The NFC South saw a little bit of everything in week three of the NFL season. There was a team that found a way to come from behind, a team that found a way to lose coming from ahead, a blowout of a struggling team and a western trip that ended badly. The result? A log jam in the standings. There is now a three-way tie at the top of the division including, don’t look now, the Atlanta Falcons.
Atlanta Falcons (2-1):
Looking Back: The Falcons found something in week three other than a victory. They found that their running game was far from a one-hit wonder. Michael Turner put up another one hundred yard performance. Even better for the Falcons, they got a solid game from rookie quarterback Matt Ryan (12 of 18, 192 yards, 1 TD and no INTs.). Rebuilding teams often lose even when they have opportunities against struggling teams like Kansas City. The defense was solid if not spectacular considering that Larry Johnson put up a one hundred yard game. Yet, this group was responsible for three interceptions. This Atlanta team was able to win a game they were supposed to win and did it easily – 38-14.
Looking Forward: Are the Falcons beginning to believe in their new coaching staff? The answer to that question could come next week with a road trip to Charlotte to play division rival Carolina. They will be facing the duo of Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith after they’ve had the opportunity to work together for two weeks in practice. This team has shown that they are improving on defense and that their running game is solid behind prized free agent Michael Turner. Matt Ryan will have to continue his solid play and keep turnovers to a minimum to win away from home.
Carolina Panthers (2-1):
Looking Back: The Panthers were on the road versus a Minnesota team that was desperate for a victory. It was a trap game. They fell in the trap set by the Vikings. Steve Smith’s return yielded only 4 catches for 70 yards while the running game was ineffective putting up only 47 yards. Jake Delhomme was harassed all day and was sacked five times. The Vikings got a solid game from Gus Frerotte who hadn’t played in a regular season game for nine months. Adrian Peterson also gained 77 yards on an ailing hamstring. Carolina took a 10-0 lead in the second quarter but Minnesota scored 20 straight and earned their first victory 20-10. Carolina was handed their first loss.
Looking Forward: Bouncing back will be critical for Carolina. They have started the season versus two early Super Bowl favorites and an improving Chicago team. Next up, is Atlanta in Charlotte. The Falcons could pose a threat to a team that has not defended the run especially well. They’ve faced LaDainian Tomlinson, Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson in successive weeks. Next up, will be Michael Turner. Jake Delhomme will also need to find a rhythm with his favorite target who just returned this week – Steve Smith.
New Orleans Saints (1-2):
Looking Back: That rebuilt defense continued to struggle in Denver versus the Broncos. They dug themselves a 21-3 hole but managed to make a game of it by halftime having clawed back in it to go to the break down only 24-19. The scoring continued into the second half but New Orleans fought back to cut the score to 34-32. Denver committed a critical turnover with 5:33 to go putting the Saints offense in business at their own 25 with a chance to win it. Drew Brees and company would mount a drive that would bog down at the Broncos’ 25 with 2:00 to go. Martin Gramatica, however, was wide right from 43 yards. This is a win that could stick with the Saints for quite some time.
Looking Forward: Next up for New Orleans is a date with the Forty Niners at home. San Francisco has been showing signs of improvement with two straight wins including a win over perennial NFC West contenders, Seattle. The boys from the Bayou will need to be prepared for pretty much anything as they matchup versus the offensive “madman” Mike Martz. This team has been resilient through the loss of Marques Colston on offense. The Achilles heel of this team continues to be the defense. Facing yet another up and coming team could be a more serious threat than many fans think it will be.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1):
Looking Back: A comeback! And what a comeback it was for Tampa Bay. Jon Gruden saw his team trailing 24-14 with 6:38 to play on the road in Chicago. It was a furious comeback led by Brian Griese who had replaced Jeff Garcia for this game and who was making his return to Chicago. First a FG inside of three and a half to go, then a two-minute drive that resulted in a TD with ten seconds to go. Griese was solid passing for 407 yards on an incredible 67 attempts despite three interceptions but his last minute TD pass to Jeremey Stephens with the clock winding down was impressive. It was the kind of season-defining road win that every team needs to bring their group close together.
Looking Forward: It won’t be Brett Favre. Instead, it will be Aaron Rodgers. For better or worse, the Buccaneers will be hosting one of the best teams in the league – a young, energetic defense and solid wide receivers. Green Bay could be a test that will prove where this Tampa Bay team stands. And early season test will prove what kind of stuff this Jon Gruden team is made of.