By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
It’s sort of hard to believe, but the Washington Redskins are off to a great start and in the midst of it, the consensus first pick in any all-time, most overrated coach fantasy draft Mike Shanahan deserves most of the credit.
The ‘Skins are 2-0 and have come from behind in both wins. In Week 1, Washington took the Giants best shot early, got a defensive TD (a huge development given how bad its defense was last year) and wound up running away from their division rivals in winning 28-14. Then last week against the Cardinals, the Redskins trailed 21-13 in the fourth quarter only to get nine points in the last 5:17 win and take it 22-21, getting 172 rushing yards from Tim Hightower and Roy Helu in the process.
But the key to Washington’s success thus far lies in Shanahan’s call just before the season began to give the starting quarterback job to none other than Rex Grossman. Grossman, who for some reason has been a laughingstock in NFL circles for most of his career despite leading the Bears to Super Bowl XLI, has been a revelation in his first regular starting gig since the Bears tossed him overboard not even a year removed from that Super Bowl berth. In the two wins, Grossman has completed 60 percent of his passes at almost eight yards per attempt and thrown four TD passes, including an 18-yarder to Santana Moss to cut Arizona’s lead to two late in last week’s game.
Shanahan hasn’t made too many good choices since John Elway retired after the 1998 season. But giving the Washington job to Grossman, who is remembered more for a handful of lousy games in Chicago than that Super Bowl run, was absolutely the right move. Apparently, he has cleared the locker room of the stench brought in by Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth last season and the Redskins are buying into his system (of course, that same system has produced one playoff win and just three postseason appearances in the past 12 years, but we’re trying to be nice here). With the Giants an injury-riddled mess and the Cowboys saddled with a faulty foundation thanks to owner Jerry Jones, don’t be surprised if the Redskins wind up having the best shot at giving the Eagles a run for their money in the NFC East.
This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. Green Bay: The Pack overcame a quick start by Cam Newton and the Panthers, erasing a 13-0 deficit to win 30-23 and move to 2-0. Aaron Rodgers stayed smoking hot with 308 more yards and two more scores and the defense (led by Charles Woodson’s two picks, two passes defensed, fumble recovery and five tackles), despite allowing another 400-yard day by Newton, again made enough plays to win. Green Bay moves into the division this week with an NFC Championship rematch against the Bears, and lost safety Nick Collins for the year to a neck injury. But the defending champs are still the team to beat.
2. New England: Wouldn’t it be great if the Pats could figure out how to play an entire game without having to send the defense onto the field? Their offense is so good right now, it makes up for the seemingly endless shortcomings of the D, but that’s not going to be the case every week. Still, even more props to the best QB there is, Tom Brady, for putting up 423 more yards and three more scores in a 35-21 wi over San Diego last week. Brady is now on pace to throw for over 7,500 yards this season. He’ll probably do it.
3. New Orleans: Drew Brees put up his second straight stellar game (26-of-37, 270 yards, three TDS, 118.1 passer rating) in beating the Bears for the first time in four tries. The Saints D, stomped on in Week 1 against the Packers, also stepped up with six sacks and a turnover while holding Chicago to just 246 total yards.
4. New York Jets: Week 1’s slog against the Cowboys was long since forgotten when the Jaguars hit the Meadowlands to meet the Jets and left without their dignity or a legit starting quarterback after a 32-3 loss. The Jets D held Jacksonville to 91 yards passing at only 3.6 yards per attempt, picked off four passes and had a safety, overcoming yet another mediocre day by quarterback Mark Sanchez.
5. (tie) Detroit/Houston: Two of the league’s most dysfunctional and/or disappointing teams crack the Top 5 for the first time ever by virtue of a couple impressive 2-0 starts. The Lions posted their most lopsided win in franchise history with their 48-3 pasting of Kansas City while the Texans shook off Arian Foster’s third hamstring tweak since training camp began and beat the Dolphins in Miami. Keep an eye on Houston running back Ben Tate, Foster’s rookie replacement, who has put up over 100 yards and a TD in each of his team’s first two games.
This Week’s Five Worst Teams
1. Kansas City: Where to start with the Chiefs? They’ve been outscored 89-10 in their first two games. Super back Jamaal Charles blew out his knee on the second play of their game against the Lions and joined fellow stars Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki on injured reserve. Matt Cassel suddenly can’t play; his 15-of-22, 133 yard, three INT performance against Detroit was only slightly better than his performance in Week 1. And now, apparently coach Todd Haley, who seems to be the most hated man in the NFL, is not getting along with GM Scott Pioli. It’s going to be a long year in KC.
2. Seattle: The Steelers got well on the lowly Seahawks, who had 164 total yards in their 24-0 loss in Pittsburgh. Seattle ran the ball just 13 times for 31 yards in the game, a bad sign when your quarterback is Tarvaris Jackson, who the Petesy Carroll chose over Matt Hasselbeck to lead his team straight into last place.
3. Indianapolis: The Colts actually led 9-7 in the first half last week. Then they got outscored 20-10 in ultimately losing to Cleveland in their home opener. It was Indy’s first loss to the Browns since 1994 and they didn’t score a touchdown until there were just 24 seconds left in the game while failing to even make a first down from the start of the third quarter until that final drive. It’s kind of cool seeing the Colts of all teams flail about like this, no?
4. Miami: The Dolphins, now losers of 11 out of 12 at home following last week’s 23-13 defeat to the Texans, got a 12-of-30, 170-yard game out of quarterback Chad Henne while newly acquired, “feature back” Reggie Bush rolled up a whopping 18 yards on just six carries and caught one whole pass for three yards. After the game, coach Tony Sparano confessed that he, “has no answers.” Sparano will not last the entire season and you can mark it, dude.
5. Minnesota: After pissing away a 17-7 halftime lead in their Week 1 loss, the Vikings pissed away a 17-0 halftime lead in their Week 2 loss, a brutal 24-20 defeat at the hands of the Bucs. Coach Leslie Frazier is now 3-5 as a head coach and proved his incompetence by having star receiver Percy Harvin sit for more than half his team’s offensive snaps despite catching seven passes for 76 yards.
- Josh Freeman, Bucs: Now through 26 NFL games, Freeman can boast a fourth quarter comeback in eight of them after last week’s win over Minnesota. Tampa was outgained 284-62 in the first half of that game, but Freeman finished up going 15-of-20 for 191 yards and a TD after halftime.
- Andy Dalton, Bengals: Cincinnati may not need Carson Palmer back now that it has Dalton, a rookie out of TCU. In his second career start, Dalton was 27-of-41 for 332 yards and two TDs with a 107 passer rating in close loss at Denver. What they do need, yet again, is the number of a good lawyer after receiver Jerome Simpson was detained and suspected of housing a pot distribution ring when 8.5 pounds of weed found to be delivered to his home.
- The Titans: After nearly pulling out a road win over Jacksonville in Week 1, Tennessee overpowered the Ravens 26-13 behind Hasselbeck’s best game in ages (30-of-42, 358 yards, one TD). The real story for the Titans, though, is receiver Kenny Britt, who had nine catches for 135 yards and a score against Baltimore, and has 14 catches for 271 yards and three scores through his first two games.
- Dunta Robinson, Falcons: Last season, Robinson became a poster boy for the league’s new safety rules for receivers after launching himself head first and spearing Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, causing one of the more scary looking injuries of the year. Robinson was fined $50,000 for that hit, so he followed it up in his next game against the Eagles, this past Sunday night, by doing virtually the same thing to another Philly receiver, Jeremy Maclin. After the game, Robinson, knucklehead that he is, complained about being called for a penalty on the play, saying he though the hit was legal, even though he clearly led with the crown of his helmet and had his arms at his side the whole time, just like when he hit Jackson. We don’t really curse that much here at Patriots Daily, but in this case, who cares? Dunta Robinson is an asshole.
- Mike Martz, Bears: In their 30-13 loss to New Orleans, the Bears called 52 pass plays against 11 run plays. Quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked six times and hit or knocked down 16 more. Martz, notorious for years for calling such lopsided games as offensive coordinator and head coach of the Rams as well as OC of San Francisco, Detroit and now Chicago, at least took responsibility, saying, “If you’re looking for blame, blame me. I did a poor job of coaching and we just didn’t play very well.” Someone should remind Martz that Bears have a lousy offensive line but do have an All-Pro running back in Matt Forte. Otherwise Cutler may not last another month let alone the season.
- Philip Rivers, Chargers: Rivers isn’t here for his overall acumen; he’s an excellent quarterback and he put up big numbers in last week’s loss to the Pats. He’s here because of his record against New England, now 1-5, the win coming against Cassel in 2008, not Brady. And while we’re here, the Boston Herald’s assertion last Sunday that with Peyton Manning down, Rivers is the new big-name QB rival of Brady, was so stupid, so ill-informed and so poorly conceived that it was borderline irresponsible. When Rivers actually wins a game against the Pats when Brady plays or loses without being behind multiple boneheaded, horribly timed turnovers, or oh I don’t know, wins more than two playoff games in six years, perhaps we can revive the topic.
The Patriots are in Buffalo to play the Bills this week and it’s not going to be the walkover you might expect. Bill Belichick owns a 20-2 record in his Pats coaching career against Buffalo and the only games I can remember even being close were the 31-0 thrashing in Week 1 of 2003 (aka the Lawyer Milloy game) and Week 1 two years ago when the Pats scored twice in the last two minutes to eke out a one-point win on Monday Night Football. But this Bills team is different. Or at least it looks different through the season’s first two weeks.
Buffalo is 2-0 and has scored 79 points combined in those two wins. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Harvard alum, has completed more than 63 percent of his passes and seven TDs against just one pick. Running back Fred Jackson has 229 yards and is averaging 6.5 yards per attempt. And in last week’s roller coaster, 38-35 win over Oakland, the Bills, who scored a TD on every second half possession (a first for any team since 2007), they came back from a 21-3 halftime deficit to post the victory. Given the issues the Pats have had on defense not just this season but over the past three, this explosion of points and yards by Buffalo could well prove deadly.
It’s only been two weeks, but Buffalo is atop the AFC East standings along with the Pats and Jets. Not to take anything away from the Bills but their opponents up to this point (the Chiefs and Raiders) don’t scare too many people. A win this week would force the NFL to start taking them seriously for the first time in years. Right now, the line on this game has the Pats as nine-point favorites. Take the Bills and the points.