Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season brought us some wild endings. Through a frenetic final two minutes, the Chargers edged past Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs after Kansas City struggled with ball security. The Ravens avoided an upset loss to the Lions with a record-setting 66-yard field goal from Justin Tucker that rang off the crossbar and went through to end the game. The Falcons won a battle of winless teams, hitting a field goal to beat the Giants.
Elsewhere, the Cardinals overcame an early deficit against the Jaguars to roll to 3-0, and the Steelers’ offensive issues continued in a loss to the Bengals. The Browns’ pass rush was all over Justin Fields in the rookie’s starting debut with the Bears, and the Titans got a big AFC South win. And the Saints and Bills posted statement wins — including 43 points from Buffalo’s offense.
Our NFL Nation reporters react to it all, with the major takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action — and what it all means going forward. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about the team’s future outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.
What to know: The Ravens can still win as long as they have Lamar Jackson and Justin Tucker. After the depleted Baltimore defense allowed scores on Detroit’s final three drives, Tucker won the game with an NFL-record 66-yard field goal as time expired. The kick bounced off the crossbar and in. The winning kick was set up by Jackson, who converted a fourth-and-19 with a 36-yard pass to Sammy Watkins. The defense got blindsided two days before the game, when it lost four players, including Pro Bowl pass-rusher Justin Houston and top run-stuffer Brandon Williams, to the COVID-19 protocol. In total, Baltimore played without 13 players who counted at least $1 million against the salary cap, either because of injury or COVID-19. — Jamison Hensley
Can Marquise Brown overcome his three critical drops? Brown went from being Lamar Jackson’s No. 1 receiver to his No. 1 liability in Detroit. Brown’s three drops in the first half — the most any player has had in the first half of a game since 2015 — took away from Jackson’s most accurate passing day of the season. Brown’s drops totaled 97 air yards and all came on throws of 25-plus yards, including a perfectly thrown one in the end zone. This was uncharacteristic for Brown, who had no drops on 32 such targets in his career. But by the third drop, it was evident that the drops had gotten in his head. — Hensley
Hensley’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.8, no change from last week. This was the epitome of a trap game. The Ravens were coming off an emotional win over the Chiefs and faced one of the worst teams in the NFL. But Baltimore continues to figure out how to win in the most dramatic ways.
Next game: at Broncos (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: The latest loss was yet another heartbreaker for Lions fans. The defense did everything to make the game competitive until the waning seconds, when Lamar Jackson completed a fourth-and-19 pass to Sammy Watkins for 36 yards. It set up Justin Tucker’s NFL-record 66-yard field goal at the buzzer. After going forward with the decision to seek a trade for veteran linebacker Jamie Collins and play the younger guys like Derrick Barnes and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, the defensive line was relentless, sacking Jackson four times. But Jackson and Tucker found a way to pull it out at the end. — Eric Woodyard
Is the Lions’ backfield for real? Swaggy & Swifty. That’s the nickname for the Detroit Lions backfield featuring D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. The run game has been an Achilles heel of the Lions for much of the post-Barry Sanders era, but this duo continued to be one of the strong points of the squad with another solid performance, not only on the ground, but in the air. Swift (47 yards and one TD rushing; seven receptions for 60 yards) and Williams (42 yards and a TD rushing; two catches for 25 yards) helped keep Detroit in the game and in position for a major upset. — Woodyard
Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 4.5. Unlike the first two weeks, the Lions showed their potential when they’re competitive for an entire game, limiting mistakes.
Next game: at Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: After three weeks, it’s clear that Cordarrelle Patterson is going to be a multifaceted option on offense for Atlanta all season. Patterson had 20 yards rushing (on seven carries) and a team-high 82 yards receiving. He’s a player quarterback Matt Ryan clearly counts on and can be dangerous from multiple spots on the field. In other words, if you’re looking for a steady threat on a sometimes-shaky Falcons offense (that showed potential in the fourth quarter), Patterson might be it. — Michael Rothstein
Where was Kyle Pitts in Atlanta’s offense Sunday? The rookie tight end and No. 4 overall pick in the draft had started to seem as if he would be a consistent option in the Atlanta offense — one of the few constants the Falcons would have. Then came Sunday, when Pitts didn’t even see his first target (a 10-yard catch) until the 11:20 mark in the fourth quarter. He was targeted again in the end zone on Atlanta’s game-tying drive resulting in a pass-interference call, and he had a big 25-yard reception on the Falcons’ game-winning drive. But too often, Pitts was ignored. If Atlanta wants offensive success, that can’t happen. — Rothstein
Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 4.8. Atlanta showed it can win a close game against a comparable team. It doesn’t mean the Falcons are a good team, but it offers a glimpse that they are buying into what Arthur Smith is trying to build.
Next game: vs. Washington (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: If they’re not going to beat the Falcons at home on Eli Manning Day, where are the wins coming from on the schedule? The Giants (0-3) play next at the Saints, at the Cowboys, vs. the Rams, vs. the Panthers, at the Chiefs, vs. the Raiders and then at the Bucs. Yikes! They want to keep saying they’re only worried about this week and what they can control at the moment. The rest of us are concerned about where this season is headed and who will be accountable for this mess. — Jordan Raanan
How bad are these injuries? The Giants lost wide receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton to hamstring injuries. Blake Martinez had a non-contact knee injury. Prized offseason acquisition Kenny Golladay was in and out of the game dealing with a hip injury and star running back Saquon Barkley even looked a bit banged up. Can the team survive this type of injury onslaught? Its margin for error appeared minimal prior to Sunday. — Raanan
Raanan’s confidence rating (0-10): 1.2, down from 3.2. They lost at home to Atlanta on Eli Manning Day despite having the lead in the fourth quarter. And the schedule is really tough for the next seven games.
Next game: at Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Josh Allen had his best game of the season, and it wasn’t particularly close. He went 32-for-43 for 358 yards with four touchdowns, including two to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, and one rushing touchdown. Allen put together a complete game and had a performance that echoed his MVP runner-up finish from the 2020 season. In the first half alone, Allen threw three touchdowns and just six incompletions. He successfully stepped up in the pocket and avoided pressure and helped put the game out of reach by leading the offense on a 98-yard, 17-play drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock in the third quarter. Throws downfield were an issue to start the season, but Allen took a step forward in that area Sunday. He completed 10 of 15 passes for 200 yards and two TDs on throws of more than 10 yards downfield, tied for his second-most completions on those throws in a game in his career. — Alaina Getzenberg
Is the lack of consistent pass rush a concern going forward? This is the question that will follow the Bills throughout the season. Getting the pass rush right was the biggest need for the team this offseason, which is why Buffalo’s first two picks of the 2021 NFL draft were invested in that area. Against an inexperienced Taylor Heinicke, however, the Bills’ defense had just one sack, courtesy of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, and six quarterback hits. The defense had a good day with three takeaways, but it struggled to consistently make Heinicke uncomfortable. Against the better offensive lines and quarterbacks ahead on the Bills’ schedule, this will be an issue to keep an eye on. — Getzenberg
Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.7, up from 7.3. The Bills still have some big tests ahead of them, but Allen and the offense looked unstoppable at times, something that had not been the case yet this season. Overall Buffalo put together its most complete game yet — a positive sign for things to come.
Next game: vs. Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Washington QB Taylor Heinicke is a great story, but he’s not the long-term solution and that shouldn’t be surprising. He can still help this team, but that’s hard to do when playing with a defense that can’t stop anyone, which puts pressure on him to pass all game. He needs to be part of a balanced attack or the flaws show more. He showed his determination — witness the diving 4-yard touchdown run — but he also forces throws in an attempt to do too much. That led to both of his interceptions and nearly more. — John Keim
Where is Chase Young? The question before the season: Will the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year become one of the NFL’s top-five pass-rushers? Right now, the defensive end is nowhere close. Through three games he has no sacks, forced no turnovers and hasn’t applied enough pressure. So much more was expected from a player who was a No. 2 overall draft pick. Young has shown flashes, but this defense needs playmakers, and in the second half of last season, that’s what Young became. Teams pay a lot of attention to him as they did last season, but he needs to develop more of a strategy to become a consistent force. He’s not the only issue, he’s just the one with the most talent who can provide a big boost. — Keim
Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 5.2. Until the defense plays a good game, the confidence rating will hover in this area. Washington plays too many good quarterbacks this season, so if its play doesn’t improve, it will be a really long season.
Next game: at Falcons (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Cardinals’ offense is as deep and diverse as it’s been in years. The unit had two 100-yard receivers in A.J. Green and Christian Kirk. Green had his first 100-yard game as a Cardinal with 112. Kirk added 104. Having weapons like that at Kyler Murray‘s disposal allowed Arizona to come back from a nine-point deficit to win. This is what Arizona didn’t have last season but has been the difference between winning and losing this season. — Josh Weinfuss
What does it say about the Cardinals that they’re still winning games in which they struggle? It shows that they’re not the same team that went 3-6 to close out last season. This year’s Cardinals can take a hit and bounce back, which will serve them well in the hunt for the playoffs while facing the likes of the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks in a brutal NFC West. But what happens if they struggle against a team better than the Jaguars? Can they recover? To be determined. For now, Arizona is 3-0. The last time that happened was 2015, which is the last time Arizona went to the playoffs. — Weinfuss
Weinfuss’ confidence rating (0-10): 8.5, down from 8.6. That Arizona was able to come back from nine to win by 12 shows that they have the resiliency and firepower to make a run, but there’s some concern that the Cardinals were down nine at one point to one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Next game: at Rams (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Jaguars have no margin for error. They finally get the run game going, return a missed field goal attempt 109 yards for a touchdown and hold Arizona to just 1-of-9 on third down, yet still lose by double digits — their 18th consecutive loss since winning the 2020 season opener. They have to pretty much play perfect and they don’t have the personnel to do that. — Mike DiRocco
Is it time to be concerned about Trevor Lawrence? Yes, and no. He’s just the fourth QB since the 1970 merger to throw multiple interceptions in his first three starts (he has seven) and only Peyton Manning and Alex Smith are No. 1 overall draft picks who have thrown more in their first three career starts (both threw eight). Lawrence’s second INT was a bad throw on a trick play, though he did get pressured by J.J. Watt. But he’s not really getting a lot of help, either. Jacob Hollister couldn’t hold onto a pass that hit him in the hands and was intercepted on the bounce. Lawrence’s receivers aren’t getting much separation. And it doesn’t help to be chasing points and stuck in an obvious passing situation (which happened in the fourth quarter Sunday). It was going to be a tough task for him as a rookie because of the lack of playmakers on the roster. He has to go through these struggles to grow but the Jaguars need him to cut down on the mistakes to have a chance to win games. — DiRocco
DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.5, down from 2.6. It jumps a little bit because the Jaguars finally got James Robinson involved (88 yards rushing), forced their first turnover, and made another big play on special teams, but they’re still turning the ball over too much and not making enough plays in key situations.
Next game: at Bengals (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Titans’ pass rush is emerging despite not having Bud Dupree involved. Defensive coordinator Shane Bowen mixed in a few timely blitzes to get pressure. But most of it was coming from the front four. Outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi has been in the zone as of late. Adeniyi had 1.5 sacks today with another one being negated by an illegal contact call on Chris Jackson. Jeffery Simmons is becoming a force up the middle as well. Although they aren’t getting sacks in bunches, the pass rush is causing opposing QBs to make mistakes. It should get another opportunity to have an impact next week against the Jets’ spotty offensive line and rookie QB Zach Wilson. — Turron Davenport
Can the Titans consistently win without contributions from Julio Jones and A.J. Brown in the passing game? Julio Jones and A.J. Brown were expected to provide a lot of fireworks for the Titans’ offense. That wasn’t the case in the Titans’ win over the Colts. Brown did not return from a first-quarter hamstring injury. Jones didn’t play for most of the fourth quarter. However, the Titans continued to push forward with Nick Westbrook-Ikhine leading the way. Derrick Henry also contributed with another 100-plus-yard rushing performance. That worked this week against a sputtering Colts offense, but it can’t be the formula the Titans rely upon every week. They’ll need bigger performances from Jones and Brown to compete with the top teams in the AFC. — Davenport
Davenport’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, no change from last week. It wasn’t pretty, but the Titans did what they were supposed to do: beat the Colts. An emotional win like the one they experienced in Week 2 could have set up a letdown game this week, especially against a physical division opponent like the Colts. That wasn’t the case, and the Titans are now 2-1 heading into next week’s contest against the Jets.
Next game: at Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The defense forced three turnovers. The offense didn’t turn the ball over. What did those things get the Colts? Another loss and their first 0-3 start since 2011 — and just their third since 1998. Quarterback Carson Wentz tried to shake off two bad ankles to play, but the offense was pretty watered down because of his health. The Colts focused more on trying to get the ball out of Wentz’s hands more quickly so he didn’t have to scramble around in the pocket, since it was obvious that he was nowhere near 100 percent healthy. Wentz finished 19-of-37 for 194 yards, but the Colts struggled to get in the end zone. Indianapolis was 1-of-3 in the red zone. The Colts had a final chance to steal a victory on the road, but the Titans chewed up more than seven minutes of the clock to send the Colts to their third straight loss. — Mike Wells
Will the Colts ever get healthy? The Colts continue to players. All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson left the game in the second quarter with a right ankle injury (to go along with the back injury he’s already dealing with). Starting safety Khari Willis left the game in the fourth quarter with cramps and DE Kwity Paye left earlier with a hamstring ailment. Injuries have been a common theme for the Colts all season. They went into the game already without receiver T.Y. Hilton and right tackle Braden Smith. It’s anyone’s guess when Wentz will be healthy again, and it’s clear that linebacker Darius Leonard is lacking his strongest attribute — speed — because of his ankle injury. — Wells
Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 4.6, down from 5. Injuries to way too many key players. Lack of a consistent defense. No deep threats down the field. Everything that has gone wrong for the Colts has, and there’s no end in sight to these issues, especially with the next two games also on the road, at Miami and Baltimore.
Next game: at Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Brandon Staley has been preaching all offseason about wanting to build a team that excels in the fourth quarter. Well, he got one, with help from a stellar day from QB Justin Herbert, a 4-yard, game-winning TD pass to Mike Williams with 32 seconds left and a key pass interference call on Chiefs S Deandre Baker that set up the go-ahead touchdown. Herbert completed 26 of 38 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns. Herbert was upset after the Dallas loss and and came out firing. But the defense was upset too, intercepting Patrick Mahomes twice and recovering two Chiefs fumbles. — Shelley Smith
What can the Chargers do earlier in the game to put themselves in better position to win? Staley has said the team doesn’t need to establish the run game to set up the play-action, but it would be nice, as the Chargers really didn’t run the ball effectively until the fourth quarter. That said, Herbert was 8-of-8 in the first half on play-action, so maybe Staley has a point about the running game. Cutting down on illegal-motion penalties would help, too, as the Chargers had a touchdown pass to Gabe Nabers erased by a motion penalty. — Smith
Smith’s confidence rating (0-10): 6, up from 4. Don’t make Herbert — or the defense — mad. The team still needs to clean up the motion penalties, though.
Next game: vs. Raiders (Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Chiefs’ defensive problems look far from solved. They were improved against the run against the Chargers, though that was a low bar to clear. They’re still having trouble rushing the quarterback and stopping a passing attack. The Chiefs can’t be much worse in the red zone, where opponents have scored 11 touchdowns in 12 trips. — Adam Teicher
Can the Chiefs turn their season around? It’s going to require some defensive improvement, which looks unlikely. The Chiefs are still formidable on offense and capable of big things, but opponents are determined to make them go without the big play and move their way down the field in smaller increments. It’s going to be difficult for them to consistently post big numbers without getting more big plays. They also have to quit with the turnovers. — Teicher
Teicher’s confidence rating (0-10): 6, down from 7. It’s impossible to believe in the Chiefs as a legitimate Super Bowl contender unless they improve significantly on defense and quit turning the ball over when they have it on offense.
Next game: at Eagles (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Saints aren’t sunk. This was a very impressive and important bounce-back performance after their collapse in Carolina last week. Especially by the defense, which has been living up to its vow to become the new identity of the team without Drew Brees. The Saints (2-1) will eventually get more reinforcements back from injuries and suspension, and this performance greatly helps them stay afloat as they head toward their first real home game against the Giants next week. — Mike Triplett
Can QB Jameis Winston settle in after his early highs and lows? He mostly did that Sunday, playing it relatively safe in a game that did not require him to force much (and the Saints’ pass protection was greatly improved from last week, even though standout left tackle Terron Armstead got hurt in the first quarter). Winston completed just 13 of 21 passes for 128 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. But Winston still threw up a couple of risky passes that were reminiscent of past woes. And we still don’t know how he’ll perform in a nail-biter since the Saints haven’t had one yet. — Triplett
Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, up from 6.8. The Saints are still far from perfect — last week being a scary reminder. But this showed how much their defense, run game, coaching and veteran leadership can still make an impact.
Next game: vs. Giants (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: If the Patriots can’t protect Mac Jones better, it’s going to be a long season. The Saints’ defense pressured Jones on 12 of his 21 first-half dropbacks (57%), and Jones was 4-of-11 for 28 yards and an interception when pressured, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. When Jones had time, the results were better, but it just didn’t happen enough. The projected return of starting right tackle Trent Brown (right calf strain) should help, but the protection problems seem to go deeper than just one player. — Mike Reiss
How are the Patriots possibly going to keep pace with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers next week? Everyone knew there would be growing pains with Jones, but as long as he protected the football and the offensive line could keep him upright, they’d at least have a chance. Neither of those things happened consistently enough Sunday. Now with Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady returning to Foxborough in one of the NFL’s most anticipated games, it feels like one side is like a stick of dynamite capable of a big spark at any moment (Tampa Bay) while the other is puttering along with the need to play perfect to have a chance (New England). The Patriots were far from perfect Sunday in a drubbing that was hard to watch at times. — Reiss
Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 6.2. Blocked punts. Kickoffs out of bounds. Coverage breakdowns leading to touchdowns. Careless ball security. The Patriots would have had trouble beating most teams with this type of effort.
Next game: vs. Bucs (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Browns’ pass rush completely overwhelmed Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who took more sacks (nine) than he completed passes (six). Myles Garrett led the way with 4.5 sacks, breaking the Browns’ single-game record. Though Chicago’s offense with Fields was hopeless, Cleveland showed the potential it has to get after the passer, with Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney combining for 11 quarterback pressures. A dynamic pass rush is a big reason the Browns have the potential to feature one of the league’s top defenses by season’s end. — Jake Trotter
Can Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. build off this 2021 debut? Mayfield and OBJ were clicking from the beginning, starting with a third-down conversion over the middle of the field on the opening drive. In his first appearance since season-ending knee surgery last year, Beckham finished hauling in five of his nine targets for 77 yards. Coming into the season, Mayfield and Beckham owned the second-worst completion rate (54.6%) of any QB-WR duo in the league dating to 2019. But Sunday, they showed they might have finally unlocked their chemistry together. — Trotter
Trotter’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.4, down from 7.5. Despite some troubles finishing off drives and protecting Mayfield, the Browns won going away behind a dominant fourth quarter.
Next game: at Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Any chance for a redo? Justin Fields’ highly anticipated NFL starting debut turned out to be a complete dud. Fields and the rest of the offense were completely overmatched by the Browns, who made life miserable for the rookie quarterback. The Bears failed to block just about anyone, and Fields’ throws were mostly off the mark. He also held onto the ball too long. Sunday was burn-the-tape terrible. Chicago’s defense kept the team in the game as long as possible, but the contest never felt as close as the score indicated. — Jeff Dickerson
Does Andy Dalton actually start again when healthy? Most of us laughed off Matt Nagy’s declaration that Dalton remained Chicago’s starting quarterback when healthy. Who’s laughing now? The Bears offense was so putrid — not all of it Fields’ fault, clearly — that you have to wonder whether Dalton eventually gets another crack at it. The Bears’ offense is so bad that it might not matter who plays quarterback. But in fairness to Dalton, the offense looked OK in Week 2 before the veteran quarterback injured his left knee. The fact that this is still open for debate shows you how terrible the offense played in Cleveland. — Dickerson
Dickerson’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, down from 5. The Bears’ offense is simply offensive.
Next game: vs. Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Bengals’ win showed they can contend in the AFC North. Cincinnati went on the road, a week after a pretty flat loss to a middling Chicago team, and thumped Pittsburgh. The big play was a 34-yard touchdown from Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to rookie Ja’Marr Chase, which set the tone. Cincinnati has won two straight against the Steelers. But this one, early in the season and with plenty on the line for both teams, is the most significant of the Zac Taylor era. — Ben Baby
Is this Bengals team good enough to compete for a playoff bid? Yes. Through three weeks, we’ve learned that the defense is indeed legit. And the offense, after a rocky week with public questions about playcalling, shined behind the Burrow-to-Chase connection that yielded big touchdowns. Cincinnati has the squad to push for a wild-card spot in December. — Baby
Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.8, up from 5.5. The Bengals’ all-around performance against the rival Steelers shows a team sustaining progress in a season with long-term implications.
Next game: vs. Jaguars (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
What to know: Missing so many key pieces, the Steelers’ defense can’t be the magic Band-Aid for the offense. Playing without outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, the Steelers’ defense saw its 75-game sack streak halted in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals. The offense continued to sputter, putting the defense in difficult positions. After holding Cincinnati to a field goal, the Steelers’ defense got a three-play breather before a bad interception by Ben Roethlisberger put it back on the field at its own 19. The Bengals scored three plays later. And for the second week in a row, the Steelers’ defense couldn’t keep a lid on the deep plays and gave up a long touchdown to Ja’Marr Chase in the final seconds of the second quarter. The defense is still the strength of the team, but the offensive ineptitude is weakening both sides of the ball. — Brooke Pryor
Is this the new normal for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, or can he turn it around? It’s a small sample size, but through three weeks, signs point to this being the new normal — hardly what he or the Steelers hoped for after bringing the 39-year-old back for another season. Roethlisberger threw one of the worst interceptions of his career in the third quarter when he tried to throw to a heavily covered JuJu Smith-Schuster and instead put it right in the gut of Logan Wilson. For yet another Sunday, Roethlisberger looked out of sync with his receivers. It’s not all Roethlisberger’s fault — playing behind a line with lingering growing pains isn’t easy — but some of the avoidable mistakes weren’t, well, avoided. Not only did Roethlisberger throw the third-quarter pick, he also took a sack in the first half after holding onto the ball far too long. Roethlisberger is one touchdown away from entering the 400 club, but if he and the offense keep playing like they have the first three weeks, he’s going to hover on the cusp for quite a while. — Pryor
Pryor’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.4, down from 5.7. With each passing week, the win against the Buffalo Bills feels more and more like a fluke; if the offense can’t get it together and the defense can’t play like the ’85 Bears, that will continue to be the case.
Next game: at Packers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: Running back Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) and cornerback Jaycee Horn (broken foot) will miss some games with injuries, but the Panthers showed in the 24-9 win over the Texans that they have what it takes to win without two of their biggest stars. This doesn’t mean Carolina can stay with Tampa Bay without them, but with a 3-0 start and a somewhat soft schedule over the next month, the Panthers can be competitive and win games to keep them in playoff contention. As left tackle Cameron Erving said, “We’re a football tam. We’re not the Carolina Christian McCaffreys.” — David Newton
Can Sam Darnold carry the offense without McCaffrey? Granted, this was the Texans, but Darnold in the second half played maybe as well as he has at any point in his NFL career. He stayed within the offense and made plays with his arm and legs. His quarterback sneak for a touchdown gave him two for the game, something he’d never done since entering the league. He even had a 32-yard run called back because of a penalty. I’m starting to believe the Panthers made the right gamble in trading for him. He’s tough. Or as Matt Rhule said, he has “moxie.” — Newton
Newton’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.9, up from 6.4. This might have been higher were it not for the injuries to McCaffrey and Horn, but the defense is for real and Darnold is better than expected.
Next game: at Cowboys (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Texans coach David Culley said QB Davis Mills did exactly what the Texans asked him to in the offense in terms of not doing too much and trying to “make a throw to try and get something going.” Culley also pointed out that Mills did not turn the ball over and showed growth in that area from his preseason performances. But if the Texans are going to win games with quarterback Tyrod Taylor on injured reserve, Mills will have to do more than that going forward. Can he use the 10-day window before next week’s contest in Buffalo to continue to improve in this offense? — Sarah Barshop
Can Houston return to its Week 1 success in the run game? The Texans struggled to run the ball on Thursday night, combining for 42 yards on 17 carries. Culley said that when Houston came out for the second half, it was focused on trying to “establish the run again.” The Texans couldn’t do that, and Culley said he thought the biggest reason the offense struggled was because the team couldn’t establish any consistency on the ground. “We have to be able to (run the ball),” Culley said. “That’s who we are.” It won’t get any easier next week as the Bills entered Week 3 allowing an average of just 73 rushing yards per game, which was the seventh-best in the NFL. — Barshop
Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.0, no change from 2.0. The Texans showed promise in their first two games, especially with Taylor under center, but it was clear that they’re not ready to consistently compete with the best teams in the NFL.
Next game: at Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)