ATLANTIC CITY, September 29, 2015 — While every NFL weekend is a holy weekend, this week was extra holy. Pope Francis was in town, and it seemed that every Catholic in America tried to make it to his masses. Meanwhile, Jews celebrated their holiest day of the year in Yom Kippur. For Satanists, Sunday night brought the Super Blood Moon. Yet, the religion that unites all Americans seems to be the National Football League. For some teams to win, it required a miracle. Yet some teams were so bad that even the Pontiff could not give them a blessing.
Pope Francis quickly fled DC for New York City after firing a Papal assistant for erroneously telling the Pontiff that the game was in Washington. The Pope landed at JFK and was transported to the Meadowlands in time for kickoff. Everyone knew Pope Francis would finish mass by 8:00 p.m. He knew that Thursday Night Football kicks off around 8:30 p.m. While Pope Francis pleaded for peace, some conflicts can only be solved through violence. This is football. This brings us to the NFL 2015 Week 3 Encyclical, also known as lessons learned and not learned.
New York Giants 32, Washington 21 — Football Encyclical: Avoid traffic around the Pope. Do not throw into traffic near a Prince. Kirk Cousins threw it right to Prince Amukamura for a red zone interception that led to a 9-0 Giants lead. Father Tom Coughlin was so pleased that he almost smiled. For the third straight week, the Giants took a double digit lead into the fourth quarter. This time, rather than play conservative, they went for the kill shot and got it, as Eli Manning went deep to Odell Beckham Jr. for a 30-yard touchdown and a 25-6 Giants lead.
Atlanta Falcons 39, Dallas Cowboys 28 — The Falcons had their best players on the field. The Cowboys had their best players out injured. As Jerry Jones begged the Pope to heal Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, the Cowboys jumped to a 28-14 first half lead that Brandon Weeden could not protect. Before making Weeden the fall guy, he does not play defense. Neither does anybody on the Cowboys. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones torched the Dallas defense for 25 unanswered points.
Indianapolis Colts 35, Tennessee Titans 33 — The Colts jumped to a 14-0 lead, gave up 27 straight points, and then ripped off 21 straight fourth quarter points to hang on for the win when a tying two-point conversion try failed. Yet this game was about the Titans being too young and inexperienced to close out a game. Up 24-14, two Tennessee runs from the Indianapolis one-yard line lost two yards. Then up 27-14 and driving at the Indianapolis 34, Marcus Mariota took a sack that knocked the Titans out of field goal range. At 34-14, the Titans would have ended the game and perhaps the Colts’ season. It was only Mariota’s third game, however, he will learn.
Oakland Raiders 27, Cleveland Browns 20 — The Browns surprised the NFL by sending Johnny Manziel back to the bench in favor of Josh McCown. The Raiders also have a young team that has trouble closing out games. They nearly blew a 27-10 fourth quarter lead, but hung on when Charles Woodson intercepted a pass for the 18th straight year. Jack Del Rio decided to punt late rather than let Sebastian Janikowski try a 55-yard field goal to lock up the game. What Del Rio did right is stick with the running game. Latavius Murray’s first seven carries netted one total yard. Yet Murray kept chopping wood and finished with 139 yards on 26 carries. Derek Carr and Amari cooper continue to impress, but Murray is vital to taking the pressure off of Carr.
Cincinnati Bengals 28, Baltimore Ravens 24 — Give Andy Dalton a ton of credit. Midway through the fourth quarter, Dalton was sacked and fumbled, resulting in a 41-yards defensive touchdown for the Ravens. After seeing a 14-0 lead evaporate into a 17-14 deficit, Dalton did not go into a shell. One play after a touchback, Dalton shrugged off his mistake and fired to A.J. Green for an 80 yard touchdown. Just like that, the Bengals were back on top 21-17. As for the Ravens, this is not the defense Americans have been accustomed to. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are retired. Terrell Suggs is out for the year injured. Twice the Ravens had a fourth quarter lead, and twice they could not hold it. The Bengals at 3-0 and the Ravens at 0-3 are not flukes.
New England Patriots 51, Jacksonville Jaguars 17 — Americans love football because every week David shocks Goliath. That’s why they play the games. This game was not why they play the games. Goliath beat up David, and may still be beating him up in the parking lot. Tom Brady finished 33 of 42 for 358 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. The Patriots may be the only defending Super Bowl champion to be playing with rage. They led 30-3 at halftime and kept piling it on.
Carolina Panthers 27, New Orleans Saints 22 — Luke McCown subbed for the injured Drew Brees and played well, going 31 of 38 for 310 yards. His only mistake came at the worst possible time. With 1:17 to play the Saints faced third and six at the Carolina 23. McCown went for it all and was intercepted in the end zone. Yet one overlooked storyline of this game was the new extra point rule that makes the former 18-yard try now a 33-yard try. The Saints missed an extra point try in the third quarter, leading them to try a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter that also failed. This had them down by five instead of three late, and the Saints were well within range for a tying field goal try.
Philadelphia Eagles 24, New York Jets 17 — The Pope must have blessed Chip Kelly, which means Eagles fans will not burn Kelly in effigy for at least one more week. An 89-yard punt return by Darren Sproles powered the Eagles to a 24-0 first half lead. The offense then took the rest of the day off and prayed that the defense would hold up. It barely did. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a pair of fourth quarter interceptions as the Jets wasted a chance to show up their naysayers for the 47th straight year.
Houston Texans 19, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9 — A hideous game saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker make a 58-yarder but miss a 33-yarder. Each team missed an extra point. The Texans led 16-9 and figured out the best way to prevent Tampa Bay from tying the game was to keep their offense off of the field. With eight minutes left, Houston played smash mouth football and took the clock down to just over one minute left before the clinching field goal.
Minnesota Vikings 31, San Diego Chargers 14 — Teddy Bridgewater was only 13 of 24 for 121 yards, 0 touchdowns and one interception. Yet he had Adrian Peterson running for 126 yards on 20 carries for two touchdowns. Peterson is rested and ticked off. This team goes as he goes. Forced to come from behind, Philip Rivers had an interception returned 91 yards for the final Vikings touchdown. Minnesota ran the ball and San Diego did not.
Pittsburgh Steelers 12, St. Louis Rams 6 — This was a costly victory as Ben Roethlisberger went down with a knee injury that will keep him out four to six weeks. Michael Vick is the backup. Yet Mike Tomlin football is about hard-nosed defense. So is Jeff Fisher football. Trailing 9-6 with three minutes to play, Nick Foles was intercepted twice in this war of attrition.
Arizona Cardinals 47, San Francisco 49ers 7 — The Arizona Cardinals really are this good. The San Francisco 49ers really are this bad. In the first quarter Colin Kaepernick completed two touchdown passes to the Arizona defense. His fourth interception came on the opening play of the third quarter. The Cardinals also have an offense, and Carson Palmer is still healthy. A pair of 81-yard drives in the second quarter put the Cardinals up 28-0. By game’s end, even Jim Tomsula begged the 49ers ownership to bring back Jim Harbaugh.
Buffalo Bills 41, Miami Dolphins 14 — After laying an egg at home against New England, Rex Ryan’s defense went on the road and smacked around a soft Miami team that paid Ndamokung Suh 100 million dollars to get tougher. Tyron Taylor easily moved the Bills on drives of 77 and 81 yards in the first quarter. In the final two minutes of the half, Rex Ryan blitzed the house. Ryan Tannehill was intercepted twice, as a 17-0 Bills lead turned into a 27-0 trouncing. Joe Philbin was allowed to finish coaching the game, although the second half was a formality. Rex Ryan always has a defense. It is too soon to tell, but he may also have a quarterback.
Seattle Seahawks 26, Chicago Bears 0 — Steve Hauschka hit four field goals and the Seahawks returned the second half kickoff 105 yards for the game’s opening touchdown to turn a 6-0 slugfest into a blowout. The Legion of Boom got a major lift with the return of Kam Chancellor from his holdout. The Bears are terrible with Jay Cutler but far worse with Jimmy Clausen. Contrary to what Lou Holtz taught his players, the Pope does not care if Notre Dame players lose badly in college or in the pros.
Denver Broncos 24, Detroit Lions 12 — The Broncos went from all Peyton Manning to a run oriented offense and a much more physical defense. Detroit has simply gotten worse. The extra point rule was also in play here. Former Broncos and current Lions kicker Matt Prater had an extra point try blocked. This led Detroit to later on try a two-point conversion that did not work. Instead of a tie game, Detroit trailed 14-12. Matthew Stafford getting sacked and fumbling while approaching winning leading field goal range is not acceptable. Neither is committing a defensive penalty on a missed field goal that gave the Broncos a second chance. Lastly, for all the talk about Manning just being an accessory, Gary Kubiak trusted him to put the game away with deep passes rather than just run the ball. Manning delivered again with the game on the line.
Green Bay Packers 38, Kansas City chiefs 14 — Aaron Rodgers threw five touchdown passes without an interception. He has ten touchdown passes on the year without an interception. Alex Smith, Steve Bono and Elvis Grbac may be the same person. West Coast Offense game manager Smith waits until the fourth quarter to throw passes longer than four yards, except on third down and four when he throws two-yard passes. Walrus Lite Andy Reid either needs to trust his quarterback or settle for more dinking, dunking and death to the season.