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Week 2 of the 2021 NFL season featured surprise performances and unfortunate injuries across the board. Sam Darnold and the Panthers are now 2-0 after dominating a Saints team that overwhelmed Green Bay in Week 1. The Bills bounced back with a convincing blowout win in Miami, the Rams squeezed out a win in Indianapolis and Derek Carr and the Raiders topped the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

It was a tough week for other quarterbacks around the league, too. Zach Wilson threw four interceptions against New England; the Dolphins' Tua Tagovailoa, Colts' Carson Wentz, Bears' Andy Dalton and Texans' Tyrod Taylor exited with injuries; and Jalen Hurts couldn't lead the Eagles past the 49ers.

In the late games, Tom Brady led the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers to a big win over the Falcons and Russell Wilson and the Seahawks lost in overtime to the Titans. The Cowboys kicked a winning field goal as time expired, while the Vikings missed a late field goal and the Cardinals prevailed. The Ravens' Lamar Jackson got his first victory over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the Sunday night game.

Our NFL Nation reporters react to it all, with the major takeaways and lingering questions from this week's action -- and what it all means going forward. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating -- a 0-10 grade of how they feel about the team's outlook coming out of the week. Let's get into it. (Games are added throughout Sunday and again following Monday Night Football.)

Jump to a matchup:



What to know: As long as the Ravens have Lamar Jackson, their season isn't over. The short-handed Ravens upset the AFC's best team -- and Jackson's self-described "kryptonite" -- because of his playmaking. It doesn't matter that Baltimore was without All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, its top two running backs or 12 other players on injured reserve. Jackson put Baltimore on his back against the Chiefs, throwing for 239 yards and rushing for 108 yards and two touchdowns. It looked like the Ravens had no chance of winning after Jackson threw a pick-six on his second pass of the game. But Jackson sealed his first win over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs with a run on fourth-and-1 with 1:05 remaining. -- Jamison Hensley

Can the Ravens' pass defense be fixed? For the first time in their 26-year history, the Ravens allowed more than 30 points in each of their first two games of a season. This is what happens when a defense gives up so many big plays in the passing game. Yes, the Ravens were going against Patrick Mahomes. But Baltimore has to find a way to cover and tackle better. The Ravens surrendered three touchdown passes of more than 30 yards. Fortunately, Baltimore's defense acquitted itself by forcing two key turnovers in the fourth quarter. -- Hensley

Hensley's confidence rating (0-10): 7.8, up from 6.5. It was easy to write off the Ravens after an overtime loss in Las Vegas in the opener and the numerous injuries, but the Ravens showed they still have enough to upset the Chiefs.

Next game: at Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Their defensive problems look like they're with the Chiefs to stay. For the second straight week, they had to score 30-plus in order to win but fell short this time. The woeful play against the Ravens is more concerning for the Chiefs than it was in the opener against the Browns. The Ravens were depleted at running back and on the offensive line, but they still piled up more than 30 points and almost 500 yards against K.C. -- Adam Teicher

How often can the Chiefs outscore their woeful defense? They answered the challenge against the Browns with three second-half touchdowns, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire's fumble killed the potential go-ahead drive against the Ravens. It's going to be difficult for the Chiefs to continue to operate on offense with no margin for error. This is starting to look like 2018 all over again. -- Teicher

Teicher's confidence rating (0-10): 7.0, down from 7.5. There's no reason to be bullish on the Chiefs, given their considerable defensive weakness. They weren't able to outscore the Ravens and might have a similar issue next week against the Chargers.

Next game: vs. Chargers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Jackson flips into end zone for go-ahead score

Lamar Jackson fakes out the defense and flips into the end zone to give the Ravens the lead late in the fourth quarter.



What to know: Receiver Julio Jones and quarterback Ryan Tannehill seem to have worked out the kinks. The two connected six times on eight targets for 128 yards in Seattle. One of the incompletions was a straight-up drop, but the other one was a touchdown that was reversed. Tannehill consistently went to Jones when he needed a play. Their best connection was a 50-yard bomb in which Tannehill laid out the ball perfectly for Jones to track it down on the post. After struggling in their debut together last week, they seem to have found their timing. -- Turron Davenport

Why is the defense giving up so many chunk plays? The Titans' defense gave up three plays of 50 yards or more against the Seahawks. Tyler Lockett got things started with a 51-yard gain in the first quarter and then he broke free for a 63-yard touchdown in the second. Freddie Swain broke free for a wide-open 68-yard touchdown on a blown coverage between Chris Jackson and Kristian Fulton. It comes down to one thing: discipline. Titans safety Bradley McDougald was caught flat-footed because of the play-action on Lockett's first deep catch. Rookie Elijah Molden let Lockett cross his face for the second big catch. -- Davenport

Davenport's confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, up from 4.5. The Titans went into a hostile environment and gritted out a tough win and always seem to rise to the occasion in moments like this.

Next game: vs. Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: This was as tough of a loss as the Seahawks have suffered in recent memory. They were at home, with fans at Lumen Field for the first time in 630 days. They were playing a team with O-line issues, which made it a favorable matchup for Seattle's strong pass rush. And they led 24-9 at halftime, only to allow 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and overtime. It's one thing to have no answer for Derrick Henry. But the Seahawks shot themselves in the foot -- missing a PAT that would have avoided OT and committing 10 penalties for 100 yards. And this time, they didn't have any late Russell Wilson magic to bail them out as their offense meekly went three-and-out on its final drive. With as strong as the NFC West looks -- every other team won Sunday to improve to 2-0 -- the Seahawks don't have a margin for error to lose games like this that they should have won. -- Brady Henderson

Will cornerback play hold the Seahawks' defense back? That's been their iffiest-looking position group since they let Shaquill Griffin walk in free agency. The roster and lineup shuffling the Seahawks did before the opener didn't change that. Nor did the way Tre Flowers and D.J. Reed played in Week 1 when they got a soft landing against a Colts receiver corps that was without T.Y. Hilton. They didn't hold up as well against the much better duo of Julio Jones and A.J. Brown. Flowers was in coverage on Jones' 51-yard catch and whiffed on a tackle attempt on Derrick Henry's 60-yard touchdown run, though Jamal Adams may have also erred on the play. Reed's big mistake was mental -- a 15-yard taunting penalty. Pete Carroll has said the competition is still on at cornerback. And by this point, Sidney Jones should be getting comfortable enough in Seattle's defense to push Flowers for playing time. -- Henderson

Henderson's confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, down from 8.7. Wilson and the offense faltered late Sunday, but he still looks like the best quarterback in the division, and the season is only two weeks old.

Next game: at Vikings (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)



What to know: What Dak Prescott missed most in his absence due to a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle 11 months ago were moments like Sunday with the game on the line. It wasn't the prettiest of game-winning drives, but Greg Zuerlein's 56-yard field goal with no time left on the clock gave Prescott his 11th fourth-quarter win of his career and a 20-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. How the Cowboys won this game will be up to folks to decide, but Prescott completed all five of his passes for 35 yards on the final drive. The Cowboys avoided their first 0-2 start since 2010 and a win is a win, especially for a team that had won just six of Mike McCarthy's first 17 games. -- Todd Archer

Can the Cowboys continue to live this way? The offense has to play nearly perfect for them to win. Tony Pollard had more than 100 yards on the ground, and Ezekiel Elliott had a rushing touchdown. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on two of three red zone opportunities. They had 13 first downs in the first quarter, a team record, but barely had the ball in the second half. It's a one-possession league, as Mike McCarthy likes to say, but there's no way they can live like this for 15 more games. -- Archer

Archer's confidence rating (0-10): 6.1, down from 7.5. The Cowboys were helped greatly by the Chargers. Greatly. The Chargers had two passing touchdowns wiped out by penalties and Justin Herbert was picked off in the end zone.

Next game: vs. Eagles (Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET)


What to know: How in the world did the Chargers lose this game? Despite controlling the ball for most of the second half, the Chargers were done in by penalties and ill-timed turnovers. The Chargers were flagged 12 times for 99 yards, two of which cost them touchdowns and six that took away first downs. Not to mention an interception by quarterback Justin Herbert in the end zone and a missed field goal that bounced off the upright at the end of the first half. -- Shelley Smith

How can the Chargers better execute in the red zone when they play in Kansas City next week? Their confidence has to be shot after two games of turnovers and penalties in scoring territory. Justin Herbert made good plays to get the Chargers in position to score, completing 31 of 41 passes for 313 yards, and running back Austin Ekeler was a bigger part of the offense, catching nine passes for 61 yards and rushing for another 54 yards. If not for the mistakes, they would be 2-0 now, so better concentration and execution is key. -- Smith

Smith's confidence rating (0-10): 4.0, down from 5.4. Penalties and turnovers are a killer and holding this team back.

Next game: at Chiefs (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



What to know: Kyler Murray is playing at an MVP level. He put this Cardinals offense on his shoulders Sunday and carried it, throwing for 400 yards and three touchdowns -- and two interceptions -- while running for another 31 yards. Murray made big plays when Arizona most needed them, like spinning out of a sack to throw a 77-yard touchdown to Rondale Moore. Without that, Arizona loses. Or getting out of another sack to find DeAndre Hopkins for a touchdown early in the game. There might be other players playing better, none may be as valuable to their teams as Murray is to the Cardinals. -- Josh Weinfuss

Is the Cardinals' offense good enough to carry this team to the playoffs? In one word: yes. But it needs help. Arizona's offense has proved through two games that it stacks up against any in the league this season. It's that good. Kyler Murray is playing at an MVP level and he has enough weapons around him to keep defenses on their heels all game. The Cardinals can score with anyone in the NFL, putting up 38 in Week 1 and 34 Sunday in a win over the Vikings. -- Weinfuss

Weinfuss' confidence rating (0-10): 8.6, down from 9.0. The Cardinals' offense continued to look impressive, even dominant at times, but the defense caused Arizona's confidence rating to drop a bit.

Next game: at Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Vikings are in dire straits just two weeks into the 2021 season. A 34-33 loss to the Arizona Cardinals put them in an 0-2 hole, and with Seattle and Cleveland coming to Minnesota in Weeks 3 and 4, the outlook for this team and its postseason chances already looks bleak. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, 50 of 59 teams in the Super Bowl era to start the season with two losses on the road have missed the playoffs, including the Vikings back in 2013. -- Courtney Cronin

How can the Vikings' defense stop giving up big plays? Kyler Murray torched Minnesota's secondary with his deep ball, going 6-of-7 for 200 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on throws of 15-plus yards downfield. You know who else likes to throw it deep? Russell Wilson, the quarterback the Vikings face at home next week. Wilson mirrors so much of what Murray did to frustrate Minnesota's D, including his ability to escape the pocket and make massive, accurate throws on the run and remain unfazed with defenders barreling down on him. Murray was 6-of-10 for 140 yards, two TDs and an INT when pressured. -- Cronin

Cronin's confidence rating (0-10): 4.5, down from 5.0. The Vikings had every opportunity to beat Arizona and failed to do so, and special-teams miscues proved costly.

Next game: vs. Seahawks (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)



What to know: Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady threw five touchdowns against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, with safety Mike Edwards helping to seal the victory with two fourth-quarter pick-sixes of Matt Ryan. But the Buccaneers also fell asleep at the wheel in the second half -- allowing the Falcons to cut a 28-10 lead to 28-25 in the third quarter. Putting four quarters together and cutting out turnovers -- Brady coughed up the ball on a sack-fumble in the first quarter -- will continue to be a point of emphasis as their schedule heats up over the next two weeks, with road trips to the Los Angeles Rams next week and then the New England Patriots in Week 4. -- Jenna Laine

How will the Bucs' pass defense respond after giving up over 300 yards in back-to-back weeks? Without starter Sean Murphy-Bunting and with their other starter, Carlton Davis, nursing a hamstring injury, plus their third corner Jamel Dean leaving briefly because of injury, the Bucs' secondary held it together. Despite surrendering more than 300 passing yards, the defense intercepted Ryan three times (Shaq Barrett had one in addition to Edwards' two picks). Things unraveled with cornerback Ross Cockrell struggling against Falcons star receiver Calvin Ridley on man coverage on a 3-yard touchdown, but Edwards, a backup safety and big nickel, lived up to the billing this coaching staff had for him all summer: a ball hawk. He'll have more opportunities with the rash of injuries. -- Laine

Laine's confidence rating (0-10): 7.0, same as Week 1. This got uncomfortably close, but the Bucs showed they're finishers. Can they do it against tougher competition on the road over the next two weeks?

Next game: at Rams (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)


What to know: If there was any question before, there shouldn't be now. The Falcons have essentially no margin for error if they want to be competitive against the better NFL teams this season. Atlanta hung in for most of Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers -- cutting it to a 3-point game at the start of the fourth quarter. But a critical mistake here (a Matt Ryan pick-six), another critical error there (another Ryan pick-six) and the close game became another blowout. There was more promise for the Falcons in Week 2 than Week 1 -- the offense moved the ball, the defense created pressure on Tom Brady -- but just not enough for it to matter. Luckily for Atlanta, it faces three midlevel or worse teams next in the Giants, Washington and the Jets. How the Falcons fare there will determine the rest of the season. -- Michael Rothstein

How does the defense cope if CB A.J. Terrell misses any time? Terrell, who had two diving pass breakups and is Atlanta's top defensive back, left the game in the third quarter with a concussion. If he's forced to miss time, it'll be a huge blow for the Falcons' already-thin defense. On Sunday, Atlanta used converted-in-camp safety T.J. Green as an outside corner. That did not go well. Atlanta has players to build on -- but depending on Terrell's progress, it's going to have a massive hole in the secondary. -- Rothstein

Rothstein's confidence rating (0-10): 4.8, up from 4.2. Yes, this is higher than a week ago. Even in another final-score bad loss for the Falcons there were more positives than in Week 1 against Philadelphia -- which probably says exactly where Atlanta is so far this season.

Next game: at Giants (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



What to know: Win the turnover battle, win the game. After a disappointing season-opening loss in which the Patriots fumbled four times (losing two), they were the recipients of some gifts from rookie Jets QB Zach Wilson (four INTs) and ultimately did enough to take advantage of them. At the same time, they cleaned up their ball security issues (for the most part) and didn't have a turnover. The Patriots are 167-18 under Bill Belichick (2000-present) when they have a positive turnover differential. -- Mike Reiss

How much is the Patriots' offense holding things back with rookie QB Mac Jones? Those hoping to see the Patriots open things up in Jones' second career start were disappointed, as it was mostly a conservative approach. Jones was 22-of-30 for 186 yards without a touchdown or interception. He hasn't had many long downfield throws. There are reasons for this, of course, starting with some shaky pass protection -- particularly at right tackle. (Yasir Durant started and was replaced by Justin Herron.) The return of starting right tackle Trent Brown (calf) next week would be a significant boost. -- Reiss

Reiss' confidence rating (0-10): 6.2, down from 6.5. Until the Patriots get their struggles in pass protection sorted out, it's hard to imagine them competing with some of the top teams in the NFL.

Next game: vs. Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: QB Zach Wilson was brutal. The much-ballyhooed rookie threw four interceptions, all coming in his first 10 pass attempts -- a performance that conjured up scary memories of Sam Darnold's "ghost" game against the Patriots in 2019. Wilson was too aggressive, forcing passes downfield instead of taking safe checkdowns. He got away with that at BYU; he's not in Utah anymore. The most disconcerting thing: Unlike last week, he wasn't under heavy pressure. No, this was all on Wilson, who delivered an all-time clunker. -- Rich Cimini

How will coach Robert Saleh handle his first taste of adversity? The first-year coach is 0-2 and his team hasn't played sound, complementary football in six of eight quarters. And now he has to go on the road to face the Broncos, another tough defensive team. Welcome to the Jets, Coach. Before training camp, Saleh said he wouldn't learn about his team's character until it faced adversity. He welcomed it. He just got a heavy dose. No one expects the Jets to make the playoffs; they will be measured by progress. This isn't progress. -- Cimini

Cimini's confidence rating (0-10): 3.0, down from 3.5. Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson got schooled by Bill Belichick & Co., joining a long list of predecessors.

Next game: at Broncos (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)



What to know: It wasn't pretty, but the Browns finally took care of what was left of the Houston Texans, who suffered numerous injuries over the course of the game. Tougher tests for Cleveland await. And the Browns -- particularly a defense that struggled to get off the field Sunday -- will have to be better if they are to make noise in the AFC this season. -- Jake Trotter

When will Jarvis Landry return? The Pro Bowl receiver left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. The Browns already are without their other starting wideout, Odell Beckham Jr., who has yet to make his debut off last year's knee surgery. To keep the passing game afloat, Cleveland will need Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and rookies Anthony Schwartz and Demetric Felton to step up for as long as its big-money wideouts are out. -- Trotter

Trotter's confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, down from 8.0. With eight new starters, it's not a surprise to see Cleveland's defense endure some struggles early on in the season, even against the Texans.

Next game: vs. Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Going into halftime, the Texans had to feel confident tied at 14 against a good Cleveland Browns team. But when they ran back out onto the field, it was rookie quarterback Davis Mills under center, as Taylor was ruled out with a hamstring injury. It remains to be seen how long Tyrod Taylor will miss, but Mills was inconsistent in his half as a starter, finishing 8-of-18 for 102 yards, a touchdown and an interception. -- Sarah Barshop

Can the Texans win with Mills? Mills struggled on his first two series before settling in for a solid third drive, which got the Texans to within a field goal. But with a short week to prepare for a 2-0 Panthers team that beat the Saints on Sunday, he will face another test. Mills struggled in the preseason, but this will be the Texans' chance to give him what might be an extended look to determine whether he should be in their future plans at the position. -- Barshop

Barshop's confidence rating (0-10): 2.0, down from 3.5. The Texans showed they can play with a very good team in the loss, but it's hard to be confident that this team can win consistently without Taylor.

Next game: vs. Panthers (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)



What to know: The fast start against two young quarterbacks, with one more on the horizon. The Broncos, now 2-0 after Sunday's win in Jacksonville, frustrated the Giants' Daniel Jones in the season opener and proved to be a difficult puzzle for Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence on Sunday, too -- Lawrence had 99 yards passing at the start of the fourth quarter with an interception. The Broncos have New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson on the docket next for a chance at what could be their first 3-0 start since they started 4-0 in 2016. Before the wins the past two weeks, the Broncos had been 0-for-September in coach Vic Fangio's first two seasons. -- Jeff Legwold

When will the Broncos see Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, at their best, in the defense at the same time? Since Chubb tore his ACL in a Week 4 game in 2019 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the coveted pass-rush pairing of Miller and Chubb has been a star-crossed affair. On Sunday, Chubb and Miller played in the same game for the first time since 2019 -- Miller missed all of the 2020 season after ankle surgery, and Chubb missed the season opener last week with an ankle injury -- but Chubb did not play in the second half because of an injury. He will be evaluated Monday in Denver. The Broncos' defense handled its business after Chubb's departure, but the number that continues to show what the Broncos have hoped to get back to is that in the 21 games the two have played at least some together, they have 30.5 combined sacks. -- Legwold

Legwold's confidence rating (0-10): 8.0, up from 7.8. The Broncos didn't always look smooth on offense, but quarterback Teddy Bridgewater continues to push them through rough spots, and the defense is better than it's been at any point since Super Bowl run in 2015.

Next game: vs. Jets (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


Fant catches 14-yard pass for Broncos' second TD

Noah Fant finishes off a 75-yard scoring drive with a 14-yard TD pass from Teddy Bridgewater.


What to know: The Jaguars need to get QB Trevor Lawrence a lot more help -- at wide receiver, tight end and along the offensive line. Lawrence didn't play well against Denver, so let's get that out of the way first. But the Jaguars don't have a playmaker whom defenses have to plan to stop. Marvin Jones Jr. is a solid receiver, but Laviska Shenault Jr. isn't a game-breaker and DJ Chark Jr. had just one catch. The tight ends don't help much in the passing game. Upgrading both tackle spots is a major need. The Jaguars can't address those issues until the offseason and have defensive issues to fix. But if you're building around Lawrence, the offense needs to be the priority. -- Mike DiRocco

What's wrong with K Josh Lambo? He's not dealing with an injury this season but could be feeling the residual effects of a hip injury that cost him much of last season. The player fans nicknamed Lambomatic because he rarely missed hasn't hit at all yet in 2021. He went 0-for-2 against the Broncos and is 0-for-3 this season. Although two misses were from 50-plus yards, he had made 12 of 13 kicks from 50-plus coming into his fourth season with the Jaguars. When your offense struggles to score points -- especially when it's close early in games -- you can't have an inconsistent kicker. Expect the Jaguars to bring in some kickers for workouts this week. -- DiRocco

DiRocco's confidence rating (0-10): 2.6, up from 2.5. The Jaguars at least fixed the procedural issues they had in Week 1 (everybody was able to line up correctly and they didn't have to burn a couple of timeouts in the first quarter), but the offense is still a major work in progress.

Next game: vs. Cardinals (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



What to know: Rookie quarterback Justin Fields took every offensive snap after halftime as Andy Dalton (knee injury) watched from the sideline. Fields had modest numbers (6-of-13 for 60 yards and seven rushing attempts for 35 yards), but he brings an element of excitement Dalton does not. Fields is such a threat to run that he often freezes defenders. Some of Fields' best plays against the Bengals occurred when he was running outside the pocket. The first-round pick also had a sure touchdown pass dropped by Allen Robinson in the fourth quarter. The downside: Fields threw a really bad pick late in the game. A finished product he is not ... yet. -- Jeff Dickerson

Can the offense drastically improve under Fields? The offense still struggles no matter which quarterback is under center. The group is heavily penalized and often sloppy. That being said, Fields is a playmaker, and the Bears desperately need more playmakers on offense. Because of Fields' dynamic athleticism, it is reasonable to expect the offense to improve, but probably not by leaps and bounds. However, if the Bears' defense gets after the quarterback and takes the ball away in bunches like in Week 2 -- coupled with Fields' emergence -- then the Bears are in a much better position to succeed this year. -- Dickerson

Dickerson's confidence rating (0-10): 5.0, up from 2.0. Defense, defense, defense.

Next game: at Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Cincinnati squandered an opportunity to start the season with good momentum. After a dramatic Week 1 overtime win over the Vikings, the Bengals were in position to start 2-0 in a year in which they were expected to turn the corner. Instead, against Bears rookie backup quarterback Justin Fields, the Bengals had a flat performance that led to a deep hole the team couldn't dig out of. That puts more pressure on the Bengals and third-year coach Zac Taylor heading into a Week 3 road game at Pittsburgh. -- Ben Baby

Was the Bengals' offensive improvement they displayed in Week 1 for real? Sunday's game showed all the old flaws the Bengals have displayed the past two seasons -- shaky play along the offensive line and a very stagnant offense. The performance shared too many similarities with a Bengals team that has been one of the worst in the league the past two seasons. -- Baby

Baby's confidence rating (0-10): 5.5, down from 7.0. Fluky finish that featured two late TDs aside, Cincinnati looked flustered offensively against a Bears defense that surrendered 34 points in a Week 1 loss to the Rams.

Next game: at Steelers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



What to know: The Rams' defense is on pace for another dominant season. Despite allowing quarterback Carson Wentz and the Colts to march to the goal line twice in the first half, defensive lineman Aaron Donald & Co. proved they could come up with two big-time stops, which included an interception by linebacker Troy Reeder and a turnover on downs. To seal the victory, cornerback Jalen Ramsey intercepted backup quarterback Jacob Eason with 2:13 to play. First-year defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has said since his arrival in L.A. that stats are for losers, while imploring his unit to produce "make a difference" plays. They've certainly embraced the message. -- Lindsey Thiry

What is the status of running back Darrell Henderson Jr.? After the Rams lost running back Cam Akers to a season-ending injury before training camp, coach Sean McVay expressed confidence in Henderson's ability to take over the starting role, though he voiced concern about Henderson's durability. Those concerns proved prophetic when Henderson was sidelined late in the third quarter after suffering a rib injury. Sony Michel, who was acquired in a late preseason trade with the New England Patriots, and rookie Jake Funk took over in his absence. -- Thiry

Thiry's confidence rating (0-10): 8.0, same as Week 1. Holding steady at 8.0, given the Rams performed unevenly across all three phases but proved they could grind out a road win in front of a hostile crowd.

Next game: vs. Buccaneers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)


What to know: Wentz's right ankle injury is the biggest thing that the Colts have to worry about now and going forward, but they would not be 0-2 for the first time under coach Frank Reich had they been a better red zone team. The Colts had two drives inside the Rams' 20-yard line only to come away with no points on either possession. The most embarrassing of the two drives was on the opening series, when the Colts had the ball first-and-goal from the Rams' 1-yard line. They attempted to run up the middle three straight times only to get stuffed on each one, and then Wentz was sacked when the Eagles went for it on fourth down. There were only three times a team ran four plays from the 1-yard line and failed to score on a drive last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Colts have come away with no points three times when reaching the opponent's red zone in the first two games of the season. Reich is supposed to be an innovative playcaller, but he continues to struggle in that area with the Colts. -- Mike Wells

Can Carson Wentz survive the season taking a constant pounding? To Wentz's credit, he extended a number of plays by being able to scramble to make things happen for the Colts. But for as much as Wentz scrambled, he also took way too many unnecessary hits, including on a play in which he suffered an ankle injury midway through the fourth quarter when his right leg was twisted while being taken to the ground by Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald. Wentz was sacked three times and hit an additional 11 times to bring his season total up to six sacks and 21 hits. That's not what Wentz and the Colts envisioned when they brought him to Indianapolis during the offseason. -- Wells

Wells' confidence rating (0-10): 5.0, down from 5.8. Their rating drops due to Wentz's health and the fact that the Colts are about to play three straight road games against teams that made the playoffs last season. They could be 0-5 the next time they play a game in Indianapolis.

Next game: at Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



What to know: The Raiders, off to a 2-0 start, are for real. How else to describe a team that traveled across the country on a short week to play in the NFL's early window without injured Pro Bowl running back Josh Jacobs and with a makeshift offensive line that needed more duct tape? Derek Carr was extremely sharp, going 28-of-37 for 382 yards and two TDs, including a 61-yarder to Henry Ruggs III in the fourth quarter after he had his surgically repaired right ankle rolled up on a 9-yard touchdown pass to Foster Moreau in the third. -- Paul Gutierrez

How will the Raiders address their offensive line injuries? Well, getting left guard Richie Incognito up and running this week would do wonders for one. But the bigger deal is at right tackle, where first-rounder Alex Leatherwood was lost at halftime with an oblique injury ... after having a rough go of it against T.J. Watt with a hold, a false start and a sack allowed. The Raiders' O-line had three backups in play -- John Simpson at left guard, Jermaine Eluemunor at right guard and Brandon Parker, who acquitted himself well in place of Leatherwood. -- Gutierrez

Gutierrez's confidence rating (0-10): 8.2, up from 8.1. Yes, just one-tenth of one point more than last week, but even with so many injuries, things are trending positively for the Raiders, who host the Dolphins on regular rest next week.

Next game: vs. Dolphins (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


What to know: With the offense sputtering for the second week in a row, the Steelers' defense, now down four starters due to injury, couldn't pick up the slack to shut down the Raiders' passing game. Joe Haden and Devin Bush were inactive prior to kickoff, and T.J. Watt joined them on the sideline late in the first half with a groin injury. Nose tackle Tyson Alualu went out early with an ankle injury that appeared to be severe. The Steelers accomplished their goal of mostly neutralizing Darren Waller, but Derek Carr, with 382 yards passing, made them pay with a 61-yard touchdown to Henry Ruggs III and a 9-yard score to Foster Moreau. -- Brooke Pryor

Where is the new-look offense? The Steelers fired coordinator Randy Fichtner and promoted quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator in the offseason, but the hallmarks of a Canada offensive scheme -- the misdirection, the pre-snap motion -- were largely absent for the second week in a row. Canada's most obvious influence was on JuJu Smith-Schuster's first career rushing touchdown, when he scored on a 3-yard run off an inside handoff on an end-around. The offensive line, a known work in progress, didn't look improved from Week 1 and allowed Roethlisberger to be hit 10 times. Trai Turner was also ejected in the fourth quarter for unsportsmanlike conduct after spitting toward a Raiders player. Outside of spurts of explosive plays, especially when they went no-huddle, the offense looked disjointed and uninspiring -- things that could be fixed in time, but haven't improved two games into the season. -- Pryor

Pryor's confidence rating (0-10): 5.7, down from 6.8. The Steelers showed they can win with a dominant defense a week ago, but when the defense was battered and not playing lights-out against the Raiders, it couldn't make up for the offensive shortcomings.

Next game: vs. Bengals (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



What to know: It's early, but the 49ers are already showing they can win games in vastly different ways, which is usually the sign of a team capable of contending. One week after winning a high-scoring game in Detroit, the 49ers outslugged the Eagles in an ugly fistfight, the type of game that native Philadelphia son Rocky Balboa would truly appreciate. San Francisco's offense slept through most of the first half, and although the 49ers' defense gave up some big plays, it repeatedly found ways to keep the Eagles out of the end zone. Sunday's win marked the fifth time in franchise history that the 49ers went to 2-0 with both wins on the road. -- Nick Wagoner

Will the 49ers run out of running backs? After losing Raheem Mostert last week, the 49ers turned to rookie Elijah Mitchell as the starter, and he got most of the work before a late shoulder injury sent him to the sideline. JaMycal Hasty replaced him and was running well before he departed because of an ankle issue. Rookie Trey Sermon suffered a head injury on his first carry, forcing Mitchell to gut it out to the finish. It's already been an ugly start on the injury front for this group, which can't welcome veteran Jeff Wilson Jr. back from his knee injury soon enough. -- Wagoner

Wagoner's confidence rating (0-10): 6.8, up from 6.5. It's hard to bolster this number too much given the continued injury questions, but to come out of this long east trip 2-0 is worth a little bump before the competition ramps up in the coming weeks.

Next game: vs. Packers (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)


Eagles' 'Philly Special' goes awry

The Eagles try the famous "Philly Special" play again, but the 49ers sniff it out and get the fourth-down stop.


What to know: The Eagles still have some growing up to do. A very winnable game slipped through their hands. There were technical mistakes, such as Jalen Reagor stepping out of bounds to negate a would-be touchdown. And they failed to capitalize on opportunities, particularly following Quez Watkins' 91-yard reception that led to zero points. Meanwhile, some of the young playmakers such as Jalen Hurts (12-of-23, 190 yards) and DeVonta Smith (two catches on seven targets) cooled after strong performances in Week 1. Philadelphia still looks like a better team than expected through two weeks -- particularly on defense -- but Sunday was a reminder that growing pains are still ahead. -- Tim McManus

How will they respond to their first bit of adversity? Not only was it a stinging loss, but a couple of key veterans in guard Brandon Brooks (chest) and defensive end Brandon Graham (ankle) suffered worrisome injuries. Rookies Landon Dickerson and Tarron Jackson saw increased roles in their absence, with mixed results. Coach Nick Sirianni likens each week in the NFL to a round in a boxing match. We'll see how they respond to a series of body blows when they travel to take on the rival Dallas Cowboys next Monday night. -- McManus

McManus' confidence rating (0-10): 5.9, down from 6.3. Two Pro Bowl players got hurt. The Eagles need their key vets to stay healthy and contribute this season. Not a great start toward that objective.

Next game: at Cowboys (Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET)



What to know: The trade for quarterback Sam Darnold continues to look smart. Surrounded by good coaching and dependable weapons, he has become consistent and efficient. On one of Darnold's many big plays Sunday, he showed patience, played it smart and checked down to Christian McCaffrey in stride. Darnold topped 200 yards passing in the first half for the second straight week, something no Carolina quarterback had done. Confidence is building. -- David Newton

How much of Carolina's 2-0 start is due to playing a bad Jets team and an undermanned Saints team? You can't discount that, and next up is a weak Houston team on Thursday night. But you also can't discount Darnold's play combined with the contributions of running back Christian McCaffrey and a defense that has a lot of young, talented pieces. That gives the Panthers a chance every week. They needed a fast start to the season. So far, so good. -- Newton

Newton's confidence rating (0-10): 6.4, up from 5.1. The defense has come together quickly and has the talent to disrupt any offense. It's no fluke.

Next game: at Texans (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Saints have now had two stunning results the first two weeks, following a dominant win over Green Bay in Week 1 with a disturbing flop at Carolina. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, considering how much attrition they faced this week (missing nine starters because of injuries/suspension, missing eight assistant coaches because of COVID-19 and being displaced for three weeks by Hurricane Ida). But the depth concerns we had coming into the year are real problems, especially on offense. -- Mike Triplett

Was this an anomaly for Jameis Winston and the Saints' offense? Not entirely. Winston was under relentless pressure all day, leading to his first two interceptions and first four sacks of the season. ("Bad Jameis" came out when he tried to force desperate deep balls at the end of each half.) We expect better from New Orleans' proven offensive line -- despite center Erik McCoy being sidelined by a calf injury. And we know how much better the offense can be after Winston threw five touchdowns last week. But there are legitimate concerns about the Saints' lack of dynamic playmakers at wide receiver and tight end after they've struggled to get open consistently. -- Triplett

Triplett's confidence rating (0-10): 6.8, down from 8.1. There is hope if the Saints can stay afloat the next few weeks, with so many key players expected back by Week 7 or 8. But we know now that they can't overcome every hurdle.

Next game: at Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



What to know: The Bills' defense showed up against Miami. Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was knocked out early with a rib injury, and Buffalo made life difficult for backup Jacoby Brissett, holding the Dolphins scoreless. The Bills had an all-around dominant performance with 6 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, 9 tackles for loss and 3 takeaways. In rookie Greg Rousseau's return to his college stadium, the first-round pick put on a show with 2 sacks, 5 tackles, 2 quarterback hits and 2 tackles for loss. The win ties the Bills' largest margin of victory in the past 25 seasons (the previous time was in 2014 vs. Jets) and was their first shutout since a 16-0 win in 2016 against a New England Patriots team also quarterbacked by Brissett. -- Alaina Getzenberg

Are Josh Allen's inconsistencies a concern going forward? The Bills took an early lead in the first quarter with two touchdown drives. After that, the team stumbled to 30 net yards combined on the next four possessions. Some of the issues came from Allen continuing to have trouble connecting with his receivers, especially downfield. In the first half, on passes thrown more than 10 yards downfield, he completed 1 of 5 passes for 35 yards and an interception, per ESPN Stats & Info. Through two games, Allen has completed 6 of 14 passes intended for Emmanuel Sanders, and his combined completion percentage (56%) ranks far below last season's 69%. -- Getzenberg

Getzenberg's confidence rating (0-10): 7.3, up from 6.3. It wasn't pretty at times, but the Bills put together a complete game against the Dolphins thanks to strong games from their young pass-rushers and a solid day for the rushing offense (143 yards on 30 carries) after a disappointing opener.

Next game: vs. Washington (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was knocked out of the game with a rib injury early in the first quarter and did not return. His departure seemed to suck the life out of Miami's sideline before it could ever get going. Jacoby Brissett was admirable as his replacement, but the Dolphins' offense fell flat in its first shutout loss since 2019. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

What went wrong with the Dolphins' offense? Tagovailoa was pressured on four of his six snaps before his injury -- including two sacks on the Dolphins' opening drive. Things didn't necessarily improve from there, as the Bills finished the game with six sacks and 11 QB hits. Miami's offensive line is quickly materializing as its weakest unit, which is especially disappointing considering the draft capital spent on it over the past two drafts. If the Dolphins can't improve up front, the ceiling for their offense is limited moving forward. -- Louis-Jacques

Louis-Jacques' confidence rating (0-10): 5.0, down from 6.5. The sole reason it's even this high is the stellar play of Miami's defense -- which was outstanding considering it held the Bills to six consecutive empty drives to end the first half before the wheels fell off in the second. The Dolphins' offense has become a legitimate concern this season.

Next game: at Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)



What to know: Taylor Heinicke doesn't have a big arm, is small and has durability issues. But what he does have is this: It. And while it might be hard to describe, when players fall in love with a guy's game and point to his swagger, you know that's what he has. Whether Heinicke magic continues for a couple of games or much more remains to be seen. Those other attributes will matter over the long haul. But that doesn't change the fact that players respond to him and are confident in him -- and that he continues to deliver. -- John Keim

Is the defense OK? The unit needs to play far more disciplined or it's going to have issues when it faces better offenses than New York's. It's about staying in gaps, doing its job and playing with more maturity. Washington's defense -- the front in particular -- entered the season with high expectations. It's supposed to be the reason this team contends in the NFC East. After two games, this group has failed to live up to the hype. -- Keim

Keim's confidence rating (0-10): 5.2, up from 5.0. Heinicke has provided a shot of hope, but the defense's issues -- knowing the remaining quarterbacks on the schedule -- must get fixed.

Next game: at Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Giants just don't seem to know how to win. This time they let the game slip away on multiple occasions, with the final mistake being when they jumped offsides on a last-second field goal attempt, giving Washington the second chance it needed to win. "Yeah, it was a pretty tough one," wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. That's an understatement. The Giants are 0-2 for the fifth straight year, and need to learn how to win. Or as Joe Judge likes to stress, learn how not to lose. -- Jordan Raanan

What is wrong with the Giants' defense? This group is not pressuring the quarterback and is allowing big plays all over the field. The Giants had just four pressures against Washington and have allowed 57 points in the first two games. They allowed 27 or more points only three times all of last season. -- Raanan

Raanan's confidence rating (0-10): 3.2, down from 4.2. It's not looking good after two weeks. An 0-2 hole is not something the Giants can't escape in a 17-game season, but it sure is prohibitive and familiar.

Next game: vs. Falcons (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Players boost Ghanian fortunes

Published in Table Tennis
Monday, 20 September 2021 00:19

The self-help project was initiated by senior players who have benefited from representing Ghana in major international tournaments.

They were aiming to raise US$800.00 for the tournament but beat all expectations; they generated over US$1000.00.

Also, the tournament was supported by Ping Sans Frontières, an organisation whose goal is to use table tennis as an educational tool worldwide. They provided sponsorship in a form of table tennis rackets, rubbers, and training shirts.

Former Ghana national team player Courage Nenevi, who is currently based in Westchester New York, also provided table tennis rubbers and training shirts to help augment the package for the players.

There were three categories, namely under 11, under 15 and under 19 for both men and women.

Ibrahim Gado, a revelation at the 2019 African Junior Championships held in Accra, confirmed his status as the finest junior player in Ghana.

He claimed the junior boys’ title in a keenly contested match against another upcoming star in James Marfo (11-6, 11-13, 8-11, 12-10, 11-8).

Meanwhile, 14 year old Blessing Labanti won the under 15 girls’ title beating Emerald Bortey in the final (7-11, 11-6, 11-7, 11-9).

The tournament was the idea of Lord Kinful. He gained major support from one of Ghana’s most respected umpires Francis Frimpong as well as Ishmael Armah, Charles Techie-Menson, and Owusu Ansah.

Notably, the organisers also acknowledged the immense support from Ghana Table Tennis Association led by its President, Mawuko Afadzinu.

Double Olympian Jasmine Joyce scored three tries as Great Britain won the Fast Four final at the World Rugby Sevens Series first round in Vancouver.

Great Britain also claimed bronze in the men's competition won by South Africa.

Wales wing Joyce scored in two of three pool matches and in the semi-final before her hat-trick in a 34-12 final win against USA.

"It was so fun to be out there," said Joyce.

"Coming back here and playing sevens was phenomenal. The crowd was absolutely fantastic."

The 2021 series includes just two events, both in Canada, with a number of core nations also not taking part because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The second round is in Edmonton on 25 and 26 September.

Great Britain's women defeated Mexico 39-0, Canada 19-5 and USA 41-12 in the pool stage, before beating Mexico 43-0 in the semi-final.

In the final, Joyce scored after just 30 seconds and again a minute later before completing a hat-trick which earned her the player of the match award. England's Emma Uren, Grace Compton and Amy Wilson-Hardy also scored.

Great Britain's men beat Jamaica 24-5 and Hong Kong 31-5 before drawing their final pool match 7-7 against Ireland.

After beating Canada 31-5 in the quarter-final, they were defeated 26-12 in the last four by eventual winners South Africa.

Ex-France sevens international Calum Randle scored twice in the third-place play-off as Great Britain beat Ireland 24-14, with the other tries from Frederick Roddick and Paddy Kelly.

NAPA, Calif. — Max Homa holed out from the rough from 95 yards for eagle on the par-4 12th to start a back-nine comeback and added three birdies for a 7-under 65 and a one-stroke victory Sunday in the season-opening Fortinet Championship.

Three strokes behind Maverick McNealy with seven holes left, Homa followed the eagle with a birdie on the par-4 13th. The 30-year-old former University of California player tapped in for another birdie on the par-5 16th and ran in an 18-footer on the par-4 17th. He parred the par-5 18th to finish at 19-under 269.

Homa won for the second time this year and the third time on the PGA Tour. He won at Riviera in Los Angeles in February.

McNealy shot a 68 to finish second. He birdied the 16th, then made a double bogey on 17 and an eagle on 18. The son of billionaire and former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy, the 25-year-old player grew up in Palo Alto and starred at Stanford.

Mito Pereira (68) was third at 16 under. Marc Leishman (65) and Talor Gooch (68) followed at 15 under. Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (66) tied for sixth at 13 under. PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson (75) was 7 under.

Jim Knous (74) began the day tied for the lead with McNealy, but could never find his rhythm and finished at 12 under. Knous, who has one more start on a medical exemption, landed his opening tee shot into a spectator’s chair and had a triple bogey on No. 14.

Playing in the twosome just in front of McNealy, Homa birdied three of the last four holes on the front nine, then dropped a stroke on No. 10.

Sources: De Gea still faces GK battle at United

Published in Soccer
Monday, 20 September 2021 06:38

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will not tell David De Gea he is Manchester United No. 1 despite his dramatic penalty save against West Ham United and expects Dean Henderson to challenge for the job once he regains full fitness, sources have told ESPN.

De Gea has started the season in good form and earned United victory at the London Stadium on Sunday with a stoppage-time penalty save from Mark Noble.

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Solskjaer has been impressed with De Gea's application in training after the Spain international chose to return early following the European Championship but sources have told ESPN that Henderson has also been given encouragement the gloves remain up for grabs.

Solskjaer has been urged by pundits including Gary Neville to settle on a first-choice goalkeeper since Henderson's return to the club at the beginning of last season but sources have told ESPN the Norwegian believes the competition is beneficial to both players.

He is expecting to play between 50 and 60 games this season and has told De Gea, Henderson and Tom Heaton they will all play a role.

De Gea is set to sit out Wednesday's Carabao Cup tie with West Ham at Old Trafford with either Henderson or Heaton taking over.

Henderson has returned to training after recovering from COVID-19 and has twice played for the Under-23s as he builds up his match fitness.

He made 26 appearances last season, including 13 in the Premier League. The 24-year-old was named in the England squad for the Euros but was forced to withdraw with a thigh problem.

The injury did not require surgery and Henderson expected to play a full part in pre-season only to test positive for COVID-19 in July.

Solskjaer is set to make a host of changes for West Ham's visit in the Carabao Cup third round.

The United boss has already revealed Jesse Lingard, whose late goal earned a 2-1 win at the London Stadium, will start while Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek, Juan Mata, Jadon Sancho, Anthony Elanga and Anthony Martial are also in contention.

Victor Lindelof is a doubt after he missed the win over West Ham. The Sweden defender played 90 minutes in the Champions League defeat to Young Boys but was absent from the squad on Sunday.

Weekend review: Lionel Messi subbed but PSG find a way

Published in Soccer
Monday, 20 September 2021 06:40

Lionel Messi made his home debut for Paris Saint-Germain, although it was a different Argentine who made the decisive contribution. Elsewhere, Juventus still seek their first Serie A win, while Borussia Dortmund impressed and a legendary figure was mourned in England.

Here are Mark Ogden, Tom Hamilton and Sam Marsden to discuss the big stuff you need to know from the soccer weekend around Europe.

Jump to: Talking points | Best goals | Teams in trouble | MVP of the Weekend

Four talking points

Argentine forward saves PSG ... as Messi watches on

Paris Saint-Germain lined up with Neymar, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe in attack for the second time in a week, but it was Mauro Icardi who saved their 100% winning record in Ligue 1 against Lyon, heading a 93rd-minute winner to make it six from six for Mauricio Pochettino's side.

The win will disguise another disappointing night for PSG's front three, following on from their debut in a 1-1 Champions League draw against Club Brugge. Messi was the pick in the first half, twice drawing saves from Lyon's Anthony Lopes and hitting the woodwork with a free kick. Mbappe, perhaps rushed back from a knock picked up in Belgium, was more subdued, while Neymar won and converted a penalty.

Pochettino then dared to take off Messi, who did not look pleased. But the coach's changes proved effective, with substitute Icardi finding space in the box to connect with Mbappe's cross and maintain PSG's perfect start. -- Sam Marsden

Mixed fortunes for Bundesliga bosses

Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund, Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolfsburg and Borussia Monchengladbach are all under new management, and some of the new coaches have settled quicker than others.

Marco Rose and Borussia Dortmund made it four wins from five in the league with a 4-2 victory over Union Berlin. Erling Haaland grabbed two goals -- the first a brilliant header and the second an audacious lob -- but more ominous for their rivals is how quickly BVB's new signings have slotted in. Jadon Sancho's replacement, Donyell Malen, has started well, while €15m signing Gregor Kobel is proving a bargain. Thomas Meunier is revitalised at right back and with incredible youngsters like Jude Bellingham and Gio Reyna, you have potential title challengers.

Prior to the season, it looked as if three teams would contend and that is how things are playing out, albeit with Wolfsburg -- rather than Leipzig -- leading the charge alongside Bayern and Dortmund.

Jesse Marsch has had a tough start at Leipzig, with one win from five Bundesliga matches and a 6-3 defeat to Manchester City in the Champions League representing a slow start. Unlike Dortmund's, Leipzig's new signings have not jelled; Andre Silva is yet to find the scoring boots he had at Eintracht Frankfurt, while the defence is dealing with the exits of Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate. Leipzig drew 1-1 at Cologne on Saturday but squandered chances to win. -- Tom Hamilton

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Liverpool depth starting to show

After last season's injury-littered campaign, Jurgen Klopp last week found himself in the unfamiliar situation of being able to rotate Liverpool's squad on his terms, and wins over Milan and Crystal Palace should concern other silverware-chasing hopefuls.

After a winning start in the Champions League, Saturday saw James Milner at right-back and Kostas Tsimikas at left-back, with regulars Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson given a break. The ageless Milner was superb -- he covered the most distance of any player and put in the highest number of sprints -- while Tsimikas was one of several who showed he can be a viable option when others need to be rested.

Naby Keita's late goal was wondrous and Thiago looks more at home than he did last season. New signing Ibrahim Konate's Liverpool career is at the early stages, but he looked assured alongside Virgil van Dijk; such options at centre-back -- including Joel Matip and Joe Gomez -- mean Jordan Henderson and Fabinho can be restored to midfield.

Finishing in the top four looked unlikely for long periods last season at Anfield. Having done so and with key players now healthy, bar Harvey Elliott's broken ankle, Klopp can target loftier goals. The likes of Chelsea, Man City and Man United will be taking notice. -- Hamilton


Chelsea becoming Hislop's Premier League favourites

Shaka Hislop says he's starting to see Chelsea as Premier League favourites after comfortably beating Spurs.

Greaves was a great, regardless of era

The goal-scoring feats of Jimmy Greaves are largely unknown to a generation of modern fans, but the death of the former Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham, AC Milan and England forward at the age of 81 on Sunday offered a timely reminder of his greatness and the folly of measuring all achievements solely within too narrow a context.

Alan Shearer's tally of 260 Premier League goals is a record, but only in the sense that it dates back to the restructuring of English football in 1992; Greaves remains the country's all-time leading topflight scorer with 357 goals. Harry Kane, meanwhile, needs another 47 goals for Spurs to take the club record from Greaves, who hit 266 in 379 games (Kane is in second spot, with 223 from 342).

No player has scored more goals in a season for Spurs than Greaves' 37 in 1962-63 and he also holds that record for Chelsea, with 41 goals in 1960-61. In total, he scored 132 goals in 169 games for the Stamford Bridge club in the space of four years.

All sports measure greatness by comparing competitors from different eras, but English football's trend of citing only Premier League records -- as if football was less significant before 1992 -- makes no sense as it diminishes the giants of the past. After all, the likes of Greaves and others paved the way for what has followed. -- Mark Ogden

Three must-see goals

Morata magic not enough for Juventus

Alvaro Morata's fourth-minute goal completed a fine team move, but it was not enough to earn Juventus their first win of the Serie A season.

Milan committed everyone forward and paid the price when Juve won back possession. Paulo Dybala fed Morata and the Spanish striker did the rest; his first touch was in his own half and he needed only three more, holding off Theo Hernandez and then showing precision to lift the ball over Mike Maignan.

It looked like Juve would hold on for three points from there but, for the third time in four league games this season, they surrendered a lead. Ante Rebic's late header earned Milan a point to move them joint top with Inter on 10 points from a possible 12. Massimiliano Allegri's wait for a first league win since returning to Turin goes on. -- Marsden

Bailey brings Villa Park to its feet

Leon Bailey was one of the biggest transfers of the summer window, moving from Bayer Leverkusen to Aston Villa in a deal worth up to £30m, but the Jamaica international perhaps slipped under the radar because of the focus at Villa Park on Jack Grealish's departure to Manchester City.

Bailey's stunning goal in Saturday's 3-0 win against Everton, though, was one of those that made everyone sit up and take notice. A long pass by Danny Ings found Bailey in the Everton half and, without breaking stride, the winger headed the ball down before sending a left-foot shot past goalkeeper Asmir Begovic from 20 yards.

Bailey was on the pitch for only 21 minutes after being introduced as a substitute, but contributed an assist as well as his goal before being forced off with a muscle injury. Fans in the Holte End -- the section crammed full of Villa's noisiest supporters -- will hope their exciting new forward is not out for long. -- Ogden

Guerreiro delivers a goal to remember

Naby Keita's volley against Crystal Palace was a great effort, but then Raphael Guerreiro stepped up for Borussia Dortmund.

It was 10 minutes into BVB's eventual 4-2 win over Union Berlin when the ball bobbled on the edge of the box between Jude Bellingham and Guerreiro, who had a chance to chest it down before firing a half volley from the left side of the box, across goal and into Union keeper Andreas Luthe's top corner.

It was a timely reminder that, for all the talk of Borussia's firepower up front through Erling Haaland, who did score twice himself in the game, they have other players to step up and produce a moment of outrageous brilliance. -- Hamilton

Two teams that should be worried

Alarm bells for Celta Vigo

Celta opened the LaLiga season with defeat to champions Atletico Madrid and lost to Real Madrid last weekend, but each passing week weakens the argument that their slow start is down to a difficult early schedule. Because outside reverses against the two aforementioned giants, drawing at Osasuna and a home defeat to Athletic Bilbao were compounded by a 2-1 defeat to Cadiz -- winless themselves heading into the game -- at Balaidos on Friday.

Eduardo Coudet did a good job last season, steadying the ship and clinching an eighth-place finish, and Celta should be too good to go down, but a start of one point from 15 will worry supporters, especially with a dispute rumbling in the background.

President Carlos Mourino is at odds with Intermedia Sport Player, the agency that represents several first-team players, including Iago Aspas and Denis Suarez. Mourino was angered by the way a youngster, Bryan Bugarin, left the club for Madrid in the summer.-- Marsden

Bochum get a harsh Bundesliga lesson

Greuther Furth and VfL Bochum took their place at Germany's top table this season, but the gulf was apparent this weekend for the latter as they were hammered 7-0 at Bayern Munich thanks to a mix of shots from distance, scrappy close-range efforts and a comical own goal.

After a 2-0 win over Mainz in matchday two, Bochum have lost three on the bounce and, with fellow strugglers Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Monchengladbach likely to find some form sooner rather than later, Bochum need to recover quickly from this trouncing. -- Hamilton

Dzeko shows Inter can thrive without Lukaku

Inter Milan needed to find a proven goal scorer to fill the huge void left by Romelu Lukaku's £97.5m summer transfer to Chelsea, and Edin Dzeko is already showing that he is up to the challenge.

Lukaku hit 64 goals in 95 games for Inter and his 24 Serie strikes last season were crucial as Antonio Conte's side won the Scudetto. The exit of both men during the summer meant Inter needed certainty and reliability up front and the free transfer signing of Dzeko from Roma proved a masterstroke.

The 35-year-old scored twice as a substitute during Saturday's 6-1 home win against Bologna -- a victory which left the reigning champions at the top of the table -- and has three goals in four league games for Inter; while he may not prove as prolific as Lukaku for the Nerrazzurri, his experience and ability to deliver consistently will be key for Simone Inzaghi's team.

Dzeko is one of Europe's most consistent scorers, but has perhaps never got the credit he deserves. He hit 85 goals in 142 games for Wolfsburg and helped the club to a Bundesliga title in 2008-09, then became a Premier League champion with Manchester City, for whom he scored 72 times in 189 appearances. He has made a good start in pursuit of a third title in a major league. -- Ogden

Harmanpreet Kaur, India's vice-captain in the longer formats, has been ruled out of the first ODI against Australia scheduled for Tuesday in Mackay. She sustained a thumb injury a few days ago, said head coach Ramesh Powar, and that a call on her availability for the second ODI will be taken in due course.

"She was declared fit. She was selected for this tour but, unfortunately, some days back she got a hit on the thumb and she is not available for the first ODI," Powar said on match eve. "Next ODI we will take a call according to her pain management and fitness management."

Powar said that all other members of the consolidated Test and ODI squad are fit and available for selection for Tuesday's fixture.

Harmanpreet was left out of the warm-up game on Saturday in Brisbane, though she is understood to have batted in the nets. She had ended her Hundred stint in the UK prematurely owing to a quadriceps injury and then joined India's other four Hundred-returnees in the Bengaluru preparatory camp to serve a mandatory seven-day quarantine.

Though cleared as fit, her inclusion in India's 22-player squad for the seven-match multi-format series was something of a gamble since she made the cut without having been subjected to a workload assessment at training given the quarantine restrictions. The selection panel, ESPNcricinfo revealed at the time, wanted to give her more time to recover considering India had to undergo a 14-day hard quarantine after landing in Australia.

In Harmanpreet's absence, Mithali Raj could reclaim the one-down spot, snapping a streak of 18 straight innings at No. 4 stretching back to early 2019.

"I've been quite flexible with my batting order whether it's No. 3 or No. 4, but it all depends on the composition of the team," Raj said. "If we have a good middle order, then I push my order up, that's No. 3 and if there's a little more inexperience in the middle order, then I push myself to No. 4. It all depends on the composition of the team, and now, with Harman out for the first ODI, I probably have to think about my order."

Frontrunners for Harmanpreet's place in the side include the uncapped Yastika Bhatia, Jemimah Rodrigues and Punam Raut. Considering Yastika, who can also keep, is the only one among the trio to have played the warm-up, making an impressive 42-ball 41, she is likely to pip Rodrigues, who is coming off memorable Hundred campaign, and Raut to the vacant spot.

"She [Rodrigues] will be, and is, part of our thought process going forward," Powar said. "And, it's about combination. We're trying to find the right composition going towards the World Cup, so Jemi might miss out, Jemi might play, so we can't say that now. It's a three-ODI series, so we'll take it one game at a time."

The firepower India may lose thanks to Harmanpreet's injury may yet be made up by their top-order which includes the dynamic Shafali Verma. Only 17 years old, she made her Test and ODI debut on the recent tour of England and has been eye-catching enough in her nascent international career to even win a place in the Hundred. There are still areas to work on in her game, like facing the short ball and tightening up around the off stump, but the India team management are content with the way she is developing so far.

"As far as Shafali is concerned, the way she played in the Test game in England, we were happy. As a 17-year old, we have to give her a little breathing space. Mithali, SS (Shiv Sunder) Das, and I had conversations with her. She knows her role, what is expected out of her, so we don't push a 17-year old, who is very expressive in her batting; we don't want to curtail her game. But we give her freedom with no responsibility.

"SS Das plays a major role. He's here as the batting coach and he has spent a lot of time with Shafali, and he's working on her game and mental as mental aspects also. And, she has played the Hundred, so she has got some confidence from there, so it's important for us to let her express her cricket rather than controlling her. It's about a 17-year old; we can't forget that."

While India's focus is on the current series, the captain and coach are also hoping to set up a performance template that might help them in the long run, especially with the ODI World Cup coming up in March-April.

"As a batting unit, we want to score consistently over 250, and we're planning towards that," Powar said. "In bowling, we're trying to get opponents all out, so we're trying to use Jhulan Goswami as the experienced bowler who can give us good openings up front."

Australia are formidable opponents, riding high on a world-record winning streak in ODIs. India are aware of the challenge that they face but are certain they have prepared well enough for it.

"We had also gathered that input that they will be using a lot many of the short-pitched deliveries for our batters," Raj said, "So we do have two of our side-arm throwers in the team, so that's where the girls have been using a lot of time playing more of the short-of-length and short-pitched deliveries. A lot of the cuts and pulls is what we've been working on in the training sessions.

"Not necessarily we are going to give a thought to the winning streak but we are looking forward to our best cricket because we understand we are playing undoubtedly one of the best sides in the world on their home turf and it's going to be a challenging series," Raj said. "This thought process every player understands - that we're in Australia, playing an Australian team. It's not going to be an easy series but playing against the best side before the World Cup is the best preparation we can get. Every game we have to bring our top game against them."

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha

Virat Kohli, the Royal Challengers Bangalore batter and current captain, is set to become the first player in IPL history to feature in 200 matches for a single franchise, when his team takes on Kolkata Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi on Monday night.

Kohli, who has been with Royal Challengers ever since the inception of the tournament in 2008, has batted in 191 innings, scoring 6076 runs at an average of 37.97 and strike rate of 130.41. He has struck five centuries and 40 fifties during that time, helping Royal Challengers reach the IPL finals in 2009, 2011 and 2016.

Kohli is set to reach the 200-match landmark a day after he announced that he would be stepping down as Royal Challengers' captain at the end of the season, though he pledged to be with the franchise "until my retirement from the game of cricket".

Kohli is ahead by a decent distance for most matches played at a single franchise; MS Dhoni is second on the list with 182 matches for the Chennai Super Kings, while his team-mate Suresh Raina is third, having played 172 matches. Overall, Kohli, at 199, is fifth on the list of most IPL matches played, behind Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, and Raina.

Kohli first led the side in 2011, during a league match against the Rajasthan Royals, but became the team's full-time captain only in 2013.

His standout season came in 2016, as Kohli ended as the league's top run-getter, scoring 973 runs from 16 matches, including four tons and seven half-centuries.

"Congratulations, Virat bhai. Reaching 200 matches is an outstanding achievement, and shows loyalty and commitment," Mike Hesson, Royal Challengers' head coach, said in a message to Kohli posted by the team's social media on Twitter. "I'm immensely proud. You always play for the team, and are selfless in the way you operate. You are always encouraging and have created a great atmosphere. I love your enthusiasm and willingness to compete and win games for us."

Sanjay Bangar, Royal Challengers' batting consultant, also praised Kohli for sticking with the franchise throughout the IPL, when he could have easily been tempted to move to another team.

"More than the number of games, he has shown various qualities by being with Royal Challengers," Bangar said. "As he continued to conquer various frontiers across the globe, he might have had opportunities to move to other franchises. But he stuck with us. In today's fast-food generation, he set out to give a lesson for the youngsters who want to change teams very quickly. I'm so glad that he continues to play with the same zeal and enthusiasm that he had as a youngster, even today. We hope to see him continue playing for Royal Challengers for at least 350-400 games."

Northamptonshire have appointed John Sadler as their new head coach after David Ripley stood down following a decade in the job.

Sadler joined Northants as assistant coach ahead of the 2020 season following two years in the same role at Leicestershire, where he had previously worked as the club's second-team coach. He also spent three seasons at Derbyshire as batting coach, assistant coach and interim head coach between 2014 and 2016.

Sadler will be tasked with leading a revival in white-ball cricket after results tailed off in the latter stages of Ripley's time in charge. Northants embraced a moneyball approach in their recruitment to win two Blast titles in 2013 and 2016 under Ripley's stewardship but finished eighth in their group in the Royal London Cup and bottom of the Blast's North Group this season.

Their four-day cricket has been much stronger over the last three years. They won promotion from Division Two in 2019 only for the Covid-19 pandemic's impact on the English season to cost them the opportunity to play top-flight cricket, and would have qualified for the six-team Division One this season if they had won their away fixture against Yorkshire which finished in an agonising one-run defeat.

"I'm absolutely delighted to be stepping into the top job" Sadler said. "I feel the club is in a really good place and ready to kick on even further. We've got a very exciting group of cricketers and some great people around so it's an exciting opportunity to take on.

"Rips is obviously a very, very well respected man and coach who's been around a long time. He's a real stalwart of the club in a lot of positions and the success he's had, the group of players he's assembled, he's left the side in a good place and I'm looking forward to taking it on.

"I've got massive boots to fill but if I've got half the longevity and half the success he had then I'll be delighted. I'm sure things will be slightly different with a different voice and different ideas but ultimately there's been some brilliant things going on here so it's about adding to those and not necessarily changing too much."

Chris Liddle, Northants' bowling coach, will take on further responsibilities as their assistant coach as a result of Sadler's promotion.

Ray Payne, the club's chief executive, said: "When we brought John on board at the end of 2019 there was always a feeling that he was someone we wanted to keep around long-term. He's been an excellent addition to the club and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do as our head coach."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

Almost two years after Sourav Ganguly had announced that the financial health of domestic cricketers would be his "biggest priority" as BCCI president, the board on Monday announced sizeable hikes in match fees for men and women at the end of its apex council meeting. The new pay slabs, which will be in place 2021-22 onwards, will have the senior men earning between INR 40,000 and 60,000 [USD 540 to 810 approx] per day while senior women will earn up to INR 20,000 [USD 270 approx.] per day.

In another major update, the BCCI has also decided to allot 50% match fees "as compensation" for the Covid-19-affected 2019-20 season where the board could organise just the Syed Mushtaq Ali (T20) Trophy and the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy for the senior men.

That hike is a small one for the players in the first category (under 20 matches), but an almost 100% hike for more experienced hands (40-plus games), while those who have played between 21 and 40 matches will earn INR 50,000 [USD 680 approx.]. Earlier, senior men's cricketers earned INR 35,000 [USD 470 approx.] per day for first-class and one-day games, and INR 17,500 [USD 240 approx.] per game for T20s.

The new pay slabs will apply to both first-class and limited-overs cricket.

For the senior women, who earlier earned INR 12,500 [USD 170 approx.] per one-day match and INR 6250 [USD 85 approx.] per T20 match - there isn't, currently, a first-class competition for women in India - the pay has been raised to INR 20,000 for playing XI members and INR 10,000 [USD 135 approx.] for those on the bench.

There were upgrades for the age-group cricketers, both male and female, too.

Men's Under-23 players will now earn INR 25,000 [USD 340 approx.] per day (earlier INR 17,500) if they are in the playing XIs, and INR 12,500 (earlier INR 8750) if in the reserves, while Under-19s in the playing XIs will get INR 20,000 (earlier INR 10,500) and INR 10,000 (earlier INR 5250) will go to reserve players. For the Under-16s, the corresponding amounts are INR 7000 (earlier INR 3500) and INR 3500 (INR 1750).

For women, the daily fees for Under-23s, Under-19s and Under-16s have been raised from INR 5500 to INR 10,000 for those in the playing XIs and from INR 2750 to INR 5000 for those in the reserves.

Till 2017-18, domestic players were paid in two instalments: a flat match fee and a bonus calculated on a pro-rata basis based on the BCCI's gross revenue share (GRS) - its non-IPL earnings from media rights, team sponsorship rights, apparel sponsorship rights, series sponsorship rights, etc. This would be paid the following year after the accounts were ratified at the annual general meetings.

Since 2018, though, the GRS component has been added to the match fees, leading to a near 200% hike for players. However, in the absence of AGMs in the past two years, the GRS component has not been ratified by the BCCI, which had left domestic players disgruntled. The pandemic then made things worse.

But a few months ago, the BCCI formed a sub-committee to work out a new payment structure, including ways to compensate players who had taken a hit financially during the pandemic since March 2020.


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