The opening weekend of NFL play is always followed by National Overreaction Week, but things have settled down now that we've reached the second Sunday of the NFL season. Come take a tour with me through the good (the Texans defense), bad ('BlackJack' Del Rio going for it on fourth down from his own 49-yard line with more than seven minutes left) and the ugly (Washington QB Kirk Cousins) of Week 2. And remember, if you witness a good/bad coaching or officiating decision or have a nomination for the play of the day, be sure to tweet me @GregABedard or hit me up on Facebook @gregbedardNFL.
Your resident “Wet Blanket of Reason” takes the temperature of the most intriguing storylines out of Week 2 of the 2016 NFL season:
About Sunday night:
Quarterbacks who get just one week of work are not supposed to go out and beat anybody, let alone a good team like the Packers and against a QB of Aaron Rodgers’s caliber, but Sam Bradford was terrific for the Vikings and showed why they paid a ransom to get him by completing 22 of 31 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns (121.2 rating). It didn’t look like the playbook was all that limited considering the Vikings used the no huddle at times so a lot of credit has to go to offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner for getting Bradford ready and putting in a successful plan that he could handle.
Of course, any offense that throws to Stefon Diggs 11 times (nine catches, 182 yards, one touchdown) is a winner in my book. Diggs was good last year, but he’s becoming a star this year as the Packers couldn’t do anything to stop him. Diggs may be one of the best receivers in the league after the catch, but he ran the whole route tree in running the Packers’ secondary ragged, especially CB Damarious Randall. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have nightmares of Diggs in his sleep tonight.
Mike McCarthy’s decision to forgo a 31-yard field goal with 5:04 remaining in the third quarter and the score 10–7 in favor of Minnesota was questionable at the time and looks dumb now. The Packers had fourth and 2 at the Minnesota 14 and a field goal would have tied the game. Instead, the Packers gave the ball to James Starks, who has never been the toughest of ballcarriers inside the tackles, and he was stuffed for 1 yard.
The injury to Vikings RB Adrian Peterson didn’t look that serious at the time (maybe a high ankle sprain) but the fact that the doctors were looking at the back of Peterson’s knee and his inability to walk was not good. A double loss of Teddy Bridgewater and Peterson would be tough for most teams to overcome, but the Vikings’ defense is legit. This could also be a case where the Vikings have become too reliant on Peterson and could succeed out of his shadow.
Vikings cornerbacks Terrence Newman (early) and Trae Waynes (all game) were holding their own Flag Day observance but give credit to Waynes for bouncing back and getting the game-sealing interception against Aaron Rodgers. Trae, for future reference, you’re a cornerback, not a linebacker. Easy with the hands.
Rodgers (three fumbles/one lost, one interception) was way too lax with ball security on the road against a tough defense. And don’t look now, but the Packers’ offense hasn’t exactly been clicking through two weeks with Jordy Nelson back and Mike McCarthy calling plays. Not sure where they’d be without pass interference penalties.
Go nuts, folks:
The Texans are for real because of their defense: QB Brock Osweiler (79.2 rating) and RB Lamar Miller (3.6 yards per carry) have been average in Houston’s 2–0 start to the season, but its defense has been outstanding. Led by the playmaking of Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, John Simon and J.J. Watt (who was much better on Sunday vs. Kansas City), and a smothering secondary, the Texans have held the Bears and Chiefs, two teams with at least decent offenses, to an average of 13 points, 25.9% on third downs, 178.5 passing yards and a 54.5 completion percentage. Next up: the Patriots and likely third-string rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett after Jimmy Garoppolo injured his throwing shoulder against the Dolphins.
We don't like that, Kirk: Washington QB Kirk Cousins has been terrible in the team’s 0–2 start to the season, especially in its 27–23 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday. Cousins has thrown one touchdown against three interceptions so far, including a brutal pick directly to Cowboys safety Barry Church from the Cowboys' 6-yard line. The Cowboys answered with an 80-yard scoring drive. On Washington’s first drive, Cousins had Jamison Crowder wide open for what would have been a 38-yard touchdown on third-and-7 and completely missed him.
Welcome back, Kelvin Benjamin: After missing all of last season following ACL surgery, Benjamin has 13 catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns through two games, with seven catches for 108 yards and two scores in Carolina's 46–27 victory over the 49ers on Sunday. It’s obvious that Cam Newton has a ton of confidence throwing to Benjamin in any spot and any coverage, and he is a huge, much-needed weapon for this team. Benjamin’s 25-yard catch in traffic with seven minutes left on third-and-10 was a huge conversion that allowed the Panthers to keep the clock running with a seven-point lead.
The Saints keep finding ways to lose games: After dropping the opener to the Raiders on a two-point conversion, the Saints lost 16–13 to the Giants when the only touchdown New Orleans allowed all game was a blocked field goal that was returned for a score.
The Lions can’t cover tight ends: Detroit allowed Titans TE Delanie Walker to catch six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s loss. The week before, Colts TEs Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle combined for 88 yards and three touchdowns.
Rookie WRs are coming through: The rookie receivers as a group have been impressive to this point, and you can add Corey Coleman of the Browns to the list. The 15th overall pick busted out against the Ravens with five catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
Denver's defense just keeps dominating: The Broncos let the Colts hang around for a while on Sunday, but that doesn't matter with a defense that scores two defensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter (thanks to an interception by Aqib Talib and a forced fumble by Von Miller that was returned by Shane Ray). After holding Andrew Luck to 160 yards until garbage time, that defense might be every bit as good as the Super Bowl-winning unit in its 2–0 start to 2016. It lives off creating big plays.
San Diego's bad luck continues: I'm still not sure what to make of the Chargers on the whole—are they the team that was up 24–3 on the Chiefs midway through the third quarter in Week 1 and the team that dominated the Jaguars 35–14 on Sunday? Or are they the team that lost that huge lead and the game to Kansas City? All I do know for sure is that losing Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead (looks like after a knee injury) is going to make things really tough for this hard-luck franchise.
Matt Ryan needs to be better: Falcons QB Ryan threw an awful interception into the end zone in the third quarter against the Raiders. The ball was well behind TE Jacob Tamme. Ryan struggled with red-zone interceptions last year and they’re absolute killers. The Falcons won, so he got away with it on Sunday, but Ryan just can't make those mistakes if the Falcons are to compete for a playoff spot.
The Cardinals are back to normal: Next year, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians should tell his team the season starts in Week 1, not Week 2. A week after being outcoached and outplayed by the Patriots in the opener, the Cardinals looked like themselves on both sides of the ball in a 40–7 victory over the Buccaneers.
Jarvis Landry is legit: The Dolphins have a big-time player in WR Landry. He was unbelievably tough in catching 10 passes for 137 yards against the Patriots. Very impressive.
Slow your roll:
The undefeated Ravens don't look all that good: Sure, the Ravens are 2–0, but that record is a result of two ugly victories over the lowly Bills and Browns—and this week, Baltimore trailed Cleveland 20–2 in the first half. Ravens QB Joe Flacco had his moments against the Browns, but he also threw two terrible interceptions.
Spoiler Alert: Bill Belichick knows what he's doing: New England was leading the Dolphins 31–3 midway through the third quarter and looked to be on the way to a blowout. Then the Dolphins scored 21-straight points and had a chance to tie the game before an interception with two seconds remaining ended the comeback attempt. A lot of Patriots fans will (and have) criticized the defensive approach after taking a big lead (The Pats played a lot of soft zone), but Bill Belichick does not mind giving up 15-yard receptions as long as they take time off the clock. The last thing he wants his team to do is give up a quick-strike touchdown, so he’s going to take the cautious approach every time. It usually works, and it did on Sunday.
It's not all Brock's fault: Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler has started a game with an interception two weeks in a row now—he has three in the first two games of the season. His first one today against the Chiefs, however, was not entirely his fault. Rookie receiver Braxton Miller stopped his route against man coverage (instead of continuing across the field) and rounded off his pattern, which allowed the defensive back to undercut it. With Miller and fellow rookie Will Fuller in the lineup, these are the types of mistakes the Texans are going to have to deal with at times.
Jaguars a dark horse...yeah, not so much: All of you who were touting the Jaguars as a possible playoff team entering this season, raise your hands. Now, take that hand and slap your head with it. Jacksonville is 0–2 after a 35–7 loss at San Diego. For shame.
A look at the best and worst coaching decisions from Sunday.
—The tendency for many teams with a backup quarterback—even one who played so well in his opener at Arizona—is to play the gameplan close to the vest and not lose. But Bill Belichick and the Patriots elected not to do that on Sunday with Jimmy Garoppolo against the Dolphins, and it ended up winning New England the game even after Garoppolo left late in the first half with a right shoulder injury. By the time Garoppolo was knocked from the game the Patriots had run the ball 13 times while the QB had attempted 27 passes. Garoppolo rewarded the Patriots’ faith by throwing for 234 yards and three touchdowns (130.8 passer rating) in building a 24–3 halftime lead that they ended up desperately needing. The Patriots knew the Dolphins couldn’t cover in the secondary and New England wasn’t afraid to go for it with a quarterback making his second career start.
—Rams coach Jeff Fisher took a lot of just criticism for how ill-prepared his team was in the season opener, but give Fisher credit for sticking with QB Case Keenum and delivering a victory in the team's first home game in Los Angeles since 1994. Keenum wasn't great (18 of 30 for 239 yards and no touchdowns) but he made some tough plays against a good defense.
—“BlackJack” Del Rio did it again. After his two-point conversion call to beat New Orleans in Week 1, Del Rio elected to go for it on fourth down from the Falcons’ 2-yard line trailing 21–14 with 12:03 remaining. Derek Carr hit Michael Crabtree for the game-tying touchdown.
—Del Rio makes both of these lists after his decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Raiders' own 49-yard line trailing 28–21 with 7:16 remaining. Why not punt and play defense? The Falcons took the favorable field position and scored to go up two touchdowns and essentially put the game away. That was a bad home loss by the Raiders, and a great road victory for the Falcons, who got 137 combined rushing yards between Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
—Washington tried a fade in the red zone four times to 6' 2" Josh Doctson and it failed miserably in each instance. It's time for offensive coordinator Sean McVay to open up the playbook a little more.
—Giants coach Ben McAdoo was way too aggressive in going for it on fourth down from the New Orleans 3-yard line with 2:49 left in a scoreless first quarter. Just take the three points.
—After the Cowboys took a 20–17 lead with 5:41 left in the third quarter, their coach Jason Garrett chose to go with an onside kick (that ended up not even making it 10 yards). Washington then answered with a tying field goal.
Everybody loves to hate the refs, but let’s take a closer look at how the zebras performed today:
—The taunting call against receiver Terrelle Pryor was terrible and cost the Browns crucial time and yardage in their 25–20 loss to the Ravens. Pryor spun the ball back to the official but it accidentally hit Ravens DB Lardarius Webb in the helmet. That and Webb's defensive holding penalty offset, and so instead of the Browns having the ball at the 10-yard line with 21 seconds left in the game, the play went back to the spot at the Baltimore 30.
—How was Ted Ginn Jr.’s 53-yard catch against the 49ers allowed to stand after Chip Kelly challenged the ruling on the field? Ginn clearly bobbled the ball going to the ground. Another week, another example of no one knowing what is and isn’t a catch.
Coolest thing I saw on Sunday
On a fourth-and-5 from the Lions nine-yard line trailing 15–10 with 1:20 left, Titans QB Marcus Mariota lofted one into the end zone to Andre Johnson between the smothering coverage from linebacker Tahir Whitehead and safety Rafael Bush. Somehow Johnson came up with the catch and the Titans left with their first victory.
Honorable mention: Patriots rookie QB Jacoby Brissett one-handing a high shotgun snap with about five minutes left in the third quarter, and getting the handoff to Blount. Subtle, but a really nice athletic play from a guy in a tough spot.
Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself…
A look at a previously unheralded player (or players) who popped this week:
Xavier Grimble and Jesse James, TEs, Steelers: After Heath Miller retired and Ladarius Green couldn’t get off the PUP list, the important TE spot for the Steelers fell to two unknowns. James, the 6' 7" 2015 fifth-round pick, and Grimble, a ’15 undrafted free agent, each had a score against the rivals Bengals in sloppy conditions.
Marcus Cooper, CB, Cardinals: Cooper did make a name for himself a few years ago as a rookie with the Chiefs, but no one expected two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) in his debut after being acquired in a trade on Sept. 2 from Kansas City.
Numbers sometimes lie
The Chiefs have 40 first downs, 45 points and have averaged 352 yards per game over their first two games. They’ve also scored a total of six first-half points against the Chargers and Texans, and have done most of their damage in the second half out of desperation. Kansas City is scuffling on offense.
Numbers sometimes don’t lie
The Bengals rushed 18 times for 46 yards in their 24–16 loss to the Steelers, including 22 yards on 11 carries from Jeremy Hill. Through two games Cincinnati has 103 yards on 37 carries (2.8 average). The Bengals have to run the ball better to properly function on offense. They are fortunate to be 1–1 at this point.
After the whistle
Taking the temperature of the league after Week 2…
Are you not entertained?! Twenty games in the first two weeks have been decided by seven points or fewer, which is second all-time to the 22 in 2013 according to the NFL, and there are still two more games to be played.
While it’s good for the NFL that traditional powers like the Patriots, Steelers, Ravens and Giants (and perhaps the Packers and Eagles will be added to the ranks) have started 2–0 (the upstart Texans are there too), the better news is that even the 0–2 teams (Buffalo, Miami, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Washington and New Orleans) have all been very competitive to this point. Judging by the Rams’ surprising victory over the Seahawks, this season still has plenty of surprises in store.