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What We Learned From Week 2 of the N.F.L. Season

There were no shirtless pictures from Barbados of Bill Belichick gracing your timelines this off-season.

Belichick, the New England Patriots’ coach, was far too busy.

As a drunken Tom Brady chucked the Vince Lombardi Trophy boat to boat in Tampa, Belichick, the N.F.L.’s Voldemort, plotted his vengeful return. Ego understandably ended the greatest dynasty of this generation. Honestly, it’s a miracle this coach and that quarterback even lasted two decades together. Now, ego just may be transforming the Patriots into contenders again.

Belichick put the onus for the Patriots’ rebuild on himself this year, after New England’s first losing season since 2000, with a $232 million free agent spending spree.

The message was clear in his 47th year as an N.F.L. coach: Give me the horses and I’ll win with a quarterback on the cheap.

And while nobody should ever schedule a Super Bowl parade after a win over the calamity that is the Jets, Sunday served as a quiet warning to the rest of the N.F.L. that Belichick’s Patriots aren’t dead yet.

New England’s defense suffocated Zach Wilson throughout a 25-6 win. Once again, Belichick turned a rookie quarterback into a pumpkin. At one point, Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, had four interceptions and four completions, and you half-hoped Jets Coach Robert Saleh would put the poor guy out of his misery by handing him a clipboard.

Clearly, the Jets are zero threat to win any time soon.

The Miami Dolphins (1-1) looked abysmal in a 35-0 loss at home on Sunday to the Buffalo Bills (1-1). With or without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, this isn’t a Dolphins offense that will scare anyone any time soon. Here’s thinking their Week 1 upset at the Patriots was a gift-wrapped fluke.

And, yes, the Bills, the defending A.F.C. East champions, blasted Miami, but their franchise quarterback — the very rich Josh Allen — has not looked sharp.

So what if the Mac Jones Experience in New England is as exciting as a trip to the dentist? He is clearly not overwhelmed by the speed of the N.F.L., dad-bod or not, and that’s all Belichick asks with the roster he has assembled around the position.

Add it all up, and what we learned most in Week 2 is that there is absolutely a path for the Patriots to be the Patriots again.

Whereas the Patriots were content to standing pat in the draft at No. 15 overall and take the safer quarterback who completed 77.4 percent of his passes with a roster full of five-stars at Alabama, the Jets gambled on a potential Mahomes Lite out of Brigham Young. Unlike every other team that drafted a quarterback in April, the Jets also did not sign anything resembling a threat or a veteran to challenge or support the rookie. This was Wilson’s gig from Day 1, and, on Sunday, Wilson saw more ghosts than Sam Darnold ever dreamed of.

After Interception No. 3 — a bizarre floater right to Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson — Jones, the Patriots’ quarterback, called an audible at the line and connected with Jakobi Meyers for 24 yards.

Such was the theme. This game served as magnifying glass over two polar-opposite rookies. Wilson wants to play off-script like the three-time M.V.P. he always idolized: Aaron Rodgers. His improvisation should at least make another miserable Jets season fun. When a 315-pounder, Lawrence Guy, barreled down for a sack on Sunday, Wilson hardly blinked. He juked. He escaped. He threw incomplete.

This style of play could prove to be special one day.

This style could also be chewed up and spat out by the rest of the N.F.L.

Interception No. 4 was even uglier, almost as if New England’s Devin McCourty was Wilson’s intended target.

Meanwhile, Jones chugged along. The Patriots’ choice at quarterback threw no touchdowns and no picks in completing 22 of 30 passes for 186 yards.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? This was the off-season of the quarterback, with teams bending over backward for the chance at something special. San Francisco unloaded three first-rounders for someone who played one football game in 2020 (Trey Lance); Green Bay was perfectly fine being publicly embarrassed by their disgruntled M.V.P. for six months (Rodgers); Indianapolis was willing to take on Carson Wentz’s massive contract; the L.A. Rams unloaded two firsts, a third and Jared Goff for someone who has gone 74-90-1 in his career with zero playoff wins.

The Bills handed Allen a six-year, $258 million contract.

The Bears took a swing at every veteran possible before trading up for Justin Fields.

And here’s Belichick, once again zagging while the rest of the league zigs. His defense is highly compensated and loaded. Good luck finding a weakness anywhere. And this offense will only get better.

Brady’s title at Tampa Bay justifiably had us all questioning who meant more to those six titles in New England. If this equation leads to a winner, be it 2021 or 2022, nobody will question Belichick again. And that’s surely on Belichick’s mind.

The Buccaneers-Patriots game on Oct. 3, a game between two GOATs, cannot come soon enough.

There is good news, Jets fans! Your new quarterback isn’t taking any advice from Adam Gase.

Sam Darnold of the Carolina Panthers — newly Gase-less — was the best quarterback on Sunday, lighting up the New Orleans Saints in a breezy 26-7 win. That Saints defense throttled the reigning most valuable player, Aaron Rodgers, in Week 1. Thus far, it looks as if the Panthers got the most bang for their buck at quarterback this off-season. Darnold shredded the Saints for 305 yards on 26-of-38 passing with two touchdowns.

The marriage between Darnold and the offensive coordinator Joe Brady has been perfect.

Darnold isn’t going to wow anyone with his athleticism or arm strength, but the reason a team drafted him over the likes of Allen and Lamar Jackson is finally on display. He’s decisive. He’s accurate. He gets into a rhythm. Brady’s offense isn’t wordy and complicated like Gase’s scheme. So after failing to register 200 yards and two scores in any game last season, Darnold accomplished exactly that in one half against New Orleans.

With the right coach and the right weapons, Darnold still has a realistic shot to be everything we expected in 2018. And then some.

Raiders 26, Steelers 17: Derek Carr has secretively been a top 10 quarterback for a while. He made one of the best defenses in the N.F.L. look silly on Sunday. And if this is the real Henry Ruggs III, this offense just may be here to stay, too.

Bears 20, Bengals 17: Nine quarterback hits, four sacks, three interceptions, one pick-6. Let’s pray the Bengals aren’t ruining Joe Burrow off that torn A.C.L.

49ers 17, Eagles 11: Jalen Reagor juuust stepped out of bounds running his route before hauling in a deep touchdown. San Francisco recovered to grind out the win.

Browns 31, Texans 21: Baker Mayfield shouldn’t try to lay anybody out after his next interception. After giving locals a scare, he bounced back from a shoulder injury Sunday to finish 19 of 21 for 213 yards with one touchdown.

Rams 27, Colts 24: It wasn’t pretty, but this is also why Sean McVay traded for Matthew Stafford — his ability to come back with two late scoring drives to win.

Broncos 23, Jaguars 13: No Jerry Jeudy, no problem. This Denver offense hummed right along with Courtland Sutton (nine receptions for 159 yards) stepping up as Teddy Bridgewater’s go-to guy.



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