NFL hot reads: Ten key observations from Week 3
Ten snap reactions from the third Sunday of the NFL season:
— It took all of 2½ games for the top four quarterbacks in May's draft to get on the field. Granted, Browns QB Johnny Manziel is still in gimmick mode — credit offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan for a hilarious, if illegal, trick play in Sunday's 23-21 loss to the Ravens — and it was injury and incompetence, respectively, that pressed the Vikings' Teddy Bridgewater and the Jaguars' Blake Bortles into action. But remember when Bortles was going to learn for a year behind Chad Henne? Patience is scarce in this league, and getting outscored 105-10 over eight quarters (as the Jaguars had by halftime of their 44-17 loss to the Colts) is enough to scare any coach into seeking a spark, just as the Raiders did in starting Derek Carr after veteran Matt Schaub's inauspicious preseason. It hasn't been enough for Oakland, which joins Jacksonville and the Buccaneers as the NFL's winless teams through Week 3.
— Mark down Dec. 20 on the calendar. That's when the Eagles and Redskins meet again at FedEx Field, and after Sunday's fireworks in Philadelphia, it'll be must-see TV even if one or both teams don't have much on the line by Week 16. The Eagles won round one 37-34. But Redskins WR DeSean Jackson shoved people, taunted fans by flapping his arms after an 81-yard TD catch and made sure everyone remembered he was more than a product of Chip Kelly's system before the Eagles cut him. And Redskins DL Chris Baker's ejection-yielding high block on Eagles QB Nick Foles sparked one of the biggest melees you'll see all season, complete with a retaliatory punch by Eagles LT Jason Peters that got him tossed, too. Thank officials for setting up the brawl by failing to notice before replay that Redskins CB Bashaud Breeland's "interception" clearly was scooped off the ground.
— Do officials really need to protect 209-pound Saints QB Drew Brees from 195-pound Vikings CB Captain Munnerlyn? They did it Sunday, flagging Munnerlyn for throwing down Brees on a sack late in the third quarter and extending a game-changing touchdown drive in New Orleans' 20-9 win. Munnerlyn came untouched on a slot blitz and wrapped up Brees, who was trying to fight him off when Munnerlyn lifted him up and tossed him awkwardly to the turf. Brees was furious with what he later called a "straight Hulk Hogan, 1985-style suplex." But if the whistle blew, the smaller Munnerlyn didn't hear it, so he used some leverage to finish the play. What else is he supposed to do?
— Bengals QB Andy Dalton was right to point to the heavens after his 18-yard TD catch in a 33-7 win over the Titans. Only divine intervention could explain how CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson didn't intercept WR Mohamed Sanu's cross-field lob or put Dalton on his back. If Dalton threw the same pass for Sanu, the receiver would've had good reason to tell his QB never to try it again. But it seems Cincinnati can do no wrong right now, and new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson certainly is showing no fear about opening up his playbook. Side note: Seahawks QB Russell Wilson had a catch from WR Jermaine Kearse early Sunday, too, and Wilson did take a shot from Broncos S Rahim Moore — but held on for a 17-yard gain.
— Manziel's chance to take over the starting QB job in Cleveland was supposed to be after next week's bye. Well, Brian Hoyer has made sure that's not happening. The combination of more reps in Shanahan's system and continued recovery from knee reconstruction are two reasons Hoyer — who finished 19-of-25 for 290 yards and a TD against the Ravens — is looking like a different player than he was in the preseason. It wasn't enough this week, but Hoyer has earned the right to stay under center for what's shaping up to be the most competent Browns team in years. He still hasn't thrown an interception in 95 pass attempts.
— The Vikings didn't want to turn to Bridgewater this soon, much less in this type of situation — on the road, down 13-3, with RB Adrian Peterson inactive and LT Matt Kalil continuing to struggle — but the broken bones in QB Matt Cassel's foot left them no choice. In six drives, Bridgewater took the Vikings to two field goals and was 12-of-20 passing for 150 yards. His first NFL start next week certainly changes the tone against the Falcons — the Vikings' first home game since placing the former MVP Peterson on the exempt list in light of his indictment in Texas on a charge of injury to a child. The crowd has been chanting for "TED-DY!" since the preseason and now they'll get him. For the Vikings, finding a new face of the franchise can't come soon enough.
— Something's not right with the Patriots offense. In 34 drives this season, they've scored five touchdowns, including just one in Sunday's shockingly competitive 16-9 win over the woeful Raiders. Among the confounding issues: QB Tom Brady's two highest-paid weapons, TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Danny Amendola, have played relatively limited roles since returning from injury-plagued 2013 seasons. Gronkowski had three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown in six targets Sunday. Amendola was targeted just once and had no catches for a second straight week. It's hard to imagine that won't change sooner than later.
— Who would've thought the Lions and their injury-depleted secondary would hold the Packers to one of the worst offensive performances of the Aaron Rodgers era? Sunday's 19-7 decision marked the first time Green Bay had failed to score in double-figures since a 7-3 defeat Dec. 12, 2010 at Detroit — a game Rodgers left early with a concussion. And the Lions needed the defense to stand tall on a day QB Matthew Stafford had three ghastly turnovers, one of them setting up the Packers' only score. A big problem is Green Bay's running game can't get off the ground. RB Eddie Lacy had a fumble returned for a TD and is averaging just 3.1 yards on 36 carries this season. Falter again next week at Chicago, and Green Bay will be looking up from a 1-3 hole at the rest of an NFC North it is supposed to win.
— The Cardinals seem to lose another key starter every week on defense and just keep finding ways to keep rolling. They did it again Sunday against the 49ers with backup QB Drew Stanton making his second start in place of injured Carson Palmer (shoulder) and taking enough hits to last a lifetime. Credit GM Steve Keim for gathering many young offensive weapons, including rookie WR John Brown, who caught a pair of scores. And credit coach Bruce Arians for showing again he manages adversity as well as anybody. This was the Cardinals' best win yet, keeping them among the unbeatens with the Bengals and Eagles. Meanwhile, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has his own adversity to deal with in the aftermath of another second-half collapse. Taking three unnecessary roughness penalties and another 15-yarder for taunting as it slipped away could portend more problems to come.
— The Steelers offense had plenty of issues in last week's 26-6 loss at Baltimore. It turned around Sunday and blistered the Panthers' talented defense, on the road, in prime time for 454 net yards in a 37-19 win, with RBs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount combining for 265 yards on the ground. One reason that rebound was notable: It's the first time since October 2012 the Steelers have lost one game without losing another. They had two- and three-game losing streaks late in 2012, started 0-4 last season and had another pair of two-game skids to miss the playoffs at 8-8.
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.
VIDEO: Week 3 around the NFL