Here's what we've learned from Sunday's Week 2 games of the 2018 NFL season:
- With a steady, turnover-free performance, Dak Prescott (160 yards) did just enough Sunday night to silence growing criticism of his play after his Week 1 dud and lifted up the Cowboys' dead-on-arrival attack in the process. Dallas opened up the playbook for Dak, calling more run-pass options and deep throws this week. Prescott picked up three first downs with his legs, tallying 46 crucial yards on the ground. His first-quarter touchdown bomb to Tavon Austin exorcised whatever demons remained from Dallas' loss to Carolina and gave the 'Boys a lead it would not relinquish.
Speaking of... Did Dallas solve the problem that is Tavon Austin? On their second play, the Cowboys dialed up a go route for Austin against Janoris Jenkins and the embattled receiver hauled it in for a 64-yard score, his first touchdown reception since Week 12 of 2016, shocking the pundits who had ruled out Austin and Dallas' vertical passing game in one fell swoop. Austin was only utilized twice more on the evening, but his addition opened things up for the entire offense going forward.
- Thirty-seven-year-old Eli Manning struggled for the second week in a row, a sign that the Giants quarterback could be regressing in front of our eyes. Manning's completion percentage against the rival Cowboys was passable, but his leading receiver was his rookie running back, Saquon Barkley, who didn't do much at all with the 14 dump-downs Manning bestowed upon him. (Barkley's 14 catches were the most by a player in Giants history and a rookie in league history. His 80 receiving yards were the least by any player with so many receptions.) Far too often, Manning was taking sacks or overthrowing Odell Beckham. The Giants currently employ their most impressive collection of skill players they've had in years, but their stockpile of weapons is useless if Eli can't get them the ball in space.
Some would blame Eli's ebbs on his offensive line, blame that isn't misplaced. New York's troubles on the O-line are not going away, and they are arguably intensifying. The Giants allowed six sacks to Dallas' pass rush for 59 yards -- their most sacks surrendered to Dallas in 10 years -- and failed to pave much of a path for Barkley for the second consecutive game (28 yards on 11 carries). Save for his one breakout run, Barkley has averaged 2.3 yards per carry through two games. Everyone, not just Ereck Flowers, deserves some blame this week. Rookie Will Hernandez and Patrick Omameh were victimized as well; fullback Shane Smith got beat when he was brought in to help; and to add injury to insult, starting center Jon Halapio left on a cart in the third quarter with his leg in an air cast.
- Another way to look at it is that the Cowboys defense had another impressive showing. Six different Cowboys recorded takedowns of Manning (DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, Kavon Frazier, Antwaun Woods, Damien Wilson). Jaylon Smith led Dallas with 10 tackles and recorded a menacing, memorable midfield hit on Manning. It helped the Cowboys' pass rush that the secondary allowed few big gains and held Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard to just seven receptions.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- Save for the sauna-like environment as the hottest home game in Jacksonville history, this contest was eerily similar to the AFC Championship Game for three and a half quarters. Blake Bortles was in an uncanny rhythm, the Jaguars were dominating up front on both sides of the ball and the Patriots lacked any semblance of a big-play element. Whereas Bortles and the Jags coaches shrunk from the moment last January, they remained ultra-aggressive this afternoon. Down 24-13 in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Patriots opted to punt on 4th-and-inches from their own 19-yard line. Bortles promptly hit Dede Westbrook for a back-breaking 61-yard catch-and-run score to put the game on ice and spoil any chance of another Tom Brady comeback special.
- This was a dispiriting effort for a New England club that was simply outmanned on both sides of the ball. Down 14-0 in the first half, Brady and play-caller Josh McDaniels were each seen screaming at offensive teammates to "Do your job!" Brady's 10-yard scramble in the third quarter was the team's second-longest run of the day in a one-dimensional attack. Facing creative double teams designed by defensive coordinator Todd Wash, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski was limited to just 15 yards on two catches. With Julian Edelman serving a four-game suspension and the ground attack sputtering, Brady lacks the firepower to make defenses pay for devoting extra attention to Gronkowski.
- During last week's telecast, CBS analyst Tony Romo raved about Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers as the NFL's most underrated star. When Flowers went down with a concussion after taking a knee to the head early in the first quarter, New England's supposedly improved pass rush vanished. Bortles entered halftime 17 of 25 for 200 yards, three touchdowns and a sterling 131.7 passer rating en route to a 21-3 lead. Even with a knee injury to left tackle Cam Robinson, the offensive line kept Bortles unsacked and nearly untouched for the majority of the afternoon. The Patriots allowed 473 yards to an offense that struggled mightily to move the ball against a rebuilding Giants defense a week ago.
-- Chris Wesseling
- If ever there was a head coach who desperately needed a win (other than Hue Jackson), it's Jon Gruden. For 57 minutes and change, it appeared as though he'd get that victory, but the signs of his team's eventual loss were apparent nearly a full quarter prior -- or almost a full week, depending on who you ask. Much like they did in Week 1, the Raiders let victory slip away at the end of the third and through the fourth quarter, getting outscored 13-0 in the final 17:43 of the game. Denver compiled three drives of 10 or more plays, including a 14-play, 67-yard march that included four downs inside the Oakland 5-yard line and resulted in a Case Keenum rushing touchdown to cut the Raiders' lead to one point. Equipped with one of the toughest backs to bring down in the NFL, Oakland couldn't chew enough clock, and its defense failed to keep the Broncos out of field goal position. The result was a loss that in reality should have been a win and more questions about a defense that can't get a stop when it needs it most.
- Related to that defense is the play of Derek Carr. We're not here to crush the Raiders for this loss, but Oakland just suffered defeat after Carr completed 29 of 32 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating was 114.6, and he even re-established a rapport with Amari Cooper (10 catches for 116 yards). Last week, Raider Nation (and Gruden, less directly) put the blame on Carr, who had a forgettable game. He bounced back in the most professional of ways, putting together an excellent game that was deserving of a win.
But again, this was a tale of a lack of total team execution. Gruden got gutsy late in the third, going for it on fourth-and-1 from the Denver 33 with a 19-10 lead. A naked bootleg left fullback Keith Smith open in the flats, with the nearest defender (Bradley Chubb) turned around. Smith dropped the pass that would have extended a drive that was already in Denver territory. It felt like a turning point, even with more than a quarter to go, and it ended up being one after the Raiders lost by a single point.
- In case you've been living under a rock, Denver found itself a gem by looking just down the road to Boulder, and Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay. The undrafted rookie who finished with the second-most career rushing yards in Buffaloes history is finding similar success right out of the gate, racking up 107 yards on 14 carries. He's the first undrafted player in NFL history with 100 scrimmage yards in each of his first two games. If that isn't a home run, nothing is.
-- Nick Shook
- Jimmy Garoppolo is back in the win column, but it didn't come easily for the 49ers' quarterback. Facing a 3rd-and-2, up three points with 2:24 remaining, Jimmy G threw a pass late and behind Matt Breida that was picked off by rookie Tracy Walker. Fortunately for Garoppolo, he was bailed out by a Lions holding penalty away from the play, and the Niners held on for the win. Jimmy G tossed for 206 yards on 18-of-26 and two touchdowns, but it was far from a crisp performance. Garoppolo appeared to zero in on targets, predetermining throws, like the near-pick to Breida, and taking too long to get to his second read. The QB was sacked six times on the day. It wasn't pretty for Garoppolo against an injured, struggling Lions defense, but he'll gladly take the ugly win.
- Running back Matt Breida was the player of the game for the 49ers' offense. The second-year back galloped through the Lions' defense for a career-high 138 yards on 11 attempts, a 12.5-yard average. Breida's breakthrough came late in the third quarter, with the 49ers leading by one score backed up deep in their own end. Breida popped off for a 20-yard gain and followed it up with a weaving 66-yard touchdown run. He also added another 28-yard scamper. Breida runs with great vision, underrated power between the tackles, elusiveness in close quarters and speed on the second level. The 190-pound back chipped in with three receptions for 21 yards. Battling Alfred Morris with snaps, the dual-threat Breida stated his case resoundingly for a larger workload moving forward in Kyle Shanahan's offense.
- Matt Patricia's team remained in Struggleville for most of Week 2. The Lions' defense remains a sieve, particularly against the run. The special teams once again gave up big plays. Most disappointing was Matthew Stafford's struggles continuing until his team was down big. The highly paid quarterback missed numerous passes, including overthrowing several wide open deep shots. Looking uncomfortable in the face of the Niners' young pass rushers, Stafford was scattershot for three quarters throwing behind targets regularly. It took until the Lions got down by 17 points for Stafford to find any rhythm. Credit the QB for helping the Lions pull close with two late touchdowns. But his early struggles helped lead to the big deficit that necessitated a wild comeback that fell short. When the team's best player is playing as poorly as Stafford did through seven quarters, losses will ensue. The Lions only woke up following LeGarrette Blount's ejection in the fourth quarter on a hit after the play when Stafford was blown up near the sideline. Beyond the play of young receiver Kenny Golladay, there isn't much positive to take away from the Lions first two weeks. The consternation in Detroit about Patricia's coaching and game management will continue for another week.
-- Kevin Patra
- Green Bay's defense decided to rely more on its base grouping in Week 2, going with a 3-4 on the majority of defensive plays in the first half, and it paid off through two quarters. The Packers held the Vikings to seven first-half points and relied on five-plus defensive back groupings on third down to limit the Vikings to a sub-50 percent success rate -- and went completely away from that strategy in the second half. Green Bay shifted to calling five-plus defensive back groupings for most of the second half (understandable, considering the Vikings essentially abandoned the run out of necessity in the fourth) and struggled as the Vikings clawed their way back into the game through the air.
The biggest miscue, though, wasn't a change in strategy or even a missed kick (more on those later), but a flag that directly altered the outcome of the game. Green Bay intercepted Cousins with less than two minutes remaining, seemingly icing another thrilling home win until officials called a roughing the passer penalty on Clay Matthews, who hit Cousins but didn't appear to drive him into the ground. The penalty gave the Vikings a second chance that they did not squander, sending the game to overtime and eventually a tie. We'll spend the next 12 to 24 hours waiting for clarification on that call while the Cheeseheads spend the entire week cooling off.
- It might sound tired by now, but the Packers decided to make the Vikings beat them by the air, and it was once again the Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen show. Never was it more present than on Minnesota's final drive of regulation, when Cousins completed an unlikely touchdown pass thanks to an incredible catch made by Thielen in traffic at the front corner of the end zone. Needing two to tie, Cousins then turned to the other side of the field for a fade thrown to Diggs, who ran an excellent route to the back pylon for the successful conversion. The two combined for 21 catches, 259 yards and three touchdowns, all of which being very necessary for Minnesota to overcome a 13-point deficit with a furious, 22-point fourth quarter. All of this was achieved with very little of a running game, thanks to Green Bay's commitment to stopping Dalvin Cook. Should the Vikings get these things going earlier (and creep closer to a balanced attack), they will be a fearsome offense for opponents all season long.
- Sunday might have been the worst day for kickers in modern NFL history. Cleveland's Zane Gonzalez missed two field goals and two extra points as the Browns lost by three, Mason Crosby missed a would-be game-winner in this contest, and Minnesota's Daniel Carlson blew two chances to do so in overtime. The kicker who gave Mike Zimmer cause for concern three weeks ago (as pointed out by our own Chris Wesseling) justified those sleepless nights on Sunday, missing all three of his field goal attempts (but making each of his three point-after tries). Carlson missed from 48 in the second quarter, from 49 in overtime and from 35 to end the game in a tie. The last was the most appalling, as Minnesota seemed poised to win a game it really shouldn't have be in position to take.
-- Nick Shook
- Alert! The Atlanta Falcons red-zone offense is alive. Matt Ryan led four successful touchdown drives in the red zone in Sunday's victory. After going 1-of-5 in the red area in the season-opening loss, the Falcons spread the ball around in the condensed space. On the first trip deep into Panthers territory, Ryan found rookie Calvin Ridley for a score on an 11-yard slant. On the following drive, the QB looped a pass to tight end Austin Hooper in the corner of the end zone for a 2-yard TD. In the second half, Ryan dove into the end zone from the 1-yard line and later scampered for another rushing score. While much consternation persists about Julio Jones' usage in the red zone, Ryan spreading the ball around in the antidote to the team's struggles. Ridley burst out in Week 2 going for 64 yards on 4 receptions and the TD. The rookie's emergence makes Atlanta's offense diversely dangerous crew.
- Cam Newton's re-acclimation to life without Greg Olsen looks to be a struggle. The Carolina Panthers' quarterback got little help from his receiving corps early. Sans Olsen, running back Christian McCaffrey was the focal point of the passing offense. McCaffrey caught 14 passes for 102 yards. The rest of the Panthers weaponry corralled just 18 of Newton's 32 completions (45 attempts). With the ground-game stymied, Carolina's offense was relegated to a dink-and-dunk operation. It took until under seven minutes left in the second game for the Panthers to earn their first 20-plus receiving play of the season. Newton entered the fourth quarter averaging 4.9 yards per attempt -- he finished 7.4 YPA following some late-game plays after trailing by two scores. Without Olsen, Newton's targets repeatedly let him down. Devin Funchess and Ian Thomas (replacing Olsen) each suffered drops, and rookie DJ Moore couldn't corral the potential game-tying toss in the end zone on the final play. Sunday's loss was a reminder that completion percentage isn't everything. Newton connected on 71.1 percent of his passes, but the inefficiently is concerning for the Panthers offense moving forward. Facing a Falcons defense without Keanu Neal, Deion Jones and safety Damontae Kazee, who was ejected in the first half for a hit on Newton, the Panthers couldn't take advantage.
- No Devonta Freeman. No problem for Atlanta. Tevin Coleman gashed a good Carolina defense with a bevy of stretch runs and pitches. The back galloped for 107 yards on 16 attempts, including big gains of 36 and 19 yards. Elusive in space, Coleman can squeeze between blockers, run through arm tackles, and outrun linebackers on the second-level. Rookie running back Ito Smith also impressed when giving Coleman a breather, including back-to-back gashes of 13 and 18 yarders on the Falcons third TD drive. With Freeman expected to miss a couple weeks, it's comforting for Atlanta coaches to know they have a duo capable of carrying the load.
-- Kevin Patra
- Jameis Winston better get used to the visor and clipboard. Ten seconds into the game, Ryan Fitzpatrick staked the Buccaneers to a 7-0 lead with a 75-yard touchdown to former Eagles game-breaker DeSean Jackson. Before halftime, O.J. Howard's long catch-and-run gave Tampa Bay multiple scores of at least 75 yards for the first time in franchise history. By the middle of the third quarter against the reigning Super Bowl champions, Fitzpatrick became the first Bucs quarterback ever to toss four touchdowns in consecutive games. This aerial attack is absolutely loaded with complementary talent, and Fitzpatrick is giving them all a chance to make big plays. The journeyman quarterback is well on his way to NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors.
- The Eagles as currently composed simply don't have the firepower to hang with Fitzpatrick's firepower in the early-season heat and humidity of Florida's gulf coast. They entered the game without starting quarterback Carson Wentz and No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery. By the end of the first quarter, power back Jay Ajayi, deep threat Mike Wallace and Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters were sidelined. By the time Ajayi returned in the second half, the Eagles were facing a prohibitive 27-7 deficit. The Wentz watch is back on -- in full effect -- for next week's matchup with the upstart Colts.
- The Bucs' offensive explosion through two weeks has coincided with offensive coordinator Todd Monken's promotion to play-caller, taking the reigns from head coach Dirk Koetter. If Fitzpatrick's aerial attack keeps blowing other teams out of the building, it won't be long before Monken is touted as not just the next offensive mastermind but also a trendy head-coaching candidate.
-- Chris Wesseling
- A week after posting 43 yards rushing on 13 carries as a team, the Saints running game struggled to gain consistency for a second consecutive game. The Browns limited the Saints to 62 yards on 23 carries, an average of 2.7 yards per carry. The shortcoming in New Orleans' running game is magnified when considering Mark Ingram still has two games remaining on his four-game suspension, and the Saints finished the 2017 season ranked fifth in rushing with Ingram and Alvin Kamara in the backfield. Through two games, opponents have mostly kept Kamara in check and backup Mike Gillislee hasn't done much to help take pressure off Kamara. Ingram is eligible to return to the active roster in time for Week 5, but the Saints need to get something going when considering their next two games are on the road and no team wants to go away from home with a one-dimensional offense.
- Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas had 12 catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns on the game and now has 28 catches through two NFL games, a new league record for the most catches through the first two games. Thomas, who entered the season with 196 catches over the past two seasons, now has 224 career catches on the early part of the season and puts him well within pace of the NFL record for most catches in first three seasons of 288, which is currently held by Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
- The Browns defense held the Saints' potent offense for the most part until the latter stages of the fourth quarter, and a lot of the credit has to go to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' familiarity with Saints head coach Sean Payton. Williams, who once served on Payton's coaching staff, designed a game plan that didn't allow the Saints to gain any momentum throughout the game. Still, while the defense was shining, the offense couldn't take advantage of the Saints' early miscues. The Browns will get a win eventually and it will be because of the defense.
-- Herbie Teope
- Patrick Mahomes is a laser-wielding quarterback wizard. The Chiefs signal-caller followed up a four-touchdown opening game with a six-TD performance at Heinz Field in Week 2. The ten touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season breaks the record previously held by Peyton Manning (2013), Drew Brees (2009) and Charley Johnson (1965). Not a bad group to best, eh? Mahomes spread the ball around with aplomb, finding wide open targets scampering free in the Steelers secondary. While Week 1 was the Tyreek Hill show, Sunday was Travis Kelce's day. Mahomes darted passes to the tight end down the seam repeatedly, including touchdowns of 19 yards and 25 yards. Mahomes hit five different receivers with his six touchdowns, spreading the wealth around to his targets. He finished 23-of-28 passing for 326 yards and 6 TDs for a 154.8 passer rating. Kansas City's overwhelming speed was evident from the start as Andy Reid's team jumped out to a 21-0 lead before Pittsburgh fans could blink. Mahomes proved he could move the ball without needed to chuck it deep repeatedly. Reid's creativity, Mahomes' gun, and the Chiefs overwhelming receiving weaponry makes K.C. the most dangerous offensive unit in the NFL. It's also the most fun group to watch work.
- The Steelers' sleepy start to the game spelled trouble against the explosive Chiefs. Pittsburgh went three-and-out to open their first two drives, earning -5 yards. After getting down by three touchdowns early, Ben Roethlisberger woke up. Big Ben picked apart the K.C defense, spreading the ball around to nine targets. Passing 35 times in the first half, the Steelers stormed back to tie the game at halftime. With the running game stymied (30 total rushing yards), the Steelers relied on Ben's arm, despite missing practices this week with an elbow injury. Roethlisberger passed for 452 yards on 39 completions on a whopping 60 attempts passing with three TDs and no turnovers. Roethlisberger passed Hall of Famer John Elway (51,475) for the 7th-most pass yards in NFL history. With Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Jesse James, the Steelers can spread the ball around the field. They'll need to keep putting up points if the Pittsburgh defense continues to be a sieve.
- If you like defense, this tilt was not for you. The teams combined to give up 79 points and 924 total yards, 57 first downs, and zero red-zone stops (8-of-8 collectively). Offensive playmakers were running scot-free in the secondary on both sides. The Steelers missed corner Joe Haden, who was out with an injury, and the communication errors remain a concern for Mike Tomlin's unit. A week after giving up a Cleveland Browns comeback, Pittsburgh's D looked like it was playing in quicksand at home versus Kansas City. For the Chiefs, Sunday is a reminder that Reid's offense must continue to put up massive numbers. K.C.'s secondary couldn't stop a sneeze, and the pass rush was non-existent most of the day (1 sack of Big Ben on 60 attempts).
-- Kevin Patra
- It wasn't a flawless performance, but cross-country treks in Week 2 of any NFL season typically don't breed peerless performances. In the end, the Chargers (1-1) did everything they needed to do to win against a beatable opponent. Philip Rivers led the way, completing 23 of 27 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those touchdown passes were to Melvin Gordon, who finished the game with three TDs on 66 total yards. Austin Ekeler helped out with 77 yards on 11 carries in addition to making three catches for 21 yards. Most of this production came in the first half when the Chargers offense seemed to be more or less operating at will against a Buffalo defense that managed to make some progress since last week's blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens. While the Chargers definitely showed flashes of what they're capable of on offense, it seemed like the whole thing lost its voltage once the team took a three-TD lead. They probably aren't on the same level as the molten-hot Chiefs' offense, but it seems the Chargers are capable of offering more when it comes to lighting up the scoreboard.
- Josh Allen's first career start for the Bills (0-2) was packed full of big-armed, rookie drama. The first-round pick completed 18 of 33 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown in tandem with eight carries for 32 yards. He also threw two interceptions and hardly had a chance to breathe easy playing behind a offensive line that couldn't keep the pressure off. Still, it was definitely a step beyond the Nathan Peterman experience that went nowhere in Week 1. Allen definitely did enough to keep his starting quarterback role, piecing together some good throws in combination with some gutsy runs. His 57-yard pass to Zay Jones got a standing ovation from the crowd at New Era even if the team did run into the tunnel at halftime amid a smattering of boos. Allen will continue to grow and improve, but the lack of on-field supporting staff will continue to make it a hard-knocks life for the rookie moving forward.
- LeSean McCoy said earlier this week the Bills needed to do a better job giving Allen support, and they sort of did that -- at least they did it more than they did in Week 1. McCoy tallied 39 yards on a nine carries and also caught four passes for 29 yards. However, his afternoon came to an abrupt end when he left the game in the fourth quarter after suffering an injury to his ribs.
-- Austin Knoblauch
- What a difference a week makes. After imposing their will for four quarters in Arizona, the Redskins returned home to face a rabid Colts defense firing off the ball as if they knew Alex Smith's snap count. Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson were bottled up on the ground, and Smith had trouble moving the chains without a downfield element in the passing game. Coach Jay Gruden will have to go back to the drawing board for next week's tilt versus the Packers ahead of the Week 4 bye.
- Don't tell new Colts coordinator Matt Eberflus that his defense is supposed to be one of the NFL's weakest units. Margus Hunt, formerly a Hard Knocks star with the Bengals, has been reborn in Eberflus' 4-3 scheme, hip-tossing blockers to harass quarterbacks and hog-tie running backs behind the line of scrimmage. Not to be outdone, rookie Darius Leonard looks like a small-school steal out of South Carolina State. The second-round linebacker tallied an astonishing 18 tackles (15 solo) with a sack and a key forced fumble on Jordan Reed in the fourth quarter. If the season's first two weeks are any indication, Indianapolis' defense is no longer a pushover.
- Stop me if you've heard this one before: Andrew Luck overcame an undermanned offensive line, a toothless ground attack and a lack of firepower at wide receiver to lead the Colts to victory. Luck's ball placement was sublime on an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a beautiful back-shoulder fade to Eric Ebron, starting the afternoon with a bang. Although the offense went into a funk in the second and third quarters, he played pitch-and-catch with T.Y. Hilton down the stretch to seal the victory with a 13-play, 75-yard drive in the middle of the fourth quarter. Much to relief of Indy faithful, Luck looks like the same quarterback who led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes in 2014 before a string of injuries disrupted his progress and sent the franchise into a 2017 tailspin.
-- Chris Wesseling
- The version of Deshaun Watson who churned out near-constant rookie of the year prognostications before going down with a torn ACL last year made its official comeback Sunday. Unfortunately, it was a rookie-like mistake that snuffed out the Texans (0-2) chances of a comeback. After getting the ball back with no timeouts and less than a minute to go following a tie-breaking 31-yard field goal by Ryan Succop, Watson managed to drive Houston to midfield with 17 seconds left to go. On the final play of the game, he found DeAndre Hopkins for a big gain, but there were two problems -- his foot was over the line of scrimmage when he threw and Hopkins caught the pass in the middle of the field. With no way to the stop the clock, the game ended. It was a significant blemish of what was otherwise a strong comeback effort by the sophomore signal-caller, who completed 22 of 32 passes for 310 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Watson's chemistry with receivers Will Fuller, DeAndre Hopkins and Bruce Ellington was spectacular, at times, in helping the Texans come back from an early 14-0 deficit, but it wasn't enough to overcome what was a gutsy performance from the Titans (1-1).
- Hand it to Titans coach Mike Vrabel and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur for going full-cojones on the creative play-calling with their starting quarterback injured. Even though Marcus Mariota was active for the game, he was relegated to cap-wearing sideline duty because an elbow injury that was causing him problems holding onto the ball. Blaine Gabbert got the start, but the Titans utilized plenty of clever ways to limit their reliance on the passing game while not taking him out of the equation. Kevin Byard toss a 66-yard touchdown pass to Dane Cruikshank on a fake punt in the first quarter and, on the Titans' next possession, Derrick Henry took direct snaps out of the Wildcat to move the ball quickly down field. Atypical plays aside, Tennessee kept the Texans honest by running the ball a lot. Derrick Henry had 56 yards on 18 carries and Dion Lewis had 14 carries for 42 yards to help sustain time-killing drives. Gabbert did his part, though, connecting on an 18-yard touchdown pass to Taywan Taylor en route to completing 13 of 20 passes for 117 yards in a solid effort. Tennessee's creativity on offense was refreshing and effective in operating on the correct assumption that Mariota and Gabbert aren't the same player.
- The Texans need to be better for Deshaun Watson. The quarterback struggled in the first half playing behind an offensive line that was very spotty in protection. The game proved that Watson's surgically repaired knee was up to the task of constant jukes and dekes as he tried to evade the clutches of the Titans' pass rushers. Tennessee's front seven did an admirable job putting pressure on Watson for almost the entire game, forcing the QB to rely on his talented receivers to ignite the near comeback. Still, Houston has to find a way to get more consistency out of its O-line if it wants to make the most out of Watson's abilities.
-- Austin Knoblauch
- A half that was all Dolphins seemed to be taking a late turn in favor of the Jets when Sam Darnold led a five-play, 74-yard drive that began at the Jets' 25. The only issue with the possession: Darnold's final pass, completed to Chris Herndon at the 2, came painfully short of a touchdown, ending at the 1 as time ran out on the half. In a world full of what-ifs, the Jets lost by eight. Perhaps that would-be touchdown, narrowly missed in a half filled with victories for the Dolphins, would have changed things, especially considering Miami's offense fell silent in the final two quarters. These close calls happen to teams looking to turn the corner.
- Ryan Tannehill had one of the odder games you'll see from a quarterback who posted a passer rating well above 100. Tannehill completed 17 of 23 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns, but looked skittish at times in the pocket, including when he was strip sacked in the first half. Fortunately for him and a Dolphins offense that was much less vertical and came screeching to a halt in the second half, Miami found intermittent success on the ground and its defense forced New York to become one-dimensional enough to hang onto its lead.
- In case Jets fans weren't aware, there will be some growing pains with Darnold. The rookie continued to flash why New York is so excited about him, but also made some mistakes reminiscent of his time at USC, putting together a bad first half that ended up sinking the Jets. His first interception looked a lot like one he threw in the Cotton Bowl against Ohio State, and his second -- thrown in the Dolphins' end zone -- blew an excellent opportunity created by a takeaway a play earlier.
-- Nick Shook
- The reigning Offensive Player of the Year spent his Sunday in Arizona's end zone. One week after Los Angeles figured out that the key to victory in Oakland was to feed, feed and keep feeding Todd Gurley, the Rams repeated that strategy in their home opener. Gurley didn't have the most productive day yardage-wise (42 yards on 19 carries), but was a hammer at the goal line, scoring three of L.A.'s four touchdowns. Gurley exited with some cramping, but by the time he was taken out, the damage was done.
Gurley proved the perfect knockout punch to the countless jabs provided by Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. The three combined for 19 receptions almost evenly and 295 of Jared Goff's 354 passing yards. Cooks (159 yards) is already a far more consistent deep threat than his predecessor Sammy Watkins and proved it on a second-half 57-yard reception. Woods (81) and Kupp (63) are steady, reliable route-runners, who create countless mismatches in the slot and outside. With this much balance, it is hard to envision any team keeping up with the Rams offense in its current iteration. Especially not when the opposing offense averages just three yards per play...
- Try these stats on for size: In two games, the Cardinals have just four first-half first downs. Against the Rams, they tallied just five total. FIVE -- and two came in the final three minutes. The Cardinals crossed midfield just once on Sunday afternoon -- on the second to last play of the game. Arizona can't move the ball, and it's not the fault of justSam Bradford or justDavid Johnson or justChad Williams or just the offensive line. It's a collective effort. In that way, they're playing as a team.
For the second week in a row, the Cards struggled to get David Johnson going early -- through two weeks, D.J. has just 85 rushing yards -- and, in failing to do, never established a rhythm on offense or created manageable third-down opportunities. Bradford, with little to work with, threw for just 90 yards and averaged 3.33 yards per attempt. Would Josh Rosen have fared better? Maybe. Maybe not. The result surely would have been the same, a loss so boring and an offensive performance so inept that the cameras caught the rookie Rosen yawning on the sidelines. It's been that type of start to the Steve Wilks era in Arizona.
- The Rams' special teams unit is often considered the best in the league, and it proved as much Sunday. After Greg Zuerlein was unexpectedly ruled out with a hamstring injury, All-Pro punter Johnny Hekker stepped up, handling kickoff duties and hitting a short field goal and an extra point (when the Rams deemed attempting another two-point conversion "piling on"). Signed off the street after L.A. placed Pharoh Cooper on IR, JoJo Natson was a fine fill-in, taking one punt back 60 yards to set up a touchdown at the end of the first half. Unlike their counterparts, the Rams are a complete team, capable of winning games even if one of their phases flops. When all three are cooking despite adversity as they were on Sunday, boy, the league is in trouble.
-- Jeremy Bergman