September 21, 2011
The 2007 New York Giants won Super Bowl XLII despite an 0-2 start, but that team proved to be the exception rather than the rule. When the G-Men defeated the previously undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, they were playing against type, and not just as underdogs in that game.
Since 1990, teams that get off to an 0-2 start have just a 12 percent chance of making the playoffs, while 64 percent of teams with 2-0 starts have managed to make the postseason. The Giants proved that anything can happen once you get there, but for seven teams this season, getting there will be much tougher because of their winless beginnings. The Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams are all in the same hole, with different levels of realistic hope when it comes to getting out.
Chiefs head coach Todd Haley has quipped that "the season will not be canceled, as far as I know," but in reality, it might as well be for his team. When you lose your best offensive player (running back Jamaal Charles(notes)) and your best defensive player (safety Eric Berry(notes)) to season-ending injuries in the first two games of the season, it's hard to know where to go, especially after the Buffalo Bills made Kansas City's pass defense look like a joke after Berry went out in the first quarter of the first game.
Coaching may or may not be the issue, but according to Yahoo's Mike Silver, it's the perception that coaching is the issue that may spell the end for Haley. Silver reported on Monday that the divide between Haley and Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli is wide and very well-known, and if there is a sword to fall upon for the defending AFC West champions, it most likely won't belong to Pioli. Silver also hypothesizes that Pioli could cast a net for his old New England buddy Josh McDaniels as a replacement, which could lead to an entirely new level of dysfunction.
The Seahawks are another team decimated by injuries; they've lost valuable free agents (receiver Sidney Rice(notes) and left guard Robert Gallery(notes)) for undetermined lengths of time, and their call to bank on the NFL's youngest offensive line has not paid the dividends they expected. Still, head coach Pete Carroll has done his best to stay positive. When asked about what previous slow starts taught him about motivation, Carroll said that all a coach can do is to try and navigate his team out of the mess.
"It's real similar to my first year at USC and what it felt like there," Carroll said on Wednesday. "We really struggled to find ourselves and the players that would emerge. So, we just had to maintain hope and keep our eye on the target, and also stay with the mentality that every day is so important. That you keep going back to the focus that you can control, which is the one right in front of you. That's exactly the message that we're on right now and when we bust out, we bust out. Until then, we keep stepping and marching toward getting right. I have to be great at it. I have to make sure that I'm consistent and that our coaches are consistent and that's the only message that we know. It's the only chance we have."
If that sounds like a semi-desperate coach trying to put the best spin on the bad situation … well, you'll find that a lot among the current 0-2 teams. Minnesota's Leslie Frazier, whose team blew fourth-quarter leads to the San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to find themselves in the wrong end of the wins column, is now contending with an offense that has scored exactly three points total in four quarters of second-half football.
Minnesota's concerns go beyond injury to current personnel and the correct usage of players. Despite the fact that receiver Percy Harvin(notes) is the team's best remaining playmaker in the passing game, it was recently revealed that Harvin has been on the field in less than half of the Vikings' snaps through two games, despite no obvious injury concerns and the fact that Minnesota has scored just 30 points all season. Quarterback Donovan McNabb(notes), the team's primary offseason acquisition, is floundering as a result.
"We know what Percy is capable of doing," Frazier recently said. "He's a big-time playmaker, whether it's on kickoff return or playing wide receiver. It's just a matter of our using his strengths for our greatest advantage, for our team's greatest advantage, picking our spots when we do that. I think we're taking the right approach with Percy, with his reps and the packages we use him in. It's the right approach."
Other teams have obvious concerns that no amount of roster spackle will solve. When the Colts lost quarterback Peyton Manning(notes) for much (if not all) of the 2011 season, there was no adequate way to replace the quarterback who may be more important to his team than any other in the league's history. That's why coaches like New England's Bill Belichick, who led his team to an 11-5 record in 2008 despite losing Tom Brady(notes) for all but one quarter of the season, would prefer to keep the playcalling, offensive coordination, and player discipline to himself. Manning's impact has been beyond remarkable, but without him, the Colts look like a CFL team, and that's hard to manage.
Perhaps the most intriguing 0-2 team to date is the Carolina Panthers, who had one of the NFL's worst offenses in recent memory in 2010, but have turned everything around with the addition of 2011 first overall pick Cam Newton. Last Sunday against the defensive Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, Newton became the first NFL quarterback to throw for over 400 yards in his first two starts. The Panthers couldn't run the ball, and their defense fell short, but Newton has that team on the right track, and at the very least, they'll be exciting to watch this season.
That can't be as easily said for teams like the Rams and Dolphins, who struggle in ways that will almost certainly keep them out of the postseason. The Rams are rebuilding around a franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford(notes), but they're still struggling to give him the right weapons in Bradford's second NFL season. The Dolphins seem to have everything required for the jump over mediocrity, but quarterback Chad Henne(notes) has raised more questions than he has provided answers. Perhaps if the two teams could combine to create one super-team, their problems would be solved.
All too frequently, that's the story with teams that start out 0-2 — they're buying time for any number of reasons, and patience is the only option. Most likely, the postseason is not an option to be considered.
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