Commentary

Week 3: A little bit of everything

Upsets, overtime thrillers, questionable officiating -- yes, it was one wacky Sunday

Originally Published: September 23, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Week 3 provided plenty of drama.

Eight games were decided by a touchdown or less. Three games went into overtime. There were upsets galore, highlighted by the Kansas City Chiefs knocking off the New Orleans Saints and Kevin Kolb leading the Arizona Cardinals over his old team, the Philadelphia Eagles. The San Francisco 49ers were upset by the Minnesota Vikings. The Oakland Raiders came from behind to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The day featured Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano having his defenders go after Tony Romo on a kneel-down play, which led to pushing and shoving -- just as it did in Week 2, when the Bucs went after Eli Manning.

It was also a day of bad injuries. New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn suffered knee injuries that might be serious. The Buffalo Bills may have lost halfback C.J. Spiller to a one- or two-week shoulder injury. The Oakland Raiders had to cart off wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey on a play in which replacement officials should have called a penalty because he was a defenseless receiver in the end zone.

1. Crazy finishes: The last time the NFL had three overtimes on the same day was Nov. 7, 2010. The crazy part about Sunday was how these games got into overtime and how some of the close games ended. Steelers receiver Antonio Brown appeared to have a touchdown reception that should have clinched the win over Oakland, but he fumbled, allowing the Raiders to ultimately tie and win the game. It's hard to believe how the Colts lost to the Jaguars 22-17. Trailing late, Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert hit wide receiver Cecil Shorts for an 80-yard, game-winning touchdown. Injuries opened up the big play, as Colts cornerbacks Justin King and Vontae Davis were injured during the game.

"We were out of bodies," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said. "Hindsight is always 20/20, but we had some guys in there that don't normally play at those positions."

Then there is the unbelievable finish in the Titans' 44-41 overtime victory over the Detroit Lions. The Lions got a touchdown with 18 seconds left in regulation, recovered an onside kick and connected on a Hail Mary touchdown to wide receiver Titus Young with no time left on the clock. Late in overtime, Lions coach Jim Schwartz made a controversial call that might have cost the Lions the game. They had a fourth-and-1 at the Titans' 7. They had Shaun Hill in for the injured Matthew Stafford at quarterback. Schwartz decided to go for the first down instead of trying for the easy Jason Hanson field goal to tie. The Titans stopped Hill on a quick sneak, and the game was over. Schwartz said there was a communication problem, and they were basically trying to draw the Titans offside. As it turned out, they lost the game by being too tricky.

2. More woes for replacement officials: For a third consecutive week, replacement officials dodged the bullet. Although they didn't blow a game, they keep getting closer to that happening. Here's the concern coming out of Week 3: Slow decision-making is making the games go on forever. The first 14 games of Week 3 (including the Thursday nighter) averaged 3 hours and 22.3 minutes, 11 minutes more than Week 2. Seven games lasted at least 3 hours and 22 minutes, including the Jets-Dolphins at four hours. At this pace, CBS might have to start "60 Minutes" around the time David Letterman would start on a weeknight.

Even when they are right, the officials look wrong. With seven seconds left in the Redskins-Bengals game, Redskins tight end Fred Davis had a false start. Instead of a 10-second runoff, referee Matt Nicks correctly pointed out it was a dead-ball foul, so the game continued. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said one or two officials near the Redskins' sideline said the game was over. Because of the confusion, the Redskins got a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The NFL provides extra security to get officials off the field and the last-second confusion merited the extra attention.

In the 49ers' 24-13 loss to Minnesota, replacement referee Ken Roan said he mistakenly gave 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh two challenges after the coach called his final timeouts in the fourth quarter. The Vikings were trying to run out the clock. Harbaugh called his final timeout after a Toby Gerhart third-down run and then issued the challenge. The replay showed a Gerhart fumble, and the 49ers got their timeout back. Then it happened again on the next possession. To make a challenge, a team needs to have a timeout available. Harbaugh didn't.

An official's hat in the Dallas-Tampa Bay game hit Cowboys wide receiver Kevin Ogletree. In the Denver-Houston game, Broncos linebacker Joe Mays took a shot at Texans quarterback Matt Schaub that should have drawn consideration for ejection.

Length of games. Mechanics. Safety issues. The replacement ref problems continue with no end to the lockout in sight.

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Adam Bettcher/Getty ImagesVikings QB Christian Ponder could have a big day against the Titans' lowly pass defense on Sunday.

3. Did we see these upsets coming? After their loss at Carolina last week, you had to figure the New Orleans Saints were nervous going into their game with the Kansas City Chiefs. But to watch the Saints blow a 24-6 lead at home and lose 27-24 in overtime was amazing. As it stands now, the Saints, who are 0-3, aren't going to make the playoffs. They may be out of contention by Week 7, when interim coach Joe Vitt's six-game suspension ends. No team starting 0-3 has made the playoffs since the 1998 Bills.

Defense has been a problem in all three games for the Saints. Jamaal Charles burned New Orleans' defense for 233 rushing yards. It's pretty clear the Saints don't have the pass-rushers or cornerbacks to work in the scheme of new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The equalizer usually is QB Drew Brees, but he's not on top of his game. He didn't put any points on the board during his final six drives, he threw an interception, he was sacked for a safety and the line didn't protect him the entire game. Now, the Saints are three games behind the Atlanta Falcons.

The biggest surprise is how poorly the 49ers played in a 24-13 loss to Minnesota. No one saw this coming. The 49ers couldn't stop the play-action pass. Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder completed 16 of 26 passes for 121 yards on throws of 10 yards or less, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But the Vikings' 33 rushing plays set up Ponder to complete nine of 13 passes on play-action.

We probably should have foreseen the Eagles' 27-6 loss to the Cardinals. The Eagles were 2-0 despite nine turnovers. Their offense has been playing with fire, and they got burned Sunday. The Eagles lost three fumbles, two by Michael Vick. The one at the end of the first half was a killer. Down 17-0, the Eagles were at the Cardinals' 1 with six seconds left, but Vick fumbled. Cardinals safety James Sanders picked up the ball and ran 93 yards for a score. Instead of trailing by 10, the Eagles were down by 24.

Finally, the Steelers missed banged-up defensive stars James Harrison and Troy Polamalu in their 34-31 loss at Oakland.

The Saints and Steelers were vulnerable to comebacks. The Eagles' turnovers finally caught up with them. The 49ers' loss was a complete surprise.

4. Sanu makes a splash: Robert Griffin III's home debut before Redskins fans was upstaged by -- of all people -- Cincinnati Bengals rookie wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. On the opening play of a wild, 38-31 Bengals victory, Sanu, who was on the field for only five plays in the Bengals' first two games, lined up at quarterback with starting quarterback Andy Dalton flanked out at receiver. Figuring the Bengals were trying a Wildcat running play, the Redskins' defense positioned itself for the run. Sanu, seeing wide receiver A.J. Green in single coverage against Redskins safety Jeromy Miles, lofted a 73-yard touchdown pass that sailed more than 50 yards in the air.

"Mohamed had a perfect passer rating and he could not have put it any better," Dalton said.

[+] EnlargeMohamed Sanu
AP Photo/Nick WassMohamed Sanu and the Bengals used some early trickery to get a leg up on Washington.

In reality, the credit should go to Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who called an incredible game. For what he has done developing Dalton and a young receiving corps in Cincinnati, Congress should launch an investigation if Gruden doesn't get a head-coaching job next year. The guy is brilliant. Gruden's unit put up 478 yards and 38 points. Overall, the Bengals had seven plays of 22 yards or more Sunday. In the past two weeks, the Bengals have had five touchdowns of 40 yards or more. Dalton proved he was special last season in helping the Bengals make the playoffs as a wild-card team, but he wasn't known for having a particularly strong arm. This year, he's averaging 9.1 yards an attempt and 13.3 yards a completion.

Before the season, head coach Marvin Lewis talked about "chunk" plays. The Bengals are getting big chunks. They now have three pass-catchers averaging more than 17.3 yards a completion.

"Everyone was saying, 'Who is your second receiver?'" Lewis said. "I kept saying we have four of them, and they are really good."

Everyone knows Green is a young superstar. He had nine catches for 183 yards and a touchdown against the Redskins. But Gruden and Dalton got the rest of the young group involved. Starter Armon Binns had three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown. Tiny slot receiver Andrew Hawkins had two catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Orson Charles combined for six catches, 89 yards and a touchdown.

Dalton was sensational. He completed 19 of 27 passes for 328 yards and three touchdowns, giving him a 132.9 quarterback rating and giving Gruden a perfect coaching rating. This is an exciting team.

5. Welcome to Sanchez Island: With the possibility Revis could be done for the season with a serious knee injury, the fate of the New York Jets falls on Mark Sanchez, who was brutal at times during the Jets' 23-20 overtime victory over the Miami Dolphins. Sanchez threw two interceptions and had numerous bad throws. Somehow, though, Sanchez did enough to get the team a win. For that, he draws the respect of his teammates.

"He's tough as nails," wide receiver Jeremy Kerley said. "That's why we respect him. He finds a way to get us going. He's always saying, 'Come on, guys.' He's a down-the-stretch guy. He gets us down the stretch."

Understand, there is no quarterback battle in New York. Tim Tebow is the backup because his throwing skills aren't consistent. But Sanchez has to fight through criticism about his bad stretches. He completed 21 of 45 passes for 306 yards and came back several times from deficits to get the Jets to 2-1. Sanchez is in a tough spot. Tight end Dustin Keller has been hurt. Other than Santonio Holmes, the Jets are understaffed at wide receiver. The running game gave him 88 yards and a 2.7-yard average.

Although Holmes had nine catches for 147 yards, Sanchez completed only four other passes to wide receivers. And Holmes is widely known as a selfish player. Former Jets teammate LaDainian Tomlinson said over the weekend on television that he doesn't expect Holmes to change. Sanchez was thankful for Holmes' contributions Sunday.

"Say what you what about him. He played his absolute ass off," Sanchez said of Holmes.

SHORT TAKES


One of the early stars of the season has been Bears cornerback Tim Jennings. He has four interceptions in three games. … The Rams' addition of cornerback Cortland Finnegan has also been a plus. He has three interceptions and has given the Rams' secondary a nasty attitude. … Jake Locker had a career game for the Titans in their victory over the Lions. He threw for 378 yards. "I think he's everything we thought he would be … made some great throws … he should get better every game," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. … What was encouraging was how well the second-year quarterbacks played. Locker, Ponder and Gabbert all did well. … At one point of Sunday's victory over the Colts, the Jags had three players -- running backs Greg Jones and Montell Owens and tackle Eugene Monroe -- out with concussions. Jones was able to return. … With two starting cornerbacks down with injuries, the Raiders used safety Michael Huff as a starting cornerback. … The Redskins added a new wrinkle to their offense in the second half. They had quarterback Robert Griffin III doing pitchouts to wide receiver Brandon Banks. … Even though the Jets cut linebacker Bryan Thomas to open a roster space, expect him to be re-signed in the next day or two. His contract is guaranteed and he didn't lose any money. … With victories Sunday, Matt Cassel of the Chiefs and Matt Schaub of the Texans now have winning records as career starters. That brings the league total to 17. Had Alex Smith won, he would have made it 18.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer