the-final-word:-stafford-handles-big-stage-in-la.

The Final Word: Stafford handles big stage in L.A.

It was another incredible weekend of NFL action with some massive quarterback displays, strong defensive showings and special teams highlights galore. Here is what caught my eye…

Five Major Takeaways from Week Three

1) Rams have McVay all pumped up!

Coaches know. Coaches can get all kinds of excited about things that fans and the media just don’t see in the same way. I’ve often sat in the Sky Sports studios and seen Rob Ryan or Jeff Reinebold gleeful at the sight of a pulling guard or of a defensive back showing one coverage and then slipping into another.

It’s not just about the Xs and Os though. It’s a gut feeling and I knew as I saw Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay skipping down the tunnel at half-time like a kid who had drunk too many fizzy drinks, that he had that feeling. The Rams have something special going on.

The Rams were aggressive and sound on defense but it was their offense that sparkled on a star-studded day in L.A., playing a major role in the 34-24 defeat of Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Matthew Stafford is a franchise-changer now in the right situation, Cooper Kupp is virtually uncoverable and DeSean Jackson is still scary fast. If the Rams can keep it all together, they are serious players to win it all.

Highlights from the clash between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Rams from Week Three of the 2021 season

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Highlights from the clash between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Rams from Week Three of the 2021 season

Highlights from the clash between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Rams from Week Three of the 2021 season

2) Rodgers in MVP form

A glance at the statistics from the Green Bay Packers’ 30-28 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night would suggest that Aaron Rodgers was solid, as he threw for 261 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. Numbers can be deceiving; Rodgers was spectacular in the big moments that swung this game.

Will Blackmon takes a closer look at Aaron Rodgers' game-winning drive for the Green Bay Packers against the San Francisco 49ers on Inside The Huddle

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Will Blackmon takes a closer look at Aaron Rodgers’ game-winning drive for the Green Bay Packers against the San Francisco 49ers on Inside The Huddle

Will Blackmon takes a closer look at Aaron Rodgers’ game-winning drive for the Green Bay Packers against the San Francisco 49ers on Inside The Huddle

Rodgers’ accuracy and poise is incredible. In a weekend of great throws and big plays, Rodgers’ fourth quarter touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the back corner of the endzone was something else. And after San Francisco scored to go ahead with 37 seconds left, 49ers fans must have been filled with dread as Rodgers rose from the bench, took the towel from around his neck and glanced at the clock to assess the time he had been left to work with.

Watch how the Green Bay Packers turned 37 seconds into a game-winning drive against the San Francisco 49ers

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Watch how the Green Bay Packers turned 37 seconds into a game-winning drive against the San Francisco 49ers

Watch how the Green Bay Packers turned 37 seconds into a game-winning drive against the San Francisco 49ers

It was plenty of time. Rodgers’ big pass to Davante Adams was a thing of beauty, sailing just an inch or so over the out-stretched arms of linebacker Fred Warner. Another completion to Adams – on third down, no less – and a Mason Crosby field goal from 51 yards saw the Packers race out of Levi’s Stadium with the win. Controversy or no controversy, Rodgers is going to produce the goods for Green Bay.

3) Rookie struggles

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson has thrown seven interceptions and been sacked 15 times so far this season

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson has thrown seven interceptions and been sacked 15 times so far this season

The quarterback class of 2021 was highly-touted and they should turn out good enough to prove worthy of the hype in the end. But, boy oh boy does it look ugly right now. Rookie quarterbacks are 1-10 on the season and the only winner – Mac Jones of the New England Patriots – beat another rookie in Zach Wilson, of the New York Jets in Week Two.

The number one overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, has thrown seven interceptions for the winless Jacksonville Jaguars, Wilson has tossed up the same number of picks, while being sacked 15 times in three games – fourth-most in NFL history – and Jones has struggled to stretch the field.

Peter King has his say on Justin Fields' struggles with the Chicago Bears, insisting that the rookie does not deserve to take the blame

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Peter King has his say on Justin Fields’ struggles with the Chicago Bears, insisting that the rookie does not deserve to take the blame

Peter King has his say on Justin Fields’ struggles with the Chicago Bears, insisting that the rookie does not deserve to take the blame

And what of Justin Fields in Chicago? The Bears didn’t help him out at all in his first NFL start, running the ‘Andy Dalton’ offense out there to face the Cleveland Browns. Unable to play to his strengths, Fields was sacked nine times and the Bears mustered one net passing yard. Needless to say the Bears lost, 26-6.

4) Careless Chiefs

First, let me say how enjoyable it was to watch Justin Herbert lead his Los Angeles Chargers team to a 30-24 victory in a hostile environment at Arrowhead Stadium after having the game placed on his shoulders by head coach Brandon Staley.

Highlights of the Los Angeles Chargers against the Kansas City Chiefs from Week Three of the 2021 season

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Highlights of the Los Angeles Chargers against the Kansas City Chiefs from Week Three of the 2021 season

Highlights of the Los Angeles Chargers against the Kansas City Chiefs from Week Three of the 2021 season

The coach ignored a long field goal attempt on fourth-and-nine on the Chargers’ game-winning drive and once down near the goal-line, running time off the clock and kicking a short field goal was never an option. Herbert threw the game-winning touchdown to Mike Williams instead.

Now to the Chiefs, who are 1-2 (under .500 for the first time since 2015) and bottom of the AFC West. They are super talented on offense but have been far too reckless and careless with the football in recent times.

Week Two’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens ended with a Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumble. And Sunday’s game started with three quick turnovers, including another from Edwards-Helaire, making it four straight drives with a turnover for KC. Then a Patrick Mahomes interception late paved the way for Hebert to win the game. The Chiefs need the turnovers in games to be coming from their sub-standard defense, not having extra pressure placed on that unit.

One final note on Kansas City, as their head coach, Andy Reid, was taken to hospital after the game. It appears it was down to dehydration on a boiling hot day at Arrowhead. I’m glad to see Coach Reid was released from hospital earlier this week.

5) Give Kirk Cousins some love!

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has been playing at an MVP level so far this season

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has been playing at an MVP level so far this season

After dropping a couple of heart-breakers to start the season, the Minnesota Vikings felt they got what they deserved as they beat the Seattle Seahawks 30-17 on Sunday. Now let’s see if they can get something else that is deserved… credit and respect for their quarterback Kirk Cousins.

So many like to bash Cousins despite him being statistically prolific during his years with the Vikings. Fans and media alike often see him as the whipping boy, and as the reason this team has not made a Super Bowl run.

But Cousins, who threw for 323 yards and three scores on Sunday, is in MVP form. No one is going to want to hear that or even consider the notion, but take a look at the numbers. Through three weeks, Cousins has completed 74 per cent of his passes, for 918 yards, eight touchdowns and no picks. Put those numbers on any other quarterback not named Cousins and they would be an early-season MVP candidate.

Player of the Week: Matthew Stafford

Brian Baldinger breaks down Matthew Stafford's starring performance in leading the Los Angeles Rams to victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week Three

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Brian Baldinger breaks down Matthew Stafford’s starring performance in leading the Los Angeles Rams to victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week Three

Brian Baldinger breaks down Matthew Stafford’s starring performance in leading the Los Angeles Rams to victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week Three

This is not just about the numbers, although they were pretty decent as Stafford threw for 343 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in L.A.’s win over Tampa Bay. This was about how Stafford handled the big stage because, let’s face it, most of the big games he played prior to this during his career were on Thanksgiving Day, while most of us were chomping through our turkey. There were stars galore in the stands on Sunday, including Mike Tyson and Larry David, and millions watching around the world. And Stafford took down Brady and the Super Bowl champs in the most impressive fashion possible.

Play of the Week

Watch as Justin Tucker hits an NFL-record 66-yard field goal as the Baltimore Ravens beat the Detroit Lions

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Watch as Justin Tucker hits an NFL-record 66-yard field goal as the Baltimore Ravens beat the Detroit Lions

Watch as Justin Tucker hits an NFL-record 66-yard field goal as the Baltimore Ravens beat the Detroit Lions

How can it be anything other than Justin Tucker’s 66-yard field goal to see Baltimore beat the Detroit Lions? On a night of incredible special teams plays – there were also game-winning kicks from the Atlanta Falcons’ Younghoe Koo and Green Bay’s Mason Crosby, as well as a 109-yard return of a missed field goal from Jacksonville’s Jamal Agnew – Tucker was top dog. The previous record was 64 yards from Detroit’s Matt Prater, kicked at altitude in Denver. It was a dramatic ending to a hard-fought game and a gentle reminder that Tucker could be arguably the greatest kicker of all time. I would personally give the nod to Adam Vinatieri on that front but I can understand the love for Tucker.

Coach of the Week: Jon Gruden

If we’re going to be critical of the Jon Gruden regime prior to 2021, we have to give him and the Las Vegas Raiders some love after their 3-0 start to the season. The Raiders are the first team in NFL history to open a season with wins over three teams with at least 10 victories the previous year – Baltimore, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins. Over the span of three weeks, Gruden is getting the best out of quarterback Derek Carr, the rebuilt offensive line is playing well and the defense is much firmer under Gus Bradley. But what would have pleased Gruden the most is how deep his team had to dig on Sunday, defeating the Dolphins 31-28 in overtime.

On my Radar

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has struggled through the first three weeks of the season

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has struggled through the first three weeks of the season

The Steelers are in trouble. They have lost two in a row since somehow winning in Buffalo on opening weekend and I fear for them the rest of the way. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks 49 years old, not 39, and his attempts to stretch the field are not really working. If you want a sign of how much Pittsburgh are struggling on offense, check out these numbers: the Steelers rushed for just 45 yards and when they took to the air, running back Najee Harris was targeted 19 times, including on an ill-advised swing pass on fourth-and-10. It all added up to a comfortable 24-10 win for the Cincinnati Bengals at a venue where they had not been victorious since 2015.

Join Neil Reynolds and guests for Inside The Huddle, every Tuesday from 9pm on Sky Sports NFL for a look back on the best of the weekend’s NFL action.