B/R NFL Staff's Biggest Winners and Losers of Week 3
Week 3 of an NFL season is crucial because few teams can climb out of a major hole created by a slow start.
With that in mind, Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers—Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski, Gary Davenport and Matt Miller—looked around the league to find the biggest winners and losers from the latest action.
No parameters were set. Each of the contributors was allowed to pick whomever or whatever they deemed necessary to fit the basic criteria.
At least one coach deserved to be recognized for his squad's surprise performance. Another didn't fare so well. Of course, players were applauded or criticized based on their latest contributions. Teams also fell under the spotlight based on how they performed this weekend.
Keep in mind, it's not too early to designate winners or too cruel to identify losers. As NBC Sports Philly's Dave Zangaro noted, only 2.7 percent of teams that started 0-3 have made the playoffs in the modern era. A season can be lost very quickly.
How a squad has performed at this early juncture is often an indication of how the campaign will proceed.
Winner: HC Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
On paper right now, the San Francisco 49ers are hardly a professional-caliber football team. Yet they won a road game by 27 points Sunday. That's an incredible accomplishment considering those injuries, regardless of the quality of the opponent.
The 49ers outscoring the New York Jets and New York Giants 67-22 in a seven-day span without a multitude of key players is a testament to the strength of the San Francisco coaching staff, and it starts at the top with Shanahan.
Notable absences on the field for San Francisco in Week 3 included: QB Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle), TE George Kittle (knee), RB Tevin Coleman (knee), RB Raheem Mostert (knee) and DL Dee Ford (back); those on IR unable to return yet, including WR Deebo Samuel and CB Richard Sherman; and those out for the year, including DL Nick Bosa and DL Soloman Thomas.
Loser: Atlanta Falcons
The director of 28-3 brings you 29-10 and 26-10. It's now a three-part Shakespearean tragedy starring head coach Dan Quinn, quarterback Matt Ryan and one of the most mentally weak defenses in NFL history.
It's time to blow it up in Atlanta. Obviously, last year's 6-2 second half was a mirage.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
While the outcome remained touch-and-go into the fourth quarter, the Browns did what they are supposed to do by putting away an inferior opponent with a 34-20 victory over the Washington Football Team. In doing so, they finally broke the NFL's most depressing streak.
At 2-1, Cleveland is over .500 for the first time since Week 15 of the 2014 campaign, per ESPN's Jake Trotter. At the time, Kyle Shanahan served as the Browns offensive coordinator, while everyone enjoyed Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" as the top Billboard hit when the campaign came to a close.
The Browns needed to learn how to win. A solid start gets them on the right path. Quarterback Baker Mayfield breaking his streak of eight consecutive games with an interception helped, as did scoring 30-plus points in consecutive games for the first time since the '10 season.
Cleveland is now earning victories under the direction of first-time head coach Kevin Stefanski.
Loser: HC Adam Gase, New York Jets
A report surfaced Sunday morning saying that Gase was "under more intense scrutiny" and Jets brass' would be "monitoring this week closely," according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
To worsen matters, New York lost 36-7 to the Indianapolis Colts after the information surfaced.
The Jets are now 0-3 with Gase's future twisting in the wind. More importantly, quarterback Sam Darnold hasn't progressed, and his standing as the face of the franchise will come into question if the Jets continue to disappoint and "earn" one of the top picks in the 2021 NFL draft.
The Jets have a quick turnaround with a Thursday night contest against the Denver Broncos, another struggling franchise. If they start 0-4, they could well be the first franchise in search of a new head coach.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers may not have had the most emphatic win of Week 3. Or the wildest. (That title belongs to the Buffalo Bills.) But when you play in the same division as the juggernaut that is the Baltimore Ravens, there isn't much margin for error. And in downing the Houston Texans to move to 3-0 on the season, the Steelers kept the pressure on the Ravens ahead of Baltimore's big Monday night tilt with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Whether it's Ben Roethlisberger's passing, James Conner's rushing or a defense that dropped Deshaun Watson five times and notched an interception, the Steelers don't just look lightyears better than last year's team that missed the playoffs.
They look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Week 7, when Pittsburgh and Baltimore renew their rivalry, can't get here fast enough.
Loser: Minnesota Vikings
Remember when we thought the Minnesota Vikings were good?
After blowing a 12-point second-half lead against the Tennessee Titans, the alleged playoff contenders in purple and gold are 0-3 and in full-on panic mode. The offense wasted big days from running back Dalvin Cook and rookie wideout Justin Jefferson, largely due to three turnovers. The defense was hideous once again, allowing 444 yards of offense to a Titans team no one will confuse with the Chiefs any time soon.
For lack of a more eloquent way to put it, the Vikings are bad. And given the expectations around this team entering 2020, it's fair to wonder whether big changes could be coming in the Twin Cities in what's shaping up to be a bummer of an offseason.
Winner: QB Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Through three weeks of play, Allen is an MVP candidate, and he might be leading the charge as his 3-0 Bills beat the previously undefeated Los Angeles Rams.
Allen's Bills stormed out to a 28-3 lead before seeing their lead erased. But Allen led his eighth career fourth-quarter comeback, and the Bills proved they're the team to beat in the AFC East, as well as one of the conference's top teams.
Allen was, at times, pressured by an amazing Rams defensive line and did take a few big sacks because of it, but he was also nearly flawless on third downs and made big play after big play to keep the Bills alive once the Rams took the lead.
There were many who doubted Allen heading into the 2020 season. But in Year 3, he's writing a new chapter to his story that has him playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Loser: QB Dwayne Haskins Jr., Washington Football Team
Ugh. It might be Kyle Allen time in Washington after the Football Team struggled under the quarterbacking of Haskins against the Cleveland Browns. His three interceptions and two fumbles (one lost) on the day were the difference as his defense couldn't survive short fields, and the Browns won by 14 points.
The season hasn't been pretty for Haskins, who came into the game with a completion percentage of just 56.3 percent. He isn't surrounded by an elite skill group, and his offensive line needs work, but other quarterbacks are doing more with less.
Head coach Ron Rivera didn't draft Haskins—he inherited him—and now it's time to see what this team can do with Allen or Alex Smith as his replacement.