What Have We Learned From Week 3 of the 2018 NFL Season

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Darius Slay

Detroit Lions defensive back Darius Slay intercepts a pass intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsett during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 3 of the 2018 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Strong defensive effort carries to Lions to 1st win

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — A day after their first win of the season, the change in the mood of the previously winless Detroit Lions was evident.

In one corner of the locker room, linebacker Marquis Flowers and running back LeGarrette Blount engaged in a heated debate over whether Kobe Bryant or LeBron James was the greater basketball player.

“Just coming in today, it was a little bit different,” Lions wide receiver Golden Tate said. “It’s kind of a sigh of relief.”

Winning has a way of lifting the tension. Especially considering the quality of the opponent that the Lions beat.

Sunday’s decisive 26-10 victory over the New England Patriots was fashioned by a smothering performance from the Lions defense.

The Lions held the Patriots to 209 yards, the fewest they’ve allowed since holding the New York Giants to 197 yards on Sept. 8, 2014.

“To finally get our first win, against a team like that, that’s a yearly contender for the Super Bowl, it’s a pretty big deal,” Tate said.

It was only the third time since 2007 that the Patriots produced fewer than 210 yards.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who led the NFL with 4,577 yards passing last season, was limited to 133 yards.

“That is amazing,” Lions cornerback Darius Slay said. “That is really amazing.”

In the first quarter, Detroit held a 126-5 edge in yards and a 12:30-2:30 advantage in time of possession. The first three drives of the game saw Detroit outgain the Patriots 196-13 and hold a 14-0 edge in first downs. The Lions outgained the Patriots 231-70 in the first half.

“We couldn’t execute anything,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

Lions running back Kerryon Johnson, who finished with 16 carries for 101 yards and became the first Lions running back to record a 100-yard rushing game since Reggie Bush against Green Bay on Nov. 28, 2013, felt the defensive performance was what keyed the win.

“I think the defense was a lot more impressive than we were,” Johnson said. “They had to shut down Tom Brady.”

Slay preferred to view their success story as a team effort.

“This was really all about the offense controlling the ball and keeping us rested,” Slay said. “The best game plan against Tom Brady is keeping him off the field, and the offense kept putting up long drives.”

The Lions also handed much of the credit to coach Matt Patricia, the former Patriots defensive coordinator who earned his first win as an NFL head coach.

“He made everything smooth this week,” Slay said. “He knows everything about that team and he made sure we knew it as well.”

Patricia wasn’t about to take the pat on the back without returning it to his players.

“A week ago, the story was completely different as I stood here,” Patricia said. “It was a good collective team effort. I think everybody that had a significant role, I thought they did a good job.”

Improving to 1-2 on the season while handing the defending AFC champion Patriots (1-2) their second straight loss, the Lions said it won’t matter if they don’t carry the momentum into Sunday’s game at Dallas against the Cowboys.

“Now that we have this win, it means nothing if we don’t come back this week and have a great week of practice and go out there and handle business on the road against another good opponent,” Tate said.

“We’re happy we got that first win, but now we’ve got to put that game to bed. Now we’ve got to prepare like we did last week for the Dallas Cowboys on the road. Try to hit restart and go do it again.”

 

  • Titans building early confidence with pair of AFC South wins-NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans have a rookie head coach. They started the season with the longest game in the NFL since the league’s merger with the AFL in 1970.

    Coaches have mixed and matched players to survive a variety of injuries, including to starting quarterback Marcus Mariota.

    And yet three weeks into the season, the Titans sit atop the AFC South as the NFL’s first team off to a 2-0 start in a division.

    Call it gritty, gutsy or just resourceful, the Titans are finding ways to pull out some big, early victories.

    “You build some confidence when you play tight, close games, tough games, division games that are going to be close,” coach Mike Vrabel said Monday.

    “There’s a lot of familiarity amongst opponents. Winning can cure a lot of things, and give you a lot of confidence going into the next week. But, there’s a lot of stuff that we can get better at, which is always the case.”

    At the top of the list is healing up Mariota.

    The fourth-year quarterback didn’t start because of his injured right elbow that still has him dealing with weakness in his throwing arm and numbness in his ring finger and pinkie.

    Mariota led Tennessee to a 9-6 victory over the defending AFC South champion Jaguars using his legs for 51 yards and that arm for 100 more with no completion longer than 22 yards.

    “Make no mistake about it, Marcus came in and won the football game,” Vrabel said.

    “We wouldn’t have won the game without Marcus. That was really cool to see, it was cool to see him come in and compete for his team, to win the game. Not only throwing the football where he had to, but making some plays with his legs. It was a great win. We can thank Marcus for that one.”

    Vrabel gave the Titans the day off Monday.

    After the game, Mariota credited the coaches, including offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, with being creative. The Titans lost three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker in the opener, Mariota hasn’t started since the opener in Miami.

    Tennessee beat Houston without its top three offensive tackles because of injuries or illnesses.

    “Whether it’s dealing with injuries, whether it’s dealing with some unusual circumstances, you’ve got to give those guys a lot of credit,” Mariota said.

    “You know, it’s still a young season, but at the same time, as a group we’ve got to continue to build off that confidence and see where this takes us.”

    The coaches might need to get a bit more creative.

    Backup Blaine Gabbert, who started a 20-17 win over Houston, is in the concussion protocol. Vrabel said he’s waiting to hear from doctors when Gabbert might return, which might force the Titans to add a third quarterback to the roster. Currently, rookie Logan Woodside, a seventh-round pick by Cincinnati, is on the Titans’ practice squad.

    Vrabel said they will give Mariota everything he physically can handle.

    Until Mariota and the rest of the offense gets closer to full strength, the Titans can sure lean on their defense.

    Tennessee also has shut out its first three opponents through the first quarter of each game. Only the Rams, Jaguars and Washington have allowed fewer points.

    The Titans never let Jacksonville get closer than the Titans 20 with the Jaguars getting into Tennessee territory only three times in the entire game.

    Next is a visit from the defending Super Bowl champs, the Philadelphia Eagles (2-1). Then three of the next four are on the road, including Tennessee’s first game in London, for a franchise that hasn’t won the AFC South since 2008.

    “We’re three games in,” Vrabel said. “We’re a long way away.”

 

  • Ravens get offensive behind Flacco, who’s off to great start-OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — John Harbaugh has seen Joe Flacco play in more than 170 games for the Ravens, including 15 in the postseason with an MVP effort in the Super Bowl.

    Though Baltimore’s coach is hard-pressed to remember them all, Harbaugh ranks Flacco’s performance against Denver on Sunday among the best.

    Flacco went 25 for 40 for 277 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions in Baltimore’s 27-14 victory . He’s put up better numbers during his 11-year career, but this outing stood out because of the fashion in which Flacco zipped the ball short, long and in between.

    “He’s had a lot of good throwing days, right? But definitely … it’s in the top category,” Harbaugh said Monday. “That’s what you’d like to see Joe do. I just think it’s a combination of a lot of things, including confidence in the guys that he’s throwing to.”

    Harbaugh became Baltimore’s head coach in 2008, the same year Flacco entered the NFL. The pair has gone through a lot together, most recently three straight seasons without a playoff appearance.

    The Ravens (2-1) hope an improved offense will turn things around.

    It’s been a long time since Flacco has had so many capable receivers to choose from. Offseason acquisitions Willie Snead, Michael Crabtree and John Brown have been excellent, and Mark Andrews got into the mix Sunday with 59 yards receiving, a Ravens record for a rookie tight end.

    “I’m really pleased with all those guys. They’re playing really well and they’ve made big plays,” Harbaugh said.

    With Flacco leading the way, the Ravens went 8 for 16 on third down against a team that stopped 17 of 22 attempts in its first two games.

    “All the receivers have a good chemistry with Joe,” Brown said. “It’s all about trust, starting with practice and talking with him to see if we’re seeing the same thing. That plays a big part of it.”

    The Ravens have long been known for their defense, and that unit has played well. But, at least for now, the offense is doing its part, too.

    After Denver bolted to a 7-0 lead, Baltimore went the distance on a soothing touchdown drive.

    “That was the tone setter for us as a team, to have them answer for us and really get us back to even,” safety Eric Weddle said. “And, once we settled down, shoot, defense played lights out.”

    As did the offense — again. The Ravens are averaging 32 points per game, and Flacco has completed 82 of 129 passes for 889 yards and six TDs with just two interceptions.

    Most impressive of all is Baltimore’s performance in the red zone: 12 trips, 12 touchdowns, including 3 for 3 against Denver.

    “We’ve had a good mix. I think we’ve probably thrown the ball in six times and run the ball in six times,” Flacco said. “If you can do both of those things, especially when you get down tight inside the 5-yard line, that helps a lot. We’ve got good playmakers, and we put a lot of pressure on the defense with the guys that we have out there.”

    Give credit to the receivers, along with the running back tandem of Alex Collins and Javorius Allen, but Harbaugh knows the real reason why Baltimore has been unstoppable inside the 20.

    “It probably starts with Joe,” Harbaugh said. “I think Joe has done a great job making plays, making throws, trusting his guys and also extending some plays. That’s been big.”

    The Ravens escaped the Denver game without any serious injuries, and Harbaugh hopes middle linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) can return for an AFC North showdown Sunday night with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

Middle

  •  WR Mike Williams emerging as big-play threat for Chargers-COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Mike Williams is starting to show why the Los Angeles Chargers selected him in the first round of the 2017 draft.

The second-year wide receiver has three touchdowns and is averaging 17.2 yards per catch. He had his first two-touchdown game with four receptions for 81 yards in Sunday’s 35-23 loss to the Rams .

“His confidence is at an all-time high. He’s looking good,” coach Anthony Lynn said Monday. “Last year he was learning on the run because he wasn’t practicing a lot. He has been really consistent for us so far.”

Williams, who is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, can be a matchup problem for opposing defenses when he is healthy. But he has battled injury problems two of the past three seasons.

During his sophomore year at Clemson in 2015, Williams broke his neck when his head slammed into the padded base of the goal post after a touchdown. He missed six games last year due to back and knee injuries.

Williams is hoping that this year mirrors what he did at Clemson in 2016, when he had 98 receptions for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead the Tigers to their second national championship.

If the first three weeks are any indication, Williams has the potential for another bounce-back season.

Both of his touchdowns against the Rams came despite tight windows to catch the ball. The 42-yard touchdown during the first quarter came while Marcus Peters was draped over him in coverage in the end zone on a go route. On Williams’ second touchdown, which came during the third quarter, he caught the ball at the Rams 3 on an out route and was able to outmuscle Lamarcus Joyner to the end zone.

“I’m making the best of my opportunities. Every time the ball comes my way, I feel like something good comes from it,” Williams said.

Williams is also showing a knack for making positive plays when he has the ball. All but one of his 11 receptions has been for a first down and four have gone for 20 yards or more. Williams’ ability to move the chains is also a reason why he continues to gain more trust from Philip Rivers.

“He’s come along. He’s going to continue to do this,” Rivers said. “He’s only going to continue to be more and more of a factor for us.”

Williams is hoping to have another big game this week when the Chargers host the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners (1-2) come into the game with the fifth-worst pass defense in the league and will be without cornerback Richard Sherman (groin) as well as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Sunday’s 38-27 loss at Kansas City.

Notes: Lynn said Monday that defensive end Joey Bosa will miss his fourth straight game due to a foot injury. Lynn has not shut the door on a possible return for offensive tackle Joearksdale. Barksdale suffered a knee injury in the Sept. 9 game against Kansas City and has missed the past two games. … After watching the tape of the Rams game, Lynn put a lot of the blame on punter Drew Kaser for having his punt blocked in the end zone. Lynn said Kaser should not have taken a three-step drop and should have gotten rid of the ball sooner.

 

Downs

  • Texans look to fix mistakes after 0-3 start- 

HOUSTON (AP) — After losing three close games to fall to 0-3 for the first time since 2008, the Houston Texans are pondering all the little things they did wrong that contributed to the defeats.

They’ve had a few turnovers but possibly more detrimental to their success than that has been the constant smaller mistakes that have kept the team from running the way it should.

As usual, coach Bill O’Brien shouldered the blame for their latest loss, a 27-22 defeat to the Giants which gave them their first win this season.

Though he said it was his fault, he refused to go into details about what he’s trying to do better.

“There’s a lot of things,” he said. “Like I always say to you guys when things don’t go well — and they haven’t gone well lately — it starts with me. So, I just think there’s a lot of different things that I can do to be better. I’m not going to list them all.”

Though he took the blame for Houston’s failure on Sunday, there are certainly plenty of other factors that have kept the Texans out of the win column. The first and most glaring has been the play of the offensive line.

The unit has allowed quarterback Deshaun Watson to be sacked 10 times and hit many more. The group has also committed an inordinate amount of penalties in the first three games. Though several different players have been penalized, right tackle Julien Davenport has struggled the most in this area and had five penalties on Sunday alone.

He was called for three false start penalties and flagged two other times for holding.

“He’s struggling, and we have to work with him to keep getting better, but we’re definitely looking at that position,” O’Brien said. “He’s a good guy. He’s going to work hard to get better, but he needs to improve, no doubt.”

O’Brien isn’t sure what he can do in practice to help his team eliminate these penalties, but said Monday that he’s working to figure out something.

Houston is also intent on improving its red zone efficiency after scoring touchdowns on just two of five trips inside the 20 on Sunday. O’Brien said the penalties have contributed to the problems in that area, but there are also other factors.

“Statistics tell you that when you have a negative play in the red area, you really have no chance of scoring a touchdown,” O’Brien said.

“So, I think on all of the drives where we’ve had to settle for a field goal, we’ve had a negative play. We have to figure out how to stop doing that.”

“It’s not good, and that’s been one of our main issues on offense,” he continued. “When you have a lot of yards, it doesn’t matter when you’re not scoring touchdowns.”

Though the Texans are certainly disappointed that their season has gotten off to such a dreadful start, O’Brien believes that his players will work hard to try and turn things around. Houston will try again for its first win on Sunday in a visit to AFC South foe Indianapolis.

“We have a bunch of good guys in there that are very much together,” O’Brien said. “We’ve only played one divisional game. We’ve got a big one this week. So, we just have to keep grinding. There’s no other way out of it. There’s no choice.”

 

  • Another poor finish sends Raiders to 0-3 start under Gruden-ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — The last time an Oakland Raiders coach watched his team lose back-to-back games when leading after three quarters, late owner Al Davis brought out the overhead projector and fired Lane Kiffin.

    There will be no repeat with Jon Gruden this week, even if that doesn’t ease the pain of these late-game collapses in Oakland.

    The Raiders became the second team in the past 20 seasons to start the year with three straight losses after leading the first three games at halftime with the latest blown lead coming Sunday in Miami when Oakland lost 28-20 to the Dolphins.

    “Nobody cares right now. They want results,” Gruden said Monday. “We want to win. I think the players see a lot of things to be confident about, but we know we got to finish football games much better.”

    The Raiders (0-3) have spent most of this season playing from ahead, holding the lead for nearly two-thirds of the time and trailing for only 22:28 over the first three games. In fact, there hasn’t been a single second played in the first three quarters of any game this season with Oakland behind on the scoreboard.

    But the fourth quarter has been an utter disaster. The Raiders fell behind the Rams in the opener on the final play of the third quarter and then were outscored 13-0 in the fourth thanks in part to two interceptions by Derek Carr.

    Oakland then was outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter in a Week 2 loss at Denver before falling apart late again in Miami on Sunday. Carr threw another costly interception and the Raiders let Miami turn two gimmick plays into long touchdowns that have kept Gruden winless in his second stint as Raiders head coach.

    “We’ve got to take a deep breath and look forward to the moment,” Gruden said. “We have to apply pressure, not to say we feel pressure. We’ve got to continue to remain confident and poised and do our jobs individually, so we can do our job collectively. I think at times we have some guys trying to do too much. That’s something we really have to solve quickly. We do have good enough players to finish.”

    This marked the first time since Kiffin’s final two games in 2008 that the Raiders lost consecutive games when leading after three quarters. They joined the 2011 Minnesota Vikings as the only teams in the past 20 seasons to start the year 0-3 when leading all three games at halftime.

    Oakland has started with the ball each week and all three games have begun with the Raiders scoring and the opposition going three-and-out. That has led to the Raiders outscoring the opponent by 18 points in the first half, tying for seventh best in the league heading into Monday night. But Oakland has been outscored by 47 points in the second half, 22 points behind the next worst team in Arizona.

    The problems have been in all three phases. The offense has scored TDs on just four of nine red zone trips, committed five turnovers and fallen flat late in games with just one field goal in the fourth quarter all year.

    Oakland has failed to generate any big returns on kicks or punts and had an extra point blocked in Denver that proved to be the difference in a one-point loss.

    The defense has allowed three TDs on shovel passes and struggled to generate big plays after trading star edge rusher Khalil Mack. Oakland ranks last in the league with three sacks and tied for last with just one takeaway, contributing to Oakland being the only team that hasn’t started a drive this season in the opponent’s territory.

    “It’s a big reason why field position is what it is,” Gruden said. “Really a turnover is getting a three-and-out, too. Getting a three-and-out, getting the ball back immediately can almost be as good as a turnover. We need some of those and we need to get the ball back, whether we intercept it or strip it away.”

 

  • Dink and dunk isn’t cutting it with Cowboys’ passing game-FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott has the fewest throws of at least 15 yards down the field among quarterbacks who have played all three games this season.

    It isn’t really news to the leader of the Dallas Cowboys.

    “I don’t think we’ve just attacked that area enough, simple as that,” Prescott said after a 24-13 loss to Seattle on Sunday. “I don’t necessarily say they’re taking it away as much as we haven’t tried them enough. You can put it on me. I guess I just need to push the ball down the field more.”

    Whether it’s play-calling, blocking or a group of receivers looking woefully ill-equipped to replace the All-Pro version of Dez Bryant, the Cowboys’ passing game is broken — even when Ezekiel Elliott has his first 100-yard rushing game of the season.

    Prescott, who has completed just three of 10 passes at least 15 yards downfield, had his fifth straight game of fewer than 200 yards with at least 25 passes going back to last season. The Cowboys haven’t had that long a run of inefficiency in the passing game in 15 years.

    If it’s any consolation, Quincy Carter-led Dallas made the playoffs despite that ineptitude in 2003, although those Cowboys were quickly bounced in the wild-card round because of their stagnant offense.

    These Cowboys (1-2) don’t look anything like a playoff team with this offense. They play Detroit (1-2) on Sunday at home with the Lions coming off a stirring win at home against New England.

    “I don’t see anybody in that room that will accept that we can’t do better offensively no matter what the conditions are — on the road or otherwise,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “It’s pretty obvious that all day long, we were disjointed and just couldn’t make it happen.”

    Cole Beasley is the only receiver with 100 yards for the season (132). Newcomer Deonte Thompson, supposedly a speed threat on the outside, is averaging 9.2 yards on nine catches.

    Tavon Austin, acquired in a trade during the draft, has the only catch of more than 20 yards — a 64-yard touchdown on the third play of Dallas’ win over the New York Giants. His other four catches are for 17 yards.

    Austin has the only two receiving touchdowns for Dallas. The second was on a 3-yard shovel pass with the Cowboys trailing the Seahawks 24-6 in the fourth quarter.

    Geoff Swaim has been solid trying to replace 15-year tight end Jason Witten, who retired to go into broadcasting. He led the Cowboys with five catches for 47 yards against the Seahawks.

    “We have to be more efficient and we have to be more explosive throwing the ball,” coach Jason Garrett said Monday. “There are a lot of components to it. There’s a protection component. There’s a decision-making component. There’s a throw and catch component. There’s a winning on the route component.”

    With 127 yards, Elliott had his best rushing total since before his six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations last season. But the 2016 All-Pro had two of the biggest mistakes of the game.

    First, Elliott stepped out of bounds before making the catch on what would have been a tying 31-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Then he fumbled at the end of a 26-yard run — his longest of the season — to kill a promising drive early in the fourth quarter.

    Elliott’s mistakes will be magnified until more playmakers, if any, emerge around him. None of the receivers or tight ends appears close to doing that so far.

    “People can say whatever, but at the end of the day, but you know, when you’ve got that ball in your hand, that’s the team in your hand,” Elliott said. “Me being a leader on the team, I’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball. I mean, that cost us the game.”

    Elliott still isn’t getting much help from the passing game, though.

 

 

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