By Nick Shook
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A big congratulations is due for six of the week’s 16 road teams (with Atlanta and New Orleans yet to play on Monday night), as they came away winners in Week 3. The Cleveland Browns should have been team No. 7, but then again, we could go on and on about things that should have happened (especially in Cleveland), couldn’t we?
We saw a first-year starter continue his development leading the reigning champions in a hostile den along the Ohio River, and a former quarterback do a little bit of everything in an attempt to will his team to a victory. Minnesota’s defense again powered the Vikings to a major win, and while we’d love to give honors to all 11-plus members of the unit, we decided to zero in on one man who’s had himself a good 13 months.
These are the best performers away from home in Week 3.
Greatest on the Road …
Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos
Trevor Siemian has done a bang-up job as the Broncos‘ starting quarterback, but faced an uphill battle early in Cincinnati. A three-and-out didn’t help Denver to open the game, nor did Cincinnati’s touchdown on the ensuing drive. But Siemian’s calm, measured presence in the pocket and accurate throws, mixed in with C.J. Anderson carries, moved the Broncos deep into Bengals territory. Perhaps his most impressive play early came on a shuffling of his feet in the pocket, avoiding free rusher Vincent Rey and buying himself time to throw an incomplete pass that also drew a flag and a fresh set of downs inside the 10.
Denver capped that drive with a field goal, but continued to struggle through the end of the first quarter before things turned when the Broncos recovered Adam Jones‘ fumble on a punt return. Siemian capitalized, dropping deep in the pocket on third-and-5 and dropping one in the bucket (credit CBS’s Ian Eagle for that call) to Emmanuel Sanders for a 41-yard touchdown. It was a gorgeous throw, so beautiful that I let out an “oooh” as the ball descended into Sanders’ arms.
That was the turning point for Siemian, who posted a final line of 23 of 35 passing for 312 yards and four touchdowns. It was good for an emphatic road win, a 3-0 start for the defenders of the throne, and Greatest on the Road honors.
Terrelle Pryor, Cleveland Browns
Let’s toss aside the fact the Browns lost this game. Watch the film (via the always wonderful Game Pass) from Cleveland’s crushing defeat and it’s impossible to ignore: Terrelle Pryor is developing into quite the professional football player.
Pryor lined up at quarterback, wide receiver and even on defense as a safety, doing everything possible short of sacrificing a digit a la Ronnie Lott to try to will the Browns to a win. It’s not as if they were completely lost at quarterback; rookie Cody Kessler completed 21 of 33 passes for 244 yards in his NFL debut, on the road, in an environment that was suddenly raucous after Miami started trapping noise inside their renovated stadium by erecting a canopy over it in the offseason.
But in the third straight week of excellent game planning on the part of Hue Jackson, Pep Hamilton and Kirby Wilson, Pryor served as the unexpected key to unlocking the Browns‘ offense. He lined up in the shotgun and ran the read option, rolled out and threw the ball five times (completing three) and kept it himself, rushing four times for 21 yards and a touchdown that brought the Browns within a field goal of tying the game midway through the fourth quarter. His threat to throw kept the defense honest when he lined up in the shotgun; Miami couldn’t stack the box, because his history as a quarterback — in college at Ohio State and in various stints around the NFL, most notably in Oakland — forced defenders to honor the pass, opening the field for Pryor and teammates to work.
Oh, and about those receiving yards. Pryor was undoubtedly the No. 1 target for Kessler. The rookie shrunk his options down to Pryor, tight end Gary Barnidge and running back Duke Johnson when coming out of the backfield. Pryor caught eight passes for 144 yards, including a few quick slants that he turned into big gains. Pryor was undoubtedly the MVP of the Browns, especially late, moving them down the field by taking the snap and running or throwing, and then lining up wide and catching pass after pass. His improvement as a technical receiver was evident too, in how he found the soft spot in coverage against a zone blitz early in the fourth, gaining 25 yards, and in the footwork needed to burn Byron Maxwell on a hard slant that went for 40 yards and led to the game-tying field goal from Cody Parkey.
If you need validation, consider this: Pryor became the first player with 120-plus receiving yards, 30-plus pass yards and 20-plus rushing yards since Frank Gifford in 1959. If Parkey doesn’t miss that field goal, Pryor wins the top honor this week. If only.
Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings‘ defense has wreaked even more havoc than you might think. After allowing Tennessee to jump out to a 10-0 lead in Week 1, they locked down and forced a bevy of Titans mistakes, turning the deficit into a 25-16 win. Minnesota since then has frustrated Aaron Rodgers in a close win in prime-time, and notched a massive win on the road in Carolina.
Mike Zimmer’s defense took a page out of Denver’s book and defeated the reigning NFC champs by getting to Cam Newton. It took a 10-0 deficit to spur the angriest of rushes, but it produced eight sacks, with three coming from Griffen. Newton tried to escape a swarming Vikings‘ rush early in the second with a spin move but was stopped dead in his tracks by Griffen’s long arm for sack No. 1.
Michael Oher is probably seeing Griffen in his nightmares, as he caused the left tackle trouble all afternoon, putting the former Ole Miss standout in a clown suit for Griffen’s second sack. The constant pressure clearly got to Newton, who at one point let it fly in a relatively clean pocket after being harassed for three quarters but badly underthrew Ted Ginn, resulting in his second of three interceptions. The third pick? That was by defensive tackle Tom Johnson on a desperation fling of the ball by Newton, who was being dragged down by — you guessed it — Griffen for his third sack of the day.