1. Denver (2-0). Just when you thought the season was setting up to be a nice little stroll to AFC home-field advantage, here are the 15 autumn days that will try John Fox’s soul: Nov. 17, Kansas City at home … Nov. 24, at New England … Dec. 1, at Kansas City.
2. Seattle (3-0). A nice afternoon scrimmage against Jacksonville Sunday. There were no casualties, which is all that matters.
3. New Orleans (3-0). Saints started 0-3 last year. Allowed 40, 35 and 27 points. Saints 3-0 this year. Allowed 17, 14 and seven points. Rob Ryan for mayor.
4. Chicago (3-0). Took the air out of Heinz Field in about 15 minutes. How about this: It’s Sept. 23, and the Bears have a two-game lead on the Packers in the NFC North.
5. Miami (3-0). Two straight cliffhanger wins, and this is what I like most: Ryan Tannehill, though taking a beating, is completing two-thirds of his passes and spreading the wealth to four different receivers.
6. Indianapolis (2-1). Watched most of the second half at San Francisco. That was no fluke win. Ahmad Bradshaw made the following statement: I count.
7. New England (3-0). First time since the 16-0 regular-season of 2007 that New England has started 3-0. I mean, just saying.
8. Kansas City (3-0). Quarterback Alex Smith has something in common with the rest of the KC offense: zero turnovers through three games. Not to rewrite history, or say the Niners made the wrong call on Alex Smith/Colin Kaepernick, but to refresh your memory about what a gutsy decision Jim Harbaugh made in benching Smith for Kaepernick last fall, Smith was 27 of 29 (.931) for 313 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 151.2 rating in his final passes as a 49er.
9. Baltimore (2-1). No Ray Rice with the explosive Texans coming to town, and the Ravens win by 21. That’s a big win for a team with a lot of new parts. And good contributions by newbies Daryl Smith and Tandon Doss (he’s sort of a newbie).
10. Cincinnati (2-1). This is an odd team. The Bengals can look like the Bungles, as they did in allowing Green Bay to score 30 points in a row Sunday. But then the D can rise up and bat three Aaron Rodgers passes down at the end of the game to preserve one of the wildest wins Marvin Lewis has ever had.
11. San Francisco (1-2). Last two weeks—Foes 56, Niners 10. Best line of the Aldon Smith stupidity, from Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: “Aldon Smith was arrested at 7 a.m., one hour AFTER Kaepernick starts work.”
12. Dallas (2-1). The Cowboys are the class of the NFC East by default—though they played well in embarrassing the Rams. DeMarco Murray needs to stay healthy, or the over-reliance on Tony Romo will hurt their chances of playing deep into January.
13. Atlanta (1-2). Roddy White: seven catches, 56 yards. For the season. Don’t tell me that doesn’t hurt.
14. Houston (2-1). The Texans are better than they showed Sunday, but in their three weeks so far, they: overcame a 21-point deficit to win at San Diego, needed a huge late-game rally to beat Tennessee in overtime, and got whacked by the Ravens. Not good.
15. (tie) Tennessee (2-1). Sunday was the first day I have watched the Jake Locker Titans and said: I can see this guy being a good quarterback for a long time.
(tie) Detroit (2-1). The defense is making progress. Three foes have a composite 70.8 passer rating. The Lions haven’t been under an opposing passer rating of 89 for the season since the Joey Harrington Era.
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Brian Hoyer, QB, Cleveland. Roll this one around in your head: The third-string quarterback for Cleveland won a road game over a 2012 playoff team and had a 30-of-54 performance in a stunning post-Trent-trade victory. (I understand the three interceptions are big minuses, but drive after drive Hoyer showed he belonged on this stage.) No way he can be yanked out of the starting job now.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Indianapolis. You saw the will of a very good running back in the fourth quarter at San Francisco. Bradshaw, who had to hear for three days before the game that the Colts finally got a franchise back to shore up a weak position, came out and bled the clock in the fourth quarter like Emmitt Smith. He ran it 11 times for 62 yards when everyone in the stadium knew the run was coming—and when coach Chuck Pagano had Trent Richardson next to him on the bench for much of the quarter. For the day, Bradshaw ran 19 times for 95 yards in a win no one saw coming.
Defensive Players of the Week
Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City. Hard to imagine any defensive player in any game this season playing any better than Houston did Thursday night in Philadelphia. Houston set the edge against the wide runs by Philadelphia, and tormented Michael Vick like he has been few times in his career. Houston, a third-year player from Georgia, is just 24, and we could be seeing the dawn of the career of the next great outside linebacker. Houston’s game in Philadelphia:
• 4.5 sacks, for 28 combined yards lost.
• Three passes deflected.
• One forced fumble.
• Two fumble recoveries.
Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina. Pretty tough to hold the Giants (at least the Giants of old) to 150 total yards and zero points, but Hardy and his friends in the Carolina front seven stifled Eli Manning all day and totally embarrassed the New York offensive line. Hardy: three sacks, eight tackles.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Spencer Lanning, P/K/holder, Cleveland. Hard to imagine a special teams player doing more for his team in a win. Lanning holds for kicker Billy Cundiff. He punts, and averaged 46.8 yards on five boots at the Metrodome Sunday. In the second quarter, from field-goal formation, he threw a perfect 11-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron. And with Cundiff slightly injured late in the game, Lanning, who was a kicker/punter in college at South Carolina, entered and kicked the PAT on the final touchdown of the game. He’s the first man since Sam Baker of the Eagles in 1968 to have a PAT, punt and a touchdown pass in the same game.
Tamba Hali, OLB, Kansas City. Hali thought he was playing on the extra-point defense team when the Eagles scored their first touchdown Thursday night. But Philadelphia called for a weird formation, where only long-snapper Jon Dorenbos, the holder and kicker were in their usual spots. The other eight players on the Eagles’ conversion team were split left, with a huge gap between Dorenbos and the rest of the linemen. Behind the linemen was tight end Zach Ertz. Instead of snapping the ball for a PAT, Dorenbos lifted it off the ground and passed it sideways to Ertz, who immediate lurched forward trying to score the two points. But Hali, sprinting in from Ertz’s right, slammed him to the ground for no gain. Imagine how alert you have to be to anticipate this, and then to react to something you’ve never seen before and wreck it.
Tandon Doss, PR-WR, Baltimore. Cut and re-signed by the Ravens in their desperation for a receiver/returner, Doss made the play of the game in a 21-point Baltimore victory over Houston. Doss took a Shane Lechler punt at the Ravens’ 18, veered toward the right sideline, and sprinted/tiptoed for 25 yards of the trip. His 82-yard touchdown run was a tribute to his athletic ability and jarring speed.
Coach of the Week
Chris Ault, consultant, Kansas City. Andy Reid hired Ault, who coached Nevada and developed Colin Kaepernick into an NFL quarterback, in the offseason to help his team in a variety of ways. Ault’s job is shrouded in mystery. But you can see his effect on both offense and defense. Andy Reid has adopted some of Ault’s stuff into his West Coast offense—Pro Football Focus had Alex Smith lined up in the pistol eight times Thursday night—and he’s also been active in helping the Kansas City defense against the wide-open offenses the Chiefs will play this year. I can only guess why Ault’s role is top secret: Kansas City travels to Washington Dec. 8. Ault and Kyle Shanahan, before Ault took this job, exchanged some ideas informally last winter. I can tell you Reid’s staff values Ault highly, and he had a big hand in divining what Chip Kelly was doing on Thursday night.
Goats of the Week
Will Beatty, tackle, New York Giants. The Giants haven’t had a worse shutout loss in 40 years than the 38-0 job at Carolina Sunday, and it’s doubtful anyone played worse than the left tackle, Beatty. He was awful in the first half as the Panthers ravaged Eli Manning for six sacks, and he added two penalties.
Marcus Gilchrist, strong safety, San Diego. Gilchrist dropped the clinching interception with 44 seconds left in the fourth quarter (Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker helped with a hit, but this was 90 percent on Gilchrist), and that drop is a direct reason why the Chargers are 1-2 today and not 2-1.