TIME’s Sean Gregory breaks down the lessons from football’s second week.
Tom Terrific. As long as Tom Brady is wearing a New England Patriots helmet this season, the NFL record book is in danger. After destroying the Miami Dolphins last Monday night, Brady picked apart the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. He finished 31-for-40, with 423 yards and three touchdowns during New England’s 35-21 victory. A little math: in two games, Brady has thrown for 940 yards and seven touchdowns. Over a 16-game season, that puts him on pace for 7,520 yards (Dan Marino has the single-season record, with 5,084 yards passing for the Miami Dolphins in 1984) and 56 touchdown passes (Brady has that record, with 50 in 2007). It will be impossible for Brady to keep this torrid pace. But during a year when defenses are feeling the effects of the lockout-shortened offseason – rookie Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers, for example, threw for over 400 yards again on Sunday – Brady seems primed for a historic campaign.
Buffalo Booming. While the Buffalo Bills reached four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s – and famously lost them all – they’ve been to the playoffs just four times during that run. They last reached the post-season in 1999. So you can’t blame upstate New York for getting a little giddy right now. After trailing 21-3 to the Oakland Raiders at halftime yesterday, in front of a disappointed home crowd, Buffalo charged back and scored the go-ahead touchdown with 14 seconds left to give the Bills a 35-31 win, and a 2-0 start. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Harvard alum who looks more and more like a franchise player, was incredibly calm under pressure. Buffalo entered the fourth quarter trailing 21-17, and Fitzpatrick finished the game by completing 13 or 19 passes, for 122 yards and 2 TDs. The AFC East is home to a couple of big market beasts that steal all the attention, the Patriots and New York Jets (who trounced Jacksonville, 32-3, to also improve to 2-0). But in 2011, don’t sleep on Buffalo.
Motor City Madness. Speaking of surprisingly strong starts, the Detroit Lions – yes, the Detroit Lions, still just three years removed from that horrific winless season – are roaring. Dating back to last year, the Lions have won six straight games, and on Sunday, they crushed the Kansas City Chiefs, 48-3, the most lopsided win in franchise history. While Detroit’s offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford are putting up some impressive numbers – Stafford threw for 294 years and four touchdowns against the hapless Chiefs – the team’s fate will depend on its defense. Detroit’s defensive line, anchored by the outstanding Ndamukong Suh, who registered 10 sacks and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season, might be the best in the NFC. And in the cold-weather NFC North, games are won in the trenches. Detroit’s last regular season game, on New Year’s Day, is in Green Bay, where it could be 20 below. The way the Lions are looking, that game could decide the division.