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|Adrian Peterson has done his part for the 0-2 Vikings, but Tarvaris Jackson has to start making some plays.|
We all know that the New York Giants started out 0-2 last season and not only made the playoffs but went on to win Super Bowl XLII. That's all well and good. But it should be noted that the Giants weren't considered to be strong playoff contenders before that 0-2 start. The same cannot be said about five teams that find themselves winless two weeks into the 2008 campaign.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers all were expected to challenge for division titles or at least be serious playoff contenders this season. They are all 0-2.
The interesting thing is that not all 0-2 records are the same. If NFL games were 59 minutes long instead of 60, San Diego would be 2-0 instead of 0-2. Minnesota is running the ball well and playing good defense; they just need their quarterback to make plays. Cleveland is a team that has faced two very good teams (Dallas, Pittsburgh) to start the season. Cleveland was probably a little overrated coming into the season, but that's a pretty tough 1-2 punch to start the schedule, no matter where the games are played. Seattle and Jacksonville are teams that have really been hit with injuries. Backup quarterback Seneca Wallace was going to move to receiver to bolster a unit that has been ravaged with injuries -- and he got hurt, too.
Which of these 0-2 teams has the best chance to rebound and make the playoffs? I think the obvious answer is San Diego, considering how close they came to winning both games.
So which team has the next-best chance?
Tough question, but I'll say Minnesota. The Vikings have the running game and the defense, and that combination usually is good enough to keep a team in the hunt.
Going for two
Denver's thrilling last-minute win over San Diego -- in which the Broncos took the lead on a 2-point conversion with 24 seconds left -- was certainly the highlight of a high-scoring Week 2 in the NFL. The league adopted the 2-point conversion rule in 1994, and this was only the fourth time in NFL history that a team trailing by one point in the final minute of regulation opted to go for two.
Teams have now successfully converted three of those four late-game attempts. But the call made by Broncos' coach Mike Shanahan is even more noteworthy when you consider that the first three occurrences came in mid-November or later. In other words, part of the decision process in those other cases may have been that the trailing team had nothing to lose at the time. That wasn't the case for Denver on Sunday.
Ironically, the Broncos can thank the late owner of the division-rival Chiefs for Sunday's win. Lamar Hunt deserves credit for bringing the two-point conversion to the NFL -- he brought it up and fought for it at every league meeting, and finally got it voted in 15 years ago.
Rodgers' strong start
On Aug. 14, returning from Packers training camp after watching two practices and talking to quarterback Aaron Rodgers during lunch, I was on the same flight home with a friend from Dallas who happened to be a Green Bay fan. He told me he doubted that Rodgers could win more than five games. My reply: I thought they'd win 10.
So far, so good.
Rodgers is now 2-0 as the Packers' starting quarterback, following a 48-25 win in Detroit in which the former first-round pick passed for 328 yards and 3 TDs. Since everyone wants to compare Rodgers to his legendary Packers predecessor, here are some notes to consider:
" Favre's second career win came in his fifth career start.
" Favre's first career three-TD game came in his 10th start.
" Favre's first career 300-yard passing game came in his 25th start.
" Favre was sacked four times in his first two starts; Rodgers has been sacked just once.
Granted, these are just numbers and you can't compare the 1992 Packers to this year's team. But I have been very impressed with Rodgers' performance. He started with a solid outing in the Monday night opener -- facing as much pressure as a quarterback could possibly face by replacing Favre. Then, Sunday, he started on the road for the first time in a place that is usually tough for opposing quarterbacks -- in his first five starts in Detroit, Favre threw 10 interceptions.
After throwing for more than 200 yards and three scores in the first half, Rodgers saw the Lions actually come from behind and take a 25-24 fourth quarter lead. How did he respond? On the next possession, following a short run and a false start, Rodgers faced a second-and-13 from his own 17. He saw a favorable matchup with receiver Greg Jennings lined up in the slot, and it looked like he called an audible on the play. The result was a 60-yard completion that set up the go-ahead field goal. It was a huge, huge play.
Of the 14 games Sunday, nine were won by the road teams. If that wasn't unusual enough, consider that three of the road wins came in indoor stadiums, which are usually harder on the road team. The Packers won in Detroit, the Colts in Minnesota, and the Giants in St. Louis. By contrast only five road teams won in Week 2 last season. Just another example of competitive balance rearing its head.
Perhaps the biggest road win was Oakland's 23-8 triumph in Kansas City. The Raiders ran for 300 yards and sacked Chiefs quarterbacks five times, earning their first victory after a bad home loss in Week 1. They gave up 441 yards and had no sacks last week against Denver.
We talked last week about how the running back position may be the easiest for a rookie to come into the league and play at a high level. One of the reasons is because more colleges feature pro-style schemes -- so these young runners are further along when it comes to picking up blitzers and catching balls out of the backfield.
In any case, the Week 2 results were impressive:
" Oakland's Darren McFadden: 21 carries for 164 yards and one TD vs. Kansas City
" Tennessee's Chris Johnson: 19 carries for 109 yards vs. Cincinnati.
" Chicago's Matt Forte: 23 carries for 92 yards vs. Carolina.
" Carolina's Jonathan Stewart: 14 carries for 77 yards and two TDs vs. Chicago.
" Arizona's Tim Hightower: 10 carries for 24 yards and one TD vs. Miami.
McFadden, Stewart, Johnson and Forte all ran for more yards on Sunday than LaDainian Tomlinson or Larry Johnson.
And by the way, Oakland's Michael Bush -- who is not technically a rookie but is playing for the first time after sitting out his rookie season with an injury -- had 16 carries for 90 yards.
Ryan's ups and downs
Despite the road wins this week, it is usually a lot harder for a quarterback on the road -- and even harder for a rookie quarterback. In Week 1, Falcons rookie QB Matt Ryan completed 9 of 13 passes for 161 yard and one touchdown, finishing with a passer rating of 137 in a home win over Detroit. In Sunday's game at Tampa, Ryan missed on his first nine attempts, threw two interceptions, was sacked four times, and had a rating of 29.6.
One of the reasons why rookie quarterbacks struggle on the road is that the defensive linemen get quicker jumps while offensive linemen have to deal with the crowd noise. There's a reason why Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, for example, has three times as many sacks at home than he does on the road.
J.T. O'Sullivan became the first 49ers QB to pass for 300 yards since Tim Rattay on Oct. 10, 2004. â¦ New England has now won 21 consecutive regular-season games, and the Patriots have won eight in a row against the Jets on the road. â¦ Minnesota crossed midfield on each of its first eight possessions against the Colts, but failed to score a TD. â¦ The Giants have won their last 12 road games. â¦ Kurt Warner had a perfect passer rating of 158.3. It was the third time Warner has done that, which ties him with Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger for most "perfect games" among active QBs. â¦ Pittsburgh defeated Cleveland for the 10th straight time, the longest current win streak by one team over another. â¦ On the same day that Tom Brady's streak of 111 straight starts ended, Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks was a game-time decision who ended up starting his 194th consecutive game. â¦ Green Bay became the first team to win 50 road openers. â¦ Ohio native Ben Roethlisberger is now 10-0 versus teams from Ohio (5-0 each against Cincinnati and Cleveland). â¦ There were two punts blocked for TDs Sunday, one for the Bears and one for Titans. â¦ Giants DE Justin Tuck had three tackles, two sacks and an INT return for TD. â¦ Two Pro Bowl pass rushers got their first sacks with new teams -- Jared Allen for Minnesota and Jason Taylor for Washington. Both sacks came around the same time -- with 10 minutes left in the second quarter. â¦ Washington used all three of its timeouts in the first 12 minutes of Sunday's game. â¦ In three games (Pats-Jets, Colts-Vikings, Raiders-Chiefs), field goals were the only points in the first half. Overall, there was a total of 30 field goals in the first half of games, including a 56-yarder by Sebastian Janikowski.