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NFL Debrief: 49ers flailing, Browns surprising & a look at the undefeated

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The 49ers fumbled the Aldon Smith situation and dropped to 1-2 on the season. Elsewhere, the Vikings continued to struggle, the Browns did not and Ron Rivera had some kind of revelation. And how many of these seven undefeated teams are legit?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Jed York has a bottom line to watch. He's paying players, and you don't want to sit a guy whom you're paying, except for the seven guys on the inactive list for each game, or the eight players on the practice squad. But Aldon Smith makes a lot more money than those guys.

After crashing his car into a neighborhood tree, burning all the rubber off his tires, getting arrested and showing up to practice just hours after blowing a 0.15, Smith ran out on the field with the starting defense on Sunday. Why wasn't he sitting after his exciting weekend? Because Jed York said it didn't make sense to sit him since he was paying him.

Jim Harbaugh came under fire on Friday when he said that Smith would play and start this week after his second DUI arrest in two years. Teams are not allowed to suspend players, but they can bench them or leave them on the inactive list.

But this was no time to sit a star pass rusher. The Seahawks beat the 49ers last weekend and then had a throwaway game against the visiting Jaguars. The 49ers had the Colts. A loss would put two games between the Seahawks and 49ers. The NFC West was on the line.

Whoops. The 49ers lost the game. It wasn't even close. Indianapolis scored three rushing touchdowns. San Francisco allowed seven rushing scores all of last season. Jim Harbaugh's defense has now allowed six this season, the most in the league.

After the game, the 49ers pulled a reverse. Aldon Smith was going away for a while, on a leave of absence while he checked into an in-patient rehab center. He cleared out his locker, read a quick statement and disappeared.

It's good that Smith's getting help. Does it change the fact that the 49ers botched the whole thing with the decision to start him this week and then justify it under as a player cost? No. This is just another misstep in a series of missteps for a team that seemed like it did everything right just three weeks ago.

This is the first time the Niners are below .500 since Harbaugh took over. It's the first time the team's lost back-to-back games with the lovable lunatic on the sidelines. As bad as it might look next to Super Bowl expectations for this team, a 1-2 start isn't exactly a crisis.

Harbaugh inherited a talented but troubled team when Jed York hired him in 2011. A six-win team the year before, the 49ers won 13 games in his first season. With the Smith distraction somewhat removed, Harbaugh has to put the team on track again, fixing whatever it is that's plaguing the offensive line, Colin Kaepernick's passing and that run defense.

Captain Ron

If you see Ron Rivera at a neighborhood Stop & Shop next week, while the Panthers are on a bye, ask him to buy you a lottery ticket, or at least pick one out for you. The man's riding a hot streak, and when Ron Rivera's on fire, you can bet it won't last long. Take advantage while you can.

This might have been Rivera's last week on the sidelines for the Panthers. Things had gotten so bad after their 0-2 start that pundits were actually criticizing Rivera and offensive coordinator Mike Shula instead of psychoanalyzing Cam Newton's facial expressions. But a 38-0 debasing of the New York Giants bought Rivera a reprieve.

Slow starts are nothing new for Rivera's Panthers. During his first two seasons, the team limped to the halfway point of the season with a 2-6 record. Carolina finished with a 4-4 finish in 2011 that raised expectations for Cam Newton's second year. A 5-3 finish in 2012, including a four-game win streak to end the year, earned him a year of probation from Jerry Richardson's gilded guillotine. Former GM Marty Hurney took the ax instead.

Sunday's win was a more convincing one than the Panthers have put up in the early part of the last two seasons. The defense continued to play like one of the best in the league, sacking Eli Manning seven times. New York averaged just 3.3 yards per pass play, and the Panthers entered this game with no real secondary to speak of.

More remarkable was the balanced offensive attack. Carolina ran the ball for a change, mixing in some option plays for Newton. The quarterback finished the game 15 for 27 with 223 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He added another 45 yards on the ground and one rushing touchdown. Through the first two games of the season, Newton was averaging a dismal, Harrington-esque 5.8 yards per passing attempt. That jumped to 8.3 this week after someone reminded Shula exactly who his quarterback was.

The last time the Panthers started 0-3 was 2010, the year John Fox got fired. Rivera avoids that fate, for now, but he's got 13 games left to play.

Viking problems

Not even Bill Leavy could help the Vikings, though he tried by granting them an extra timeout. Minnesota is 0-3, but at least it was close this week. Again. So what's wrong here?

Adrian Peterson has yet to top 100 yards in a single game this season. It took him until Week 4 last year to do that. He's actually off to a better start this season with 281 rushing yards on 69 attempts through three games. His 4.1 yards per carry tops his 4.0 yards per carry through three games last season. He had 230 yards on 58 attempts in his first three games last year.

That brings us to Christian Ponder, who is not the same player he was at this point last season:

Att/Comp Percentage Yards TD INT Rating Y/A
2012 68/97 70.1% 713 4 0 104.9 7.35
2013 59/100 59.0% 691 2 5 65.9 6.91

Ponder hasn't changed. He's got the same noodle arm he always had; we've had more time to get used to it.

One thing that has changed is Minnesota's lineup of receivers. Percy Harvin, shipped out in the spring, had 27 catches for 277 yards through three games last season. Kyle Rudolph caught 13 passes for 138 yards through three games in 2012. This year's leading receiver is Jerome Simpson with 12 catches and 218 yards. Greg Jennings continues to underwhelm with 11 catches and 160 yards.

Harvin was a good fit for the noodle-armed Ponder, a multi-tool offensive weapon. He was a nightmare matchup for defenses, and had a knack for making something more out of Ponder's dink and dunks.

Ponder isn't the only problem in Minnesota. The defense allowed an average of 21.8 points per game last season. It's allowing 32 points per game this season. What else is there to blame when a team makes everything that Michael Lombardi said about Brian Hoyer true, for a week anyway.

Speaking of Hoyer ...

Brown out

We shouldn't get carried away with Hoyer. There isn't even a catchy group of words you can lazily slam together to make a cheesy Berman-esque nickname for Hoyer. No wonder my peers and I were so content to laugh him off. Oh, and the Browns.

But the Browns' 2013 tank job got off to a rough start, er, good start -- or, maybe it's just a start. The Browns confuse me.

Days after they trade Trent Richardson and Wally Pipp'd Brandon Weeden, the Browns somehow found a way to score 31 points for their first win of the season. Hoyer threw 54 passes -- no wonder they didn't need a running back -- and accounted for 321 yards and three touchdowns. Of course, he also had three interceptions.

We'll see about Brian Hoyer, franchise quarterback. For now, I suspect dealing Richardson and leaking trade rumors about everyone else with a speck of talent gave the team a little extra motivation. Having Josh Gordon back from his suspension obviously didn't hurt.


There are six teams sitting at 3-0 this season, probably seven after Denver's Monday night game at home against the Raiders. Some are more legitimate than others.

Seattle Seahawks - Is there a flaw with this team? Even Tarvaris Jackson played like a starter in mop-up duty this week. Just think, Seattle gets Bruce Irvin back after next week, and Percy Harvin should be back before the season ends.

Denver Broncos - They still don't have Von Miller in the lineup. Denver's schedule is awfully friendly though.

New England Patriots - Another undefeated team that has help on the way, as soon as Danny Amendola gets his groin muscle reattached to his bone and Rob Gronkowski is able to play.

Miami Dolphins - We have to wait until Week 8 to see if the Dolphins can challenge the Patriots for the AFC East.

Chicago Bears - All hail the Trestcoast Offense. Just think, this is what Jay Cutler could have been doing all along.

New Orleans Saints - Rob Ryan's defense is supposed to be bad. That's what we were led to believe in August. New Orleans has allowed a mere 38 points through three games. Only Seattle, New England, Kansas City and Carolina have given up fewer points.

Kansas City Chiefs - Is a 6-0 start possible? It is. The Chiefs' toughest game until they play the Houston Texans in Week 7 is a home game against the Titans in two weeks. Are the playoffs possible? Sure thing, this is the AFC.

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