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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 2 of the 2016 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- Turnover-free Dak has Cowboys in better shape without Romo– With turnover-free rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys are already in better shape than they were without Tony Romo in the early part of last season.First of all, they already have a win.
There is also the hope with the way Prescott has already progressed in two games to believe there could be more wins while Romo continues to heal from that broken bone in his back.
“Now we’re two weeks into this, so we have to understand that. I think he improved from Week 1 to Week 2, I think he learned from some of the experiences in the opener, and I think he improved over the course of practice and throughout the game in Washington,” coach Jason Garrett said Monday.
“He approaches it the right way, it starts with that. His intangibles are excellent, his preparation, his poise, his composure, all of that stuff gives him a chance to play well.”
After winning 27-23 at Washington, when Prescott helped direct a late go-ahead drive, the Cowboys (1-1) are back home Sunday night against the Chicago Bears.
Then before the bye week in late October, there are three more games against teams that have already lost games this season — San Francisco, Cincinnati and Green Bay.
Romo did make the trip with the Cowboys to Washington, a positive sign that his back was well enough to travel without any problems.
He even threw a few passes on the field before the game and got an exam from team doctors in which owner Jerry Jones said the 36-year-old quarterback “looked good.”
But that is no indication of an immediately pending return for Romo.
“He’s in that stage right now,” Jones said. “Hopefully, soon, he’ll be out of the danger stage relative to his spine, probably 2-3 more weeks and we can see how far he wants to go by his own volition.”
When the Cowboys opted against putting Romo on injured reserve, they allowed the possibility that he could play before Nov. 6, which would have been the earliest he could have played if on that list. Their bye week is Oct. 23, a week after playing at the Packers and a week before playing Philadelphia.
It sure doesn’t sound as if any continued success by Prescott would make the Cowboys more patient in waiting for Romo to return the lineup.
“Not necessarily. Not necessarily,” Jones said. “Tony’s situation when he’s back will be about whether he’s functional. We’re a better team. We play better (with Romo).”
At the same time, Jones said the Cowboys “are not only playing winning football with Dak, we’re developing him.”
The Cowboys were off to a 2-0 start last season before Romo missed seven games because of a broken collarbone — and lost them all.
Prescott has already set an NFL rookie record with 75 pass attempts without throwing an interception, breaking a mark previously held by Hall of Famer Warren Moon.
“We don’t really get caught up in records. He’s just handled himself well. He’s prepared for the opportunities he gets,” Garrett said. “You can tell he’s started a lot of games, and understands the ebb and flow of the game, and doesn’t force things.”
- Though far from pretty, Ravens off to best start in 7 years– The Baltimore Ravens have plenty to improve upon before they can begin to entertain thoughts of being a contender in 2016.In the meantime, they’ll happily accept being unbeaten after two games, especially after rallying from a 20-point deficit Sunday to beat Cleveland 25-20 on the road.
A year ago, Baltimore started 0-2 and finished 5-11. This season, the Ravens are off to their best start since 2009.
“We have seen progress,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “Our guys have done nothing but work really hard. Most importantly, they found a way to win games. Part of that is not losing games, either. We haven’t made mistakes down the stretch that have cost us.”
Buffalo and Cleveland are struggling teams that have yet to win a game this season, so Harbaugh and the players know they must play better to make some noise in the AFC North. That will be the focus heading into Sunday’s matchup with host Jacksonville (0-2).
The Ravens will work on improving a running game that averaged 3.1 yards per carry Sunday. They’ll try to fortify a defensive front that gave up an 85-yard run, and they’ll seek to get off to a better start.
“You’ve got to learn from the things that don’t go right,” Harbaugh said. “It’s all about getting ready for the next challenge.”
Baltimore beat Buffalo despite scoring only one touchdown. Against the Browns, the Ravens dug themselves a formidable hole with just under 11 minutes elapsed and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to make up the difference.
After peeling off 25 straight points, Baltimore benefited from a call by the officials, who flagged Cleveland receiver Terrelle Pryor for taunting with 27 seconds left after he caught a pass at the 10.
Pryor flipped the ball away, and it brushed the shoulder of Ravens defensive back Lardarius Webb. The subsequent penalty nullified the 20-yard pickup, and C.J. Mosley sealed the victory with an interception near the goal line.
For Harbaugh, there’s no harm in winning ugly.
“Everybody wants to be pretty,” he said. “But maybe we’re just not that pretty. We never really have been. It’s really never been our calling card. But we’re tough.”
After the flawed victory, the Ravens adjourned to the locker room to celebrate the second-biggest comeback in franchise history.
“That was a great, amazing moment,” Harbaugh said. “Pretty, ugly, whatever, it was a win, man. It was a beautiful, beautiful win. You don’t come back from 20-0 often. In the end we won.”
Playing in his second game since returning from a torn Achilles tendon, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs made three tackles after notching a sack in the opener.
Like the Ravens, his focus is on making progress each week.
“I’m getting closer and closer, but the most important thing is we are 2-0,” Suggs said. “We are going to keep chopping wood. We have 14 games to go. I feel great.”
Suggs and the defense shut down Cleveland for the final three quarters. A year ago, the Ravens yielded 103 points in the fourth quarter. Over two games this season, they haven’t given up a point in the second half.
Not that Harbaugh is satisfied.
“We have to get better. That’s the bottom line,” he said. “It’s about being good. That’s what we’re chasing.”
Harbaugh said there were no significant injuries to report from Sunday’s game, and he expressed hope that linebacker Elvis Dumervil will make his 2016 debut against the Jaguars after missing the first two games recovering from offseason foot surgery.
- Young tight ends making an impact for 2-0 Steelers– The greatest tight end in Pittsburgh Steelers history is retired, off being a dad back in his native Virginia. Heath Miller’s replacement, Ladarius Green, is out indefinitely while nursing health issues that won’t seem to go away.In their stead are a pair of works in progress in Jesse James and Xavier Grimble and an old veteran in David Johnson who basically doubles as a sixth offensive lineman. And the Steelers have not missed a beat. At all.
There Grimble was stretching over the goal line in the second quarter during Sunday’s win over Cincinnati for his first touchdown since his junior year at USC in 2013. There the 6-foot-7 James was reaching into the air in the third quarter for a 9-yard score of his own. There was Johnson chugging ahead of DeAngelo Williams, opening space on the edge.
Who said tight end was going to be the lone weakness on one of the NFL’s best offenses? Certainly not the Steelers, who are 2-0 for the first time in six years, which also happens to be the last time they reached the Super Bowl.
“We were never planning on our role being diluted down,” James said. “But we feel good about how we’ve developed and tried to fit into what the coaches want us to do.”
Namely, a little bit of everything. With periods of heavy rain turning Heinz Field into a bit of a boggy soup at times and the Bengals dead set on shadowing wide receiver Antonio Brown all over the field, James and Grimble found themselves a part of the game plan.
James finished with three receptions for 29 yards and has already matched the entire output of his rookie season (eight catches) in just two weeks.
Yet James has been downright prolific next to Grimble, who went undrafted in 2014 and bounced from the New York Giants to the New England Patriots to the San Francisco 49ers in search of a regular job, to little avail. Pittsburgh signed him to a futures contract last January, though he understood what he was up against after the Steelers signed Green to a four-year deal in the offseason and brought back Johnson to join James.
If Green was healthy, Grimble may be out of work. Yet he’s doing more than simply occupying a roster spot. He’s thriving. The player never known for having the best hands found himself lined up in one-on-one coverage in the second quarter on Sunday, beat his man to the inside, caught the ball at the 5, stepped out of a tackle and had remembered to get the ball over the goal line before his knees touched the ground.
Grimble, however, hardly got caught up in the moment. He gave the ball up and headed to the sideline. Only a heads up by one of his teammates to retrieve it allowed the ball to be in display in Grimble’s locker on Monday. There may be more on the way. Green hardly appears ready to return to work and Grimble’s play — he added a difficult shoestring catch in the third quarter to help set up James’ touchdown — gives Roethlisberger yet another option.
“Ben’s always done a good job of working with us,” Grimble said. “In practice he will look for us on certain plays even if we aren’t the first option because he wants us to be ready. I knew when I saw the safety across from me and the coverage that there was a chance (the touchdown pass) was coming my way.”
Johnson even chipped in rare 5-yard reception on a day Pittsburgh’s tight ends proved to be more valuable to fantasy owners than Brown. Johnson’s real value, however, lies in the running game and in his leadership. He spent five years in Pittsburgh from 2009-13 as a backup to Miller and has given the young guys around him someone to lean on. Individually, none of them has Miller or Green’s unique skill set. Collectively, though, they believe they can be just as effective.
“It means a lot to our group as a tight end group to be able to make plays when we’re counted on,” James said. “It shows that we’re proving ourselves.”
- Seattle’s offense has gone missing during first 2 weeks– With Russell Wilson’s mobility limited because of his sprained right ankle, the Seattle Seahawks were hoping to find balance on offense.Instead, Week 2 only brought more offensive frustration.
“We’re not getting the same balance that we felt, about mixing the run game and the pass game where we can play off the running game and it hasn’t been as obvious right off the bat. That’s an issue,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said on Monday.
Seattle has just 15 points in two games after Sunday’s 9-3 loss to Los Angeles. Its only offensive touchdown came on the final drive of the opener against Miami.
The run game is spotty at best, Seattle’s offensive line has struggled against two of the better defensive fronts in the NFL and while Wilson’s been able to throw successfully, he’s not much of a running threat because of his injured ankle suffered in the opener.
And to top it off, injuries are starting to mount already. Along with Wilson’s ankle sprain, wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett were limited in Sunday’s game.
Both underwent MRIs on Monday, but Carroll did not immediately have results, saying it would be later in the week before their status was determined.
Lockett missed a significant chunk of the game with a sprained knee, but returned for the final drive and caught a 53-yard pass from Wilson. Baldwin did not miss any game time despite getting rolled up on from behind while blocking in the first half.
Running back Thomas Rawls also suffered a contusion to the outside of his upper left leg and like the other two will be evaluated later in the week.
“I don’t know really good information for you, like I said, but (Baldwin) seems to feel OK and there will be three or four guys that we got to check out as the days come off this week,” Carroll said.
“We’ll see what happens Wednesday-Thursday. Give them a couple days to get back and see what happens.”
Sluggish starts to the season offensively aren’t new during Carroll’s time in Seattle. But it’s the combination of issues already surfacing that are causing concern.
First are the struggles of the offensive line that appeared settled through the preseason before rookie right guard Germain Ifedi suffered an ankle injury just before the opener.
J’Marcus Webb has started the first two games in place of Ifedi, but did not play the position for Seattle through training camp.
In their defense, the Seahawks have faced two of the better defensive lines in the NFL to start the season with Miami and Los Angeles, but the problems up front have amplified the issues in the run game.
The Seahawks are averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, tied for 25th in the NFL. Both Rawls and Christine Michael have been unable to find a rhythm in the run game.
And the inability to find sustained success on the ground is putting extra pressure on a hobbled Wilson and the passing game, especially on third down.
The Seahawks are a combined 9 of 29 on third-down attempts and many of those — especially against the Rams — were third-and-long situations.
Carroll said he expected Seattle to pick up where it left off last season with its third down success. The Seahawks were fourth in the NFL last season converting 46 percent of third-down opportunities.
“That’s staying on schedule. It goes back to the running game. Remember last year how much we talked about third down, and you saw third down shift and you saw everything change,” Carroll said. “That’s still the key, and converting and creating a new set of downs and all that is crucial.”
- Saints trying to fend off pessimism after another 0-2 start– Roman Harper’s recent experience tells him it would be short-sighted for the Saints to succumb to pessimism this early in the season.The Saints are 0-2 for a third straight year, and the previous two campaigns didn’t turn out well; New Orleans went 7-9 and missed the playoffs each time.
But Harper spent his past two NFL seasons with another team — defending NFC champion Carolina — which has been among the league’s best since its seven-game winless streak in 2014.
“Going two straight months in Carolina my first year there without winning a game was very frustrating to me. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t accept it very well,” Harper said, crediting Panthers coach Ron Rivera for doing “a great job keeping everybody together.”
The Panthers won their final four regular season games of 2014 to win the NFC South, then opened last season on a 14-game winning streak, meaning they won 18 straight regular season games immediately after a stint in which they’d tied one and lost six straight.
Now Harper, who returned this year to the club with which he began his career, hopes New Orleans can earn a tide-turning victory when its hosts NFC South Division rival Atlanta on Monday night. The Superdome is bound to be infused with energy and emotion for that game, when the Saints and their fans will mark the 10th anniversary of the renovated stadium’s re-opening after Hurricane Katrina.
“If we got some kind of mojo or some kind of magic, it’s got to be this one,” Harper said. “So we’ve got to be desperate, man. We’ve got to go out here and get this win. Winning just breeds confidence throughout a locker room and it breeds success.”
While the Saints’ margin for error is thinning, they haven’t been losing by much. The Raiders needed a late 2-point conversion to pull out a 35-34 victory in the Superdome in Week 1 and the New York Giants hit a field goal as time expired to beat visiting New Orleans 16-13 on Sunday.
The Saints’ much-maligned, injury riddled defense looked its best in a while, producing three turnovers in New York while keep quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants’ offense out of the end zone. But this time, New Orleans’ normally prolific offense sputtered and the Saints were sunken by a blocked field goal attempt that the Giants returned for a touchdown.
“You have to learn how to not lose a game before you can ever learn how to win,” Harper said. “Those are the things and growing pains that we’re going through right now, where we’re doing certain little things, where yesterday the blocked field goal cost us the game. Other than that, we played pretty good.”
On defense, that is.
Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense, which led the NFL with 507 yards in Week 1, finished with 288 at New York. Brees passed for one TD, down from four a week earlier. He still has not thrown an interception, making him the only QB since at least as far back as 1960 to be on an 0-2 team despite passing for five TDs without an interception during the first two weeks of the season.
“We’ve gone down to the wire in two straight games and unfortunately come out on the losing end,” Saints tight end Coby Fleener said. “Hopefully we can not get discouraged by that and realize we’re one or two plays away.”
Heading into training camp, Saints coach Sean Payton emphasized the importance of trying to win preseason games to cultivate a competitive edge. He also said it would be important for his relatively young team to get off to a fast start in the regular season. Instead, the Saints haven’t yet won any preseason or regular season games.
“There is only one way to work yourself out of it, and it’s coming back and having a better week of preparation,” Payton said Monday. “I was encouraged with a lot of things that I saw on tape and yet discouraged in some areas. And in these days after here, we have to be brutally honest with ourselves, not only with the players but the coaches as well. We have to be better.”
- Another slow start leaves Chiefs perplexed after loss– Maybe the Chiefs should have petitioned the NFL to avoid noon kickoffs.They might be 2-0.
Kansas City got out of the gate like a beat-up Pinto trying to find first gear on Sunday, the second straight slow start for a team that can ill afford to dig out of holes.
And unlike the previous week, when the Chiefs managed the biggest comeback in franchise history to beat the San Diego Chargers, they were unable to come all the way back in a 19-12 loss to the Houston Texans.
“Way too many mistakes against a good football team to come out on the right end,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday, echoing comments he made after the game.
“Any time you have three fumbles, you have about a 25 percent chance to win the game, so you’re putting yourself in a bind there.”
It wasn’t just the fumbles that put them in a bind, though.
The Chiefs dropped a bunch of passes, quarterback Alex Smith threw several more behind his intended targets, and penalty flags piled up like dirty laundry at the end of the week.
“Listen, offensively, we have to pick it up,” Reid said. “We did some things I think were uncharacteristic between dropped balls and penalties and missed assignments. That’s not the way we normally operate, so we have to put an end to that.”
Which of course is easier said than done.
One thing that might get the Chiefs off to a faster start against the New York Jets this Sunday? The return of four-time Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, their biggest difference-maker on offense.
Charles has been practicing for several weeks after surgery to repair his torn right ACL last season, but he has been inactive for the first two games.
Reid said that Charles told him last week that he wasn’t quite ready to get on the field, but there is a chance he could play against the Jets.
“I thought he practiced better last week,” Reid said. “I wouldn’t rule it out. I just don’t have enough information to put that out there (that he will play).”
The Chiefs have survived with Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West splitting the load, and in fact thrived with them much of last season.
But neither of those running backs gives the Chiefs the same kind of game-breaking threat as Charles, someone who can take any pass or handoff to the end zone.
Asked what would convince Reid to play him Sunday, the coach replied: “You make sure he’s safe. You surely don’t want to take a step backward. He’s a pretty good player and you can rush yourselves, but we’re not playing tiddlywinks here. It’s a violent sport. You want to make sure he’s fully recovered.”
Or at least recovered enough to help an offense out of its doldrums.
The Chiefs are averaging just 116 yards total offense in the first half of their first two games, and managed just a pair of field goals. They’re averaging 236 yards and 16.5 points in the second half.
The biggest reason for the big difference is that Kansas City has had no choice but to ditch its conservative play-calling and open things up.
The Chiefs have been in double-digit holes in the second half of each of their first two games, forcing Smith to go no-huddle and begin chucking the ball.
He met the challenge against San Diego. He came up short against Houston.
“Absolutely zero rhythm and production going in that first half. It was not enough,” Smith said. “You can’t settle for field goals in a game like this. You’ve got to find a way to get in the end zone.”
The solution to the slow starts is anybody’s guess, but unearthing one ultimately is why Reid is paid so handsomely.
And it had better happen soon. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with the Steelers looming on the road after a visit from the Jets.
“We’ve got to play better football,” Reid said. “The margin between winning and losing is so small in this league — you do stupid things it’s going to be tough to come out on the right side of the score.”
- 0-2, with plenty of problems, Skins, Cousins head to Giants– Despite losing twice at home, and facing all sorts of problem areas, Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden wants everyone to “stay positive” and “understand we still have 14 games left” and believe that “all our goals are still reachable.”If those phrases make him sound as if he’s living in denial, there is no denying this: A loss next Sunday at the New York Giants (2-0) would leave Washington in a big hole in the NFC East, three games out of first place just three games into the season.
“To be 0-2 at home — losing to the Cowboys, losing to the Steelers — is kind of a shock to everybody,” Gruden said Monday. “We expected great things this year. We still do.”
A year after winning their division behind a career season from Kirk Cousins, the Redskins have reason to wonder what is going on with the QB. He has one touchdown pass and three interceptions, including an end-zone pick on third-and-goal from the 6 in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 27-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
“He’s not going to be perfect every week, that’s for sure. And no quarterbacks are. It’s just a matter of handling his business, going into work the next day and continuing to get better,” Gruden said. “Keep his head up and stay confident, stay poised.”
Gruden continued: “Sometimes he puts a lot on himself. He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He wants to be great, there’s no question about it. And sometimes, if he feels like he’s not playing to the standards that we all have set for him, he feels like he’s letting everybody down.”
There have been problems in the red zone. And on third downs. Cousins’ passer rating of 78.5 ranks 27th in the league.
He has not been very accurate: Against Dallas, Cousins overthrew wide-open receivers DeSean Jackson and Jamison Crowder on plays that very easily could have been TDs.
“It wasn’t good enough, obviously,” Cousins acknowledged. “I need to play better.”
No quarterback has thrown more often than Cousins’ 89 attempts through two games (Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles has the same number), and Washington has run the ball a grand total of 29 times, a division of labor that might not serve the Redskins well against the Giants’ revamped defense.
“We’re not happy with the run-pass balance. Based on the numbers, we’re obviously not a ‘run-first’ team. I’d be standing up here looking like a fool if I said we’re a ‘pound the rock’-type team right now,'” Gruden said. “First two games, the proof is in the pudding, the numbers.”
In addition to sounding an optimistic tone Monday, Gruden did say there is plenty his players and coaching staff needed to improve — on offense and defense.
“We’ve just got to do a better job communicating on defense, making sure we’re in the right spot, getting the calls out to the defensive backs, linebackers, defensive line. Offensively, making sure we know exactly where to go with the ball, when to go to it, and just do a better job of letting the players know what we’re trying to accomplish with each play call, both (on) offense and defense,” the coach said. “The players have got to understand what we’re doing and do it to the best of their ability.”