Struggling teams can't just point to the schedule anymore. It's not that early.
The winless Washington Redskins' defense continues to have no answers. From top to bottom, the New York Giants look like the worst team this side of Jacksonville. The Pittsburgh Steelers can't stop self-destructing on offense.
The San Francisco 49ers already are two games back in the NFC West and they don't know when Aldon Smith will return to the team. They don't know if tight end Vernon Davis or linebacker Patrick Willis will play in a huge game Thursday night against St. Louis. The hyped Rams' defense can't stop anyone.
Three games into the season, these are trends instead of anomalies. Here's what else we learned Sunday:
- The Saints' defense dominated the line of scrimmage, intercepted two passes, earned four sacks and harassed Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer all game long. Defensive end Cameron Jordan and linebacker Junior Galette in particular should have paid rent they were setting up shop so often in the Cardinals' backfield.
- What else is there to say about Drew Brees? The Saints quarterback notched his eighth consecutive 300-yard passing game. He ended with 342 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. His connection with Jimmy Graham was unstoppable.
3.The Cardinals' offense squandered great field position for most of the first half. After having success on the opening drive running the ball, the Cardinals went to the air. The lack of balance, even when the game was close, was evident. Palmer didn't have enough protection for Bruce Arians' downfield attack.
- Robert Griffin III continues his comeback, but it's not happening at the pace our impatient society would like. His slow start and two turnovers hurt his team's chances of avoiding an 0-3 start. However, he's only three games in, still knocking off the rust and did show flashes of his old self. Our expectations for him never have been realistic.
- Nate Burlesonfinally provided Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford a target opposite Calvin Johnson. Both Burleson (116 yards) and Johnson (115 yards) topped the 100-yard receiving mark. Detroit needed every yard due to a struggling running game, sans Reggie Bush.
- Tarvaris Jackson produced a perfect passer rating, rookie Christine Michael looked like the most explosive offensive player on the field, and Doug Baldwin hauled in a diving, one-handed highlight-reel catch after the Seahawks pulled their stars with a 31-7 lead in the third quarter. Seattle has the deepest roster in the league. Their backups looked better than Jacksonville's starters.
- The Jaguars' defense loaded the box to stop Marshawn Lynch, which led to a big game for Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and two touchdowns apiece for Sidney Rice and Zach Miller.
- The Jaguarsfell in love with Stephen Burton's potential after claiming the receiver off waivers from the Vikings early this month, but he had trouble separating from coverage. Rookie Ace Sanders also has failed to live up to expectations. This offense desperately needs Marcedes Lewis (calf) and Justin Blackmon (suspension) back in the lineup.
*The "Around the League" Podcast broke down every Week 3 game. Click here to listen and subscribe. *
- Play by play, drive by drive, Tom Brady and his young targets are beginning to jell. It didn't start well for the Patriots' quarterback, but he got some help from Kenbrell Thompkins. The undrafted rookie hauled in a pair of first-half touchdowns, helping build a lead that New England never lost.
- Tampa's offense struggled. Quarterback Josh Freeman was hurt by drops, but his shaky accuracy is the real issue. Rookie Mike Glennon was spotted warming up on the sideline in the second half. Coach Greg Schiano stuck with Freeman, but a signal-caller switch is coming. Bank on it.
- The Patriots' defense is underrated. Bill Belichick has put together a unit filled with athletic contributors. They came up with four critical fourth-down stops and allowed just three points in the first half for the second straight game.
- Left for dead and nationally ridiculed after trading away their best player, the Browns showed fight. Quarterback Brian Hoyer, replacing the injured Brandon Weeden, generated 24 first-half points and engineered an 11-play, 55-yard touchdown drive that sealed the win. Hoyer was far from perfect -- throwing three interceptions -- but he also tossed three touchdown passes, something Weeden hasn't done in 17 career starts.
- Three of our Making the Leap candidates exploded Sunday. Browns receiver Josh Gordon, back from a two-game suspension, hauled in 10 catches for 146 yards and one touchdown. Jordan Cameron popped off the screen with three scores. The Cleveland tight end made a beautiful, over-the-shoulder, 7-yard touchdown grab with 55 seconds remaining to seal the win. For the Vikings, Harrison Smith recorded five tackles, a pass defense and a key interception, furthering the argument that he's the NFL's top young safety.
- After a week of soul-searching, Adrian Peterson was held in check by Cleveland's smothering run defense to the tune of 88 yards on 25 carries. If you're keeping score, that's 68 attempts for 203 yards (and just 2.9 yards per rush) since Peterson's 78-yard touchdown burst in Week 1. Cleveland also made mincemeat of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. The Browns racked up six sacks, eight quarterback hits and one interception while holding Ponder to 5.4 yards per attempt.
- The bye week couldn't come at a better time for the Packers' offense. With Eddie Lacy (concussion) already out, fill-in starter James Starks went down with a knee injury just before halftime. Rookie Johnathan Franklin, who impressed before his fumble, left with an ankle injury late in the game. With no running backs available, wide receiver Jeremy Ross lined up in the backfield on the final couple of plays. Green Bay also lost tight end Jermichael Finley to a concussion and linebacker Clay Matthews to a hamstring injury.
- This was the first game in which Aaron Rodgers' pass protection was a major issue. He took four sacks, was hit at least a dozen times and threw multiple interceptions for the first time since Week 7 of the 2010 season. Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson put a clown suit on rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari.
- Last week it was Ike Taylor with safety help over the top; this week it was Sam Shields who locked up Bengals receiver A.J. Green for most of the afternoon. Green did beat Shields for a 20-yard touchdown that ended 30 unanswered points for the Packers in the second and third quarters.
- It will be interesting to see if Jake Locker earns more responsibility with his masterful 10-play, two-minute drill to win the game. The Titans had been the run-heaviest team in the NFL going into this week. Kendall Wright should have a bigger role going forward as well, as he's a quicker and more dangerous receiver after the catch than he was last season.
- It was no coincidence that Kenny Britt was benched for the game-winning drive while Justin Hunter, Damian Williams and even Michael Preston saw action in three-wide receiver sets. The mistake-prone Britt committed two more penalties, dropped two passes and was shut out on five targets. He's been one of the least effective starters in the NFL this season. The Titans are a better team with him on the bench.
- Ronnie Brown's rushing touchdown was the Chargers' first in 358 carries since a Ryan Mathews score early last season. Mathews has been the primary goal-line back, but Brown was in the game because it was a third-down play. The coaching staff still has a lot more trust in Brown and Danny Woodhead than Mathews in passing situations.
- Baltimore's defense didn't give up one touchdown at home for the second consecutive week. Daryl Smith continued to play like a Pro Bowl linebacker, making tough tackles and returning a Matt Schaub interception for a touchdown.
- Schaub has not played particularly well through three weeks, despite two impressive comebacks. He missed throws again, which took points off the board early. The Texans' offense is lacking big plays. It isn't pushing the ball up the field. The 16-play drive to start the game that resulted in just three points was a great example. The Texanswork hard to score.
When the score begged for hurry-up action in the second half, the Texans took forever between plays and looked content to move the ball in 5-yard chunks.
- Andre Johnson was in and out of the game in the second half with what Texans coach Gary Kubiak called a "bad shin bruise." Johnson finally sat on the bench in the fourth quarter with ice wrapped around his knee.
On NFL Network
will re-air the Miami Dolphins' 27-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons from Week 3 on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 2 p.m. ET.
- Ryan Tannehill pulled a Matt Ryan. Trailing for most of the day, Tannehill played his very best in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. No 2012 rookie class quarterback is playing better than Tannehill through the past three weeks.
- Atlanta's offensive line troubles have caused the Falcons to focus on a quick-release, short-passing offense. It worked for most of the day, but the Falcons really need Roddy White to get healthy. He caught two passes for 16 yards while hobbling around once again. Julio Jones had 115 yards, but running back Jason Snelling was the next most effective receiver. Tony Gonzalez has only 93 yards through three games. That whole "skipping training camp" plan isn't working out.
- The Dolphins missed nose tackle Paul Soliai badly. Atlanta rushed for 146 yards and held the ball for more than 37 minutes. Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers were perfectly capable of carrying the load with Steven Jackson out with a thigh injury.
On NFL Network
will re-air the Indianapolis Colts' 27-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers from Week 3 on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET.
- The Colts were tougher. Their pass rush overwhelmed San Francisco's offensive line, and they were able to run the ball down the 49ers' throats with Ahmad Bradshaw late in the game. Bradshaw has quietly improved each week this season and looked like his old hard-charging self Sunday. The performance was reminiscent of when Bradshaw and the New York Giants steamrolled the 49ers in San Francisco last year. Trent Richardson had 35 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries.
- San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis left with a groin injury and did not return. Tight end Vernon Davis was inactive. Niners CEO Jed York announced after the game that linebacker Aldon Smith will take an indefinite leave of absence following his recent arrest on suspicion of DUI.
- The book is out on the 49ers' wide receivers. They have to prove they can beat man coverage. Colin Kaepernick, who had spotty accuracy, couldn't find any open receivers.
- Is Santonio Holmes back? The Jets' receiver had his first productive game since undergoing a pair of surgeries to repair a Lisfranc fracture in his foot. His game-winning touchdown summoned memories of the heroics of his first season with Gang Green.
- The Cowboys backed up their talk about finding balance on offense. DeMarco Murray had 153 of Dallas' 193 yards on the ground in a dominating effort. The Cowboys' offense can be scary-good with a consistent running game.
- The Rams did a great job protecting Sam Bradford in the season's first two weeks, but Sunday counted as a significant setback. Bradford was sacked six times and hit many more. He'll be sore in the morning.
- The Rams paid Jake Long like an elite left tackle. He didn't play like one. Long was beaten for sacks by both DeMarcus Ware and Kyle Wilber and eventually was pulled from the game.
- The Giants' O-line looks terrible. Eli Manning was given no time in a nonexistent pocket, getting sacked seven times. Six of those sacks came by early in the second quarter. Manning has never missed a game in his NFL career, but he won't survive too many more beatings like that.
- This was easily the Panthers' most complete game in the Ron Rivera era. The offense piled up nearly 200 yards on the ground and Cam Newton threw touchdown passes to three different receivers. The Panthers' defensive line continues to look like one of the best in football. Rivera doesn't have to worry about sitting on the hot seat during Carolina's bye week.
- Offensive coordinator Mike Shula wisely opened up the playbook for Cam Newton. The dynamic quarterback finished with 45 yards and one touchdown on seven carries, including some designed rushes out of the option. His touchdown run was classic Ace Boogie, as he dragged defenders into the end zone with him.
- On last week's "Around The League Podcast," Chris Wesseling opined that Jay Cutler now has the look of a top-10 NFL quarterback. That argument was strengthened Sunday night. Bears coach Marc Trestman has earned a well-deservedreputation as a quarterbackwhisperer. Through three games, Trestman's Midas touch has Jay Cutler on pace for career highs in touchdowns and completion rate and a career low in sacks.
- The opportunistic Bears defense was a hallmark of the Lovie Smith era, including a record-tying eight interceptions returned for touchdowns in 2012. They are already a quarter of the way to that mark under new coordinator Mel Tucker after Major Wright's 38-yard pick six to go with Julius Peppers' fumble return for a touchdown. Chicago scored 24 points off turnovers.
- One week after struggling to get open versus the Bengals, Antonio Brown backed up cornerback Ike Taylor's recent assertion that he is indeed a true No. 1 receiver. Brown was highly effective against the Bears' Cover 2 shell, hauling in nine passes for 192 yards and a pair of scores. It helped his cause that Charles Tillman missed time with a groin injury.
*The "Around the League" Podcast broke down every Week 3 game. Click here to listen and subscribe. *