INDIANAPOLIS -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we watch a wacky Week 2 unfold while awaiting that showdown of sibling rivalry known as Manning Bowl II ...
• By now, I imagine Brett Favre definitively knows it's not 2009 anymore. Then again, the Vikings' soon-to-be 41-year-old quarterback sensed that there was no way he could duplicate the magic carpet ride he took last season in Minnesota.
Back in August, Favre admitted his hesitancy for playing another season with the Vikings was somewhat rooted in the reality that there could be no suitable follow-up act for his 33-touchdown, seven-interception showing of last year.
Now we all understand what he meant.
There will be no fairy tale for Favre this time around. His Vikings are 0-2 and reeling in the wake of losing 14-10 at home to Miami, and so far No. 4 looks like just another turnover-plagued quarterback. More Jake Delhomme or Derek Anderson than Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers.
I wonder if Favre would still maintain that missing all of training camp didn't cost his game a thing? Because he looks painfully rusty to me, in terms of his timing with receivers, his decision-making and his feel for the flow and pace of the action. In 2009, the Vikings were 9-0 at home in the dome and Favre turned the ball over just twice all season. But in dropping the home opener to the Dolphins, Favre produced twice that many turnovers (three interceptions and one fumble lost) in just four quarters.
"I didn't envision starting off 0-2, but I knew it was going to be very difficult,'' Favre said after the game. "I don't know about getting everyone's best. I thought we got every [opponent's] best last year.''
The Vikings obviously got Favre's best last year. But not this time around. Minnesota has scored just 19 points in its losses to the Saints and Dolphins -- 20.5 points fewer than the club's per-game pace last year. The Vikings are already two games behind first-place Green Bay in the NFC North, and don't forget that brutal seven-game stretch coming up after their Week 4 bye: At the Jets, Dallas, at Green Bay, at New England, Arizona, at Chicago, and Green Bay again.
For Favre in Minnesota, I can suddenly see a scenario in which 2010 might wind up being remembered as one comeback too many.
• It dawned on me at some point Sunday afternoon: Maybe it doesn't matter who plays quarterback in Pittsburgh this season. Be it the injured Dennis Dixon, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich or even Ben Roethlisberger. With the Steelers giving up next to nothing this season, Mark Malone could come out of retirement and probably win 10 games with this defense.
The Steelers forced the sloppy Titans into an astounding seven turnovers in their not-as-close-as-it-sounds 19-11 win at LP Field, and this from a Tennessee team that looked like a finely honed offensive machine last week against Oakland. The Titans wound up benching the erratic Vince Young (three turnovers) in favor of veteran backup quarterback Kerry Collins, but the Steelers treated him roughly the same as Young. Titans head coach Jeff Fisher reaffirmed after the game that Young will be his starter again next week at the Giants.
It wasn't solely about the takeaways for Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Steelers' run defense bottled up the reigning NFL rushing champion, Chris Johnson, on just 34 yards on 16 carries (barely two yards per run), snapping his league-best 12-game streak of 100-yard games.
As always, Pittsburgh's defensive tone was set by safety Troy Polamalu, who had his second interception in what's turning out to be a strong comeback season for the wild and wooly haired veteran. Outside linebacker James Harrison had two sacks and two forced fumbles before leaving to injury, and Pittsburgh's other superb outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley had a sack, an interception and a forced fumble.
When you've got those three defensive leaders playing inspired football, the sky's the limit in Pittsburgh. This is clearly the best the Steelers defense has looked since the close of their 2008 Super Bowl season. Holding good offenses like Atlanta and Tennessee to a combined 20 points is a very ominous development indeed for the rest of the AFC North.
• Your move, Andy Reid. Are you really going to bench a quarterback who just led your team to 52 points in its last six quarters, going with a recovered Kevin Kolb in favor of a pretty impressive Michael Vick?
Reid's resolve and patience is the stuff of legend, and the man is not easily swayed by public opinion. But the Eagles offense is clearly clicking with Vick under center, and Reid can see that as well as anyone with his own two eyes.
In the wake of Philly's 35-32 win at Detroit, I do believe there's going to be a cacophony of voices calling for Vick to retain the starter's job in Week 3 at Jacksonville. And why not? Kolb was shaky in the first half last week against the Packers, and Vick's 284-yard, two-touchdown showing against the Lions was everything the Eagles could have hoped for in his first NFL start since December 2006.
Here's hoping somehow that Vick remains in the Philly lineup at least through Week 4, when Washington and Donovan McNabb come in for a visit. Vick versus McNabb at Lincoln Financial Field. No drama to be had there.
• That was a heck of a one-handed touchdown catch by Randy "The Slouch'' Moss against Darrelle Revis in the second quarter of Jets-Patriots, but the New Yorkers certainly got the last laugh with their 28-14 showdown win against New England. That heavy-breathing sound you hear coming from the general direction of New York is the collective exhaling of the Jets organization in the aftermath of that near must-win for Rex Ryan's guys.
Can't imagine what this week would have been like in Gotham if the Jets had dropped to 0-2, losing a pair of home games against two of their most heated AFC rivals? After all the buildup this year, it would have been Armageddon in September.
• What a shock that Revis would be battling an early-season hamstring injury after missing the entire preseason with a contract holdout. Some clichés, like pulled muscles always following subpar conditioning work during the summer, are true. Revis missing the entire second half with his hammy issue could have been very costly for New York on this day, but it wasn't.
• Kudos to the Jets defense, which made Tom Brady and Co. look positively ordinary in New England's scoreless second half, and I don't believe Mark Sanchez ever came up bigger than he did against the Patriots. That's the franchise-level quarterback the Jets have invested so much hope in, and Sanchez was night-and-day different from his shaky, deer-in-the-headlights performance Monday night against Baltimore.
To finish 21 of 30 for 220 yards, with a career-best three touchdowns and no interceptions against a Bill Belichick-coached defense that was highly motivated to stick it to the well-hyped Jets, Sanchez might've turned a meaningful corner in his young career. At the very least, New York learned that its conservative approach on offense was not the way to go. As several NFL experts told me in a story I wrote on Friday, Sanchez needed to attack downfield -- and on early downs -- if his development were to continue after last year's rollercoaster rookie season.
• What a great story the 2-0 Houston Texans are becoming in this young NFL season. Gary Kubiak's club stressed being a 60-minute team for a change this season, and it was that and more on Sunday in Washington. In a game they once trailed 27-10 in the middle of the third quarter, the Texans rallied to score the game's final 20 points and beat the resurgent Redskins 30-27 in overtime.
Having finally beaten the Colts last week, the Texans were ripe for a letdown against the Redskins. They had one, but it wasn't fatal, because it didn't last the whole game. Houston is learning to win the big ones before our very eyes.
And one more Texans thought: That was a great timeout call by Kubiak on Graham Gano's game-winning 52-yard field-goal attempt in overtime. He made the kick, but Kubiak called a timeout just before the snap, and thus Gano had to try again. He missed the second attempt, and the Texans took the ball and marched to the winning 35-yard Neil Rackers field goal.
• So it's already come to that, Jason Witten? In this era of increased sensitivity to the concussion epidemic in the NFL, now we're going to have players berating team medical officials on the sideline when they don't clear them for a return to the field after being rendered woozy by a big hit?
So much for the notion of taking the doctor's orders.
• Speaking of the Cowboys, their offensive problems have not faded a bit since their desultory preseason, and now that familiar dazed and bewildered look on the face of head coach Wade Phillips is becoming one of the signature images of this quickly unraveling season.
I assume the Cowboys know they can't become the first team to ever host a Super Bowl on their home field if they don't make the playoffs. Dallas is 0-2 for the first time since 2001, dating back to the Dave Campo coaching era.
• I don't know if I've ever seen a quarterback running for his life quite like Chicago's Jay Cutler in the first half. It was an absolute jailbreak by the Cowboys' defensive front at the start of the game, and I thought DeMarcus Ware was going to wind up wearing Cutler on his face mask at some point.
But despite the early loss of left tackle Chris Williams, Chicago somehow adjusted by calling quick-hitting pass plays, while only subjecting Cutler to one Cowboys sack -- by outside linebacker Anthony Spencer.
I'm still not sure how the Bears have gotten to 2-0 with wins over the Lions and Cowboys, but you can't deny Cutler is thriving in the Mike Martz offense. After throwing for 372 yards and two touchdowns last week, Cutler was a crisp 21 of 29 for 277 yards, three touchdowns and nary an interception at Dallas.
I can't say I'm optimistic the winning will continue for the Bears, but so far, so good for Chicago's efforts to save coach Lovie Smith's job.
• How much longer can Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt possibly stick with the erratic Derek Anderson at quarterback? Anderson simply can't put the football where he wants it to go, and it's not a recent phenomenon. Anderson had two more interceptions in Arizona's blowout 41-7 loss at Atlanta, and as enamored as Whisenhunt is with rookie QB Max Hall, you have to wonder if the decision to pull the rip cord on Matt Leinart will wind up dooming the Cardinals 2010 season?
Arizona didn't like Leinart's game because he tended to play it safe with check-down throws, instead of risking something downfield. But after watching Anderson throw the ball all over the field the past two weeks, the Cardinals might be sorry they're not playing it safe.
• That's a backfield that goes three-deep in Atlanta. No Michael Turner? No Jerious Norwood? No problem. The Falcons just trot out third-team running back Jason Snelling and he rumbles for 129 yards and three total touchdowns. You can win a lot of games in the NFL when rushing for 221 yards and throwing for 225, like well-balanced Atlanta did against Arizona.
• Whoever said the NFL was an offensive-dominated league? With Week 2 not even completed, there have already been 12 games won by teams that scored 19 or fewer points -- eight last week, and four so far in Week 2. In those 12 games, the teams combined to score no more than 34 points, with seven producing a total of 25 or fewer points.
On Sunday, Miami nipped Minnesota 14-10, Kansas City squeaked past Cleveland 16-14, Cincinnati edged Baltimore 15-10 and Pittsburgh took that 19-11 decision at Tennessee. And don't forget the Ravens' 10-9 nail-biter at the Jets last Monday night, the season's lowest-scoring game to date.
• Kerry Rhodes is fast becoming synonymous with 'clueless' in my book. He had a reputation for being a "me'' player when he was a Jets safety, but I don't remember him ever going quite as brain dead as he did Sunday, getting ejected after putting a hand on an official.
Rhodes didn't exactly deliver a forearm shiver to the zebra. He looked like he was merely trying to get his attention. But you can't touch them, Mr. Rhodes. Not even a little bit. That's the rule and you're not exempt.
• With greatly improved receiving weapons in the form of Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and a pair of quality rookie tight ends, not to mention quarterback Joe Flacco entering his third full season as a starter, I thought the Ravens' passing game was ready to take a quantum leap this year. Uh, not so much.
Baltimore, my pick to win the Super Bowl, has scored 10 points in its two games, and that's not going to get it done all the way to Dallas. The Ravens have run up against quality defenses -- the Jets and Bengals on the road -- but what's happened to Flacco? Four interceptions against the Bengals (five for the season), to go with just one touchdown pass? Flacco was a dreary 17 of 39 for just 154 yards, one touchdown and those four picks in the 15-10 loss at Cincinnati.
So much for the notion that Baltimore's offense was going to carry the defense for a while. The Ravens defense has yet to give up a touchdown, holding the Jets and Bengals to a combined eight field goals.
• This big-play thing is getting contagious in Kansas City. The Chiefs are 2-0 for the first time in five years, largely because of three huge plays: Rookie Dexter McCluster's 94-yard scoring punt return and running back Jamaal Charles' 56-yard touchdown scamper in Monday night's upset of San Diego, and cornerback Brandon Flowers' 33-yard INT-touchdown return in K.C.'s 16-14 win at Cleveland.
And for another week at least, the upstart Chiefs have an undisputed hold on first place in the AFC West.
• Michael Vick's heroics aside, it wasn't exactly a great day for the backup quarterback set in the NFL. Detroit's Shaun Hill and Cleveland's Seneca Wallace both lost after getting rare starts to replace injured No. 1 QBs, and Pittsburgh's Dennis Dixon -- who is still subbing for the suspended Roethlisberger -- left the game in the second quarter with a sprained left knee.
Even the in-game relief pitchers didn't fare so well. Kerry Collins couldn't rally the Titans against the Steelers after taking over for Vince Young, and rookie Jimmy Clausen threw a late pick in Carolina's home-opening 20-7 loss to Tampa Bay after the Panthers benched the ineffective Matt Moore.
• Here's a surprising thought: Is it possible that Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay's 2009 first-round pick, is already further along in his development than either one of the higher-drafted first-round '09 quarterbacks, Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez? I know this: Freeman is the only one to open his second season with a 2-0 record. Freeman totaled 225 yards (43 rushing) and threw a pair of TDs in the Bucs' win at Carolina.
• Can we just give second-year Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews the NFL defensive player of the year award now and be done with it? Matthews had his second three-sack performance of the season in Green Bay's rout of Buffalo, putting him on pace for 48 sacks. (I did the math).