STORY OF THE WEEK
MILE HIGH DRAMA
What didn’t happen during Sunday’s Denver-San Diego game? The Broncos’ 39-38 win probably will go down as one of the year’s best games. In order, here are the highlights:
c Denver controlled the first half and led 31-17, showing just how valuable Shawne Merriman is to the Chargers’ defense. Jay Cutler threw 50 times in the game and was sacked just once.
c LaDainian Tomlinson’s toe injury limited him to 10 carries for 26 yards and has developed into a situation that could doom the Chargers’ season. San Diego is 0-2.
c The Chargers rallied with 21 straight points to lead 38-31 with 4:22 remaining on Darren Sproles’ dynamic 66-yard catch and mostly run.
c Cutler clearly fumbled with 1:14 remaining. But referee Ed “Muscles” Hochuli called it an incomplete pass. Upon replay review, it was changed to a fumble, but Denver retained possession because the referees had blown the play dead. “Unacceptable,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said. Cutler added: “It was a fumble.” Two plays later, Cutler threw 4 yards to Eddie Royal for a touchdown.
c Shanahan elected to go for the win, and Cutler delivered with a scoring pass to Royal. Since the conversion became an option in 1994, it was only the eighth time a team that was down by a point with less than two minutes remaining went for the win (according to STATS). The Broncos were the third team to convert, joining Minnesota in 2002 and, as Redskins fans will remember, Tampa Bay in 2005 on Mike Alstott’s controversial conversion.
c Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall caught 18 passes for 166 yards, tied for the second-highest single-game reception total in NFL history behind only Terrell Owens’ 20.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Patriots won their first game minus injured quarterback Tom Brady (19-10 over the Jets) and showed that an offense can reinvent itself in just seven days.
New England got solid play from Matt Cassel (16-for-23 for 165 yards) in his first start since high school but also showed it will rely on the running game until Cassel gets more experience. The Patriots had 33 runs — Josh McDaniels calling more runs than throws was unheard of with Brady under center.
Lamont Jordan, one of those picked-off-the-scrap-heap free agents the Patriots are famous for, filled in for the banged-up Laurence Maroney and gained 62 yards on 11 carries. And Wes Welker showed he will become Cassel’s favorite target for short throws with seven catches for 72 yards.
The loss was a step back for the Jets, who could have kicked a New England team while it was down. Instead, they have a trip to face a desperate San Diego team Monday.
FIVE THINGS LEARNED IN WEEK 2
1. Carolina is the NFC South favorite. Playing without receiver Steve Smith for the first two games, the Panthers simply won at San Diego and rallied against Chicago to take the division lead. Out of the postseason mix for two years, the Panthers have a solid 1-2 rushing punch with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. As long as it stays healthy, Carolina is the team to beat.
2. Minnesota needs to bench quarterback Tarvaris Jackson immediately. The Vikings are the exact same team as last year — they run great, stop the run and struggle in the passing game. Every time Brad Childress starts Jackson, he wastes one of Adrian Peterson’s games. On Sunday, A.D. rushed for 160 yards, but Jackson was 14-for-24 for 130 yards, and the Vikings kicked five field goals.
3. The Chiefs may go 1-15. Kansas City was routed … at home … by chief rival Oakland. Afterward running back Larry Johnson ripped the coaching staff and front office for carrying only 12 times (for an average of 1.8 yards) against the Raiders. Kansas City’s best chance for a win is Week 16 against Miami.
4. Aaron Rodgers isn’t playing like a first-time starter. While Green Bay probably will have a couple of valleys with its young quarterback, it’s so far, so good. Rodgers was 24-for-38 for 328 yards and three touchdowns in his first road start as the Packers thumped Detroit to move to 2-0.
5. Oakland’s situation makes it a laughingstock. Coach Lane Kiffin deserves hazard pay. Owner Al Davis wanted him to quit during the offseason. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan does his own thing. Kiffin has no allies in the front office. Reports surfaced before the Raiders’ win over the Chiefs that Kiffin would be fired within days. Just do it already, Al, before your legacy is tainted more.
NEXT MAN UP
Here’s a list of big injuries and who’s in line to replace them.
QB Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (shoulder): It was revealed Sunday night Roethlisberger is playing with a separated shoulder. But he threw for 186 yards as Pittsburgh moved to 2-0. Roethlisberger’s backup is Byron Leftwich.
DE Robaire Smith, Cleveland (ankle): Carted to the locker room, he was signed during the offseason to shore up a leaky defensive line. The Browns’ depth chart lists no backup for Smith, who could miss the rest of the season with an Achilles injury.
QB Damon Huard, Kansas City (head trauma): It’s two weeks and two injured quarterbacks for the Chiefs. Huard was replaced by Tyler Thigpen.
PR Devin Hester, Chicago (rib cage): Hester was injured against Carolina, and cornerback Nathan Vasher assumed the return duties.
RB Laurence Maroney, New England (shoulder): Maroney lasted only eight carries against the Jets. Lamont Jordan took over.
19 Teams in the last 18 years that have started 0-2 and made the playoffs. Miami, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City, San Diego, Detroit, Minnesota, St. Louis and Seattle are all 0-2. On average, only one will make the postseason.
Whose performance Sunday puts them in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons next week:
Jaguars QB David Garrard
Signed to a $60 million extension during the offseason, he has playing behind a reworked offensive line, and his receivers are banged up. But Garrard has three interceptions in 63 attempts this season; he had three in 325 passes last year. The 0-2 Jaguars travel to Indianapolis on Sunday, and Garrard needs to carry a struggling offense.