Yes, the NIC has the ability to do some processing onboard. On inexpensive NICs, this is very rudimentary (e.g. accepting/rejecting packets based on MAC address, maybe some checksum calculations). On more expensive server-class NICs, the NIC contains a full-blown embedded CPU of its own which is capable of offloading more of the work.
The years just pass like trains. I wave, but they don't slow down.
-- Steven Wilson