September 24, 2012
After the first two weeks of the NFL season, we could have surmised:
The San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers were very good.
The Oakland Raiders were very bad.
The Arizona Cardinals were very lucky.
But Sunday, oh, how the West was spun.
California's two undefeated teams stumbled to humiliating losses, the 49ers losing at Minnesota to the Vikings, 24-13, and the Chargers falling at home to the Atlanta Falcons, 27-3.
The Raiders, who had lost six of seven dating to last season, picked up their first victory by upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers, 34-31.
And, in a battle of unbeaten teams, Arizona crushed the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-6. The Cardinals, who are 3-0 for the first time since 1974, provided a convincing rebuttal to doubters who dismissed their Week 2 win at New England against the Patriots as a fluke.
Dating to last season, the Cardinals have won 10 of 12. Sunday's victory was especially sweet because it was redemption for quarterback Kevin Kolb, who was cast aside by Philadelphia in favor of Michael Vick.
As for the Eagles, the law of averages finally caught up with them. After squeaking to victories in their first two games despite nine turnovers, they lost three more fumbles Sunday and paid the price (including one returned 93 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half.)
Arizona and Atlanta are the NFC's only remaining undefeated teams, and both are in position to reach 4-0. Each is at home Sunday, with Arizona playing the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta playing the Carolina Panthers.
All three of the Falcons' victories have come against AFC West teams, and Sunday they denied the bid of San Diego's Norv Turner to go to 3-0 for the first time in his coaching career.
"We have a lot of work to do to get everyone on the same page," Turner said, "and to be able to go out and play as good as we're capable of playing when things aren't going as smoothly as we'd like."
The 49ers, meanwhile, will look to regroup in Youngstown, Ohio, this week as they prepare for Sunday's game at the New York Jets.
"You can't think that the game's just going to be given to you, especially when you guys are hyping us up and saying we're that good," 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman told reporters. "Everyone is trying to knock us off. You just have to be prepared for it every single game."
Despite looking like the league's best all-around team after two weeks, the 49ers fell behind by two touchdowns early to the Vikings — a team that won just three games last season — and could never dig themselves out of that hole.
"We all have fingerprints on it," 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh said of the loss. "Now it's a matter of bouncing back and making darn sure it doesn't happen again."
In a remarkable show of courage, the Baltimore Ravens' Torrey Smith caught two touchdown passes Sunday night, less than a day after learning his 19-year-old brother, Tevin, had been killed in a motorcycle accident.
Smith is particularly close to his younger siblings, seeing as he played a big role in raising them. He learned of the tragedy in the middle of the night, spent the day with his family in Virginia, and rejoined the team in the afternoon.
His performance in the game was reminiscent of the one that the Green Bay Packers' Brett Favre had on a Monday night in Oakland in the wake of his father's death.
Smith acknowledged Tevin's death on Twitter: "I can't believe my little brother is gone … be thankful for your loved ones and tell them you love them … this is the hardest thing ever."
Blowing the whistle
The NFL has asked its players and coaches not to publicly criticize the replacement officials, but the league will likely field some angry phone calls from teams after Sunday.
Among the miscues, Harbaugh was twice granted challenges after the he called timeout in the fourth quarter. Neither should have been allowed after Harbaugh asked for time, and the referee later admitted his mistake.
Also in that game, the 49ers were flagged for an illegal block in the back, even though they were the kicking team. Harbaugh went nuts, and the officials picked up the flag.
In both the Detroit Lions-Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals-Washington Redskins games, officials incorrectly marched off yardage on penalties. The Lions were penalized 27 yards for a helmet-to-helmet hit, and the Redskins were penalized 20 yards instead of 15 for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The wildest play in Detroit's 44-41 overtime loss at Tennessee wasn't the Lions' Hail Mary touchdown at the end of regulation that forced the extra period.
It was a simple snap of the football.
The Titans took a three-point lead in overtime with a field goal, and the Lions had a chance to match that. Quarterback Shaun Hill — playing in place of the injured Matthew Stafford — drove Detroit deep into Tennessee territory, where he had a fourth and one at the seven.
In attempting to draw the defense offside, the Lions mistakenly snapped the ball then came up short on the run. Game over.
"Obviously there was a miscommunication," Detroit Coach Jim Schwartz said.
Hard to believe, but the New Orleans Saints maintained its dubious distinction as the NFC's only winless team, losing at home to the nine-point underdog Kansas City Chiefs.
The Saints led by 18 in the third quarter but frittered away that advantage and wound up losing in overtime, 27-24, when Ryan Succop kicked his team-record sixth field goal.
For those keeping score at home, that's Mr. Irrelevant — Succop, the last player selected in the 2009 draft — beating a suddenly irrelevant franchise.
According to NBC, since 1990, of the 113 teams that started 0-3, only three reached the postseason.
And it doesn't get easier for the Saints. They play at Green Bay on Sunday.
Welcome back, Jamaal Charles. The Kansas City back who spent last season sidelined with a knee injury roared back against the Saints with 233 yards in 33 carries. He also caught six passes for 55 yards.
"I just thank God I had a chance to show off my speed again," he said.
With their 24-14 victory over the Browns at Cleveland, the Buffalo Bills finally picked up a victory away from home, something they hadn't done since the 2011 season opener.
"That's something maybe that was talked about outside the locker room more than it was inside," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "But this is a new year and a new team."
He's right about it being a new team. The Bills lost running back C.J. Spiller to a shoulder injury — he came into Sunday as the NFL's leading rusher — although they're expected to get Fred Jackson back for Sunday's home game against the Patriots.
Four of the five starting rookie quarterbacks played Sunday and none emerged victorious. Andrew Luck's Indianapolis Colts lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Ryan Tannehill's Dolphins lost to the Jets, Brandon Weeden's Browns lost to Buffalo, and Robert Griffin III's Redskins lost to Cincinnati.
Monday night, rookie Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks host Green Bay.
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