The Fine Fifteen
1. Denver (2-0). Two games, two routs of playoff contenders, 90 points. When Von Miller was lost for the first six weeks, the Broncos couldn’t have asked for a start any better than this.
2. Seattle (2-0). Thought I’d never see a division rivalry as physical as Baltimore-Pittsburgh over the last five to seven years. Seahawks and Niners: close.
3. San Francisco (1-1). Three of the next four at home. Noise shouldn’t be an issue the way it was Sunday night in the Thunderdome.
4. New Orleans (2-0). Unimpressive win at Tampa Bay, but the Saints are 2-0 in the division, no NFC South foe has a division win yet, and, more importantly, New Orleans has discovered a defense. Saints allowed 440 yards a game last year, worst in league history. This year: 320.
5. Miami (2-0). Excellent start for the Dolphins, with two road wins. Miami has had the best defense in football over the first two weeks, with nine sacks and foes completing just 53 percent of their passes. And Ryan Tannehill’s been efficient, completing 65 percent of his throws and keeping the chains moving.
6. Houston (2-0). The Texans, who got very fortunate Sunday in beating Tennessee in OT, have probably the most daunting 15-day stretch in the league this year starting next Sunday: at Baltimore, Seattle at home, at San Francisco.
7. Chicago (2-0). Jay Cutler hung in after a bad interception. Matt Forte hung in after an ugly strip-fumble by the Vikes. This is an imperfect team, but the Bears play in an imperfect division.
8. San Diego (1-1). Anyone who had Eddie Royal as the league’s touchdown leader after two weeks, you’re a smarter person than I. And 539 offensive yards, on a short week, going from west coast to east? The Chargers are better than we thought.
9. Atlanta (1-1). But the Falcons may have lost Steven Jackson, the cornerstone of their running game. He left in the first quarter of the win over St. Louis with a bruised thigh.
10. Kansas City (2-0). Alex Smith is just what Andy Reid ordered. Two games, two wins, zero turnovers.
11. Cincinnati (0-1). To prove the times they have a-changed in Bengal Land, Cincinnati must beat Pittsburgh at home when it’s expected. Tonight.
12. Green Bay (1-1). Amazing Aaron Dept.: Rodgers is averaging a 406-yard, 3.5-touchdown-pass day through two weeks. And he did his part of it Sunday after undergoing a massage/neck-maneuvering from club medics before the game.
13. New England (2-0). Most advantageous opening schedule in recent league history: Two rookie quarterbacks to start—including Geno Smith having to go on the road in a short week—followed by a mini-bye (the Pats had the three-day weekend off) and a team with some civil war issues (Tampa Bay) coming up Sunday. In Foxboro.
14. Baltimore (1-1). The Ravens’ offense and New England’s have much in common. Baltimore’s first-half possessions ended in a missed field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt and missed field goal. It was a struggle the whole way against Cleveland.
15. Tennessee (1-1). An overtime loss at the best team in the division isn’t the worst thing, especially when you consider Houston needed a desperation two-point conversion and a circus catch by a rookie receiver in the end zone in overtime to win.
The Awards Section
Offensive Players of the Week
James Jones, WR, Green Bay. The enjoyable thing about watching Jones play is that he’s not just a deep threat who runs all the vertical routes in the Packers playbook and juts out of bounds. He’s a physical receiver, and his 11-catch, 178-yard day—not exceeded by a Packer since 2004 (Javon Walker, 11 for 200 from Brett Favre) showed Jones as the complete receiver he’s become. “If you let the first guy tackle you,’’ he said, “you get no respect when you come to the bench. I don’t care if it’s a 70-yarder.’’
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami. Others had gaudier numbers (three quarterbacks had 400-yard passing days), but Tannehill showed how much he’s maturing as a pro quarterback in pulling off the 24-20 upset at 2012 playoff team Indianapolis. He went 23 of 34 for 319 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions. He led 58-, 80- and 69-yard touchdown drives. The No. 8 pick in the 2012 draft bested the No. 1 (Andrew Luck) in passer rating, 107.4-79.7, and on the scoreboard.
Defensive Players of the Week
The 12th Man, Seattle. “It’s like being at the end of a runway,’’ Al Michaels said in the middle of the cacophonous evening in Seattle. The place set a Guinness Book of World Records mark for loudest recorded sound in a stadium—131.9 decibels—and considering that a jet engine on an airport runway is about 120 decibels, you can see why the San Francisco offense had such trouble operating. The Niners were penalized 12 times for 121 yards, including two false starts, a delay of game and holding call that resulted in a safety when no one could hear with the Niners backed up in their end zone. There was also a sack/lost fumble when Cliff Avril ran around end and took advantage of the 49ers’ trouble hearing on offense.
Richard Sherman and Walter Thurmond, CB, Seattle. Sherman normally plays left corner—in fact, he’s played there about 93 percent of the snaps since the start of 2012. But he shadowed Anquan Boldin (13 catches last week) much of the night when Boldin moved to other spots on the line. Boldin had one catch Sunday night, and it didn’t come when Sherman was in coverage. He and Thurmond—filling in for the injured Brandon Browner—combined to physically blanket Boldin, holding him to one catch for seven yards and zero impact on the game.
Mario Williams, DE, Buffalo. The Bills have been waiting for the kind of Hall of Fame day Williams had Sunday in Orchard Park: a personal and team single-game-record 4.5 sacks of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. Seems like a long time ago—through it was only seven weeks—that there were reports of Williams not loving football and disagreeing with his team on the treatment of a foot injury. He sacked Newton on the first Carolina series and again on the second, and Buffalo wouldn’t have been able to eke out the one-point win without his big plays.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Devin Hester, PR/WR, Chicago. One of the best return days for one of the best return men in league history. Five kickoff returns: 76 yards, 80 yards, 20 yards, 31 yards, and, from seven yards deep, 42 yards.
Dustin Colquitt, P, Kansas City. In a 17-16 field-position game at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City’s most valuable player was the punter in the win over Dallas. His seven punts landed at the Dallas 23-yard line, the 5-, the 10-, the 10-, the 15-, in the end zone, and at the 4-. That last one made it impossible for the Cowboys to rally in the last minute of the game.
Coach of the Week
Mike McCoy, head coach, San Diego. The Chargers had a terrible loss Monday night, blowing a 28-7 second-half lead and losing in the final minutes to the Texans. McCoy watched the tape of the big fourth-quarter mistakes, and watched them again, and again. And he decided: We’re fine; we’re not going to panic and make a bunch of changes because of one rotten quarter. His team fed off that six days later in a stadium full of rabid Eagle fans, and stole a 33-30 victory.
Goat of the Week
Greg Schiano, head coach, Tampa Bay. The choice Schiano had to make with 70 seconds left in the fourth quarter and a 14-13lead over New Orleans, with a 4th-and-3 at the Saints’ 29, in a game in which neither team had any timeouts left: He could have punted and pinned Drew Brees at the, say, 10-yard line with 64 seconds left. Brees would have needed maybe 60 yards to get into Garrett Hartley field-goal range. Or he could have the August waiver signing from Buffalo, Rian Lindell, try a 47-yard field goal. If Lindell made it, the Saints would have had to drive for a touchdown to win the game. If Lindell missed it, the Saints would get the ball at their 37- and need 30 yards to be in field-goal range. Schiano decided to try the field goal. It was shanked. Brees went 54 yards, sweatlessly, to the winning chip-shot field goal as the clock expired. Bad decision by a coach under fire.