A Tale of Two Halves
Though they were outgained, out “first downed”, and possessed the ball for seven less minutes, the Bucs led in the only category that really matters – the final score. Tampa Bay broke into the win column Sunday by overcoming a 17-0 deficit to beat Minnesota 24-20. Josh Freeman was nearly flawless in the second half, going 15 for 20 with 191 yards and a pretty 25 yard TD toss to Arrelious Benn. Freeman’s lone blemish was a really ugly INT in the endzone on the drive following the onside kick, which was a nice ballsy move in my opinion. After the INT, Freeman went 12 for 15 the rest of the way, completing passes to six different receivers and leading the Bucs on three scoring drives.
Sucker Punch Blount had a nice game as well, doing most of his damage in the second half, including two touchdowns. Blount isn’t much of an explosive back and needs lanes to pick up big chunks, but he tallied totes of 27 (TD), 13, and 8 (twice) yards in the second half. Another offensive bright spot was Preston Parker who caught six passes for 98 yards and racked up another 97 on five returns. Parker saw an increase in action due to Sammie Stroughter’s injury, but I’d argue that he should be ahead of Stroughter with both at equal health. He’s not the answer to my explosive playmaker need, but he’s an asset.
I liked how they got Dezmon Briscoe involved, catching four passes, but I was surprised how ineffective Mike Williams was rendered on the afternoon. He made a beautiful catch on that TD that was brought back due to Arrelious Benn’s illegal shift penalty. Attention to details youngster! The Bucs were forced to settle for a FG on that drive instead.
One other guy stood out to me as having a good game. Mason Foster made much more of an impact this week, totaling seven solo tackles, forcing a fumble, and one sack. I was interested to see how Foster would do in a game where the Bucs go against a solid running back, thus keeping him on the field more. They didn’t shut down Adrian Peterson, but Foster and company did a solid job of keeping the Vikings out of the endzone for the entire second half. Sean Jones didn’t have a bad game, and his sack of Donovan McNabb on third and long near midfield stopped the Vikings and forced a punt.
There were three pretty ugly defensive performances as well. Quincy Black continues to lack consistency and display pretty poor play read and react skills. I’m still surprised the Bucs spent so much to keep him this offseason. I’m not a big Cody Grimm fan, but Grimm himself would be hard pressed to find much good in his play thus far this season. He’s slow and pretty non-existent most of the time. Adrian Clayborn failed to be a factor once again, and it’s not going to take many more performances like that before the grumblings start. Gerald McCoy didn’t do much either, but at least he put a semi-dent in the stat sheet.
The Vikings are going to be bad this year, and they need to funnel just about everything through Peterson and Percy Harvin. The latter was really underutilized Sunday, playing in less than half of Minnesota’s offensive snaps. That’s just inexcusable coaching and play calling. McNabb put up better numbers this week, but man does he look slow and lethargic. I don’t see how he makes it through another five games as their starter. He gets to host the Lions and Mr. Suh this week. Good luck.
The Bucs get a much bigger test this week when they return home to host the Falcons who will be coming into town with a boost in confidence. The first worry that jumps out to me is if the front four can’t put any pressure on Matt Ryan because Aqib Talib is the only guy on the back end capable of making plays. The Falcons will feed Michael Turner a ton, but you know they’re going to test the Bucs deep with Julio Jones and in middle with Tony Gonzalez. If the Bucs trying to trade punches by featuring a lot of Blount, I think it’s going to be a long afternoon for the home team. Tampa’s best chance for consistent scoring opportunities is going to be with a lot of play action passing, getting Freeman on the edge and having him attack the defense with a lot of short to mid range routes. It’s not the prettiest of approaches, but I don’t think the Bucs can go toe to toe with Atlanta’s offense.
Cutler Cut Down
It’s a thing of beauty to watch the elite passers go through their progressions and maximize each play’s potential. Drew Brees had no loyalties, spreading his 26 completions among 8 receivers with each of his three TDs going to a different pass catcher in an impressive 30-13 beating of the Bears. That bomb to Devery Henderson was passing perfection. Brees threw the ball from his own 13 and hit Henderson in stride on Chicago’s 32. That’s a 55 yard bullseye. Once again Darren Sproles proved his worth, turning 12 touches into 60 yards and a TD. Even though he really stepped out of bounds inside the 5, Sproles got to the edge on that swing pass before Chicago had any time to react. Look for more of the same this week against the Texans. Aside from Jay Cutler’s bad game throwing the ball (a horrid 19 of 45), the other thing that stood out most to me was that the Bears ran the ball just twice on seven second half drives. The game was within reach into the fourth, but they decided to ride the ragged arm of Cutler to a completion percentage of 42 even though he was getting knocked around constantly, suffering six sacks. Cutler’s prize? He gets to head home and host the champs this week.
Early last week, Jason Hill (you know, the guy who shouldn’t be a starting receiver on any NFL team) made the comment that Darrelle Revis (the game’s best cover man) was overhyped. What makes that comment even funnier is that Hill didn’t have the “health” to suit up and partake in receiving a 32-3 beatdown from the Jets. I love this quote from the New York Post – "So sad, so sad. I'm in tears," Revis said. "When you do trash-talk, you've got to be able to back it up. He wasn't out there. I don't know. I guess he got the New York Jets flu or something." The Jags showed me I wasn’t completely crazy for predicting they’d be this year’s worst team, and they may already be switching to Blaine Gabbert in week 3. The rookie saw action late in the whooping, and Jack Del Rio was non-committal when asked about who will start this week in Carolina. The Jets may have won, but they can’t be pleased that Shonn Green gained only 49 yards on 16 carries (3.1 average) and that Mark Sanchez threw two interceptions and gained only 81 yards on the 11 completed passes that didn’t go to Dustin Keller. The Jets defense got back on track and nearly held the Jaguars to under 200 total yards. They’ll get to travel to Oakland this week, but they’ll be missing center Nick Mangold who is expected to miss the next 2-3 weeks with a high ankle sprain.
Bills A-gain Bring A-Game
My two surprise AFC teams faced off Sunday in one of the week’s most exciting contests in a game that started out as a potential laugher for the Raiders. After spotting Oakland a 21-3 halftime lead, the Bills fought back on the arm of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the legs of Fred Jackson, scoring a TD on all of their five second half possessions en route to a 38-35 comeback victory. The Raiders were literally defenseless, with Tyvon Branch letting the second fourth quarter TD slipping right through his hands and into Scott Chandler’s. I’ve stated my faith in Fitzpatrick a couple of times before, and he’s doing nothing to change my mind. He’s not going to be an elite guy, but he can win. David Nelson is proving to be a fairly reliable #2 receiver, and Jackson looks to finally be getting some warranted respect. After scoring 79 points in their first two games, the Bills will look to keep the offense churning this week against the Patriots. For Oakland, Darren McFadden looks to be in the best shape of his professional career. He ran for less than half of the 150 yards he put up against the Chiefs, but once again the offense ran through him and didn’t miss a beat. In addition to his 20 carries, McFadden had 7 receptions for 71 yards and two total TDs. The other offensive bright spot was rookie receiver Denarius Moore. I mentioned him in my preseason preview as a guy to watch, and if he keeps this up, you won’t be able to help but watch him. Moore totaled 146 yards on 5 catches, including a beautiful 50 yd TD that will likely be on many end of season highlight reels. The scoring strike had him outrunning, outjumping, and outplaying two Buffalo defenders for the ball. On an earlier play, Moore stole the ball in midair from Leodis McKelvin for a 20 yard gain. He also caught a 42 yard pass on a go route, leaving McKelvin in his wake and making it look easy. He’s an exciting talent.
Tennessee did a nice job of keeping Ray Rice in check, although he did bust loose for a really pretty 31 yard screen pass TD, breaking four tackles in the process of getting to the endzone. There wasn’t enough of that though Sunday. Run lanes were few and far between as Tennessee did a really now job of executing their defensive game plan and confusing Joe Flacco throughout. Baltimore’s passer completed less than half of his 32 pass attempts, failed to reach 200 yards, and threw two costly interceptions. Unless Ed Dickson steps up a bit more, I really worry about a lack of a real receiving threat behind Anquan Boldin and Rice. Defensively, how in the world do you let Matt Hasselbeck go 30 of 42 for 358 yards? For one, you fail to come up with an answer for Kenny Britt. The receiver from Rutgers totaled 135 yards on 9 receptions and scored again, giving him three TDs through two games. I hope he can stay out of trouble because this guy has scary talent. Chris Johnson wasn’t much of a factor once again, rushing for less than 2.5 yards per carry and adding a measly 12 yards in the passing game. Yes, they won, but let’s not kid ourselves. That’s not going to continue with Johnson struggling to get back up to game speed. Baltimore better not go sleepwalking on the road again this week because they’re coming up against a frustrated 0-2 Rams team. Tennessee will look to move to 2-1 when they host Denver.
Steel City Shutout
I guess they’re not too old huh? Some folks overreacted a bit to last week’s thumping at the hands of the Ravens, saying the Steelers were too old. Ask Pete Carroll just how old those Seelers are. Tarvaris Jackson was accurate with his passes, but none of them went for much as he finished with 159 yards passing. Seattle’s running game was non-existent, gaining just 31 yards on 13 carries. The fact that Carroll isn’t anywhere near making a change under center tells you how much they think of Charlie Whitehurst. Rashard Mendenhall didn’t get loose for the second week in a row, although he did find the endzone once. Mike Wallace had a really big game, catching 8 passes for the second week in a row, racking up 126 yards and a score. He’s currently tied for fourth in football with 233 receiving yards. The Steelers got a bit of a scare when Ben Roethlisberger went down late in the first half with what looked like a decent knee injury, but he was able to stay in the game and be his usual productive self. Pittsburgh will look to be the next team to beat up on the Manning-less Colts. It could get ugly in Indy.
Huge Loss in Detroit
The Lions put a 48-3 whoopin’ on the Chiefs Sunday, highlighted by 294 yards and 4 TDs by Matthew Stafford. On the receiving end of Stafford’s scoring strikes were Calvin Johnson (2), Tony Scheffler, and Jahvid Best. Interestingly, Johnson caught only three passes on the day, and Scheffler’s TD was his only catch on the day. Nate Burleson and rookie Titus Young paced the way for Detroit. I’m a big Young fan and like his potential in this offense, especially if Burleson gets hurt again. What was worse for KC than dropping to 0-2 in ugly fashion was losing star RB Jamaal Charles for the year with a torn ACL. On a first quarter 3rd down carry with his team down just seven in Detroit territory, Charles stretched his left leg and slipped on the first down marker when going out of bounds. He rolled into the Lions mascot and grabbed his left knee. That effectively puts the fork in any chances the Chiefs had of being relevant this year. Dexter McCluster has some shake, but he’s no Charles. Expect them to go to the air more with Matt Cassel, but damn, that’s not terribly enticing. He’s awful. I wouldn’t be shocked if Tyler Palko is given a shot soon, but I would really consider their #3 Ricky Stanzi. He might be their best chance of getting something going in the passing game, specifically with Dwayne Bowe. What a waste of a talented receiver.
Wow, Indy is bad. Can a player actually win the MVP without playing in a single game? I know they’re without Gary Brackett too, but it’s painfully obvious how important Peyton is to the Colts. I’m sure that, given more time, they could have come up with something better than Kerry Collins, but they’re going nowhere with him. The running game is more irrelevant than ever, and I don’t see how they’re going to win any games where the defense surrenders more than 24 points. Cleveland played better than in their home opener against the Bengals, but again, this was the Colts; not sure this really validates them yet. I like how efficient Colt McCoy was, completing 22 of 32 passes, and how he was able to spread it around to 8 different receivers. I still think it’s only a matter of time before Greg Little busts out as the primary guy there.
The champs nearly got more than they bargained for from the Panthers. Trailing at the half, the Packers got a 49 yard TD from Greg Jennings in the third quarter to take the lead for good and withstood a late Panther rally to move to 2-0. The huge bad news to come out of the game for the Packers was the season ending neck injury sustained by Nick Collins. The Packers are already giving up more passing yards than expected this season, and losing an All Pro safety certainly won’t help things. Keep a close eye on the progress of the Packer secondary. James Starks busted a nice 40 yard run and again was clearly the more dangerous back. No, I’m not a fan, but I’ve got to commend Cam Newton on a second straight impressive showing. The veteran Packer defense did force three INTs, but the rookie kept them on their heels all day, throwing for 432 yards and making 100 yard receivers out of Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart. Look for a huge game from Newton this week against the Jaguars. The RB situation is ugly though, as neither Stewart nor DeAngelo Williams were able to eclipse the 20 yard mark. Newton throwing 46 passes will limit your carries, but that’s two of two games where the Panthers struggled to establish a semblance of a run game.
Don’t Forget About Us
The Eagles drew a ton of offseason buzz, and there are/were playoff expectations in New York and Dallas. But through the first two weeks of the season, the only remaining undefeated NFC East team is the Washington Redskins. In the weekend’s closest contest, the Redskins beat the Cardinals behind solid QBing by Rex Grossman and three short but important Graham Gano FGs. I’ll still be surprised if Grossman gets this team to the playoffs, but he looked like a winner Sunday, leading five scoring drives, including an 18 yard TD toss on 4th and 3 from Arizona’s 16 with just over 5 minutes to go. Tim Hightower was still the primary ball carrier, but Roy Helu added 74 yards on 10 carries. Look for him to get more work going forward. Fred Davis is standing out as a reliable target for Grossman, catching 6 passes for 86 yards. He’s been stuck behind Chris Cooley during his time in DC, but with Cooley slow in getting back to health, Davis is getting a chance to stake his claim on the starting job. Take away Kevin Kolb’s nice deep TD to Larry Fitzgerald, and he had a ho hum 16/29 for 178 yards. I’m still not sold that he’s going to take this team to new heights.
No Knowshon Needed
It’s hard to get excited about a Bengals-Broncos game, but oneguy to start getting excited about is Eric Decker. The receiver from Minnesota created a bit of buzz with a solid preseason and turned in a fine performance Sunday with 113 receiving yards and 2 TDs. I don’t see why he can’t be a reliable weekly target for Kyle Orton. Willis McGahee subbed in nicely for an injured Knowshon Moreno, running for 101 yards and a score. I’d like to think he can keep it up, but he’ll be facing a confident Titans defense this week. I was impressed with Andy Dalton’s ability to move the chains, throwing for 332 yards and two scores. AJ Green had his first bust out day, catching 10 passes for 124 yards and a score. Hopefully that’s the start of something good between Green and Dalton. Second year defensive end Michael Johnson had a nice game as well, registering seven tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.
Back to the Backup
Arian Foster isn’t completely healthy and will now take on a reduced role until he is. Ben Tate did just fine in his place, rushing for 103 yards on 23 carries against the Dolphins. Don’t be surprised if Tate earns a permanent piece of the action when Foster gets back all the way. This was pretty much Tate’s job a year ago before he tore up his ankle. Andre Johnson continues to be a weekly dominating force, scoring once and finishing just shy of 100 yards. Speaking of 100 yards, Daniel Thomas had his first triple digit game as a pro, rushing for 107 yarsd on just 18 carries. The Browns will probably be a little tougher to attack in the middle this week. Chad Henne didn’t exactly ride his MNF momentum into this matchup, completing only 12 of 30 passes and leading the Dolphins on only one TD drive on the day. I’m looking forward to a Brandon Marshall / Joe Haden matchup this week.
Tom Terrific did it again. Brady backed up his 517 yards against the Dolphins with 423 more in an impressive 35-21 win against the Chargers. He tossed another 3 TDs, but once again, none of them went to Deion Branch. Brady’s old reliable now has 15 catches and 222 yards without a score through two games. The TDs will come, maybe really soon since Aaron Hernandez is now sidelined a few weeks with an MCL sprain. Chad Ochocinco doubled his reception output from 1 to 2, so at this pace, he should be pretty dangerous come December. Philip Rivers had two huge miscues. The first came on the pass picked off by Vince Wolfork late in the second quarter. The Chargers were within field goal range but instead surrendered one of their own to go into the half down 20-7 instead of 17-10 or better. If the Chargers are able to score TDs on both of those drives instead of the interceptions, they’d be up 21-17 in the third quarter. In a case of polar opposited, Vincent Jackson racked up 10 catches, 172 yards, and 2 TDs while All Pro TE Antonio Gates caught as many passes as I did Sunday. Last time that happened? Never. Gates has caught at least one pass in every game he’s played until the Patriots shut him out.
It’s cool to make fun of Tony Romo, but whether you like the guy or not, you’ve got to love the heart he showed by playing through a cracked rib and a collapsed lung. The guy threw for 345 yards on the day, 248 of them coming after sustaining the blow that did the damage. I got a new appreciation for that guy. Miles Austin had a huge day – 9 catches, 143 yards, and 3 TDs. His reward? A hamstring injury that is expected to sideline him a month. Fortunately Dez Bryant looks likely to return this week. Felix Jones, again, wasn’t a factor, but he gets some recognition for playing through a dislocated shoulder. Frank Gore was neutralized, totaling only 64 yards on the day, although he did score once. Yeah, he was efficient, but Alex Smith is such an uninspiring QB. No one receiver gained more than 40 yards. I know they’re not Jerry Rice, John Taylor, and Brent Jones, but a winning QB has to put his team on his shoulders on occasion. Smith can’t. Can they lose enough to get Andrew Luck, or will Jim Harbaugh consider a free agent like Josh Johnson next offseason?
Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta started getting ugly late in the first half. The mistakes? With the ball inside Atlanta’s 5 and a chance to go up 17-7 at the two minute warning of the first half and get the Falcons thinking that they’re about to repeat last week’s beatdown in Chicago, Michael Vick fumbled a handoff to LeSean McCoy that was picked up by Ray Edwards and returned 64 yards to Philly’s 24. Four plays later, Matt Ryan connected with Tony Gonzalez for the first of his two TDs. So instead, they’re in a 14-10 hole, and what happens next? With a little bit of time to get into range for a somewhat redeeming FG attempt, Vick fumbled on a blindside hit by John Abraham, squandering another opportunity. Vick went down late in the third after being forced into one of his offensive linemen, causing him to bit his tongue and, more importantly, suffer a concussion. His status for this week is uncertain. I would like to see more of Matt Kafka though. He stepped in because Vince Young was out with an injury, but knowing what I know about the two players, I’d roll with Kafka. Is it just me or does it look like Vince Young packed on a pound or 50? It was good to see Jeremy Maclin get involved in the offense. He exploded for 13 catches, 171 yards, and 2 TDs. He’d be better appreciated in most other offenses. Aside from Roddy White’s short score, the Eagles secondary effectively shut down both he and Julio Jones. They combined for 5 catches and 53 yards. I’m not a big Michael Turner fan, but I’m impressed with how well he ran against that aggressive defense; totaling 114 yards on 21 carries, including a 61 yard run. I’d still rather have LeSean McCoy. That dude makes something out of nothing every time he touches the football. He didn’t put up the yards that Turner did, but his two scores and 95 yards on the ground were even more impressive to me than Turner’s solid showing.
Monday Night Yawner
Is it just me, or is every Giants game a nerve-racking affair? They won by 12 and seemingly had the game in hand most of the way, but you always get the feeling that they’re a bad Eli Manning pass, running back fumble, or defensive miscue from letting the other team right back in it. Manning started and finished slowly. He threw an interception on his first drive and went three and out on his second. For the entire fourth quarter, Manning threw four passes on 3 non-kneel down drives. Mario Manningham was the top receiver totaling 56 yards, and Hakeem Nicks played through a knee injury managing only snagged three catches. Manning is struggling with them in the game, and it’s only going to get worse if one or both of them should miss time. I’m not a Michael Boley fan, but he had a really good game; showed a lot of hustle and good play recognition. His best play of the game was snatching up a lateral that Cadillac spaced on and running it back 65 yards for a TD. Sam Bradford can’t do it all, yet. He had no time to throw and wasn’t getting much help from his receivers either. Still, he put up 331 yards in a losing effort. Cadillac confirmed what most already knew – that he’s no longer primary ball carrier material (13 carries, 36 yards; 3 catches, 4 yards). Greg Salas need to carry around a football all week after fumbling twice.
NFL’s Best & Worst
With a little more to go on after two weeks, I’ve expanded my best and worst rankings:
Best Teams (previous rank)
1 – Green Bay (1)
2 – New England (3)
3 – Baltimore (2) – chalking last week up to hell freezing over
4 – New Orleans (5)
5 – Philadelphia (4)
6 – Pittsburgh (NR)
7 – Houston (NR)
1- Indianapolis (3)
2 – Kansas City (2)
3 – Seattle (1)
4 – Jacksonville (5)
5 – Minnesota (4)
6 – Denver (NR)
7 – Miami (NR)
Tom Brady (NE) – 31/40, 423 yds, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 135.7 QB rating
Matt Hasselbeck (TEN) – 20/33, 358 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 95.1 QB rating
Tony Romo (DAL) – 20/33, 345 yds, 2 TDs, 0 INT, 116.4 QB rating
Andy Dalton (CIN) – 27/41, 332 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT, 107 QB rating
Adrian Peterson (MIN) – 120 yds rushing, 2 TDs, 21 yds receiving
Fred Jackson (BUF) – 117 yds rushing, 2 TDs, 23 yds receiving
Michael Turner (ATL) – 114 yds rushing,1 TD, 32 yds receiving
Jeremy Maclin (PHI) – 13 receptions, 171 yds, 2 TDs
Vincent Jackson (SD) – 10 receptions, 172 yds, 2 TDs
Miles Austin (DAL) – 9 receptions, 143 yds, 3 TDs
Kenny Britt (TEN) – 9 receptions, 135 yds, 1 TD
Denarius Moore (OAK) – 5 receptions, 146 yds, 1 TD
AJ Green (CIN) – 10 receptions, 124 yds, 1 TD
Roman Harper (NO) – 7 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Morgan Burnett (GB) – 7 solo tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 PD
Charles Woodson (GB) – 5 solo tackles, 2 INTs, 2 PD
Antonio Cromartie (NYJ) – 2 solo tackles, 2 INTs returned for 63 yds, 2 PD
Luke McCown (JAX) – 6/19, 59 yds passing, 0 TDs, 4 INTs, 1.8 QB rating
Matt Cassel (KC) – 15/22, 133 yds passing, 0 TDs, 3 INTs, 44.5 QB rating
Joe Flacco (BAL) – 15/32, 197 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 51.2 QB rating
Marshawn Lynch (SEA) – 6 carries, 11 yds rushing, 1 catch for 1 yd
DeAngelo Williams (CAR) – 5 carries, 13 yds rushing, 23 yds receiving
Cadillac Williams (STL) – 13 carries, 36 yds rushing, 3 catches for 4 yds
Reggie Bush (MIA) – 6 carries, 18 yds rushing, 1 catch for 3 yds
Antonio Gates (SD) – 1 target, 0 catches
Mike Thomas (JAX) – 10 targets, 3 catches, 29 yds
DeSean Jackson (PHI) – 3 targets, 2 catches, 21 yds
Vernon Davis (SF) – 2 targets, 2 catches, 18 yds
Donald Driver (GB) – 1 target, 1 catch, 10 yds
Plaxico Burress (NYJ) – 2 targets, 0 catches
Mike Williams (TB) – 1 catch, -4 yds