But enough about the Week 3 doldrums -- I want to stress the positive. Let's spotlight the inspiring!
Travis Kelce put on a show for Taylor Swift. As a Swiftie myself, I loved it. And speaking of Swifts ... D'Andre showed once again that pounding the rock never goes out of style. Ditto Kenneth Walker III. Meanwhile, Detroit proved this isn't the "same old Lions" by taking care of business against Atlanta in convincing fashion. Jordan Love went from producing three quarters of slop to authoring a majestic comeback win. And hey, Kenny Pickett finally looked the part.
Those were all encouraging developments, but who provided the MOST inspiration in the third week of the 2023 NFL season? Allow me to rank and applaud the deserving parties, Schein Nine style.
1) Dolphins score 70 freaking points!!
SEVENTY!!!! I mean, this offense has been on fire to start the season, but dropping 70 points on Denver?!?! Holy cow! Choose your historic nugget of domination ...
- That was the first 70-point effort since 1966.
- That was the second-most yards (726) ever gained by a team in an NFL game.
- Miami became the first team with 350 yards passing and rushing in the same game. The Dolphins also achieved a first by scoring five touchdowns passing and rushing.
- Raheem Mostert and De'Von Achane became the second pair of teammates in league history to each score four-plus touchdowns in the same game.
- The Dolphins ran 71 plays, averaging 10.2 yards per play. In other words, they averaged a first down every snap!
Mike McDaniel's ground attack was poetry in motion. The Tua Tagovailoa-Tyreek Hill connection was absolutely lethal. Even with Jaylen Waddle sidelined by injury, Tua had more touchdown passes (four) than incompletions (three).
Miami is for real -- it's awesome for Dolphins fans and the NFL. This offense is must-see TV. Miami's confidence is brimming. Tua is on fire. It's all inspiring and not a fluke.
2) Bills' D absolutely stifles Commanders
Josh Allen and the offense did their job at Washington, but to be a true title contender, Buffalo needs its defense to hold up its end of the bargain. The unit did that -- and then some -- in a 37-3 shellacking of the Commanders.
To be clear, the Bills' defense has been stout for most of Sean McDermott's tenure. But when McDermott's right-hand man, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, decided to take a year off back in February, McDermott was forced to take the play-calling reins for the unit. And after Buffalo's Week 1 loss to the Zach Wilson-led Jets, you had to wonder if the head coach just had too much on his plate. But in Week 2, the Bills limited the Raiders to 240 yards and 10 points. Then on Sunday, Buffalo turned in a defensive masterpiece.
Washington entered the game at 2-0 with a Sam Howell earning praise as a young QB to watch, but McDermott's D just teed off on the Commanders, piling up five takeaways (including a pick-six), nine sacks and 15 QB hits. That's utter domination.
If you are a Bills fan looking for reason to believe this is your year to finally get over the hump and win a title, this was a rather big deal -- especially with Miami coming to town this week.
3) DeMeco and C.J. get first win as Texans
I love DeMeco Ryans! So happy for him to get his first win as Texans head coach, after starring for the franchise as a Pro Bowl linebacker. And I love that Houston's first draft pick of the Ryans era, quarterback C.J. Stroud, is off to a fabulous start, averaging more than 300 passing yards per game without a single interception to his name.
The Trevor Lawrence-led Jaguars entered this season as clear favorites in the AFC South. But Ryans, Stroud and Co. stormed Jacksonville and blew the home team off the field, 37-17. What a statement from a franchise that totaled 11 wins over the previous three years combined. Back in May, I implored readers to hop on the DeMeco bandwagon, saying these Texans would "catch some opponents by surprise, winning games they aren't supposed to." Sunday's result certainly backs up that sentiment.
It's a new day -- with a new culture -- in Houston.
4) Colts knock off Ravens in Baltimore
Matt Gay hit a 53-yarder to send the game to overtime and another 53-yarder to send the Ravens home. Did I mention those were the Indianapolis kicker's third and fourth 50-yard field goals of the day? All told, Gay went 5-for-5 in a record-setting performance that carried Indianapolis to a thrilling 22-19 road win. You gotta love sports, at least if you're a Colts fan -- or a fan of me looking stupid.
I gave this Indy team no chance, with a backup quarterback leading the Colts into hostile M&T Bank Stadium. I was dead wrong. Filling in for rookie QB Anthony Richardson (concussion), Gardner Minshew rocked steady. Filling in for disgruntled RB Jonathan Taylor, Zach Moss racked up 145 total yards and a touchdown on 32 touches.
New Colts coach Shane Steichen was an inspired hire. Indy, currently sitting alone atop the AFC South, is the most surprising 2-1 team in the league.
5) Myles Garrett wrecks a game!
In the wake of a Monday night loss to the rival Steelers that included a devastating injury to Nick Chubb, the Browns could have come out flat on a short week. Not on Myles Garrett's watch! The annual Defensive Player of the Year candidate was an absolute monster in Cleveland's 27-3 rout of Tennessee, terrorizing Titans QB Ryan Tannehill with 3.5 sacks, five QB hits and nine total pressures.
Yes, this was Deshaun Watson's best game as a Brown. Yes, Jerome Ford stepped up in Chubb's absence, scoring two touchdowns. And yes, Amari Cooper hauled in seven balls for 117 yards and a touchdown. But Garrett was the best player on the field, guiding an inspired Cleveland defense that completely shut down Derrick Henry.
6) Keenan Allen takes over a game!
This is a positive Schein Nine and the Chargers won, so I won't dwell on a) the season-ending injury to Mike Williams and b) the ridiculous fourth-down decision by Brandon Staley. Instead, let's concentrate on sublime brilliance of one of the game's best route runners.
Allen, who remains one of the NFL's most underrated studs at age 31, cooked Brian Flores' defense all day long in Los Angeles' 28-24 win at Minnesota. Targeted by Justin Herbert a whopping 20 times, Allen delivered 18 catches for 215 yards. And that's not all! Allen also threw a 49-yard touchdown pass on a perfectly executed trick play. Not a bad day at the office, eh?
The Vikings and Chargers both entered this game at 0-2, carrying some early desperation. Viking star receiver Justin Jefferson did his part with seven catches for 149 yards and a touchdown, but the Bolts' WR1 was just better.
7) Cardinals stun Cowboys -- with ease
Sure, the Trevon Diggs injury was brutal -- and in my mind, it will keep the Cowboys from making a Super Bowl run. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, let's focus on what we just saw: Arizona cruising past Dallas, 28-16.
Through the first two weeks of the season, the Cowboys looked like a top-two team in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Cardinals -- a team I predicted would go 0-17 -- sat at 0-2 despite admirably competing in their first two games. Then Jonathan Gannon's team came out and simply punched the Cowboys -- and me -- in the mouth. In his seventh year on his sixth different NFL team, Joshua Dobbs registered his first ever quarterback win, flummoxing Dallas' ballyhooed defense with his arm and legs.
It's easy, accurate and obvious to rip Dallas, but this was inspiring stuff for an Arizona team we all left for dead before the season even kicked off.
8) Bengals gut out first win
Cincinnati's defense held the fort in the first half, while Burrow sputtered. In the second half, Burrow got in a flow, the Bengals' defense made more splash plays and Cincy even doinked in a field goal, suggesting the football gods do indeed want this team in the thick of the AFC race once again.
It wasn't the prettiest win in memory for the Bengals, but it was one of their most important. An 0-3 start in the highly competitive AFC -- and more specifically, the loaded AFC North -- would have put Cincy in a deep hole.
9) 49ers just manhandle Giants
And San Francisco wins again. Never minimize this. The 49ers are my Super Bowl pick. They are loaded with talent and elite coaching. And after a 30-12 nationally televised rout of the Giants, they haven't lost a regular season game since Week 7 of last year.
Christian McCaffrey (115-plus scrimmage yards and a touchdown in each week this season) is special talent. Deebo Samuel (six catches for 129 yards and a score in Week 3) is healthy, focused and back to being Deebo. San Francisco's defense is elite. And repeat after me: Brock Purdy is a stud. All he does is win.