Chris Wesseling

The Morning After

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Marino in the Crosshairs

Monday, September 19, 2011

That didn't take long. The Patriots' single-game passing mark stood for 51 years before Tom Brady's 517-yard torching of the Dolphins Monday night. Cam Newton's record of 854 passing yards in the first two games of an NFL season lasted a short-lived three hours until Brady cruised by at 940 yards. Though Brady fell five yards shy of Phil Simms' two-game record, he did become the first quarterback in NFL history to follow a 500-yard game with a 400-yard game. The Patriots have scored 30+ points in 10 consecutive regular-season games, four short of the Rams' 1999-2000 record. Over that 10-game span, Brady remains unbeaten with a 29:1 TD-to-INT ratio and a passer rating over 100.0 in each contest. 
Brady has won his last 29 regular-season home starts, in large part due to the evolution of the Patriots offense. As we saw in NFL Network's excellent documentary Bill Belichick: A Football Life, Belichick had an epiphany late in the 2009 season that led to the drafting of dynamic tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. "You just take Moss away in the deep part of the field and get down on Welker," Belichick said in a staff meeting. "We're done. We're done. We can't run the ball. We can't throw it to anybody else. We're done." As the Rookie Scouting Portfolio's Matt Waldman explains, Belichick has essentially turned the spread offense inside-out with a two- and three-tight end approach allowing the Pats to add flexibility and exploit mismatches at the line of scrimmage. Brady has mastered the tight-end spread to the tune of a 128.0 passer rating through two weeks. 
We've seen Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers make a run at Dan Marino's 5,084 passing yards, only to come up short. This may be the year that Marino's 1984 mark finally falls. Brady (7,520), Newton (6,832), Rivers (5,704), Brees (5,512), and Tony Romo (5,496) are all on pace to shatter the mark after two games. While those numbers are sure to plummet, Brady is on pace to break the record by Week 11. He needs to average just 296 yard per game the rest of the way to top Marino. Considering the Patriots defense has surrendered an average of 479 yards through two weeks, Brady isn't going to be slowing down anytime soon. 

Game Balls

Cam Newton / Steve Smith - I am absolutely floored by Newton's historic start after struggling in exhibition action. By the end of the first quarter Sunday, he already shattered Hall of Famer Otto Graham's record for most yards by a quarterback in his first two starts. Graham was a 28-year-old NFL rookie with four years of AAFC experience, a year of professional basketball, and a couple of years of WWII service under his belt when he passed for 523 yards in his first two starts after the Browns switched leagues in 1950.
By the end of his second game, Newton had become the first player in NFL history to post two consecutive 400-yard passing games to enter the season and the only player to throw for 400 yards in his first two starts. In fact, Newton is just the fifth quarterback in the past quarter century to record consecutive 400-yard games at any point in the season
"I knew he would be good, but if I told you I knew he'd be this good this early, I'd be lying to you," said Packers NT B.J. Raji. "He doesn't get frustrated. We threw a lot of stuff at him today and he was able to sit back there and make some of the plays they needed." The best sign for Newton's fantasy value is that the coaching staff is already designing entire game plans around his unique talents after just one year as a college starter followed by a lost offseason. As Evan Silva pointed out late last week, Panthers OC Rob Chudzinki turned a "big-armed, inaccurate passer" into a 29-touchdown Pro Bowler behind an aggressive downfield mentality back in 2007. He's following the same blueprint this year with one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the league while breaking records. Jonathan Comey of suggests Newton's first two games are the best "opening statement by any rookie player in any major sport." I can't argue with that bold statement. Neither can Smith, who has compiled 63 more yards than the next-closest NFL receiver through two weeks. 
Matthew Stafford / Calvin Johnson / Jahvid Best - In the last seven games in which Stafford has attempted at least 20 passes, Johnson has scored 10 times. That includes matchups against Darrelle Revis and Charles Woodson that resulted in a line of 3/23/1 over two games. Capable of making any throw, Stafford showcased his maturity in utilizing Best, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, and Tony Scheffler with Johnson double-covered. Sunday’s 48-3 beatdown was the largest margin of victory in the history of a Detroit franchise going back more than 80 years. This is arguably the most productive fantasy offense in the league.

Tony Romo / Miles Austin - Statistically one of the NFL’s most effective fourth-quarter passers and a better quarterback in close games than Aaron Rodgers or Philip Rivers, Romo still needed a clutch performance to get the media-manufactured “choker” label off his back. The only Cowboys quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in 20 consecutive games, Romo shook off a fractured rib to lead a furious comeback, outscoring the 49ers by 10 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. "Tony Romo had every excuse to quit," said NBC analyst Rodney Harrison. It didn’t happen. Romo and Austin carried the team into overtime. Once Austin aggravated his hamstring injury, Romo dusted off benchwarmer Jesse Holley -- former winner of Michael Irvin’s 4th and Long reality show on Spike TV -- for the game-winning touchdown drive. Romo is averaging nearly 320 yards with a 25:10 TD-to-INT ratio in the last 13 games he’s finished.

Andy Dalton / A.J. Green - Dalton set a Bengals rookie record with 332 passing yards, edging past golden-armed Greg Cook’s 327 from 1969. Dalton’s 280 yards in the second half alone were more than Carson Palmer posted in 11 full games last year. Ex-scout Dave Razzano came away convinced that Dalton is the "real deal," though I’d like to see a similar performance against a defense not missing its best pass rusher and cover corner before buying in. Green took advantage of Champ Bailey's absence with an impressive 10/124/1 line on 14 targets. I’m still trying to figure out how he caught this touchdown pass.

Fred Jackson / Ryan Fitzpatrick - A favorite of @ProFootbalFocus and Rotoworld’s @greggrosenthal, F-Jax may just be the best-kept secret in the NFL. Since taking over for Marshawn Lynch in Week 5 of last season, Jackson has rushed for 1,069 yards in 14 games at 4.51 yards a pop. He made Raiders safety Matt Giordano look like a fool on his 43-yard touchdown run.

Coach Chan Gailey has succeeded with Jay Fieldler, Neil O’Donnell, and Mike Tomczak, so it’s hardly a surprise that his offense exploded for a franchise-record 35 first downs behind the arm of the Amish Rifle on Sunday. The Bills’ 79 points lead the NFL, and Fitzpatrick is tied with Matthew Stafford for the most passing scores after racking up 35 second-half points in a come-from-behind victory over the Raiders. “[Gailey] has an incredible ability to call the right play at the right time,” said Fitzpatrick. “... It’s not just about drawing up plays on Tuesday and Wednesday. IIt’s the timing of making a call and knowing when the exact right time is to pull out a play. I never get nervous in a situation like that.”

Jeremy Maclin - It’s a shame the back-breaking late-game drop overshadowed an otherwise fantastic performance from a player whose season was in question at this time a month ago. Maclin’s 13 receptions against the Falcons are the third-most in franchise history behind Don Looney’s 14 in 1940 and Brian Westbrook’s 14 in 2007. He loves playing the Falcons, becoming just the third Eagles receiver with 150+ receiving yards against the same team twice in his career. Maclin is back to WR2 status with plenty of upside the rest of the way.

Dustin Keller - The long-awaited breakout season may finally be here. With defenses rolling coverage to Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress, Keller has averaged a 5.5/81/1 line through two games. "If teams want to line up and play us like that with split safeties,” explained Plaxico, “I mean Dustin will just tear them to pieces.” Burress and Derrick Mason can no longer separate from tight coverage, leaving Keller as the second option in the passing attack. “I put Dustin in the same category as Tony Gonzalez,” said Darrelle Revis after Sunday’s game.

Denarius Moore - The rookie whose impressive training camp inspired the phrase “Mama, mama, there goes that man again,” tortured Leodis McKelvin for 146 yards and a spectacular 50-yard touchdown grab in traffic. He nearly came down with the Hail Mary on the game’s final play as well. It was a coming out party for a receiver who is light years ahead of Darrius Heyward-Bey. Moore changes the dynamics of Oakland’s offense to the point where only a case of neglect and incompetence could send him back to the bench. With Al Davis running the show, anything is possible. I'm still placing Moore atop this week's Waiver Wired list. If he's out there, go get him. 

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Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
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