NFL Week 1: Cause to Pause or Panic on Sunday's Big Surprises
Ah, how we've missed the overreaction to Week 1 of the National Football League regular season.
By early Tuesday morning on the East Coast (and barring a tie in either Monday night game), 16 fanbases will be clinging to thoughts of an undefeated season. Meanwhile, the losers will feel gloom and doom and hints of earning the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
Those are gross exaggerations on both parts, but you get the picture. Let's look at some of Sunday’s surprising results both team-wise and individually to see whether to expect any long-term ramifications.
Yep, it’s knee-jerk Monday around the league.
Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck: Pause
You had the sense going into Sunday’s game with the Buffalo Bills that the Indianapolis Colts were entering a hornet’s nest at Orchard Park.
We suspected that the Colts defense may have its problems with the Buffalo ground game, and Ryan’s club ran for 147 yards on 36 carries.
But the focus here is on Luck, who led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes in 2014 but also turned over the ball 22 times. On Sunday versus the Bills, he would throw for 243 yards and two scores but was picked off twice.
This was supposed to be a club with a better supporting cast via running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Andre Johnson. But this thing involving Luck not taking care of the football is a bit disconcerting.
Seattle Seahawks: Panic
Some will remember a year ago the Seattle Seahawks were a 3-3 football team and riding a two-game losing streak entering the final 10 contests of 2014.
Pete Carroll’s club would lose just one more game entering their Super Bowl XLIX showdown with the New England Patriots, and we all know what happened there.
On Sunday at St. Louis, the defending NFC champions didn’t look like their recent impressive selves, and when it was all said and done, the team fell in overtime by a 34-31 score.
Yes, the defense missed strong safety Kam Chancellor, and the special teams had another rough day in the Dome, as was the case last season. But the team’s offensive line figured to be an area of concern, and that was indeed the case. Quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked six times and left the pocket eight more times for 31 yards rushing.
The Seahawks now head to Lambeau Field this Sunday night for an NFC title game rematch with the Green Bay Packers. It’s already a big game for the defending NFC West champions.
Houston Texans: Pause
In 2014, new head coach Bill O’Brien led the Houston Texans to a 9-7 record and just missed out on a playoff berth. It was quite a turnaround for a club that had won just two games the previous season.
Led by NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, the Texans defense made its presence felt. And thanks in part to defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, Houston led the NFL with 34 takeaways, forcing 23 more turnovers than the previous year.
The real takeaway from Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs was the fact that Houston failed to force a turnover in a 27-20 home loss. Watt recorded a pair of sacks, but they were the only two sacks on Alex Smith, who threw for 243 yards and three touchdowns.
It was also a rough outing for Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer, who was sacked four times and committed a pair of turnovers. His play may be cause for pause as well, especially since backup Ryan Mallett appeared more comfortable when he arrived and led the club to 11 fourth-quarter points.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Panic
A year ago, despite a slew of free-agent additions on both sides of the football, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers not only laid a 2-14 egg but were also the only NFL team to not win a game at home.
That short-lived tradition continued on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, who made it far too easy, courtesy of a 21-0 first-quarter lead on the way to a 42-14 win.
While it was a less-than-scintillating debut for quarterback Jameis Winston, a supposedly improved Buccaneers defense made Titans rookie signal-caller Marcus Mariota look like a Pro Bowler. The second overall pick in this spring’s draft completed 13 of 16 passes for 209 yards and four touchdowns—all of those scores in the first half.
Forget Winston’s shaky start. It appears that it’s already back to the drawing board for the Tampa defense.
Detroit Lions: Pause
The good news for the Detroit Lions is that they managed to put 28 points on the board on Sunday at San Diego. In 2014, this team had its problems at times reaching the end zone and rode the league’s second-ranked defense to an 11-5 mark and a playoff berth.
But that depleted defense, thanks to an offseason of free-agent defections and trades, was on the wrong end of a 33-28 loss to the Chargers as Jim Caldwell’s club squandered a 21-3 second-quarter lead.
While the Lions defense figured to be a bit different minus Ndamukong Suh and others, it was still surprising to see this club give away a double-digit advantage. And the Chargers managed to win a game in which they turned over the ball three times, one more than the Lions this day.
That’s an understatement for a club that allowed 30 or more points just twice in 2014.
Oakland Raiders: Panic
Before you knew it, the new-look Oakland Raiders were down 24-0 at halftime at home to the Cincinnati Bengals. They were also down their starting quarterback in second-year pro Derek Carr, who suffered a hand injury in the second quarter and was replaced by Matt McGloin.
Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com reported new Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio "told the media after the game that the X-rays on Carr's hand were negative."
Offensive issues aside, the real disappointment was the performance of a defensive unit that looked somewhat fierce during the summer. Led by second-year star Khalil Mack and free-agent additions such as defensive tackle Dan Williams, linebackers Malcolm Smith and Curtis Lofton and strong safety Nate Allen, the Raiders looked to make good on a 2014 season in which they generated only 22 sacks and forced a mere 14 turnovers.
On Sunday against the Bengals, Oakland not only surrendered 396 total yards but failed to sack quarterback Andy Dalton and also didn’t manage a takeaway in the 33-13 loss.
We’ll see how long Carr might be out, if at all. Meanwhile, apparently the jury is still out on an Oakland defense that is off to a shaky start.