We may still be the better part of a month away from Hawkeye football, but we’re already a full three weeks into the NFL season. This week of NFL games brought with it some thrilling comebacks, our first tie of the season and another series of injuries (though nothing compared to what we saw a week ago). That included more Hawkeyes going down, but also some Hawkeyes have big games.
So with that, let’s dive in to who did what in week 3 of the NFL season.
After two weeks of Noah Fant-astic earning game balls, we have a new winner of this week’s game ball. In week three, we’re going with Buffalo Bills safety Micah Hyde. Hyde, who we noted has been an iron man for the Bills playing nearly every snap this season, totaled nine tackles, including six solos, as Buffalo won a wild one over the Los Angeles Rams.
After getting out to a 28-3 lead of LA, the Bills gave up what would have been an unimaginable comeback to fall behind 32-28 with 4:30 left to play. Buffalo, with the benefit of a questionable pass interference call on 4th and 8, scored the winning TD with 15 seconds remaining.
With the help of Hyde, the Bills have moved to 3-0 and look like legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Of not for Iowa and Buffalo fans, Hyde did exit during the LA comeback with what appeared to be an ankle injury. Head coach Sean McDermott has not provided an update on his status for week 4 to-date.
A.J. Epenesa, DE
Epenesa’s NFL career has gotten off to a strange start. The second round pick fell into a very good spot in Buffalo in terms of a team that is looking like a Super Bowl contender on a defense that is stingy. But he’s also on a defensive line that is loaded with talent. That led to a healthy scratch in week one of his rookie campaign. In week two, Epenesa played on 23% of defensive snaps, 8th on a 9-man rotation. In week three, the Iowa legacy made his presence felt as he recorded his first career sack.
The sack was AJ’s lone tackle of the day (he also had another QB hurry and got a second hit on Jared Goff), but that certainly didn’t temper any enthusiasm by his father, Eppy, who has embraced the #BillsMafia culture much as he became a beloved ambassador of the Iowa football culture.
That is fantastic stuff and I think we’re all rooting for more AJ sacks and more smashed tables in Glen Carbon.
Amani Hook, S
We noted a week ago that Hooker has earned some serious run in the Titans’ secondary and would be a name to watch going forward. It took little time for him to make a major impact. The former Iowa star again earned significant playing time in week 3. While he finished with only one tackle, he sealed a win for Tennessee by intercepting a Kirk Cousins pass on what would have been a game-winning drive for the Vikings.
Expect Hooker to continue working his way into the lineup for the Titans this season as he proves himself as a talented, heady player.
Anthony Hitchens, LB
Kansas City Chiefs
After some struggles in week two, the Kansas City Chiefs looked like Super Bowl champions in week three as they took down a formidable Baltimore Ravens offense. Starting linebacker Anthony Hitchens played a role in that with his four tackles. He also had some help from a fellow Hawkeye.
Ben Niemann, LB
Kansas City Chiefs
That fellow Hawkeye was Ben Niemann, who had a very solid night as a backup linebacker. Niemann finished with a pair of solo tackles, but also added a fumble recovery and a sack of Baltimore’s star QB Lamar Jackson. While Niemann isn’t a starter, he’s been earning significant run on the Chiefs defense, which is looking for a second straight ring.
Jaleel Johnson, DT
On the other end of Amani Hooker’s game-sealing interception was fellow Hawkeye Jaleel Johnson. Johnson recorded three tackles, including a solo in the losing effort for the Vikings. Minnesota’s defense is still struggling to find its footing, but Johnson remains a staple in the middle of the defensive line.
Josey Jewell, LB
The Outlaw continues to perform well after being thrust into a starting role with the Denver Broncos. Jewell totaled seven tackles, including a pair of solos, in the Broncos’ 28-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week four. He’ll continue to man the middle of the defense in Denver for the foreseeable future.
Michael Ojemudia, CB
Fellow Denver Bronco Michael Ojemudia finds himself in a similar situation. With injuries galore for Denver, OJ is starting at corner for that foreseeable future. As you might expect in year one when thrust into a starting role, OJ has had an up and down ride. He finished with four tackles, including three solos and a stuff on Sunday, but has also given up some big plays and touchdowns on the year. Such is life when you play on an island as a rookie.
Noah Fant, TE
Fant has been our game ball recipient each of the first two weeks and finally falls back to earth in week three. That is to say he finally had a game without a touchdown. Fant finished with 46 yards on five catches for an average of 9.2 ypc and a long of 19 yards. The Broncos are depleted in a number of spots and WR is one of them. Fant will continue to be an integral piece of the offense, but the question now will be who is throwing him the ball after Denver lost both starter Drew Lock and backup Jeff Driskel to injury.
T.J. Hockenson, TE
Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson continues to have his strong, steady sophomore season. While he didn’t light the world on fire in week three, Hock did make some history in Detroit over the weekend. He finished with 53 yards on four catches for an average of 13.3 yards per reception, marking the third straight game he’s topped 50 receiving yards. That would be a first for Detroit tight ends to start a season.
.@Lions TE @TheeHOCK8 is the 1st TE in franchise history to produce at least 50 receiving yards in each of the first 3 games of a season.— Detroit Lions PR (@LionsPR) September 27, 2020
He is also the first Lions TE to have 4+ receptions and 50+ yards in 3-straight games since TE Brandon Pettigrew did so in 2010.#OnePride pic.twitter.com/R1PlqCjI0R
Hockenson has turned into one of Matthew Stafford’s most reliable targets and will continue to be featured down the stretch. Stay tuned for future game balls.
Some updates in week three:
Last week we noted Chargers defensive back Desmond King has expressed his frustration with a lack of playing time in LA’s secondary. The Chargers have had a slew of injuries in the back end and King had earned some time because of that, but voiced his opinion that he shouldn’t need an injury to see the field.
In week three, the Chargers lost yet another DB as corner Chris Harris Jr. suffered a foot injury that is expected to keep him out at least a month. The question now will be whether King sees a significant uptick in playing time after recording no stats in week three.
One guy not concerned about playing time is 49ers star tight end George Kittle. Kittle, on the other hand, is looking to make a comeback from a sprained MCL and bone bruise he suffered in week one. He has missed each of the last two weeks and is hopeful for a return in week four.
Another name to follow is Browns defensive end Adrian Clayborn. The former Hawkeye star had been off to a hot start in Cleveland with a sack in each of his first two games, but recorded no stats in week three despite not missing the game. We’ll see if he’s back in opposing backfields in week four.
On a more positive note, former Hawkeye defensive end Anthony Nelson earned 27 reps for the Tamp Bay Buccaneers in their win over Denver. Nelson is a (very tall) linebacker for Tampa and had a pair of tackles as well as a QB hurry for the Bucs in week three. We’ll see if Nelson can carve out a larger role going forward.
And finally, we’ll close out week three with some somber, breaking news on the NFL front as both the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings, each teams with Hawkeyes on the roster, have closed their practice facilities. The Titans reported three positive COVID-19 tests among players and five from staff members following their win over the Vikings on Sunday. Minnesota has yet to report any positive cases but is in quarantine as a precaution.
We’ll keep you updated on the situation as week four of the NFL season approaches.