If Lee Evans had better hands or Billy Cundiff a more accurate leg, the Baltimore Ravens might be NFL champions right now.
Both of them are gone as the Ravens entertain New England, the team they flopped against in the final minutes of last January’s AFC title game. And the Ravens are trying not to put extra importance on Sunday night’s meeting.
“It’s always hard to think like that when you have a totally different makeup as a team," Ray Lewis said. “You don’t hold onto nothing. Win, lose or draw, you let it go and you move on. We have a totally different outlook on what we’re trying to do as a team. So, we are looking at this game as a totally different game."
They’re hoping the outcome is different, and the Ravens (1-1) have been unbeatable recently after losses, winning 13 straight in such circumstances.
“We’ve been a pretty good team since I’ve been here," fifth-year quarterback Joe Flacco said, “and good teams are able to put their past losses in the background and forget about it and move on to the next one."
That’s something the Patriots also excel at. New England (1-1) is 27-3 after a defeat since 2003, but did fall twice in a row in 2011 before reeling off eight straight regular-season wins.
Baltimore’s usually strong defense has struggled so far statistically, but has yielded only 37 points, behind only five teams. Even though NFL teams have set a two-week high for points with 1,556, New England has given up just 33.
Yet the Patriots haven’t contributed all that much to the record scoring, particularly in their 20-18 loss to Arizona last week.
“We’ve just been inconsistent, I’d say, with our execution," Tom Brady said. “I don’t think it’s through lack of effort; it’s just a matter of execution."
Also Sunday, it’s Atlanta at San Diego and Philadelphia at Arizona in matchups of unbeaten teams.
San Francisco visits Minnesota, Houston is at Denver, Pittsburgh at Oakland, Kansas City at New Orleans, Cincinnati at Washington, Tampa Bay at Dallas, St. Louis at Chicago, Detroit at Tennessee, the New York Jets at Miami, Buffalo at Cleveland, and Jacksonville at Indianapolis.
Monday night, it’s Green Bay at Seattle.
The action began Thursday night with the Super Bowl champion New York Giants’ 36-7 victory at Carolina.
Once again, replacement officials will work the games.
• Atlanta (2-0) at San Diego (2-0): Atlanta has dominated this series, winning seven of the eight meetings and outscoring San Diego 156-94. The Chargers are 0-5 at home versus the Falcons.
Matt Ryan is off to a great start, leading the NFL in passing rating (117.6), while Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones all have been reliable targets. Ryan hasn’t been picked off, but the defense has five interceptions. It also has six sacks and Ryan has been put down just twice.
San Diego hasn’t won its first three games since 2003. A stingy defense and only one turnover has lifted the Chargers, and they found a surprise scorer on offense in backup tight end Dante Rosario, who scored three TDs against Tennessee.
• Philadelphia (2-0) at Arizona (2-0): After handing New England its first home-opener loss at Gillette Stadium, Arizona should be confident. The Cardinals have built a formidable defense that seems to improve weekly, and that unit will be frothing for turnovers considering Philadelphia leads the NFL with nine, including six interceptions thrown by Michael Vick.
Vick’s former backup in Philly, Kevin Kolb, got a win in relief of injured John Skelton in Week 1, then helped Arizona get past the Patriots. Star receiver Larry Fitzgerald needs two receptions for 700, which would make him the youngest player to get there at age 29.
“I think he’ll go down, when he’s all said and done, as one of the top receivers to ever play the game," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “He loves to play, great attitude, strong, and physical. He has great hands."
The Eagles are the only team in league history to win its first two games by one point each.
• San Francisco (2-0) at Minnesota (1-1): It’s understandable why the 49ers are ranked atop the AP Pro32 power rankings. Following decisive victories over Green Bay and Detroit in which they showed more balance than any NFL team, the Niners seem primed for a second big year under Jim Harbaugh. Since he took over as coach, they are 7-2 away from Candlestick Park.
Running back Frank Gore has looked sharp — focused, fast and powerful — as the centerpiece of the offense. The defense simply is the most physical in football.
Randy Moss returns to where he was the NFL’s most dangerous receiver in seven-plus seasons with the Vikings.
“I’m just very fortunate to go back where it all started at. We had some great times in Minnesota," Moss said. “I’m looking forward to just hearing the Metrodome rock."
• Houston (2-0) at Denver (1-1): This one has the makings of a shootout thanks to the offensive weapons on both rosters. Yet it’s more likely the defenses will determine the outcome.
There’s no way Peyton Manning can afford the flood of early turnovers he and the Broncos committed in Atlanta and survive against Houston. Under Wade Phillips, the Texans have put together the NFL’s top-ranked defense, although those numbers this year were compiled against Miami and Jacksonville.
Still, as the Texans showed in making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last year, they can shut down nearly anyone.
“They play with a lot of energy and then coach Phillips, throughout his history, always has his teams and defenses really well-coached," Manning said. “When you take a disciplined scheme of defense and you combine it with really active players that they have, it’s no surprise they have a good defense."
• Green Bay (1-1) at Seattle (1-1): Green Bay has won six of the past seven meetings, including two in the playoffs. In their last game on Sept. 13, they pummeled the Bears, with Clay Matthews getting 3 1⁄2 sacks; he already has six for the season to lead the league.
The offense sputtered in the opener against San Francisco, but was back on track against Chicago.
Seattle has displayed a nice balance on offense behind rookie QB Russell Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch and a spread-the-wealth passing attack. The defense has been opportunistic.
• Pittsburgh (1-1) at Oakland (0-2): If you recall when this was among the greatest NFL rivalries, you have a sharp and long memory. These clubs couldn’t be further from the days of the Immaculate Reception.
Despite being severely undermanned, the Steelers aren’t far from a 2-0 start. They clearly have become a passing offense behind Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Heath Miller, while the defense has tried to stay formidable even with James Harrison and Troy Polamalu hobbling.
Oakland is rebuilding under new general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen, and it has the appearance of a slow process. The Raiders are particularly vulnerable on the ground on both sides of the ball.
• Kansas City (0-2) at New Orleans (0-2): The only matchup of winless teams — perhaps the two biggest flops of the early season.
Turmoil in the Big Easy is nothing new this year, what with the Saints’ bounty scandal. Still, did anyone expect them to be 0-2, for Drew Brees to be six spots from the bottom of the passer rankings, or for New Orleans to have allowed 75 points in two games?
“We know we have the right people in the building, coaches and players," Brees said, “and now it’s just a matter of pulling it all together and finding our rhythm, so to speak."
Kansas City’s rhythm has been as uncoordinated as possible, being outscored 75-41 and not forcing a turnover while having six giveaways, the worst margin in the league.
• Cincinnati (1-1) at Washington (1-1): The Redskins took two big hits to their defense when end Brian Orakpo and tackle Adam Carriker were lost for the season in a defeat at St. Louis. They also made some silly mistakes in that loss, especially receiver Josh Morgan’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the final minutes for throwing the ball at an opponent.
Robert Griffin III has been everything Washington could have asked for, adding big plays and tons of enthusiasm.
Cincinnati has fretted about finding complementary receivers for A.J. Green. The search might be over after Andre Hawkins and Brandon Tate emerged in a win at Cleveland.
• Tampa Bay (1-1) at Dallas (1-1): Dallas has won four straight and 12 of 15 in this lopsided series, and it makes its home debut with a bad taste from last week. A blowout loss at Seattle tempered much of the enthusiasm from the opening victory at the Giants. Plus, they are only 13-11 at Cowboys Stadium.
DeMarco Murray has been strong running the ball for the Cowboys, but the Bucs rank third in rushing defense.
• St. Louis (1-1) at Chicago (1-1): Body language.
Both teams struggled with their reactions in games last week, with one big difference: St. Louis came back and won, while Jay Cutler and the Bears imploded at Green Bay.
Cutler is buried so deep in the passer rankings he is below four of the five rookie QBs and barely ahead of the other, Brandon Weeden. He also was sacked seven times by the Packers.
Sam Bradford has performed well behind a banged-up line on which only one projected starter from preseason is available.
• Detroit (1-1) at Tennessee (0-2): The Titans overachieved at 9-7 last year but have not built off that moderate success. They rank last in rushing despite having Chris Johnson, who has a 1.1-yard average. The defense has been abysmal, with only Kansas City and New Orleans allowing more points.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz previously was defensive coordinator in Nashville.
“I lived there for 10 years," Schwartz said. “I’m not the friendliest guy in the world, but my wife has a lot of friends. My kids were born there, they went to school there, and they have some friends. I don’t know how many ticket requests that I’ll get, but they’ll have a lot."
• N.Y. Jets (1-1) at Miami (1-1): The loser here will have the inside track to last place in the AFC East because both have difficult schedules immediately ahead.
New York can’t survive too long without All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis (concussion) or tight end Dustin Keller (hamstring).
Reggie Bush has begun to resemble the running back most everyone thought he would be coming out of Southern Cal with his Heisman Trophy (since vacated) in 2005. He’s averaged 126 yards rushing in his past six games and is second in the NFL in rushing.
• Buffalo (1-1) at Cleveland (0-2): The Browns have pushed two early playoff favorites, Philadelphia and Cincinnati, to the limit despite their young cast. They certainly should be encouraged by the work of first-round draftees Trent Richardson and Weeden in last week’s loss to the Bengals, when Cleveland kept coming back before falling short.
C.J. Spiller, the league’s leading rusher in the midst of a breakout start, will test Cleveland’s defense.
Buffalo has lost eight straight road games, but also has not allowed a sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick this season.
• Jacksonville (0-2) at Indianapolis (1-1): One thing the Colts displayed last week in beating Minnesota was poise. For a young team in the midst of a rebuilding project, that’s encouraging.
Jacksonville didn’t build off its strong opening effort at the Vikings and was routed by Houston. The Jaguars need to find a run defense and better pass protection.