Judgements Three: In defeat, score one for Steelers' Tomlin

When is a Sunday loser a Sunday winner? When it's the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin.

When does an upset victim become one of Sunday's biggest winners? When it's the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin, that's when.

As most people know by now, the Steelers stayed in their locker room for the National Anthem prior to Sunday's overtime loss to Chicago ... not in protest, but in compliance with their head coach's wishes ... and I know what you're thinking: Yeah, well, big deal.

Actually, it was. And is.

By keeping his team off the field Tomlin protected his players -- making sure they didn't have to decide to stand or kneel... or whatever ... during the Anthem but, instead, try to focus on what they're paid to do. Which is play football.

Now, draw your own conclusions. Yes, they lost. And, yes, they lost to a Bears team that hadn't won a game. But Tomlin made a statement, and it was aimed at keeping politics off the football field -- thus defusing a potential stick of dynamite before it blew.

And that wasn't just smart. It was brilliant.

In fact, it was so dead-solid perfect that Tennessee and Seattle followed, with the Seahawks' Pete Carroll calling the move "classy." Rather than having an emotional issue create a distraction and cause division within a team ("Are you with us or against us?"), you get proactive and take steps to make sure it doesn't.

And Tomlin did.

Other than offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, an Army vet who stood alone in the tunnel with his hand held over his heart, I don't know who would've stood and who would've kneeled. And neither do you. And that's OK by me. In fact, I was never ever sure why we had to have players on the field for the playing of the Anthem in the first place. What I do know is that Mike Tomlin did the right thing by defusing a volatile and divisive issue before it divided his football team.

"We're not going to play politics," he said. "Some (players) have opinions. Some don't. We wanted to protect those who don't. We wanted to protect those that do. We came here to play a football game today, and that was our intention."

By the way, Tomlin appeared on the field prior to the start of the game. And he stood for the Anthem. Mike Tomlin, go to the head of the class.

FIRST-AND-20

  1. And that, people, is why there is no one like Tom Brady.

2. Watch that Deshaun Watson scramble-and-throw with five minutes left, and you know why it's New England, not Houston, that has a problem. It's called a pass rush. The Patriots don't have one. Watson escaped four potential tackles on that play, and that's trouble ahead. Tom Brady can't continue to bail out an underperforming defense.

3. There's only one team that hasn't led in any game the first three weeks, and a show of hands for those surprised that it's Cleveland. Someone? Anyone?

4. No, that is no misprint. Those are the Rams alone in first place in the NFC West.

5. Hurricane Irma may be gone, but it's still having an impact. The two teams it forced to the sidelines in Week One -- Miami and Tampa Bay -- not only lost Sunday; each got drilled, one by a winless opponent and the other by a backup QB.

6. I'm sorry, but referee Carl Cheffers will have to explain that fourth-quarter penalty vs. Von Miller. The Broncos' linebacker faked giving a hand to help fallen quarterback Tyrod Taylor, eliciting a smile from both parties. Both thought it was funny. Cheffers did not, flagging Miller for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the penalty became a dagger. It cost the Broncos time and three points.

7. Love San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Nick Canepa's idea: Have officials stay in the locker room during the National Anthem and keep them there until the end of the game.

8. So much for that revitalized Baltimore defense.

9. It only gets worse for Carolina. Cam Newton is hurt. Tight end Greg Olsen is out with a broken ankle. Now this: Kelvin Benjamin hurts his knee, a defense that hadn't allowed more than three points in the first two games craters and New England is next on the schedule ... in New England.

10. Atlanta, consider yourself lucky. The Falcons literally are within two feet of being 1-2, surviving last-second goal-line passes by Chicago and Detroit.

11. No, I don't know how good Washington is, either. But I do know when we find out: Next Monday. The Redskins play at Kansas City, and, in case you've lost count, the unbeaten Chiefs won 25 of their last 29 regular-season games.

12. Bortles: Rhymes with Unitas.

13. Best kept secret: The Buffalo defense. In three games, the Bills' defense has allowed two touchdowns. Period.

14. Leon Lett, meet Marcus Cooper.

15. Every time I see a Taylor Gabriel score I wonder how in the world did Cleveland let this guy go? Then I remember: It's Cleveland.

16. OK, so officials overruled that apparent Sterling Shepard touchdown catch. Now here's what I want to know: If the ground can't cause a fumble, how can it cause an incomplete pass?

17. To paraphrase the late Denny Green: Tennessee is who we thought they were ... the best team in the AFC South.

18. I don't care that Detroit fell inches short of upsetting the defending NFC champions. The Lions proved they can play with the best. Green Bay, consider yourself warned.

19. Someone get the Giants off the decaf. In their first three games -- all losses -- they've been outscored 47-13 in the first three periods, including 14-0 Sunday. Either that changes, or Jerry Reese dials 911.

20. Hard to believe that was Aaron Rodgers' first OT win. But it was ... and despite six sacks. So make that 1-7 for Rodgers in five-quarter games.

WINNERS

EAGLES' RUNNING BACKS. No running back had more than 48 yards (Darren Sproles) in each of the first two games. Then Wendell Smallwood drops 71 on the Giants, and LeGarrette Blount goes for another 67 in his best game as an Eagle.

SAINTS' DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR DENNIS ALLEN. Once upon a time, the Saints' defense had more leaks than the Nixon White House -- allowing an average of 500 yards in its first two games, both losses. Then along comes Carolina, and, suddenly, the Saints turn into the '85 Bears.

KANSAS CITY RB KAREEM HUNT. A week ago I said he's this year's Ezekiel Elliott. I was wrong. He's better. Through three games the rookie has 401 yards rushing, 538 yards in offense, averages 8.5 yards a carry and has six TDs. But that's not all: He's the first player to have at least one 50-yard score in each of his first three starts. Through Elliott's first three games, he had 271 yards rushing, a 3.9 yards per-carry averages and two scores.

CINCINNATI QB ANDY DALTON. He silenced the A.J. McCarron Fan Club for at least a week.

WASHINGTON DEFENSE. We know the Redskins have playmakers on offense, but their defense wasn't supposed to shut down Oakland. Well, it did, with the Raiders 0-for-11 on third-down conversion, just over 100 yards in total offense and 10 points -- thanks to assists from two Washington turnovers. "We had the energy going from start to finish," said Washington cornerback Josh Norman.

CHICAGO QB MIKE GLENNON. So he throws for 101 yards. A win is a win is a win. And that will keep Glennon in the huddle another week.

NEW ENGLAND WR BRANDIN COOKS. Five catches, 131 yards and a game-winning catch with 23 ticks left. Now you know why the Patriots couldn't wait to pair him with Tom Brady.

TACO LOVERS IN SAN DIEGO. Another Chargers' loss means more free tacos for customers Monday at El Pollo Grill in Bonita, just south of San Diego, courtesy of owner Victor Lopez. Pssst, remember the password: Spanos Taco.

HOME TEAMS. Dorothy was right. There's no place like home. Home teams were 11-4 this week (including the 49ers' loss Thursday), with eight of them underdogs -- including previously winless Indianapolis, which held off winless Cleveland. It was the first time the Browns were favored since Week 14 of 2015 and the first time they were favored on the road since Week 7 of 2014.

LOSERS

N.Y. GIANTS DEFENSE. Twice it failed to protect a fourth-quarter lead; then it caved on the game-winning drive, allowing Philadelphia to get in position for a 61-yard field goal. The Giants got big returns on their defense a year ago. Not Sunday, and good luck going forward. No 0-3 team has made the playoffs since the NFL went to eight divisions in 2002.

CAROLINA QB CAM NEWTON. He's hurt, and he stinks. Two touchdowns, four interceptions and a 43.8 rating in his latest performance equal trouble for Carolina.

BALTIMORE OFFENSIVE COORDINTOR MARTY MORNHINWEG. His offense produced a franchise-worst 15 yards in the first half and seven points for the entire game ... against Jacksonville. Awful. Trust me, he and Joe Flacco will be in the same foxhole this week.

LEGION OF BOOM. Bad enough that Richard Sherman needed a time out. The Seahawks couldn't control DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry or Marcus Mariota -- with the Titans running over, around and through Seattle's overwhelmed defense for 195 yards -- the most surrendered by Seattle since 2013.

OAKLAND RB MARSHAWN LYNCH. He was in Least Mode, with six carries, 18 yards and no sideline dance moves.

SUNDAY'S REPORT CARD

A

DETROIT DB DARIUS SLAY. Don't blame him for the Lions' loss. He had two of the Lions' three interceptions of Matt Ryan.

PHILADELPHIA PK JAKE ELLIOTT. He not only won a game with a last-second field goal; he did it with the longest field goal made by any rookie -- a 61-yarder that dropped the Giants to another defeat.

WASHINGTON RB CHRIS THOMPSON. All he did was haul in 150 yards in receptions, produce 188 yards in offense and score once. And he's not even first on the depth chart. Rob Kelley is, but he was hurt.

MINNESOTA WR STEFON DIGGS. Sam Bradford? Case Kennum? It doesn't seem to make a difference who quarterbacks the Vikes when this guy is out there making eight catches for 173 yards and two scores. Diggs wasn't just the best Viking Sunday. He was the best player on the field, period.

B

HOUSTON QB DESHAUN WATSON. Maybe, just maybe, the Texans have themselves a quarterback. Watson came this close to becoming the first rookie QB to win at Gillette Stadium, and don't blame him for that last-minute defeat. Blame a defense that couldn't solve Tom Brady when it mattered most.

C

ATLANTA QB MATT RYAN. Yes, he won, and he's 3-0. But he also had three interceptions Sunday and survived another close call. He didn't have one three-interception game last season. In fact, he didn't even have a multi-interception game. But he had one Sunday.

N.Y. GIANTS WR ODELL BECKHAM JR. Yes, he's a marvelous talent, but the guy needs to grow up ... and rewind the end-zone celebration of his first touchdown if you don't know what I'm talking about. The Giants need him on the field, but they need him to stop putting himself ahead of the team.

D

DENVER QB TREVOR SIEMIAN. Two bad throws cost the Broncos points ... and a ballgame. So what? So he'd never lost a game in September ... until Sunday. Siemian is a mystery. Just when you want to believe in the guy, he puts up a stinker like this.

GIANTS' P BRAD WING. He picked the wrong time to flub a 28-yard kick. Bad teams find ways to lose, and the Giants are a bad team.

E

MIAMI QB JAY CUTLER. The Jets? Are you serious? The Jets? Miami didn't cross the 50 until the third quarter, and that can happen when you have Cutler over here and no running game over there. Give the Dolphins this: They did the improbable. They made the Jets look good.

THE GIANTS' RUNNING GAME. What running game? They have 146 yards for the season, or 26 fewer than Kareem Hunt had Sunday.

CLEVELAND RECEIVERS. Count 'em: Eight drops.

F

BALTIMORE QB JOE FLACCO. He didn't complete his first pass until over four minutes were gone in the second quarter and quarterbacked an offense that produced a franchise-low 15 yards in the first half. He had eight completions, threw for 28 yards and his passer rating was a career-low 12.0. Say it ain't so, Joe.

SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMER

NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY. This is the second straight week he's here, and for good reason. Nobody Sunday was better. The Texans hadn't allowed a 300-yard passing game the previous 31 games,. Then the 40-year-old Brady shreds them for 378 yards, five touchdowns and a last-minute, 92-yard game-winning drive. In the past two weeks Brady completed 74.3 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns, no interceptions and two victories.

SUNDAY'S HALL OF SHAMER

CHICAGO DB MARCUS COOPER: Lucky for him the Bears won in overtime. That spared this guy a painful explanation of the inexplicable -- a showboat move that cost his team a touchdown at the end of the first half. I can only imagine what Ditka would've done had he been coaching. As that famed philosopher Forrest Gump once said, "Stupid is as stupid does."

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