Week 2 observations: Titans' Johnson doesn't look the same


Had a blast, as always, watching a very full Sunday of football. Here are some things that struck me in Week 2:

Chris Johnson does not look like Chris Johnson. And it's not even close. The explosiveness is not there. The ability to turn the corner is not there. No big plays. Seems tentative at times. The holdout clearly has made a short-term impact, and when the Titans needed key yards Sunday against Baltimore, they turned to Javon Ringer. The backup got a pitch wide that turned into a vital touchdown trot and was the kind of play that almost always goes to Johnson.

Johnson looks like another contract holdout, Darrelle Revis, did a year ago, feeling his way around things and trying to make up for lost time. He seems a few weeks from being himself, and in the meantime, the Titans will keep looking at other backs. Ringer has been nicked up and isn't as good between the tackles. Makes it all the more impressive that the Titans stuffed the Ravens in all aspects with their best player still more or less a passenger.

I don't think enough is being made of what Cam Newton is accomplishing. With Tom Brady rewriting the record books every week, perhaps that's why Newton is being overshadowed, but this rookie doesn't blink. Newton kept his team deep into the game against the world champion Packers and proved that Week 1 was no fluke. Yes, he turned it over some and learned a lesson about Charles Woodson, but Newton was the reason the game was competitive in the first place.

Remember, the original idea was that the run game was going to support Newton and allow him to come along slowly, with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart carrying the load. However, the Panthers rank 29th in rushing and Newton is their leading rusher through two games (Williams and Stewart are averaging 2.5 yards per carry). The quarterback is also completing an impressive 63 percent of his passes with consecutive 400-yard games.

Newton is doing things no other rookie quarterback has ever come close to, and Sunday he did it against the best and most complex defense in the league ... without his starting right tackle to boot. The wins will come, and the future looks bright in Carolina.

The young Bills and Bucs are refreshing to watch. Are there teams that seem to truly love the game more than these two upstarts? No matter how far down and out they seem, they never give up. Both clubs overcame big deficits Sunday and both have quarterbacks who made plays in the clutch.

Josh Freeman is truly special, rallying his team for another comeback win in just his second season as the fulltime starter. Freeman in the fourth quarter the past two seasons: 108 of 186 (64.3 percent), 7.6 yards per attempt, 1,278 yards, 10 TDs, three INTs and a 99.8 passer rating. Are you kidding me? The kid is nothing but clutch and his comeback Sunday could turn out to be a turning point in Tampa's season. He's bleeding from the mouth and totally under control and pulls off another comeback. And all Fitzpatrick has done is play like a Pro Bowler. Four Bills have TD catches already thanks to his ability to distribute the ball.

Buffalo has already been sniffing around a contract extension for Fitzpatrick and don't be surprised if Freeman ends up getting a new deal by the end of the season, less than three full years into his rookie deal.

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» Lombardi: Romo shows true value

The Bears' offensive line is in trouble. Will all the hits catch up to Jay Cutler and force him to the sidelines? They've yielded 11 sacks already and now have first-round pick Gabe Carimi banged up. So, that's 5.5 sacks per game and they haven't even faced the scary pass rushes in Green Bay and Detroit. So 5.5 X 16 = pain for their quarterbacks and would be even more sacks allowed than last season. When they have to pass protect on the fast tracks in some of these domes, the problems become even more acute.

There is good and bad with the Chargers. The good? It looks like Vincent Jackson is about to explode. Few receivers look as downright un-coverable as Jackson at his best. After a lost season in 2010 and a slow start in Week 1, Sunday's display was precisely why I predicted he would lead the NFL in receiving in the potent San Diego offense. His size and speed and the fact that he is playing in a multi-dimensional attack with a pinpoint quarterback all work in his favor. And I have a feeling he might be playing on a $14 million franchise tag in 2012. No way the Chargers can let him hit the market and they've been hesitant to extend him. Yes, facing the Patriots' shaky secondary helped Sunday, but I sense big things ahead for Jackson.

On the flip side, I wonder if Antonio Gates is being hampered more by injuries and his foot than we think. He missed a lot of time in the preseason and hasn't shown up on an injury report for weeks, but he doesn't look like himself. Maybe it's all the lost time and getting back to form. Still, it bears monitoring after just eight catches for 74 yards thus far. One potential reason for Gates' low numbers: San Diego is also in love with the screen game, even more than usual, through two weeks. Tailbacks Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews are both in the team's top three in receptions and receiving yardage.

A few more quick-hitters ...

» The more sidelines shots I see of Joe Flacco and Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron after turnovers, the more I wonder about their long-term relationship. Something just looks off at times there.

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» If there is a more complete, underappreciated running back in the league than Fred Jackson, I'd like to know who it is.

» After 19 total points through two games, not sure why the Jaguars would wait too much longer to turn over the franchise to first-round pick Blaine Gabbert.

» Kind of surprising to me that the Vikings have played so poorly with a lead when they have a hammer like Adrian Peterson. They need to get that fixed, ASAP.

» Have to feel good for the Lions and their fans. This team used to get whipped mercilessly every Sunday, and for them to now be dropping 40-burgers on other teams has to feel good. Tremendous job by Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz getting that turned around. Oh, and if the Lions see this thing out and end up in the playoff equation, you'd have to think Matthew Stafford will end up being a part of the MVP conversation. If they can keep him healthy, look out.

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @JasonLaCanfora



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