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Forty-two things we learned from Week 3

Through three weeks, the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots are perched atop the standings as the class of their respective conferences.

Boasting the league's best point differential, the Cardinals have won with offense, defense and special teams. A revived Carson Palmer is playing better now than he has at any point since his first ACL injury, nearly a decade ago.

Larry Fitzgerald and Chris Johnson are partying like it's 2009, John Brown is a penalty-drawing machine and Tyrann Mathieu has been as disruptive as any defensive back in the league.

Nobody is writing off annual contenders like the Packers and Seahawks, but we can appreciate a Bruce Arians-led squad that is now 16-2 in Palmer's last 18 starts.

The Patriots are channeling their magical 2007 regular season. Their 119 points are the most through three weeks in franchise history.

Tom Brady is on pace for career-best marks in completion percentage (72.1), passer rating (119.6) and passing yards (5,931).

Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount combined for four touchdowns Sunday, evoking memories of the former Buccaneers thunder 'n' lightning backfield starring Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott. The Patriots can play different styles, spreading defenses out with Lewis as they did in thwarting the Bills or pounding Blount with power football as they did to kill the clock versus the Jaguars.

The season's first three weeks suggest the AFC's road to the Super Bowl will run through New England -- as we've come to expect.

  1. The Broncos' defense continues to be the rock of this team through three weeks. Denver tallied three more takeaways to reach 10 on the season, marking their most through three games in 15 years. Aqib Talib slowed down Calvin Johnson, more or less, and the Lions' running game was nonexistent. The play of the night belonged to David Bruton, who, on a potential Lions scoring drive, tipped a Matthew Stafford pass to himself -- the quarterback's second of the night -- with less than four minutes to go, and scampered into Lions territory to salt the win away.
  1. Reports of Peyton Manning's demise have been greatly exaggerated, for now. The future Hall of Famer finished with 324 passing yards and two touchdowns with longs of 45 and 34 yards, silencing the critics for at least one more week. Manning grimaced on many of his deep outs, but rarely missed. Many of his best throws were tossed high to his athletic receivers in Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Owen Daniels, making them compensate for his fading strength.

Also for those interested, and perhaps obsessed, with investigating Denver's offensive formations: Peyton lined up in either the shotgun or the pistol on every snap in the game, save for three red zone runs, one of which was Denver's first touchdown on the night. Kubiak has gotten the message, and it appears the Broncos offense is much better for it.

  1. Denver's running game continues to struggle, and now the depth at the position is dwindling. C.J. Anderson went into the locker room in the first half to undergo concussion protocol. Soon after that, Juwan Thompson left with a neck injury. Ronnie Hillman was a mediocre fill-in, finishing with 13 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. The Broncos moved away from the run in the second half, instead focusing on shorter passing routes out of the backfield. It will be interesting to see how Gary Kubiak game plans for the Vikings next week with a short staff at running back.

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. Colin Kaepernick set the wrong kind of record. He threw two pick sixes in the first 5:57 of game, the fastest any quarterback has imploded like that since 1925. (That's how far our records go back.) At one point after halftime, he had five completions and four interceptions. His offensive line was slow to recognize blitzes again and Kaepernick was late on a lot of throws. Arizona's boffo secondary, led by Tyrann Mathieu (two picks), deserve a lot of credit for jumping all over him.
  1. Chris Johnson running decisively shows how well this Cardinals offense is humming. It's one of the upsets of the season. He finished with 150 yards from scrimmage and made people miss in the open field, looking far better than he did the last few seasons.
  1. Larry Fitzgerald was never gone, but it's fun to see him dominating like this again with Carson Palmer back on the field. He is out-fighting opponents for passes and bouncing off them after the catch. Fitz finished with 134 yards and two scores, the second straight week he's gone over 100 yards.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

  1. The game went according to script for Buffalo. The Bills' fearsome defensive front dominated the line of scrimmage, Charles Clay burned his former teammates in the first half, and Tyrod Taylor finished with a 136.7 passer rating. Through three games, the Bills have the look of a team that will be tough to beat unless Taylor is forced into a shootout with the opposing quarterback. Taylor became the first Bills quarterback since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly (1991) with at least seven touchdown passes and a 70-percent completion rate through Week 3.
  1. The Dolphins played with a malaise for the third consecutive week. Plagued by the annual of problem of poor line play, the offense has no sustaining element. Long scoring drives are few and far between, with a rushing "attack" that is virtually non-existent. The defense, allegedly led by $100 million defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, is ferocious in theory only. Ryan Tannehill is still having trouble with throws beyond 20 yards.
  1. Although LeSean McCoy looked as quick last week as he had since 2013, he spent much of Sunday's game on the stationary bike. Fifth-round power back Karlos Williams was impressive in relief, rushing for 110 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Up to three touchdowns on the season, Williams is going to play a key backfield role all season long.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. Seattle's back in the win column, while Chicago's season already feels like a waste. With Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor returning to action, the Legion of Boom smothered and buried the Bears with ease. Not a surprise with quarterback Jimmy Clausen leading a hard-to-watch, hyper-conservative Chicago attack that passed for just 22 yards in the first half and punted on all 10 of their drives. With Alshon Jeffery in street clothes and Clausen under center, the Bears had no way to challenge Seattle. If you're Chicago's defense -- which played better than the score -- you have to be frustrated with coordinator Adam Gase's game plan.
  1. Seattle didn't need Marshawn Lynch to salt this one away. After Beast Mode was ruled out at halftime with a hamstring injury, undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls showed burst and moves behind an inconsistent Seahawks line. Lynch was held to his lowest rushing total since Week 2 of the 2011 season, but Rawls plowed through a worn-down Bears front for 104 yards down the stretch, which helped open up the passing game.
  1. Wilson and tight end Jimmy Graham produced their best outing yet, with the quarterback finding the former Saints star for 83 yards and a pretty touchdown pass in the second half. It was the first real dose of what Graham could mean to this attack, as he continually found holes in Chicago's defense. It's also a promising development for Darrell Bevell's much-ballyhooed "jumbo" package, although 6-foot-5 wideout Chris Matthews was invisible.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. Baltimore is winless and wandering, starting 0-3 for the first time in franchise history. The Bengals, meanwhile, look like a legitimate threat to take the AFC North after winning a wild, back-and-forth affair on the road. The Ravens have only themselves to blame, erasing a 14-0 first-half deficit, but allowing the Bengals back in with one huge play after the next. Baltimore has plenty of work to do to fix a campaign ravaged by outrageous penalties, missed opportunities and a swiss-cheese defense that can't slow the pass. Their 0-3 start is no fluke.
  1. Andy Dalton came into the game as the only quarterback in the league without a turnover or a sack. Baltimore ended that streak with Will Hill's first-half takedown, Jimmy Smith's second-half pick and C.J. Mosley's recovered Dalton fumble that he turned into a 41-yard score. Still, Dalton made plenty of plays, throwing the ball aggressively downfield and hitting A.J. Green on ropes of 17, 31, 47 and 80 yards. Green played out of his mind, with a career-high 227 yards and two scores off 10 grabs. Dalton's 383 yards also marked a career high.
  1. The Ravens were helped by a Bengals squad that let the Ravens hang around for way too long. Quarterback Joe Flacco edged Baltimore back into game by aiming the ball repeatedly at 36-year-old Steve Smith, who tortured Cincy for 186 yards and two scores off a team-record 13 catches. Flacco also crossed 350 yards for the second straight week, but the burning concern is a ground "attack" that had no impact on the game. As for Smith, he should reconsider that promise to retire. Outside of Green, he was the best wideout on the field.

-- Marc Sessler

1) Greg Olsen can't be guarded. Cam Newton's go-to target destroyed the Saints' defense. Whether it was a safety, linebacker or corner, New Orleans had no one to match up with the tight end. Olsen finished with eight catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 11 targets. Who needs wide receivers?

2) The Saints' defense is terrible. The battered secondary is particularly brutal, giving up two 50-plus-yard catches. New Orleans' defense made a Panthers' offense that came in looking anemic appear explosive. Corner Brandon Browner continued his disappointing season, getting smoked by Ted Ginn Jr. for a bomb. The poor play led to Sean Payton and Rob Ryan bickering on the sidelines. This marriage can't last much longer.

3) It's safe to say Verizon won't be ashamed of Luke McCown's game. In his first start since 2011, McCown played excellent in place of Drew Brees. The Saints' offense was what we expected entering the season, with the ground game and short-passing offense controlling the clock early (holding it for nearly 12 minutes of the first quarter).

-- Kevin Patra

  1. It had been 2,121 days since the Oakland Raiders have won a game in the Eastern time zone. Then again, it had been more than 2,000 days since Oakland has looked this good while simultaneously playing a team this out of sorts. To wit: Mike Pettine showed tremendous faith in his offense before the end of the first half down 10 points and opted to go for it on fourth-and-goal. However, half the offensive line jumped offsides and they were forced to kick a field goal. They were booed heading into the tunnel at halftime and, in the fourth quarter, fumbled away a chance to tie the game.
  1. Derek Carr was solid against a manic defense on Sunday thanks in large part to the way Amari Cooper bested Joe Haden in one-on-one coverage. Cooper may already be one of the five best receivers in football; he just needs to hold on to the ball.
  1. Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo made it a point to stop by and congratulate his former pupil, Carr, after the game. Is there any doubt as to which passer he'd rather be coaching? Josh McCown did a fine job on Sunday because, at his best, he is a fine NFL quarterback. That being said, there is little benefit to having him in these games, especially when Johnny Manziel was just as likely to be baited into a deep interception to close it out.

-- Conor Orr

  1. All hail Julio Jones, the best wide receiver in the National Football League. The Falcons scored the game's final 25 points and Jones (12/164/2) was at the center of every scoring drive. Jones already has 34 catches, the most ever through three games in NFL history.
  1. The Cowboys lost today, but don't hang it on Brandon Weeden. The Dallas offense went pretty much dormant in the second half, but Weeden limited his killer turnovers (an ugly trait in his career) to just one and threw the ball with good accuracy. Remember, Weeden is dealing with the same dearth of playmakers that Romo was contending with prior to his injury.
  1. No Tevin Coleman, no problem for the Falcons, who got a monster game from Devonta Freeman (30/141/3). The Falcons are 3-0, and it's no coincidence that they finally have some actual difference-makers in the backfield.

-- Dan Hanzus

  1. The win aside, Houston remains a black hole on offense and it starts with Ryan Mallett. The Texans starter made a rash of throws, but he's inexcusably sloppy. Mallett was lucky that his first-quarter fumble -- recovered by the Bucs -- was wiped out by a flag. He quickly gave the ball back to Tampa, though, with an ugly second quarter pick, highlighting a first half that saw the Texans come away with zero points on drives that started at the Tampa 38, 34 and 25. Mallett's 5.8 yards per attempt lands him squarely in the Gabbert Zone -- exactly what we've come to expect from this up-and-down passer.
  1. Jameis Winston made some pretty throws for an equally stifled Bucs offense, but his 19 incompletions remind us that he's still a project. I was impressed with Winston hanging in the pocket under pressure and making aggressive choices downfield, with completions of 20, 21, 32 and 33 yards. He's responsible for an ugly pick to start the second half, but Winston flashes tools that Houston will never see from their underwhelming passers. Check out Winston escaping J.J. Watt on this first-half completion:
  1. The Texans need Arian Foster back on the field, but Alfred Blue played admirably in his place on Sunday, running low to the ground for positive yardage and finishing with 139 yards at a respectable 4.5 yards per carry. His 20-yard rumble in the final quarter was the difference in this ugly game.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. The Vikings' defense obliterated the Chargers' offensive line and pummelled Philip Rivers. Everson Griffen was a beast, bullying blockers and was in Rivers' dome all game long. Griffen earned six tackles, two sacks and a pass defended.

After letting the Chargers drive 94 yards to end the half for a TD -- including an ill-fated three-man rush on third-and-18 -- Mike Zimmer's philosophy was obvious: Blitz, blitz, blitz, repeat. It worked to disrupt Rivers' quick passing game. The quarterback entered completing over 81 percent of his passes. He completed just 62 percent of his 34 passes Sunday with a pick-six and a fumble against a furious pass rush.

  1. It took some time for Adrian Peterson to get rolling, but the bruising back bulldozed defenders in the second half. On the first carry from scrimmage in the third quarter, Peterson destroyed a defender with a stiff arm, then ran through Eric Weddle like the safety was invisible for a 43-yard TD. Peterson scored twice on the day. He hadn't had a touchdown since 2013. All Day had 126 yards on the ground.
  1. Teddy Bridgewater struggled early, often throwing off his back foot. He steadied himself later when the ground game got going. Through three games, it's clear that Teddy needs the running game to grind out yards and allow him to manage situations. When Norv Turner calls passes early, Bridgewater looks erratic.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. The Patriots jumped out to a 51-10 lead with eight possessions that resulted in five touchdowns, three field goals and no punts. After connecting with Danny Amendola on a one-yard score, Tom Brady (7,282) bypassed Peyton Manning (7,296) for fewest attempts needed to reach 400 career touchdown passes. Through three games this season, Brady is on pace for 5,931 yards, 48 touchdowns, a 72.1 completion rate and a 119.6 passer rating. This is not just the best offense in the NFL; it also has the potential to chase the franchise records set during Brady's magical 2007 season.
  1. The Jaguars had a chance to pull within 13-6 late in the second quarter, only to see Blake Bortles toss a game-altering interception in the red zone. Devin McCourty returned the pick 43 yards, Dion Lewis reeled off 22 yards on three plays and Brady hit Rob Gronkowski and Amendola for big plays. Suddenly the Patriots were taking a comfortable 20-3 lead into halftime.
  1. Fantasy heads shouldn't read too much into the Patriots' backfield breakdown, which shows LeGarrette Blount with a trio of touchdowns and 18 attempts to Dion Lewis' eight rushes. Repeating the pattern of the first two games, Lewis served as the every-down feature back while the game was within reach. Once the Patriots entered ball-control, clock-killing mode in the second half, Blount took over as the primary ball carrier. As the NFL's leader in forced missed tackles, Lewis is too valuable to risk in a blowout. The versatility to play Lewis in the spread and Blount in a power-rushing attack will serve New England well this season.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. The Eagles stacked up 10 first downs in the first half, building a 24-0 lead that proved insurmountable. A scoreless second half was less promising, of course. Sam Bradford took a small step forward, and could have had a much bigger statistical afternoon if not for some bad drops.
  1. Don't trust Brandon Marshall's box score. The Jets wideout scored a touchdown in his third straight game, but an inexplicable lateral attempt led to a turnover that set up Philadelphia's third touchdown. Marshall later let a fourth-quarter Ryan Fitzpatrick pass go through his fingers, leading to the game-clinching interception.
  1. A hard truth: The Eagles' backfield looked much better without DeMarco Murray, who was inactive with a hamstring injury. Ryan Mathews went over 100 yards and Darren Sproles had a touchdown on the ground to go with a pretty punt return for a score. Don't be surprised if the Eagles tell Murray to take his time.

-- Dan Hanzus

  1. Michael Vick gave the Rams chances to win when he entered with just over five minutes left in the third quarter. He fumbled the ball and nearly threw a bad interception, but the Rams didn't come up with the ball either time. The Steelers' defense and an inept Rams offense did the rest.
  1. The Rams' defense did a nice job limiting damage all day whether Roethlisberger was in or not. This loss is on the Rams' offense. They were far too conservative, often throwing third-and-long passes short of the sticks. Lance Kendricks killed two drives with drops, including a potential long touchdown. Todd Gurley and Tre Masoncombined for 25 yards on 15 rushes. And Nick Foles threw an ugly interception when the Rams had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
  1. The return of Le'Veon Bell made a huge difference. He helped kill the clock with a 23-yard run late. And his ability as a receiver changes the Steelers' offense. He lined up wide on the first play for a 10-yard catch, a fitting start to a day when he had seven grabs for 70 yards. Antonio Brown also continually made plays on his own after the catch, extending drives.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

  1. Just when it appeared that the Colts were going to continue as a dysfunctional mess with Andrew Luck regressing in the pocket, their long-lost offense finally showed up when rookie Phillip Dorsett lit the spark with a leaping 35-yard touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter. One play after a Dwight Lowery interception, Donte Moncrief outjumped Perrish Cox for an 11-yard score. Following a three-and-out for the Titans, Frank Gore reeled off a 25-yard run and a 6-yard touchdown. Within a four-minute span, the Colts had overcome a 27-14 deficit to lead 35-27. If they are still playing in January, they can point to those three possessions in their third game.
  1. Hotshot rookie Marcus Mariota shook off a first-down sack to lead an impressive two-minute drill, giving the Titans a chance to tie the game with under a minute remaining. After a Colts pass interference penalty on the two-point conversion attempt, fullback Jalston Fowler was pushed back on a broken play. It was a nice bounce-back performance for Mariota, who can't be blamed for a pick-six that Josh Evans caused by jarring the ball loose from Delanie Walker. Mariota joined Jay Cutler and Mark Rypien as the only quarterbacks of the Super Bowl era to start their careers with multiple touchdown passes in three consecutive games.
  1. We're reluctant to concede that the Colts have fixed their issues on offense. Andre Johnson was shut out of the box score, officially drawing just one target. He did have a 37-yard reception that was nullified by a holding penalty from an offensive line that continues to struggle. Although the Colts inserted Joe Reitz at right tackle and moved Jack Mewhort back inside to guard, it didn't improve Luck's backsliding pocket presence and decision making. Let's see if Luck can take that fourth-quarter momentum and use it to turn his season around versus the Jaguars in Week 4.

-- Chris Wesseling

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