So that’s what happens when Dallas runs the ball.
One week after Cowboys’ quarterback Zak Prescott threw 58 times for over 400 yards, Dallas decided to put the ball in the hands of its running backs … and guess what? They played a leading role in a last-second upset of the L.A. Chargers that should rattle the NFC East.
And maybe the NFL.
I know, we’re only two weeks into a 17-game schedule, so it’s waaaaaay too early to make predictions, right? Wrong. This is Overreaction Monday, Take II, so let’s give it a whirl: Dallas wins the NFC East this year. Everyone else plays for second.
Why? A couple of reasons: 1) They took defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay to the mat a week ago, and 2) they just went on the road to beat the L.A. Chargers, 20-17, the Bolts' first defeat in their past six games.
How? By playing a complete game in I don’t know how long.
Dak was decent. The defense was solid. And the running backs were … well, finally trusted. And, yes, that’s a big deal. Where the Cowboys dialed up Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard for 14 carries in the season opener, they turned to them for 29 on Sunday. Result: They were responsible for 180 of the team’s 198 yards rushing and scored the Cowboys’ only two TDs.
Just as important: Not one of those yards was produced by Prescott.
Normally, he’s called on to do virtually everything for the Cowboys – run, pass, score, you name it. In fact, he’d thrown for 400 or more yards in four of his previous five games, three of which the Cowboys lost. But not this Sunday. He didn’t have to run. He threw for 37 more yards than the team had rushing. And he didn’t produce a TD pass.
Yet Dallas still won because the Cowboys got smart.
“When they get that running game going,” said Hall-of-Fame coach and NBC analyst Tony Dungy, “that’s their identity. That’s what makes them flow. Dallas is playing good football.”
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. Patrick Mahomes is mortal. Until Sunday night, Mr. September hadn't lost a game or thrown an interception this month. Ever. He was 11-0, with 35 TDs and no picks. Then Baltimore happened,. Mahomes didn't lose the game. A fumble and defense that couldn't stop the run did. Fumbles happen, and winning streaks end. But that defense? It was gashed far too easily for the Chiefs not to be concerned.
2. The Bills’ defense is back. In two games this season opponents have one offensive touchdown. Better yet, the Buffalo D just produced its largest shutout win since Nov. 6, 1966 vs. Miami. If there was a hole in the Bills’ resume a year ago it was a defense crippled by injuries which – according to my favorite Bills’ fan, Rich Quodomine – forced Josh Allen to become Brett Favre. Not now.
3. The Zach Wilson honeymoon is over. It took Jets’ fans exactly 45:48 of the home opener to boo their new quarterback. “They should be booing,” Wilson admitted. Meet the new boss, same as the ol’ boss.
4. Jameis Winston is who we thought he was. A week ago he looked like Drew Brees. One week later he looked more like Drew Carey. Someone cue the Denny Green sound bite.
5. Lamar Jackson took a giant step forward. No surprise there. The guy was the team's leading rusher last season. Except he never beat Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes ... until Sunday night. Consider that a giant step for the Baltimore Ravens, too. They were 0-3 vs. Mahomes and 0-4 vs. Andy Reid since he took over Kansas City. Until they overcame those hurdles, the Ravens couldn't be considered serious playoff threats. Maybe now they will. Because they just did what nobody else has dating to 2018 -- beat the Chiefs and Mahomes in September. Plus, they did it in rare Lamar Jackson fashion: Rallying from a halftime deficit. "It feels good to get the monkey off our back," Jackson said. Bingo.
THIRD AND 20
1. Maybe the Raiders' Derek Carr is better than we think. He beat Baltimore in the season opener. He beat Pittsburgh on a short week after a cross-country trip. He threw for 817 yards in those games, the most in a two-game span by any quarterback in Raiders’ history. Prior to this season, Raiders’ GM Mike Mayock said he was “excited to see where (Carr) can take this thing.” I’m beginning to see why.
2. Bill Belichick is still kryptonite to rookie QBs. He’s 22-6 against them, with the Jets’ Zach Wilson the latest victim. The loss was predictable. It was the Jets’ 11th straight to New England. But so was the Wilson collapse, reminiscent of then-rookie Sam Darnold in a 38-3 loss to the Patriots in 2018. One difference: Darnold didn’t throw a pick.
3. Fantasy-football owners were nervous a week ago when Derrick Henry ran for 58 yards and failed to score vs. Arizona. They shouldn't have been. He struck for 182 (including 126 in the second half) and three TDs in Sunday's overtime upset of Seattle. But the concern in Tennessee isn’t Derrick Henry. It never has been. It’s a porous defense that in two weeks hemorrhaged 11 plays of 20 or more yards, including three of 50 or longer Sunday.
4. Kyler Murray. My gawd. What … a … talent.
5. Say this about the Jets: At least they’re consistent. They’re 0-2 this season. They started 0-13 last year and 1-7 in 2019. They were 4-12 in 2018 and 5-11 in 2017. Bad teams find ways to lose. The Jets are a bad team.
6. Looks like Rob Gronkowski was right: The NFL won’t decide if Tom Brady can play until he’s 560. Brady’s wife will.
7. The Chiefs are vulnerable to the run again, and that's a problem that's not going away. They've surrendered 404 yards in two weeks, including 251 vs. Baltimore Sunday, with opponents averaging 6.0 yards a carry. They're supposed to be the team to beat in the AFC, and maybe they will be. But they're lucky to be 1-1. They should've lost to Cleveland and did lose to Baltimore.
8. Coming soon to a bookstore near you: “Great Expectorations” by Trai Turner.
9. Jimmy Garoppolo haters, sit down. He’s 2-0, with both wins on the road ..., just produced two scoring drives of 90+ yards … and, most important, hasn’t been hurt. He ain’t going anywhere, people, unless he’s injured.
10. It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that the AFC North is wide open. Two weeks in, and everyone is 1-1. Cincinnati is still the most vulnerable, but tell me how much separates Cleveland, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Not much.
11. Chicago rookie Justin Fields didn’t do much that was special Sunday, but it doesn’t matter. He won’t sit down. The Bears won. He’s not Andy Dalton. And coach Matt Nagy said “he’s farther along than we thought he’d be at this point.” Translation: The future is now.
12. The most impressive number for Patriots’ quarterback Mac Jones: Zero. Nope, he’s not the next Tom Brady. Nobody is. But he’s not the next Jameis Winston, either. In two games, he doesn’t have a fumble or interception … which is just how the Pats like it.
13. Matt Ryan is approaching the finish line. You could see it last year. You can see it now. The eyes don’t lie.
14. For those keeping score, that’s 17 straight losses for Jacksonville, with 11 by 10 or more points – including the past six. Urban renewal is on indefinite hold.
15. One of these years the Vikings will find a kicker who can make game-winning field goals. I just don’t know when.
16. Tell me again why Falcons’ coach Arthur Smith was an upgrade over Raheem Morris.
17. Tough day for the Eagles. They lost more than a game. They may have lost Brandon Graham.
18. At 2-0, Sam Darnold has as many wins in two weeks with Carolina as he did last season with the Jets. Just sayin’.
19. Color Seattle as another playoff contender that should be worried. Once upon a time, it had the Legion of Boom and Russell Wilson to carry it to the top of the NFC West. Now it just has Russell Wilson, with the defense suffering a rare second-half collapse vs. Tennessee Sunday ... at home, no less. It marked the first time since 2015 the Seahawks blew a double-digit lead in the second half in Seattle, and that's a bad sign when you're trying to survive the NFC West.
20. Talk about kismet. The linebacker who forced the game-winning fumble for Baltimore? It was Odafe Oweh, chosen with the first-round draft pick the Ravens acquired from ... you got it ... Kansas City in the Orlando Brown trade. The Ravens thought he had the speed they needed to defend the Chiefs. Looks as if they were right.
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
Zach Wilson had more interceptions Sunday (4) than he did all last season at BYU (3).
ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
This is the first time in the Super Bowl era that the Raiders opened at 2-0 with both wins vs. playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Baltimore) from the previous season.
AND ONE THAT MAY INTEREST BOTH OF US
Cleveland’s Nick Chubb has 35 games in his career with 50 or more yards rushing. Only one Browns’ player had more in his first four seasons: Jim Brown with 41.
GOLD JACKET QUOTES
"It's not perfect. It's not pretty. But it's us." -- Baltimore coach John Harbaugh.
“To feel like we feel after a win like hat knowing we could play better, that’s a good problem to have.” – Buffalo QB Josh Allen on the 35-0 defeat of Miami.
“Ghosts again?” – New England LB Kyle Van Noy tweet after Zach Wilson's meltdown.
“Offensively, it’s as poor as we’ve been around here in a long time. And that starts with me.” – New Orleans coach Sean Payton after the Saints were held to six first downs in a 26-7 loss to Carolina.
GOLD JACKET RECIPIENT
TOM BRADY, QB, Tampa Bay. Maybe you heard of him. He’s 44 and outplaying the competition. He had four touchdown passes in the season opener, then followed with five more vs. Atlanta. That puts him at nine for the season, ahead of Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers … I think you get the idea. Ahead of the field. But that’s not all: His nine TD passes through the first two games of a season are second only to Patrick Mahomes' record of 10. Plus, he has at least four touchdown passes in four consecutive regular-season games dating to last season. Yowzah. For years, people have been telling us that he’s at or near his tipping point. They just didn’t tell us which decade.