Is Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski the best combo in the NFL, or is it Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown? Answering that question and more superlatives from Week 2 of the NFL season.
There are a few weeks in every NFL season that get totally off track and never recover. Week 2 was the first instance of such a week in the 2015 season. The Buccaneers went into New Orleans as 10-point underdogs and were in complete control from start to finish in their win over the Saints. Oakland, Jacksonville and Washington knocked off Baltimore, Miami and St. Louis, respectively, as home underdogs. Johnny Manziel looked like one of the most dangerous deep passers in the league. Jeremy Hill fumbled twice and was benched for Giovani Bernard. DeMarco Murray had negative rushing yards until late in the fourth quarter. Like I said, it was a weird Sunday. Let’s get to some of the most noteworthy performances in the Week 2 Sunday Superlatives.
The best connection in the league
Week 2 eventually went off the rails, but it started in a very familiar way. Namely, with Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski making secondaries look helpless. Brown torched the 49ers for nine catches, 195 yards and one touchdown. He entered the week with a 33-game streak with at least five catches and 50 yards. He extended that by the midpoint of the second quarter. Up in Buffalo, Gronkowski did his thing, hauling in seven passes for 113 yards and a score of his own. He’s riding an impressive streak of his own, hitting paydirt in eight straight games, including the Patriots' run to the Super Bowl last season. Brown now has 18 catches for 328 yards and two touchdowns this year, while Gronk is up to 12 receptions for 207 yards and four end zone trips. Brown’s currently on pace for 2,624 yards and 16 touchdowns. Gronk is on pace for a measly 1,656 yards, but 32 touchdowns. They’ll both probably slow down, but it’s always fun to play around with on-pace stats early in the season. Brown and Gronk are unquestionably the best players at their respective positions. The question for us, however, is which connection—Ben Roethlisberger to Brown or Tom Brady to Gronkowski—is more potent?
With all due respect to Brady and Gronk, this one has to go to Roethlisberger and Brown. The weekly consistency combined with the high ceiling makes the Pittsburgh combo the best in the league. Gronk may be more dangerous in the red zone, but Brown is instant offense on every part of the field. Case in point? On a third-and-six from the Pittsburgh 39-yard line, Roethlisberger found Brown for a 59-yard gain that set up a 2-yard touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams. On the team’s final drive of the game, they got together on a 56-yard play, before connecting for a 7-yard touchdown two plays later. Defenses essentially have no hope of stopping Brown. All they can do is hope to keep him somewhat in check. Most will fail at that, too.
The most concerning offense
There is significant cause for alarm in Dallas, Philadelphia and New Orleans. The Cowboys make this list by no fault of their own, but rather because they’ve been the most unlucky team with respect to injuries this season. After losing Dez Bryant for a reported 10 to 12 weeks because of a broken bone in his foot suffered last week, the Cowboys now will face life without Tony Romo for the foreseeable future. Romo fractured his clavicle and is likely facing an eight-to-10 week timetable before he can return to the field. Two weeks ago, Romo and Bryant could have been included in the first superlative of the week. Now, the Cowboys could be without both of them through Thanksgiving. Brandon Weeden and Terrance Williams are not Romo and Bryant.
Despite losing Romo, the Cowboys still managed to beat the Eagles, who are trying to figure out where things have gone wrong. In two games with Philadelphia, DeMarco Murray has 11 yards on 21 carries. That would seem impossible if we hadn’t all watched it happen. Dallas’ front four consistently blew up Philadelphia’s offensive line on Sunday, repeatedly getting to Murray before he could get started. Meanwhile, Sam Bradford looked terrible against the Cowboys, going 23-of-37 for 224 yards, 6.1 yards per attempt, one (meaningless) touchdown and two interceptions. Bradford missed a number of open receivers on Sunday on throws that he quite simply has to make. This is supposed to be an explosive offense, regardless of the parts that comprise it. It’s not supposed to be one that scores just 10 points against a decent, but certainly not great, defense like Dallas’. After two weeks, the only Eagle the fantasy community can feel as good about now as it did before the season is Jordan Matthews. This team is having real trouble running the ball, and Bradford’s performance has been uneven. They can quickly turn it around, but their next two games come against the Jets and Washington, a pair of defenses that have looked pretty good this year.
Finally, the Saints suffered the most surprising upset in Week 2, losing at home to a Buccaneers’ squad that was trounced by the Titans in Week 1. Drew Brees had just 255 yards and 6.7 YPA against a defense that got carved up by Marcus Mariota in his first career game. The lack of a go-to receiver New Orleans is apparent when you watch this offense. Brandin Cooks has failed to step up, catching a total of nine passes for 111 yards this year. Just one Saint has more than 70 receiving yards in a game this year, and that was thanks to Mark Ingram breaking a screen into a 59-yard play. This team could be even worse than it was last year, and this time the offense may be equally as culpable as the defense.
The best encore performance, non-Antonio Brown or Rob Gronkowski Division
A lot of Week 1’s stars came up short in Week 2. Carlos Hyde, Matt Forte, DeAndre Hopkins and Travis Kelce didn’t quite give their owners this week what they did a week ago. One player who has delivered both weeks, however, is Andy Dalton. The much-maligned Bengals quarterback had just 214 yards on Sunday, but he racked up 8.2 YPA and three touchdowns in the win over the Chargers. Dalton took advantage of all of his weapons, hooking up with three different pass-catchers—A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert—for his three scores. Jeremy Hill suffered a minor injury, but really went to the bench because of a pair of fumbles that nearly cost the Bengals. The team turned to Giovani Bernard, who ran for 123 yards on 20 carries, but it was Dalton and the passing game that did most of the damage. We’ve been beating the drum for Dalton pretty loudly here on SI.com. Chances are people will start to catch on after this week’s performance.
The best fantasy cameo
We knew that DeAngelo Williams was going to get a pair of starts before giving way to Le’Veon Bell. We knew that he’d have a high-leverage role in a very good offense. What we didn’t know was how much he would do with his opportunity. Williams looked great against the Patriots in Week 1, running for 127 yards on 21 carries. Some of his greedier owners may have been upset that he didn’t get in the end zone last week, but he made up for that against the 49ers on Sunday. While he got just 77 yards on 20 carries, three of those totes ended with Williams breaking the goal line for six points. In the first two games of the year, Williams totaled 38.9 points in standard-scoring leagues. In short, he was worth every penny the Steelers spent to get him.
Spinning that forward, opposing defenses have to be shuddering at the fact that this offense is getting Bell back next week. As well as Williams played, he’s nowhere near the player Bell is. This offense already showed what it is capable of in its trouncing of the 49ers on Sunday. Bell might be its best player, and that’s saying something given the presence of Brown and Roethlisberger. They may have to deal with the Rams next week, but that’s not too big of a concern. Bell, Brown and Roethlisberger will all rank as top-five players at their positions for the week.
The best notice served
Washington needed all of one minute and 18 seconds to get in the end zone on its second possession of its win over St. Louis on Sunday. Alfred Morris started that drive with a 35-yard run, looking like he could be on his way to another big game after last week’s sizzling start. Two plays later, however, the real star of the game emerged.
Matt Jones took a handoff from Kirk Cousins, got through a big hole created by center Kory Lichtensteiger, made one cut to break to the outside, and scampered 39 yards for the first touchdown of his career. The rookie out of Florida played a huge role in Washington’s win, running the ball 19 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns. He had another 25-yard run, showing the explosiveness that makes him so much more intriguing than Alfred Morris. Jones did lose a fumble, but he was right back on the field on Washington’s next possession More importantly, he got opportunities to make plays in the red zone, getting six carries inside the Rams’s 20-yard line. He turned one of those into a 3-yard touchdown run, and was simply more effective than Morris in short yardage.
Game flow played a part in Jones’s big day. Washington had a 10-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, and never trailed in the game. It held a two-score lead for the balance of the game, allowing the offense to focus on the run for most of the second half. Jones and Morris combined for 37 carries, and that’s not going to happen every week. However, it was plain to see who was the better running back. Not only did Jones break two long runs and convert at the goal line, he notched 6.5 yards per carry compared with Morris’s 3.3. Jones just carved himself out a significant role in the offense sooner than expected.