Week 3 of the 2019 NFL season started with the most Thursday Night Football game possible; a low-wattage slopfest between the Titans and Jaguars playing in the middle of a downpour. While that game may not have offered much in the way of traditional excitement or drama, it did grace the world with Gardner Minshew’s first win as a starting quarterback and further proof the AFC South only exists to cannibalize itself.
Sunday’s games came with more promise. Two early MVP candidates, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, got to square off in an early test of each’s postseason seaworthiness. The Saints and Seahawks battled to establish their place in unpredictable divisions. The Browns got their second primetime showcase game in a row, and no one complained.
As always, this week’s winners weren’t limited to the teams who outscored their opponents. This week’s top performers range from wideouts to rookie QBs to punters and one somehow shrewd executive.
But it wasn’t...
Not considered: Gregg Williams, whose defense is very bad
Williams spent Week 2 getting burned by Odell Beckham Jr., a player he (very stupidly) didn’t consider to be a threat. He earned a shot at redemption as a 21-point underdog in New England. If he could shut down Tom Brady and the explosive Patriots offense, especially without C.J. Mosley or Quinnen Williams in the lineup, he’d prove his value as an NFL defensive coordinator.
He did not prove his value as an NFL defensive coordinator.
The Patriots had a near 99 percent win probability less than two minutes into the second quarter. They eventually ceded a pair of touchdowns to New York on a botched punt return and a pick-six from backup Jarrett Stidham. The Jets gave up 381 yards to a Pats team without much to worry about over the final 40 minutes of game time.
On the plus side, this is all leaning toward an outstanding draft pick for New York in 2020.
Now, on to this week’s actual winners
11. The Dolphins, who approached respectability in Week 3 (before running screaming away from it)
Miami didn’t win in Dallas. The Dolphins couldn’t even manage to cover an impressively high 22.5-point spread in a 31-6 defeat.
But — but! — they were capable of making an opponent nervous for two quarters. Miami only trailed 10-6 at halftime, leading to consternations like this:
Yikes.— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) September 22, 2019
Dolphins getting in the backfield, locking down receivers, and not giving much up on the ground.
If they are holding back the play calling, it might be time to unleash it.
Small victories, Miami.
10. Josh Allen, who led his second game-winning drive in three weeks
Allen pushed the Bills out to their first 3-0 start since 2011 by carving up an overwhelmed Bengals team early, then coming back to upend the visitors with a game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes. The second-year quarterback was the barometer for his team’s fortunes, starting strong while taking a 14-0 lead into halftime, then sputtering as Cincinnati roared to life and threatened to derail Buffalo’s promising start.
But Allen stepped up when his team needed him the most, compiling 76 of his team’s 78 yards on a game-deciding fourth-quarter scoring drive. He sliced up the Bengals on both the ground and through the air, gaining 289 total yards (243 passing, 46 rushing) and providing a little extra room for optimism in western New York.
More encouragingly, head coach Sean McDermott appears to have found a proper playbook balance that highlights his strength (mobility) while hiding his weakness (downfield accuracy). His designed roll-out in the first quarter sprang tight end Dawson Knox for the rookie’s first NFL touchdown. Minutes later, he’d trash Geno Atkins to avoid a sack and find Knox again for a first down that turned turned second-and-long into a new set of downs.
Man-o-man Josh Allen making something out of nothing... pic.twitter.com/hsB6iRoSGk— BBN (@buffbillsnews) September 22, 2019
Allen still has a long way to go to become even an above-average passer, but the Bills are capable of staying afloat even if he’s mediocre through the air. He’ll get the biggest test of his career next week when he faces a New England defense that has yet to give up a touchdown in 2019.
9. The Bears defense, who can now sack guys using Jedi mind tricks
Chicago ruined Washington’s night by forcing five turnovers (with another one called by by a soft hands to the face penalty) and hitting poor Case Keenum nine times behind the line of scrimmage. None of those havoc plays was as disrespectful as Danny Trevathan hitting Brandon Scherff with the “made you look” move.
Danny Trevathan really beat Brandon Scherff with a "look over there" move pic.twitter.com/trLTc9hmdh— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) September 24, 2019
The Bears vaunted pass rush can now get into your backfield just by pretending it doesn’t want to. The Bears vaunted pass rush is now the cat from Homeward Bound.
8. Thomas Morstead, who took advantage of the Saints’ offensive woes
Morstead is a very good punter. For a team currently hoping to survive Drew Brees’ thumb injury, he’s immensely valuable.
The 10-year veteran showed out Sunday, giving New Orleans a handful of early victories in the battle for field position. Two of Morstead’s first three punts in Week 3 pinned the Seahawks inside their own five-yard line. He finished his day averaging 54 yards per kick and pinned Seattle inside its own 20 four times.
The Saints got help on the other side of the punting coin, too. Rookie (and Assumption College alum) Deonte Harris got New Orleans on the board with a 53-yard punt return touchdown early in the first half. How did he do it? With extremely thorough blocking of Seahawks’ punter Michael Dickson:
Harris didn’t have a perfect day — he muffed a third quarter punt — but he did enough to help generate a major special teams advantage for a team missing its starting quarterback.
7. The Chiefs’ wideouts, who make Tyreek Hill look a bit more expendable every week
Demarcus Robinson had 43 receptions in three seasons coming into 2019. Mecole Hardman was a second-round rookie who had 961 career receiving yards at the University of Georgia.
And on Sunday, they dusted the formidable Ravens defense for 28 yards per catch and a pair of touchdowns.
Robinson struck first, showcasing his QB’s athleticism and pinpoint accuracy in the process.
Just casually back pedals to buy just an extra second, then throws as moving backwards to the perfect spot. Excellent catch as well. It's impossible to defend this. pic.twitter.com/OPBotWkHYS— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) September 22, 2019
Then it was Hardman’s time to shine, finding a hole in the Baltimore secondary and then running wild for an 83-yard touchdown that was the epitome of Patrick Mahomes Chiefs football.
this team's gonna get Tyreek Hill back at some point, too pic.twitter.com/Ro7yRhKwhB— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) September 22, 2019
Kansas City’s tailbacks only ran for 27 yards in the first half, and it didn’t matter. The Chiefs took aim at the Ravens’ solid secondary and tore it to shreds. Hardman and Robinson only had five catches, but those five plays resulted in 140 yards and 14 points. Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins added a dozen more catches for 153 yards. Any concerns about the team’s passing game struggling as Hill recovers from a shoulder injury were overblown.
6. Josh Gordon, who is entirely ready for WR1 duties
The Patriots’ Antonio Brown experiment ended after one game, but New England still has plenty of talent at wideout. On Sunday, Josh Gordon roasted the Jets with a handful of spectacular catches that showcased just how versatile he can be.
Gordon finished his day with six catches for 83 yards, a solid statline made more impressive by the fact he missed a significant chunk of the game due to injury. Four different Patriots had six catches or more against the Jets, even without Brown, James White, or 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry in the lineup. Hell, Julian Edelman had seven catches and a touchdown, and he missed most of the second half with a rib injury.
5. Phillip Lindsay, who does not run like he weighs 190 pounds
Denver faced fourth-and-goal when Lindsay got the call to swing the momentum back in his Broncos’ favor. Getting stopped here would have put the ball back in Aaron Rodgers’ hands with a 14-point lead midway through the third quarter. A touchdown would breathe new life into a Denver offense that had found more success against the Packer defense than any other opponent this fall — but who also shot itself in the foot with multiple turnovers.
Vic Fangio’s decision to run the ball up the middle looked like another bullet to the toes, but Lindsay had other plans.
Phillip Lindsay just bailed the Broncos all the way out on 4th-and-goal pic.twitter.com/J9BNHglcgp— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) September 22, 2019
The second-year back shook off multiple tackles before his offensive lineman could slingshot him into the end zone, cutting the Broncos’ deficit to eight points. Kicker Brandon McManus apparently noticed Denver wasn’t limping quite badly enough, proceeded to miss his first extra point since 2016 seconds later.
The Broncos wound up losing by 11, but you can’t fault Lindsay for that. He had a career-high 21 carries for 81 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
4. The legend of Gardner Minshew
Finally, we have an answer to the age-old question “What if Dak Prescott were a delightful weirdo?”
Like Prescott, Minshew was a Day 3 draft pick meant to back up a veteran quarterback on a team with a solid defense and varying postseason aspirations. And like the Dallas star, the mustachioed passer was thrust into the starting lineup due to injury only to overachieve. Minshew was the guiding light behind Jacksonville’s 20-7 victory in a rain-soaked Jacksonville on Thursday night.
Through approximately 2.5 games, the rookie has thrown for 692 yards, five touchdowns, and just one interception. His 110.6 passer rating was seventh-best in the league after his Week 3 performance. With the AFC South wide open thanks to Andrew Luck’s retirement, the Texans’ slow start, and the Titans complete acceptance of their Titan-ness, Minshew has a golden opportunity to push the Jaguars to the top of the AFC South. Likely while clad in only a jock strap and sunglasses for much of the season. Or possibly some hand-cut jorts.
The real shame of all this is that The Good Place is ending a spectacular four-season run just as Minshew claimed his throne as King of Duuuuuuvaaaaaal. If Jason Mendoza doesn’t give the world at least one “MINSHEW!” while throwing a Molotov cocktail it will be showrunner Michael Schur’s greatest failure.
3. Shaquil Barrett, who is $250k richer for hitting a season-long sack incentive in three games
Barrett has been an absolute wrecking ball after leaving Denver, racking up eight sacks in three games for the Buccaneers — including a strip-sack of Daniel Jones that helped put the kibosh on the Giants’ comeback hopes:
That sack gave him eight on the season — enough to set a new career high and trigger a quarter-million dollar bonus in the one year, $4 million contract he signed this offseason.
His former team, the Broncos, has yet to record a sack in 2019. The best revenge is living well. And also ruining opposing quarterbacks.
2. Kyle Allen, who gave Carolina sports radio something to talk about for the next month
Allen outplayed 2019 third-round pick Will Grier to earn backup duties with the Panthers — a job that typically doesn’t see much action thanks to the presence of the oft-indestructible Cam Newton. But Newton’s slow start was cut short by a foot sprain, leaving Allen to take the field as a 2.5-point underdog to an Arizona team that had the league’s worst record one season ago.
The young quarterback fustigated a deficient Cardinal defense, throwing for 261 yards and four touchdowns in a comeback win in the desert. He teamed with Christian McCaffrey — 24 carries, 153 yards — to keep Carolina chugging along without its former MVP quarterback.
Beating the Cardinals in 2019 won’t make you a Super Bowl contender. But given the NFC South’s increasingly kaleidoscope’d outlook, Allen’s big performance in Week 3 could wind up looming large when we’re looking at division standings come December.
1. Dave Gettleman, who was very right about Daniel Jones
When Giants GM Gettleman took Jones, a zero-time All-ACC quarterback, with the sixth overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, he became low-hanging fruit for easy criticism. After all, Jones’ numbers at Duke were lackluster, he’d earned Gettleman’s stamp of approval over the course of three series at a winter exhibition game, and the New York executive took several different paths to explain the pick, including outright nihilism.
And then Jones was the league’s best quarterback in the preseason. And then news trickled out that Jones wouldn’t have been available for the Giants when their second pick of the draft, No. 17 overall, came around. And then Jones led his team back from an 18-point second-half deficit with a last-minute touchdown run on fourth down.
Jones only got better after losing Saquon Barkley to an ankle injury, willing New York to its first win of the season in the process. It was only one game — and the Giants needed the Buccaneers to botch a 34-yard field goal as time expired to get there — but for one week Gettleman looks like an absolute damned genius while the rest of us eat a little crow.