What an incredible Sunday of NFL action. It was all going off across the league in Week 2, especially with 10 games being played at the same time in the 6pm slot. The likes of Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Buffalo, Kansas City and Seattle fought and scrapped to dramatic victories in one-score games.
But no one had to dig as deep as the Dallas Cowboys.
Mike McCarthy's men spent most of Week 2 staring down the barrel of an 0-2 record that would have seriously tested the mettle of this expected contender. The Cowboys trailed the Atlanta Falcons 20-0 at the end of the first, 29-10 at the half and 39-24 with just over five minutes left on the clock.
But as the Falcons blew their largest lead since that infamous Super Bowl 51 disaster against New England at the end of the 2016 campaign, Dallas fought their way back with 16 points in the final 4:57 to win 40-39 on Greg Zeurlein's 46-yard field goal as time ran out.
Disaster was averted in spectacular fashion. Can you imagine the early-season heat being felt by McCarthy had he opened the year 0-2 with expectations exceedingly high for 2020? He would have been forced to have an akward conversation with owner Jerry Jones on Monday morning.
Quarterback Dak Prescott was outstanding in leading Dallas back as he threw for 450 yards and rushed for three touchdowns. He was helped out by the exciting 100-yard receiving duo of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, while Michael Gallup also chipped in with some big catches.
It is clear the Cowboys are going to get their points and Prescott is going to be tough to slow down with all of the weapons at his disposal, but there are a few concerns about the defense. That side of the ball must be tightened up significantly if Dallas are to make a run in what is looking like an increasingly-wide-open NFC.
The defensive worries are even greater in Atlanta. One week after forcing Russell Wilson into just four incompletions, the Falcons shipped 570 total yards to Dallas. And the blame for this defeat has to fall squarely on the shoulders of the defense, which is supposed to be head coach Dan Quinn's area of expertise.
Matt Ryan threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns in a losing cause. He is not the problem. The Falcons are exciting to watch, for sure, but that defense has to find a way to play better. I'm not sure Atlanta can recover from this defeat and that means Quinn's seat is going to start warming up.
As for the Cowboys, they have to use this face-saving win to their advantage in the coming weeks. It should give them a great deal of belief, but there also plenty of teaching points for their coaches to lay out in the next six days before facing Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
Josh Allen… The early returns would suggest this is going to be a big 'make the leap' year for Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen. The third-year passer is seeing more placed on his young shoulders than ever before and he is responding in historic fashion. Allen threw for 417 yards, four touchdowns and no picks in a 31-28 win over Miami. Allen became the first quarterback in Bills' history to top 400 passing yards and four scores in the same game. Impressive stuff when you consider the stuff of legend Hall of Famer Jim Kelly used to produce week in and week out on a team that went to four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s. Allen also became the first Buffalo quarterback to produce back to back 300-yard-plus passing days since Drew Bledsoe in 2002. Allen is exciting to watch and continues to be helped out by the impressive receiving trio of Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and John Brown, who combined for 17 catches for 305 yards and two touchdowns in a lightning-delayed contest in South Florida.
Pittsburgh's defense… Ben Roethlisberger and his young wide receivers are attracting many of the headlines during the Steelers' 2-0 start to the 2020 campaign. And rightly so. But the driving force of the black and gold remains the same as last season. The defense is arguably the best in the entire NFL and sent another reminder to that effect during Sunday's 26-21 win over Denver, sacking Broncos' quarterbacks seven times and knocking Drew Lock to the sidelines for a few weeks. The explosive T.J. Watt led the way with two and a half sacks on Sunday and with Big Ben and his offensive buddies clicking, Pittsburgh look complete and ready to push Baltimore all the way in the AFC North.
Aaron Jones… It was yet another monster day from 'the other Aaron' at Lambeau Field on Sunday as the Green Bay Packers came from behind to record a comfortable 42-21 win over Detroit. Aaron Jones was spectacular as he gained 236 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns. Jones has been a scoring machine in Green Bay. He led the NFL with 19 regular season touchdowns in 2019 and already has four in two games this term. Including the playoffs, Jones has now scored 36 touchdowns in his last 32 NFL games dating back to the 2018 season. Aaron Rodgers is, of course, the face of this franchise in Green Bay, but Aaron Jones is the driving force of the offense and ready to become one of the league's brightest running back stars.
Minnesota's offense… The Vikings came out as flat as a pancake against the Indianapolis Colts and struggled badly on the offensive side of the ball in a 28-11 defeat. Kirk Cousins knows the deal with NFL quarterbacks and will not be surprised to learn that he has to shoulder much of the blame. Cousins completed just 11 passes for 113 yards and was intercepted three times. His rating of 15.9 was the lowest of his career. But the blame can and should be spread around. Dalvin Cook did not get going for the second week in a row and Adam Thielen looks a shell of his former self with his long-time receiving partner Diggs now lighting it up in Buffalo. The Vikings need to control the ball on offense (they were 8-0 in 2019 when holding the ball for 30 minutes or more). But they had the ball for 18:44 in Week 1 and fared only slightly better with 21:35 in Week 2. This season is shaping up to be a long and frustrating one in Minneapolis.
The New York Jets… San Francisco limped into MetLife Stadium without All-Pro tight end George Kittle, All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and key receiver Deebo Samuel. During the course of three rough and tough hours that might well have ruined San Francisco's season on Sunday night, the Niners saw quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running back Raheem Mostert and defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas leave the game with injuries. And yet the Niners still hammered the Jets 31-13. There have been some bad editions in recent years, but this might be one of the worst Jets teams in living memory. Adam Gase is toast and Sam Darnold is getting zero help in what is a career-crossroads year.
Miami's new running backs… We're only two weeks in, but the 0-2 Dolphins are a big disappointment on the ground. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey came on board with the intention of running the ball and then hitting play-action passes off that approach. The additions of Matt Breida and Jordan Howard were supposed to spark the league's worst rushing attack yet that pair have been virtually non-existent. Breida carried seven times for 37 yards against Buffalo, while Howard has morphed into some form of short-yardage fullback, carrying five times for four yards and a score. There is too much being heaped on Ryan Fitzpatrick's shoulders. Fitzmagic will always give his absolute all and threw for 328 yards and two scores on Sunday, but a little help on the ground would be welcome.
The Fast Five…
- Congratulations to New England's german fullback Jakob Johnson, who scored the first touchdown of his young NFL career on Sunday night on a pass from Cam Newton. Johnson has gone from playing in the German Football League to starring on Sunday Night Football in Seattle via the NFL's Player Pathway programme. It has been quite a journey and should serve as an inspiration to young players across Europe and around the world.
- Speaking of Sunday Night Football, how special was Russell Wilson in Seattle's 35-30 win over Cam Newton's Patriots? Wilson's first three of his five touchdown passes – to Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf and David Moore – can only be described as ridiculous. What an absolute magician Wilson is and he is a true MVP candidate for 2020. The Seahawks are going to push hard for that NFC spot in this year's Super Bowl.
- There were bodies falling left and right on Sunday night as the injury bug bit hard in Week 2. As well as those aforementioned injuries for the Niners, the other big loss on the night was New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, who tore his ACL. Some of this is just football, but there is also a case to be made that this is happening more in 2020 because players did not experience as much contact over the summer.
- That was a cracking game between Tennessee and Jacksonville on Sunday night as the Titans emerged as 33-30 winners courtesy of Stephen Gostkowski's late 49-yard field goal. But the star of the show for Tennessee was quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who threw for four touchdowns. The Jags also put up a spirited showing, which was very encouraging indeed.
- When Tyrod Taylor injured his chest in pre-game warm-ups on Sunday, the Los Angeles Chargers turned to rookie first-rounder Justin Herbert and, boy, did he look ready! Herbert threw for 311 yards and one touchdown and rushed for another as he almost pulled off the upset win over Kansas City. His display energised the whole Chargers team and while top brass is saying Taylor comes back in when healthy, this has to be Herbert's job to lose from this point forward.
Fact of the Week
The Atlanta Falcons scored 39 points and did not commit a turnover in their 40-39 loss to Dallas on Sunday. Prior to that game, teams who scored 39 points and did not turn it over a single time boasted a won-lost record of 440-0, dating back to 1933 when turnovers were first recorded.
Finish That Sentence
Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we do on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…
- From Dave Camfield (@DaveCamfield) The biggest surprise of the season so far is… the fight and competitiveness being shown by the Jacksonville Jaguars in their 1-1 start to the new campaign. Gardner Minshew threw three touchdown passes in Sunday's tight loss to Tennessee and rookie running back James Robinson is a breath of fresh air. Credit Doug Marrone and his coaching staff for making some bold moves in the past year in a bid to change the culture in the locker room. The early results have been positive and the road to respectability does not look to be as bumpy as we first thought.
- From Mal (@mal7mul) Dak Prescott must… get a long-term contract soon. Now, I'm not suggesting that Dak should immediately leapfrog the likes of Mahomes, Wilson and Watson just because he is the latest to sign on the dotted line, but his value to the Cowboys is clear. And it was emphasised greatly once again in Sunday's miracle win over Atlanta. Dak can get the job done to a very high level. Do Dallas really want to play franchise tag roulette for the next couple of years and potentially have to find out what is behind door two in the future?
- From Stuart Whitfield (@stuwhitters) By Week 8, the top three candidates for NFL MVP will be… _Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray. Mahomes is an obvious choice but it was very impressive how he brought the Chiefs back from the dead against the Chargers, making explosive plays with his arm and his legs. I've spoken about the excellent Wilson already, but how about Murray, who is off to a great start with the 2-0 Cardinals? Murray threw for 286 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 30-15 win over Washington, but he is doing most of his damage to opposing defenses with his legs. Against 'The Football Team' Murray rushed for 67 yards and two touchdowns. Through two games, he leads all NFL quarterbacks with 158 rushing yards and is proving very tough to defend, much like Mahomes in 2018 and Lamar Jackson in 2019, both whom won the league MVP award in their second season. For those who are keeping track, Murray is in his second season.
- From Bryan Friel (@coveygunner) The Minnesota Vikings will finish… most of their offensive drives with a punt or an interception this season.
- From Ian Hunter (@Beefdinners) Adam Gase is the worst head coach since… Adam Gase in Miami!
Jim Caldwell must be chuckling to himself ever so quietly (he is too classy for a full-on belly laugh). You see, Caldwell produced back-to-back 9-7 seasons in Detroit in 2016 and 2017 and got himself fired for such output, even though the Lions made the playoffs in 2016. Matt Patricia was supposed to take this team to the next level but now has a record of 9-24-1 dating back to 2018. What is so frustrating about these Lions is how many leads they let slip. They were up 23-6 to Chicago and lost in Week 1 and they led 14-3 in Green Bay before getting blown out. That was the seventh double-digit lead that was blown by the Lions since the start of last season, including three to the Packers. Is that on Patricia? Is he getting out-coached by others as they make in-game adjustments? It certainly feels like that to me and with Arizona and New Orleans up next, Patricia could be shifting uncomfortably on a hot seat by the time the Lions take their bye in Week 5.