The good news for NFL fans this week was that that the replacement referees were done. The bad news for NY Jets fans is that the Replacement Jets are just getting started.
From The Replacements to "the" Replacement: The Jets' two best players (though not their two most famous, whom we'll get to) suffered serious injuries in the past two weeks. Superstar cornerback Darrelle Revis, who routinely shuts down the best opposing wide receiver, suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, while the Jets' own best wideout, Santonio Holmes, left Sunday's game against San Francisco with a serious foot injury. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez only wishes he had after being terrorized all day in a humiliating 34-0 loss. The 49ers may be the best team in the NFL, but the sight of the Jets losing so badly at home, plus Sanchez's miserable output of 103 yards passing, means that there will be just one word on the lips of NFL watchers this week, the same word that Jets fans chanted in the stadium during the third-quarter: "Tebow!" Get ready for a week—and likely many more—of calls for the most famous back-up in the universe to take center stage in New York.
The Other Backup Quarterback: 49ers quarterback Alex Smith threw for just 40 more yards than Sanchez, but San Francisco's rushing game punished New York for 245 yards, spreading the load across nine players, while the Jets rushed for just 45. But perhaps the bitterest pill for Jets fans was 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, an unknown second-year player from the tiny University of Nevada-Reno. Kaepernick rushed for 50 yards on 10 carries out of the so-called "wildcat" formation—exactly what Jets fans hoped Tim Tebow would do for them.
Dubious History: It is unusual for an NFL team to give up 200 yards of rushing. But to be outrushed by 200, as the Jets were, is historic. According to the database at Pro-Football-Reference, the last time an NFL team was out-rushed by 200 yards and out-passed by 40 was 2009, with just eight occurrences since 2000 and only 82 since 1942. In other words, the 49ers' butt-kicking of the Jets was easily in the top 100 butt-kickings in NFL history.
Unbelievably Undefeated: There were no Sanchez/Tebow-style soap operas for the NFL's last three undefeated teams, but there was plenty of on-field drama. The Houston Texans were easy winners at home over the Tennessee Titans (the team that was once the Houston Oilers), but the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons needed last second heroics to join them at 4-0.
With 50 seconds left, the Falcons trailed the Carolina Panthers by 1-point and were pinned on their own 1-yard line. But quarterback Matt Ryan promptly completed a 59-yard pass to Roddy White and then two more quick passes to set-up a game-winning field goal with five seconds for a 30-28 win and the weekend's most dramatic ending.
The Cardinals beat Miami in overtime after quarterback Kevin Kolb—generally viewed as a subpar backup prior to the season—threw a game-tying touchdown pass on fourth-down with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter. It was the Cardinals' 11th win in 13 games, of which an astounding five have come in overtime. The Cardinals' recipe for success looks much like the 49ers': an average but veteran quarterback, few turnovers, and a ferocious defense (13.3 points per game, second best in the league).
The Big UnEasy: With apologies to Harry Shearer's film, New Orleans' Drew Brees threw for three touchdown passes in a valiant losing effort at Green Bay, marking his NFL-record 47th straight game with a TD pass. Still, at 0-4, Brees would surely trade that record for a win.
Two Things You Must Know for Your Monday Night Football Party
1. Chicago and Dallas came into the season thinking Super Bowl, but their quarterbacks—the Cowboys' Tony Romo and the Bears' Jay Cutler—have been underwhelming. Tonight's winner will be off the hook for a week, but if the loser plays poorly, his seat will be nearly Sanchez-hot.
2. Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, a former first round pick, has made more news off the field than on. He's third on the team in receiving yards behind two undrafted players, while the Cowboys instituted strict rules this season for Bryant's off-hours, including a ban on alcohol and strip club visits, a personal security detail and a nightly curfew.