Take A Breath Tuesday: Why it's smart to reserve judgment in NFL

Publish date:

After my flight to Milwaukee, then came a 90-minute drive home to Madison, during which I listened to a series of radio talking heads lament the Packers' Lambeau Field meltdown against the lowly Bengals. At 1-1, Green Bay clearly looks like a pretender that made the mistake of peaking in August. And about all those injuries....

To varying degrees, the same basic blood-letting exercise was no doubt unfolding in the other 13 NFL cities that experienced defeat on Sunday. To wit:

-- In Pittsburgh, they were reeling from the defending champion Steelers' first loss since Week 16 of last season, a bitter fourth-quarter collapse in rainy Chicago.

-- Patriots Nation was in shock at the thought that the 2007 version of Tom Brady might be gone forever, and the indignity of losing to Rex Ryan and his yappy Jets was almost too much to bear.

-- Titans fans were up in arms over a home-field loss to Houston, worried sick about the defense, and amazed their team could be 0-2 with all that talent. Ditto for the 1-1 Chargers and their annual tease when it comes to Super Bowl expectations, and I could almost hear the grumbling about the Eagles defensive shortcomings against the Saints all the way to the upper Midwest.

Starting to get the picture? If Week 2 taught us anything it's that a loss, just one loss, changes everything in the NFL.* Overnight. Instantly even. Being .500 might look like a glass half-empty, half-full scenario, but that's only if your loss came in Week 1, and you won this weekend. Last week, you see, the sky was falling in Arizona, Chicago, Houston, Cincinnati and Buffalo. But one win later, the horizon has stabilized and things look considerably brighter there.

*My dream actually is that some year everybody in the NFL starts their season 1-1, with all the teams that won in Week 1 losing in Week 2, putting 32 clubs in exactly the same spot through two weeks. Then you could make the case that the whole season starts over at that point. We could even call it Kickoff Weekend II if you'd like.

But half the league being happy and half the league being miserable is what happens each and every week of the NFL's regular season. A win tends to disguise every flaw or potential problem, putting a band-aid, of sorts, on it, and a loss exposes every weakness and potential calamity. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground in the bipolar NFL these days. It's either way high, or way low, with no in between.

Can we possibly get past those Morose Mondays and see them give way to Take A Breath Tuesdays? I know what you're thinking: For a guy whose featured column is called Snap Judgments, written within minutes of games ending Sunday, it's the height of irony for me to be asking anyone to reserve judgment for longer than the opening two weeks of this football season. But I am. And here's why:

Absolutely nothing stays the same for long in the NFL. Believing that either the best-case scenario or worst-case scenario will come true is only going to make you look bad 98 percent of the time. What you think you know now, you won't know later. Count on it. It happens every season. More than we even keep track of.

Look at the Cardinals of last December, and then again in January. Look at the 2008 Jets at 8-3, coming off huge wins at New England and Tennessee in mid-to-late November. Look at the 10-0 Titans of a year ago, and the Dolphins going from 0-2 to 11-5, and the Chargers dead in the water (not really) at 4-8. Wasn't Donovan McNabb benched and the end of an era at hand for the 5-5-1 Eagles at one point last season? Weren't Tampa Bay and Denver shoo-ins for the playoffs into December, and didn't Jon Gruden and Mike Shanahan being on hand mean they couldn't possibly miss the postseason?

So to reiterate, it's only two weeks, folks. We have miles and miles to go. Practice a little patience. In New England, remind yourself that the Patriots were playing on the road against a tough division opponent in a short week of work. That's always a tall task. And Wes Welker could have really helped Brady combat the Jets' blitzing.

In Pittsburgh, try to remember that no one seems to kick well in Soldier Field but Robbie Gould, and that Jeff Reed has won you a lot of games over the years. Dallas fans should be encouraged by the Cowboys running game and run defense against the Giants, and believe that Romo's Week 1 version will show up far more than his Week 2 version.

The Packers offensive line can't possibly give up 80 sacks this season, so something has to improve on that front, and the Titans' schedule eases up considerably if they can somehow hang in there through their opening six games. Oh, and as for San Diego, the Chargers will be there in the end in the mild, mild AFC West. You know it, I know it, and I suspect even Josh McDaniels, Tom Cable and Todd Haley know it.

So let's just all wait and see what happens. Besides, there's still plenty of time to panic, if necessary. Starting the Monday after Week 3.

• You kind of saw the whole case against Chad Pennington as your starting quarterback on display Monday night in Miami. He can keep the chains moving and roll up a heck of a completion percentage, but he can't really stretch the field when necessary or play well from behind. And that was without question one of the worst two-minute drills in the history of the NFL that the Dolphins butchered. No sense of urgency. No sense of timing.

I like Pennington. But the Dolphins are coming up against the same realization that the Jets did. Pennington can only take you so far.

Chad Henne, anyone?

• Watching Eli Manning rally the Giants Sunday night in Dallas, and PeytonManning rally the Colts Monday night in Miami, you start to realize these Manning boys might just make something of themselves in this league.

• I'm going out on a short limb here and predicting this is the week the Lions finally win. I say the 19-game losing streak ends Sunday, when Detroit is home against Washington. Obviously the Redskins are offensively challenged and defensively strong. But I just get the feeling the Lions are about to get a breakout type game on offense from the likes of quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiver Calvin Johnson, tight end Brandon Pettigrew and running back Kevin Smith.

A win and the Lions will avoid claiming sole possession of the league's second longest losing streak in history, at 20 games. Get the champagne on ice, Detroit.

• Some quick hits:

-- There's nothing better in the NFL at this point than to be 2-0 with a pair of wins in your division. That's the fate of only two teams this season: the Giants and the 49ers. If you're having trouble keeping that straight, just remember "San Francisco Giants.'' The 49ers at Vikings is somehow Week 3's only matchup of unbeatens.

-- Denver's better-than-expected 3-4 defense has allowed a mere 13 points in the first two games. But alas, the Ohio portion of the Broncos schedule is over. Denver doesn't get to play either Cincinnati or Cleveland any more.

-- Curb your enthusiasm, Vikings fans. Minnesota has beaten Cleveland and Detroit, who are fresh off a combined 4-28 record in 2008.

-- Those uncontested local TV blackouts in Jacksonville might be the best thing the Jaguars franchise could do for its fan base this season. It might win the Jags some goodwill in 2010.

-- Please don't ask me for help with your suicide pools. And sorry to the soul I told to take Tennessee over Houston last week. You know who you are.

-- If you're not keeping track, Philadelphia and Kansas City are the only two teams to have started different quarterbacks in the first two weeks. But Seattle will likely join the multiple-starting-QB club this week, and Carolina played three quarterbacks in Week 1 after benching Jake Delhomme in the third quarter against the Eagles.

-- After shutting down Andre Johnson and Randy Moss in his first two games, what's left for Jets third-year cornerback Darrelle Revis to prove?

-- Pretty good move, so far, having Bears head coach Lovie Smith make Lovie Smith the Bears defensive play-caller.

-- At some point in the past two years or so, I believe I've written that Tony Gonzalez had lost a step and Ray Lewis was a shell of his old self. Nice analysis there. Next thing, I'll tell you that Brett Favre needs to retire.

-- Between Fred Jackson, Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson and Steven Jackson all having big games in Week 2, we were having an Action Jackson weekend and didn't really know it.

-- Matt Forte has been kind of MIA the first two weeks, and by that I don't mean Miami.

-- Is this the way it's going to be every week with the Jets, in trouble with the league about something or another? From Favre injury reports to tampering charges regarding Brandon Marshall and Michael Crabtree, I'm starting to detect a pattern.

-- That was a pretty good Troy Polamalu impersonation that Steelers safety Tyrone Carter pulled off Sunday in Chicago. And if you don't believe us, ask Bears tight end Greg Olsen.

-- I thought Darren Sharper would help the Saints defense. But honestly, not this much. How on earth does he still have the wheels to go 97 yards on anybody?

-- Even when I close my eyes at night, I still see those 60-yard Cowboys video boards. It'll stop at some point, I presume.