1. Steve Smith Sr.
The former Carolina Panthers wide receiver promised “blood and guts” if he ever got the opportunity to face the Panthers as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. This week, Smith got his opportunity, and while it may have been slightly less gorey, he certainly got his revenge against his former team. Smith led all receivers in the game with seven receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns as Baltimore eviscerated Carolina 38-10 on Sunday. And the two touchdowns were not routine, either. Early in the second quarter Smith caught a tipped pass and was off for a 61-yard score. Later in the game, quarterback Joe Flacco fumbled a snap, picked it up and threw it Smith’s way in the endzone. With a cornerback grabbing his arm and jersey pulling him to the ground (which he was flagged for on the play) Smith was able to grab Flacco’s desperate heave for his second touchdown. In what has been an awkward and difficult season off the field for the Ravens the play of the aging Smith is a refreshing bright spot, and hopefully his resurgence continues.
2. Teddy Bridgewater
Once in the discussion for the first overall pick, the Vikings rookie quarterback had to wait until the final pick of the first round to hear his name called on draft day due to a combination of bad workouts and attitude issues. However, in his first start, he showed why he was originally so highly touted. In for the injured Matt Cassel on Sunday, Bridgewater led Minnesota to a victory over a strong Falcons team that had utterly demolished the Buccaneers the week before. While the Vikings supplemented Bridgewater with a heavy rushing attack to the tune of 241 yards, he still threw for over 300 yards. He also added to the ground game with some scrambles and a 13-yard touchdown run. While Bridgewater left the game late with an ankle injury, early reports are that it is not serious and he might be able to play this Thursday in Green Bay. While the Vikings’ big win wasn’t solely due to Bridgewater, fans have to be encouraged that after years of mediocre quarterback play, they may finally have an emerging star under center.
3. Larry Donnell
The three certainties in life are death, taxes, and Eli Manning’s love for his tight ends. Jeremy Shockey was the hipster receiving tight end, racking up huge amounts of receiving yards for the Giants back in 2002 – 2007, before having a monster tight end threat was cool. After Shockey, the Giants dealt with short stints from generally unheralded guys like Kevin Boss, Jack Ballard, Martellus Bennett (who is no longer unheralded) and now Donnell. Nobody thought much of any of these players. However, Giants fans will tell you that, for whatever reason, Eli Manning loves to throw the ball to his big tight ends. I don’t know whether it comes down to chemistry or a matter of progression of reads, but with 3 touchdowns against the Redskins the unsung Donnell has quickly become a well-known name in the NFL, especially within fantasy football circles. Donnell might not be the starting tight end for the Giants two years from now, but I’m willing to bet that whoever it is will see success; look for Donnell to grow as Eli continues feeding him the ball in an emerging offense.
1. Washington Redskins
So much for my glowing endorsement of Kirk Cousins last week, he and the Redskins look completely lost right now after a dismal performance. The Giants are far from the NFL’s elite, yet they dominated the Redskins in their home stadium. Washington allowed nearly 450 total yards of offense, committed 11 penalties and gave away 6 turnovers. At this point I’m not sure if Washington fans should look forward to RGIII’s return or just hope that Cousins sees a dramatic improvement. The problem is that the Redskins don’t just have problems at quarterback, they have personnel issues all over. It makes me look back at the 3 first round picks and 1 second round pick the Redskins gave up to trade up to acquire RGIII and wonder how far that trade might have set the franchise back.
2. Nick Foles
Welcome to Sports Science 101, today’s topic: Regression to the Mean. Nick Foles had a tremendous year last season, but those who thought he would continue at that rate might have been a bit over-optimistic, Foles was always bound to regress from such an incredible season. However, Sunday’s 21- 26 loss to San Francisco exposed just how bad Nick Foles can, or might, be. The score of that game was inflated by excellent play by the Eagle’s special teams, which accounted for two touchdowns (the third was also not-offensive coming on a pick-six) and this score masks just how bad Foles and Coach Chip Kelly have looked of late. On Sunday Foles attempted 43 throws and still failed to pass the 200 yard passing mark. He added two interceptions and missed countless makeable throws. Foles certainly isn’t the only problem for the Eagles, who have lacked any semblance of a running game and have been hit hard by injuries on the line, but he will shoulder much of the blame. It seems, impossibly, that after four weeks Tony Romo and Eli Manning are the most reliable NFC East quarterbacks. Actually, would you really feel comfortable with any NFC East quarterback?
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers were coming off of a strong showing against a good Panthers team, and faced a Buccaneers team that was blown out by the Falcons in their last game. Easy win, right? The Steelers thought so, and then they proceeded to fall apart in front of our eyes. The offense could not hold onto the ball, and then a terrible punt gave Mike Glennon enough time to engineer a shocking comeback, which ended in a touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson with just 7 seconds left in the game. The Steelers now have fallen to 2-2, a dangerous given the impressive displays by the Ravens and Bengals. Pittsburgh has potent offensive weapons, but they were unable to have success in key situations and their defense failed to stop the lowly Bucs. Unless things change soon the Steelers are going to find themselves buried in the AFC Playoff picture.
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