It’s hard to imagine GM John Lynch, head coach Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers envisioning their worst-case scenario playing out.
Two weeks into the season, and three weeks after the organization reworked Jimmy Garoppolo’s deal to keep him in the Bay Area, second-year quarterback Trey Lance suffered a devastating broken ankle that will require surgery, ending his season, as first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
For Lance, September 18 marked a tragic juncture in his career.
Now, there will be at least a three-year gap between Lance’s most recent full college football season in 2019 and his first possible full season as an NFL starter in 2023.
Only 12:40 into Lance’s second game of the season, the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2021 was carted off the field when his ankle was caught under Seattle Seahawks linebacker Cody Barton and defensive tackle Bryan Mone.
The injury is a brutal reminder of how quickly the trajectory of a career can change in the NFL, just as it is how vital quality quarterback depth is to team success.
Garoppolo, who is two years removed from leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl berth, and is nine months out from a run to the NFC Championship Game, returns to his role as the starter. The 30-year-old veteran with a 34-14 regular season record provides stability for San Francisco. Just as he did amid the chaos of Sunday.
Against the division rival Seahawks, Garoppolo finished 13-of-21 passing for 154 yards with a touchdown, delivering another win, going away, 27-7.
Labeled by several league sources as a “win-win” shotgun reunion between a veteran quarterback and a team with a loaded roster, Garoppolo will now be vital to San Francisco’s championship aspirations in 2022. And maybe beyond.
Here are 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 2 action across the NFL.
1) Micah Parsons Is the Transcendent Talent Dallas Desperately Needs
Micah Parsons has all the trappings of a generational defensive player.
Sunday afternoon against the Cincinnati Bengals, Parsons looked every bit the NFL Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner. He just might resurrect the Dallas Cowboys‘ season.
The second-year linebacker, who is equally dominant and disruptive at middle linebacker as he is playing his natural position of edge rusher, seemed to be in on every single big play for the Cowboys in a 20-17 victory over the reigning AFC Champions.
“[Parsons] is every bit the elite player we saw at Penn State,” an NFC personnel director told Heavy. “And he’s still getting better every week.”
Parsons is now on pace for 34.0 sacks after getting to Burrow twice in Week 2. He also produced four total tackles as the heartbeat of the Cowboys’ defense on Sunday afternoon.
So, what sets Parsons apart, what makes him the player offensive coordinators lose sleep over, and who gives quarterbacks nightmares?
“He’s big, he’s strong, he has elite speed for the position,” an NFC scout told Heavy. “And maybe most importantly, he has a relentlessly high motor.”
Still, Parsons and his defensive teammates allowed Burrow’s Bengals back in the game late, before slamming the door on Cincinnati’s final drive.
With the Bengals trailing 17-9, and with the offense showing few signs of life after allowing its franchise quarterback to be sacked 4.0 times in the first half, Burrow orchestrated the kind of drive that underscores why he’s viewed as one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks.
Taking over at its own 17-yard line, the Bengals offense, led by Burrow, methodically marched down the field for the longest Cincinnati scoring drive since 2001. Burrow’s charge was 19 plays for 78 yards, capped by a 5-yard touchdown strike to Tee Higgins, and a 2-point conversion to Tyler Boyd. After being left for dead, suddenly the Bengals and Cowboys were tied at 17.
Cooper Rush and the Cowboys’ offense set kicker Brett Maher up for the game-winning 50-yard field goal that keeps Dallas’ season afloat and puts the now 0-2 Bengals on life-support. 20-17. Ball game. Hope remains in Dallas.
If the Cowboys are going to survive without Dak Prescott, and compete in the NFC East, Parsons and the defense will likely need to lead the way.
2) Garrett Wilson Arrives for the Jets
It may have taken a minute, but Wilson flashed every bit of his first-round pedigree in the first quarter Sunday in Cleveland against the Browns.
Playing 140 miles from Columbus, Ohio, where he was a focal point of the Buckeyes’ prolific offense, the Jets’ rookie receiver had his coming out party.
With just 23 seconds remaining, Wilson sped down the middle of the field on a seam route, got behind the entire secondary, and pulled down a 15-yard touchdown from Joe Flacco, his second score of the game. Jets 31, Browns 30, game all but over.
Wilson’s game-winner might not even be the most impressive play from his stellar second NFL game.
Lined up against cornerback Matin Emerson, Wilson all but broke Emerson’s ankles near the goal line to break open and pull down his first career touchdown pass from Joe Flacco, toe-tapping in the corner of the end zone.
“He’s an absolute stud,” an NFC evaluator told Heavy by text message Sunday. “Performances like that are why he was so high on boards all over the league.”
Wilson finished with 8 catches for a game-high 109 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Jets’ win over Cleveland that has the chance to be a narrative-changer for the Jets, and the beginning of something special for Wilson.
“Somehow they didn’t get him on the field until the 14th offensive snap Week 1,” an AFC executive told Heavy. “I doubt they make that mistake again.”
3) The Indianapolis Colts’ Flaws May Be Fatal
Buoyed by the arrival of quarterback Matt Ryan, expectations were high in Indianapolis entering the season. Some inside the league even proclaimed the Colts as the team to beat in the AFC South.
But, Sunday in Jacksonville, the Colts and Jaguars looked like teams zooming in opposite directions.
It was the group led by No. 1 overall picks Trevor Lawrence and Travon Walker that simply outclassed Indianapolis in all phases of a 24-0 shellacking.
“They’re one of the most underperforming teams of the past few years,” an AFC scouting director told Heavy at halftime of Sunday’s Week 2 tilt. “Are you really surprised?”
Jacksonville intercepted Ryan 3 times, sacked him 5.0 times, and held the Colts to just 9 first downs.
“I guess 20 years of Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck made the organization forget how to build around ‘non’ franchise quarterbacks,” the scouting director said. “It’s an abject disaster.”
Compounding the effects of a woeful and inept showing from the Colts’ offense, Lawrence was magnificent. The former Clemson star hailed as “the next Andrew Luck,” passed for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars’ backfield combined for 96 rushing yards and a touchdown, and Jacksonville controlled the line of scrimmage — and the game — all afternoon.
“Losing their defensive coordinator is really showing up for them so far,” the scouting director said.
That defensive coordinator was Matt Eberflus, now the Chicago Bears head coach, who was viewed by several players as a culture driver with the potential to find immediate success as a head coach.
Right now, the team Eberflus left behind is reeling.
Sunday’s debacle followed a disappointing Week 1 tie in Houston, to the lowly Texans.
Now, a roster that on paper has some of the premier players at their positions, looks left for dead in a division that they were expected to run away with. All before they even kick off their Week 3 home opener.
“It’s a real shame,” the scouting director said. “Because they waste elite talent like Jonathan Taylor, Quenton Nelson, DeForest Buckner and Shaquille Leonard.”
4) Few Teams Have Gotten Less Out of More Than the Cincinnati Bengals’ Offensive Line
Joe Burrow almost overcame the same adversity Sunday that nearly buried him in 2021.
Cincinnati made a Super Bowl last season, in large part, despite one of the NFL’s more porous offensive lines that allowed 70.0 sacks in the regular season and playoffs combined.
The Bengals responded by throwing $74 million at the problem. Cincinnati shopped at the top of the free agent market, adding La’El Collins, Alex Kappa and Ted Karras.
Against the Cowboys, the Bengals’ revamped line has looked more like a 74-cent BandAid.
Sunday in Dallas, Burrow was sacked four times before halftime, the Bengals’ offense averaged just 3.8 yards per play, and even though the Bengals very nearly came all the way back in the fourth quarter, the hole the line dug Cincinnati in the first half proved too deep to overcome.
Burrow has a lot of the traits you look for in a generational franchise quarterback. But, even he hasn’t been quite able to overcome the onslaught of pressure he’s faced the first two weeks of this season.
Cincinnati looks more like a cautionary tale of yet another Super Bowl losing flop than a serious contender for a Super Bowl championship this season.
5) Tyreek Hill & Tua Tagovailoa Just Scratching the Surface
In their second game together, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Tyreek Hill took over the game, leading a furious, and franchise record-breaking, fourth-quarter comeback.
Tagovailoa and Hill played Sunday like they were both aiming to plant their flag as one of the league’s elite passing duos, and silence a slew of offseason doubters, in the process.
On consecutive fourth-quarter possessions, Tagovailoa connected on deep touchdown passes to Hill. The first; was a slight under-throw that Hill reached back for steps from the goal line for a 48-yard touchdown. Then, on Miami’s next possession, a 60-yard bomb after Hill dashed past the entire Ravens secondary to tie the game at 35.
Hill’s 190 yards and 2 touchdowns weren’t just the driving force of the Dolphins’ comeback victory that legitimizes Miami’s postseason aspirations but also represents the fourth most receiving yards in his career. A career that includes five years catching passes from Patrick Mahomes.
For Tagovailoa, this was a coming-of-age performance.
Tagovailoa is every bit a quarterback facing mountains of pressure to prove he can maximize weapons like Hill, Cedric Wilson, Mike Gesicki and an offense that suddenly seems to be firing on all cylinders. Sunday, Tagovailoa arrived.
The Dolphins are 2-0, thanks to their two most important players. Seems like there could be much more where that came from in South Beach, too.
6) Not Your Father’s New York Giants
Be it the New York Giants‘ frenetic fourth-quarter comeback in Tennessee in a Week 1 win over the Tennessee Titans, or Carter Coughlin punching the ball from Chuba Hubbard’s grasp on the opening kickoff against the Panthers in Week 2, it’s becoming obvious this team is going to be a 60-minute test of mettle.
It wasn’t long ago that opponents looked at the Giants’ under-talented and rather listless roster, and circled the game as a “win” on the upcoming schedule.
Brian Daboll, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, and the Giants’ staff have planted the seeds of a hyper-competitive culture that predecessors Joe Judge and Pat Shurmur talked a lot about, but in 2022 is already beginning to shine through.
The Giants’ fight is a byproduct of Daboll’s aggressiveness.
In Tennessee, Daboll went for two and the game-winner and was rewarded. With 8:10 remaining in the first quarter against Carolina, the Giants went for it on 4th & 1, and Daniel Jones scrambled for the first down. At this stage of the Giants’ development, the results are one thing, but reinforcing the buy-in from Daboll’s players in such moments just may help New York build something special.
Right now, at 2-0, Daboll’s Giants are getting both.
That the Giants were able to salt out a win, by emphasizing Saquon Barkley and the ground game down the stretch underscores both the coaching staff’s ability to maximize Barkley and this team’s budding character.
New York’s brand of football travels, which could position the Giants to factor into the NFC East race.
7) Lions Rookie Aidan Hutchinson Is a Game Wrecker
The Detroit Lions chose Aidan Hutchinson, out of nearby Michigan, with the No. 2 overall pick and in his second NFL game, the former Wolverine wreaked havoc on the Washington Commanders, leading a 36-27 win.
Hutchinson finished with 3.0 sacks, to go with 6 total tackles, nearly un-blockable off the edge for Detroit.
Many around the league believed entering the draft that Hutchinson was the most consistent defensive prospect in this year’s class. On Sunday, Hutchinson was one of the most dominant defenders in the entire league.
8) Rams Survive Thanks to Playmaker’s Big Play
The schedule makers gave the Los Angeles Rams a soft landing, from the NFL opening night showdown with the Buffalo Bills, allowing the reigning champions to stay in Los Angeles against the finally rebuilding Atlanta Falcons.
There’s no chance the Rams are as awful as they looked against Buffalo when LA was out-gained 413 yards to 243 yards in a largely lifeless 31-10 Super Bowl letdown.
Sunday became adventurous in the second half, with Los Angeles blowing a 31-10 lead with 6:07 remaining, only to have All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey intercept Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota in the end zone with 1:18 left. The Rams could exhale, as they escaped 31-25.
After surviving, the Rams’ win at least builds some confidence for the reigning champs as they head into the teeth of their schedule with division games at the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, before returning home against the Cowboys.
9) Kyler Murray Rewards Cardinals’ Faith
The Arizona Cardinals committed $103.3 million fully guaranteed to Kyler Murray this offseason, for moments like Week 2.
After falling behind 20-0, Arizona came roaring back, led by Murray going 12-of-21 for 103 yards and rushing for the game-tying touchdown to send the game to overtime.
Murray finished 31-of-49 passing for 277 yards with 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 28 rushing yards, and a rushing score.
This was a plant-the-flag performance from the Cardinals in an NFC West race that suddenly became more wide open than ever, and for Murray as far as garnering the respect of being one of the game’s top quarterbacks.
10) Days Like Sunday Are What Make the NFL King
There isn’t a better property in live TV than NFL football. And days like Sunday — and last Sunday — are when it is at its best.
In Week 2, five games were decided by three points or fewer, with four more separated by one score. In the final 30 minutes or so of live action, don’t you dare touch the remote.
The Jets completed a comeback in walk-off fashion. The Cowboys kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired. Miami’s comeback was the largest in fourth-quarter history and was sealed by Lamar Jackson’s Hail Mary going unanswered and falling harmlessly to the Baltimore turf. Plus, the Cardinals stormed back to beat the Raiders in overtime at Las Vegas. And that’s just a sampling of Sunday’s fireworks.
Often replicated, never truly duplicated, the high drama of Sunday’s NFL action is what makes it king.
Breakout star: Detroit Lions WR Amon-Ra St. Brown
St. Brown, whose first name means “Sun God,” is a household name in the making. Sunday’s performance was a major step in that direction for the versatile second-year receiver. Against the Commanders, St. Brown did a bit of everything catching a game-high 9-of-12 targets for 116 yards with 2 touchdowns and adding a game-high 68 rushing yards. St. Brown can do it all, and he just might be the future of the Lions’ offense.
MVP of Week 2: Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa
Against a playoff-caliber Baltimore Ravens team, Tagovailoa looked the part of a franchise quarterback, and one capable of leading a playoff charge. Tagovailoa completed 36-of-50 passing attempts for 469 yards and 6 touchdowns, at the helm of a franchise-record 21-point fourth-quarter comeback.