(Philadelphia, Pa) — The celebration and adulation of Week 1 of the 2008 NFL season gave way to thoroughly enjoyable Week 2. This week in opinion began the long process of figuring out which teams are moving toward contention (ex. Carolina Panthers) and those teams that maybe looking to make changes in the near future (ex. St. Louis Rams). Overall week 2 showed that no one can predict the most unpredictable league in the world. The exciting week featured last second wins, high scoring games, controversial calls, upsets, breakout performances and other surprises. One thing is for certain, week 2 showed why the NFL is the most popular sport by far of the four majors and why the networks are willing to fork over billions of dollars to broadcast the games that fans just cannot consume fast enough.
The breakdown of teams after week 2 shows that “parity” is everywhere in the NFL as there 10 teams at (2-0), 10 teams at (1-1), and 10 teams at (0-2) in the current NFL standings — there also is 1-0 Baltimore and 0-1 Houston, who did not play this week due to problems from Hurricane Ike at Reliant Stadium. One thing is for certain, no matter where a team currently sits in the standings, they all have a legitimate chance to still make the playoffs… Did you hear that Chiefs fans. Since realignment in 2002, 42 of the 72 playoff teams (58.3 percent) began the year at either 1-1 or 0-2. There were eight such teams in 2007 including the New York Giants. To refresh your memory, the G-Men started 0-2 and went on to win the Super Bowl. In fact, four of the past seven Super Bowl champions began their seasons with a 1-1 or 0-2 record. The main thing is to not get in the almost impossible hole of 0-3, which could very well be a death sentence to a season.
Some tidbits from Week 2:
- Don’t count the Colts out just yet – After a listless first half that featured a 15-0 deficit to the Vikings and only 101 total yards including only four rushing yards (thow-in 2 sacks and an interception by the Vikes, Peyton Manning and the Colts woke up. Even playing without injured starters TE Dallas Clark, C Jeff Saturday and OT Tony Ugoh, the Colts scored 18 unanswered points on their way to a hard fought comeback road victory. The deciding three points were supplied by kicker Adam Vinatieri as made a 47-yard field goal with three seconds left giving him his 21st career game-winner — the Pro Bowl kicker redeemed himself after missing a 30-yarder earlier in the fourth quarter.
- Most Surprising 2-0 team – Of the teams that are unblemished going into week 3 (Patriots, Bills, Steelers, Titans, Broncos, Cowboys, Giants, Panthers, and Cardinals), you have to believe the upstart Bills are no most surprising. For the second week in a row, the Bills beat a 2007 playoff team handily as they are off to their best start in 5 years. This week it was the Jacksonville Jaguars turn as the young Bills beat them 20-16 in their own stadium. The Bills were led by quarterback Trent Edwards (20-of-25 for 239 yards and a touchdown), who finally has the starting job all to himself and his confidence is showing. They now have big Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters back from a holdout and the sky seems to be the limit.
- Most Disappointing 0-2 team – Of the teams that are winless going into week 3 (Chargers, Seahawks, Vikings, Dolphins, Browns, Chiefs, Lions, Rams, Bengals and Jaguars), they can be broken down into 3 categories. There are some that are just plain bad (sorry) Chiefs, Rams, Lions, and Bengals. Some rebuilding (Dolphins) and others fighting through massive injuries (Seahawks and Jaguars). But the ones being considered major disappointments so far have to be some of my divisional winner picks (Vikings, Browns, and Chargers). This group all had playoff expectations, but right now they are struggling for a win. To me the Chargers have to be the leaders for the disappointment title. Sure they lost two last second games including getting jobbed on Sunday (See Lloyd’s Lackey), but the amount of talent on their roster warrants better results than being in touch and go games every week.
- Rookie RB’s making their mark – The way everyone looks at the 1983 NFL Draft class as the year of the quarterback, they may soon say the 2008 NFL Draft was all about the running back. Through Week 2, NFL rookie running backs have totaled 1,197 rush yards – the most through the first two weeks of a season in 29 years (1,306 rush yards in 1979) and have totaled 257 rush attempts — the most through the first two weeks of a season since 1993 (262). The group is led by Chicago Bears power back Matt Forte’ (215 yards) followed by Raiders combo back Darren McFadden, (210 yards), Titans speedster Chris Johnson (202 yards), and Panthers strong runner Jonathan Stewart (130 yards). CBS NFL Today Analyst Charlie Casserly said of the group of runners, “Every one of these backs can make an impact with their team this year.”
Before we go to the game balls and other awards congratulations to Saints head coach Sean Payton on receiving a 3-year extension through 2012. Also our thoughts and prayers go out to the Southwestern Gulf region of the United States as they are battling through the ravages of Hurricane Ike.
Oakland Raiders RB Darren McFadden — After a lopsided week 1 loss where everyone was calling the Raiders “the worst team in the NFL, Al Davis’ boys struck back. The Raiders were led by rookie running back Darren McFadden. The first round tough running back came in for an injured Justin Fargas and showed why the Raiders had to have the two-time Heisman runner-up. McFadden carried the ball 21 times for 164 yards including a 19-yard touchdown in the Raiders’ 23 – 8 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Raiders had an amazing 300 yards rushing as a team, which help off set a 55-yard passing performance by quarterback JaMarcus Russell.
Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner – Some wondered if Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt should have stuck with high-round draft pick Matt Leinart as the team’s starter. But Warner cemented the coach’s confidence by producing passing numbers of 19-24, for 361 yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinals’ 31 – 10 win over the Miami Dolphins. The Cardinals produced 445 total yards and controlled the ball for nearly 32 minutes. A special shout-out goes to Warner’s star WR’s Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, who combined for 12 catches, 293 yards and three touchdowns as the Cardinals improved to 2-0 for the first time since 1991.
Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan – It seems like forever since Shanahan led the Broncos to back to back titles in ’97 and ’98, but he is back. The fiery coach led the Broncos to a stunning last-minute 39-38 victory over the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos offense gained a total 486 yards led by QB Jay Cutler who passed for a career-best 350 yards and four touchdowns. WR Brandon Marshall was Cutler’s favorite target completing 18 receptions for 166 yards and one touchdown. With the Broncos down by one, following Cutler’s final touchdown completion to rookie WR Eddie Royal, Shanahan said “Go for the win” as his team did the unheard of a two-point conversion to win a game in September. The coach was vindicated as Cutler hit Royal over the middle to seal the victory. Rich Eisen of NFL Network said of the two-point conversion for the win, “Mike Shanahan says ‘I’m home. I have a long-term contract. I’m going for two.'”
Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning – After a first half where his team put up zero points, allowed two sacks, and allowed Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to run over 100 yards, the Colts stormed back from a 15-0 deficit behind the 11-year veteran quarterback. The game was sloppy, but Manning (26-42, 311, 1 TD, 2 INT) and receivers Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez stepped up with big performances. Gonzalez had career highs with nine catches and 137 yards, and was Manning’s go-to guy. Wayne rebounded from an early drop to catch a 32-yard touchdown and a 20-yard catch that set the game-winning field goal. Manning now has 31 fourth-quarter and overtime game-winning drives, tying Johnny Unitas for the most in club history.
New York Giants DE Justin Tuck – It looked like the Super Bowl all over again as the huge former Notre Dame two-way end was everywhere in the Giants’ 41 – 13 win over the St. Louis Rams. Tuck made three tackles, had two sacks, defensed a pass and returned one interception 41 yards for his first career touchdown.
Other standouts: San Francisco 49er LB Patrick Wllis (8 TKLS, Pass Def, INT Return for a TD), Washington Redskins FS Chris Horton (Fumble Recovery, 2 INTs, 8 TKL, and 2 Pass Def), Washington Redskins QB Jason Campbell (24-36, 321 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT — first 300-yard passing game since Week 12 of last year), and Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten (7 rec for 110 yards including a 42 yarder to setup a FG at the end of the first half).
NFL Referee Ed Hochuli – The NFL can spin it anyway they want, but one of their top officials blew a game-changing call in a game on Sunday. Hochuli, who is supposed to be one of the NFL’s best officials, had two bad officiating calls that probably cost the San Diego Chargers in a 39-38 loss to the Broncos. The most egregious of the calls was Hochuli ruling after review that Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler apparent fumble that was recovered by the Chargers as an incomplete passing attempt where he blew his whistle making the play dead and gave the ball back to the Broncos. It was pretty obvious to everyone except Hochuli that Cutler fumbled with every replay showing the ball had slipped out of Cutler’s hand. San Diego head coach Norv Turner called the reversal, “totally unacceptable.” The stout referee also had another change of possession call that gave Denver the ball after the Chargers had just completed a pass. All these bad calls could end up costing the Chargers the AFC West, but we will have to see. As for Hochuli, the NFL said they will mark his grading with the bad call (big deal) and I am sure a letter of apology is in the mail to the Chargers. BTW: To the many irritate Chargers fans that I have heard from, there is no discipline – i.e. fines or suspension – for an official except when they do not know a rule or misapply a rule (Fat Chance).
Minnesota Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson – For the second week in a row, the Vikings had little to no passing attack in a loss (haven’t thrown for 200 yards in either loss). The team had to settle for field goal after field goal as Jackson’s offense stalled in an 18-15 loss to the Colts. The former Alabama State star’s numbers were pedestrian (14-24, 130, 0 TD, 0 INT, one lost fumble, and only 1 rushing yd) to say the least. It was learned that veteran Gus Frerotte would be the Vikings starting quarterback in week 2.
Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson — The explosive rookie receiver had an apparent 61-yard touchdown catch nullified because he prematurely celebrated by releasing the ball at the 1-yard line. Luckily for the “kid”, the ball was re-spotted at the 1-yard-line and Brian Westbrook scored on the next play. But Jackson needs to understand scoring is more cool than celebrating. Just hand the ball to the official next time, however Jackson became the first WR to have back-to-back 100-yard receiving games to start his career since fellow Eagle Don Looney did so in 1940.
The Kansas City Chiefs – Herm Edwards better not answer the phone as his team lost a franchise record 12th straight game as they lost to Oakland 23-8. Stud running back Larry Johnson only had 22 yards rushing and Chiefs starting quarterback Damon Huard left the game with a head injury and the team had to rely on inexperienced quarterback Tyler Thigpen and receiver/former college quarterback Marques Hagans under center. The Chiefs are now 0-2 and Herm’s seat is very hot.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)