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Winners and Losers of NFL Week 3

The Dolphins are once again big NFL winners, and not just because they brought us the Butt Punt. Meanwhile, Trevor Lawrence is on a hot streak, the Raiders are unofficially eliminated, and a reminder that the house always wins.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Every week of the 2022 NFL season, we will celebrate the electric plays, investigate the colossal blunders, and explain the inexplicable moments of the most recent slate. Welcome to Winners and Losers. Which one are you?

Winner: The Butt Punt

Football is an immensely complex game—22 players are on the field at all times, playing dozens of different positions, executing strategies that take years of study to fully comprehend. And sometimes, none of that matters because a dude kicks a football into his teammate’s ass.

Friends, Sunday we witnessed the Butt Punt.

Late in the fourth quarter of Dolphins-Bills, Miami led by four points but needed to punt out of the back of their own end zone. And punts out of the back of the end zone are … complicated. Here’s Miami’s usual punt formation:

You’ll see the line of scrimmage is the 27, but the punter, Thomas Morstead, is 14 yards behind the line. Miami’s blockers are a solid 10 yards clear of Morstead, giving him clean, unimpeded space to operate. Because the punter is so far back, the punt team doesn’t need to do a perfect job blocking. If the blockers even mildly inconvenience the opposing rush, they probably won’t get 14 yards downfield in time to block the kick. And Miami has gunners on both sides of the field who don’t even worry about protecting Morstead—they’re mainly focused on getting downfield and covering the punt, preventing a long return.

But when a team is backed up in its own end zone, it has to run a “tight” punt formation. It doesn’t have the luxury of worrying about the return—it needs to focus 100 percent of its attention on keeping the punter clean. With less distance between the punter and the line of scrimmage, the defense has a much better chance of blocking the kick, likely resulting in a safety (if the ball goes out of bounds) or touchdown (if the opponent recovers in the end zone).

Look at the Dolphins’ formation on the Butt Punt: They don’t even have gunners—just 10 men in a very small amount of space trying to keep Buffalo’s rush at bay. Unfortunately, Miami wide receiver Trent Sherfield just so happened to hear his favorite Megan Thee Stallion song when the ball was snapped, twerking backward toward Morstead instead of picking up a block. That caused Morstead to literally kick his ass.

This isn’t unprecedented—it actually happened earlier this month in a college football game—but it’s not supposed to happen in the NFL. The ball ricocheted off of Sherfield’s ass and flew out of the end zone for a safety, giving Buffalo two points and the ball with 85 seconds remaining. Normally, when a team is flustered enough that ass cheeks and footballs interact, they are close to falling apart. When the famous Butt Fumble happened in 2012, it was part of a disastrous stretch in which the Jets allowed three touchdowns in 65 seconds of game time, falling behind 28-0 in a Thanksgiving prime-time game against the Patriots.

But the Dolphins held their composure. Now leading by just two points, Miami needed to prevent the league’s best offense from kicking a field goal to win—and they pulled it off. On the ensuing safety kick, Morstead smashed the ball 74 yards, tied for the longest punt in the NFL this year. Buffalo’s drive went 36 yards before time expired, and Miami moved to 3-0. The Dolphins got the win and got an all-time booty-related highlight. And that’s the Miami way.

Loser: Starter Jimmy Garoppolo

Dan Orlovsky has tried his best to shake his reputation. He does a pretty great job analyzing football on ESPN, especially when he’s in front of a big touchscreen, breaking down teams’ tendencies like Steve Kornacki does electoral maps. He gives out some of the worst food opinions in the history of the internet, and continues sharing them even though each one is received with the same shock and horror as the last. He made a loud, fart-adjacent noise on-air last week, hoping to become famous for … something else, anything else. Something besides … well, the thing for which you remember his name. Orlovsky, who played quarterback for 13 seasons in the NFL, is best known for running out of the back of the end zone during a game he started for the 0-16 Detroit Lions. His gaffe gave the Minnesota Vikings a safety, worth two points. The Lions lost 12-10. From that moment on, nobody “runs out of the back of the end zone.” They “pull an Orlovsky.”

But Sunday night, Orlovsky celebrated. Somebody else did the dumb thing.

San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completely panicked under pressure from the Broncos defense in his own end zone—the last place a player can afford to panic. He lost track of space, shuffled backward and stepped out of the end zone. (By rule, Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth immediately referenced Orlovsky.)

Garoppolo, already panicked, panicked even more upon realization that he was about to go out of the back of the end zone, heaving an interceptable ball into the flat. Indeed, Broncos linebacker Bradley Chubb caught it and ran into the end zone—but luckily for the Niners, that pass was wiped out by Garoppolo stepping out of bounds. He’s the first guy in NFL history to save a pick-six by giving up a safety.

The 49ers looked stupid when they failed to trade or cut Jimmy G in the offseason—but when starter Trey Lance went down with a season-ending injury last week, the Niners found a silver lining in Garoppolo’s presence. Garoppolo took this team to the Super Bowl three seasons ago and the NFC championship game last year. No, Jimmy G might not be as “talented” or “good at throwing footballs” as many other quarterbacks—but he knows how to win games, we were told. He was praised for his intelligence, his intangibles, his ability to simply go out there and get the job done.

If Garoppolo is a gamer with moxie who knows how to win, why is he running out of the back of the end zone? How can we praise this guy’s intelligence and poise, only to watch him panic and do something incredibly stupid? In a single play, Garoppolo disproved all the things that supposedly make him valuable.

There’s a reason we remember the Orlovsky play so vividly, even though it happened nearly 14 years ago: Not only was it a funny moment, it was the defining moment of those winless Lions, one of just two 0-16 teams in NFL history. Meanwhile, these 49ers were supposed to be contenders, and Garoppolo is the QB who played when they succeeded last year. And that’s why we should remember Garoppolo more than Orlovsky. The Lions would have been awful with or without Orlovsky’s mistake. But we have plenty of reason to believe these Niners should be good—and instead they lost 11-10, with Garoppolo’s self-inflicted safety the margin of victory. Garoppolo didn’t pull an Orlovsky. Orlovsky pulled a Garoppolo.

Winner: Philadelphia, Post–Carson Wentz

Philadelphia fans love Philadelphia teams, that’s true. But there’s also a distinct part of their brains that takes as much joy from the downfall of their most hated rivals as they do from their own success. If Philadelphians had to pick between an Eagles win, or the other three teams in the NFC East suffering gutting, cataclysmic losses … well, it’d be close.

This year, I don’t think Philadelphia will to have to choose. The Eagles rule. Right now, they’re tied for the third-best odds to win the Super Bowl, behind just the Bills and Chiefs. And the three starting quarterbacks for the other teams in the NFC East rank 25th, 28th, and 34th in The Ringer’s QB Rankings. One of those quarterbacks is Carson Wentz, the quarterback whom Eagles fans once loved before they realized he was extremely bad at playing quarterback.

Sunday was Wentz’s first game against the Eagles since leaving Philadelphia on unhappy terms in 2021—and it was an Eagles fan’s fever dream. Wentz was sacked nine times, tied for the most by any QB since 2019. Well into the third quarter, the Commanders had negative passing yards on account of all the lost yardage from sacks.

And Jalen Hurts—the guy who was drafted by Philadelphia to be Wentz’s backup in 2020—looks like a damn superstar. He went for 340 passing yards and three touchdowns. Philadelphia won 24-8; Wentz was responsible for zero points, as the Commanders scored on a safety and a rushing touchdown. Heading into the season, I thought that Wentz’s return to Lincoln Financial Field in November would be the Philly equivalent of the Super Bowl this year—but holy crap, the Eagles might actually be in the real Super Bowl this season.

Loser: The Eliminated Las Vegas Raiders

Last week, we wrote about how hard it is for 0-2 teams to make the playoffs. Guess what! It’s even bleaker for 0-3 teams! Since 2000, 109 teams have started the season 0-3; just one, the 2018 Texans, has made the playoffs. Which meant Sunday’s game between the 0-2 Raiders and 0-2 Titans had massive stakes: It was the first time in 16 years (and just the third time in NFL history!) two playoff teams from the previous season had met at 0-2 heading into Week 3. Both presumably had bright hopes for 2022—and were playing a de facto postseason elimination game in Week 3.

The Raiders didn’t get the memo. Tennessee went up 24-10 by halftime, and didn’t even need to score in the second. The Raiders rallied and made the score 24-22, but missed on a two-point conversion in the closing minutes:

And that’s pretty much it for the Raiders, a team that had higher hopes than pretty much anybody. This team spent more than $440 million this offseason locking up five stars, including the dream combo of Derek Carr and Davante Adams. And now they’re the only 0-3 team in the NFL. (They’re not the only winless team in the league—the Texans are 0-2-1—but they are the only team with a .000 winning percentage.) And the three teams they’ve played thus far (the Chargers, the Cardinals, and the Titans) are a combined 3-6 on the season, meaning they are 3-0 against the Raiders and are 0-6 against everybody else. The Raiders can’t beat teams that can’t beat anybody else. Longer long shots have hit in Vegas, but the Raiders are probably eliminated from the playoffs and we haven’t even hit October yet.

Winner: Trevor Lawrence

You’re not supposed to have back-to-back no. 1 picks in the NFL draft. That’s Cleveland Browns stuff—and you never want to do Cleveland Browns stuff. But that’s what happened to the Jacksonville Jaguars recently. After going 1-15 in 2020 and picking Trevor Lawrence first overall, they frittered away the 2021 season with Urban Meyer as head coach, as he was too busy signing Tim Tebow, kicking kickers, and grinding with randos to coach a football team. The Jags went 3-14 and wound up at the bottom of the standings—and top of the draft board—yet again. Lawrence tied for the league lead in interceptions as a rookie. He didn’t look awful, but he didn’t look like the generational prospect and franchise savior he was billed as when he arrived in Jacksonville.

Until now.

Lawrence threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions on Sunday in a 38-10 Jaguars win over the Los Angeles Chargers, a team picked by many to make or even win the Super Bowl. (They also have a big-armed young QB with long hair—we’ve been hyping him up a lot more than Lawrence recently.) And Lawrence doesn’t just throw touchdowns: He is a 6-foot-6 football machine with a rocket arm capable of delivering balls exactly where they need to be, whether on the move or in the pocket.

It was the first three-TD, no-pick game of Lawrence’s career. He has now played three games in his career with multiple touchdowns and no picks—and all have come in the Jaguars’ last four games.

The question is not whether Lawrence is a good player—we know he’s got it. The question is how good? The Jags have now won back-to-back games by 24 and 28 points—they’re now second in the NFL in point differential, behind only the Buffalo Bills. They’re in first place in the AFC South, and FiveThirtyEight has them as favorites to win the division. It really does feel like all Lawrence needed was “not being coached by Urban Meyer” to show the talent we’ve been waiting to see—and it’s going to be a long-ass time before the Jags pick first in the NFL draft again.

Loser: Tom Brady’s Receivers (or Lack Thereof)

There was a critical piece of roster logic that surely aided Tom Brady’s shocking decision to leave the New England Patriots, the team with which he’d won six Super Bowl championships, for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a forgettable franchise with a pirate ship in their end zone. The Pats had a receiver problem—in 2020, the season after Brady left, their top receiver was Jakobi Meyers, who went undrafted in 2019. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers had arguably the best receiving corps in the league. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans had each recorded 1,000-yard seasons in 2019, and in 2020, the Bucs brought in Brady’s running mate Rob Gronkowski and former All-Pro Antonio Brown. Brady put up spectacular numbers and won ring no. 7, something that would’ve been impossible with New England’s ragtag bunch of no-name receivers. Heading into this season, the Bucs had the no. 2 receiving corps in the league, as ranked by Pro Football Focus.

And none of their pass-catching stars were anywhere to be seen on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, as Brady was once again throwing to a ragtag bunch of no-name receivers. Some of the departures happened before the season: Gronk retired (again) in June, and probably spent Sunday afternoon on a party boat somewhere between Eight and Sixteen Lokos deep; Brown self-ejected from the NFL because he’s a Hall of Fame headache in addition to being a Hall of Fame talent, and spent the offseason releasing music that sucks but nobody in his entourage was brave enough to tell him. Some of the losses happened this season: Evans was suspended for Sunday’s game after once again getting into a fight with the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore; Godwin returned from an ACL injury Week 1, but suffered a hamstring injury before halftime of the opener in Dallas and hasn’t played since. Free-agent addition Julio Jones was a game-time decision with a knee injury, and was ruled out shortly before kickoff.

So on Sunday, Brady’s receivers were Russell Gage, Breshad Perriman, and Scotty Miller. Players like Jaelon Darden and Kaylon Geiger were in the mix. Cole Beasley, signed on Tuesday, got four targets. Kyle Rudolph played—I think I’m on top of my NFL transactions, but I legit did not know he was in the NFL. Even when Brady completed passes, things went badly. Both Gage and Perriman lost fumbles after catches:

The Buccaneers didn’t score a touchdown until there were 14 seconds left in the game. Tampa Bay had a chance for a game-tying two-point conversion, but Brady changed the play late at the line of scrimmage and couldn’t get the snap off in time. Tampa Bay lost, 14-12.

Evans should be back next week for Sunday Night Football against the Chiefs, as his suspension ends. Godwin is trying to return from multiple injuries, and Jones has now missed 16 games over the past three seasons. Meanwhile, the Patriots have had 100-yard receivers in back-to-back weeks, with DeVante Parker going for 156 yards on Sunday. A couple more weeks of throwing to Scotty Miller and maybe Brady will start plotting his triumphant return.

Winner: The House

Here’s my betting strategy: When a line seems good, I bet on it. When a line seems too good, I stay the hell away, because clearly somebody smarter than me knows something I don’t. That happened Sunday when the Chiefs were road favorites against the Colts. Kansas City had Patrick Mahomes, a 2-0 record, and a résumé that includes two Super Bowl appearances (with one win) since 2019. Indianapolis had whatever is left of Matt Ryan, no playoff wins since Andrew Luck retired, and an 0-1-1 record that included a tie against the sorry Texans and a 24-0 loss to the Jaguars. How could anybody expect this game to be close? The spread, for some reason, was 5.5 points. Less than a touchdown!

And so America hurled money at this ridiculous line. According to FanDuel, 91 percent of bets were on the Chiefs; at BetMGM, this was the most-bet game of the day, and the Chiefs were the most-bet team of the day, both in terms of bets and total cash. My boss put the Chiefs moneyline in what might be his “parlay of the year.” Everybody with a smartphone and a promo code had money on KC.

And the Chiefs ate it. They didn’t cover the spread, or even win the game. The Chiefs lost a game they dominated, allowing Indianapolis to score the game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds to go. Mahomes threw an interception after getting the ball back, and the Chiefs lost, 20-17.

Kansas City should have won this game. They outgained the Colts in total yardage (315-259) and yards per play (5.2 to 3.8). They led the game for over 45 minutes, they sacked Ryan five times, and kept Jonathan Taylor in check. But they had a series of special teams disasters—a muffed punt, a missed field goal, and a botched fake field goal—that cost them the game. Did Vegas expect that? I still don’t know what the sportsbooks saw—but I know enough to steer clear of the next line that seems too good to be true.

Winner: The Miami Heat

The Buffalo Bills have a distinct home-field advantage. They play in one of the coldest, windiest, snowiest cities in America, and, as such, often play games in snowstorms and windstorms. Other teams practice and play indoors, then show up in Buffalo in December and get their asses kicked by a team doing snow angels in a blizzard. They’re not alone. The Packers, who played their first home playoff game in the 1939 season, didn’t lose a postseason game at Lambeau Field until January 2003, purportedly due to the cold winter weather in Green Bay. It’s tough to win a game when you’re trying to keep your fingers attached and 80,000 wildlings are screaming like everything is normal, like they don’t care that it’s zero degrees outside.

NFL teams in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston, and New Orleans all play in domed stadiums—but the three Florida teams? They’re outdoors. And Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium is uniquely designed so that during home games, the Dolphins sideline will be in shade and the opposing team will be directly under the sun.

It was reportedly 120 degrees on the field Sunday—and the Bills offense spent a lot of time on the field. They had four drives of double-digit plays; the Dolphins had none. The Bills ran 90 plays; the Dolphins ran 39. They had over 40 minutes of possession; the Dolphins had less than 20.

And the Bills offense really suffered due to the heat. Starting right tackle Spencer Brown left the game with “heat illness” and did not return. (His backup, David Quessenberry, committed a holding penalty which took the Bills out of range for a game-winning field goal on the final drive.) Star wide receiver Stefon Diggs cramped up. Two more Josh Allen targets, tight end Dawson Knox and receiver Isaiah McKenzie, left the game due to the heat, although both returned.

The Dolphins won, 21-19. Part of that is because the Dolphins are awesome—I remain a Tua stan—but we don’t have to lie and pretend the heat had nothing to do with it.

If we’re being honest, the Dolphins probably shouldn’t be allowed to host day games in September without providing shade for the opponent—heat stroke is a serious health and safety issue. But we’ve heard about the punishing environments of the NFL’s northernmost homefields for decades. Sunday, the heat struck back.

A previous version of this piece misstated when Chris Godwin injured his hamstring. It was during half time against Dallas, not late in the fourth quarter.