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Heroes & Villains: Dalton shines, Fox fumbles

We're deep enough into the new campaign to get a sense of which teams resemble heavyweights -- and which look more like a gaggle of Glass Joes.

With the Patriots, Broncos and Packers all undefeated, this season feels destined to raise up the same old cast of teams that fill the dance card every January. Still, three weeks of games have already provided us with a flock of memorable characters old and new. Some likeable, some downright tedious.

Which gridiron humans made this week's list of Heroes and Villains? Let's find out:


1. Ginger-Tinged Fireball #1: Few quarterbacks have absorbed more flame-throwing criticism than Andy Dalton. He's deserved it, too, religiously crashing and burning with a fury when the clock strikes January. Dalton has been one of the NFL's most frustrating passers, but we've seen something different over three weeks of play: a more confident quarterback and one who trusts the insane talent around him. Dalton overcame his own mistakes on Sunday to slice through Baltimore's secondary for a pair of fourth-quarter scores that lifted the Bengals to 3-0 and left the Ravens for dead. Undoubtedly, he'll unfurl four mind-bending killer picks this weekend, so let's enjoy Good Andy before he morphs into evil.

2. Ginger-Tinged Fireball #2:Brandon Weeden can't drive through Cleveland without a cadre of armed guards, but the Cowboys backup has earned rave reviews in Dallas. Under the watch of Jason Garrett, Weeden put together a 22-for-26 passing day against Atlanta that upstaged his flock of doubters. He's not the reason they lost to the Falcons, with Weeden mostly avoiding the headache-inducing gaffes that once had Browns fans downing shots of Everclear by the trayful. 

3. The Evolution of Gary Kubiak: Three cheers to coach Kubiak, who tweaked his weatherworn rollout-based playbook to unveil a Broncos scheme that saw Peyton Manning operate heavily out of the pistol in Sunday's easy win over the Lions. At last, Manning produced fat numbers, ripping off 313 yards -- his most in 10 games. After a dangerously depressing start to the year, Kubiak's flexibility has saved an offense once headed for a permanent dirt nap.


1. Private Eye Frank Cigentti's Run As A Pro Football Play-Caller: On a day that saw the Rams defense limit Pittsburgh to just 12 points, the St. Louis offense could score only six. We've talked many times on the Around The NFL Podcast about Rams play-caller Frank Cignetti moonlighting on the side as a no-nonsense private eye, but that gig is clearly getting in the way of his day job. We heard all week that Cignetti was absorbed in a heat-seeking missing persons case in Los Angeles. Instead of mapping out plays in St. Louis, his hours were spent tailing suspects through Hollywood and South Central in pursuit of a potential Jane Doe. Cignetti's become obsessed. The case is eating up his free time and keeping him up at night. Ol' Frank just can't shake his love for detective work -- and it cost the Rams at home in Week 3.

2. Ill-fated Copycat Slogans: Our faith in Browns coach Mike Pettine is well-chronicled, but Dan Hanzus made a fair point on Sunday's podcast by bemoaning the "Play Like a Brown" mantra that originally started in Baltimore with "Play Like a Raven" before giving birth to "Play Like a Jet" under Rex Ryan in Florham Park. It's unclear what the directive entails in Cleveland, but after watching the Browns get whacked at home by the Raiders, "Play Like a Steeler" might provide a less-cloudy set of instructions for a team still wandering the pitch-black night.

3. John Fox's Pop Warner Offense: Ten drives. Ten punts. That's what John Fox and play-caller Adam Gase put together in a self-induced meltdown against the Seahawks on Sunday. Nobody expected Chicago to light up the Legion of Boom -- not with Jimmy Clausen at the controls -- but there was zero attempt to even challenge the defense. From the minute Chicago trailed 3-0, the war cry seemed to be: "Let's not miss the flight home!" Bears fans have nothing to cling to. Next stop: oblivion.

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