The Top NFL Storylines of Week 2: Puka Nacua, Justin Jefferson and the Sparkless Chargers

Plus, a historic franchise has set a new mark for futility

September 19, 2023 6:57 am
Justin Jefferson of the Vikings catches the ball against the Eagles.
Justin Jefferson is so good it is starting to get scary.
Mitchell Leff/Getty

With the NFL season’s second installment of Monday Night Football, a doubleheader no less, in the books and another 16 games over and done, Week 2 is complete. While we can’t get to everything — like the discrimination lawsuit that could have major ramifications for the Cowboys and Bills — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from the NFL’s second week and whether we’re buying or selling ’em. (Here’s a look back at Week 1.)

Buy: Puka Nacua makes the LA Rams interesting

Super Bowl champions just two seasons ago, the Los Angeles Rams took a major step backward last season when both quarterback Matthew Stafford and star receiver Cooper Kupp were injured and the team, for financial reasons, offloaded a number of players who helped them win a title.

Entering this season, expectations for the Rams were not very high, so their upset win over the Seahawks in Week 1 was a big surprise. Facing the 49ers in Week 2, the Rams were projected to get run out of the building by a San Francisco team that dominated the Steelers in Week 1. Taking on the Niners in San Fran, the Rams did lose, but they didn’t go down without a fight, and their primary combatant was rookie Puka Nacua.

Selected in the fifth round of the draft, Nacua had 15 receptions on 20 targets for 147 yards in Sunday’s 30-23 loss, the most receptions in a single game by a rookie in NFL history. Now leading the NFL in catches with 25 and second in yardage (266), Nacua is the first player in NFL history with at least 10 receptions and 100 receiving yards in each of his first two career games.

A relatively unknown player who went undrafted in all but the deepest fantasy leagues, Nacua has come out of nowhere to give the Rams an offensive weapon that makes them competitive. When Kupp, who has yet to play this season but could return from his injured hamstring in Week 5, is back in the lineup with Nacua, the Rams (1-1) may actually be good.

“He’s a stud,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said following Sunday’s loss. “The game makes sense to him. Physically and mentally tough. Works really hard. He’s very inquisitive. He asks a lot of questions, and he’s got great guys to be able to lean on. His rapport with Matthew [Stafford], where they’re able to bounce things off of one another, I think that’s been a real positive and Puka’s going to continue to improve.”

If he does, watch out.

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Sell: Brandon Staley will make it through the season

Leading the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-0 late in the second quarter of an opening-round playoff game last season, the Los Angeles Chargers somehow managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory and endured a brutal wild-card loss that ended their season.

The Chargers have not won a game since and now sit at 0-2 on the season after losing 27-24 to the Tennessee Titans in overtime. Favored despite playing on the road, the Chargers have now lost 10 games after leading in the fourth quarter with Justin Herbert as their quarterback, the most such losses in the NFL since the 2020 season, according to NFL Research. Herbert, who just signed a massive extension, isn’t going anywhere despite having a 25-26 record as a starter. The same cannot be said for his coach Brandon Staley, whose team has lost two games by a combined five points.

Brought in following Herbert’s rookie year to stabilize a shaky team with a history of failing to get the most out of the talented players, Staley has now presided over four straight one-score defeats, including the loss to the Jaguars. Although the cloud of that loss is clearly hanging over his team, Staley rejected that notion when he addressed the media following Sunday’s loss to the Titans.

“I’m not worried about the Jacksonville loss — the Jacksonville loss hasn’t carried onto the season whatsoever,” Staley said. “If you’ve seen our training camp or you’ve seen the way we’ve played in the first two games, it hasn’t had an impact on our team whatsoever. Our team is connected, our team has played its heart out in two games, and we’ve lost two tough games. It has nothing to do with the Jacksonville game and if you ask anyone in our locker room, it has nothing to do with the Jacksonville game. And that’s just the truth. It’s a convenient storyline for you and for everybody else, but it’s not the truth. We’ve lost two tough games but the guys in that locker room, the men in that locker room they are finishers and they have what it takes and we’re excited to prove ourselves.”

Excited as they might be to prove themselves, the Chargers may have to do it without Staley at the helm as there is a decent chance he will get fired at some point during the season with Los Angeles scuffling. Criticized for his clock management and propensity to attempt to convert fourth downs instead of punting, Staley was on thin ice entering this season and has done little to solidify his position by starting the year without a win despite holding the lead for 66 minutes combined in both of his team’s losses.

The Chargers will take on the Vikings (0-2) in Week 3. If they head into Week 4 at 0-3, Staley’s hot seat is going to be scorching. At this point, it doesn’t appear likely it will cool down enough this season to save his job.

Buy: Justin Jefferson will break Cris Carter’s record

Minnesota’s loss to the Eagles on Thursday Night Football was first-team All-Pro Justin Jefferson’s 52nd NFL game for the Vikings. Even though it was a defeat, it was a doozy as the 2020 first-round pick reeled in 11-of-13 targets for 159 yards and finished with the game-high in receptions, receiving yardage and target totals by a wide margin. Although Jefferson didn’t find the endzone and lost a fumble, he hit the 150-yard mark for the second time in as many games and now has 20 catches and 309 receiving yards through two weeks of play in his fourth NFL season.

The 24-year-old’s hot start makes him the first player to open a season with at least 150 receiving yards in back-to-back games since Steve Smith did it for the Panthers in 2011. Jefferson is on pace for 2,626 yards, which would obliterate the single-season record of  1,964 receiving yards that was set by Calvin Johnson in 2012. No one really came close to touching that mark until 2021, when the aforementioned Kupp of the LA Rams finished the season 18 yards shy.

If Jefferson keeps his torrid pace through Minnesota’s remaining 15 regular-season games, he’ll shatter Johnson’s mark easily and be well on his way to breaking many more records, including Hall-of-Famer Cris Carter’s record for all-time receiving yardage for the Vikings franchise. In 188 games spread across 12 seasons for Minnesota, Carter racked up 12,383 receiving yards, an average of 65.9 yards per game, excluding the playoffs. Jefferson is only two games into his fourth season with the Vikings and he already has 5,134 receiving yards to his name (ninth-most in Vikings history), an average of 98.7 yards per game.

There’s no way Jefferson can maintain his insane 154.5 yards-per-game average for the rest of this season, but if he is somehow able to he’ll finish this 17-game season with 7,451 career receiving yards. That’d put Jefferson more than halfway to passing Carter before he’s even signed his second NFL contract. Even if Jefferson doesn’t play another down this season or ever, he somehow already has more career receiving yards than any receiver has had for the Chicago Bears in the history of the 103-year-old franchise. (Probably because the Bears never have good quarterbacks either.) The Bears aren’t the only team in Jefferson’s sights as he’s just 643 receiving yards away from having more than any player in Baltimore Ravens history.

The NFL’s fastest player to 5,000 career receiving yards, Jefferson isn’t just coming for the Ravens. He’s coming for Carter too.

Sell: The Chicago Bears will turn it around

The worst team in football last season with a record of 3-14, the Chicago Bears traded the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft after deciding that Justin Fields was skilled enough to be their franchise quarterback. That decision may prove to be correct as Fields has shown the ability to be a competent NFL quarterback, but nothing will be proven this year as the Bears are not going to be good enough to offer evidence one way or the other.

Dating back to Week 8 of last season, Chicago has lost 12 straight games and the Bears have surrendered at least 25 points in all of them. It’s been an ugly and historic run as it is the longest streak of losses by an NFL team with at least 25 points or more allowed.

Much like last season, the Bears appear to be the worst team in the NFL as they were able to make Baker Mayfield, who is now playing for his fourth NFL despite being drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, look like the star quarterback he was projected to be. Untouched by a non-existent Chicago pass rush, Mayfield threw for more than 300 yards and completed passes to seven different receivers. His counterpart, Fields, was sacked six times for 42 yards and also tossed a pair of interceptions for good measure.

Chicago’s defense has been putrid as the Bears have given up 562 total passing yards and four touchdowns through two weeks of play with zero interceptions. Those numbers are especially disturbing considering that head coach Matt Eberflus’s strong suit is defense, supposedly. Eberflus has had more put on his plate because defensive coordinator Alan Williams left the team after the opener for personal reasons (there’s no timetable for his return) and, at least so far, has not gotten his team to respond.

Things won’t get any easier for the Bears as they have to head to Kansas City in Week 3 for the matchup with the Chiefs before taking on a winless Broncos team that will be desperate to get a win. By Week 4, the Bears will be desperate too but, as their past 12 weeks of NFL football have demonstrated, there probably isn’t anything they can do about it. That may eventually change, but it won’t be this season.

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