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Neil Reynolds' Wraps Week 2

When you cover sports professionally, there is a danger of over-hyping players too early in their careers. We see it happen all the time across the spectrum of sports and it's no different in the NFL.

Within a few games of taking the field for the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie in 2021, linebacker/edge rusher Micah Parsons was turning heads and being compared to the great and destructive pass rusher from the New York Giants teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s in Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.

It was a lofty comparison, but all Parsons has done since entering the league is live up to such a billing. He is everything that LT was to the Giants – relentless, dominant and capable of taking over entire games on his own. The comparisons are proving to be fair and not over-hyped at all.

Parsons makes plays all over the field and demands your attention. Your eyes are drawn to him. If you took all of the names and numbers off the backs of the players in Dallas Cowboys games, you would still find Micah Parsons every time.

In Sunday's 30-10 beatdown of the New York Jets, Parsons delivered further evidence of his growing greatness. Yes, I'm going to use that word already even though he is only in his third season because talents like this do not come around too often in the NFL. It's a whole new level with Parsons – he has the potential to be one of the top four or five defensive players in this game's history.

Parsons recorded four tackles, two sacks, four quarterback hits, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and he knocked down a pass. Through his first 35 NFL games, Parsons has now recorded 29 ½ sacks. It is one heck of a return and his quick start to 2023 has helped the Cowboys open the season with back-to-back wins over New York teams.

With Parsons leading the way, the Cowboys are making a bold claim as the best defense in football. And few would argue with that statement. The numbers certainly back that up. Through two games, Dallas have registered 10 sacks and seven takeaways; and allowed a total of 10 points and one touchdown.

That has meant that quarterback Dak Prescott has not needed to hit top gear in the early stages of the new campaign. CeeDee Lamb had some big moments at receiver on Sunday but, for the most part, Dallas have been able to play within themselves on the offensive side of the ball.

That will only continue to boost Prescott's confidence. He has yet to throw an interception this season because he has not been asked to take many risks. This is a player who led the league with 15 picks in 2022, so having a dominant defense led by Parsons is making his game much easier.

We're only two games in, but I see no reason to ignore Dallas when it comes to the NFC Super Bowl conversation. They look like being in the mix with the likes of the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles. But keeping Parsons healthy will be the absolute key. He is a game-changer of historic proportions and will be the driving force in Texas all season long.

Who's Hot…

Bijan Robinson… While I think he could be in a job share with Tyler Allgeier all season long, Atlanta Falcons rookie running back Bijan Robinson has already proven he is the real deal. In back-to-back Falcons wins to start the season – the latest being Sunday's 25-24 victory over Green Bay – Robinson has consistently caught the eye and provided a few "wow" moments along the way. The explosive and shifty back accounted for 83 scrimmage yards and one beautiful touchdown against Carolina in Week 1. But he upped his game in Week 2, rushing 19 times for 124 yards and adding four catches for 48 yards. Robinson is going to get a lot of opportunities in Atlanta's run-heavy attack and I see no reason why he cannot be one of the stars of this season.

Mike McDaniel… The Miami Dolphins head coach is doing a masterful job of putting his team in a position to win and they moved to 2-0 on the season with Sunday's 24-17 victory over the New England Patriots in Foxboro. Pats head coach Bill Belichick was determined that Miami would not beat New England with a Tyreek Hill-led big-play attack. He dropped an umbrella of three safeties over Hill and limited him to five catches for 40 yards. Belichick tested McDaniel's patience and Miami's coach answered with 30 running plays for 145 yards and two scores, led by Raheem Mostert who gained 121 on the ground and twice found the end zone. That was an impressive counter to Belichick's master plan and one that suggests Miami can be flexible week to week. That bodes well for their Super Bowl chances.

Puka Nacua… The fifth-round rookie wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams is exactly why all fans should pay attention to day three of the NFL Draft. There are always gems to be found in the later rounds. Even though the Rams lost to the 49ers in Week 2, Nacua continued as the leading target for Matthew Stafford in the absence of the injured Cooper Kupp. The rookie caught 15 passes for 147 yards on Sunday and now has 25 receptions in his first two NFL games. That is the most for a rookie in NFL history by six catches, besting the 19 recorded by San Francisco's Earl Cooper in 1980.

Who's Not…

Zach Wilson… I know, I know… this is an obvious one and it is going to look like I'm piling on the New York Jets. They certainly didn't play well as a team on Sunday, although I was impressed early on with the defense before they got worn down against the Cowboys. But the drop-off from Aaron Rodgers to Zach Wilson is stark and apparent. Wilson is now 8-15 as an NFL starter and he went 12 of 27 for 170 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in Texas. I have to wonder if the Jets have a Plan C at quarterback if Wilson continues with his struggles because the rest of this team can be pretty good. At the moment, it all looks too much for Wilson.

Jacksonville's red zone offense… The Kansas City Chiefs were there for the taking on Sunday, but they escaped Jacksonville with a 17-9 win because the hometown Jaguars kicked too many field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. It has become a cliché, but it is very true – you need sevens and not threes when facing the likes of Patrick Mahomes. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence was just a little off on some of his throws down near the end zone and wide receiver Zay Jones definitely should have dragged his feet for what would have been one key score. The Jags were on the wrong end of the fine margins on Sunday, but I still see them as a playoff team this season. They just couldn't finish the job in Week 2.

The Los Angeles Chargers… Quarterback Justin Herbert has now lost 10 games since 2020 in which the Chargers were leading at some point in the fourth quarter. That is the most in the NFL in that period and a reminder of how frustrating it must be to be a Chargers fan. Los Angeles led for much of Sunday's game against Tennessee but ended up losing 27-24 in overtime. But let's not put all this on Herbert – he threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns in the game, after all. The defense has suffered some big failings already this season, giving up 36 points to Miami in Week 1 and allowing Ryan Tannehill and his receivers to wake from their hibernation in Week 2. The pressure is building on head coach Brandon Staley, that's for certain.

The Fast Five… 

NFL head coaches always talk about depth and the importance of the bottom third of your roster and both things are vital, but you also cannot beat a bit of star power. The Kansas City Chiefs welcomed back tight end Travis Kelce and defensive end Chris Jones on Sunday and while both were on a pitch count in searing heat, both made vital plays. Kelce scored on a touchdown catch from Mahomes, while Jones recorded one and a half sacks. 

The Minnesota Vikings are proving that close games in the NFL can go either way and finishing out such contests is vital. In 2022, the Vikings went 11-0 in one-score games – a record for any regular season. In two weeks to open 2023, Minnesota are experiencing the other side of the coin and are 0-2 in one-score games after Thursday's loss to Philadelphia. The Vikings are being way too loose with the football and turnovers are killing a talented team.

Leading into Sunday's game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen was under the microscope for his turnover-laden display in Week 1. There was much talk of the star passer needing to calm down and play with more patience. He still took some risks in a 38-10 win over the Raiders on Sunday, but the numbers were more what the Bills would like to see as Allen hit on 31 of 37 passes for 274 yards, three touchdowns and, importantly, no interceptions. More of the same will be needed in the coming weeks.

It took a while, but the New York Giants finally woke up and got their 2023 season started. After being blanked 40-0 by Dallas in Week 1, New York found themselves down 20-0 and then 28-7 on the road to the lowly Arizona Cardinals. With Saquon Barkley leading the way, the Giants rallied for a 31-28 win. But there are no worries over a leg injury suffered by their star running back on the final drive of the game.

Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson is going to be fun to watch but he has to take care of himself and realise players hit harder in the NFL. Richardson rushed for two touchdowns in Sunday's 31-20 win over the Houston Texans but left the game with a concussion. Balancing when to take off and take risks and when to protect himself will be key for Richardson's season and his NFL longevity.

Fact of the Week

The NFC East Division is a combined 7-1 after two weeks of play. Dallas, Philadelphia and the Washington Commanders are all 2-0, while the Giants are 1-1.

Finish That Sentence

Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we so often did on our NFL Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…

From Finn Reynolds (@FinnReynolds2) The 0-2 team that will come back and go deep into January is… the Cincinnati Bengals. I just think Joe Burrow is too good to be held down for long and let's not forget that the Bengals started 0-2 last season and came within one drive of reaching a second successive Super Bowl. Once Burrow, who missed a lot of summer action with a calf injury, gets up to speed; the Bengals will be just fine. I'm also not writing off the 0-2 Minnesota Vikings – they're not in the same class as the 49ers, Eagles and Cowboys; but they can get into the playoff picture if they take better care of the football and show more attention to detail with games on the line.

From Geraint Jones (@gera1nt) Baker Mayfield is going to be okay… in some games and not so okay in others. I know that's probably not the answer you were looking for but there have been false dawns before with Baker. Week to week consistency has eluded him throughout his NFL career. The Bucs are off to a nice 2-0 start and they have played well on defense, holding both the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears to 17 points. But credit where credit is due, Baker has looked rock solid. He completed 26 of 34 attempts for 317 yards, one touchdown and no picks on Sunday. I've been impressed with what I've seen so far and it will be a fun story if he maintains such form, but Mayfield has struggled with consistency so his biggest challenge will be to stay on a steady track. It's a good start, for sure.

From Tony L (@Fatboymfc) Patrick Mahomes is not the messiah, he's just a… quarterback who could end his playing days considered the greatest to ever suit up in this game. Again, I'm not sure that's where you wanted me to go with that one. Take Sunday's game, for example. The Jags made life extremely hard for Mahomes and it was a second out-of-sorts showing for the Kansas City attack in as many weeks and yet their star quarterback still ended up throwing for 305 yards and two touchdowns on his 28th birthday. The great ones cannot be kept down for too long and Mahomes rose up to make just enough plays to steal the win. While there is plenty to be corrected when Kansas City watch film of these first two weeks, Mahomes has rarely been the problem. He is a special one.

Final Thought…

The NFL continues to grow internationally and the future could not be more exciting. We are just a few short weeks away from the first of five regular season games to be played in Europe, the deal between the NFL and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to play games at that stunning, purpose-built venue has been extended to the 2029-2030 campaign and, from 2024, each NFL team will carry an international player on its practice squad. This continues to be a truly global game and I think we'll see even more international games being played in Europe and around the world in the coming years. This is no longer a purely-American experience. The NFL belongs to everybody and that makes the future so intriguing and truly historic.