AJ Green, Alvin Kamara, Buffalo Bills, Cam Newton, Cincinnati Bengals, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Dak Prescott, David Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Deshaun Watson, Drew Bledsoe, Drew Brees, Houston Texans, Jeff Benedict, Joe Burrow, Kansas City Chiefs, LA Chargers, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, NFL, Patrick Mahomes, Peter King, Robert Kraft, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, The Dynasty, Tom Brady, Week One
Here we are looking at the second week of the 2020 season and so far we got through the first week of games with the storylines being what happened on the field and not any kind of Covid outbreak. There is still a long way to go and the problem with Covid-19 is that it can spread rapidly so whilst the teams and the locker room are managing to police themselves so far, an already long season looks like a mammoth exercise in endurance. There may well be an asterisk placed against this season by the time it is done, but if the NFL manages to crown a champion, they will be truly worthy.
What I Saw
The season opened with the Kansas City Chiefs in ominous form, easily beating the Houston Texans 34-20 and looking every inch the defending champions. The Chiefs DVOA rankings look relatively modest, but rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire quickly established himself with one hundred and thirty-eight yards rushing, and the passing attack distributed the ball efficiently between half a dozen receivers. The numbers for Patrick Mahomes look relatively modest but belie how in control of this game the Chiefs were. The Houston Texans did take the lead in this game after a crisp second drive finished with a nineteen yard touchdown run from David Johnson who showed some of the explosion he was missing last year as he tries to get somewhere near the Pro Bowl form he showed back in 2016. However, after the Texans surrendered their lead towards the end of the second quarter they never got close again as the offence looked to be missing DeAndre Hopkins and could not keep up with the Chiefs, particularly as the Texans’ defence could not contain the Cheif’s offence. It is way to early to write off the Texans as head coach Bill O’Brien has a history of competing in their division but I do worry they are not setup to maximise the window they have with Deshaun Watson.
I watched two games from the late slate of Sunday games. The Cincinnati Bengals hosted the LA Chargers and in a parallel universe somewhere beat them with a pass to AJ Green in the dying seconds that didn’t get the offensive PI call that wiped out Burrow’s chance of a debut win. The game could have been taken into overtime with an eminently kickable field goal, but the Chargers played their own part in getting the 16-13 win. The Bengals offensive line struggled in the first half as the Chargers introduced Burrow to what an NFL pass rush can do. This not only resulted in three sacks but Burrow struggled early and in the second half he gifted the Chargers an interception with an ill advised shovel pass, but the second half and the final drive showed glimpses of what he could become. Not to mention the Bengals defence looked better than it did last season. It’s too early to tell just how good either of these teams are in the context of the league, but I’m hopeful that the Bengals will remain competitive and I expect the same from the Chargers.
The final game I watched fully was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit to New Orleans where they lost to the Saints 34-24. It was not the premier contest you might have expected with Tom Brady and Drew Brees as the quarterbacks. In a new uniform Tom Brady had some moments and a couple of nice deep balls, but also looked like a quarterback in a new offensive system and with special teams mishaps and uncharacteristic interceptions the Bucs were unable to keep up with the Saints. This time the Bucs surrendered an early lead in the second quarter and never really got close to the Saint. The Saints defence looked good and generated turnovers whilst their offence spread the ball around without dominating. Alvin Kamara caught and rushed for a touchdown but Drew Brees only threw for one hundred and sixty yards so I have no doubt that people have his throws under the microscope for the next few weeks. I still like the Saints to be one of the teams in the NFC, but it looks like Brady and the Bucs have some work to do if they want to join them in the play-offs.
What I Heard
With the abbreviated pre-season it is perhaps not surprising that it was the established premier coaches who won their first games. For example, the Patriots utilised Cam Newton effectively and will be looking to pile the pressure on the Bills who many were tipping to be favourites for the division. Execution, third-down play, and conditioning is what will win games in this early part of the season.
It will be no surprise to anyone that Peter King is good at covering the NFL, but this week’s podcast interview with author Jeff Benedict was really good and his new book, The Dynasty sounds like a really good book unless you’re my friend Dan and pathologically hate the Pats for AFC East reasons.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Tom Brady being a Californian stuck in the snow and in danger of missing Bill Belichick’s mandatory three-hour early arrival meeting ahead of a game as he’s stuck on a gridlocked freeway. However, Brady is smart enough to call the Pats’ head of security, who confirms he is in his yellow jeep and within ten minutes state troopers arrive and give him an escort through the traffic. It sounds like a scene from a movie, but the other drivers soon realise who is being prioritised through and start honking their horns and cheering as other Pats’ players fall in line behind the convoy, recognising Brady’s car and everyone makes it to the game. It sounds like a movie. Oh, and this is ahead of the infamous tuck rule game against the Raiders.
However, believe it or not, that’s not the best story in the podcast, and nor is the one about how Bon Jovi was a part of Robert Kraft’s vetting process for Belichick. No, author Benedict read his own prologue of the day where Drew Bledsoe could have died and trust me, even if you can’t stomach a book about the last twenty years or the Patriots, you should listen to that story because it is a work of a proper writer.
I hope one day to write something as good as that. I also enjoyed them keeping Peter King’s unfiltered response during the recording process.
What I Think
Every year going into week two I try to remember that it is early in the season, that a team is more likely to finish week two 1-1 than 2-0 or 0-2, but it is very hard to make it into the play-offs if you start the season 0-2.
There might be some more room to manoeuvre this season given the expanded play-offs, but there will be a number of teams in the AFC and NFC who are expecting to compete for the play-offs who will be desperate for a win this week.
What I say to fans of those teams is that it is not time to panic, yet… I would wait until the end of week three and even then, unlikely runs can happen, but what most teams and fans will be hoping is that by then they have not left themselves too much to do already.
What I Know
What I know right now is that no one’s life currently looks like they planned at the beginning of the year. We are all struggling to adjust, and I am sure that is true for everyone working in the NFL and not just for Covid-19 related reasons.
To be honest, the blog still feel odd to me. It’s not a surprise, there are meant to be three of us involved and now we’re down to two a person is missing from our usual conversations and plans.
I’m trying to enjoy the process, but I wonder about the grind of the season. It’s never work, but it can get to you and given how I feel going into week two, I can’t help but wonder how the players are going to find it. That’s why I found Dak Prescott’s honesty about his struggles with his mental health earlier this year so moving.
There are still things to take from the league, and I just hope that at some point things to feel less heavy, even if it is going to feel strange for a while.
What I Hope
I’m going to be selfish this week, I’m hoping for a Thursday night win for the Bengals, and that Joe Burrow gets that first win early so the Bengals can start building something that might one day lead back to the Super Bowl.
It all has to start with that first win.
I hope it is soon.
Peter King said:
Hi. Peter King here. Glad to see you listened to the pod and loved the stuff Jeff Benedict said. He is terrific, and his book is masterful. All the best to you.