Peter King recaps wild NFL Week 2 as Derek Carr, Tom Brady impress

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Crazy Sunday. (But what Sunday in the NFL isn’t?)

Ten notable items:

• The Bills continued to be the Globetrotters, the Dolphins continued to be their Washington Generals.

• Do you know Phil Snow? It’s time you do. He runs what might be a crazy-good Carolina defense.

• The leaders in TD passes since opening day 2020: Tom Brady 49 (that is not his age, but almost), Aaron Rodgers 48, Russell Wilson 46, Patrick Mahomes 44.

• Game one of the weekend Thursday night: 30-29. Games 12 through 15 on Sunday: 20-17, 34-33, 33-30, 36-35.

• Split-screen madness: Dallas beat the Chargers on Greg Zuerlein’s 56-yard field goal. Forty-one seconds later, Minnesota lost to the Cardinals when Greg Joseph’s 37-yarder was 18 inches wide right. “I’ve been there, and I know what it’s like,” Zuerlein commiserated Sunday night. “Man, I feel for him.”

• The Niners, 2-0, love the Eastern Time Zone.

• The Jets, 0-2, have left Zach Wilson out to dry.

• The Raiders, 2-0, have a better quarterback than the geniuses on this side of the keyboard think.

• The Colts, 0-2, have a mountain of issues. Welcome, Hard Knocks!

• The Broncos, 2-0, have a coach who knows how to give a post-game locker-room address. “WAY TO F—ING GO!” Vic Fangio told the troops in Jacksonville.

Let’s get to a few people/stories/issues of the week.

The Raiders

They can win . . . now

When I saw GM Mike Mayock in training camp seven weeks ago, he told me: “We need to be a playoff team—and beyond. It’s time to win.” The last seven days tells me they can be. The easy way to look at the Raiders is to see Derek Carr throwing for 817 yards in his first two games, playing clutch down the stretch, and finally activating the Cliff Branch of modern Raiderdom. Al Davis would have loved seeing Carr throw a zeppelin-ball 57 yards in the air, to a spot where sprinter/wideout Henry Ruggs was zooming toward, and connecting with Ruggs on a 61-yard touchdown that clinched the 26-17 upset of the Steelers in Pittsburgh’s home opener. Oh, and Al would have loved that the pass came at the confluence of the Three Rivers, against the team he despised from the Immaculate Reception a half-century ago.

Let’s give Carr his due, and let’s give Jon Gruden his due too—for being in perfect sync with Carr now, for calling the kind of plays in the kind of order that’s becoming hard to stop. The offensive line is leaky, and the franchise back, Josh Jacobs, might not be a durable player; we’ll see. But this is a big-league quarterback, with a big-league receiving corps. Maybe Ruggs will never be an every-down receiver, but to ruin games he doesn’t have to be. Leave that to Darren Waller, Bryan Edwards and Hunter Renfrow.

The defense has been so much better than I thought. In the first two games, per Pro Football Focus, Vegas has brought significant pressure on 38 percent of the dropbacks of Lamar Jackson and Ben Roethlisberger. It’s not T.J. Watt-type pressure, but it’s enough to not leave the secondary out to dry as was so often the case last year. Also: Criticize Mayock for a slew of his high picks, which is fair. But give him credit for the one-year, $2.5-million contract he agreed to with cornerback Casey Hayward, who’s been very good in the first two weeks. The Ravens and Steelers are 0-for-5 targeting him, and he’s been in coverage against both physical and fleet receivers so far. And Solomon Thomas, cut loose by the 49ers last winter, gave the Raiders two sacks of Roethlisberger on Sunday.

The West is where the power is, in both conferences. Who’d have thought it’d be the Raiders and Broncos at 2-0, with KC and the Chargers 1-1. This could be a fascinating year out west.

Tua Tagovailoa

The Answer is still The Question

Two of Miami’s last three games have been against Buffalo. Tagovailoa got yanked for ineffective play against the Bills in Week 17 last year. He had to leave because of injury after two series Sunday in south Florida. Combined score of the two games: Buffalo 91, Miami 26. Even in the great Jim Kelly/Thurman Thomas days, the Bills never laid it on the Dolphins like this in a two-game span; Kelly’s high score in back-to-back games was 79 points. The Dolphins are not in Buffalo’s league, no matter who is quarterbacking—and backup Jacoby Brissett was as ineffective as the man drafted to be the franchise quarterback 17 months ago.

You don’t want to make too much of this if you’re a Miami fan, but reality bites for your team at quarterback right now. You turn on the TV and watch Justin Herbert, drafted one spot after Tagovailoa in 2020, develop into a top-10 NFL quarterback. You might have hope for Tagovailoa, but truly you can’t know if your long-term quarterback is even on the roster right now. And now Tua’s got a rib injury that could keep him out for the short-term—with the Raiders, Colts and Bucs coming on the next three Sundays. There’s also the matter of an impatient owner, Stephen Ross, who desperately wants his Marino. Sunday’s developments make it seem like Miami’s quarterback answer is still very cloudy.

Phil Snow

“Our defense the truth”

Thus tweeted Carolina wide receiver Robbie Anderson after the Panthers skunked the Saints 26-7 Sunday in Charlotte. It’s cool to credit the reborn Sam Darnold for the Panthers’ 2-0 start, or maybe Christian McCaffrey’s 324 scrimmage yards. Those are big things. (In fact, for Darnold to be throwing 18 times with a second-half lead tells me coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady trust him to be careful with the ball.) Darnold and McCaffrey are factors, but neither is the biggest one.

The unit led by Snow, the 65-year-old defensive coordinator, is the biggest reason Carolina shares the NFC South lead with Tampa Bay this morning. Carolina, in two games, has allowed 22 first downs and 21 points to the Jets and Saints. Composite first-half score: Panthers 33, Jets/Saints 0. The beatdown of New Orleans was notable because the Saints put a 38-3 beating on the Packers last week, and Jameis Winston played peerless football. On Sunday, Winston was harried consistently by a changed pass-rush, and Alvin Kamara managed five rushing yards on eight carries. What gives?

Snow, who came to Carolina from Baylor with Rhule 20 months ago, played a 4-3 “over” front last year, with the defensive front shading toward the tight end side and the edge players most often in a three-point stance. This year, wanting to get athletic edge players Haason Reddick and Brian Burns away from the line, Snow had them stand up and allowed free-agent defensive tackle DaQuan Jones and young Derrick Brown to occupy in-line blockers. Last year, the Panthers were 31st in the league in third-down defense. This year, foes have converted only 25 percent (six of 24) on third down. Snow adjusted, wisely, and his pass-rush (10 sacks in two weeks) and run defense (46.5 yards per game) says he’s made the right adjustments.

Now the Panthers have a short turnaround to a Thursday night game at Houston, with Snow’s men likely to face rookie Davis Mills in his first NFL start. No one could imagine a 3-0 start for Carolina, but it’s on the horizon.

Tom Brady

This can’t be real

Let’s go back to the greatest full season of Brady’s career, 2007. That’s the year Brady and the great Randy Moss lifted New England to a 16-0 record in the regular season. In the first two games that year, Brady, 30, threw for 576 yards and six TDs. Fourteen years later, Brady, 44, has thrown for 655 yards and nine TDs in the first two games of this year.

“We were a little loose with the ball,” Brady self-diagnosed Sunday, after throwing five TDs with no picks in the 48-25 win over Atlanta. “I certainly wish I had made a few better throws.”

The man is 44, with a 113.3 passer rating. Since opening day 2020, in regular-season games, Brady’s got 49 touchdown passes, more than anyone in the sport. I certainly wish I had made a few better throws.

When, exactly?

Tampa Bay, dating back to Dec. 1, 2020, has won 10 in a row including playoffs and scored 35.0 per game. What drama in the next two weeks awaits? Bucs-Rams at SoFi in Week 3, Bucs-Patriots in Foxboro in Week 4, in the biggest regular-season game in recent NFL history. Brady has looked so at ease, so unhurried, in his first two games as a 44-year-old man. The Rams and Patriots are capable of generating pressure with the front seven, and they’ll need to if they’re going to have a chance to beat this marvel.

East Coast Logic

Niners are smart

This is the third straight season of a schedule quirk that’s paid off for the Niners. San Francisco had four Eastern Time Zone games scheduled this year. But what if instead of taking four of the draining trips, the Niners took three—and were able to play two of them back-to-back, and then stay east to practice in the intervening week?

In 2019, San Francisco stayed in Youngstown in between winning in Week 1 at Tampa Bay (31-17) and Cincinnati (41-17). In 2020, the Niners stayed at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia in between beating the Jets in Week 2 (31-13) and Giants in Week 3 (36-9), despite a spate of injuries in those weeks that crippled their season. This year, it was the Greenbrier again, and it was two straight September wins again: 41-33 at Detroit, 17-11 at Philadelphia.

It’s smart to try to work the schedule that way—and then to be in a team environment that’s in some ways an extension of football-focused training camp. “It’s been good, honestly, to go on these trips,” defensive leader Fred Warner told me Sunday post-game. “When we’re out there, our entire focus is on football. There’s no distractions. You wake up, you go to meetings, you go to practice, you get extra work in. Honestly, I see it as an advantage to be able to stay out on the East Coast. We come out on the first game in those situations, we have huge wins, we get adjusted to the time change. Obviously, you see the results from it, with how we’ve performed.”

With the NFC West 7-1 (and only an overtime loss by Seattle standing in the way of a flawless start for division teams), the Niners have a nice edge after two weeks. They’ve got a division-high eight home games left, and only two Eastern Time games remaining. “So many great teams in our division,” Warner said. “You play the game to be able to have exciting matchups like we know are ahead.”

Game of the Week

Baltimore 36, Kansas City 35

“Are announcers allowed to clap?” Cris Collinsworth said on NBC when it was over. “I would like to clap for that one.” Let me count why this was so fun:

1. The joy. Did you see wide-mouthed Lamar Jackson and Sammy Watkins skipping out onto the field when Odafe Oweh forced the fumble that won the game for Baltimore? We don’t focus much on joy watching these games. It’s more on who blew this or that, or maybe the technical side of why something happened. Sometimes it’s okay to say Holy crap, that was a fun one.

2. The decision. I didn’t think Baltimore coach John Harbaugh really had one. On fourth-and-one from the Baltimore 43 with 1:05 left in the game and Baltimore up by a point, even if the Ravens punted to pin Kansas City at its 15-yard line with 56 seconds left and no timeouts, how good do you feel about stopping Patrick Mahomes from getting into field-goal range? I wouldn’t feel very good. But it was fun to lip-read Harbaugh yelling out to the field, “Lamar! LAMAR! You want go for this?” Non-footballers loved it. (Damian Lillard for one, on Twitter). Jackson, of course, wanted to go for it.

3. The formation. An eight-man front. Eight! From the left: tight end Eric Tomlinson, lineman Trystan Colon-Castillo, tackle Alejandro Villanueva, lineman Patrick Mekari, guard Ben Powers, center and snapper Bradley Bozeman . . . and then, to the right of the snapper, only guard Kevin Zeitler and tight end Mark Andrews. Fullback Patrick Ricard was a sidecar to the left of Jackson, in the shotgun. At the snap, Zeitler pulled left, to create more pathway havoc for Jackson, who broke for the area behind what would normally be the left tackle/guard gap. But there were seven big men trying to earth-move for Jackson, and it worked. He gained two yards, and that was the game.

4. The legacy. Jackson needed this game, particularly after putting the Ravens in an early hole with a Tyrann Mathieu pick-six. Jackson was 0-3 against Mahomes before this one, and he’s 1-3 as a playoff quarterback. He’s had some big wins against other teams, obviously, but he may need a few more nights like this one to convince Ravens brass beyond a doubt that he deserves to be among the top three or four highest-paid players in NFL history.

Cooper Kupp

Experience is the best teacher

Bill Walsh once told me there was no better feeling in football than swooping into a football-mad city, just 53 players and coaches and staff, and feeling like it’s 53 versus a city, a region, a state, and coming out with a win. It sounded corny, but I can tell Walsh felt it strongly.

And so the Rams flew to Indianapolis on Saturday and swooped into Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, the first time the place had been full since pre-Covid. In a tight game early in the fourth quarter, Rams personal protector Nick Scott was mis-aligned on a punt, and the snap on the way back to punter Johnny Hekker hit Scott and the Colts recovered for a go-ahead touchdown.

There’s some adversity for the Rams. The crowd exploded. This felt very much like a game getting away from the Rams. I asked Cooper Kupp, who was the key to what happened next, to describe what that moment was like, in a deafening dome, knowing the Rams had gone from safe lead to chaotic deficit.

“Just like anything in football, there’s ebbs and flows,” Kupp said from the Rams locker room. “Ebbs and flows to a week of preparation. Ebbs and flows to a season. Something very unfortunate happened. Ebbs and flows. Everyone looks at each other and says we just go out there and execute our job. Nothing has to be said. Eye contact with the guys when you’re gonna head onto the field. Understand that as much as it feels like the momentum has swung, we’re in control of this thing.

“There’s something pretty cool about being able to go into a hostile environment, going to a place where the crowd’s rockin’, the opposing team feels like they got all the momentum going for them and able to from the sidelines to look at the guys next to you know it’s just you out there, just the guys stepping out to the field with and you get to trust the guys next to you to really go out there and execute and do their job. Us against everyone. Actually, we love that opportunity to hear the crowd go silent.”

On Sunday, those were just words. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Matthew Stafford hit Kupp (16 catches early in this season) for 44 yards, and then, on the next snap, Stafford hit Kupp for a 10-yard TD. The Rams hung on to win in a tough venue against a good team. Good lesson for a rising team.

Read more from Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column.

Peter King recaps wild NFL Week 2 as Derek Carr, Tom Brady impress originally appeared on NBCSports.com