Reporters' Notebook

Sam Darnold effect; Aaron Rodgers' health; Jimmy G solved?

As the 2018 NFL season rolls on into Week 2,'s network of reporters collects the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:

-- Why Mike McCarthy isn't surprised by wear and tear on Aaron Rodgers.

-- Whether the Vikings have found a weakness in Jimmy Garoppolo.

-- How two defensive stars from separate teams help each other out.

But first, Kimberly Jones captures exactly what one promising start by a certain young signal-caller means to the Jets ...

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- At the New York Jets' practice facility, Sam Darnold's locker sits between those of wide receivers Quincy Enunwa and Jermaine Kearse. It's relatively nondescript. There is no cape in it. Not yet, anyway.

Maybe we should give it a few weeks.

Darnold's start to his NFL career -- all of one official game to this point, following an impressive spring and terrific August -- has been borderline superhero-caliber, particularly by Jets standards.

After the 48-17 win over the Lions on "Monday Night Football," I asked New York coach Todd Bowles what he'd say to Jets fans who are already giddy -- ahead of Sunday's home opener against the Dolphins -- and would flood sports talk radio shows in the metropolitan area all week to prove it. He said, "Have at it."

Bowles said Have at it! Yes, these are fun days -- with a promising future -- in Florham Park. And if you're rolling your eyes or begging for a chance to exhale, you just don't understand where the Jets and their fan base have been.

This is an organization that tried, over the past decade, to find a franchise quarterback in fifth overall draft pick Mark Sanchez (2009), who helped the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship Games, and in second-rounder Geno Smith (2013), whose most renowned moment in green came when he was punched in his own locker room.

Chad Pennington was the Jets' last quarterback to have relatively long-term success; his six-year run as starter included their last AFC East division title, in 2002. When Darnold was 5.

So when 21-year-old Sam Darnold recovers from an inauspicious start (we'll get to that) to throw two touchdowns and generally play like a veteran while the Jets dismantle the Lions, hope reigns.

Let's put it this way: The Jets believe they have found their first franchise quarterback since Joe Namath.

"He's got an old soul, but he's young in age," Bowles said. "He understands the game very well. He works at it the right way."

Bowles, of course, is not prone to hyperbole. My question to him about the idea of having found a franchise guy was met with this: "We won one game. I can tell you after about 100 more of them whether we have one or not. Right now, it's a little early."

Darnold won over teammates in the spring with his approach, and he won the job in August with his performance.

"I can remember there was a play against Washington (in the preseason) when I didn't think he was throwing it to me, and he literally hit me in the chest," Kearse said. "I had no choice but to catch it. That just shows his talent. He's able to throw us open. That's something special in a quarterback."

Kearse came into the league -- and won a Super Bowl -- with Russell Wilson in Seattle. When I asked him if his evaluation of Darnold is viewed through the prism of his experience having seen a young Wilson, Kearse said yes.

Kearse said -- and he has told Darnold -- that the rookie and Wilson are similar in their "instinctual" approach to the game. To that end, Darnold indicated Wednesday that he and his receivers are still developing chemistry, and that Monday night featured some first-time routes, catches and improvisations, as you'd probably expect in a season (and career) opener.

All along, Darnold's poise has been impressive. He handles media interviews seamlessly. He's used to the big stage from his time at USC. Nothing, so far, has seemed too big for him.

That includes the potentially disastrous first play from scrimmage: the pick-six, which might live forever in Jets lore. As it was, it provided an early test for the rookie.

He passed.

On Wednesday, Darnold was asked if there was anything he could have done differently on that play, which called for the quarterback to roll right, throw left and hit a running back on a delayed route. (That's no gimme under any circumstances, let alone in a hostile domed stadium.)

"Yeah," Darnold said, with the slightest of smiles, "not throw it."


NFL: What's behind the increase in penalties? The preseason concern about the helmet rule wrecking games wasn't born out in Week 1, where the lowering-the-head penalty was called just once, against Kansas City safety Ron Parker.

But penalties jumped to an average of 18.5 per game in Week 1, up from 16.6 per game last year. Nobody likes the idea of that many penalties -- consider that the season opener between the Falcons and Eagles, which featured 26 penalties, took 3 hours and 19 minutes to play, which is certainly counter to the league's pace-of-game initiative.

So, what accounted for the jump? The impact was spread out. There were 15 roughing-the-passer penalties in Week 1, up from seven in Week 1 of 2017 -- five of those penalties this year were for defenders who landed with their body weight on the quarterback.

And 32.78 percent of all fouls were for line-of-scrimmage or snap infractions, up nearly 10 percentage points from the first week of 2017.

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GREEN BAY PACKERS: McCarthy on Rodgers' health.Aaron Rodgers has been through a lot, health-wise, in recent years: broken collarbones in 2013 and 2017, a torn calf in 2014, hamstring and calf injuries in 2016, cleanup surgery after the 2015 season on the left knee that has been an issue since high school -- and which was banged up again in last week's regular-season opener.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy told me this week he "absolutely" has concern about the wear and tear on his most important player, but McCarthy doesn't think that's unusual for a 14th-year pro.

"This is part of what I talk to our team [about] -- physiologically, this generation of NFL football players, they have resources that the former generations never had. And education. And the fact of the matter is, they're utilizing it," McCarthy said. "These guys are in great shape as a whole, as a league. I know our team is compared to the earlier years.

"[Rodgers is] definitely at the forefront of that. He's in great physical condition. But yeah, once you play that long, you play in this league as many games as he has, it's only natural he's going to have a few more injuries than the next guy."

Besides the two seasons disrupted by the broken collarbones, which left him unable to throw, Rodgers has sat out just two other games since he became the Packers' starter in 2008: one after a concussion in 2010 and a healthy scratch in the 2011 finale. His availability for Sunday's matchup with the Vikingsis still in question.

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: On surviving without Fournette. Running back Leonard Fournette, who suffered what the team has termed a minor hamstring strain in Week 1, was unable to practice Wednesday and Thursday, and his availability for Sunday's AFC Championship Game redux against the Patriots is questionable. Coach Doug Marrone did say that he would be comfortable with Fournette playing Sunday even if he can't practice, and Marrone said Fournette will be tested Friday afternoon.

Fournette is one of the league's premier rushers -- he had 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in just 13 games as a rookie last season. But it's worth remembering that the Jaguars went 3-0 without him in 2017, averaging 31.7 points and 158.3 rushing yards in those three games, or 7.6 points and 20.9 rushing yards more per game than when Fournette played. Quarterback Blake Bortles had five passing touchdowns and no interceptions in those three games, and that performance without Fournette's help almost certainly went a long way toward convincing the Jaguars braintrust that they can win a Super Bowl with Bortles in place. Keep an eye on T.J. Yeldon if Fournette is unable to play or is limited Sunday. He had 190 rushing yards in the three games Fournette missed last season, and he led the Jaguars with 14 carries for 51 yards in Week 1 against the Giants.

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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Mahomes starting to feel himself. Head coach Andy Reid was reluctant to heap praise on second-year QB Patrick Mahomes, who completed 15 of 27 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns in his second career start, a 38-28 victory over the Chargers. Yes, Mahomes played well, Reid said at his postgame press conference, but he also needs to keep learning.

Reid, though, told me after his news conference that he was very impressed with Mahomes' production, leadership and fearlessness -- and has been for a long time. Also, a high-ranking team official said the team knows it has to temper expectations and must be patient with Mahomes, but that is hard to do because of his skill set and growth.

Wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who went off with seven receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers, said Mahomes' confidence is so much higher than last season, and players feed off it, because Mahomes isn't afraid to make a mistake.

Presented evidence: On third-and-13 from the Chiefs' 11-yard line, late in the third quarter, Mahomes stepped up and fired a pass to Hill for a 34-yard gain.

"I don't know if he would have thrown that last year," Hill told me. "You saw what he did. He's our guy."

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LOS ANGELES RAMS: Brockers balling out. End Michael Brockers doesn't get a lot of recognition on a Rams defensive line that features Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, but sleep on him at your peril.

In Los Angeles' road win over the Raiderson "Monday Night Football," Brockers had the Rams' only sack and added four tackles to help pace the unit.

"Having coached against him twice a year when I was in Seattle, I always felt he was the key, because he just does his job right all the time," Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable told me before the game. "He's a big, powerful guy. He always gives you high effort. And he always is fundamentally right. He was always a guy [who], if you didn't do right by him, he would make the play."

The 6-foot-5, 305-pound seventh-year pro has never had more than 5.5 sacks in a season, but with so much attention being paid to Donald (the reigning Defensive Player of the Year) and Suh (a powerful interior force), this could be a breakout year for Brockers.

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PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Jenkins hoping not to play too long. It's well-documented that EaglesPro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins has a number of passions besides football. He's one of the most outspoken and active players in the league, with his constant efforts to create change within communities around the country. Jenkins -- who, at 30, is still playing at an extremely high level -- doesn't see himself playing forever. When asked if he can envision himself playing into his mid-30s, Jenkins laughed.

"Probably not," Jenkins said Wednesday with a smile. "I don't know. I feel like if I'm playing at that point, I either am really bored or I'm financially in trouble. Hopefully, neither of those are on the way. But I feel good at this point, to be honest. I love the game, and I'm having fun. We'll see how long it goes."

That said, given the direction the game is going in Jenkins' eyes, he could maybe play much longer than 35, if that ends up being what he truly wants to do.

"Especially the way the game is going," Jenkins said of guys in the secondary playing longer. "You're not allowed to hit anybody, so it saves your body. I might be able to play until I'm 40 then."

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Did Vikings figure out Jimmy G? When I asked Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr before last week's opener if 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has a weakness, Barr said: "Hopefully, we find it. I'll tell you after the game."

Well, the talented Minnesota defense handed Garoppolo his first loss in eight NFL starts, holding him to 15 of 33 passing for 261 yards, with a touchdown and three interceptions. So, Anthony ... what's the secret?

"It was just our guys playing good," Barr told me in the locker room after the 24-16 win. "Maybe that's his weakness. Hopefully, every quarterback's weakness will be our defense.

"But he's a great player. He came up with big plays when they needed them."

That mirrored what I heard all week in Minnesota: Garoppolo is the real deal, even if the Vikings' defense did get the best of him in Week 1.

Heading into the Week 2 matchup with the Lions, keep an eye on the status of speedy 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin, who didn't practice Thursday. In the words of one Vikings defender, the quad injury that sent San Francisco's primary vertical threat to the sideline "changed the game."

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TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: McCoy, Cox swap tricks of the DT trade.Gerald McCoy and Fletcher Cox, who have combined to make nine Pro Bowls, are two of the best defensive tackles in football. But both will tell you they play the position differently. This week, Cox described himself to me as a "power" guy and McCoy as a "finesse" guy. Later in the week, McCoy used the exact same labels to describe himself and Cox. Their shared vocabulary is not surprising, because they talk and text regularly, always texting one another before games and wishing the other luck.

This Sunday, Cox's Eagles and McCoy's Buccaneers face off, and since they're opponents, the well-wishes will happen before the game on the field.

As the Eagles made their run to Super Bowl LII, McCoy gave as many tips as he could to Cox. McCoy obviously knew the Falcons -- the Eagles' Divisional Round opponents -- inside and out from playing in the NFC South with Atlanta. In that game, Cox finished with the highest grade of any Eagles player, according to Pro Football Focus, collecting seven tackles (more than he had in any other game that year, in the regular season or playoffs), a sack and two quarterback hits. Note that in 2017, McCoy also faced the Vikings -- whom Philadelphia beat in the NFC Championship Game -- and the Eagles' Super Bowl foes the Patriots. Against New England, Cox hurried quarterback Tom Brady five times and hit him once.

The two friends won't stop talking this week, but the tips are probably out of the question.

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MILESTONES: New Orleans' Drew Brees now has 37 touchdown passes in season-opening games, the most in NFL history. He surpassed Peyton Manning's 34. ... Brees led wide receiver Michael Thomas into the record book, as Thomas' 16 receptions are the most by a player on Kickoff Weekend in NFL history. Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen held the previous high of 15. ... Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald now has recorded at least one reception in 212 consecutive games and surpassed Tony Gonzalez (211) for the second-longest streak of consecutive games with a catch in NFL history. Hall of Famer Jerry Rice holds the record with at least one catch in 274 consecutive games from 1985 to 2004. ... Tom Brady became the third quarterback age 41 or older to throw a touchdown pass in a season-opening game, joining George Blanda (45) and Warren Moon (41 years, 292 days). 

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