Forget refs, focus on NFL's other stories
After Monday night's "Inaccurate Reception" in Seattle, it's clear the biggest story through Week 3 in the NFL is the replacement refs. Even those who believed the owners to be tight-fisted must be shocked to see the safety of the players and integrity of the game put at risk in the name of a few million dollars.
Of course, for all the clever headlines, memes and tweets spawned by the Fail Mary in Seattle, the refs aren't the only story in the NFL. Let's give the scabs a rest and look at a few other compelling storylines through the first three weeks.
Most surprising team: Arizona Cardinals
The Redbirds are one of three undefeated teams, having dispatched the Seahawks, Patriots and Eagles. Arizona hasn't started a season 3-0 since 1974 and they're doing it all behind quarterback Kevin Kolb, a guy who lost the starting job during training camp. The bum ankle that sidelined starter John Skelton in Week 1 is on the mend, but you have to wonder if the Cardinals will risk mucking up a good thing by taking Kolb out of the starting role. And lest you think three wins is too few to constitute a streak, consider that Arizona is a league-best 8-1 dating back to Week 12 of last season.
Most disappointing team: New Orleans Saints
After arguably the worst offseason in NFL history, the Saints were expected to have some growing pains, but 0-3? The three teams that have defeated the Saints -- the Redskins, Panthers and Chiefs -- are a combined 0-6 when playing anyone but New Orleans. Drew Brees and the Saints offense just haven't played well enough to overcome a defense which is ranked 32nd and has allowed opponents an average of 34 points a game. Oh, and coaches everywhere should be thanking suspended head man Sean Payton for proving how important a coach can be.
(Honorable mention to the 1-2 New England Patriots, who saw their NFL record of 145 straight games at .500 or better snapped with a loss to Baltimore in Week 3.)
Most surprising player: Bills back C.J. Spiller
Entering Sunday's win over the Browns, the Bills running back was leading the league in rushing with 292 yards through two games. He added 58 total yards and his first receiving touchdown (his fourth overall) before leaving the game in the first quarter with a sprained AC joint. After being drafted ninth overall in 2010 Spiller was handed Buffalo's starting job ahead of Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch but couldn't live up to the task, finishing with 283 yards his rookie season. Spiller looked better in 2011, stepping up when Jackson missed the last six games because of a broken leg. Still, few could have guessed he'd come out of the gates so fast this season.
Most disappointing player: Eagles quarterback Michael Vick
The Eagles quarterback has nine turnovers through three games and his 66.3 passer rating is 29th in the league. Despite Vick's terrible play, Philadelphia has a winning record at 2-1. After their 27-6 loss to Arizona last Sunday Andy Reid put Vick on notice, telling the media No. 7 is the Eagle's starting QB "right now."
(Honorable mention to the Titans 53-million-dollar-man Chris Johnson, who has 45 yards on 33 carries through three games.)
Best face in a new place: Giants tight end Martellus Bennett
The 6-foot-6 tight end scored four touchdowns for the Cowboys in his 2008 rookie campaign, but never found the end zone again in three more injury-plagued years with Dallas. As a New York Giant, Bennett already has three touchdowns and 185 yards through three games besting his season totals in 2009 and 2011.
(Honorable mention to Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan. His three picks and a touchdown through three games with St. Louis match his combined totals in 2010 and 2011 with the Titans.)
Lost in the shuffle: Jets quarterback Tim Tebow
As the starting quarterback for the Broncos last season he engineered a stunning string of midseason wins and led Denver to an unlikely playoff victory over the Steelers. As a back-up QB for the Jets this year, he's been used sparingly, rushing eight times for 33 yards. You'd get a better workout pushing a giant tire than you would tossing the pigskin two or three times a game. But I digress.
Best debut: Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III
His team is 1-2 but Robert Griffin III continues to impress. The Redskins signal caller boasts a 103.5 passer rating, good for sixth best in the league, and he's thrown just one pick.
(Honorable mention to Griffin's teammate, running back Alfred Morris. The sixth-round pick has 263 yards and three touchdowns in his first three games as a pro.)
Worst debut: Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon
The Jaguars' highly touted first rounder has been a non-factor in the offense thus far, catching four passes for 31 yards in the first three games. First-year wide receivers are rarely uber-productive, so the Jags may just have to exercise some patience as Blackmon adjusts to the pro game.
Of course, we're not even a quarter of the way into the season, yet. There's plenty of time for struggling players and teams to turn things around and time enough for guys enjoying hot starts to fade. After all, anything can happen in the wacky world of the NFL. We all got our proof of that Monday night.