Tua Tagovailoa is off to the start every Dolphins fan dreamed of in his third NFL season. He ranks second in the league in passing yards and is already halfway to matching his career high in touchdown passes with eight. He also leads the NFL in QBR and is second in yards per attempt. The new coaching staff and improved supporting cast around him seems to have unlocked the potential Miami saw when he was drafted No. 5 overall in 2020, and it's a big reason the Dolphins are the AFC's lone unbeaten team entering Week 4.
The Dolphins enter Week 4 alone atop the AFC East after a stranger-than-fiction 21-19 win over the powerhouse Bills. Miami's offense possessed the ball for just under 20 minutes against Buffalo, but the quick-strike attack made the most of its limited opportunities. The biggest play of the game came on a third-and-22 in the fourth quarter, as Jaylen Waddle split the Bills' secondary for a 45-yard gain that set up the go-ahead score. Throw in a survived Butt Punt and some clock-management and special teams failures by a previously impervious opponent, and you can say the Dolphins are living a charmed life right now.
During the offseason, they upgraded a playoff-caliber roster while concurrently creating an environment to test Tua Tagovailoa and determine whether or not he's a franchise quarterback (and he better be after Miami owner Stephen Ross' tampering led to forfeiture of one of next year's first-round picks). So far, appears Tua is precisely that – though it still seems Miami has more glaring flaws (run game, pass defense) than Buffalo in light of a somewhat fluky upset of the Bills in Sunday's South Florida steam bath.
What is the purpose of power rankings if not to reward a team for beating the former No. 1s while remaining undefeated? The Dolphins are probably not the best team in football through three weeks — that would be one of the two teams that follows — but they're definitely fun. They've won thanks to an offensive explosion, as they did in Week 2, and they've won thanks to aggressive, timely defense and a little luck, as they had against the Bills. Buffalo outgained Miami 497-212 on Sunday, ran 90 plays to the Dolphins' 39 and possessed the ball for 40:40 of 60 minutes. Only one other time in NFL history has a team possessed the ball for 40 minutes of a non-overtime game, ran at least 85 plays and gained at least 475 yards and lost — shoutout to the 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars, who were undone by Mark Brunell throwing five interceptions in a 17-14 loss to the Rams.
Buoyed by that Week 2 performance, the Dolphins lead the league in EPA per drive on offense and rank 25th in defensive EPA per drive, which probably undersells how good they've been. Heavy is the injured back that wears the crown, though, as a difficult trip to play the Bengals on a short week looms for Tua Tagovailoa and crew.
Mike McDaniel, Tyreek Hill, and Jaylen Waddle have each been sensational, and Tua Tagovailoa is doing enough to maximize the opportunities he's getting in this NASA rocket of an offense. Tagovailoa completed 13 of 18 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown in the Dolphins' Week 3 win over Buffalo, including a 45-yard strike to Waddle on third-and-22 in the fourth quarter. He finished the week ranked second in yards per attempt (10.33) and third in EPA per dropback (0.35). Tagovailoa still has limitations as a passer, and the 24th-ranked defense in EPA per play gives me pause. But there's too much going right with McDaniel on the sideline and with these offensive weapons to keep Miami outside of the top tier of AFC teams right now.
The Dolphins defense was on the field for 90 plays in ridiculous heat against a Bills offense that wanted to spread it out and pass it all over the place. Now the Dolphins go on the road on short rest for a Thursday night game at the Bengals. They also have injury issues, including quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (though excuse me for not worrying too much about him playing through his, ahem, back and neck injury). If the Dolphins win in that situation, it will be really impressive.
Biggest early adjustment: Improve the running backs production
Quarterback Josh Allen finished the Bills' season opener as the team's leading rusher. In the second game against the Titans, Buffalo struggled to pick up first downs in short-yardage situations. This Buffalo offense has high potential, there's no doubt about that, but an inability to get the running game going was an issue at times for the Bills last year. They don't need Devin Singletary to have 20-plus carries a game, but this offense could be even harder to stop if it was able to get consistent production from its running backs.
Monday night's 41-7 pasting of the Titans was another loud message to the NFL that the measuring stick for all teams can be found in Western New York. Josh Allen threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns in just three quarters of work, while Stefon Diggs piled up 12 catches for 148 yards and three scores ... also in just three quarters of work. Throw in a Matt Milano pick-six and a wall of blue surrounding Derrick Henry every time the Titans back touched the ball, and, well, this was as pure a distillation of dominance as we might see all season. Two weeks in, and the Bills exist in a class of their own.
When one team leads the NFL with a point differential of 55 through two games and the second-place teams (Kansas City and Tampa Bay) have less than half that (26), there's not much argument about who is the best team in the league. Through two weeks, the Bills have the best defense in the league by EPA per drive and are tied for fifth in EPA per drive on offense, according to TruMedia, which probably undersells how good the offense has been.
Forward-thinking hardware store managers in Glendale, Ariz., should begin marking up the price of folding tables.
Biggest early adjustment: Get quarterback Aaron Rodgers in rhythm
Even Rodgers admitted his stats in Week 2 against the Bears looked a little better than he and the offense actually performed. "This was better than Week 1," Rodgers said, "but we've got to be better than this if we want to compete with Tampa." A fumbled handoff exchange by Rodgers and a mistimed shotgun snap by Josh Myers were signs the offense is still trying to work out the early-season kinks.
Aaron Rodgers still owns the Bears, and Matt LaFleur is still undefeated (10-0) coming off a loss as Packers head coach. Rodgers shook off the disappointments of Week 1 with an efficient performance against Chicago that included two touchdown passes and just six incompletions in 25 attempts. The ever-underrated Aaron Jones was close to unstoppable (8.8 yards per carry), and the defense stepped up with a goal-line stand against Justin Fields that short-circuited an attempt by the Bears to add some drama into this one-sided rivalry. The Packers need to clean up some things (they're up to four fumbles in two weeks), but this is not a team to worry about.
Balanced offense not overly reliant on QB Aaron Rodgers and second-tier receivers and a defense that plays up to its talent level — this is the Pack's best path back to the Super Bowl after their pass-heavy approach from recent years consistently came up short when it mattered.
In terms of offensive improvement, only the Rams, 49ers and Jets made a bigger jump in EPA per drive rank from Week 1 to Week 2. That's what getting Aaron Jones more involved and playing a worse defense will do for you. This week will figure to be a much tougher test.
Aaron Jones is a really good player, and the Packers were right to admit their Week 1 mistake in not getting him involved more. He was the focal point on Sunday night, which he should be most weeks. It will be interesting to see how the Packers do Sunday against a Buccaneers defense that has been phenomenal this season.
Biggest early adjustment: Use Travis Etienne Jr. a little more in the pass game
The Jaguars did a good job Sunday against the Colts by getting Etienne involved in screens, but he needs more touches. Get him in space and let him use his speed to try to generate big plays. He hasn't been used as heavily in the first two games -- just 18 touches -- as many anticipated. Coach Doug Pederson is working to spread the ball around. A lot of it is matchup-oriented, so Etienne will likely have more work in some games than others, but averaging just nine touches per game seems low.
Now that's the version of Trevor Lawrence the Jaguars are looking for. Last year's No. 1 overall pick played smart and efficient football in his second start of the season, avoiding the mistakes of last week's loss in Washington and letting the Jacksonville defense do the rest in a 24-0 win over the sagging Colts. Lawrence had completions to seven different receivers, including two passing scores to Christian Kirk. Credit Doug Pederson for cooking up a sound game plan that gave Lawrence good looks and open receivers as Jacksonville built up a 17-0 lead at the half. Embarrassing a supposedly superior division rival should be all the evidence the Jags need that the AFC South is there for the taking.
Trevor Lawrence completed 25 of 30 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns in what was the best game of his young career by EPA per dropback (0.54, more than twice as good as his second-best game, the 2021 regular-season finale, also against the Colts). Developing Lawrence is Doug Pederson's No. 1 job, so that's a very positive early step. Less important but perhaps more sustainable is the work Mike Caldwell has done so far with a Jaguars defense that ranks fifth in the league in EPA per drive. That group is loaded with early-round draft picks, and with the division seemingly there for the taking, it could be good enough to make the Jaguars surprise AFC South favorites.
OK, Trevor Lawrence. That's better. Lawrence missed too many throws in Week 1 and it seemed like an extension of his rookie season. Then in Week 2 he made several big throws, including many off-platform, in a very good win for the Jags. It helps to have Christian Kirk, who is still overpaid but a big addition in the offense.
Biggest early adjustment: Create more pressure on the pass rush
The Chiefs are 28th in the league in pressures (26.4%), according to NFL Next Gen Stats. But they are seventh in pressures when blitzing (40.9%). Other than Chris Jones, who has two sacks, the Chiefs aren't getting the job done with their front four. They need the help of sending an extra defender. The Chiefs are 17th in the league in blitz percentage at 24%.
It wasn't always pretty, but the Chiefs took care of business against a rival who came uncomfortably close to sending shockwaves through the AFC West. The hero of the 27-24 win over the Chargers? Jaylen Watson, of course. The seventh-round pick stepped in front of a pass from Justin Herbert for the game-turning pick-six in the fourth quarter. This game was about getting key contributions in unlikely places: In addition to Watson's INT, the Chiefs received scores from wide receiver Justin Watson and reserve running back Jerick McKinnon. After a summer of hype for the entire division, the Chiefs remain positioned as the clear kings of the West heading into Week 3.
Does Andy Reid really get adequate appreciation? Last week, he joined George Halas, Don Shula and Bill Belichick as the only coaches with career win-loss records 100 games over .500. Reid now sits at 235-135-1.
Two weeks in, the Chiefs lead the NFL in EPA per drive. Ho-hum. It really is that simple when the league's best quarterback has one of the league's best offensive lines. The defense, meanwhile, ranks 20th in EPA per drive, which is perfectly fine, especially if it's going to take advantage of opportunities to force turnovers.
As a courtesy to the editor charged with fact-checking these power rankings, let's not declaratively say that the Chiefs' Thursday night win was the first game in NFL history in which two separate J. Watsons scored touchdowns, but it definitely felt like that.
The Chiefs are doing just fine, but relying more on backs and tight ends in the passing offense. JuJu Smith-Schuster has 89 yards in two games and Marquez Valdes-Scantling has 57. Eventually the Chiefs will need a receiver to emerge as a dangerous option, but this approach is working for the Chiefs so far.
Biggest early adjustment: Find ways to generate a passing attack
Justin Fields had 48 net passing yards against the Packers. Sure, the Bears ran the ball effectively behind David Montgomery's 15 carries for 122 yards, but Chicago's offense must generate some semblance of a passing attack to not make themselves one-dimensional and easy to defend. Through two weeks, the Bears are running just 48.5 plays per game (the second lowest in the NFL), have the highest sack rate (12.5%) and the league's lowest percentage of passing plays (32.04%). Chicago can lean predominantly on the run game with its developmental quarterback, but it can't abandon the passing game entirely the way it did against the Packers.
Justin Fields nearly made it a game with his doomed fourth-and-goal stretch on Sunday night, but when the dust settled on a 27-7 loss, it was clear the dynamic of the Packers-Bears "rivalry" remains unchanged. Chicago was outclassed, particularly on defense in the run game. The Packers piled up 203 rushing yards, with Aaron Jones averaging nearly 9.0 yards per attempt. David Montgomery delivered a stellar statistical performance of his own, but what's up with the Bears' passing game? Fields had just 11 pass attempts all night, while nominal No. 1 wideout Darnell Mooney has 4 yards through two games. This team will need more monsoons to make a playoff push.
Biggest early adjustment: Make Micah Parsons a full-time pass-rusher
He can be an All-Pro off-the-ball linebacker, too, but pass-rushers change the game more than those guys. Against Cincinnati, Parsons almost exclusively lined up at pass-rusher and had two sacks and was credited with 10 pressures. He has four sacks in two games. He can win with speed and power. The Cowboys want to be able to line Parsons up all over the field to create mismatches, which is smart, but he is often a mismatch when he lines up solely at defensive end, too. If they do that, he might make a run at the single-season sack record. He might just do it anyway.
The Cowboys were left for dead by many (who, me?) after a grim Week 1 that included a non-competitive loss to the Bucs and Dak Prescott's thumb injury. But America's Team showed fight on Sunday. They jumped out to an early lead against the defending AFC champion Bengals, held off a Joe Burrow-led comeback, then got a 50-yard field goal from Brett Maher at the gun to secure a 20-17 victory at Jerrah World. Cooper Rush made several big-time throws in his first start in place of Prescott, the biggest a 10-yard connection to CeeDee Lamb that put Dallas in field-goal position in the final minute. Lamb also received some much-needed help from fellow wideout Noah Brown, who had receptions on all five of his targets for 91 yards and a touchdown. If the Rush-led offense can stay this competent, a strong Dallas defense will keep this team afloat.
Cooper Rush is the first Dallas quarterback to win his first two starts since ... Jason Garrett (1993-94). The Cowboys will likely be grateful if Rush doesn't approach Garrett's nine career starts with the team.
Parsons having the most sacks of any player through his first 18 games is insane when you remember pass rushing is not his only job. Since entering the league, Parsons has sacked or hit the quarterback on 10.1 percent of his 345 pass-rush snaps, per TruMedia. The rest of the top five since last season among players with at least 300 pass-rush snaps include T.J. Watt (8.9 percent), Nick Bosa (7.4 percent), Randy Gregory (6.8 percent) and Matt Judon (6.5 percent).
Big picture, getting even one win with Rush at the helm is probably enough to keep the Cowboys in the NFC East mix until Dak Prescott returns — whenever that is.
Micah Parsons is even better than last season. If he stays healthy, he looks primed to win NFL defensive player of the year. If Cooper Rush plays like he did in the win over the Bengals on Sunday, the defense will keep Dallas in games. Maybe they'll be OK by the time Dak Prescott comes back.
Biggest early adjustment: Eliminate coverage breakdowns
Through two games, the Browns rank 27th in defensive efficiency. The quarterbacks they've faced? Baker Mayfield and 37-year-old Joe Flacco. Still, the Browns have collapsed in coverage, too often inexplicably turning opposing receivers loose -- especially in the fourth quarter -- leading to wide-open touchdowns. That's primarily why Cleveland blew a 13-point lead in the final two minutes Sunday -- and why the Browns needed a 58-yard field goal to avoid squandering another late lead in Carolina. The Browns don't have good answers for why this is happening. They better figure it out quickly, or this season will begin to spiral.
When Nick Chubb rumbled into the end zone for his second touchdown on Sunday (take a knee, hoss!), the Browns led the Jets by 13 points with less than two minutes to play. New York had zero timeouts, and Cleveland had a 99.7 percent win probability. But 99.7 is not 100. A missed Cade York PAT was followed by a long Joe Flacco touchdown pass, a Jets onside kick recovery, another Flacco scoring toss and, finally, a Jacoby Brissett interception that sealed a 31-30 Browns loss, one of the worst in team history. "This league is funny," Brissett said after the stunning collapse. "This one was tough. It just shows you can't take anything in this league for granted." Indeed.
They've surrendered 48 points in the past five quarters and won't have DE Jadeveon Clowney (ankle) on Thursday against Pittsburgh. Not a promising trend for a team trying to weather QB Deshaun Watson's suspension.
There was chatter in the aftermath of the Browns' unlikely collapse that Nick Chubb could have ended the game had he slid instead of scoring the 12-yard touchdown that gave the Browns a 30-17 lead with 1:55 remaining. That's not really true. Yes, the Jets were out of timeouts, but that play was the final one before the two-minute warning, so the clock was guaranteed to stop at least one more time. If Chubb had been able to go down inbounds after securing the first down at the 2-yard line, then yes, they would have been able to run out the clock. But that wasn't really practical.
Does this pedantry distract from the pain of that collapse in any way? No? Just don't blame Chubb, blame whatever happened when Corey Davis was left all alone for a 66-yard touchdown two plays after the Chubb score. Or blame Kareem Hunt for running out of bounds on the play before Chubb's touchdown. Or focus on the failed onside kick recovery and the prevent defense that allowed Joe Flacco to go 53 yards for the winning touchdown in the game's final minute.
If you are looking for good news, the Browns' offense put up 1.98 EPA per drive, per TruMedia, the second-best performance of the entire week.
Jacoby Brissett was actually pretty good for Cleveland on Sunday. He was 22-of-27 for 229 yards. His only interception came in the final seconds when the Browns had to press for yardage to get in field-goal range. It's not Brissett's fault the Browns defense gave up two touchdowns in the last two minutes, or that the special teams couldn't recover an onside kick. Brissett won't be great but Cleveland will take it if he keeps playing like he did Sunday.
Biggest early adjustment: Incorporate passing downfield
The Steelers have leaned on a conservative game plan through the first two weeks and aren't stretching the field on offense. Through two games, Mitch Trubisky is averaging 4.85 yards per pass. While his decision-making is far from perfect and his completion percentage is just under 60%, the bigger issue appears to be play design and playcalling. After Sunday's loss to the Patriots, Trubisky was asked how the team could open up the downfield passing game and he put it simply: "Just call concepts to get receivers there. And when the coverage dictates that, get them the ball within that."
You had a feeling points would come at a premium for the Steelers this season, and that's how it looks so far. Pittsburgh's offense was held under 300 yards for the second consecutive week, and a Gunner Olszewski special teams miscue proved to be the difference in a 17-14 loss to the Patriots. Olszewski's muffed punt set the Patriots up deep in Steelers territory and led to the decisive touchdown. It's the type of mistake this Pittsburgh team -- with Mitch Trubisky at quarterback and T.J. Watt on injured reserve -- cannot overcome. Kenny Pickett: Your time is near, young man.
On one hand, the Steelers should not give the starting quarterback job to Kenny Pickett if they don't think he's ready. The ability of a mediocre offensive line to protect Pickett complicates that decision. But in terms of 2022 upside, who are we kidding with the Mitch Trubisky timeline? Trubisky has been about as good as he can be through two games (28th in EPA per dropback) and is at least getting rid of the ball quickly. But with a trio of wide receivers like Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and George Pickens, it's hard to watch an offense have such a low ceiling. The Steelers mustered just one play of more than 20 yards against the Patriots (a 23-yard completion to Pickens).
There was a key play in the third quarter Sunday when Cameron Sutton dropped what should have been an easy interception of Jones on third down. On the next play, Gunner Olszewski muffed a punt to his former team, which the Patriots turned into a touchdown three plays later to take a 17-6 lead. When the offense is as rough as the Steelers', the margin for error on defense and special teams is so small. Maybe this is too instant gratification, but let the kid play.
The main question is how long the Steelers stick with Mitchell Trubisky. The offense has not looked good yet. That's not all his fault, but everyone knows rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett is waiting behind him. The Steelers play at Cleveland on Thursday in what's probably going to be a low-scoring game, and there will be calls for a QB switch if there's another bad outing by the offense.
Unfortunately, the second-round pick stood out for the wrong reason -- fumbling on his first career NFL snap during the Bills' turnover-filled start against the Rams. The Bills recovered from their three turnovers in the first half to finish with a convincing win, but Cook played only two more snaps. With the talent that Buffalo has on offense, his playing time will likely slowly increase over the course of the season. "I'm glad [Cook] got [the fumble] out the way," Von Miller said. "He showed us all types of crazy stuff in practice, man, he's gonna have an excellent year this year."
On Thursday night at SoFi Stadium, long after most Rams fans had headed for the exits, thousands of visiting Bills supporters hung around to soak in the feeling of an extremely satisfying victory. Sean McDermott's team had drubbed the defending champions, 31-10, exorcising the demons of January's excruciating Divisional Round loss in Kansas City. Josh Allen played like an MVP favorite, and the Bills' front seven dominated the trenches, making life miserable for Matthew Stafford. On paper entering this season, it looked like Buffalo had the most complete team in football. One game in, the on-field product supports that notion.
They whacked defending champs on the road — though Bills Mafia invaded SoFi Stadium in force. But Buffalo somehow looked even better than its advance billing and, barring catastrophe, will almost surely be the presumptive Super Bowl 57 favorite for the next five months.
Everything went as designed for the Bills in the opener after the first-half turnovers. Josh Allen looked like one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the league, while Gabriel Davis and Stefon Diggs complemented each other perfectly. The defense delivered the ideal recipe for every non-Wink Martindale defensive coordinator by creating pressure with a four-man rush — seven sacks with no blitzes is almost too good to be true. Isaiah McKenzie even provided the sweetest moment of the week. The vibes are strong.
Josh Allen played a near-perfect game in a blowout win over the reigning Super Bowl champions. The defense allowed 3.7 yards per play, good for second best in Week 1, without star cornerback Tre'Davious White. The Bills are quite plainly the best team in the NFL.
The Bills clearly have the ability to win a Super Bowl, but it can all come crashing to a halt if Josh Allen gets hurt. You can respect his competitiveness while also acknowledging that him initiating contact every time he runs is a bad idea. He took a lot of huge hits on Thursday night. He has to understand that he's too valuable to the Bills' season to be playing that way for 17 games.
Stout, the first punter selected in this year's draft, is living up to the hype. He helped the Ravens win the field-position battle by averaging 48.5 yards on six punts and placing half of them inside the 20-yard line. There is a lot of pressure on Stout, who is replacing the longest-tenured player in franchise history (Sam Koch). But Stout proved to be the team's most consistent rookie, outshining first-round picks Tyler Linderbaum and Kyle Hamilton as well as preseason sensation Isaiah Likely.
The Ravens weren't able to run the ball much in their season opener, but consider it a positive sign that didn't doom their attack in a convincing win over the Jets. Lamar Jackson was on target as a passer, connecting on three scores -- two to Devin Duvernay, who delivered an intriguing performance for a team in need of playmakers. Baltimore's defense dominated, routinely collapsing the pocket on old friend Joe Flacco. When the Jets did move the ball, the Ravens bowed up near midfield and forced timely turnovers. They won't all be this easy, but this was a nice start for Baltimore after the bitter frustrations of 2021.
The Jets defense might not be a pushover, but the season opener was still sluggish for the Ravens offense with only three points and three first downs on their first five possessions. But with the Jets offense posing no threat, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens settled in for an easy victory as Devin Duvernay and Rashod Bateman combined for three touchdown catches and 113 receiving yards.
However, the specter of Jackson's contract — and the anonymous sourcing of the terms offered/turned down — figures to loom all season. For instance, will Jackson be less willing to run than in years past in order to avoid injury? He carried the ball only six times for 17 yards in the opener.
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens beat up on the Jets' secondary to cruise to a 24-9 win in Week 1, but a stifled rushing attack and mounting injuries remain a concern. Without running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, and offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, Baltimore averaged just 3 yards per carry with Kenyan Drake as its lead rusher (31 yards). Offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James, who started in place of Stanley, and cornerback Kyle Fuller will miss the rest of the season after suffering season-ending injuries in Week 1. (For James, the Achilles tendon injury is especially heartbreaking. Injuries limited him to three games with the Broncos in 2019, he opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns, and then tore his Achilles while training in the 2021 offseason. Sunday's game in New York was only his fourth game since 2018.) The Ravens need to stay healthy and run the football effectively if they're going to be Super Bowl contenders, and we just haven't seen either ring true yet.
It was interesting to see Devin Duvernay, a 2020 third-round pick, emerge with a two-touchdown game. Rashod Bateman showed up as well with a long touchdown. Maybe the Ravens' receiver situation won't be that bad. But they do need more out of their running backs, whether it's the veterans on hand or J.K. Dobbins returning soon from injury.
We didn't know what the Falcons were going to get out of London, who was injured in the preseason opener against Detroit and didn't return to practice until last Monday. But he showed he could slide into an NFL lineup with ease, tying for the team lead in targets along with tight end Kyle Pitts (seven) and leading Atlanta with five receptions for 74 yards. He also showed a willingness to run block, so a good overall first game for London.
The Falcons must learn how to close games. A season ago, they struggled to stop offenses and score points in the fourth quarter -- and that trait resurfaced in a hard-to-swallow 27-26 loss to the rival Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta had a 26-10 lead with less than 13 minutes to play before surrendering three straight scoring drives to cough up the lead. Marcus Mariota had two key fumbles in the second half -- one was lost deep in Saints territory and another, while recovered by Atlanta, led to a failed third-and-short conversion with the team ahead in the final minute. "You buried us in May. Bury us again," coach Arthur Smith said after the loss. "We don't care. We'll get back to work."
Poor Arthur Smith. After everything he's overcome in his life, the hits somehow still keep coming from a media empire stacked against him. First, Edward R. Murrow trades away Matt Ryan. Then, Walter Cronkite delivers him the 30th-ranked defense in the league. All of a sudden, it's Week 1, the Falcons have a 26-10 fourth-quarter lead and Ida B. Wells orders him to stop covering Michael Thomas. Then it's fourth-and-1 late in the fourth quarter and a first down is all Smith needs to win the game, but Hunter S. Thompson thinks he should play it safe and punt instead.
"You guys wrote our obituary back in May," whined Smith after he and his team turtled under pressure. "You'll continue to write our obituary. Who cares?"
We might not have the chance to do this very often this season, so we'll start by saying a few nice things about the Falcons: Marcus Mariota and Cordarrelle Patterson (120 rushing yards) thrived in Arthur Smith's play-action-heavy offense in Week 1, and Atlanta's secondary, led by corners A.J. Terrell and Casey Hayward, was dominant early against the Saints. Even the offensive line, a perceived weakness for the Falcons, held up extraordinarily well against the Saints' front seven.
But all of the surprise positives washed away in what is seemingly a constant negative for Atlanta: the fourth quarter. ESPN's win probability model gave the Falcons a 95 percent chance of winning when Younghoe Koo made a field goal to give Atlanta a 26-10 lead with 12:41 left in the fourth quarter. Then the Falcons collapsed in a way only the Falcons can, allowing 17 unanswered points to lose 27-26. Smith turning heel in his postgame presser really put an exclamation point on late-game disappointment overshadowing any early optimism.
To lose a big lead, against a big rival in Week 1 after a great first three quarters, is gutting. The Falcons have three losses when leading by 15 points in the fourth quarter over the past three seasons; the rest of the league combined has two losses and one tie in 245 occurrences, according to CBS. Not the way Atlanta wanted to start the season.