Tuesday August 23rd, 2011

Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we run down the winners and losers in Week 2 of the NFL's preseason. The games don't count, but the perceptions sure do ....

• Loser -- The Giants secondary suffered another significant loss against the Bears, and this one borders on devastating. Starting cornerback Terrell Thomas, the team's leading tackler in 2010, is gone for the year with a blown ACL, which makes it four New York corners hurt this month. Thomas wasn't a flashy player, but his leadership and steadiness will be tough to replace in a defensive backfield that is already thin from camp injuries to first-round pick Prince Amukamara (broken foot, out until mid-October) and key reserve Bruce Johnson (torn Achilles' tendon).

• Winner -- And we thought it was the Jets who had a little something they like to call the Ground and Pound running game. Lo and behold, it was the Giants who shredded the vaunted Chicago defense for 218 yards rushing on just 27 carries in Monday night's massacre in the Meadowlands, and a 8.1-yard average carry will certainly get the job done in most games. With rookie Da'Rel Scott breaking off a 97-yard scoring sprint, Brandon Jacobs running with authority again, and flashes from both Danny Ware and Ahmad Bradshaw, New York's signature rushing attack looks multi-faceted and fully functional once more.

• Loser -- The Cardinals' depth chart at running back seemed an embarrassment of riches a few short weeks ago. But then Arizona gave away Tim Hightower to Washington (a sixth-round pick and Vonnie Holliday came in return) and rookie Ryan Williams tore his patella tendon Friday night in a loss at Green Bay, forcing the second-rounder to the sideline for all of 2011. Now it's Beanie Wells and Alfonso Smith in a Cardinals backfield that desperately needs to take some offensive burden off new quarterback Kevin Kolb's shoulders, perhaps prompting Arizona to get back into the trade market in search of a veteran rusher.

• Winner -- As it turns out, Plaxico Burress is one of those rare guys who is very effective on 1,000 days rest. Returning to the field for the first time since November 2008, the Jets' newest receiver looked comfortable in green and white and quickly reprised his role as one of the game's more reliable red-zone weapons, catching a pretty 26-yard second-quarter touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez in New York's 27-7 beatdown of the Bengals. Burress totaled three catches for 66 yards and the touchdown, with the best news being that his ability to stretch the field clearly survived a 20-month stay in federal prison.

• Loser -- The NFL's losing battle to promote the superiority of its in-stadium game-day experience suffered a not insignificant public relations setback with the outbreak of fan violence at the Raiders-49ers preseason game on Saturday. To be clear, what happened at and around Candlestick Park has not become a common occurrence at NFL venues. But perceptions matter, and anything that prompts more fans into staying home and plopping down in front of their HD widescreens, rather than joining the crowd at their local stadiums, isn't helpful to the league's efforts to compete with its own wildly successful televised product. Back to football? Indeed. But back to the stadium? On second thought, perhaps not.

• Winner -- Speaking of the Bay Area, while Oakland isn't commonly viewed as a destination spot for young quarterbacks seeking to build an NFL career, I think Terrelle Pryor did quite well for himself going to the Silver and Black in Monday's supplemental draft. Being selected in the third round was at least a round or two higher than most scouting projections (Oakland not having a fourth-round pick to spend definitely helped his cause) and that means more money in his rookie deal. But Pryor's opportunity level is the primary concern, and who's been looking for their next franchise quarterback longer than the Raiders? (OK, maybe Miami. I'll give you that one). Given that Pryor nearly spent this season on the outside looking in at the NFL, there's plenty of there there, if you know what I mean, in Oakland for Pryor.

• Winner -- Quarterbacks who enter the league with a second- or third-round label don't get anywhere near the same level of respect we shower upon the celebrated first-rounders, but that doesn't seem to be holding back the likes of Colt McCoy, John Beck, Charlie Whitehurst or Ryan Mallett this preseason. Shoot, even the beleaguered Chad Henne won himself a little ground in Miami with a strong showing in a win over those Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers on Friday night. Alas, the first round isn't always the path to the first team.

• Loser -- Between Jonathan "Rocky Balboa'' Baldwin's locker room antics and Todd Haley's post-game irritations, there certainly is some sparring going on in Kansas City these days. By trading punches with well-respected teammate Thomas Jones, Baldwin just erased whatever repair work he had managed to do on his diva reputation since April's draft. Now the rookie receiver has to both heal his damaged hand and patch things up in the eyes of the Chiefs veterans.

But Haley, the combative third-year K.C. head coach, has a little work to do as well, because there's no such thing as running up the score in the preseason, and his unhappiness with the late-game strategy of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh doesn't play well. Nobody's feelings should get hurt in August, when it's all about figuring out your roster and practice making perfect.

• Winner -- As many presumed, continuity looks like a big X-factor so far this preseason. Teams that have it should have an edge in the Year of the Lockout. And we're thinking specifically in this case of the Patriots offense and the Steelers defense when we say that. Tom Brady and New England tore through Tampa Bay's defense on Thursday night, building a 28-0 halftime lead and appearing ready to open the regular season with a sense of urgency.

The Patriots ran for 129 yards in the first half, and Brady threw for 119 more, along with two touchdowns. The Steelers defense also seemed ahead of the game in Week 2, holding Philadelphia's "Dream Team'' Eagles to just 71 yards of offense in the first half, and forcing five Philly turnovers in a 24-14 win. The Steelers picked off Michael Vick three times in the first half, and later collected a Vince Young interception to round out the domination of their cross-state rivals.

• Loser -- This one goes to all the trusting souls out there who swallowed the entire hook, line and sinker in the Jim Irsay-goes-to-Hattiesburg story over the weekend. Really, Associated Press and whatever other media outlets gave this one any credence? The always entertaining and Twitter-happy Colts owner, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, tweets that he's in Mississippi looking for a certain retired 41-year-old quarterback and it's treated like a legitimate headline?

Are we that gullible and desperate for any shred of NFL "news,'' real or imagined? (I know. A rhetorical question. After all, Peyton Manning's starting streak is involved). When Irsay asked which way to turn at the Firechief, I think he knew some media members and probably more than a few Colts fans would turn themselves inside out in response. And he never even had to leave Indy to take anyone on that trip.

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