Peyton MVP, Eli LVP, Bucs Reek, Kelly Green
For now, let’s suspend all thoughts of the Manning Brothers dueling in a Super Bowl at the Meadowlands, which literally would be in Eli’s backyard, a few miles from high-fiving, fist-pumping ad executives on Madison Avenue. Peyton may have reason to dream about it in Denver, with nine touchdown passes and a 2-0 record and early dibs on the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award.
But the Giants? They’re messier than Eli Manning’s rock-star hair in his “football on the phone” TV ad, in large part because Eli has thrown seven interceptions as possibly the league’s Least Valuable Player. In fairness, there was a deflection on one pass Sunday and a missed route on another. And the Giants defense has allowed 77 points in two games, while the offense has endured a merry-go-round at running back with too many fumbles. But elite quarterbacks are supposed to carry teams through tumultuous times, and that isn’t happening in New York.
“For me, it’s a strange feeling. It’s not quite as enjoyable as if you beat somebody else,” Peyton said after the 41-23 romp, in which he lit up the Giants for 307 passing yards and two touchdowns despite a rash of 13 penalties and several more Wes Welker drops.
The brothers love each other, of course, and make America LOL in their commercials. At the moment, Eli has two Super Bowl rings to Peyton’s one, though Peyton has enjoyed the more accomplished statistical career. So the issue ahead is whether Peyton, amid a twilight renaissance after four neck surgeries threatened his career two years ago, can win his second Super Bowl with the Broncos. They certainly looked the part Sunday, again ignoring the six-game suspension of top defender Von Miller with another point flurry. Part of the impetus: running back Knowshon Moreno’s 93 yards and two touchdowns and a sensational 81-yard punt return for a score, courtesy of 5-foot-5 burner Trindon Holiday.
Peyton is now 3-0 against his little brother in regular-season games. That means nothing to either, of course, and they’ll be thrilled if this indeed is the last time they play each other, which appears to be the case with the next Broncos-Giants meeting set for 2017 and Peyton’s five-year deal expiring in 2016, when he’ll be 41. “I think both of us are glad that it’s over with,” Peyton said afterward. “Postseason is one thing, but I don’t think I’ll make it to the next regular season (meeting). I think this will be the end of it. So I’ll be happy about that. And the family will.”
Through good and bad times, Peyton always will defend his little brother, even if he abuses him in the commercials. “Eli is a great player,” he said. “He’s a consistent player. I think he’s gotten better every year. I’ve always thought that’s the goal for a brand new player is to try to be a better player each year than the year before. He’s made things happen with different players, different receivers and different running backs. He’s been very flexible to adjust to the different players that he’s played with. But his consistency as a player has been awfully impressive.”
And Eli always will be impressed by his brother, never moreso than in his ongoing comeback from the neck issues. “When he was going through everything, it makes you appreciate the game you’re playing and how fortunate you are to go out there and play football and to be healthy. And you just don’t know when it might be taken away from you,” Eli said.
Which makes Peyton the sympathetic figure, the Manning for whom we’re rooting this season. Eli? Peek at those diamond rings when the New York media are pounding you this week.
* There is no ongoing debacle crazier, on and off the field, than what is happening in Tampa Bay. Sunday, the Buccaneers lost a game because a kicker, Rian Lindell, missed a 46-yard field goal try, this after their top kicker, Connor Barth, tore an Achilles tendon during an offseason charity basketball game, and after his replacement, veteran Lawrence Tynes, contracted the deadly infection, MRSA, at the team’s practice facility. If one of those kickers are healthy, maybe the Bucs are 1-1 after a big victory over New Orleans. Instead, they’re in 0-2 crisis mode with the same discipline problems that suddenly have made coach Greg Schiano’s seat very hot. There were three more penalties for head blows and unnecessary roughness — aren’t they watching the news? — in the second quarter alone, and in the league’s safety era, they are ignoring directives like the old, dirty Raiders.
Josh (Rip Van) Freeman didn’t miss the opening kickoff because he slept in, but he did take another step backward at quarterback, even though he put the Bucs in late position to win with completions. The coaches didn’t trust him to throw once the offense crossed New Orleans territory, calling six straight runs for Doug Martin until the drive stalled, which led to Lindell’s miss and the inevitable winning field-goal drive directed by Drew Brees. That’s what is so awful about the 16-14 loss: The defense played pretty well, sacked Brees four times and even pick-6’d him, courtesy of a rambling run by linebacker Mason Foster. Now, they have to head to New England next Sunday.
Like many college coaches who jump to the NFL, Schiano is squeezing everyone to death with his micromanaging. He hasn’t developed Freeman, and it’s doubtful rookie Mike Glennon would fare much better. The players evidently don’t trust him, if it’s true they wondered if he rigged the captaincy vote against Freeman after the quarterback slept in and missed the team photo. At this point, you may want to root for a season-long tank job in Tampa, after which the Bucs can take a QB high in the draft, superscrub their facility and, perhaps, find a new coach.
* I can hear the Chip Kelly critics laughing already. Already, an effective antidote to his blur offense has been placed on a blueprint: Keep the ball away from Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and the Eagles. The Chargers, aching after a devastating giveaway loss to Houston on Monday night, could have packed it in after a 3,000-mile plane ride against the high-tempo Philadelphia attack. Instead, they beat Kelly at his own game, controlling the ball for 40:17 and revving up the tempo for 539 yards against a lousy defense. Don’t bury Philip Rivers yet, not after he went 36 of 47 for 419 yards and three touchdowns to offset Vick’s career-best 428 yards and three TDs in a 33-30 win.
Forget the Philly media. Kelly is hearing it inside his own locker room. Remember Cary Williams, the cornerback who took on Riley Cooper about his infamous racial slur? “Sometimes you get outwitted. Sometimes you get outplayed,” Williams told Philly.com. “And I think today was one of those days.” He added of Rivers, “He seemed to know everything that we tried to throw at him … He knew exactly what we were in to a degree.”
It doesn’t matter how revolutionary Kelly’s offense is if his defense is counterproductive, allowing 33 first downs (22 passing) and 10-of-15 cash-ins on third down. “It’s our responsibility to get them off the field,” said Kelly, who, as an NFL head coach, does need to care about defense too. “You can’t just sit there and say we were on the field too long.” Looks like we can stop kissing King Chip’s ass for a week, particularly after he left the Chargers too much time at the end — almost two minutes — by continuing to push the tempo rather than milk the clock before kicking a tying field goal.
* What remains uniquely breathtaking about the NFL, and why it remains unmatched as a sports entertainment package, is the way several games can go to the wire at once in a shotgun sequence. Take your pick, swivel your head, enjoy the mad rush. Don’t tell anyone, but if you’re trying to pace yourself through a prolonged football “weekend” that now starts Thursday night and ends Monday night, you can flip on your Sunday Ticket for the 1 p.m. ET starts at about 3:30 p.m. A wild ride awaits the next half-hour. Here’s what else Week 2 brought:
* The Texans remain my AFC pick to reach the Super Bowl, but they might want to realize the games are 60 minutes. They’re waiting too long to make frenzied comebacks, placed in a hole Sunday by Matt Schaub’s pick-6 that left an eight-point deficit with five minutes left in regulation. They returned from the dead, thanks to Schaub’s newest weapon, rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who will be needed if star Andre Johnson misses time with a concussion. A new kicker will be required, too, with Randy Bullock missing three field-goal tries, including a would-be game-winner at the end of regulation. He’s now 1-for-5 on the season, not championship stuff.
* Never forget this: Aaron Rodgers is a superstar with a Super Bowl ring and a growing Hall of Fame resume. And never forget this: Robert Griffin III may have the magazine covers and the D.C. political machinery behind him, but he is a work in progress after his delicate offseason reconstructive knee surgery. We find ourselves yawning at Rodgers’ numbers because we’ve seen them often, but after hearing former Packers receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver dis his leadership abilities, we defend him as he picks up this season right where he left off. Can you say 480 passing yards and four TDs? Coupled with James Starks’ 178 rushing yards in relief of injured Eddie Lacy, the Packers were the first team in NFL history to have a 400-yard passer and 100-yard rusher in the same game. It seems hard to believe, but the Packers released it as fact after their 38-20 rout of the Redskins.
And to think Rodgers did it all with a stiff neck. That’s what he gets for taking a middle seat on that flight with Bears fans — you know, the goofy State Farm commercials. “I was hurting pretty bad,” he said, via the AP. “I wasn’t feeling great pregame.” He says an “adjustment” from a trainer — hello, painkiller — did the trick.
“You know, he spoils me. He makes it look easy,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy told the media. “No doubt, Aaron is a special football player. He’s at the point of his career where he is about making other people better, pulling everybody up.”
Griffin is a shadow of his 2012 self. He threw three garbage-time touchdown passes but rushed for one yard on four carries. You’ll be seeing the highlight of his helmet being dislodged by Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk. “We’ll figure it out,” Griffin said.
I’m not so sure. A long year is ahead in Washington, and Mike Shanahan will be under fire any hour now.
* Is there a better warm-and-fuzzy story than the tag team in Kansas City? Alex Smith got run out of San Francisco because of Colin Kaepernick. Andy Reid got run out of Philadelphia because he had been there too long and needed a scenery change after personal trauma, including his son’s death. Together, they are 2-0 and helping the Chiefs soothe the nightmare of their own season-ending tragedy, the murder-suicide of linebacker Jovan Belcher. Everyone is happier in a town that celebrates and aches with its football team like few others. And, yes, I told you not to believe in Dallas or Tony Romo just because of one opening-night win, with Romo throwing three straight incompletions and having to settle for a late field goal Sunday. That left the Cowboys trailing 17-16, which was the final margin. Remember, the Chiefs were 2-14 last year.
“When you’re trying to build something, you need to win games like this,” said Smith, who threw for two TDs, led the Chiefs with 57 rushing yards and has produced on all five red-zone penetrations so far. “These are the games you look at in November and December. You need these types of wins, not only the caliber of the win but the style of win. It’s not always going to be pretty, but you have to find a way to bear down.”
* If this continues, Jay Cutler may lose that smirk yet. The Bears have issues, but at least Cutler is leading them back from deficits, throwing a 16-yard TD pass to Martellus Bennett with 10 seconds left to beat Minnesota. As a free-agent-to-be, Cutler needs to assure new coach Marc Trestman and general manger Phil Emery — neither of whom brought him to Chicago — that he’s a long-term keeper. He’s trying, though continuing turnovers don’t help his cause. “He’s just ice cold, man,” said his friend and receiving mate, Brandon Marshall, per the AP.
* We welcome EJ Manuel and Terrell Pryor to the club of promising dual-threat QBs. Manuel broke down and cried after overcoming back-to-back critical turnovers, directing a comeback drive and throwing a 2-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Stevie Johnson — I mean, the closest Carolina defender was in Niagara Falls — in a 24-23 win. Only four other NFL rookies have led a fourth-quarter comeback in their first or second games. “I can’t even tell you how it felt,” said Manuel, whose relieved look said it all. “I think I started crying right then. I’m not usually an emotional guy. But I’m going to enjoy these type of things.” The Bills have a chance to be decent in a hurry under new coach Doug Marrone, with defensive end Mario Williams earning his money with 4 1/2 sacks Sunday.
The Panthers are on pace for Ron Rivera to be the first coach fired. Cam Newton was sacked six times, and the Carolina defense had fits with Manuel. In games decided by seven points or less under RIvera, the Panthers are 2-14. “This isn’t about learning hard lessons,” said Steve Smith, per the Associated Press. “This is like going to the dentist and getting several teeth pulled without any anesthesia, laughing gas, nothing.”
Pryor didn’t have to do more than show up against pathetic Jacksonville, which is so bad that an Orlando TV station had to explain to viewers why it televises Jaguars games. It helps to have a healthy Darren McFadden, who ran for 129 yards while Pryor was accounting for 176 total yards in his first home start.
* Good news for Detroit: Ndamukong Suh didn’t mug anyone and tackles for a loss. Bad news for Detroit: Reggie Bush is hurt. “SOL,” Tony Dungy said on NBC. Say what? “Same old Lions.”