The Pittsburgh Steelers were great until they ran into Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles. Through two weeks, the offense looked like it could be the NFL’s best. The defense gave up just 16 points in each of its first two wins, holding seasoned and occasionally good quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton to a combined 79.2 passer rating. They were maybe — maybe — the most well-rounded team in the league.
Then the Steelers were picked apart by a rookie quarterback making his third career start. It wasn’t just any rookie, mind you — Wentz’s 102 passes without an interception are the most ever by a rookie to begin a season — but this wasn’t just any loss. The Steelers were shellacked, 34-3. They hadn’t trailed by 31 points to any team since Week 1 of 1997. They hadn’t lost this badly since 1989.
Wentz is the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year after the performance. He completed 74 percent of his passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs in a young career, and displayed wisdom beyond his age. Wentz was almost comically scripted and chill before the NFL Draft, and many worried rightfully whether a quarterback who hadn’t thrown many passes at an FCS school could handle the two-level leap in competition. Currently, his 103.8 passer rating would have put him ninth in the NFL entering the week between Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford.
Rejoice Eagles fans. Your team is 3-0 for the third time in 20 years. In 2004 they made the Super Bowl. In 2014 — well, they missed the playoffs, but they went a respectable 10-6, and the way they’ve started 3-0 forecasts good things.
Eagles are 11th tm under current playoff format (1990) to win 1st 3 games of season by 14+ pts. Previous 10 made playoffs & 4 won Super Bowl pic.twitter.com/UHxso8AGpz— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 25, 2016
Now the somewhat bad news: This might be as good as it gets for the Eagles all season. That doesn’t mean the Eagles are bad — they look tremendous, actually. But the early going of the 2016 NFL season has demonstrated how fragile good feelings can be — Week 3 in particular. Just look at the Steelers and how quickly their momentum came to a halt in Philadelphia.
Or if not the Steelers, then look at the Cardinals and Panthers. Those two teams were supposed to be the clear favorites in the NFC, and both lost by double digits.
The Cardinals’ loss might have been the most surprising of the day. The Bills were coming off a bad loss to the Jets, and the Cardinals had beaten the Buccaneers by 33 points in Week 2. It was really easy to check this game off as a Cardinals win and overlook the fact that the Bills were coming off 10 days of rest, and a 1 p.m. ET kickoff was really like a 10 a.m. PT for Arizona. Carson Palmer threw four interceptions in the worst non-Ryan Fitzpatrick passing performance of the week, and allowed 208 yards rushing after giving up 191 total through two games.
If not for Palmer and Fitzpatrick, Cam Newton would have had the worst passing game of the day. The 2015 NFL MVP threw three interceptions with no touchdowns and took eight (!) sacks against the (admittedly great) Vikings defense. Newton started the game 8-for-8 passing, and went 13-for-27 the rest of the way, perhaps bothered by an ankle injury. Now, a Panthers team that looked as good as the Super Bowl team on paper has two losses after winning 14 straight to start last season.
Week 3 was littered with examples of how weird and wrong the NFL can be. While Wentz soaks in praise, so many great individual efforts will be tossed off because they occurred for a losing side.
Odell Beckham Jr. was dominant in the fourth quarter against Washington, catching five passes for 77 yards as part of a seven-catch, 121-yard day. He definitively won Round 2 of his burgeoning rivalry against Josh Norman, but Norman’s team eked out a 29-27 win because Eli Manning threw two untimely interceptions. Beckham was reduced to an emotional mess.
Terrelle Pryor has been performing yeoman’s work in the NFL for five years since the tumultuous end to a great college career. He showed off a complete skill set against the Dolphins, catching eight passes for 144 yards, rushing four times for 21 yards, and completing three passes for 35 yards. It was a historically unique performance. Pryor was the first player in the modern NFL era to attempt at least three passes, rush three times, and catch three passes. This should be the story of how Pryor completed his penance, and the reason it isn’t is because the Browns went and Browns’d things up in overtime.
No, today is for Wentz and the Eagles. He is the most surprising player of the NFL season, playing for the most surprising team. They should celebrate because 1) There’s no way they’re not having fun right now, and 2) Fun times don’t last in football. Sometimes things goes wrong and you can’t explain why, or somehow they go right and you still lose.
For the rest of the league, Week 3 was hopefully uplifting in a way. It was a reminder that, on the right day, everybody sucks.