The Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, but Sunday’s action already gave us more than enough to get excited about. Led by the breakout performances of quarterbacks Daniel Jones and Kyle Allen, Week 3 did not disappoint. For Jones, it was a crazy comeback Giants victory capped off by a 75-yard touchdown drive that caught everyone’s attention. For Allen, it was a near-perfect game in place of the injured Cam Newton. Neither of their performances can be summed up in one sentence and we won’t limit what they accomplished.
One-week performances generally bring overreactions, and we’ll soon learn if these were outlier performances or a sign of season-long trends to come. Having said that, it was quite the day for several players who had not made their mark in an NFL uniform quite as they did in Week 3. One trend that has carried over through the first three weeks of the season — the early emergence of several high-performing rookies.
So let’s break down the 10 most surprising breakout performances, and otherwise, from Week 3.
1. Daniel Jones turns in heroic debut
Jones Buccaneers to score on the opening five possessions, Jones needed to be every part as impressive as he was. It was the Giants’ largest comeback victory since 1970 and Jones did something Eli Manning was unable to accomplish in 44 tries — successfully completing a comeback down 18 points or more. Jones led the Giants on a 75-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes and joined Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson as the last three quarterbacks to lead a game-winning drive in their debut. He also became the first rookie in NFL history to have 300 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, and two rushing touchdowns in a single game. Jones also threw for the most passing yards (336) by a rookie quarterback in a road victory in NFL history.for the second-largest comeback (18-point deficit) victory by a rookie quarterback in his debut. In a game where the Giants allowed the
Jones’ performance under pressure was what made his debut stand out most. Per Pat Thorman of Establish The Run, Jones was under pressure on 47% of his dropbacks (third-most in Week 3). On those pressured dropbacks, Jones completed 80% of his passes for 233 yards, two touchdowns, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
2. Kyle Allen makes it look easy
When the Panthers ruled out Cam Newton for their Week 3 road game against the Arizona Cardinals, the point spread moved a full four points in the Cardinals’ favor. Few people thought the Panthers would pull off a road upset victory with Allen at quarterback after the team’s Week 2 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only did Allen help lead the Panthers to victory (38-20), he did it in decisive fashion.
Allen finished with the second-highest single-game passer rating by any quarterback in Carolina’s franchise history. He completed 19 of 26 pass attempts for 261 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. There have been only eight instances where a Panthers quarterback threw for four touchdowns with zero interceptions in a single game and Allen pulled it off in his second game. In the process, he became one of three quarterbacks in the last 30 years to log a 4:0 touchdown to interception ratio in one of his first two appearances.
3. Sterling Shepard creates a new narrative
When the Giants re-signed Shepard to a lucrative four-year contract extension this past offseason, some questioned whether they would only be overpaying for a complementary piece in the offense. During his first three seasons with the Giants, Shepard made big plays, but injuries and playing second fiddle to Odell Beckham Jr. limited his ceiling. During the first two weeks of the season, it was more of the same. Then, in his first action with Jones, Shepard looked like the explosive playmaker the Giants can count on, creating a new narrative for himself as Jones’ go-to target.
Jones’ ability to extend plays with his feet and reset the pocket before making a throw meshes very well with Shepard’s ability to create separation at different stages of his route. Point blank: Shepard’s skill set is a better fit for Jones than it ever was with Manning’s skill set, and that’s no knock on the veteran. Shepard finished the game with seven receptions for 100 yards receiving and a touchdown. He also added a two-point conversion catch and 21 yards rushing on two carries.
4. Austin Hooper emerges as a red-zone threat
The Falcons nearly pulled off an impressive comeback victory against the Colts after scoring 21 points in the second half. They came up short, but a key reason they were able to get back into the game was the impressive performance of Hooper in the red zone. With opposing NFL defenses using different coverages and extra defenders to take away Julio Jones in the red zone, the Falcons offense has struggled with red zone efficiency since their Super Bowl loss. On Sunday, Hooper was efficient in the red zone, turning two of his six receptions for 66 yards into touchdowns. It was a career-high single-game touchdown performance. If he can emerge as a consistent red zone threat for Atlanta, it will go a long way in helping them compete in what’s been an underwhelming NFC South division so far.
5. Tony Pollard adds to Cowboys‘ impressive depth
The Cowboys have one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the NFL and it has shown up on a consistent basis during the first three weeks. This offseason, when Ezekiel Elliott staged his holdout, Cowboys rookie running back Tony Pollard jumped onto the scene with an impressive string of training camp practices and preseason performances. After the Cowboys jumped out to a comfortable lead against the Dolphins, Pollard got his opportunity to make an impact in a game that counted and he did not disappoint. Pollard racked up 103 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries. He also added 25 yards receiving on three receptions (just three targets). Pollard was able to rack up 128 total yards and a score on just 16 touches.
6. Diontae Johnson pays back Steelers for faith in him
The Steelers made a somewhat surprising decision to bench veteran free-agent acquisition Donte Moncrief prior to Week 3. Moncrief worked as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver throughout the preseason and into the first week of the regular season. However, Moncrief’s struggles, combined with Johnson’s impressive progression from the moment the Steelers drafted him (third round of the 2019 NFL Draft), led to the rookie’s promotion. Johnson made his presence felt with a 39-yard touchdown reception. He finished with three receptions for 52 yards and the score while also adding six yards on a rushing attempt.
7. Greg Olsen continues to beat the odds
Olsen has had an impressive career in the NFL, but after multiple injury-plagued seasons, the 34-year-old tight end was an afterthought heading into the 2019 season. Olsen was not counted on to make an impact and wasn’t a coveted player in fantasy football leagues in spite of the established value his name carries. That was a big mistake, and Olsen continues to prove so week after week regardless of who plays quarterback for the Panthers. In Week 3, Olsen caught 6 of 7 targets for 75 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
8. Ronald Jones bursts onto the radar in Tampa
The Buccaneers finally established a multi-faceted offensive attack — working both in the pass and run game — in the third week of the Jameis Winston-Bruce Arians experiment. A big factor in the Buccaneers’ offensive success was the emergence of second-year running back Ronald Jones. The explosive back saw a career-high 14 rushing attempts and turned them into 80 yards (5.7 yards per carry). He also added 41 yards receiving on a screen play — he was clearly Tampa Bay’s most electric option out of the backfield. It’s the first time he’s had more touches than Peyton Barber and it’s only a matter of time before he takes the lead role.
9. Jordan Akins emerges as a new weapon for Deshaun Watson
The Texans have been looking for a playmaker at the tight end position ever since Bill O’Brien took over as head coach. Although they have had some players flash at the position, they have not yet found consistency. Akins could be the diamond in the rough this team has been looking for. During Houston’s victory in Week 3, Akins caught 3 of 5 targets for 73 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie third-round draft pick had just three receptions for 42 yards through his first two games.
10. Darren Waller becomes the Raiders‘ offensive focal point
The Raiders needed to find a focal point in their passing game after losing their projected go-to target following the release of wide receiver Antonio Brown. After the first three games, it appears they have found him. During HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series this summer, Waller’s past transgressions with drug abuse were well documented and he has since overcome them. The wide receiver who has converted to tight end has evolved into a mismatch in Jon Gruden’s offensive system. In Week 3, Waller was targeted 14 times. He turned 13 of those 14 targets into receptions and finished with 134 receiving yards.