NFL Week 2 Takeaways: Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins Explosive Offense Is For Real
In Week 2 of NFL action, we saw some thrilling comebacks, fireworks between bitter rivals and a team that reached 2-0 for the first time since 2016.
Typically, a new regime or coaching staff needs time to change a losing culture, but one franchise may have a chance to go from last to first in its division within a year. Of course, we're in the early stages of the 2022 season, but you can already see the early returns for a squad under a new direction.
This past offseason, wide receivers signed big contracts as the market exploded after Christian Kirk signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. In an early kickoff, one team erased a 21-point deficit—thanks in part to its new star wideout who took over in the fourth quarter, which explains why receivers have become premium players.
Speaking of wideouts, we could be watching the steady rise of a new star who came into the league as a fourth-round pick last year.
Let's delve into the biggest takeaways from Sunday's games.
Dolphins' Dynamic Offense Gives Them a Chance to Battle with AFC Heavyweights
AFC West teams made headlines during the offseason. The Las Vegas Raiders acquired wideout Davante Adams and pass-rusher Chandler Jones. The Los Angeles Chargers beefed up their defense, trading for Khalil Mack and signing cornerback J.C. Jackson. The Denver Broncos found a new franchise QB in Russell Wilson.
Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins made wholesale changes to help elevate quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in his third season.
The club hired former San Francisco 49ers run game coordinator and offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel to take over the head-coaching position. The front office also signed left tackle Terron Armstead and wideouts Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson Jr.
On Sunday, we saw Hill's offensive impact on full display.
In the third quarter, he cramped up and left the game. However, he returned to help propel the Dolphins to a comeback victory over the Baltimore Ravens, erasing a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Tagovailoa connected with him for 48- and 60-yard touchdown passes. Fellow wideout Jaylen Waddle put the exclamation point on Miami's late-game rally with a seven-yard touchdown reception with 14 seconds left in the game.
Tagovailoa made early mistakes, throwing two interceptions in the first half, but the Dolphins offense has enough explosiveness to cut down big leads. Hill and Waddle each recorded 11 receptions and two touchdowns for a combined 361 yards.
With six touchdowns and 469 yards through the air to offset the two picks, Tagovailoa upstaged Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for 119 yards and a score on the ground.
The Dolphins have an electric offense that will keep them in games, even when they're down by multiple scores.
Amon-Ra St. Brown Moves Up Wide Receiver Hierarchy with Record-Tying Performance
Here's a good question: How did Amon-Ra St. Brown fall to the fourth round of the 2021 draft?
After a strong rookie campaign, hauling in 90 passes for 912 yards and five touchdowns, St. Brown has continued to go on a tear. On Sunday, the USC product tied an NFL record, per ESPN's Field Yates:
St. Brown has picked up more steam in recent outings, racking up at least 109 receiving yards in three of his past four games with at least one score in each of the last six contests dating back to last season.
Primarily lining up in the slot with the ability to shift out wide, St. Brown has some similarities to wide receiver Cooper Kupp, whom the Los Angeles Rams selected in the third round of the 2017 draft.
St. Brown isn't mentioned among the league's top wide receivers, but he's well on the way up the ladder with impressive numbers and consistency. Quarterback Jared Goff has a go-to receiver who can lead the Lions' aerial attack every week.
Mike Evans, Marshon Lattimore Add New Chapter to NFL's Most Heated WR-CB Rivalry
Whenever the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints take the field, you're probably going to see a feisty one-on-one battle between four-time Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Marshon Lattimore. They have feuded for years (at times physically between the white lines), and their competitiveness turned into another on-field skirmish Sunday.
After the game, Evans explained why he pushed Lattimore to the ground:
Jeff Darlington @JeffDarlington
I talked to Mike Evans about ongoing history with Marshon Lattimore: “Super competitive. Today, he was just too emotional. You don’t throw punches at guys on the field. He threw a punch at Lenny, and I can’t let that happen to my teammates. So I shoved him… turned into a brawl.”
Lattimore has blanketed Evans in recent outings, which likely explains the Buccaneers wide receiver’s frustration with the Saints cornerback.
In Sunday's matchup, Evans caught three passes for 61 yards, which included a 41-yard reception. Lattimore recorded two tackles and a pass breakup before the referees ejected both of them in the fourth quarter with the game tied at three.
Neither the Saints nor the Buccaneers generated a ton of offense—both squads finished with fewer than 309 total yards. Nevertheless, Tampa Bay beat New Orleans 20-10, earning its first victory over its division rival in the regular season with Tom Brady as its quarterback.
Brian Daboll Is Already Changing the Giants’ Culture
Though the New York Giants haven't appealed to those who enjoy a lot of offense, they're off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2016, which shows some promise for the team's future under new head coach Brian Daboll.
Last week, Daboll went for a two-point conversion on the team's final offensive drive, and Big Blue beat the Tennessee Titans 21-20 after Randy Bullock missed a 47-yard field goal.
On Sunday, the Giants put together another gritty victory over the Carolina Panthers, winning 19-16 at home. Big Blue only scored one touchdown, but former Panthers kicker Graham Gano made all four of his field goals, including a pair of 51-plus-yarders in the fourth quarter.
In this contest, the Giants didn't have their starting edge-rushers, Azeez Ojulari (calf) and Kayvon Thibodeaux (MCL sprain) or starting cornerback Aaron Robinson (appendicitis) but still limited the Panthers to 275 total yards and forced two turnovers. Baker Mayfield only completed 14 of 29 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown.
Regardless of how the wins look, Daboll and his coaching staff have injected new energy into the club with its best start in six years. Running back Saquon Barkley seems rejuvenated with 282 yards and a touchdown from scrimmage. Next week, Big Blue will host the Dallas Cowboys, who won't have starting quarterback Dak Prescott (thumb surgery) under center.
Jets’ 2022 Rookie Class Paying Early Dividends
Quarterback Joe Flacco turned back the clock with a strong performance in a thrilling 31-30 road win over the Cleveland Browns, throwing for 307 yards and four touchdowns Sunday. With that said, Gang Green's 2022 rookie class stole the show.
First-round pick Garrett Wilson and second-rounder Breece Hall scored three of the Jets' four touchdowns in a comeback victory over the Browns. The former hauled in eight passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns, which included a go-ahead 15-yard reception with 22 seconds left in regulation.
Hall accumulated 50 rushing yards and 10 receiving yards with a touchdown reception. He outpaced Michael Carter (23 yards) on the ground, though the latter caught all five of his targets for 27 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, first-round cornerback Sauce Gardner had a solid outing with six tackles (five solo) and a pass breakup. Fellow rookie pass-rushers Jermaine Johnson II and Micheal Clemons combined for three tackles and a quarterback hit.
If the Jets can get decent quarterback play from Flacco and Zach Wilson when he returns from knee surgery, this team has the young playmakers to trend in the right direction. Perhaps head coach Robert Saleh should prepare those receipts he talked about this week.
Matt Ryan, Colts Have Looked Awful in AFC South Battles
We can discuss the Indianapolis Colts' unfavorable trends. They haven't won in Week 1 since 2013, and they've lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road every year since 2014.
However, those cold-hard facts don't excuse the team's poor play against the two bottom teams in the AFC South from the previous season.
Last week, the Colts had to rally late to tie the Houston Texans 20-20. On Sunday, they didn't score against the Jacksonville Jaguars, losing 24-0 in an embarrassing road loss. Sure, lead wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. was out with a quad injury, but Jacksonville limited 2021 rushing champion Jonathan Taylor to 54 rushing yards on nine carries.
Because of a negative game script, the Colts had to push the ball downfield with their subpar passing game. Quarterback Matt Ryan completed 16 of 30 passes and threw three interceptions. For the season, he's thrown just one touchdown and four interceptions, which raises legitimate concerns.
Since Andrew Luck's retirement in August of 2019, the Colts have started the season with a new starting quarterback every year. Ryan, who turned 37 years old in May, may be the next one-and-down starter under center. He's played like a quarterback on a sharp decline, even with Pittman on the field last week.
If the Colts' passing game cannot move the ball with consistency, they'll find it difficult to move the ball on the ground with Taylor against loaded boxes.
49ers Likely Saved Their Season By Keeping Jimmy Garoppolo
Trey Lance only played two series against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday. He faked a handoff, ran up the middle and took a hit. The San Francisco 49ers carted him off the field with an air cast on his right leg.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Lance suffered a "significant" ankle injury that will require potential season-ending surgery.
Lance completed two of three passes for 30 yards and rushed for 13 yards on three carries before his early exit. Jimmy Garoppolo took over for the second-year signal-caller and helped lead the 49ers to a 27-7 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
In hindsight, the 49ers' decision to keep Garoppolo on the roster with a restructured deal may save their 2022 season. If the front office traded him, San Francisco would've turned to rookie seventh-rounder Brock Purdy, who looked impressive in the preseason, but he's far less experienced than Garoppolo in head coach and lead play-caller Kyle Shanahan's offense.
The 49ers wanted to see what they had in their top draft pick from a year ago, but at least they'll remain in the playoff mix with a familiar face who's led them to two postseason appearances as the primary quarterback. For now, the Trey Lance era in San Francisco is on hold.
Don't Discount the Cowboys While Cooper Rush Fills in for Dak Prescott
In case you didn't know, Cooper Rush is 2-0 as the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.
He won his first start in Week 8 of the 2021 season against the Minnesota Vikings. On Sunday, the sixth-year veteran helped the club pull out a 20-17 upset victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Dallas went into the contest as 7.5-point underdogs with quarterback Dak Prescott on the mend following surgery on his fractured thumb. Anyone who buried the Cowboys' 2022 season may want to pump the brakes after Sunday's game.
The Cowboys established the run early, feeding Ezekiel Elliott (15 carries for 53 yards) and Tony Pollard (nine carries for 43 yards and a touchdown). With that said, Rush made key throws to CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown and Pollard.
Dallas won't ask Rush to throw 40 times with Elliott and Pollard in the backfield, but he just needs to complete throws in crucial moments, and the pass-catchers must win one-on-one matchups off play-action design downfield.
Lastly, if the defense gives up 21 points or fewer as it did Sunday, Dallas can hold down the fort until Prescott returns from injured reserve. He might be able to come back for Week 8 or Week 10 after the team's bye, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Raiders Put Themselves in Must-Win Territory After Brutal Loss to Cardinals
After a turnover-ridden 24-19 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Las Vegas Raiders squandered a 20-point lead to the Arizona Cardinals in a crushing defeat at home.
Down 23-7 in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals scored 16 unanswered points to force overtime. In the extra period, the Raiders came up with a stop, but wideout Hunter Renfrow had ball-security issues on the following possession.
He fumbled twice and lost the second one, which led to cornerback Byron Murphy's scoop-and-score for the game-winner.
In Week 3, the Raiders will be on the road to face the Tennessee Titans, who play the Buffalo Bills Monday night.
If Tennessee loses, the Titans and Raiders will battle to avoid an 0-3 start, which is a big hole to climb out of for any team with playoff aspirations. Regardless of the outcome Monday, at 0-2, Vegas has a tough slate headed on the road to Nashville with the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs coming up in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively.
Josh McDaniels' tenure is off to a rough start as his team already faces a gut-check matchup next week.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.