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MMQB’s Ten Takeaways: A Quarterback Takes a Big Step in Year 2

Trevor Lawrence is in a good place with Doug Pederson after last year’s mess in Jacksonville Plus, the Lions are rolling, the Buccaneers’ defense rescues Tom Brady and the Patriots aren’t dead yet.

More MMQB: Colts Can No Longer Blame Carson Wentz | Dolphins Are Undefeated Without Brady or Payton | Mike McCarthy Takes a Step Toward Proving Himself As Cowboys Coach | The Best NFL Week 2 Performances

I included Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence in a 27-and-under list on Twitter last week—he was one of seven in the AFC—and got a bunch of blowback for holding on the predraft evaluations that were out there on him. Fair enough. To this point, it’s O.K. to say he’s not in a class with Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and, once his suspension ends, Deshaun Watson.

On Sunday, you saw a glimpse to explain why it’s smart—when you’re putting together that kind of list—to leave the light on for Lawrence.

It’s more than just that he outplayed Matt Ryan in a 24–0 whitewashing of the Colts (we’ll get to them in a bit), or even that he went 25-of-30 for 235 yards, two touchdowns, no picks and a 121.5 passer rating while hitting seven different receivers, with five of them registering at least three catches. It’s actually more about how it looked.

Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence

Lawrence was outstanding on Sunday against the Colts, throwing for 235 yards and two touchdowns.

After last year’s mess with Urban Meyer, and a bit of an uneven opener, Lawrence looked really stable on Sunday against the Colts, and so I asked him, when we talked an hour after the shutout, what Doug Pederson’s doing to push that process along.

“I just think the way he carries himself, having played quarterback and all that plays into it,” Lawrence said. “The main thing is he just understands what we’re doing, what we’re going through, the way he talks to us constantly. We had a lot of conversations about the plan, about everything, and we’re always on the same page. Not every game’s going to go exactly how you planned. But to have that alignment is really important, and I think we’ve done a good job of that.”

Lawrence paused for a second—with the obvious implications back to last year— on the alignment piece, and then moved forward.

“I don’t really know what the key ingredient is,” Lawrence said. “I just think he’s a great coach that handles himself in a respectable way, in the way that he addresses the team and how he leads. I think it’s all that.”

In turn, both of Lawrence’s touchdown passes Sunday illuminated how the Jaguars’ quarterback is taking to the coaching.

The first one came on a third-and-4 from their own 10-yard line in the first quarter. Big-ticket receiver Christian Kirk started the play in the backfield directly behind his QB.

“We had a good play on that one, actually a play we carried the last two weeks, we had it in last week as well,” Lawrence said. “We just changed the look. It’s a core concept that we run but just changing how we present it, having Christian release out of the backfield instead of from the slot. And then, he does a great job, it’s one of those choice routes, just making the right decision and I can trust him, whenever he breaks in or out or sits.”

On the play, Kirk saw Kenny Moore sitting in his path, so he adjusted his route to get in a hole between Moore and the safety. Lawrence read it the same way, and the ball was there on time for a touchdown.

The second touchdown pass came in the third quarter, on a fourth-and-1 from the Colts’ 5 with Kirk, again, the target and, again, in sync with his quarterback.

“The defense was expecting a run,” Lawrence said. “So we had a nice boot off of it, we had a naked call, and that was by design. It took a little longer because I was going to run it in and then Christian just kept his speed and came out front right there, and the defenders took me instead of him, so I just dumped it off to him. That was by design; it worked great.”

It seemed like everything was great for Jacksonville in what was supposed to be a revenge game for the Colts. Even better, it’s looking like Lawrence is on his way.

The Lions cleared a hurdle Sunday. And the flashpoint for how it went down was probably Amon-Ra St. Brown getting the ball on an end-around with 2:58 left in the third quarter. At that point, a 22–0 lead at the half had shrunk to 22–15, and there was plenty of room for Lions players who’ve been around for a while to expect the bottom to fall out against the Commanders. Which is when St. Brown did something about that.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff told me afterward that, really, there was nothing special about the play call (“A lot of teams run it”). But there was something special about the player.

“He is so steady on game day,” Goff said. “It is really impressive. … He has been a guy that we can all lean on and can talk to during the games. He’s been doing a really good job, and we haven’t scored 35, 36 or whatever we scored by accident. It’s because of what we’ve been doing and a lot of what he’s done.”

There’s a lot to like with the Lions through two weeks.

In Week 1, they didn’t win. But they went to the mat with the Eagles, coming back from 21–7 and 31–14 deficits to make it a real game in the fourth quarter before falling 38–35.

“We scored 35 last week and we felt like we should’ve scored 50,” Goff said. “Really, we left stuff out on the field and we felt O.K. about 35 points, and that’s a good place to be. We don’t want to feel O.K. about 35 again because we want to reach our max potential.”

In Week 2, they came closer to that—in a game that was basically the reverse of the Philly game, with the Lions as the team jumping all over the other team early on.

In fact, at the half, the Lions had a 22–0 lead, had outgained the Commanders 250–56, had an 11–2 edge in first downs and held the ball for more than 17 minutes.

“The first half was awesome, man,” Goff said. “The way our defense was playing, and the way that we were playing on offense, and even so, I said this after the game, the way that we played on offense was good—yeah, we played good, we scored 36—but there was so much left out there again. And so much that we felt like we could improve on. Specifically in the first half, I thought we had some chances to really blow that game open.”

But that the Lions didn’t wind up providing the aforementioned gut check should be really good for Detroit in the long run. And through both circumstances over the first two weeks, to Goff, there were examples over and over of how connected the group is, which is important in moments like the Lions faced in chasing the Eagles and fending off the Commanders.

Which brings us back to one more player you might be familiar with—rookie Aidan Hutchinson (who had three sacks Sunday) playing Michael Jackson in the team’s rookie show on Hard Knocks. I mentioned to Goff how I’d noticed the way the whole room exploded, and then sang in unison.

Goff jumped on that one—“I’ve never seen anything like that, ever.”

“It was cool,” he continued. “Aidan had been there for however long, a few weeks, and he hadn’t really said much. We were all expecting him to be this great player that he is, and it’s like, All right, Aidan, you’re up, and it’s like, All right, what’s he got? And then he came and did that and they were like, Yup, we got one; this kid’s the real deal.”

And as a result of all this, the Lions might soon be the real deal, too.

The Buccaneers should be able to lean on their defense for the time being. Jamel Dean’s now in his fourth year with the Buccaneers, so he’s been in the NFL long enough to know what a great defense looks like. And after seeing his own through tractor-pull wins in Dallas and New Orleans to start this season, Dean says, “We’re starting to realize what we’re capable of doing. It’s like, Why can't we do this every game? Now we basically just set the standard for ourselves, so we gotta keep playing at that standard and nothing less.”

Does Tampa Bay, at this point, have the NFL’s best defense?

“We have the potential of being that,” Dean told me, after picking off his former Buccaneers teammate Jameis Winston twice in their 20–10 win in New Orleans. Tampa held the Saints to 260 yards, a week after holding the Cowboys to 244 yards and three points.

And given where the Buccaneers are offensively, it’s a good thing the defense can carry the day, while the offense sorts through all of its issues, ones that go well beyond which days of the week Tom Brady’s working. Tampa has to get healthier up front on that side, to be sure, and keep an aging crew of receivers going, and Brady has to be better, too, because the only goal they have is the biggest one of all.

Can the Buccaneers make all that happen? We’ll see. At the very least, they’ve got a defense capable of buying them time to figure it out.

Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy

Murphy celebrates his 59-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, a play set up by Simmons.

It was good to see Isaiah Simmons make the play he did. For those of you who missed it, the Cardinals trailed 20–0 at the half in Las Vegas. And taking stock of their first six quarters of 2022 in totality (to include the blowout loss to the Chiefs in Week 1), it looked like their season might be DOA. Then they stormed back, and Kyler Murray made huge plays on fourth down and a two-point conversion at the wire to force overtime. But as for the guy who won the game for them? Simmons was once the eighth pick in the ’20 draft, who went from wearing the green dot on his helmet, as the team’s defensive play-caller, to a backup in a week’s time, and someone who, evidently, isn’t waving the white flag on the season—his or his team’s. Simmons was the second man in after Hunter Renfrow caught a Derek Carr pass by the sideline in overtime—following Jace Whittaker—and quickly jarred the ball loose for Byron Murphy to scoop up and race 59 yards for the touchdown to win it. “We asked him to practice better and reduced his role this week and said, Hey, you’ve got to earn it back,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Simmons. “He practiced his tail off, the best week of practice he’s had as a pro. And it showed up. He made the biggest play of the game, just really proud of him, really attacking that challenge the way he did.” Regardless of where this goes—and Simmons hasn’t lived up to his predraft billing—it’s good to see how he’s handling the situation, and got rewarded for it in a really big spot.

The Packers aren’t going anywhere. Evidently, a lot of people forgot how 2021 started—with a worse Week 1 loss (to the Saints in Jacksonville) than they had this year (to the Vikings in Minneapolis)—which led to a lot of freaking out over Aaron Rodgers’s frustration with his young receivers and Justin Jefferson running free through the Green Bay secondary. The truth is the Packers have made a couple of conscious decisions that should pay off long term but can cause short-term pain. One is to exhibit caution in bringing Elgton Jenkins (he made his season debut Sunday) and David Bakhtiari back from injury slowly. The other is to feed rookie wideouts Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson playing time. All of that played into the Vikings’ loss. And Minnesota’s a good team to begin with. So what happened after that 23–7 loss? On Sunday night, the Packers delivered a swift roundhouse to their division rivals from Chicago. They rushed for 203 yards on 38 carries, held the Bears to 228 yards and 10 points and didn’t need Rodgers to be Superman [Even if he’s plenty capable, as his 130.2 QB rating against the Bears on Sunday would indicate). Which is a great place to be for a team with lofty goals.

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Matt Patricia, Joe Judge and the Patriots’ offensive staff deserve credit. They’ve been punching bags the past few months, and understandably so—a big part of the criticism relates to things that really aren’t up to them (such as what side of the ball they coach on). But Sunday, we actually saw a real identity from the unit for the first time all year, and it showed up when it mattered most. The Patriots got the ball on their own 30 with 6:33 left, leading 17–14. Here’s what happened …

• Rhamondre Stevenson three-yard run up the middle.

• Stevenson four yards off right end.

• Mac Jones pass over the middle to Lil’ Jordan Humphrey for 11 yards.

• Jones’s five-yard scramble.

• Stevenson six yards off left guard.

• Stevenson eight yards off right guard.

• Damien Harris 16 yards off left guard.

• Harris’s two-yard loss off right guard.

• Harris nine yards off left tackle.

• Harris five yards off left tackle.

• Three Jones kneel downs … ball game.

Football coaches often say the toughness of a team can be measured by whether it can run the ball when the other team knows the run is coming. Well, the Patriots did, and did it behind a maligned line, led by a coach who’s been questioned (again, for good reason) all summer. Sunday’s win was just a step. But it could prove to be an important one, especially if this helps the staff marry the run game to the pass game as has been the intention through the spring and summer (which should help Jones be even more efficient than he already is).

I think we should give Nathaniel Hackett, Russell Wilson and the Broncos time. But this hasn’t been a great start to Year 1 in Denver for those guys. Here’s a rundown of the game-management issues during Sunday’s home opener …

• Two delay-of-game penalties on field goals. One turned a 54-yard attempt that was good into a punt from the Texans’ 41 in the first quarter.

• Final timeout burned with 7:38 left.

• A team-record 25 penalties over two games.

• Just nine points scored in five goal-to-go situations.

And that’s without diving into the mishaps from Seattle last Monday. Or mentioning how the crowd mockingly counted down the play clock near the end of the Broncos’ 16–9 win over the Texans on Sunday. Now here’s the thing—it’s not like Hackett forgot how to coach. He’s still as smart as he was yesterday. It’s just that being a head coach is a different job than being the offensive coordinator in Green Bay, especially when you consider he wasn’t calling the plays for the Packers, either. And so it’ll be on him to clean all this up, whether it means delegating more, shifting staff roles, whatever it takes. I think he’ll be fine in the long run with all of this. But for now? It’s not good.

The Rams seemed mildly asleep through part of their close win over Atlanta on Sunday. And this is nitpicking over a win, and they’re the champs, so take all of this with a grain of salt, but … Cooper Kupp had a critical fumble, a punt got blocked and Matthew Stafford threw a pick, all of which contributed to what was trending to be a blowout (28–3 lead) turning into a nail-biter (at 31–25). Jalen Ramsey’s interception in the final 80 seconds warded off the Falcons’ upset bid once and for all.

The good news? Their coach, Sean McVay, doesn’t mind that the bar is set high. “We’re not going to run away from some of the things that we didn’t do well today,” he said. “But we’re also not going to allow ourselves to do anything other than appreciate being able to come away with a win in what we know is such a competitive league. … Unless they tell me that you get more points for being able to win by more points, I don’t really care if we found a way to be able to get it done. That’s how I know I’m maturing because I would’ve been grumpy before (about this). But holy hell, I need a couple drinks.”

And after that, he and the Rams have plenty to go back to work on.

Hard not to like how the Giants are responding to Brian Daboll. I’m not saying they’re going to win a championship or anything, but when he calls his team “tough-minded,” I think it’s shown up in how the team’s pulled out two close wins now, and how his staff seems to be getting the most out of the people on hand. Among the guys that are playing really well under the new boss in New York: Andrew Thomas, Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Xavier McKinney, Leonard Williams and, yes, Daniel Jones. And that list doesn’t end there. It’ll be really interesting to see how they match up with the Cowboys a week from tonight at the Meadowlands.

We have, as always, 10 quick-hitting takeaways to wrap up the week. And those are right here, right now …

Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and New Orleans’s Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Maye

Lattimore and Evans (middle) ignited a brawl in the fourth quarter that led to both players being ejected.

• When they’re done playing, we need to get Mike Evans and Marshon Lattimore in a boxing ring to settle all scores.

• The Browns’ collapse certainly would seem to turn the heat up a little on defensive coordinator Joe Woods.

• The Steelers play Thursday this week, so if a quarterback switch is coming, there’s a natural window to go to Kenny Pickett right after that Cleveland game. And there’s no question Mitchell Trubisky has to play better to ward off that sort of talk.

• Davis Mills looked a lot better in Week 1 than he did in Week 2.

• I don’t know what to make of that Colts team. I believe there’s still talent there. But they look like they don’t have answers on defense, and like they need more explosive elements on offense.

• Re: Amazon Prime Video … if you don’t know how to subscribe or launch the app, that’s really on you. We’ve all had Netflix for like a decade. Just how much more runway could you possibly need to figure out which buttons to push on your remote to get to the apps?

• At this point, it feels like the Raiders’ defense is too reliant on Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones to carry the day on every snap. And the offensive line needs work.

• And two weeks in, the battle royale we expected in the AFC West might just wind up being a two-team race—between the Chiefs and Chargers. But things can change, especially as new coaches settle in.

• Lamar was outstanding Sunday (21-of-29, 318 yards, three TDs; nine carries, 119 yards, TD), win or lose.

• Two (!) games tonight!

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