Bill O’Brien’s embarrassing Week 2, and other thoughts from around the NFL
Week 1 was a disaster for one Bill Belichick disciple, Matt Patricia. Week 2 was embarrassing for another one, Bill O’Brien.
O’Brien won a power struggle over former Texans general manager Rick Smith last offseason and signed an extension through the 2022 season, but he already is feeling some heat just two games into the season. Not only are his Texans 0-2, but O’Brien has been off his game so far.
Let’s take a look at the most interesting story lines and developments of Week 2, starting in Houston:
■ O’Brien blew it against the Patriots two weeks ago, neglecting to call timeout to give the officials enough time to use instant replay on a key play. And Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Titans was one he wants to forget.
The Texans lost to a team that was missing its starting quarterback (Marcus Mariota), top offensive weapon (Delanie Walker), and both starting offensive tackles (Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin). They blew a 17-14 lead to Blaine Gabbert. They allowed a 66-yard touchdown on a fake punt. Jadeveon Clowney got a taunting penalty, even though he wasn’t playing. And Deshaun Watson had no awareness of the game clock or the situation on the final, last-gasp play that fell short.
Longtime Houston Chronicle writer John McClain spared no one, calling it “one of the most embarrassing losses in Texans history” and giving O’Brien an F-minus grade in his weekly report card.
Despite the contract extension, O’Brien could find himself on the hot seat this year if his team continues to look sloppy and fall short of expectations.
■ I wrote this about the Buccaneers and coach Dirk Koetter in Sunday Football Notes on Aug. 19:
“[T]he Bucs face quite the challenge to start the regular season. Their first three games are at New Orleans (11-5 last year), vs. Philadelphia (13-3), and vs. Pittsburgh (13-3), which is the toughest three-game stretch to open the season by any team in the 53-year Super Bowl era, per NFL research. And [Koetter] will have to navigate those games with [Ryan] Fitzpatrick, his journeyman backup. Good luck.”
Cue Chris Berman: “THAT’S WHY THEY PLAY THE GAMES.” The Bucs are the NFL’s biggest surprise at 2-0 following Sunday’s 27-21 upset of the Eagles, and the offense is No. 1 in yards and No. 2 in points under Fitzpatrick. Next week’s game against the 0-1-1 Steelers doesn’t look as daunting.
But the Bucs have a big dilemma coming up. Fitzpatrick has been incredible, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns in each of two wins to start his season. But Jameis Winston is coming back from suspension after the next game, and he’s in the final year of his contract.
Fitzpatrick has been on fire, but he’s also a 35-year-old journeyman who isn’t the future of the franchise, and is likely to come crashing back to earth at some point soon.
It won’t be an easy decision for Koetter, maybe not even a popular one, but he has to give the team back to Winston when he comes back. The Bucs need to know whether Winston is the future, and there’s no way to find out other than to see how he plays coming off the suspension.
■ The Bucs and Rams are the only two undefeated teams left in the NFC, but they’re a year ahead of schedule. They have faced each other in the NFC Championship game every 20 years — in 1979 and 1999. Pencil them in for the 2019 game.
■ In fact, it’s a great start for the entire Sunshine State. The Bucs, Dolphins, and Jaguars are all 2-0 for the first time since 1997. The Dolphins sit alone in first place in the AFC East after wins over the Titans and Jets. They haven’t looked great, but at least the Week 4 game in Foxborough will have some meaning to it.
■ Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the real deal and deserves every bit of hype coming his way. Mahomes set an NFL record for touchdown passes in the first two games of a season with 10, and his coach believes he benefited from sitting behind Alex Smith for his entire rookie season.
“He came into a good situation with Alex ,and I said that was priceless for him,” Andy Reid said. “Alex was not one who was going to hide anything or play games with him or anything like that. He kept it all out in the open and was secure enough, that wasn’t a problem. There’s no way he could repay Alex with having that experience. That was phenomenal.”
■ It’s time to recalibrate our standards for the completion percentage stat, because Sunday’s games produced some eye-popping numbers. Oakland’s Derek Carr produced the fourth-highest completion percentage in NFL history, completing 29 of 32 passes (90.6 percent). Six quarterbacks completed better than 80 percent of their passes, and 15 of the 30 quarterbacks were better than 70 percent.
A high completion percentage doesn’t necessarily correlate to winning. While the 80 percent passers went 5-1 (Carr the lone loss), the 70-and-above group was just 7-6-2. Four quarterbacks completed less than 60 percent of passes and yet went 2-2.
The new standard for a “good” completion percentage should be 70 percent. NFL passes are getting shorter and safer.
■ The 0-2 Raiders have just two sacks and seven quarterback hits through two games. Who could have possibly seen this coming after they traded away Khalil Mack?
■ The seven new head coaches fared slightly better in Week 2 after going 0-7 in Week 1. Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel, Chicago’s Matt Nagy, and Indianapolis’s Frank Reich pulled out victories, but Oakland’s Jon Gruden, Arizona’s Steve Wilks, the Giants’ Pat Shurmur, and Patricia all lost again. The combined record of the seven: 3-11.
■ If you think Patricia’s tenure in Detroit is starting badly, take a look at Wilks. The Cardinals have scored just 6 points in two games and are minus-52 in point differential.
■ Rookie Quarterback Watch: The Bills’ Josh Allen had a nondescript 245 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions in a loss at home to the Chargers. The Jets’ Sam Darnold definitely flashed some ability and poise while throwing for 334 yards and a touchdown, but he came back to earth in a loss to the Dolphins, throwing two interceptions.
Josh Rosen’s time in Arizona may be coming quickly, with Sam Bradford throwing for just 90 yards and an interception on 27 attempts Sunday. And Baker Mayfield’s time will come by the end of October if the Browns can’t stop losing (or tying).
■ There’s nothing much more to say about the Clay Matthews penalty other than it was a terrible call by the officials, and Tony Corrente’s explanation is not a valid one. Even worse, Al Riveron doubled down on the call, saying it was correct and that it will be used in teaching videos.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Matthews didn’t drive Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins into the ground, and he didn’t lift him off the ground. It was a bad call, through and through.
NFL officials have been so conditioned to protect the quarterback that they instinctively throw a flag any time they see a big hit.
■ I actually give Vontae Davis some credit for retiring the way he did. It’s obviously a bad look to leave the stadium at halftime, and he let down his teammates and organization. But Davis could have easily gone through the motions this year and collected his $5 million in total compensation. If he follows through with retirement, the Bills will be able to recoup a majority of it. At least Davis recognized that his heart wasn’t in it anymore.
■ Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler was beaten for another deep touchdown, this time by Texans receiver Will Fuller. Butler has allowed three touchdowns this season. He continues to mix flashes of brilliance with questionable ball skills and coverage breakdowns.
■ Wide receiver Brandin Cooks has been a terrific fit with the Rams, and had a team-high seven catches and 159 yards in Sunday’s win over the Cardinals. He had a long of 57 yards, three more receptions over 20 yards, and converted 2 of 3 targets on third down, an area in which he badly struggled with the Patriots.
I won’t blame the Patriots for giving up on Cooks, because he didn’t fight for the ball and didn’t fit what they try to do on offense. He is simply a much better fit in the Rams’ run- and play-action-based offense.
■ Receiver Danny Amendola led the Dolphins with four catches and 32 yards while playing 44 of 60 snaps as the clear No. 2 receiver. Amendola isn’t having a big statistical impact so far, but most of that falls on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Amendola is providing the leadership the Dolphins badly needed.
■ Running back Dion Lewis had 14 carries for 42 yards and one catch for 1 yard, but the Texans were stacking the box with Gabbert at quarterback. The Patriots sure could have used Lewis against the Jaguars.
■ Tackle Nate Solder hasn’t been terrible for the Giants, but he hasn’t fixed their offensive line problems, either. Eli Manning was sacked six times by six different Cowboys, and hit eight times overall.
■ Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo bounced back from his first career loss, throwing for 206 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-27 win over Patricia’s Lions that wasn’t as close as the score suggests. Garoppolo led a 13-play, 83-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, but otherwise the game was a grind. He had only one completion of more than 20 yards and didn’t lead the 49ers on any other length-of-the-field drives.
Odds and ends
■ Adam Vinatieri kicked three extra points to reach 2,501 career points, becoming the second player in NFL history to hit 2,500. He is 43 points behind Morten Andersen for the most all time.
■ Phillip who? Denver rookie running back Phillip Lindsay became the first undrafted player in NFL history to record 100 scrimmage yards in each of his first two career games.
■ The 66-yard touchdown pass by Titans safety Kevin Byard on a fake punt was the longest TD pass by a defensive player in the Super Bowl era. The previous long was 18 yards by the Rams’ Ed Meador in 1967.
■ DeSean Jackson has caught five touchdowns from Fitzpatrick and one from Winston since joining the Bucs last year.
■ The Dolphins’ Frank Gore now has 14,112 career rushing yards, surpassing Curtis Martin (14,101) for fourth-most in NFL history.