterback to post 250-plus passing yards, four passing touchdowns and a 140.0-plus passer rating in a game, according to NFL Research.
Can the Panthers relax a little after seeing Allen's performance if Newton isn't able to return in the near future thanks to a foot injury?
Ty Dunne: A
The porous Cardinals secondary was just what the doctor ordered for Carolina, sure, but Allen also completed the throws Newton did not a week prior against Tampa Bay. Let's not rev up QB drama quuuite yet here, but Allen made it look easy in his debut.
Mike Freeman: A
Another shocker. He was poised and accurate, and quite honestly, the Cardinals looked stunned by what they were seeing. Allen was also helped by running back Christian McCaffrey.
Mike Tanier: A+
It was great, and I already have a throbbing headache thinking about the Cam Newton Controversy takes.
Brent Sobleski: A+
The caliber of opponent shouldn't be a knock on Allen's performance. He's a former undrafted free agent taking over for a No. 1 overall pick and league MVP. He stepped into the starting lineup on the road and picked the Cardinals apart. More importantly, Allen spread the ball around to seven different receivers, operated within the scheme and delivered.
Brad Gagnon: A+
For what it's worth, Allen's career passer rating of 132.7 is the highest in NFL history among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts. Of course, the sample is comically small, but what more can we do than judge what he's done? Another performance or two like that, and the Panthers could seriously have a quarterback controversy on their hands.
Gary Davenport: A
Allen may have just created a quarterback controversy in Charlotte after throwing four touchdown passes in an 18-point win on the road. At the very least, there's gonna be no rush to run Newton back out there until he's fully healthy.
Mason Rudolph's First Start
Life without Ben Roethlisberger began Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mason Rudolph flashed at points, especially in the second half, but the Steelers fell 24-20 to the San Francisco 49ers in the second-year signal-caller's first start.
Rudolph completed 51.9 percent of his throws for a 174 yards, but he did toss a couple touchdown passes. Two big-time throws to JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie Diontae Johnson gave the Steelers second-half leads, but Pittsburgh still came up short.
Did Rudolph show enough to quell concerns Steelers faithful might have had about missing Roethlisberger this season?
Ty Dunne: B-
Any QB playing any team that commits five turnovers needs to win, and Rudolph didn't. But the deep ball was encouraging—when the Steelers asked Rudolph to go deep, he delivered. You have to think the Steelers will keep opening up the playbook as the season progresses. The only problem is that this season is getting away from them fast.
Mike Freeman: C
His day started off rough. Like, very rough. But his second half showed that Rudolph has potential. The larger problem for the Steelers offense is the massive talent drain at running back and receiver.
Mike Tanier: C
It was pretty rough, but it looks like the Steelers coaches just handed Rudolph a Roethlisberger game plan and told him to deal with it. They didn't run the ball much or give Rudolph many chances to make easier throws. But what do you expect from a team that doesn't believe that change is real?
Brent Sobleski: D
Rudolph made two good throws. That's it. The 49ers tried to give the game away with five turnovers. San Francisco spotted Pittsburgh a three-turnover advantage, and the Steelers...still...lost. Obviously, the offense didn't hold up its end of the bargain.
Brad Gagnon: D
He did complete a pair of big touchdown passes in the second half, but one was to a wide-open Diontae Johnson and the other was all YAC for Smith-Schuster. If you take those two plays away, he was 12-of-25 for 59 yards and a 37.9 passer rating. His team was bailed out by San Francisco mistakes all day but still lost. It's bad...really bad.
Gary Davenport: C-
Rudolph didn't play poorly, and it became clear PDQ that the Steelers weren't going to ask too much of the youngster. But once the 49ers knew that, they stacked the box, and the Steelers wound up with just 239 yards of total offense.
Josh Rosen's Dolphins Starting Debut
For two straight years, Josh Rosen has faced impossible odds as a highly regarded quarterback prospect and top draft pick. He went from the NFL's worst team in 2018, the Arizona Cardinals, to an even worse Miami Dolphins squad.
Even so, the 22-year-old signal-caller has an opportunity to prove himself as a potential long-term starter. Rosen completed 18 of 39 passes for 200 yards in a 31-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Despite the awful circumstances, did Rosen play well in his first start with the Dolphins?
Ty Dunne: D
New QB, same anemic offense. You have to feel for Rosen. The Dolphins needed to get him in there to see what Rosen has through the tank of all tanks, but they're not doing him any favors. This is one of the worst rosters we've seen in recent memory.
Mike Freeman: F
Not his fault, but he looked terrible. Joe Montana, Dan Marino, the ghost of Y.A. Tittle, Steve Young and Tom Brady would look terrible on that team.
Mike Tanier: C+
Rosen kept moving the ball down the field to the red zone and the Dolphins kept handing off, fumbling, dropping passes and settling for field goals. Games like this are going to make him difficult to evaluate, and they may get him hurt. But hey, tanking is smart, amiright?
Brent Sobleski: F
A player's situation matters. It matters a lot. Rosen is in a bad situation. The Dolphins offensive line is arguably the league's worst. The running game averaged three yards per carry against Dallas. An undrafted free agent, Preston Williams, is the team's top target.
Brad Gagnon: C+
You can't lead zero touchdown drives and earn a good grade. That said, Rosen was victimized by his supporting cast. He led four impressive first-half drives that were tarnished by dropped passes and mistakes, and his numbers weren't bad until he was forcing it with the Dolphins down big in the second half. There's some hope here, but they have to help him out.
Gary Davenport: C
Are we ever going to know whether Rosen is any good? Whether it was last year in Arizona or Sunday against the Cowboys, Rosen has twice been handed the keys to an offense with four flat tires. Maybe he just needs to push harder.
The Minkah Fitzpatrick Trade After One Week
The Steelers traded 2020 first-round, 2020 fifth-round, and 2021 sixth-round draft picks to the Dolphins last week for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and 2020 fourth-round and 2021 seventh-round draft picks.
Fitzpatrick made an instant impact in his first start with the Steelers. The versatile defender snagged an interception, defended another pass, forced a fumble and registered a quarterback hit in a 24-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He was also called for roughing the passer and missed a tackle.
After one game, how does the trade look for both teams?
Ty Dunne: Steelers, B+; Dolphins, F
This isn't baseball. There is no guarantee what Miami is doing has any chance of working. Letting a core player like Fitzpatrick walk out the door is a bad move however you look at it. And inside the Steelers locker room, players love the fact that the front office isn't giving up on them. Sometimes, it's not that complicated: Fitzpatrick is a really good player worth making a part of your foundation.
Mike Freeman: Steelers, B; Dolphins, F
Fitzpatrick is solid playmaker who makes an already talented defense even better. The Steelers defense is the best aspect of the team now. The Dolphins get a failing grade because, well, you know why. They shouldn't have traded Fitzpatrick in the first place.
Mike Tanier: Steelers, D; Dolphins, F
Pittsburgh's "D" is for "delusional about the current state of the franchise." Miami's "F" is for "futility is going to do much more harm than any future draft pick can undo all by himself."
Brent Sobleski: Steelers, D; Dolphins, A
Fitzpatrick is a quality player, but his addition to the Steelers roster sent the wrong message. He's not a difference-maker no matter how much Pittsburgh still thinks its in win-now mode. Meanwhile, the Dolphins front office is sitting back and enjoying its monopolization of first-round picks over the next two drafts.
Brad Gagnon: Steelers, C; Dolphins, B
Fitzpatrick made a pair of impact plays, which is why this isn't a failing grade for the Steelers. Still, they lost and played poorly, which means Miami's return is looking more like a top-10 pick. That's why the Dolphins are still looking smart for now. That'll change if Fitzpatrick becomes a Hall of Famer and the Dolphins draft a bust with Pittsburgh's primo pick.
Gary Davenport: Steelers, C; Dolphins, A
Fitzpatrick made quite the impact in his Pittsburgh debut. But the Steelers still lost to fall to 0-3 on the year, and every loss makes the pick more valuable. Fitzpatrick is a very good young player—but he's not worth what the Steelers gave up to get him. Not to that team.
The Darren Waller Experiment
Oakland head coach Jon Gruden called his shot regarding tight end Darren Waller.
"Since the time he's walked in here, he's been one of the most impressive guys on our team," Gruden said of Waller in May, per SB Nation's Levi Damien. "He learns fast. He is fast. He's extremely talented. I think he's going to be one of the best-kept secrets in the league."
Waller had multiple substance-abuse violations early in his career. He said in August that he's been sober for two years. And now it's all coming together for the former wide receiver. He exploded with 13 receptions for 134 yards on Sunday in a 34-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Is Waller a true breakout player or just benefiting from a bad Raiders offense?
Ty Dunne: A
The Raiders have gotten a hell of a lot wrong under Gruden. Consider this risk one that's worked out better than anyone in Oakland could have predicted. Thirteen catches on 14 targets? For 134? Waller is putting all of his physical gifts to use and, right now, appears to have turned his life around off the field.
Mike Freeman: A+
Waller has been one of the few bright spots in a terrible season for Oakland. He had 13 catches for 134 yards and devastated a really talented defense. Please, Raiders, more of this.
Mike Tanier: C
Remember when fullback Larry Centers caught 101 passes for the 1995 Cardinals? Jon Gruden sure does! Those Cardinals finished 4-12, but whatever: Gruden is gonna win his PPR league. The Raiders don't need Darren Waller; they need Amanda Waller, but she's busy signing former Patriots receivers for her Suicide Squad.
Brent Sobleski: B
Waller deserves credit for his persistence and ability to overcome obstacles in his life. He is a talented target with the potential to become a top-tier tight end. At the same time, the Raiders lack a true No. 1 wide receiver, which creates more opportunities. So, some of his production is the result of Oakland's poor skill positions.
Brad Gagnon: C+
Waller himself has been a revelation, and he'd deserve an A here. But the experiment itself has to be measured, to an extent, by the offense's overall success. If the Raiders are going to lean on Waller like that and he's going to come through like that, they have to generate more than 14 points. A lot of teams will be willing to give Waller his catches if they have a big lead and it means taking away the big play.
Gary Davenport: A
The Raiders are a bad team, but the play of their young tight end has been a bright spot. After yet another big game against the Vikings, it's safe to say Waller is no fluke. He continues to produce even with opposing defenses paying added attention to him.
Saints' Playoff Chance Without Drew Brees
Drew Brees is expected to miss at least six weeks after tearing ligaments in the thumb on his throwing hand against the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 15.
No problem. With Teddy Bridgewater leading the way, the Saints went to one of the league's toughest home venues, CenturyLink Field, and captured a 33-27 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Bridgewater threw a pair of touchdown passes, while running back Alvin Kamara carried the offense with 161 total yards and two scores.
Can the Saints position themselves for a playoff push without Brees in the lineup for an extended period of time?
Ty Dunne: B
Opportunistic defense, check. Superstar talent (in Kamara), check. Efficient quarterback play, check. Subpar division, check. Why not? Even without Brees, New Orleans can win the NFC South.
Mike Freeman: A
What some people still dramatically underestimate is just how good coach Sean Payton is as an offensive mind and play-caller. Not to mention, the Saints have a slippery runner in Kamara and wide receiver Michael Thomas. The Saints will be OK until Brees returns.
Mike Tanier: B+
The Buccaneers can't get out of their own way. The Falcons are back to suffering defensive injuries and playing to keep games close against average-at-best opponents after their Sunday Night Football mirage. The Panthers are about to go into quarterback-controversy land. This is a wide-open division, and Bridgewater is more likely to get better as the weeks go on than most of the less experienced new starters we saw this week.
Brent Sobleski: B+
The schedule is in the Saints' favor, and the victory over another potential playoff squad bodes well for the upcoming stretch. If Brees is ready after the team's Week 9 bye, all the Saints will have to do is navigate the upcoming five games against the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals with a winning record.
Brad Gagnon: A
That was no joke. The Seahawks hadn't lost at home in September since like 1932* or something, and New Orleans dominated Seattle. This team is loaded with talent, and it can survive in a weak division sans Brees for an extended stretch.
*Apparently 2009. Still, wow!
Gary Davenport: B
The Saints got a true team win Sunday in Seattle. The defense scored a touchdown. The special teams scored a touchdown. Kamara went off. You name it, they did it. It was an impressive effort given all that's happened over the past week or so. The Saints are alive...alive!