Column as I see ’em, Week Two:
No doubt, Bills fans are searching for reasons to be optimistic after Sunday’s discouraging 40-32 loss to the Patriots at The Ralph. Perhaps they can find some solace in the early-season struggles of the NFC East, their conference crossover this season.
The division with the most Super Bowl titles is in disarray. The Giants and Eagles are winless and getting crushed by critical fans and media. The Cowboys are 2-0, but reeling from injuries to quarterback Tony Romo and star wideout Dez Bryant. Only the 1-1 Redskins are healthy and exceeding expectations.
A look at the four teams in the NFC East after two weeks, in order of their appearance on the Bills’ schedule:
Giants (Oct. 4 at Buffalo): They’ve blown double-digit leads in the fourth quarter of both losses in embarrassing fashion. Eli Manning mismanaged the clock near the goal line in the opener, allowing the Cowboys to gain possession and score a TD with seven seconds left to win, 27-26.
Manning committed another gaffe this past Sunday, taking a delay-of-game penalty on a big third down with New York threatening to break the game open. The Falcons rallied to win, 24-20. The Giants are 31st in the NFL in defense after two weeks and last against the pass (the Bills are 31st).
Big Blue hosts the Redskins this week before visiting The Ralph. If they don’t at least split, New Yorkers will no doubt take up that frequent fall refrain: Calling for the job of Giants head coach Tom Coughlin.
Eagles (Dec. 13 vs. Bills): Chip Kelly is under fire after an 0-2 start in which his vaunted offense has been a shambles. The running game is last in the league with 33 carries for 70 yards. DeMarco Murray, last year’s rushing champ with Dallas, has carried 21 times for only 11 yards behind a weak O line.
Sam Bradford, supposedly the answer after returning from serious knee injuries, has been brutal and timid. Bradford has thrown four interceptions, the most in the league so far. In Philly’s first seven drives against the visiting Cowboys on Sunday, the Eagles gained a grand total of 33 yards.
Kelly says he’s “embarrassed.” He should be. He’s the one who, given the GM’s powers, ripped up his roster last winter. He traded LeSean McCoy to the Bills, let Jeremy Maclin walk in free agency and released several pricey veterans, including guard Todd Herremans and linebacker Trent Cole.
Maybe Kelly will get things figured out in time for Buffalo’s visit. But I imagine McCoy is laughing inside right now.
Washington (Dec. 20 vs. Bills): Widely dismissed as the division doormat, Jay Gruden’s gang is 1-1 after a dominant win over the Rams on Sunday. After two home games, they’re third in the NFL in defense and first in rushing. Sounds like the formula the Bills had in mind this season.
Alfred Morris and Matt Jones have combined for 331 rushing yards. Morris had 121 yards in the opener and Jones, a third-round draft pick out of Florida, had 123 on Sunday against St. Louis. That’s making life easier for quarterback Kirk Cousins, who went 23-for-27 for 203 yards against the Rams.
Thankfully, all the Robert Griffin III drama has subsided, at least for now.
Cowboys (Dec. 27 at Bills): Dallas is 2-0, but will be without Romo and Bryant for at least six weeks. Bryant broke a small bone in his foot against the Giants and is expected to miss 10-12 weeks. Romo broke his left collarbone against the Eagles. The team had no definite timetable for his return as of late Monday afternoon, but he is expected to miss at least two months.
Brandon Weeden will be the Dallas backup QB in Romo’s absence. There have been reports that the Cowboys might be looking for quarterback help. Buffalo backup Matt Cassel’s name has been mentioned.
Chances are Romo and Bryant will be playing again when the Cowboys come to Buffalo two days after Christmas. The question is whether Dallas will have anything to be playing for by then.
•With three touchdown passes against the Bills, Tom Brady slipped past Drew Brees into fourth place on the career list with 399. Peyton Manning is the all-time leader with 533. Brett Favre has 508, Dan Marino 420. Brees has 398. Jim Kelly ranks 24th with 237 career TD passes.
Brady had one of the best statistical days of his career Sunday, but it was fairly typical of his recent trips to The Ralph. In his last four games here, Brady has averaged 31 completions for 387 yards and three TDs. The Patriots have averaged 38 points and 495 total yards in the four victories.
• Remember when New Orleans was considered close to unbeatable in the Superdome? After Sunday’s 26-19 upset loss to Tampa Bay, the Saints have lost six straight home games. The streak followed an eight-game dome winning streak that included a 35-17 win over the Bills during the 2013 season.
Their defense has been woeful. The Saints, now 0-2, have allowed an average of 403 total yards and 31 points in those six home defeats. Brees, 36, appears to have hit a wall. In his last four games, Brees has four TD passes and seven interceptions.
Watching Brees and Peyton Manning slip into decline, it’s even more remarkable that Brady is playing as well as ever at age 38.
• Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has gone 18 home games without throwing an interception after Sunday night’s 27-17 win over the Seahawks. Rodgers has thrown for 4,906 yards and 43 TDs since Vikings safety Harrison Smith picked him off at Lambeau on Dec. 2, 2012. The Packers are 16-2 in those games.
• Through two weeks, Rex Ryan’s Bills lead the NFL in penalty yards with 253. The Bears, with 234, are the only team within 60 yards of them. According to Football Database, there have been seven personal fouls called in the league thus far. The Bills have been whistled for four of them.
• Peter King, one of the most respected NFL writers in the NFL, listed this among the things he didn’t like about Week 2: “Mario Williams, on New England running back Dion Lewis’ touchdown run at Buffalo, being stood up by tight end Rob Gronkowski and not making much of an effort.”
• Fantasy note: I’m kicking myself for not making the Steelers’ Antonio Brown the No. 2 overall pick of the media fantasy league (a PPR league). Brown is the most consistent receiver in the NFL. Last year, he had 129 catches for 1,698 yards and 13 TDs. Through two weeks, he has 18 for 328 and two TDs.