We’re only two weeks into the 2012 NFL season and one thing has already become crystal clear – Sundays are going to be very exciting between now and the end of the year and we should expect the unexpected.
This past week was no different.
The Seattle Seahawks brought the Dallas Cowboys down to earth with a bump, the New York Giants needed 510 passing yards from Eli Manning to see off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the talented and dangerous New Orleans Saints – led by $100 million quarterback Drew Brees - fell to 0-2 with a loss to the Carolina Panthers.
There were wild finishes around the league as well as stellar displays, shocks and the odd bit of controversy courtesy of the replacement officials.
But the headline of the day came in New England where the Patriots lost a home opener for the first time since 2001, dropping a 20-18 shocker to an Arizona Cardinals team that is going to surprise quite a few people this season.
The Cardinals can’t quite make up their mind who should be their quarterback and have flip-flopped between John Skelton and Kevin Kolb since the middle of last season. They also have struggles along the offensive line yet they just happen to be one of the hottest teams in the league, winning nine of their last 11 contests.
The real story in Arizona is the form of their dominant defense. This unit is fast and aggressive and rarely gave Tom Brady a moment to breathe in a stifling performance on Sunday.
Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett remain constant menaces on the defensive line, Daryl Washington is rock solid at linebacker and Patrick Peterson continues to grow at cornerback, picking off Brady on Sunday night.
If the Cardinals can continue to play lights out on defense – they have conceded just 34 points in two games – they will have a shot at the playoffs.
Offensively, the ball is very much back in Kolb’s court and he looked assured and not as skittish under pressure. He now has the chance to win a starting job through injury, as Michael Vick did to him in Philadelphia a few years back. Of course, doing that will need Kolb to remain healthy and consistent – two factors that have evaded him thus far during his career.
The Cardinals might have dodged a late bullet after Ryan Williams fumbled deep in his own territory and Stephen Gostkowski missed the game-winning 42-yard field goal, but to have lost in that fashion would have been extremely harsh. They deserved to pull off the shock of the weekend.
But maybe we shouldn’t have looked at it as such a shock? The NFC West is proving to be better than we give it credit for – the 49ers, Rams, Seahawks and Cardinals all beat Week 1 winners in Week 2 and this division is clearly no longer the laughing stock of the league.
And now onto this week’s numbers...
9... The Philadelphia Eagles are still very much an error-prone team and have committed nine turnovers in two games against the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. But any coach or player will tell you that the most important statistic in the NFL is wins and losses – and the up and down, inconsistent Eagles are undefeated at 2-0. Michael Vick continues to blow hot and cold. He threw 4 interceptions in Week 1 but tossed the game-winning touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. This week, he threw another 2 picks but provided the game-winning touchdown run late in the contest. As bad as he can be at times, there is no getting away from the fact that Vick never gives up and tries to fight through his struggles. And maybe the rest of the NFL should be more afraid of the Eagles than we might think. If they can turn the ball over nine times in two games and still win, with one of the victories coming against a quality opponent in Baltimore, just how good can they be if they cut out the mistakes? That said, a word of warning for Eagles fans... number seven is getting hit way too much already this season. If Vick cannot be protected (and he will now be without starting center Jason Kelce who has been lost for the remainder of the year to a knee injury), it’s hard to imagine him playing the entire year without getting hurt.
25... His three first half interceptions – which all led to Tampa Bay touchdowns – almost crippled the New York Giants on Sunday, but I still think Eli Manning is one of the few quarterbacks you would call upon in the NFL with a big game on the line. After his shaky start, Manning rebounded to lead the Giants to 25 fourth quarter points on the way to a 41-34 win over the Bucs. Manning made a succession of big-time throws and ended the game with 510 yards and three scores. But how long will the Giants be able to win shootouts like this? Tom Coughlin is going to want more consistency out of his Super Bowl champs and will be worried about the developing injury bug that sidelined Ahmad Bradshaw, David Diehl and Domenik Hixon on Sunday. Those will be worries for down the road for Coughlin and the Giants. This morning they will revel in managing to avoid an 0-2 start at home. As for the Bucs, they epitomise the unpredictable nature of the NFL. They powered their way to a Week 1 victory against Carolina on the back of a stingy, swarming and aggressive defence. Seven days later they give up 604 total yards and concede 25 points in the final 15 minutes of play. Will the real Tampa Bay team please stand up?
0... That’s the number of interceptions thrown by the rookie quarterback quartet of Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts), Ryan Tannehill (Miami Dolphins), Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) and Brandon Weeden (Cleveland Browns) in a series of nice bounce-back performances in Week 2. Luck, Tannehill and Wilson all enjoyed securing their first NFL victories and there was no shame in defeat for Weeden, who threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals. One week most definitely does not a season make, but it was encouraging to see the rookie passers settle down a bit more in Week 2. And the one guy I didn’t mention – Robert Griffin III – was dazzling and has a bright future for the Washington Redskins.
- That’s a bit more like it from the Carolina Panthers in terms of finding a running game. The Panthers rushed for just 10 yards in a disappointing Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yet they ground out 219 rushing yards on Sunday as they recorded a statement 35-27 win over the New Orleans Saints. I say it was a statement game because this is the exact kind of contest the Panthers could not close out a year ago. In 2011, the Panthers were exciting to watch and featured in a number of dramatic games – but they mostly found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreline at the final gun. On Sunday, the Panthers were exciting to watch and Cam Newton remains a truly breathtaking talent. Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith made some big plays and Brandon LaFell continues to emerge on the other side in the passing game. If the Panthers can regularly involve the rushing trio of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, they should score points for fun as the remainder of the 2012 season unfolds.
- Seattle is not an easy place to go and play and the Seahawks are not going to be push-overs in the NFC West this season. But the Dallas Cowboys have to be bitterly disappointed with a tame 27-7 defeat on Sunday, especially given the extra time they had to prepare for the game following their season-opening Wednesday night victory over the New York Giants. Offensively, the Cowboys struggled to find their feet and made too many mistakes. They racked up just 296 total yards and will surely have expected more from that side of the ball following Tony Romo’s outstanding display in Week 1. The Cowboys fought so hard to get a victory over the Giants in Week 1 and that kicked off their season with a massive high. But this must be a pretty big low as the Cowboys missed a big chance to build on their promising start.
- I mentioned this in our Inside the Huddle podcast last week and I think it is worth watching in the coming weeks – Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker seems to be falling out of favour with the New England Patriots. Sure, he caught 5 passes for 95 yards on Sunday, but he didn’t start the game and was on the bench as Julian Edelman took his spot in a base offense that also featured Brandon Lloyd and tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. It was only when Hernandez got hurt that Welker, who caught just 3 passes in Week 1, became involved in the attack. And then it was clear he is still a Tom Brady favourite, if not a Bill Belichick one, being targeted 11 times. This is certainly a situation I am going to be keeping an eye on in coming weeks and I think the writing is on the wall for Welker – he is not getting a long term contract as a member of the New England Patriots.
St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher insists that star running back Steven Jackson was held out of the second half of his team’s 31-28 win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday due to a groin injury. I hope that is the case. Jackson did not play again after drawing an unsportsmanlike penalty for spiking the ball after being ruled down short of the goal-line by a less-than-stellar group of replacement officials. Jackson hurt his team with that penalty but I think it was one borne out of frustration. The commentators then felt Jackson was being made an example of by Jeff Fisher. That would certainly not be that unusual. Coaches often single out a star player for discipline, particularly when trying to send a message about culture change to a young team. But I hope Jackson wasn't being used as a scapegoat by his coach – he deserves better than that. We’re talking about a guy who constantly leads from the front for the Rams. On some pretty bad teams, Jackson has rushed for seven straight 1,000-yard seasons. I can understand his frustration at the officials on this occasion and I’m not sure it was worthy of being benched for the remainder of the game. Hopefully, it was a minor injury and not the result of a Jeff Fisher crackdown.