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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 2 of the 2018 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- Chiefs celebrating Patrick Mahomes’ big day, on his birthday-KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes had just thrown six touchdown passes in a record-setting performance against the Steelers, one that gave the Chiefs a big road win and may have stamped them as the AFC’s top team, when someone asked him how he planned to celebrate his birthday.
Mahomes said he planned to watch film of the San Francisco 49ers.
If that was merely the politically correct answer, though, and the 23-year-old first-year starter planned to hit the town, he should have no shortage of Chiefs fans willing to buy him drinks.
They’ll probably still be celebrating St. Patrick’s big day.
“I don’t think that you could expect more from anyone,” said Chris Conley, one of five different receivers to catch a TD pass.
“He’s handled the times where he’s made the plays really well. He’s handled the times where he hasn’t. That speaks volumes.”
To be frank, there haven’t been many times where he hasn’t made the plays.
Mahomes was so dynamic in a Week 17 win at Denver last season that the Chiefs traded away Pro Bowl quarterback Alex Smith and gave Mahomes the starting job.
Then he threw four TD passes without a pick in a near-flawless performance in a road win over the AFC West-rival Chargers to open the season.
But his performance in Pittsburgh, where the Chiefs hadn’t won a game since 1986, was the kind of transcendent display that Chiefs fans have been pining for since Len Dawson was taking snaps.
Mahomes was 23 of 28 for 326 yards, which means he threw more touchdown passes than incompletions. He made all the right checks, scrambled when the opportunity presented itself, and kept his poise when the Chiefs squandered a 21-point first-quarter lead by engineering a near-flawless second half.
“Everybody knew how strong of an arm he has,” Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton said, “and he was making some decent throws, and his playmakers made plays.”
Yes, it helps to have a dizzying array of talent surrounding him.
Kareem Hunt ran for 75 yards to provide just enough offensive balance. Travis Kelce had seven catches for 109 yards and two scores, and Sammy Watkins had six catches for 100 yards, lest anybody worry after their quiet openers against the Chargers.
Tyreek Hill added five catches for 90 yards, all in the second half, with another touchdown to punctuate his typically stellar outing.
Still, it takes the quarterback to deliver them the ball.
“There’ll be games where teams try and take away one or two guys and that’s the good thing about this team is that no one really cares about who is getting the shine,” Mahomes said, after spending a hefty amount of time praising his teammates. “Everybody just wants to win.”
Nobody more so than Mahomes, whose 10 touchdown passes through the first two weeks of the season broke the NFL record of nine shared by Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Charley Johnson.
Those touchdown passes have gone to seven different receivers, including fullback Anthony Sherman, which matches the number of guys that caught TD passes all last season.
And those six TD tosses against the Steelers matched Dawson’s 54-year-old franchise record for a single game.
“It just speaks to the weapons that we have on offense. They can’t stop everybody,” Mahomes said, “so for me, it’s just about getting it to the guy that has the man-to-man coverage or has the open area. Those guys were getting open. The offensive line was blocking great. It was making my job easy.”
Perhaps the only downside to so much success is that the expectations surrounding Mahomes, which were already soaring in training camp, have soared to an almost impossible level.
One sports talk radio host wondered Monday whether Mahomes will break Manning’s record for TD passes in a single season. He’s on pace for an absurd 80 of them, and while nobody expects him to maintain such a pace, the reality is he needs to average just 3.2 per game to top the record of 55.
Then there are the expectations for the Chiefs. They’ve already beaten two teams that were thought to be playoff contenders, on the road no less, and done so in fairly convincing fashion.
It’s hardly surprising that Chiefs coach Andy Reid tried to keep everything in perspective when he met with reporters on Monday. But that job is becoming more difficult each week.
“The key to this thing is that you’re growing, that you keep growing. The more that these defensive coordinators have to study it, you keep answering that bell, so that’s his challenge right now,” Reid said. “Is everything going to be roses? No. But he’s seeing things right now and doing a nice job.”
- DeSean Jackson, surprising Buccaneers off to blazing start-TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the only reason the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers are off to their fastest start in eight years.
Speedy receiver DeSean Jackson is making a difference, too, finally beginning to deliver what the team has been expecting since signing him in free agency before last season.
Fitzpatrick has thrown for 819 yards and eight touchdowns in victories over New Orleans and defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia the past two weeks. Jackson has a pair of 100-yard games receiving and three TDs — two of them on plays of 50-plus yards.
“It’s unbelievable. He’s playing out of this world right now,” said Jackson, who scored on a 75-yard reception of the first play of scrimmage in Sunday’s 27-21 win over the Eagles.
“He’s in his prime,” the 31-year-old receiver added of the 35-year-old quarterback who’s filling in for suspended starter Jameis Winston. “Us old guys, we are in our prime. He’s playing like he’s 28 and I’m playing like I’m 24. So as long as we keep doing that, it’s going to be a good year.”
Jackson, coming off a disappointing debut with the Bucs in 2017, has nine catches for 275 yards and three TDs the past two weeks after having one of his least productive seasons with 50 receptions for 668 yards and three TDs in 14 games a year ago.
He followed a five-catch, 146-yard, two-TD performance against the Saints with a four-catch, 129-yard performance against the Eagles.
And with TDs of 58 and 75 yards this season, he’s eased ahead of Hall of Famers Lance Alworth and Terrell Owens for the third-most TD receptions of 50-plus yards behind Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (36) and Randy Moss (29).
Jackson, who spent six seasons with the Eagles and three with the Washington Redskins before signing a three-year, $33.5 million contract to join the Bucs, has 23 career TDs of 60 or more yards — tied with Rice for most in league history.
“I talked about this since I was younger, it’s being legendary and leaving something for the league to understand that I made my mark, man,” Jackson said. “I still have a lot of ball left in me. To tie Jerry Rice’s records is very emotional for me.”
When Tampa Bay signed Jackson in March 2017, the Bucs were coming off a 9-7 finish the season before and envisioned the speedy wideout adding a much-needed element to their offense: a deep threat not only capable of stretching defenses, but someone able to turn short completions into big gainers.
“For me, it’s unbelievable to have a guy like DeSean out there running around,” Fitzpatrick said. “Loft the ball up and he can go get it and turn it into a 75-yard touchdown. He’s a special player, and he showed that again.”
Through two games, Fitzpatrick has four completions of 50-plus yards, all for touchdowns. In addition to teaming with Jackson on the first play against Philadelphia, the 14-year veteran connected with tight end O.J. Howard on a 75-yard catch-and-run play against the Eagles.
Meanwhile, four-time 1,000-yard receiver Mike Evans and second-year pro Chris Godwin each have two TD receptions.
“We have good skill guys. … Chris Godwin is an emerging star. O.J. Howard is an emerging star. DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans (are) proven, big-time players,” coach Dirk Koetter said. “If you really think about it, we’ve still got Cam Brate and Adam Humphries, who just aren’t getting very many chances right now.”
Next up is a Monday night matchup against Pittsburgh at home, with a chance to begin a season with three consecutive wins for the first time since 2005.
“You can’t peak too early. We have a lot of football left,” Jackson said.
“We have a big one coming up with Big Ben (Roethlisberger) and AB (Antonio Brown) coming to town,” the receiver added. “I grew-up a Steeler fan, so I’m going to be amped up for that game too.”
- 2nd-year pro Keelan Cole emerging as Jaguars’ go-to receiver-JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Keelan Cole was a wide-eyed rookie in 2017, an undrafted receiver from tiny Kentucky Wesleyan who ended up in Jacksonville’s starting lineup because of injuries.
He was lost at times, overwhelmed by the complexity of routes and responsibilities, and in awe of the speed around him. He finally found his footing in December, catching touchdown passes in three consecutive games before going mostly missing in the playoffs.
Now, in his second season, Cole has the confidence of a savvy veteran and is quickly becoming the go-to receiver for the Jaguars (2-0).
Cole had seven receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown in the team’s 31-20 victory against New England on Sunday. He delivered the most impressive catch of his career and quite possibly the best one in the NFL this season, a one-handed grab down the sidelinethat prompted TV analyst Tony Romo to compare him to Odell Beckham.
“I’m like everyone else. You go, ‘Wow,'” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said Monday. “But he has made those catches in training camp. He has done that before. … You look around the league and you’ll see other players that do great things like that or make these (plays). You tip your hat and acknowledge it and go, ‘Wow, that was a hell of a play.’ It was a hell of a play.”
Cole followed with a 24-yard TD reception three plays later, beating cornerback Eric Rowe again and getting him benched. Cole flipped the ball into the stands as he ran into a nearby tunnel, drawing another comparison — this time to Bo Jackson .
“Keelan is just a young guy who can do anything he wants to do,” teammate and veteran receiver Donte Moncrief said.
The Jaguars believe Cole is just getting started, too. His talent and growth are reasons Jacksonville didn’t scour the streets or other NFL rosters after leading receiver Marqise Lee sustained a season-ending knee injury last month.
Dez Bryant? Josh Gordon? The Jags believed they would be just fine with Cole, Moncrief and Dede Westbrook.
All three scored against the Patriots. Next up are the Tennessee Titans.
Cole garnered most of the attention against New England, partly for making the key block on Westbrook’s 61-yard catch-and-runbut mostly for his spectacular catch. Cole stared intently at the Patriots sideline after the one-handed stab and then caught a few replays of it on the scoreboard.
“I’ve only seen it like three times so far,” he said. “I haven’t really gotten to see it enough to talk about it, so I’m not going to sit here and lie to y’all about something. I don’t really know what’s going on yet. But I know I caught it. First down. That’s all I’ve got for you.”
Cole now has 55 receptions for 1,000 yards and four touchdowns in 21 career games. He’s averaging more than 18 yards a catch, evidence of his speed and big-play ability.
But it might be hard for him to top what he did against the Pats.
“He does stuff like that all the time in practice and kind of just showing off,” said quarterback Blake Bortles, who threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns. “He’s got unbelievable abilities, so to watch him go out there, have fun and make plays like that is pretty special.”
- As kickers struggle, Rams go for TDs, 2-point conversions-NEW YORK (AP) — Who needs a kicker? Apparently not the Los Angeles Rams.
As for the Browns and Vikings, who are going with untested youngsters, well, maybe a new guy to handle field goals and extra points will be employed soon.
Sure, it’s kind of early to panic about placekicking. The Rams showed how to not rely on placements once Greg Zuerlein went out Sunday with a groin problem. They simply scored touchdowns and then went for 2-point conversions, making three.
Still, when it’s early in the schedule and kickers are struggling — there were seven missed PAT kicks Sunday afternoon — despite generally decent conditions, that’s troubling.
Minnesota rookie Daniel Carlson twice went wide right on overtime field goals and the Vikings tied top NFC North rival Green Bay 29-29. Even though Packers kicker Mason Crosby matched a career high with five field goals, his potential winner from 52 yards went wide left as time expired in regulation.
It’s rarely wise to play for field goals, particularly when you have the two highest-paid quarterbacks in the league, Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins. But circumstances sometimes dictate not gambling. In Green Bay’s case, that pretty much paid off thanks to the veteran Crosby.
Not so much for Minnesota as Carlson missed from 49 and 35 yards in OT. He also failed from 48 in the second quarter.
“I think I went out each time and it was a new kick,” said Carlson, who was pretty sure he’d never missed three field goals in a game. “Went out there confident, but something obviously was off and I’ve got to fix that and help this team.”
Zane Gonzalez , who held FBS records for career field goals made (96) and points by a kicker (494) when he left Arizona State after the 2016 season, hurt his team even more. His Browns lost — yeah, that’s hardly news as it was the 18th time in their last 19 games they flopped, and the other game was last week’s tie with Pittsburgh — and he missed two field goals and, ugh, two extra points.
He botched his first extra point after the Browns went up 12-3 in the third quarter at New Orleans. He was wide left on a 44-yard field goal that would have given them a 15-3 early in the fourth quarter. That plagued him on his final two attempts.
Gonzalez hooked an extra point wide left with 1:16 remaining, leaving the score 18-18. He pushed a 52-yard field goal try right with 3 seconds to go after the Saints went ahead on Wil Lutz’s 44-yard field goal 18 seconds earlier.
“It was on me a hundred percent,” Gonzalez said. “I can’t blame it on anybody else. We were so close to that win and it’s been so long, and I just let everybody down.
“I was cursing myself out in my head. I’m really upset about it.”
Gonzalez missed one extra point last season as a rookie in Cleveland.
Miami’s Jason Sanders and New York’s Jason Myers were both wide on PATs in the Dolphins’ 20-12 victory over the Jets. Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell missed an extra point against Kansas City in a loss, and Tampa Bay’s Chandler Catanzaro did so, as well, against Philadelphia in a victory.
The NFL’s decision to move the extra-point kick back to the 15-yard line has turned it from a gimme into, well, a lengthier putt. Hardly, though, a twisting breaker like at Augusta National.
With kickers bombing field goals from well beyond 50 yards with regularity — Myers, who has a spotty record on PATs, tied a Jets home mark with a 55-yard three-pointer — and coaches willing to let them try, what’s up with the 33-yard extra point?
It brings up an interesting possibility. Consider what the Rams did without Zuerlein; of course, they have one of the NFL’s best weapons near the goal line in Todd Gurley. The running back and 2017 Offensive Player of the Year scored twice on the 2-point conversions from the 2-yard line.
And the Steelers rarely back off from trying for the deuce. Who would mind having Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees overseeing one play from the 2 for a couple of points?
Or Cam Newton or Russell Wilson getting creative in that goal-line situation?
Pretty exciting options.
So maybe teams unsure of their kickers’ reliability — ignore this, Ravens and Rams and Colts fans, for example — will think more about the 2-point conversions. That would be a major culture change, as would not thinking so much about setting up field goals. Seems coaches get burned a lot by that philosophy.
Why not get really radical, NFL, and simply eliminate the PAT kick altogether? All 2-point conversions all the time.
Never happen, right?
- Texans look to clean up mistakes to avoid falling to 0-3-HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans committed mistake after mistake in their loss to Tennessee.
Now they must figure out a way to fix these problems, so they don’t fall into a 0-3 hole when they meet the New York Giants on Sunday.
“That’s probably the biggest thing,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “We have to eliminate those things. We have to coach it better, we’ve got to practice better. That’s probably the biggest thing that we can need to improve on, that we have too many mistakes in all three phases.”
Houston had 11 penalties for 88 yards in Sunday’s 20-17 defeat against the Titans. There were false starts, a clipping penalty and Jadeveon Clowney, who was inactive with an elbow injury, incurred one from the sideline for taunting.
It’s rather rare for a player not involved in the game to get a penalty. O’Brien said he didn’t have many details on what happened, but that he wasn’t surprised that the call was made.
“The taunting rule is a big emphasis … that’s a good crew,” he said. “Pete Morelli does a good job. They saw it, they called it.”
Clowney declined comment when asked about it in the locker room on Monday.
While the penalties were certainly a problem for Houston on Sunday, there were plenty of other issues that kept the team out of the win column. A big problem for Houston this season has been pass protection.
While their revamped offensive line has been so good in run blocking that the team leads the NFL in yards rushing, the group hasn’t been nearly as successful in protecting Deshaun Watson.
Watson has been sacked seven times this season and hit or hurried numerous other times. O’Brien takes some of the blame for the trouble in pass protection and is working to find a solution.
“In the end, I have to call better plays in certain situations,” he said. “Got to do a better job of getting them in the right situation to help them execute better … I think I can help it with certain play calls moving forward.”
Even with all their problems on Sunday the Texans still had a chance to send it to overtime. But Watson took so long to connect with DeAndre Hopkins on a 31-yard throw that the clock ran out before Houston had a chance to kick a field goal. O’Brien also took the blame for that gaffe on Monday, saying that he should have called a better play in that situation.
Sunday’s loss came after the Texans lost to New England 27-20 in the opener.
Despite all the difficulties O’Brien insists that they’re not panicking, and they remain positive that they can turn things around.
“We haven’t played well but we’ve been in it in the end and we’ve got to finish these games better,” he said. “We realize we have to do a lot better. We have to play more consistently.”
Veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph said in situations such as this, things can begin to snowball, but that it’s up to him and the other experienced players to help the team get on track.
“I wouldn’t say us as a team, but you hear a lot of hype coming out of the preseason and things like that and then you have one or two games where it doesn’t fall in your favor, sometimes it crumbles a little bit,” he said. “But we’re definitely standing tall in this locker room and we’re moving on to next week.
- New coaches get off to rough starts in 2018-ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Jon Gruden was welcomed back to Oakland as a returning hero when he got hired for his second stint as coach of the Raiders.
There was a party he hosted for fans at a local sports bar, loud ovations in the preseason and a heightened level of excitement that Gruden could get the Raiders back to being the consistent winner they were during his first stint that started two decades ago.
The reality has been far different after two weeks. Fans are frustrated by the trade of the team’s best player, Khalil Mack, the crowd booed at the end of a lopsided, season-opening loss, and an 0-2 start have raised questions about how long it will take to turn the Raiders into a winner.
“We’re going to keep building our football team. Whether that translates into one win or four wins or any wins, I’m not going to make any predictions,” Gruden said.
“I want to continue to play good, hardnose football. Keep improving. Keep improving and good things will happen. I’m not going to sit here and make any predictions about anything other than we’re going to play hard and provide the best effort we can.”
Gruden’s not alone when it comes to getting off to slow starts in a new tenure as coach. All seven new coaches lost on the opening weekend for the worst debut performance in NFL history for a new class of coaches.
There was some improvement in Week 2 as Indianapolis’ Frank Reich, Chicago’s Matt Nagy and Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel all got into the win column for the first time in their head coaching careers.
“It always helps to win,” Vrabel said. “When you’re trying to explain things to a team, or trying to get a message across, there has to be some tangible evidence to say, ‘Hey, when we do these things we give ourselves a chance to win.'”
The other three new coaches are in the same boat as Gruden, searching for that elusive first win and facing questions about whether they were the right choice for the job.
The New York Giants have looked listless on offense in their first two games under former Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, scoring only one TD in the opener and not making it into the end zone until 1:27 remained in a 20-13 loss to Dallas this past week.
It’s the defense that’s been the problem in Detroit under former New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. The Lions have allowed 78 points in losses to the Jets and San Francisco, the third most in franchise history after two games.
“I certainly understand their frustration and we’re doing everything we can possible to make sure we get this turned around,” Patricia said of Detroit fans who have celebrated just one playoff win in the past 60 years.
“I expect to win every single week and go out and we work extremely hard to make sure we get that done, and we have to keep pushing forward.”
The Cardinals have been perhaps the worst team of all under Steve Wilks, getting outscored 58-6 the first two weeks against Washington and the Rams and failing even to cross midfield until the next-to-last play of the game in Sunday’s 34-0 drubbing against Los Angeles.
There are already questions about coordinator Mike McCoy’s status in Arizona and about when rookie quarterback Josh Rosen should take over from Sam Bradford.
“We all need to look in the mirror and check ourselves and figure out, ‘What can I do to help this team win games?'” Wilks said.
“I don’t think your actual long-term vision changes and your expectations, but you have to be able to adapt in this league. We’re looking to make changes. We’re looking to make this thing better and make it right.
“So, to say that we’re satisfied, (to say that) I’m satisfied to where we are right now not scoring a touchdown in two games and having a lack of production on the offensive side of the ball, no. We’ve got to make some changes.”
One of the problems for these new coaches is the reason they were hired in the first place was that something was wrong with their franchises. The Titans are the only one of the seven teams to make the playoffs in 2017 and the Lions are the only other that had a winning record.
The Cardinals are in a major transition after the retirement of coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer, while the Raiders, Giants and Colts combined for just 13 wins a year ago.
With those recent struggles and coaches who are bringing in new assistants and systems, there is also the usual roster turnover that comes with a new regime.
Implementing that is even harder now than it was in the past because of limited practice time in the offseason and a league-wide move to cut back on playing time for regulars in the exhibition season.
“Everybody’s learning, every week we’re going to learn and get better and make improvements. That’s what we have to do,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning said.
“When you have a new offense, new players, new guys coming in, there is a learning curve to it so we’ve just got to keep grinding and keep preparing and don’t get down. Have the desire to get better.
“If we all want that, we all have that, and we’ve got to make the improvements that the coaches are giving us, and that will give us a better opportunity to win the game.”
- Patriots have lots to fix on defense after loss to Jaguars-FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Deficiencies on the defensive side of the football were a recurring theme for the Patriots during the 2017 season.
An inconsistent pass rush and inability to get offenses off the field on third down were two areas New England sought to improve in the offseason.
Following a 31-20 loss to Jacksonville in which both issues were again prevalent, is still some work for the Patriots to do.
In last season’s AFC championship loss to New England, the Jaguars’ offense got conservative late and it contributed to Jacksonville surrendering a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead. The Jaguars stayed aggressive throughout the game in Sunday’s rematch, going right at the secondary. Oft-criticized Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles turned in one of the best performances of his career, completing 29 of 45 passes for 377 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception.
Jacksonville’s offense did a lot of its damage on third down, going 10 for 14 (71 percent). Seven of those conversions came on third downs of 6 or more yards.
“We need to play better on third down on both sides of the ball,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “There were times where everything was a problem. Sometimes we had rush and not enough coverage. Sometimes we had good coverage and not enough rush.”
The Patriots’ defense hit Bortles four times but didn’t get a sack.
New England also may be without two starters next week when it visits Detroit. Defensive end Trey Flowers and safety Patrick Chung both left Sunday’s game with concussions and began the week in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
Aside from their issues up front, the Patriots were also guilty of giving up lots of yards after catches to the Jaguars. Jacksonville’s biggest play came in the fourth quarter, when Dede Westbrook caught a short pass over the middle from Bortles, picked his way through New England’s secondary and rumbled for a 61-yard touchdown .
Belichick said issues with tackling and positioning were contributing factors on that play and on others.
“A couple times they had the ball, they got the ball to guys that are really good with it, but sometimes we lost leverage. A couple times we had contact and didn’t finish the tackle,” he said. “Just overall we have to do a better job of playing with leverage and tackling and using our help and getting the runner on the ground.”
Despite the issues against the Jaguars, safety Devin McCourty said nothing happened from a schematic standpoint that can’t be corrected in time for the matchup with the Lions.
“It wasn’t like guys weren’t playing hard. We just didn’t play well enough,” he said. “When we watch the film, we will see that guys just didn’t play well enough. That’s how I felt. We got to get better. We talk about it all the time in the early part of the season in September and October. We just got to get better and stick together.”
Duron Harmon, who would likely move into Chung’s starting role if he’s unavailable against Detroit, said the defense’s focus this week in practice will be clear.
“We just have to do a better job on third down and getting the offense off the field and everything will take care of itself,” he said.