PHILADELPHIA EAGLES AT ATLANTA FALCONS 35, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 21:  Even a Dream Team gets to have nightmares every once in awhile, and this was it for the Eagles. This one had everything you hope to avoid: big turnovers, huge injuries, a total failure to close out a game you should have won against a quality opponent.  Yep, hate it when that happens. As I see it, the difficult task that is protecting Michael Vick remains the central question of the Philly campaign.  It necessitates walking a very fine line no matter what, but so far in his career Andy Reid has proven surprisingly adept at such high-wire feats (especially for a man of such- ahem- stature).  Here’s hoping Vick gets back quickly, but I think we saw even in that brief appearance that Mike Kafka is unlikely to embarrass himself should they need him.  And we also saw that Trent Cole rather enjoys the wide 9 technique. You thought he was an animal before?  Watch this.  Meanwhile, that’s a huge win for the Falcons at home, and they get bonus points because they did it with a monster performance from old man Tony Gonzalez, a fellow Huntington Beach’er and surefire first ballot Hall of Famer.  They showed balance and room to grown on offense.  Say what you will about it being “early” but the Falcons wanted no part of going down 0-2 in games to tough conference foes while playing in the nasty NFC South. This was big.

The Eagles need to protect their investment a little better.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 35, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 21:  I don’t want to belabor the point. The Patriots are a machine. The machine loses a fairly significant cog in Aaron Hernandez, who is down for a matter of weeks (how many appears up for debate), but count me among those who think all it means is that the next man is up and Tom Brady will just throw it to someone else.  The defense is more than sufficient, and has moments where I think maybe they could be excellent by the end of the season.  They went 14-2 last year, by the way.  As for the Chargers, just a tough early season measuring stick that taught you what you already knew: You need to get better.  The biggest takeaway for me is: keep an eye on Antonio Gates.  You know the Hoodie is a savant at taking away what you do best, but it looked to me like Gates was nowhere near right, physically speaking. I assume it’s the foot again.  He’s a huge part of that offense running smoothly, and if he’s not himself it changes things.  All you Vincent Jackson fantasy owners can exhale.

The Best Of The Rest

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 30, CHICAGO BEARS 13:  There’s a chance I was a bit hasty on the Bears. They might be what I thought they were. They certainly are along the offensive line, and what I thought they were there (as anyone who has followed for more than a day or two can tell you) is woefully inadequate.  Again, next time don’t risk it. Go ahead and add a serviceable pass blocker every draft or three. And the only one they chose to add just dislocated his kneecap.  As a result, Jay Cutler damn near got eaten like a safari kill by the New Orleans defense, which came to hunt and left well sated.  Until they get a grip on this fundamental area, I can’t take them that seriously.  Oh, speaking of which? Matt Forte got only 10 carries, as the esteemed Sen Dog pointed out on this week’s podcast.  That’s preposterous. On the other hand,  I can definitely take the Saints seriously. The aggressiveness with which they attacked the NFL in that Super Bowl season is back, and so is a renewed physicality. I like what I’m seeing, New Orleans.

BUFFALO BILLS 38, OAKLAND RAIDERS 35: Like I said: DO. NOT. SLEEP. ON THE BUFFALO BILLS. The Raiders took a 21-3 lead into the locker room at the half, and got absolutely slaughtered in the second half.  In short, Buffalo made adjustments and quit making mistakes, and the Raiders failed to do either.  Let it be said: this was one of those games that has to be going on Al Davis’ personal NFL Vendetta Highlight Reel.  Let me get this straight: it’s a coincidence that the Oakland Raiders have to travel east to play an early game in Buffalo after playing the late Monday Night Football opener in Denver?  Uh-huh.  Anyway, conspiracy theories notwithstanding, it’s clear the old crazy man’s “throw it deep to fast guys” plan, however simple and outdated it may seem to some, can still be successful at the NFL level. The holy-crap-that-preseason-hype-was-warranted performance turned in by Denarius Moore

ARIZONA CARDINALS AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS:  Well, well, well. Look who will be visiting Dallas O-2.  The Redskins aren’t bad, people.  Rex Grossman is limited, no question. But this team can run it like the Shanny Squads of old (Roy Helu looked fantastic this weekend), and that allows Rex to hold the defense for an extra split second, which in turn allows crafty vets like Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney to get what passes for wide open in the NFL.  Rex can play that game.  Add in suddenly unstoppable tight end Fred Davis, and the ‘Skins can put up a few.  Their defense is fast, aggressive, physical, and stout.  They’re going to be a problem for just about everybody they play. I’m not sure the Cardinals will, but I still think they’re good enough to win their own division.  They still look to me like they’re trying to find the right guys to replace all the talent they’ve lost from the Super Bowl squad.

The Rest Of The Rest

CLEVELAND BROWNS 27, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS COLTS 19:  You have to hand it to Mike Holmgren: he hired Tom Heckert, and if the 2010 and 2011 drafts are any indication, the Browns are now drafting as well as anyone.  Among the contributors to this victory were 2010 draftees Joe Haden, TJ Ward, and Shawn Luavao and rookie draft picks Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, Greg Little, Todd Pinkston and Owen Marecic.  All made key plays.  All but Little started, and even he led all Browns wideouts for the second consecutive week in snaps played, so that tells you what they really think of him.  That’s before we even mention 2010 3rd-roudner Colt McCoy, by the way, who still has plenty to learn but is capable of making big-time plays like the escape-and-roll-to-his-left strike to Evan Moore for six.  Particularly noticeable this week were Taylor and Sheard, part of a big, strong Cleveland D-Line that dominated the Colts’ undersized offensive front.  The Colts were really overmatched in the trenches on both sides of the ball, though we know how much better that Colts line would look if #18 were playing behind it.  Still, it’s not like Peyton could have fixed every problem on Sunday.  One wonders whether, regardless of Peyton’s injury, the Colts might not be in line for some spring cleaning.  If Peyton’s injury allows him to return for several more productive years, as Jim Irsay tweeted, then what should we assume about the “shocking,dramatic,inspiring,unimaginable things happening n Coltsland the next 18 months….”  Buckle up, indeed.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AT NEW YORK JETS:  It’s like I said. I just really don’t see how Luke McCown is the answer to anything.  And so the Blaine Gabbert era begins, as it probably should have several months ago.  The Jets made this one look like a tune-up game, and that’s the mark of a damn fine team.

DETROIT LIONS 48, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 3:  Well, Chiefs fans…it’s been fun. See you in 2012, because we’re breaking out the DONE stamp for you this week.  Back-to-back listless shellackings at the hands of the Bills and Lions are shameful, but the deciding factor is the horribly unlucky break that is Jamaal Charles’ season-ending ACL injury.  Remember this: 2010 was not a mirage, but it was a year ahead of schedule.  They got a lot of breaks and hit teams at right times, and played pretty well along the way.  But they’ve now lost maybe their best player on each side of the ball for the year, and have looked utterly horrible from start to finish in the only two games that count so far. Normally, we wouldn’t be so hasty to declare a season lost, but in this case, recovery seems an unrealistic result. I call ’em how I see ’em.  And the way I now see it, the Lions are no longer on the come.  Like the Poltergeist, they’rrrree heeeeeeerrrrrrre.  Also like the Poltergeist, they’re going to torment you. Your quarterback will not sleep the night before facing the Silver Crush.  Your defensive coordinator will need two bottles of Mylanta on game day to prepare for the special skills of Matthew Stafford and the Megatron-led Autobots: Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, Titus Young and others.  And you can gameplan all you want. If they’re on their game, you’re in for a hell of a day.  And I don’t care who you are.

BALTIMORE RAVENS AT TENNESSEE TITANS:  First, an excerpt from last week’s preview: “I’ll be watching closely to see if they can follow up on the big win against the Steelers by taking care of business against the vastly inferior Titans.  That’s what championship teams do.”  Very well, then, Ravens. I’ll put you back over here in the “still have serious questions” pile.  What a let-down after the week 1 dismantling of the Steelers. Way to waste it.  No disrespect intended to the titans, who certainly won this game.  Matt Hasselbeck played extremely well, giving his athletes chances to make plays, which they repeatedly did, from Kenny Britt to Nate Washington to Jared Cook to Javon Ringer. That they won this game without a huge contribution from Chris Johnson is a good sign.  But to me, the Ravens are the big story here. You can’t act like this and expect me to keep you around. I like stability. It’s why I’m not real heavy in the markets these days. A smooth ride is preferable. And I’ll jsut go ahead and say it: yes, Joe Flacco is really good. But there are holes in his game. Get that pocket moving around him, to where he has to go mobile, and his accuracy suffers. I say this with no idea of the numbers, this is just what I’m seeing.  What’s more, they can’t assert the run quite the way we came to know them as the Ravens.  Still one of the best teams in the AFC, but they’re at the bottom of that group, to me.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS:  A little better for the Vikings.  Adrian Peterson looked like himself and Donovan McNabb managed an actual NFL-level performance.  Of course, they lost again.  And I’m not sure those folks who suggested it might be a little rougher going this year for the Bucs don’t look 100% wrong at the moment, do they?  I’m not sure what it is.  Still young, I guess.  But I love that they are nevertheless able to grind out these kinds of victories, and one Buc about whom I have no questions is Josh Freeman, especially when it matters.  Also nice to see 2011 All-Sickness Draft Team’er Mason Foster absolutely blowing up as a three-down ‘backer on an exciting defense.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS 24, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 0:  Unlucky break for the Seahawks that they catch Pittsburgh coming off the embarrassing week 1 loss, but I’m not sure it would’ve mattered much.  They were bound to get pasted. They should just move on.  That’s more like it for the Steelers, who will probably win several in a row if history is any indication.  They’re fine.

GREEN BAY PACKERS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS:  OK, this Cam Newton thing is getting mildly alarming, isn’t it?  400 yards in each of his first two games is more than even his most ardent supporters could have reasonably expected.  Of course now, it’ll no doubt be the baseline expectation for the less football savvy among us (we can laugh at them. They don’t come here. See? It’s a safe environment we provide. As the man said, “Free to all.”).  Another ACL for Thomas Davis just seems unfair, doesn’t it? Another tough blow to a defense that couldn’t afford it the first time, when it was John Beason.  But still and all, the Panthers have be pretty happy with what they’re seeing for the future. They’ll just have to draft linebackers sooner than they hoped.  The Packers lost one as well, with Nick Collins gone for the year.  But we saw last year that the Packers are in a position to absorb such things, and as long as Aaron Rodgers are in place and making plays as they did Sunday, the Pack remain the team to beat.

DALLAS COWBOYS AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS:  A really exciting end to this one that displayed Tony Romo’s cardiopulmonary fortitude, but here’s my main question: Why was this game close, again?  You can get back to me.

HOUSTON TEXANS AT MIAMI DOLPHINS:  While it is undeniable that the AFC South has been delivered to the Texans on a silver platter this year, you have to hand it to them for starting strong despite the injury to Arian Foster and the adoption of a totally new defense under Wade Phillips.  That speaks to quality management and coaching, in my view.  Gary Kubiak needs to get at least a modicum of credit for having this team operating at a high level with such significant changes and so little time in which to implement them.  Houston has the #1 pass defense in the NFL so far, and while we can question the opposition, from what I’m watching it’s not a fluke.  They’re playing very good defense and have the playmakers to sustain it.  Mario Williams already has it mostly down.  Brian Cushing is back.  Jonathan Joseph was a great signing.  In short, I’m impressed.  And the emergence of Ben Tate on offense is a scary proposition if Arian Foster gets back to normal.  The Dolphins keep running into the same old problems, with the exception that Chad Henne hasn’t played poorly.  And Daniel Thomas was fantastic in his debut.  They’re a pretty good team, but you just get the feeling watching them that Miami is top-end-talent-deficient.

NEW YORK GIANTS 28, ST. LOUIS 16:  Well, so much for that, eh Rams fans?  Sam Bradford is still the man but it’s pretty clear someone started the hype train just a little bit prematurely.  0-2 is not a fun place from which to attempt a comeback in today’s NFL.  Especially as rumors emerge about your owner’s dislike for your coach.  I can see it already.  Another owner falls prey to the charms of Coach McD. Don’t let it happen.  A good win, meanwhile, for the Giants.  I still think they’re in trouble.  I want to see them beat one of their division foes before I get too excited about anything.

CINCINNATI BENGALS AT DENVER BRONCOS:  Both teams have tons of holes but things to be excited about.  AJ Green and Eric Decker are both very much for real. Andy Dalton looks just fine to me.  I’m not sure what all the critics were so worried about.  This happens every year.  Way too much group think.  And just because Grudes professes to love a quarterback doesn’t mean he’s wrong, by the way.  Orton silenced (relatively) the Tebow-lievers for at least this week.  Think it’ll last?  Yeah.  Me neither.


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