Last week in the NFL, no one faced more criticism than Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Bills coach Rex Ryan. But this is the NFL, where every time you think you know something you find out you’re wrong, and so Rodgers and Ryan had two of the most impressive performances in the league on Sunday.
Rodgers was scrutinized heavily not just for his performance in last week’s loss to the Vikings — anyone can have a bad game — but because he had been struggling for a full year. Rodgers went a full 16 games looking nothing at all like Aaron Rodgers, and there were legitimate concerns that he had become nothing more than an ordinary quarterback.
Here’s a tweet of my own from last week, which reflected a common sentiment about how Rodgers was struggling:
So what did Rodgers do on Sunday? Just completed 15 of 24 passes for 205 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions, in a win over the Lions. Rodgers’ passer rating on the day was 129.3, his highest in a game since Week Three of last year.
Ryan, meanwhile, was getting even more withering criticism than Rodgers. After the Bills’ ugly loss to the Jets dropped them to 0-2 on the season, Ryan fired his offensive coordinator Greg Roman in a move widely seen as an attempt to find a scapegoat for Ryan’s own struggles. If the Bills kept losing, everyone said, Ryan would be gone before the season was over.
So what did Ryan do on Sunday? Just prepare a game plan that saw his defense absolutely dominate the Cardinals: The Bills intercepted Carson Palmer four times, sacked him five times and forced him to fumble twice. Buffalo won 33-18 in a game that was never close.
“We know what everybody thought of our football team and we knew we were a better football team than that. We showed up today,” Ryan said after the game. “I don’t know if anybody needed a win worse than we did.”
There are still big questions facing the Bills, and with a trip to New England next week they could easily be 1-3. But Ryan earned himself some breathing room by having his players ready to play against the Cardinals, in a big way.
Rodgers and Ryan stood out, but here were some more statements from Sunday:
The Vikings’ defense made a statement that it’s going to make Minnesota a contender, no matter what happens on offense. The Vikings have already lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, starting running back Adrian Peterson and starting left tackle Matt Kalil, but Minnesota’s defense is dominant. The Vikings sacked Cam Newton eight times (including three by Everson Griffen), intercepted him three times and completely took over the game, beating the Panthers 22-10 despite getting just 171 passing yards from Sam Bradford and 58 rushing yards from Peterson’s replacements.
The Broncos’ entire team. Could this year’s Denver team actually be better than last year’s Super Bowl winner? It’s too soon to say that, but the Broncos are 3-0 after an outstanding effort against the Bengals on Sunday. The Broncos’ defense played well, but we knew the Broncos’ defense was good. The key is that quarterback Trevor Siemian was excellent, with four touchdown passes and no interceptions, and receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas both went over 100 yards. The Broncos’ offense may just be better this year than it was with the ancient Peyton Manning running the show last year.
Terrelle Pryor. Yes, the Browns lost. Yes, the Browns are terrible. But how can you not love what Pryor did? The former Ohio State quarterback turned NFL disappointment turned receiver reclamation project caught eight passes for 141 yards, ran four times for 21 yards and a touchdown, and even took snaps at quarterback and completed three of five passes for 35 yards. Pryor is the first player to have at least 120 receiving yards, 30 passing yards and 20 rushing yards in a game since Frank Gifford did it in 1959. No player in NFL history had ever completed three passes and gained 100 receiving yards in a game until Pryor did it yesterday. He’s a special talent.
Jimmy Graham. When Graham tore his patellar tendon last season, there were people who doubted he’d ever be the same kind of player he once was: A patellar tendon injury is a notoriously difficult injury to recover from. But Graham is back and playing great football, with six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s blowout win over the 49ers.
Sebastian Janikowski. With his 52-yard field goal in the Raiders’ win over the Titans, the 38-year-old Janikowski has 53 field goals of 50 yards or longer in his career, passing Jason Hanson for the most 50-yard field goals in NFL history.
DeSean Jackson. With his 44-yard touchdown in Sunday’s comeback win over the Giants, Jackson now has 29 career touchdowns of 40 or more yards, the most among active players and the 10th most in NFL history. Jackson is an incredible playmaker.
Carson Wentz. Can you believe the Eagles’ rookie quarterback was playing at North Dakota State last year? He looks like a 10-year veteran. He absolutely carved up the Steelers in yesterday’s 34-3 beatdown, and he’s the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw 100 passes without an interception. Wentz is the rookie of the year favorite, but he’s more than that. Through three games, he’s an MVP candidate.