The biggest story of the week had to be the grand opening of Jerry Jones’ new football palace called “Cowboys Stadium.” An NFL record 105,000-plus crowd came to see the Cowboys against the division rival New York Giants, but the stadium was the real story.
The truly first class stadium is state of the art, including mega scoreboards, huge concourses, pedestal dancers, and any other amenity that $1.1 billion can buy you.
The pregame ceremony was right out of a Hollywood script, including former President George W. Bush at the pre-game coin toss and a video placing Cowboys stadium in the class of the Taj Mahal and The Coliseum in Rome.
Unfortunately Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (see Lloyd’s Lackey) was not up to par and stunk up Jones’ new play pen again and again in a close 33-31 loss.
Despite Dallas pounding out 251 yards on the ground against the Giants’ vaunted defense—final rushing numbers 251 yards rushing on 29 carries (an 8.7-yard average) and three touchdowns—Romo floated passes that ended up in the other team’s hands and made bad decisions at inopportune moments.
The Cowboys turned over the ball four times, including three interceptions thrown by Romo that led to 24 points for the Giants.
The last time the Cowboys opened a new stadium in 1971 (Texas Stadium), they won the Super Bowl, but is anyone ready to step out on that limb…not just yet.
An interesting stat is that at the end of Week Two the middle of the NFL keeps increasing. There are nine teams at (2-0), nine teams at (0-2) and a glut of 14 teams at (1-1), showing that parity is indeed alive in the “Any Given Sunday” NFL.
For the 23 teams that are either 1-1 or 0-2, there is still good news and their fans need to keep their feet still on their team's bandwagons.
Being 1-1 or 0-2 after the first two weeks of the season is not a death sentence. Since 2002, 48 of 84 (57.1 percent) teams made the playoffs after starting at those marks.
In fact, four of the past eight Super Bowl champions began their seasons with a 1-1 or 0-2 record, including the 2007 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, who started last season at 0-2.
Remember last year the Bills were (2-0) and the Dolphins were (0-2) and we know how those two teams finished in the AFC East.
Though it is still too early to start formulating long-term season assumptions based on a couple of games, here are some interesting news/notes/trends at this time.
The Jets Back It Up
When Jets head coach Rex Ryan was a youngster learning at the foot of his legendary defensive guru father Buddy Ryan, he really listened to his Dad’s ability to “Back It Up.”
After a week where Ryan said, “I didn’t come here to kiss (Patriots coach) Bill Belichick’s rings. I came here to win,” the Jets snapped an eight-game home losing streak to the Patriots with their 16-9 road win.
Ryan’s defense was suffocating as the Patriots never scored a touchdown and were limited to three field goals. The Jets are the first team to have allowed no offensive touchdowns in the first two games of the season since 2006.
Though Patriots QB Tom Brady was not sacked, the Jets continued to put pressure on him again and again.
The Jets had many heroes, but biggest props should go to CB Darrelle Revis— who shutdown Patriots WR Randy Moss (four receptions for 24 yards)—and rookie QB Mark Sanchez (14-of-22 for 163 yards, one TD, and one interception) who was cool against the veteran Pats’ defense.
“I just tried to be physical with him at the line,” said Revis.
By the way, did you happen to catch the “chilly” postgame handshake between Ryan and Bill Belichick?
1972 Dolphins must be feeling good
There are currently only nine unblemished teams in the NFL, including 2008 playoff teams Colts, Giants, Vikings, Ravens, and Falcons.
This cast of usual winners has been joined by the surprising San Francisco 49ers (continued out-physicalling the rest of the NFC West led by their defense and RB Frank Gore), New Orleans Saints (outscoring the league behind record setting QB Drew Brees), Denver Broncos (rookie head coach Josh McDaniels’ team is getting the job done, but who have they beaten), and the New York Jets (brash group of youngsters is following their head coach Rex Ryan with a “take no prisoners” mentality).
Though the unbeatens all have good stories, I don’t think any of them will come close to not losing two or more games.
The NFL Season is Survival of the Fittest
Unfortunately every week in the NFL an important aspect is which teams can avoid injuries. This week’s biggest story was the fractured rib injury that Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck suffered after LB Patrick Willis nailed him in the Hawks’ loss to the upstart 49ers.
We will have to see if Hasselbeck is able to get back on the field as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has a similar injury and is not expected back until Week Five.
Other major injuries hit Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (ankle), Eagles WR DeSean Jackson (groin), Falcons rookie DT Peria Jerry (knee—season), Eagles CB Asante Samuel (stinger), Packers OT LT Chad Clifton (ankle), Bucs S Jermaine Phillips (broken thumb), Bills RT Brad Butler ( knee—season), RG Randy Thomas (torn right triceps—season), and Raiders OG Robert Gallery (broken leg—season)
The Wildcat still around
With the Dolphins gaining 239 yards rushing in the MNF loss, including 107 out of the Wildcat, the 2008 breakout formation is still the “talk” of the NFL after its one-year anniversary.
But defensive coordinators maybe catching on as they are preaching that unless the guy taking the snap (Wildcat QB) can throw, then “sell out” on stopping the run. The Ravens were the first team to totally shut it down in the playoffs against the Dolphins.
The Philadelphia Eagles had okay success with the Wildcat in their loss against New Orleans as Jackson, Westbrook, and rookie Jeremy Maclin only gained 45 yards on nine plays out of the Wildcat.
I have to agree with ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski that the Wildcat is fun, but in the end the NFL is a passing league first.
Jaws said, “I love the Wildcat. It’s great. I’m glad Dolphins QB Coach (David) Lee is up there working all the plays. Maybe he can give them to the college coaches, because that’s where they work. At the NFL level you must have a quarterback that plays from the pocket.”
We will see if Eagles backup QB Michael Vick can open some eyes as a dual-threat Wildcat QB this upcoming week when he returns from suspension against the Chiefs.
Titans not the same without Haynesworth
Titans DBs Cortland Finnegan, Michael Griffin, and Chris Hope all went to their first Pro Bowl last season as the Titans picked off 19 passes and allowed only 12 TD passes, second in the NFL.
But after losing high-priced free agent DT Albert Haynesworth to the Redskins—Haynesworth routinely collapsed the pocket and caused defensive pressure—the Titans secondary has struggled.
The once mighty Titans have gone 0-2 to start the season and are ranked dead last in the NFL in pass defense (339 ypg).
Houston Texans QB Matt Schaub had a field day in the Texans’ 34-31 upset win over the Titans in Nasvhille, throwing for 357 yards and four TDs. Conversely, the Redskins with Haynesworth have improved (they've allowed 183.5 passing yards per game—tied for 10th in the NFL).
Who needs Plaxico Burress?
In the Giants’ big win in Big D, Mario Manningham (10 receptions for a career-high 150 yards, including his 22-yard TD) and Steve Smith (10 receptions for 134 yards, and his own 22-yard TD) were spectacular.
The underrated duo—combined for 20 receptions for 284 yards and two touchdowns—seems to have finally crawled out from the huge shadow of Plaxico Burress (former playmaker just started a two-year jail sentence) and now look like reliable targets for improving quarterback Eli Manning.
Conversely the Cowboys’ receiving corps of Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin, and Sam Hurd produced only reception a piece.
Two Future Hall of Fame Quarterbacks Break Records
Colts QB Peyton Manning, playing in front of his special guest Tiger Woods, broke the Colts all-time record for most wins by a starting quarterback (119) in the Colts comeback 27-23 victory over the Dolphins.
Manning said of the accomplishment, “I don’t feel comfortable with these comparisons to Unitas.” Manning added, “But I’m very proud to wear the same uniform as Johnny Unitas. He was a real winner.”
Manning’s biggest plays were down the stretch including a 48-yard game-winning touchdown throw to emerging WR Pierre Garcon with 3:18 left in the game.
Manning (14-for-23, 303 yards, and two TDs) was joined in the record books by Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, who set the NFL’s all-time record for consecutive games played by any player (285 consecutive games), breaking Vikings DL Jim Marshall’s record in a dominating 27-13 win over the Lions.
Favre—who turns 40 in October—completed 23-of-27 passes for 155 yards and two TDs.
Quick Lloyd’s Leftover
What in the world happened to the Steelers vaunted running game that has been a staple of the six-time Super Bowl winner since the 1970's?
This season, Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has shelved the running game in favor of passing the ball. The Steelers have run 45 times and tried to pass on 84 occasions (including six sacks) in two low-scoring games decided by three points.
With their record standing at 1-1 and a tough game coming up at the Bengals, you have to wonder if Arians will have RBs Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, and Mewelde Moore running more.
Baltimore Ravens LB Ray Lewis
The stories of Lewis’ demise over the years has been greatly exaggerated. When the Ravens needed a big play to close out the Chargers, it was the future Hall of Fame linebacker who answered the call.
On fourth-and-two in the final minutes and the Ravens protecting a 31-26 lead back up against their 15-yard line, the Chargers ran little tank RB Darren Sproles. But before Chargers OG Kris Dielman could pull, Lewis blasted through the line to stop Sproles for a four-yard loss.
Lewis (34) finished the game with 12 tackles and a forced fumble. NBC analyst Rodney Harrison said of the play, “The greatest play of Ray Lewis’ career.”
Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner
In turning back the clock, the Cardinals 38-year-old passer set an NFL record with a 92.3 completion percentage in the Cardinals’ 31-17 win over the Jaguars.
Warner completed his first 15 passes and finished 24-for-26 with 243 yards, two TDs and a 131.2 passer rating.
The previous record was surprisingly set by Cleveland Browns former QB Vinny Testaverde (21-of-23 or 91.3 percent) in a 1993 game against the Los Angeles Rams.
One of Warner’s incompletions was an admitted blown route by WR Anquan Boldin.
Warner said of the effort, “I’ve had days where I felt like this before…the NFC Championship Game last year. The Super Bowl. Those weren’t as accurate, but I felt like I was going to complete every ball. This was one of those days where you see things so quickly and feel comfortable about making the decisions so quickly.”
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees
For second week in a row, the 2008 NFL offensive player of the year receives a game ball. Brees threw three touchdowns passes in the Saints’ 48-22 lopsided win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
The former Purdue star now has nine touchdown passes through Week Two, which ties him with former St. Louis Cardinals QB Charley Johnson (1965) for the most TD passes through the first two games of a season.
The Saints topped the 40-point mark for the second consecutive week—which has not been done since the 1968 Oakland Raiders—and Brees dealt with the Eagles blitz as he finished 25-of-34 for 311 yards and three TDs.
Cincinnati Bengals DE Antwan Odom
Who would have thought after the Bengals starred on HBO’s Hard Knocks that a little known defensive end would their leading player through two weeks.
Going into the 2009 season Odom had had only 15-and-a-half sacks in 60 NFL games, but look who is now the NFL’s most feared sack man.
Odom currently leads the NFL with seven sacks, and he was amazing in the Bengals upset win over the Packers. Odom produced seven tackles, five sacks, and two tackles for loss in the 31-24 win.
Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson
One of the fastest men in the NFL became the first player in NFL history to record a 90-plus yard rushing touchdown (91), 50-plus yard rushing touchdown (57), and 60-plus yard receiving touchdown (69) in a game.
Unfortunately Johnson’s efforts did not lead to a victory as the Texans surprised them 34-31.
Johnson had 284 yards from scrimmage on 25 touches (16 carries for 197 yards rushing, nine catches for 87 yards).
San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore
What a game for Niners offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye’s main weapon. Gore ran for 207 yards on only 16 carries (246 total yards) and displayed a tremendous burst on a pair of long touchdowns.
After rushing 79 yards for a first-quarter score, Gore took the opening handoff of the second half and sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown in the 49ers’ 23-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
Gore is the first player since Barry Sanders on Oct. 12, 1997 to record two rushing touchdowns of 75-plus yards in a single game.
Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson (Totaled 10 receptions for 149 yards and two touchdowns in the Texans’ 34-31 win over the Tennessee Titans); NY Giants QB Eli Manning (Came of age in a big win over the Cowboys throwing for 330 yards and two touchdowns on 25-for-38 passing); Colts TE/HB Dallas Clark (Took the first pass of the MNF game 80 yards for a touchdown and finished with seven receptions for 183 yards – the 4th highest total for a tight end in NFL history); Cincinnati Bengals RB Cedric Benson (Rushed 29 times for 141 yards (a 4.9-yard average); Redskins safety Chris Horton (knocked away the Rams’ potential game-winner and produced a forced fumble in the Skins ugly 9-7 win)
Lloyd’s Lackey of the Week
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo
America’s sweetheart passer was terrible in the opening of Dallas Cowboys Stadium. Romo struggled (13-of-29 for 127 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions) and squandered 251 rushing yards by the Cowboys running backs.
T.O’s best buddy did have a rushing touchdown, but too often when the Cowboys were deep in Giants territory, Romo found a way to not get points.
“It’s frustrating, I’m really, really disappointed in myself right now ” said Romo, who entered the game as the NFL ‘s highest rated passer.
Romo’s rating for the night was 29.6, which was more than a 100 points lower than a season-opening 140.6 rating in Week One.
Maybe Jessica Simpson was somewhere with a voodoo doll.
Dallas Cowboys OT Flozell Adams
Giants DE Justin Tuck was rightfully angry with Adams after being tripped in the second quarter of New York’s 33-31 win on Sunday night. Tuck said Adams’ trip—he extended his leg after being beat by Tuck—was “bush league.”
Tuck hurt his shoulder on the play and did not return to the game.
Tuck later said, “It was bush league. He did it a few times, and they (the officials) only called one.”
Adams tried to downplay the incident when asked about it by AOL FanHouse, saying “I didn’t see nothing. Did you see something?”
Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini
Little Belichick without the resume is now 0-2 after an embarrassing 27-6 loss to the Broncos, and his team is one of the NFL’s worst.
It was also learned this week that Mangini had fined a player $1,701 for failing to pay for a $3 bottle of water during a team hotel stay.
My advice for Mangenuis is to treat your players like professionals, and you will get better results.
Washington Redskins rookie LB Robert Henson
The rookie linebacker from TCU—who was inactive against the Rams—complained via Twitter about Redskins fans booing the home team during a 9-7 win.
Henson tweeted, “All you fake half hearted Skins fan can .. I won’t go there but I dislike you very strongly, don’t come to Fed Ex to boo dim wits!!”
He later apologized, saying he was angry after being hit with objects from the crowd, but he is a dope. Luckily for the world, Henson cancelled his Twitter account.
San Dieo Chargers LB Shawne Merriman (tied for 218th in the NFL in tackles after two games with only six tackles and zero sacks); Eagles punter Sav Rocca (wildly inconsistent and had a bad shank of 26 yards at a crucial stage of the Eagles eventual loss to the Saints).
2009 NFL Week 2 Results
SUN, SEPT. 20
49ers (2-0) over Seahawks (1-1), 23-10
Bears (1-1) over Steelers (1-1), 17-14
Bengals (1-1) over Packers (1-1), 31-24
Bills (1-1) over Buccaneers (0-2), 33-20
Broncos (2-0) over Browns (0-2), 27-6
Cardinals (1-1) over Jaguars (0-2), 31-17
Falcons (2-0) over Panthers (0-2), 28-20
Giants (2-0) over Cowboys (1-1), 33-31
Jets (2-0) over Patriots (1-1), 16-9
Raiders (1-1) over Chiefs (0-2), 13-10
Ravens (2-0) over Chargers (1-1), 31-26
Redskins (1-1) over Rams (0-2), 9-7
Saints (2-0) over Eagles (1-1), 48-22
Texans (1-1) over Titans (0-2), 34-31
Vikings (2-0) over Lions (0-2), 27-13
SUN, SEP 13
Colts (2-0) at Dolphins (0-2), 27-23
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)