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Monday seemed like a monumental day in the NFL.
Ben Roethlisberger is done for the season with an elbow injury. Drew Brees is out about six weeks with a thumb injury. The New York Giants wouldn’t commit to Eli Manning starting in Week 3, and then on Tuesday officially made the switch to Daniel Jones. All three of those quarterbacks will likely end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day.
The Giants were not going anywhere with Manning and probably won’t be much better with Jones. But the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints each had their seasons take a U-turn with the bad news on their quarterbacks.
The Steelers are in much worse shape of the two. They’re 0-2 and their quarterback isn’t coming back, perhaps ever. Roethlisberger will be 38 next year, not a good age to try to come back from a season-ending elbow injury. He said he wants to return next season, but there are still a lot of questions ahead. And Pittsburgh didn’t have a proven backup.
Mason Rudolph’s first passes on Sunday were the first of his NFL career. He has acquitted himself fairly well in his two preseasons, for what it’s worth: 52-of-77 for 683 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. He settled in well on Sunday when he had to take over for Roethlisberger, finishing with 112 yards, two touchdowns and an interception that went right through Donte Moncrief’s hands. Based on what we’ve seen of Rudolph in the NFL, there’s hope the dropoff won’t be too severe.
But there’s not much of a track record. We don’t know yet if Rudolph can be an average starter. Rudolph is big (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) and was productive at Oklahoma State. He fell to the third round in 2018, though it was a deep quarterback draft. He came from a shotgun-heavy spread attack and was considered a project for the NFL. He sat a season and learned, which might pay off.
The stakes are high. The Steelers aren’t going to be happy with a losing season, regardless of the circumstances. Maybe Mike Tomlin’s seat might get hot if the Steelers fall too far. Rudolph has a great chance to establish himself in Pittsburgh’s long-term plans, or he might force the Steelers to invest in another quarterback if he struggles. He’s a mystery, and so is this team. It’s hard to imagine them making the playoffs unless Rudolph is a pleasant surprise.
Teddy Bridgewater has significant experience, but he has become a bit of an unknown as well.
The Saints believe in him. Last year they traded a third-round pick to the Jets for Bridgewater and a sixth-round pick. When Bridgewater became a free agent the Saints made him the league’s highest-paid backup quarterback at $7.25 million over one year. But Bridgewater’s results with the Saints over two seasons haven’t been great.
In one full game and most of another, Bridgewater is 31-of-53 for 283 yards, one touchdown and one interception for an uninspiring 71.5 passer rating. Aside from two incompletions in 2017, that’s the extent of his play since a devastating knee injury wiped out his 2016 season.
Maybe Bridgewater will be a lot better with a full week of preparation as the starter, with an engaged Saints team. (His lone start was in Week 17 last year with the team resting players.) The Saints must feel he can perform at a high level, given what they have invested in him. If Brees misses six games and Bridgewater can go 3-3, that puts them in position to remain in the race for a suddenly soft NFC South. Talk of using Taysom Hill more as a run-first quarterback doesn’t make sense. The Saints have paid up for Bridgewater, and they need him to succeed.
Roethlisberger has been the Steelers’ starting quarterback since 2004. Brees has held that job for the Saints since 2006. It will be a shock to the system to see other quarterbacks leading those teams. If the pair of contenders are going to stay relevant this season, it will be on the shoulders of two new starters.
Here are the NFL Power Rankings after Week 2 of the season:
32. Miami Dolphins (0-2, Last week: 32)
In 1923, the Rochester Jeffersons — yes, that was a real NFL team — had a point differential of minus-116 after two games, according to ESPN. The Dolphins’ minus-92 looks better now doesn’t it? Miami is tied for the third-worst point differential in NFL history after two games (the 1961 Raiders were minus-99 and the 1973 Saints were also minus-92). We could be watching something historically awful from the Dolphins. And that was before trading Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of their competent players.
31. Washington Redskins (0-2, LW: 31)
Rookie receiver Terry McLaurin looks like a good find. The third-round pick has 187 yards and two touchdowns through two games. He’s a nice story in a season that might not contain too many other positives.
30. New York Giants (0-2, LW: 29)
The Giants did the right thing moving on to Daniel Jones. Eli Manning will always be beloved in the organization, but New York isn’t very good and it’s time to look to the future.
29. New York Jets (0-2, LW: 22)
This is going to get ugly. And it’s becoming clear Adam Gase isn’t the type of coach who can maximize whatever talent he actually has on hand.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2, LW: 27)
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey wants a trade after a sideline confrontation with coach Doug Marrone. Either the Jaguars deal their best player or they are stuck with someone who doesn’t want to be there anymore and could be disruptive. This Jaguars season turned into a mess very fast.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (0-2, LW: 25)
All of the air came out of the balloon. In Week 1 the Bengals were a surprise, even in a loss. They outplayed Seattle. Then they came home and got blasted by the 49ers. They gave up 572 yards. If you had to guess which game was a preview of what we’ll see from the Bengals this season, the Week 2 loss seems like a better bet.
26. Denver Broncos (0-2, LW: 26)
If the Bears miss a field goal at the end, we’re talking about Joe Flacco being clutch and Vic Fangio’s guts after going for two and the win. The reality is the Broncos are 0-2 and headed for a tough Week 3 challenge at Green Bay.
25. Arizona Cardinals (0-1-1, LW: 28)
Kliff Kingsbury kicking three field goals from inside the 5-yard line isn’t what you’d expect from someone who is hailed as a young, dynamic offensive mastermind. Those conservative decisions stung in a six-point loss. Kingsbury hopefully is learning that 22-yard field goals won’t win many NFL games.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1, LW: 30)
Is Chris Godwin the Buccaneers’ new No. 1 receiver? It looked like it against the Panthers. No matter, either Godwin or Mike Evans might be the best No. 2 receiver on any team.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-2, LW: 14)
This will be a big 14-game stretch for Mike Tomlin. Maybe the Steelers won’t fire him no matter what. That’s not their style. But if Tomlin can pull the Steelers out of an 0-2 hole with Mason Rudolph at quarterback, it will be one of his best coaching jobs. The Steelers take a big fall in the rankings until we see what Rudolph can do. This season could spiral on the Steelers in a hurry (which is why it was a bit curious they traded a 2020 first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick).
22. Oakland Raiders (1-1, LW: 23)
Patrick Mahomes is great. Sometimes you just get beat by a great player. Mahomes threw four touchdowns in a quarter, and each throw was magnificent. Sunday’s loss was not what the Raiders wanted, but not necessarily an indictment either. We’ll see how the Raiders bounce back when they’re not playing the league’s best quarterback.
21. Carolina Panthers (0-2, LW: 16)
The Panthers are 0-2 and have some serious questions about Cam Newton in a new role. But here’s the funny thing: If you had said the Saints would be without Drew Brees for an extended time, the Falcons look mediocre at best and the Buccaneers’ offense hasn’t looked sharp, you’d have guessed the Panthers would be the NFC South favorite. There’s still time for Carolina to turn it around in a division that isn’t that tough.
20. Detroit Lions (1-0-1, LW: 24)
T.J. Hockenson followed up his record-setting debut with a single catch for 7 yards. Not many rookie tight ends have instant success. At least the Lions got the win, even as they figure out what will work best on offense.
19. Atlanta Falcons (1-1, LW: 21)
It’s hard to be impressed yet. The Falcons tried to give away Sunday’s game, but one big play by Julio Jones (with big assists on blocks by left tackle Jake Matthews and receiver Mohamed Sanu) saved them. They’ll have to play a lot better going forward.
18. Cleveland Browns (1-1, LW: 17)
Myles Garrett is going to make a run at NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Jets offense was dysfunctional but nobody could block Garrett. He had three sacks on Monday night.
17. Tennessee Titans (1-1, LW: 12)
What a disappointing loss to the Colts. You’d think the Titans had figured out they need to ride Derrick Henry hard. Henry averaged 5.4 yards per carry ... and played only 50 percent of the snaps. Maybe it will be like last season, when the Titans wasted three months before using Henry as the foundation of their offense.
16. Indianapolis Colts (1-1, LW: 18)
The Colts might end up being the best team in the AFC South after all. To come out of their first two games, at the Chargers and at the Titans, with a win and an overtime loss is a good start. If the Colts win the division, start engraving the NFL Coach of the Year trophy with Frank Reich’s name.
15. Houston Texans (1-1, LW: 13)
Carlos Hyde has been a solid find off the scrap heap. He had 90 yards on 20 carries on Sunday and took most of the snaps instead of Duke Johnson. Maybe that was just the game plan against a tough Jaguars defense, but Hyde has been good so far in Houston.
14. Chicago Bears (1-1, LW: 10)
The offense is broken. The crazy last-second win saves a lot of grief for the next week, but Chicago isn’t going anywhere unless the offense gets significantly better. That starts with Mitchell Trubisky, who has not played well enough.
13. New Orleans Saints (1-1, LW: 3)
Teddy Bridgewater is a great story and he’s easy to root for. But the legend of Bridgewater outpaces the results. Sure, he played well for the Jets in the 2017 preseason. He hasn’t played great in a small sample size for the Saints, and that includes this preseason. His signature season was 2015, when he had 14 touchdowns in 16 games for the Vikings. This is a huge stretch for Bridgewater. He needs to play well with a lot of talent around him and Sean Payton calling plays.
12. San Francisco 49ers (2-0, LW: 20)
It doesn’t matter if the Buccaneers and Bengals aren’t very good. Two road wins to start the season is fine. The offense really clicked on Sunday. Now the 49ers come home to face a Steelers team without Ben Roethlisberger. Kyle Shanahan needed this kind of start to his third season.
11. Minnesota Vikings (1-1, LW: 9)
That Kirk Cousins interception, on first-and-goal with Minnesota trailing 21-16 in the fourth quarter, was awful. The Vikings, aside from the first quarter on Sunday at Green Bay, have played very well. But they’re not going anywhere if Cousins can’t elevate his game.
10. Seattle Seahawks (2-0, LW: 15)
The Seahawks were outplayed by the Bengals in Week 1 and caught a break when Ben Roethlisberger blew out his elbow in Week 2. I’m not fully buying in quite yet. But 2-0 is 2-0, and the Seahawks will take it.
9. Buffalo Bills (2-0, LW: 19)
The Bills should be 3-0 in a week; they get the Bengals at home on Sunday. And that will set up a Patriots at Bills game that will be very, very interesting.
8. Los Angeles Chargers (1-1, LW: 7)
The Chargers found a way to lose. They had two touchdowns nullified by penalties on the same drive. Austin Ekeler fumbled at the goal line. And then Philip Rivers threw an inexcusable interception into heavy coverage with a little more than a minute to go. Why do the Chargers always have these awful self-inflicted losses?
7. Baltimore Ravens (2-0, LW: 11)
Last season, the Ravens looked like they had a win at Kansas City before a miraculous fourth-down pass by Patrick Mahomes kept the Chiefs alive and they won in overtime. The Ravens look great through two games this season, but this weekend’s game at Arrowhead Stadium will be a better test.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (1-1, LW: 5)
Sunday night was a game that you had to watch to appreciate how well Carson Wentz played. Statistically it wasn’t his best, but his toughness was on full display. Still, the Eagles’ injury situation is getting troubling.
5. Green Bay Packers (2-0, LW: 6)
The two wins are nice but the offensive issues are still there. The Packers gained 176 yards and had 21 points on their first three possessions. On their last 11 drives, the offense gained 154 yards and had no points. The Vikings have a very good defense, but an offense with Aaron Rodgers needs to be better than that.
4. Dallas Cowboys (2-0, LW: 8)
Washington might not be great, but going on the road and handling a division rival like the Cowboys did says something. The Cowboys’ offensive line was great; Dak Prescott had all day on some of his throws.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (2-0, LW: 4)
Demarcus Robinson has always been an interesting talent but the production hasn’t been there. Was a 172-yard game on Sunday the sign of a breakout?
2. Los Angeles Rams (2-0, LW: 2)
Seeing Cooper Kupp go for 120 yards was a great sign. He showed a lot of strength and explosion on a 66-yard catch-and-run that was just short of a touchdown. Coming off a torn ACL, it was fantastic to see Kupp look like he’s 100 percent.
1. New England Patriots (2-0, LW: 1)
I’m not sure what you can take from any win against the Dolphins, but it’s clear that as long as Antonio Brown is on the field, he’s going to elevate Tom Brady’s play. Not that Brady needed much help.
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