PHILADELPHIA — Musings, observations and the occasional insight from Week 2, and an eventful NFC East showdown between the Cowboys and Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field....
• I’m not sure there was a winning locker room to visit here Sunday night. Dallas and Philadelphia both suffered their losses, they were just different in nature and significance. The Cowboys won this rather unsightly game, 20–10, but did they simultaneously lose their season when starting quarterback Tony Romo broke his left collarbone with almost 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter?
The good news is that somebody has to win the NFC East, and 2–0 Dallas has every right to ask why not us, even if Romo misses an estimated two months and in the best case scenario can only come back for the season’s stretch drive. After all, the Cowboys already own two division wins, and they’re not exactly competing with the Lombardi-era Packers in the East.
The Giants are 0–2 and have self-destructed in two straight weeks, showing real expertise in the knack for beating themselves. Washington defeated visiting St. Louis 24–10 on Sunday to climb to 1–1, but they lost at home to Miami last week and inspire little confidence as a championship contender. And then there’s Philadelphia, the consensus preseason favorite in the division. Who knows what the 0–2 Eagles are so far, other than a disaster in the making? Watching their offensive execution against Dallas prompted FOX’s color analyst Troy Aikman to remark: “That’s about as poor a performance as I’ve seen in this league.” And he might have been understating things.
So the Cowboys with Brandon Weeden at starting quarterback don’t really need to be great. They probably just need to be competent to win this year’s NFC East, and that may not be a level that’s out of reach. Especially if the Cowboys defense puts on many displays like the one they produced at Philly, limiting the Eagles to 226 yards of total offense, including just seven on the ground (That is not a typo!).
“I think Brandon’s got a lot going for him,” Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said in the locker room. “Obviously he’s not going to win games the same way Tony’s going to win games. But I’ve got a lot of confidence in [offensive coordinator] Scott [Linehan] and the offensive style. We’ve still got a lot of football players as you saw tonight.”
Still, the Cowboys were reeling a bit in the post-game from the loss of Romo, a week after No. 1 receiver Dez Bryant broke a bone in his foot that may cost him two months or more this season. And tight end Jason Witten hurt both ankles and a knee against the Eagles, head coach Jason Garrett said, but kept returning to the game. Those type of body blows would doom most teams, but Dallas has grown some resilience in the past two years, and now it’s going to have to draw on that like never before.
But Sunday was a rough one, and as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones so eloquently put it, the news of Romo’s injury hit him hard: “(I was) just about as low as crippled cricket’s a--.”
The mood among the Cowboys didn’t feel like a win.
“Sure, of course,” said Stephen Jones, when asked if Romo’s injury wiped out some of the thrill of victory. “To be honest with you, sure it does. But beating the Eagles is a big deal. We’ve got a team that everybody has a lot of confidence in around here. But when you lose your starting quarterback for an extended period of time, it’s like ‘What’s going on?’ ”
That could be the mantra of the entire NFC East so far this season. Through the first two weeks, nobody’s looking remotely like they’re built to go the distance. But in Dallas, the gloom at least has a silver lining.
• Not so in Philadelphia, however, where the forecast calls for unrelenting gloom. No one even knows what to think of the Eagles after this game, because it has become apparent that Chip Kelly’s team can’t even manage to run Chip Kelly’s offense. And that’s kind of a crucial detail on the road to success.
The Eagles ran 16 plays in the entire first half and gained 21 whole yards on them. DeMarco Murray through two games has to be considered one of the greatest free-agent busts of all time, at least in terms of rushing impact. Murray has run for a mind-boggling 11 yards on 21 carries this season, and against Dallas, he gained just two yards on 13 attempts. That’s not quite as bad as if you took a knee every rush, but it’s darn close.
The state-of-the-art offense that everyone was braced for in Philadelphia this year is now officially in a state of disgrace. Dallas committed 18 penalties against the Eagles, which should have really helped Philly’s case. But any benefit was wiped out by an onslaught of anemic play. Quarterback Sam Bradford threw two interceptions and fumbled a shotgun snap that he wasn’t expecting, and the game’s first touchdown came courtesy of a blocked Eagles punt that was returned for a Dallas score.
It might still be early this season, but it’s not too early to panic in Philadelphia. If this isn’t rock bottom for the Eagles, it’s hard to imagine what the next rung down might look like.
• The Bills always seem to talk a good game when they’re preparing to play the big, bad Patriots. But they rarely back up all that chatter with a win. And it happened again Sunday, with visiting New England thumping the Bills 40–32 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, letting a good bit of air out of Buffalo’s balloon in the process.
Word of advice to Rex Ryan and Co.: Try beating the Patriots one time, then talk all you want. Otherwise all the noise that came out of Buffalo last week is rendered wasted energy. The Bills are now 3–27 in their past 30 meetings with New England, and that’s nothing to brag about at any point.
Ryan loves to say his team accepts the challenge of slaying the division giant, but he’s just 4–10 in his coaching career against New England, so accepting the challenge and conquering it are two very different things. The Patriots are simply still better than the Bills, and Buffalo didn’t play with any sense of composure in this big-game setting, committing a whopping 14 penalties for 140 yards and giving up eight sacks of quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
How good was New England quarterback Tom Brady against the team that lobbed salvos toward Foxboro all week? He threw for three touchdowns and 466 yards, the second highest total of his career and the most ever against a Bills defense. Brady through two games has looked as if he had the most relaxing, stress-free off-season of his career.
Buffalo rallied furiously in the fourth quarter, cutting a 37–13 Patriots lead to just five points, but who really cares? There are no moral victories or medals for getting close. The Bills have gotten close to beating New England many times before in the past 15 years, but they usually come up short in the end. Until that trend finally gets turned around, Buffalo should have precious little to say about the Patriots.
• Most of the coverage will center on Baltimore dropping to 0–2 for the first time since 2005, but don’t overlook how much Oakland’s 37–33 upset of the visiting Ravens could mean for the development of second-year Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. It was Carr’s first signature win of his career, and he accomplished it by leading Oakland on an 80-yard drive in the final minutes, capping it with a 12-yard pass to Seth Roberts with 26 seconds to play. Carr was a cool 7 of 9 for 65 yards on the winning march, and Oakland had four drives of at least 80 yards in the game, scoring on seven of its 10 possessions.
Carr’s career-high 351 yards and three touchdowns gives the Raiders great hope for the rest of season and wipes away the stench of Oakland’s dreadful home loss to Cincinnati last week, a game in which Carr left with an injured throwing hand in the second quarter.
• Go figure when it comes to the Ravens. They looked tremendous on defense last week in losing narrowly to Peyton Manning and Co. at Denver, then got embarrassed against Carr and Oakland. The Raiders’ quarterback was sacked just once, and he consistently found holes in the Baltimore defense in getting the ball to receivers Amari Cooper (seven catches for 109 yards) and Michael Crabtree (nine for 111).
Sunday’s letdown on defense couldn’t all be the result of playing without the injured Terrell Suggs for the first time this season, could it? If so, Baltimore’s in for a very long year.
• Another brutal week of doubts, criticism and second-guessing is on tap for the Giants, who just became the first team in NFL history to start 0–2 by blowing double-digit fourth-quarter leads in each game. And it’s all well deserved. New York didn’t self-destruct to the degree of last week’s debacle in Dallas, but Tom Coughlin’s club was up 20–10 at home in the fourth quarter and found some befuddling ways to lose once again, logging a third consecutive 0–2 start to the season.
Eli Manning getting strip-sacked by the Falcons’ Kroy Biermann inside Atlanta’s 10-yard line late in the third quarter was the play that gave Atlanta life, and later a costly delay of game penalty furthered the Giants' woes. And while we’re at it, cornerback Prince Amukamara allowing Julio Jones to get well behind him on the 37-yard bomb that set up the Falcons’ winning points isn’t going to be lived down any time soon in G-Men-ville.
New York wasted a superb day by receiver Odell Beckham Jr., whose seven-catch, 146-yard game included a pretty 67-yard scoring bomb. The Giants have been a sloppy team for a while now, but at the moment they’re a last-place team as well, holding down fourth place in the NFC East. And I’ll say this again: While Coughlin remains one of the league’s better coaches, it’s been a good long while since he did quality work in New York, losing 28 of the 50 games since New York's Super Bowl XLVI title. His 2015 Giants give every early indication of being mediocre once again.
• By comparison, I’m starting to think Atlanta might emerge as the team to beat this season in the mild NFC South. It’s premature to dub the Falcons the NFL’s turnaround team this year, but Atlanta has now won twice on the strength of plucky fourth-quarter comebacks, and those kind of wins sow rapid belief in the message that a new head coach like Dan Quinn is selling. After winning Monday night at home against the Eagles, the Falcons went on the road on a short week and still looked fresh and energetic in the fourth quarter, out-scoring New York 14–0 in the final 15 minutes.
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones aren’t unstoppable as a quarterback-receiving tandem, but it’s close. Jones isn’t resting on his laurels now that he's earned his big new contract. He torched the Giants for a career-best 13 catches for 135 yards, doing most of the damage in Ryan’s gaudy 363-yard performance on 30 of 46 passing.
I get the feeling the Falcons are starting to like this little NFC East run they’re on. The Eagles and Giants have been vanquished, and up next is a trip to Dallas, the division’s defending champion. If Atlanta can make it 3–0, Quinn will be your leader in the clubhouse for NFC Coach of the Year honors.
• Now that was the 49ers team I expected to see Monday night against Minnesota. San Francisco looked flat and uninspired at Pittsburgh, losing by 25 points and getting dismantled defensively by the explosive Steelers. It’s always hard to make the long trip to the East Coast after playing late Monday night, so we cut the 49ers some slack for that particular challenge. But Jim Tomsula’s team didn’t show up, and the game was over by halftime, with Pittsburgh up 29–3.
The Steelers did almost anything they wanted to do against a San Francisco defense that gave up just three points to the Vikings Monday night. Pittsburgh had the ball for just 23 minutes and still rolled up 453 yards on offense, with Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 369 yards and three touchdowns.
• Which Week 1 perceptions were reversed? Plenty. Marcus Mariota won’t be perfect after all this season. The Bucs aren’t hapless, and neither is rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. The Rams still aren’t ready to step up in weight class. Upon further review, the Browns might have enough playmakers to get the job done, and the makings of a decent running game. The 49ers aren’t a defensive juggernaut, and neither are the Bills. Oh, and as for Peyton Manning being done? Maybe he’s got just enough arm left to threaten a defense, providing Broncos coach Gary Kubiak lets him sit back there in the shotgun formation and pick a defense apart.
• Well, that was exciting in Cleveland. Not that I think they’ll do it, but the Browns should definitely stick with Johnny Manziel at quarterback, even once veteran Josh McCown is cleared through the league’s concussion protocol. Manziel was far from crisp for a good bit of the Browns’ 28–14 home-opening win over Tennessee, but you can’t argue with the win and his ability to make something happen, twice hitting Travis Benjamin on long scoring bombs of 60 and 50 yards.
After investing a 2014 first-round pick in him, Cleveland needs to find out one way or another what it has in Manziel, and sending him back to the bench once McCown is healthy only delays that discovery once again. Manziel completed only eight of his 15 passes on Sunday, but they had serious impact, going for 172 yards and those two scores. He helped the Browns build a 14–0 first-quarter lead against Tennessee, and when Cleveland needed to slam the door on a Titans comeback bid, he stepped up again, applying the dagger with his second touchdown to Benjamin. The Browns’ 21–0 halftime lead was their largest since 1994, the franchise’s pre-expansion era. Manziel also took care of the football better than last week’s three second-half turnovers against the Jets. He had two fumbles Sunday but didn’t lose either one and committed zero turnovers.
The Browns aren’t doing Manziel any favors if they stunt his development with another stint as the backup QB. If nothing else, he and Benjamin give Cleveland a legitimate home-run combo, with three touchdowns of at least 50 yards in the first two games of the season. Throw in Benjamin’s 78-yard punt return touchdown just before the half, and the Browns receiver has to register as the biggest fantasy football surprise of the young season.
• I’m sure someone must have told Marcus Mariota that there’d be days like this in the NFL. He was absolutely battered by the Browns' defense in that 28–14 loss, taking seven sacks and fumbling three times (two lost). Whereas Mariota was calm, cool and collected at all times and saw the field superbly last week in Tampa, he was often under duress against Cleveland and looked confused and uncertain at some points.
He did hang in there though, finishing 21 of 37 for 252 yards and two touchdowns, making the Browns sweat things out in the fourth quarter. So in his first two weeks, Mariota has lived a good bit of a starting quarterback’s NFL experience: both the highs and the lows. Chances are he’ll have more days that go like Week 1 than Week 2. But most times the reality is somewhere in the middle.
• That was a quintessential example of why you can’t trust the Rams. They can knock off a deep and talented team like Seattle one week and lose to a bottom-feeder like Washington the next. What a maddening team to try and figure out. Instead of moving to 2–0 for the first time since 2001, St. Louis lost 24–10 at FedEx Field and just killed the momentum it generated with last week’s upset of the Seahawks.
Every time I think Jeff Fisher’s team is finally turning a corner, it walks face-first into a wall. I’m betting we see rookie running back Todd Gurley activated and in the lineup next week for the Rams at home against Pittsburgh, after that egg-laying on offense in Washington.
• Well done, Kirk Cousins. Well done. Cousins was an hyper-accurate 23 of 27 for 203 yards without a turnover, and he did it against the same Rams defense that made Russell Wilson look frazzled last week. Cousins didn’t cost Washington that boatload of draft picks that Robert Griffin III did in the trade with the Rams in 2012, but he struck a small blow of revenge against St. Louis on this day.
• Raise your hand if you had the 0–2 Saints in sole possession of last place in the NFC South after two weeks. I didn’t. I picked them to win the division, but that’s already looking like another misjudgment on my behalf when it comes to New Orleans’s potential. Tampa Bay came into the Superdome and beat the Saints 26–19, and that makes it six consecutive home losses for New Orleans, in a building that used to be one of the NFL’s toughest visitor venues.
Sean Payton was the coach who delivered a Super Bowl win to success-starved Saints fans, but how long until the heat starts to get turned up on even him and quarterback Drew Brees in New Orleans? The Saints are just 7–11 since the start of the 2014 season, and currently looks quite lost on both sides of the ball. New Orleans had three turnovers against the Bucs, missed a field goal and an extra point, and failed to score on a late desperation drive that reached the Tampa Bay 27.
• But it was a heck of a nice rebound for Bucs rookie Jameis Winston, who showed that he can shake off a colossal failure like last week’s loss to Tennessee and re-focus on the next game on the schedule. Winston played in control all day and made some big plays, throwing a pretty 15-yard scoring pass to Vincent Jackson, running for a one-yard score and finding Louis Murphy deep for a 54-yard bomb that loosened up the Saints' defense.
Known for his penchant for big comebacks at Florida State, Winston just showed us he knows how to rally from one week to the next in the NFL.
• Things I liked in Week 2:
— That nifty 31-yard reception by Bengals rookie offensive lineman Jake Fisher, on a tackle-eligible play. I guess everybody who went to Oregon can be an offensive playmaker. And who said the Bengals weren’t going to get anything out of their second-round pick in 2015?
— Steelers coach Mike Tomlin aggressively going for two after their first two touchdowns of the game, building a 16–0 first-half lead against the 49ers in the process. Antonio Brown and Heath Miller caught the two-point passes from Ben Roethlisberger. On Pittsburgh’s third touchdown, they sent in kicker Josh Scobee for the PAT, and he promptly missed, just as he did on two field goal attempts in Week 1. No wonder the Steelers are opting to go for two.
— Arizona rookie third-round running back David Johnson’s big day in Chicago. He returned the opening kickoff 108 yards—tying the second-longest return in league history—and added a 13-yard rushing touchdown in Arizona’s 48–23 rout of the Bears.
— The pinch-hitting work turned in by Pittsburgh running back DeAngelo Williams, who has subbed for the suspended Le’Veon Bell the past two games. I’m not making any Wally Pipp jokes because Bell is an elite talent, but Williams is not playing like anybody’s backup so far. He rushed for 127 yards last week in a loss at New England and scored three short touchdowns on Sunday in the Steelers’ blowout of San Francisco.
— The boost that rookie third-round pick Matt Jones has given the Washington offense. Jones gouged the Rams' talented defense for 123 yards on 19 carries, scoring touchdowns on runs of 39 and three yards. He also had 23 receiving yards. The way Jones is producing, the proven Alfred Morris seems like an afterthought in Washington.
• Things I didn’t like in Week 2
— Rams receiver Kenny Britt drawing a taunting penalty on a second-half touchdown catch, even though St. Louis still trailed 17–10 after Britt scored. If you have to taunt, Kenny, try having the lead next time.
— Titans running back Terrance West fumbling in the first quarter at Cleveland, after the Browns gave up on him earlier this summer. That’s not how the whole revenge dynamic is supposed to work, Terrance.
— The butter-fingered display of hands by Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who couldn’t corral a gift of an interception being offered by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in Atlanta’s road upset of New York. Ryan’s not going to give you many of those, so you’ve got to catch them.
— Ryan Mallett’s 11 of 29 first-half passing performance in Houston’s loss at Carolina. As ugly as those numbers are, maybe the biggest surprise was the Texans’ decision to throw almost 30 times in the first half. You have a quarterback making his first start of the season on the road, and you make him shoulder almost the entire offensive load?
— The ankle injury suffered by Giants offensive left tackle Ereck Flowers, who was off to a good start in his rookie season. Instability on the offensive line has been a major problem for New York in recent years, and the troublesome health issues could be about to make their return.