NFL Week Two: Five things we learnt

A round-up of the action from Week Two of the NFL

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The Independent Online

With a slightly better idea of who is emerging as contenders and who is already falling by the wayside, Zander Swinburne takes us through what happened.

1. Something special is happening in Cleveland

It wasn't pretty but the Cleveland Browns surprised nearly all and somehow found a way to win, beating the New Orleans Saints 26-24. Billy Cundiff’s 29-yard field goal with only three seconds left in the game gave Cleveland the most unlikely of wins against a quality Saints team. Quarterback Brian Hoyer’s stats were nothing special, completing 60 per cent of his passes with one touchdown. He made a few mistakes and it has become evident that Cleveland need a playmaker at the receiver position. Despite this, Hoyer did what the team needed him to do when it mattered, leading the Browns from their own four-yard line with a little over two minutes left to set up Cundiff’s game-winning kick. With this, Cleveland won their first season opener since 2004 and the atmosphere surrounding the team’s comeback was infectious. The Browns are not a complete team by any stretch of the imagination, but the addition of rookie head coach Mike Pettine appears to have rejuvenated the franchise. He’s brought a sense of stability to a club in desperate need of it, whilst also providing some flare and showmanship that gives the fans something to cheer about; all this without Johnny Manziel as the headliner.

2. RGIII’s job is now under threat

Washington has now been plunged back into another quarterback injury dilemma, their third in as many seasons. Starter Robert Griffin III was carted off the field having played less than five minutes of the Redskins home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Griffin reportedly suffered a dislocated ankle when scrambling with the football and more will be known following an MRI scan and there is a real possibility RGIII’s job won’t be waiting for him when he comes back. Washington’s understudy proved to be invaluable, with Kirk Cousins throwing 22 of 33 for 250 yards and two touchdowns. RGIII’S replacement was widely seen as a competent backup should the starter go down, but now that the worst has happened, Washington will need to start evaluating who gives them the best chance of winning. RGIII’s performance in week one was mixed and his susceptibility to injury fails to give the Redskins any continuity on offence. The next few weeks will be Cousins’ audition for the starting role and if he succeeds, much like he did against Jacksonville on Sunday, Washington may indeed have to drop the quarterback they invested so heavily in.

3. No alarm bells in New England this week

Barely one week removed from an agonising defeat to the Miami Dolphins, Bill Belichick’s Patriots returned to winning ways after thrashing the Minnesota Vikings 30-7. Tom Brady was as efficient as ever, connecting with Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski on numerous occasions.  It was the Patriots defence however that stole the show, intercepting Matt Cassel four times with four different defenders. The Vikings were as ineffective with the run game as you might expect without Adrian Peterson, and New England took advantage of this, limiting Minnesota to just 54 rushing yards in total. Darelle Revis appeared to be back to his New York Jets form, picking Cassel off as well as recording three tackles. There were also big plays on special teams with Chandler Jones blocking a field goal before running the ball back for a touchdown. Moreover for the Patriots, it was a complete team performance, with all three phases of the game complimenting each other to secure the team’s first win of the season.

4. Andy Dalton is proving to be a valuable asset for the Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton divides opinion across the NFL. His play on the field can often be seen as boring and wayward. However, with two games in the books, Andy Dalton is slowly proving that he has what it takes to become a top NFL quarterback. Consistency at the moment is Dalton’s main strength. Over two games he has recorded more than 500 yards passing, established a 65 per cent completion rating and has thrown no interceptions.  Cincinnati won their second game on Sunday to take sole lead of the AFC North and they appear to have a team capable of challenging for the division title once again. In previous seasons, Dalton could often be an asset or a liability, with inconsistent play marring team efforts. By cancelling out these mistakes, Dalton has quietly been producing the type of numbers that are needed from a contender. Cincinnati were wise on Sunday not to rely solely on Dalton, giving their running game the bulk of plays, however this is proving to compliment Dalton’s game greatly and so he just might start to turn a few heads in the coming weeks.

5. Arizona are emerging as a dominant force in the NFC West

For the last four seasons, the NFC West has been controlled by either the San Francisco 49ers or the Seattle Seahawks, with the St Louis Rams bringing up the tail end year after year. Not since 2009 has Arizona claimed the division and this year the Cardinals appear ready to challenge for the NFC West once again. Not only are the Cardinals one of just two teams in the NFC to be 2-0, the manner in which they have won their two games should be a cause for concern for the rest of their division. Even without starting quarterback Carson Palmer, the Cardinals put up over 250 yards against the Giants on Sunday, eventually sealing the game 25-14 in the fourth quarter.  Arizona have shown a cohesiveness between all three phases of the game. Although their offence is unlikely to be the strongest in the NFL, they seem to do enough to win out, whilst Arizona’s defence looks set to be a top ten, if not a top five unit. This Sunday also saw their special teams contribute, with a stunning 71-yard punt return from Ted Ginn Jr. Although they remain outsiders in a highly competitive NFC West, Arizona have shown over the last two weeks that they now have the ability to contend.