NFC showdowns topped the NFL's third weekend. One of them lived up to its pregame billing, while the Rams made a statement in the other. The AFC West standings also look a bit different from recent years, and Justin Tucker added to his Hall of Fame resume in Detroit. Here are the grades from Week 3.
No team is as across-the-board committed to their offensive line as the Eagles, whose Jordan Mailata extension gives them five veteran contracts upfront. With Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks on IR and Mailata out after an injury sustained in practice left guard Isaac Seumalo left Monday's game on a cart. A fourth-year starter, Seumalo missed seven games last year due to injury. The Eagles used an NFL-most 14 O-line configurations last season, reducing Carson Wentz to a bottom-tier QB. In what amounts to an audition season for Jalen Hurts, the Eagles (1-2) having similar widespread issues so soon seems ominous.
EAGLES GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: vs. Chiefs (Sun.)
The Cowboys gave up the most points in franchise history last season and struggled to replace Byron Jones. Their top post-Jones cornerback investment has made tremendous strides to start his second season and now has more interceptions this year (three) than Jones did throughout his Cowboy tenure. Diggs' pick-six on Hurts gave him an INT in each game this season, and he did plenty -- though aided by Hurts' aerial woes before garbage time -- to contain top Eagles wideout DeVonta Smith. Dallas' pass defense is without its top difference-maker, DeMarcus Lawrence, so the secondary helping the 2-1 team's cause is critical.
COWBOYS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)
The Packers (2-1) played without their top two offensive linemen and Pro Bowl edge rusher Za'Darius Smith. Facing a 49ers defensive front that keyed two 2019 routs in this series, Aaron Rodgers repeatedly fired off quick throws to help negate the problem created by the absences of All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari and Pro Bowl guard/Bakhtiari replacement Elgton Jenkins. Rodgers averaged just 2.05 seconds per pass -- his quickest release time in at least eight years, per Pro Football Focus -- and coolly executed a 37-second game-winning drive sans timeouts. Long-term issues with Rodgers aside, the Packers are back on course.
PACKERS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Steelers (Sun.)
Missing four running backs due to injury, the 49ers did not receive much from their ground game Sunday. They also saw their cornerbacks begin to resemble the backfield, with slot man K'Waun Williams and emergency signing Josh Norman leaving the game with injuries. These maladies, which helped the Packers draw three pass interference flags, follow Jason Verrett's season-ender. The 49ers (2-1) were not particularly strong at corner with their full arsenal. While Richard Sherman remains available, ahead of what could be a strange in-season bidding war between several NFC contenders, the 49ers may need more than just that reunion to survive this situation.
49ERS GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Seahawks (Sun.)
Tom Brady's ring count ballooned from six to seven because of the Buccaneers' pass rush. While the NFL icon has lost a few blowouts en route to Super Bowl wins, including a 38-3 bashing against the Saints last year, and his current defense is not doing its part. Matthew Stafford torched the Bucs, who lost another cornerback -- Jamel Dean -- to injury. Tampa Bay's rushers did not help its lean coverage corps, doing little to contain the upgraded Rams attack. The Bucs (2-1) have three sacks this season, though the third came in garbage time Sunday. Jason Pierre-Paul's return will help, but the team's defensive ceiling has lowered.
BUCCANEERS GRADE: D | NEXT: at Patriots (Sun.)
DeSean Jackson broke loose on a 75-yard touchdown in the Rams' convincing win. The 14th-year veteran now has nine 75-plus-yard TD receptions, tying him with Lance Alworth for most in NFL history. Jackson's day could have been better, had Stafford not missed him on multiple other deep shots. Injuries moved Jackson off the radar for the past two years, and his Bucs stay did not deliver much consistency. Jackson, 34, delivered two 1,000-yard seasons under Sean McVay in Washington, however, and -- for now, at least -- gives the Rams (3-0) a deep dimension that will further free up space for midrange mavens Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.
RAMS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Cardinals (Sun.)
Brissett both became the first quarterback to complete a pass that ended in a safety and exposed the dangers of PPR scoring by enabling Jaylen Waddle's 12-catch, 58-yard day, but the Dolphins backup nearly dragged his team to victory in a tough spot. Brissett averaged a ghastly 4.4 yards per attempt but both drove the Dolphins (1-2) to a game-tying score -- his 1-yard run -- to force overtime and fired a laser to Mike Gesicki to convert a fourth-and-20 on an OT scoring drive. Miami will need more from its defense to support its backup, but after a rough Week 2, the frequent Andrew Luck fill-in showed he can keep the would-be contender afloat.
DOLPHINS GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Colts (Sun.)
After regressing from his third-place MVP finish from 2016, Carr quietly progressed in Jon Gruden's offense in 2019 and '20, finishing in the QBR top 11 each season. With the Raiders becoming the first team to start 3-0 by beating three 10-plus-win teams from the previous year, Carr's impact is receiving due attention. Despite the lack of a true No. 1 receiver, though Darren Waller makes a similar impact, Carr minced a veteran Dolphins secondary for 386 yards -- including a sublime toss to Bryan Edwards ahead of Las Vegas' second overtime field goal. Carr's 1,203 passing yards are the fourth-most in NFL history through three games.
RAIDERS GRADE: A-minus | at Chargers (Mon.)
Although each generation of kickers becomes more accurate than the previous group, Justin Tucker will likely retire with a sizable gap between him and the field at his position. The future Hall of Famer bailing the Ravens (2-1) out with a 66-yard field goal somehow created a new peak for the player widely regarded as the NFL's best kicker for the past several seasons. Baltimore's four-time All-Pro eclipsed his previous career-best make -- which came in his only other game in Detroit, in 2013 -- by five yards. He has now made 50 straight fourth-quarter or overtime tries, per ESPN's Field Yates. The 31-year-old specialist is vital to the Ravens' run.
RAVENS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Broncos (Sun.)
Every NFL fanbase has a gripe about an incorrectly officiated play-clock sequence, but the latest error cost the Lions (0-3) an upset win. As Lamar Jackson took a final-minute snap nearly two seconds after the play clock expired, it allowed the Ravens to attempt a 66-yard field goal -- which turned out to be Tucker's absolute range ceiling -- rather than a Hail Mary. While it should not surprise a league still reliant on chains and the flimsy orange down markers that accompany them would still call delay-of-game penalties on the field, the NFL needs a better solution to this long-ambiguous process. Perhaps this Detroit fiasco will make it a priority.
LIONS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Bears (Sun.)
Herbert outplayed Patrick Mahomes in Missouri on Sunday -- a rather difficult task. This marks the second-year passer's latest achievement in what has the makings of an MVP-caliber season. Buoyed by some aggressive Brandon Staley coaching, Herbert threw four touchdown passes and no picks. On a day in which the 2021 QB class endured a collective setback, 2020's top prospect -- in a Mahomes-ian development that may soon turn Tua Tagovailoa into Mitchell Trubisky -- did not wilt in one of the NFL's toughest environments. The Chargers (2-1) going from Drew Brees to Philip Rivers to Herbert is on pace to be a storied succession.
CHARGERS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Raiders (Mon.)
Mahomes' powers keeping the Chiefs from paying for mistakes made for one of the NFL's defining developments of the past three years. Kansas City's QB prodigy has endured two previous two-game losing skids, but defensive issues largely keyed those. The Chiefs' four turnovers Sunday should provide a reasonable wakeup call, with Mahomes now throwing crucial fourth-quarter INTs in back-to-back games. Mahomes' 5.9 yards per attempt represents the third-lowest average of his career. That said, the Chiefs (2-1) lost a turnover battle 4-0 and held a fourth-stanza lead. The degree of difficulty in beating this team remains immense.
CHIEFS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Eagles (Sun.)
None of the rookie quarterbacks (among those who started for their teams) played well Sunday. The low point unquestionably came in Cleveland. After media and fans clamored for Justin Fields to start, those wishes created one of this century's worst outings. Fields' 6-for-20 performance, which admittedly occurred as the Browns' defensive front overran the Bears' shaky offensive line, ended with Chicago (1-2) producing 1 team passing yard -- the worst NFL output in 12 years. The Ohio State product, who took nine sacks, was comically overmatched and out of sorts on a day that should, for the time being, reduce expectations.
BEARS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Lions (Sun.)
The Browns did not let Fields test them as a runner, and they turned his passing efforts into something resembling an over-the-top first-act montage depicting a cinematic football team's struggles. Garrett dominated Bears 39-year-old left tackle, Jason Peters, registering a Browns-record 4.5 sacks on eight pressures. Jadeveon Clowney added two on six pressures, with the Browns (2-1) getting home on blitzes and straight-up rushes. They hit the No. 11 overall pick 15 times. This marked an important showing from a retooled Cleveland defense that had not impressed thus far this season.
BROWNS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Vikings (Sun.)
Entering Sunday having not lost to the Vikings since Brett Favre's Twin Cities stay, the Seahawks could not stop a Minnesota offense down its best player. Open wide receivers emerged frequently against Seattle's underfunded cornerback crew, which allowed that Viking horn to blare constantly. The Dalvin Cook-less Vikes converted 9 of 14 third downs. Its defense featuring an atypical financial blueprint with big money allocated at middle linebacker at safety, Seattle (1-2) has not made notable investments at corner in free agency or the draft since Richard Sherman's 2018 release. The Rams and Cardinals' aerial upgrades make this a more glaring issue.
SEAHAWKS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at 49ers (Sun.)
Cook's contract runs through 2025, but the Vikings can escape it fairly easily by 2023. That will be a big year for Alexander Mattison, who continues to display starter capabilities that could net him a quality deal in free agency or force the Vikings (1-2) into a decision. For the second straight year, Cook's backup rushed for 112 yards against the Seahawks. This time, however, he added a career-high 59 receiving yards. A 2019 third-round pick, Mattison is signed through 2022. Mattison is not Cook, but the Boise State alum gives the Vikings premium insurance for their oft-injured starter while keeping their RB2's mileage low. That will help Mattison long-term.
VIKINGS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Browns (Sun.)
Allen entered Sunday with a 56% completion rate after two mediocre outings. A Washington defense housing most of the players from last year's No. 2-ranked unit ignited the would-be MVP candidate. For the third straight week, Washington (1-2) saw its secondary struggle. Washington's coverage corps allowed Allen to complete 74% of his throws and toss more touchdown passes (four) than in his first two games combined. The WFT's NFC East title did not go through the caliber of QBs on this year's docket, and it can be safely said the justifiably hyped defense (31st through three games) has a problem.
WASHINGTON GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: at Falcons (Sun.)
Emmanuel Sanders gave Peyton Manning an upgrade on Eric Decker and helped a thin 49ers receiving corps propel Jimmy Garoppolo to Super Bowl LIV. The quick-assimilating receiver mercenary showed he will be able to aid Allen, too. Sanders came through with two TDs, one of which was a nifty sliding grab to get Allen's breakout day started, and 94 yards. Although Sanders, 34, is three years older than John Brown, he can play effectively outside or in the slot and, as he showed Sunday, still has deep-ball capabilities to go with his catch-and-run acumen. The offseason signing bolsters the 2-1 Bills' Super Bowl hopes.
BILLS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sun.)
The standard for modern flea-flicker excitement keeps lowering, as defenses are quite familiar with the age-old trick, but Murphy delivered some and helped save the favored Cardinals (3-0) in Jacksonville. In taking Trevor Lawrence's errant flea-flicker pass back for a go-ahead TD, Murphy completed a two-INT day, both continuing the No. 1 pick's rough season and reminding fans he is Arizona's No. 1 cornerback. The Cards let Patrick Peterson walk and saw Malcolm Butler retire ahead of Week 1, leaving Murphy -- a slot corner who plays outside extensively as well -- as one of the team's most important players. He did not disappoint Sunday.
CARDINALS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Rams (Sun.)
Week 3's 1 p.m. window saw both Prater and Justin Tucker attempt would-be record field goals. Prater, who had broken Tom Dempsey's record eight years ago with a 64-yard make, did not hit his and later learned Tucker now holds the record. Prater's 68-yard try also resulted in the NFL's third 109-yard touchdown. Jamal Agnew's half-ending return both lifted Gus Johnson to his special place and tied Antonio Cromartie and Cordarrelle Patterson in the NFL record book. Agnew is now the ninth player in NFL history with two 100-plus-yard TDs in a season, per ESPN Stats and Info. A reasonable distraction from the 0-3 Jaguars' 18th straight loss.
JAGUARS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: at Bengals (Thu.)
NFL teams routinely fire coaches after two or three years. It is early, but the job Robert Saleh accepted may present a steeper uphill battle than he envisioned. The Jets (0-3) totaled 162 yards in Denver. The only two Adam Gase games with worse outputs: the Sam Darnold "seeing ghosts" night and the subsequent Luke Falk outing in Philadelphia in 2019. The Jets did not cross the Broncos' 35-yard line, and on two of their post-midfield advancements, Zach Wilson ended those drives with his sixth and seventh INTs. In Joe Douglas' third year as GM, this roster should be better than it is. Saleh's challenge became clearer Sunday.
JETS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)
The Broncos shut out the Jets for the third time since 2005, and the top-end talent and depth on their defense have helped the team withstand its injury misfortune. Denver sacked Wilson five times, two by contract-year middle linebacker Alexander Johnson, and allowed 43 rushing yards. Its opponents' 0-9 collective record notwithstanding, the Broncos have done well to reach 3-0 without much stress. Their plus-50 point differential is tied for first. Denver is down key starters in Bradley Chubb, Ronald Darby, and Jerry Jeudy and lost wideout K.J. Hamler to a potentially serious malady Sunday. As better competition looms, can the Broncos be expected to stay on course?
BRONCOS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Ravens (Sun.)
Within a few fourth-quarter minutes, Cordarrelle Patterson returned a kick, took a handoff between the tackles, and caught a 26-yard pass. The All-Pro kick returner accounted for more than a third of the Falcons' 296 yards (102) on an otherwise unremarkable day for their offense and posted the chunk plays on their game-tying and game-winning drives. Nearly a decade after the Vikings' failure to find a role for him led to a career as a gadget player and a specialist, Patterson has been the 1-2 Falcons' top threat. The former first-round pick is a stopgap fix for Arthur Smith, but the offseason pickup did the most to give the new coach his first win.
FALCONS GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Washington (Sun.)
The Giants devoted their top two offseason resources to the wide receiver position, despite the area not being among the team's top needs. The franchise's deep group of skill players is not in good shape entering Week 4. Holdovers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton suffered hamstring injuries, but this Giants team (0-3) invested enough that should not have been a crippling deterrent -- especially against Atlanta. Instead, Kenny Golladay's modest contributions and first-rounder Kadarius Toney's nothingness continued. Evan Engram lost a fumble in his 2021 debut as well. If the team cannot make this group a strength, another long year is unavoidable.
GIANTS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Saints (Sun.)
A full-time player after being used sparingly as a rookie, Wilson made perhaps the biggest difference in the Bengals (2-1) notching a rare win over the Steelers. The former third-round pick intercepted two Ben Roethlisberger passes, one of which was a one-handed snag. Both came in Pittsburgh territory, and both led to Cincinnati touchdowns. Rewarding his scattered sect of IDP fantasy managers, Wilson added 14 tackles and two pass deflections. Wilson's three picks now lead the NFL, and the Wyoming product has stood out on a Bengals defense flooded with veterans.
BENGALS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Jaguars (Thu.)
Refusing to make a legitimate move to acquire a Roethlisberger heir apparent for years, the Steelers compounded that issue this offseason by giving the NFL's least-mobile quarterback a host of inexperienced O-linemen. Roethlisberger is swiftly approaching the end of a Hall of Fame career, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt in a two-score loss to the rebuilding Bengals. Four Steelers O-linemen committed penalties. This may be a rough ending for Big Ben, and the Steelers (1-2) -- they of Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins behind their starter -- appear caught with no escape route for the time being. Mike Tomlin's .500-or-better streak is in jeopardy.
STEELERS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Packers (Sun.)
Cutting costs across the depth chart as the salary cap dropped for just the second time in its 28-year history, the Saints have still managed to field one of the NFL's most experienced secondaries. It bested Mac Jones in Week 3. Marshon Lattimore (Year 5), P.J. Williams (Year 7), and Malcolm Jenkins (Year 13) intercepted Jones, with two of the picks either giving New Orleans (2-1) prime field position or resulting in seven points. The DB trio, which joins Marcus Williams (Year 5) and Bradley Roby (Year 8) on the depth chart, combined for 100 return yards and made Jameis Winston's life easier after a brutal Week 2.
SAINTS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Giants (Sun.)
Jones' three INTs will set the Patriots up for a rare place in the NFL spotlight. New England is 1-2 going into the most anticipated game on its schedule, and its previous prized quarterback is coming off a one-sided loss. Tom Brady will almost certainly break Drew Brees' career passing yardage record, which Brees held solo as he and Brady toggled the TD pass mark, in Foxborough. The Pats' new place in the NFL hierarchy will be solidified next week, as the team's big-ticket free agents have not prevented two upset losses. How Jones navigates this stretch will certainly be crucial to the Pats' viability as a 2021 contender.
PATRIOTS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: vs. Buccaneers (Sun.)
Quenton Nelson's high ankle sprain adds another reminder from Carson Wentz's Eagles days, and the situation the former MVP candidate now resides in does not look to have much upside. Wentz is playing on two sprained ankles, completing barely 50% of his passes in Nashville, and does not possess a deep weaponry array. The Colts are already down standout right tackle Braden Smith and now will be forced to play without the NFL's top guard. Indianapolis' Jacksonville and Houston dates do not begin until Week 6, further diminishing these Colts' hopes at becoming the fifth 0-3 team to make the playoffs since 1990.
COLTS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Dolphins (Sun.)
The Titans have brought in a host of big names to bolster their pass rush. Since 2019, GM Jon Robinson has signed Cameron Wake, Vic Beasley, Jadeveon Clowney, and Bud Dupree. Yet Landry has persisted as Tennessee's top edge rusher. The former second-round pick came through in a key spot Sunday, with Dupree out because of pain in the same knee he injured last season. Landry recorded logged a half-sack but hit Wentz five times, helping the Titans hold the Colts to one touchdown and keep them from capitalizing on a lineup lacking Dupree and A.J. Brown. Past troubles against the Colts aside, the Titans (2-1) are now the unquestioned AFC South favorites.
TITANS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)
With Horn breaking three bones in his foot, the Panthers' most recent first-round pick appears to have little shot at returning this season. The sudden contenders are operating accordingly, with NFL.com reporting a trade for Jaguars cornerback C.J. Henderson is close. The Panthers already have starter Donte Jackson and journeyman A.J. Bouye and Rashaan Melvin as depth, but Henderson -- a 2020 first-round pick who quickly fell out of favor with the Jags' new regime -- offers a higher ceiling. The Panthers (3-0) trading offseason tight end addition Dan Arnold and a third-round pick shows they are serious about making a major jump this season.
PANTHERS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Cowboys (Sun.)
The Texans have thus far navigated the Watson turmoil as well as could be expected, deactivating him thrice to start the season. With no legal resolution in sight, the three-time Pro Bowler's trade value has dropped into what should be a temporary valley. But if Fox's report of the Texans softening their asking price is accurate, it would represent an unnecessary course change. Watson's legal and civil suits will bring more clarity in the 2022 offseason. A trade then, when more teams will be interested and prepared to make better offers, plus the top-five pick from this season would finally start a rebuild. A move in 2021 would represent panic.
TEXANS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Bills (Sun.)
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.