$.01--The biggest storyline of Week 2 is the rash of injuries to key players around the league. Several big-name stars left games on Sunday and did not return, and the prognosis for a few of them is not looking good for returns anytime soon.
Among the major injuries suffered Sunday...
Saquon Barkley - the Giants RB left early in New York's 17-13 loss in Chicago. Reports quickly came out that Barkley tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. New York also saw starting WR Sterling Shepard leave early with a toe injury.
Nick Bosa - It's a torn ACL for the 49ers star defensive end too, based on initial reports out of San Francisco. He was one of several big injuries suffered by the defending NFC champs in their 31-13 grounding of the hapless Jets.
Jimmy Garoppolo - The ridiculously good-looking Jimmy G has a high ankle sprain. The 49ers QB is expected to miss anywhere from 4-6 weeks based on estimates.
Raheem Mostert - San Francisco's running back also left the game in New York with a knee injury that is deemed less serious than Bosa's. Unofficial reports have Mostert with a sprained MCL. He had an 80-yard TD run on San Francisco's first offensive play. The Niners also lost defensive end Solomon Thomas to a knee injury.
Christian McCaffrey - The No. 1 pick in your fantasy draft -- unless it was Barkley -- the Panthers superstar RB left Carolina's 31-17 loss to Tampa Bay with an ankle injury and did not return.
Drew Lock - Denver's promising young QB departed the Broncos loss in Pittsburgh with a shoulder injury and did not return. After the game, Lock said little in his press conference other than he "felt something" and was in a sling.
Parris Campbell - The Colts lost their versatile WR to a harsh knee injury. The replay says it all:
Fortunately for Campbell, early reports say he did not tear any ligaments. The Colts lost RB Marlon Mack to an Achilles injury in Week 1.
They weren't the only casualties. It was a brutal Sunday across the NFL, one that will have lasting ripple effects for several teams.
$.02--The Los Angeles Chargers pulled a fast one. Justin Herbert got the surprise start at quarterback for the Chargers as they hosted the defending champion Chiefs. Herbert then went toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes in a very close, competitive game.
Based on the CBS commentary and the social media reactions from Chargers beat writers, not even Herbert knew he was going to start the game until just before it happened. The tactic by Chargers coach Anthony Lynn worked. With regular starter Tyrod Taylor questionable with a chest injury, Herbert got some practice reps but didn't expect to start. The No. 6 overall pick played well in his first career NFL action.
In fact, Herbert became the first rookie QB to run for a TD and throw for a TD in the first half of a game since 1954. And he nearly led his team to the stunning upset. It took not one, not two, but three separate successful field goal attempts from Harrison Butker late in overtime for the Chiefs to beat back the game Chargers.
The Chargers defense executed the gameplan against Mahomes very well. L.A. led for most of the game and disrupted the speedy Chiefs offense with heavy pressure. The theory that Mahomes can't hit the downfield strikes if he doesn't have enough time to let the likes of Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins to get deep proved correct. Not every team has a combination of Nick Bosa and Melvin Ingram to chase after a quarterback, and the Chargers have some solid pieces around them on defense, too.
Even then, it still wasn't quite enough to take out the reigning Super Bowl champs on a day where Kansas City and Mahomes in particular did not have its "A" game. That's how good the Chiefs are. Even so, the Chargers have to feel pretty good about Herbert's debut and a strong defensive effort that came up just short.
$.03--The Dallas Cowboys spared themselves from being victims of the Any Given Sunday cliche thanks to an epic collapse by the Atlanta Falcons. Sure, Dallas did a lot of things to rally, but the Cowboys don't win without a lot of complicit help from the Falcons.
Atlanta led 20-0 after the first quarter and stretched that out to 26-7 and then 29-10 at halftime. The visiting Falcons took advantage of three first-quarter fumbles by the underprepared Cowboys, who also made some ponderous choices. Mike McCarthy called a fake punt in his own territory that failed badly. He doubled down with another fake punt that flopped even more miserably.
Dallas had nothing working, while Matt Ryan and the Falcons were cruising. Ryan looked great in throwing three TD passes in the first half. And then it all went south. Dallas started protecting the ball and the Falcons started making mistakes. An uncharacteristic missed catch on a would-be TD by Julio Jones was the most emblematic of the disappointing gaffes for Atlanta. Even a failed 2-pt. conversion by the Cowboys that was doomed to fail from before the snap couldn't stop the comeback. A fantastic onside kick by Greg Zuerlein, eschewing a tee and kicking it flat along the ground, worked perfectly ... in part because no Falcons thought to jump on it. The lack of situational awareness and execution by the Falcons is inexcusable. The Cowboys will happily take it as they improve to 1-1 and first place (with Washington, losers in Arizona) in the NFC East.
$.04--The weekend action kicked off on Thursday night with the Battle of Ohio. Two of the last three No. 1 overall picks as QBs faced off, and the difference in the nights of Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow says a lot about where these two teams are right now.
The Browns opened the home slate with a 35-30 win over the Bengals that didn't seem that close in realtime. That's because everything clicked for new Browns coach Kevin Stefanski's offense a week after they could not get out of their own way in a humbling loss to the Ravens. Nick Chubb ran for 124 yards, and just when the Bengals finally started to catch their breath, Kareem Hunt came in and gashed them for 86 more on the ground. Mayfield was sharp, efficient and in control of Stefanski's offense. The offensive line did not surrender a single QB hit on Mayfield, which certainly helped.
Here's a study in efficiency: The Browns gained 434 yards on 58 plays. The Bengals gained 353 and it took them 88 plays (!?!) to get there. Burrow threw 61 times, completing 37, but none gained more than 23 yards. That's despite the Browns missing CBs 2,4 and 5 on the depth chart and LBs 1 and 4, plus starting defensive end Olivier Vernon. Myles Garrett had a monster game, pressuring Burrow 11 total times including a strip sack that set up an easy TD.
The Bengals badly lost along the lines. Cleveland controlled the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense. Burrow gave it a strong try, but he cannot continue to take the physical beating the Browns laid on him. On the flip side, this is the Browns team that many got so excited about in the offseason: aggressive, efficient and star-laden in several key spots.
$.05--I don't typically devote a cent here to the Detroit Lions. I get enough misery in my life covering the Lions on a daily basis as the managing editor for Lions Wire. But Sunday's performance in Green Bay offered me a compelling need to spread the misery to those outside the Lions den.
The Lions lost 42-21 despite dominating the first quarter in racing out to a 14-3 lead. It was the fourth straight game, dating back to last season, that Matt Patricia's Lions held a double-digit lead at one point in the game only to lose. They're the first team in the 100-year history of the NFL to pull off that dubious feat. This one was particularly embarrassing for Patricia, now in his third season at the controls in Detroit.
Patricia's teams are getting worse at the things he's supposed to excel at, namely defense and discipline. Several critical, preventable penalties -- including two personal foul penalties on safety Will Harris on one drive -- started the Packers avalanche that shamefully buried Detroit. Patricia's passive, coverage-over-rush emphasis on defense is so basic that a Madden video game sim wouldn't even allow it with its simple AI. Giving Aaron Rodgers enough time to film State Farm commercials in the pocket is a terrible strategy, but that's all Patricia knows how to do. The Packers eviscerated the defense with simple concepts, easily isolating the matchups they wanted with motion and bunch formations. Patricia's defense never adjusted or tried to attack, not even with the Packers playing three backup offensive linemen for a stretch of the game.
It's harsh to call for a coaching change after just two weeks, but the prior two seasons never gave any indication Patricia was worth keeping this long. His team is markedly worse after 34 games than it was when he took over, and the hopeful Honolulu Blue Kool-Aid has all flowed down the drain.
$.06--The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee released its list of the 130 modern-era nominees for the induction class of 2021. The initial list includes two no-brainer first-ballot entrants in Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson. Beyond that, determining who will be the other nominees who earn enshrinement is going to entail a lot of lobbying and animated discussions.
One of the debates will center around another first-ballot nominee, Calvin Johnson. Megatron was the most physically gifted wideout of his era, and also one of the most prolific. In his career (2007-2015) Johnson has 700 yards more than any other WR, and scored 6 more TDs. He still holds the single-season receiving yardage record. The three-year peak (2011-2013) is better than any other wideout's ever. But he didn't sustain that. Those were Johnson's only three All-Pro seasons. He had more drops than any other wideout in the 2010-2015 period, and he walked away with his body in tatters early enough that his historical cumulative stats aren't eye-popping. He deserves induction, but I'll be surprised if it happens in the next 2-3 years.
My ideal six-player induction class for 2021: Manning, Woodson, Alan Faneca, Clay Matthews, Patrick Willis and Torry Holt, who put up bigger numbers (though less TDs) for longer than Johnson at WR. Willis had an unfortunately short career but he was the best player at his position for most of it. He gets the nod over Lance Briggs, a personal fave who would make my all-time underappreciated roster if I ever wrote one out. Matthews -- one of my all-time football heroes -- would too.
$.07--The Big Ten Conference voted this week to fire up the fall football season. The on-again, off-again carousel of COVID-19 concern and cancellation is back on for the 14-member Big Ten.
An eight-game schedule for each team plus a ninth championship weekend will roll out starting in mid-October. The season will run straight through every Saturday with no interruptions so the conference champion is eligible for the College Football Playoff selection on Dec. 20th.
That leaves zero margin for error for any of the schools, spread from New Jersey to Nebraska and many big points in between. For a national title contender like Ohio State, a vast urban campus with one of the largest student bodies in America, it will be a challenge to keep everyone COVID-free and able to play all those games. At Michigan State, the low percentage of students who remained on campus are largely ordered into self-quarantine after rashes of positive tests.
It's an optimistic challenge to pull it off. I'm skeptical that it will go down, especially in more restrictive states; here in Michigan, high school football players are required to wear masks while they're playing. Getting 14 different conglomerations of 90-some athletes, 30-some coaches and support staff, and cadres of trainers to all travel together, competing in tight quarters against one another, it just seems fraught with peril.
Having said that, I'm glad the Big Ten is trying. It's a great example of adjusting to the new information and testing procedures available to help life return to close to the old normal.
--When discussing early MVP candidates, don't omit Kyler Murray. He put on a show in Arizona's 30-15 win over Washington. Murray threw for 286 yards and a TD (and an INT) and tacked on 86 rushing yards and two TDs for the unbeaten Cardinals. D'Andre Hopkins hauled in eight passes for 68 yards and a TD, too.
--Of all the 0-2 teams, no team expected itself to be there less than the Philadelphia Eagles. Carson Wentz has not played well in either loss, though he's not getting much help either. The Rams - looking very strong at 2-0 -- met little resistance in a 37-19 win where they racked up 30 first downs.
--Buffalo beat Miami in what looks like an entertaining game. I say "looks like" because the game got almost no national attention. I still haven't seen any highlights from any network other than on Twitter, where proud Bills fans have plastered (illegal) videos of Josh Allen's deep-ball exploits. Sirius XM NFL Radio offered nothing but the score during their evening recap. I hate on the AFC East as much as anyone over the years but that's a close game worth promoting.
--Patriots RB James White missed the Sunday night game when his father was killed and mother was seriously injured in a car accident in Florida on Sunday. White's father was a captain in the Miami Police Department. It's a tragic reminder the NFL players are real people with real lives off the field. Deepest condolences to White and his loved ones.
--I've been a big Quandre Diggs fan since he came out of Texas, but this illegal hit by the Seahawks safety absolutely merited the ejection:
There is no place for that in the game and Diggs knows better. See how he dropped his head and led with it into contact? Get that out of football.
--With the sudden resuscitation of the Big Ten, and perhaps the Pac-12 following suit, several players who had opted out and declared for the draft have opted back into playing. One who isn't is Oregon OT Penei Sewell, a top-shelf prospect who stands a good chance to be the first non-QB drafted in April. Ohio State CB Shaun Wade did announce he's returning to the Buckeyes, a nice boost for a defense that lost No. 3 overall pick Jeff Okudah from the secondary.
--We got one of our marquee matchups of the season on Saturday with Miami and Louisville meeting for the right to be the second-best team in the ACC behind Clemson. The Hurricanes rocked the Cardinals 47-34, thanks in part to scoring TDs on each of their first two plays of the second half, covering 150 yards in the process. There's a lot to like with Miami with transfer QB D'Eriq King at the controls. Even though King is small, he's got a live arm and isn't afraid to challenge down the field.
--Georgia Tech throwing the ball!? What's next, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell kneeling together for the national anthem? The Yellow Jackets, long a triple-option run team even when they had Calvin Johnson at WR, have thrown the ball 71 times in two games with freshman QB Jeff Sims. It worked well in beating Florida State last week. It bombed against UCF on Saturday. Sims is exciting, but that door swings both ways; he threw two bad INTs and also lost a fumble. He's thrown 71 passes in two weeks. Three years ago the "Rambling Wreck" threw just 119 in 12 games. Give the radical change a little time, GT fans…
--The North Carolina-Charlotte game and the Baylor-Houston game fell victim to COVID-19 positive tests. College campuses seem to be the source of many positive test clusters since students returned. The football players are not immune to interactions and they're learning that lesson the hard way.
$.10--I did something this week that many of us have been longing to do for some time. I attended an actual football game.
Thursday night marked my son's high school football debut. In our area there isn't enough manpower to have freshman teams, so my ninth grader played JV. His squad faced off against a local team that dropped varsity due to a lack of players and just fields a JV program now, one with no seniors. The play wasn't sharp, not even for freshmen and sophomores playing against actual opponents for the first time in almost 11 months. It didn't matter. Football was back.
I sat with my wife, masked up and socially distanced from the other parents, on the cold metal bleachers and it was glorious. Every player is allowed just two spectators, so our daughter had to stay home. Nearly everyone kept their masks on the entire game, without being told by anyone. I saw exactly one handshake in the stands, and no high-fives. We all did it because it's what is required of us to allow our kids to play. Give us a good reason and we'll comply even if the stipulations seem specious at best.
The young men loved it, and that's an understatement. All their hard work, all their intense peer pressure to avoid infection, it was rewarded. It was the best JV football game I've ever seen and one of the absolute highlights of my summer.
Welcome back, football!