The NFL’s built-in parity means that there are going to be surprises early in every year, and the first two weeks of this season are no exception.
Coach Steve Mariucci’s West Coast offense is becoming a hit in the Motor City, as the Detroit Lions are 2-0. The way the Jacksonville Jaguars have pulled off two wins has drawn comparisons to the 2003 Carolina Panthers, who had thrilling victories all the way to a conference title.
But the loudest September statement is being made in Atlanta, where the Falcons beat St. Louis on Sunday to improve to 2-0 for the first time since their 1998 Super Bowl season. And quarterback Michael Vick is displaying why no player in the league is more valuable to his team.
"Winning is contagious, and I think the guys are experiencing that right now," Vick said. "For this team, the sky is the limit."
Vick guided Atlanta to the playoffs two years ago but missed most of 2003 with a broken fibula, and the Falcons managed only five wins.
But against the Rams, Vick was at his darting-and-dancing best, looking like a tailback in compiling 109 yards rushing. It was his third career 100-yard rushing game, one short of tying the NFL record for a QB.
Atlanta, which hosts the Cardinals this week, is piloted by Vick. But he is hardly a one-man crew — the Falcons’ defense held the Rams to 30 yards rushing, and first-year coach Jim Mora’s game plans are designed to put constant pressure on the opposing team.
This is how receiver Peerless Price described Mora’s pregame speech on Sunday: "Just close the gate, lock ’em in here and don’t let ’em out until you kick their (butts)."
Good luck, Arizona.
All the hand-wringing over Carolina’s season-opening defeat against Green Bay should have elicited chuckles.
The Panthers will be fine, as they showed at Kansas City. They boast solid coaching, veteran leadership and one of the NFL’s best defenses. And any team that can put in a backup running back (DeShaun Foster) and get 176 yards out of him is one to be reckoned with.
"We may not have guys who are Pro Bowlers every year . . . but we’ve got guys who can get the job done," receiver Mushin Muhammad said. "This is not an individual sport. Teams that can mesh their talent best are usually the ones that do best."
ALL’S WELL . . .
In recent years, adversity has somehow brought out the best in the New York Giants. It happened again on Sunday.
Following a tumultuous week in which coach Tom Coughlin fined four players for being late — or, rather, not being early enough — to meetings, New York went out and defeated Washington. In the locker room afterward, defensive end Michael Strahan, one of the players fined by Coughlin, gave the coach, who got his first win with the Giants, a game ball. "All (Coughlin) asked for was a happy Monday," running back Tiki Barber said. "We got a happy Monday."
Jerry Rice’s NFL-record streak of 274 consecutive games with at least one catch ended on Sunday, and far too much discussion has centered on his diminished role in Oakland instead of appreciating the magnitude of his achievement. Where were you on Dec. 1, 1985, the last time Rice — then a rookie with the San Francisco 49ers — was held without a reception? I was a freshman in high school. The Cardinals still resided in St. Louis. Rookie Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald was two years old. The NFL was not on Fox, because that network did not exist. In terms of longevity and performance, Rice’s record might be the most impressive in all of sports.
"I never thought it would come to an end like this," Rice said. "But, you know, it’s OK. It’s all right. Life happens. I’ll just start another (streak.)"