The Chiefs, Falcons, and Jets had big wins, fully propelling them into the thick of the playoff hunt. The Cowboys found a running game, Tim Tebow rallied the Broncos (again), and the rapid maturation of Cam Newton continued in the Queen City.
Week Two Headlines
Falcons, Jets; alive and kicking
Had they lost on Sunday, I was prepared to write off the Falcons and Jets. Facing playoff contenders within their respective conferences, both needed wins to stay within striking distance of division leaders and the Wildcard chase. Heading into Sunday, we knew the outcomes would give us a good idea on how good or bad the Falcons and Jets really are. Now we know.
I’m not a believer in the Lions, so I expected the Falcons to win, but the Jets’ victory was unexpected. Despite an ordinary start to the season, I thought Philip Rivers and the San Diego offense would be nearly unstoppable out of the bye. Instead, the Jets defense smothered Vincent Jackson and forced Rivers into countless errors, often costing the Chargers points. On the other side of the ball, the Jets offense was finally successful with their ground and pound approach, punishing the Charger defense to the tune of 162 yards at over 5 yards per carry. Additionally, although it took two months, the Jets figured out how to use Plaxico Burress’ size, finding him for three scores inside the red zone. What cannot be overstated is New York’s refusal to abandon the running game. Despite a 21-10 deficit, the Jets continued to allow Shonn Greene to grind away at the defense. Green’s success on the ground gave the Jets control of the game in the second half.
Defensively, the Jets forced turnovers, pressured the quarterback, and contained San Diego’s rushing attack – all staples of what made New York’s defense one of the NFL’s best over the previous two seasons. It’s only one game, but it was the Jets first win against an AFC playoff contender. More importantly, it was the first time they resembled the team that advanced to two straight AFC title games.
The Broncos believe in Tim Tebow
The 45 minutes prior to a stellar 4th quarter made many believe Tim Tebow’s loudest critics were right: he couldn’t win in the NFL as a quarterback. But Tebow won, again. Funky throwing motion or not, Tebow knows how to win football games. Obviously, one game won’t determine if Tebow has a future at quarterback or how good he’ll be, but Sunday’s come-from-behind win against the hapless Miami Dolphins further solidified Tebow’s reputation as one of the fiercest and most respected competitors in all of sports.
After attempting less than 10 passes in the first three quarters, Tebow went 10-19 for over 150 yards in the 4th quarter, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for a successful two point conversion. I was less impressed with Tebow’s performance, though, and more impressed with the respect Tebow received from his teammates. Rookies, veterans, coaches, and PR personnel swarmed to Tebow after the winning field goal. His teammates clearly love him. More importantly, Tebow has the respect of two Hall of Famers. First, Brian Dawkins whispered something to Tebow for a few seconds before a hug. Then, Champ Bailey offered Tebow congratulations while smiling ear-to-ear. Practice squad players, unheralded backups, and rookies flock to young rookies in these moments. Not future NFL Hall of Famers. I have no idea what Tebow’s future as an NFL quarterback holds, but I know this: There’s something special about Tebow. He leads. He never quits. And he wins. Brian Dawkins and Champ Bailey know it. They see his potential. They believe in Tebow. Who am I to argue otherwise?
AFC West is a mess
Despite the heroic efforts of Tim Tebow, I still can’t imagine Denver competing for the division title in the AFC West. Regardless, what once looked like a freebie for the Chargers is now a three team race. Don’t be fooled, though, none of these teams are elite, at least not now.
The Raiders may have fallen off the map on Sunday. It was only one half of football, but Carson Palmer looked a lot like the Palmer we saw in Cincinnati the last two seasons. He was indecisive, panicked, and worst of all, a turnover machine. Without a healthy Darren McFadden, Oakland needs a competent quarterback. They don’t have one. After trading for Palmer, they don’t have a 1st round pick to draft one, either.
The Chargers are still the favorite because they’re too talented. Still, they’ve looked bad for over a month now. On Sunday, the Chargers finally played a team capable of making them pay for their mistakes and it cost them a victory. Philip Rivers has looked lost all season and the defense hasn’t played to the same level it did under Ron Rivera.
That leaves the Kansas City Chiefs. Injured and left for dead, Kansas City has won three straight and now sits within striking distance in the AFC West. It’s hard to put too much emphasis on Sunday’s demolition of the Raiders because of Oakland’s quarterback situation. Regardless, the Chiefs are winning thanks to a solid ground game and big plays from stellar receiver, Dwayne Bowe. The defense has also returned to its 2010 form, where it was one of the league’s top units. With a difficult schedule and key players missing, the Chiefs are a long shot, but a win over the Chargers in Week 8 would propel Kansas City to first in the AFC West. In other words, anything can happen in the all-of-sudden mediocre AFC West.
Cam Newton dominates Redskins
His numbers weren’t flashy, but Cam Newton played his best game as an NFL quarterback yesterday. After getting sloppy over the past month and committing too many turnovers, Newton made a concerted effort to protect the football. He finished with zero turnovers and, despite only 23 passing attempts, made more game-changing plays than in any other game this season. As athletically gifted as he is, Newton isn’t relying on his speed and size to carry him through his rookie season. He’s using his head. Most rookies are too overwhelmed to learn and adjust during the season. They’re encouraged to use their natural talents instead. While Newton often uses his legs to make plays, he’s judicious when doing so, only running when there’s something available or absolutely necessary. Steve Smith is having a career year because Newton hangs in the pocket, allowing Smith to make things happen. More importantly, Newton can actually make the difficult passes most rookies can’t until year three or four, if ever. Newton’s deep ball to Smith in the 4th quarter was Peyton Manning-esque, dropping it over the outstretched arms of two defenders right into Smith’s waiting hands. It was only one of Newton’s handful of, “can you believe a rookie threw that,” passes on the day. Newton isn’t a rookie learning to be an NFL quarterback anymore. He’s an NFL quarterback learning to be a superstar. And his progress has the NFC, and the NFC South especially, on high alert.
Someone take them to Chick-fil-A (NFL’s top 5)
1. Packers – One of these days, all those drops by Green Bay receivers, especially on 3rd downs, are going to bite the Packers in the rear. At this point, Packer receivers are the only ones capable of stopping Aaron Rodgers.
2. Patriots – Even on a bye week, the Patriots still look like the best team in the AFC.
3. Ravens – Please include Blaine Gabbert in your prayers throughout the day. He’s going to need them.
4. Saints – Sunday night’s thrashing of the Peyton-Manning-less Colts was impressive. But let’s be honest, the Colts are helpless without Manning. Even though Manning doesn’t play defense, his absence sucked the life out of that whole franchise.
5. 49ers/Cowboys – If Dallas can maintain the same success rushing the ball as they displayed on Sunday, they’re an elite team. The 49ers could finish 2-8 and still win the NFC West.
(Last Week: GB, NE, BAL, SF, DAL)
Hardly Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)
28. Jaguars – Jacksonville defeated the respectable Titans in Week 1 before getting trounced by the Jets a week later. They’ve gone 0-4 and looked miserable since. Perhaps the Jaguars pulled the trigger on Luke McCown a little too soon?
29. Cardinals – I certainly expected more from Kevin Kolb. Regardless, I place most of the blame for Arizona’s struggles on that lousy defense.
30. Colts – 62-7. There’s not much else to say.
31. Rams – St. Louis has scored 56 points this season, six less than New Orleans scored Sunday night. Only seven NFL teams have scored less than 112 this season. In other words, nearly 80% of the NFL has scored twice as many points as the lowly Rams.
32. Dolphins – Tony Sparano needs the Old Yeller treatment. Just put him out of his misery already.
(Last Week: JAC, IND, AZ, STL, MIA)
Stock rising (but not in top 5, yet)
Steelers – They haven’t beaten anyone good yet, but the Steelers can prove themselves worthy over the next three weeks as they welcome New England and Baltimore before visiting Cincinnati.
Chiefs – Three wins in a row and the AFC West continues to slide back toward them. More impressively, the Chiefs are rallying without their two best players.
Falcons – It looked like we were getting close to the point of writting off the Falcons. Two weeks later, they look like the contenders most expected from the start.
Stock falling (but not in bottom 5, yet)
Redskins – I think the last two weeks have been on par for what you’d expect when you enter the season with Rex Grossman and John Beck as your starting quarterbacks.
Lions – Talk is cheap. It also doesn’t win football games.
Titans – Matt Hasselbeck’s play is starting to resemble his recent Seattle years, and someone should tell Chris Johnson it’s ok if he wants to end his holdout now.
Things I thought and would’ve said on TV if someone paid me…
- Not a good week for the Washington Redskins. Tim Hightower is out for the year with a torn ACL and Santana Moss is out for at least a month with a hand injury. That 3-1 start is a distant memory.
- I couldn’t find a single reason to watch the Seahawks/Browns game on Sunday. Judging by the score, I didn’t miss much.
- The vaunted Lion offense consists of Calvin Johnson. That’s it. Without him, they don’t score more than 13 points a game. I have no fear of Detroit. I’m even more excited about the Eagles’ postseason chances than I was before the bye.
- Most impressive performance of the day: Houston Texans. Houston destroyed the Titans rush defense and made a clear statement: The AFC South goes through Houston. If they can continue to run the football with similar success, the Texans may even win a first round playoff game.
- The Dolphins are awful. I still don’t understand why Miami’s owner hasn’t cleaned house. Not a single one of Miami’s personnel moves in the last 5-7 years has paid off. Time to start over. Again.
- Philip Rivers runs the worst two minute offense I’ve ever seen. And that’s coming from a huge Donovan McNabb fan. Two plays in a row he dumped it off to a running back in the middle of the field with no time outs. On 4th down, trailing by 6, Rivers threw the ball out of bounds. I couldn’t tell who was more confused; the Chargers, the Jets, or the official.
- If the Bears don’t get smart and pay Matt Forte, they’ll become the Miami Dolphins of the North. Forte should sit out now and force Chicago to pay up. Without him, the Bears finish 6-10.
- I’m hoping Dallas’ new found running game had more to do with the lousy St. Louis defense than anything the Cowboys did. If it’s the later, my Eagles are in big trouble next Sunday.
- As I’m sure most of America did as well, I called the Tim Tebow draw before the Broncos lined up for the game-tying two point conversion. I guess the Dolphins don’t watch game tape.
- We’ve only seen the Steelers face two decent teams and they’ve lost to both. Next Sunday against the Patriots is a huge game for Pittsburgh. If they can’t win two of their next three, I think they’ll miss the playoffs. …Never mind. I just looked at their schedule. It would take a catastrophe for the Steelers to finish worse than 10-6.
- Looking at the box score, the Chiefs and Raiders played an identical game on Sunday with one variation. Turnovers. The Chiefs won that battle 6-2.
- Tough night for St. Louis. Both the Cardinals and Rams lost to Texas teams with uninspired efforts. How are the Blues this year?
- I like Christian Ponder. He has a big time arm (did you see him throw on the run? Whoa.), athleticism, and he made a number of smart choices by not forcing throws. It’s only one game, but if I’m a Vikings fan, I’m hopeful for the future.
- Did the Colts call the season, or did Jim Irsay send out an email requesting players take the rest of the year off so the organization can draft Andrew Luck? Give the Colts credit; at least they’re trying to get Luck. The Dolphins and Rams are unintentionally leading the Suck for Luck sweepstakes.
- The Broncos won, so it all worked out, but I didn’t understand John Fox “settling” for a 52 yard field goal.
Things I never thought and would not say this week, even if you paid me…
- Colts head coach, Jim Caldwell deserves plenty of credit for rallying his team. The absence of Peyton Manning has not impacted the team one bit.
- Carson Palmer was a steal. For a 1st round pick and a 2nd (that could become a 1st), I think Oakland got great value.
- Kyle Boller should be starting somewhere.
- As I predicted, Philip Rivers is having an MVP season.
- The Seahawks and Browns can really light up the scoreboard.
Fantasy Nightmare Football update of the week…
- We award $10 each week for the highest point total. I thought I was a lock until Plaxico Burress rose from his grave to score three TDs. My lead is only four points and the team trailing has the Raven defense against Blaine Gabbert. I lose.