In the wake of Week 3, Marc Sessler dishes on what’s hot — and what’s not — in the NFL:
- I don’t need to be right about Josh Allen. All I’m required to do is enjoy him. Buffalo’s starting quarterback has divided dug-in Football Heads from the start. One group fell right away for his titanic arm and big-bodied, mountain-man bravado, while others remain piqued by a history of inaccurate lobs downfield and fumbled-away possessions that turn Allen into nothing short of a gridiron Rorschach test. I survey the ink blot and see something we desperately need right now: a one-of-a-kind dose of on-field fun. Football in 2020 starts to lose me when we shove these quarterbacks into strict analytical compartments despite the fact that so much of their power is unmeasurable. I appreciate that other flingers offer thread-the-needle accuracy, but Allen is showing us something, too: Players can evolve, progress and morph into the unexpected. Sunday’s 35-32 win over the Rams featured the full menu from Allen, with aggressive downfield throws, a costly (yet suspect) interception and a game-winning touchdown flick on the heels of a controversial pass interference call against Los Angeles. I can live with the imperfections. There’s an element of derring-do in Allen’s game, mixed with a devil-may-care desire for adventure. It’s no hoax, either, with back-to-back-to-back 300-yard outings and 12 all-purpose touchdowns beside that solitary pick. The cast around him fits, highlighted by blue-chip trade addition Stefon Diggs sitting top 10 in targets, receptions and yardage after Buffalo’s 3-0 start. It was fair in past seasons to view Allen as an inconsistent wild card with the requisite physical gifts to detonate the enemy — or maybe his own team. Three weeks into the new campaign, though, he zooms over Western New York as something few pegged in the middle of August: a bona fide candidate for MVP honors.
- The Rams aren’t interested in pro-Bills banter after their feverish comeback fell short. I still see one of the NFC’s most complete teams behind the arrow-up play of Jared Goff. Equal optimism exists around L.A.’s stable of runners. With Cam Akers on the shelf, second-year back Darrell Henderson ground down Buffalo for 114 yards with a score off 20 carries. This comes one week after Henderson piled up 121 total yards with two touchdowns in a pummeling of the vanishing Eagles. Fellow runner Malcolm Brown was overshadowed, but the Rams remain a team determined to ground it out with a league-leading 111 rushes on the year and the NFL’s fourth-most ground yards per game (170.3). It’s all good news for coach Sean McVay, successfully overseeing a completely rebooted attack free from the spiritual weight of Todd Gurley‘s mountainous contract. The Buffalo loss stings, but the Rams must be taken seriously.
- Same goes for the hyper-banged-up 49ers. Not unlike Bill Belichick in New England, coach Kyle Shanahan has embraced the challenge of orchestrating an offensive attack low on star power. With roughly 43 players battling injuries, Shanahan overcame the loss of Jimmy Garoppolo by turning backup passer Nick Mullens into an air-attack specialist who generously spread the ball to 10 different targets in a 36-9 romp over the Giants. I remain convinced Shanahan could grab Around the NFL podcast producer Erica Tamposi off waivers on a leafy Tuesday and guide her to a 200-yard outing come Sunday. MetLife Stadium is a house of gory embarrassments after Shanahan shredded the Jets and Giants in consecutive weeks despite the league’s lengthiest list of key injuries. Outside of star pass rusher Nick Bosa, though, most of the wounded are scheduled to return, promising future chaos from the best coach in football not named Belichick.
- Bill was up to his old tricks, too, making masterful halftime adjustments in a 36-20 win over the hot-and-cold Raiders. Taking the heat off Cam Newton, Belichick smashed Rex Burkhead — arguably the most Patriots-esque player ever — into the Las Vegas defense time and again. The brawny jackknife responded with a trio of touchdowns, including the airborne waltz below, to remind us all: New England is a cold-blooded killer. Belichick cunningly lured the weak-minded into a false safe space, suggesting he’d gone soft through a smattering of Stanislavski-free Subway ads. While we daydreamed, Bill ground tape 200 meters below the earth and decided Burkhead would be unleashed on all platforms in an effort to turn the potentially frisky Raiders into a plaything:
Never doubt Patriots mystic REX BURKHEAD pic.twitter.com/9inJybPqDH
- Maybe the issue with Tyler Lockett is this: You don’t hear from him. He doesn’t throw preplanned tantrums, waltz around the locker room or issue insane proclamations on Twitter about his place in league lore. “I kind of gave up on that,” Lockett said over the summer. “It’s kind of pointless to worry about [how] people view me as a receiver.” Our friends at Pro Football Focus view him correctly, tweeting amid a three-score outburst in Sunday’s 38-31 win over Dallas: “That Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett connection is TOO PURE.” The #LetRussCook movement does not thrive today without Seattle’s veteran mainstay accounting for 16 grabs, 167 yards and four scores over the past eight quarters. DK Metcalf morphing into a Pro Bowl talent helps, too, turning this onetime-run-heavy warship into a Sunday delight.
- The Vikings rest 4,000 miles away from the hot portion of this column, but Justin Jefferson provides hope. The first-round wideout erased a slow start with Sunday’s seven-catch, 175-yard, one-score frolic in a 31-30 loss to the Titans. This happily came on a day that saw Dalvin Cook blast Tennessee’s defense for 181 yards on the ground, suggesting Minnesota might claw its way out of the grave and back to daylight. I watch the Vikings and wonder how top brass inside the building feel about the springtime decision to throw another $30 million guaranteed at Kirk Cousins. Jefferson provides a new direction, though, giving the winless Vikings a weapon not named Adam Thielen.
- Minnesota’s ugly start is perilous inside an NFC North housing the 3-0 Bears and a Super Bowl threat in the undefeated Packers. Beyond Aaron Rodgers operating as a clear-eyed assassin, coach Matt LaFleur is showing newfound comfort at the motherboard. “I think Matt has really settled into the rhythm of the play-calling,” said Rodgers after Sunday night’s 37-30 downing of the Saints. ESPN’s Rob Demovsky also cited Aa-Rod with melodic lines such as: “I loved the call down on the goal line.” And about another LaFleur mind-invention: “Just a beautiful call.” I’m one of those people who tagged last year’s Packers campaign as a “soft” version of 13-3. They were brutalized in January by the business end of a Niners offense with a desire for destruction. This Packers team feels entirely different, roaring into October with a league-leading 40.7 points per game and a (happy and motivated) quarterback chasing history.
- Roughly 13 million Americans suffer some form of color blindness. Colleague Gregg Rosenthal is among them, having once struggled to decipher who was who in an ill-fated Bills-Jets color rush tussle on Thursday Night Football. That said, colorblind humans were the winners on Sunday if saved from the grisly fashion disaster known as Bucs vs. Broncos. The orange-splashed-with-pewter look was somehow approved by league heavies, but not league heavies with any sense of aesthetic justice:
For those wondering how the Bucs and Broncos were able to go color vs. color today, @NFLprguy tells me: "This is the third season in which a road team may wear white or an NFL pre-approved non-conflicting color if the home team wears its color jersey. That was the case today." pic.twitter.com/5CnKuP1QgA
- My 8-year-old child randomly decided to become an Eagles fan. This happened two years after they won the Super Bowl and shortly before Philly devolved into one of football’s dullest teams to observe. Nothing is operating as it should, with Carson Wentz looking like the backup signal-caller for Trumbull Middle School on a roster bitten hard by the injury bug. Thankfully (thankfully?) the team sits just a half-game back in the NFC East due to the rest of the division floating through September as hollow ghost ships. It doesn’t feel right that an 0-2-1 Philly club — one that stumbled and bumbled into a Sunday tie with the Bengals — could somehow sit atop the division a week from now. Math aside, the Eagles would be lucky to go 0-2-1 over their next three engagements, with the Niners, Steelers and Ravens on tap.
- The other squad lodged in that 23-23 tie, winless Cincinnati, allowed rookie quarterback Joe Burrow to be slammed into terra firma eight times in Week 3. The script-altering sacks were packed into a whopping 21 pressures faced by the rookie on Sunday after Burrow saw another 21 pressures two Thursdays ago in Cleveland. Burrow roams with tangible swagger, but asking him to properly develop behind a scrambled offensive line is no pathway to the future. After so many years without a franchise passer, Burrow has arrived to transform the organization. We’d like to see the Bengals offer up more heavy sets and handiwork from Joe Mixon instead of asking Burrow to throw the ball an outrageous 105 times over the past two weeks.
- I watched Dwayne Haskins toss a handful of terrible passes in Washington’s loss to the Browns. The second-year quarterback has every right to question his future. The guys who selected him two Aprils ago are ancient history, while the new guys aren’t sold on his viability after a ghastly three-pick performance in Cleveland. Coach Ron Rivera remains supportive but minced no words on Haskins, saying the players “deserve better” from their quarterback. “There is a cut-off point for me,” added Rivera, making it crystal clear a quarterback switch could happen. That could come sooner than later, with the punishing Ravens up next followed by a Rams team armed with superhuman quarterback hassler Aaron Donald.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSessler.
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