The 32 things we learned from Week 3 of the 2020 NFL season:
1. Though the political aftermath of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death will surely remain contentious, it was nice to see a bipartisan – and, it seemed, national – outpouring for the Associate Supreme Court Justice, who died Sept. 18. The “Notorious RBG” was a leading advocate for women’s rights and gender equality in recent decades, so hopefully she was smiling somewhere given NFL history was made Sunday in Cleveland. The Browns-Washington game was the first to feature a female official (down judge Sarah Thomas) as well as female football staffers on each sideline, Jennifer King an intern and offensive assistant for Washington while Callie Brownson serves as Cleveland’s chief of staff. Ginsburg wasn’t a sports fan, but she would have certainly appreciated such progress in an industry long monopolized by men.
2. It’s absurdly early to give Seahawks QB Russell Wilson MVP honors – though it appears he’s a near-virtual lock to at least get that elusive vote his year – but there’s no denying he’s the front-runner as September comes to a close. Russ has been cooking all month, becoming the first player in league history to throw at least four TD passes in the opening three games of a season.
2a. Wilson hung five more TD strikes on Dallas, including the game winner to WR DK Metcalf in the final two minutes, to give Seattle its first 3-0 start since 2013 – the only season the Seahawks finished a season with a Super Bowl victory.
2b. Wilson now has a league-best 14 TD passes (the most ever through three weeks), which puts him on pace to throw 75 – a figure that would shatter Peyton Manning’s record by 20.
2c. Wilson’s 76.7% completion rate would also establish an NFL mark if it holds up all year.
2d. But beware that Seahawks defense, which has surrendered more than 450 yards and at least 25 points in all three games this season – especially problematic if S Jamal Adams’ groin injury lingers.
2e. So, Mr. Metcalf, what’s the point of lifting all those weights if you’re going to showboat like a young DeSean Jackson and give away TDs by not protecting the ball before you’ve actually scored? Also, you’re not helping Russ’ MVP credentials …
2f. But at least you leveraged all those muscles to make up for your gaffe when Seattle really needed it.
3. Salutations to Colts QB Philip Rivers. He started his 227th consecutive regular-season game, a streak second only to Brett Favre’s (297), and became the sixth member of the 400 touchdown pass club and sixth player to pass for 60,000 career passing yards.
3a. Indianapolis’ offense accounted for 20 points Sunday, its defense accounted for 16 … and the Jets had seven.
3b. The Jets are the only team that has not held a lead this season.
4. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott aired it out a career-high 57 times in Sunday’s loss. While that might be a nice data point when his contract negotiations resume in 2021, Dallas would probably be wise to strive for much better balance than its 21 runs (6 by Prescott) against the Seahawks. The pass-heavy approach was forgivable in Week 3 given given Seattle entered the game with the league’s second-ranked run defense, and it might’ve been easier to throw against a defense that struggles to rush the passer when starting OTs Tyron Smith and La’el Collins continue to remain unavailable.
5. Raiders coach Jon Gruden was coaching in New England for the first time since the “Tuck Rule” game, the Silver and Black’s infamous loss in the 2001 playoffs and one that helped springboard the Patriots dynasty. Gruden can go back to Las Vegas content that his previously undefeated team fully earned Sunday’s 36-20 defeat.
5a. Since Gruden and Bill Belichick last matched wits with these respective teams, the Patriots have won six of nine Super Bowl trips and more than 76% of their games. Meanwhile, the Raiders employed nine head coaches between Gruden’s stints, reaching the playoffs twice and winnings 36% of their contests.
6. Quite the line for Buccaneers Pro Bowl WR Mike Evans, who had two catches for 2 yards … and two TDs. Somewhere, former Tampa Bay FB Mike Alstott is beaming.
7. Weirder line for Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, who had one reception for 0 yards on three targets.
8. Rams fans have every right to be furious after officials stole what was a deserved win at Buffalo with a highly suspect pass interference call with 21 seconds remaining on a play that should have sealed a 32-28 victory for L.A. Then again, the refs also gifted you that trip to Super Bowl LIII, so it’s still not accurate to say things have evened out.
8a. And maybe this was a justified penalty given how the Rams continue to penalize all of us with those new uniforms. Gradient never wins (cc: Jaguars, Falcons).
8b. It was Rams coach Sean McVay’s first “loss” in six career 1 p.m. ET kickoffs.
9. I’ve been sparring with #BillsMafia on social media recently about the legitimacy of Buffalo’s undefeated start. Welp, I feel justified. QB Josh Allen continues to amass MVP-caliber stats while simultaneously making head-scratching plays. And, surprisingly, this defense really has trouble closing, coughing up a 28-3 bulge Sunday before its bailout. But at least Bills fans are smart enough to realize their team got a gift and will understand when I power rank the Rams ahead of Buffalo this week.
10. You coulda been a contender, Austin Ekeler, you could’ve been somebody …
11. I’m worried for Bengals rookie QB Joe Burrow, who’s been sacked 14 times in three starts – including eight takedowns by the Eagles on Sunday. Please, David Carr, have an intervention.
11a. I’m worried for Eagles QB Carson Wentz, who’s thrown multiple picks in three straight games for the first time in his career. (The last Philadelphia QB to suffer such a stretch was Ron Jaworski 35 years ago.) Wentz had posted seven INTs in each of the previous three seasons but will match that total with one more in 2020.
11b. The last time the Eagles had a tie was 2008 … to the Bengals. You’ll recall that was the game when QB Donovan McNabb didn’t know the overtime rules.
11c. This was Cincinnati’s fourth tie since 2008 … but those are preferable to the losses Bengals fans typically endure.
12. It’d be pretty cool if Cowboys pass rusher Aldon Smith, who last played in 2015, notches comeback player of the year honors. He sacked Wilson three times Sunday – no one in the league had more than 2½ sacks through Week 2 – giving him four on the season.
13. How much longer before Dan Quinn pays the price for Atlanta’s disastrous 0-3 start? The man indelibly linked to the Falcons’ Super Bowl LI collapse has now watched his highly talented squad implode the past two weeks despite enjoying leads of at least 16 points. Per Elias, Atlanta is the first teams in league history (101 seasons) to lose twice after squandering a fourth-quarter advantage of at least 15 points. This could get ugly – uglier – fast with a trip to Green Bay up next.
13a. Symmetry being what it is, the Bears simultaneously became the first team in NFL annals to win two games in the same season despite entering the fourth quarter behind by at least 16 points.
13b. Atlanta is 0-3 for the first time since 2007, the season before QB Matt Ryan was drafted. The other 10 times the Falcons started 0-3, they missed postseason.
14. The Vikings are 0-3 for the sixth time in franchise history and first since 2013. They’ve never recovered from such a start to reach the playoffs.
15. The Broncos are 0-3 in both of their seasons under Vic Fangio. Denver has never come back from such a start (six previous instances) to crack the postseason field.
16. This is the second time in three seasons the Texans have started 0-3. They rebounded to win the AFC South in 2018.
17. This is the Steelers’ first 3-0 start since 2010, the last time they reached the Super Bowl.
18. Also, two Watts are better than one … sorry, J.J. (Sunday was the first time all three Watt brothers – T.J. and Derek of the Steelers and the Texans’ J.J. – shared the same NFL field.) Maybe next time, you guys should just play tag … everyone can win then.
19. I guess the Buccaneers’ all-pewter uniforms were sharp enough – but it really just makes you wish the NFL rules, which bar teams from using alternate helmets, were relaxed. Can you imagine Tom Brady in the Bucco Bruce headgear and monochrome Creamsicle?
20. Give the Bears deserved credit for coming back on the Dirty Birds – thanks in large part to reliever extraordinaire Nick Foles. Yet this is also about as flimsy a 3-0 start as any team has enjoyed in recent memory. Given the civic state of Chicago these days, let’s just be happy for supporters of Da Bears.
20a. Foles – who’s likely to in the lineup for quite a while – threw three fourth-quarter TD passes to complete the comeback … two weeks after Mitch Trubisky did the same thing at Detroit.
20b. Bummer that Bears RB Tarik Cohen may have suffered a season-ending knee injury, but good for him for signing that three-year contract extension the previous weekend.
21. Speaking of flimsy 3-0 starts, the Titans remain undefeated despite outscoring their opponents by a collective six points. Good thing they’ve solidified a position that undermined them last year – kicker – with Stephen Gostkowski coming up huge each week, including six field goals in Sunday’s one-point win at Minnesota.
21a. Gostkowski became the first kicker since the 1970 merger to drill a game-winning field goal inside the final two minutes of regulation in his team’s first three games of a season.
22. Can’t wait for Monday night’s heavyweight fight between the Chiefs and Ravens, the first game in NFL history to feature a pair of former league MVPs (Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson) who are both 25 years of age or younger.
23. Can wait for Thursday’s lightweight bout between the Broncos and Jets, one NFL Network is attempting to hype with Denver RB Melvin Gordon’s “comeback” and Jets QB Sam Darnold’s “potential.”
24. Good thing NBC’s telecast isn’t subject to Roger Goodell’s iron fist. The network continues to let sideline reporters – Liam McHugh at the opener in Kansas City and Jac Collinsworth in New Orleans on Sunday – wade through attending fans without wearing a mask. I don’t want to see you guys fined $100K, but let’s be smarter?
26. First-round Atlanta CB A.J. Terrell became the first player to miss a game this season while on the reserve/COVID-19 list, though that doesn’t necessarily mean he has the virus. Frankly, a credit to NFL players for being so disciplined during the pandemic and surprisingly make this almost a non-issue to date in terms of availability.
27. The Browns are 2-1 for just the second time since 2002, the last time Cleveland reached the playoffs, and first since 2011. They’ve scored at least 30 points in consecutive games for the first time in a decade.
28. Not a very happy Ohio homecoming for former Buckeyes stars Dwayne Haskins and Chase Young, now of the Washington Football Team. Young, the second pick of this year’s draft, injured his groin and was knocked out of the matchup at Cleveland early. Haskins stuck around but committed four turnovers in a 14-point loss to the Browns.
29. Congrats to Panthers coach Matt Rhule, who notched his first NFL victory while putting Carolina in the win column for the first time since Week 9 of the 2019 season.
29a. Rhule’s triumph means only the Giants’ Joe Judge is still winless among this season’s five new head coaches.
30. Congrats to the Lions, too, who won for the first time since Week 8 of the 2019 season.
31. Beard > Mustache
31a. Also, Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick quieted those clamoring for rookie Tua Tagovailoa … while Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew, who playfully disrespected his “very elder” compatriot prior to Thursday night’s meeting, may have reopened the door for those who want to see Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence in DUUUVAL country next year.
31b. Though given the way Darnold is playing – two pick-sixes in Sunday’s 36-7 embarrassment at Indy – the winless Jets seem to be on the fast track for the coveted Lawrence draft posting.
32. Nice to see Broncos QB Blake Bortles back in the league – and maybe BB5 should be playing, too – yet so disheartening that the @BortlesFacts Twitter feed has gone dark. It was bad enough saying so long to @CaptAndrewLuck.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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