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NFL morning after: Yes, the Eagles are for real

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Vick celebrates the game tying touchdown against the Ravens with teammates Watkins and Bell in Philadelphia Reuters

The Eagles are a clutch team that plays its best football when the going gets toughest, shaking off adversity and coming back in the fourth quarter to win back-to-back games by just one point.

The Eagles are a sloppy team that makes far too many mistakes to be a legitimate contender, getting outplayed for most of the game twice in a row before barely winning back-to-back games by just one point.

Both are true. But which one better describes the 2012 Eagles? Are they the dynasty in the making that Michael Vick said they were before the season started? Or are they just a mediocre team that missed the playoffs last year and will miss the playoffs again this year?

If I could answer that question with any certainty I’d make my home in Las Vegas, not Chicago, but from where I sit, I believe that the Eagles are a better team than they were last year, and a better team than they’ve shown so far this year. And considering that they are, in fact, 2-0 after Sunday’s 24-23 win over the Ravens, if they’re better than they’ve shown they’re going to be pretty good.

On offense, I simply don’t believe the Eagles can play any worse than they have in the first two weeks of the season, when they’ve turned the ball over nine times — nine times — in just two games. The Eagles are the first NFL team since 1983 to start the season 2-0 despite having at least four turnovers in each of their first two games, and it’s unimaginable that they can keep turning the ball over at this level. Michael Vick, who has never had more than 14 interceptions in an entire season, just can’t keep throwing interceptions at the rate he has been so far this season, with six in two games. He’ll get better.

And on defense, I believe the Eagles are clearly better than they were a year ago, and that’s almost entirely because of linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who arrived from Houston in a trade this year. Ryans was outstanding on Sunday against the Ravens, recording an interception, a sack, two tackles for loss, a pass breakup and six solo tackles. He looks like one of the best defensive players in the league right now.

So with the Eagles now 2-0 and six days away with a surprisingly big game against another 2-0 team in Arizona, I believe they’re one of the league’s best teams. They’re going to win most of their games this season, and by a lot more than one point.

Here are my other thoughts on Week Two in the NFL:

The replacement officials took a step backward. After doing a more or less solid job in Week One, the NFL’s replacement officials did a mostly lousy job in Week Two. And the problem was less about any one particular blown call than it was a general sense that the officials weren’t in control of the game. The crucial personal foul penalty on Redskins receiver Josh Morgan for throwing the ball at Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan, for instance, was the correct call. But the officials had permitted so much post-play pushing, shoving and taunting in that game that it felt arbitrary when they finally decided to call the penalty on Morgan just before what could have been a game-tying field goal for the Redskins. And it was like that across the league on Sunday: Officials seeming unsure of themselves and unable to take control of games. Consistency is of paramount importance in officiating, and if the NFL can’t get consistency from the replacement officials, then the NFL needs to end the lockout of the regular officials.

Darrelle Revis proved in his absence how good he is. The Jets’ shutdown cornerback was out with a concussion, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an easy day picking apart a depleted Jets secondary. Roethlisberger found open receivers all day, completing 24 of 31 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns, and the Steelers cruised to a 27-10 win. Without Revis, the Jets’ defense is going to have a hard time stopping anybody. They need him back soon.

C.J. Spiller is an elite talent. The Bills used the ninth overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft on Spiller, a running back out of Clemson, and he disappointed as a rookie. But we’ve seen enough of Spiller to know now that he really is a Top 10 talent. Spiller had 15 carries for 123 yards in Sunday’s blowout of the Chiefs, a week after he had 14 carries for 169 yards in a loss to the Jets. And although a lot of people didn’t notice it, Spiller had a great end to the 2011 season as well, carrying 67 times for 391 yards (5.8 yards a carry) over the last five games of last year. Spiller is a stud.

Gregg Williams was a good coach. Just look at how the Saints’ defense has fallen apart without him. Williams, the former Saints defensive coordinator who has been banished by the NFL for running a bounty program in New Orleans, may have engaged in egregious misconduct, but no one has ever accused Williams of not knowing how to run a defense. The Saints’ defense allowed quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton to pick them apart, and the Saints, who have already given up 75 points this season, are 0-2.

Reggie Bush is finally the Reggie Bush he was supposed to be. Remember how incredible Bush was at USC, and how he was supposed to be a game-changing running back in the NFL? It never really worked out that way in New Orleans: Yes, Bush was a fine player, but he was more like an interchangeable cog in a well-oiled Saints offensive machine than a uniquely talented playmaker. But now that Bush is in Miami, things are different. He has 760 yards in his last six games, including 172 in Sunday’s win over the Raiders, and his two touchdown runs on Sunday were beautiful. Breaking four tackles on his way to the end zone on a 23-yard run. Racing 65 yards down the sideline. That’s the Reggie Bush we were supposed to see. That’s the Reggie Bush we’re finally seeing.

I have no idea what to make of any of the 1-1 teams. There are 19 1-1 teams in the NFL right now, and there will be 20 after the 1-0 Broncos play the 1-0 Falcons tonight. And I really don’t know which ones are good and which ones are bad. I think the Patriots and Giants are a couple of good 1-1 teams, and I think the Vikings and Dolphins are a couple of bad 1-1 teams, but I don’t know. That’s what’s so fun about the start of the NFL season. None of us knows.

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X-rays negative for Leonard Williams

Leonard Williams AP

Leonard Williams left Saturday night’s preseason game against the New York Giants after suffering a knee injury in the first half.

However, it appears as though the injury isn’t all that serious for the New York Jets’ first-round pick.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, X-rays came back negative on Williams knee. The thought is Williams suffered only a bone bruise but he will still have an MRI on Sunday.

Williams was considered by some as the best overall player in the 2015 draft class. With Sheldon Richardson set to miss the start of the season to suspension, Williams will be a pivotal piece in the Jets defensive line rotation.

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After first-half shouting match, Jay Gruden, John Harbaugh shake hands to end game

John Harbaugh AP

Lost in the ejection of Ravens receiver Steve Smith and Washington cornerback Chris Culliver for fighting was the fact that Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Washington coach Jay Gruden exchanged verbal pleasantries in the first half of Saturday’s game.

The exchange appeared to include Harbaugh angrily directing a four-letter, F-driven profanity at Gruden as the two yelled at each other on the field.

By the time the game ended, there was no reprise of the notorious Jim Harbaugh/Jim Schwartz moment from 2011, and neither coach asked the other, “What’s your deal?

The two coaches simply shook hands and moved on, with no further fireworks or F-bombs. Unfortunately, the two teams won’t play each other again this season unless they meet in the Super Bowl.

Yeah, I was giggling as I typed that, and not because of the quality of the team Harbaugh coaches.

Meanwhile, we’d pay a lot of money to see a tag-team match between Jay and Jon Gruden and John and Jim Harbaugh. Hopefully with everyone keeping his shirt on.

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Seahawks starting offense still without a TD drive in preseason

Russell Wilson AP

The Seattle Seahawks acquired Jimmy Graham this offseason with the hopes that he would open up their offensive attack.

But through three preseason games, the Seahawks starting offense has been unable to find the end zone.

Seattle played their starters into the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers on Saturday night. However, Russell Wilson and the offense managed just two field goals and 137 yards of offense in six possessions against the Chargers.

Wilson has led 12 drives for the Seahawks with just four field goals to show for it. They are averaging just 20.5 yards gained per possession.

The only touchdowns Seattle has scored in the preseason have come on a pick-six by Bobby Wagner, two return touchdowns by Tyler Lockett and a touchdown pass from R.J. Archer to running back Thomas Rawls.

The offensive line has been a major reason for the struggles. They haven’t started the same five linemen in any of their three preseason games and Wilson has lacked time to throw. Also, Marshawn Lynch played just three plays so far this preseason. His presence significantly changes Seattle’s offensive dynamic.

Nevertheless, Wilson has not been sharp. He’s completed 17 of 31 passes for just 146 yards in three games and been more inaccurate than normal.

It’s the preseason. It’s not something to get bent out of shape about at this stage. However, in the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, Seattle’s offense is still searching for production and consistency.

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Philip Rivers bangs throwing hand, says “it’s good”

Philip Rivers, Mike Morgan AP

During the first half of a Week Three preseason game against a blitz-happy Seahawks defense, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers banged his throwing hand.

In the third quarter, Rivers told Tracy Wolfson of CBS that the hand recently used to sign a gigantic contract is fine.

“It’s good,” he said of the right hand, adding that he’d still be playing if it were a regular-season game.

Rivers has a habit of playing through injuries — injuries that sometimes haven’t been disclosed. As former Chargers center Nick Hardwick told PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio earlier this year, Rivers probably has had more injuries that we don’t know about than injuries that we do know about.

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MRI coming on Mike Pouncey’s knee

Minnesota Vikings v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The aftermath of Saturday night’s preseason game in Miami includes another injury to one of the Pouncey twins.

Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey broke an ankle last week against the Packers; Dolphins center Mike Pouncey emerged from a contest against the Falcons with his left knee in a brace.

Via Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Pouncey will have an MRI in the morning. However, he says he’s “not too worried about it.”

Here’s a big reason for him to not be worried: In April, the team extended his contract, giving him plenty of financial security in the event of a potentially serious injury. Absent the extension, he would have been in a contract year.

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Rex Ryan “probably” will pick his Week One starter on Sunday

Buffalo Bills v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The time has come for Bills coach Rex Ryan to pick a starting quarterback. The time to disclose that decision, however, has yet to arrive.

Following Saturday’s preseason game against the Steelers, Ryan said he will “probably” decide on a starting quarterback on Sunday.

‘We’ll make the decision, but we’ll not announce it,” Ryan told reporters.

The decision between Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor apparently won’t be easy.

“I talked about the problem I wanted, I think I got it,” Ryan said. “But to me it’s not a problem it’s a — you know, all three guys had a tremendous preseason and that’s all you can ask. I think we’ll address it at the appropriate time, but obviously I feel really good about all the quarterbacks.”

The decision won’t be simply Ryan’s; it will be an organizational assessment.

“The team, the team, and the team,” Ryan said. “Those three things and that’s what it’s gonna be based on. Have I had discussions with [offensive coordinator] Greg Roman? Absolutely. Have I had discussions with [G.M.] Doug Whaley, with [owner] Terry Pegula, with whoever? Absolutely. Has there been a collaborative deal? We are meeting tomorrow to discuss our roster, we’ve got to make cuts getting down to the 75 and there’s gonna be some tough cuts to make there, let alone getting to the 53. So that’s when we’ll have the, but the decision will be made and then we’ll move forward.

The only thing we know for now is that Matt Simms won’t be the Week One starter. But Simms will be starting in Week Four of the preseason. Ryan said he hopes to have Simms play the entire game.

After that, Ryan will hope to keep his decision for the next game, against the Colts, quiet for as long as possible.

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Micah Hyde carted off at Lambeau Field

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The decision to keep Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers out of Saturday night’s preseason game is looking better and better.

Green Bay cornerback Micah Hyde has been carted off at Lambeau Field during the second quarter of the preseason game against the Eagles.

The nature of the injury isn’t clear. Hyde was sitting upright as TV cameras spotted him being taken to the locker room.

Earlier in the game, receiver Randall Cobb exited with a shoulder injury.

A fifth-round pick in 2013, Hyde has appeared in all 32 career regular-season games. He started 12 games in 2014.

UPDATE 9:35 p.m. ET: The Packers say that Hyde has suffered a neck injury.

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Tyler Lockett gives Seattle special teams a boost

Tyler Lockett, Steven Nelson AP

Last year at this time, the Seahawks didn’t have a punt-return specialist. So they let starting safety Earl Thomas give it a try to start the season.

It didn’t go to well.

This year, the Seahawks have invested a third-round pick in receiver Tyler Lockett, who instantly has become the return man for punts and kickoffs. And it’s going very well.

Moments ago, Lockett returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown against the Chargers, showing agility and acceleration as he changed directions and eventually found a lane to the outside that allowed him to rocket to the end zone.

Fifteen days ago, Lockett returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown against the Broncos, on a play that included coach Pete Carroll being wiped out by an official as both ran along the sideline.

“He looks like we hoped he would look,” Carroll said after the August 14 game. “We drafted him with the thought that he might give us a real spark in an area that we wanted to find a way to improve and be more dynamic.”

For a team with plenty of strengths, Lockett could be giving them another one, for both kickoffs and punts.

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Browns rookie Duke Johnson debuts, leaves with concussion

Duke Johnson AP

After missing nearly three weeks of camp due to a sore hamstring, Browns rookie running back Duke Johnson was in the starting lineup for his preseason debut Saturday night at Tampa Bay.

After one carry for four yards and one catch for one yard, Johnson’s preseason is over. Johnson took a big hit from Bucs cornerback Mike Jenkins while trying to catch a second-quarter pass from Josh McCown. He jogged off the field and met with team medical staff on the sideline before being taken to the locker room.

Early in the second half, the Browns confirmed that both Johnson and second-year cornerback Pierre Desir had suffered concussions.

Johnson got the start in his first preseason action, but Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West also played on the first series. Neither West nor Crowell has had an especially strong camp, leaving the starting job up for grabs as the Browns shift into regular-season mode. Both West and Crowell carried seven times Saturday night; West got 26 yards and Crowell had 25.

Desir has had a solid preseason and probably played his way into the rotation at cornerback, but the Browns have secondary depth issues due to injury. Struggling 2014 first-round pick Justin Gilbert hasn’t practiced in two weeks due a hip flexor, and nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams also missed Saturday’s game.

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Another solid showing by Bridgewater

Teddy Bridgewater AP

Teddy Bridgewater’s preseason work is probably done, and it will soon be forgotten. But Bridgewater made the most of limited opportunities — and looked good doing it.

The second-year Vikings quarterback completed all seven passes he attempted Saturday night vs. the Cowboys for 76 total yards. He completed 83 percent in short work — 29 completions in 35 attempts — over four preseason games.

Bridgewater threw just one touchdown but had no interceptions in the preseason and looked very much in command of an offense that’s set to welcome Adrian Peterson back for the Sept. 13 opener.

If Bridgewater keeps ascending and Peterson returns to form, the Vikings could be a dangerous offense once the real season gets rolling.

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Randall Cobb exits with shoulder injury

Green Bay Packers v New England Patriots Getty Images

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers can’t get hurt in Saturday night’s game against the Eagles because he’s not playing. The same can’t be said for receiver Randall Cobb.

Six days after receiver Jordy Nelson was lost for the season with a torn ACL in a preseason game against the Steelers, Cobb has suffered an apparent shoulder injury at Lambeau Field.

He has gone to the locker room for evaluation. Stay tuned for updates as they become available.

Meanwhile, the Eagles continue to clobber 2014 playoff teams in the 2015 preseason. Philly leads Green Bay 18-0.

UPDATE 8:40 p.m. ET: Via Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com, the Packers have announced that Cobb indeed has a shoulder injury.

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Steve Smith, Chris Culliver ejected for fighting

Steve Smith AP

Things got heated tonight in Baltimore, with multiple personal fouls, lots of pushing and shoving, yelling and screaming and two ejections.

The two ejected players were Baltimore receiver Steve Smith and Washington cornerback Chris Culliver. They went at it in an incident that started when Washington’s Keenan Robinson tackled Baltimore’s Kamar Aiken by driving him into the ground, face-first. Several Baltimore players and coaches took issue with what they saw as a cheap shot from Robinson.

Smith, one of the NFL’s most fiery competitors, found himself in the middle of the ensuing melee, and he and Culliver both got kicked out of the game. Other players were flagged for offsetting personal fouls, and there will likely be multiple fines coming next week.

Both head coaches, Jay Gruden and John Harbaugh, were angrily yelling during and after the skirmish, and they appeared to be yelling across the field at each other. It may only be the preseason, but there’s some intensity in Baltimore.

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Dalton leaves game with neck injury

Andy Dalton AP

For some reason, Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson called three running plays for Andy Dalton on the opening drive of Saturday night’s preseason game vs. the Bears.

After the third, a quarterback sneak, Dalton left the game with what the team called a neck injury. He was examined on the sideline by trainers and then remained on the sideline but didn’t return to the game. At halftime, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Dalton is fine and taking him out of the game was a precautionary measure.

A.J. McCarron took over at quarterback with most of the rest of the first-team offense.

Dalton completed all six of his passes for 52 yards and totaled 16 yards on the three runs.

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Jets’ Leonard Williams limps to the locker room

Leonard Williams

Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams exited early during tonight’s preseason game with the Giants.

Williams limped to the locker room with a member of the team’s training staff. The team said Williams suffered a knee injury and was questionable to return.

The Jets felt like they got a steal when Williams was still available when they picked at No. 6 overall. Williams had an excellent college career at USC and was considered by some observers to be the best player in this year’s draft..

Williams has looked good so far in the preseason and will be extremely important early in the regular season when starting defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson is serving a suspension.

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Aaron Rodgers won’t play tonight

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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently lobbied for the reduction of the preseason by a couple of games, after the season-ending knee injury suffered by receiver Jordy Nelson in a meaningless exhibition last Sunday against the Steelers. While the preseason hasn’t officially been reduced (and likely won’t be absent an increase in the regular season), Rodgers as a practical matter has made it shrink, for him.

Per multiple reports, Rodgers won’t play in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Eagles. It’s an unusual move, given that the third preseason game routinely is treated like a dress rehearsal of the start of the regular season, with starters playing into the second half.

It’s a smart move, given that Rodgers surely is ready to go for Week One. Indeed, more and more NFL starters are likely prepared for games that could without going onto the field and risking injury in games that don’t. Long gone are the days when the offseason truly was an offseason; players now stay in shape and work on their craft throughout the calendar year.

While some view exposing key players to the risk of serious injury in games that don’t matter as a cost of doing business, business can still be done without assuming that risk. Of course, that may not be good for the NFL’s business of getting people to care about preseason games. However, fans should be care only to the extent that they’re holding their breath until players like Rodgers have escaped these meaningless games without a meaningful strain, sprain, tear, or break.

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