NFL Week 3 recaps

WASHINGTON — The highlight of Week 3 came in its first game.

Devin Hester is finally free of his hard times in Chicago. Thus, it seemed fitting that his former Bears coach, Lovie Smith, was on the opponent’s sideline when Hester celebrated his new frame of mind by returning a punt 62 yards to the end zone for his 20th career return TD.

With that score, Hester broke Deion Sanders’ record for total return TDs. He’s taken 14 punts to the house, 5 kickoffs, and a missed field goal.

After watching that Thursday night performance and the heartwarming exchange between Hester and Sanders after the game, I was reminded of just how big Hester’s impact has been since he burst on the scene in 2006. During his rookie season, the Bears went to the Super Bowl in large part because Hester scored six return touchdowns to supplement an offense led by Rex Grossman at quarterback. Rex Grossman.

Even when he wasn’t scoring touchdowns, Hester was flipping field position in Chicago’s favor. Opponents that kicked to him paid for it, and those who didn’t sacrificed punt yardage to avoid him. He was a legitimate impact player.

Now that he’s in Atlanta, he’s shown that he still can be. It’s unlikely he’ll have another year like 2006, but he can still make you pay. Even still, he’s clearly on the back nine of his career, which has sparked discussion over whether he deserves enshrinement in Canton.

He does.

Like it or not, special teams is a third of the game. Anyone who doubts it clearly hasn’t seen a Redskins game in the last two seasons.

We put impact offensive players in the Hall of Fame. We put impact defensive players in the Hall. Why not put more impact special teams players in as well?

The climate is starting to change. Ray Guy was enshrined last summer, the first punter to make it to Canton. The only kicker, Jan Stenerud, was enshrined in 1991 but I’d be surprised if Adam Vinatieri doesn’t join him soon.

However, return men get no love. Brian Mitchell has the second-most all- purpose yards in NFL history, and held all the notable return records before Hester came along. Why can’t B-Mitch get into the Hall? Or Billy “White Shoes” Johnson?

Special teams standouts like Steve Tasker and Larry Izzo were key players on great teams. Morten Andersen has scored more points than anyone else in NFL history and Mark Moseley actually won MVP in 1982. A kicker won MVP.

Hester didn’t just help his team win Thursday night. He helped special teams win. Hopefully, his performance helps shift the thinking of Hall of Fame voters as it pertains to special teams representation in Canton.

Especially when you consider the first two games of this week’s NFL recap were decided by that phase of the game.

Bucs 14
Falcons 56

Ok, maybe I embellished a bit. This game was going to be a rout even without Hester. Tampa didn’t seem to get off the bus for this game.

Redskins 34
Eagles 37

This one was definitely decided by special teams. The ‘Skins gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown and missed a field goal. That’s 10 points in a 3-point loss.

Two other notes:

1. Although the ‘Skins fell short in a great (but chippy) game, Kirk Cousins played better in that stadium than any other ‘Skins QB the last decade. No chance the Redskins are in this game with RG3 under center. 2. The Eagles are 3-0 for the first time since 2004, when they went 13-3 and advanced to the Super Bowl. Philly fans…try not to be jerks about it, ok?

Chargers 22
Bills 10

The only thing even remotely remarkable about this game is Fred Jackson still playing at a high level for Buffalo. You just don’t see productive 33 year-old running backs anymore.

Cowboys 34
Rams 31

Ok, wait…so one team couldn’t hang on the ball and the other team choked away a big lead early. So which was Dallas and which was St. Louis?

Texans 17
Giants 30

Kinda feels like we’re one more great Kirk Cousins start and one more ugly Texans loss away from hearing a bunch of RGIII-to-Houston rumors.

Vikings 9
Saints 20

It’s Teddy Time in Minnesota. We’re about to see if that’s a good thing.

Titans 7
Bengals 33

Cincinnati is perhaps the most impressive of the NFL’s 3-0 teams, and I picked the Bengals to have a down year in 2014. These are reasons to like your Super Bowl hopes, Cincy fans.

Ravens 23
Browns 21

Cleveland and Baltimore: the two cities where “Billy Cundiff happened” T- shirts would sell like crabcakes.

Packers 7
Lions 19

From the “Sorry…Not Sorry For Laughing” file: Stephen Tulloch celebrated a sack so hard he landed on injured reserve. The struggle is real for Lions fans.

Colts 44
Jaguars 17

Before the season, I thought Jacksonville could flirt with a .500 campaign on the strength of their defense. They’ve been outscored 85-27 the last two weeks. I’m going to go ahead and waive the white flag on this.

Raiders 9
Patriots 16

Given their uncharacteristic struggles in this season’s first three games, New England is lucky to be 2-1. Would this be a good time for another Tuck Rule lifeline?

Niners 14
Cardinals 23

In case you missed it: Arizona is undefeated and in first place in the vaunted NFC West despite a rash of injuries and playing Drew Stanton at QB. Bruce Arians is hands down NFL Coach of the Year if he keeps this up.

Broncos 20
Seahawks 26 (OT)

The only thing more amazing than Peyton Manning throwing for 100 TDs in just over two years in Denver is Russell Wilson’s current tear against the NFL’s elite QBs. Wilson is 7-0 in his career against Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees, throwing 14 TDs and only one interception in those games. Perhaps it’s time to add Wilson’s name to the list of elite QBs.

Chiefs 34
Dolphins 15

I told you in the NFL preview this was a make or break year for much of the QB Class of 2012. So it’s a pretty bad sign for Ryan Tannehill if he can’t get a vote of confidence as the starter in Week 4.

Steelers 37
Panthers 19

Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were making history for one of the most storied franchises in sports, Big Ben played like the 2-time Super Bowl champ he is, and Mike Tomlin was confident enough to take selfies with his captains during the week leading up to the game. So yeah…Carolina suddenly has problems beyond Greg Hardy.

Bears 27
Jets 19

Since 2010, Chicago has returned a league-best 19 interceptions for touchdowns. This Bears defense gives up a lot of yardage, so takeaways will be a must if these guys are to stay competitive.

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