Sunday September 20th, 2009

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as I find myself darn near hypnotized by the super-sized video boards that Jerry Jones has erected at the spanking new Cowboys Stadium, a.k.a. Jerry's World ...

• I'm really starting to understand why Pete Carroll (selfishly) didn't want Mark Sanchez to leave USC a year early. The kid is pretty good.

And I'm definitely starting to understand why Rex Ryan talks such a good game. His Jets, especially on defense, are pretty good.

In a Week 2 that was fairly well chock full of surprise outcomes, the Jets knocking off the vaunted Patriots 16-9 at the Meadowlands -- their first homefield win over New England since 2000, Bill Belichick's first season in town -- was the biggest of the shockers.

And brace yourself, football fans. If you thought the hype surrounding the Jets rookie quarterback and their bold-talking head coach was already at a fevered pitch, you ain't seen nothing yet. Prepare yourself for full-blown media saturation on those two fronts. Starting now.

Like Bill Parcells likes to remind us about any rookie who excels, you can't put Sanchez in Canton after just two weeks and two wins. But what you can say with some sense of certainty is that the NFL game is not too big for the former Trojans quarterback, even if Carroll tried to make the case last winter that Sanchez would benefit greatly from playing his senior season at Southern Cal.

Nice try, Pete.

Sanchez was ready all right. All you had to watch Sunday was the second half of the Jets impressive throttling of the Patriots. After facing the first real adversity of his nascent NFL career -- a 3-for-5, 15-yard passing performance in his first 30 minutes -- Sanchez proved that he can take a punch and keep fighting.

In the second half against a New England defense that used to know how to close the deal, Sanchez was a sterling 11 of 17 for 148 yards, with one touchdown and an 111.9 passer rating. That was a 47.3 point jump in terms of his second-half quarterback rating, and served to show the Patriots that he won't rattle or go to pieces at the first sign of mid-game struggles.

That "it factor" that everyone keeps referencing in regards to Sanchez is really another way of saying he has the cool to keep his head when the rest of the world is losing theirs. And the best quarterbacks always have it. On Sunday, Sanchez had it more than his celebrated opponent, Tom Brady, who finished a shaky 23 of 47 for 216 yards, with an interception and no touchdowns.

But to fixate solely on Sanchez and his 2009 impersonation of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco is to give short shrift to the Jets defense, which actually had much more to do with New York's win in Week 2 than even Sanchez.

I actually thought Ryan would do pretty good things with the Jets defense this year, and for mainly that reason I picked New York to go 10-6 and earn an AFC wild card berth. But I never imagined Ryan could transform his defense into this dominant of an unit this soon. Through two weeks, the Jets have yet to give up a touchdown, and New York's defense is now allowing just 4.5 points per game (the Texans only score last week came on defense).

That'll get it done.

Before Sunday, New England hadn't been held without a touchdown since Dec. 10, 2006 at Miami, which happened to be the last time Brady lost a regular-season game. To me, the most impressive feat the Jets defense accomplished was to keep Brady off balance with constant pass pressure off blitzes -- no sacks, but a world of heat being brought -- and to limit New England to a paltry 5 of 16 on third and fourth downs (albeit with Wes Welker sidelined for this one). The image of a coolly efficient offensive machine is something we haven't seen of the Patriots yet, at least outside of those final five minutes against Buffalo on Monday night.

What all that pressure did in some cases was make New England beat itself. The Patriots committed a very un-Patriot-like 11 penalties for 89 yards, and somehow it seemed like there were even more miscues than that for New England's offense.

So hang on, folks. Here's comes a wave of Jets-centric coverage, but that's the way this thing works in the NFL. To the winners go the spoils, and the overkill. You can't say that Sanchez and Ryan don't deserve it. They've done it on the field so far, just as they said they would. I don't know that they quite managed to "embarrass" the Patriots, as Jets safety Kerry Rhodes cited as a goal, but I know this: I can't wait for the Nov. 22 rematch in Foxboro. The AFC East title might just be on the line by then.

• My Patriots-Packers Super Bowl pick took a beating Sunday, eh? And speaking of beatings, Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom sacked Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers an astounding five times at Lambeau Field, giving him an NFL-leading seven sacks after just two weeks. All told, the Bengals dropped Rodgers six times in their 31-24 upset of Green Bay, giving the Packers 10 sacks allowed on the season.

It's early, but Green Bay's Achilles heel has quickly emerged: It can't protect Rodgers. The Packers offensive line has been a sieve against the Bears and Bengals, and Rodgers is never going to last physically at this rate. I would expect Green Bay to be in full panic mode this week in regards to the offensive line, with GM Ted Thompson maybe picking up the phone and getting ex-Packers offensive tackle Mark Tauscher back onto his roster. Especially since left tackle Chad Clifton left Sunday with a second-half ankle injury.

• There's a certain desperation that all 0-1 teams feel in Week 2, but none more so than the teams that lost their openers at home and then have to hit the road for game two. Seven teams entered Week 2 facing such a scenario, and four of them -- so far -- used that sense of urgency to post their first victories of the season.

Of those, the most eye-opening outcomes were Houston upsetting the Titans in Nashville 34-31 behind a huge day from quarterback Matt Schaub, and the Bengals going into Lambeau and living to tell. But Arizona won at Jacksonville to avoid the big, ugly 0-2 start, and Oakland escaped the same fate by squeaking one out at Kansas City. In the early games Sunday, the only road-bound 0-1 to not even its record up was Carolina, which is now winless and officially behind the eight ball after falling 28-20 to division rival Atlanta.

Tampa Bay and Cleveland took their 0-1 records into Buffalo and Denver, respectively, in the late games, but weren't successful at finding the .500 mark. Both teams look poised to never see it at any point in 2009.

• It was pretty apparent that both the Texans and the Titans decided to stop messing around this week and get the ball to their best play-makers, who happen to be a couple guys named Johnson.

What more could running back Chris Johnson have done to contribute to a Tennessee win? His three touchdowns -- on plays of 57, 69 and 91 yards -- were in effect wasted in the Titans loss. But his 284 yards of combined rushing and receiving on 25 touches (11.4 yards per touch) must have helped a ton of fantasy owners.

And after disappearing last week against Jets, Texans receiver Andre Johnson re-asserted his case as the NFL's best receiver, catching 10 passes for 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns (19 and 72 yards).

• Absolutely love those 1966 Falcons throwback uniforms. The red helmets were the bomb. Anybody else remember Randy Johnson at quarterback for the Falcons?

• With Houston putting up 420 yards of offense at Tennessee, is there anybody in Nashville wondering if the loss of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was a bigger subtraction than first believed?

• I don't know. I just expected more from Chad Ochocinco's Lambeau Leap. Didn't you? It was okay. But I expected a backwards, half-gainer or something with a twist.

• Well, at least Jake Delhomme's reign of errors ended for the most part -- he did throw one interception while going 25 of 41 for 308 yards and a touchdown -- but not the Panthers' losing streak. For the second straight week, Carolina scored points on its opening drive, and then sputtered for quite a while.

Carolina's destiny looks like third place in the NFC South to me.

• Brady just isn't Brady yet, is he? Maybe we all underestimated the effects that a year's worth of rust would have on his All-Pro game. All the pass pressure he's facing isn't doing anything to help him get his feet under him and settle down, but I didn't really think we'd ever see another game where he didn't complete even 50 percent of his passes (he was 23 of 47 versus the Jets).

• That Julian Edelman, he of my pre-draft All-Wes Welker Watch List, really is Wes Welker Lite. The Patriots rookie receiver had a team-best eight catches for 98 yards against New York, running mostly the same plays that helped make Welker a star in New England. With Welker held out with a knee injury against the Jets, the Patriots merely plugged in their other Welker.

• At one point Sunday, I checked in on the Cardinals and Vikings games, and found 38-year-old Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner at 15 of 15 in passing to start the game against the Jaguars, and soon-to-be 40-year-old Brett Favre at 11 of 12 to open Minnesota's game at Detroit.

Maybe old is the new young at quarterback. Warner finished an astounding 24 of 26 to set an NFL one-game record for completion percentage at 92.3 -- breaking Vinny Testaverde's 1993 of 91.3 for the Browns. And Favre wound up 23 of 27 against the Lions, with an efficient 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Warner and Favre had a combined six passes hit the ground, with 47 out of 53 balls reaching their target.

• How many games can the Raiders possibly win when quarterback JaMarcus Russell is 7 of 24 for 109 yards passing, with a 3 of 13 third-down conversion rate? Oakland kind of stole one Sunday at Kansas City, when the Chiefs out-gained the Raiders 409-166 and still managed to lose.

• Didn't really learn anything new from the Redskins' 9-7 defeat of visiting St. Louis, did we? Washington's defense is stellar, and it's offense is pretty feeble. Still.

• The Redskins defense definitely bailed out head coach Jim Zorn (is it too early to call him embattled?), who with a two-point lead eschewed the field goal and unsuccessfully went for a late-game fourth-and-1 from the St. Louis 3. Had the Rams rallied for a field goal and a one-point win, Zorn might have been better off heading for the border tonight.

• That settles it. Take the over whenever the Saints are involved. New Orleans has won 45-27 over Detroit, and 48-22 at Philadelphia. And is it possible we're all getting jaded by this Saints offense? Drew Brees only threw for three touchdowns against the Eagles -- half his opening week output -- and you almost wondered what was wrong with him.

• That wasn't a pass Brian Westbrook attempted from the wildcat formation against the Saints as much as it was a shotput try. I don't believe Westbrook will seize that wildcat role from Michael Vick going forward.

• Though I didn't see it, the Bengals actually converted a 3rd and 34 from their own 7 at Green Bay. That's my play of the day, and you figure that one will give Dom Capers heartburn tonight. Carson Palmer hit tight end Dan Coats for a 25-yard gain on the play, and Coats shrewdly fumbled, with Bengals receiver Laveranues Coles recovering 13 yards downfield.

All of which means the Bengals gained 38 yards when they needed 34 to keep the drive alive. Not bad, if you have that call in your playbook.

• Who exactly is Quan Cosby, and what is the Bengals punt returner doing averaging 22 yards on five returns against the Packers (including a 60-yarder)? That's as many yards per return as Cincy kickoff returner Andre Caldwell averaged on three kickoffs.

• I guess there's nothing wrong with Frank Gore that a game against Seattle's defense can't cure. The 49ers running back bounced back resoundingly from a low-profile Week 1 showing at Arizona, gaining 207 yards on 16 carries and a pair of touchdowns in San Francisco's 23-10 win.

And by the way, it's time we start taking the 2-0 49ers for real.

• It looks like the Steelers defense missed the injured Troy Polamalu more than the Bears defense missed the injured Brian Urlacher. That's a huge win for Jay Cutler and Chicago. At 0-2, the wheels could have started coming off a bit for the Bears. Especially for Cutler, given that Josh McDaniels and Kyle Orton are suddenly 2-0 in Denver.

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