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NFL Week 3 winners and losers: While Justin Herbert outplayed Patrick Mahomes, rookie QBs had a rough Sunday

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Though it's only Week 3, we can already see some storylines in this young NFL season starting to form.

Some teams that were expected to be power brokers are showing weaknesses that could derail their seasons. The Kansas City Chiefs might be the perfect example of that. The reigning AFC champions, the Chiefs fell to 1-2 with a loss to the Chargers and need to overcome slow starts and turnover issues to get back on track. The Pittsburgh Steelers also dropped to 1-2 and with their top two pass rushers out of the game, they sputtered in a loss against the Bengals and look to need some serious improvements on offense.

There were also some thrillers along the way, none wilder than Ravens kicker Justin Tucker setting an NFL record for the longest field goal in history, a 66-yarder to beat the Lions as time expired.

Justin Herbert engineered the Chargers' win over the Chiefs, who have started a disappointing 1-2.
Justin Herbert engineered the Chargers' win over the Chiefs, who have started a disappointing 1-2.

Here are the winners and losers for Week 3 in the NFL.

WINNERS

The Matthew Stafford-Sean McVay partnership looking Super

You can probably add receiver Cooper Kupp in here, too, but the Los Angeles Rams are one of only five undefeated teams in the entire NFL, and the trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford is a pivotal reason why the Rams look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The Rams took down the defending champion Buccaneers, 34-24, in a statement victory. The Rams offense with Stafford under center now has the explosive plays that had been lacking the past couple of seasons. In 2019, L.A. had just two touchdown passes of 50 yards or more. Through three weeks in 2021, they already have three, including a 75-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson against Tampa Bay.

Stafford finished the game with 321 yards and four touchdowns. He had just six incompletions in 26 tries. Kupp has become a precise route runner and a go-to weapon. In three games, he has 16 catches for 271 yards and three scores. Stafford has elevated the Rams' skill position players, and the vertical element of the offense has made this team so difficult to defend. Just look at their 10-of-15 third-down conversions against the Bucs. It's hard to get them off the field. And, when you factor in that loaded and athletic defense, Los Angeles just may be the most complete team in the NFL ... for now.

OPINION: Don't crown the Rams just yet after their win over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers

Justin Herbert, red zone efficiency and the Chargers defense

The better passer in the game between the Chargers and the Chiefs wasn't 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, it was second-year quarterback Justin Herbert. In the 30-24 Chargers victory, Herbert finished the game with 281 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. But it was his late-game command of the offense that impressed. Chargers coach Brandon Staley opted to go for it on fourth down twice in the fourth quarter, and both times the Chargers earned first downs. Both of those drives resulted in touchdowns. L.A. receiver Mike Williams told Pro Football Talk that Herbert audibled out of a running play and into the fade that was the game-winning touchdown.

Behind Herbert's poised decision-making, the Chargers converted 4-of-5 trips into the red zone. To beat the Chiefs, that's essential; because of how explosive Kansas City's offense can be, opponents cannot settle for field goals. But L.A.'s defensive front brought relentless pressure that forced four turnovers and stifled Mahomes into two picks. Both of those interceptions came on throws under pressure. In fact, according to NextGen Stats, Mahomes completed just 1-of-14 throws for six yards and the two interceptions on such throws. The season is long and the defending AFC West champion Chiefs can turn things around. They're 1-2 and in last place. They're flawed. And the Chargers could very well be an upstart to shake the balance of power in the division.

OPINION: Chiefs suddenly look vulnerable after two uncharacteristic losses

Green Bay gets right

After their season-opening collapse, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't say his infamous R-E-L-A-X quote from 2015. But after two consecutive commanding victories, the latest a thrilling, 30-28 victory against the 49ers, it's clear that the Packers are back on track and look poised to contend in the NFC, especially since their division looks to be in a down year.

The Packers did benefit from some huge third-down pass interference penalties against the Niners in an oddly officiated game, but coach Matt LaFleur smartly orchestrated a game plan that asked Rodgers to get rid of the ball quickly to erase San Francisco's pass rush. According to NextGen Stats, this was Rodgers' quickest average-time-to-throw game since 2016. Through three quarters, Rodgers had completed all 16 of his passes that were thrown in fewer than 2.5 seconds for 140 yards and a touchdown. Rodgers also showed incredible ball placement on a fourth quarter touchdown to receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. It got tight in the second half, and they needed a hectic, 37-second game-winning drive, but a victory like this, against a quality NFC opponent on the road, shows Green Bay is still a team to worry about.

Zac Taylor's Bengals

It might be a new era in Cincinnati, and in the AFC North. For the first time since 2015, the Bengals defeated their division rivals, the Steelers, in Pittsburgh, in a 24-10 victory. Cincinnati was actually outgained (342-268), struggled in third-down conversion tries (3-of-9), wasn't great at stopping them (9-of-19) and earned nine fewer first downs than Pittsburgh did.

But two areas where the Bengals shined sealed the game. The Bengals built a steady pass rush that sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger four times, and completely erased Pittsburgh's defensive front that was missing All-Pro edge rusher T.J. Watt and fellow starter Alex Highsmith. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow attempted just one pass in which the Steelers generated pressure. Pittsburgh didn't hit him once. And though Cincinnati allowed Pittsburgh to extend several drives, it didn't buckle when it mattered most. The Bengals limited the Steelers to just 1-of-3 conversions in the red zone and 1-of-2 in goal-to-go scenarios, including a stop in the fourth quarter. Credit coach Zac Taylor for dialing up balance on offense and getting the surprise Bengals to 2-1, and a three-way tie for first in the division.

LOSERS

Jimmy Garoppolo

As for the 49ers, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo likely won't hear the calls for him to be replaced with rookie Trey Lance any time soon. Though he nearly took down Rodgers, he had an uneven game and missed on his ball placement on several throws. Still, some situational gaffes were lethal for San Francisco. On the potential game-winning drive, with San Francisco at the Packers 12-yard line, Garoppolo hiked the ball with a running clock when there were still 12 seconds left on the play clock. The end result was a 12-yard touchdown pass to fullback Kyle Juszczyk that gave the 49ers the one point lead after the point after touchdown.

But it left those 37 seconds for Rodgers to do what he does best. When will teams learn that you need to give Rodgers as little time as possible? There's the chance, of course, that Rodgers could've led Green Bay down the field even if Garoppolo had snapped the ball later.

Rookie QBs

Week 3 was one that rookie passers are going to want to forget. Zach Wilson (Jets), Justin Fields (Bears), Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars) and Mac Jones (Patriots) each struggled. Together, they combined to complete just 77-of-140 passes for 717 yards, two touchdowns and seven interceptions. Lawrence also lost two fumbles. All four of them lost their games.

In general, it has been a rough acclimation for the rookie quarterbacks. Lawrence and Wilson are tied for an NFL-most seven interceptions apiece. The respective teams of those four quarterbacks are a combined 1-9 this season in games that the rookies have started. To be sure, a lot of the rookie struggles this season are the fault of subpar supporting staffs and weak offensive lines — especially in New York, where Wilson tops the league for most sacks with 15 — and even head-scratching play calling (more on that below), but these rookies are collectively still making far too many mistakes and it all starts with turnovers. Their athleticism and arm strength allowed them to test defenses more freely in college. It's a different game they're playing now. No play signified that more than a failed flea-flicker pick-six that Lawrence threw in a loss against the Cardinals.

One small bright spot, though, was 49ers rookie Trey Lance, who continues to play sparingly but scored a touchdown on a one-yard rush right before halftime.

Early-window execution

The football early on was ... not great. The nine games in the early slate on Sunday sleepwalked through their respective first halves. There was carelessness with the football, penalties, questionable play calls and just general sloppy play. At 1:34 p.m. ET, about half an hour after all games had kicked off, nine turnovers had been recorded versus five touchdowns. Three of those were turnover on downs. The Chiefs, a team that has built a reputation as an offensive powerhouse, gave the ball away three times by the time there was 10:58 to play in the second quarter of their game against the Chargers.

The Patriots recorded their first first down against the Saints when there was 11:23 left in the second quarter. The Falcons opened their game against the Giants with four straight punts. The Lions opened theirs against the Ravens with six, before they ran the clock out on a meaningless rush to end the first half. In fact, Detroit and Baltimore combined to go 1-of-12 on third-down attempts before intermission. Through the first halves of the nine games, the teams combined to score 21 touchdowns, but committed 16 total turnovers.

Matt Nagy

The current head coach of the Chicago Bears may want to polish that résumé. In a 26-6 loss, the team's offense — Nagy's supposed specialty — was woefully unprepared and mismanaged against a very good Cleveland defense. Nagy should've known that the Browns can rush the pass. Maybe he did. And, if that's the case, it's even worse because Nagy did nothing to help rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who was making his first career start with Andy Dalton (knee) sidelined. Nagy dialed up countless slow-developing passes behind an offensive line that might be the worst in the NFL. He did not call plays that moved the pocket to give Fields more breathing room and help manipulate the defense. He didn't look for quick-release passes or schemed throws to get the ball out of Fields' hands or didn't help him with extra protection in the backfield.

The Browns sacked Fields more times (nine) than he completed passes (six). In fact, by the time Myles Garrett claimed his fourth-and-a-half sack in the middle of the fourth quarter, Fields had completed only 5 passes. The Browns gained 418 yards to Chicago's 47. The Bears had one single passing yard. They had six first downs; Cleveland earned 26. Chicago converted just 1-of-11 third-down attempts.

Fields was making his first career NFL start, so there was always going to be a learning curve. But it's the mandate for coaches to understand what their players — especially young ones — do well and what their team's weaknesses are. It's absolutely incumbent on coaches to not set their players up to fail. Nagy did not do that. He put Fields in an impossible position and is hurting the rookie's development. Nagy is showing he's not fit for the job. "You almost can't make it up," Nagy said after the game. "It was that bad."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Week 3 winners, losers: Justin Herbert, Chargers upset Chiefs