If one week of NFL action was not enough, all 32 teams returned to action for another entertaining week of football this past week. Several teams were looking to build off of surprising wins during the opening weekend, while others were trying to get their seasons back on track.
Injuries were the main theme of this week as several stars, mostly from the 49ers, suffered ailments that will keep them out for an elongated period of time or the entire season. On a more positive note, top picks Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert showcased their potential and gave their fanbases hope for the future.
The Cowboys also pulled off an impossible upset to avenge their pitiful week one performance. Other teams continued to make their case as clear Super Bowl contenders while others gave more reasons for their fans to be concerned.
It is hard to conclude anything from one week of football. However, two games provide a big enough sample size to predict where teams will end up at the end of the season. There is still time for teams to improve or worsen, but chances are they have already shown what to expect from them this year.
Here is a recap of the top storylines from week two of the NFL season along with a few takeaways for what to expect moving forward.
Young quarterbacks provide hope for the future
The youth movement is officially on in the NFL as several young quarterbacks showcased their talents this past week, especially two of the top quarterbacks from this past season’s draft: Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert. Despite both of them losing close contests, each rookie quarterback gave their fan bases plenty to look forward to.
After looking solid in a gut wrenching loss to the Chargers in his debut, Burrow came out with a vengeance on Thursday Night Football against the Browns. With Cincinnati trailing for most of the game, Burrow single handedly kept the Bengals in the game before ultimately losing 35-30.
On an unfathomable 61 passing attempts, the LSU product had 37 completions for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns. He did all this behind a putrid offensive line and minimal help from stars AJ Green (3 receptions for 29 yards) and Joe Mixon (86 total yards).
He showed off his leadership skills and winning mentality in the postgame press conference, saying, “I will never adjust or accept losing. That is just something that is not in my mindset so this 0-2 start is really hurting me.” For a franchise as deprived as the Bengals, that quote proves Burrow has brought a new mentality to the team and could be the savior Cincinnati has long awaited for.
As great as Burrow was, it is hard to remember a debut as weird and memorable as that of Justin Herbert’s this past Sunday. Tyrod Taylor was set to start the game for Los Angeles until a rib injury right before the game thrusted Herbert unexpectedly into his first NFL contest against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs.
To the surprise of fans and media alike, the Oregon product held his own against a great Chiefs team and even outplayed Patrick Mahomes for most of the game. Although many doubted Herbert’s ability as a NFL quarterback coming out of the draft, he showed off his impressive arm as well as his mobility, finishing with 311 passing yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception along with 1 rushing touchdown.
Herbert’s debut was bittersweet, however, as Herbert misread a few plays and the Chargers allowed the Chiefs to pull off a 23-20 come-from-behind victory in overtime. Regardless, Herbert showed he could be the guy alongside an already great defense and skill position group in Los Angeles.
Anthony Lynn hinted that Taylor would start if healthy in week three, but, if the Chargers want to reach the playoffs, Herbert should play sooner rather than later.
Aside from the rookies, several other young quarterbacks finally lived up to their potentials. Against Burrow’s Bengals, Baker Mayfield shook off an awful week one with a 219 yard, 2 touchdown passing performance in Cleveland’s victory. Josh Allen added to his early MVP case with another incredible game, finishing with 417 passing yards and 4 touchdowns in Buffalo’s 31-28 win over Miami.
Gardner Minshew (339 passing yards, 3 touchdowns) continued to show he could be Jacksonville’s future quarterback, leading the surprising Jags to a near upset over the Titans. Kyler Murray (286 passing yards, 1 touchdown) and Jared Goff (267 passing yards, 3 touchdowns) were also solid in their teams’ respective wins.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, and other legendary quarterbacks may be nearing the end of their illustrious careers, but these performances show there are many worthy successors to take up their mantles once they are gone.
Injuries may cause San Francisco to miss the playoffs as several teams lose their stars
Aside from players contracting COVID-19, one of the biggest concerns headed into this unprecedented season was how much a limited training camp and no preseason games would affect player injuries.
Well, after the plethora of injuries that plagued nearly every team in week two, it is safe to say that the preseason may need to be reimplemented for 2021.
Several stars will be out for all or some of the remainder of the season, including Saquon Barkley (torn ACL), Christian McCaffrey (high ankle sprain), Drew Lock (Sprained AC joint), Courtland Sutton (torn ACL), Davante Adams (hamstring), Malik Hooker (achilles tendon), Byron Jones (groin), Anthony Barr (shoulder), Parris Campbell (knee), and Will Fuller (hamstring).
The team hardest hit by injuries was easily the San Francisco 49ers. Already without George Kittle, Richard Sherman, Deebo Samuel, and Dee Ford, the Niners added Nick Bosa (torn ACL), Solomon Thomas (torn ACL), Jimmy Garoppolo (high ankle sprain), Raheem Mostert (sprained MCL), and Tevin Coleman (knee) to their injury report in week two.
They were still able to destroy the lowly Jets 31-13 to improve to 1-1, but the long-term ramifications could be severe for the defending NFC champions. Bosa and Thomas are done for the year, leaving the Niners without two of their best players. With Sherman already out for the next few weeks and Ford consistently struggling to stay healthy, this leaves the once vaunted San Francisco defense looking quite pedestrian.
Kittle, Garoppolo, and Mostert should be back relatively soon, but the 49ers offense was inconsistent even with all their starters healthy. Backup quarterback Nick Mullens could lead San Francisco on an improbable run, or, perhaps more likely, the team is headed towards a losing season.
There is always one week every NFL season that is full of injuries, but it is hard to remember this many stars all getting hurt in the same week. Hopefully, each player has a quick recovery and is back playing very soon.
Which undefeated teams are for real?
After two weeks, there are 11 teams that are still without a loss. These teams can easily be separated into four tiers: the favorites, the borderline favorites, the darkhorse favorites, and the Bears. To nobody’s surprise, the Chiefs and Ravens are the favorites among the undefeated teams.
The Ravens especially have looked dominant on both sides of the ball in each of their blowout wins. Kansas City has not been as impressive, getting outplayed by a weaker Chargers team featuring a rookie quarterback in week two.
They would have lost had it not been for a Patrick Mahomes fourth quarter comeback. The Chiefs are still amazing regardless and it will be a fun matchup next week when these two teams face off.
The Steelers, Packers, Bills, and Seahawks have all emerged as borderline Super Bowl contenders after being projected to make the postseason headed into the year. Along with Josh Allen, Russell Wilson (288 passing yards, 5 touchdowns vs. New England) and Aaron Rodgers (240 passing yards, 2 touchdowns vs. Detroit) have emerged as MVP candidates in the early going and helped put their teams in this favorable position.
Although the Bills have only played the Jets and Dolphins, Allen, Stefon Diggs (8 receptions for 153 yards, 1 touchdown vs. Miami), and the offense have been just as good as their already stellar defense, making Buffalo look very dangerous. Pittsburgh also boasts arguably the best defense in the NFL.
It is concerning that the Steelers were not able to dominate a pitiful Giants team or an injury-riddled Broncos team, but they still looked really good defensively and will improve as Ben Roethlisberger and the offense continue to get mesh with each other. These four teams are here to stay.
The dark horse tier features the Rams, Raiders, Titans, and Cardinals. All three are still right on that playoff bubble, despite strong starts to the season. The Rams are the team most likely to emerge as a championship team.
Sean McVay and Jared Goff’s resurgence has allowed for Cooper Kupp (5 receptions for 81 yards vs. Philadelphia), Tyler Higbee (5 receptions for 54 yards, 3 touchdowns), and Robert Woods to lead a top-tier offense. Darrell Henderson (81 rushing yards, 1 touchdown) and Malcolm Brown (47 rushing yards) headline a dynamic rushing attack as well.
This goes along with their formidable defense behind Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, which held the Cowboys and Eagles to under 20 points.
Many fans are hopping on the Raiders bandwagon after their impressive 34-24 victory over the favored New Orleans Saints in their Las Vegas debut on Monday night. Aside from a few missed throws, Derek Carr (282 passing yards, 3 touchdowns) finally performed like the borderline MVP candidate that he was in 2016.
Darren Waller (12 receptions for 103 yards, 1 touchdown) and Josh Jacobs (88 rushing yards) have helped Carr lead one of the NFL’s best looking offenses. The young defense, behind rookie Damon Arnette, rebounded from a down week one to contain a dynamic Saints offense.
It is easy to be excited about these Raiders making a deep playoff run, but their defense is still unproven and they collapsed down the stretch last season, finishing 7-9 after starting the year 6-4. This Raiders team may be better, however, as their offense looks great and Jon Gruden has proven to be a quality coach. This team will be in the postseason hunt all season long.
Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins (8 receptions for 68 yards, 1 touchdown vs. Washington) have formed an instant connection to help Arizona beat San Francisco and Washington. Their offense has looked good and their defense has surprised, but they still need to prove a little more to be a clear contender.
The same can be said for the Titans as Ryan Tannehill (239 passing yards, 4 touchdowns vs. Jacksonville) has proved his 2019 season was not a fluke and led Tennessee to a perfect start. The problem, however, has been Derrick Henry (84 rushing yards on 25 carries) and AJ Brown, who missed week two with a knee injury.
Their defense has been decent, but the Titans narrowly beat an undermanned Broncos team and a weak Jaguars team. If Arizona and Tennessee can beat better teams and prove this is not a fluke, then they can also go deep in the postseason.
Speaking of flukes, the Bears are undefeated. Every win counts the same, but Chicago is the only team in this group that could easily be 0-2. It took another Matt Patricia-led fourth quarter collapse by the Lions in week one and a Saquon Barkley injury for the Giants in week two to help the Bears win both games.
Chicago’s defense is good and will keep them in every game regardless of the opponent, but their offense is still concerning. After showing flashes of brilliance in the comeback against Detroit and a promising start against New York, Mitchell Trubisky again showed he may not be the answer at quarterback, finishing with 190 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in week two.
Chicago could easily reach the playoffs if they continue to find a way to win, but the odds of them making any noise in the postseason are highly unlikely unless the offense improves.
Which winless team should be concerned?
While 11 teams are feeling good after back-to-back wins to start their season, there are another 11 teams that are taking a long, hard look in the mirror following a winless two weeks.
The Jets have surprised based on how awful they have looked in their blowout defeats to the Bills and the severely undermanned 49ers. They were supposed to be bad, but not be the clear favorites for the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. Adam Gase and Sam Darnold may be out the door if there continues to be zero improvement.
The Dolphins and Bengals have been competitive in each of their losses and have provided hope for the future. They are still a year or two away from competing, but Burrow and eventually Tua Tagovailoa will help these teams play spoiler down the stretch. Carolina is another team that has been competitive and will be good in 2021 under coach Matt Rhule.
The Christian McCaffrey injury will hinder their offense, but Teddy Bridgewater (367 passing yards vs. Tampa Bay) still leads a talented group that will be able to stay afloat until their star back returns. Look out for this team next season once Derrick Brown, Jeremy Chinn, and the mostly rookie defense has a year under their belts.
Losing Saquon Barkley is a devastating blow for the Giants, but they were not supposed to reach the playoffs anyway. Daniel Jones (241 passing yards vs. Chicago) has been up-and-down and a win for New York will be him continuing to develop into a potential star.
Without Barkley, this team is likely headed towards a four win season. Detroit is another team that has been devastated by injuries with most of their secondary now hurt. Along with their defensive issues, Matthew Stafford (244 passing yards, 2 touchdowns vs. Green Bay) has been pretty mediocre for an offense in shambles.
Hopefully, the return of star Kenny Golladay will get Detroit’s season back on track as many expected them to be playoff contenders. Following a heartbreaking loss to Chicago and a crushing defeat to Green Bay, however, it is hard to see any improvement and it will be a miracle if Matt Patricia remains as coach into next season.
As disappointing as a winless start to a season is, it is not entirely surprising that the previous teams are in this position. The following five teams, however, were expected to be clear playoff favorites and have severely disappointed to this point.
For the Falcons, it is simple. They have an elite offense behind Matt Ryan (273 passing yards, 4 touchdowns vs. Dallas), Calvin Ridley (7 receptions for 109 yards, 2 touchdowns), and Julio Jones, but no defense. Their defense could not protect a 20-point lead against Dallas or help their offense, which scored 39 points. Atlanta is headed for a .500 season unless their defense improves drastically.
Along with the 49ers, the Broncos have been the team most bitten by the injury bug. Starting quarterback Drew Lock is out for at least the next few weeks while star receiver Courtland Sutton will miss the rest of the season. These injuries followed Von Miller’s season-ending ankle injury on the last play of training camp.
Denver fought admirably in their defeats to Tennessee and Pittsburgh, but they are likely to miss the postseason unless their health improves in a hurry. It will be a disappointing season for one of the most hyped-up teams from the offseason.
The Eagles, Vikings, and Texans have each played well-below expectations to this point and will need to improve in a hurry to achieve their preseason aspirations. Philadelphia blew a 17-point lead to Washington in week one and followed it with a 18-point defeat to the Rams, while Minnesota and Houston have each gotten destroyed by superior competition in each of their opening matchups.
The Eagles and Vikings should be the most concerned as their defenses have looked terrible and their offenses have left a lot to be desired, especially with Kirk Cousins (133 passing yards, 3 interceptions vs. Indianapolis) and Carson Wentz (242 passing yards, 2 interceptions vs. Los Angeles) each not playing well. It is still hard to read the Texans as opening a season with the Chiefs and Ravens is a tough task for even the best teams.
Still, Houston should have been able to put up more of a fight, losing by multiple scores in each contest. It is still early and these teams have the talent to play up to their potential. However, they have shown little to believe they can improve by even the slightest of margins.
Never underestimate the heart of a Cowboy
The Cowboys followed a disappointing 20-17 loss to the Rams in week one by immediately falling behind 20-0 in the first quarter against the Falcons. Fumbles, bad defense, and even worse offense led to an explosion from NFL experts on Twitter claiming that Dallas was finished after just two weeks. There is a lot of pressure that comes with being the most popular franchise in the NFL and Dallas felt the heat during the first half as they trailed 29-10 at halftime.
Two Prescott rushing touchdowns in the third quarter brought Dallas within five points, but a Russell Gage score and a Younghoe Koo field goal put Atlanta up 39-24 with just under eight minutes remaining. Once again, everyone was writing the obituary for the 2020 Cowboys playoff chances on Twitter as the contest entered its final stretch. Fortunately for Dallas, Prescott refused to let his team drop to 0-2.
After Koo’s field goal, Prescott led the team 75 yards down the field, culminating in a 10-yard touchdown to Dalton Schultz. The Cowboys got the ball back on their own 24-yard line with 2:52 left on the clock down 39-30. Prescott again marched Dallas down the field, rushing into the end zone from one yard out to make it a two-point game.
Even with Prescott’s heroics, the Cowboys still trailed 39-37 with 1:49 remaining and would need a miracle to pull off a victory. Fortunately for them, they got it. A perfect onside-kick by Greg Zuerlein was recovered by C.J. Goodwin, allowing Dallas’ offense to march back onto the field. Prescott quickly got the Cowboys into field goal range and Zuerlein drilled a 46-yarder to cap off the improbable comeback victory.
In easily the best game of the season to this point, Dallas proved they may not be the same Cowboys of years prior. The team would have folded in past seasons after trailing by double-digits, but this team showed they have the grit and heart needed to be successful in the NFL. Prescott especially proved he is a franchise quarterback, finishing with 450 passing yards and 4 total touchdowns along with stellar leadership in the comeback effort.
The talking heads are again predicting the Cowboys to win the Super Bowl after expecting them to finish 0-16 midway through this same game. Dallas is actually somewhere between the team they were for the first game and a half of their season and the one that overcame a multiple score deficit in the fourth.
Their offense has already proved they can be elite and be more than enough to allow Dallas to win the weak NFC East. The real concern is the defense as they often looked lost against the high-flying Falcons and will need to improve in order for them to live up to their lofty expectations. Regardless of what happens, Prescott has already proved that you can never count this team out and can never underestimate the heart of a Cowboy.