We’ll get to kickers, terrible officiating decisions, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Conor McGregor and Patrick Mahomes shortly, but the game of the week was in sultry Jacksonville where the temperature touched 107 degrees at kick-off. The re-match of last season’s AFC Championship game saw the Jaguars take down Tom Brady’s Patriots 31-20 although in truth it wasn’t that close. The Jaguars much maligned quarterback Blake Bortles was the difference, throwing for 377 yards and four touchdowns, ably assisted by emerging receiver Keelan Cole who made one of the catches of this or any season with a remarkable one-handed stab down the left sideline.
The Patriots are notorious slow starters so undoubtedly this will come back to haunt me, but they don’t look a great team, especially defensively. They’ve been getting by on scheme for the last couple of years as the talent pool from so many Super Bowl successes dissipates and you have to wonder how much further that will take them. Conversely, if the Jaguars can continue to play at this level then the sky’s the limit for them. Bortles remains a question mark, but interestingly he and the Jags look a better, more balanced team without star running back Leonard Fournette who missed the game with a hamstring injury. When he doesn’t play they’re 4-0 with a +92-point differential.
Aaron Rodgers is probably the greatest quarterback of all time and last week against the Bears he showed why yet again, bringing the cardiac Pack back from the dead to beat Chicago. This week he ceded Superman status to Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins who did his finest Rodgers impression, rallying the Vikings from 20-7 down going into the fourth quarter to 29-29 at the end of regulation thanks to three touchdown passes including a needle-threader between two diving Packer defenders to Adam Thielen with 31 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
But the Vikings should never have been in that position in the first place: A minute and fourteen seconds earlier, they were given a lifeline when Cousins was intercepted by Jaire Alexander which would have ended the game. But referee Tony Corrente threw a flag for a roughing the passer hit on Clay Matthews who was adjudged to have lifted the Vikings passer and driven him into the ground, although it was patently obvious to people with eyes that that simply wasn’t the case.
Despite that, the Packers had a chance to win it at the gun, but the usually reliable Mason Crosby missed from 52 yards on a terrible day for kickers. His counterpart Daniel Carlson then conspired to miss twice in overtime from 48 and again from 35. He was so far right on the second attempt that UKIP would struggle to hire him. There was little sympathy for the rookie from his head coach afterwards: “You know what? Guys are supposed to do their jobs,” said head coach Mike Zimmer. “I believed he was going to make the kick. He said, ‘put it in the middle of the field’, and it was smack in the middle. In practice every day he drills them, so that’s the disappointing thing for me.”
THIS AND THAT
Few players in history have started their careers the way Patrick Mahomes has. The Kansas City quarterback threw six touchdowns in the win over Pittsburgh, two more than in the week one victory over the Chargers. He’s playing on a totally different level to anyone else in the game at the moment and if the Chiefs can overcome significant question marks on defense, then they could be legitimate Super Bowl contenders behind an almost unstoppable offense……..Mahomes’ biggest challenger for early season MVP is arguably the most unlikely: Tampa Bay passer Ryan Fitzpatrick who, fresh off a four touchdown performance in the Buccaneers 48-40 win in week one, threw four more on Sunday as they eased past the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles. But the 35-year old saved his best for last, entering the post-game press conference dressed like Conor McGregor.
Whether ‘The Amish Rifle’ can continue to play at this level remains to be seen, especially with franchise QB Jameis Winston set to return from suspension in a week’s time, but the 2-0 Bucs are the surprise of the season so far……The Cleveland Browns haven’t won a game since Christmas Eve 2016. New General Manager John Dorsey oversaw a radical overhaul in the spring and summer and hope springs eternal in the Forest City. They came within a blocked field goal at the gun of ending that streak last week as they tied 21-all with Pittsburgh. Yesterday, they shot themselves in the foot, looked to have recovered and were set to win the game before punching themselves in the face and losing 21-18 in New Orleans. The villain of the piece was kicker Zane Gonzalez who conspired to miss four kicks including an extra point that would have given the Browns a 19-18 lead with a minute remaining and then a 52-yarder with 8 seconds left that would have put the game into overtime. If he’s still in gainful employment by close of play today, it’ll be a surprise. It was also a pretty bad day for namesake Zane Gonzalez, a graduate baseball coach from Kalamazoo, Missouri who was mistaken for the hapless kicker.
Matt Ryan was the difference in a big NFC South clash between Atlanta and Carolina. The 2016 MVP sealed the win with a late touchdown run, weaving his way through defenders before diving into the endzone. All in all it was a fairly bad tempered affair that saw safety Damontae Kazee ejected for a vicious helmet to helmet hit on Panthers QB Cam Newton.
Elsewhere, Miami moved to 2-0 as they beat the Jets in New Jersey thanks to a pair of Ryan Tannehill touchdown passes. They play the 0-2 Raiders next Sunday in South Florida after Jon Gruden’s men fell to Denver in a keenly fought AFC West match-up. Quite how the Raiders lost remains a mystery – they led 12-0 at halftime and 19-7 late in the 3rd quarter. But they did so despite one of the greatest statistical performances in NFL history. Derek Carr became the first quarterback ever to complete at least 90% of his passes in a game in which he had 30+ attempts. Despite the loss, this was an improvement for Gruden’s men after the dumpster fire defeat of week 1 against the Rams.
Speaking of which, Sean McVay’s all-stars look unstoppable in the NFC after the first two weeks of the season as they rolled to a 34-0 win over Arizona. The Cardinals only crossed midfield once in the entire game and that came on the final play. New head coach Steve Wilks looks significantly out of his depth at this point and it surely can’t be long until rookie Josh Rosen takes over at quarterback from the ineffective Sam Bradford…….In the battle of superstar running backs it was Ezekial Elliott’s Dallas Cowboys who came out on top over Saquon Barkley’s New York Giants, who look utterly anaemic.
Much like Wilkes, Pat Shurmur won’t be long for the coaching world if this continues…….The Bills and Lions continue to look like two of the worst teams in football (along with the aforementioned Cardinals) and it’s been an inauspicious start to the Matt Patricia era in the Motor City. But they did show some signs of life in a 30-27 defeat to San Francisco and were unfortunate to be on the wrong side of some questionable umpiring decisions. Buffalo on the other hand flat out stink. Unfortunately, this is what happens when you consistently trade away proven talent. The most damning indictment of this season was the remarkable decision by cornerback Vontae Davis to retire AT HALF TIME.
The Houston Texans were many people’s tip for the Super Bowl this season but after an 0-2 start, they’re going to need to fix a lot of issues if they’re to fulfil those prophecies. With a number of key superstars returning from injury including 3-time Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt and quarterback sensation Deshaun Watson it was clearly going to take some time. But losing to a Tennessee team led by back-up passer Blaine Gabbert is a tough pill to swallow. The Titans did score arguably the touchdown of the weekend with Kevin Byard’s pass to Dane Cruickshank on a fake punt.
Finally, Washington fell back to earth with a bump after a week one win over Arizona, as they lost to Indianapolis. They failed to score a touchdown and were persistently booed by the crowd which was the lowest for a home opener in the 21-year history of FedEx Field – down more than 21,000 from 2017. The decision to trade for 34-year old Alex Smith rather than re-sign Kirk Cousins looks like it’ll ultimately cost head coach Jay Gruden his job.
One dead and three in critical condition after shooting during Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade
By Callum Boyle