San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa was carted off the field at MetLife Stadium, and New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley was lugged off Soldier Field. Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock walked off with a shoulder injury. Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery was flipped by a tackler and stayed down, barely moving, as trainers tended to him. Indianapolis Colts rookie wide receiver Parris Campbell rode off on a cart. Fellow rookie Jerry Jeudy of the Broncos was smashed by a linebacker with a hit that forced him to stay down. Jimmy Garoppolo’s ankle twisted as the 49ers quarterback was sacked.
That was all within 65 real-time minutes of kickoff, and it is far from a complete list. The injuries kept coming. Some of those players returned, and others will not a see football field until 2021. Barkley reportedly suffered a torn ACL. Bosa most likely suffered the same fate, 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan said. They are two of the best players in the NFL, probably gone for the season.
Lost star power, and the effect on the quality of play it will have, is only one consequence of the NFL’s bloody Sunday. It is tempting to correlate the lack of training camp and the spate of injuries in Week 2, but this is just football being football. Pain and suffering is part of the sport. It is a great success that the overwhelming majority of NFL players have remained healthy during the week. On Sunday, football remains the same physical hazard it has always been.
The game, as ever, went on. And here is what to know.
Russell Wilson is the best quarterback in the NFL. At least, we’ll think he is until we see Patrick Mahomes again. Or Lamar Jackson. Or maybe Kyler Murray? Oh, wait, Aaron Rodgers is at his best again.
On Sunday night, in a game that delivered everything any football fan would want, Wilson threw five touchdown passes in a 35-30 victory over the New England Patriots. It ended with Cam Newton — who had thrown for 397 yards — trying to score against Seattle’s defense from the 1-yard line. He was upended by a swarm of Seahawks defenders, but Newton’s performance suggested both he and the Patriots will be a huge factor this season. He is all the way back from his injuries, which means the Patriots are a dangerous team.
Newton may even work himself into the discussion of best quarterbacks in the league, which would be a feat. This may not be the greatest collection of quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen, but it is likely the most interesting. The variance of styles, skills and personal histories is unmatched. The position contains Jackson and Tom Brady, Murray and Drew Brees, Mahomes and Josh Allen. Every game has a quarterback that draws you in.
Wilson is the MVP front-runner after two weeks, having thrown nine touchdown passes. But that could change any week. Jackson is the reigning MVP and, if anything, has been better this season than last. Mahomes, despite a ragged performance for three quarters Sunday, is the best player in the world. Allen has a statistical case: 719 passing yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions, 75 yards rushing and another touchdown.
The onside kick lives — and so do the Dallas Cowboys. Since the NFL changed kickoff rules two years ago — according to Michael Lopez, the NFL’s director of football data and analytics — teams who attempted an expected onside kick in an attempt to pull off a comeback win, even including the rare teams that recovered one, had a record of 0-110. That record moved to 1-110 after Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein helicoptered a curling kick, the Falcons moved away from the ball as if it was cursed, and Dak Prescott completed an implausible 20-point comeback.
The Cowboys needed a miracle Sunday. It came in the form of the Atlanta Falcons, who would be advised to never again take a giant lead in Texas. The Cowboys trailed 20-0 after the first quarter, 29-10 after the third and 39-24 with less than eight minutes left in the fourth. The Falcons scored 20 points in a row in the first quarter and 10 points in a row in the fourth. It should be impossible to lose that game — and the Falcons would have won it if Julio Jones had not dropped a touchdown pass.
Dallas proved it possesses enough offensive firepower to execute a nearly impossible comeback, but a team with the Cowboys’ talent should not be reliant on miracles to avoid an 0-2 start. Their problems don’t run as deep as the Falcons’ issues, however. Atlanta has yielded 78 points in the first two weeks despite the presence of Dan Quinn, a defensive coach who has had years to implement his system. Quinn saved his job last year with a strong finish keyed by a revitalized defense. He might be in trouble now.
The 49ers were ravaged by injuries and not happy about the MetLife Stadium turf. Their 31-13 victory over the Jets was as disheartening as a blowout win can be. Bosa is probably done for the season, and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas may have suffered a similar ACL tear, Shanahan said. Raheem Mostert also suffered a knee injury after an 80-yard touchdown run, although it is not as serious. Garoppolo suffered a high-ankle sprain. Tevin Coleman, another running back, had a knee injury.
“The guys were real pumped about the win,” Shanahan said in his postgame news conference. “It was huge to get that, and I think we played our asses off. But you got some mixed emotions when you lose some guys that like that.”
The culprit may have been the artificial turf. Shanahan said he could not assess blame for the injuries with certainty, but that from early on Sunday his players were worried about the condition of the turf, on which Jets wide receiver Breshad Perriman also left the game with an ankle injury and did not return.
“As far as the feeling that was on the sidelines, that’s as many knee injuries and ankle stuff and people getting caught on the turf as I’ve ever been a part of it,” Shanahan said. “From what I saw, the other team did, too. I know our players talked about it the entire game, just how sticky the turf was. It was something our guys were concerned about right away, and the results made that a lot stronger.”
Few non-quarterbacks are more important to their team than Bosa. Standing in the 49ers’ locker room after the NFC championship game in January, team owner Jed York was asked when he knew the 49ers could be a Super Bowl-caliber team. His answer was simple: when the Arizona Cardinals drafted Murray first overall and Bosa fell to them at No. 2 the previous April. He reasoned that Shanahan could craft an offense regardless of personnel and Bosa’s pass rushing would catalyze the defense.
York was correct. Bosa’s presence turned the 49ers’ defensive line into a monster. The 49ers already faced a challenge repeating the formula, having traded star lineman DeForest Buckner for financial reasons. Now they will play without both Bosa and Thomas while trying to defend their conference title. And their next game is back on the same turf, against the Giants. “Unfortunately,” Shanahan said.
Justin Herbert didn’t even know he was playing and went toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes. One of the oddest pregame moments in recent NFL history occurred between the coin toss and kickoff in Los Angeles. Only then did Chargers Coach Anthony Lynn learn that Tyrod Taylor had suffered a chest injury during warmups severe enough that Taylor would be taken to the hospital.
Herbert, the sixth pick of April’s draft, would have to make his NFL debut with zero notice, let alone a starter’s share of practice reps or even preseason games. And Herbert just about knocked off the Super Bowl champions.
The Chiefs needed a field goal as regulation expired to force overtime, and once there they squeaked out a 23-20 victory. Herbert passed for 311 yards and ran for 18 and a touchdown. There was no doubt he belonged, or that he possesses the physical tools to become a franchise quarterback. On one scramble, he bowled over a linebacker on the sideline. He threw a laser to the back corner of the end zone to Jalen Guyton.
Herbert also showed his youth. The Chargers may have put away the Chiefs had he taken the available first down on a third-quarter scramble rather than heaving a prayer down the middle of the field that the Chiefs picked off.
Lynn did not commit to Herbert moving forward, and it was not clear how serious Taylor’s injury was — in the immediate aftermath, Lynn did not even know how he had hurt his chest. But Herbert’s performance left little doubt he’ll be the Chargers’ quarterback sooner than later.
Matt Patricia might not be long for Detroit. Lions ownership decided to retain Patricia at the end of last season despite a dearth of success or progress in his first two seasons. Charitably, the Lions nosedived after Matthew Stafford’s injury ended his season. Realistically, Patricia had gone 9-22-1 while following Jim Caldwell, who never went worse than 7-9 in four seasons, led the Lions to the playoffs twice and helmed Detroit’s first 11-win season since 1991.
Patricia is now 9-24-1 after two embarrassing losses. The Lions blew a 23-6 fourth-quarter lead to the Bears in Week 1. They scored the first 14 points Sunday before losing, 42-21, to the Green Bay Packers. When owner Martha Ford announced Patricia would come back in 2020, she told a group of Detroit reporters that Patricia had a mandate to make the Lions a “playoff contender.” Two weeks into the season, the Lions look nothing like one.
The Cardinals have a defense, too. Murray is rightfully receiving early MVP buzz after he shredded Washington for three total touchdowns in a 30-15 victory. And the Cardinals’ offseason was defined by the acquisition of superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who in two weeks has 22 catches for 219 yards and a touchdown.
But Arizona’s sudden ascent to contender status in the wide-open NFC hinges on its defensive turnaround. Last year, General Manager Steve Keim said this offseason, injuries and subpar personnel didn’t give defensive coordinator Vance Joseph a chance. The Cardinals allowed the most yards and the fifth-most points in the league.
They used almost all of their free agent resources on defense, with the key additions of speedy linebacker De’Vondre Campbell — their leading tackler so far — and pass rusher Devon Kennard. They drafted Isaiah Simmons with the eighth pick. Since the Cardinals blew an assignment on an angle route that Mostert turned into a long touchdown early in the season opener, Arizona has yielded 25 points in its past seven quarters. The Cardinals obviously have a scary offense, but they might have a respectable defense to go with it.