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Week 2 Takeaways: Derrick Henry Saves the Titans, Derek Carr Catches Fire

Plus, the Dallas D emerges, the Panthers are for real, Kyler Murray carries the Cards, the Rams lean on defensive stands and Stafford’s stardom to survive in Indy, Dalton injury finally forces Matt Nagy’s hand, the Bills blast the Dolphins while Belichick’s defense overwhelms Zach Wilson, and much more!

Welcome to the Week 2 edition of the Sunday FreakOut, where we react and overreact to everything that happened in the Sunday afternoon games. For the full Sunday roundup podcast-style, be sure to subscribe to The MMQB Podcast, in your feed every Monday morning...

Things That Made Me Giddy

Derek Carr Is Changing: At times he seemed to have been walking a tightrope during the second Jon Gruden era (would they go get Brady? Rodgers? Watson?), but there’s no doubt that Gruden has gotten the best out of Carr. And over the past two seasons Carr has delivered some gutsy performances in response. Going into Pittsburgh on a short week, racking up 382 yards and throwing this knockout punch while playing on a bad wheel (great design, by the way, similar to a long Henry Ruggs TD in the upset over Kansas City last year) is the sign of something special brewing:

Raiders Beat Pittsburgh and the NFL Schedule: Making a team come cross-country on a short week for an 11 a.m. body clock kickoff is just stupid. Vegas came east after a physical overtime game on Monday night, and now go back home sitting at 2–0.

Derrick Henry Saves Appalachia: There are few—well, one—running backs who could carry and offense back from a 15-point second half deficit. That’s what Henry did in Seattle, and he did it with 40% of his offensive line missing. He scored three times in the second half, and the 60-yard run down the left sideline early in the fourth quarter was vintage Henry. His presence continues to get the Titans’ play-action passing attack working at peak efficiency, and on the final drive of overtime he carried four times for 21 yards to set up Randy Bullock’s game-winning 36-yard kick.

Rams' Goal Line Stands: An impressive four-stops-at-the-1 stand in the first quarter against that Indy offensive line, and an interception on a blown up shovel pass in the second quarter on third-and-goal from the 3, factored big against the Colts.

Hey, This Dan Quinn Cowboys Defense Is Alright: They had to move some pieces around on Sunday—most notably Micah Parsons playing defensive end—and while they got a little help from a mistake-prone Chargers team and a recharged running game, they very much held up their end of the bargain in L.A. Week 1 was encouraging, and Week 2 kept things on track with what was a major reclamation project after last year's meltdown.

Bears Defense Doing What It Has to Do: For this team to get to the playoffs, they have to do what they did in 2018 but haven’t done since: Take the ball away in bunches. On Sunday, they took it away from the Bengals four times, including a fourth-quarter pick-six to pull away.

Generally, Sam Darnold Looks Sharp: His turnover was atrocious—he tried to drop the ball off to a protector in heavy traffic, turning it into D-lineman interception. But other than that, he’s operating within structure and looks… comfortable. His ball placement was excellent on Sunday, and on a few occasions he threw receivers open in a way we just haven’t seen from him.

Tom Brady Might Win MVP and Coach of the Year: The difference in the Bucs offense since the coaching staff “compromised” with Brady (i.e. handed him control over the offense) is quite noticeable.

Greg Zuerlein’s Redemption Tour Continues: After almost kicking himself out of a job in the first half on opening night, Zuerlein has caught fire. Since missing a 60-yarder right before halftime two Thursdays ago, he’s 4-for-4 on field goals and 4-for-4 on PATs, including a 48-yard go-ahead kick late in the opener, and now a game-winning 56-yard connection as time expired against the Chargers in Week 2.

Russ and Lockett Toy With the Titans Secondary: A 51-yard moon ball to set up a first-quarter field goal, and a 63-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

DeMeco Ryans Has Answers: Jalen Hurts will not be fun to game plan for, especially in the early days of the Nick Sirianni era (just ask Dean Pees). Ryans, who has big shoes to fill in San Francisco as Robert Saleh’s replacement, was up to the task on Sunday. Ryans peppered Hurts with blitzes and it worked—they gave up one long pass where they got beat, and a Fred Warner missed tackle in the backfield allowed another play to get loose. But the defense gave up little else, the Eagles never got in any kind of rhythm, Ryans' group was prepared for a fourth-and-goal Philly Special, and the Niners moved to 2–0 in a defensive battle.

Broncos Come East and Get Two: Neither the Giants nor Jaguars are world-beaters, but the Broncos are 2–0, both on the road, and that’s a good place to be.

See, the Dallas Run Game Is Fine: They chose not to try the Bucs in the opener because... well, why slam yourself into a brick wall? But Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard and this offensive line controlled the action against the Chargers, a reminder that this Cowboys offense can beat you in a variety of ways.

Alright, Alright, the Falcons Were Game: They were down three with 10 minutes left before a Tom Brady touchdown drive was followed by two deflected Mike Edwards pick-sixes. It was a better week for Arthur Smith's group, even if they currently look a little delusional for thinking they could "win-now."

Matt Prater Is a Gift: The kickers were the difference in the Cardinals’ win over Minnesota, and it wasn’t just a matter of Greg Joseph pushing a 37-yarder wide as time expired. With 21 seconds left in the first half, the Cardinals took a short kickoff back to the 34 and moved the ball 22 yards in two plays. That was enough to set up Prater with a 62-yarder that he nailed in his first home game as the Cardinals' kicker.

Matt Rhule, Joe Brady and Phil Snow: Right now, the Panthers’ brain trust looks like the best power trio since Rush released “Moving Pictures.”


Regrets

Jameis Never Had a Chance: To be clear, he looked terrible, even when he had time in the pocket. But the Saints defense, one week after dominating the Packers, couldn’t get off the field in the first half. One thing was clear on Sunday: The Saints can’t rely on Winston to bail them out.

Trevor Lawrence’s Utter Lack of Comfort: Again, this can’t be said enough: As a prospect Trevor Lawrence was as close to idiot-proof as a coaching staff could get; you had to try to screw this up. The Jaguars chose to throw away half the summer, giving first-team snaps to Gardner Minshew as part of some kind of “theater of motivation.” One week ago this offense looked like they didn’t realize they had a game on Sunday. This week was better, in that at least they got beat up by a really good defense—with some inclement weather factoring in. But after a solid opening drive things fell apart again. Lawrence doesn’t trust what he’s seeing, and rightfully so because what he’s seeing isn’t working. As the season goes on, we’ll learn whether this is the case of a young quarterback who hasn’t gotten enough reps, or just a broken scheme.

Vrabel Should Have Gone for Two: When the Titans scored at the end of regulation to cut the lead to one, they had been utterly steamrolling a gassed Seahawks defense. Considering his team’s red-zone efficiency over the past two seasons, you have to trust your best chance is scoring from two yards, rather than relying on the shaky kicking game and then a coin flip. (Note: This was written before the OT coin flip.)

Wentz Can’t Go: The Colts got the ball back with 2:27 left and a three-point deficit, but Wentz couldn’t go because of a right ankle injury. Jacob Eason came on and there was just no hope.

These Vikings Are Just Ruining Mike Zimmer’s Halloween Season: They don’t cover well and had a couple busted coverages on Sunday, but more than that: When the kicker makes a clutch kick in Week 1 it ends up being for naught. And, on a day like Sunday, when they just need that kicker to hit a chipshot field goal, he pushes it wide.

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T.J. Watt’s Absence: The Steelers were without one of the five most valuable non-quarterbacks in football for the second half, and it showed.

A.J. Brown’s Afternoon of Drops: Three of them, all negating big plays, in what was a long day for a stud receiver.

Zach Wilson, as the Red Hot Chili Peppers Once Suggested, Gives It Away Now: The first two interceptions were a touch of bad luck (though the first throw was risky and the second was fired high), but the third and fourth against New England looked like the wheels were coming off for the rookie. Bill Belichick’s defenses do that to young quarterbacks (Jets fans know that well), and Wilson has a lot on his shoulders considering the Jets’ shortcomings. Sunday was undoubtedly ugly (and, undeniably, just a little bit worrisome).

This Touchdown Was Overturned: The frequency with which replay incorrectly reverses calls is stunning.

The Saints Defense Just Played 1,000 Games Worth of Football: They were out there for over 20 minutes in the first half, as they couldn’t get off the field and the Saints offense couldn’t stay on the field. Ultimately, garbage time brought the TOP possession to a slightly more reasonable statistical conclusion (38:32 for the Panthers).

A Sloppy Afternoon for Brandon Staley's Chargers: Twelve penalties, including one that backed them off the goal line on their final drive that resulted in settling for a field goal. (Who does Staley think he is, Joe Judge?)

Wentz’s Shovel Pass INT: This looks ugly primarily because Aaron Donald blew up the middle of the offensive line and Jack Doyle, the intended target, got caught up in the resulting traffic and couldn’t get to his spot. But maybe, considering Wentz’s recent history and lack of work he got this summer, the lefty shovel pass is one to leave off the call sheet.

The Titans Have Issues at the Reactionary Positions: Left tackle Taylor Lewan was out and left guard Rodger Saffold went down on Sunday. We know their issues in the secondary. It’s incredibly difficult to scheme around weaknesses this glaring on the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.

Dolphins Receiver’ Brutal First Half: DeVante Parker had a ball go through his hands in the end zone, Albert Wilson dropped an easy one on second-and-6 in the red zone which was immediately followed by a Jakeem Grant lost fumble on third down, and Jaylen Waddle wrapped the half by muffing a punt with less than 30 seconds left, giving the Bills a field goal opportunity.

Tyrod’s Hammy: He’s limited as a quarterback, but the marriage between Taylor and Tim Kelly is going swimmingly so far, with Taylor looking wholly comfortable with Kelly’s concepts. On Sunday, Tyrod didn’t make it back onto the field after halftime. Even worse, the Texans’ short week means Taylor likely won’t make it back for a winnable game on TNF, at home against Carolina. And now Kelly has three days to prepare Davis Mills for his first career start against a Panthers defense that has absolutely engulfed opposing quarterbacks so far.

Relaaaaax With This Jameis INT: I know everyone had the “this is the most Jameis pick ever” line queued up for the first almost six quarters of football, but this is third-and-10 at midfield with less than 30 seconds left. The play is broken and if he throws it away they’re punting anyway. There’s nothing wrong with throwing a prayer and hoping for a flag. 


Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About

2017 Carson Wentz Time Travels to 2021: That a human could make this throw makes us question everything we thought we knew about the universe.

Damien Harris as The Billdozer:

Kyler Murray Vanquishes the Zero Blitz: I know these throws happen frequently enough that they should no longer amaze us, but also: Matt Ryan faced a similar blitz moments later in Tampa and it resulted in a batted pass and pick-six. This Kyler throw set up what eventually proved to be the winning points.

Josh Allen Reminds the Dolphins That Traits Matter:


What We’ll Be Talking About This Week

America Finally Gets to See Matthew Stafford as He Really Is: Even if he is the same superstar quarterback he’s been for the past decade. But the shortcomings we saw in Detroit are also still there. He provides little as a pass-rushing presence. And you simply can’t plug him in at left guard and expect him to generate any kind of push up front.

Matt Nagy Forced to Do What He Already Had to Do: For whatever reason, Nagy thought he owed it to Andy Dalton because of a promise he made last winter more than he owed it to a locker room that’s suffered through three-plus seasons of bad quarterback play. Now, with Dalton hurt, Nagy has no choice but to turn it over to Justin Fields, craft a scheme that takes advantage of Fields’ unique mobility while bringing him along as a passer, and go win some games.

The Cardinals Will Go as Far as Kyler Murray Carries Them: And, two weeks into the season, that looks like it could be pretty far. Murray was a little uneven against the Vikings, with one miscalculated throw against zone coverage that turned into a pick-six and another pick thrown late down the middle. But he continues to make absolutely magical plays—more frequently and for bigger chunks than he did even during last year’s early bull run. He and DeAndre Hopkins are lifting a mediocre system and what will apparently be an up-and-down defense. The question is: Can they be superheroes for 15 more games?

Miami Will Be Fine (Enough) With Jacoby Brissett: It’s impossible to say where Tua Tagovailoa is heading five quarters into the season, but after an ugly rookie year he was shaky in the opener and simply wasn’t NFL-caliber in the early going against the Bills on Sunday. Among his six drop-backs were three incompletions and two sacks when he didn’t account for a blitz; his lone completion was a third-and-long receiver screen and he had an RPO completion called back due to an illegal man downfield who created the open receiver. Tagovailloa went down with a rib injury on a fourth-and-short incompletion, another misfire while under pressure after an opening game full of them. In relief, Brissett looked rusty early, and when he got hot late in the first half his receivers let him down. But Miami can draw up a more highly schemed offense and trust Brissett can operate it efficiently, as he did in Indianapolis two seasons ago before a rash of injuries derailed their season. It’s probably going to give Miami a better chance to win games in the short-term.

The Carolina Panthers, for Your Consideration: This defense might be special this season. And, right now, in Joe Brady’s highly schemed offense, Sam Darnold looks much more comfortable and much less capable of doing irreparable damage with some of his mistakes. They’re 2–0, and based on how they looked on Sunday, a 10-win season isn’t out of the question.

Order Returns to the AFC East: The Bills outclass the Dolphins again, the Patriots outclass the Jets again, and with Jupiter in retrograde the universe is once again in its proper alignment.

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