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NFL Quick-Hits: 10 Observations from Week 3

1. No sense debating the Lions’ fourth down gaff – it wasn’t supposed to happen.
One of the hot topics around your water cooler this morning will be the Lions’ decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 in overtime instead of attempting a game-tying field goal from the Titans’ 7-yard line. But there’s no sense debating the decision because the play was never supposed to happen. Following the game coach Jim Schwartz said that Detroit was trying to draw Tennessee offsides. Whether or not the Lions would have still gone for it had the offsides attempt not worked is unknown, but the most controversial play of the day wasn’t controversial at all. Shaun Hill (who came into the game after Matthew Stafford suffered a leg injury) and the Lions just blew the task at hand. The bigger worry for Schwartz should be the fact that his team has yet to play well. The Lions arguably should have lost Week 1 to the Rams, were dominated by the 49ers in Week 2, and allowed 44 points to a Titans team that had been outscored 72-23 coming into Sunday’s action. For a team coming off a postseason berth a year ago, the Lions look every bit a sub-.500 team.

(For what it’s worth, I thought the Lions should have gone for it on fourth down in that situation. Their defense and special teams were brutal all afternoon and they were playing on the road. But you don’t put the ball in the hands of Hill with the day Mikel Leshoure was having.)

2. So far the NFL’s gamble hasn’t paid off.
One of the biggest reasons why Roger Goodell and the NFL hasn’t given in to the demands of the locked out officials is because the league assumed that the replacements would get better each week. But just six nights after the replacement officials contributed to a first quarter between the Broncos and Falcons that took over an hour to complete on “Monday Night Football,” this was the scene on Sunday night: Baltimore’s Ladarius Webb throwing his helmet in disgust, New England’s Vince Wilfork screaming at an official in the end zone following Justin Tucker’s game-winning field goal, and Bill Belichick angrily chasing down line judge Esteban Garza and yanking his arm as he tried to run off the field. Following the game, you had linebacker Brandon Spikes tweeting, “Can someone please tell these f****** zebras foot locker called and they’re needed Back at work !!!!” It wasn’t just the Baltimore-New England game either. The Detroit-Tennessee contest was a mess as well, as the replacement officials gave the Titans an extra 12 yards following a penalty in overtime (which eventually led to the game-winning field goal). Is this the vision that Goodell has for his league? The fans, which allow the NFL to be the most popular game in America, deserve better than this. It’s not like the regular officials don’t blow calls, make mistakes, or factor into wins and losses. But the NFL has become a punch line because of these replacements.

3. The jury is still out on the Cardinals, but not their defense.
Are the Cardinals for real? Even after they crushed the Eagles 27-6 on Sunday, skepticism remains. They’re essentially two plays away from being 1-2 instead of 3-0, so let’s wait a few weeks before we assume we misjudged Ken Whisenhunt’s team in preseason. But one thing’s for sure: The Cardinals’ defense is for real. Players were confused and often caught out of position when Ray Horton took over as defensive coordinator last season. He runs the same defensive scheme that Dick LeBeau uses in Pittsburgh, which means every player has a specific role that must be executed or the entire defense may struggle. But in Year 2 of Horton’s scheme, his defenders have a firm grasp on what their responsibilities are and at least three through weeks they’re thriving in their roles. They held Michael Vick to just 217 yards passing, sacked him five times and forced three fumbles on the day. Daryl Washington is becoming a star, Patrick Peterson is on the fast track when it comes to his development, and Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Kerry Rhodes are steady veterans. The offense remains a huge concern thanks to one of the worst offensive lines in football, but Horton’s defense is going to keep Arizona in most games going forward.

4. The Vikings’ upset of the 49ers was easier to spot than you think.
The biggest shock of Week 3 came in Minnesota where the Vikings upset the 49ers, 24-13. The Vikings, who barely got by the Jaguars at home in Week 1 and who were beaten by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck in Week 2, were 7-point home underdogs against a San Francisco team that was regarded as the class of the NFC – if not the entire NFL. But the 49ers were also coming off wins against the Packers and Lions and were due for a letdown. Their offense is also very methodical and lacks explosion, so once they get behind by a couple of scores they’re not prone to stage comebacks. Now, did I see Christian Ponder completing 21-of-35 passes for 198 yards with three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing)? No. But his ability to scramble proved to be a major weapon against a stingy San Francisco defense, which couldn’t limit the big play. Throw in the fact that Minnesota won the turnover and time of possession battle and it all adds up to one of the bigger upsets of the year thus far.

5. The Texans and Falcons look like the class of each conference.
With all due respect to the 3-0 Cardinals, the Texans and Falcons look like the class of the AFC and NFC through the first three weeks of the season. Houston has outscored opponents 88-42 and its first trip out West proved to be a successful one, as the Texans beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos 31-25 on Sunday. The Falcons, meanwhile, are 2-0 on the road and had no trouble with previously unbeaten San Diego despite coming off a short week of rest and preparation following their Monday night win over Denver. No quarterback has been more efficient than Matt Ryan through the first three weeks of the season and Mike Nolan has transformed Atlanta’s defense into a top 10 unit. One other thing the Falcons have done well is blend Mike Smith’s philosophy on ball control and Dirk Koetter’s desire to throw the ball vertical. Atlanta’s offense is still very methodical but the difference now is that the scheme is built around Ryan and the no-huddle, compared to Michael Turner and the ground-and-pound philosophy that Mike Mularkey implemented the past four years. Both Atlanta and Houston play keep-away better than any team in the league, with the only difference being that the Texans have a legit running game to compliment their passing attack. Both defenses are also built to confuse opposing quarterbacks and force turnovers, which the Falcons and Texans have been able to do thus far.

6. The Ravens come up huge.
The Ravens exacted a small measure of revenge last night on the Patriots, who beat Baltimore in the AFC title game just a few months ago. The replacement officials marred an otherwise terrific night for the heavy-hearted Torrey Smith, who played less than 24 hours after the death of his younger brother. He caught six passes for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a beautiful 25-yard grab in the second quarter. Joe Flacco also impressed one week after struggling against the Eagles, as he completed 28-of-39 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns. The win was huge on a couple of different levels for Baltimore. First and foremost, the Steelers lost to the Raiders earlier in the day so the Ravens and Bengals are now tied atop the division at 2-1. The victory also guaranteed Baltimore a leg up against New England when it comes to tiebreakers at the end of the year. Even though they’re 1-2, Bill Belichick’s Patriots will bounce back and be in the playoff mix at the end of the year. So it’s huge for the Ravens to have a head-to-head win over a team that they always seem to meet in the postseason.

7. There’s a good chance the Saints will head into their bye week winless.
I guess we all should have seen this coming. No team could have gone through what the Saints did in the offseason and now suffer any residual affects. Not only was New Orleans marred in the bounty scandal, but don’t forget that Drew Brees missed significant offseason time while battling with the front office over his contract. In losing Sean Payton the Saints not only lost their head coach but their playcaller as well. Talk all you want about Pete Carmichael being a reliable fill-in but through three weeks the Saints’ offense has yet to develop consistency. The biggest problem, of course, might be on the defensive side of the ball as Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme has yet to sink in. In their 27-24 victory on Sunday, Kansas City was able to play keep-away with Jamaal Charles, who rushed for over 200 yards on the maligned New Orleans defense. Through three weeks Spagnuolo’s unit has allowed 40 points to Washington, 35 to Carolina and 27 to Kansas City. And with Green Bay and San Diego coming up, there’s a very realistic chance that the Saints will be 0-5 heading into their Week 6 bye.

8. The Steelers’ defense is getting exposed.
We’ve reached a point when it’s no longer surprising that Pittsburgh’s defense allows a 100-yard rusher, isn’t able to generate pressure, and allows big plays when one of Dick LeBeau’s zone blitzes backfires. The problem is that James Harrison and Troy Polamalu can’t stay healthy. The bigger problem is that the Steelers haven’t drafted well on that side of the ball in a long time. Younger players have failed to step up and there’s no new wave of brilliant Pittsburgh defenders coming down what used to be an endless pipe of production. The unit is old, tired and now, underperforming. The Steelers’ defense used to dictate games and now opposing quarterbacks are outsmarting them, even aging signal callers like Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer. If you’re expecting the Steelers’ defense to all of a sudden flip the switch and go back to being the dominate force that it’s been for over a decade, you might be waiting awhile. Re-enforcements are not on their way.

9. The Jets are in trouble.
A team source told Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports! that Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis “probably” has a torn left ACL. If “probably” turns into “confirmed,” New York is in major trouble. Revis means everything to Rex Ryan’s defense, so much so that the Jets’ entire season could be lost without him locking down one side of the field. Mark Sanchez completed 21-of-45 passes for 306 yards with one touchdown but his numbers are misleading. Against Miami’s weak pass defense, Sanchez routinely missed open receivers, struggled under pressure and threw two interceptions. If Revis is indeed lost for the season, the Jets will quickly find out what they have in Sanchez, who doesn’t handle pressure very well (on or off the field). It could wind up being a long year in New York.

10. Cowboys once again disappoint.
They may have earned a hard-fought victory but the Cowboys didn’t exactly send fear into the hearts of the NFC elite with their 16-10 win over the Bucs on Sunday. Dallas only racked up 297 yards of total offense, which featured six false start penalties and a couple of Jason Witten drops (including one would-be touchdown). Credit Tampa Bay’s defense for coming to play but 2.1 yards per carry out of DeMarco Murray isn’t going to cut it either. Through three weeks the Cowboys have one impressive performance (the opening win against the Giants), one dud performance (the Week 2 loss at Seattle) and one blasé performance (Sunday vs. the Bucs). We’ll find out a lot about Jerry Jones’ team when it hosts Chicago next week before visiting Baltimore following a bye in Week 6.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Romo bests Rodgers as Cowboys top Packers in NFC showdown

In what could be a potential playoff matchup in the NFC, the Cowboys handed the Packers their first loss of the season, beating Green Bay 27-16 on Sunday night.

Tony RomoIt was over when…
Tony Romo stepped up in the pocket and connected with WR Miles Austin 52 yards downfield for a touchdown through double coverage, giving the Cowboys a 26-9 lead with nine minutes left.

Game ball
Cowboys RB Marion Barber turned in the Cowboys’ first 100-yard rushing performance of the season, carrying 28 times for 142 yards. When Barber has at least 11 rush attempts, the Cowboys are 22-1.

Key stat
The Cowboys outgained the Packers on the ground 217 to 84. Dallas collected 13 of its 22 first downs on the ground, while 12 of the Packers’ 17 first downs came through the air.

Sunday’s win was the Cowboys’ first at Lambeau Field. Including playoffs, Dallas is 1-5 all-time at Lambeau. The Cowboys’ three previous road victories over the Packers came in Milwaukee. … The Packers are 10-2 in their last 12 home games and 19-4 in their last 23 games overall. … The Cowboys are 12-1 in their last 13 road games. … Dallas has started 3-0 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1976-77. … The Cowboys have won four in a row on Sunday night and are 16-14 all-time on Sunday night.

In the battle of quarterbacks, Romo was 17 of 30 passing for 260 yards, a touchdown and a pick, while Rodgers finished 22 of 39 for 290 yards. But Rodgers racked up most of his yards when Dallas got up big in the fourth quarter and allowed the Packers to complete underneath passes to keep the clock running.

But forget the quarterbacks, the difference-maker(s) for Dallas was Marion Barber and Felix Jones, who combined for 218 yards and two touchdowns. They set the table for the Cowboys offensively and the Packers couldn’t generate enough pressure on Romo because they had to honor the run. Conversely, Dallas’s defense was able to apply pressure on Rodgers all night because Green Bay couldn’t consistently run the ball. Ryan Grant’s fumble on the Packers’ opening position (which Dallas eventually turned into a 3-0 lead) didn’t help either.

For as good as Rodgers has been, the Packers need Grant and the running game to be productive. Especially when playing better defenses like Dallas.

Jaguars beat Colts in final minute to earn first win

The Jacksonville Jaguars are finally off the schnide. After dropping their first two games of the season, the Jaguars earned their first victory, beating division rival Indianapolis 23-21 thanks to a 51-yard field goal by kicker Josh Scobee.

Josh ScobeeIt was over when…
In a fourth quarter that saw three lead changes in the final 2:36, Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee kicked a 51-yard field goal to put Jacksonville on top with four seconds remaining in the game.

Game ball
Maurice Jones-Drew got the glory with a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter, but Fred Taylor did much of the dirty work all day, pacing the Jaguars with 121 yards on 26 carries. On one punishing 34-yard run in the third quarter the 32-year-old running back lowered his head and broke at least four tackles to set up Jones-Drew’s go-ahead touchdown.

Key stat
After recording just 97 total yards in Jacksonville’s first two games, Taylor and Jones-Drew combined for 228 yards on 45 carries against the Colts, who were playing without safety Bob Sanders. Jacksonville’s success running the ball allowed the Jaguars to dominate the time of possession (41:35-18:25), including a 26:01 to 3:59 advantage in the second half.

Jones Drew finished with 161 yards from scrimmage and has now scored at least one touchdown in five career games vs. Indianapolis. … The Colts defense has allowed a 100-yard rusher in every game this season, including two Sunday in Taylor and Jones-Drew.

Well, something had to give. Jacksonville hasn’t been able to run the ball the last two weeks because of a banged up offensive line, and Indianapolis hasn’t been able to stop the run. The Jaguars rushed for 236 yards and looked like a completely different team than they had the previous two weeks. Fred Taylor (26 carries, 121 yards) was outstanding and his 34-yard run was amazing. David Garrard looked better today too, completing 16 of 22 passes for 167 yards, although he did throw a pick. With Houston and a banged up Pittsburgh coming up the next two weeks, the Jags have a chance to get back on track after this win.

The Colts got away with having a poor run defense the year they won the Super Bowl, but it doesn’t look like that will be the case this year. At some point you’d think that Peyton Manning (15 of 29, 216 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) will get it together and start producing 300-plus yard games with no interceptions. But as of now he looks shaky will he continues to recover from an offseason knee procedure. It’s crazy to think that the Colts are 1-2 right now, but it’s even crazier to think that they’re 0-2 at home. Should have stayed in the RCA Dome.

Mike Martz gets revenge on former team as 49ers blast Lions 31-13

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz helped his new team the San Francisco 49ers beat his former team, the Detroit Lions, 31-13 on Sunday.

It was over when…
Arnaz Battle recovered an onside kick with just over 6 minutes remaining and the 49ers holding a 15-point lead. Joe Nedney kicked a field goal with 4:25 left to take a three-score lead.
Game ball
Frank Gore rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown. His 27 attempts helped the 49ers control the clock in the second half, and his 33-yard run in the first quarter helped set up the 49ers’ first score.

Key stat
J.T. O’Sullivan was not sacked in 23 pass attempts, an almost unheard of streak in a Mike Martz offense.

The 49ers are 2-1 for the second consecutive year. … Rudi Johnson rushed for 83 yards and caught a 34-yard touchdown pass for the Lions after replacing rookie rookie Kevin Smith. … Quarterback Jon Kitna was shaken up toward the end of the game and had his right knee examined by the training staff.

The 49ers’ offense is starting to click. QB J.T. O’Sullivan was sharp, throwing for 189 yards and two touchdowns on 16 of 23 passing. Frank Gore was outstanding as well, rushing for 130 yards and touchdown. As long as the defense can hold its own, the 49ers can definitely compete in a weak NFC West, although it’s still hard to fathom that a J.T. O’Sullivan-quarterbacked team will make the playoffs.

New week, same results for the Lions. They got down early, Jon Kitna had zero time to throw and the defense was bad. Outside of Calvin Johnson, Roy Williams, Ernie Sims, Kevin Smith, Dewayne White and maybe Kitna, the entire roster should be blown up.

Seahawks light up winless Rams 37-13

The Seattle Seahawks rebounded from their 33-30 overtime loss last week to beat NFC West rival St. Louis 37-13 on Sunday.

It was over when…
T.J. Duckett scored on a 1-yard run with 8:39 left in the fourth quarter. The touchdown capped a 15-play, 86-yard drive to give the Seahawks a 21-point lead.

Game ball
Running back Julius Jones’ 29-yard touchdown run in the first quarter gave the Seahawks a 17-0 lead. Jones finished with 140 yards rushing.

Key stat
The Seahawks rushed for 240 yards, while holding The Rams to just 65 yards on the ground.

Seahawks running back Duckett had his first two-touchdown rushing day in four years. … St. Louis lost for the 16th time in 19 games, and have lost seven consecutive games to Seattle. … The Seahawks avoided starting 0-3 for the first time since 2002.

I know it was against the Rams’ defense, but how good did Julius Jones (22 carries, 140 yards, 1 TD) look? Maurice Morris’s injury has opened the door for Jones to be the feature back and he hasn’t disappointed. Amazing how productive Mike Holmgren’s offense can be with a running game. Matt Hasselbeck even looked good for the first time this season, completing 12 of 20 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown.

There isn’t much you can say about the Rams. They easily rival the Chiefs as the worst team in the NFL and at least KC has an excuse as to why they’re so bad; Tyler Thigpen is starting at quarterback for Larry Johnson’s sake. St. Louis is this bad with a healthy Marc Bulger, Steven Jackson and Torry Holt. Amazing.

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