The road to Super Bowl LVI is a long journey. Fourteen more regular-season games need to be played. Injuries must be overcome. And then the teams good enough (and lucky enough) to advance have to navigate the postseason to reach the final Sunday on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium.
Still, on the third Sunday of the 2021 NFL season, the teams who call Inglewood’s $5 billion palace home each made loud statements about their place among the league’s elite this season by defeating last season’s Super Bowl squads.
The Los Angeles Chargers moved to 2-1 by coming back to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 30-24 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Los Angeles Rams improved to 3-0 by dominating the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-24 at SoFi in a matchup of the NFL’s top two teams.
Last season, Chargers head coach Brandon Staley worked as defensive coordinator for Rams head coach Sean McVay. The two coaching savants bonded in their lone season together. So it’s no surprise they used the same words to describe Sunday’s achievements as a “team win” in “all three phases.”
And like any other NFL head coach laser-focused on the present, Staley and McVay know not to make too much of a late-September win, even if it came against one of the last two Super Bowl champions.
“You want to measure yourself against people you really, really respect,” Staley told reporters. “And we have a lot of respect for (the Chiefs).”
“It’s a big step in the right direction for us, but it’s just one game,” McVay said after earning his third 3-0 start with the Rams. “I was really pleased with it, but it really just means, hey, we’re 3-0.”
Sunday’s games served as measuring sticks for L.A.’s quarterbacks, too. Chargers QB Justin Herbert outdueled Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes by throwing for one more touchdown — his game-winning fourth TD to Mike Williams with 32 seconds left — while Matthew Stafford also threw four touchdown passes to outshine Tom Brady, who was pressured throughout the game by Aaron Donald and the Rams defense.
Oddsmakers still list the Chiefs and Bucs as Super Bowl favorites, but the Week 3 wins by the L.A. teams can allow their fans to dream a little about an intracity Super Bowl — at least until next week. They’ll be tested again in Week 4 when they face 3-0 teams at SoFi Stadium. The Rams will take on the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday, and next Monday night, the Chargers meet the Las Vegas Raiders, a former L.A. resident that still has a sizable fan base in Southern California.
Best offensive performance
Josh Allen, Bills. After back-to-back tepid performances to begin the season, Allen finally looked like his old self in Buffalo’s 43-21 blowout of Washington, breaking out with a five-touchdown game — four passing and one rushing. The quarterback admitted he had to play better, and his first half against the Football Team marked a return to normalcy.
Best defensive performance
Myles Garrett, Browns. Chicago fans got their wish with Justin Fields’ first NFL start. Garrett made it a game to forget, however, as he led a defensive onslaught that resulted in nine sacks (nine!) for Cleveland. The two-time Pro Bowler recorded 4.5 sacks to set a new franchise record.
Best special teams performance
Jamal Agnew, Jaguars. An attempt at the longest field goal in NFL history ended up being the longest touchdown in NFL history. And while Jacksonville ended up falling to 0-3 in a 31-19 loss to Arizona, at least Urban Meyer’s Jaguars provided their fans with something to go crazy about.
Ja’Marr Chase’s penchant for dropped passes in the preseason was well-documented. Now the Bengals rookie wideout can’t stop catching touchdowns. He’s caught a TD in three straight games after connecting with Joe Burrow on two scores in a 24-10 win over Pittsburgh to give him four for the season, including a 34-yard TD that earned him a pretty cool distinction.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers. Leave it to Green Bay’s No. 12 to 1) need only 37 seconds to drive down field and set up the winning field goal in Green Bay’s 30-28 victory and 2) come up with the words to capture the wondrous entertainment of Sunday night’s primetime showdown.
Nick Foles, Bears. Was Chicago’s dismal performance on offense due to the inexperience of a rookie QB? Not if you ask Foles, who was caught speaking his mind on the sidelines.
Chargers rookie Asante Samuel Jr. soars through the air to pick off Patrick Mahomes.
Tyler Boyd plays his own version of bump-and-run in bulling his way to the end zone.
Dawson Knox shows just how athletic tight ends are these days with this incredible twisting TD grab.
The best part of Antonio Gibson’s 73-yard TD off a screen pass? His dive for the pylon.
Dustin Hopkins shows that kickers can in fact do things other than kick.
Derrick Henry doles out punishment against anyone, including two-time All-Pro linebackers like Darius Leonard.
Here’s what a 7-yard Hail Mary looks like, courtesy of Jameis Winston.
Kendrick Bourne’s tightrope walk along the sidelines is even more impressive in slo-mo.
Taysom Hill isn’t starting at QB for the Saints. But he's still getting to hurdle defenders.
Justin Tucker’s 66-yard field goal gets the luckiest of bounces for a remarkable Ravens victory.
Now watch Tucker win the game while he's singing opera.