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Last season, Tom Brady looked like he lost a little bit. Not much, but some. That was normal. He was 41.
Then, at 42, he looks like he got it all back and then some. And that’s probably going to continue, thanks to his newest weapon in the New England Patriots’ offense.
The Antonio Brown impact is undeniable. There can be debates about his professionalism and whether he should have been playing after he was accused in a civil lawsuit this past week of sexual assault. There might be questions over whether Brown will play all season with that case hanging over him.
But this is indisputable: Brown is still one of the best receivers in the NFL, and as long as he’s in the lineup he’s going to help Brady look even better. He also might make the Patriots unbeatable. They looked strong again in a 43-0 win over the hapless Miami Dolphins.
Brady didn’t waste time getting Brown involved. He targeted him on Brown’s first play in the game, New England’s second play from scrimmage. Brown gained 18 on that play, then 10 on his third play and 8 more on his fifth play. Brown didn’t start the game but came in right away and made an immediate impact. Brady seemed to like his new target.
Brady’s touchdown pass to Brown showed exactly how Brown can help keep Brady at the top of his game, even at an age in which no quarterback has ever had significant success. Brady threw a back-shoulder pass to Brown, who made a tremendous adjustment on the ball and hauled it in for the score. Another receiver, it might have been incomplete. With Brown, it goes in the books as a 20-yard touchdown pass for Brady.
Brady looked sharp last week without Brown. Josh Gordon certainly helped with that. The Patriots came into training camp with big questions at receiver and looked like they might need to rely on rookies. They started the season with perhaps the best receiving group in football, between Brown, Gordon and Julian Edelman. It’s not fair that the Super Bowl champs look even better.
Brady is obviously great, with an incredible run that spans almost two decades. He has thrown to some of the greatest receivers ever, and has been stuck with subpar groups too. With Brady at an age in which he could see a significant decline at any time, giving him a great group of receivers will help him stay young. Having Brown means he doesn’t have to be perfect. Brown can make any quarterback look better, even the guy with the greatest NFL resume ever.
It wasn’t perfect for Brady and Brown on Sunday. There was a third-down play near the goal line in which the timing between the duo was off and the pass fell incomplete. But given how complex New England’s offense can be, it said a lot about Brown’s ability that he came in and looked mostly comfortable right away. It will get only better as the two practice more together.
Sunday was like a walkthrough for the Patriots against a Dolphins team that looks like it could be one of the worst teams in modern history. It was a good way for Brown to get acclimated. It’s hard to say what will happen with Brown’s off-field issues, as it relates to NFL discipline. But if Brown plays all season, he will keep Brady’s prime going a while longer.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Sunday’s Week 2 action:
Los Angeles Rams, though there are still some issues: It’s OK to be a little underwhelmed by a 2-0 team.
In Week 1 the Rams beat the Panthers, but they got almost no big plays out of the passing game. In Week 2 they were stuck on six points until the fourth quarter. They were fortunate Drew Brees was knocked out of the game, and that the offense came to life in the fourth quarter. Maybe the fourth quarter, with a trio of touchdowns, is a sign the Rams are awakening a bit. The Rams ended up winning 27-9 as Teddy Bridgewater struggled badly in relief of Brees.
The Rams can figure out their issues with a 2-0 record. That’s the good news. But the explosive, fun offense of early last season hasn’t emerged this season. Maybe that’s still rust from not playing in the preseason. Perhaps scaling Todd Gurley way back due to his knee is a part of it. The Rams are 2-0, but they can’t be entirely happy with how it has looked.
Dak Prescott: At some point, Prescott will have no reason to negotiate with the Dallas Cowboys. He’ll let the Cowboys crawl to him with the deal he wants.
Prescott looked great again on Sunday in a 31-21 win over the Redskins. His great Week 1 performance was a message the Cowboys might regret not locking him up to a long-term deal before the season started. He was sharp in Week 2, as well. He completed 18 straight passes at one point. He rushed for 69 yards, the second-most of his career. He threw for 269 yards and three touchdowns. He is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL.
Prescott has a lot of enticing receiving targets, including a surprisingly spry Jason Witten and emerging Michael Gallup. He has made a ton of plays through two weeks, the Cowboys look fantastic and they’re in great shape at 2-0.
Their biggest problem might be how much to pay Prescott.
Houston Texans, barely: Credit Jaguars coach Doug Marrone for going for the two-point conversion when his rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew led a scoring drive in the last minute to cut Houston’s lead to 13-12. It was the right call, it just didn’t work. Barely.
The Jaguars handed to Leonard Fournette up the middle to go for the win. Fournette was stopped by the slightest of margins, and Jacksonville might argue he got in. Texans safety Justin Reid held Fournette out, inches away from the score. The call stood after review.
Houston had one heartbreaking loss on the final play last week at New Orleans. Sunday’s win wasn’t pretty, but the seasonal outlook would have been much worse had Fournette got in the end zone.
Matt LaFleur, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ fast start in the NFC North: The first two games haven’t been perfect for the Packers but their record looks good.
They are 2-0 with wins over the Bears and Vikings, which will be valuable all season. Green Bay started fast against Minnesota and held on for a 21-16 win.
Green Bay’s new offense with LaFleur looked sharp early. Rodgers threw two touchdowns in the first quarter. Aaron Jones’ touchdown run gave Green Bay a 21-0 lead. The offense bogged down after that, like it did in Week 1 at Chicago. There are things to work on.
But Green Bay can work on those issues as the early favorite in the NFC North. If the offense improves, it could be a Super Bowl contender too.
Zac Taylor and the Cincinnati Bengals: That surprising Week 1 performance in a close loss at Seattle seemed to mean very little for the Bengals.
Cincinnati came home and got embarrassed 41-17 by the San Francisco 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo got hot early and hit some long touchdowns. The 49ers ran wild with a trio of running backs. They had 259 rushing yards. The Bengals looked … well, like we thought the Bengals would look.
Cincinnati has a new coach in Taylor and a roster that needs an influx of talent. The game at Seattle, in which the Bengals outplayed the Seahawks but lost by a point, looks like it might be an aberration. It could end up being a long rookie season for Taylor.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans were the most surprising team of Week 1, with a 43-13 drubbing of the Cleveland Browns.
Now they’re a 1-1 team that dropped a crucial divisional game at home.
The Titans were flat against a Colts team that is battling hard in the post-Andrew Luck era. Indy took a late lead on a Jacoby Brissett touchdown to T.Y. Hilton and then held on a fourth-and-2 to seal a 19-17 win.
The Titans looked like they might be the class of the AFC South after one week. Maybe we’ll look back on that Browns win as being a fluke.
The cursed Chargers: There’s no team in the NFL with worse luck, year after year, than the Los Angeles Chargers.
Already saddled with injuries and running back Melvin Gordon holding out, the Chargers found a way to lose a winnable game at Detroit. Of course they did.
In the third quarter, the Chargers had two touchdowns nullified by penalty, and at the end of that drive Austin Ekeler lost a fumble at the 1-yard line. Find another team that can pull that off.
Then in the final minutes, when a field goal could have tied a 13-10 game, Philip Rivers was picked off by Darius Slay. Game over.
The Chargers are 1-1, but given injuries to key players like Hunter Henry and Derwin James, along with their ability to lose games in mysterious ways, it could end up being another frustrating season.
Kliff Kingsbury’s conservative ways: One of the reasons a team hires a young coach is they bring in new, bold ideas. They don’t punt in opponent’s territory. And they don’t kick field goals inside the 5-yard line.
Kingsbury should have known better. Check out this amazing stat from the Cardinals’ 23-17 loss at the Baltimore Ravens:
Ouch. Arizona had field goals from 22, 21 and 21 yards. Think a little more aggression might have helped in a six-point loss?
The Cardinals battled and Kyler Murray had 349 yards, but it was a very unsatisfying loss. Arizona is 0-1-1. Their new coach is learning some things about the NFL.
Vic Fangio: Fangio had his first NFL win as a head coach, and then suddenly he didn’t.
The Denver Broncos looked like they had a thrilling victory after a bold decision by Fangio to go for two and the lead paid off. But then Fangio’s defense gave up too many yards in the final 31 seconds. Bradley Chubb had a controversial roughing-the-passer penalty. Allen Robinson made a fourth-down catch and the Bears got a timeout with one second left. Eddy Pineiro put an offseason’s worth of Bears kicker stories to rest with a game-winning kick as time expired.
It’ll be a long week in Denver, especially for Fangio, who was seconds from celebrating his first victory.
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