Surprise victories by the Browns, Cardinals, Buccaneers, 49ers and Texans confirm that the road to a division title will be a lot tougher than expected for some preseason favorites. The Saints and the Jets, for example, are out of the box with an 0-2 record, and that’s definitely not a good sign for them. Meanwhile, the Lions, Packers, 49ers and Texans are feeling their oats at 2-0. This is getting interesting very quickly.
Cleveland Browns 51, Cincinnati Bengals 45—Brady who? Browns quarterback Derek Anderson struck a blow for unsung heroes everywhere, leading his team to 554 total net yards and a shockingly satisfying intra-divisional victory over Cincy. The Bengals poured on the points themselves—Carson Palmer threw for 401 yards and 6 TD passes—but couldn’t stop Cleveland’s relentless offensive onslaught. Browns running back Jamal Lewis turned back the clock a few years, rushing for 215 yards on 28 carries, including a 66-yard TD run. Browns receivers Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius combined for 18 catches and 5 TDs. Meanwhile, the Bengals have questions to answer on defense. Pop quiz: Where did Anderson go to college? (Answer below.)
Indianapolis Colts 22, Tennessee Titans 20—One big play away from victory, the Titans fell short in the face of a Colts defense determined to bottle up Vince Young as time ran out. Hard-hitting battle looked like harbinger of an intensified rivalry between these AFC South teams. Manning & Co. still formidable, though.
Pittsburgh Steelers 26, Buffalo Bills 3—Steelers grind out convincing victory over wounded Bills. QB Roethlisberger and RB Parker sharp again, as Pittsburgh moves to 2-0, outscoring opponents 60-10 thus far. Steelers defense also looks to be at full early throttle.
Jacksonville Jaguars 13, Atlanta Falcons 7—Jags’ late surge carries the day. QB David Garrard plays with control, spreading out his 17 pass completions to 9 different receivers, with no interceptions. Mostly a battle in the trenches, which is usually a positive scenario for Jacksonville. Falcons D steady, but offense never catches fire. Atlanta QB Joey Harrington completes 12-20 passes for 200 yards, without an INT.
Houston Texans 34, Carolina Panthers 21—Who’s that atop the AFC South at 2-0? Well, the Colts, of course, but also the Texans, who rode QB Matt Schaub’s arm—20-28, 227 yards—and smart field generalship to a convincing road victory. Aging runners Ahman Green and Ron Dayne combined for 115 yards on the ground for Houston, and Schaub hooked up with WR Andre Johnson for two aerial scores. Carolina air attack okay, but running game flaccid, gaining only 66 yards net.
Arizona Cardinals 23, Seattle Seahawks 20—Balanced Cardinals attack outlasts the Seahawks, in a game that helps signal the potential changing of the guard in the NFC West. Cards QB Matt Leinart hits 8 different receivers with 23 pass completions, and Edgerrin James gains 128 yards on the ground with a touchdown. Seahawks competitive but not good enough in this one.
Denver Broncos 23, Oakland Raiders 20—Broncos win another close one to move to 2-0, but not before the visiting Raiders prove that they’re playing with intensity. Oakland’s D recorded two sacks (one for a safety) and two interceptions (one for a TD), and the team rebounded from a 17-3 first-half deficit to take the lead in the third quarter, with RB LaMont Jordan gaining 159 yards on 25 carries. Raiders QB Josh McCown pretty dismal—going 8-16 for 73 yards with 3 INTs—despite a 46-yard TD pass to Jerry Porter. Sophomore Denver QB Jay Cutler hangs tough, and RB Travis Henry totals 128 yards rushing.
Chicago Bears 20, Kansas City Chiefs 10—Chicago gets four sacks, forces two fumbles, makes an interception, and Devin Hester returns a punt 73 yards for a touchdown. It’s a familiar recipe for success for the Bears, who were nonetheless challenged physically by the Chiefs, who recorded three sacks, grabbed two INTs and forced a fumble of their own. In fact, the Chiefs gained more yards total than the Bears, whose offense did only one thing of any serious note: getting RB Cedric Benson through the decent KC defense for 101 rushing yards. Chiefs RB Larry Johnson held to 55 yards on 16 carries. Hester also had a kickoff return for a TD called back for a penalty; his speed and elusiveness mark him as the single most dangerous talent of his kind in the league.
Baltimore Ravens 20, New York Jets 13—Sub QBs square off, and the Ravens’ Kyle Boller—in for injured Steve McNair—triumphs with efficient, error-free effort featuring two TD passes. The Jets’ Kellen Clemens steps in for Chad Pennington and acquits himself respectably, but two interceptions mar his first NFL start. Jets receivers don’t help by dropping catchable passes. Ravens’ D also records four sacks and forces a fumble. Jets now 0-2, hoping to get back on track at home next week versus Miami.
Green Bay Packers 35, New York Giants 13—The Pack blows open a close game in the fourth quarter, exploding for three TDs. Brett Favre looking like a youngster once again, completing 29-38 for 286 yards and 3 TDs. Giants offense doing some things right but not enough really well. Neither team breaks the 100-yard mark on the ground. Packers' D gaining momentum as team moves to surprise 2-0 start. Giants 0-2 and looking for cohesion.
Detroit Lions 20, Minnesota Vikings 17—With the plentiful turnovers—9 in all—it didn’t look like anyone wanted to win this game, but the Lions triumphed in overtime on a Jason Hanson field goal. Lions QB Jon Kitna was knocked out of the game with a concussion but returned to lead the game-winning drive. Kitna threw an INT; his replacement, J.T. O’Sullivan, threw two; and Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson scuttled his team’s chances with four interceptions. Detroit’s running game nonexistent, but 9 different receivers gathered in 35 passes for 393 yards. The 2-0 Lions head to Philly next week to take on the 0-2 Eagles.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, New Orleans Saints 14—Once again, the Saints’ defense looked porous, and it cost them versus a Bucs team striving to redefine itself. Bucs QB Jeff Garcia conducted a seminar on passing efficiency—10-16, 243 yards, 2 TDs—and Cadillac Williams scored twice, while the Tampa Bay defense forced three fumbles, intercepted one pass and recorded two sacks. The New Orleans passing game appears in synch, but the running game has generated little in two losing efforts.
Dallas Cowboys 37, Miami Dolphins 20—After grabbing a 13-10 lead early in the third quarter, the Fins wilted in their home stadium. Cowboys QB Tony Romo avoided mistakes, Marion Barber ran efficiently, and Dallas scored 20 unanswered points to put the game out of reach. Dolphins still searching for a running game, and while QB Trent Green made some plays, he also threw four INTs. Miami D played well at first, then got torched.
San Francisco 49ers 17, St. Louis Rams 16—Six sacks and two forced fumbles helped the Niners keep it close on the road, and a Joe Nedney field goal carried the day late in the fourth quarter. Rams passing game piled up yardage, but RB Steven Jackson has yet to achieve expected numbers in first two games. Niners off to 2-0 start in NFC West. Rams fall to disappointing 0-2.
New England Patriots 38, San Diego Chargers 14—Big Sunday night TV matchup turns into a snore, as Pats’ Tom Brady and Randy Moss play practically flawless offensive football while their mates on defense clamp down on Chargers’ RB LaDainian Tomlinson. New England led 24-0 at halftime, forced two fumbles, made two interceptions and held LT to 43 yards on 18 carries. Pats’ videotape furor an afterthought.
Washington Redskins 20, Philadelphia Eagles 12—It might be the weakest 2-0 in the league, but the Skins are nevertheless off to a good start. They’re not really doing anything extraordinary on either side of the ball, but they’re doing enough for now. QB Jason Campbell continues to show growth, and the defense is hitting. The Eagles’ offense has struggled under Donovan McNabb, who is rebounding from a serious knee injury (ACL).
Sunday night football was a bore, as the Patriots trounced the Chargers. I left the game at the half. And I’m afraid I can’t watch or listen to John Madden anymore without thinking of Frank Caliendo’s impersonation of the legendary color guy. Listen closely to Madden’s rap. Most of what he says is the most obvious nonsense. Sorry, John. You’ve been there for us a long time, but...
As for the "Monday Night Football" telecast, here were the notables:
1. Tony Kornheiser making quasi-leering remarks about The View’s Elizabeth Hasselbeck. A little weird, but I’ll admit she’s cute. Just not sure the PC police would approve. And what is it with Tony and The View? A few years ago, when he was on radio, he was getting audio hard-ons about Meredith Vieira. Maybe Tony’s angling to replace Whoopi Goldberg. He could do it in drag probably, but then he’d look too much like Barbara Walters.
2. Extended, and ultimately unnecessary, discussion of Eagles coach Andy Reid’s two 20-something sons, both having legal and behavioral problems. Plenty of apologies made for Reid, how tough it is to coach a football team when you have personal travails, etc. I dunno. Seems like many a man with those issues would take a leave of absence from his job in deference to helping his kids. Seriously, I wish Reid and family all the best in the world, but I don’t think this situation makes him a martyr.
3. Now at halftime we get more of “PTI”? Kornheiser and Wilbon on Monday night? Surely we can have a better feature to fill that time.
4. Distaff report: Michele Tafoya and Suzy Kolber. Both were hollering a little from the sidelines. I missed the perceived agreeable restraint they were exercising last week. The “female-side” human-interest angles—”Coach Andy Reid told me...”—remain forced.
5. Charles Barkley in the booth? What a good idea. Let’s put Charles Barkley in everybody’s booth. He’s great. He asked Ron Jaworksi if he thought the $500,000 punishment/fine for Bill Belichick’s “Videogate” offense was excessive. Jaws kinda waffled, like the corporate hack he is. Great question, Chuck. And yes, it was excessive.
6. Then Jaws came out with this golden tidbit: “Thirty percent of the Eagles’passing plays are play-action...” Hmmm... let’s think about this. I would guess that every team in the league is around this average. Right? Like, maybe, 70 percent are normal drop-back plays, and 30 percent are play-action? Since when did play-action become the rare province of the Eagles? Air-filler, Jaws. Air-filler.
Quiz answer: Derek Anderson played his college ball at Oregon State. He was selected in the 6th round of the 2005 draft by the Baltimore Ravens.