I love week one of the NFL season. After the draft, the offseason changes, OTAs, training camp, and preseason, we finally get to watch some real football. It's also the time of year when fans from every team still have hope. For some its hope their team will make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. For others it's simply hope of seeing improvement over last year. Week one gives us our first chance to gauge where our favorite teams are at. Of course, all 32 head coaches will be sure to say something along the lines of, "It's just one game and there's still a lot of football to be played so we shouldn't read too much into the win/loss." But I'm not a head coach so I'll read into it as much as I want to.
So what did I notice in week 1? Mainly that it was a rough start for division winners. Five of the eight division winners from last season lost in week one (Chiefs, Colts, Falcons, Seahawks, and Steelers), and all five of them lost by at least 17 points. Of the five, only the Seahawks still had a chance to win going into the 4th quarter, and let's be honest, did anyone really think the 49ers were going to lose that game? Of course I'm a homer and I see the world through 49er tinted glasses.
Booing your teams quarterback is a sacred and time honored tradition for NFL fans. Even Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Steve Young got booed in their playing days. For Dolphins fans, their favorite target of scorn has been Chad Henne. But then something strange happened. Henne had a great game. He threw for 416 yards, 2 touchdowns, and his only interception came on the last play of the game. Too bad for the Dolphins they were playing against Tom Brady and their secondary was about as stout as a wet paper towel. And not a good paper towel like Brawny but one of those generic ones. Brady threw for 517 yards, the fifth most in NFL history, and also connected on four touchdowns as the Patriots moved at will against the Dolphins defense. But it wasn't all high fives in the Patriots locker room afterwards considering they gave up 488 yards of offense. "We still need to get out there and work," said Albert Haynesworth. "With no offseason, it kind of hurt us." And by "us" I can only assume he meant everyone else since he's used to skipping training camp.
The rest of week 1 after the jump...
The NFL couldn't have asked for a better game to start the NFL season than what they got between the Saints and Packers. Led by Aaron Rodgers and his 312 passing yards, the Packers jumped out to an early lead thanks to 3 early touchdown passes. But the Saints were like one of those monsters in a horror movie that just won't die no matter what. Drew Brees, who threw for 419 yards and 3 touchdowns of his own, led the Saints on multiple comebacks before finally falling just a yard short of tying the game and sending it to overtime. But the real hero of the game for the Packers was rookie wide receiver Randall Cobb. First Cobb turned a short pass into a 32 yard touchdown, then in the 3rd after the Saints had cut the lead to 8, Cobb made a highlight reel 108 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Turns out, deciding to return the ball instead of taking a knee wasn't his idea. "He (God) told me to bring it out," Cobb said. "Some things are logical and some things are just the power of God." Oooh kaaay. I had no idea God was a cheesehead.
Last time the Raiders came to Denver they embarrassed the Broncos so badly it made that dream where you show up to school in only your underwear not seem that bad by comparison. This time around the Broncos were determined not to have a repeat performance of their 59-14 shellacking. Yes, shellacking. "This year is 2011," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "Last year was 2010." Nice insight. I suppose next he'll tell us, "Next year is 2012, I hope it's better than the movie." And while this year was a lot closer, the Raiders still ran roughshod over the Broncos defense. Darren McFadden rushed for 150 of the Raiders 190 yards on the ground, and Sebastian Janikowski tied an NFL record with a 63 yard field goal just before the half. "They're a good football team," cornerback Champ Baily said, "but we do so many things to help them win these games." Which sounds suspiciously like when kids say, "You didn't beat me, I let you win.'
Steelers 7, Ravens 35
In the second round of last season's playoffs, the Ravens held a 21-7 halftime lead only to watch the Steelers come back and win 24-31. This time around Ben Roethlisberger, who had won 8 straight against the Ravens, did a lot of things to help the Ravens win, mainly, throwing 3 interceptions, losing 2 fumbles, getting sacked 4 times, and getting hit 5 more as college girls everywhere started to believe there might be something to this whole karma thing after all. Ray Rice and Ricky Williams combined for 170 rushing yards and a touchdown on 31 carries as the Ravens easily defeated their AFC North nemesis. "The whole thing about ghosts, demons, monkeys on your back -- that's not real to us," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. OK, but what about aliens and anal probes.
Colts 7 Texans 34
The Colts got a glimps of what life after Peyton Manning could look like and it wasn't pretty. In fact, it was more unnerving than a baby born with harliquin ichthyosis (google only if you want to be seriously disturbed). Not only were the Colts ineffective offensively, but they were bad in all three phases of the game. Kerry Collins fumbled on back-to-back possessions that the Texans turned into 14 points, the Colts defense allowed the Texans to score on five straight drives, and their special teams gave up a 79 yard punt return for a touchdown just before the half as the Texans jumped out to a commanding 34-0 lead. "We've got to go back to the basics and focus in on the things we did really poorly," said Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. "They are all correctable." While he may be right that not blocking, fumbling snaps, blown coverages, and not tackling are all correctable, the one thing that's not correctable is having Collins instead of Manning as your starting quarterback. Now there are rumors they may go after Brett Favre. Hey, if one retired turnover prone quarterback isn't working for you, why not try another? At the very least the texts you get from him will be more interesting.
Rex Grossman might be one of the most maligned quarterbacks in the NFL, but for one game at least he rewarded the faith shown in him from Mike Shanahan. Grossman completed 21 of 34 throws for 305 yards and 2 touchdowns and the Redskins were able to take the lead in the 3rd when first round draft pick Ryan Kerrigan deflected Eli Manning's pass into the air and caught it for a 9-yard touchdown. Grossman did have two near interceptions and a fumble at midfield in the 4th with the Redskins holding onto a 21-14 lead, but Brian Orakpo blocked the 38-yard field goal attempt. But what maybe helped Grossman the most was that the Giants defense had been turned into a M.A.S.H unit. Star defensive end Justin Tuck, cornerback Terrell Thomas, linebacker Jonathan Goff, defensive end Osi Umenyiora, and first round draft pick cornerback Prince Amukamara all were out because of injuries. Now the Redskins get to play host to a Cardinals team that just gave up 422 passing yards to Cam Newton. I guess when things are going your way, they really go your way.
In the 247 game the Cowboys have had a 14 point 4th quarter lead they have never lost. I guess all things have to come to an end eventually. With a 24-10 lead it seemed like the Cowboys had the game well in hand, but that's when things started to go wrong. In their next five possessions the Cowboys fumbled on the Jets 2 yard line, had a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, punted, threw an interception, and fumbled. Mark Sanchez, who threw for 335 yards and 2 touchdowns, made the Cowboys pay for their mistakes and led the Jets back to the victory. "It was a draining game," said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. "I'm just so proud we were able to pull this thing out, for the town (NY is a town?), as well. I probably even feel better about that than I do for our football team." I understand all the emotions involved with the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 but I don't get this whole "we're going it for the city" rhetoric. Sure I lost my home to Katrina or my brother in 9/11, but hey, my favorite football team won so I have that going for me.
No Carson Palmer, no T.O., no Chad Ochocinco, no problem. Cedric Benson rushed for 121 yards in 25 carries and rookie Andy Dalton got the start, completing 10 of 15 passes for 81 yards and his first NFL touchdown to lead the Bengals to a victory over the Browns. But the real hero was Bruce Gradkowski who came in for an injured Dalton in the second half. Trailing 17-13 Gradkowski hurried the offense to the line and caught the Browns defense still in their huddle. He quickly snapped the ball and threw a 41 yard touchdown pass to rookie A.J. Green for the lead. Upon finding the Browns still in their huddle Gradkowski said, "Oh my gosh, you gotta be kidding me." So did every Browns fan in the stadium and watching on TV. "I thought, 'Ball, please get down and into my hands,'" said Green. "It took forever to get to me." So what can Brown do for you? Turns out they can help you get off to a 1-0 start.
Bills 41, Chiefs 7
The Bills had the worst run defense in the NFL last season. The Chiefs had one of the best running attacks led by Jamaal Charles. Sounds like a recipe for success for the Chiefs right? Well, sort of. Charles and Dexter McCluster did combine for 98 yards rushing on only 14 carries, the problem was the Chiefs fumbled the opening kickoff, missed an early field goal, and found themselves on the wrong side of a 20-0 score in the second quarter. So instead of sticking with their vaunted rushing attack, they turned to their not so vaunted passing attack led by Matt Cassell who managed only 119 yards on 36 throws. That's a 3.3 average for those keeping track at home. Meanwhile, the Bills Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 208 yards and 4 touchdowns while Fred Jackson rushed for 112 yards on 20 carries. By the time it was over the Chiefs found themselves in the worst opening game loss in team history. "We had a chance to make some plays and didn't make them," said Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. And by "chance" he means the Bills had to kick the ball back to them after each of their 7 scores.
The Eagles Michael Vick threw for 187 yards and 2 touchdowns while also rushing for 98 yards, DeSean Jackson caught 6 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown, and LeSean McCoy carried the ball 15 times for 122 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Rams lost quarterback Sam Bradford to an injured finger, running back Steven Jackson to a strained quad, top wide receiver Danny Amendola to a dislocated elbow, right tackle Jason Smith to a high ankle sprain, and top corner back Ron Bartell to a broken neck. In addition to the injuries they dropped 6 passes, had several blown coverages, were sacked 5 times, couldn't contain the run in the 4th, missed a field goal, and had 9 penalties. Other than all that, it was a really good game for the Rams.
Panthers 21, Cardinals 28
In case you've been living in a cave and haven't heard, Cam Newton made his NFL debut in the same stadium where he finished his college career and threw for 422 yards and 1 touchdown. Those 422 yards were more passing yards than even Tom Brady had ever had in a game to that point. Of course, Brady must have heard about that so he destroyed that total the very next day, but Newton could at least brag about it for one day. However, lost in all the hype was the fact another quarterback who people questioned also had a good game. In his first game with the Cardinals, Kevin Kolb threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns. But ultimately the game was decided by another rookie. With the game tied 21-21, the Panthers punted to Patrick Peterson who returned the kick 89 yards for what would turn out to be the game winning touchdown. "With me being a defensive back, I barely have a chance to get my hands on the ball," Peterson said. "That's why I love punt returns so much." Maybe that's why Ted Ginn Jr loves punt returns so much as well since he also barely has a chance to get his hands on the ball.
Falcons 12, Bears 30
The Falcons were so confident in their teams ability to win they gave up a lot to move up in the draft and get Julio Jones. After an unspectacular 0-4 preseason questions started to arise about if they were as good as they claimed. Now after a week 1 drubbing at the hands of the Bears those questions have grown even louder. The offense scored only 6 points, the defense made Jay Cutler look like Aaron Rodgers, they turned the ball over 3 times, gave up 5 sacks, and their only touchdown came on and interceptions that was returned 50 yards by Kroy Bierman in the 4th when the game was already decided. "Disappointed, not discouraged," said Falcons head coach Mike Smith, which sounds strangely familiar to what he said after finishing 0-4 in the preseason. Linebacker Mike Peterson was a little more forthcoming when he said, "Sloppy ball. We played sloppy ball." That's odd. I played a similar game with my girlfriend in High School.
Last year the Chargers had statistically the top rated offense and defense of any team but still missed the playoffs thanks to the worst special teams in the NFL, and we didn't have to wait very long to find out that it's still a problem. Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff 103 yards and behind the stellar running of Adrian Peterson, the Vikings found themselves with a 17-7 lead. Unfortunately for them, Donovan McNabb is now their quarterback and he hasn't had a good year since George Bush was president. In the second half McNabb completed only one pass for two yards. That's not a typo. McNabb had only 2 yards passing in the second half. Considering he was also sacked once for a 10 yard loss, the Vikings had -8 yards passing in the second half. For the game the Chargers finished with 330 yards passing to only 28 for the Vikings. Is Brett Favre still available? "It's embarrassing to have the numbers that we had, whatever we had," said McNabb. By "he" he means "I".
Every year people are looking for the next big breakout team. Last year it was the Chiefs. This year the in vogue pick has been the Lions and after week one's performance they're only trending up. Matthew Stafford threw for 305 yards and 3 touchdowns while the Lions defensive front seven completely stifled Josh Freeman and the Bucs rushing attack. Through the first three quarters the Bucs managed only 128 yards on offense and if not for a 28-yard interception returned for a touchdown by Aqib Talib, the game wouldn't even have been as close as it was. "He did a good job taking care of the football," said Lions coach Jim Schwartz. Now if he can stay healthy for a full season the Lions might actually challenge for the NFC North title. I never thought I'd write that in a sentence.
In his first game with the Titans Matt Hasselbeck put up good numbers but numbers can sometimes be deceiving. He spent most the game running for his life and the Titans power running game never materialized. Running back Chris Johnson, who missed most of the preseason due to a contract dispute, carried the ball only 9 times for 24 yards. Meanwhile the Jaguars gave the Titans a heavy dose of their own medicine, running the ball 47 times for 163 yards while dominating the time of possession, 39:38 to 20:22. The Titans offense did come alive late and they made it close, but it was too little too late. "They pretty much did what they wanted to do and put us in a hole," said Titans coach Mike Munchak. "We fought back, which is a good thing, but we cut it too close."
Seahawks 17, 49ers 33
So much for the 49ers new aggressive offense! And no, running on 3rd and 5 doesn't seem aggressive to me no matter what coach Harbaugh says.