Cover 7 | Sunday A daily NFL destination that provides in-depth analysis of football’s biggest stories. Each Sunday, three of The Athletic’s NFL writers react to the biggest news, plays and performances from the day’s games.
Week 3 is still early in the NFL season, but some teams are already facing some harsh realities.
The New York Jets are now 0-2 in Zach Wilson’s starts after falling to the New England Patriots 15-10 on Sunday. What’s worse, the Jets have only scored 20 points in those games, leaving plenty wondering: Is it time to make a change at quarterback? And what about the Chicago Bears? It’s hard to have a worse week than they did, so let’s call their 41-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs the cherry on top. Where do they go from here?
The Athletic NFL writers Dan Pompei, Mike Jones and Ted Nguyen share their takeaways on the day’s top storylines.
After a tumultuous week, to say the least, the Bears were blown out by the Chiefs and dropped to 0-3. Given all they’ve gone through already this year, what’s the end game now? What do their fans have to hope for?
Pompei: The end game is Caleb Williams! The Bears have their first round pick and the Panthers’ first round pick. If they stay on course, they will have a chance at the first pick. But the coaches and players won’t be thinking about that now. They have to focus on incremental improvement — survival, really. The Bears have more talent than they showed Sunday. They have been out of sync offensively and overmatched defensively. The development of Justin Fields clearly has stalled, which is their most significant problem. Their next biggest problem might be their lack of depth. When they have injuries, which they do now, the dropoff is considerable. However many games the Bears can win this season won’t be enough for this to be considered a successful season.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 24, 2023
Jones: The end game is another reset. The Bears were really aggressive in acquiring talent, but it feels like none of the ingredients match, and that the cooks don’t know how to use them either. I’m looking at their schedule, and I don’t know where their first win will come from. Like Dan said, the first pick of the draft may be within their reach, but no way I’m entrusting Caleb Williams to this coaching staff.
Nguyen: I know Bears fans won’t want to hear this but the evaluation of Fields has to keep going. What choice do they have? They like undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent, but there’s no point in subjecting him to that environment yet. Hopefully, they can generate some offense if the line ever gets healthy? The end game in Chicago right now is the Bears staff fighting to keep their jobs for as long as they can. As far as what Bears fans are hoping for: high draft picks. This thing needs another hard reset.
The Jets have given Zach Wilson their full-throated support since Aaron Rodgers went down with an injury. After Sunday’s pitiful performance against the Patriots, can they afford to allow him to lead them the rest of the way?
Pompei: They can’t give up on him yet. They have said repeatedly they believe in Wilson, and think they can develop him. That means allowing him to play through some difficulties. In defense of Wilson, the Jets have had a lot of Jet-ish things going on that would have made things difficult for the offense even if Rodgers was playing. What the Jets can do, however, is sign a veteran who could be an eventual replacement for Wilson if he doesn’t show improvement as the season goes on. If Matt Ryan is interested in the Jets, as Jay Glazer of Fox reported, he should be on a plane to New York this week.
Jones: He’s still the best option they have. Despite his imperfections, he kept on gunning and did give his team a shot at a comeback victory. The Jets’ problems aren’t at all limited to quarterback. Their offensive line is bad. I don’t care who you put out there, he’s going to struggle behind that shoddy pass protection. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett also needs to do a better job of finding ways to ease pressure on his young quarterback. The run game has to become more of a focal point for the Jets.
Yes, @man_dammn ✌️
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 24, 2023
Nguyen: Wilson has seen a buzzsaw of top-tier defenses with the Bills, Cowboys and Patriots. It won’t get much easier with the Chiefs coming next week. Not a good recipe with a severely injured offensive line. Also, the Jets don’t have many weapons outside of Garrett Wilson. Rodgers could have made this offense above average, which is probably all they would have needed to be a contender. Wilson is nowhere near good enough to elevate this offense. I don’t see Ryan doing much better, but maybe he can at least avoid the killer mistakes. The only quarterback that could move the needle that MIGHT be available later if the Colts lose too many games — and Anthony Richardson (concussion) comes back — is Gardner Minshew. But that would be a stretch. In other words, the Jets don’t have many good options here, and their season is in jeopardy.
Seventy points?! The Dolphins (3-0) hung 70 on the Broncos today (just two short of the NFL record) and have scored 130 points this season already. Can anyone, including the Buffalo Bills next week, stop this offense?
Pompei: What leads me to believe the Dolphins could continue to produce as they have is the depth of their playmakers. They beat up the Broncos without Jaylen Waddle, who would be the No. 1 wide receiver on most NFL teams. Through three games, Tyreek Hill and Raheem Mostert are playing at All-Pro levels. And now here comes rookie running back De’Von Achane. The key though, as always, is the quarterback. Tua Tagovailoa, now in his second-year coach Mike McDaniel’s offense, took a big step last season and looks like he may be taking another one this season. The scheme and speed are a problem for defenses.
TUA TO TYREEK. 54-YARD TOUCHDOWN.
— NFL (@NFL) September 24, 2023
Jones: The Dolphins have so many weapons and such great depth. They scored 70 points despite not being at full strength. Hats off to GM Chris Grier and McDaniel for how they have constructed this team and for the offensive wizardry we’re seeing from McDaniel. The second-year head coach does such a great job of scheming up ways to accentuate his unit’s strengths, help his quarterback find a rhythm and capitalize on opponents’ weaknesses. Miami will be a problem for just about every defense out there. The Bills have rebounded after their troubling performance in the season opener. But the Dolphins are still the best team in the AFC East. It should be a great matchup between those two teams next week — and a great chess match between McDaniel and the defensive-minded Sean McDermott.
OC Frank Smith won’t be Dolphins’ best-kept secret much longer. He’ll be an NFL head coach
Nguyen: The Patriots had a good game plan against them — taking away the middle of the field and limiting Hill — but they just ran the ball and still put up 24 points. They just absolutely shredded the Broncos and were still scoring long touchdowns with their backups in. McDaniel might have taken the title for best play designer/caller in the league. Their only weakness is their pass protection, but their skill players get open so quickly, and Tagovailoa is throwing with anticipation better than any quarterback in the league right now, so it’s hard for the pass rush to affect him. The Bills were impressive against an explosive Commanders passing game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them come out with a similar game plan as the Patriots, but it’ll be up to their front six to stop the Dolphins’ run game with a light box. I don’t think the Dolphins will put up 70 against them, but is holding them to 30 a success?
DEVON ACHANE 67-YARD TD
THE DOLPHINS HAVE 70 POINTS.
— NFL (@NFL) September 24, 2023
Sean Payton’s Broncos have fallen to 0-3. He was probably never going to turn things around there immediately, but a 50-point loss begs the question: Is Denver in for another long season?
Pompei: This won’t be a popular opinion at the moment, but the Broncos have the potential to improve as the season goes on. Their defense hasn’t been good, but what happened Sunday was probably a blip. Missing All-Pro safety Justin Simmons, one of the best players on the team, obviously contributed. But the bigger picture is this is a new coaching staff that still is learning about their players’ strengths and weaknesses. The players still are figuring out what the coaches want. It’s a solid coaching staff, and the personnel is better than some. Russell Wilson obviously needs to pick it up — pick the whole team up, actually.
Jones: Payton is being forced to choke down a big ol’ slice of humble pie as his team has stumbled out of the gates in such embarrassing fashion. This team is probably in worse shape than he realized, but there is indeed hope for improvement. It might not be a dramatic improvement — no season-saving turnaround that results in a playoff appearance. But the Broncos can get better. It looks like Payton and his coaches are still figuring out how to use their players and how to mask deficiencies, and the Broncos don’t look very comfortable out there. So, comfort will come with time as they keep working, and hopefully, for their sake, that leads to improved consistency.
Kosmider: If Sean Payton thought the Broncos would be a quick fix, it’s time to adjust
Nguyen: Wilson hasn’t been the Broncos’ biggest problem. He can at least have stretches of strong play which is an improvement from last season. The defense has taken a serious step back from last year, though. Losing Simmons hurts, but he doesn’t make a 50-point difference. They won’t play Miami every week, but they also gave up 35 points last week to the Commanders. This defense doesn’t look anything close to the unit we saw last season. Giving up a lot of points combined with a streaky quarterback is not a great combo. Yeah, I think it’ll be a long season.
The 0-2 Los Angeles Chargers vs. the 0-2 Minnesota Vikings, two playoff teams from 2022, was billed as the Desperation Bowl. What was your biggest takeaway from the Chargers’ nail-biting 28-24 victory? Are the Vikings toast? Are the Chargers ready to go on a run?
Pompei: The Vikings have lost three close games. Good teams don’t lose three close games. They don’t lose to 0-2 teams at home. And they don’t lose after 10 days of rest. They find ways to win. It’s funny, because there are some things to like about the Vikings. But it’s not clicking, not the way it was clicking in 2022. And two of their next four are against the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. Since 2002, only one out of 99 teams that have started 0-3 has made the playoffs. The Vikings are not likely to be the second.
Jones: My biggest takeaway is that Chargers coach Brandon Staley got very lucky that his decision to go for it on fourth-down from his own 24 with the game on the line didn’t come back to bite him like it could have. That Kenneth Murray Jr. interception may have wound up saving Staley’s job. The Chargers still have a tough road ahead. They should beat the Raiders, but they’ll struggle against the Chiefs and Cowboys. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and this victory was much-needed.
As for the Vikings, 0-3 is hard to come back from. But they’re in a division that remains wide open. A year after every late-game ball seemed to bounce their way, we’re seeing the Vikings repeatedly fall short. It’s troubling that ball security remains such an issue for this team. But despite the plentiful turnovers, they do still find themselves in games late. So, if they can get rid of the butterfingers and tighten things up on defense, they should be able to turn things around.
K9 CAME UP CLUUTTCCHHHHH pic.twitter.com/SemU9gDfu8
— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers) September 24, 2023
Nguyen: Luck regression has hit the Vikings like a speeding train. All the turnover luck and breaks they got in close games last year are going in the other direction. Their offensive line is beat up, and they have a bottom-tier defensive roster. They’ll be an interesting watch because of Cousins and the weapons they have, but I don’t see them coming back from an 0-3 hole.
The Chargers offense has been very good while still in the beginning stages of learning offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s new offense. Their defense has let them down in their two losses. Herbert had been much more aggressive than he ever had in his career. He’s averaging 8.2 air yards per target. He has six touchdown passes without a pick. I think their defense can improve to not-absolutely-terrible which is enough for them to make a run.
Pompei: Hardly anyone expected the Cowboys to go 17-0, but hardly anyone expected them to lose to the Cardinals. The hype train was a little out of control for Dallas. This is a really good team, but not flawless. And the Cowboys aren’t as good today as they were a week ago when Trevon Diggs was in the lineup. The Cowboys can rebound from this awful loss, but they will have to play better defensively. Assuming they beat the Patriots next week, the measuring stick for the Cowboys will be in two weeks against a familiar measuring stick for this team — the 49ers.
Jones: Don’t underestimate familiarity. Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon knows this Cowboys offense very well from his time as defensive coordinator in Philadelphia. He faced Dallas twice a year, so he had a pretty good idea of how to game plan for Mike McCarthy’s crew. Also, the Cardinals players are beginning to find some comfort within Arizona’s system, which helped them finally start showing some signs of improvement.
Nguyen: They got physically handled up front, and the Cardinals ran the ball at will against them, gaining 222 yards rushing. They looked lost when receiver Rondale Moore lined up in the backfield and gave up a 45-yard touchdown run. On the backend, they blew coverages, and Stephon Gilmore has looked bad for the second week in a row. The Diggs injury could be more impactful than I thought. It’s hard for the pass rush to be effective when guys are getting open quickly. It isn’t all doom and gloom, but the Cardinals exposed some problems the Cowboys will have to shore up quickly. As for the Cardinals, they are playing hard, they’re physical, and quarterback Josh Dobbs is doing a good job of managing games. Their proving to be a tough out, which is always a good sign in the first year of a rebuild.