Nope, it’s not too soon to reach for the panic button in Pittsburgh.
Three reasons why: 1) Ben Roethlisberger is hurt; 2) the Steelers are 0-2 and 3) Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson is pulling the upset of the year, beating opponents with his arm and his legs.
First to Roethlisberger. He has an injured elbow that forced him out of Sunday’s game and that will be examined Monday. The extent of the injury isn’t known, but know this: Roethlisberger is 37, so every injury – especially one to his throwing arm – is significant.
Second, the Steelers are 0-2, which already puts them two games behind front-running Baltimore. And that might be OK if Lamar Jackson were as accurate … or, more correctly, inaccurate … as last year.
But he’s not.
Which brings us to item No. 3: Jackson. In two games this season, the guy’s completed 71.9 percent of his passes for 596 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. That wasn't supposed to happen. Neither was this: On Sunday he threw for two scores and ran for a personal-best 120 yards.
The AFC North always seems to come down to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, with one or the other winning seven of the past nine division titles. But this year was supposed to belong to Cleveland, with Baltimore and Pittsburgh in pursuit. Then, the Browns did what the Browns always do and fizzled in their season opener.
Nevertheless, at this point it’s hard not to think of Pittsburgh now as the third-best team in the division … and that’s with Roethlisberger. But without him? Look out below.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. There will be no sophomore slump for Patrick Mahomes. Rewind the videotape of Sunday's second quarter in Oakland, and you’ll see why. Whenever there was an opening, he found it – becoming the first quarterback in Chiefs' history to throw for four second-quarter TDs. In fact, his last five attempts of the first half looked like this: 1) 42-yard TD pass; 2) 32-yard completion; 3) 43-yard completion; 4) 27-yard TD pass; 5) 39-yard TD pass Through two games, Mahomes is 55 for 77, 821 yards and seven TDs. Through his first two games of 2018 he was 38 of 55 for 582 yards and 10 TDs.
2. Antonio Brown and the Patriots’ offense are dominating the conversation in New England, and I get it. But look a little more closely, people. New England is every bit as dangerous on defense as it is on offense. In two games, the Pats have eight sacks, five interceptions and have allowed a league-low three points. Opponents not only converted only 5 of 27 third downs but they’ve been outscored 12-3 by the New England defense, with both Patriots’ scores coming in Sunday’s 43-0 beatdown of Miami. “Yeah, it’s always good,” coach Bill Belichick said. “If you don’t let them score, you can’t lose.” And New England hasn’t.
3. Eddie Money is alive and kicking in Chicago. That would be Eddie Pineiro, who is 4-for-4 on field goals this season and who rescued the Bears Sunday with a 53-yarder with no time left. It was one of two field goals of 50-plus yards for Pineiro, who outlasted the competition in training camp by nailing eight of nine field-goal attempts – including a long of 58 yards. "It felt different," Pineiro said of his game-winner. "This was an emotional kick." And for good reason: The Bears last season were 1-of-2 on field goals of 50 or more yards and hadn't had two 50-yarders in one game since 2011. That doesn’t mean the Bears don’t have issues. They do: Like scoring touchdowns. But finally, mercifully, field-goal accuracy isn’t one of them.
4. There is one team the New Orleans Saints can’t beat: The officials. They cost them the NFC championship in January. They blew another call last weekend that nearly cost them a loss. And they cost them a TD Sunday in the NFC championship game replay with the L.A. Rams -- this time blowing a call on an Eagles’ fumble return for a touchdown, a score that would’ve put them ahead by seven, 10-3. “Pretty remarkable incompetence,” former Saint Steve Gleason tweeted. Can’t disagree.
5. If Jimmy Garoppolo can stay healthy, the 49ers are a legit playoff threat. First of all, they’re not only 2-0 but they’re 2-0 on the road. That’s big. Second, they can beat you with the pass and the run – putting up a whopping 572 yards on Cincinnati Sunday. And, third, Garoppolo doesn’t lose. The guy is 10-2 in his career, including 8-2 with the 49ers. Of course, I said, “if he can stay healthy.” He hasn’t started more than five games in any season, and the 49ers just lost left tackle Joe Staley for six-to-eight weeks with a broken left fibula.
MY TOP FIVE
1) New England … Too much offense + too much defense = Life is not fair.
2) Kansas City … Every Sunday is St. Patrick's Day.
3) Dallas … Next win: Miami.
4 L.A. Rams … Next win: Cleveland.
5) Baltimore … Now we know why Joe had to go.
MY BOTTOM FIVE
32) Miami … Next loss: Dallas.
31) Jacksonville … Next loss: Tennessee.
29. N.Y. Jets … Darnold has mono. Losses to go stereo.
28. N.Y. Giants … Start the countdown on Eli.
27. Florida … Sunshine State? Hardly. Its three teams are 1-5.
1. Nobody is sure how significant that thumb injury is to Drew Brees, but here’s why the Saints should worry: They travel to Seattle (2-0) next weekend, then follow with Dallas (2-0) at home. That’s a potential 1-3 start if Brees is out. Brees stayed behind in L.A. to see a hand specialist, and this might be something more for Saints' fans to worry about: He said he's "concerned." Uh-oh.
2. If you have no idea what constitutes “clear-and-obvious” pass interference, join the club. Game officials don’t, either, and replay reviews continue to prove it. What IS “clear and obvious,” however, is that this rule change is a land mine.
3. Make Green Bay the early frontrunner in the NFC North, and not because the Packers can play defense … or because they have Aaron Rodgers … or because Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur "definitely aren't MF--ing each other," as Rodgers put it. Nope, it’s because of the schedule. The Packers are 2-0, with defeats of division rivals Chicago and Minnesota, and play four of their next five games at home – with their Oct. 6 date with Dallas the only hiccup.
4. Antonio Brown wasn’t available to the media after Sunday’s game, having left before the press was admitted to the Pats’ locker room, and his name plate reportedly was removed from his locker. Apparently, someone is still suffering from cold feet. Either that, or the Patriots put him on the media’s exempt list.
5. Seldom does an offensive lineman get credited for a 54-yard touchdown catch ... but without Jake Matthews' pancake block on Eagles' defensive back Avonte Maddox, Atlanta's Julio Jones doesn't go the distance Sunday night. Not even close.
6. Bad enough that Miami is outscored 102-10 in two weeks, but both its losses were at home. Worse, the Dolphins made the Hall of Infamy by tying the 1973 New Orleans Saints for most points allowed in the first two games of a regular season. Just lose, baby.
7. Have to believe that Washington’s Jay Gruden has moved to the front of coaches on the firing line. The Redskins stink, they’re 14-20 the last three years and Washington is so inept that fans there care more about the MLB Nationals than the Redskins. But here’s the clincher: Gruden is in his sixth year in Washington and has been to the playoffs just once, where he was one-and-done. Not good. Worse, this year’s team isn’t getting better. It’s getting worse. Hasta la vista, Jay.
8. Best team at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium isn’t the Giants, and it isn’t the Jets. It’s the Bills. They’re 2-0 there.
9. No problem at all with Doug Marrone going for the two-point conversion instead of taking his chances in OT. But the play call? That’s another issue. Sending Leonard Fournette into the middle of that Houston defense wouldn’t be my first, second or third choice.
10. At this rate, Houston’s Deshaun Watson auditions for the fall premiere of TV's "Concussion Protocol." That’s the eighth straight game he’s been sacked at least four times.
11. When the Chargers’ Anthony Lynn wonders how he lost a game outside of L.A. for just the second time in two seasons, he’ll remember this: Two missed field goals, two touchdowns overruled by penalties and a lost fumble at the goal line. Detroit didn’t win that game. The Bolts lost it.
12. Coming soon to Pay-Per-View: Doug Marrone-Jaylen Ramsey.
13. Time for Adam Vinatieri to call it a career.
14. With every win … with every weekend ... and with Miami coming to town … Dak Prescott's price goes up. And up. And up.
15. That does it. Minnesota goes nowhere with Kirk Cousins. There is, as he admitted, “no justification” for that end-zone interception that killed the Vikings’ comeback in Green Bay. But it's all too familiar. There’s “no justification” for paying $84-million for a guy who's 35-38-2, either.
STAT THAT MAY INTEREST ONLY ME
Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson didn’t have one first-quarter touchdown pass last season. He has three in his first two games this year. Jackson also set a franchise record Sunday for most consecutive passes without an interception. His 178 stretch over two seasons, breaking Joe Flacco's mark of 176 set in 2016. Jackson has gone seven straight games without an interception.
AND ONE MORE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
With Sunday's defeat of Kyler Murray, Baltimore is now 16-2 at home vs. rookie quarterbacks. No other team has won more games at home against first-year quarterbacks since 1996, the Ravens' first season.
GOLD JACKET FOR A DAY
TENNESSEE OT DAVID QUESSENBERRY. He was out of football from 2014-16 while he battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He overcame the disease, returned to football in 2017 and on Sunday scored his first TD on a tackle-eligible pass. “It was a simple route,” he said. “Any of the offensive linemen on this team could have caught that ball.” But that’s the point: Only one did.
GOLD JACKET QUOTE
"When we get poor officiating or we get an awful call like that, we can't control that." -- New Orleans coach Sean Payton.
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