Roethlisberger playing with a purpose

There were so many big games produced by quarterbacks in Week 1 that it was easy to undervalue what Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger did in Cleveland.

He didn't need 300 yards or 40 passing attempts to earn praise in that 34-7 win, either. He only had to show that the bad habits that plagued him last season are finally vanishing from his game. So far, he's got me convinced that he's grown up plenty in one short year.

The truth is that I was a little concerned when the Steelers started talking about using more multiple-receiver formations and placing more of the offense on Roethlisberger's shoulders this season. But after Sunday's victory -- when he completed 12 of 23 passes for 161 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions -- I realized what the Steelers had planned for their fourth-year signal-caller.

New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is going to open up the system just enough to make Roethlisberger comfortable. And Roethlisberger apparently realizes that he doesn't have to force plays like he did last season, when he threw a career-high 23 interceptions.

What's also apparent is that Roethlisberger has dedicated himself to reminding people that he's more like the quarterback who helped Pittsburgh win Super Bowl XL than the one who declined in 2006.

"You can see that he has a huge chip on his shoulder," says one team source. "Ben is at his best when he thinks people are doubting him, and that's how he's felt going into this year. He probably felt the same way when schools didn't recruit him out of college and when he wound up being the third quarterback taken in the [2004] draft. He's really out to prove something this year."

We'll have to see if Roethlisberger can maintain some consistency, but the odds are in his favor. Arians is a talented coordinator, and Pittsburgh's young skill players -- like second-year wide receiver Santonio Holmes and third-year tight end Heath Miller -- continue to mature.

So while some skeptics might say that Roethlisberger didn't show much by beating a weak Cleveland Browns team, I say think again. With one modest performance, he showed me he's really ready to start putting his problems behind him.

But this isn't just about Big Ben today. It's called Three and Out for a reason, so let's get down to it:

1. Patriot Games
Though nothing has been decided yet, I'm betting the NFL discovers the Patriots were indeed spying on the New York Jets' defensive coaches during New England's 38-14 win on Sunday. Too many signs point to the likelihood of it. It's already been reported that the Green Bay Packers dealt with a similar situation at Lambeau Field last season (when they suspected that the same Patriots cameraman who was removed from the Jets game also was illegally videotaping them).

We also know about the comments Vikings head coach Brad Childress recently made about Patriots head coach Bill Belichick trying to conspire with Childress to manipulate players through the waiver wire. And when you consider that Belichick is like every other coach in this league -- meaning he'll do anything to gain an advantage -- you'd have to be naive to think the Pats are just simply misunderstood in this case.

In fact, the only thing I question about this entire incident is why the Patriots felt they could get away with spying on a team that employs former New England defensive coordinator Eric Mangini. He was probably the person who tipped off Jets security to the Pats' tactics in the first place.

2. Adrian Peterson arrives
I need to start reconsidering my preseason pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year. As talented as Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is, there isn't a player in the league who is going to challenge Peterson for this award. The guy is too good already and he's now fallen into the perfect situation.

An injury to Chester Taylor allowed the Vikings to see what Peterson can do as the lead back. I doubt they'll be shy about increasing his workload from here on out. Peterson was so impressive in a 24-3 win over Atlanta -- he had 103 rushing yards to go with a 60-yard touchdown reception -- that he made Minnesota look like a team that could end up being vastly improved.

"What makes what Adrian did so impressive is that he did it against a solid defense," said Vikings receivers coach George Stewart, who worked as an assistant in Atlanta the past three seasons. "They've got multiple Pro Bowlers on that defense with guys like [cornerback] DeAngelo Hall, [linebacker]Keith Brooking and [safety] Lawyer Milloy. I don't know if he even knows how good he is yet, which is what makes him really scary."

3. Panthers bouncing back?

Don't be shocked if the Carolina Panthers become Super Bowl contenders again. They disappointed last season, when they failed to make the playoffs after reaching the NFC Championship Game following the 2005 season, but their season-opening 27-13 victory over St. Louis indicated that this team might rebound.

For one thing, the Panthers' offensive line looks strong again, which means that quarterback Jake Delhomme can avoid pressure (he wasn't sacked once against St. Louis) and their running game can be consistent (the Panthers gained 186 yards on the ground). Wide receiver Steve Smith also is healthy again, and when he's not gimpy, he's the best player at his position in the league.

Finally, the Panthers still have enough players left over from their 2003 Super Bowl run that pride might carry them a long way this year. Add in a favorable schedule -- the Panthers play Houston, Atlanta and Tampa Bay over the next three weeks -- and this team should be 4-0 heading into a key early-season game against defending division champ New Orleans.

Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.