As we do every Monday here at the 33rd Team, here are my top five takeaways from this week’s NFL action:
1) Chargers win despite poor game management; 49ers lose because of it
The Chargers got a marquee victory this week, beating Kansas City—their division rival—at Arrowhead, 30-24. Justin Herbert was a fantastic 26 of 38 for 281 yards and 4 TDs. The Chargers also capitalized on 4 K.C. turnovers, and the Chiefs are now below .500 for the first time since 2015. Yet, as good as Brandon Staley was on Sunday, they did a poor job with game management at the end and gave Patrick Mahomes a chance to win the game. They should have run out the clock and attempted a very short game-winning field goal, but they decided to pass. They got the go-ahead TD and missed the XP, which gave Mahomes a chance to win the game with 32 seconds on the clock. Perhaps they didn’t have faith in their kicker, Vizcaino, but I wouldn’t have given Mahomes such an opportunity.
In Sunday Night Football, Jimmy Garoppolo threw a go-ahead TD to Kyle Juszczyk, but they decided to snap the ball with 12 seconds left on a running clock. The 49ers still had three timeouts and could have burned more time. Instead, they opted for the TD, which gave Aaron Rodgers just enough time to set up a Mason Crosby game-winning FG. In addition, according to Next Gen Stats, San Francisco made three sub-optimal fourth-down decisions, which cost them a total of 10.5% in Win Probability.
2) Justin Tucker
It’s fitting that the greatest kicker ever now holds the record for the longest field goal made in NFL history. Justin Tucker accomplished this Sunday when he made a 66-yard game-winning FG to beat the Lions. Per Next Gen Stats, Tucker leads all kickers in field goal percentage over expected since 2016 at plus-17.9%. He is over 5% better than the next-best kicker (Graham Gano, plus-12.7%). Likewise, NGS gave him just a 10.4% chance to make the kick, but given Tucker’s track record, it felt higher than that.
On the other side, the Lions suffer heartbreak again; they have now lost two games on the longest FGs in NFL history at the time, and both losses were by the same, unusual score of 19-17. This loss is also not without controversy, as the Ravens should have been called for a delay of game penalty on the play before Tucker’s game-winner.
3) Josh Allen rebounds from slow start
After historic improvement in 2020, Josh Allen was off to a slow start to begin the 2021 season. His PFF grade for the first two games was a mere 62.3, which is in line with the first two seasons of his career. That was in stark contrast to last season, when Allen posted a PFF grade of 90.3 with 42 TDs and 5,535 yards.
But Allen rebounded on Sunday, playing closer to what we saw from him last year. He went 32 of 43 for 358 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs in the Bills’ 43-21 rout of Washington. Whereas he completed 56% of his passes through the first two weeks, Allen’s completion percentage on Sunday was an impressive 74.4%. Likewise, according to Next Gen Stats, his completion percentage over expected in Week 3 was plus-9.2%; through the first two weeks, it was minus-6.1%. If Allen is able to build off this performance, the Bills should be in a prime position to challenge for the AFC crown.
4) Browns pressure Fields relentlessly
It’s hard to imagine a fanbase being more excited for something than Bears fans were for Justin Fields’ first NFL start. Unfortunately for them, the performance on Sunday did not live up to the hype. Chicago only tried one pass attempt in the first quarter, and they only converted one third down in the game. Fields was sacked 9 times for a total loss of 67 yards. He only threw for 68 yards, meaning the Bears finished with 1 net passing yard. The Browns held the Bears to 47 yards of offense, the fewest yards Cleveland has allowed since 1946. Myles Garrett also set a Browns franchise record for most sacks in a game with 4.5.
5) Notable QB performances
Here are some QBs I thought were outstanding this week:
Kyler Murray: He only had 6 incompletions and continues to have an MVP season, completing 76.5% of his passes. The Cardinals are now 3-0, setting up a clash of undefeated NFC West teams with the Rams next week.
Matthew Stafford: Speaking of the Rams, Stafford picked apart what looks to be a disconcerting Bucs’ secondary. He went 27 of 38 for 343 yards with 4 TDs, 134.0 passer rating. Stafford is just the third QB to have a 4 TD-0 INT game against Tom Brady. The other two are Drew Brees and Alex Smith. The Rams look to replicate what the Bucs did in 2020 and become the second team to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium. It’s obviously early, but this win over Tampa could prove significant in terms of playoff seeding down the road.
Joe Burrow: The second-year signal-caller only attempted 18 passes and the Bengals scored 24 points, which is excellent in terms of balance and efficiency. The Steelers’ pass rush, however, pressured Burrow just one time without their starting EDGE defenders T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith (both out with injury). The Steelers 5.6% team pressure rate was their lowest in a game in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016). As I predicted in our Week 3 Matchups to Watch story, the Bengals upset the Steelers.
Kirk Cousins: The Vikings earned their first win of the season, beating Seattle, 30-17, on the back of an incredible performance by Cousins. He went 30 of 38 for 323 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs. His PFF grade this season is now 88.4, which is third best in the NFL.