Jay Cutler smiled.
Yeah, Smokin’ Jay, the “Don’t care!” meme guy. And why not? A couple months ago the odds of him ever being a part of another NFL win looked slim. He was retired with nobody other than TV networks pounding down his door to come back.
A day like Sunday, being part of a dramatic comeback win, has to be a reason Cutler put off retirement for at least another year.
Cutler wasn’t great on Sunday as the Miami Dolphins went into Los Angeles and beat the Chargers 19-17, but he was good enough. Cutler made some plays we all recognized from him. He showed off his cannon arm on a touchdown to Kenny Stills. He made one of those “What-the-heck-is-he-doing?” plays when he scrambled around and lofted a risky/awesome pass to DeVante Parker for 31 yards on third down. And when Younghoe Koo missed a game-winning field-goal attempt at the end, the CBS cameras found Cutler, and he looked like he was having the time of his life. He was running around, giving high-fives and grinning from ear to ear. Analyze that body language.
The Dolphins might not be great this season with Cutler. But they’re interesting. Cutler isn’t a superstar, but he’s rarely boring. And give Cutler credit for two things on Sunday: He didn’t make any mistakes, and when the Dolphins needed plays he generally made them.
Cutler was 24-of-33 for 230 yards and a touchdown. Mostly, he played it safe, but with a couple of his trademark caution-to-the-wind throws. The Dolphins would be fine if this Cutler shows up every week.
[Watch on Yahoo: Ravens vs. Jaguars live from London Sept. 24]
Back in July, Cutler was set to broadcast a game for Fox this week, not play in one. He said he was retired, had a job as a color analyst, and then Ryan Tannehill hurt his knee early in training camp. The Dolphins were desperate and Cutler knew Adam Gase’s offense, so when Cutler asked for $10 million to come back the Dolphins gave it to him. While Cutler isn’t a clear upgrade over Tannehill – Cutler hasn’t been to a Pro Bowl since he was with the Denver Broncos, which seems like a few lifetimes ago – he brings some things that Tanehill didn’t. Most important, he has the fearlessness to make tough throws, and the team can feed off of that. Of course, we’ve seen that fearlessness bite Cutler on many occasions, but that will always part of the package with him. It’s always a crazy ride.
The past few years couldn’t have been fun for Cutler. The Bears stunk, he was under constant criticism due to his huge contract, and injuries piled up. It made total sense when he retired to go to the broadcast booth. It also made total sense why he came back. Sunday had to feel like vindication after nobody signed him this offseason. It sure looked like he was having fun, if nothing else.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Sunday’s action in Week 2 of the NFL season:
New England put up 555 yards and blew out the Saints 36-20. It seemed for a bit like Brady might have a shot at the NFL record of 554 passing yards in a game. He had 294 at halftime and the Saints can’t stop anyone. The fact that it was against the Saints, who made Sam Bradford look like a superstar last week, throws a little cold water on the performance. But it was still great for the Patriots to see Brady put up 447 yards and three touchdowns after not putting up vintage Brady numbers last week.
It was also good to see Gronkowski look like Gronkowski. He was shut down in Week 1 by Chiefs safety Eric Berry, and it was concerning because Gronkowski was coming off back surgery. He looked fine Sunday. He had six catches for 116 yards and a touchdown, and his day would have been bigger if not for an unexpected drop. It would have also been bigger had he not left the game early with a groin injury (he told reporters “I’m good” after the game, though it will be worth monitoring this week).
Anyone sane knew the Patriots weren’t going to be as bad this season as they were in a Week 1 loss to the Chiefs. Still, it has to make fans in New England feel better to see their team play like everyone expected them to play this season.
Like we saw with the Patriots, teams sometimes just need their best players to go win a game. Mathieu did that for the Cardinals. He saved an ugly Cardinals performance by undercutting a route and coming up with an interception to start overtime. Phil Dawson made a field goal and the Cardinals escaped with a 16-13 win.
It wasn’t pretty. The Cardinals have some serious issues, especially on offense without David Johnson. They looked bad for most of Sunday’s game. But at least they’re not 0-2.
Arizona can thank its playmaking defensive star. Mathieu was awesome two seasons ago but finished it on injured reserve with a torn ACL. He dealt with other injuries in a mostly lost 2016 season. He showed Sunday he’s still capable of turning a game around with one play.
The Buccaneers’ bandwagon: You may remember the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from “Hard Knocks,” or from everyone picking them to be a breakout team this season. They’re doing pretty well with their time in the sun.
If you liked the Buccaneers heading into this season, you loved what you saw Sunday. They blasted the Chicago Bears 29-7. It wasn’t that close. The Bucs led 26-0 at halftime.
It all looked pretty good. Jameis Winston was sharp. The Bucs ran the ball pretty well. The defense was good. All the hype seems to be justified, after one game anyway.
Vance Joseph, Joe Woods and the dominant Denver Broncos: Joseph stepped into a tough spot as Broncos coach, and Woods stepped into perhaps an even tougher spot as his defensive coordinator. They’re doing pretty well.
The Broncos improved to 2-0 with an absolutely dominant 42-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys. The offense has looked very good through two weeks under coordinator Mike McCoy. Trevor Siemian has looked like a better quarterback than anyone wants to give him credit for, and he has playmakers around him.
But this is still a team built around defense, and Woods has kept that rolling. He took over for beloved coordinator Wade Phillips, and the defense hasn’t missed anything. Last season’s rushing champ, Ezekiel Elliott, had a career-low 8 yards on nine carries on Sunday. Dak Prescott, who threw four interceptions all last season, threw two on Sunday including one returned for a touchdown.
Denver, aside from a short stretch with some weird turnovers that led to a Los Angeles Chargers rally last week, has been fantastic to start the season. Joseph is a first-time coach, but he’s pushing all the right buttons. Because Denver is not far removed from a Super Bowl title, there was no time for Joseph to learn on the job. He had to win right away. So far, so good.
Seahawks offense: One week of bad offensive football was a concern. Two weeks of bad offensive football might be a trend.
What is wrong with the Seahawks? Against a San Francisco 49ers defense that wasn’t great against the Carolina Panthers last week and was without star rookie linebacker Reuben Foster on Sunday, the Seahawks trailed 9-6 in the fourth quarter. That was at home, too. Russell Wilson pulled together one nice 10-play, 82-yard drive and hit Paul Richardson for a touchdown, and the Seahawks won 12-9.
It’s great to get the win, but it shouldn’t have been that hard. The Seahawks had 248 yards. Last week the Seahawks had 225 yards, scored nine points and didn’t score a touchdown. Seattle struggled on offense early last season too, but that was mostly because Wilson was hurt. Wilson is healthy now.
The offensive line is the biggest culprit, but there seem to be issues outside of that. There’s very little rhythm in the passing game, which Wilson has to take some responsibility for. The Seahawks have plenty of receiving talent. They got a solid game from running back Chris Carson, who had 93 yards on 20 carries and has looked good dating back to the preseason. Right now there isn’t enough overall production for the Seahawks offense. Big plays from Wilson in the passing game have been mostly non-existent.
Next week the Seahawks have a very interesting game at the Tennessee Titans. They better find their offense by then.
The coach changed. The kicker who missed big field goals in the final few seconds in each of the first two games is a rookie. Even the city changed, obviously. One constant is that Rivers ends up too many games looking like he can’t believe he has to go shake hands at midfield as a loser.
The Chargers seem to invent new ways to lose. Last week Rivers got them in position to send the Broncos to overtime but Younghoe Koo’s kick was blocked on the final play. Rivers had a nice late drive Sunday against the Dolphins to give Koo a chance to win, and Koo pushed a 44-yard attempt wide right in the final 10 seconds. It’s amazing the Chargers keep ending up on the bad side of these games.
Rivers is the sympathetic figure of it all. He’s in the final seasons of his great career. The Chargers have a good team, but they keep losing in horrible ways. Now they’re 0-2 when the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders are all 2-0 in the toughest division in the NFL. The Chargers are already in a significant hole. Rivers has to wonder if his team can finally catch a break.
DeShone Kizer: Kizer looked so good in the preseason, the Cleveland Browns made him their starting quarterback. He had some nice moments last week as the Browns came close to upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But as a rookie Browns quarterback, he was sure to have some tough days. Sunday was one.
Kizer left the first half of Sunday’s 24-10 loss with a migraine headache, and he might have been better off sitting out the second half. He returned in the second half, and for the game had three interceptions and a 27.3 passer rating. Kevin Hogan, who replaced Kizer when he was sitting out due to the migraine, led Cleveland’s only touchdown drive.
The strange part of Kizer’s day was suddenly having to leave with the migraine.
“My migraines are hereditary,” Kizer said, according to the Associated Press. “That had nothing to do with what happened in the game. When I came back in the second half, I was fine.”
There will be better days ahead for Kizer, but the Ravens defense was a tough matchup for him. Hopefully next week will be better, and without any more migraines.
That final pass by the Buffalo Bills: The Bills had a chance at 2-0. It was right there for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and rookie receiver Zay Jones on fourth-and-11 with 14 seconds left in Sunday’s ugly game at the Carolina Panthers.
And they couldn’t connect. Don’t fully blame Jones, though he got his hands on the pass and could have hauled it in. He somehow got wide open in the void of the Panthers’ zone defense. Taylor’s pass was just a little off, inside and high, forcing Jones to adjust. Had Taylor thrown sooner and hit Jones on stride, he might have walked into the end zone. Had Jones caught it anyway, he might have crawled in the end zone.
Instead it was the most heartbreaking play of Week 2.
“Coach saw a good opportunity to capitalize on the defense,” Jones said, according to Bills Wire. “Tyrod made a good throw and I just didn’t come down with the catch. The ball just came my way and I didn’t make the play. I think it was a pretty good thrown ball. I just didn’t make the catch. It just didn’t bounce my way.”
It’s not all Jones’ fault. His quarterback could have made a better throw. Credit the rookie for taking it on his shoulders. Either way it was a crushing 9-3 loss for the Bills.
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