Week 2’s Top NFL Storylines: Aaron Jones, Kirk Cousins and the Failing Falcons
A closer look at the biggest storylines to emerge from Week 2 of the NFL season
With ESPN’s Monday Night Football complete with the Saints losing 34-24 to the Raiders in the NFL’s first game in Las Vegas, Week 2 of the 2020 season is all wrapped up. While we can’t get to everything — like a classic SNF game between the Patriots and Seahawks and the “trash” turf at MetLife Stadium — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from the football week that was, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: The Packers need Aaron Jones nearly as much as Aaron Rodgers
Though it was running backs Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry who landed big contracts after huge 2019 seasons, it was Aaron Jones of the Packers who led the NFL in touchdowns in 2019 (along with McCaffrey).
Now, following two weeks of play in 2020, the 25-year-old is once again tied for the league lead in combined rushing/receiving touchdowns, along with McCaffrey, Cam Newton and Calvin Ridley, with four. Jones is also leading the league in rushing yards (234), average rushing yards per game (117) and all-purpose yards (312).
A huge reason Jones is leading in all those categories is because of his play on Sunday during Green Bay’s 42-21 win over the Lions, a game that saw Green Bay score 31 straight points after falling behind 14-3 and Jones go for a career-best 236 yards from scrimmage — 168 rushing and 68 receiving on 22 touches — with three touchdowns in all.
Thanks in large part to Jones, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receiver Davante Adams (who had a 14-catch, 156-yard, two-touchdown showing in Week 1 but was quiet in Week 2 before leaving with a hamstring injury), the Packers (2-0) have put up 85 points and 1,010 yards on their first two opponents.
While there’s no denying a rejuvenated Rodgers is the key to the Packers offense, the importance of Jones in Green Bay’s attack should not be overlooked. A 2017 fifth-round pick out of UTEP, Jones (who scored four times in two playoff games last season) is a good rusher and receiver, and also has value as a pass-blocker, a skill that is essential with a quarterback who tends to hold onto the ball as long as Rodgers does.
“He’s such a talented guy, does so many things for our offense,” Rodgers said after Sunday’s win. “It was obvious that the game plan was to take Davante out. He was doubled very heavily the majority of the time he was outside, so we got the run game going … Jonesy, he’s such a game-breaker.”
A game-breaker who isn’t as important as Green Bay’s other Aaron, but is inching ever closer.
Sell: The Falcons will recover from their meltdown vs the Cowboys
In Week 2, the Atlanta Falcons, the same team that blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots three seasons ago, led the Cowboys 20-0 in the first quarter after Dallas fumbled the ball away three times on Sunday.
The Falcons, who lost 38-25 in Week 1 to the Seahawks in a game that saw Atlanta QB Matt Ryan go for 450 passing yards, then led Dallas 29-10 at halftime and were still leading 39-24 with five minutes to go after the Cowboys mounted a comeback.
It didn’t last, as the Cowboys cut the lead to 39-30 before the two-minute warning and then scored a touchdown to trim the lead to 39-37 before lining up for an onside kick.
Though it is now nearly impossible to successfully execute an onside kick thanks to recent rule changes, Dallas was able to do it, at least partially because Atlanta’s players didn’t seem to know what to do.
After Dallas recovered the kick, Cowboys QB Dak Prescott — who became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 400 yards and rush for three touchdowns in the same game — marched Dallas down the field and Greg Zuerlein kicked a 46-yard field goal as time expired. Final score: Dallas 40, Atlanta 39.
“It’s tough to put a loss like that in place,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, who is off to his first 0-2 start in six seasons, said following the epic collapse. “I told the team there has to be a lesson in the pain of that loss. We’ll work into that as we put in preparation for next week, but definitely that one stings.”
Thanks to the loss, the Falcons are just one of two teams since 1940 to have a 20-point lead through the first quarter and no turnovers for the entire game to end up losing. (The 1987 Tampa Bay Bucs are the other.)
That Tampa Bay team went on to finish at 4-11 (a game was canceled during the season due to a player strike) and it wouldn’t be that surprising to see this Falcons team end up with a similar record. Quinn’s days are numbered.
Buy: Rob Gronkowski should have stayed retired
Though it wasn’t a touchdown catch, Rob Gronkowski made the biggest play of Super Bowl LIII when he snagged a deep pass from Tom Brady to set the Patriots up for the go-ahead score with the game tied 3-3 in the fourth quarter.
After New England held on to win 13-3, Gronkowski decided to go out on top and retire from the NFL even though he had time remaining on his contract.
Then, after sitting out 2019 to hawk CBD products, Gronkowski decided he wanted to play football again, and convinced the Patriots to trade him to Tampa Bay so he could return to the field with Tom Brady for the Buccaneers.
It has not gone well, as Gronkowski followed up a two-catch, 11-yard performance in Tampa Bay’s season-opening loss with zero catches and zero yards against the Panthers in his new team’s first win of the season.
Once one of the best connections in the game, the Brady-Gronkowski hook-up looked dead as Tampa beat the Carolina Panthers 31-17 on Sunday.
To his credit, Gronk has been decent as a blocker thus far for Tampa, but he seems just about cooked as a pass-catcher, and should eventually start ceding snaps to O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, who offer more upside.
If Tampa Bay can make it to a Super Bowl (which seems unlikely at this point), perhaps riding out the year as the third option behind Howard and Brate will make the future Hall of Famer’s choice to return to the NFL worth it.
If not and the end of Gronkowski’s career is a season full of dropped passes instead of a Super Bowl-winning catch, he’s almost surely going to regret coming back — if he doesn’t already.
Sell: Kirk Cousins really is as bad as he looked against the Colts
Coming off a season where he threw for 3,603 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins started off the season with 259 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a loss to the Packers.
Though Cousins wasn’t great in the 43-34 defeat, he also wasn’t the reason the Vikings lost. The same cannot be said for Week 2’s 28-11 loss to the Colts, a game in which the 32-year old threw three interceptions, took a safety and had a 1.5 passer rating midway through the fourth quarter (and finished with a 15.9 mark, the ninth-worst in Vikings history).
While many are writing Cousins and the team off as they sit at 0-2 in the division behind the undefeated Bears and Packers, it might be a bit premature to do that. Cousins, while not spectacular by any means, has proven throughout his career to be a solid NFL quarterback, and there’s no reason to think he has suddenly just fallen off a cliff.
With Kevin Stefanski, last year’s offensive coordinator, now in Cleveland coaching the Browns, Cousins is still adjusting to life under new OC Gary Kubiak, and is also figuring out how to survive without wideout Stefon Diggs (who is now in Buffalo catching passes for the Bills). Normally, the preseason would have given him time to adjust but, thanks to the strange circumstances of this season, Cousins is doing it on the fly.
In his last five seasons (three with Washington, two with Minnesota), Cousins has gone 42-35-2 as a starter while completing 68.1 percent of his passes with 137 touchdowns compared to just 52 interceptions.
Those numbers are pretty good. Cousins should figure it out. For his sake, hopefully soon.
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