Brown needs another big day
Key items of interest as Week 2 rolls on in the NFL …
Who’s hot: Antonio Brown. Just like last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ big-play receiver has opened the season with a bang. Without his 11 catches for 182 yards — including clutch acrobatics — Pittsburgh probably would not have won its opener at the Cleveland Browns. With running back Le’Veon Bell just getting back to action and looking for rhythm, it’s even more paramount for the best receiver in football to be on his A game as the Minnesota Vikings bring their well-balanced defense to Heinz Field on Sunday. An X factor has emerged with Minnesota’s best cornerback, Xavier Rhodes — expected to be assigned on Brown — nursing a hip injury.
Pressure’s on: Sean Payton. The New Orleans Saints coach has bigger problems than finding snaps for Adrian Peterson, who might be perfect with a niche as the go-to runner at the goal line. Slow starts to the season have become a bad habit for the Saints, who are flirting with 0-2 again as the New England Patriots come to the Superdome. The Saints started 0-3 last season, 0-3 in 2015 and 0-2 in 2014 and finished 7-9 each time. The Saints last made the playoffs in 2013 after opening 5-0. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith had lit up the Patriots during Week 1, and much can swing on Saints quarterback Drew Brees exposing a vulnerable unit. But Patriots coach Bill Belichick had four more days to prepare and since Tom Brady became quarterback in 2001, New England is 38-11 (.776) in games after a loss.
Next man up: Jacoby Brissett. It was roughly a year ago when Brissett came off the bench in September as a rookie for an emergency start for the Patriots, with Brady suspended and Jimmy Garoppolo injured. Now, two weeks since he was traded from New England, he’ll make his debut start for the Indianapolis Colts against the Arizona Cardinals. Who knows how long Brissett will be in the lineup, given the mystery surrounding Andrew Luck’s ailing shoulder? In any event, he’s a better option that Scott Tolzien. In relief last week, Brissett – working off a limited set of plays – got the Colts into the end zone in three plays against the Los Angeles Rams. And here’s something else to like: A hands-on mentor during high school and college was none other than Bill Parcells, who swears by Brissett’s mental approach.
Rookie watch: DeShone Kizer. It’s just Week 2 of his rookie season, but the second-round pick from Notre Dame might be the long-term answer the Browns have been seeking at quarterback for a number of years. And what a way to begin. Kizer opened against the blitz-happy Steelers and now goes on the road to face a big-play Baltimore Ravens defense that stung Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in its opener. Still, Kizer, who got the nod over the since-released Brock Osweiler, brings hope. And he benefits from being aligned with one of the most creative minds in the NFL in coach Hue Jackson, who will design scheme wrinkles to protect his quarterback and keep his psyche intact as he experiences the growing pains of transitioning to the NFL.
Stomach for an upset: Buffalo Bills at Carolina Panthers. They’re calling Buffalo “Carolina North” with new Bills coach Sean McDermott and new general manager Brandon Beane coming from the Panthers. We’ll see whether McDermott, the former Carolina defensive coordinator, can utilize any insider knowledge in exploiting the Panthers defense and derailing Cam Newton after Carolina’s ho-hum opening win at the San Francisco 49ers. The reunion subplot playing out
all across the NFL in Week 2. Andy Reid is facing the Philadelphia Eagles. Sean McVay plays against Washington, . Chicago Bears quarterback Mike Glennon goes to Tampa. Tennessee Titans coach Mike Mularkey goes back to Jacksonville.
Stat’s the fact: The three rookies who rushed for 100 yards in their NFL debuts in Week 1 — the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt, Jacksonville Jaguars’ Leonard Fournette and Vikings’ Dalvin Cook — have a shot at achieving a feat not done since 2005. Cadillac Williams was the last rookie to rush for 100 yards in each of his first two NFL games. The last time two rookies began their careers with back-toback 100-yard games was 1979, with Ottis Anderson and William Andrews.
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, right, caught all 11 of his targets last week against the Browns, and his 182 receiving yards were the league’s highest total in Week 1. He’ll play Sunday against the Vikings, whose top cornerback, Xavier Rhodes, is dealing with a hip issue.