The first week of the NFL season tends to be somewhat an extension of the preseason: sloppy games, often lopsided scores, and not really much to take away except whether you came to play or not.
The Seahawks shouldn’t be overly worried, while the Steelers shouldn’t be overly optimistic (they play the hardest schedule in forever).
Basically, Week One is a gauge for coaches feeling out their teams in the first game that mattered, so don’t panic. That is, unless you happen to be an AFC contender, in which case, you either lost your starting quarterback, half your offensive line, or you were demolished at home by a team with no quarterback.
The NFC picture remains just as muddled with the top teams, with one exception (cough, Seattle, cough) playing well to start the season. The Eagles, Cowboys, Packers, Giants, Saints, and Buccaneers all played pretty well, even though the Bucs did fall to the Saints in the closing minutes.
Barring injury, at least four of those teams will almost certainly be playing in the postseason, perhaps even five (they can’t be all six, because someone from the awful NFC West has to get in).
There is plenty to get to, so I will try and expedite the process by saying that I don’t feel like beating your brains in with Tom Brady. He is gone for the year, the Patriots aren’t a legitimate contender without him, and that is all that needs to be said.
Additionally, the injury to Vince Young doesn’t hurt the Titans that much. They’ll have a winning record when VY gets back healthy. If the Titans continue to muscle teams like they did the Jaguars, the AFC South better look out, because no one looked very good in that division, the supposed strongest division in the conference.
Lastly, Brett Favre looked great against the Dolphins, but Aaron Rodgers looked better, and he had to. Favre is under no pressure, even in New York, because anything is better than Pennington and Clemens.
With the week Brett had, Rodgers had to not only beat the Vikings but play extremely well. I think the second-highest completion percentage and the highest QB rating ever in a first game count. If Rodgers plays like that every week, the Packers are a legitimate contender in the NFC. Ditto for Favre in the AFC, especially with Brady now gone.
The great part about the NFL is that it runs flush with storylines year round, seemingly more than any other sport. There are plenty this week, and things will only get more intriguing as the season continues. Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Never Get Too Excited over Rookie Quarterbacks
I want to make one thing clear: Just because Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco both won their debuts (no rookie starting for a rookie head coach had ever won the opener, and it happened twice in the same week), that doesn’t mean they will both be Pro Bowl quarterbacks this season, or that the trend of struggling rookie signal callers will come to an end.
Matt Ryan, minus the big play to Michael Jenkins, was 8-for-12 for 99 yards, hardly setting the world on fire. Can they win with those numbers? Clearly they can if Michael Turner is going to run for 200 yards and two scores. For Flacco, outside of the long touchdown run, he managed only 129 yards on nearly 29 attempts, completing just 15.
We saw this with Matt Leinart and VY, playing well as rookies and neither will be playing this week. The position is simply too difficult to be successful right away, even for elite-level talents at quarterback.
Get Excited About Rookie Running Backs
All the talk leading up to April’s draft was “looking for the next Adrian Peterson.” Darren McFadden was supposedly the most talented player in the draft, but a myriad of other backs were purported to be franchise backs as well.
Turns out, the scouts might have known what they were talking about. The Titans' rookie speedburner Chris Johnson had 127 total yards and a score, including 93 on the ground against a stingy Jacksonville defense.
Bears bruiser Matt Forte was unstoppable against the Colts, accruing 123 yards on 23 carries, plus a score. Then there was Run DMC’s counterpart at Arkansas, Felix Jones continuing to be efficient with his carries stacking up 62 yards on just nine totes and a score for Dallas against the Browns.
The State of Pennsylvania has put the NFL on Notice
No Rocky/underdog stories here. Two of the NFL favorites after the first week of the season reside in PA. The Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers combined to outscore their opponents 76-20 in the first week of the season, each scoring 38 points. The Steelers held a 35-3 lead in their game against the Texans until the fourth quarter and essentially put it on cruise control from there.
For the Eagles, Donovan McNabb was spectacular, completing 21 of 33 passes for 361 yards, three scores, and no picks. DeSean Jackson continued to flash his brilliance, and we will get to him later. The Eagles' defense held Stephen Jackson to just 40 yards on 14 carries, with a long run of nine.
The Philly D absolutely swarmed to the football, played physically, and will be a force in the NFC. We will learn just how good they are next week on Monday night against Dallas.
Pittsburgh was equally as devastating. Big Ben picked the Texans' secondary apart (not a tall task) completing a ridiculous 13 of 14 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns. More impressive though was the job the Steelers' line did of opening holes for the running game.
Willie Parker was a bully all day, rushing 25 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns. The Steelers' D pressured Matt Schaub, knocking him down, sacking him, and forcing him into a pair of interceptions.
This Mario Williams/Reggie Bush Thing Could Get Very Interesting
In 2006, the Houston Texans had the first overall pick in the draft. They had seemingly already mucked up their original go at the first pick when they missed (badly) on David Carr four years prior, and things weren’t getting much better for Houston.
They could have taken one of the most electric players in college football history, one of the most decorated college quarterbacks of the last 20 years, the local phenom QB who just knew how to win, or a blue-chip offensive tackle instead of the player they DID take, defensive end Mario Williams out of NC State.
Then, when the Saints took Reggie Bush second overall and he was the same dynamic Reggie as a rookie and VY lead his team to the postseason, the Texan's Mario Williams posted just 4.5 sacks.
But something interesting happened.
Mario Williams became a dominant force by the second half of the 2007 season and finished with 14 sacks. Reggie Bush on the other hand, seemed to buckle under the pressure of being the feature back in New Orleans without Deuce McAllister, and he appeared to have regressed.
Year three ought to be a telling season, and if the first week is any indication, both teams might have been right.
Mario Williams ate up the Steelers' offensive line for six tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble.
Reggie Bush ran all over the Tampa Defense for 163 total yards and the decisive touchdown in the closing minutes.
Vince Young is on the shelf for the next month, Matt Leinart is riding the pine, and D’Brickashaw Ferguson has been an underachiever to this point. I’m just saying...
Draft I told You So…at least for now
I considered DeSean Jackson a better wideout prospect coming out than Ted Gin Jr., who went seventh overall a year ago. Jackson was the No. 1 wideout on my board, and I thought he ought to be considered by every team in the first round, particularly the Eagles, who needed a punt returner as well.
Turns out I was right, at least so far. Jackson was the star of the preseason for the Eagles after falling to the second round. He showed off as a receiver and a return man, displaying why he was All-American twice as a returner. In Week One, the Cal speedster was one of three Philly receivers with over 100 yards, with 106 on six catches.
I understand that for every one scouts get right, they get five wrong, but that is the nature of the beast. For that reason, after Week One, you can’t say, “Well, I thought this guy would be no good, and look, he didn’t play well so he won’t be any good.”
Plenty of superstars took their time getting into the league, but some guys get it from day one. DeSean Jackson looks like one of those guys.
Best Line From A Guy You’ve Never Heard Of
The San Francisco 49ers are bad. That we know. Frank Gore looks healthy and J.T. O’Sullivan didn’t look terrible, but for all intents and purposes, this is not Joe Montana’s team by the Bay. Additionally, this is not a team full of star players. However, one number jumps out at you from the box score against the Arizona Cardinals.
2 solo tackles, 2 assist, 2.5 sacks.
That has to be Justin Smith, Manny Lawson, or someone good, right? Well, he might be good, but I guarantee you’ve never heard of him. In fact, I’m not even sure how to pronounce his name. Parys Haralson (Presumably pronounced like the city), a third-year player from the University of Tennessee owns that line.
I would say that if the ‘Niners could continue to get production like this from Haralson, that defense might pretty good, but they GOT production like that from Haralson in Week One and still lost by 10.
Until late Monday night, this would have been DeSean Jackson, mostly just so I could puff my chest out some more and say, “Look, I got this one right.” Luckily, I still can. Denver rookie and former Virginia Tech Hokie Eddie Royal absolutely destroyed the Raiders in the second of the Monday Night doubleheader. Finishing with 146 yards and a touchdown on nine catches, Royal literally did everything (he even threw a pass).
I would argue with my friend about Eddie Royal, insisting Royal was going to be a devastating slot receiver in the NFL, and he just wouldn’t budge (I will note he is a Boston College fan).
Well he WRECKED the Raiders on their turf and owned DeAngelo Hall all night long. Royal has the strength, speed, and quicks to be a terror on the outside, even a No. 1 option. Once Brandon Marshall comes back, that Bronco offense could be scary good.
On defense, things were a little bit more difficult. Often times, unless someone like Patrick Willis emerges as a clear-cut favorite and a tackling machine, these things can be hard to decipher (notice no defensive players on NFL.com's Pepsi Rookie of the Week). Well, it looks like we might have another Patrick Willis.
Bengals rookie Keith Rivers was all over the field against the Ravens, finishing with nine solo stops and 10 total tackles to lead Cincy. He doesn't jump out at you with athleticism, but as a cerebral talent, he takes good angles and makes every tackle. I picked him as the Defensive Rookie of the Year and after Week One, he deserves it.
Rivers was the star, but a trio of corners also impressed. Dwight Lowry of the Jets has been a pleasant surprise all preseason and continued to play like a veteran against the Dolphins.
Brandon Flowers wasn’t abused by Randy Moss, which is about as good as you can hope for against Moss, and he even finished second on the team in tackles. Chargers rookie Antoine Cason had six tackles against the Panthers and forced a fumble.
Each plays in a division with some dangerous receivers (two play in the AFC East with Randy Moss), so it will be crucial for these young corners to continue to play at a high level.