NFL

NFL Week 2 winners and losers: Patriots offense shows improvement, Cowboys still have hope

A wild finish to the early slate of the Week 2 slate of NFL games Sunday provided plenty of drama, and some historic comebacks.

And it was two AFC East teams in particular who were on the road and stunned their opponents. The Miami Dolphins erased a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter behind a barrage of deep passes from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. In the process, they took down one of the AFC's top contenders in the Ravens. Meanwhile, the Jets charged back to score 14 points inside of the final two minutes to topple the Cleveland Browns

Elsewhere, the 49ers saw their young quarterback Trey Lance go down with a season-ending injury, the Patriots took steps to right their offense and the Colts can't seem to solve the Jaguars when playing in Jacksonville.

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Here are the winners and losers from Week 2 of Sunday's NFL slate.

WINNERS

Matt Patricia

Last week we had Patricia, the Patriots' offensive play caller, on the other end of the list. This week, after New England (1-1) defeated the Steelers on the road, he's on the right side thanks to a game-clinching series in which the Patriots showed physicality, resolve and may have inched closer toward finding an offensive identity.

There are still some things to clean up. Mac Jones threw a pass right to Steelers corner Cameron Sutton that should've been picked off. The offensive line committed four penalties. There were still too many empty possessions, including a fourth quarter three-and-out that preceded the game-icing drive. But when holding their three-point lead with 6:33 left in the game, the Patriots ripped off a 13-play, 56-yard drive that ended the game. In the series, the Patriots collected four first downs, all of them on rushes. Patricia fed running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson on outside zone rushes to make Pittsburgh submit when it mattered most.

New England Patriots running back Damien Harris is hit by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Myles Jack.

Tua Time

Arguably the most polarizing player in the NFL, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa posted career highs in passing yards (469) and touchdowns (6) in a historic fourth-quarter comeback against the Ravens. Miami erased a 21-point deficit with three quick touchdowns before Baltimore took a brief lead that prompted Tagovailoa's game-winning touchdown drive.

One of the criticisms levied against Tagovailoa has been his ability to throw the ball down the field. But with Tyreek Hill now paired with second-year wideout Jaylen Waddle, the Dolphins (2-0) have a pair of deep-play threats. And with offensive-minded rookie coach Mike McDaniel, Miami showed it can put up points in a hurry, even when on the road. The key for Miami will now be consistency, not getting in an early hole and cleaning up turnovers.

The playoff prospects of the Dak Prescott-less Cowboys

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was calm when he announced last week that Dak Prescott would miss several weeks with a thumb injury; it turns Cooper Rush was why. Rush was steady (though unspectacular) Sunday in an upset victory over the reigning AFC champion Bengals. 

Unspectacular, however, may be enough for Dallas (1-1) to weather the next few weeks while Prescott recovers. The Cowboys got the ball in a tie game with 57 seconds left and Rush completed all three of his attempts on the game-winning drive that went 33 yards on six plays and set up Brett Maher's 50-yard field goal. On defense, behind Micah Parsons (four sacks this season) and Dallas' pass rush (six sacks against Cincinnati), Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase were kept in check. And with the Giants and Eagles ascending in the NFC East, Dallas can't afford to fall behind.

The playoff prospects of the Trey Lance-less 49ers

Firstly, fans have to feel gutted for Trey Lance, whose broken ankle will require season-ending surgery, further impeding his development. But, while the 49ers were criticized for their August restructuring of the contract of backup Jimmy Garoppolo, his presence now allows San Francisco to continue contending in the NFC.

For the physical gifts Garoppolo may lack when compared to Lance, he makes up in experience and familiarity in the system of coach Mike Shanahan. Against the Seahawks on Sunday, Garoppolo (13-of-21 for 154 yards with one touchdown) did what he does well, spreading the ball to different targets and minimizing turnovers. And with a schedule that's unforgiving, with out-of-division games against the Chiefs, Chargers, Buccaneers and Raiders among others, Garoppolo as an insurance policy is as close to a best-case scenario the Niners could ask for.

LOSERS

The honeymoon in Denver

Yes, the Broncos (1-1) beat the Texans, but early returns from the Nathaniel Hackett-Russell Wilson pairing are troubling. Just one week after Hackett's calamitous clock management against the Seahawks, his team again played sloppily and he showed the hesitation of a coach who looks to be in over his head. To start, Denver's offense has sputtered, despite making the March trade for Wilson

Denver fell to 0-for-6 for the season in red zone attempts, including a stunning 0-for-5 in goal-to-go situations. The Broncos committed 13 penalties for 100 yards against Houston. For his part, Wilson (14-of-31, 219 yards, one touchdown and one interception) has been out of rhythm and inaccurate. Still, Hackett's egregious clock and game management blunders are enough for the question to be asked: was his hiring a mistake? It was so bad that the home crowd, wanting the Broncos to avoid more delay of game penalties, counted down the play clock.

Grounding Justin Fields

The Bears trailed the majority of their loss against the division-rival Packers, yet, despite facing one of the all-time great passers in Aaron Rodgers, Chicago inexplicably took the ball out of the hands of quarterback Justin Fields. 

To be fair, the Bears do lack star power in their receiving corps and they ran the ball well. But Fields completed 7-of-11 passes for 70 yards with one interception and one rushing touchdown, though his last two passes — including the interception — came just north of the two-minute warning, with Chicago trailing by 17. It's not surprising, therefore that the Bears converted just one of their seven third-down tries against the Packers. One other point: Fields did hold onto the ball too long at times and took unnecessary sacks. There were times, too, when he fled a clean pocket, so he did leave some chances on the field. Still, the Bears have to give him more chances to work.

AFC North squads with sizable leads in the fourth

Give the Jets credit for capitalizing on opportunities they were given, but make no mistake, the Cleveland Browns (1-1) lost this game. They held a 13-point lead (in part because placekicker Cade York missed a late extra point) with 1:55 to play. The Jets didn't hold a single time out. But an absolute blown coverage led to a 66-yard touchdown grab, which led to Cleveland's hands team showing no urgency during the onside kick, which led to a game-winning drive in which Joe Flacco carved up the Browns' secondary.

Elsewhere, the Ravens (1-1) spoiled Lamar Jackson's masterful performance (437 total yards, four total touchdowns), and blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead against the Dolphins. Baltimore showed it has elite speed on offense with Jackson and receivers Devin Duvernay and Rashod Bateman. But a defense that yielded far too many explosive plays late in the game also showed that Baltimore has a serious liability to address. 

Whatever is in the Jacksonville water that the Colts can't handle

Indianapolis entered the season as the betting favorites to win the AFC South. But after a meh Week 1 tie against the Texans, the Colts lost their eighth consecutive road game against the Jaguars in stunning fashion: a 24-0 shutout. Suddenly, Indy could be staring down a lost season if it can't correct glaring issues.

With the addition of Matt Ryan, the offense was supposed to be the strength of this team. Through two games, however, the Colts have converted just 8-of-25 third-down attempts and only 2-of-7 red zone trips. Ryan (16-of-30 for 195 yards with three interceptions) was sacked five times and could never get comfortable. Despite the constant pressure, coach Frank Reich continued to call slow-developing, deep passing plays. The Colts were missing three of their best players —  All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard, and receivers Michael Pittman and Alec Pierce — but this is a team that has played without toughness and urgency and those are things difficult to manufacture in the middle of a season.