Starting a season with an 0-2 record is not ideal. But there are two ways to approach this problem. Some programs get so used to rough starts that they sing the same old refrain: "Here we go again." Others respond by working harder and righting the ship before it's too late.
I was on two separate 0-2 teams that ended up in the Super Bowl (in 1996 and 2001), and from my experience, I can say it's not time to panic ... at least not yet. A few other recent teams that started 0-2 and ended up making something of their season: the 1993 Cowboys (won the Super Bowl), the 2007 Giants (won the Super Bowl), the 2008 San Diego Chargers (lost in the Divisional Round), the 2013 Carolina Panthers (lost in the Divisional Round) and the 2014 Indianapolis Colts (lost in the AFC title game). Of course, the fact does still remain that since 1990, just 12.2 percent of teams that started 0-2 went on to make the playoffs.
Turning a season around isn't an easy thing to do, but it starts with the coaching staff and leaders in the locker room. When I was with the New England Patriots in '96 and '01, we went back to basics and worked on fundamentals and technique. The coaches asked questions like: Are we putting players in bad positions? Why are certain players confused? What can we do to improve our performance? And so on. Everything, and I mean everything, was evaluated.
Some losses come because of mental errors, blocking issues, blown assignments or penalties. Those are things that can be controlled, as long as players focus and hone in on execution. Sometimes, a team will give a lot of effort, execute well, limit mistakes -- and still lose. That can be a matter of a franchise not being where it wants to be or simply facing a more talented group. I'm OK with that, because the wins will come. But when losses are self-inflicted, it's time to look in the mirror.
Two weeks into the 2017 season, nine teams remain winless. Here's what I've seen heading into Week 3, and why each winless team shouldn't panic:
CHICAGO BEARS: The Bears' struggles continued in Week 2, as they didn't score until 1 minute, 43 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of their loss to the Buccaneers. They need to figure out a way to generate offense. We haven't seen the same run game the team had in 2016 yet (Chicago's posting just 72.5 rushing yards per game in 2017, down from 108.4 in 2016), and the receivers have really struggled to stay healthy. But the defense has a lot of young pieces coming together and is playing well at times. Once the Bears fill the holes, get the run game going -- their best offensive component right now -- and develop (and play) Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago will get more competitive and give itself a chance to win more games.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: When coaches get fired, it speaks volumes. And when a team's star player speaks out, it's also telling. Cincinnati has to figure out how to win. The Bengals have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball and should be able to compete with almost every team on their schedule. Several teams that have struggled early are trying to find their franchise quarterback, something the Bengals already have in Andy Dalton. The seventh-year pro has struggled early, but his track record shows he can lead this team. With Bill Lazor taking over for Ken Zampese as offensive coordinator following the Week 2 loss, look for the change to boost Dalton's play and the overall performance of the offense. I want to give the Bengals some leeway because they have been a pretty consistent team this decade, but they can't get too far behind in the AFC, or there won't be any coming back. If Cincinnati finds a way to win one game, it's going to get going. Believe that.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: First of all, I don't think many expect the Browns to be a playoff team come January. The team has acquired talent over the last few years. And while the Browns have won just one game going back to last season, six of their losses came by one touchdown or less, including the season-opening defeat to Pittsburgh. The Browns must find their franchise QB. If DeShone Kizer is the man, Hue Jackson will develop him and get the rookie QB ready to carry this team for years to come. With more talent around Kizer, I think this offense has potential. Cleveland has made strides in just two offseasons with Jackson, and these baby steps eventually will take it to new levels. That said, this team won't be fighting for it's only win in Week 16, especially if Myles Garrettcan get back on the field sooner rather than later.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: The Colts are in trouble, with all the injuries and draftees who haven't panned out. First and foremost, the Colts have to figure out how to keep Andrew Luck on the field, whether it's eliminating hits, balancing the offense or toughening up in the trenches. Jacoby Brissett did OK for being in the system for just over a week before getting the start in Week 2, when he threw the ball 37 times. This offense must figure out a way to find success with the ageless Frank Gore and the run game. If defenses eliminate the ground attack, it's going to be an uphill battle for the Colts, especially without center Ryan Kelly. But I do think that Brissett will provide a boost once he's in the system a few more weeks, which will help keep an OK defense from wearing down. Looking down the road, new general manager Chris Ballard understands how to build a talented team and will get the players who will work well in Indy's system.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: I'm trying to be patient with the Chargers, but I hate hearing the same old song being played. Yes, they have a good defense, score a lot of points and are in position to win every game. But why does every contest seem to come down to the fourth quarter? The Chargers have lost 11 games by one possession or less since the start of the 2016 season. Anthony Lynn's group must work on situational football and execute when it gets the opportunity to secure a win, especially in crucial situations when the game is on the line. Melvin Gordon has become a better all-around back since his rookie season, and if the Chargers lean on the run game more going forward -- taking a lot of the pressure off Philip Rivers -- they'll be able to control the clock and won't be in sticky situations late in the game. This offense (and defense, for that matter) has a ton of talent and is capable of being in the playoff mix at season's end. With more focus and better execution, the Chargers can get over the hump.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: My biggest concern is that the Saints have had one of the worst defenses in the league for a while. Since 2012, the Saints have allowed nine 500-yard passing games (most in the NFL), including Sunday's contest vs. New England. Regardless of how potent the offense is, it's going to be tough for the Saints to do anything significant if the defense can't make a stop (allowing 32.5 points per game thus far in 2017). However, what this team does have going for it is a great head coach and a quarterback who will, at some point, be productive. Right now, this offense doesn't have an identity. The coaches are moving personnel groups in and out, trying to create mismatches, but there's no true identity. I'm confident the Saints will improve, given Sean Payton's great mind and Drew Brees' talent and leadership. Although this team needs to be aware of where it stands in the NFC South. The Saints don't want to get too far behind.
NEW YORK GIANTS: Where to start? The Giants don't have an offensive line that can protect Eli Manning or one that can help get a run game going. Manning doesn't look comfortable in the pocket (SEE: Monday night's loss to Detroit), but you can't blame him after being sacked eight times in two games. The Giants had an offensive line issue coming into the season, and it's still an issue. (They were forced to shift players on the line Monday night after RT Bobby Hart went down early.) I'm not entirely singling out the O-line because there have been times where Eli's had plenty of time in the pocket and hasn't hit or seen an open target. Eli's not playing like the vintage Eli who won two Super Bowls. The Giants' defense is a bright spot, but it's getting worn down because of the lack of offensive production.
NEW YORK JETS: After letting a handful of veterans go this offseason, this is a franchise that's clearly in a rebuilding stage. The offense, which desperately needs a long-term quarterback, should lean on Matt Forte and the run game. The Jets rank 28th in passing yards this season, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Right now, their best bet is leaning on Forte and a defense that has some young talent. Try to keep games close with a ground-and-pound/defense combo. And if the offense can find a way to be productive, New York could surprise some teams on its schedule.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: The 49ers are in a straight remodel, making significant changes to their staff and roster. When a team incorporates a new system, it takes time to create the new culture with the right personnel to fit into the system. GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have done a good job building this team so far -- drafting two playmakers in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft in Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster. From what I've seen, the defense -- which ranks 10th in the NFL in both yards and points allowed -- is the foundation with talent like NaVorro Bowman and DeForest Buckner, and it's keeping the 49ers in games, limiting Cam Newton to 23 points and Russell Wilson to 12. I love what I'm seeing from Thomas so far, recording four tackles, including two for a loss, and one quarterback hit vs. Seattle. And Foster showed equal promise in his debut before suffering a high ankle sprain -- which is recovering quickly -- on the 11th play of the team's home opener on Sept. 10. However, to run the type of lethal offense Shanahan wants to run, San Francisco is going to need specific pieces that it currently doesn't have. While the coach can make adjustments on the fly to try to keep the team competitive, at the end of the day, the Niners need playmakers. Rome wasn't built in a day, but this new 49ers regime has done a good job in one offseason.