After Week 2 might be the point in any given NFL season when we feel like we know the least about what we are seeing. Many of the sweeping conclusions we landed on (despite our best efforts not to) after Week 1 have been upended. The effect of injuries is starting to take hold. And we are rubbing our eyes to make sure we are really seeing the things we didn’t expect to happen—like the suddenly resurgent Derek Carr and the Raiders? What’s more, this year we can’t even take comfort in the annual trotting out of the bleak odds of 0–2 teams making the playoffs, as the 17-game season has thrown our math into chaos.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, there was still lots to be gleaned from Week 2!
1. The Buccaneers’ record streak of nine straight games with 30 or more points (basically) coincides with Tom Brady’s taking over the Bucs’ offense. The streak began in Week 15 of the 2020 season. Brady and Bruce Arians had what the head coach called a “melding of the minds” during their Week 13 bye. “If you don’t like it, we’re throwing it out,” Arians told Brady during the hour-long phone call that left both men hopeful. But the melding was much more significant than the hate it-like it-love it assessment that many coaches use when developing game plans with their QBs. “The areas of the field that we’re trying to put levels on were a little bit different than what he is used to,” Arians told me and Greg Bishop before the Super Bowl. Arians’s system often had receivers breaking at three levels. Brady was used to high-low reads. “For us it was easy to say, this was supposed to be on the left hash; we'll move your reception areas all to the right hash, because it makes it easier for you to see them coming into your vision,” Arians said. “And it's just really, really simple things, creating plays that are exactly the same [but] that look different to the next team.” The results showed up first in practice, where there were very few balls on the ground. Then in the second half of last year’s Week 15 win against Atlanta, all the way through the Super Bowl and now into this season. The Bucs haven’t lost since handing over the keys to Brady, and this Week 2’s 48–25 win against the Falcons broke the previous NFL record for consecutive games of 30 points or more, held by … the Brady Patriots.
2. The Packers are not who they were in Week 1. Their performance in last week’s loss to the Saints was so far from what we expected that it was almost easier to wave it off as a total aberration. Their 35–17 win Monday night supported that instinct, as Green Bay looked not quite like the team that went to the NFC championship game last season but also far from the one that only scored three points against New Orleans. As we said last week, the opener said more about the strength of the Saints’ defense than anything else. On Monday, the Packers took a while to pull away from the depleted-but-feisty Lions, particularly a defense that’s had a rocky start under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry. But after halftime, Aaron Rodgers hit Davante Adams for a beautiful 50-yard completion earned almost entirely through the air, then the defense stopped the Lions on fourth-and-1 and later recovered a Jared Goff fumble to break open the game in the third quarter. This was a good “get right” game for Green Bay, though how they match up against the defenses of San Francisco and Pittsburgh the next two weeks will say more about where this offense, and team, are.
3. J.C. Jackson might be the most underrated defender in the NFL. We throw around “underrated” so often in this business that it’s often meaningless. (On a recent episode of The MMQB Monday Morning NFL Podcast, I even stated that I thought T.J. Watt was surprisingly under-the-radar before last season—an assertion I stand behind!) But there should be little debate that Jackson does not receive the attention he deserves, at least nationally. I have kept an eye on Jackson since October 2019: I was doing a feature on Stephon Gilmore that month, and I asked the good folks at Pro Football Focus if they could share statistics on the opposing QB’s passer rating when throwing toward Gilmore. At that specific juncture in the season, they told me Gilmore was allowing a passer rating of just 36.0, lower than if the QB just threw the ball into the dirt every play. The only DB in the league with a better mark? J.C. Jackson. At the time, of course, Jackson was playing significantly fewer snaps and was not drawing the toughest assignment every week like Gilmore was. But in the two years since, Jackson’s role and responsibilities have grown a great deal, particularly with Gilmore on PUP through the first six weeks of this season. And Jackson has been up to the task. With two picks of Zach Wilson on Sunday, Jackson now has 19 interceptions since he entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2018—tied for the most in that time frame. Given that Jackson is currently playing on a one-year RFA tender, Bill Belichick would likely prefer he’s snubbed from the Pro Bowl again, but that’s not likely to happen.
4. We have embarked upon yet another New York Football Autumn of Despair. To the handful of you who may have listened to The Weak-Side Podcast (RIP) last fall, you may remember this segment that was a favorite of mine and Conor Orr’s. I began covering the NFL for The (Newark) Star-Ledger in 2007, the beginning of what would be a heyday for New York football, including two Super Bowls for the Giants and two trips to the AFC title game for the Jets. Since Super Bowl XLVI, though, the teams have played in a combined one playoff game. The Giants have started five straight seasons with an 0–2 record, the Jets three straight. And each team is on its fourth coach of the last decade. This downtrodden stretch almost makes me nostalgic for the 2011 Christmas Eve Snoopy Bowl—even the post-game confrontation between Rex Ryan and Brandon Jacobs.
5. There’s no one right way to debut a rookie QB. But there are wrong ones! MMQB senior editor Gary Gramling has been all over the head-scratching division of first-team reps in Jags camp between Trevor Lawrence and Gardner Minshew, when Lawrence was going to be the opening-day starter. Sunday presented other ways to fail at this: Like, the Jets not having a seasoned back-up QB who could have cut short Zach Wilson’s catastrophic four-INT day. Or, the Bears being steadfast that Andy Dalton is the starter when healthy but not having a plan for Justin Fields as the back-up quarterback. Fields had been one play away from entering the game, but the Bears seemingly were not ready to utilize an offensive game plan tailored to his abilities when he was called into action, which happened when Dalton sustained what’s reportedly a bone bruise in his knee on Sunday.
6. Conor Orr’s mea culpa on the Raiders is all of our mea culpa. Hopefully Derek Carr, who Jon Gruden told reporters on Monday is “questionable” after having an MRI on his ankle, has the opportunity to sustain his hot start. He has more around him now, including a defense that can get to the quarterback. But in Year 4 of a marriage to Jon Gruden that never quite felt secure—like during the organization’s public flirtation with Kyler Murray before the 2019 draft—what stands out most is that Carr looks more confident and at ease than ever.
7. The rookie cornerbacks can play, too. Last week, we wrote about rookie receivers contributing early, so it feels appropriate to acknowledge their skilled counterparts on the other side of the ball. Pat Surtain II, making his starting debut for the Broncos, came down with a smooth interception of fellow rookie Trevor Lawrence by out-positioning the receiver on the route and getting both feet in bounds to secure the catch. Carolina’s Jaycee Horn, drafted one slot before Surtain, and Asante Samuel, Jr., a second-round pick for the Chargers, also nabbed their first career interceptions. Between these performances, Micah Parsons’s standout game after moving to the edge for Dallas and Odafe Oweh’s game-changing forced fumble in Baltimore’s big win against the Chiefs, it will also be a fun Defensive Rookie of the Year race.
More NFL Coverage: