By Tyler Dunne
New York Times
There were no shirtless pictures of Bill Belichick from Barbados gracing your screens this offseason.
Belichick, the New England Patriots’ head coach, was far too busy to kick back last spring.
As a drunken Tom Brady chucked the Vince Lombardi Trophy boat to boat, and as we all declared the quarterback the true driving force in New England all those years, Belichick, the NFL’s Voldemort, plotted his vengeful return. Ego understandably ended this generation’s greatest dynasty. Honestly, it’s a miracle Brady and Belichick coexisted for two decades. Now, ego just may be transforming the Patriots into contenders again.
After the Patriots’ first losing season since 2000, Belichick declared himself the fixer this offseason with a $232 million spending spree on his roster. The message was clear in his 47th year as an NFL coach: Give me the horses, and I’ll win with a quarterback on the cheap.
And while nobody should ever schedule a Super Bowl parade after a win over the calamity that is the New York Jets, Sunday served as a quiet warning to the rest of the NFL that Belichick’s Patriots aren’t dead yet.
New England’s defense suffocated Zach Wilson throughout a 25-6 win. Once again, Belichick turned a rookie quarterback into a pumpkin. At one point, Wilson had four interceptions and four completions, and you half-hoped Jets coach Robert Saleh would put the poor player out of his misery by handing him a clipboard.
Add it all up, and what we learned most in Week 2 is that there is absolutely a path for the Patriots to be the Patriots once again.
Clearly, the Jets are zero threat to win any time soon.
The Miami Dolphins (1-1) looked abysmal in a 35-0 home loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. With or without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, this isn’t an offense that’ll scare anyone any time soon. Here’s thinking their Week 1 upset in Foxborough, Massachusetts, was a gift-wrapped fluke.
And, yes, the Bills are the defending AFC East champs. Yes, they blasted Miami and, yes, the defense looks phenomenal. The fact is, their franchise quarterback — the very rich Josh Allen — has not looked sharp. He completed only 51% of his passes.
So what if the Mac Jones Experience in New England is as exciting as a trip to the dentist? We see now why this team was OK washing its hands of Cam Newton. Jones is not overwhelmed by the speed of the NFL, Dad bod or not, and that’s all Belichick asks with the roster he has assembled around the position. After paying up for edge rusher Matt Judon, tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, corner Jalen Mills, defensive tackle Davon Godchaux and end Henry Anderson — Get all that? — Belichick knew he didn’t need a Superman at quarterback. He needed a distributor who wouldn’t turn the ball over.
If that sounds very 1994, he frankly does not care.
He let the Jets swing for the fences on a potential Mahomes Lite at No. 2 overall, perfectly content standing pat at No. 15 for a quarterback who completed 77.4% of his passes at Alabama. And unlike every other team that drafted a quarterback in April, the Jets did not sign anything resembling a threat or a veteran to challenge or support their rookie. This was Wilson’s gig from Day 1 and, on Sunday, you couldn’t help but wonder if the Jets should’ve found themselves a McCown of some sort.
Wilson, the Brigham Young gunslinger, saw more ghosts than Sam Darnold ever dreamed of.
After Interception No. 3 — a bizarre floater right to cornerback J.C. Jackson — Jones called an audible at the line and threw a beautiful rainbow to the Patriots’ Jakobi Meyers, in stride, for 24 yards.
Such was the theme. This game served as a magnifying glass over two polar-opposite rookies. Wilson wants to play off-script like the three-time MVP he idolized: Aaron Rodgers. His improvisation should at least make another losing season fun for the Jets. When a 315-pounder, Lawrence Guy, barreled in for a sack, Wilson hardly blinked. He juked. He escaped. He kept his eyes downfield before throwing incomplete.
This style of play could prove to be special.
This style could also get chewed up and spat out by the rest of the NFL.
Interception No. 4 was even uglier, almost as if New England’s Devin McCourty was Wilson’s intended target.
Meanwhile, Jones chugged along. He threw no touchdowns and no picks in completing 22 of 30 passes for 186 yards for the Patriots.
Interesting, isn’t it? Through this offseason of quarterback madness, teams bent over backward for the chance at something special. San Francisco unloaded three first-rounders for someone from North Dakota State who played one football game in 2020 (Trey Lance); Green Bay was perfectly fine being publicly embarrassed by its disgruntled MVP for six months (Rodgers); Indianapolis was willing to take on Carson Wentz’s massive contract; the LA Rams unloaded two firsts, a third and Jared Goff for a 33-year-old who has gone 74-90-1 in his career with zero playoff wins.
The Bills handed Allen a six-year, $258 million contract.
The Chicago Bears took a swing at every veteran possible before trading up for Justin Fields.
And here’s Belichick again zagging as the rest of the league zigs. His defense is highly compensated and loaded. Judon will be worth every penny of his four-year, $56 million deal. Good luck finding a weakness anywhere. And this offense will only get better. Damien Harris atoned for his Week 1 fumble with arguably the best run of the season Sunday.
Harris broke seven tackles on the way to the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown.
Beast Mode himself would be proud.
OK, Brady’s title for Tampa Bay justifiably has us all questioning who meant more to those six NFL titles in New England. Let’s not write those obituaries on the Patriots quite yet. If this equation leads to a winner, be it 2021 or 2022, nobody will question Belichick again. That’s surely on Belichick’s mind, too.
For now, let’s just get the popcorn ready for Patriots-Bucs on Oct. 3.
Cowboys’ talent overcomes Chargers’ errors.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Chargers of this generation are bound to throw wins away as the seconds wane. Both teams have assembled contenders but something, always something, is bound to go wrong.
Sunday’s game, a 20-17 Dallas win, sure seemed to be heading in that direction for both teams.
On two consecutive drives, the Chargers had touchdowns wiped out by penalties.
First, a holding penalty nullified a Donald Parham Jr. score. (An interception soon followed.) Then, an illegal shift nullified a Jared Cook touchdown when Los Angeles had first-and-goal from the 2-yard line. (The Chargers settled for a field goal.) The Chargers (1-1) finished with 12 penalties for 99 yards.
Then, it appeared to be the Cowboys’ turn. With 3:45 left and the score tied, quarterback Dak Prescott drove Dallas into Los Angeles territory, and the Cowboys (1-1) grew lax. Coach Mike McCarthy, who has had clock management issues throughout his career, inexplicably let precious time bleed off the clock with the ball on the Chargers’ 38-yard line.
Nonetheless, with four seconds left, Greg Zuerlein banged in a 56-yard field goal to give Dallas its first win of the season.
This will need to be the theme for the Cowboys, a team that has suffered the same problems for 25 years now. In 2021, that talent may be enough to validate the machinations of the ownership, the coaching changes and the constant attention. This was a solid win. We know Prescott is one of the greats, but on Sunday, the Cowboys proved they could win with the run, too. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for 180 rushing yards.
Defensively, this isn’t going to be the historically awful unit we saw in 2020. The team’s new defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, has brought a scheme that is much better than the one Mike Nolan installed via Zoom a year ago, and Micah Parsons gives the Cowboys a playmaking pass rusher that opposing coordinators must now account for every week. A rookie out of Penn State, he was a presence all game with four quarterback hits and one sack.
Next time, the Cowboys just may want to gain another 8 yards to be safe.
There is good news, Jets fans! Your new quarterback isn’t taking any advice from Adam Gase.
The Carolina Panthers’ Sam Darnold — newly Gase-less — was the best quarterback Sunday in lighting up the same New Orleans Saints defense that throttled Rodgers a week ago. Darnold shredded the Saints for 305 yards on 26-of-38 passing with two touchdowns in a breezy 26-7 win.
Thus far, the Panthers have gotten the most bang for their buck through that quarterback carousel. The marriage between Darnold and the offensive coordinator, Joe Brady, has been perfect two games in.
Darnold isn’t going to wow anyone with his athleticism or his arm strength, but the reason a team drafted him over Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson is finally on display. He’s decisive. He’s accurate. He gets into a rhythm. Brady’s offense isn’t wordy or complicated like Gase’s. It simply has an answer for every type of coverage you can throw at Carolina — and Darnold delivers. After failing to register 200 yards and two scores in any game last season, the former Jet accomplished exactly that in one half against New Orleans.
Now, with the right coach and the right weapons, he has a realistic shot to be everything we expected in 2018. And then some.
San Francisco 49ers 17, Philadelphia Eagles 11: Jalen Reagor juuust stepped out of bounds running his route before hauling in a deep touchdown that would’ve completely changed the complexion of this game. Instead, San Francisco recovered to grind out the win.
Los Angeles Raiders 26, Pittsburgh Steelers 17: Derek Carr has secretively been a top 10 quarterback for a while now and he made one of the best defenses in the NFL look silly. If this is the real Henry Ruggs III, the Raiders’ offense may be here to stay, too. He’s not dinking and dunking all game as you might’ve thought — Carr has developed incredible touch on his deep ball.
Chicago Bears 20, Cincinnati Bengals 17: Nine quarterback hits, four sacks, three interceptions, one pick-6. Let’s pray the Bengals aren’t ruining Joe Burrow off that torn ACL.
Cleveland Browns 31, Houston Texans 21: Baker Mayfield shouldn’t try to lay anybody out after his next interception. After giving locals a scare with a shoulder injury — a familiar feeling in Cleveland — the quarterback bounced back to finish 19 of 21 for 213 yards with one rushing score and one passing score.
Los Angeles Rams 27, Indianapolis Colts 24: It wasn’t pretty but this is also why Sean McVay traded for Matthew Stafford. The longtime Lions starter is used to rallying his offense in the fourth quarter, and he needed to Sunday.
Denver Broncos 23, Jacksonville Jaguars 13: No Jerry Jeudy, no problem. This Denver offense hummed right along with Courtland Sutton (nine receptions for 159 yards) stepping up as Teddy Bridgewater’s go-to guy. Like Darnold in Carolina, Teddy B in Denver is looking like a steal.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Atlanta Falcons 25: A year ago, this offense was in disarray. Tom Brady wanted one offense. Bruce Arians wanted another. Now? Tampa Bay is already scoring at will and that’s a scary thought. Ten different players accounted for 24 completions as Brady threw five touchdowns in all. Until further notice, the Bucs are the team to beat.
Arizona Cardinals 34, Minnesota Vikings 33: When the Vikings decided to re-up Kirk Cousins one year ago, it meant embracing a total rebuild on defense. Mike Zimmer’s entire unit underwent a youth movement for the team to simply get under the cap. And while the COVID-19 pandemic provided an understandable excuse for last year’s issues — and there were plenty — there’s no excuse for how bad Minnesota’s defense has looked through two games. Zimmer has work to do.
Tennessee Titans 33, Seattle Seahawks 30 (OT): Weird things happen in Seattle. Always. None of us should be surprised that the Titans erased a 24-9 lead in a hostile environment to win. As ugly as the first six quarters to their season were, this remains an offense overflowing with weapons and Derrick Henry isn’t showing the slightest signs of wear and tear. The workhorse back bashed Seattle for 182 yards on 35 carries with three touchdowns.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.