Week 2 of the NFL season is here, bringing highs, lows, and everything in between. And each Sunday, throughout the day, The Ringer staff will be celebrating the insane plays, admonishing the colossal blunders, and explaining the inexplicable moments of the NFL season. Welcome to Winners and Losers. Which one are you?
Loser: The Seattle Offense
Kevin Clark: On Sunday afternoon, the city of Los Angeles got an in-person look at how weird the Rams are: Less than a week after Jeff Fisher’s team let reclamation project Blaine Gabbert destroy it on Monday Night Football, the Rams bottled up star quarterback Russell Wilson in a 9–3 win.
It’s not the first time that Fisher’s club has managed to contain Wilson: Despite being one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Dangeruss has never thrown for more than two touchdowns against a Fisher-coached team, and his Seahawks have scored 20 or fewer points in six of nine matchups against Fisher’s Rams.
Matchup history aside, it may be time to really start worrying about the Seahawks offense: After looking sluggish while squeaking out an opening-week win against the Dolphins, the Seahawks failed to punch in even a solitary touchdown against the Rams, and more alarmingly delivered just 67 rushing yards in the loss. And that ineptitude on the ground may not be a one-week problem, because talented running back Thomas Rawls left the game in the second quarter with a leg injury. Confounding matters, Wilson was routinely pressured on Sunday — an unsurprising development after another offseason spent lamenting Seattle’s offensive line holes.
It’s not yet time to fully panic: Seattle kept the game close and could have won if running back Christine Michael hadn’t fumbled on the Rams’ 35-yard line with 45 seconds remaining. But two weeks in, the Seahawks have offered ample evidence that the offense might really be a problem, and far less evidence that this is just another one of the slow starts that typically befall Pete Carroll’s teams.
Winner (But Also Sort of a Loser): The Vikings’ Offense
Micah Peters: I feel relatively comfortable saying that the Green Bay Packers have the most moored quarterback situation in the entire league. Aaron Rodgers is 32, but near the lower bound of his prime. Entering Sunday night’s contest against the Minnesota Vikings, he still looked like the ur-quarterback from whence all other quarterbacks flow. He provided an object lesson as recently as last week, when the pocket collapsed around him against the Jaguars, and he was like Nah, I’m cool on getting sacked today, but y’all can hold this touchdown.
On the other hand, the Vikings defense scored all of Minnesota’s touchdowns last week, and head coach Mike Zimmer didn’t even officially announce recent acquisition and perpetual stopgap Sam Bradford as the Week 2 starter until Sunday morning. Bradford started by throwing the requisite conservative marshmallows — a short screen to Adrian Peterson, an ambitious 15-yarder to Adam Thielen — and the early offensive looks led to totally respectable punts.
But then Bradford realized that he played on the same team as Stefon Diggs.
The pair were perfect on Diggs’s first eight targets, netting 167 yards, six first downs, and a touchdown, after which Diggs dug a grave for the corner he’d just torched and left for dead, and I, for one, was shocked — shocked! — at the dearth of people online yelling about how amazing it was.
The Vikings are awaiting word on Adrian Peterson, who left Sunday’s contest with a knee injury. But after what Bradford and Diggs did together against the division-favorite Packers, the Vikings just might be all right leaning on Bradford to air it out going forward.
Loser: Josh Norman’s Office
Bryan Curtis: For the Cowboys-Redskins game, Fox’s chief “story line,” as they say in the biz, was Josh Norman going up against Dez Bryant. Most weeks, it would have been billed as a matchup of two studs at the peaks of their games. This week, it was two guys who had become notorious in their respective media markets for vanishing in Week 1. Bryant made one catch for 8 yards in a 20–19 loss to the Giants. Norman became part of a Washington mini-controversy when he stuck to the left side of the field instead of bird-dogging Antonio Brown in a 38–16 defeat to the Steelers. “My office is on the left side, hours are 1 to 4,” Norman said this week.
The rivalry was also sabotaged by a friendly undertone — sort of like Bryant preparing for his duel with Odell Beckham Jr. last week — by Bryant … warming up with Norman before the game. The players might have sniped at each other during Dallas’ 33–14 loss to Carolina last Thanksgiving, but Bryant declared this week that he and Norman were “frenemies.” He even sent Norman a text after the Panthers lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
So it wasn’t going to be the stuff of NFL Films minidocumentaries. And as so often happens in football, the most interesting moments of Norman versus Bryant came when they weren’t anywhere near each other. On the Cowboys’ opening drive, Norman broke up a pass to Bryant (after grabbing a generous handful of his jersey), but on the next play Bryant converted the first down against zone coverage. Later in the drive, Bryant caught a 17-yard pass against Washington corner Bashaud Breeland. After Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was sacked, Norman was shown running in place in front of Dez down the field — a kind of whacko celebration that seemed like it came straight out of the Thanksgiving game. Norman broke up a third-down pass to Brice Butler, forcing the Cowboys to kick a field goal. Advantage, I guess, to Norman.
The Cowboys, like Steelers before them, figured that if Norman’s office is on the left side of the field, they ought to send Dez over to the right, where he’d be covered by Breeland, a third-year cornerback out of Clemson. Bryant caught a 15-yard pass against Breeland on Dallas’s third drive. By the fourth, Norman had forsaken his office for a mobile workspace — he was following Bryant around the field. But Norman was back on the left after halftime.
Bryant caught another big third-down pass against Breeland right after the half, setting up a Cowboys touchdown. “Do we ever give him help underneath?” one of the analysts on Redskins radio wailed. Norman struck back on Dallas’s next possession, taking his right fist and punching the ball out of running back Ezekiel Elliott’s hands. (The Redskins recovered and kicked a field goal.) With the Cowboys down three and on the Redskins’ 24-yard line, Norman was finally matched up against Bryant again. It was the fourth quarter. Second down. The story line! The duel! The matchup we’ve been interrupting all kinds of interesting X’s-and-O’s talk to plug!
Prescott threw the ball to Bryant. Norman took that same fumble-inducing right fist and slapped a completion out of Bryant’s hands. Advantage, Norman! Except the Cowboys converted third down and then scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown in a 27–23 Dallas victory two plays later.
Between plays, Fox showed several shots of Norman and Bryant jawing amiably, like a couple of weekend golfers who’d just had a mildly contentious skins game and were retiring to the 19th hole. They may no longer be frenemies — they may be actual friends. Washington writers will be asking: If they’re so close, why couldn’t Norman follow Bryant around more often?
Winner: Peace in Pittsburgh
Jordan Ritter Conn: OK, yes, safety Mike Mitchell vaulted himself in the general direction of receiver A.J. Green’s head. And, all right, cornerback Adam Jones broke up a pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey with an unpenalized helmet-to-helmet hit. But these are the Steelers and the Bengals, and after January’s shitshow in Cincinnati — a playoff game that inspired Slate to put together a listicle of its top 10 most horrifying moments — we should all be thankful for a Sunday of relative peace. No fans threw unidentified objects at injured players. Vontaze Burfict wasn’t around to maim Ben Roethlisberger and/or Antonio Brown. The stupidest thing Jones did on the afternoon was simply intercept a pass that he should have dropped on fourth down. The Steelers won, 24–16, and they did so with what we as a football-viewing public have deemed an acceptable amount of violence. For a game between these two teams, that feels like progress.
Winner: Denver’s Defense
Kevin Clark: Defending Super Bowl champions are rarely underrated coming into the season, but here we are: The Broncos were the underdogs in their Week 1 matchup against the Panthers and had their doubters entering Sunday’s showdown with the Colts and revived QB Andrew Luck. Yet Denver moved to 2–0 with a 34–20 win over the Colts, and the defense — you know, the one that propped up an awful Peyton Manning last year on the way to the championship — was once again the star.
The Broncos limited Luck to 197 yards passing thanks to dominant showings from its defensive stars: Von Miller delivered three sacks, including one that led to a fumble and a Shane Ray scoop-and-score for Denver’s final TD with 1:51 left. That wasn’t even the Broncos’ only defensive touchdown on the day: Aqib Talib’s 46-yard pick-six had previously put Denver up 23–13 with 13:52 left.
So the Broncos have beaten the Panthers and Colts and are set to play the Bengals next week. If DeMarcus Ware can play through the injury he suffered on Sunday and they go 3–0 against three good teams to start the season, we’ll have plenty of evidence that they’ll be ready to contend for another Super Bowl. Of course, if we’d all paid more attention to the defense to begin with instead of worrying so much about questions at quarterback, we might have already known that.
Loser: The #MobSquad Moniker
Sam Schube: Sunday, the Rams played their first home game in Los Angeles in more than 20 years. It looked like fun: There was traffic, and searing heat, and an ultra-underwhelming four quarters of play, but mostly it still feels like a nice thing that football has returned to L.A. LeBron James even came by! Here he is (dressed appropriately for the weather) with Rams owner Stan Kroenke (who must be a vampire):
#MobSquad, the tweet proclaims. That’s been the defense’s nickname since 2015, but it remains an unqualified bummer. (To paraphrase: I’d rather not belong to any club that would have Ryan Seacrest as a member.) Look: I’m from L.A., I think LeBron is incredible, and I would pay good money for a tour of Stan Kroenke’s work/live crypt under the western end zone. I’m into the idea of the L.A. Rams. But #MobSquad is a horrendous nickname. Fire-your-marketing-team bad. Remember-that-you-left-your-marketing-team-in–St. Louis–and-should-have-left-the-#MobSquad-moniker-there-too bad. So, where did it come from, and why is it here? ESPN reports:
“We thought about how our defense plays and how we practice and stuff like that,” [defensive tackle Michael] Brockers said. “We might have looked on Wikipedia — which is a terrible source — but it said a flock of rams together is known as a mob. So we called ourselves the Mob Squad because we are a flock of Rams on the field.”
I applaud the initiative, Mike. But I’ve got a couple of questions: Are you that wedded to a bad homophonic reference to a goofy ’60s TV show? Do you really think this is a cool T-shirt? Don’t you realize that “mob” and “squad” basically mean the same thing? In sum: #MobSquad is dorky, redundant, and half-assed in its grasp of ’60s pop culture. The Rams are back in town, and they’ve got a defense that spent the afternoon doing the lord’s work (“doing the lord’s work” = “beating up on Russell Wilson”). Los Angeles deserves better. It’s time to RICO the #MobSquad.
Winner: Andre Johnson, Ageless Wonder
Shea Serrano: Lions versus the Titans. Tennessee down by five. Fourth down, 1:19 left in the game, and the ball on the Detroit 10-yard line. Marcus Mariota closes his eyes and throws the ball up into double coverage. And it’s all there. Everything is in the air. All of the billion different ways that the play can end. Except there aren’t a billion different ways that the play can end. There’s only one way it can end, because Andre Johnson, who is 200 years old and on his 15th team in the past two years, is the intended target.
He jumps. There’s a collision. Then there’s a heap of players on the ground. And then there’s Johnson, standing up, holding the ball, the Titans going ahead 16–15 and the announcers going nuts. It was beautiful. Andre Johnson is beautiful. I hope he never retires. I wonder what Cortland Finnegan thought as he watched the play.
Winner: Philip Rivers; or, Grumpiness Rewarded
Sam Schube: It’s fairly innocuous, as NFL trivia goes, and it’s probably false. But it’s what I’ve got: However many years ago, I read (or heard, or just plain invented) that Chargers QB Philip Rivers managed to excel at his job despite a pair of unusually tiny hands. Again, I want to be clear: This is probably not true. Odds are, Philip Rivers, professional quarterback, has hands of average size. But I held stubbornly onto this tidbit, and deployed it probably a bit too often, and certainly with too much glee.
Chargers touchdown? “Rivers has small hands,” I’d say. Chargers interception? “Look at him shot-put the ball,” I’d snicker. It’s a silly piece of gossip, football’s version of “Tom Cruise is short.” It’s also obnoxious: That guy out there, the one making a zillion dollars and chucking the ball all over the field? He has the hands of a child. Thing is, with Rivers, it fit. This is a guy whose personality might charitably be described as “cramped,” who was blessed with a face that oscillates between this and this. Who wears a bolo tie, but wouldn’t get why that’s a notable thing. Who would rather quit football than move to godless Los Angeles.
There’s nothing cool about Philip Rivers. And there’s not a ton that’s cool about throwing for 220 yards in a win over the Jaguars, either. But Philip Rivers and his tiny hands have never cared much about that. He is grumpy, and he is effective. And, today, Philip Rivers is a winner.
Loser: Anyone Trying to Stop the Patriots
Jordan Ritter Conn: We’re two weeks into the 2016 season, and already this seems futile. Before Sunday’s Patriots-Dolphins game, Miami’s Ndamukong Suh said that his defense planned to get New England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo “rattled.” Instead, Garoppolo torched it (234 passing yards, three touchdowns), all while looking poised and obnoxiously handsome. After he went down with a brutal-looking shoulder injury, the Pats offense maintained a semblance of competence. Third-string QB Jacoby Brissett, a rookie and a survivor of life in a Will Muschamp offense, came in for the second half and, to no one’s surprise, was just fine. He dinked; he dunked; when needed, he ran. He handed off to LeGarrette Blount and watched him hurdle a human being, as LeGarrette Blount is sometimes wont to do. Brissett kept the Patriots afloat in a 31–24 win, holding off a second-half explosion from Ryan Tannehill, and he made you think that even if emergency quarterback Julian Edelman had to get under center for a few snaps, somehow — still — the Pats would survive.
Winner: The Cowboys’ Future
Bryan Curtis: If you’re a Dallas fan, like me, your interest in Cowboys-Redskins was primarily an interest in a hazy concept called The Future. (The Past is now 20-plus years distant, and The Present is out six to 10 weeks with a broken back.)
The Future — the interesting part — means two rookies: Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. So how’d they do? Let’s start with Elliott. Last week, the Giants focused on stopping the run, and Elliott averaged a fantasy-killing 2.6 yards per rush. The Cowboys nonetheless fed him 20 carries. It was as if Jerry Jones was saying, We crazily spent a prime asset on our running game instead of just starting Alfred Morris for a REASON, dammit!
On the Cowboys’ second drive against the Redskins, Elliott finally started to look like the guy the franchise bypassed a whole bunch of helpful defensive players to pick. He ripped off two 9-yard runs, then finished the drive by plunging into the end zone.
But with the game tied late in the third quarter, Elliott fumbled. (Josh Norman made a really nice strip on the play.) Two drives later, with Dallas down three, Elliott fumbled again. The ball got lost under him for what seemed like half an hour — even Elliott had no idea where it was — and the Cowboys were lucky that tackle Doug Free fell on it when it squirted loose. Elliott didn’t get another carry for the rest of the game. He finished with 21 for 83 yards, but we’ll call the results mildly alarming.
Prescott got better in Week 2. His stat line against the Giants was hurt by the fact that Dez Bryant dropped a ball in the end zone on what should have been a slick touchdown throw. This week, Prescott nearly doubled his average yards per throw (5 to 9.7). He rediscovered Bryant, who made seven catches for 102 yards. And Prescott ripped off a really nice scramble for a first down — more of this, please — that was wiped away by a Travis Frederick hold. He got a lot of help on the Cowboys’ go-ahead drive: not only from a lucky fumble recovery and a ticky-tack roughing call, but also from an offensive line that finally started to live up to its rep. Still, he deserves a lot of the credit, too.
Prescott and Elliott start from different baselines. Elliott hasn’t done much other than run over the Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor in the preseason. He has a lot to prove (though it’s still unimaginable to Cowboys fans that he’s Blair Thomas Part II). Prescott, on the other hand, has looked the part of a starting quarterback since debuting against the Rams in the very first week of the preseason. So any good performance begins to solidify the idea that Prescott could run a franchise for some years rather than turn into an Anthony Wright comet streaking through the sky. After Sunday’s win, it seems reasonable that Prescott could hand the ball back to a returning Romo with the Cowboys at .500, or maybe even better. And then we can all get back to worrying about The Present.
Winner: Texts From My Dad, a Pats Fan
Justin Sayles: The first text came shortly after Garoppolo’s second touchdown pass, a 20-yard dart to tight end Martellus Bennett that extended New England’s lead over the Dolphins to 14–0. “Think there’s going to be a problem Week 5,” my dad wrote, alluding to a looming Patriots quarterback controversy when Tom Brady returns from his four-week suspension. I was in Los Angeles, watching the game 3,000 miles from Foxborough, but knowing the history of Pats fandom, I was sure that he wasn’t the only New Englander thinking that. In some ways, they’d be fools not to: Garoppolo played an outstanding first half, going 18-for-27 for 234 yards with three scores, looking every bit as poised as the future Hall of Famer whom he was replacing. Until …
The second text came as Jimmy Dimples went down to one knee after taking a big hit from Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. “Oh boy,” my dad texted. Then, two minutes later, the SMS hammer: “Guess we’re going to find out how good Belichick is now.”
Garoppolo, who left the field under his power but in a world of upper body pain, was later ruled out for the game. Jacoby Brissett, a 2016 third-round draft pick, came in to take his place, finishing the first half with a flurry of handoffs and short passes that kept bouncing off Julian Edelman’s fingertips. This wasn’t the plan for the Patriots, and it certainly wasn’t the plan for Pats fans.
The early returns on Brissett in the second half looked promising, as far as returns on third-stringers go: A simplified game plan, which relied on a healthy dose of throws to Bennett, set up Blount bowling in for a touchdown from the Miami 9-yard line. But that wasn’t enough to stop the last text message from my dad, in which he completed his transformation from clear-thinking football fan to WEEI caller: “What’s Peyton doing the next few weeks?”
New England is going to get its controversy, one handsome quarterback or another.
Winner: The Texans
Shea Serrano: But not because of anything that happened in the Texans’ win over the Chiefs. It’s because of what happened during the Patriots’ win over the Dolphins. Jimmy “The Gent” Garoppolo, the Pats’ handsome backup quarterback to their all-time great handsome quarterback, suffered a shoulder injury that will (in all likelihood) force their third-string handsome quarterback into the starting handsome quarterback position. The Texans have never beaten the Patriots in Foxborough, and have only ever beaten the Pats one time, anywhere (Reliant Stadium, 2010). But they are going to this Thursday.
Loser: Kirk Cousins
Chris Almeida: Most people laugh when I say that the most consistent Washington quarterback in my lifetime has been Jason Campbell. But there’s some truth to the idea. The 2007 and 2008 seasons, with Campbell under center, were the only two since 2001 in which the franchise finished with a record at or above .500 in consecutive years. This is all to say that Kirk Cousins does not have to be great, or even consistently good, to be considered a success in D.C.
It doesn’t really matter that Washington’s running game is a hot pile of garbage or that its defense has been incapable of stopping an opponent, either on the ground or in the air, through Week 2. It doesn’t even matter that Cousins has an embarrassment of riches at receiver (he completed passes to 10 different targets Sunday). All that it takes to be a winner in Washington is to literally finish with a winning record (8–8 is fine, too). That Cousins has had serviceable (dare I say, Campbellesque) statistics is irrelevant. This season, he’s lost two games, this week’s at home against the Cowboys. That’s more than enough to make him a loser.
Loser (but also a Winner, or maybe a Loser, and definitely a Winner): Marcus Peters
Shea Serrano: I’m so confused by Marcus Peters, cornerback for the Chiefs. Sunday’s game against the Texans started, and he quickly gave up a 50-plus-yard pass, which was bad. But then he snagged an interception at the goal line, which was great. But then he gave up a 25-plus-yard pass for a touchdown, which was bad. But then he prevented a big pass from being completed, which was good. But then he got called for taunting after wagging his finger at receiver Will Fuller, which was bad. But then he made a second interception, which was great. And all of this happened just in the first half. I’m so confused by Marcus Peters, cornerback for the Chiefs.
Loser: Humans With Ears and Hearts
Micah Peters: Everyone, all of us — meaning humans who walk upright, eat food, and drink water — would’ve preferred to have seen the likely very haunting and beautiful Prince tribute that Minnesota had planned for its newly christened U.S. Bank Stadium. And not just the inadvertent one the Vikings coughed up in the red zone in the first quarter. Instead, we had to listen to Mike Tirico talk over a distant rendition of “Purple Rain.”
Thanks, NBC. Really appreciate it.
Loser: Sunshine State QBs
Sam Fortier: After poor Sunday showings, the headlines for Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston and Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles could read the same way: “Florida Man Disappoints Watching Crowd.”
One game after Bortles dueled Aaron Rodgers to a narrow loss and Winston looked like a franchise savior in hanging 281 yards and four touchdowns on Atlanta, the two young quarterbacks came falling back to turf.
Without Jaboo there to give an inspirational halftime speech (“We some dogs! We ain’t no puppies!”), Louisville tomahawked Winston’s alma mater on Saturday, and then Jameis himself played like a puppy on Sunday: He flailed in a 40–7 loss to Arizona, throwing four picks. Bortles, meanwhile, added two interceptions of his own as his Jags were blown out by a team that last week lost its best player for the season. Anyone sitting in his or her suburban development’s air conditioned condo, looking at Winston’s and Bortles’s Week 1 lines and wondering, “Wait, are they actually good?” quickly got fresh reason to wonder after the quarterbacks’ second outings of the season.
Like the headlines, the headstones could be the same as well: “Hype Train, Week 1–Week 2.”
Winner: Elderly Ravens Receivers
Mallory Rubin: A few weeks ago, The Ringer’s Kevin Clark wrote about the NFL’s age problem. The CliffsNotes version: With more early entrants and fewer veterans than ever, the league is getting increasingly younger, and, in turn, the quality of play is plummeting.
While no one who had the displeasure of suffering through the Ravens’ 25–20 win over the Browns on Sunday would dare utter the words “quality of play,” let alone uphold the level of such, the game was a bit of a we’re-still-here party for the oldies, at least on Baltimore’s side. While Cleveland whippersnapper Corey Coleman blazed his way into the end zone and to a costly personal foul penalty alike, the Ravens’ geriatrics put their walkers on the sideline long enough to propel Baltimore to the win (and, perhaps, into the conversation for the least inspiring 2–0 start of all time).
The most notable thing a youthful Ravens offensive player did was embarrass himself, as rookie receiver Chris Moore dropped a wide-open touchdown pass early.
#RavensTalk, indeed. Meanwhile, Mike Wallace, 30, had two touchdown passes; Steve Smith Sr., 37, averaged 21.3 yards per reception; and reincarnated tight end Dennis Pitta, 31, caught nine balls on 12 targets while reclaiming his status as Joe Flacco’s most trusted target. In short, the old dudes ensured the Ravens won — presumably while drinking lots of Ensure.
Winner: DeAngelo Williams
Chris Almeida: Who would have thought that DeAngelo Williams’s timeshare with Jonathan Stewart in Carolina would prove to be a blessing? That whatever Williams lost in yards and touchdowns during the prime of his career, he would gain in late-career legs? It’s not as if his wallet has been hurting either.
At 33, or 80 in running back years, Williams has served as the Steelers workhorse back in the absence of the suspended Le’Veon Bell. It’s been easy to forget that Williams isn’t actually the team’s no. 1 option. Last week against Washington, he ran for 143 yards on 26 carries. This week against the Bengals, he toted the rock 32 times for 94 yards as Ben Roethlisberger was dealing with accuracy issues. No other Pittsburgh player ran the ball more than once. Williams was also the team’s third-leading receiver, catching four passes for 38 yards as the Steelers trudged to an AFC North victory over the Bengals. Williams used to be overpaid and underused; now his situation has reversed. Life can sometimes be fair in confusing ways.