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The Jake Elliott story is just too good.
When kicker Caleb Sturgis went on injured reserve, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Elliott off the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad. That was on Sept. 12. Elliott was a rookie and had never kicked in an NFL game.
Just 12 days later, Elliott was triumphantly carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates. Elliott hit a 61-yard field goal, the longest field goal in Eagles history, as time expired to beat the New York Giants 27-24. It was the longest field goal by a rookie in NFL history.
If you’re a parent, or simply have human emotions, just watch Elliott’s parents reacting to the son winning the game. Remember, less than two weeks ago their son was on a practice squad and just hoping to get an NFL shot. This is pretty great:
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) September 24, 2017
The Eagles are off to a nice start. They’re 2-1 and the only loss was a very competitive game at the Kansas City Chiefs, who have been more impressive than anyone through three weeks. The tight games the Eagles couldn’t close out last season are going their way.
Maybe the Eagles are actually the best team in the NFC East. We heard a lot about the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants before the season. We saw the Cowboys get destroyed last week by the Denver Broncos and the Giants are now 0-3. The Eagles already have a win at the Washington Redskins this season.
If you paid close attention to the Eagles last season, you knew there might be a leap coming this year. They started fast last season and an early-season win against Pittsburgh was as good as any NFL team played in a single game all season. They had a midseason lull but that could be excused – they had a few injuries and a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz. They also had very little talent around Wentz, and they fixed that this offseason. All of a sudden they look pretty good, and it doesn’t seem like an early-season fluke this time. Wentz didn’t throw for a bunch of yards on Sunday, but he had two 300-yard games to start the season and generally looks pretty good. The running game is much better, with Wendell Smallwood and LeGarrette Blount each getting 12 carries Sunday and combining for 138 yards. They can rush the quarterback, are deep at linebacker and get good safety play. Cornerback is still an issue, but try finding a team that doesn’t have some weakness.
Sunday wasn’t the Eagles’ greatest game, but it’ll do. They played a desperate Giants team and allowed Eli Manning and Odell Beckham to get into a rhythm. That’s how the Giants took a fourth-quarter lead after trailing 14-0. But with the Eagles being tested late, Wentz led one game-tying drive in the final three minutes. Then in the final seconds Wentz hit Alshon Jeffery for 19 yards to set up the game-winning kick. And what a memorable game-winning kick it was. There have only been six field goals in NFL history longer than Elliott’s clutch kick.
The Eagles don’t play the Cowboys for the first time this season until Nov. 19. It will be interesting to see where those two teams stand by then. Sunday’s win might give Philadelphia some momentum. It looks early on like they’ve figured out what they did well last season and fixed some of the things they didn’t. It’s not outlandish to believe the Eagles could be the favorites to win a tough division.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Sunday’s games in Week 3 of the NFL season:
Brandin Cooks: Tom Brady will get a lot of credit for the New England Patriots’ incredible win, and he deserves it. That was a heck of a game from any quarterback, much less a 40-year-old quarterback. And the Patriots clearly have a lot of things to work on after nearly being knocked off at home by the Houston Texans, and there will be plenty of time to discuss that before Week 4.
But let’s not overlook that Cooks made a spectacular catch to bring home a last-minute victory over a tough Texans team.
Cooks got open late, Brady threw one up to him in the end zone and Cooks did the rest. Cooks did a great job of focusing while the safety got to him, hauling in the pass and getting both feet down and barely in bounds.
Cooks was the Patriots’ biggest offseason acquisition. They sent a first-round pick for the explosive receiver. That move looked pretty good on Sunday, as Cooks hauled in five catches for 131 yards and a fantastic game-winning score.
Todd Bowles: I don’t know if Bowles, the New York Jets’ coach, has a certain number of wins he needs to keep his job. If there is a quota, hopefully the number isn’t set that high. The roster he has to work with isn’t very good. But yet, Bowles got a win and it only took until Week 3.
The Jets, who are so talent-poor everyone thinks they’re tanking this season, dominated the Miami Dolphins. They made Jay Cutler look like a guy who was holed up in retirement for months this offseason and was never great in the first place. The Jets had a shutout until a meaningless touchdown at the end. They won 20-6. Not bad for a team that people thought could go 0-16. Josh McCown played a good game at quarterback for the Jets and they looked like a solid NFL team. Maybe that says something about the Dolphins.
I think Bowles can be a good head coach. I know he’s great at defensive Xs and Os. But coaches don’t often survive two awful seasons in a row. One win doesn’t mean the Jets will be good, but maybe they won’t be as bad as we think. Then maybe Bowles buys some more time as they rebuild. Bowles should get a ton of credit for any success the Jets do have this season.
Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans’ future: In Watson’s first start he looked like a rookie, but saved it with one great play. Watson lost his second start on Sunday at New England, but the Texans should feel great about what they saw.
Watson looked like a star in the making. He had 301 yards and two touchdowns at New England. Bill Belichick had never lost against a rookie quarterback at home as Patriots coach, but needed a great final-minute drive to avoid a loss to Watson on Sunday.
It wasn’t just that Watson put up good numbers or the Texans almost won. It’s that Watson looked the part. He made many big-time throws against complex Patriots defenses that have confused many veterans. If Watson looked this good in his second start – and keep in mind, he was put in a tough spot in his first start – then the future looks really good for the Texans, even if Sunday ended with a tough loss.
Aaron Rodgers: Even when the Packers don’t play well, they still have Rodgers. And even when Rodgers throws just the second pick-six of his career, he can still bail his team out in the end.
Even when the Packers trailed 21-7 to the Cincinnati Bengals, it still seemed like they were going to win and that’s because they have Rodgers. Rodgers came alive and led a game-tying drive in the final minutes, capped by a touchdown to Jordy Nelson with 17 seconds left, then won the game in overtime.
Rodgers has made so many great plays he makes it look routine, but his big play in overtime was fantastic. He recognized the Bengals were offsides, so he had a free play. He knew where he wanted to go with the ball and when to get it to Geronimo Allison against the Bengals’ zone coverage, and he delivered a fastball on time and right on Allison’s hands. Allison had room to run and gained 72 yards, which set up an easy game-winning field goal.
Tony Romo shouted with giddy joy in the booth (speaking of greatness, Romo was great again for CBS on Sunday) that only a couple quarterbacks on earth could make the throw Rodgers made to Allison, and he might be right.
The Kareem Hunt phenomenon: Hunt keeps adding to his story every week. On Sunday, Hunt ended the Los Angeles Chargers’ chances with a 69-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. That was historic.
Hunt is now the first player in NFL history with a 50-yard touchdown of any kind in his first three career games. He’s also just the ninth player in NFL history with 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first three career games (h/t to Chiefs website reporter Matt McMullen). He has simply been amazing.
The Chiefs are 3-0 and Hunt is a big reason. It’s not easy in the NFL to break big runs every week or look this good right away, but Hunt might be on the way to a truly special rookie season.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Every team in the NFL is capable. We hear so much about “terrible” teams and “great” teams when in truth, the separation between Nos. 1 and 32 isn’t that great. We saw plenty of examples on Sunday.
Still, what was that, Pittsburgh?
If the Steelers want to be a championship team – and with the weaknesses the Patriots are showing, they should feel like they might be the most complete and talented team in the AFC – they shouldn’t be losing at the Chicago Bears. The Bears are feisty and better than their 2016 record indicated (they were really unlucky last season in a few different ways) but the Steelers are clearly the more talented team. Yet, the Bears seemed to control the game. If anything, it seemed like the Steelers were lucky to take it to overtime.
It didn’t take long to settle it in the extra period. Tarik Cohen broke a long run that seemed like a touchdown, and when he was ruled out of bounds (he looked in to me), then Jordan Howard broke a long touchdown run. The Bears had 220 yards rushing.
The Steelers let the Browns hang around a long time in Week 1, and then lost a game against Chicago they probably should have won. If Pittsburgh wants to be a championship contender, and get a No. 1 seed for the AFC playoffs, it won’t happen by losing games to teams they’re clearly better than.
Cam Newton: OK, now it might be time to worry.
The New Orleans Saints wasn’t just bad through two weeks, it looked like it might be historically bad. They allowed a 141.4 passer rating, which is mind boggling. The best passer rating a quarterback has ever posted in a season is 122.5.
New Orleans didn’t suddenly become good on defense between Week 2 and Week 3. But the Panthers did almost nothing against them in a 34-13 loss. Cam Newton had 167 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. The first two quarterbacks who faced the Saints had 777 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Panthers didn’t have tight end Greg Olsen, and receiver Kelvin Benjamin was knocked out with a knee injury. Those are legitimate excuses. But Olsen is on injured reserve. He’s not coming back anytime soon, if he does at all. Benjamin is good but him leaving a game shouldn’t shut down a team’s passing game. It doesn’t look good for the Panthers offensive moving forward.
Newton had offseason shoulder surgery and barely played in the preseason. He had some setbacks in training camp, and he still doesn’t look right. The Panthers started 2-0, but Newton didn’t look great in either game. The defense carried Carolina. After what happened Sunday, the Panthers should have at least some concern about their former MVP quarterback.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers bandwagon: Yeah, maybe we need to slow down on the Bucs just a little bit.
The Buccaneers seemed to be everyone’s breakout pick this summer, and in their first game this season they looked great. Sunday wasn’t so kind.
It wasn’t just that the Buccaneers lost on Sunday. That happens, especially on the road. It really wasn’t even that the Minnesota Vikings had to start Case Keenum at quarterback. Football is still a team game and the Vikings have good players around whoever their quarterback is. It’s that the Buccaneers looked entirely overmatched all day in a 34-17 loss.
The Buccaneers trailed 28-3 at one point. Jameis Winston threw three interceptions. The defense got torched by Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, who combined for 271 yards. Keenum had 369 yards and three touchdowns. That just can’t happen if you want to be a playoff team.
The Buccaneers should be fine and maybe we’ll look back at the Vikings loss as the outlier in their season. But it seems like Tampa Bay hasn’t arrived quite yet.
Cleveland Browns, again and again: The 0-2 teams rose up on Sunday. Many winless teams saved their season or just a little bit of pride with a win. Then there were the Browns.
Cleveland looked like a decent bet to get a win against the Indianapolis Colts. But the beat goes on for the Browns. They’ve lost 15 straight road games after losing 31-28 to the Colts. The game wasn’t really that close. The outcome rarely seemed in doubt from the early minutes. This is the same Colts team that lost 46-9 in Week 1 and had quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who was acquired by the Colts in a trade a week before this season started, making his second career start.
Progress wasn’t going to be measured in wins and losses for the Browns this season … but it would still be nice to see some wins. The Jets got a win. The Bears got a win. The 49ers at least came really close to a win. The Browns are still stuck at zero.
The next two weeks, the Browns play the Bengals and Jets at home. If Cleveland starts 0-5 with losses against three of the worst teams in the NFL (and after the way the Ravens looked in London, that doesn’t look like such an excusable loss), you have to wonder if patience will start to run out. If owner Jimmy Haslam, who has never shown patience before, blows it up and starts again, that’s not good for Cleveland. The Browns need to see this long-term plan through. But at some point, you need to win some games to keep buying time.
All of the people who complained about how boring and unfixable the NFL’s product was after two whole weeks this season: Good show, NFL. Best week of regular season games in a long time. Let’s do it again next Sunday.
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