What we learned in NFL Week 2: Giants are resilient, Cowboys roll, Bengals and Chargers look off

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 17: Darren Waller #12 of the New York Giants reacts during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game between the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Giants at State Farm Stadium on September 17, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
By Zak Keefer
Sep. 18, 2023

From the depths of 60-0 deficit six quarters into their season, and a 21-point third-quarter hole Sunday in Arizona, the Giants suddenly, improbably, have life.

The 49ers have somehow won nine straight in the regular season over the Rams.

And Sean Payton and the Broncos — after blowing a 21-3 lead to the Commanders, then nearly tying the score with a 50-yard Hail Mary from Russell Wilson to Brandon Johnson as time expired — are now 0-2.


厂耻苍诲补测’蝉 NFL slate was defined by a slew of furious finishes, none more unlikely than the 21-point rally the Giants staged in the desert. A week after an embarrassing 40-0 loss to Dallas, New York played just as poorly in the first half against the Cardinals, piling up just 76 yards of total offense en route to a 20-0 hole.

It looked bad. Really bad.

All told, the Giants opened the 2023 season with more than 90 minutes of scoreless football.



Sando's Pick Six: Which NFL teams should be most worried? We sort through 11

But by game’s end, it was a 31-28 triumph, courtesy of 24 unanswered points across the final two quarters, the largest comeback win for the franchise in more than 70 years. Saquon Barkley scored twice but left the game late with an injury, slamming his helmet on the bench in frustration. His status, along with that of the Colts’ Anthony Richardson (concussion) and the Bengals’ Joe Burrow (calf), will be among the injuries to monitor in the coming days.

In Detroit, the Seahawks won on a walk-off touchdown from Geno Smith to Tyler Lockett in overtime; in Atlanta, the Falcons outplayed the Packers down the stretch and won on a Younghoe Koo 25-yard field goal with 57 seconds left; and in Nashville, the Titans sent the Chargers to 0-2 with Nick Folk 41-yard game-winner in overtime.

And Russell Wilson nearly upstaged them all, connecting with Johnson on a 50-yard heave with no time on the clock. The touchdown cut the Commanders’ lead to 35-33; all Denver needed was a successful two-point conversion to force overtime. But Russell’s pass to Courtland Sutton fell incomplete, after some contact. Ron Rivera’s team is now a surprising 2-0, and Sean Payton is winless in his first two games as Denver’s coach.

Here’s what we learned from the afternoon slate of Week 2:

Dallas looks like a contender

The Cowboys officially own the city of New York after routing the Giants and Jets by a combined score of 70-10 in consecutive weeks to open the season. The engine behind their early success has been Dan Quinn’s defense, a Super Bowl-caliber unit led by the early favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. Micah Parsons has been good since he entered the league, but he’s never been this good.


So far, the All-Pro linebacker looks utterly unblockable.

It was never close Sunday in Dallas, as Parsons and the Cowboys dominated the Jets 30-10. Taking over for Aaron Rodgers, Zach Wilson’s first start of 2023 was a rough one: He completed just 12 passes on 27 attempts for 170 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. Dallas’ defense now has seven turnovers and nine sacks in two games.

The offense was sharp Sunday, as well, with Dak Prescott piling up 255 passing yards on 31 completions and two touchdowns. CeeDee Lamb was terrific, with 11 catches for 143 yards.

The Cowboys will face stiffer tests down the line — starting with the 49ers in Week 5, then the Eagles in Week 9 — but to this point, Dallas has checked every box. Mike McCarthy’s team looks like a serious threat to play into February.

Is Justin Fields ever going to look like The Guy for the Bears?

Bears general manager Ryan Poles decided to roll the dice with Justin Fields last spring, shipping the No. 1 pick to Carolina in an effort to bolster the supporting cast around his young passer. We’re only two weeks into the season, but the early returns in Chicago aren’t promising — for the Bears or their franchise quarterback.

Chicago has been outscored by a combined 28 points in a pair of season-opening losses to Green Bay and Tampa Bay. Fields has tossed three interceptions, two of which came on Chicago’s last two drives Sunday. The first cemented the loss, when Fields was picked off by Bucs linebacker Shaq Barrett from his own 6-yard-line.

But the issues stretch further: Fields has been hit 16 times and sacked 10 times already.

2023 season

It’s early, and Fields deserves a full season with the improved weapons around him (D.J. Moore, acquired in the trade with Carolina, had six catches for 104 yards Sunday, and Chase Claypool caught his first touchdown in Chicago) but most of the signs we’ve seen through eight quarters hint at another long season in the Windy City. Dating back to last season, the Bears have dropped 12 games in a row.


It won’t get any easier next week. Chicago is in Kansas City next week to face the reigning champs.

Get-right games for the Chiefs, Bills

It’s amazing what the return of two first-team All-Pros can do.

The Chiefs still didn’t look like the Chiefs on Sunday in Jacksonville, but having two of the best players in football back after both missed Week 1 — tight end Travis Kelce and defensive tackle Chris Jonesmade the difference. Jones looked to be in mid-season form, piling up 1.5 sacks for a Kansas City defense that held one of the league’s most explosive offenses to just nine points.

While Kelce snared just four catches on nine targets, one went for a nine-yard touchdown in the third quarter, enough to put the Chiefs up for good. (It also spurred the day’s best call, from CBS’ Ian Eagle, who noted that Kelce found a “blank space” in the end zone for the score, a nod to his rumored relationship with pop star Taylor Swift.)

In a rematch of a divisional playoff matchup from January — and quite possibly a playoff preview for this coming winter — the final score was a bit misleading. The Jags had at least three instances of would-be touchdowns if a receiver had been able to keep both feet in bounds on a contested catch. KC’s defense was solid, but in a tight game where points were surprisingly hard to come by, that separated the two.

(Also, the Chiefs might have a right tackle problem: Jawaan Taylor, signed to a four-year, $80 million deal in the offseason, had a horrendous day, getting flagged five times, including twice for false starts and twice for holding. Per CBS, he’s the most penalized player in a single game in 23 years. Taylor drew criticism after the Chiefs’ Week 1 loss for lining up too far off the line of scrimmage.)

Meanwhile, in Buffalo, another Super Bowl contender looked right again. Josh Allen shook off a dismal, four-turnover Week 1 performance — “I’m the reason we lost tonight,” he admitted after the overtime defeat to the Jets — and returned to MVP form against the Raiders, completing his first 14 passes on his way to a 31-for-37 day for 274 yards and, most significant, no turnovers.


So, with regard to Allen, everyone can calm down — at least for another week.

The Bills’ offense looked significantly better Sunday, and not just because of Josh Allen (Gregory Fisher / USA Today)

Uh-oh in Denver

Speaking of calming down, don’t expect much of that from Broncos fans. It’s not just the no-call on the game’s final two-point conversion; it’s an 0-2 start for a franchise — and a quarterback — ready to move on from the horrors of 2022. If Wilson’s been better this year, it hasn’t been by much.

The Broncos were rolling early Sunday, leading the Commanders 21-3 early in the second quarter. But the game seemed to tilt after Broncos safety Kareem Jackson was ejected after an illegal hit on Commanders tight end Logan Thomas. From there, Washington QB Sam Howell capitalized, finishing with 299 passing yards and two touchdowns. Wilson, meanwhile, cooled considerably after his fast start, turning the ball over twice. He was also sacked five times.

It doesn’t get any easier for Payton’s team. Up next for Denver: They’ll see the Dolphins once and the Chiefs twice in their next six games.

What’s wrong with the Bengals? And the Chargers? 

The most surprising 0-2 team so far has to be the Bengals, who have dropped a pair of AFC North games to open the season and now, once again, have to have some concerns about the health of their franchise quarterback. A week after the worst start of his pro career, Burrow was better Sunday against the Ravens— 27-for-41 for 222 yards, two touchdowns and a pick — but it wasn’t enough in a 27-24 loss.

It’s not who the Bengals have lost to thus far — both the Browns and Ravens figure to be in contention for playoff spots by season’s end — but how they’ve looked in the losses.

Put simply: Something’s not right in Cincinnati.

Burrow spent the closing moments of the game with a hand massager on his right calf, the same one he strained during training camp. He admitted later that he tweaked it and “it’s pretty sore right now.” Burrow’s status will be paramount for the Bengals moving forward: The season’s far from lost — Cincinnati was 0-2 last year before making a deep playoff run — but the offense hasn’t looked close to right in two games. Burrow, for example, had just 35 passing yards in the first half. The Bengals were outgained by the Ravens 415-282.


“This is exactly where we were last year,” coach Zac Taylor said. “When you stumble early, you just have to learn from it.”

The Chargers, meanwhile, are also 0-2 after falling in overtime to the Titans. That makes two losses by a combined five points to start the season — this after L.A. collapsed in January in their playoff opener, blowing a 27-0 halftime lead in Jacksonville. Justin Herbert threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, but the offense was just 2-for-14 on third down.

So far, here are the winless teams two weeks into the season: the Bengals, Broncos, Vikings, Chargers, Bears, Patriots, Cardinals and Texans. Two more, playing in prime time Monday, would join them with a loss: the Steelers and Panthers. My colleague Mike Sando will have much more on this group in his Pick Six column Monday morning.



What stood out on the second Sunday of the NFL season

(Photo: Michael Owens / Getty Images)

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Zak Keefer

Zak Keefer is a national features writer for The Athletic, focusing on the NFL. He previously covered the Indianapolis Colts for nine seasons, winning the Pro Football Writers of America's 2020 Bob Oates Award for beat writing. He wrote and narrated the six-part podcast series "Luck," and is an adjunct professor of journalism at Indiana University. Follow Zak on Twitter @zkeefer