42 things we learned in Week 2: Pats still team to beat

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  • By Around The NFL staff
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The Patriots have spent the past two weeks burying six months of offseason storylines.

With Deflategate in the rearview mirror and Tom Brady at the top of his game, the Pats are dispatching with the notion that the AFC East is wide open after a dozen years of New England hegemony.

Every game, all season

We've known for a few years that Rob Gronkowski is the offensive version of J.J. Watt and Julian Edelman can get open on the league's stingiest cornerbacks. Now Brady has a dynamic third option in Dion Lewis, who was out of league in 2014.

An elusive Lewis has a demonstrated ability to make the first defender miss as a runner and as a wide receiver, exploiting mismatches to the tune of 258 yards from scrimmage.

He has cleared 100 yards in back-to-back games, a feat Shane Vereen never managed in four years. Through two games, only Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Matt Forte have generated more yards from scrimmage.

Lewis has been so valuable that he has avoided Bill Belichick's notorious doghouse despite a pair of fumbles. Quite simply, he's too good to take off the field.

Patriots fans have grown accustomed to stuttering out of the gate, as Brady and Belichick tend to experiment with the offense to find the right concoction for season-long success.

This year's offense is more reminiscent of Brady's magical 2007 season, as he's already thrown for more yards and touchdowns than he did through two weeks in that record-setting campaign.

For all of the offseason hype bestowed upon the remodeled Bills, Dolphins, Jets and Colts, the Super Bowl champions remain the class of the AFC.

New England Patriots 40, Buffalo Bills 32


1. So much for Rex having a beat on how to slow down Tom Brady. The Patriots passed on their first 10 plays and kept spreading out the Bills all game. Brady threw the ball 59 times for 466 yards and three scores. The Patriots' running backs had a grand total of 10 carries. Brady continually found advantageous matchups with linebackers on Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis or Julian Edelman depending on the play. Those three receivers alone accounted for 24 catches and 308 yards.

"Can't give up 500 yards and turn it over three times," Ryan said after the game. "We did a horse --- job and it's my responsibility."

2. Coach Bill Belichick and Brady only know one speed. They kept throwing the ball every down and going empty backfield even while up by three scores in the fourth quarter. They went for a 40-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-1 midway through the fourth quarter. After constantly failing to put the Bills away, Buffalo crept all the way back to only five points down with just over four minutes left.

At that point, most teams would try to slow down the pace. Instead, the Patriots continued to throw the ball vertically and it paid off with a long drive inside the Bills' red zone. Danny Amendola made an outrageous one-handed diving catch that helped put the Bills away.

3. Tyrod Taylor's final numbers look good (242 yards, three TDs, three interceptions, two fumbles) look even better than his overall effort. He showed some serious red flags, getting sacked eight times. Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins combined for 5.5 sacks, although most of those were on Taylor for holding the ball too long.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

Dallas Cowboys 20, Philadelphia Eagles 10


1. Although the Cowboys are the NFC East's lone undefeated team two weeks into the season, major injuries could lead to a tailspin. This team captured the division last season on the strength MVP candidate Romo, Offensive Player of the Year DeMarco Murray and All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant. Now that Romo has a fractured clavicle to go with Bryant's fractured foot, none of those "triplets" will be available for at least the next month -- and likely much longer. Whereas Romo had been successful with a ball-control passing game, backup Brandon Weeden doesn't possess the touch or field vision to pull off that brand of offensive attack. During Weeden's one spot start last season, the coaching staff did all it could to limit the quarterback's impact on the game. Weedon's teams have won just five of his 21 career starts.

2. This was a comprehensive meltdown for the Eagles' offense, which started the game in wholly inept fashion for the second consecutive week. The difference this time is that the ineptitude lingered for four quarters rather than just two. Sam Bradford was no different than the devolving quarterback we saw in St. Louis over the past few years, failing to see the whole field, making suspect decisions and staring at the pass rush as his confidence comes and goes. To be fair, Bradford got no help. The offensive line had no answer for Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's stunts, which left DeMarco Murray with -15 yards at one point in the game. Philly's receivers also failed to make plays, suffering from a case of the drops once again. Garbage time aside, this was one of the most head-scratching offensive performances we've seen in recent years. FOX broadcast Troy Aikman, who played for 1989 Cowboys team that was shut out three times, lamented at one point, "I can't recall an offense that I've seen look worse than this Eagles offense."

3. Despite Murray's ineffectiveness, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles saw just one carry apiece. Mathews, in particular, languished on the bench. It will be interesting to see how long the leashes are for Murray and Bradford if the offense goes in the tank for quarters at a time versus the Jets next week.

-- Chris Wesseling

Green Bay Packers 27, Seattle Seahawks 17


1. It wasn't always easy for Aaron Rodgers, but the All-Pro finally found his groove in the fourth quarter. After the Seahawks took a one-point lead, Rodgers took the Packers down the field in nine plays, eight of which were passes, and retook the lead. The drive was vintage Rodgers. He displayed mobility in the pocket, threw mid-range routes to three different receivers and finished it off with a dart for the score. Going away from the run sans Eddie Lacy, the Packers great looked, well, great.

2. The Seahawks' offense slow start to the 2015 season continued Sunday night. Save for an offensive outburst in the third quarter, Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson struggled to move the ball with consistency. Lynch notably struggled, finishing with 15 carries for 41 yards. While Wilson found more luck on the ground (nine for 72), in an effort to escape constant Packers pressure, he threw a crucial interception on an errant screen pass midway through the fourth quarter that led to a game-sealing drive by Green Bay.

Wilson's greatest sin? Not targeting Jimmy Graham enough. The Seahawks' acquisition might as well have been on a milk carton, finishing with one catch for 11 yards.

3. The Packers offense got off to a lightning-hot start, scoring in the first quarter in their 18th straight game -- an NFL record -- but two injuries on offense severely halted the momentum.

-- Jeremy Bergman

Cincinnati Bengals 24, San Diego Chargers 19


1. Jeremy Hill got a seat on the bench after his second lost fumble of the game. Gio Bernard made the most of the opportunity, finishing with 123 yards on 20 carries. The performance serves a reminder of the embarrassment of riches Marvin Lewis has in his backfield. Bernard could be a primary back in many offenses.

2. A promising second career game for Chargers rookie Melvin Gordon, who finished with 98 total yards on 17 touches. Gordon wasn't tentative -- an early criticism -- and showed good vision in getting upfield on several carries. Danny Woodhead added 104 all-purpose yards.

3. The Bengals must be thrilled with how Andy Dalton has started 2015. The fifth-year quarterback completed passes to eight different receivers and now has six touchdowns without an interception through two games. Dalton, an eternally divisive figure, can have a Pro Bowl season with the talent around him.

-- Dan Hanzus

Pittsburgh Steelers 43, San Francisco 49ers 18


1. Welcome back to earth, San Francisco. The Niners coaxed Teddy Bridgewater into one of the worst games of his young career in the opener. They had no such luck against a zoned-in Ben Roethlisberger, who passed for 369 yards and three scores at an outrageous 13.7 yards per toss against coordinator Eric Mangini's secondary. What we didn't see this week: Niners defenders smothering ball-handlers as they did against Minnesota. San Francisco was badly outmanned by Pittsburgh's weapon-rich attack.

2. Colin Kaepernick struggled to find his rhythm against a physical Steelers defensive front that controlled the line for much of the game against a 49ers squad that mustered just 33 yards passing in the first half. Kaepernick finished with 335 yards through the air, but this game shifted into garbage time early. Pittsburgh's front seven was a different beast than what we saw in Week 1, piling up five sacks and pushing the pocket from wire to wire.

3. Coming off his sensational 168-yard rushing performance in the opener, 49ers running back Carlos Hyde managed just 43 yards at 3.1 yards per clip against Pittsburgh on a day that saw San Francisco play from behind the entire way. Hyde left in the second half with a head injury, but coach Jim Tomsula told reporters the back didn't suffer a concussion.

-- Marc Sessler

Atlanta Falcons 24, New York Giants 20


1. Tom Coughlin shouldered his fair share of criticism throughout a stunning run in New York that brought the Giants a pair of Super Bowl wins in the last decade. He is a future Hall of Famer. That being said, this is the worst a Giants team has ever looked under his watch, including the putrid 0-6 start from 2013. After one of the worst displays of clock management in recent NFL history in the season-opener, the Giants torched a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter this week by once again failing to take time off the board. Eli Manning could not get a snap off on a decisive third-and-7 with 3:27 to go and Atlanta out of timeouts. The result? A third-and-12 and a bizarre play call that landed seven yards short of the marker. Their porous defense was not good enough to hold Matt Ryan out of the end zone and by the 1:14 mark, they were down by four points, soaking up a roundly deserved cacophony of boos. What a disaster.

2. The Giants' woes are not confined to clock management. This is a team that, on the Falcons' game-winning drive, failed to ensure a receiver was tackled after he caught a ball and fell down. This is a team with an offensive line full of first- and second-round picks (and high-priced free agents) that got allowed their quarterback to be stripped of the football twice in one game. This is a team relying on Preston Parker in tight spots to come up with big catches despite his inability to prove he can catch passes at a level consistent with an NFL wide receiver. This is a team that needs to take a serious look at themselves from top to bottom.

3. Kudos to Dan Quinn. As I wrote last week from Atlanta, he has something special brewing. He's the first Falcons head coach since Jim Mora in 2004 to begin his career 2-0 and he's doing it behind a brilliant pass rush and a secondary that looks night and day from a season ago. Quinn took the most accessible parts of Seattle's defense and brought them to a place where he could plug in and play immediately. Their matchup with the Cowboys next Sunday just got a whole lot more interesting.

-- Conor Orr

Washington Redskins 24, St. Louis Rams 10


1. Kirk Cousins was clean and efficient during a dominant first half, completing 23 of 27 passes to help the Redskins build a 17-0 lead at the break. He countered the St. Louis pass rush with a rash of quick throws to his running backs and a (finally healthy) Jordan Reed, the talented tight end who pulled down six passes for 82 yards. As he's done in the past, Cousins showed strong command of the offense. He can do anything Robert Griffin III can do in Jay Gruden's West Coast-styled scheme. When the Redskins control the line as they did Sunday -- outgaining St. Louis 373 yards 213 on the day -- Washington looks like they can play with anyone.

2. After his Week 1 heroics against the Seahawks, Nick Foles returned to terra firma against Washington's underrated defensive front. The Redskins forced Foles -- 17-of-32 passing for 150 yards with one score -- into a rash of poorly timed passes, resulting in six straight Rams punts over the first two quarters. He bounced back with a 40-yard touchdown strike to Kenny Britt in the third quarter, but Foles is responsible for St. Louis converting just 2 of 12 third downs.

3. Six-foot-2, 231-pound Matt Jones is a load to deal with. The Redskins rookie back beat St. Louis defenders to the edge and won a footrace down the sideline for a 39-yard touchdown in the opening frame. Alfred Morris also contributed a 35-yard run on the drive to help the 'Skins fry the Rams for 132 rushing yards in the first half and 182 yards on the day. Jones -- with 19 runs for 123 yards and two scores at a promising 6.5 yards per carry -- stood out with his physical running style and sneaky speed.

-- Marc Sessler

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26, New Orleans Saints 19


1. Winston bounced back in impressive fashion from a disastrous debut last week. He lofted a beautiful pass over a pair of defenders to hit Vincent Jackson for a touchdown, giving the Bucs a 10-7 lead at halftime. His other highlights included a 1-yard touchdown run and a 54-yard toss off one foot to Louis Murphy, setting up a field goal to extend the margin to 23-7 in the third quarter. Although Winston had a rough fourth quarter, the Bucs defense forced a game-sealing fumble to halt the Saints' comeback attempt.

2. The Saints' 2014 malaise continues unabated with their sixth consecutive home-field loss. The offensive line was handled by Gerald McCoy, Jacquies Smith and Clinton McDonald up front, giving Drew Brees little time to throw. Brees uncorked a duck in the third quarter, underthrowing Brandin Cooks for an interception. It may have been the result of a hit the quarterback took in the second quarter, which left him trying to loosen up his throwing shoulder. We noticed last week that Brees and Sean Payton don't seem to trust their wide receivers. That unit struggled again to make plays, this time against a secondary that surrendered a perfect passer rating to Marcus Mariota last week.

3. Making his New Orleans debut, C.J. Spiller rotated with Mark Ingram on the first possession of the game. The medical staff planned to alternate hot and colt wraps on his knee through the afternoon, but Spiller stayed on the sideline for the bulk of the final three quarters. An afterthought in the first half, Khiry Robinson injected life into the offense with his burst and physicality in the third quarter.

-- Chris Wesseling

Arizona Cardinals 48, Chicago Bears 23


1. Larry Fitzgerald can still play a little bit. The veteran receiver wasn't targeted in the first quarter, but caught everything thrown his way after that, finishing with eight catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns. The scores were his first in nine games.

2. Jay Cutler left the game in the second quarter after injuring his hamstring during an interception return by Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson. Cutler was replaced by Jimmy Clausen, who looked overmatched as the Cardinals quickly built an insurmountable lead. Cutler is not a popular figure in Chicago, but the Bears are one of the NFL's very worst teams with Clausen behind center.

3. When the Cardinals give David Johnson the ball, special things happen. The rookie running back took the opening kickoff back 108 yards for a touchdown. He then salted the game away with a 13-yard scoring run in the third quarter. Johnson has scored as a rusher, receiver and kickoff returner in his first two NFL games. That's not bad.

-- Dan Hanzus

Minnesota Vikings 26, Detroit Lions 16


1. Norv Turner's game plan was clear from the start, handing the ball to Adrian Peterson three straight times to open the game, after the running back compiled just 31 rushing yards in Week 1. Peterson displayed his vintage bulldozing style as the bruising back dominated Minnesota's offensive play calling. In the first half, A.P. compiled 119 of the Vikings 201 total yards -- including 49 yards on a flip pass from Teddy Bridgewater. Peterson finished with 134 yards rushing on 29 carries. He added two receptions for 58 yards, which led the team. Peterson also fumbled twice in the red zone (one negated by a penalty) and still hasn't scored since November 2013. This was the offense we expected entering the season.

2. Minnesota's defensive line destroyed Lions blockers all game long, battering Matthew Stafford. Mike Zimmer's crew controlled the contest and discombobulated the Lions' offense, even if it only compiled one official sack. Brian Robison clown-suited human turnstile Cornelius Lucas on the right side all game long. Stafford was battered early, ended up with a bloody left elbow and limped off the field several times. If Detroit's line remains this putrid, no amount of skill weapons will matter.

3. With Peterson controlling the offense, Teddy Bridgewater displayed the poise and playmaking we expected entering the season. Teddy expertly got through his progression and used his feet intelligently to scramble, frustrate Detroit defenders. TB finished 14-of-18 passing for 153 yards and a touchdown pass to go with six carries for 21 yards and a score. It's the type of game-managing performance from the signal-caller that led prognosticators to label Minnesota a postseason team in 2015.

-- Kevin Patra

Cleveland Browns 28, Tennessee Titans 14


1. The difference in the game was speedy Browns receiver Travis Benjamin, who hauled in touchdowns of 60 and 50 yards from Manziel and added a 76-yard punt return score of his own. Outside of those two big plays, Manziel was 6 of 13 for 62 yards and a pair of fumbles while failing to move the chains. As NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday morning, Manziel will resume backup duties once Josh McCown is cleared from his concussion.

2. If Mariota's debut was nearly perfect, his second game was a learning experience. After taking advantage of the Buccaneers' soft-zone scheme last week, Mariota couldn't solve the Browns' man-to-man system with bump-and-run coverage and little separation for Titans receivers. He got little help from his offensive line, taking seven sacks, fumbling four times and getting hit more than a dozen times. Although Mariota showed toughness in bouncing back for a couple of second-half touchdown drives, Cleveland's defense exposed major ball-security issues, questionable decision making and the Titans' need for more surrounding talent.

3. Veteran tight end Anthony Fasano hauled in five passes for 84 yards and a touchdown, but Mariota missed Delanie Walker's speed and athleticism down the seam. Dexter McCluster was the lone playmaker for much of the afternoon, finding gaps in the Browns' defense for a career-high 98 rushing yards on 10 carries. Terrance West didn't do himself any favors, losing a fumble for the second consecutive game.

-- Chris Wesseling

Jacksonville Jaguars 23, Miami Dolphins 20


1. Bortles and the Jacksonville offense did virtually nothing in the second half for the second straight week. But they are 1-1 because of a big step forward for the team's offensive core overall. Bortles finished with 273 yards and two scores on 33 attempts. Allen Robinson had 155 yards and two scores, all before halftime. And the offensive line did a far better job protecting Bortles, giving up only three quarterback hits. Most importantly, Bortles delivered a game-winning drive when given the chance with the ball in the final two minutes. 

2. The Dolphins offense isn't the same without left tackle Branden Albert. He left in the second quarter with a hamstring injury and didn't return. Miami's rushing attack was especially poor after that. Lamar Miller finished with only 14 yards on 10 carries. Miami's offense only scored seven points in the second half and his replacement Jason Fox gave up a sack late in the game that he was very fortunate to recover at the one-yard line.

3. Miami needs bigger returns on Ndamukong Suh and their highly vaunted defensive line. The team didn't record a sack and Suh was not a huge factor until late in the game. Olivier Vernon cost the Dolphins valuable field position with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jacksonville's final drive.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

Oakland Raiders 37, Baltimore Ravens 33


1. Chalk Sunday up as a turning point for Derek Carr. Oakland's second-year passer sliced through Baltimore's secondary for 351 yards and three touchdowns, including his sizzling 12-yard game-winner to second-year wideout Seth Roberts with 0:26 to play. Before directing that inspired nine-play, 80-yard, tilt-sealing drive, Carr led Oakland to four first-half scores, something the team hasn't accomplished since November 2011. It didn't end there, with Carr continuing to puncture Baltimore's defense into the fourth quarter, highlighted by his cross-the-field, 29-yard touchdown strike to Michael Crabtree. Give Carr credit for moving the ball despite a whopping 16 penalties, the most for an Oakland squad since 2005.

2. Joe Flacco barely tested the field deep last week against Denver, but that changed against the Raiders. With all day to throw, the Ravens quarterback passed for 231 first-half yards en route to a monster 384-yard afternoon. It came against Oakland's porous secondary, but the veteran passer looked at home in Marc Trestman's offense. Flacco whipped throws to nine different targets, erasing a 10-point Raiders lead in the second half and looking increasingly comfortable as the game forged on. But it wasn't enough.

3. The hype around Amari Cooper is legitimate. Oakland's first-round receiver boasts pro-ready wheels and footwork and showed off both on his 68-yard touchdown catch two minutes into the game. Most impressive was Cooper's ability to adjust to the ball in air without losing his speed on a route that saw him fry Ravens cover man Jimmy Smith. Cooper -- with 109 yards off seven grabs -- helped the entire offense, drawing away the top corner to open up opportunities for every other pass-catcher, including Michael Crabtree, who registered his first 100-yard outing since December 2013.

-- Marc Sessler

Carolina Panthers 24, Houston Texans 17


1. Cam Newton is going to have to do this on his own. Outside of a beautiful touch pass bomb to Ted Ginn Jr. and a few fantastic catches by Greg Olsen, the Panthers are 2-0 thanks to a player that does everything but kick the extra points. Newton led the Panthers in rushing with 76 yards on Sunday in the face of an absolutely relentless pass rush.

2. Bill O'Brien is coaching the hell out of this Texans team and it's unfortunate that he won't have the record to show for it. After an overwhelmingly skittish Ryan Mallett tossed the first half away, O'Brien did a nice job of adjusting the game plan and giving him some underneath routes to hit in order to give Mallett his confidence back. In a game where Houston was thoroughly dominated by the Panthers, he had them within 20 yards of overtime.

3. Shaq Thompson isn't lighting up the box score like Luke Kuechly, but he's been a welcome addition to Carolina's linebacking corps. Is there any question that they have the most athletic set of non-rush linebackers in football right now? It may be overlooked, but their ability to control the intermediate portion of the field is winning them games.

-- Conor Orr

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