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Posted: Tuesday September 16, 2008 1:23PM; Updated: Tuesday September 16, 2008 1:23PM
Don Banks Don Banks >
BANKS' SHOTS

Perception vs. reality (cont.)

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Anquan Boldin hauled in three touchdown passes in the Cards' win over the Dolphins.
Anquan Boldin hauled in three touchdown passes in the Cards' win over the Dolphins.
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Perception: Carolina couldn't possibly win with its best player -- receiver Steve Smith -- sitting out a two-game team suspension to start the season.
Reality: Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for your first-place 2-0 Carolina Panthers. I'd say they've shown quite a bit of fight thus far, but that would probably be a poor choice of words given Smith's sucker-punching of teammate Ken Lucas in training camp.

The Panthers own a pair of fourth-quarter comeback wins, getting it done on the game's final play in Week 1 at San Diego and rallying from a 17-3 third-quarter hole at home against the plucky Bears on Sunday. Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme has thrown for just one touchdown with his go-to guy, Smith, sidelined, but that one really counted for something when it went to Dante Rosario for the game-winner against the Chargers.

Perception: The disgruntled Anquan Boldin could make for trouble in Arizona this season.
Reality: The Cardinals can use this kind of trouble from Boldin any time. The veteran Arizona receiver may be seeing red about his contract situation, but he is making his opponents pay for it on the field. Boldin has a team-best 14 catches for 222 yards as the Cardinals have started 2-0 for the first time since 1991, and he scored his first three touchdowns of the season in Sunday's 31-10 home-opening demolition of Miami.

Boldin had six receptions for 140 yards against the Dolphins, with scoring plays of 79, 5 and 8 yards. It was his 22nd 100-yard receiving game as a Cardinal, setting a franchise record. Combined with his eight second-half receptions in Week 1 at San Francisco, Boldin has made all 14 of his 2008 catches in Arizona's past six quarters.

Perception: If Devin Hester doesn't score, Chicago won't score.
Reality: The Bears have been surprisingly competitive so far, and their 23 points per game ranks a very respectable 13th in the league. Hester hasn't even sniffed the end zone yet, but Chicago has five touchdowns, three field goals and a safety. Three of those touchdowns have come from running back Matt Forte (one) and Jason McKie (two), with linebacker Lance Briggs returning a fumble for a score and receiver Brandon Lloyd notching a touchdown on a return of a blocked punt Sunday at Carolina.

With Hester now nursing sore ribs and his status somewhat uncertain for Week 3, Chicago needs its early season play-makers to continue to fill the void on offense.

Perception: Having gotten a taste of playoff success with two wins last January, the Chargers would return hungry and focused in 2008.
Reality: San Diego's inability to put either of its first two opponents away late in the game has to rank as one of the bigger disappointments in the league. Ed Hochuli aside for the moment, there's no way San Diego should have gotten beat at home by the Steve Smith-less Panthers, or given up a touchdown and a two-point conversion on identical Jay Cutler-to-Eddie Royal passes Sunday in Denver.

The Chargers defense has been horrendous through two games, giving up 32.5 points per game to rank 29th in the NFL. Five of the six touchdowns San Diego has allowed have come via the air, which is tied for the second-most passing touchdowns in the league. Already two games behind first-place Denver in the AFC West, the Chargers better start finishing their work, beginning with Monday night's showdown at home with Brett Favre and the Jets.

Perception: Without both the retired Michael Strahan and the injured Osi Umenyiora, the Giants' vaunted pass rush is going to struggle to repeat last year's dominance.
Reality: The Giants led the NFL last season with 53 sacks. New York this season has seven sacks in its first two games, a rate that would produce 56 sacks if they can keep it up all season. Michael who? Osi who?

New York dumped Washington's Jason Campbell just once in the season opener at Giants Stadium, but they harried or hurried him all night long. At St. Louis on Sunday, the Giants sacked Rams quarterback Marc Bulger six times, with Justin Tuck leading the way with a pair of sacks and a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Perception: David Garrard won't get you beat throwing interceptions.
Reality: Garrard had just three interceptions all last season in 325 attempts, the best ratio for any starting quarterback. This year? He has three interceptions already, in just 63 attempts. And his latest was indeed very costly. Down 10-3 but in possession at the Bills 16 with just 14 seconds left in the first half, Garrard threw an ugly pick to Buffalo cornerback Terrence McGee, who turned it into a touchback and prevented the Jaguars from cutting into the Bills' seven-point lead. That was a pivotal play in what turned out to be a 20-16 Buffalo win, dropping the Jaguars to 0-2 and jeopardizing their once lofty expectations for this season.

Perception: The Browns newly rebuilt defensive line will shut down the run and make opponents one-dimensional.
Reality: The Browns went out and traded for defensive linemen Shaun Rogers and Cory Williams this offseason in order to greatly enhance their defensive front. But the results have been lacking thus far. Cleveland ranks 24th against the run through two games, and is getting gashed for 142 yards per game. Against the pass, the Browns are even worse, ranking 26th and allowing 242 yards per game.

Cleveland couldn't slow down the Cowboys at all on opening day, and in Sunday night's ugly 10-6 loss to the visiting Steelers, the Browns couldn't stop Pittsburgh and get the ball back late in the game, when it really mattered. And things might be about to get worse before they get better, because defensive end Robaire Smith sustained a potentially season-ending Achilles tendon injury against the Steelers.

 
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