ATLANTA -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from Week 2 in the NFL, where long-suffering fans in Buffalo, Detroit and Washington are loving the football revivals that are underway in 2011 ...
• They've gone about it in two very distinct ways, against two AFC West opponents, but all that really matters is the Buffalo Bills are getting it done, and they're gaining believers week by week.
The Bills ran out to a big halftime lead last week in Kansas City, then cruised home for a 41-7 season-opening win. This time, the script was flipped, with visiting Oakland storming to a 21-3 advantage at the break, and Buffalo scoring 35 second-half points -- including the game-winning touchdown with 14 seconds to play -- to produce a thrilling 38-35 comeback victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium. How impressive was the comeback? It was the largest halftime deficit overcome by the Bills since 1993.
A 2-0 start might not be cause for celebration everywhere in the NFL, but in Buffalo, where they only won four games last season, why not pop a cork or two? It's early, but the Bills are suddenly relevant again, and be it at home or on the road, playing from ahead or behind, Buffalo is proving itself to be one of the most improved teams in the league.
"I think our fans believe in us, but there's always going to be people that don't believe,'' Bills lead receiver Stevie Johnson told me last week, coming off the rout of the Chiefs. "Even some people who wear Buffalo Bills logos on their shirt, they're probably a little wary. But we'll see a little bit later how good this team is going to be. Right now, we've got a pretty good solid backing from the Bills mafia out there, and we know we've got to make plays for them because they're paying their money to come out to see us. We've got to come up big for them.''
The Bills came up even bigger for their frustrated fans this week than last week, climbing out of that 18-point halftime hole in their home opener, and three times taking the lead in the fourth quarter over the impressive Raiders, who refused to wilt. Buffalo scored touchdowns on all five of its second-half drives, and the Bills and Raiders traded the lead five times in the game's final 14:10.
In improving to 2-0 for the first time since 2008, Buffalo got three more touchdown passes from the ridiculously unsung Ryan Fitzpatrick (seven TDs in two games), another 100-yard rushing game from running back Fred Jackson (117 yards on 15 carries, with two touchdowns) and an eight-catch, 96-yard, one-touchdown day from Johnson.
We know this much already in this young NFL season: Buffalo can score seemingly at will, is stocked with playmakers galore, and Chan Gailey's team knows how to both take a punch and deliver one of its own. The Bills' 79 points in two games lead the league entering Sunday night's contest, and no quarterback has thrown for more touchdowns than Fitzpatrick, who's tied for the league-lead with Matthew Stafford.
Buffalo's newest star on Sunday was second-year receiver David Nelson, who went undrafted out of Florida in 2010, but had himself a monster game with a career-best 10 catches for 83 yards, including the game-winning six-yard touchdown that capped a dramatic 14-play, 80-yard drive.
And Buffalo can do more than just throw the ball. The Bills outrushed the Raiders handily, finishing with 217 yards on just 25 carries, a whopping 8.7 average rush. Even lightly used running back C.J. Spiller, the team's 2010 first-round pick, contributed with 63 yards on just four carries. No wonder the buzz is going to continue to build for a team that hasn't reached the playoffs since 1999.
Stark reality may await the Bills next week with division power New England coming to Orchard Park to open the AFC East portion of Buffalo's schedule. But these Bills aren't going to be an easy touch for anyone this season, and last year's painful 0-8 start already seems like it was the hard work that helped plant the seeds of this year's success. Buffalo has that early surprise-team mojo going for it so far, and there's a little more reason to believe all the time.
• If this keeps up, I really don't know how Cam Newton could possibly top himself next week when Jacksonville visits Carolina. Other than, you know, actually win a game.
I thought there was a pretty good chance the Panthers' first-round pick could play quarterback in the NFL for the next 12 years and never throw for more than the 422 yards he produced in that season-opening loss at Arizona. But, shoot, that eye-popping total lasted all of a week. Newton chucked the ball for 432 yards in a 30-23 loss to visiting Green Bay on Sunday, and I'm starting to think he's picking up the nuances of the NFL's complicated passing game just fine, thank you.
With three interceptions and four sacks to go with his one touchdown pass, Newton obviously made some costly mistakes against the Packers, who once trailed 13-0 in the first half, but scored 30 of the game's final 40 points to improve to 2-0. But what is it again that some knowledgeable football talent evaluators thought he'd struggle with in terms of his passing?
There have been just six quarterbacks in league history to string together back-to-back 400-yard passing games, and Newton (28 of 46 against the Packers) is the first of those to do it in the opening two games of his career. You can accurately say Newton has lost two games thus far, but you can't say he has failed. His 854 yards passing is 216 more than any other QB threw for in the first two games of his career (the Raiders' Todd Marinovich is second with 638 in 1991-92).
• Despite Newton's boffo beginning, the Panthers really need their running game to re-emerge at some point. They can't put it all on Newton's shoulders. The running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for just 18 yards on 11 carries against Green Bay. Newton actually led his team in rushing as well, gaining 53 yards on 10 rushes, including a four-yard, last-minute touchdown run that made the final score sound closer than it really was.
That can't be the blueprint that rookie head coach Ron Rivera wants to follow this season in Carolina: All Cam, all the time. The Panthers could have used a ground game to lean on in the second half, when the Packers scored the bulk of their 23 unanswered points.
• Who knows, that might be all she wrote for the Luke McCown starting era in Jacksonville. If it's two weeks and out, it wouldn't shock anyone after McCown went to the Meadowlands and self-destructed against the Jets on Sunday. McCown threw four interceptions, and he finished 6 of 19 for 59 yards, with a passer rating of 1.8 (which is roughly 157 points shy of perfection in the NFL's system).
With Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio working squarely on the hot seat this season, can he really go much further with a quarterback who's capable of looking as bad as McCown did against the Jets? McCown completed just two more passes to his own teammates than he did the Jets. Del Rio might have tipped his hand regarding the immediate future late in the game, when he benched McCown in favor of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert with New York leading 32-3 in the fourth quarter. Gabbert had five completions in six attempts, for 52 yards.
Here's hoping we get a nice little matchup of first-round rookie quarterbacks next week at Carolina: Jacksonville's Gabbert getting his first career start against a guy he was measured against all throughout the pre-draft scouting season, Panthers' No. 1 overall pick Newton.
• Yep, that Steelers defense has an age issue all right. But funny how it only shows up when the Steelers play Baltimore.The one knee-jerk overreaction storyline from Week 1 that I heard entirely too much was the notion that Pittsburgh's defense might have gotten old overnight.
So old that Seattle didn't wind up running a play on Pittsburgh's side of the field until midway through the fourth quarter of the Steelers' 24-0 win. The Seahawks (0-2) look anemic on offense, totaling just 164 yards in suffering their first shutout since 2007.
• Break up those Lions. And while you're at it, let's put the Chiefs out of their misery. Detroit posted the largest margin of victory in franchise history Sunday at home against reeking Kansas City, and they've been playing with the pigskin for a while in Motown.
The 48-3 conquest of the Chiefs featured a 21-point fourth quarter by Detroit, including the dubious decision by the Lions to go for it on fourth-and-1 from Kansas City 1-yard line with 5:11 remaining and a 41-3 lead. That one couldn't have made Chiefs coach Todd Haley too happy.
The Lions did whatever they wanted on offense against Kansas City, with quarterback Matthew Stafford throwing four more touchdowns (he has seven in two games), two of them to Calvin Johnson. I'm starting to think it's a real shame that we've got to wait all the way until Thanksgiving for our first Packers-Lions matchup of the season, because with those two offenses, there's little doubt who the two best teams in the NFC North will be by season's end.
• I'm not sure I can recall a worse start to a season by a club coming off a division title than the one the 2011 Chiefs are suffering through. As it turns out, that 34-point humiliation at home against the Bills was nothing compared to the 45-point beatdown that Detroit administered. And if Kansas City loses lead running back Jamaal Charles to a season-ending knee injury, and reports say he tore his ACL against the Lions, rock bottom might have just been reached.
There are 14 games remaining this season, and it already feels like Kansas City has been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
• Another fourth-quarter comeback for Josh Freeman and the Bucs? So what else is new. Tampa Bay's third-year quarterback has led his team to a late comeback victory eight times already in his young career, and all told that's eight of his 14 career wins featuring Tampa Bay taking the lead either in the fourth quarter or overtime.
This one might stand alone given that the Bucs trailed 17-0 at the half, and had been largely dominated by Minnesota (284 yards to 62). But Tampa Bay outscored the Vikings 24-3 from the third quarter on, and it was the kind of win that just might wind up saving the Bucs' season. Remember, teams that have started 0-2 since the league went to the 12-team playoff format in 1990 have missed the postseason almost 88 percent of the time.
• Minnesota got more out of Donovan McNabb this week (18 of 30 for 220 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions), but that Vikings defense is suddenly a real problem for head coach Leslie Frazier, the team's former defensive coordinator.
The Vikings have blown sizable halftime leads two weeks in a row, losing their 17-7 advantage in the second half last week in San Diego, and that 17-0 lead against the Bucs. I'll be surprised if Minnesota is fortunate enough to get a double-digit lead next week at home against those 2-0 Lions.
• That's really all we needed to still see from the Colts, isn't it? A regular season home loss against an underdog team that wouldn't have been able to stay on the field with Indy's offense if Peyton Manning were at the controls.
Kerry Collins was at least serviceable in Indy's 27-19 loss to Cleveland, going 19 of 38 for 191 yards passing, with one touchdown, one interception and one lost fumble. But the number of teams that the Collins-led Colts would expect to beat this season could be counted on one hand. And that number is dwindling every week.
• The Bears just never seem to get their offensive line issues fixed for long, and quarterback Jay Cutler took another horrific pounding on Sunday in a 30-13 loss at New Orleans. Cutler was dropped six times, giving him 11 sacks in two games, a pace that computes to 88 sacks on the season.
But even worse than the sacks are the hits and knockdowns he suffers when the rush doesn't officially get to him for a loss. According to FOX, Cutler was either hit or knocked down 26 times, and he'll never survive the year taking that kind of beating. Cutler had that dazed "here we go again'' look in his eyes for much of Sunday's action.
• Though things didn't start out too well for the Redskins at home against Arizona, their 22-21 comeback win served to prove that last week's defeat of the visiting Giants wasn't just the first stop on Washington's annual rollercoaster ride.
Washington quarterback Rex Grossman was his helter-skelter self at times, with two touchdowns but two interceptions, yet he threw for 291 yards and led three fourth-quarter scoring drives. And the best news for Redskins fans was how well the team's running game performed. Tim Hightower (96 yards on 20 carries) and rookie Roy Helu (74 yards on 10 rushes) are a potent 1-2 threat.
Given the state of things with the Giants and Cowboys, Washington has every right to think it might be the most serious contender to Philadelphia's supremacy in the NFC East.
• Can you imagine the uproar and fallout if referee Mike Carey had to reverse the game-ending interception of that Raiders' Hail Mary pass that Bills cornerback Da'Norris Searcy made to seal Buffalo's win? The replay booth requested a review of the catch in traffic, and it reportedly took at least 10 minutes after the game ended to uphold the call, with the players having left the field and many fans already heading home. What a mess replay helped avert in this case.
• It's hard to know at the moment which Baltimore Ravens team is the real one: the club that hammered Pittsburgh last week at home, or the team that was fairly well dominated at Tennessee on Sunday? It's pretty clear that the Titans wanted it more, and Baltimore looked as if it never remotely reproduced the intensity level that was present last week against the Steelers.
There's no ducking it. The Ravens had months worth of motivation to get ready to play Pittsburgh. But John Harbaugh's team reverted to its inconsistent ways against the Titans, allowing Tennessee to score 16 of the game's final 19 points and break a 10-10 halftime tie.
• I'm still not sure how Ben Roethlisberger's right knee didn't come apart after that penalized low hit by Seattle defensive end Raheem Brock. At first glance, did anyone think Big Ben wasn't gone for the year, let alone that he'd stay in and play the rest of the game? The word "tough'' gets over-used in football, but not this time.