Week 3 in the NFL showed the power desperation creates. Five winless teams picked up their first victories. Three unbeaten teams falling added to the intrigue the season's third Sunday brought. Here are the Week 3 grades from around the league.
The 49ers forced the Broncos into their most three-and-outs in six seasons (nine), showing the kind of defensive talent capable of anchoring a Super Bowl contender. Nick Bosa torched Broncos right tackle sub Cameron Fleming, and the 49ers gave Russell Wilson little time to scan downfield -- to the delight of Melvin Gordon PPR managers and few others who watched Sunday night's game. But the Jimmy Garoppolo-geared reawakening did not happen. San Francisco made one red zone appearance, and Trey Lance's backup failed to turn multiple wide-open targets into touchdowns. When Denver's defense clamped down, San Francisco's reintroduced starter struggled. The 49ers' defense will give Garoppolo help, but this was not a great start.
49ERS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Rams (Mon.)
Being the first 10-punt team to win a game since the 2016 Broncos downed the Jaguars, the current Denver edition (2-1) continues to show a defense far ahead of its offense. First-year DC Ejiro Evero's group, despite missing Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons, hounded Garoppolo throughout the 49ers' three-turnover second half. Given little margin for error until Wilson's game-winning drive, this defense won out over a 49ers unit with better-known stars. Boasting a deep defensive line and a secondary anchored by Pat Surtain II (six targets, zero receptions allowed), Denver's defense presents intriguing capabilities for when Wilson is in better form in Nathaniel Hackett's offense.
BRONCOS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Raiders (Sun.)
The Tom Brady-era Buccaneers topped Matt LaFleur's Packers twice in 2020 -- the teams' most recent meetings. Green Bay used a player not on that squad to reverse the course of this reignited rivalry. A 2021 low-cost find, De'Vondre Campbell showed the form that made him an All-Pro last season by tallying 14 tackles and breaking up the Bucs' game-winning two-point try. The Packers (2-1) re-signed Campbell to a $10 million-per-year deal this offseason, deviating from a years-long pattern of minimal inside linebacker investments. Campbell has locked down Green Bay's defensive second level on a talent-flooded defense that could be the team's best since its Super Bowl XLV-winning crew 12 years ago.
PACKERS GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Patriots (Sun.)
Brady deserves credit for leading the Bucs on an 89-yard touchdown drive with a cast featuring mostly backup wideouts. Although Tampa Bay (2-1) did create a game-tying two-point opening -- one marred by the brutal delay-of-game penalty that preceded Campbell's PBU -- Mike Evans' suspension proved costly for Brady. With fellow Pro Bowlers Chris Godwin and Julio Jones out, backup Breshad Perriman and $10M-per-year free agent Russell Gage lost fumbles to stymie the Bucs. Evans' Marshon Lattimore feud, which led to the four-time Pro Bowler's second absence during Brady's three-season Tampa tenure, could end up playing a role in which NFC team receives a bye come January.
BUCCANEERS GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Chiefs (Sun.)
Missing half their defensive starters and losing O-line troops as Sunday's scorching contest progressed, the Bills (2-1) still came close to stealing a victory. But failure to complete standard spike procedures at the end of each half cost a Buffalo team that entered its Miami day atop most relevant NFL power rankings. Josh Allen's botched snap and Isaiah McKenzie passing on a vital out-of-bounds trip led to a defining offensive coordinator meltdown, with ex-Miami Hurricane Ken Dorsey one-upping the Dolphins' "Butt Punt" for this game's GIF title minutes later. The Bills may still be the NFL's best team at full strength, but the Super Bowl frontrunners will need reinforcements soon.
BILLS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: at Ravens (Sun.)
Helping the Dolphins beat Allen for the first time since his 2018 rookie year, Holland set up an early Miami touchdown. The fast-emerging safety's blindside sack-strip led to Melvin Ingram's second recovery in three weeks, and the Dolphins defense finished the Holland-highlighted effort with a goal-line stand on the NFL's top-ranked scoring offense. Miami is now the AFC's lone 3-0 team. Holland's game (1.5 sacks, 10 tackles, two pass deflections) and the team shutting down a 17-play Bills drive without points represented rather key reasons why. The Dolphins were outgained 497-212, but as the Bills now deal with injury fallout, this could be a pivotal victory.
DOLPHINS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Bengals (Thu.)
Checking off qualifications for both of Week 3's themes -- NFL aristocrats losing and 0-2 teams summoning season-saving stuff -- the Chiefs (2-1) did plenty to ensure they could cooperate. Travis Kelce's end zone drop, Chris Jones' taunting infraction, and a run of special teams gaffes led to a befuddling Kansas City loss. Matt Ammendola, who will feel the sting of this loss far more than Kelce or Jones, missing an extra point and then a 34-yard field goal indoors illuminated the reliability gap between him and Harrison Butker. The Chiefs being forced to replace Butker temporarily could have consequences long after Ammendola is off the roster.
CHIEFS GRADE: D | NEXT: at Buccaneers (Sun.)
Ryan has not played especially well as a Colt; Sunday moved the former MVP to 3-for-3 in multi-turnover games with his new team. But after coaxing some (for the Colts) timely Jones trash talk, Ryan guided Indianapolis (1-2) on an eight-minute-plus game-winning drive. This supporting cast is a far cry from Ryan's Julio Jones-Roddy White-Tony Gonzalez offenses or his Super Bowl-bound 2016 Falcons arsenal, but the 37-year-old passer divvied up passes to his new young teammates effectively to close out a Chiefs-gifted win. With Shaq Leonard due back soon and Ryan sure to progress in Frank Reich's offense, the Colts could use Sunday's strange result as a springboard in a newly interesting AFC South race.
COLTS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)
Blown coverages in Miami kept the Ravens (2-1) from joining the Dolphins on the AFC's 3-0 tier. Baltimore's secondary at least bounced back from its cavalcade of errors, intercepting Mac Jones thrice. Marlon Humphrey's end zone pick and Marcus Peters' strip of Nelson Agholor and subsequent INT made sure Lamar Jackson's latest dominant effort was not overshadowed. Peters now has 32 interceptions -- five more than anyone else since 2015. Considering the ballhawk missed all of 2021, that is fairly impressive. When Baltimore's secondary troops are available, this stands to be one of the AFC's toughest outs. The Ravens' Week 4 game suddenly seems overqualified for 1 p.m. status.
RAVENS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Bills (Sun.)
While an Agholor catch-and-run turning into a fumble doomed the Patriots' realistic hopes at counterattacking, Jones throwing the Ravens three picks made matters impossible as well. But the Patriots (1-2) having to get by without Jones, who is reported to have suffered a high ankle sprain, will be a problem. QB2 Brian Hoyer, a multi-stint Patriot who played well in spurts for the 2014 Browns and 2015 Texans, has lost his past 11 starts. Only two of those came with the Pats, but a Hoyer Lambeau Field trip -- the CBS late-window headliner, over Ravens-Bills -- will be asking a lot. But the Pats need to prioritize Jones' health; this season serves little purpose without Jones available.
PATRIOTS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Packers (Sun.)
A six- or seven-win campaign -- following a 1-15 2020 and 2021's Urban Meyer mess -- would be a nice step for a Jaguars franchise that has been in decline since the Patriots' AFC championship game rally. Thanks to a mediocre division and a more competent coaching staff, the Jags (2-1) may be ready to skip a rung on their rebuild ladder. Trevor Lawrence has strung together his best two-game stretch as a pro. Lawrence (28-for-39, 262 yards) carved up a depleted Chargers defense to key Week 3's most shocking result. A QB who threw one touchdown pass between Halloween and New Year's Day last year has thrown five in two weeks. The Jags' days of vying for No. 1 picks are over.
JAGUARS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Eagles (Sun.)
Even for the Chargers, Sunday was a bit much. A franchise that has seen injuries, late-game execution, and special teams instability lead to it becoming the NFL's premier tease played without three Pro Bowlers (Keenan Allen, J.C. Jackson, Corey Linsley) and had its franchise centerpiece coming off a rib cartilage fracture. The team lost two more Pro Bowlers -- Joey Bosa and left tackle Rashawn Slater -- midgame. Justin Herbert, bizarrely, played throughout in one of the franchise's most disappointing losses in years. The Bolts (1-2), who have assembled their best roster since the LaDainian Tomlinson-Antonio Gates era, are reeling -- ahead of schedule.
CHARGERS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Texans (Sun.)
Enjoying an opportunity to face a winless team without its Pro Bowl left tackle and top two edge rushers, the Raiders still came up short. They are the NFL's only 0-3 team. Darren Waller and Davante Adams were not good enough, and despite Derek Carr forming a sizzling connection with the nomadic Mack Hollins (eight catches, 158 yards), Mark Davis has gone from authorizing several big-ticket extensions to holding up a postgame presser for a Josh McDaniels closed-door meeting. Only five teams since the 1970 merger have gone from 0-3 to a non-strike-year playoff bracket. Although the seven-team field makes such a journey easier, the AFC's depth has the Raiders perhaps already in too deep a hole.
RAIDERS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Broncos (Sun.)
Taylor Lewan joining Harold Landry in being out for the season may be too much to overcome -- even for a Titans team that withstood widespread 2021 injury trouble. Bud Dupree missing Week 3 further stacked the deck against Tennessee's defense, but aside from it making Hollins look like Tim Brown circa 1997, Shane Bowen's unit hung on. Kevin Byard's goal-line INT and he and Dylan Cole's ensuing game-sealing two-point denial reminded of the Titans winning despite skeleton skill-position arsenals last season. Byard and Jeffery Simmons still provide juice on defense. In the AFC South, this team cannot be discarded just yet.
TITANS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Colts (Sun.)
A 54-yard field goal saved the Vikings in this series' Minnesota leg last year; Dan Campbell calling for one Sunday ended up igniting the favorites in another narrow Lions loss. Detroit (1-2) went for six fourth downs between its first and last drives, converting on four. Austin Seibert misses bookended the game, however. Give Campbell credit for admitting Seibert's 54-yard try was a mistake (over fourth-and-4 and giving the Vikings the ball at their 44-yard line), but the Lions are now 2-8 in one-score games under their gregarious head coach.
LIONS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Seahawks (Sun.)
Week 3 made two straight sub-50-yard Justin Jefferson games; this one -- a 3-catch, 14-yarder -- forcing Kirk Cousins to look elsewhere in crunch time. Cousins targeted Osborn on all three of his final-drive throws, and the third-year slot receiver dropped back-to-back 28-yard receptions to close out the Lions. The Vikings (2-1) crafted plays that led Osborn and Adam Thielen to wide-open TDs Sunday, but the team has something in the former sixth-round pick. Dependent solely on Thielen-Jefferson or Thielen-Stefon Diggs duos for years before 2021, the Vikes need to keep Osborn involved as the Kevin O'Connell offense takes shape.
VIKINGS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Saints (Sun., in London)
Firing up I-formations frequently over the past two weeks, the Rams have stationed wide receiver, Ben Skowronek, as their primary lead blocker in these sets. The former seventh-round pick offered one of the more interesting dual-threat outings in recent memory, adding receiving reliability (career-high 66 yards) and being at fullback on both Rams touchdown plays. The second one, a Cam Akers score, involved a Skowronek-Zaven Collins collision. It seems improbable usual Rams WR3 Van Jefferson could pull off this unusual workload. As Skowronek aided a deteriorating Rams O-line, his receiving chops did well to give the defending champs another win at far less than full strength.
RAMS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at 49ers (Mon.)
Kyler Murray's 58 pass attempts established a new career-high by four, but they only led to four Matt Prater field goals. The Cardinals (1-2) averaged 3.3 yards per carry on 21 totes and ground to repeated halts once in field goal range. Murray found a way to steal one win during the team's six-game DeAndre Hopkins-less stretch; that 20-point comeback in Las Vegas required unsustainable Murray wizardry. Too much is on the top-tier athlete's plate at this point.
CARDINALS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Panthers (Sun.)
Left tackle George Fant played after missing extensive practice time this week; Hendrickson capitalized on his injured opponent. The blindside Bengals rusher's 2.5 sacks all resulted in Joe Flacco fumbles, the third of which coming against backup left tackle Conor McDermott. After a sackless first two games, Hendrickson has run his Cincinnati total up to 21 (counting playoffs). Fast becoming one of the best free agent signings (not that it is a particularly swift horserace) in Bengals history. Cincinnati's defense has largely done its job through three games; it has not allowed a touchdown over its past 20 drives. That bodes well for when Joe Burrow and Co. heat up.
BENGALS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Dolphins (Thu.)
The Jets' top two wins under Robert Saleh have come with Mike White (against Cincy last year) and Flacco at the controls. Chants for White (still) and calls for Flacco -- after last week's Browns comeback -- to keep his job have emerged, creating a strange situation for a No. 2 overall pick. Wilson (31st in 2021 QBR) produced uneven work last year, but there is no real purpose to this Jets season unless the high-end QB prospect sees significant time. Flacco, who fumbled three times Sunday, served his purpose. Injuries have hijacked Wilson's Jets run, and if he cannot show notable progress with a better offense, this rebuild effectively combusts. No pressure.
JETS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Steelers (Sun.)
Jeremy Maclin (2014) is the most recent Eagle to post a 1,000-yard season. This year's Birds are on their way to producing two such offerings. After A.J. Brown's dominant debut obscured DeVonta Smith (zero Week 1 catches), the slender sidekick one-upped the well-paid alpha. Smith shredded the Commanders secondary -- a unit chock full of veterans -- throughout the first half to stake the Eagles (3-0) to a 24-0 lead. The ex-Heisman winner amassed 156 of his 169 yards in the first half, and the in-traffic grabs reflect well on a player doubted because of his rail-thin frame. After some failed or short-lived receiver forays in recent years, this Philly duo brings a new ceiling level. It has elevated the Eagles' roof as well.
EAGLES GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Jaguars (Sun.)
Washington trotted out an offensive line with 36 combined years of experience. Although center Chase Roullier is now out of the picture, the Commanders front five features the likes of Charles Leno, Andrew Norwell, and Trai Turner. This O-line, which struggled against Detroit, had no answer for Philly's D-line depth. A host of ex-Wentz teammates were involved in the Eagles' nine-sack onslaught. The youngest of Washington's O-line starters, second-year right tackle Sam Cosmi, had a particularly bad time against the Eagles. As Jalen Hurts sliced up the Commanders (1-2) in front of his old teammate, Wentz had 40 yards passing at the half.
COMMANDERS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Cowboys (Sun.)
The Saints (1-2) trailed by two scores for most of Sunday's loss -- to a Panthers team on a nine-game losing streak -- and, save for a fourth-quarter comeback against the rebuilding Falcons, have not seen their retooled offense provide a meaningful spark. Jameis Winston is attempting to play through multiple back fractures, requiring a host of extra pads, and said he is dealing with pain. New Orleans has one of the league's best backups (Andy Dalton). While Dennis Allen said postgame he is not pulling the trigger now, a healthy Dalton looms as a better QB2 option than most teams employ. It seems logical to give a switch strong consideration at this point.
SAINTS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Sun., in London)
While 0-2 desperation gripped a chunk of the league, the Panthers (1-2) were in a different genre here. Matt Rhule's team had not won since November 14, 2021, leading to rampant speculation the third-year HC -- despite his outlandish seven-year, $60 million contract -- was near the end. The strongest of the Panthers units stepped up against the Saints. Recently re-signed defenders Frankie Luvu and Marquis Haynes (feat. a Derrick Brown inside push) teamed up on a scoop-and-score to begin a long day for the Saints. Carolina ranked second in total defense last season, and the team has lost on 58- and 56-yard game-winning field goals. Phil Snow's defense showed patience is necessary.
PANTHERS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Cardinals (Sun.)
One of two winless teams left, along with the Raiders, the Texans entered the season with much lower expectations. They are absolutely allowed to celebrate the contributions of a rookie expected to be part of the post-rebuilding future. Second-round pick Jalen Pitre accounted for both of Justin Fields' INTs Sunday, and the Baylor-developed safety sacked the scuffling Chicago quarterback and picked up two tackles for loss. Houston (0-2-1) lacked notable draft capital in 2020 and 2021, thanks to the Laremy Tunsil trade, but Pitre is one of several rookies worth observing this year.
TEXANS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Chargers (Sun.)
One of the league's agent-less performers, Roquan Smith made no secret of his disdain for how the Bears handled his extension talks this offseason. After vowing to table that matter, the fifth-year linebacker is off to a nice contract-year start. Smith's 16 tackles (two for loss) preceded his game-wrapping interception of Davis Mills. Smith's 36 stops lead the NFL through three weeks. If the Bears (2-1) cannot reach an agreement with him by early March, he is likely to walk in free agency. (The franchise tag is almost a non-starter for teams with off-ball linebackers, as they are grouped with rush 'backers.) For now, Smith is a proven standout sparking a rebuilding team.
BEARS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Giants (Sun.)
The top running back draftees from 2013 are either out of the league (Le'Veon Bell, Montee Ball, Eddie Lacy) or on their way out (Gio Bernard). Meanwhile, Cordarrelle Patterson is in his prime. The All-Pro return man/RB convert racked up a career-high 153 scrimmage yards to help the rebuilding Falcons (1-2) pick up a win. Spared the tread on his tires, traditional running backs his age absorbed years ago, Atlanta's 31-year-old back is part of a troublesome troika for defenses. The Seahawks struggled to stop the Patterson-Kyle Pitts-Drake London trio. Thus far, the league's oldest starting back is proving worth the $5M guaranteed he collected this offseason.
FALCONS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Browns (Sun.)
The past two seasons brought record-setting yardage paces for Seattle's defense, but second-half improvements -- particularly in 2020 -- moved Ken Norton Jr.'s troops off that tier. The Seahawks (1-2) fired Norton this offseason, promoting Clint Hurtt. The Vic Fangio disciple has not had much success just yet, and the Falcons carved up the young group. To go along with Patterson's 119 second-half scrimmage yards, Marcus Mariota averaged 11.5 yards per attempt. A flawed Falcons team did as it pleased offensively, following high-yardage outputs from the Broncos and 49ers.
SEAHAWKS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Lions (Sun.)
Mitch Trubisky fared better in Week 3, but the Steelers (1-2) remain limited as long as the stopgap starter sticks in their lineup. Jay Glazer's report of the team planning to keep Trubisky as a starter all year, which would buck the 21st century's first-round QB trend, was eye-opening. Pittsburgh has veterans across its defense, though that unit is fighting it without T.J. Watt. Will this old-school franchise be willing to punt on contending in 2022 in order to preserve a Kenny Pickett redshirt season? It would be surprising if Pickett was sitting in the season's second half, but the longer Trubisky resides atop the depth chart, the closer Mike Tomlin comes to his first sub-.500 year.
STEELERS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Jets (Sun.)
While the Cowboys rostered CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup around Cooper over the past two seasons, the Browns (2-1) are banking on the former top-five pick staying healthy. Cleveland's stable of young pass catchers might not cut it, especially with Jacoby Brissett, were Cooper to go down. So far, the team's buy-low receiver -- a Cowboys misfire, given where the receiver market soon headed -- has helped Brissett. Cooper beat the Steelers' low-cost collection of corners when he had to, helping the Browns stack another win onto their pre-Deshaun Watson total. Cooper has his first back-to-back 100-yard games since October 2016.
BROWNS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Falcons (Sun.)