NFL Reality Check: The Sky Isn't Falling for Week 1 Losers, Except Pittsburgh
With 28 of the 32 NFL teams now looking at Week 1 in the rearview mirror, fans in some cities are already freaking out about how surprisingly good/bad/mediocre their favorite team looks this season.
Truth be told, even in a league where every game matters, losing in the first week is never the final nail in any loser's playoff coffin—in the last two seasons, at least four teams that made the playoffs had lost their season openers, some rather poorly. Meanwhile, winning the season opener hasn't exactly offered any kind of season-long guarantee for success.
(The Jets have won their last three season openers. Let's not start planning any parades for Week 1 victors.)
There were some surprisingly bright spots on the first Sunday of the NFL season, with some horribly low moments as well. But remember, through all of the ups and downs of Week 1, the sky is not yet falling…for most of us.
There Is No D in Baltimore
Let's start with the Ravens, whose defense gave up seven touchdowns to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Thursday night. Nobody thought the Ravens' newly constructed defense would stop Manning in the season opener, but Baltimore surely did hope to contain him more than it did.
After the game, most of the Ravens defense seemed embarrassed and demoralized. But fear not—the lining on that black (and purple) cloud may just be silver after all.
"We just had a long night," cornerback Ladarius Webb said, according to Jeff Zrebiec and Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun. "It's going to make us better in the long run. Yeah, it was very humbling, but great quarterback, great weapons, great offense—things like this can happen if you're not on point."
(The bold emphasis is mine.) It's hard to think that any takeaway from Thursday's game after allowing Manning to go 27-of-42 for 462 yards and seven touchdown passes will make the Ravens better. But hey…at least they won't have to face Manning again this season until the playoffs or—if the defense continues to play the way it did on Thursday—at all.
Tom Is THAT Terrific
Last week, I wrote a piece on Tom Brady and his new receiving corps, joking that the Patriots front office decided to go into the season with Brady blindfolded and his hands tied behind his back. Little did I know, he was also going to get fastened to one of those spinning wheels with the surprisingly sprightly Buffalo Bills tossing knives at him all game.
And yet, after Buffalo threw everything it had at Brady and the Patriots, Tom was terrific enough to get a win.
For most of the game, the aspirations for this season looked like they might be over before they began for New England. Then, Buffalo went three-and-out with 4:40 to go in the game and Brady took over, orchestrating an 11-play drive that ate up all but nine seconds of the game clock, leading to the game-winning field goal for New England.
While the loss of Wes Welker looked considerable on Thursday as he teamed up with Peyton Manning for nine catches, including two scores (muffed punt notwithstanding), the connection between Brady and Danny Amendola, especially on the final game-winning drive, looks like something New England fans can get excited about.
Speaking of Vereen, the backup running back stepped into the spotlight after a bad fumble by starter Stevan Ridley, earning 21 touches (14 rushes, 7 catches) for 159 total yards. In one week, if Brady has turned Vereen into Kevin Faulk 2.0, that's something New England fans can get very excited about.
EJ Manuel Is the Future
Sure, the Bills lost in heartbreaking fashion, but first-year coach Doug Marrone, who called the loss "devastating," may have found his quarterback of the future much earlier than anyone anticipated. Marrone spoke to reporters about rookie EJ Manuel after the game, per the team's website:
I was very happy with his demeanor. Don’t get me wrong; I think that’s very important. I think that when you talk about tests and process and what you’re doing when you’re developing quarterbacks, that when he was out there it didn’t seem any different than what’s been going on. That’s encouraging and we’ll keep working with him. He’ll continue to get better.
Manuel told reporters, "I’m always critical of myself because I don’t like to make mistakes twice. I really don’t like to make them once, if not twice."
The future of the Bills may not be "now," but it sure seems bright.
Of All the Stupid Penalties
If the Bucs lose this I'll never watch a game again— Andy Embody (@AndyEmbody) September 8, 2013
It's Going to Be A Long Season In New York
The Jets may have won, and Geno Smith looked solid at times in his debut, but that team has a lot of problems (not as many, it seems, as Tampa Bay right now.) Still, who would have thought after one week that the Jets may have less of a quarterback controversy this season than the Giants?
Eli Manning threw 42 times in the 36-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, completing 27 passes for 450 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw three to the Cowboys, including two interceptions in the first quarter, sandwiching another stalled Giants drive after a fumble by running back David Wilson. If it wasn't for the inept Dallas offense in the first half, the game should have been long over at the break.
While his second-half numbers were great in comparison—22-of-31 for 285 yards and three scores to one interception—Manning had perhaps the worst first half of football imaginable, completing just five of 11 throws for 165 yards and a score.
Not terrible, you say? Oh, right, 127 of those yards came on two throws—a 57-yard strike to Hakeem Nicks a few plays before Wilson's fumble and a 70-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz. Manning's other nine throws in the first half: 3-of-9 for 38 yards and two interceptions.
Can they get that on the big screen here? RT @sepinwall: This is the Giants' attempt to get everyone to watch tonight's Breaking Bad live.— Mike Vaccaro (@MikeVacc) September 9, 2013
The Seahawks Will Be Fine. Will the Panthers?
In preparing for this article, I got wind that some folks in the Bleacher Report home office thought the Seahawks, despite winning, had one of the worst performances of the week.
Obviously, those were the Niners fans in the home office on Sunday.
Seattle went on the road, traveling nearly 3,000 miles from home to start the season at Carolina in a 1 p.m. ET start and won the game. That is all that matters.
Everything will be fine in Seattle. But what about in Carolina?
Reggie Bush Is Not Adrian Peterson…He's Better.
Okay, trolling headline for sure. I'm joking, obviously. Reggie Bush is not better than Adrian Peterson, but he was as good (or maybe a tiny bit better) on Sunday.
Peterson rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns, while adding four receptions for 18 yards and another score, but outside of his 78-yard run to start the game, Peterson had just three touches that went for more than five yards and only one was a run.
His long TD run aside, Peterson rushed 17 times for 15 yards, including a four-yard score. His day was a fantasy owner's dream, but in reality, the Lions actually held him in check for most of the game.
Bush rushed 21 times for 90 yards and caught four balls for 101 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown reception. Bush nearly scored three times as well, being called down at the one-foot line twice, or his stat line would look completely different, and far more favorable to Peterson's.
"I did dislocate my thumb, it was pointing in the wrong direction, but they were able to pop it back in and tape it up," Bush said, per NFL.com. "After that, I just carried the ball with my right hand. On the series after that, I pulled a groin muscle."
He did all that while playing hurt? Maybe he is better than Peterson. (Ducks.)
Kansas City Looks Amazing…Compared to Jacksonville
There is reason to celebrate in Kansas City. Andy Reid and Alex Smith look to have the Chiefs on the right track to start the 2013 season, thumping the Jacksonville Jaguars, 28-2, on the road.
While the focus for the Chiefs may be on Reid and Smith getting a second chance in the NFL together, certainly the Chiefs defense stole the headlines on Monday, holding Jacksonville to just 178 yards on 70 plays (2.5 yards per play) while shutting out the offense completely. Jacksonville's offense didn't cross midfield until there was 2:14 to go in the game.
But let's pump the brakes on Kansas City's dominance just a bit. After all, Jacksonville is absolutely horrible. I mean, come on. Look at this quote, via Vahe Gregorian of The Kansas City Star):
"I’m sure that Jacksonville will get it together. Somehow. But today was definitely a long day for them," Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said.
Johnson might be sure about the Jags. Nobody else is.
The Sky Is Black, Gold and Falling
Speaking of a season full of uncertainty, how about the Pittsburgh Steelers? The first line of Ed Bouchette's piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette told the story of Sunday's debacle:
Things do not go much worse for the Steelers than what occurred Sunday at Heinz Field.
In addition to losing a game to the Titans, 16-9, that nobody thought the Steelers would lose, Pittsburgh didn't even score an offensive point until 1:23 left in the game. And to add to the insult, the Steelers had a rash of devastating injuries, losing five players in the game, including Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and linebacker Larry Foote. Again, from Bouchette's piece:
"Losing [Foote] is going to be big just because, who's behind him?" safety Ryan Clark said. "I just learned the names, like, this week."
Mike Tomlin has to be on the short list of best coaches in the NFL, but this is going to have to be one heckuva coaching effort to right this suddenly sinking ship.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, reality might have already checked out on 2013.
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