By Peter Schrager
FOX Sports NFL Analyst
Week 2 was pretty good, huh? Another amazing slate is ahead of us.
Here’s to multiple historic fourth-quarter comebacks, Mark Sanchez’s one-liners in the booth and James Harden being gifted balls in the end zone. (How did the Sixers star resist dribbling it 14 times and then shooting the pigskin?)
Let’s get into it:
1. A New York State of Mind
I live in New York City, where there are fans of all 32 NFL teams. Working in Lower Manhattan every day, I get a great opportunity to see thousands of people hustling, bustling and shoving pizza slices down their throats as they pop up from subways and try to avoid walking into traffic while checking their phones.
I also get to see a ton of football jerseys in the wild. And let me tell you, the Giants and Jets jerseys have been pulled out of the back of the closet and are out this week. And that’s understandable considering the long waits those fans have endured to actually wear those jerseys with some morsel of pride.
Jets pull off a stunner!
Craig Carton celebrates after his New York Jets pulled off a miracle comeback in Cleveland.
Ever lose a few pounds and slip into those jeans from five or 10 years ago and just feel great? That’s the 34-year-old Goldman Sachs banker changing out of the shirt and tie and rocking a Saquon jersey to the bar after work right now.
Jets fans are like the Undertaker gif this week, somehow alive and up after being dead and buried before the leaves even started to turn color. Last week was a wild one for the entire franchise, starting with a head coach who had a 4-14 career record insisting he was collecting “receipts” on all those who were mocking his team, and ending with the most improbable Jets victory … ever.
You’ve read or devoured the final 90 seconds of the Jets’ miracle win in Cleveland a million ways, but that victory doesn’t happen if three very important things occur.
A. The two rookie playmakers were fantastic
The Jets took two offensive rookie skill-position players in the first 34 picks and both were electric Sunday. Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall were all over the field. Each scored touchdowns, and in Wilson’s case, he was seemingly unguardable.
I go back to a conversation I had with Jets GM Joe Douglas after the draft, in which Joe told me that after trading up to get Jermaine Johnson with the 26th overall pick, the Jets were trying desperately to move back into the first round for a fourth Day 1 selection so they could add Hall.
They couldn’t find a trade partner. So the Jets brass spent the next 12 hours hoping, wishing, wanting — that somehow Hall would slip to them in the second round. When they learned Houston could be interested in the two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year from Iowa State, Douglas found a trade partner in Giants GM Joe Schoen, jumped Houston and landed the runner.
Hall only touched the ball eight times Sunday, but when out there, he was a difficult cover. I am not using hyperbole here. You’d have to go back to the Rex Ryan era for a time when the Jets had two players as highly touted or as dynamic at WR and RB as Wilson and Hall. This is just the beginning.
B. The Jets special teams were superb
You know the Braden Mann onside kick. But before that, Greg Zuerlein hit a 57-yard-field goal to tie the score at 17. Mann also connected with Jeff Smith on a bold, uncharacteristic fake punt to retain possession in the first half.
Jets fans have not been accustomed to elite special-teams play over the last few years. Mann’s story is particularly fun to rally around. Jets fans were calling for his job after an abysmal Week 1.
In Week 2, he took home the award for AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Brant Boyer’s unit was as responsible for the victory Sunday as the offense or defense.
C. The cloud is lifted … for now?
The Jets don’t win those games. Ever. That’s just not them; at least since Namath suited up.
The gambling sites all reflected that — after Nick Chubb’s score, the Browns were 99% guaranteed a victory. But that 1% was all the Jets needed.
That scene behind Kevin Stefanski was something, too. Children in Browns jerseys, ready to come on to the field in celebration, befuddled as the head coach tries to somehow stop the bleeding on the field in front of them … that’s Jets stuff! Now, maybe it’s not?
Jets coach Robert Saleh called out for receipts. The New York media ate it up. They were ready to pounce Sunday. Then the Jets found a way. New York beat Cincinnati last season. Who knows? Maybe Gang Green can do it again this weekend.
2. Josh Allen’s Miami vise
Bills dominate Titans
Josh Allen threw four TD passes as Buffalo routed Tennessee on Monday night. Are the Bills the best team in the NFL?
I know that sounds awfully dismissive, but there’s dominance and then there’s “Josh Allen against the Dolphins” dominance. Allen enters Sunday’s game in Miami with a 7-1 career record against his AFC East rival, and the average margin of victory is 19.3 points.
Yes, those teams didn’t feature Tyreek Hill, and no, Tua didn’t have Mike McDaniel coaching him up. But there’s no doubt a psychological edge for the countless Bills players who’ve feasted on the Fish over the last three years.
I was curious to see the most dominant QB vs. team records of all time and asked my friend and “Good Morning Football” producer Matt Hamilton for some comparisons. Here’s what we came up with:
Tom Brady is 33-3 vs. the Bills
Ben Roethlisberger was 26-2-1 vs. the Browns
Troy Aikman was 17-3 vs. the Cardinals
Bob Griese was 18-2-1 vs. the Bills
Len Dawson was 21-4 vs. the Broncos
Allen’s record of individual success against Miami certainly looks destined to take its spot on that list.
The Bills enter Sunday’s game on a short week and with injuries at key positions. Dolphins fans haven’t felt this good about their team in years. Be careful with all that optimism. It can quickly turn to hubris.
Allen just beat the defending Super Bowl champions and the defending No. 1 seed in the AFC by a combined score of 72-17. He’s on a mission this season.
3. The “other” late game on FOX
The Sean McVay-Kliff Kingsbury relationship is a really strong one that goes back years. McVay offered Kingsbury a job on the Rams’ staff in the days after Kingsbury was fired by Texas Tech, but the NFL rivalry isn’t quite there yet.
Kyler Murray’s magic
Down 20-0 at halftime, Kyler Murray rallied the Cardinals to an overtime victory in Las Vegas.
Yes, Arizona beat Los Angeles in Week 4 at SoFi last season, but the Rams handled the Cardinals in their second regular-season matchup in Week 14 and then absolutely wiped the floor with them in the playoffs.
Arizona’s still never won at home in Glendale against McVay — whether it was Bruce Arians, Steve Wilks or Kingsbury coaching the team.
But Arizona’s coming off one of the most emotional wins since the “Hail Murray” victory over Buffalo in 2020, and the hope is that the 20-point second-half comeback victory at Las Vegas serves as a catalyst for the rest of the season. That spark certainly wasn’t there over the first six quarters of the season.
As for Kingsbury, everyone on Twitter fired him after three halves of the 2022 season, and even with the win, there were critics of how the game was coached.
On some of those wild Murray plays at the end, the coach was as much a passenger as a play-caller. Kingsbury knows that, and that’s the beauty of Murray’s game. When he’s like that, there might be no more electric player in football.
I spoke to Kingsbury hours after the game and asked how he even had plays left to call, after 58 offensive plays in the second half and overtime, alone.
“We were drawing it up in the dirt,” he said. “Kyler was being Kyler, and it was awesome.”
Arizona didn’t impress anyone in that Week 1 loss to the Chiefs, but is anyone feeling great about the defending Super Bowl champions right now?
4. The Trey Lance injury debate in the Bay
There’s a hot debate in San Francisco media circles right now, and though many are dismissing it on the national level, it’s one the locals are dug into. And it’s worth exploring further.
Trey Lance was injured in Week 2, and the second-year QB was hurt on a designed run play.
Injuries do happen. Especially with running QBs. But was Shanahan running Lance too much? Was this injury destined to happen at some point, whether it was Week 2 or 4 or 6?
Trey Lance out for the season
Emmanuel Acho, Joy Taylor, LeSean McCoy and David Helman discuss the 49ers turning to Jimmy Garoppolo after Trey Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury.
Trey Lance initiated 13 designed runs in a start against the Cardinals last season. He’d already carried the ball 16 in five quarters of football this season, albeit four of those quarters were in a monsoon in Chicago.
My FOX NFL Kickoff colleague Michael Vick ran 13 or more times on only four occasions in his entire NFL career. In three career starts, Trey Lance has done it twice, and he was on pace to far exceed that last week against Seattle in his fourth career start.
How much designed QB running is too much designed QB running when you’re talking about a third overall pick who you gave up a war chest of draft picks to acquire?
My take? It’s not a fun conversation to have, either way, and for as much as Shanahan bristles at the questions about it at the podium, it’s OK to bring up. But we can’t have it both ways. We can’t praise and “ooh” and “ahh” over Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen on Monday night and marvel at how Lamar Jackson runs in Greg Roman’s offense, and then try to say, “Yeah, but …” when it comes to Lance getting injured when used in a similar fasion.
I have so many 49ers fans in my life. And they all agree Lance should be running. That’s not their issue. Their issue is the amount Lance was running. Why was he being asked to run as much as he was, so often and so early?
It’s all crummy — because now it’s hindsight. And I think if Lance ran the ball 18 times for 132 yards and scored two TDs against Seattle, we’d be crowning both him and Shanahan for their bold offensive performance. But he didn’t. He got hurt, snapped his ankle and is out for the year.
What is Lance’s future in San Francisco?
Craig Carton and Greg Jennings explore whether Trey Lance’s future hinges on Jimmy G’s success with the 49ers.
And the injury only leads to more questions down the road. Are we any more informed on whether Lance is capable of leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl now than we were a month ago when we were all asking that question? What’s this mean for Jimmy G, if he leads San Francisco deep into the playoffs, yet again? Do the Niners let the veteran QB walk?
For two years, we’ve imagined this Shanahan offense that featured a mobile QB who could also sling the rock. We envisioned it being some fireworks show that would maximize the coach’s offensive ingenuity in ways that Jimmy G could never touch. But without Lance at the controls, it’s hard to assess whether that’s possible or just a dream born on a Pro Day in North Dakota in the spring of 2021, when Shanahan and Lynch fell in love with the now 22-year-old QB.
I can’t blame Shanahan for using Lance the way he did; but I also won’t immediately dismiss those who want to ask questions.
5. A little Joe Haden appreciation
Joe Haden announced his retirement this week. I saw the news Wednesday on Twitter, and if you missed it, it’d be in line with the bulk of his NFL career.
Haden was consistently one of the better cornerbacks of his generation, but never got his due or the national recognition he might have deserved.
Drafted No. 7 overall by the Browns in 2010, Haden burst onto the scene with six interceptions in his first season. He was an awesome Cleveland Brown during a time when there were very few “awesome” anything’s for the Cleveland Browns.
After seven seasons in Cleveland, the Browns decided to move on, and the rival Steelers were right there waiting. Haden served as a veteran mentor to a young Steelers defensive backfield, picking up another Pro Bowl nod and getting some rare playoff action at the end of his career.
Haden was a wonderful NFL pro. He’s likely not a Pro Football Hall of Famer, and his name won’t come up with Richard Sherman or Patrick Peterson or Darelle Revis or the other star corners from his generation. But the dude was damn good. And I’d argue there were few more engaging smiles and interviews in a locker room.
I don’t know what Joe Haden wants to do the rest of his life, but I hope we see him often. During Thursday night’s Browns-Steelers clash, I sure hope the broadcast takes a bit of time to show him some much-deserved love.
Peter Schrager is an NFL writer for FOX Sports and a host of “Good Morning Football” on NFL Network.
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