Another week of NFL action is in the books, so feel free to stick your hand in our grab bag of takes and bring a few to the water cooler.
The NFL season is starting to unfold, and already things are happening that seemingly will control a team’s destiny. Whether it’s an injury to a star or a player’s utter ineptitude to do his job right, the wheels are turning and this season is slowly picking up speed.
But before we move on to breaking down what we think will happen in Week 3, let’s take a look back and digest what we saw on Sunday.
Vikings will only go as far as Kirk Cousins lets them
When a team’s star running back has a career day and its defense holds Aaron Rodgers to 21-points, that team expects to win.
That team was the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, up until the part where winning was involved.
Dalvin Cook rushed for 154 yards and a touchdown, but we saw what happens when even that kind of performance can’t mask the problem Kirk Cousins presents. Last week Minnesota followed almost an identical blueprint to its approach Sunday, and won even though Cousins completed less than ten passes.
At Lambeau on Sunday, Cousins completed more than ten passes (which was good) but two of those were to the wrong team (which was bad).
That’s not what you’re looking for.
Neither is that.
Minnesota can’t afford to let Cousins make incremental progress in being the $84 million quarterback they need him to be. Specifically, that late game interception — a desperation heave in a situation which didn’t call for one — was a particularly bitter pill for fans to swallow. The Cousins issue isn’t new and it was something that held the team back last year and things don’t seem to be moving in the right direction.
Bills are the best team in New York
The best team in New York is the only team that actually plays there.
To be perfectly clear, this isn’t a high bar to clear. The Giants are tanking whether they are trying to or not, and just about everyone on the Jets is either injured or has a kissing disease. Meanwhile, the Bills have beaten both those teams, are 2-0, and looking every bit a playoff contender.
Josh Allen was supposed to be a bust before he was even drafted but has settled in nicely as a guy Figuring It Out. Already Allen has turned in better passing yardage performances in his first two games this year than he did all of last year, as well as surpassing his touchdown total through the first two games.
Bills Mafia just thew itself into a pinic table for this guy.
Buffalo’s defense is, as it always seemed it would be, a strong point. So far Sean McDermott’s unit has allowed just 30-points in the first two games and is poised for another strong week when the Bengals come to town. All of this is pointing towards the Bills entering their first true test of the season — hosting the Patriots Week 4 — with a 3-0 record and in the driver’s seat for the AFC Wild Card.
49ers look like serious playoff contenders
Entering the season the San Francisco 49ers were 0-12 in Eastern Time Zone game, their last win coming in 2014 when Jim Harbaugh was still the head coach. Their first two games were on the East Coast and Kyle Shanahan’s team is 2-0 and looking every bit the playoff contender we expected them to be last year.
Jimmy Garoppolo is healthy, the defense looks better than expected, and the Niners are grooving out of the gate. If there’s any question about whether the offense would click, San Francisco scored 30-plus points in each of their first 2 games for the first time since 1998.
Sure, the first games were against the Buccaneers and Bengals but San Francisco is piling up wins and beating bad teams. That’s what good teams do, and these early season wins will matter a lot later in the year. The Niners end the season on the road in New Orleans and Seattle and home against the Falcons and Rams. Wins now will matter a lot when that portion of the schedule shows up.
Next week San Francisco hosts a Steelers team that might not have Ben Roethlisberger, then host the Browns out of a bye week. There’s a good chance the Niners are 4-0 (or at worst 3-1) heading into a game against the Rams that if they win all of a sudden changes how we see them in a big way.
Bears need to blindly trust Mitchell Trubisky
There’s more harm being done in the Chicago Bears dancing around Mitchell Trubisky than just leaning all the way into whatever he is.
Right now Matt Nagy’s offense is built around trying to minimize Trubisky’s mistakes. This often involves taking plays out of his hands and running a creatively conservative offense, one that is fooling no one.
The reason for this is obvious: Fear. Chicago’s stunning success last season significantly sped up its timeline, which meant Trubisky needed to get better faster. He might not be anything more than a medicore-at-best quarterback, which coupled with the fact he was a draft reach in a class that included Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson makes his failure seem even worse.
If Trubisky does not get better, people will lose their jobs. The best thing for the franchise’s future, however, is to just trust Trubisky. Either he’ll get better Baptism By Fire style, or he’ll be confirmed as someone the Bears can’t win with and therefore need to move on from.
That can’t happen until the Bears take off the kid gloves.
Second-half Kyler Murray is worth the price of admission
How fitting is it that a guy who didn’t truly rise up NFL Draft boards until the second half of his college stardom is most thrilling to watch in the second half of NFL games?
Kyler Murray has yet to win a game as a pro, but he’s given us much more than we expected through his first two weeks in the league. Last week’s thrilling comeback against the Lions was chased with an almost-comeback against the Ravens.
Rather than kill Murray and the Cardinals for losing, consider the following:
- Murray is the first rookie with back-to-back 300-yard passing games since 2011
- He was playing on the road and all the way across the country
- Once again he led a phenomenal fourth quarter touchdown drive
- The Cardinals were within a touchdown of the Ravens on the final offensive drive of the game
Plus, look at these dimes:
Murray didn’t ultimately pull off the comeback, but in back-to-back weeks he’s turned it on in the second half. Arizona’s offense might not be scoring a ton of points, but it’s racking up crazy yardage. Slow starts have stunted progress, but if Murray can figure out how to play in the first half the way he does in the second, the Cardinals might be onto something.
We will see Daniel Jones much sooner than expected
The only way we thought Daniel Jones was going to get starts with the New York Giants was when the team realized its season was lost. Two weeks into the season, it appears that time is now.
Let’s be perfectly clear: The Giants, whether they’re trying to or not, are tanking. The 2020 quarterback draft class appears to be stacked. Starting Daniel Jones now, which is much sooner than the expected Week 7 timeline we were all operating with, is less about saving the season, even less about Eli Manning (who should be set free at the deadline) and more about seeing what the future holds.
The upside in playing Jones sooner rather than later to see if he’s actually the franchise quarterback New York needs him to be. The Giants are in a position where they need to get this right and can’t afford to waste the first years of their rebuild trying to force Jones to fit if he doesn’t.
Should the Giants feel the need to move on from Jones after just one year, it wouldn’t be the first time a team cut bait on its Top-10 quarterback just a year into his career. Josh Rosen’s saga in Arizona might not have reinvented the wheel but it certainly made it okay for other teams to think differently about how they find their franchise guy.
It’s okay to start wondering if the Lions should fire Matt Patricia
It’s usually unfair to start talking about a 1-0-1 team firing its head coach, but that team isn’t coached by Matt Patricia. The Detroit Lions are coached by Patricia and as this season mercifully wears on, fans are going to be wondering if that’s still the case next season.
Detroit technically tied in Week 1, but the way it blew a 24-6 lead to Kyler Murray (which involved taking a timeout last week which afforded the Cardinals a chance to take a late lead) made it feel like a loss. Bad kicking bailed the Lions out in Week 2 but there’s less and less to like about a team that is nothing more than a bad Patriots cover band.
Matthew Stafford is not a bad quarterback, yet the Lions have offered nothing offensively to strike fear into anyone. The weapons are mediocre, Patricia’s defense is listless, and nobody is going to believe this team can win a playoff game. They’re the Marvin Lewis Bengals of the NFC, except without the playoff appearances.
Kirk Cousins can’t complete 15 passes in a game, the Bears have Mitchell Trubisky, and somehow the Lions are still the worst team in the NFC North despite being one of two teams to not have lost a game yet.
Patrick Mahomes might be better this year than his MVP season
It seemed only natural that Patrick Mahomes would regress from his MVP season in which he put up gaudy video game numbers all season long.
The memo apparently didn’t reach Mahomes.
Sunday was a display by Mahomes of just how much poise and control he has over the offense. Straight out of the gate, the Chiefs were down 10-0 to the Raiders and panic was about to break out in the heartland. Rather than panic, he calmly and effortlessly threw for over 300 yards and 4 touchdowns before the first half was over.
Mahomes had, in one half of football, what close to a career day would be for most of his contemporaries.
It’s one thing to be a video game come to life, it’s another to come off a historic season and build on it. That’s exactly what Mahomes has done, making guys around him better in ways we’ve seen only Tom Brady do in recent memory. With Tyreek Hill out, rather than rely on a bevy of top options like Travis Kelce and LeSean McCoy, Mahomes lit up the Oakland defense with Mecole Hardman (61 yards, 1 TD) and Demarcus Robinson (176 yards, 2 TDs).
Not only is Mahomes already extremely fun to watch, but he’s getting better. That has to scare the life out of the rest of the NFL.
Saints will be fine without Drew Brees*
*If he’s not out for the season
No team the last few years has demonstrated the ability to adjust on the fly the way Sean Payton’s team has.
Two years ago the Saints started the season 0-2 and last year lost an opener to Ryan Fitzpatrick. In all three games, New Orleans looked awful and there was plenty of reason to doubt they’d amount to anything. Both regular seasons ended with Saints looking like Super Bowl favorites.
Payton’s ability to self-diagnose and identify what needs to change on a week-to-week basis is almost unmatched. That’s why after both of those sluggish starts the last two years the Saints responded by ripping off eight and ten-game winning streaks, respectively.
Losing Brees hurts and is a key differentiating factor. But the common thread of adjusting on the fly remains. New Orleans re-signed Teddy Bridgewater, a veteran who Payton clearly likes and trusts, for this very situation. If the Saints didn’t think they could win with Bridgewater as a band-aid then he wouldn’t have received a fully-guaranteed $7.25 million contract this offseason when other more seasoned backups were on the market.
New Orleans is certainly a worse team without Brees but with Payton its still better than most of the NFC. All the Saints need to do is tread water with Bridgewater until Brees is healthy enough to get back in the saddle and take it the rest of the way. Unless Brees misses significant time, the Saints are going to be fine.