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Early surprise teams want more in Week 3

2-0 or 0-2 is too early to jump to conclusions. Sure, it's nice being unbeaten through two weeks of the season, and kind of scary starting things off without a win.

(Sept 22, 2005) -- 2-0 or 0-2 is too early to jump to conclusions.

Sure, it's nice being unbeaten through two weeks of the season, and kind of scary starting things off without a win. But NFL history has proven time and again that the first two weeks do not a season make. Far from it.

In the past three years, 12 clubs began the season at 2-0 and failed to make the playoffs. In that time, three teams started 0-2 and advanced to the playoffs. Four years ago, New England began 0-2 and won Super Bowl XXXVI.

"Two games is one-eighth of a season," says head coach Tony Dungy of the 2-0 Indianapolis Colts. "We're still a long ways away."

That said, there are some teams who did not have successful 2004 seasons who are flawless at 2-0 in '05 and want to stay that way, such as Cincinnati (8-8 in 2004), Kansas City (7-9), the New York Giants (6-10), Tampa Bay (5-11) and Washington (6-10).

"It's right there in front of us," says the always-confident Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson. "This year we can do something special."

This week can be something special with such games as:


Storyline: Rematch!

It's a replay of last season's AFC Championship Game between two clubs that have won a combined 32 of 36 regular-season games the past two seasons.

They met twice last year. On Oct. 31, the Steelers halted the Pats' NFL-record 18-game regular-season winning streak for Pittsburgh's fifth in a row. The Steelers have since added 11 regular-season victories through last week, for a total of 16 straight (tying 1971-73 and 1983-84 Miami for history's second-longest streak). With three more wins, they would top the Pats' NFL record.

In the Championship Game, the Patriots scored their second-most points of 2004 in a 41-27 victory in Pittsburgh. The key to the win was the four turnovers forced by New England that led to 24 points.

"I think that game will be on a lot of people's minds this week," says speedy Steelers RB Willie Parker, the NFL's second-leading rusher (272 yards), who head coach Bill Cowher says has supplanted Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley as the team's No. 1 running back.

The game will be a matchup of two take-what-they-give-you quarterbacks -- New England's Tom Brady and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, who has yet to lose a regular-season game in his two-year career (15 in a row).


Storyline: It's the Carson and Kyle fireworks show!

Two of the NFL's promising young quarterbacks -- Cincinnati's Carson Palmer and Chicago rookie Kyle Orton -- last week directed two of the three most lopsided wins this season. The Bengals (with 64 points in two weeks and the NFL's No. 1 offense) won by 29 points (37-8 over Minnesota) and the Bears by 32 (38-6 over Detroit). Combined, the Bengals and Bears totaled 840 yards of offense.

Something might have to give with all that firepower, though. The teams compiled an impressive 10 interceptions in Week 2. The Bengals, under new defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, have surrendered only 21 points this season, and picked off Daunte Culpepper five times last Sunday. The Bears have given up just 15 points so far and rang up five interceptions against Joey Harrington.

Things look rosy right now for both clubs. But a fellow who knows just how long the NFL season can be -- Bengals 10-year T Willie Anderson -- advises caution. "You're judged at the end of the year, whether or not you're in the playoffs playing in the cold weather, or at home watching TV," says Anderson. "That's how you're judged."


Storyline: Two teams coming off unusual wins.

For one, it was where they did it. For the other, how they did it.

The Browns -- that's the new Browns, with a new head coach (Romeo Crennel) and 26 new players, including 12 rookies (tying for second most in the AFC) -- won for the first time since 1956 in Green Bay/Milwaukee. And their new quarterback, Trent Dilfer, posted his first win in nine trips to Lambeau Field, throwing 62- and 80-yard TD passes.

It will be a "new-look" Colts the Browns will face -- not much offense, but what a defense! Of course, no one expects QB Peyton Manning's sparse passing statistics last week (122 yards, 44.0 passer rating) to continue, but the Browns are heading into a defensive buzz saw that has allowed only 10 points this season.

The Colts come off a six-sack game against Jacksonville, led by DT Montae Reagor's three. He joins the ferocious spin moves of 2004 NFL sack leader DE Dwight Freeney (16.0).

NEW YORK GIANTS (2-0) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (0-2) (Sunday night, ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Storyline: Eli goes to San Diego.

That will be the main story in Charger-town this week as Giants QB Eli Manning faces for the first time the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2004. The same day, he was traded to the Giants for their No. 1 choice, QB Philip Rivers.

Things thus seemed set at quarterback in San Diego. But veteran Drew Brees had other ideas. He became the starter over Rivers, led San Diego to the division title and was voted the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

Manning meanwhile became the starter in New York's final seven games (1-6), attaining 100.0 passer ratings in two of his last three starts, and has taken the Giants to their first 2-0 record since 2000.

Sunday will be a matchup of two of the best backs in the NFL who both wear No. 21. The Giants' Tiki Barber comes off an 83-yard, two-TD game Monday night, and the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson last Sunday established the NFL record for most consecutive games with a rushing TD (14).

Two stats put the teams' seasons in perspective. The Giants have dominated their two games this year, scoring 69 total points, the most in a season's first two games in their 81-year history. The Chargers are indeed 0-2, but have lost those games by a total of only seven points.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (2-0) at DENVER BRONCOS (1-1) (Monday night, ABC, 9 p.m. ET)

Storyline: High-scoring series goes low this year?

Could be, the way the teams have played so far. In the past three seasons, the six games between these division rivals have averaged 60.8 points, with the teams splitting the last two seasons. This year, the Chiefs and Broncos spent a good part of their offseason shoring up their defenses. It has showed.

Kansas City, with the NFL's top offense in 2004, came close to shutting out the Jets in Week 1, and stopped the Raiders on the 10-yard line in the final minutes for a 23-17 victory on Sunday. The Broncos allowed San Diego only 41 yards in the second half last week in their 20-17 win.

"We have to continue to play at a high level and get more turnovers," says Denver LB Al Wilson, speaking really for both defenses. "We have to be around the football and give the offense opportunities to score points." Like the old days.

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