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Dolphins, defense and young quarterbacks highlight Week 3 action

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Falcons rookie QB Matt Ryan completed 12 of 18 passes for 192 yards, 1 TD and no INTs in a win over the Chiefs.


Once again, the weekend of NFL action had something for everyone -- upsets, comebacks, fast-paced games, long drives, last-minute victories, and plenty of big plays.

For the second time in three weeks, we saw a pair of rookie quarterbacks go two-for-two. We talk all the time about how hard it is for a rookie quarterback to step in and start from Day 1 in the NFL, so it really doesn't matter who the opponents are or what the circumstances are: Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens are now a combined 4-1 as starters in the NFL, and that's pretty impressive.

Neither Ryan nor Flacco had great stats in their Week 3 victories. Ryan didn't throw any interceptions in Atlanta's 38-14 win over Kansas City; Flacco threw two picks, but was otherwise solid in completing 13 of 19 passes in a 28-10 win over Cleveland. I'd give Flacco a "B" for his performance; Ryan gets an "A."

And while opponents finally cooled down hot rookie receivers Eddie Royal and DeSean Jackson, NFL newcomers still made their mark in Week 3. Sunday's 15 games featured 35 rookie starters in all -- 20 on offense, 13 on defense, one punter and one placekicker. Rookie of note: Houston RB Steve Slaton made his first career start and rushed for 116 yards on just 18 carries.

Credit Henning

While the focus of New England's shocking loss to Miami is on the Patriots' inability to stop Ronnie Brown, it was really one of those days when everything you try to do goes wrong. It started on New England's second series of the game. On second-and-goal from the 12-yard line, Patriots QB Matt Cassel appeared to escape the pass rush and scramble 12 yards for the touchdown. But the score was negated when the official ruled that Cassel was in the grasp of rookie defensive lineman Phillip Merling. So instead of the Pats going up 7-0, Cassel is intercepted by DE Randy Starks on third-and-goal from the 16. Miami then drives the ball 74 yards, capped by the first of four Ronnie Brown TD runs.

Brown set a team record with his four TD runs, and added a TD pass for good measure. All five scores came when Brown took the direct snap, but that wasn't the only wrinkle that was thrown at the Patriots by Miami offensive coordinator Dan Henning. After being out of coaching in 2007, Henning showed a multitude of looks. In addition to the direct snaps to Brown, the Dolphins went no-huddle often, with and without QB Chad Pennington lined up in the shotgun.

Henning has had a long career in the NFL, including two stints as a head coach. He is held in high regard by many, especially Dolphins VP Bill Parcells. While you can expect many teams to copy the direct-snap play, which was popularized last year at the University of Arkansas, credit Henning for being the first to make it work in the NFL.

Big 'D' for Dallas

Tony Romo returned to his state of Wisconsin Sunday night and led the Dallas Cowboys to a to 27-16 win over the Packers -- the team's first-ever win at Lambeau (Dallas was 0-5 on the frozen tundra prior). The win came in front of a loud crowd -- perhaps the loudest I can remember at Lambeau -- but this is becoming old hat for Romo. He now has a career mark of 13-2 on the road, tying Daryle Lamonica for the best road record after 15 starts.

Marion Barber rushed for 142 yards, 15 more than his previous career high. The game was also a coming-out party for rookie RB Felix Jones and third-year WR Miles Austin, who caught two passes for 115 yards and his first NFL TD reception.

And while the focus was on Romo and his offensive mates, it was a good job by the defense. Dallas made frequent use of the nickel package in an effort to prevent big plays in the passing game. And while Packers WR Greg Jennings caught eight passes for 115 yards, the Cowboys didn't get burned by any game-changing plays. As for the run defense, Dallas has now allowed just 174 rushing yards through three games.

Johnson bests LeBeau

In our midweek matchups, we told you the Steelers-Eagles game would be about two veteran defensive coordinators, Jim Johnson for the Eagles and Dick LeBeau for Pittsburgh. Philadelphia, after giving up 41 points to Dallas six days earlier, gave up six points and had nine sacks -- including six in one quarter -- in a 15-6 win. The Eagles also forced three turnovers and had a safety. LeBeau's defense was good -- the Steelers gave up 13 points and held RB Brian Westbrook to 12 yards (before he left with an injury). But Johnson's unit won the matchup here, and now Pittsburgh hasn't won in Philadelphia since 1965.

The bottom line: There will be a lot of guys from both teams in the trainer's room the next two days.

Mile-high marathon

We said the Saints-Broncos game would be a marathon and it was. The contest took 3 hours, 16 minutes and featured 871 yards and 66 points scored. Led by Drew Brees' 421 passing yards, New Orleans had more yards and won the time of possession battle, but the Saints ended up losing because of two missed field goals. Still, RB Reggie Bush was terrific, and that bodes well for the Saints the rest of the way.

That said, you can be sure that every unemployed kicker in America is calling the Saints today.

Streeter Lecka / Getty Images
Kerry Collins has been a nice fit for the Titans, who lead the AFC South with a 3-0 mark.

As for the Broncos, they are now 3-0 and it's clear that WR Brandon Marshall has emerged as a star in this league.

Unbeaten Bills, terrific Titans

Buffalo is off to a 3-0 start following a last-second, come-from-behind win over Oakland. Not bad for a team that was 0-3 at this time last year and didn't win its third game of the season until Oct. 28. The Bills are a young team, but they are learning how to win -- they trailed the Raiders by nine points with 8:37 to play Sunday. Rian Lindell won it with a 38-yard field goal on the last play of the game.

Buffalo is a well-coached team and it does a nice job with clock management. Oakland, on the other hand, could have called timeouts late so they'd still have time after Lindell's kick, but chose not to.

As for the 3-0 Tennessee Titans, it is safe to say they're for real.

I think this is a reflection on the head coach. Jeff Fisher is so solid in everything he does. It's also time to give a pat on the back to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz -- there are not many guys on the Tennessee defense you're going to recognize, but they get the job done.

On offense, give Fisher and the rest of the organization credit for having the foresight to hold onto a backup QB like Kerry Collins. Here's a quarterback who has taken a team to the Super Bowl. On Sunday, he became the 15th player in NFL history to pass for more than 35,000 yards -- that's a higher career total than the likes of Troy Aikman, Terry Bradhaw and Steve Young. Collins is a highly-regarded player, and while he hasn't always been in the right place at the right time, he might be in that spot now.

Another big factor in Tennessee's solid play is the performance of rookie RB Chris Johnson. The Titans don't have many weapons at receiver, and they were criticized for drafting Johnson in the first round this year as opposed to taking a receiver, but Johnson has made an impact.

The Titans face Minnesota at home in Week 4 -- in addition to being a low-scoring battle, it should serve as a good test to see where the Titans are at.

Extra points

Washington's Santana Moss has a TD catch in six consecutive games -- which ties a team record set by Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell… Tennessee CB Cortland Finnegan had a 99-yard INT return for TD in the fourth quarter of the Titans' win over Houston. Finnegan, who had one career INT in his previous two seasons, leads the NFL this season with four. … Detroit, in its first three games, has fallen behind 21-0, 21-0 and 21-3. The Lions have allowed 113 points, second-most this year behind St. Louis. … Bucs WR Antonio Bryant, who was out of football in 2007, caught 10 passes for 138 yards against the Bears, including the catch that set up Tampa Bay's game-winning field goal in overtime. Brian Griese attempted 67 passes in that game, a team record (his 407 yards, however, was not a team record). … Felix Jones became the first rookie in Dallas history to score a TD in each of his first three games. … Dallas OLB DeMarcus Ware has had at least one sack in six consecutive games. … The 49ers have scored 30-plus points twice in their first three games this season. They scored 30 points in a game once all of last season. … Gus Frerotte is the new starting QB in Minnesota, but that's nothing new for the veteran. He's started for seven different teams during his NFL career -- tying Chris Chandler for most teams starting for in the Super Bowl era. … Joey Porter backed up his tough talk leading into the Miami-New England game with three sacks of Cassel.

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