Wild comebacks an NFL staple this year
Thanks in large part to the Eagles, wild comebacks are becoming an every-week staple of the NFL this season.
Philadelphia kept its record perfect Sunday when it rallied from a large deficit for a third straight week to beat Washington, 37-34. The Eagles became the first team ever to start 3-0 after being down by 10 or more points in each of the games.
After last Monday’s fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Colts, coach Chip Kelly warned that the Eagles wouldn’t keep winning if the slow starts continued. But that didn’t apply Sunday when they fell behind, 17-7, in the second quarter.
“I know Coach Kelly is losing some hair,” said rookie receiver Jordan Matthews, who had eight catches and two touchdowns to help power the win.
There have been nine games in the first three weeks in which the winner came back from a deficit of at least 10 points.
The Cowboys joined that party Sunday when they rallied from 21-0 down at St. Louis to claim a 34-31 win. And the Cowboys’ victory extended another comeback streak. There have now been four games through three weeks in which teams came back from a deficit of at least 17 points, and it’s the first time in NFL history each of the first three weeks has had such comebacks.
Dallas overwhelmed St. Louis in the air, on the ground, and on defense, as Bruce Carter’s 25-yard interception return provided the game-icing score. But the comeback did not impress QB Tony Romo.
“We were able to execute under pressure or whatever you want to say, blah, blah, blah,” Romo said. “We got it done.”
It was the second win in a row for the Cowboys. The warts that led to the 21-0 deficit notwithstanding, coach Jason Garrett was pleased with the grit of his team, which now must gird for a stretch against the Saints and Texans and at Seattle.
“It’s a sign of maturity in a team,” Garrett said of the comeback. “That’s what you have to do.”
Bad news bearer
It’s still far too early to project the playoff field, but it’s fair to start identifying teams who don’t look like they’ll sniff the playoff race.
There’s a huge dropoff in the probability of reaching the playoffs among teams that start 0-2 vs. teams that start 0-3. Only three teams have made the postseason since 1990 after 0-3 starts.
So that’s bad news for the Raiders, Jaguars, and Buccaneers, who all sank to their third straight loss this week. There were four 0-2 teams that won Sunday (Indianapolis, New Orleans, NY Giants, Kansas City), and they felt extra pressure to win this weekend and show they weren’t headed into a lost season.
“It does take a lot of pressure off and a lot of weight has been lifted off our shoulders,” Saints running back Pierre Thomas said. “It’s the start of a change.”
■ Two weeks ago the Dolphins were riding high after beating the Patriots in the opener. Now they’ve lost two straight and are one of four teams (along with the Titans, Vikings and 49ers) who are 1-2 after opening weekend wins. Conversely, the Patriots, Ravens, and Chargers are all now 2-1 after losing their openers.
■ Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Arizona remain the only undefeated teams after losses by Buffalo, Houston, Carolina and Denver. More than 75 percent of teams that start 3-0 have made the playoffs since 1990.
Four first-year quarterbacks - Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, Oakland’s Derek Carr, Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater, and St. Louis’s Austin Davis (who isn’t a rookie but is seeing his first game action this year) — took their lumps on Sunday but still managed to take steps forward.
Carr looked like a sacrificial lamb taking the Raiders into Foxborough. But the second-round pick played above expectations — and had the Raiders in position to steal a win from the Patriots in the final minute — and gave the team reason to think he has many good days ahead. “You find out what kind of person you are when you go through times like this,” Carr said.
Davis, despite throwing a fourth-quarter interception that helped seal the loss, was poised and impressive for a second straight week. On a day when the Rams surrendered a 21-0 lead to the Cowboys, Davis was 30 for 42 for 327 yards with three touchdowns and two INTs. Coach Jeff Fisher said he’ll return to Shaun Hill as the starter when Hill is ready, but Davis’s play probably has left Hill with less margin for error.
Bortles and Bridgewater both entered their games as replacements and emerged after as starting quarterbacks. Bridgewater, who’s taking over for an injured Matt Cassel (foot), was solid in his debut. He immediately led a scoring drive and did not throw an interception in a loss at New Orleans.
The best story came in Jacksonville. With the Jaguars blown out for the third straight week, coach Gus Bradley said the time is right for Bortles, this year’s third overall pick, to start. He showed why Sunday, when he went 14 for 24 for 223 yards with two TDs and two INTs. The last pass was the best, when with he faked a spike with 22 seconds left and threw a 10-yard touchdown to Cecil Shorts.
It was meaningless in the 44-17 loss to Indianapolis, but it was a reminder to the Chargers, Steelers, and Titans that they’ll meet a hungry new quarterback in the coming weeks.
“I just felt like he was ready for his body of work to begin on the field,” Bradley said.
“He has a way of lifting the team.”
Some quarterbacks can do it all. On Sunday, we saw a couple try.
The Bengals’ Andy Dalton and the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson both caught passes on designed plays.
Dalton, after pitching to Mohamed Sanu, caught a pass on the left side and lumbered 10 yards — complete with a dive for the pylon — for the Bengals’ first touchdown. He was aided by Titans cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson misplaying the ball.
In Seattle, Wilson ran a similar route for a 17-yard catch that set up an opening field goal for the Seahawks.
Also, Johnny Manziel sneaked into the game against the Ravens and hauled in a 39-yard catch for the Browns, only to have it negated by a penalty. And Derek Carr lined up wide with Darren McFadden set for the snap before a Raiders timeout wiped out the play.
Notes around the NFL
— Sanu’s scoring pass to Dalton was the second of his career. He also threw one for A.J. Green in 2012, and had a 50-yard connection with Brandon Tate last week. That makes him the only player in NFL history to have 2 TD passes, at least 150 passing yards, and no incompletions.
— Detroit rookie kicker Nate Freese, a Boston College product, had another rough outing, which could lead the Lions (who worked out kickers last week) to make a change. Freese was 1 for 2 on field goal attempts on Sunday in the win against the Packers, hitting a 30-yard attempt and missing from 41. He sank to 3 of 7 on his attempts this season. Freese’s struggles are in contrast with the solid performances some fellow rookies are having. Philadelphia’s Cody Parkey was 3 of 3 (and now 8 of 9 for the year) in the Eagles’ 3-point win, while Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro was 3 of 3 in the win against San Francisco. He’s now 9 of 9 for the year.
— Why did the Texans lose to the Giants? The three interceptions from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who did not throw a pick in the Texans’ 2-0 start, had a lot to do with it. Fitzpatrick (51 INTs over past three seasons) and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton (49 over same span) were surprisingly among the six starters who entered Week 3 with no picks (and helped the league achieve a record-setting pace for cumulative completion percentage — 63.5 percent). After interceptions by Dalton, Peyton Manning, and Russell Wilson on Sunday, that zero-interceptions club shrank to two, with only Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer remaining.
— The day’s dumbest injury had to be Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who left the win over Green Bay after celebrating a sack of Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter. “It’s unfortunate, man, you’re passionate about the game” Tulloch told ESPN. “You want to get up and celebrate.” He didn’t return to the game, and needs more tests to determine his status.