$.01--We’re now two weeks into the NFL season. For teams that start the year 0-2, the playoff dreams are basically dead. No team that began 0-2 has made the postseason since the 2018 season, when the Texans rose up from two losses to start the year to finish 11-5. The Seahawks also did it that year, but it’s a rare feat.
Less than 10 percent of teams starting 0-2 have made the postseason since 1970. Of those 400 teams (prior to this year) who began by losing the first two games, only 56 wound up with a non-losing record. According to Sirius NFL Radio, the 0-2 teams wind up winning an average of 5.4 games No team starting 0-2 has won a postseason game since the 2014 Indianapolis Colts.
With that in mind, the NFL focus this week is on the teams who finished Sunday at the unsavory 0-2 record or adeptly avoided the inglorious start.
$.02--The defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals are the most prominent team at 0-2. They arrived there only by keeping the Dallas Cowboys from falling to that same mark in Sunday’s 20-17 Cowboys win at JerryWorld.
Cincinnati’s problem is an obvious one. Their offensive line is proving physically incapable of protecting QB Joe Burrow. Dallas sacked Burrow six times. It felt like 16 as frequently as Micah Parsons and friends were in the Bengals backfield. Parsons, probably the game’s best defensive player right now, hit Burrow five times to go along with his two sacks.
It’s a testament to Burrow’s toughness and the Bengals' own defensive chutzpah that the Cowboys didn’t win by 30. The Cowboys offense struggled to string together positive plays with Cooper Rush at the helm in place of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott being a little too easy to tackle. Rush made some solid throws, no doubt about it, but they paled in comparison to the sizzling dimes Burrow was delivering under heavy duress.
For the second week in a row, the Bengals lost on a game-ending field goal. Brett Maher’s 50-yarder was good by about the width of a ball, but the three points don’t require style points. Still, it illustrates how much football is literally a game of inches. One less rotation on the kick and Maher’s effort sails wide right and it could be the Cowboys who are in the land of the lost at 0-2. Instead, it’s the Cincinnati team that managed to win so many games like this one a year ago en route to the Super Bowl. A return visit is extremely unlikely for the battered Burrow and the Bengals.
$.03--The New York Jets were less than two minutes from opening 0-2. Trailing in Cleveland 30-17 at the two-minute warning, Joe Flacco and the Jets engineered an epic comeback to beat the Browns, 31-30.
Flacco is now 18-3 in his career starting against the Browns. He was darn near perfect down the stretch, notably on a quick-hit 66-yard TD to Corey Davis for the first of the two comeback scores. New York pulled off the onside kick and then Flacco was dealing again. The Jets flew to the lead when Garrett Wilson toasted the coverage for his second TD of the game. The Browns futile attempt in desperation came up short.
This is what you call a gut-check win for Robert Saleh’s Jets. After a flat Week 1 loss, the Jets desperately needed some positivity. It didn’t look like it would happen after the Browns ran out to the late lead after the Jets had clawed back to tie it at 17 early in the fourth. On the road against a team with a dominant run game and a star-studded defense, it sure felt like black curtains were falling on Saleh’s Jets.
That Browns defense was actively complicit in dropping the team to 1-1. Coverage issues and missed opportunities plagued coordinator Joe Woods’ unit all afternoon, and they paid for it. They wasted a solid performance from Jacoby Brissett at QB and a spectacular 3-TD day from RB Nick Chubb and 9-catch, 101-yard outing from WR Amari Cooper. This is a brutal collapse by the Browns that won’t sit well with an already antsy fanbase. Nor should it. New York has to feel a lot better about being 1-1 with their unexpected QB situation than Cleveland does.
$.04--Perhaps the least surprising 0-2 team is the Atlanta Falcons. Arthur Smith is still guiding his young team through the rebuilding abyss. At least there are some signs of life in each of the losses.
Sunday’s 31-27 loss in Los Angeles to the Rams was nearly a great comeback story for Atlanta. They trailed 28-3 to the Rams in the second half, a score that sends shudders down the spine of every Falcons fan. A furious rally keyed by an interception and a blocked punt returned for a TD brought the Falcons to the edge of reversing their old historic collapse. It was 31-25 and the Falcons drove the ball into striking distance, but Jalen Ramsey picked off Marcus Mariota’s pass at the goal line to preserve the win for the Rams, who did a lot to help Atlanta make this an interesting outcome.
Alas, Smith’s own team can look in the mirror at 0-2 and point the finger at the reflection. The Falcons came out flat on defense, allowing touchdowns on four of the first five Rams drives. There was a missed field goal and penalties on offense too. Ignoring the best player on the team, tight end Kyle Pitts, on offense also doesn’t sit well--especially against a Rams defense that is vulnerable over the middle. On a team with limited assets on offense, not using the most dangerous one is carrying a dull knife into a gunfight.
Rams fans probably shouldn’t celebrate the win. It took Ramsey’s heroics to save the champs from an 0-2 start of their own. After getting embarrassed in their opening loss to the Bills, the hope was Sean McVay’s team would shake off any Super Bowl hangover. Instead, they very nearly drained a bottle of lime Mad Dog against what just might be the league’s worst team.
$.05--The NFC South is the only division with two 0-2 teams. The Carolina Panthers join the Falcons in the winless column through Week 2.
Matt Rhule’s Panthers have a pair of close-but-no-cigar losses, losing to the Browns in Week 1 on the final play and falling 19-16 to the Giants on Sunday in a game I sincerely hope you weren’t forced to watch. Former Panthers kicker Graham Gano boomed in two long field goals, the last a 57-yarder with less than four minutes remaining, to keep Rhule from lighting up the victory smoke.
So far the Baker Mayfield experiment at QB isn’t working. It’s not just the quarterback, however. Carolina fumbled away the opening kickoff in this one, followed by WR Robbie Anderson giving the ball right back on the Panthers next drive. The pass rush is good at initiating pressure but not very adept at finishing what it starts. The offensive line continues to struggle with consistency. These are not unexpected developments for Carolina. Most Panthers fans believed the schedule set up nicely for the team to get on a positive roll early on, but they haven’t been able to stop the losing.
Give the Giants their due credit. New head coach Brian Daboll has New York at 2-0 with a healthy Saquon Barkley leading the offense and a speedy young front playing well on defense. With winnable games at home against Dallas and Chicago in the next two weeks, we may have our surprise team of 2022 in the New York Giants.
$.06--While not technically 0-2, things sure feel bleak for the Indianapolis Colts. After tying the Texans in Week 1 despite being huge favorites, the Colts got shut out at home by the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-0.
The 24 points allowed isn’t terribly surprising for Indianapolis. The Jaguars have some weapons on offense and the Colts continue to play without their best all-around player, LB Shaquille (formerly Darius) Leonard. It’s the zero on the offensive ledger that should really scare Colts fans.
GM Chris Ballard rolled the dice--again--with a veteran stopgap QB in Matt Ryan. The 37-year-old had a great training camp and preseason, but it has not translated now that the games count. Ryan got picked off on the Colts’ first drive and then led the offense to a 3-and-out three straight times. The longtime Falcons leader threw two more late INTs to boot.
Playing without WRs Michael Pittman and Alec Pierce certainly did not help Ryan or the offense. But coach Frank Reich had a way to gameplan around those key absences with the NFL’s leading rusher in Jonathan Taylor. Despite being within spitting distance most of the game, Taylor got just nine carries. The Indy offense ran just 48 total plays in the loss.
Nearly everyone predicted the Colts would win the AFC South. I raise my hand as part of that crowd. And the division is still well within reach; right now the Jaguars are the only team that has a win (Tennessee plays Monday night). But there are deep problems developing in Indianapolis, ones that won’t be easy to overcome if Ryan can’t dial back the clock a few years.
$.07--Neither team is 0-2, but this game deserves a special mention…
Thursday night football featured a fantastic matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers. The Chiefs prevailed 27-24, withstanding a late Chargers rally to improve to 2-0.
I’d like to offer more insight into the game, but I couldn’t watch it. It’s not that I wasn’t available. Nope. I wanted to watch it.
The game was streamed live on Amazon’s Prime Video service, and only on Prime. I don’t pay for Prime. I won’t pay for Prime. I use a different streaming service for my television viewing--which almost exclusively consists of sports and nature/adventure shows.
I do subscribe to NFL+, the league’s own premium service. But the NFL blocks out watching it on WiFi when the game is live; it has to be viewed on a phone or tablet that has internet service--not on laptops or their NFL+ app for my television Roku box.
I understand the economic principles at play here. Amazon paid a steep price to get the rights to broadcast Thursday Night Football. Millions of consumers use Amazon Prime as a daily part of life. But I am not among those millions, nor are millions of others. I expected the NFL’s in-house premium package would be a viable option, but it’s not thanks to the fine print. The fact the NFL+ app didn’t have the promised coach’s tape for the game--or any other game from Week 1--when their own fine print said it would be available is doubly disappointing.
Here’s a radical approach--let me buy the rights to watch an individual game on Prime. I’ll go to $5 for pay-per-view for TNF. The rest of the time, Prime is a useless waste of money for me. Apparently NFL+ is too, unfortunately. There’s a better way to do all this without disrupting broadcast rights fees, but the NFL has no interest in making its product more widely available.
--It was a really fun Sunday if you watched games just for excitement and not for a specific team, or if you're just a fan of chaos…
There have been 17 games where the winning team had less than a 2% win probability at one point during the game over the last seven seasons.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 19, 2022
The Cardinals are the third team to do so today. The Dolphins & Jets also mounted 98%+ comebacks.#AZvsLV | @AZCardinals pic.twitter.com/g73neQeZZh
In general, I think the “odds of winning” metrics are birdcage liner, but there is no doubt the comebacks (and collapses) were the literal definition of the word “incredible” on Sunday.
--I don’t normally like to talk Lions here; my day job is covering Detroit for USA TODAY’s Lions Wire. But this one is special. Check out the Dan Skipper saga from Sunday.
--I feel terrible for 49ers QB Trey Lance, who suffered a brutal ankle injury early in San Francisco’s win over Seattle. Lance sat nearly all of last season as the No. 3 overall pick. He played terribly in their Week 1 loss, and now Lance is likely out for the season. Awful way to start a career by a player whose potential I liked quite a bit as a prospect.
--I’d be remiss not to mention Tua Tagovailoa tossing six TDs in Miami’s amazing comeback win over Baltimore. Four of those TDs came in the fourth quarter. Tyreke Hill and Jaylen Waddle each had 11 catches and topped 360 combined yards and four TDs. Rookie head coach Mike McDaniel's offense seems to be working just fine. So does Tua’s arm…
--Chargers QB Justin Herbert has a nasty injury to his ribs. The man treating him, Chargers team doctor David S. Gazzaniga, is the same man who punctured and collapsed former Chargers QB Tyrod Taylor’s lung while treating a very similar injury. Taylor, now with the Giants, has sued Gazzaniga and his medical facility for malpractice. Good luck, Herbert, you might need it…
--I watched most of Ohio State’s impressive 77-21 victory over a heretofore solid Toledo team. Buckeyes QB C.J. Stroud showed why he’s my early choice as the top quarterback in the draft class of 2023 with a few gorgeous throws that showed arm strength, touch and field vision. He’s blessed with several future NFL wideouts at his disposal, but Stroud’s ability to identify the best target and deliver with such poise and accuracy make him a very easy No. 1 on the board right now.
--On the flip side, Florida QB Anthony Richardson had another ride on the struggle bus in the Gators’ narrow escape against USF. Richardson is still in the infancy of his starting QB career and it shows. The potential is still evident but he’s a long way from manifesting it into something the NFL can use.
--Trying to figure out Texas A&M is like asking your cat to transcribe an Ozzy Osbourne interview in French. They lose at home to Appalachian State a week ago, then bounce back to smother a ranked Miami team 17-9. The Aggies defense is capable of greatness, but it seems getting the offense to hold serve will be a struggle.
--Herm Edwards is out at Arizona State. The Sun Devils were 1-2 after losing at home to Eastern Michigan Saturday night. Edwards was in lame-duck status already and losing to a MAC team cooked that goose right quick.
--New Mexico State is 0-4 and has scored just 32 points in those four losses. They get their only fair chance at a win next week playing Hawaii, which has lost its three games against FBS teams by a combined 168-47 score.
--A week after beating Notre Dame in South Bend, Marshall lost to Bowling Green. The Falcons were 0-2 and lost to FCS-level Eastern Kentucky 59-57 while the Herd trampled the Irish.
$.10--I celebrated birthday No. 50 on Saturday. It’s a milestone age and an important bridge to cross in the middle-aged realm that feels like it started some 25 years ago.
I spent the first half of the day with my son at a high school basketball showcase. He’s a very good player, a 6-foot-9 junior with a nice shot and great court vision. The event--the Prep Hoops Top 250, Michigan edition--was well-run and featured a lot of young men my son has played with and against over the years.
There was some downtime between games, time for me to reflect on where I am at 50. Most of my friends these days are fellow youth sports parents. My son is a college basketball prospect with D-1 potential. My daughter, who just turned 14, is on her way to that status in either basketball or volleyball--and she’s an even better beach volleyball player. I love the camaraderie and the shared experiences with my fellow sports parents, and being with them out of season is always a treat. For my wife and I, it’s effectively our entire social lives over the last few years. And I’m happy with that.
I thought back about where I was at 40. And then 35. Then 30. Back to 25, the only birthday where I really freaked out about a milestone age. I spent a lot of time on the weekend tracing the steps that brought me here. I don’t feel old but I’m certainly not young anymore, a status my knee and feet and eyes remind me of daily. The grey hairs and white arm hair remind everyone else.
From my friends that extend back before kids, back to college and high school, I’m one of the last in my peer group to turn 50. It’s been a rough transition for a lot of them. Angst. Regret. Unhappiness at the realization that the future is shorter, perhaps much shorter, than the past. I’m grateful I don’t really feel that way. It’s difficult to be happy in today’s world, almost a conscious choice to ignore, well *gestures at everything*.
Continuing to find happiness and acceptance of what life is at 50 is all I want now. That probably sounds quite peculiar and “old” to younger folks. Heck, it sounds corny and unhappy to 40-year-old me. In my advancing age, I've come to realize that my attitude and my reactions to things control my happiness. And they are indeed choices, sometimes quite difficult choices to make. I hope I get to keep making those choices for at least a couple more milestone birthdays.