Every Monday morning I will bring the NFL fan my reflections, scrutiny, assessment, and hopefully some perceptiveness from the day around the league. Bear in mind that this is being written after 9 hours of football, countless buffalo wings, and currently during the vision that is Mike’d Up on NBC. Without further ado, my thoughts on the integral story lines for Week 1 and a MNF preview:
-The touchdown that wasn’t: Calvin Johnson scored…then he didn’t. The most controversial and talked about play from Week 1 changed the paths of two seasons in the Midwest and may go a long way to changing a confusing rule. By the official rule book, Calvin Johnson’s near touchdown was not, and should not have been ruled a catch. The referees did the correct thing by ruling the play incomplete. It is the rule that must be attacked, not the interpretation. We all know Calvin Johnson caught that ball. The rules near and around the end zone are designed to give the offensive player the benefit of the doubt (nose of the ball over the goal line, horizontally extending pylons, etc), except on this particular rule. The call and moment reminded me of a Jeremy Shockey near touchdown during the 2005 season in Seattle, and the after effects could be similar to Bert Emanuel’s near catch in the Buc-Ram 1999 NFC Title Game.
-Moral victories: Outside of the non-catch, give Detroit credit for a great effort. They were torched by Cutler, but their defensive line achieved a goal line stand on the road and they had a chance to win in in the final seconds. Jim Schwartz is still going to struggle for W’s, but this ship is sailing in the right direction.
-Unstoppable: Chris Johnson has now run for over 100 yards in 12 straight games, passing Marcus Allen in the record books. Next up? Barry Sanders record of 14 in a row. The consensus 2010 #1 overall fantasy football pick picked up right where he left off in 2009.
-Here they come again: Kudos to Bill Belichick and his young defense in New England. I thought too many experts were sleeping on Brady and Co. to be a force once again in the AFC, but I did not see the defense being a major reason for it. The youth movement looked coherent, athletic, and well coached in their dismantling of Cincinnati. Don’t let the second half stats fool you, the Patriots defense dominated when the game was still in question. If the secondary and linebackers can fly around and make plays all year, it will go a long way in covering up a thin defensive line.
-A star is born: Jerry Reese was criticized for not acquiring a proven #1 wide receiver such as Braylon Edwards or Anquan Boldin before the 2009 draft, but he may have found one in that draft. Hakeem Nicks showed flashes last year of big play and run after the catch ability. Today he looked like Eli Manning’s new favorite target. Three touchdown catches highlighted an opening performance that is sure to garner league notice. In terms of ability and look, Nicks reminds me of Michael Irvin more every single game. Is Manning to Nicks the new Aikman to Irvin? If so, Jerry Reese can look back and smile on the critics.
-Growing pains: Sam Bradford is going to be a big time player in this league. If not for horrible time out management/capable wide receivers, Bradford would have had a legit opportunity to carve out a memorable first moment in his St. Louis tenure. Bradford had to throw the ball over 50 times in his debut, and will probably continue to push the envelope to give the Rams a shot to win. If he can survive the tough times and the organization surrounds him with legit play-makers, the success will come.
-Yo, Ariannnnnn: WOW. 33 carries, 231 yards, 3 touchdowns. There is tape of me from Sunday morning’s ‘”Around the NFL” asking for the NFL world to wake me up when the Texans actually beat Indy. Well, Arian Foster and Co. woke me up with a loud thud. How it happened might be more interesting then the fact that it did happen. Peyton threw for over 400 yards, Matt Schaub had 9 completions. Brian Cushing wasn’t there. And maybe most shocking…Houston ran the ball effectively. The fifteen play touchdown drive to take a 13-10 game to 20-10, finished off by a Foster score, was the type of drive Houston has needed for years. They took momentum and shoved it down the Colts throat. Everyone believed the Texans had the talent to compete in that division. They just needed to learn how to win. Now they have learned how to win, and might have discovered a back to help lead them to many more along the way.
-Trial by fire: Welcome to Philadelphia, Mr. Kolb. The biggest question mark to hit Philadelphia since Pat’s or Geno’s had about as rough of a debut as possible. Kolb looked tentative, green, and out of sync before being knocked out of the game by a Clay Matthews (more on him later) clubbing. What transpired from there is straight out of the handbook for starved and crazed fan bases when it comes to new unproven quarterback seasons…a QB controversy! Michael Vick (16/24 175 1 TD, 11/103 with his legs) entered the game and had a great second half. I will admit to being anti-Vick (as a football player…the other stuff is for another time), but he was outstanding today. If Philly is going to have offensive line issues all year (the Jamal Jackson loss is a HUGE blow), then the question must be raised as to if Michael Vick and his dual abilities give this team the best chance to win? Kolb could miss a game or more, but Andy Reid already has said it is still his job. Let the controversy begin…
-Win Forever: 31 unanswered points in the Pacific Northwest certainly answered the questions we had about Pete Carroll’s new team and raised some we were ignoring in San Fran. First, Matt Hasselbeck can still play if his health is with him. The trade for Charlie Whitehurst was seen as the first in a chain of events that would end with Hasselbeck ending his career in a different uniform, but the competition may have been exactly what he and the team needed. As for the consensus NFC West pick in San Fran? I know they want to get the ball out quick, but 45 attempts equaling 225 yards and no touchdowns wouldn’t make a high school defense sweat. Either Alex Smith can play or he can’t. They have 15 more games to finally make a decision and develop a legit passing game.
-How bout them Cowboys?: What an ugly, yet enjoyable, first Sunday night game. Washington begins the McNabb/Shanahan era with a ‘W’ despite not scoring an offensive touchdown. This might as well have been a documentary into the Wade Phillips era in Cowboys history. Dallas was the better team on both sides of the ball, but penalties (Alex Barron’s three holding calls in the last 31 minutes are inexcusable, especially the sleeper hold on the final play of the game), spotty special teams, and curious play calling cost them a victory. Romo did all he could under the circumstances, Miles Austin is the best route runner in the NFL, and Dez Bryant is going to be star. Yet, Dallas found a way to lose. That being said, Washington is a long way from being a good team. If not for Jason Garrett’s joke of a play call to end the 1st half, the story is the ineffectiveness of Washington’s offense, and the lack of talent across the boards for Donovan.
-Be afraid: Clay Matthews was the best defensive player my eyes witnesses in Week 1. Forget the tackles and sack numbers. He was EVERYWHERE. His blind side assault on Kevin Kolb may have set a city on fire. He didn’t get credit for the tackle, but his stuffing of the gap on Michael Vick’s failed run on 4th and 1 late in the 4th quarter won the game for Green Bay. The craziest part? He was asked to switch the side of the field he lines up on this summer and is still getting used to it.
-Toss up: I can’t decide if the outcome in Pittsburgh is a great job by the Steelers without Big Ben or a bad job by an Atlanta team that people are in love with. Is the Steeler defense back? Or is Atlanta overrated? I felt this was a game the young Falcons needed to win if they are going to be a serious contender in the NFC South. On the other hand, I had this penciled in as a loss for Pittsburgh without Ben. We could look back on this game in 8 weeks and determine it was a sign of things to come for each team.
-Ouch: The walking wounded list for Week 1 is crippling for a slew of teams. Matt Stafford could be out anywhere from 2-6 weeks. Kevin Kolb and Stewart Bradley, the player on each side of the ball that Philly has built around, suffered concussions. Kevin Boss has a neck and possible concussion issue, leaving the Giants with extra offensive lineman filling in at tight end on running downs. Jamal Jackson’s torn biceps leave the thin Eagles offensive line even more exposed. Bob Sanders could be out for the entire season, but since when is that a story?
-Perspective: Last, but not least. It’s only one game. Arian Foster won’t run for 2,000 yards. Pete Carroll will struggle at some point. Michael Vick still probably isn’t the answer in Philadelphia. Indianapolis, Minnesota, and Cincinnati don’t need to panic. At the same time, Washington, Miami, and the New York Football Giants have much to improve on, despite the 1-0 marks. It’s only one week, even though it must feel like so much more in NFL circles.
-Monday Night predictions: Look for Baltimore to attack Matt Slauson on the Jet offensive line early and often. The Calvin Pace injury could haunt New York if Jason Taylor can’t get a consistent pass rush. Flacco has more weapons than just Boldin, so Cromartie and Kyle Wilson must play big as well. Sanchez is going to have to make plays under pressure to exploit a suspect secondary. If he makes mistakes, the Jets will lose. If he doesn’t turn the ball over, the Jets have a shot.
San Diego better buckle up their chin straps in the late game. Kansas City has a legit running game with Jamal Charles and Thomas Jones. Look for them to run to set up the pass and control the clock. Rivers should have time to throw even without Jackson running down the field and McNeil blocking, but Romeo Crennel will have a few new looks for him. Ryan Matthews gets his first chance to impress me and make San Diego look smart. The renovated Arrowhead Stadium will be rocking. I expect a legit home field advantage for Kansas City and the crowd to give them a shot of adrenaline early and late. Upset special? Wouldn’t surprise me at all.