Just when you think you have the NFL figured out, the league surprises you again. Week 3 of the 2023 season offered plenty of shocking results, astounding upsets, and highlight-reel plays.
Who looked the best during today’s games, and who’s already looking ahead to Week 4? Here are all the winners and losers from Week 3 of NFL action.
Winners and Losers From NFL Week 3
Winner | Miami Dolphins’ Record-Breaking Offense
What else can be said about the Dolphins? If the season ended today, Tua Tagovailoa would be the NFL MVP, Tyreek Hill would win Offensive Player of the Year, and Mike McDaniel would be the league’s Coach of the Year.
Miami absolutely destroyed the Denver Broncos on Sunday, scoring 70 points — the second-most in NFL history — in an utter blowout. The Dolphins likely could have broken the league record, but McDaniel opted to kneel it out deep in Denver’s territory on their final drive.
Tagovailoa, who threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns, is averaging 0.58 expected points added per dropback so far this season. That’s nearly double the production Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes averaged during his 2022 MVP campaign.
Tua Tagovailoa's 0.58 EPA per dropback average in Weeks 1-3 is the second-best for any quarterback since at least 2000 (via TruMedia).
Only three-week start better was Tom Brady's 2007 season (0.64).
— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) September 24, 2023
With WR Jaylen Waddle sidelined with a concussion, Hill went wild again, posting 157 yards on nine catches. And we haven’t even mentioned Miami’s rushing attack. Rookie RB De’Von Achane posted 233 total yards and two scores, while RB Raheem Mostert managed 142 total yards and four — yes, four! — touchdowns.
Miami is the only undefeated team remaining in the AFC and also looks like one of the best clubs in the entire NFL. Week 4’s Dolphins-Buffalo Bills game will get a 1 p.m. ET start next Sunday, but it deserves a prime-time slot.
Loser | Denver Broncos
Nothing looks right when you’re on the losing end of a 70-20 defeat, but did Sean Payton really come out of retirement for this?
Payton said he was “at a loss for words” following Miami’s Sunday beatdown, and he should be. The Broncos spent heavily in free agency this offseason, adding new pieces like OL Mike McGlinchey, OL Ben Powers, and pass rusher Zach Allen. Still, they’re 0-3 to begin the year.
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Denver was a trendy playoff pick before this season, but it’s hard to imagine Russell Wilson and Co. climbing out of the hole they’ve built for themselves. How long until Payton decides to bench Wilson and/or trade away some of the Broncos’ contributors that he didn’t have a hand in adding?
Winner | Los Angeles Chargers’ HC Brandon Staley’s Job Security
Brandon Staley could have had a lot to answer for after Sunday’s game if things had gone slightly differently. With the Los Angeles Chargers leading by four points with 1:51 remaining, Staley opted to go for it on a fourth-and-1 from the Chargers’ own 24-yard line.
We always love aggressive decisions, and the numbers backed up Staley’s call, but L.A. failed to convert, which gave the Minnesota Vikings another chance.
Fortunately for the Bolts, the Vikings couldn’t do anything with their second life — as we’ll get into shortly. Still, Staley was probably this close to losing his job on Sunday.
Now, the Chargers are 1-2 and still in the playoff race. They’ll get the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 4 before heading to their bye the following week.
Loser | The Minnesota Vikings’ Playoff Chances
Since 2002, 99 NFL teams have begun 0-3. Only one of those clubs made it to the playoffs. The NFL’s 17-game schedule and 14-team playoff bracket give clubs a slightly better chance to come back from an 0-3 start now, but it’s incredibly difficult.
It’s not necessarily surprising that the Vikings are in this position. They went 11-0 in one-score games last season and generally outperformed all their underlying metrics. Regression has already hit hard this season, as all of Minnesota’s losses have been by one score.
The Vikings blitzed Justin Herbert on 40 of his 50 dropbacks, the 2nd-highest blitz rate (82.0%) in a game in the NGS era.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 24, 2023
Now, the questions will start. Should the Vikings trade Kirk Cousins before his contract expires next spring? Will Minnesota try to quietly tank? This isn’t where the Vikings wanted to be, but they’ll have to face their reality.
Winner | Kansas City Chiefs
The Dolphins put up an eye-popping 70 points in Week 3, and it looked like the Kansas City Chiefs were on pace to join them.
K.C. was up 34-0 at halftime and 41-0 midway through the third quarter, but Andy Reid’s team eventually took their foot off the gas. QB Patrick Mahomes, who appeared to injure his ankle near the end of the second quarter, became the fastest quarterback in NFL history to reach 25,000 passing yards. He was eventually relieved by backup Blaine Gabbert in the Chiefs’ 41-10 win.
The Chicago Bears might have the worst defense in the NFL, so take Kansas City’s performance with a grain of salt, but Mahomes and the Chiefs can score on anyone in the league. It seems like they’ll run away with the AFC West, yet again, this season.
Loser | QB Sam Howell and the Washington Commanders
The Commanders were arguably the NFL’s most surprising undefeated team heading into Week 3, but it was critical to remember that they’d played the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos — not exactly the stiffest competition — over the first two weeks of the season.
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On Sunday, the wheels fell off. The Buffalo Bills proved too much to handle, while the Sam Howell storyline took a nosedive.
Howell, who’d looked more than competent over his first two starts of the year, took nine sacks and threw four interceptions against Buffalo, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Bills’ edge defender A.J. Epenesa. The former fifth-round pick generated a whopping -24.1 EPA on Sunday.
Winner | DE Myles Garrett and the Cleveland Browns’ Defense
Myles Garrett was already a force of nature. Now that he’s playing in a Jim Schwartz-coordinated defense, Garrett looks simply unstoppable.
The Browns held the Tennesee Titans to just 94 total yards in Week 3, which tied for the 11th-best defensive effort since 2000. RB Derrick Henry rushed for just 20 yards, while the Titans averaged 2.1 yards per play.
— OG from CLE (@gmbuddyboy) September 24, 2023
Garrett was responsible for 3.5 of Cleveland’s five sacks and generated constant pressure on the day. Now that he has some help around him, Garrett looks like a serious candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
The Browns’ offense finally found itself against the Titans, too. QB Deshaun Watson posted arguably his best game for Cleveland, missing on just six of 33 pass attempts while posting 289 yards and two touchdowns. Tennessee’s defense mostly bottled up Nick Chubb’s replacement, Jerome Ford, but he still managed two scores.
Loser | The 2021 QB Class
The 2021 quarterback draft class was supposed to be an all-timer, but the group isn’t off to the best NFL start.
Here’s how they did in Week 3.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars: Lawrence wasn’t necessarily the Jaguars’ problem in Week 3. Giving up 37 points to the Houston Texans is a much larger concern. Jacksonville is now 1-2 and could face legitimate competition in the AFC South — hardly what anyone expected.
Zach Wilson, New York Jets: Making his second 2023 start in relief of QB Aaron Rodgers, Wilson completed just 50% of his passes for 157 scoreless yards. New York’s defense is elite, but NFL teams can’t win when they only score 10 points. Head coach Robert Saleh said Wilson will remain the Jets’ starter — we’ll see about that.
Trey Lance, Dallas Cowboys: The San Francisco 49ers shipped Lance to the Cowboys during the preseason. On Sunday, he was Dallas’ third quarterback behind Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush. Lance got to watch the Cowboys’ defeat to the Arizona Cardinals from the sideline.
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears: Chicago’s coaching staff still isn’t doing Fields any favors, but most of his issues are self-inflicted. He attempted just 22 passes on Sunday, completing 11 for 99 yards, one touchdown, and one interception while taking three sacks. The Bears are winless and will need to consider searching for a quarterback upgrade in next year’s draft.
Mac Jones, New England Patriots: Jones was the only 2021 first-round quarterback to walk away with a win in Week 3, but it wasn’t as if Jones guided the Patriots to victory. He only completed 15 of 29 attempts for 209 yards and a touchdown. New England has its elite defense to thank for Sunday’s win.
Loser | Raiders HC Josh McDaniels
Josh McDaniels was aware his Las Vegas Raiders were playing on Sunday Night Football, right? He knew his decisions were being broadcast on national television in real time?
Attempting to fortify our theory that many teenage Madden players are better at game and time management than NFL head coaches, McDaniels turned in a comedy of errors near the end of the Raiders’ 23-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Down 23-18 with just under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Las Vegas ran the ball on third-and-3 to set up a fourth-and-1. After a false start/snap infraction by center Andre James pushed the Raiders back five yards, McDaniels opted for a 48-yard field goal.
That decision seemed overly conservative, but many models backed up McDaniels’ call. With 3:15 left in the game and Las Vegas needing three scoring plays — a touchdown, two-point conversion, and another score in overtime — to win, McDaniels’ conclusion might have been sound, even if it drew plenty of ire.
But wait, there’s more! The Steelers committed a 15-yard leverage penalty, giving the Raiders an automatic first down and moving the ball to Pittsburgh’s 14-yard line. Three plays later, Las Vegas faced a fourth-and-4 from the Steelers’ 8 with 2:35 left. Easy decision to go for it, right?
Not if you’re Joshua Thomas McDaniels. Instead, the Raiders decided to try another field goal, despite ESPN’s modeling suggesting that the decision cost Las Vegas nearly six percentage points of win probability.
watching McDaniels kick FGs at the 8-yd line pic.twitter.com/E9istiqTTw
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 25, 2023
The Steelers got one first down on their ensuing drive, enabling them to burn plenty of time off the clock before punting the ball back to the Raiders.
DeAndre Carter muffed the punt return before recovering it at Las Vegas’ 15-yard line, leaving just enough time on the clock — 12 seconds — for Jimmy Garoppolo to throw a game-ending interception.
Note to NFL head coaches: when you have the chance to go for a game-tying score with less than four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, don’t think. Just take it. Thank us later.