- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

The NFC South was considered a preseason favorite to be the NFL’s most-competitive division.

The defending-champion Panthers would be pushed again by the Falcons, a surprise wild-card team last season. The Saints’ high-powered offense was fully healthy again, and the Bucs were set to be a dark horse under Raheem Morris, their 33-year-old rookie coach.

Just two weeks into the season, the South already is a tale of two divisions.

The Falcons, whose success last season could have been built on playing a last-place schedule, whipped the AFC East champion Dolphins and beat the Panthers in the first two weeks. The Saints crushed the Lions and the NFC finalist Eagles, becoming the first team since the 1968 Raiders to score at least 45 points in each of their first two games.

The Panthers, meanwhile, are in trouble: Along with the loss to Atlanta, they got walloped 38-10 by the Eagles. Defensive specialist John Fox’s team can’t play defense, and quarterback Jake Delhomme has thrown five interceptions in two games. Next up is a Monday night game at Dallas. The Panthers might well be 0-3 heading into their Week 4 bye.

The Bucs opened with a 34-21 loss at home to the Cowboys, then got blistered 33-20 by the Bills in Buffalo. The defense - a feared unit in the days of Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch - certainly wouldn’t intimidate anyone this season: The Bucs surrendered 900 yards in their first two games.

And now they get to take on the potent Giants. The only good news for the Panthers and Bucs is that the Saints (at Bills) and Falcons (at Patriots) have tough games this week, too.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

NEW YORK JETS

Rex Ryan talked loudly, and his team lived up to his bold words.

Ryan said after taking over the Jets this winter that he wouldn’t “kiss the rings” of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has won three Super Bowls with the franchise that has dominated the AFC East this decade.

Ryan’s team beat the Patriots 16-9 at the Meadowlands on Sunday to take undisputed possession of the AFC East lead.

The Jets didn’t sack Tom Brady but sure bothered him plenty - the Patriots’ star quarterback was hurried 15 times and knocked down five.

Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis held All-Pro receiver Randy Moss to four catches for 24 yards. The Jets’ rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez, meanwhile, is 2-0 with a 91.3 passer rating.

FIVE TRENDS FROM WEEK 2

UP: Saints quarterback Drew Brees last year narrowly missed the season-yardage mark of 5,084 set by Hall of Famer Dan Marino. He appears ready for another run at the record this season. Brees passed for 669 yards in his first two games, putting him on pace for 5,352. He also threw for nine touchdown passes, tying him for the most in the first two games.

UP: The lightly regarded 49ers followed their surprise victory over the Cardinals in Week 1 by beating another NFC West rival, the Seahawks. Running back Frank Gore scored on runs of 79 and 80 yards, becoming the first player to record two rushing touchdowns of at least 75 yards since Barry Sanders in 1997.

DOWN: The Patriots lost a regular-season game with Tom Brady at quarterback for the first time since December 2006, failing to score an offensive touchdown for the first time in that same span and committing 11 penalties.

UP: Kurt Warner is 38, but the Cardinals’ quarterback still has the magic. A week after being picked off twice and sacked three times by the 49ers, Warner completed an NFL-record 92.3 percent of his passes (24-for-26) for 243 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-17 pasting of the Jaguars.

DOWN: The Super Bowl champion Steelers are 1-1, but coach Mike Tomlin has to be concerned. Pittsburgh has produced just 27 points in edging the Titans in overtime and losing to the Bears. Through Sunday’s games, the only teams with fewer points were the winless Rams, Browns and Jaguars and the punchless Redskins.

NEXT MAN UP

List of big injuries from Week 2:

QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle (rib): Hasselbeck left the game against San Francisco in the second quarter with a rib injury. Seneca Wallace replaced him. Hasselbeck missed nine games last season with back and knee injuries.

DT Peria Jerry, Atlanta (knee): Jerry left the game against the visiting Panthers in the fourth quarter with a left knee injury. Thomas Johnson replaced the first-round pick, who is out for the season after tearing up that knee.

OT Chad Clifton, Green Bay (ankle): Clifton was carted off the field with an ankle sprain after the first play of the third quarter against Cincinnati. Daryn Colledge moved from left guard to left tackle, and the Packers’ line allowed five sacks to Antwan Odom.

RB Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia (ankle): Against New Orleans, Westbrook sprained the same ankle that kept him out of the first half of training camp. Westbrook said he hopes to play this week at Kansas City. If not, rookie LeSean McCoy should make his first start.

OT Brad Butler, Buffalo (knee): Butler will miss the rest of the season with a right knee injury after Bucs defensive lineman Stylez White rolled into the back of his legs. Jonathan Scott replaced Butler.

NUMBERS GAME

Interesting stat from the Week 2 games:

1 Player in NFL history, Titans running back Chris Johnson, who has rushed for touchdowns of at least 50 and 90 yards and caught a touchdown pass of at least 60. Johnson had touchdown runs of 57 and 91 yards and a 69-yard touchdown reception Sunday.

HOT SEAT

Whose performance in Week 2 puts him in the spotlight for next week:

JEFF FISHER

Tennessee lost its first two games (by three points apiece) for just the third time in coach Jeff Fisher’s 15 Septembers in command and visits the red-hot Jets this week. The Titans, who had the AFC’s best record in 2008, failed to reach the playoffs the two previous years they started 0-2 (2001 and 2006).

Fisher isn’t in danger of getting fired, but with a date at the Patriots plus a visit from archrival Indianapolis also ahead during the next four weeks, the NFL’s senior coach better recapture his knack for winning the close ones in a hurry. The 420 yards allowed in Sunday’s 34-31 loss to Houston were more than Tennessee gave up in any game in 2008.

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