Now that the Browns have spent the past three weeks spoon-feeding us crow-flavored reminders that nothing in the NFL is ever completely as it appears, let’s look back on the first quarter of the 2013 NFL season. Gosh knows looking ahead doesn’t work in this league.
Top five surprises
1. Cleveland’s resurrection: To recap the past three weeks, the Browns traded last year’s third overall pick 18 games into his NFL career, promoted their No. 3 quarterback to starter, endured a nation that ridiculed and laughed at them, won back-to-back games, lost their new starting quarterback because of a serious knee injury and then won a third consecutive game because the previously demoted quarterback stepped in and played exceptionally well. And now the Browns (3-2) are in first place in the AFC North, two victories from matching their average season total over the past 10 years. Yeah, that sounds goofy enough to fly in the NFL.
2. Andy Reid smiling: Yeah, we all knew Andy Reid would make a difference in Kansas City. But 4-0 and doubling last year’s win total before the end of September? Sheesh. No. 1 on the list of reasons why: giveaways. Alex Smith brought his ball security with him from San Francisco. He’s thrown only two interceptions in 146 attempts. That’s a 1.3 interception percentage. A year ago, Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn threw 20 picks in 474 attempts, a 4.2 interception percentage.
3. Clutch defense in Detroit: At 3-1, the Lions are one victory from matching last year’s total and confirming themselves as the most unpredictable team in a flip-a-coin league. We all know how dangerous they are on offense. But did you know they also lead the league in third-down defense? Opponents have converted only 21.3 percent (10 of 47).
4. A turnover-free Tennessee: The Titans are another surprise 3-1 team. Like most surprise teams, pinpointing their success is a matter of following the bouncing ball. Or lack thereof. Tennessee is the only team in the league that hasn’t turned the ball over. Beware: The Titans started 3-1 in 2011 but finished 6-6 and missed the playoffs.
5. Philip Rivers is back (so far): So how would Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers do without renowned QB guru Norv Turner as San Diego’s head coach? Well, sorry Norv, but Rivers has adjusted quite well to head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. After throwing 48 interceptions in his previous 48 games, Rivers has only two this season. He also trails only Peyton Manning in touchdown passes (16-11), completion percentage (75.0-73.9) and passer rating (138.0-118.8).
Top three disappointments
1. The Falcons: At 1-3, Atlanta already has matched last year’s loss total. Surprisingly, the Falcons have been awful in the red zone, ranking 29th with only seven touchdowns in 18 attempts (38.9). That’s not good when you have tight end Tony Gonzalez, the most dangerous red-zone target in NFL history.
2. The NFC East: Picking between the Giants (NFC-worst minus-85 point differential), Redskins (halfway to last year’s six losses) and Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia free-fall since Week 1 was too difficult. So we just lumped the entire underachieving NFC East into one big 4-12 disappointment. It’s the only division without a winning team. And the top team, Dallas, is 1-2 outside the division.
3. Matt Schaub: Say what you want about the play call that resulted in Schaub throwing a game-tying pick-six in the closing minutes of regulation against Seattle last week. But Schaub is a 10-year veteran and an upper-echelon QB. A coach should be able to reasonably trust someone like that not to make a basic rookie mistake that leads to an overtime loss.
If you’re a fan of elite tight ends, keep an eye on Soldier Field on Sunday. The Saints’ Jimmy Graham just became the first tight end since 1986 to earn a conference player of the month award.
He has 27 catches for 458 yards and six touchdowns. Chicago’s Martellus Bennett, the Viking slayer in Week 2, has 20 catches for 225 yards and three touchdowns. Bennett, who has more blocking duties than Graham, wasn’t interested in comparisons this week. “There’s no wrong way to make an impact,” he told reporters. “There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s.”
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Detroit as a desired destination just sounds strange. But that’s exactly what it was for Kevin Ogletree this week. Released Tuesday from the dysfunction that is 0-4 Tampa Bay, the veteran receiver landed in 3-1 Detroit a day later.