First Down/Fourth Down: Jordy Nelson's clutch performance lifts Green Bay Packers over New York Jets in Week 2.
Nine catches, a career-high 209 yards receiving and a game-winning touchdown. Your thoughts, Jordy Nelson?
You won't find anyone else nitpicking the performance. At the 10:38 mark of the second quarter, the Jets had more touchdowns (three) than Nelson had catches (two). Aaron Rodgers force-fed the ball to Nelson for the remainder of the game, sending a game-high 16 targets in the direction of his favorite receiver.
Nelson, as he almost always does, responded.
But it was not until Nelson smoked Dee Milliner on an 80-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that the Packers finally grabbed the lead for good. In his first home game since signing a four-year, $39 million extension, Nelson reminded the Packers fans -- as if they needed it -- exactly why the organization plans to keep him around indefinitely.
"Jordy spoils us," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He plays that way all the time. He practices the same way. He's just a clutch, clutch player."
Chicago's Brandon Marshall dominated Sunday night, Detroit has the incomparable Calvin Johnson and Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson appears to be an emerging star. Nelson is just as important to the Packers as any of those players are to their team, and there is little argument left against Nelson as a top-10 -- maybe even top-five -- receiver overall in the NFL.
Other highs and lows from the NFL's Week 2:
First Down: Buffalo rookies
We'll start with the obvious: Sammy Watkins. The Bills' talented rookie receiver caught eight passes for 117 yards on Sunday, accounting for 58 percent of Buffalo's passing offense -- the next most productive wide receiver was Robert Woods, with one catch for five yards. Watkins also scored his first career touchdown, which put the Bills up on Miami by 13 in the third quarter. He has become EJ Manuel's favorite target in short order and delivered on that responsibility.
Henderson quickly has become one of the draft's biggest surprises. There were questions in May about his desire to even continue a football career, but he's since claimed a starting job on the Bills' line. All he did Sunday was help hold Cameron Wake to one tackle and no sacks.
Brown, meanwhile, played all 81 defensive snaps for the Bills. With Kiko Alonso out for the year and Keith Rivers nursing a groin injury, Brown has been tossed into the fire. He led Buffalo with 13 tackles in Week 2.
"Right from the beginning when we were in there, for me when I first watched the film, my impression was that this reminds me of Kiko last year," Buffalo head coach Doug Marrone said of Brown. "Now I know that’s saying big, but when Preston first came out on the field he was doing that -- running around, making plays like Kiko was."
Fourth Down: Matt Cassel and Chad Henne
The situations here are not identical, but the conundrum is the same: When is the right time for a team to play its rookie quarterback?
The answer is Jacksonville is "two weeks ago." Henne, the incumbent starter, was altogether mediocre again Sunday in a humiliating 41-10 loss to Washington. He was not the lone culprit -- the Jaguars line allowed 10 sacks and may be one of the X-factors in the delay on Blake Bortles' debut -- but Henne has shown nothing to indicate he's a better option.
By contrast, Matt Cassel earned the Minnesota starting gig through a well-played preseason, then helped the Vikings roll past St. Louis in Week 1. He imploded in Week 2, however, with four interceptions (following a first drive that saw him go 4-of-4 for 75 yards and a touchdown). Cassel's outing left Minnesota fans chanting for Teddy Bridgewater. The wait won't be much longer.
First Down: DeMarco Murray
Having Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and a potentially lethal passing game is a nice luxury and all, but for the Cowboys to exceed expectations this season they need Murray to be their engine on offense. So far, so good.
Murray followed up a strong 118-yard Week 1 outing versus San Francisco by shredding Tennessee's defense Sunday to the tune of 167 yards rushing and a touchdown. As a result, the Cowboys managed to keep the ball for more than 41 minutes, sidelining the Tennessee offense (and the suspect Dallas defense).
Fourth Down: Pep Hamilton's play calling
So you want to establish the ground game, and maybe even somehow restore some confidence in Trent Richardson? Great. Terrific. Don't do it when the game is on the line.
The Colts' offensive coordinator made that mistake Monday night against Philadelphia, calling for back-to-back handoffs to Richardson in a 27-27 game with little more than three minutes left. Richardson managed just five yards on those two carries, putting the Colts at 3rd-and-5. Andrew Luck then fired incomplete, resulting in a punt and the Eagles' ensuing game-winning drive.
Indianapolis ran 38 times on the night (four Luck scrambles) and threw 34 times. This offense -- and Luck, in particular -- has been better when it's playing up-tempo with the quarterback in command. For whatever reason, Hamilton has shied away from that approach far too often.
Considering how desperate the Panthers were, at least on paper, to find some receivers this offseason, they could have fared far worse than landing Avant and Cotchery. While Kelvin Benjamin is the show-stopper in Carolina's passing attack, Avant and Cotchery are the steady hands. In Sunday's win over Detroit, that duo combined for nine catches and 100 yards. Cotchery has been targeted nine times in total this season ... and has caught all nine passes.
Fourth Down: Atlanta's offensive line ... and Jacksonville's offensive line ... and Detroit's offensive line ... and Pittsburgh's offensive line ... and San Francisco's line ... and ...
Blocking issues are running rampant around the league at the moment. Jacksonville's 10-sack debacle was mentioned above, but Henne was not the only quarterback under fire this week. The Bengals defense forced Matt Ryan to run for his life with starting OT Jake Matthews out of the lineup. Same for Ben Roethlisberger Thursday in Baltimore and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, the latter swarmed frequently because Jonathan Martin faltered. And the Lions picked up journeyman tackle Garrett Reynolds off the street last week to start at right tackle in front of Matthew Stafford.
There simply are not a lot of viable replacement options available at tackle (or guard, for that matter). These O-line units have to get better internally, somehow.
First Down: The Chicago Bears' resolve
A couple of hours before Chicago's Sunday nighter in San Francisco, it looked as if both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery might have to sit due to injury. The star wide receivers wound up playing, and it was Marshall who spearheaded a remarkable come-from-behind win, catching three touchdown passes as the Bears turned a 17-0 deficit into a 28-20 victory. It was a dramatic 180-degree turaround from Chicago's Week 1 home loss to Buffalo, and this outcome could go a long toward the Bears' playoff hopes down the line.
Fourth Down: New Orleans' defensive woes
It's the fourth quarter. Saints are up 24-23 and trying to preserve a victory by stopping a late Cleveland drive. Cut to the New Orleans sideline where we see head coach Sean Payton shouting at defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. A couple of minutes later, Ryan's defense left wide receiver Andrew Hawkins uncovered, allowing the Browns to find him for a completion and move into field-goal range.
Billy Cundiff nailed that kick to send the Saints to 0-2. Suffice it to say, there are issues aplenty in light of that New Orleans record, not the least of which being Ryan's defense -- a projected top-10 unit that has been run roughshod by Atlanta and Cleveland so far.
First Down: Philip Rivers' resurgence.
We can safely say at this point that Rivers' 2013 Comeback Player of the Year campaign under Mike McCoy was no fluke. Rivers hit a minor blip in Week 1 against Arizona's stout defense but bounced back in Week 2 to complete 75.7 percent of his passes and throw for three touchdowns versus the defending champs. As a bonus, all three of those scores landed in the arms of tight end Antonio Gates.
Fourth Down: Tampa Bay as a sleeper.
The Lovie Smith Show might need another season or two to find its footing. Tampa Bay has suffered two awful losses to open the year: Week 1 against a Cam Newton-less Panthers team; Week 2 versus the Austin Davis-led Rams. The defeats came at home, too, meaning that digging out of an 0-2 hole will be all the more difficult.
Oh, and Tampa Bay has a short week, playing at Atlanta on Thursday. Trips to Pittsburgh and New Orleans, then a home game with Baltimore follow before Tampa Bay's Week 7 bye.
A popular surprise pick in the playoff race, the Buccaneers are now staring at an 0-6 mark.