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Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans QB, happy with recovery ACL surgery

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HOUSTON — After the Houston Texans‘ nine-week offseason program, Deshaun Watson is right where he wants to be as he rehabs from a torn right ACL.

The second-year quarterback said Wednesday that he has met or surpassed the physical goals he set at the beginning of the Texans’ organized team activities in mid-April.

“The knee is doing good,” Watson said. “I’m able to do some things on the field with the team, physical-wise. For the nine-week goal that we put in from the beginning, I’m pretty much where I want to be. I’m kinda past it inside in the weight room, mentally, and also on the field. So everything’s going smoothly right now.”

Watson had surgery on his right ACL just seven months ago after he tore it in an early November practice. At the beginning of the on-field portion of OTAs that began at the end of May, Watson took the field with his teammates for the first time since his surgery.

One of the steps forward Watson was able to take this spring was practicing without a brace on his right knee, which he did this week for the first time in the practices that have been open to the media.

Watson said “it’s cool” to have surpassed his initial offseason goals, but his mindset is to never be satisfied with where he is at.

“I feel like I can be better, and will get better,” Watson said. “But like you said, those nine weeks, I’ve gained a lot on and off the field — mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually — and being able to take my game, and just me as a person, to another level.”

Watson was having a historic rookie campaign before his season-ending injury and was on pace to shatter the NFL record for passing touchdowns by a rookie quarterback (26). At the time of his injury, Watson was tied for the NFL lead with 19 touchdown passes. In seven games, Watson threw for 1,699 yards and eight interceptions.

This spring, Watson has participated in seven-on-seven drills, but has sat out the Texans’ team drills involving players rushing the passer. Watson has said all offseason that he expects to be ready to go at full strength by training camp and be the starting quarterback for the Texans’ season-opener against the New England Patriots on Sept. 9.

Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said even though Watson is ahead of schedule, he and the coaching staff will make sure they’re being “intelligent” with the way they ease the young quarterback back in this summer.

“You can’t throw the kitchen sink at him when he comes back — just thinking that all of a sudden, snap a finger and he’s back to full go,” O’Brien said. “I think we’ll have a really good plan for how many reps he gets relative to practice, relative to the preseason games. We’re gonna talk a lot about that over the next couple of days here as a staff with everybody — with [general manager] Brian Gaine and our medical staff, everybody.

“But I do feel that — when it comes from a mental standpoint, I feel really good about what we’re gonna be able to throw at him from a playbook standpoint.”

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Who was that?!? Unheralded ballers who mattered in Week 2 – NFL Nation

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We all know the NFL stars who generate SportsCenter highlights on a regular basis. However, every week some performances make us say, “Who was that?”

It could be the undrafted rookie receiver who catches a long touchdown, the backup QB who piles up stats or a journeyman linebacker who seals a win with a big play.

This is for them. Take a look at Week 2’s unheralded ballers, starting with a second-year Jaguars receiver making an Odell Beckham-style grab and Shaquem Griffin‘s older brother showing there’s life after the Legion of Boom:

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Shaquill Griffin makes a fantastic leaping catch and dives for a tipped ball for another interception in the second quarter.

Keelan Cole, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

Eye-opening one-handed grab, 7 catches, 116 yards, TD in 31-20 win over Patriots

Why it matters: The Jaguars are making an argument to be the class of the NFL thus far, and a big reason why has been the surprising success of Jacksonville’s passing game. Blake Bortles threw for 377 yards Sunday, and Cole was his top receiver. This team can get over the hump if they keep getting what they got from Bortles and Cole Sunday.

Two athletic interceptions in 24-17 loss to Bears

Why it matters: Shaquem Griffin is one of the NFL’s best stories, and quietly his older brother is making a name for himself, too. Shaquill made two of the best interceptions we’ve seen so far this season to keep Seattle within striking distance early, and in doing so he became the first Seahawks player since Richard Sherman in 2013 with two first-half interceptions. Seattle is undergoing a defensive rebuild, and Shaquill looks like a piece to build around.

Jesse James, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers

5 catches, 138 yards, TD in 42-37 loss to the Chiefs

Why it matters: He’s technically the No. 2 tight end and the Steelers keep trying to find a long-term option ahead of him, but he keeps producing. Ben Roethlisberger looks his way a lot in the no-huddle. He’s a big, reliable option over the middle to balance out Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster and will help this offense.

Matt Breida, RB, San Francisco 49ers

11 carries, 138 yards, TD; 3 receptions, 21 yards in 30-27 win over the Lions

Why it matters: Losing Jerick McKinnon for the year before the season started screamed chaos for the 49ers, but Breida has more than held his own. His big 66-yard touchdown run gave the 49ers just enough to get their first win. Breida has been more productive than veteran Alfred Morris.

66-yard TD reception on a fake punt in 20-17 win over Texans

Why it matters: The Titans had no business beating Houston without Marcus Mariota and their top three offensive tackles, but smart coaching and a pair of defensive players (Kevin Byard TD pass to Cruikshank) connecting for a trick play helped them gut out a divisional win.

Taysom Hill, QB/returner, New Orleans Saints

47-yard kickoff return in 21-18 win over Browns

Why it matters: The Saints used third-string QB Taysom Hill as a kickoff returner for the first time and he responded with a 47-yard return on his only try. Instead of just holding a clipboard, Hill has used his athleticism to excel on special teams coverage and is now returning kicks as a route to get on the field.

Two sacks, and a third negated by penalty in 21-18 loss to the Saints

Why it matters: Ogunjobi took up football because his parents wanted him to lose weight. Now he’s applying constant pressure from the inside for a Browns defense that is much improved, even though they haven’t picked up a win yet.

ESPN NFL Nation reporters Jeremy Fowler, Mike Triplett and Pat McManamon contributed to this story.

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NFL Power Rankings – Rams are new No. 1 … and chaos below 2018 Week 3

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We’re on to Week 3, and a new team reigns supreme in ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings: After blasting the Cardinals 34-0, the Rams take the top spot. But don’t fret, 0-2 teams, everyone still has a reason to be optimistic this early in the season. So where do the other teams fall in behind the Rams? And what is the ray of hope for your team?

The ESPN power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluated how all 32 teams stack up. Enjoy.

Record: 2-0
Week 2 ranking: 4

The Rams are 2-0 for the first time since 2001, when they played in the Super Bowl. Los Angeles is now the favorite to win it all, by most measures. The Rams have the best odds to win the Super Bowl (5-1), according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, and also are 30 percent FPI favorites to win it all (best in league). — Doug Clawson

Record: 2-0
Week 2 ranking: 5

The Jaguars knocked off the defending AFC champion Patriots at home, and they now have won six straight games in Jacksonville by an average of 15.7 points per game. That is their longest home win streak since winning six straight in 2005-06, and they get to host the Titans in Week 3. — Joey Koontz

Record: 2-0
Week 2 ranking: 6

Patrick Mahomes became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to throw six touchdown passes in a game (he turned 23 on Monday), and his 10 touchdowns are the most through a team’s first two games of a season in league history. Up next are the 49ers, who have yet to pick off a pass this season and just allowed Matthew Stafford to throw three touchdowns. — Koontz

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Charles Woodson talks about the Patriots’ trading for WR Josh Gordon and how happy Tom Brady must be to have a weapon such as Gordon at WR.

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 2

The Patriots are 1-1 for the third time in the past five seasons. Each of the previous two times they started 1-1 (2014 and 2017), they reached the Super Bowl. And while the Patriots are thin at wide receiver, Tom Brady is 12-for-14 while targeting Phillip Dorsett, more completions than Brady had to Dorsett all of last year (11-for-16 in 2017) — Koontz

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 1

The Eagles are allowing a league-best 2.85 yards per rush and 58.5 yards per game. They also are posting a league-best 1.34 yards allowed before first contact per rush. — Vince Masi

Record: 1-0-1
Week 2 ranking: 3

Kirk Cousins became the first Vikings quarterback with 400 passing yards and four touchdowns in a game since Daunte Culpepper in 2004. He was 14-for-20 with 219 yards and 3 TDs in the fourth quarter and overtime after going 0-for-7 in the fourth quarter in Week 1. This was the first time since at least 2001 that the Vikings didn’t lose when trailing by eight or more points in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. (They entered the game 0-76 in such situations since 2001.) — Clawson

Record: 1-0-1
Week 2 ranking: 7

Aaron Rodgers handled pressure well despite being hobbled with a knee injury. He was 6-for-9 passing with 94 yards under duress and 9-for-9 passing with 87 yards against the blitz. And he showed mobility when he needed it, attempting four of his six passes outside the pocket in the fourth quarter and overtime. — Clawson

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 10

The Falcons made a big improvement in the red zone from Week 1 to Week 2. They were 4-for-4 scoring touchdowns inside the 20-yard line against the Panthers on Sunday, after they were 1-for-5 in Week 1 against the Eagles. — Masi

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 9

Michael Thomas has 28 catches, the most through the first two games in team history. The previous high for the Saints in the first two tilts was 18, by Tony Galbreath in 1978, Darren Sproles in 2012 and Jimmy Graham in 2014 — Masi

Record: 0-1-1
Week 2 ranking: 8

Ben Roethlisberger bounced back from a five-turnover game with 452 passing yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Jesse James had a career-high 138 receiving yards, and JuJu Smith-Schuster had a career-high 13 receptions. — Clawson

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Matthew Berry breaks down Ryan Fitzpatrick’s very strong first two weeks of the NFL season.

Record: 2-0
Week 2 ranking: 19

Among all the accolades for Ryan Fitzpatrick, he is averaging 13.4 yards per attempt, which is 2.85 more than the next-highest passer (Patrick Mahomes). According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Buccaneers had a 7 percent chance of going 2-0. — Masi

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 13

The Chargers have the second-ranked offense in the NFL, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, trailing only the Saints. That offense will be tested in Week 3 against the Rams, who have the second-ranked defense, according to FPI. — Koontz

Record: 2-0
Week 2 ranking: 23

For the first time in franchise history, the Bengals have scored at least 30 points in each of their first two games of a season. This is a far cry from the slow start the Bengals got off to last year, when they managed a total of nine points during an 0-2 beginning and didn’t score a touchdown until their third game. — Clawson

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 11

Making Cam Newton more accurate was a priority for the Panthers coming into this season. Newton has completed 69 percent of his passes, which is his second-highest rate through the first two team games in his career (69.8 in 2012). — Masi

Record: 2-0
Week 2 ranking: 16

The Broncos snapped a streak of 15 straight losses in games during which they trailed entering the fourth quarter, overcoming a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Raiders. Case Keenum has led a fourth-quarter game-winning drive in each of the Broncos’ first two games. — Koontz

Record: 2-0
Week 2 ranking: 24

Miami is in sole possession of first place in the AFC East through at least two games for the first time since Week 2 of 2010. FPI gives the Dolphins a 66 percent chance to improve to 3-0 on Sunday and maintain control of first place. — Koontz

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Stephen A. Smith highlights the performance of Dallas’ defense after a victory Sunday night over New York.

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 20

The Cowboys are posting a sack on 11.3 percent of opponents’ dropbacks, the second-highest rate in the NFL. From 2014 to 2018, the Cowboys ranked 26th in that department at 5.4 percent. — Masi

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 18

The 49ers are finally getting some production from a pass rush that they’ve invested several first-round picks in. 2016 first-rounder DeForest Buckner has 3.5 sacks, already surpassing his total in 16 games from last season (3.0). — Clawson

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 12

All five of Joe Flacco‘s touchdown passes are to players who were not on the Ravens last season (John Brown, Willie Snead IV, Michael Crabtree and Mark Andrews). Flacco’s 63.2 Total QBR is his highest through two games since 2009. — Clawson

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 22

Whether it’s Marcus Mariota or Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, the Titans’ offensive line is providing protection. It has allowed just one sack through two games, tied with the Jaguars for fewest in the league. — Koontz

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 14

The Redskins are averaging a league-best 35:44 in time of possession and are fourth in first downs per game at 25.0. Last season, the Redskins averaged 29:44 in time of possession and 17.4 first downs per game — Masi

Record: 0-2
Week 2 ranking: 15

The Texans are 0-2 for just the second time in the past 10 seasons. However, the other 0-2 start in that span came in 2015, when they recovered to finish 9-7 and make the playoffs. — Koontz

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 21

The Bears’ playmaking defense already has scored two touchdowns. Chicago’s D had three defensive scores all of last season.

Record: 0-2
Week 2 ranking: 17

The Seahawks have a weapon in the kicking game with 40-year-old Sebastian Janikowski. His 56-yard field goal in Week 2 was the third longest in Seahawks history. The only longer kicks were 58 yards by Josh Brown at Green Bay in 2003 and 58 yards by Steven Hauschka at Carolina in 2014.

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 29

Andrew Luck is completing 79 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter, second best in the league behind Ryan Fitzpatrick (92 percent). Luck was 8-of-9 with a TD in the fourth quarter in Week 2 to seal the win against the Redskins. — Koontz

Record: 1-1
Week 2 ranking: 26

At 21 years, 103 days old, Sam Darnold became the youngest player in NFL history to throw for 300 yards in a game in the Jets’ Week 2 loss. The defense also showed flashes with four sacks, a mark it only reached once last season (Week 9 versus the Bills). — Clawson

Record: 0-2
Week 2 ranking: 28

The Raiders might have lost again Sunday, but Derek Carr was 29-of-32 (90.6 percent) and did not have a single off-target pass (overthrown or underthrown). That was the fourth-highest completion percentage in NFL history (minimum of 20 attempts) and the highest ever in a loss. — Koontz

Record: 0-1-1
Week 2 ranking: 30

The Browns’ defense has hung in there, allowing 21.0 PPG against offenses led by future Pro Football Hall of Famers Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. The Browns lead the NFL with eight takeaways and are tied for fourth with seven sacks. — Clawson

Record: 0-2
Week 2 ranking: 27

The silver lining to Detroit’s loss on Sunday: When a quarterback plays that well, it usually equates to a win. Matthew Stafford is the first QB with 300 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and no interceptions in a loss against the 49ers. — Clawson

Record: 0-2
Week 2 ranking: 25

Saquon Barkley broke the franchise record for receptions in a single game with 14 in Week 2. This comes one week after he became the first rookie in Giants history with 100 rushing yards in a season opener. — Masi

Record: 0-2
Week 2 ranking: 31

The Cardinals are 0-2 and have scored six points. The good news is that could speed up Josh Rosen‘s timeline. Rosen is the Cardinals’ highest-drafted QB since Matt Leinart in 2006 (both 10th overall). — Clawson

Record: 0-2
Week 2 ranking: 32

The bad news: The Bills might be the worst team in the NFL. (ESPN’s Football Power Index agrees.) The good news: FPI gives the Bills a league-high 37 percent chance to obtain the top pick of the 2019 NFL draft. — Koontz

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What we learned in Week 2 of 2018 NFL season

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Josh Gordon with Tom Brady as his quarterback is a thrilling concept, but the problem with Gordon is converting concept into reality.

Gordon was a dominant wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns in 2013. But in the four-plus years since, he has been that player only in our imaginations. It’s so exciting to remember what he did that year — 87 catches for a league-leading 1,646 yards to go with nine touchdowns in only 14 games — that we ignore the fact that it happened five years ago.

The odds of anyone repeating such a performance after so much time are incredibly low, to say nothing of Gordon’s chances of playing 14 games in a season. He has played in only 11 games, total, since that brilliant 2013 campaign ended.

But we watch sports in the hopes of witnessing new levels of greatness, and because we remember Gordon as someone who delivered that, we cling to the hope that he can deliver it again if only he could find a way to stay on the field.

Problem is, he hasn’t been able to stay on the field, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to be any different in New England than it was in Cleveland. Hope? Sure, you can hope Monday’s trade from the Browns to the Patriots is the move that finally unlocks the 2013 version of Gordon again. But to expect it — heck, to view it at all without a healthy dose of skepticism — would be flat-out foolish.

What we learned about Gordon this weekend is that the Browns are done with him, which is no small development considering how many times they’d stuck with him in the past. Through suspension after suspension, false start after false start, the Browns kept supporting Gordon and welcoming him back. Then he showed up late Saturday with a hamstring injury he didn’t have when he left the building on Friday afternoon, and all of a sudden there was a John Dorsey statement saying it was all over. A team whose Week 1 tie was its best single-game result since Christmas Eve of 2016 was dumping the player who scored that game’s tying touchdown.

This just a few weeks after Gordon missed several weeks of training camp under mysterious circumstances. He and sources close to the situation said he was tending to his own mental health and emotional well-being, but at the end of it all the NFL had a say in when he was allowed back at practice.

So you can’t shake the suspicion that something happened that rubbed Gordon up against the league’s rules once again, and that’s a reminder of how close Gordon perpetually is to a suspension that could end his career.

Gordon knows this. He has spoken about it, and about his struggles with addiction. We seek not to minimize those struggles here. If anything, the rush to project great things for Gordon in New England ignores the power that struggle exerts over Gordon’s life. The fact that multiple teams were interested in trading a draft pick for Gordon actually feels a little uncomfortable when set in the context of the larger issues in Gordon’s life. He had a support system set up in Cleveland, and he still couldn’t make it to Week 2. This is a young man dealing with a lot of things that have nothing to do with football.

Addiction is a constant presence in the life of anyone afflicted with it, and in Gordon’s case one of the offshoots is that his struggle has him one misstep away from another lengthy suspension.

Which means, in cold, neutral terms, that this is kind of it for Gordon. Yes, he could take off in New England with Brady throwing to him and justify all the latent hope of the past four-plus years. That is the hope of anyone who likes redemption stories and outsized athletic greatness.

But the range of potential outcomes with Gordon is wide, and he has spent a lot more time on the other end of that spectrum. The ugly truth is that there’s a nonzero chance he never catches a single Tom Brady pass. He’s a worthwhile lottery ticket for the Patriots considering the price they paid in the trade. To look at it any other way at this point is to pine for something we don’t know for sure is still there or ever coming back.

A couple of other things we learned in Week 2:

Dez Bryant may have to wait awhile

While we’re on the subject of receivers whose recent production doesn’t match up to their names or reputations, former Cowboy Bryant remains without a team as we head into Week 3. He’d dangled Washington and New England as possibilities on social media recently, but the Patriots just traded for Gordon and have Julian Edelman coming back in two weeks, while Washington just signed Breshad Perriman and Michael Floyd. It’s possible Cleveland, which had Bryant in for a much-publicized visit during camp, could turn its eyes back to him. But so far, they haven’t. Teams see Bryant as a receiver who hasn’t shown an ability to separate or win with speed on the outside for a while now, and there isn’t a lot of interest in him at this point. Someone’s wide receiver situation would have to change due to injury, forcing a team to look at Bryant differently than they do now, in order for him to find a team anytime soon.

The Bengals are a legit playoff contender

I covered two games in Week 2, and the first was the Thursday night Ravens-Bengals game in Cincinnati. The Bengals were quite proud of themselves after beating their division rivals to improve to 2-0, and there was talk in the postgame locker room of “a different feeling” around the team than they have had the past two years.

Not to minimize that, but the biggest problem the Bengals had the past two years may have been the offensive line, and they made a lot of changes there. They traded for veteran tackle Cordy Glenn, drafted center Billy Price in the first round and hired offensive line coach Frank Pollack away from the Cowboys. (The Cowboys, incidentally, hired former Bengals line coach Paul Alexander, effectively swapping offensive line coaches with Cincinnati in a bit of an underrated offseason storyline.) Now, Price left Thursday’s game with an injury, which obviously bears watching, but the Bengals’ formidable defensive front has seen a difference in this year’s offensive line.

“You can just see them adjusting to that mentality of their new offensive line coach,” Carlos Dunlap told me. “Just bringing that mentality that Frank brings, taking ownership of their roles in the offense and in the offense overall. It definitely feels different with that group this year.”

Dallas’ defense has some new elements and may be pretty good

The other Week 2 game I covered was the Sunday night game in Dallas, where the Cowboys sacked Giants quarterback Eli Manning six times and kept New York out of the end zone until the final two minutes. The Cowboys are legitimately excited about their defensive personnel this year, but they made a coaching change there that has everyone fired up as well. Dallas hired former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard to coach their defensive backs, and they believe he has had a major impact. You saw it Sunday night, when five of the Cowboys’ six sacks came on blitzes — an element of the defense that coordinator Rod Marinelli seems to have embraced once Richard brought it from Seattle.

“He’s been outstanding,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told me. “Just a huge plus for us. You see Byron [Jones] and Chidobe [Awuzie] just keep getting better, and having a guy with [Richard’s] experience on the coaching staff, you just can’t say enough about what that perspective brings.”

Dallas’ offense has come under fire early in the season, and while Travis Frederick remains out and the receiving corps is still piecing itself together, the Cowboys likely won’t look like themselves. But they believe their defense is better than people are used to thinking it is, and that it can keep them in games while the offense figures things out.

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