Commentary

Chargers' Turner feeling the heat

Mike Sando has 10 observations from an NFL weekend in which several quarterbacks put up eye-popping numbers.

Originally Published: September 23, 2007
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com

SEATTLE -- Donovan McNabb's comments about black quarterbacks facing more rigorous scrutiny must have resonated with the Detroit Lions' defense.

There wasn't a more sensitive, tolerant group in the country Sunday. McNabb's 332-yard, four-touchdown first half launched Philadelphia to a 56-21 victory while sparing the Eagles' quarterback from criticism of any kind.

The Eagles weren't alone in benefiting from conciliatory defenses.

The NFL's 14 day games produced 15 quarterbacks with passer ratings in triple digits, from McNabb's perfect 158.3 to a still-sizzling 100.5 for Detroit's Jon Kitna. Even Atlanta's Joey Harrington checked in at 110.1, lighting up Carolina for 361 yards (albeit in defeat).

It was a great week to play catch in the NFL.

Here are 10 observations from Week 3:

1. Marty Schottenheimer remains unbeaten

The Chargers won't have to worry about another early postseason flameout if they don't reach the playoffs at all.

The thought seemed inconceivable even after the NFL's most talented team inexplicably flushed coach Marty Schotteneheimer following a 14-2 season. But at 1-2, the Chargers won't win the AFC West unless they rediscover their ground game.

San Diego's offense can build on Philip Rivers' strong showing during a close loss in Green Bay.

But with LaDainian Tomlinson struggling again (62 yards on 22 carries), coach Norv Turner is facing a potential crisis as he seeks to hold together a team accustomed to winning. Tomlinson is a team player, but he was openly skeptical of management's decision to dump Schottenheimer. The move becomes harder to justify with every defeat.

Turner is a masterful play-caller with losing records in every head-coaching stop. His hiring in San Diego has weakened two organizations, depriving San Francisco of a skilled tutor for franchise quarterback Alex Smith, who has one touchdown pass in three games.

Turner's best friend right now is probably the schedule. The Chargers face Kansas City, Oakland and Houston at home during the upcoming four-game stretch.

2. Backing the Pack

Last week we somewhat cautiously endorsed the Packers as "potential" playoff contenders in the NFC. There should be less hedging after their 31-24 victory over San Diego.

Green Bay has flaws, to be sure, but so does every team in the NFC. The Packers are good enough on defense to force most opponents away from their strengths, and Brett Favre is finding enough time to throw behind an emerging offensive line.

The Chargers hit Favre five times and sacked him twice, but eight Packers caught passes and both starting receivers averaged better than 20 yards per reception. It's tough to find even three NFC teams playing appreciably better than the Packers right now.

3. Simply the best

Buffalo was overmatched against New England even before adding quarterback J.P. Losman, guard Jason Whittle and rookie linebacker Paul Posluszny to a brutally long injury list.

The Bills surprised the Patriots early in the game, scoring on a Marshawn Lynch draw play from a three-receiver set at the 8-yard-line. Buffalo even forced a Tom Brady fumble on a sneak near the goal line.

None of it mattered because the Patriots, seemingly a near-consensus Super Bowl pick in the preseason, are proving to be even better than expected. They've scored 38 points in each of their first three games, with Cincinnati's defense next on the menu. Randy Moss is the first player in NFL history to top 100 yards receiving in his first three games with a team.

"You can't find any weakness on their football team," Bills coach Dick Jauron said.

4. Tomlin takes control

The Steelers took a chance in hiring 34-year-old Mike Tomlin (now 35) over more established assistant coaches such as Russ Grimm. Tomlin has so far outperformed even the early pace set by his acclaimed predecessor.

Bill Cowher won his first three games after replacing Chuck Noll in 1992. Cowher's Steelers outscored their first three opponents by a 79-40 count. Tomlin is 3-0 and the Steelers have outscored their opponents 97-26.

Ben Roethlisberger's resurgence should mean as much to the Steelers than three consecutive victories to open the season. He's looking more like the quarterback who took Pittsburgh all the way in 2005.

5. Necks on the line

The league moved back kickoffs to the 30-yard-line several years ago to facilitate more returns. The decision made sense for those who enjoy watching 22 grown men converging at full speed. It's better yet if the guy carrying the football somehow breaks free.

With the heightened excitement comes heightened risk.

Two weeks after Buffalo lost Kevin Everett to a presumably career-ending neck injury during a kick return, Houston carted off Cedric Killings following another collision in the kick-return game.

Killings reportedly had feeling in his extremeties, a very good sign. And the league was surely happy to see four touchdowns on kick returns Sunday. But at what price?

6. Putting Schaub in perspective

Houston's Matt Schaub completed all but six of his 33 attempts against Indianapolis even though the Texans were without leading receiver Andre Johnson. Schaub is completing 76 percent of his passes while taking only five sacks, half as many as David Carr took through three games last season.

There will be plenty more chances to take shots at Carr, but defenses will presumably make things harder for Schaub as they learn his tendencies. Remember, too, that Carr completed 22 of 26 passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions during a Week 2 game against the Colts last season.

Schaub is putting up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers. He'll have a hard time getting to Hawaii in February as long as Peyton Manning, Brady and Carson Palmer are healthy.

7. Bengals' indentity crisis

Five years into the Marvin Lewis era, the Bengals are searching for their identity. Their 24-21 loss in Seattle featured four turnovers and 412 yards of offense.

"Whatever year this is for us, we're still trying to figure that out," veteran tackle Willie Anderson said. "Right now we're still in the phase of figuring out what kind of football team we're going to be. We just use the coaches' clichés, get better for next week."

The Bengals opened their game in Seattle by allowing a 72-yard kickoff return. They ended the game by fumbling away a kick return of their own, allowing Seattle to run out the clock.

Palmer was unstoppable early in the game, but Seahawks defensive coordinator John Marshall softened his coverages, helping Seattle pick off Palmer twice. It was an emotional victory for Marshall, who received word during the game that his ailing mother had passed away.

8. Rams in trouble

The Rams are having a hard time functioning without Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace and both starting cornerbacks.

Their defense was already shaky before Fakhir Brown (suspended) and Tye Hill (injured) became unavailable. The offense lost left guard Mark Setterstrom to a knee injury during the team's 24-3 loss in Tampa Bay, but the problems extend beyond injuries.

With Marc Bulger, Steven Jackson, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce still in the lineup, the Rams should never mange only a field goal while losing by three touchdowns. Bulger tossed three interceptions on his way to a 35.6 rating, and the Bucs rushed for 182 yards.

The Rams could hit 1-6 or 0-7 given their schedule. They face road games against Dallas, Baltimore and Seattle during the next month.

9. Spare us the horn, please

Linebacker Antonio Pierce must have paid attention to those defensive pointers he solicited during a typically eventful week of Giants interviews. The Giants improbably held Washington to four second-half first downs during New York's 24-17 victory.

Pierce unleashed an audio assault on reporters, blasting them with an airhorn, during a rollicking Thursday interview at team headquarters. He had only three tackles Sunday, but recovered a fumble and helped hold the Redskins to 83 yards after halftime.

10. Decisions bad and bold

Despite a 1-2 record, the Cardinals might be close to breaking through under first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt. They squandered a potentially defining victory in Baltimore when safety Adrian Wilson leveled tight end Todd Heap with a dangerous and illegal hit in the final two minutes.

The game was tied, 23-23, when Wilson blasted Heap in the head area with his helmet and forearm. The 15-yard penalty helped Baltimore move into position for Matt Stover's winning 46-yard field goal.

The play was unfortunate for the Cardinals, but the bigger question in Arizona is whether Whisenhunt will stick with Kurt Warner at quarterback. Matt Leinart has to be the future, obviously, but Whisenhunt has already shown he's not afraid to make tough decisions to help his team compete.

That's good for the Cardinals over the long haul, even if they aren't quite ready to take the next step.

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.