Sunday, September 15, 2013
NFL Week 2 Sunday Studs and Duds
By Kevin Seifert
For two consecutive weeks, I've spent an NFL Sunday switching breathlessly between close finishes. Sunday, nine games were decided by seven points or less. That raised the total to 22 (of 30) in the first two weeks of the season, not counting Sunday night's game in Seattle or Monday night's contest in Cincinnati.
What follows might not be a comprehensive overview of the day, but it reflects the highs and lows of what I saw during Week 2. Thanks in advance for coming along on the ride:
1. Green Bay Packers offense: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers will get the headlines for a 480-yard, four-touchdown performance, but in the big picture, Sunday's game was one of the best all-around offensive showings in Packers' history. The most amazing turn of events at Lambeau Field might have been the Packers' first 100-yard rushing game in 45 games. What's more, tailback James Starks' 132-yard performance came only after starter Eddie Lacy suffered a concussion. Four Packers produced career-best days against the Washington Redskins: Rodgers, Starks, receiver James Jones (11 catches, 178 yards) and receiver Randall Cobb (128 yards). Finally, it was the first game in Packers' history with a 400-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher.
2. Devin Hester, Chicago Bears kick returner: Hester set a career high with 249 return yards, bringing separate kicks back for 80 and 76 yards in the Bears' 31-30 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. (One set up a Bears touchdown and the other led to a Jay Cutler interception in the end zone.) Most important, at least to me, was the Vikings' determination to kick away from Hester with 3 minutes, 17 seconds remaining. The Vikings succeeded by kicking to upback Joe Anderson, but in essence they conceded the start of the Bears' game-winning drive at the 34-yard line. A deep kick/touchback -- a strong possibility given Blair Walsh's leg strength -- would have pushed the ball back 14 yards. But the Vikings weren't willing to risk it after Hester's day.
3. Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills defensive end: Williams sacked Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton 4.5 times, a big part of the Bills' 24-23 victory. It was the third instance in the past four seasons where an NFL player recorded at least four sacks in a game, according to Pro Football Reference. Newton was sacked six times overall and was limited to 249 all-purpose yards. After a summer of injury and intrigue at Bills training camp, Williams is off to an excellent start.
4. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver: Bryant dominated the Kansas City Chiefs early on, and I don't think he was to blame for his quiet finish. He opened with five catches in five targets for 100 yards, all in the first quarter. Included in that outburst was a diving 53-yard reception and a 2-yard touchdown. After that point, Bryant managed 41 more yards on four receptions. If anything, however, the Chiefs deserve credit for an adjustment that destroyed the rhythm of quarterback Tony Romo. After Bryant's fifth catch, the Chiefs brought at least five pass-rushers on almost half of Romo's drop-backs. He didn't have time to find Bryant.
5. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints tight end: Graham set a career high with 179 yards and tied his mark of 10 receptions in the Saints' victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Quarterback Drew Brees targeted Graham 16 times, including one pass that resulted in a 56-yard score. He also contributed a key 15-yard reception at the start of the Saints' game-winning drive, putting the ball near midfield with about a minute remaining.
6. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans receiver: With veteran Andre Johnson sidelined, the Texans' top draft pick took over as Matt Schaub's top option and was the critical player in overtime. His 25-yard reception on third down set up the Texans at the Tennessee Titans' 1-yard line, and on third-and-goal, Hopkins pulled in the game-winner. He finished with 117 receiving yards, all but 14 of which came after halftime. In his first two NFL games, Hopkins has 12 receptions for 193 yards.
1. Brandon Meriweather, Washington Redskins safety: It would be crass to suggest that what goes around, comes around. So I won't go there. I'll just present the facts: Meriweather's helmet-to-jaw hit caused Lacy's concussion in the first quarter at Lambeau Field. The next time Meriweather lowered his head on a Packers running back, he was the one who wound up with a concussion. Meriweather connected with Starks' helmet along the sideline in the second quarter, spun in the air and was on the ground for several moments. I didn't perceive dirty intent from Meriweather on either hit. It was just poor technique that resulted it two unnecessary head injuries.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers futility: After a chaotic week of rumors about quarterback Josh Freeman, the Bucs played a near-dysfunctional game against the Saints -- and still nearly won! They lost two big plays, a touchdown and a third-down conversion, on illegal formation penalties. They had 10 men on the field on a fourth-and-goal play in the second quarter, and still miraculously stopped the Saints on the play. Freeman completed only nine passes in the game, but the Bucs would have been in excellent position to win if Rian Lindell had converted a 47-yard field goal with 1:06 left. This could be an ugly week at the Bucs' practice facility.
3. San Diego Chargers defensive scheme: I'm aware that the Chargers pulled off a 33-30 road victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, but mercy me. It was difficult to understand how the Chargers allowed receiver DeSean Jackson to get into so many single-coverage looks, especially after he ran past defenders several times in the first half. Jackson finished with nine receptions for 193 yards, but he could have approached 300 yards if he and quarterback Michael Vick had been able to connect on four deep near-misses. The Chargers gave up 511 offensive yards to the Eagles despite being on the field for only 19 minutes and 43 seconds. Talk about dodging the proverbial bullet!
4. Eli Manning, New York Giants quarterback: Manning might have thrown for 362 yards, but he tossed another four interceptions in the Giants' loss to brother Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. He is the first player to throw seven interceptions in his first two games of a season since Daunte Culpepper for the Minnesota Vikings in 2005. He is (mostly) responsible for 70 percent of the Giants' staggering 10 turnovers in their 0-2 start.