First Down/Fourth Down: NFC East flops; Mario Williams and Philip Rivers soar in Week 2
The AFC North wore the NFL's dunce cap in Week 1, posting an 0-4 record, with only Cincinnati even really threatening to pull out a victory.
In Week 2, it was the NFC East's time to ... um ... well, shine is not the right word. The East matched that dismal 0-4 mark on Sunday, with the Giants and Redskins both taking double-digit beatdowns. Dallas (a 17-16 loser in Kansas City) and Philadelphia (33-30 at home to San Diego) at least had opportunities to come away with victories.
The Redskins were en route to a blowout defeat by the time Quarter 1 ended in Green Bay. Washington already trailed 10-0 at that point and that deficit bulged to 24-zip at the break. The Redskins allowed Aaron Rodgers to throw for a career-high 480 yards and coughed up 132 on the ground to James Starks -- the first time a Packers' running back had eclipsed 100 yards since Brandon Jackson pulled the trick in 2010, against the Redskins.
The 38-20 final score was somewhat deceiving, in that it looked more competitive than it really was.
The Giants did manage to hold it together for a bit against Denver, trailing only 10-9 after two quarters and 17-16 late in the third. The Broncos then proceeded to outscore New York by a 24-7 count over the game's final 16 minutes, aided by four more interceptions from a turnover-prone Eli Manning.
Two seasons ago, the Giants won this division with an unimpressive 9-7 record. Right now, the NFC East is a combined 2-6, so even that nine-win mark might be a high bar.
The rest of Week 2's best and worst, in our latest First Down/Fourth Down:
• First Down: Rookie wide receivers.
How much faith does Houston have in DeAndre Hopkins? Enough to go his way on two key plays in overtime. The first, a sensational leaping grab by Hopkins over Jason McCourty, set up the second, a tiptoeing TD for the win. Hopkins finished the come-from-behind victory with seven catches for 117 yards -- a 16.7 yards-per-catch average that lapped Andre Johnson's 9.5 clip.
We saw some flashes from other first-year WRs, too. St. Louis' Tavon Austin found the end zone twice in trying to bring his team back from a big deficit at Atlanta. And undrafted rising star Marlon Brown stepped up with a huge fourth-quarter TD in Baltimore's win (though Brown also dropped a touchdown toss earlier).
More on this in a second, but we also cannot forget Cordarrelle Patterson's electrifying 105-yard kick return to open Minnesota's game with the Bears.
• Fourth Down: Rookie running backs.
On the other end of the spectrum ...
Cincinnati's Giovani Bernard plays on Monday night, but the rookie RB with the most Week 2 yards thus far? Arizona's sixth-round pick Andre Ellington, at 20. He actually made more of an impact in the passing attack, leading the Cardinals with 42 yards receiving, including a 36-yard touchdown.
Beyond that, it was injury-plagued slim pickings. Eddie Lacy was set for a big day, but he was knocked out on a dangerous hit by Washington's Brandon Meriweather after one carry for 10 yards. Denver's Montee Ball mustered all of 16 yards (and one fumble) on 12 attempts, and that was pretty much it for significant action from rookie backs.
• First Down: Mario Williams.
Williams versus Carolina RT Byron Bell turned out to be one of the biggest mismatches in all of Week 2. Williams worked over Bell and the Panthers' offensive line for a team-record 4.5 sacks -- at least a couple of which could be pinned on Cam Newton for holding the ball too long. Carolina tried to provide a little extra help on Williams, but he took Bell to school when the two locked up in one-on-one situations.
• Fourth Down: Kick coverage units in Chicago.
The Vikings and Bears combined for 252 yards rushing Sunday. Chicago had 263 yards on kickoff returns.
Usual suspect Devin Hester was responsible for 249 of those, taking two kicks back deep into Minnesota territory and another to near-midfield. Not to be outdone, Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson (I promised we'd get back to him) averaged 49.7 yards on his three runbacks, obviously buoyed in a major way by his 105-yarder to open the proceedings.
• First Down: Philip Rivers.
Rivers deserved all the criticism heaped on him last week, following another late San Diego collapse aided by a disastrous pick-six from the veteran QB. He earned a pat on the back Sunday, though, torching Philadelphia for 419 yards and three touchdowns.
Even more impressive, Rivers twice responded in the fourth quarter after Philadelphia scored -- a 15-yard TD strike to Eddie Royal put San Diego in front with 3:11 to play, then a late drive allowed Nick Novak to boot the game-winning field goal.
A cross-country trip on a short week was a recipe for disaster for San Diego, especially against Chip Kelly's hard-to-prepare-for attack. The Chargers answered the challenge and provided one of Week 2's biggest surprises.
• Fourth Down: The Cleveland line.
The Browns knew they had some issues up front heading into the regular season, with Jason Pinkston landing on IR-designated for return and Shawn Lauvao out until at least Week 3. They may not have anticipated struggling quite as much as they have.
Opening against the pressing pass rushes of Miami and Baltimore certainly did them -- and, specifically, QB Brandon Weeden -- no favors. The Dolphins dropped Weeden six times in Week 1, and the Ravens racked up five more sacks Sunday. Lauvao's replacement at right guard, Oniel Cousins, has been at the heart of the issue, and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has not fared much better.
As a result, Weeden's struggled to find a rhythm. (Josh Gordon's suspension has been a significant handcuff there, as well.) Perhaps most telling of Cleveland's problems on offense: Weeden took three delay of game flags Sunday.
• First Down: Kansas City.
The Chiefs were a popular offseason pick to flip around last season's 2-14 record and make a playoff run in Andy Reid's first year at the helm. So far, so good.
Sunday's win over Dallas, a 17-16 count in which the Kansas City defense locked down the Cowboys over the final three quarters, stands as far more impressive than a Week 1 throttling of hapless Jacksonville. The Chiefs allowed Dez Bryant and Tony Romo to hit on 5-of-5 pass attempts for 100 yards and a TD in the first quarter; Bryant had only 41 yards (and the Cowboys just six points) in the final 45 minutes of play.
• Fourth Down: Detroit, Tampa Bay and the ability to close games.
There simply are some teams in this league that cannot get out of their own way. That play not to lose or find ways to keep themselves from winning, rather than going for the jugular.
A pair of those teams, the Lions and Buccaneers, were burned by their late-game bumbling again Sunday. Detroit held a 21-13 lead in the third quarter at Arizona, after a pick-six from linebacker DeAndre Levy. Without a hobbled Reggie Bush for the remainder of the game, though, the Lions were unable to generate anything on offense, with the Cardinals gradually rallying. A pair of David Akers field-goal misses (the second was blocked) certainly did not help matters.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, let the Saints rip a victory from the jaws of defeat, and special teams played a role there too. The Bucs, like the Lions, really needed just one scoring drive to put the game away in the fourth quarter. Unlike the Lions, Tampa Bay actually delivered, marching from its 14 to the Saints' 29 and eating 5:50 off the clock.
Wallace wanted to be more involved in Miami's Week 2 offense than he was in Week 1. Tannehill delivered, throwing his way 11 times for nine completions, 115 yards and an early touchdown which staked the Dolphins to a 7-0 lead.
Tannehill has been one of the under-the-radar storylines of the early season. He outdueled Andrew Luck on Sunday, as the Dolphins claimed their second road win.
• Fourth Down: Jacksonville's offensive pace. The 1992 Seattle Seahawks owned the worst offense in NFL history: They scored 140 points in 16 games, an average of 8.75 points per outing. Two games into the 2013 season, the Jaguars are on a 5.5 per-game clip ... with a Week 3 trip to Seattle looming.