NFC West: 2012 Week 2 Wrap-ups

Wrap-up: Rams 31, Redskins 28

September, 16, 2012
Thoughts after the St. Louis Rams' 31-28 victory over the Washington Redskins at the Edward Jones Dome:

What it means: The Rams improved to 1-1 while serving notice, again, that they'll be more competitive and resilient under first-year head coach Jeff Fisher. Not only that, they'll win on occasion. Quarterback Sam Bradford matched and probably outplayed Robert Griffin III, his heralded rookie counterpart, while the Rams' franchise running back, Steven Jackson, mysteriously watched most of the game from the sideline. This is Fisher's team, but the offense belonged to Bradford on this day. Perhaps that will continue.

What I liked: The Rams kept coming back. They turned a disastrous start and a 21-6 deficit into a 23-21 lead. They turned a 28-23 deficit into a 31-23 lead. They shrugged off two crushing plays (a Redskins fumble return and Bradford's interception in the end zone). They shrugged off additional issues to the offensive line, even after their backup left tackle, Wayne Hunter, left with an injury.

Bradford tossed more than two scoring passes in a game for the second time in his career. Danny Amendola caught 12 passes in the first half. Rookie Daryl Richardson added a welcome speed dynamic at running back with a 53-yard burst around the right side (although he lost a fumble late). The offense functioned at a much higher level than anticipated given issues on the offensive line and the Redskins' strength in the front seven.

Bradford completed 26 of 35 passes for 310 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a 117.6 passer rating. He pumped his fist and hugged teammate Chris Long on the field after kneeling to run out the clock on the Rams' first victory under Fisher. This team has suffered for so long. Players knew they were making strides under Fisher, and now they have some proof.

What I didn't like: Officials lost control of the game early and appeared to botch a ruling when they determined Jackson had fumbled short of the goal line. Replays showed Jackson's elbow was down before the ball came out. Jackson apparently thought he scored. He spiked the football. Officials flagged him for unsportsmanlike conduct. The penalty moved back the Rams, who settled for a field goal. Jackson watched the rest of the game from the sideline even though he was apparently healthy. Was Fisher making a statement that no player is above the team? He'll have to explain, but it had to be tough for Rams fans to see Jackson rendered irrelevant on such a joyous day for the team.

Amendola lost a fumble on the Rams' first offensive play, leading to Josh Wilson's 30-yard touchdown return for the Redskins only seconds into the game. That's no way to begin any game, let alone the first home game of the Fisher era.

What's next: The Rams visit Chicago in Week 3.

Wrap-up: Seahawks 27, Cowboys 7

September, 16, 2012

Thoughts after the Seattle Seahawks' 27-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at CenturyLink Field:

What it means: The Seahawks improved to 1-1 while looking like the team they thought they would be this season. They played tough defense and forced an early turnover. They unleashed a physical ground game featuring Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin. They make a game-changing play on special teams by returning a blocked punt for a touchdown. And at quarterback, an efficient Russell Wilson used the play-action game to find his tight end (Anthony McCoy, not Zach Miller or the released Kellen Winslow) for a touchdown.

What I liked: Malcolm Smith's blocked punt and Jeron Johnson's return bought needed breathing room for Seattle after the Seahawks drove to a field goal on their opening drive. Those are the types of plays that get a home crowd going. They can make the difference for teams with strong defenses. Seattle contained DeMarco Murray (3.7 yards per carry, long run of 9 yards) and Tony Romo. Romo had gone 3-2 in his past five road starts, tossing 12 touchdown passes with only two interceptions during those games. Seattle picked him off early and prevented him from getting comfortable.

Seattle's offensive line did a much better job against the Cowboys than against Arizona in the opener even though left tackle Russell Okung rested a knee injury. Wilson, who completed 15 of 20 passes and finished with a 112.7 passer rating, showed he could find receivers with accurate passes when given time to throw. That is what Seattle needed to see. Lynch topped 100 yards rushing as Seattle wore down the Cowboys in the second half. Again, this game went to the Seattle blueprint.

What I didn't like: Wilson missed high early in the game, an issue lingering from Week 1. He became sharper as the game progressed. Receiver Sidney Rice left the game after taking a hard hit. Durability has been a problem for Rice. He takes too many big hits and tends to fall awkwardly. It's looking like he'll be on the injury report more often than not. Officiating was shaky at best. Seattle fans complained about the Cowboys getting away with holding. I thought officials erred most egregiously when they penalized the Cowboys for barely pushing Wilson out of bounds moments after Seattle's Golden Tate delivered a helmet-first blindside block to a helpless defender.

What's next: The Seahawks face the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on "Monday Night Football" in Week 3.

Wrap-up: Cardinals 20, Patriots 18

September, 16, 2012
Thoughts after the Arizona Cardinals' 20-18 victory over New England at Gillette Stadium:

What it means: Coach Ken Whisenhunt was right when he flatly rejected comparisons between this team and the 2010 version that finished with a 5-11 record amid question marks at quarterback. Beating the Patriots in New England one week after defeating Seattle showed the Cardinals are much better than widely anticipated. It’s looking like a dominant defense will keep the Cardinals competitive despite deficiencies at offensive tackle and unanswered questions at quarterback. This was a signature victory for Arizona in the post-Kurt Warner era. The Cardinals now have a new identity -- on defense.

Off the hook: The field goal Stephen Gostkowski missed in the final seconds spared Cardinals running back Ryan Williams from a horrible fate. Williams would have had a hard time living down the fumble he lost while the Cardinals were protecting a 20-18 lead in the late going. This was his second lost fumble in as many weeks and would have gone down as one of the more notorious blunders in the team's Arizona history.

Milestone victory: The Patriots had won all 10 previous home openers at Gillette Stadium. They entered this game with a 35-1 record in their past 36 regular-season home games with Tom Brady at quarterback. Those streaks died and there wasn't much fluke to the outcome, even in light of the wild finish. Arizona's defense controlled the game.

Toughing it out: Cornerback Patrick Peterson, added to the Cardinals’ injury report (groin) Friday, started and appeared to play his usual reps. Peterson picked off Brady and helped limit the Patriots’ offense. He’s been reliable to this point in his career, even when injured. He played through an Achilles issue last season. His interception off Brady was only the third against New England’s quarterback since Week 13 last season, a string of 240 drop backs. Arizona generally had terrific coverage when the pass rush did not get to Brady. Other times, the pass rush found its target, throwing off the Patriots' offensive rhythm.

Putting it away: Before his fumble, Williams had seemed to all but put away the game with a run up the middle for a first down when the Cardinals needed to run out the clock. Beanie Wells had left the game with an injury at that point. Arizona couldn’t risk giving the ball back to Brady with enough time to mount a drive to the winning field goal. Williams' first-down run was important, even though it was ultimately overshadowed.

Defensive stars shine: Beyond the tone-setting pick from Peterson, the Cardinals got dominant play from defensive end Calais Campbell, a constant force behind the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Daryl Washington also impressed. Campbell sacked Brady during the Patriots' final drive after teammate Sam Acho got pressure initially. Washington nearly picked off a pass for Rob Gronkowski. Arizona got sacks from Acho and even Quentin Groves, who hadn't had one since 2008, his rookie season. Groves also blocked a punt deep in Patriots territory, setting up a Cardinals touchdown.

Clutch two-point stop: The Patriots needed a two-point conversion to tie the game at 20. Safety Kerry Rhodes broke up Brady's pass for Gronkowski, a fitting play given how well the Cardinals' defense played overall. This felt like a game Arizona deserved to win based on how its defense played. Rhodes' pass defensed made it hold up.

Kolb's contributions: Kevin Kolb started at quarterback for the injured John Skelton and did enough -- just enough -- for his team to win a defensive battle. Kolb found Andre Roberts for a touchdown, the second connection between the two in as many weeks. Kolb also scored on a keeper. New England did a good job taking away Larry Fitzgerald. Kolb needed to find other receivers and he did so -- again, not all that well, but well enough given how the game was playing out.

What’s next: The Cardinals return home to face the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3 at University of Phoenix Stadium.