It's easy to overreact to one week of the NFL season. But by Week 3, there's enough evidence -- and unfortunately, enough injuries -- that patterns emerge that could shape the rest of the season. And we're not even talking about the impact of Taylor Swift showing up in Travis Kelce's suite -- the news that blew up the internet on Sunday even more than the Miami Dolphins' final score.
This week, the early games brought a few things into sharp focus and gave us plenty to think about for the weeks ahead.
1. The Miami Dolphins have the best offense in football. The 70 points they put up on the Denver Broncos -- "embarrassing," Broncos head coach Sean Payton called it -- was the most scored in an NFL game since 1966. That is the headline, but the really dazzling thing was how they did it. Tua Tagovailoa was, again, practically flawless. He was a perfect 16 of 16 in the first half and finished the day 23 of 26 (a bonkers 88.5 completion percentage) for 309 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. That's eight touchdowns and two interceptions through three games. Tyreek Hill remains unstoppable (157 yards receiving), and Jaylen Waddle, the other half of the NFL's most dynamic receiving duo, wasn’t even playing. It was also the 350 yards rushing. The trick plays (a nifty no-look, off-hand shovel pass for a touchdown). The average of 10.2 yards gained on each offensive play. Some of this is, of course, on the Broncos' woeful defense, but the Dolphins have started the season fast while other teams are still figuring things out in what has looked like an extension of preseason. Miami plays the Bills next week with an early chance to establish control of the AFC East. For the Dolphins, these first three games are an extension of what we saw last season: If Tagovailoa is healthy, the Dolphins are as dangerous as any team in the loaded AFC.
2. Reality checks are painful. The Washington Commanders and Atlanta Falcons, who both started 2-0, came back down to Earth with a thud on Sunday. Sam Howell had his first disastrous performance as the Commanders' starter, with four interceptions, including a pick-six, and nine sacks, in a 37-3 loss to the Bills. Howell looked confused all day, and the Commanders' offensive line issues -- which were easier to mask when facing the winless Broncos and Cardinals -- were laid bare by overwhelming pressure from the Bills' defensive line. The Falcons' offensive line was also a problem -- they couldn't protect and struggled to run block. As a result, the offense ground to a halt. Desmond Ridder was sacked seven times in a 20-6 loss to the Lions, and the run game averaged just 2.2 yards per rush. Weird stat: The Falcons haven't scored a touchdown on the road in almost nine full quarters, dating back to last season. They have to fix that fast because they are on the road -- in London -- against the Jaguars next week. The bottom line for both teams -- this is a test of the resilience of their young quarterbacks.
3. The loss of Aaron Rodgers was just as devastating as we expected. Even after losing to the Patriots, 15-10, Jets head coach Robert Saleh said quarterback Zach Wilson gives the team the best chance to win. But with Wilson looking hesitant holding the ball (all three sacks were on him), and the coaches drawing up an uninspired game plan that failed to get their best weapons involved and seemingly afraid until late in the game to let Wilson throw, even against a depleted Patriots secondary, how much longer will that be true? Worse, there are signs of frustration developing. Receiver Garrett Wilson (five catches, 48 yards), when talking to reporters after the game, admitted he does not think he is getting used enough. And fans booed the team loudly. There was one glimmer, the lone touchdown drive late in the game when Zach Wilson looked in command and completed several impressive passes, which is probably just enough evidence for Jets coaches to stick with him. But after that, he had three drives to win the game, and the Jets went nowhere. Wilson did not turn the ball over (although he did take a safety), and that is certainly a sign of progress, particularly because Bill Belichick was on the other sideline. At 1-2, the season is far from over, but the Jets are at risk of settling into the same dispiriting rut they were in last season: the defense keeps them alive, but the offense (two touchdowns in Wilson's two starts) can't capitalize. It is why the Jets sought to replace Wilson with Rodgers in the first place. Wilson was certainly the most prepared in the immediate aftermath of Rodgers' injury to be the starter. But the Jets might soon have to weigh whether it is time to start considering their options. Not to be overlooked -- while Wilson held the ball too long, the patchwork offensive line, with left tackle Duane Brown on injured reserve and Mekhi Becton moving from right tackle to replace him, was spotty, especially in the running game, which produced just 38 yards.
4. The Packers and Texans appear to have their franchise quarterbacks. Houston's C.J. Stroud has still not thrown an interception in the NFL. Full stop. And he has established chemistry with rookie receiver Tank Dell, who caught two passes of at least 40 yards from the rookie quarterback in Sunday's upset of the Jaguars. And it's not like the Texans are afraid to let him throw: He's just the third quarterback in league history to throw for at least 900 yards in the first three games of his career. The Texans are still young and have plenty of holes, but Stroud, who was the only one of the first-round rookie quarterbacks healthy enough to play Sunday, has been everything the Texans could have hoped for so far. Speaking of which … no David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Aaron Jones or Christian Watson and all Jordan Love does is lead three fourth-quarter scoring drives to guide the Packers from a 17-0 deficit to an 18-17 win over the Saints in his first start at Lambeau Field. Most impressive about this was Love's resilience and ability to handle adversity. Last week, he did not have one completion on what could have been a game-winning drive. You have to wonder how much sitting behind Rodgers and watching him deal with the slings and arrows of a season prepared Love for these moments.
5. The Ravens offense is still a work in progress. Last week, the Ravens were balanced and dynamic in beating the Bengals. This week, not so much in an overtime loss to the Colts. The Ravens were down four offensive starters, including two linemen and Odell Beckham, Jr. They couldn't throw downfield, lost two fumbles, were 6 of 16 on third-down conversions, had five three-and-out drives and resorted to relying on Lamar Jackson's running game -- he ran for more than 100 yards for the first time in exactly a year. That is not what new coordinator Todd Monken envisioned for this offense. The next two games are on the road against formidable in-division defenses -- at Cleveland and at Pittsburgh before the Ravens play the Titans in London. Baltimore needs to get healthy and back on track.