Welcome to week 2, where we try to figure out what’s real with the 32 teams. Some things, like Tua Tagovailoa beating the Patriots, the Bengals being in trouble given their 0-2 start, Rams QB Matthew Stafford force-feeding a receiver (hello Puka Nacua!), and the Jets offense struggling with Zach Wilson instead of Aaron Rodgers, are obvious. We try to dive a bit deeper here at Takeaways while still keeping you apprised of the week’s results. Two OT games, a miraculous comeback, and a turnover-fest gave us plenty of fodder. My week 2 takeaways for the 2023 NFL season will hopefully intrigue you! Or at least be informative.
Thursday Night Football: Turnovers, Run Defense Doom Vikings
You can’t blame Kirk Cousins (31/44, 364 yards, 4 TDs) for this one. Yes, the Minnesota QB lost a fumble that led to a Philly TD, but his teammates lost THREE other fumbles…all in the first half! Even star WR Justin Jefferson, who did get his yards (11/159) lost one. His was especially crucial, as he fumbled over the pylon of the end zone for a touchback just before the half. For the second consecutive week, the Vikings lost fumbles in opponents’ territory, costing themselves points. This matters in a 34-28 loss. The run game also offered zero help; RB Alexander Mattison had 8 carries for just 28 yards.
Philadelphia’s running game, on the other hand, went crazy. The team ran for 259 yards at 5.4 yards per carry. D’Andre Swift, starting for the injured Kenneth Gainwell, was the key component. The workhorse back took 28 carries for 175 yards and a TD (QB Jalen Hurts vultured 2 TDs at the goal line with his should-be-banned sneak play). This is the guy Detroit thought they were getting when they spent a 2nd-round pick on Swift. At one point, the Eagles had a 16-play TD drive. They ran the ball on 13 of those 16 plays. Minnesota seemed to prioritize stopping Jalen Hurts at the expense of ignoring gap integrity.
The rest of the Eagles offense was nothing special, as was the case against NE. Hurts had 2 long bombs to DeVonta Smith (4/131/1) as a result of 2 blown coverages, but he didn’t do much else through the air (and threw an awful INT). He also took 4 sacks despite strong protection. K Jake Elliott nailed a 61-yard FG after one of those sacks, but Hurts easily could’ve knocked his team out of FG range. Philly is simply happy that they’re 2-0 despite failing to play a complete game yet. The Vikings are watching their season spiral at 0-2. Their one-score game luck has evaporated, and another loss could sink their playoff hopes too.
Stroud vs. Richardson: The Winner is….Gardner Minshew?
When two highly-drafted rookie QBs face each other, all eyes are on that matchup. We expected to get that chance with #2 pick CJ Stroud of the Texans and #4 pick Anthony Richardson of the Colts going head to head. And we did…for a quarter and change. Richardson self-reported concussion symptoms and was subsequently ruled out of the game. I’m really proud of him for doing that, but it’s a shame he didn’t last the whole game because he was off to a promising start. He finished 6/10 for 56 yards and ran 3 times for 35 yards and 2 TDs. The latter TD was the play on which he was injured.
Stroud did fine as well, though much of his production came in garbage time. He went 30/47 for 384 yards and his first 2 career TD passes while losing a fumble. The most impressive QB was the Colts’ backup: Gardner Minshew. Coming off the bench, he didn’t miss a beat. Minshew immediately led 76- and 75-yard TD drives on his first two possessions before going into cruise control. Once the game was out of hand, he became a handoff machine, but he finished 19/23 for 171 yards and a TD.
The thing that impressed me most about Minshew was his command of the offense. Obviously that’s something a veteran will have over a rookie, but it was still nice to see a QB throw in rhythm. His quick-strike game was on point, and he demonstrated better accuracy than either rookie. Stroud and Richardson will both improve. After all, they’ve played just 2 regular season games as pros. Minshew provides a great benchmark though. As an elite backup and low-end QB1, he shows how to play the position without elite physical talent. The rookies do have that talent, so it’ll be exciting to see where they go next.
Giants Roar to Life in Second Half as Cardinals Collapse
To put it mildly, the New York Giants had the worst start to a season that you can imagine. After losing 40-0 at home to Dallas last week, NYG found themselves in a 20-0 halftime hole against Arizona. Regular readers know that I’m not very high on the Cardinals this season. Somehow, New York made Joshua Dobbs look like Joe Montana at QB. For a playoff team a year ago to have such an abysmal start seemed shocking. Luckily for Giants fans, reigning coach of the year Brian Daboll turned things around after the break.
QB Daniel Jones, who looked completely flustered in the first half, came out slinging and sprinting. He ended up throwing for 321 yards and 2 TDs while adding 59 yards and another score on the ground. That rushing score came on the first possession of the third quarter and represented NYG’s first points of the season. Arizona scored again and went for 2 to make it a 28-7 game, but the Giants’ defense stiffened. That would be Arizona’s last score of the game. Meanwhile, the NY offense chipped away at the lead, eventually tying the game at 28. Upon forcing a three-and-out, NYG led a drive for a game-winning FG.
The only problem with this great comeback is that RB Saquon Barkley got hurt. Barkley (92 scrimmage yards, 2 total TDs) was the engine of the offense, but he left with swelling in his ankle. Regardless, New York has to be thrilled that they’re not 0-2 going into San Francisco. Regarding the collapsing team, one can argue about whether Cardinals ownership is happy with the result of this game. The 31-28 loss keeps the team in the running for the #1 overall pick. It’s early, but I know the team is targeting that selection. Perhaps both teams got what they wanted in terms of their season-long plans.
Titans, Seahawks Pick Up OT Victories
Two games in the early Sunday window failed to declare a winner after 4 quarters, so we got to enjoy simultaneous overtime action! First, Chargers QB Justin Herbert (27/41, 305 yards, 2 TDs) did what he failed to do last week and led the Bolts on a game-tying FG drive to end the 4th quarter against Tennessee. However, the team had several chances to score a TD and win outright. With the score 24-24, LAC won the toss and got the ball, but Herbert threw 3 incompletions to go 3 and out.
Titans QB Ryan Tannehill (20/24, 246 yards, TD, rush TD) and RB Derrick Henry (25/80/1) immediately went down and set up an FG attempt. Nick Folk converted from 41 yards out to win 27-24. Tennessee looked much better offensively than they did a week ago, and the turnovers were eliminated. Still, the offensive line is problematic, and Tannehill’s weapons still aren’t finding a ton of space. The Chargers did what they do best: lose winnable games. That’s been their theme under Brandon Staley, and they now find themselves 0-2 in a division shared with Kansas City.
In the other OT matchup, Seattle and Detroit engaged in a bit of a shootout, much like their battle in 2022. As in that contest, the Seahawks got the upper hand. First, SEA CB Tre Brown earned a pick six on Jared Goff, the QB’s first INT in 383 attempts. Down 31-21, Goff (28/35, 323 yards, 3 TDs) was undeterred, leading two consecutive scoring drives to tie the game as time expired. As usual, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (6/102) paced the offense. Seattle won the toss in OT and looked determined not to do what Los Angeles did and cede the ball to their opponent.
QB Geno Smith (32/41, 2 TDs) played brilliantly and was at his best during the extra period. He completed 6 of 7 passes on a 75-yard drive, which culminated with a walk-off TD. WR Tyler Lockett (8/59/2) was the recipient of that score, but the Seahawks got away with a blatant hold on their backup right tackle Jake Curhan. Lions DE Aidan Hutchinson even flailed to alert the refs, but no flag was thrown. It was a bitter way for Detroit to lose a hard-fought game, though Seattle will clearly be thrilled to avoid an 0-2 start. The Lions are just hoping that this game has no tiebreaker implications like last year’s loss to the Seahawks did.
Mike Evans, Bijan Robinson Key Surprising 2-0 Starts
I’m not including Washington as a “surprising” 2-0 start because Denver and Arizona aren’t terribly difficult opponents. That Hail Mary made things interesting though didn’t it? Two other NFC teams that started 2-0 weren’t expected to do so though. Those would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons. Starting with Tampa, beating Chicago 27-17 is actually not much to write home about, but their week 1 victory over Minnesota feels a bit more impressive despite that team now being 0-2.
Focusing on this week, QB Baker Mayfield (26/34, 317 yards, TD) looked competent again. That’s mostly because WR Mike Evans has been beastly. Shutting down contract negotiations just before the team’s week 1 game, Evans is showing why the team should’ve extended him. He exploded for 6 catches, 171 yards, and a TD against the Bears, looking at least 5 years younger. Evans also has a TD in 2 consecutive games, returning to his scoring ways. The TB defense is decent, so if Evans can jump-start the offense, the Buccaneers as a whole have a chance to be alright as well.
Atlanta is a little easier to figure out: we learned that their defense is improved from last year, and the offense has some playmakers. As long as QB Desmond Ridder doesn’t screw anything up, the Falcons will be a tough out. Ridder (19/32, 237 yards, TD, 39 rushing yards, rush TD) actually did mess up this week, throwing his first career INT. However, he’s got a new ally who is special. RB Bijan Robinson got 23 touches this week, and he made the most of them. His 19 carries went for 124 yards, and he added 4 catches for 48 yards. The rookie back is so good in space, yet he has the power to blast through tackles.
Robinson’s work enabled Atlanta to keep Green Bay off the field and start a comeback. Sure, the Packers offense completely shut down, but Atlanta did next to nothing until they started feeding Robinson. That in turn led to a 13-point 4th quarter and a 25-24 win. A stolen victory like this when down double digits before the quarter started can really boost a team’s confidence. The Falcons know they are probably the most talented team in the NFC South. Coach Arthur Smith needs the offense to run through Robinson, not Ridder, and his team could possibly swipe the division crown from the favored Saints.
Monday Night Double-Header: Panthers Offense Still Stuck in the Mud, Browns’ Season Possibly Wrecked
We got two Monday night games in week 2 again this year, and they started an hour apart. The first to kick off was Saints-Panthers, and that one was a snoozer for much of the night. Neither team did much in the first half, but the Saints led 6-3 at the break. QB Derek Carr (21/36, 228 yards, INT) still feels out of rhythm with his new team. He really likes WR Rasheed Shaheed though. The speedster scored the team’s lone TD last week, and he had 4 more catches and 63 yards in week 2. The running game had little to offer after Jamaal Williams got hurt, though Tony Jones Jr scored twice with his 2.8 yards/carry.
Fortunately for New Orleans, Carolina’s offense was far worse. Don’t be fooled by the 20-17 Saints victory; this game was nowhere as close as the score suggests. QB Bryce Young looks poised but still unable to crack the code of playing in an NFL offense. He had 153 yards and a TD, but he lost a fumble and didn’t actually reach 100 passing yards until near the 2-minute warning…in the second half. The running game gave him no help, but WR Adam Thielen (7/54/1) continues to provide him with a veteran security blanket. Things look like they’ll get worse before they get better with a game at Seattle up next.
The second game, Browns-Steelers, was more entertaining. Unless you’re a Browns fan. The night started ominously when QB Deshaun Watson threw a pick six to Steelers LB Alex Highsmith on the very first play from scrimmage. Watson (22/40, 235 yards, TD) made a few plays, but he still looks nothing like the QB who balled out for Houston a few years ago. He even somehow committed TWO facemask penalties. Alas, the night got even worse for Cleveland, as Monday Night Football has now killed two teams in consecutive weeks. Like the Jets in week 1, the Browns saw their best player go down for the season.
RB Nick Chubb (10/64) had his knee bent backward, and ESPN would not show a replay. I’ll also spare you the gruesome video, but Chubb has multiple torn ligaments and is done for the year. Jerome Ford (16/106) filled in admirably, but he’s not the same player. The Browns remained in this game in spite of their woes because Pittsburgh’s offense still looks terrible. QB Kenny Pickett (15/30, 222 yards, TD) seems as lost as he did in week 1. He threw an INT and was lucky not to have a few more. Outside of a 71-yard connection for a TD to George Pickens (4/127/1), nothing went well for the Steelers offensively.
In an ugly game that featured 4 first-half turnovers (6 total between the two teams), it was Pittsburgh’s defense that saved the day. Highsmith, the man who earned the pick six, also strip sacked Watson in the 4th quarter. OLB TJ Watt scooped up the ball and scored the second defensive TD of the night for Pittsburgh. Watt is now up to 4 sacks in 2 games himself, and he and Dallas LB Micah Parsons are your frontrunners for DPOY. Mike Tomlin‘s defense accounted for half of Pittsburgh’s points in a 26-22 victory. I’d say they can’t keep this up, but it’s sort of the same formula that won PIT 9 games last year, so who knows?