Three QBs steal spotlight in Week 2
Michael Vick is a compelling story, as is Matt Schaub and Josh Freeman
I was wrong about Matt Moore, who might give way to Jimmy Clausen
My Fine 15 teams, players of the week and thoughts on Ines Sainz
NEW YORK -- Three quarterbacks. That's what I take out of Week 2, along with a Stat of the Week that might be a Stat of the Year, and why the Dolphins are trouble, and why the Vikings should steer clear of a certain tall receiver from the West Coast, and why the enhanced season proposal isn't bowling you over.
But above all, three quarterbacks. One redeeming himself. One taking his game to the next level. One just starting on his journey to be good with the surprise team of 2010.
Michael Vick, Matt Schaub, Josh Freeman.
Vick played the kind of game Sunday at Detroit he's been waiting to play for years. He was a polished quarterback who ran when forced -- when it was natural -- and threw from around the pocket the vast majority of his 41 pass-drops. He completed 62 percent (21 of 34). Played mistake-free; no turnovers. Just watching on TV, I saw a quarterback who scanned his options before taking off if nothing was there, the imprint of coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg showing.
Is Vick different? Is he going to be someone's long-term option a year from now? Watching him over the last six quarters, I think he has a real chance now.
"I'm 10 times better than I was four years ago,'' Vick told me from the Eagles' locker room in Detroit after the 35-32 win in his first start since 2006, the year before the dogfighting saga hit the public eye. "I've learned so much about the position, about being a complete quarterback, from Andy and Marty. How to stay active back there, how to make good decisions, or they'll be down my throat. I like that. It's something I need.''
The most interesting thing I heard out of Vick was patience. He's 30 now, yet he knows he'll likely have to wait one more year before he has a team of his own. Vick said the Eagles aren't his team; they're Kevin Kolb's team, even though Vick has the hot hand now and Kolb was so shaky before he got concussed in Week 1. If Kolb's healthy, he's the starter, Reid confirmed again Sunday.
"I know Kevin can do it,'' Vick said. "I saw him do it all summer. For me, I've had a taste of it now, and now, finally, I know it's going to be there for me. If I have to wait another year, I can. I can be patient.''
In a sign of their regard for Vick, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, who each caught a touchdown pass from Vick, handed him the ball on the sidelines, wanting him to have it, because they know how much the balls mean to him. I know many of you don't want to see Vick succeed because of his past crimes. Understood. But he's a compelling story right now, and he might be turning into the player the Falcons thought they drafted nine years ago.
"Excuse me if I fall asleep,'' Schaub said from Washington, a half-hour after the unlikeliest win in Texans history, 30-27 over the Redskins, in overtime. "I'm pretty tired.''
And sore, too. That's allowed. In the first two games of the season, Houston's won games it would have lost in the past. Last week, the Texans allowed the Colts to creep back from a 13-0 deficit, but rammed the ball down their throats in the second half, starting with an eight-minute drive to begin the third quarter; Texans 34, Colts 24.
In Washington on Sunday, Houston trailed 27-10 with 18 minutes to play, but tied it on a play Schaub never saw concluded, and then rallied in overtime, even after LaRon Landry had hit Schaub with a rib-rattler he'll certainly be feeling all week. I kidded Schaub in training camp that out of 100 real football fans, only five -- maybe -- could answer the question, "Which quarterback led the NFL in passing yards last year?'' It was Schaub, but who remembers a jillion yards by a quarterback whose team went 1-5 in the division and didn't make the playoffs?
The game in Washington was the kind that really good quarterbacks survive and win. That's what Schaub is right now, and I didn't have to see him throw for 497 yards (38 of 52, with three touchdowns and one pick) to know. I did take the time to watch the play he made with 2:10 left in the fourth quarter, Houston down 27-20. Fourth-and-10. That was the game right here. Make a play or go home 1-1. Schaub took the shotgun snap and moved right to escape some pressure, then moved right some more.
"I felt their guy coming inside on me,'' Schaub said, "so I moved away from the pressure. I saw Andre [Johnson] way down the field on the left and I just put it up to him. Then I took the hit, and I never saw what happened. I don't know how he caught the ball.''
"You haven't seen a replay?'' I said.
"No,'' he said. "Guess I'll see it tomorrow when we look at the film.''
Johnson leapt high above safety Reed Doughty three yards deep in the end zone and power-grabbed the ball. Great play by Johnson. Great throw by Schaub, knowing he was about to get leveled. And the best numbers of Schaub's life -- high school, college or pro.
"What I care about,'' he said, "is we showed resolve as a team, on the road, in a tough environment, against a really good defense. It was a great win for us.''
A win I don't think they'd have earned in the past. They're growing up, these Texans.
It's supposed to be time for growing pains in Tampa, with a 34-year-old coach, Raheem Morris, and a 22-year-old quarterback throwing to 22-, 23- and 24-year-old wideouts, with a brand new front seven, the guts of which is 25 or younger. The first two Sundays of The Rebuilding Era in Bucs history haven't been artistic successes, but they've been happy -- 17-14 over Cleveland last week, 20-7 Sunday over the Panthers in Charlotte.
Freeman, the 22-year-old kid from Kansas State, has taken tutelage from offensive coordinator Greg Olson and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt and become a confident player who makes smart decisions. Against Carolina, on third-and-17 in the middle of the second quarter, he threw a ball down the right side to a spot that only Kellen Winslow would be able to make a play, and he did, for a 40-yard gain. On the next play, one of the stories of the season, fourth-round rookie Mike Williams, made a catch-and-run touchdown, for what turned out to be the winning score.
"It's a great offense for me,'' Freeman said from Charlotte. "Coach Olson's done a great job with me doing things he know I can succeed at.''
You're not going to rip up the Tampa defense, not with the strong midsection led by two 23-year-old tackles (Kyle Moore, Roy Miller) and a 21-year-old backup (Brian Price) and 22-year-old two-way end (top pick Gerald McCoy). DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart ran for 97 yards on the day, but it took them 25 carries to get there. The defense bludgeoned Matt Moore to the bench. Tampa's going to be a very interesting team to watch -- certainly better than the build-for-2011 year I thought this was going to be.
"If I had to say one thing that's been important here, it's the culture,'' Freeman said. "Everyone's working for the best interest of the team, and we're following Raheem. There's a lot of trust for him in this locker room.'' Whatever works -- and it's working well. Now we'll find out exactly how well. Sandwiched by a bye, the next three games at Pittsburgh at home, Cincinnati on the road, and the Saints at home. The rubber's about to meet the road.
Steelers winning with defense
I think a lot of us thought that if the Steelers were 2-2 when Ben Roethlisberger returned from his suspension, they'd be in great shape. Well, we might have to upgrade that a bit. And we might have to say that if a defense plays as well as Pittsburgh's is right now, the Steelers might be able to win with a ghost of Cliff Stoudt playing quarterback. The Steelers held Chris Johnson to 34 yards on 16 carries Sunday in Nashville and flustered Vince Young so badly that Jeff Fisher had to yank him for his own good. The 19-11 win by the Steelers was closer than it should have been, but the kind of brutal beatdown that the old Steel Curtain would have been proud of. "These guys put together a fantastic effort and it's rare that I've been this proud of this team," coach Mike Tomlin said from the team bus on the way to the airport from the game. "Games like this are what make the NFL great. There's a lot of reasons why maybe we may not be able to play our best team. But we come out and we give an effort like this. Absolutely tremendous."
It was funny to hear Tomlin talk about his quarterback situation. Dennis Dixon strained a knee Sunday, and once-forgotten Charlie Batch had to finish up. He said the team will re-sign Byron Leftwich today and add him to the mix at quarterback. And then next Sunday in Tampa, one of them will start. Tomlin's not sure which one. "We've got a quarterback health situation. We don't know how serious Dennis' injury is; we'll know more [today]. As I sit here right now, yes, anyone of them could start Sunday. I have no idea," said Tomlin, who laughed at how preposterous his quarterback situation is. But all he knows is that his team is 2-0 and surviving.
Another team winning with defense: Miami
Fourth-quarter, 2:21 to play, fourth-and-one, Miami one-yard line, Dolphins 14, Minnesota 10. On the previous five plays of this drive, Adrian Peterson got the ball every time, so why should this time be any different. He slammed up between the guard-tackle hole. Karlos Dansby met him first and wrapped him up at about the one and then cornerback Vontae Davis, who plays bigger than he is, reinforced the collision and Peterson went down two-feet shy of the end zone. "That's what you train in the offseason for," Davis said afterward. "For collisions like that. You know it's coming. And you know the game is on the line. A message from a play like that is, 'You need to take us seriously.' '' Message delivered.
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