OK, so it's early. Way early. But three games into the season, it's hard not to come to this conclusion: The NFC West race is no race at all.
It's a game of solitaire.
Not because the L.A. Rams already are two games ahead of everyone else. But because San Francisco -- the club that seemed such a legit threat to the Rams that it was a trendy pre-season pick to reach the playoffs -- lost more than a game Sunday.
It lost its season.
At least that's how it looks after quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was carted off the field with a knee injury so severe that coach Kyle Shanahan said the club feared he suffered a torn ACL. If that's true, turn out the lights.
The party's over.
It's not that backup C.J. Beathard won't rescue them. It's that he can't. The 49ers invested a gazillion bucks in Garoppolo, not Beathard, and they did it for a reason: They think Garoppolo is special … and he could be.
But we may have to wait another season to find out.
Look, the 49ers were 1-10 a year ago without him, including 1-4 with Beathard. Then Garoppolo joined the starting lineup, they didn't lose and the sky was the limit. Now the sky's falling … unless, of course, you're the L.A. Rams.
Because now when you look at the competition within the division, there is none. Instead, it's a field that's a combined 2-7. Seattle didn't win until Sunday. Arizona hasn't won, period. And San Francisco just lost its leader.
Put them together, and what do you have? A division that looks more like L.A. Law.
STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES
Don't call it roughing the passer. Call it the Clay Matthews rule, and call it what is it.
Matthews was flagged for four roughing-the-passer penalties in the first nine years of his career. Now, he's been called for three in three weeks, and, as expected, the NFL defended the latest -- Sunday's hit on Alex Smith, saying it was a foul according to how the roughing-the passer rule is written.
OK, then … rewrite the rule.
The league basically did it with the helmet rule, inserting the word "inadvertent" to characterize hits, and it can … no, it should … do it here. Because we're not watching the NFL anymore. We're watching a league where hitting the quarterback is measured in terms of body angles, which is not only crazy.
It's downright dumb.
Matthews spoke for a lot of people in and out of the game when he said, "The league is going in a direction a lot of people don't like." So go in another direction. Try to make officials less a part of the outcome of games, not more.
How? Easy. Change the language of the rule or get rid of the rule altogether and say you simply cannot hit a quarterback. Otherwise, get used to this being a weekly outcry.
WHAT'S UP (OR DOWN) WITH PATRIOTS?
A week ago, I wasn't all that concerned with a New England loss. Now, I'm not so sure.
Granted, the Patriots started slowly before … but seldom like this. Not only did they lose to a winless opponent, but they got drilled -- outplayed in every phase of the game. Worse, the last time they lost consecutive games by double-digits was Dec. 16-22, 2002, and that was the only time New England failed to win the AFC East when Tom Brady finished the season.
Yeah, it's September, and that's when the Pats typically stumble. But the past two weeks, their blemishes have been exposed. Not enough offense, too little defense, no sense of urgency and no Brady heroics. Worse, three weeks into the season, they're two games behind undefeated Miami.
But this just in: The Dolphins are next on the schedule ... in Foxboro, no less … and that's where we'll get an honest read on what's going on … or what's going wrong … with this year's team and this year's Brady.
- One week the Bills' Vontae Davis quits at halftime. The next, the Bills' opponent quits in the first quarter. All together now: This … is … the … NFL.
2. Look at it this way, Buffalo: Maybe Josh Allen can't save the season, but it's going to be a lot of fun watching him try.
3. How rare was the Bills' upset? Well, not since 1995 has an NFL underdog of 16 or more points won a game outright. The Bills were a 17-point dog going into the game. Moreover, until Sunday, 24 straight teams favored by 17 or more points won. The last team to lose was Dallas in 1995 at home (a 17.5-point favorite vs. Redskins).
4. I'm sorry, but if that's what we're going to get from Aaron Rodgers this season, the Packers are going nowhere. The guy's a marvelous quarterback, but there's just so much he can do on one leg.
5. Carson Wentz didn't win that game for the Eagles. Philly's defense did. Indianapolis had four second-half possessions inside the Eagles' 20 and produced three field goals. Not good.
6. Arizona coach Steve Wilks is undecided as to who starts at quarterback next, but this one's a no-brainer. The Cards have scored 20 points all season, for crying out loud, and none on six consecutive possessions Sunday with Sam Bradford -- the last three of which ended with Bradford turnovers. Now that they've rolled out rookie Josh Rosen, they should keep him there. Better to lose young than lose old.
7. Houston, you have a problem: That's the Texans' ninth straight loss, the longest current streak in the NFL.
8. If Eli Manning was … as ESPN analyst Damien Woody called him last week … "toast," what is he now? His 132.3 passer rating was his best since Dec. 14, 2015 when he had a 151.5 rating vs. Miami.
9. Good news for Rams', Chiefs' and Dolphins' fans: Since the current playoff system started in 1990, 73 percent of the teams that started 3-0 reach the playoffs.
10. One week into the season, the Detroit Free Press declared Lions' coach Matt Patricia "in over his head." Someone get me rewrite.
11. Jon Gruden was supposed to make a difference with Raiders' quarterback Derek Carr, and, well, he has. Over the first three games in 2017, Carr had six touchdown passes and two interceptions. Over the first three games in 2016, he had five TDs and one pick. And this season? Try two touchdowns and five interceptions. There's absolutely nothing to like about what's going on with Oakland right now -- including how the Silver and Bleak finish. They've been outscored 37-3 in the fourth quarter.
12. More evidence of how much the Chargers miss Corey Liuget and Joey Bosa: The Rams shredded them for 21 first-half first downs, including 14 in the first quarter, and 33 overall.
13. Time to wake up to Indianapolis rookie linebacker Darius Leonard. In the past two weeks the guy has 31 tackles, including six for losses, two sacks, one forced fumble, two pass deflections and one Defensive Player of the Week award.
14. I guess Andrew Luck's right shoulder isn't as strong we were led to believe. Otherwise, why would the Colts have Jacoby Brissett … not Luck ... in there for that last-second Hail Mary? Someone? Anyone?
15. Through the first three weeks, Chicago's Khalil Mack has more sacks (4-3), more wins (2-0), more forced fumbles (3-1) and more touchdowns (1-0) than the entire Oakland defense. Yet Gruden continues to insist he doesn't "regret" trading him away. One question: Huh?
16. Miami's Albert Wilson likes what he sees with the Dolphins so much that he told Pro Football Talk "if we keep doing what we can do no one can beat us." Somebody remind Albert that he plays in the same division as the Patriots … and he plays them next weekend.
17. Biggest upset of the day wasn't Buffalo over Minnesota or Detroit over the Patriots. It was that the Raiders' Marshawn Lynch answered questions … and a lot of questions … after Oakland's latest loss.
18. We knew that the Giants' Ereck Flowers was missing from Big Blue's starting lineup Sunday. What we didn't know was that he switched sides, started for Houston at right tackle and called himself ... Julien Davenport. Davenport committed five penalties, including one that wiped out a touchdown pass, and, by his own admission, "hurt this team badly."
19. No Devonta Freeman, no problem. In Freeman's absence, Atlanta discovered another weapon, and his name is Calvin Ridley. The rookie wide receiver has four TD catches the past two weeks (including three Sunday), or one more than Julio Jones all of last season.
20. That makes Jacksonville 4-1 without Leonard Fournette, but, more importantly, should end the inane suggestion that the Jags might be better off without him.
21. Best quarterback nobody ever mentions: Miami's Ryan Tannehill. Not only did he produce Sunday's best passer rating (155.3), he's 10-1 in his last 11 starts.
22. Big D stands for Dallas. It also stands for Dull. There simply aren't enough playmakers on the Cowboys to make them interesting … or make Jason Garrett safe. Exhibit A: That was the ninth time in his last 11 games that Dak Prescott failed to throw for 200 yards.
23. In a year where kickers are struggling, Baltimore's Justin Tucker keeps on truckin'. Dating back to 2017, he's hit eight straight field goals of 50 yards or more.
24. If there's a concern with the Rams, it's this: Cornerback Marcus Peters appeared to suffer a significant lower leg injury and was later joined on the sidelines by teammate Aqib Talib. With the Rams playing Thursday, it would be no surprise if neither plays.
25. To those critics who claim Carolina's Christian McCaffrey can't run inside: Please consult the Cincinnati Bengals. He shredded them for 184 yards.
GOLD JACKET QUOTE OF THE DAY
"With Jimmy we're fearing ACL. We'll find out tomorrow (Monday). I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet. I feel for him." -- San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan on Jimmy Garoppolo.
SUNDAY"S BIGGEST WINNER
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. On an afternoon when the Saints' quarterback breaks the NFL career record for completions and completes 38 of 49 passes, his biggest two plays were with his legs -- both of them touchdown runs by a guy who doesn't make them. The first tied the game, sending it into overtime; the second won it, capping a 15-play drive in OT. Only four times in his career has Brees scored two TDs in a season … with three in 2013 the most.
SUNDAY'S BIGGEST LOSER
49ERS' FANS. They didn't just lose a quarterback. They lost a season. How many days again until the Warriors open the season?