San Francisco 49ers Flex Muscles; Arizona Cardinals Shock Patriots
By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts NFC West beat man (@B_Burnett49er)
Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers set out in Week 2 to show the football world their dominance at Lambeau Field last week was no fluke.
If the 49ers weren't atop your NFL Power Rankings last week, they should be now. That said, they weren't the only NFC West squad who came through with a promising performance on Sunday.
In fact, it was banner Sunday for a division that has struggled to piece together wins in recent years.
The Arizona Cardinals walked into Gillette Stadium and sacked the mighty Patriots; Seattle dominated America's Team; while Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams outgunned RGIII and the Washington Redskins.
Let's take a look at what we learned from Week 2
1. Alex Smith is a legit big-time quarterback.
For all of the well-deserved hype surrounding the 49ers defense, Alex Smith is playing like a QB who can win on his own.
The eighth-year vet picked apart a depleted Lions secondary when necessary, and San Fran coasted to a 27-19 victory on Sunday night.
Despite several drops from his receivers, including three in a row at one point, No. 11 finished the day with a passer rating of 107.7, going 20 for 31 with 226 yards, two touchdowns and of course, zero interceptions.
After out-dueling reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field, Smith left no doubt he was the better quarterback on Sunday night.
Matthew Stafford wasn't ultimately done in by San Fran's vaunted pass rush: he had plenty of time to throw on the majority of his dropbacks.
No, it was the game-planning from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and superb coverage by the 49ers secondary that stumped the former 5,000-yard passer much of the evening. Innacurate throws hindered Stafford's evening as well.
In fact, Detroit was held without a single TD until less than two minutes remained in the contest.
Send your condolences in advance to Christian Ponder and the Vikings, the 49ers opponent in Week 3.
2. Arizonas's defense is legit, as it proved with a historic win in New England.
We have no idea who gave it to them, but Arizona had Tom Brady's number from the Patriots first offensive play until its last.
The Cardinals flew East and slayed the beast, 20-18, behind a strong effort from its underrated pass defense. That unit was among the best in the NFL last year in our pass defense Quality Stats, and are again here in 2012.
Brady averaged just 5.9 Real Passing Yards Per attempt, well below the elite level we've come to know.
New England hadn't suffered a loss in a home opener since Drew Bledsoe was behind center (2001, to be precise). In fact, that loss to the Jets more than a decade ago was the very day that Bledsoe was hurt, launching the Tom Brady era.
But stout defensive play and a sufficient performance from Kevin Kolb led the Cards to a 20-18 victory at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Kolb passed for just 140 yards, but threw for 1 TD and ran for another,
Of course, Bill Belichick's squad just about escaped with an unblemished record after the Pats' D hopped on a Ryan Williams fumble in the closing minutes, but it was a shanked 42-yard FG attempt by Stephen Gostkowski with one second remaining that sealed their fate as Kolb's latest victim.
It was the first missed field goal by a New England kicker in a game-winning opportunity since Dec. 26, 1999, according to Cold, Hard Football Facts' "Captain Comeback" Scott Kacsmar, the authority on all matters comebacks.
It's not too often a team marches in to Foxborough and walks away victorious after gaining just 245 yards of total offense, but the NFL is weird like that, especially when your defense dominates a vaunted unit such as New England's.
Defensive end Calais Campbell monstered his way to 10 tackles and two sacks, while CB Patrick Peterson hauled in his first pick of the season on Brady's very first pass attempt. After two games this season, Arizona has 13 QB hits and seven sacks.
Kolb wasn't spectacular, but his defense was. Thanks to that, this surprising bunch is keeping pace with the 49ers at 2-0 and will head home to host Philadelphia in Week 3.
3. Sam Bradford Can Hang With The Big Boys
No signal-caller stole the NFC West spotlight on Sunday like Sam Bradford. The former No. 1 pick lit up the air with 310 yards passing and three TD's, while connecting on 74.3 percent of his passes in the Rams' 31-28 win over the visiting Redskins.
Bradford and WR Danny Amendola must've been wearing spacesuits instead of team uniforms, because this duo was another planet together. The third-year QB targeted Amendola 16 times, converting on 15 of those throws for 160 yards and a TD.
Despite the impressive efficiency in the passing game, RGIII was preparing to send this contest to overtime until an overly flustered Josh Morgan let Cortland Finnegan ruffle his feathers at a crucial moment.
Morgan, the newly signed WR who played with the 49ers in 2011, had just set Washington up for a would-be 47-yard FG attempt before his frustrations boiled over and he mindlessly chucked the ball at the antagonizing cornerback as he got up.
The Redskins opted for the 62-yard FG that followed Morgan's 15-yard personal foul, but the kick sailed wide and Rams fans were sent home happy for only the second time since December, 2010.
4. Seahawks Put Up The D-Fence At CenturyLink Field
As the Cold, Hard Football Facts Insider and its trusty new Spreadapedia reported before the game, Seattle is two different teams at home and on the road.
They've proven it again in the early part of 2012, losing to Arizona on the road and crushing a talented Dallas team at home.
The Seahwaks since 2000 are:
- 66-37 at home
- 36-66 on the road
- 55-43-5 ATS
- 39-60-3 ATS on the road.
Tony Romo and the Cowboys had 10 days to game-plan against the Seahawks underrated defense, but the inability to outsmart their opponent wasn't all that did them in.
Seattle flat out punished the Cowboys for 60 minutes in a 27-7 win at CenturyLink field. There was no two ways about that. Dallas simply couldn't match the physicality the Hawks' were bringing and eventually wore down, allowing consecutive touchdown drives of 90 and 88 yards in the third quarter.
QB Russell Wilson played a mistake-free ballgame and Marshawn Lynch rumbled for 122 yards on the ground, but it was hard-nosed, disciplined football that helped bring Romo and the Cowboys back to earth after their convincing Week 1 win over the defending champion Giants.
5. Handle With Care: NFCW QBs smart with the football
The four NFC West quarterbacks totaled 113 pass attempts in Week 2, but only one fell into the hands of a defender. Three of them (Bradford, Smith and Wilson) finished with a passer rating of over 100.
Most importantly, they all led their teams to victory, only strengthening the idea that efficient, clock-controlling play is perhaps the most effective way to win in this league.
Now, could someone please tell us how Andy Reid's Eagles are undefeated after turning the ball over nine times in two games?