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In Case You Missed It. NFL Week 2 Recap

The NFC West made a resounding statement in Week 2 led by the Seahawks domination of the Cowboys and the Cardinals upsetting the Patriots. Also, the replacement officials digressed. (Photo by Kevin P. Casey)

Week One Headlines

NFC West
I’ll admit, I make fun of the NFC West more than anyone. Two years ago I argued the NFL should force the NFC West to relinquish its automatic playoff bid if no team finished above 8-8. I’ve constantly referred to the division as the NFC Worst. I may have to stop after Sunday’s events.

The NFC’s forgotten division made a lot of noise by finishing 4-0 in Week 2. More notably, 3-0 as underdogs – two as home dogs and the other as a 14 point dog on the road to a popular Super Bowl favorite. So yeah, you could say no one believed in the NFC West this week. While many may be inclined to discredit Week 2’s NFC West domination, I will not.

The 49ers are clearly a Super Bowl contender so I won’t waste time defending the obvious.

The Seahawks boast one of the NFL’s top defenses and a physical downhill running attack to complement it. Sound familiar? The Ravens won a Super Bowl with that formula and so did the Buccaneers a few years later. Seattle’s wildcard is the quarterback. A solid day from Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will be tough to beat. An off day and it’ll be equally as hard for Seattle to win. Pete Carroll rolled the dice by starting the rookie from day one. It backfired in Week 1. It paid off in Week 2.

Then we have the Cardinals and Rams. The Cardinals benefited from Russell Wilson’s struggles in Week 1 and then toppled the mighty New England Patriots, at home, no less. Sure, the Arizona offense is unlikely to dominate any game, but the defense is good enough to give Larry Fitzgerald and whoever is throwing him the ball that week a fighting chance. Similar to what the Eagles did in 2011, the Patriots allowed the Cardinals to hang around and then failed to execute when the game was on the line.

The Rams could easily be 2-0 along with the Cardinals and 49ers. After two weeks, it’s safe to say no team has improved as much as the Rams. Cortland Finnegan has brought a nasty ferocity to the defense and Sam Bradford has performed well thus far under Jeff Fisher. Will either the Rams or Cardinals grab a wildcard spot? Doubtful, but they’ll pull their fair share of upsets and ruin a few seasons along the way.

Replacement Refs
You’d think replacement referees would improve as the season continued. Think again. The replacement officials were horrendous on Sunday. From not knowing the rules to missing the most obvious calls, Sunday was a mess. A review that used to take three minutes now requires eight. A simple explanation from an official to a coach lasts five minutes instead of 30 seconds. And, of course, my favorite of all, the fabricated call.

It was 3rd and 17 in the Redskins-Rams contest. Washington had possession. Robert Griffin III was pushed at of bounds short of the 1st down. About seven yards after he’d been pushed out of bounds, Griffin III tripped on the sideline chain and face planted. No call. The Redskins bench erupted. Flag thrown. The drive continued for Washington and led to a touchdown.  Yet another example of a reoccurring problem; replacement officials are intimidated by crowds, benches, coaches, and intense moments. Too many critical calls have come late. The replacement refs aren’t experienced enough to call a game while ignoring what’s around them. If you see a call, make it, but don’t wait to judge the outcome of the play or the response from players/coaches/benches before you commit one way or the other.

Another glaring and more important issue has been player safety. Players, especially defensive players, clearly have no respect for the replacement officials. Replacement officials have failed to control the feistiness that often comes with hitting another human being over and over again. Games in Philadelphia and St. Louis demonstrated this issue perfectly as teams delivered blows and scuffled after nearly every play. What’s worse, they did so with no regard or fear of the officials. Quite honestly, it’s a great move by the players.

The quickest way to get the real officials back on the field is to show a complete lack of respect for the replacement refs. The game suffers and player safety is compromised. The NFL cannot ignore the fact that its players are ignoring the replacement officials or that the replacement officials are ruining the game.

Struggling Superstars
Anyone notice our three superstar quarterbacks have struggled out of the gates and have a combined 2-4 record? Drew Brees apparently spent the offseason counting his money because he can only move the New Orleans offense when the game is out of reach. Aaron Rodgers has been under endless pressure and continues to deal with receivers that drop way too many passes. As a result, Rodgers doesn’t exude the same confidence we’re used to from him. He’s been forcing the ball and thus making more mistakes. Finally, the golden boy looked anything but golden against the Cardinals. In fact, for most of the first three quarters Tom Brady was doing his best Donovan McNabb impression. Worm burning balls to his receivers, throwing at his tight ends’ feet instead of their hands, and of course, completely missing wide open backs in the flat.

Giants outlast Buccaneers
Good luck finding a crazier game than the Buccaneers-Giants shootout. After an atrocious first half that included three interceptions, Eli Manning rebounded to finish with over 500 passing yards in leading the Giants from behind to defeat the Buccaneers. A few thoughts on the game:
1. The Giants defense should just stay home until late November. I can’t remember the last time they played well before then.
2. Eli Manning was awful in the first half. I was totally prepared to write about how we all cut Eli slack because he’s won Super Bowls even though his play was as awful as Vick’s was in Cleveland. Then, Manning turned into an unstoppable video game quarterback in the 2nd half. And that’s why Manning has multiple titles. Though his face screams panic, the man is never rattled.
3. Mike Williams’ 4th quarter touchdown grab to tie the game at 34 was one of the better catches you’ll see all year. The biggest problem plaguing most of today’s receivers is that they wait for the ball to come to them rather than attacking it. Williams attacked the ball, grabbed it at its highest point (above the defender) and managed to come down with two feet in the end zone. Beautiful.
4. I don’t know who the Buccaneers are trying to be, but I’m not buying whatever they’re selling. Josh Freeman resembles 2011 Josh Freeman more than the 2010 version. The offense doesn’t run the ball well enough. The defense, as proven Sunday, isn’t good enough to bail out the offense. Yes, Tampa Bay beat Carolina in Week 1, but the Bucs don’t pass the eye test. Something just isn’t right there. I know it’s early, but I’m out on the Bucs.
5. It’s hard to argue with whatever Tom Coughlin does because he’s been so successful throughout his career, but screaming at Greg Schiano at their postgame handshake was strange. Is Schiano supposed to coach his players to give up? At least when Mike Sherman had an issue with Warren Sapp he took it directly to Sapp. (“You so tough, put a jersey on!”) Coughlin owes Schiano an apology.

Someone take them to Chick-fil-A (NFL’s top 5)

1. 49ers – Though the 49ers only won by eight, it never felt like the Lions had a chance. Alex Smith’s game-clinching touchdown drive late in the 4th was most impressive. We haven’t seen a more complete and consistent team over the NFL’s first two weeks.
2. Packers – After the 49ers, there’s a noticeable drop to the next tier of teams. Yes, the Chargers, Eagles, and Cardinals are also 2-0, but would you pick any of those three teams in a matchup with the Packers? Green Bay’s defensive effort in Thursday night’s thrashing of the Bears must be encouraging to Aaron Rodgers and the stuttering Packer offense.
3. Texans – If you noticed, I didn’t include the Texans as a 2-0 team in the previous group. That’s because I think the Texans are a legitimate contender while the Eagles, Cardinals, and Chargers still have plenty left to prove. Unfortunately, though, I couldn’t rank Houston above the Packers based on blowout victories over the Dolphins and Jaguars.
4. Falcons – Apparently the Chiefs aren’t as good as we thought, so the Falcons win last week has lost some of its luster. Thus, I’m keeping them here at four until we see how they do against a better Denver team.
5. Cardinals – Why not, right? It’s unlikely the Cardinals hang around the top of the league for long, so let’s give them their due while we can. It’s not like they didn’t earn this spot. Arizona beat last week’s number one (Patriots) and fought off the Seahawks last week who went on to dismantle the Cowboys (#3 last week) in Week 2. (Why not the Eagles here? Because you can’t turn the ball over 9 times in two games and be put in my top five. Sorry.)
(Last Week: NE, SF, DAL, ATL, HOU.)

Hardly Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)

28. Saint – Yes, the Browns are probably worse than the New Orleans Saints. But you know what? The Browns actually give a crap. (Also, by excluding the Browns we had complete turnover in the bottom five for the first time ever. Hooray!) For the 2nd week in a row the Saints were sluggish, foolish, and outworked. For all the talk we hear about Drew Brees being a great leader, he sure hasn’t been able to rally the team without Sean Payton. 
29.
Jaguars – There’s no shame in loosing by 20 points to a team like the Houston Texans. There is, however, a lot of shame in accumulating just 117 yards of offense, going 0-9 on 3rd down, and losing the possession battle 43:17.  
30. Titans
– I was high on the Titans in 2012. Instead, they’re yet another team proving that momentum doesn’t carry over from the previous season. I honestly can’t think of one nice thing to say about their performance in San Diego. Not one.
31.
Raiders – Perhaps we’ll just rename the bottom of these rankings the AFC West. After a laughable performance in front of a national audience – well sort of, the game ended after 1AM ET, so it was more like a half-national audience – the Raiders traveled to Miami and got blown out by the Dolphins. Read that last part again… “blow out by the Dolphins.” The NFL is always full of surprises, but five words I never expected to hear in 2012 were, “blown out by the Dolphins.”
32. Chiefs
– Two embarrassing blowouts to kick off what was supposed to be a promising year lands Kansas City in the basement. The Chiefs were down 32 before they finally found the endzone in Buffalo. The Chiefs have been so bad, ESPN eliminated them from their NFL Standings.
(Last Week: BUF, CAR, MIA, PHI, CLE.)

Stock rising (but not in top 5, yet)

Seahawks – So that was the Seahawks team Grantland’s Bill Simmons picked to win the Super Bowl. It makes more sense now. If you didn’t watch, the Seahawks took the Cowboys out back and beat them to a pulp.
Chargers – An undefeated record in September is unchartered territory for the Norv Turner-led Chargers. Normally at this point of the season panic is rising out of San Diego. Have they played a decent team yet? No. But winning in September is a big deal for this team.
Eagles – Turning the ball over 9 times in two games is inexcusable. Winning while turning the ball over 9 times in two games is impressive. If you can win early in the NFL season while still working out the kincs, you’ll often find yourself in favorable position when the colder weather rolls in.

Stock falling (but not in bottom 5, yet)

Jets – So Mark Sanchez came crashing back to earth rather quickly. 219 yards of total offense for the Jets? Tim Tebow, anyone?
Bears – Like the Jets, the Bears got a goose egg from their quarterback this week. Jay Cutler has a lot of apologizing to do in that Chicago locker room.
Redskins – The NFL replacement officials babied Robert Griffin III like he was Tom Brady, and still the Redskins lost. Mike Shanahan must be kicking himself for not reminding his players that throwing the football at the opponent after the whistle is frowned upon.

Things I thought and would’ve said on TV if someone paid me…
  • If you haven’t heard, the Ravens accused the Eagles of playing dirty. That’s like a politician accusing someone of lying. The lesson; the toughest teams always cry the loudest.
  • Michael Crabtree, who knew? I feel like we’ve been waiting for a signature Crabtree moment since 1997. Crabtree, who was drafted 10th overall in 2009, was widely considered a sure thing. Instead, he’s been hampered by a foolish holdout and nagging injuries. In the 4th quarter with the 49ers trying to clinch a victory over Detroit, Crabtree converted three consecutive 3rd downs to extend the 49ers drive. The first two conversions required Crabtree to make a play after the catch in order to get the first down.
  • At what point does Fred Jackson start panicking? Next month? Next week? Yesterday? CJ Spiller is here to stay.
  • Week 2 was rebound week in the NFL as preseason playoff contenders got wins to keep their fan bases from jumping off bridges. The Steelers, Giants, Bills, Panthers, and Packers all leveled out to 1-1 while the Eagles climbed to 2-0. I had to include the Eagles here because a loss would have sent thousands running to the Walt Whitman.
  • I’m so mad at myself for abandoning Brandon Weeden after last week’s debacle against the Eagles. I knew he’d be all right; 26/37, 322 yards, 2 TDs.
  • The first two weeks gave us a pretty good idea of what we can expect from the Minnesota Vikings in 2012; entertainment. For the 2nd straight week, the Vikings scored in the final 35 seconds to force a tie. Though both of Minnesota’s opponents have been from the bottom of the lowly AFC South, the Vikings, and Christian Ponder especially, have shown they’ll give teams headaches this season.
  • Andrew Luck won my approval on Sunday. (And yes, I’m sure it matters to him.) After Christian Ponder’s six yard touchdown pass knotted the score at 20 with 31 seconds left, FOX’s camera cut to Luck standing on the sideline watching the tying extra point sail through the uprights. Luck smiled, walked to his helmet, and prepared to get back on the field. No panic. No frustration. I’m pretty sure he relished the opportunity to win the game with the 31 seconds remaining. And he did. Three passes and 47 yards later, the Colts won on a 53 yard field goal. Andrew Luck, ladies and gentlemen.
  • Carson Palmer had 46 passing attempts in Week 1 and 48 in Week 2. Note to Raiders coaching staff: Passing the football isn’t working.
  • Reggie Bush, on the other hand, was working on Sunday (197 total yards, 2 TDs), and Ryan Tannehill improved 1800% over his debut last week in Houston.
  • I can’t remember a more balanced start to an NFL season. After two weeks, the NFC has three undefeated teams at 2-0, a fourth at 1-0, one team at 0-2, and the other 11 teams sit at 1-1. I think it’s safe to say the wildcard race and even the division titles will go down to the wire in the NFC.
  • As mentioned above, Tom Brady doesn’t look the same right now. I thought New England abandoned the running game a little too early against the Cardinals. If you didn’t watch the game and saw the Cardinals had won, you’d probably have assumed the Cardinals played awesomely. You’d be wrong. The Cardinals did nothing exceptional. The Patriots won the possession battle, gained over 100 more yards than the Cardinals, and even won the turnover battle. The Patriots lost because the Cardinals and…gulp…Kevin Kolb were better in the red zone (2/2 vs. New England’s 1/3) and played a more disciplined game.
  • Both the Rams and Cardinals fumbled on their final possession while trying to close out the game, giving their opponents the opportunity to win or tie. Thanks to dumb mistakes by both New England and Washington, the NFC West finished the weekend undefeated instead of 2-2.
  • DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are the most exciting linebackers we’ve had around Philly since Jeremiah Trotter and Carlos Emmons, and maybe even Willie T Thomas and Seth Joyner.
  • The Panthers successfully balanced their offense on Sunday; 20 passing attempts for Cam Newton; 41 rushing attempts for the ground game. A 2:1 run:pass ratio is Carolina’s best chance at success.
  • Speaking of running the football, Carolina should model its offense after Houston’s. The Texans pummeled the Jaguars defense with 48 rushes at over 4.5 yards per carry. Defenses in today’s NFL aren’t made to withstand that kind of pounding.
  • I’m not sure what to make of the Steelers defensive effort on Sunday. Was their vast improvement from Week 1 due to a better effort or a far worse opponent? Regardless, the Pittsburgh offense will continue to need that type of effort from the defense as long as they continue to run the football at less than 3 yards per carry.
  • Before their final garbage possession, FOX displayed a graphic informing viewers the Cowboys had mustered only 34 yards in the 2nd half. It didn’t surprise me that Dallas lost in Seattle. However, the fashion in which they lost makes the Cowboys look like frauds yet again. Seriously, if you watched the 2nd half, you’d be shocked how dominant the Seahawks were.
  • Here’s to hoping Sam Bradford’s performance in Sunday’s big win over the Redskins is not a flash in the pan but a return to the potential he showed throughout his rookie season in 2010. Bradford, not RGIII, was the better quarterback Sunday.
  • Who can we compare the Titans Chris Johnson to? I can’t remember a star player falling off the map so abruptly while still in his prime.
Things I never thought and would not say this week, even if you paid me…
  • Todd Haley was the biggest reason the Chiefs failed to live up to expectations.
  • Everyone that said David Wilson was a great fantasy pick was right on. Anytime you can draft a guy that drops deeper down the depth chart every week is a must-have.
  • I told you Tim Masthay would throw for as many touchdowns as Aaron Rodgers against the Bears.
  • The replacement officials weren’t even noticeable this week. Keep up the solid work.
Fantasy Nightmare Football update of the week…
  • I participate in a very conservative league. Scoring 80 points probably wins you high score for the week (and $10). There’s no flex position, so you can’t float out three backs or four receivers and hope a few of them have a great day. While it’s not quite a nightmare, deliberating over which backs to start is a painful and stressful process. Obviously, Arian Foster is a lock, but after Foster I’m forced to choose between Stevan Ridley, CJ Spiller, DeAngelo Williams, Ben Tate, and now Alfred Morris. Sometimes fantasy football is more stressful than fun.

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