Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we re-cap the winners and losers of the second week of the NFL's preseason schedule. The games don't count, but the perceptions sure do.....
• LOSER -- Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez might well go on to enjoy his share of Matt Ryan- or Joe Flacco-like rookie highlights this season, but if so, I didn't see many hints of the big things to come Monday night in Baltimore. Though his last pass of the night was his best of the night -- that 19-yard touchdown strike to Leon Washington with just less than six minutes left before the half -- Sanchez looked every bit the deer-in-the-headlights for most of the five drives he played in his first NFL career start.
Facing Baltimore's swarming defense on the road is about as tough an initiation as you're going to get, even in the preseason. But Sanchez didn't exactly put the Jets quarterback competition to bed with his collection of poor throws (the Ravens should have taken his first two passes to the house for touchdowns), sloppy ball handling, delay of game penalties and general lack of execution. He wouldn't even have gotten a shot to throw that face-saving touchdown pass to Washington if the Jets running back hadn't somehow picked up a first down on a third-and-10 run. That play was designed to just get New York into better field goal range and limit Sanchez's chances of making another mistake.
All in all, it reminded me once again of two things: Sanchez started a mere 16 games at USC, and we would do well to remember the desultory track record of first-round quarterbacks who skip their senior seasons and enter the NFL early. Sanchez and Detroit's Matthew Stafford (who also struggled in Week 2) might both still surprise us this season, but the sooner we let the Ryan and Flacco comparisons go, the better.
• WINNER -- After watching the display Leon Washington put on in the first half of Monday night's game, is there any doubt the 5-foot-8, 195-pound back is the Jets most valuable player? He didn't lead the NFL in combined yardage last season by fluke. New York needs to get an extension done with this guy because his price tag appears to be headed in only one direction, and that's up.
On the Jets' opening five drives of the first half, which coincided with Sanchez's night's work, Washington had a hand in creating 80 of New York's 121 yards of offense. He finished with 83 yards of rushing and receiving in the first half, including the Jets' first touchdown, and added a 52-yard kickoff return in his special teams role. Washington converted three third-and-long situations to almost single-handedly keep New York's first half from being an offensive disaster. He took a screen pass 16 yards on third-and-12, ran for 15 yards on a third-and-10 and caught his 19-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-9, beating Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain in a one-on-one mismatch.
As it turns out, trading head coach Herman Edwards to Kansas City for the fourth-round pick they used to draft Washington in 2006 was one of the shrewdest moves the Jets ever made.
• LOSER -- Given that Jerry Jones routinely seems to over-rate the talent on his club, maybe he thought Dallas would never have to punt this season and thus the height of those monstrous high-definition video screens at the team's new billion-dollar stadium really wouldn't be a concern for anyone but the visiting team.
But they are, and now the NFL's competition committee is getting involved and may force Jones to mount his million-pixel flat screens a little higher, thus ruining the whole cool effect he was going for in his new football playground. Not really, but it sounds like Jones is going to try to draw a line in the sand 90 feet above the field and stand his ground.
For now, directional kicking is out in Dallas, at least when that direction is up. And the NFL now has an answer to baseball's Tropicana Field.
• WINNER -- When I spoke with Browns quarterback Derek Anderson during my training camp stop in Cleveland, he made it clear that he understood the reality of the situation he's in this preseason. He doesn't have the luxury of barely beating out 2007 first-round pick Brady Quinn in the team's QB competition, he has to make it obvious that he's the No. 1. Otherwise he's just playing to establish himself as a viable starting alternative somewhere else in the NFL, once his get-out-of-Cleveland ticket has been punched.
Either way, Anderson took an important first step toward reaching one of those goals with his showing against the Lions on Saturday night in Cleveland, leading the Browns to their first offensive touchdown in forever before exiting the game for good with a 20-0 first-half lead. Anderson wasn't flawless, but he looked like a No. 1 quarterback in going 8 of 13 for 130 yards and an interception in Cleveland's 27-10 win. If it's close, the Browns will still find enough reasons to go with Quinn in the regular season, but Anderson just proved that he's not going to make it easy for anyone to bury him.
• LOSER -- I caught an excerpt Monday night of that upcoming Plaxico Burress interview that ESPN is publicizing, and I almost fell off the elliptical when I heard the ex-Giants receiver claim that he has "been accountable since day one'' for his decision to illegally take a gun into a New York City nightclub last November.
Oh, really? What kind of alternate reality does Burress live in? I seem to remember Burress checked into a nearby hospital under an assumed name, didn't notify the police of the shooting as compelled to do (nor did the hospital), and gave the gun to teammate Antonio Pierce in an effort to conceal the weapon, thereby risking Pierce's standing from a legal standpoint.
Where exactly did the accountability factor kick in? Only after the whole saga quickly came to light and he had little choice but to face the music. All I heard in the interview was just another pro athlete trying to say he was sorry but sounding more like he was only sorry he got caught.
• WINNER -- What's not to like about the statistics that Philip Rivers has amassed in his three seasons as San Diego's starting quarterback. But the pertinent numbers today concern the six-year, $92 million contract that guarantees him a minimum of $38.5 million. That means Rivers just moved into the Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger salary neighborhood without first making a Super Bowl appearance, let alone winning a ring.
I'm not discounting the value of a young, franchise quarterback who has led San Diego to the playoffs three consecutive seasons and is 36-18 as a starter, including the postseason. But so far, Rivers has taken the Chargers to one AFC title game in his starting tenure, which is the same amount of conference championships that Drew Brees -- the quarterback he replaced in San Diego -- has led his Saints to over the same span.
• LOSER -- I do believe it speaks to the depth of the hole that Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton was in that he felt the need to hail his performance Saturday night at Seattle as an indication "my game is as good as it has ever been.'' This after an outing in which he inexplicably threw a left-handed interception from the Seattle 1, wasting an 86-yard Denver drive.
Orton did play better in the Broncos 27-13 loss, finishing 18 of 26 for 182 yards, one touchdown and that bone-headed interception. But if I were a Denver fan, I'd be a little concerned that Orton has looked exactly like the dink-and-dunk passer he was in Chicago. Seven of his first 16 completions were either swing passes or receiver screens, and he threw just one deep ball all night, on a first-drive throwaway when he was under heavy pass rush. Orton did complete 16 of his first 19 passes, but so far I have yet to see any indication that the vertical threat that Denver head coach Josh McDaniels assured me his team still has with Orton is actually there.
And here's a guess that the contrast between Orton and Jay Cutler's deep passing game will be fully on display Saturday night at Invesco Field when Chicago visits.
• WINNER -- Speaking of fly patterns, the lights have apparently gone on at long last for Jaguars receiver Troy Williamson. This preseason, the former Vikings first-round pick has been the playmaker he never was before, catching seven passes for a whopping 221 yards, an NFL-best 31.6-yard average. That's more than twice as long as his career-best average catch of 15.5 yards, as a Vikings rookie in 2005. Keep this up and Jaguars assistant (and former Minnesota head coach) Mike Tice might be vindicated yet.
• LOSER -- Score one for the idea that training camp isn't completely irrelevant, because even if Brett Favre knows the Vikings offense like the back of his almost-40-year-old hand, that doesn't mean he can climb off his tractor in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Tuesday morning and efficiently run the Minnesota attack three days later. In his brief, two series of work, Favre looked rusty and like a guy who didn't know which way his receivers were going to turn (and maybe not even their names) from play to play.
And while we're at it, I don't know about that beard, Brad Childress. I really don't know.
• WINNER -- Not to repeat myself from last week, but how can you not be impressed with the speed at which Green Bay's defense has embraced the 3-4 formation that new coordinator Dom Capers brought to town? Stuffing the Browns and Bills offenses hasn't been the biggest challenge in recent years, but the Packers have forced nine turnovers in their first two preseason games, and Buffalo had just 18 yards of total offense in the first half of Green Bay's 31-21 win Saturday night.
I picked up on two vibes during my day at Packers camp earlier this month, and they were that this defense is much better than most folks know, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is ready to roll. Through two weeks and two impressive Packers wins, I'm more convinced than ever.
• LOSER -- I'm surprised that T.J. Duckett is the roster casualty that reportedly will result from Seattle adding Edgerrin James. Duckett was the best short-yardage back in the NFL last season, producing eight touchdowns and 11 first downs when carrying in the red zone. That's a niche role, to be sure, but a pretty important one. When I look at James, I see a 31-year-old back with declining skills, and whose average run hasn't topped 3.9 yards since 2005 in Indianapolis. That was also the last season in which James scored more than seven touchdowns, averaged 100 yards rushing per game, and caught more than 40 passes. Are any of those trends likely to change in Seattle?
• WINNER -- The Ravens defense might have lost coordinator Rex Ryan, linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard to the Jets, but what an embarrassment of riches Baltimore has on that side of the ball. Every August it seems like another playmaker or two emerges on Baltimore's defense, and I couldn't help but notice Monday night that Ravens linebackers Tavares Gooden (five tackles, one sack) and Paul Kruger (five tackles, three passes defensed) were constantly around the football.
Against the Jets, it was a case of S.O.B. -- same old Baltimore defense. If anyone was worried that new Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison wouldn't keep things going the way Ryan and Marvin Lewis did before him, you can put that fear to rest.