You can follow Charles Robinson on Twitter at @YahooSportsNFL.
In a way, this was the snapshot of what made Brett Favre(notes) so attractive to the Minnesota Vikings. The last few seconds of Sunday's unthinkable win over San Francisco represented everything that came along with the sweet promise of fulfillment.
Here was the iconic superstar, weaving his way through traffic in the final seconds and snapping off a 32-yard dart, just before getting plowed over by a defender. Favre didn't immediately see the aftermath – how wideout Greg Lewis(notes) married an improbable throw with an impossible catch, stabbing down one foot in the end zone and dragging the toe of another as he fell out of bounds. Just like that, Minnesota snatched back a game it almost threw away.
Two feet down, three wins up.
One play on Sunday, and Favre and the Vikings took their place alongside New Orleans and the Giants as the NFC's lone undefeated teams. And they did it in breathtaking fashion, sucking out a 27-24 win over San Francisco in the final five seconds of Sunday's thriller.
But it was the whole package that made Minnesota this weekend's biggest winner: the Vikings style and substance. Not only does Minnesota hold its place atop the NFC North, it erased the lingering doubts (if there were any left) that Favre is capable of leading this team. With Adrian Peterson looking human, and the defense showing vulnerability, it was Favre's arm and playmaking ability – aided by Lewis's stunning catch – that rendered the final outcome.
That it came in a game in which Favre was merely lukewarm for three quarters speaks to why the Vikings have placed their season in the hands of a quarterback who turns 40 next month. They believe he's still special – still capable of delivering the seemingly undeliverable when needed. The coaching staff said so when it brought him in just days before the start of the regular season. The players said so when they watched him walk back into the league at the last possible moment.
Now Favre and the Vikings have some supporting evidence. Not only is Minnesota 3-0, but Favre will be boasting respectable stats heading into next week's grudge match against Green Bay: 61 of 94 passing (for a 64.8 completion rate), 566 yards and five touchdowns against one interception. But respectable and remarkable are two different things. Up until Sunday, the Vikings had seen the former. Then Favre used the final five seconds on Sunday to give them the latter.
And ultimately, that's the promise the Vikings are banking on: That when needed, Favre will be there, ready to deliver.
Here are Sunday's other winners and losers:
• The Detroit Lions
Finally, they get the monkey off their back and win a game. It's their first victory since Dec. 23, 2007. And Sunday wasn't a fluke; they absolutely beat Washington. Quarterback Matthew Stafford(notes) made several clutch plays, running back Kevin Smith(notes) ran hard before leaving with an injury, and the defense got the key stops that mattered most. This was a huge win for a tortured fan base and a spinning franchise. Now Detroit has to show it can build on it through a tough October, rather than falling back into another lengthy losing streak.
• New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes)
Who would have thought that three games into this season that Sanchez would be the most impressive USC quarterback in the NFL. We all know he's not doing it on his own – he's got a copious amount of offensive and defensive talent around him. Yet, Sanchez is looking like Matt Ryan(notes) and Joe Flacco(notes) did last year, playing beyond his years. And he's done something neither of those players did, becoming the first rookie quarterback since 1970 to start the season 3-0. And to think, USC coach Pete Carroll was just certain that Sanchez wasn't ready for pro ball.
• Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning
Through three games, Manning is averaging an eyelash over 327 passing yards and completing almost 69 percent of his passes. But his four touchdown passes to four different players in the win over Arizona was a masterful effort. Teach your kid the pump fake, a lost art for quarterbacks. Manning uses it to amazing effect. It's only three games, but this is already looking like it's going to be a special year for Manning.
• Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee(notes)
Quarterback Joe Flacco deserves a nod, but McGahee has been a huge difference maker. When I visited the Ravens in the preseason, all anyone could talk about was how McGahee was rejuvenated physically and mentally. I was skeptical, but he's put together arguably the best three-game period of his career. With two touchdowns in Baltimore's stomping of Cleveland, McGahee has cemented his standing as a wizard in the red zone. His six scores this season are nearly halfway to his career high of 13.
• Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones Drew
Sunday's three-touchdown performance against Houston, in which Jones-Drew carried Jacksonville for much of the day, is exactly what the Jaguars had in mind when they gave him the centerpiece job and a fat new contract. Granted, it came against a porous Houston defense, but Jacksonville has to start somewhere. As the younger pieces of that offensive line mature, Jones-Drew will only get better.
• San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis(notes)
Say what you want about the disappointing end to the 49ers' loss in MinnesotaDavis was the silver lining in defeat. He played the best game of his career, catching seven balls for 96 yards and two touchdowns. And he did it against a good defense. Quietly, Davis has been having a very good season. If he can have the occasional game like he did Sunday, his acumen as a blocker makes him one of the most complete tight ends in the NFL.
• The New England Patriots
There's no doubt that quarterback Tom Brady(notes) is still knocking the rust off, and that the Patriots' offensive line is still working out last season's kinks. But the Patriots beat a quality Atlanta team, and it could have been a huge blowout if Brady hadn't misfired on two potential touchdown passes and had miscues by Joey Galloway(notes) nullify at least one (and possibly two) other touchdowns. The Patriots are still a little out of sync, but they're still creating opportunities on offense. Receiver Wes Welker(notes) will eventually return, Brady will get into a rhythm, and that offense is going to score points in bunches. It's only a matter of time. Until then, applaud New England for finally showing the ability to run the ball.
• Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb(notes)
You knew Kolb would really have to put up a big day to overshadow Michael Vick's(notes) return to the NFL. And he did just that, putting up an impressive 327 passing yards and three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing). Yes, the number came against a poor Kansas City defense, but Kolb did a masterful job of spreading the football around and patiently going through his progressions. Suddenly, he's giving the Eagles front office some serious food for thought when it comes to Philadelphia's post-Donovan McNabb(notes) plans.
• The New York Giants offensive line
Anytime you rush for 226 yards and hold the ball for 43:38, your offensive line has basically devastated the opposition. New York's defense was well rested and Eli Manning(notes) rarely had to take any chances throwing the football. And while Tampa Bay is awful on defense, there aren't a lot of offensive line/running back combinations in the NFL that could do what the Giants did Sunday. If this team doesn't go into the New Orleans game 5-0, it will be shocking.
• Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes)
It hasn't been the exact start many people expected, but you can see the Packers are getting closer to ringing up points like a pinball machine. Part of that is Rodgers' ability to make huge plays – something that made him such a statistical monster last season. Rodgers flashed that ability once again Sunday, rolling up 269 passing yards on only 13 completions. Three of his completions went to Greg Jennings(notes) for 50 and 53 yards, and to Donald Driver(notes) for 46. If that offensive line can pick it up and protect Rodgers, those explosive plays will continue to roll in.
• The New Orleans Saints defense
You could name a different Saints offensive player a winner every Sunday, and this week it would have been Pierre Thomas(notes) (126 rushing yards, two touchdowns). But New Orleans' defense has to get the nod this week after harassing Buffalo's Trent Edwards(notes) all day and holding the Bills' offense to only 243 yards. Buffalo's lone touchdown came on a fake field goal gadget play. That defensive effort helped prop up quarterback Drew Brees(notes) on a rare off day. It's just what the Saints need going into next week's matchup against the Jets.
• Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler(notes)
Two weeks and two game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. He's got five touchdowns and one interception since the season-opening four-interception debacle against Green Bay. More impressively, Cutler is doing what many people, including me, thought he couldn't do – turning Chicago's offense into a more wide-open unit. And he's done it featuring different players, from Johnny Knox(notes) to Devin Hester(notes) to Greg Olsen(notes) and Earl Bennett(notes). Is it possible Denver and Chicago both made out from this trade?
• The Cincinnati Bengals
Seriously, who could have pegged this team for 2-1 after three games and with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers? If you're raising your hand, you should be a professional gambler. You'd be filthy rich right now. From Cedric Benson(notes) to Andre Caldwell(notes) to almost every starter on the defense, there are a lot of solid performances that have turned this team around this season. And with road games against Cleveland and Baltimore in the next two, the Bengals could be on top of the AFC North by the middle of October. It sounds unlikely, but a win over Pittsburgh this weekend would have fallen in that category, too.
• Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels
Denver is 3-0, and all the parts the Broncos picked up in the offseason are fitting together remarkably well. Even Brandon Marshall(notes) is starting to look like a true No. 1 receiver again. But remember this start is built on a miracle win over Cincinnati, and victories over Cleveland and Oakland. Now comes the hard part: Dallas, New England and San Diego. If McDaniels and the Broncos are for real, they'll prove it over the next three weeks.
• San Diego Chargers wideout Vincent Jackson(notes)
Five catches for 120 yards against Miami give Jackson 16 catches and 317 receiving yards through three games. Is there any question which player is San Diego's No. 1 weapon? Or whether Jackson is truly a No. 1? Those discussions are over. Jackson has arrived.
• The Washington Redskins
So this is what all that money was spent for this offseason? An ugly 1-2 start, a struggling cornerback (DeAngelo Hall(notes)), a defensive tackle who nearly induced cardiac arrest in the fan base (Albert Haynesworth(notes)), and an offensive line that can't get the job done in the red zone. Just when we thought Cash For Clunkers was dead, Jim Zorn gives us his Redskins. There are few teams more disappointing than this one. You might suggest Tennessee, but at least that franchise didn't blow more than $60 million in guaranteed money on upgrades that haven't made a remarkable difference.
• Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini
At the end of the day, it's up to the head coach to get his team on the same page and believing in what he's doing. But after three weeks, the Browns are winless, listless and directionless. And you have to point at Mangini. This team has had plenty of distractions, from Mangini's preseason quarterback charade, to the ridiculous 10-hour bus ride he forced onto his rookies, to the franchise fining a player $1,701 for not paying for a $3 bottle of hotel water. This implosion has the head coach's fingerprints all over it.
• The Houston Texans defense
OK. Let's recap. The Texans elevated Frank Bush to the defensive coordinator spot. They signed defensive end Antonio Smith to a lucrative free-agent deal. And they used their first two picks in the NFL draft on linebackers Brian Cushing(notes) and defensive end Connor Barwin(notes). Now the unit has surrendered a ghastly 1,309 yards through three games, while notching only two sacks in 12 quarters of work. That's the definition of monumental disappointment.
• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense
I can only imagine that former Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, who was fired before the season opener, had to be puffing his chest out Sunday. The Bucs were pitiful in their loss to the Giants. They finished with 86 yards of total offense and five first downs. Yes, the Giants running game dominated the tempo, and that was partially why Tampa Bay held the ball for only 16:22. But the Bucs never looked close to stringing together drives, bordering on dysfunctional for the game's first three quarters.
• Hyperbolic NFL analysts
I'm not going to rip anyone specifically, but I could not believe the number of television analysts who were questioning the future of New England's Brady. This is what makes the media look so ridiculous – that after only two games, people are wondering whether Brady will ever be the same. It was two games. Did we honestly think there would be zero period of adjustment? We'd all be better served if analysts didn't feel more inclined to be logical rather than provocative.
• The San Francisco 49ers
Hard to tell what hurts more: losing on an improbable touchdown pass with two seconds left, or losing running back Frank Gore(notes) to what appeared to be a troubling ankle injury. Welcome back to adversity, San Francisco. I've got a feeling we're going to see if this team can win a few games with quarterback Shaun Hill(notes) and Glen Coffee(notes) shouldering the load.
• Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson(notes)
He's averaging a pitiful 2.5 yards per carry through three games. To be fair, you can't put all the blame on Johnson for his early-season performance. He has faced three good rushing defenses and his offensive line is a mess. That said, Johnson isn't getting a lot done on his own, and isn't running with the first step he once had. The more you watch him, the more you think of the late-career declines of Eddie George, Edgerrin James(notes) and Shaun Alexander(notes) – guys who saw their burst vanish almost overnight.
• The Tennessee Titans
It's shocking to see this team start 0-3. To be fair to quarterback Kerry Collins(notes), he played badly against a defense that made Brady and Matt Schaub(notes) look bad, too. But Collins can't make mistakes with this defense, which thus far isn't nearly as good as last year's edition. With Jacksonville, New England and Indianapolis up in the next three weeks, this team could go into the bye 1-5. You have to wonder if Collins' job would still be safe if that happened.
• Buffalo Bills wideout Terrell Owens(notes)
He's never looked like a great fit in Buffalo's offense, but it was hard to imagine what happened Sunday. For the first time in 185 games, Owens was held without a catch. Now he's got five catches for 98 yards through three games – arguably the worst three-game stretch of his career since his rookie season in 1996. How long can it go before he's longing for the days of sharing passes with Cowboys tight end Jason Witten(notes)?
• The Pittsburgh Steelers defense
The unit has now surrendered fourth-quarter leads of 14-7 and 20-9 in back-to-back losses. And it has looked remarkably soft in the process. Forget the pass rush for a moment – where are the big plays? The Steelers don't have a single takeaway in the last nine quarters of football (excluding overtime of the opener in which Tennessee never had the ball). That's a shocking stat for a unit that took pride last season in dominating and intimidating.
• Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell(notes)
Assistant coach Ted Tollner said earlier in the week that Russell is regressing. I think "crumbling" is a better word. I'll just let the stat line against Denver speak for itself: 61 passing yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions and a 22.6 quarterback rating.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Loved: Seeing the New York Jets' offensive line work. Everyone talks about the cool head of rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez; get the film of the Jets' first drive against Tennessee on Sunday. Watch how the pocket forms around him. Flawless.
Loathed: Watching 49ers running back Frank Gore limping badly on the sideline Sunday. San Francisco spent the offseason streamlining that offense through Gore. It's frustrating to see him banged up this early in the season, with so much potential for a huge year.
Loved: Seeing the Lions stonewall the Redskins on fourth-and-goal, then take the ball and drive 99 yards for a touchdown. Hands down, it was the most impressive drive we've seen from rookie quarterback Matt Stafford thus far. His 21-yard scramble for a first down on third-and-13 late in the drive was pure guts.
Loathed: Watching St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger(notes) get blown up and hurt, yet again. If this season doesn't get the Rams thinking about post-Bulger plans, then nothing will. It'll be a season-long process getting that retooled offensive line to play well.
Loved: Packers wide receiver Donald Driver's sick one handed over-the-shoulder catch for a 45-yard gain against St. Louis. He caught the ball with one hand, cradled it in his bicep and pinned it against his head … all in one motion, while falling out of bounds. Amazing.
Loathed: Watching Joey Galloway struggle to make plays for the Patriots. He ran too deep on an end zone route, having a touchdown nullified after having a foot out of bounds. Then he dropped a crossing route in the red zone that could have gone for another touchdown. He looks uncomfortable in New England's scheme, consistently a step off.
Loved: Seeing an emotional Tom Brady on the New England sideline. He got after wideout Randy Moss(notes) at one point, then could be seen shouting over the shoulder of Patriots coach Bill Belichick. It was intriguing seeing a guy who is always so cool and calm showing a little fallibility.
Loathed: Anything and everything about the Cleveland Browns. You never want to accuse a team of quitting on a coach, but that team didn't look remotely into its game against the Baltimore Ravens. Coach Eric Mangini may have lost them only three games into the season.
Loved: Watching DeSean Jackson(notes) get the ball in the open field. His quickness off the line and speed with the ball in his hands is staggering. He's already turning into a player that needs two defenders devoted to him every game.
Loathed: Seeing what has become of Tampa Bay's defense. The unit was due for a transition year, but the Buccaneers can't stop anyone. Had the Giants committed to throwing the ball rather than pounding it, they could have dropped 50 on Tampa Bay.