Raiders, Falcons, Panthers lead early turnarounds
So the Raiders can win on the road - and in the Eastern time zone, too.
And the NFC's power lies in the South, of all places, at least through three weeks.
Reversing fortunes both long-standing and recent has been a trend early in the NFL season. Again, it's still September, so placing too much stock in what we have seen out of Oakland, Atlanta and Carolina might be unwise.
Start with the Raiders, who after an awful opener at home against Cincinnati reversed fortunes with an upset of Baltimore and then a win in Cleveland. IN Cleveland; Oakland had not won on the road since Nov. 17, 2013, and had dropped 16 in a row in the EDT/EST region.
No, the Raiders aren't ready to shove aside the other teams in a pretty strong division, particularly Denver, but credit is due for their moxie and resourcefulness the past two weeks.
''It's huge to get a road win,'' said second-year quarterback Derek Carr, who hadn't experienced one in his pro career. ''We have a new group of guys, a new coach, a new way that we do things. For this team to get this road win is awesome. To go into someone else's place and get a win, it's probably one of the hardest things to do in the NFL.''
It was impossible for the Raiders to do for a while, but new coach Jack Del Rio and his staff have emphasized trusting each other. So far, it's working.
''This is what coach Del Rio has been talking about all offseason is we need to change the culture of football here,'' said safety Charles Woodson, whose interception sealed the victory - and gave him 18 straight years with a pick.
''The last couple of years, we don't win these games. The last few weeks to pull out two tough games is really huge for this team.''
Just as huge is how new coach Dan Quinn has altered the downward spiral in the ATL. The Falcons completed a three-game sweep of the NFC East to open the schedule, becoming the first NFL team to rally in the fourth quarter of each game to win.
Quinn hasn't done a whole lot to the offense in Atlanta's positive reversal, although young running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have been revelations, providing balance for the outstanding passing attack. The defense, Quinn's specialty, still has issues.
But this has been an enthusiastic and creative bunch following two years of sliding under Mike Smith.
''I couldn't be more proud of the toughness,'' Quinn said. ''We had to battle like crazy to get back in it. That's what we're looking to be: a team that has great effort, shows our toughness and knows how to finish.''
Carolina hasn't been nearly as impressive in its 3-0 start; the wins are over Jacksonville, Houston, and New Orleans without Drew Brees. A deeper examination, though, shows another reversal, because the Panthers are winning without key players.
In the past, they struggled mightily when significant starters were out. This season, they've won twice without one of the NFL's best linebackers, Luke Kuechly, and they're missing for the entire season their only bona fide threat at wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin. Pass rusher Charles Johnson injured a hamstring Sunday.
Their biggest early season test will come Oct. 18 at Seattle. The gumption they've displayed so far will serve them well against anyone.
''There are not many games where things go easy for us,'' said tight end Greg Olsen, who's off to a sensational start. ''We have to earn everything, and I think as a result we have a lot of guys with a lot of character and a lot of resiliency.
''I think it's a product of our culture around here, a product of everything we've been through together.''
What the Ravens have been through under John Harbaugh pretty much has been winning, contending for Super Bowls. Now, they are looking up at the Bengals, who are 3-0 and beat them in Baltimore on Sunday.
Try turnovers in critical spots, leading to all the defeats. Not something typical of this team, and a trend that needs to end immediately - the Ravens visit archrival Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
As for the mistake-riddled Lions, also 0-3, this hardly looks like the group that so impressively made the playoffs in 2014. At times, it looks more like - dare we mention it? - the 2008 bunch that went 0-16.
Giveaways, penalties, bad decisions. Some of that had become a tradition in Detroit's darker days, but coaches Jim Schwartz and Jim Caldwell seemed to reverse it.
Those issues are back.
''We ought to be playing better,'' Caldwell said. ''I think oftentimes you can make all the excuses that you want, but the fact of the matter is we should be playing better and we must, and that's my job. I'm not doing a very good job with these guys right now.''
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