NFL Week 1: Winners and Losers from the Opening Week

Lou RomContributor ISeptember 9, 2012

NFL Week 1: Winners and Losers from the Opening Week

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    From the opening kickoff at Metlife Stadium on Wednesday to the first round of Sunday's full schedule of NFL games, the excitement was palpable.

    Andrew Luck and RGIII, who have been the talk of the league, got their first snaps that mattered Sunday.

    Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow of the New York Jets dominated New York headlines despite their cross-town rivals, the Giants, being defending champs.

    Fans in Detroit, who were dying to know if last year was a fluke, got their answer—sort of. And fans in Tampa Bay know, hope and assume that this year has to be better after a draft class many experts say was the best in the league.

    In the NFC, the 49ers look like Super Bowl gold and will face tough competition (depending on which expert you believe) from the Packers, Giants, Eagles, Cowboys and maybe even the Saints.

    And fans of the downtrodden—such as Tampa Bay, the Vikings and the Rams—are aspiring for relevance again.

    In the AFC, all eyes are on Indy, as No. 1 pick Andrew Luck looks to return the Colts to respectability. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning and Mile High fans have been eagerly awaiting this day since the biggest free-agent signing in NFL history.

    But the favorites in the AFC look a lot like last year: the Patriots, Ravens and Steelers, followed by the Texans.

    So, who are the winners and losers of NFL Week 1 action? Read and learn, my friends—read and learn.

Winner: RG III and the Washington Redskins

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    Round 1 to RGIII.

    Andrew Luck will have to wait at least one more week for a shot at his first NFL win and the claim as the league's best rookie quarterback.

    Robert Griffin III and the Redskins looked as good as advertised against the New Orleans Saints, dominating the Saints throughout most of the game.

    RGIII was precise and patient, posting a 19-of-26 day for 320 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions in leading the Redskins to a 40-32 Week 1 victory.

    Griffin was poised in the pocket, in control when he scrambled and elusive when necessary. 

Loser: Indianapolis Colts Defense

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    The Colts offense showed signs of life, with No. 1 pick Andrew Luck tossing the ball for 309 yards in a loss. The defense, on the other hand, looked lifeless.

    Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall led a dominating performance for the hometown Bears, who thrashed Indy 41-21 in the season opener.

    Cutler threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns—119 of them to Marshall, including a TD—and the Colts secondary looked helpless throughout.

    The Colts also gave up big yardage on the ground, including 80 yards by Matt Forte and 114 yards overall, a poor performance that puts the Colts D among the top of our list of Week 1 losers.

Winner: Mark Sanchez

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    Mark Sanchez laid to rest any debate about who was No. 1 for Gang Green this week, leading the Jets to a 48-28 romp over intrastate rival Buffalo.

    Sanchez led the Jets on six TD-scoring drives—five more than their entire preseason—going 19-of-27 for 266 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

    Sanchez looked confident and in control from the opening snap, and the Jets did not punt once until the fourth quarter. He also was not sacked once and was rarely pressured; new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano's game plan worked to a T against the Bills. 

Loser: Michael Vick

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    Vick stayed on his feet and in the game, but his reputation took another hit as he tossed four interceptions for his season opener in Cleveland.

    Luckily for Vick, the Browns offense was even more anemic than the Eagles.

    Even with DeSean Jackson looking like his old self—four receptions, 77 yards—Vick had trouble finding the open man and left the pocket too early and too often.

    Vick went 29-of-56 with two touchdowns to go with his four interceptions. And, in typical Vick fashion, he scrambled out of trouble a few times, garnering 32 yards on seven carries.

    But Vick overcame his four picks by throwing a four-yard strike to Clay Harbor with 1:18 on the clock, salvaging a game that the Eagles should have won handily.

Winner: Stevan Ridley

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    Against the Titans, the Patriots may have shown how their passing game got them to the Super Bowl last season. 

    But it was their running game, led by second-year back Stevan Ridley, that offered the first proof that they could get there again in 2013. 

    The LSU alumnus riddled the Titans defense for 125 yards on 21 carries, including a one-yard TD dive that gave New England its biggest lead of the game at 1:08 in the third quarter, pushing the lead to 28-10.

Loser: Ryan Tannehill

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    Where do I begin?

    Ryan Tannehill was the Dolphins' first choice to lead the team in 2012.

    Scratch that, second choice.

    Oh, OK, the third choice—maybe.

    Well, either way, he was terrible. Tannehill had three drive-killing interceptions, zero touchdowns and looked every bit a rookie against Houston.

    To be fair, he was facing probably one of the top-five defenses in the league, and Miami did not provide him much help. But he was dreadful, going 20-of-36 for 219 yards, taking three sacks and throwing those three terrible picks.

Winner: Matt Ryan

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    Matt Ryan wants to be an elite quarterback in the league. On Sunday, he put behind his pitiful playoff performance with a solid opening-day start against the Kansas City Chiefs.  

    Ryan went 23-of-31 for 299 yards, three passing TDs and added one rushing score for good measure in a 40-24 rout of Kansas City. He looked  confident, in control and even showed a flair for improvisation with his TD run. 

    The Falcons remain a work in progress, but Ryan is definitely off to a good start. 

Loser: John Skelton

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    Quarterback John Skelton and the Arizona Cardinals kicked off 2012 with a solid, yeomanlike effort against the Seattle Seahawks.

    Unfortunately, Skelton didn't finish the game. Skelton was carted off the field after injuring his right ankle with 8:33 left in the fourth.

    Skelton won a hard-fought battle with Kevin Kolb for the starting nod and turned in a solid first half against Seattle.

    His starter status could have taken a hit as well, given that Kolb went in to lead the Cardinals to victory with 6-of-8 passing and the game-winning touchdown. 

    And of course, the Cardinals' 20-16 home victory over Seattle keeps Ken Whisenhunt off the coaching hot seat—for now.

Winner: Adrian Peterson

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    Adrian Peterson was a game-day call for Vikings second-year coach Leslie Frazier.

    Whether it was gamesmanship or legitimate concerns, Peterson proved again why he is the best back in the NFL. Peterson carved up the Jaguars defense with 84 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns.

    And the Vikings, who went 4-12 last year, have already locked up their first win of the year, edging the Jaguars 26-23 in overtime.

    Peterson pushed the Vikings to their first lead of the day midway through the third with his second score, setting the stage for a competitive match that came down to a 38-yard field goal by Blair Walsh in OT.

    Peterson is back, and that bodes well for the Vikings.

Loser: Roger Goodell

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    Saints. Bountygate. Penalty overruled.

    Need I say more?

    Mr. Goodell got put in his place by a three-member panel that struck down his ban of Saints players involved in Bountygate.

    The panel ruled that Goodell overstepped his bounds—a sentiment that was echoed by many in the game—and shifts the power struggle just a little bit in the NFLPA's favor. 

    Whether or not you liked Goodell's decision, the news this week certainly makes the commissioner one of the biggest losers of Week 1. 

Winner: Jeff Fisher

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    The Jeff Fisher era didn't exactly start with a bang, but his St. Louis Rams certainly looked competitive in their opening-day loss to the Detroit Lions.

    The Rams fell 27-23 when Matthew Stafford tossed a five-yard touchdown pass to running back Kevin Smith with just 10 seconds on the clock.

    Fisher's team played spirited football, hanging tough with the Lions until the very end.

    Indeed, hope is alive in St. Louis.

    All in all, a good day for the former Titans coach.

Loser: Cam Newton

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    Cam Newton had a bad day to get the 2012 season kicked off. 

    He threw his first interception out of two in the third quarter. His team was down by only six points, and his ill-advised decision to throw the ball into coverage (I counted five defenders around the ball) caused his team at least an opportunity at three points.

    Heading into the fourth, the score was still 13-7. Newton and his offense were driving downfield when he threw the ball into double coverage, trying to get the ball to Steve Smith. It was his second interception of the quarter, and it turned out to be the difference in the game. 

    Overall, Newton's stats were what you'd expect from the man who redefined rookie success last year. He completed 23-of-33 passes for 303 yards with one touchdown, but it was his two interceptions that show he still has much to learn about the art of quarterbacking in the NFL. 

Winner: Greg Schiano

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    First-year head coach Greg Schiano and the Tampa Bay Bucs began the season with something to prove: that last year's club-record defensive swoon was in the past. 

    They took those first steps Sunday, holding Cam Newton and the Panthers to just 10 points at Raymond James Stadium.

    Along with their two picks, they also forced a fumble from Newton on their way to a 16-10 victory. Though Newton gained over 300 yards, the Bucs' bend-but-not-break D kept him out of the end zone on all but one play and sacked him three times.

    Schiano has to be pleased. This was, more or less, a defense that ranked 30th in the league last year, was mostly responsible for a 10-game season-ending losing streak and gave up more than 30 points in seven of those games.

Loser: Green Bay Packers Defense

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    The Green Bay Packers couldn't stop the juggernaut (I kid) that was the San Francisco 49ers offense on Sunday evening at Lambeau Field.

    Alex Smith looked smoother and more comfortable in the pocket than his counterpart, Aaron Rodgers, and the 49ers were able to move the ball up and down the field at will for most of the game. Smith completed 20-of-26 passes for 211 yards, throwing for two touchdowns and zero interceptions—good for a quarterback rating of 125.6.

    The 49ers were able to run the ball at will too. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter combined for 153 yards on 25 carries, and the Packers were unable to do anything to stop them. 

    After spending most of their 2012 NFL draft picks on defense, it looks like the newbies have some work to do for the Packers. 

Winner: San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers showed why they are a favorite to make it to Super Bowl XLVII this year, with an emphatic 30-22 Week 1 win.

    Everyone knew about their dominant defense, but the Niners showed some flair on offense as well with their added weapons. And San Francisco ultimately turned in a solid late-game effort to snuff out Green Bay's late comeback attempt.

    Alex Smith found his targets all day long—including newcomers Mario Manningham and Randy Moss—for eight passes and one TD.

    Frank Gore was his typical, reliable self, gaining 112 yards on 16 carries, and helping the Niners eat up clock in the fourth quarter before scoring a TD that gave San Francisco some breathing room.

    The Niners look as good as advertised. Giants fans, beware.

Loser: Replacement Officials

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    There were too many bad calls to count from the replacement officials on Sunday. 

    From the block-in-the-back penalty in the Niners-Packers matchup on Randall Cobb's punt return for a touchdown that was picked up for no apparent reason, to the phantom fourth timeout the refs gave the Seattle Seahawks down in Arizona against the Cardinals, the referees were just horrible. 

    Dear God, please bring the regular officials back. 

Winner: Peyton Manning

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    Peyton Manning is still as good as ever—even if he has lost a little bit of arm strength—and he put the Denver Broncos on his back on Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

    Granted, one of his touchdown passes wasn't necessarily due to his brilliance (Demaryius Thomas took a simple screen pass 71 yards to paydirt), but Manning moved the Broncos offense with precision all night long. 

    Manning finished the evening with an impressive statline, completing 19-of-26 passes for 253 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions—good for a passer rating of 129.2. Best yet, he and the Broncos won their 2012 opener against a tough opponent. 

    It's going to be interesting to watch how he and the Broncos progress throughout the 2012 season. For now, it's safe to say things are looking good for them in the AFC West.