Week 2 of the 2021 NFL season featured plenty of surprises and misfortunes around the league. The Las Vegas Raiders, Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills improved to 2-0, while the New Orleans Saints struggled in Jameis Winston’s second game as a starter.
In the late afternoon slate of games, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked unstoppable while handily defeating the Atlanta Falcons. Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys bounced back after suffering a season-opening loss in Week 1, and Kyler Murray continued his early campaign for MVP with a dazzling performance.
Here’s a look at some winners and losers from NFL Week 2:
Winner: Las Vegas Raiders
How about the Raiders? After beating the Baltimore Ravens to open their season, Las Vegas went on the road Sunday and took down another 2020 playoff team, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-17.
With running back Josh Jacobs sidelined, quarterback Derek Carr stepped up big time -- completing 28 of 37 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest play of the day came in the fourth quarter right after Pittsburgh cut Las Vegas’ lead to two, connecting with Henry Ruggs III deep for a 61-yard score.
The Raiders’ defense also deserves a shoutout for another strong showing as they shut down the Steelers’ rushing attack (39 yards on 14 attempts) and picked off Ben Roethlisberger once.
Las Vegas will have a great chance to move to 3-0 with the Miami Dolphins, who could be without Tua Tagovailoa, coming to town next week.
Loser: Jameis Winston
Jameis Winston looked a lot more like the Jameis Winston we’re used to seeing on Sunday. New Orleans came out guns blazing in Week 1, stunning the Green Bay Packers 38-3 behind a five-touchdown performance from Winston. But Winston and Co. crashed back down to the earth in a 26-7 loss to the Panthers.
The Saints, who were missing eight assistant coaches due to a COVID-19 outbreak, struggled mightily on offense in this one as they were outgained 383-128. Winston completed 11 of 21 passes for 111 yards and two interceptions, and he was sacked four times. One of his interceptions was extremely on brand:
It was a bad day at the office for the Saints overall -- heck, even superstar Alvin Kamara tallied just 30 yards from scrimmage on 12 touches. But it’s clearly time to pump the breaks on the Jameis hype.
Winner: Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers
Sam Darnold has looked like a new man since joining Carolina.
The former New York Jets quarterback completed 26 of 38 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints, reminding the NFL of the potential he had as a highly-touted prospect out of USC. Perhaps the change of scenery is the best thing for his career.
Darnold went 16 of 20 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the first half of the win, better than any game he had with the Jets.
With better weapons around him in D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall and arguably the NFL’s best running back in Christian McCaffrey, Darnold doesn’t have to do much to lead the Panthers to the playoffs. And if he continues to play consistently well like he did on Sunday, Carolina should be in good shape this season.
Loser: Rookie QBs vs. Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick entered Sunday’s game against Zach Wilson and the Jets with a 21-6 career record when facing a rookie quarterback.
Belichick made win No. 22 look easy, frustrating the No. 2 overall pick all game in a 25-6 New England Patriots win. Wilson finished the game with 210 yards and four interceptions. Wilson started the game with interceptions on his first two passing attempts -- the first time that’s happened since 2011.
Usually, when Belichick has a week to confuse a rookie QB, he does a good job, and Sunday was no exception. Belichick will have another chance to confuse the rookie when the Jets visit Gillette Stadium later in the season.
Winner: Kyler Murray’s MVP case
Kyler Murray is officially on MVP watch.
The third-year quarterback was sensational once again while helping the Cardinals win a wild back-and-forth shootout against the Minnesota Vikings, 34-33. He finished with a gaudy stat line: 29 of 36 through the air for 400 yards and three touchdowns, and 31 yards on the ground with one score. No throw or run was bigger than this unbelievable fourth-down completion to Christian Kirk that led to what was ultimately the game-winning field goal.
Yes, he also threw two interceptions, one of which was a pick-six, and Vikings kicker Greg Joseph missed a potential game-winning field as time expired. But even that wasn’t enough to sour this performance. He could be in for another huge game next week when the 2-0 Cardinals visit the unimpressive Jacksonville Jaguars.
Winner: Tom Brady and the fountain of youth
Tom Brady continues to prove age is just a number. The 44-year-old quarterback said earlier in the week that he could potentially play in the NFL until 50, and after his latest performance against the Atlanta Falcons, no one is arguing with him. Brady looked spectacular, carving up Atlanta’s defense for 276 yards and five touchdowns.
The first two of Brady’s touchdowns on the day went to Rob Gronkowski, who looks to be having his own resurgent season in Tampa Bay. Gronkowski, who caught Brady’s opening touchdown in the Bucs’ 31-29 win over the Cowboys, followed that up by catching four passes for 39 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Evans led the Buccaneers in receiving, recording five receptions for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bucs head to SoFi Stadium next week to face Matthew Stafford and the red-hot Rams in a must-see showdown.