Week 3 can make or break a team’s season. 3-0 teams have approximately a 75% chance to make the playoffs. 0-3 teams fare very poorly; only 6 have gone on to reach the postseason since 1980. One team obviously avoided that issue (NE has now beaten NYJ 15 straight times). Another (LAC) only did because their opponent also entered the game at 0-2 (please stop fumbling Minnesota). There are exceptions to every rule, so don’t get too down if your team fell to that dreaded 0-3 mark this week. With that in mind, let’s check out my week 3 takeaways for the 2023 NFL season!
TNF: Niners Pull Away as Giants Struggle Yet Again
Every game so far this season, the New York Giants have been awful in the first half. In fact, in weeks 1 and 2, they scored ZERO points before the 3rd quarter. Thus, it was considered improvement when NYG knocked 2 FGs through before the break. Things seemed to be going well for the Giants. SF QB Brock Purdy was shaky early on (4/10 start), and NY’s defense looked to have the upper hand. Things seemed to flip in the 2nd quarter, when Purdy tossed a strike to rookie WR Ronnie Bell for a TD while falling backward. Another TD from RB Christian McCaffrey (18/85/1, 34 receiving yards) had the Niners up 17-3 at the half.
NYG looked to be back in the game after a 3rd-quarter TD cut the deficit to 5. Alas, Purdy caught fire, while Daniel Jones imploded. Purdy finished 25/37 for 310 yards and 2 TDs, while Jones went 22/32 for just 137 yards and a pick. Nobody on New York ran well, as the team earned a total of 29 yards on the ground. My biggest question for the Giants offensively is: what happened to WR Jalin Hyatt? The speedy rookie should’ve taken the top off of SF’s secondary. Instead, he didn’t get a single target. That kept everything underneath, where the 49ers’ front seven dominated in a 30-12 victory.
On the other sideline, SF’s offense was humming. WR Deebo Samuel was a YAC monster, earning 6 catches for 129 yards and a TD. TE George Kittle also had his best game of the season with 7 receptions for 90 yards. The Niners look like the absolute best team in the NFL right now. They’re a complete squad, with an elite defense and a machine of an offense. Even with Brandon Aiyuk out, SF was unstoppable. New York is a different story. Outside of a miraculous comeback against the awful Cardinals, NY has been dominated this year. Without RB Saquon Barkley (ankle sprain), relief doesn’t seem to be in sight.
Dolphins’ Offense has Legendary Performance
“Legendary” might even be selling this team’s output short. Mike McDaniel‘s squad started hot and then got hotter. Punter Jake Bailey got to appear in just 1 play, as the team scored TEN touchdowns on the day. Miami obliterated a supposedly decent Broncos defense to the tune of 70 points, setting a single-game franchise record in the process. This was the highest point total in the entire league since 1967. More on that in a bit. We first have to start with QB Tua Tagovailoa, who is the clear MVP frontrunner through an admittedly small sample size of 3 games.
The underrated QB was surgical, completing his first 17 pass attempts. We aren’t even talking about all short dump offs; one of his first throws was a 54-yard strike to WR Tyreek Hill (9/157/1), his favorite target on the day. Tagovailoa finished 23/26 for 309 yards and 4 TDs, and he didn’t even play more than 1 play in the 4th quarter. An even bigger story might be the RBs. Raheem Mostert has been known to have a big game, but this was ridiculous. He ran 13 times for 82 yards and 3 TDs, and he had 7 catches for 60 yards and another score. Somehow, rookie De’Von Achane had an even better day.
Achane, who had 2 touches through 2 weeks, had 18 carries for 203 yards and 2 TDs. He caught 4 passes for 30 yards and 2 more TDs to match Mostert’s total. One was an insane no-look pass from Tua. Adding another weapon to this attack just seems unfair. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this offensive outburst came in LT Terron Armstead‘s return from injury. In his season debut, Armstead seemed to shore up the offensive line immediately. His presence elevated the unit, opening up running lanes and keeping Tua clean in the pocket. The team did all this without WR Jaylen Waddle, who missed the game with a concussion.
I do have one bone to pick with the Dolphins. At the end of the game, with 4th and 14 at Denver’s 27, backup QB Mike White took a knee. That’s only an issue because a field goal would’ve made the score 73-20. Converting the kick would have set a league-wide scoring record, but McDaniel didn’t want to “embarrass” the Broncos. I’d argue that having White throw a 68-yard TD to Robbie Chosen when up 56-13 was already humiliating them, so what would one FG have done? The fans booed the decision to kneel, and rightfully so. The players will toe the party line, but you know they wanted that record. They deserved it.
Cowboys, Jaguars Suffer Humiliating Losses
Several teams had disappointing performances in week 3, but I’d argue that these two were the worst. That’s mostly because of who they played. Dallas faced Arizona, a team that I ranked #32 in the NFL. As in their first two games, the Cardinals got off to a good start. They built a 15-3 lead with efficient offense and smothering defense, with the highlight being a 45-yard rush by WR Rondale Moore. RB James Conner (14/98/1) led the team to a 222-yard rushing day, and QB Joshua Dobbs (17/21, 189 yards, TD, 55 rushing yards) did just enough. Crucially, he didn’t make any mistakes.
Dallas, on the other hand, should be ashamed of their effort. Aside from RB Tony Pollard (23/122) and WR Michael Gallup (6/92), nobody pulled their weight. The previously impenetrable defense became a sieve (you can’t blame that all on the loss of CB Trevon Diggs), and QB Dak Prescott stalled multiple times in the red zone before throwing a pick in the end zone, reminding everyone of last year’s issues. A 28-16 loss to the Cardinals is demoralizing, but maybe Arizona isn’t as bad as we thought. The only negative for the Cardinals is their draft positioning; their win and Houston’s win (ARI owns HOU’s pick) might complicate those #1 pick aspirations.
That’s a good segue to our other upset: Houston beating Jacksonville on the road. This performance came out of nowhere. CJ Stroud (20/30, 280 yards, 2 TDs) had easily the best performance by a rookie QB this year. The team must love his development so far; he hasn’t yet thrown an INT, he exhibited great chemistry with fellow rookie WR Tank Dell (5/145/1), and he did this without much support from the running game. The defense gave the Jaguars fits, leading to a 37-thrashing. Above all, on one play, FB Andrew Beck returned a pop-up kick (intentionally done to make him return it instead of someone else) for an 85-yard TD.
When I did my top 10 returners article, I did not consider the idea of putting a fullback in there. That might have more to do with the Jaguars’ comedy of errors though. QB Trevor Lawrence (27/40, 279 yards, TD) threw one INT, but this was otherwise not his fault. He was victimized by several dropped passes, a lost fumble by a teammate, and multiple penalties. And that’s just the offense. I don’t know why a defense that handled KC effectively made the Texans look like the 2007 Patriots, but they did. Houston gets their first win of the DeMeco Ryans era, and Jacksonville has to reflect on how this all happened.
Falcons, Commanders Fall Back to Earth as Competition Stiffens
The Falcons and Commanders both started 2-0, but that came with an asterisk because they had played poor opponents. This week gave them a chance to prove themselves against contenders, and they fell completely flat. Atlanta was due for a letdown, mostly due to their QB. Desmond Ridder (21/38, 201 yards) has been the weak point of an improved roster, and that continued. He showed minimal pocket awareness, taking 7 sacks. With the Lions targeting the running game, it was up to Ridder to create offense, but he only mustered a pair of FGs in a 20-6 loss. S Jessie Bates (INT) and the defense continued to look good, but you can’t compete with the heavyweights if you can’t throw.
Washington’s clunker was even worse. At home against a resurgent Bills team, the Commanders did almost nothing right. QB Sam Howell had his first nightmare start, but it wasn’t all his fault. His line gave him no protection, and he seemed to see ghosts in the pocket soon after the game began. That caused him to hold the ball too long and take 9 sacks. Pressure also forced numerous errant throws, including 4 INTs. One was a short pass that DE AJ Epenesa nabbed for a TD. The line issues must be fixed, but a 37-3 loss in which a late FG prevents a shutout might be the kind of game where you just bury the tape and try again.
Ravens, Saints Struggle for Different Reasons, Miss 3-0 Starts
Two other teams that failed to reach 3-0, Baltimore and New Orleans, lost unexpectedly. While they didn’t suffer extreme upsets like Dallas and Jacksonville did, they were solid favorites. Baltimore seemed poised to have an easy day at home against a backup QB. However, you might remember me suggesting that Gardner Minshew SHOULD be the starter while Anthony Richardson learns. That was true for one week as Richardson deals with a concussion. While Minshew (27/44, 227 yards, TD) didn’t light the world on fire, he played cautiously and didn’t make mistakes.
Offensively, the Colts’ game plan ran through RB Zack Moss. The former Bill had a career-high 30 carries for 122 yards. He also caught 2 passes for 23 yards and a TD. The defense and special teams were what made a win possible though. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson (22/31, 202 yards) was flummoxed all day through the air, taking 4 sacks. He ran great (14/101/2), but that was pretty much all the Ravens had on offense. Colts LB Zaire Franklin demolished Baltimore’s line, earning 15 tackles and a sack. Though neither team moved the ball much, it was Indy K Matt Gay to the rescue.
Gay was tremendous, making a record four field goals from 50 yards or further. Out of his 5 made FGs, his last was the one we’ll remember. In OT, after the defense forced a turnover on downs, the Colts went just 18 yards on their drive. However, they played it safe because they knew their kicker’s range. Gay easily drilled the 53-yard walk-off to steal a 22-19 win on the road. Indianapolis is going to be a tough out if they play this way no matter who’s at QB. More talent up front and in the secondary would help though. Baltimore showed us yet again that if you make Jackson beat you with his arm, he usually won’t.
New Orleans collapsed due to an injury. Early in the 3rd quarter, QB Derek Carr was sacked and stayed down on the field. He was subsequently ruled out with a shoulder injury. Hopefully it’s not serious, both because we all care about his health and because of what the offense looked like upon his departure. The Saints hadn’t gotten quite in sync yet this season, but they build a 17-0 lead in Green Bay. With Jameis Winston replacing Carr, NO scored 0 points for the rest of the afternoon. The defense then wore out, allowing the Packers to rattle off 18 straight points.
The kicking game shares blame as well, with rookie K Blake Grupe missing a 46-yard field goal that would have retaken the lead. With just 1 timeout remaining, the Saints fell 18-17. The Saints are in major trouble if Carr misses more than a week (he has a sprained AC joint). Without him, the Falcons become the superior team in the NFC South. I know I just complained about them too, but the main advantage NO had over everyone else was their QB. Winston is not on Carr’s level, and even with RB Alvin Kamara returning, this offense is going to struggle without their prized free agent.