You can follow Charles Robinson on Twitter at @YahooSportsNFL.
A monster has been born.
If you like brash talking, finger-wagging and establishment poking then you're going to love following the Jets this season. They're the anti-Patriots.
While the rest of the league has largely gone out of its way to speak deferentially about The Kingdom (otherwise known as New England), the Jets have stuck a thumb in the eye of King Belichick and Prince Brady – from Day 1. Whether it was safety Kerry Rhodes(notes) saying New York wanted to "embarrass" the Patriots, or coach Rex Ryan saying he wasn't going to "kiss" Bill Belichick's ring, the Jets have delivered a not-so-subtle message of defiance. And it was reinforced when linebacker Bart Scott(notes) proclaimed the team would be "going after" Brady on Sunday.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't shaking my head and wondering if the Jets hadn't learned from the mistakes of the past. We'd seen this kind of boldness betray other teams, serving only to stoke New England's fire and end in embarrassment for the players who had done the pregame chirping. Little could we have imagined the Jets would, as Brady might put it, do their talking on the field, too.
But Scott and Rhodes did just that, flustering Brady all afternoon and holding the New England offense to only 299 yards and three field goals. Indeed, while Brady was never sacked, he was hurried almost all game long. And it led to pedestrian numbers. He completed 23 of 47 passes for 216 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. That pick came via Darrelle Revis(notes), the cornerback largely responsible for holding Andre Johnson(notes) and Randy Moss(notes) to a grand total of eight catches for 59 yards in back-to-back weeks.
Meanwhile, the Jets offense was subtly effective, relying on a steady running game and opportunistic play of rookie Mark Sanchez(notes), who completed 14 of 22 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. The Joe Flacco(notes)/Baltimore comparisons are redundant, but the more you see this team play, the more it's reminiscent of how the Ravens developed into a dominant team last season.
One thing is certain: much like the Ravens, Ryan and the Jets will be unapologetic in winning. As Ryan said after beating the Patriots, "We believe that we are the better team today."
You'll get no argument in this column.
On to Sunday's other winners and losers:
• The Cincinnati Bengals defense and Antwan Odom
Last week's game against Denver was not an illusion. Indeed, this is a good defense. The six sacks, five by Odom, befuddled a potent Green Bay offense and helped hold Greg Jennings(notes), the team's top wideout, without a catch. Take a moment to peruse the Bengals defense and you'll see nice young pieces all over the place. This unit will only get better this season. And yes, Cincinnati should be 2-0.
• The Houston Texans
They needed to bounce back in the worst way after having their offense shut out at home against the Jets. Not only did the Texans beat a Tennessee team that should be an AFC South power, but the offensive line was far more impressive in Week 2, keeping quarterback Matt Schaub(notes) virtually untouched. The group played with some nastiness, too, not backing down from Tennessee's physical nature. And you just knew Andre Johnson was going to rebound big after getting shut down in Week 1. Two touchdowns and 149 receiving yards later, people can back off the panic button in Houston.
• The New York Giants wideouts
Remember when we said the Giants don't have a go-to receiver? It doesn't seem to bother quarterback Eli Manning much. And it shouldn't if he keeps getting gritty contributions from guys like Mario Manningham and Steve Smith. Neither has mind-blowing size and speed, but each went out against a good Dallas defense and caught 10 passes and a touchdown. That's not a fluke, and it might be even more difficult to prepare for than one dominant No. 1. Why? When teams can spread the ball around to whomever the defense offers, the only way to slow a passing game is to pressure the quarterback. And with the Giants' offensive line, that's a tall order.
• Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan(notes)
It looked like Ryan was ready to take a big step forward this preseason, and now we're seeing that potential realized. Tony Gonzalez(notes) has opened up the offense, allowing Ryan to consistently find players singled up or open in space. This was evidenced by Ryan's three touchdown passes in the win over Carolina going to three players, including third-string running back Jason Snelling(notes). It's not the flashiest team in the world right now, but Ryan has moved the Falcons to a 2-0 start in a tough early schedule.
• Green Bay Packers CB Charles Woodson(notes)
Woodson picked off two Carson Palmer(notes) passes, returning one for a touchdown. That's Woodson's sixth defensive touchdown in four years with Green Bay. It's getting to the point where you have to wonder if Woodson's body of work for the Packers is better than what he produced for the Raiders. Other than drafting Aaron Rodgers(notes), the signing of Woodson has been the best move made by Packers general manager Ted Thompson.
• Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre(notes)
The win over Detroit was almost what the Vikings want from him. He was a point guard on offense, handing the ball off and efficiently completing 23 of 27 passes for 155 yards with two short touchdowns. So far, the Favre era has been very balanced and consistent.
• Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson
The Titans lost, but you can't blame Johnson, who put up an absurd 284 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. He's one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL – not as physical as Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, but more versatile. His 91-yard touchdown was a defensive coordinator's nightmare. When he gets through the middle of the line untouched, opposing safeties and linebackers are usually in for a foot race (which they are almost sure to lose).
• Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner(notes)
Just when you think it's time to worry, Warner goes out and completes 15 straight passes and ties Arizona's franchise record. Warner finished 24 of 26 and reminded us how good he looks when he's not ducking pressure and getting the ball out of the pocket quickly. The remarkable thing, Larry Fitzgerald(notes) caught only four passes, leaving much of the load to Steve Breaston(notes) (five catches for 83 yards) and Anquan Boldin(notes) (eight catches for 69 yards). We saw some explosive glimpses from Beanie Wells in that running game, too.
• Oakland Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell(notes)
Savor it, Raiders fans. I'm not sure how often you'll see Russell on this side of the ledger, but he gets the nod for making the throws when they counted most. In spite of a woeful offensive game, Russell commandeered a nine-play game-winning drive that started with only 2:30 left on the clock. He completed four passes – the last two for 37 yards – and overcame three penalties on the drive. One can only hope it's a momentum- (and confidence-) builder in Russell's favor.
• Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler(notes)
What a difference a week makes, eh? Cutler goes from a horrible four-interception opener against a 3-4 defense to throwing for two touchdowns and no picks (and 236 yards) against one of the NFL's best 3-4. It helps that his protection was remarkably better, but Cutler was decisive and consistently made smart throws. His game-winning drive in the fourth quarter was nothing short of excellent. For a week, all is forgiven in the Windy City.
• New Orleans Saints WR Marques Colston(notes)
We could put quarterback Drew Brees(notes) in this spot every week, particularly if Colston stays healthy and plays like he did Sunday, when he caught two touchdowns against Philadelphia. He's been overshadowed by Brees (which is justified), and also by Reggie Bush(notes) (not justified). But Colston is on that cusp of being an elite No. 1 wideout, and he'd probably be there now if the Saints didn't have such a diversity of weapons around him.
• San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore(notes)
It's worth mentioning that 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill(notes) is now 9-3 as a starter. But Sunday's game ball belongs to Gore, who scorched Seattle's defense for 207 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Gore finished with 246 total yards from scrimmage, but his 79- and 80-yard touchdown runs were the real jaw-droppers. If he can consistently carry the offensive load, this team is good enough defensively to compete and win in the NFC West. A 2-0 start, with wins over the two toughest competitors in the division, says a lot about where the 49ers are going this year.
• The Buffalo Bills offense
Let's be real: This team should be 2-0. And while they're not, the offense bounced back sufficiently to make you think the Bills could still muster a fight in the AFC East. Yes, it was against a poor Tampa Bay defense, but the Bills largely controlled the game from start to finish. Wideout Terrell Owens(notes) got a much needed touchdown catch, and what more can you say about running back Fred Jackson(notes)? The guy is a beast who should not lose his starting job when Marshawn Lynch(notes) comes back from suspension.
• Elvis Dumervil(notes) and the Denver Broncos defense
They've allowed 13 points through the first two weeks and looked balanced and fast in pretty much every phase of the game. Dumervil's four sacks tied a franchise record and created chaos for Cleveland (which doesn't have an impressive offense to begin with). Browns quarterback Brady Quinn(notes) vacillated from discomfort to confusion most of the game, which helped pave the way for Denver's developing offense. Ultimately, the defense is carrying this team and setting the tone right now.
• Baltimore Ravens RB Willis McGahee(notes)
The defense hasn't been spectacular, but it has come through in spots. Right now the offense is carrying and winning games, and McGahee's work in the red zone has factored in significantly. He's got four touchdowns from inside the 5-yard line in the first two games. Coaches will tell you how huge that impacts momentum – being able to punch it in. Look at Washington's box score from this weekend or ask Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin about the importance. Don't doubt it: McGahee's rebirth is a huge part of where this team is going.
• The Titans defense
Falling to 0-2 and wasting 449 yards on offense is a tough pill to swallow. And zero sacks while allowing 420 yards in the loss to Houston is uncharacteristic of a Jeff Fisher-coached team. The secondary had issues with Andre Johnson and Jacoby Jones(notes), but at least part of that can be attributed to an impotent pass rush. It's not time to start mentioning Albert Haynesworth(notes), but if the pass rush puts up a few more of these games, the correlation will be inevitable.
• The Carolina Panthers
Every season, we see an 0-2 team that we think could still be a playoff team. The Panthers look like that team, but they lack consistency. Particularly on defense, where they have yet to sack a starter (last week's two sacks came against Kevin Kolb(notes)). Next week's Monday night game has the feel of a must-win situation. You don't want to go into a bye 0-3 and still facing a brutal slate in the second half of the season (look at the Panthers' last eight games – not pretty).
• The Detroit Lions
They fell apart in the second half against Minnesota, a collapse that mirrored a lot of last season's losses. You know how coaches talk about teams that are mentally tough? This team is far from fitting that mode. On the bright side, next week's game against Washington is very winnable.
• Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
Let's see … he lost the last game in the old, historic stadium, and then lost the first game in the new, glitzy one. Anyone who knows Jerry Jones knows that is going to drive him nuts. On the bright side, nobody hit the scoreboard with a punt. Progress!
• The Green Bay Packers offensive line
OK, that's two weeks now that quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been knocked around. That's scary when you remember that Rodgers had some injury issues early in his career. Last week it was Adewale Ogunleye(notes) doing the damage, and this week it was Antwan Odom. It's worrisome that the three players beat up the most have been the tackles: Right tackle Allen Barbre(notes) (last week) and left tackles Chad Clifton(notes) and Daryn Colledge(notes) (this week). This offense has the ability to be great, but that can't happen if Rodgers is getting pounded every week.
• The Kansas City Chiefs
Three straight losses at Arrowhead Stadium to Oakland … at a time when the Raiders have been a bad team. That has to sting. The nine penalties and two interceptions nullified an offense that rolled up a surprising 409 yards. Watch the game and you'll see this is still a mistake-prone team that has yet to catch on to the discipline that head coach Todd Haley demands. But they will get better. Just wait.
• The New England Patriots running game
We can talk about the Jets' blitzing until we're blue in the face, but New England doesn't look like a team that can sustain a drive by running the football when it's necessary. Is the offense potent? Certainly. But it will be nothing more than a finesse unit that can be knocked off its axis by well-executed blitz pressure. At some point, New England has to become a solid running team, too.
• The Seattle Seahawks
Just like last season, this team's fortunes are going to be in direct correlation to quarterback Matt Hasselebeck's health. Seeing him take that direct shot in the back – which was his major health issue last season – had to make everyone on Seattle's sideline queasy. Losing linebacker Leroy Hill(notes) for an extended period is one thing. Losing Hasselbeck for more than a game or two would be disastrous.
• The Pittsburgh Steelers pass rush
Two weeks and two sacks: Not the start everyone expected from the illustrious defense that wreaked havoc all of last season. Teams are finding ways to throw two and three players at outside linebackers James Harrison(notes) and LaMarr Woodley(notes), who have yet to get a sack after registering a combined 27½ last year. Even without safety Troy Polamalu(notes), it was disturbing to see that defense surrender 10 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning drive that included three Cutler completions.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Loved: ESPN's "Mayne Event" feature on Twitter was slightly amusing. Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light's(notes) cameo made it worthwhile. I've never been a big fan of the Kenny Mayne feature, but it has its moments.
Loathed: The condescending lead in to the Twitter feature by Chris Berman. Berman repeated (in a tone of utter disdain) a few lines of Chad Ochocinco(notes) and Nick Barnett(notes) trash talking on Twitter, then added this editorial gem: "That's great. That's the way to get ready for football." If he loathes it so much, ESPN should have chosen someone else to do the lead-in. Maybe Berman should realize that a large portion of ESPN's core demographic enjoys the playful banter of NFL players on Twitter.
Loved: Andre Johnson's amazing 19-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. It was overthrown, but he stretched and tipped it to himself and then kept his feet in bounds. Every time I see him make a ridiculous play, I just think about how the Lions took Charles Rogers(notes) one pick in front of him during the 2003 NFL draft.
Loathed: Seeing Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall(notes) give up a touchdown to St. Louis wideout Laurent Robinson(notes). Last week, he whiffed on a score by Giants wideout Mario Manningham(notes). Not a good start for Hall.
Loved: Watching Patriots seventh-round pick Julian Edelman(notes) play out of the slot. He's a Wes Welker(notes) clone: smallish, quick and great hands. The former Kent State quarterback looks like he's going to be a great pickup in that system.
Loathed: The first half of Oakland and Kansas City, which produced a 3-3 score. It made you wish the NFL could black out games after the first quarter.
Loved: Seeing what tight end Tony Gonzalez has added to the Falcons. He's still playing at his peak at 33 years old. The Carolina Panthers had a linebacker and safety bracketing him at times – something that will be almost required in the red zone. He makes that offense exponentially more difficult to handle.
Loathed: All the attention given to the attire of the Jets and coach Rex Ryan when they arrived for Sunday's game. Ryan was wearing a lime green short-sleeved T-shirt and some of his players were wearing sweatshirts. Tom Brady(notes) wore a nice designer suit. The television shots of teams getting off the bus are so overplayed. Who cares what they are wearing?
Loved: The crowd at Detroit's Ford Field. There were times that your TV vibrated from the noise. Other fan bases get more hype, but Detroit's fans are as passionate as any of them. If that franchise ever fields a consistent winner, Ford Field will be a brutal place to play.
Loathed: The Redskins' inefficiency in the red zone. Three drives stalled at or inside the St. Louis 10-yard line. A quicker third-down back would make that offense more dynamic in those situations.
- Rex Ryan
- New England