NFL History: Week 1 Games That Meant Little
Everyone likes to determine champions after every NFL week, especially in the new gotta have, endless analyzing of every detail era we currently live in. While a team and fans should never ignore or belittle a loss, letting it set the attitude and aura of your team for the rest of the season is also too far to go.
A good friend of mine, when I worked at ESPN, joked that Primetime should do a weekly feature called "If the season ended today," starting with Week 1, just to show how crazy fans and prognosticators can get reacting to wins and losses in a given week. While fans in Pittsburgh, Dallas and Atlanta are scratching their head at their team's losses in Week 1, looking at past seasons should help calm down their fan base and get them off the ledge.
Here are some Week 1 games in NFL history that turned out to be meaningless in determining that team's success.
Send Lawyers, Guns and Money...Bills Blast Patriots
Before Tom Brady was considered the next (or even better) Joe Montana, the Patriots were coming off a 9-7 season and no playoffs in 2002 after winning the Super Bowl in 2001. Lawyer Milloy was as big a presence in their clubhouse as Brady back then, and was considered their defensive leader. Milloy had spent his first seven seasons in New England.
On September 2, 2003, Bill Bellichick decided to make a very controversial decision and released Milloy due to his refusal to take a pay cut. Milloy was in the fourth year of a $35 million dollar contract and scheduled to make $4.5 million in 2003.
Since he was only 29 and coming off four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, Milloy was quickly picked up by the Buffalo Bills, who were scheduled to host the Patriots on September 7. To say this caused an uproar in the Patriots locker room was an understatement. When he heard about the move, Patriots quarterback Brady admitted that he was, "About as surprised as you could possibly be."
"Has it ever been this quiet in here? I don't think it has," linebacker Tedy Bruschi, Milloy's rookie roommate in 1996, said. "I think 'shocked' is the word. ... You sort of just shake your head and ask yourself, 'Why?' "
Playing his worst game as a pro, Brady was intercepted four times, while the Bills dominated the Patriots in just about every aspect of the game. New England recorded just 239 total yards on offense while committing a very un-Bellichick like 12 penalties for 121 yards. Brady summed up the loss: "From the first play on, it was Buffalo, Buffalo, Buffalo."
Milloy recorded one of the Bills two sacks of Brady.
Well, how did this loss affect the teams for the rest of the season?
The Patriots would go on to win 34 of their next 37 games, which included consecutive Super Bowl titles that season and 2004. The Bills? They went on to a 6-10 season and have not defeated New England in 15 games since, starting with a 31-0 reversal on December 27, 2003 at Foxboro.
Panthers Win and Find QB of Future...not Quite...
In 2001, the Carolina Panthers had drafted Chris Weinke in the fourth round and anointed him their opening day starter against the Minnesota Vikings. Carolina was coming off a 7-9 season under two-time Super Bowl winning head coach George Seifert, while the Vikings were coming off an 11-5 season where they advanced to the NFC Championship game before getting routed by the Giants, 41-0.
Thanks to a mistake filled game by QB Daunte Culpepper (he was coming off a 33 TD, 16 INT season in 2000) that included three interceptions thrown by him, the Panthers upset the Vikings 24-13 behind rookie QB Weinke. Weinke threw for 223 yards and a TD in the win.
How did this win effect the teams for the rest of the season?
The Panthers would tie a then NFL record for most losses in a season, as they would go on to lose their next 15 games. This would lead to Seifert's firing, as he was replaced by John Fox. Weinke would go on to win just one more game in his NFL career, coming in 2006, as he finished 2-18 as a starting QB.
This did appear to affect the Vikings, as Culpepper was victimized by the "Madden Cover Jinx." Minnesota finished 5-11 and head coach Dennis Green was replaced by Mike Tice. Another reason for the Vikings demise that season was the team's mindset after losing offensive lineman Corey Stringer in the preseason. Stringer died of heatstroke in training camp.
Doomsday Continued as Dallas Defeats Giants
Entering the 1986 season, the Dallas Cowboys were defending NFC East Champs and a continued thorn in the side of the New York Giants. Both teams were coming off being shut out in the 1985 Divisional Playoffs, as the Cowboys lost at the Rams, 20-0, while the Giants lost at the eventual World Champion Bears, 21-0.
After losing to the Cowboys twice in the 1985 season and costing them the division title, the Giants were poised to reverse things and build on the momentum of the previous season. Many experts had the Giants pegged as the "next" team, thanks to a smothering defense led by Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson and Carl Banks.
New York got their chance at revenge in Week 1 of 1986 when they traveled to Dallas. After falling behind 14-0, the Giants fought back and took a 28-24 fourth quarter lead after a Phil Simms to Bobby Johnson 46-yard TD pass. However, led by Danny White and a backfield of Hershel Walker and Tony Dorsett, the Cowboys followed that score with a game-winning drive that ended when Walker ran the ball in from 10 yards out. Cowboys win 31-28.
How did that effect both teams that season?
The Giants would go on to lose just one other game that season, falling in the Kingdome to the Seahawks 13-9 on their way to a 14-2 season and Super Bowl championship.
Although starting the season 6-2, the Cowboys finished the season with just one win in their final eight games which started with a 17-14 loss at Giants Stadium. At 7-9, the Cowboys suffered their first losing season since 1964.
Cowboys Suffer Defeat Without Emmitt as Redskins Dominate
All through the 1980s and early 1990s, Joe Gibbs' Redskins were a force to be recon with. After taking over Washington in 1981, Gibbs led the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles in his 12 seasons as head coach. Well, Gibbs retired from Washington after the 1992 season and handed the reigns over to his defensive coordinator, Richie Petibon, who had been at that post every season of Gibbs tenure.
After losing the NFC East to the Cowboys in 1992 and then falling to the 49ers in the postseason, the Redskins did what they always did after failing to win the Super Bowl, which was reload in the offseason. In came two-time Super Bowl champ and former Pro Bowler LB Carl Banks, DE Al Noga and his nine sacks in 1992 from the Vikings and first round pick DB from Notre Dame Tom Carter.
The Cowboys were defending Super Bowl Champs, and although they were without Emmitt Smith, who was in middle of a contract holdout, they still were plenty dangerous. After taking a quick 6-0 lead on a 80-yard TD from Troy Aikman to Alvin Harper, Dallas allowed the next 21 points as they faced a 15-point third quarter deficit. After cutting the lead to 28-16, Brian Mitchell's 29-yard TD run ended the scoring as the Redskins showed the football world they would be a major player in the NFC East defeating the Cowboys 35-16. Or would they?
What effect did this have on both teams?
After losing the next week against the Bills at home, Emmitt Smith signed and Dallas went on to win 15 of their final 17 games (would have been 16 of 17 if not for Leon Lett's brain fart against the Dolphins on Thanksgiving) and repeat as Super Bowl Champions.
The Redskins would win just three more games that season, finishing with a 4-12 record, which led to the dismissal of Petibone after just one season as head coach.
The Start of a Dynasty
Starting the 1981 season, little was expected out of the 49ers. Bill Walsh was entering his third season and was just 8-24 in his first two seasons as head coach. Joe Montana showed promise, but was not expected to lead the Niners to anything of substance.
Pro Bowl lineman Randy Cross perhaps said it best entering the 1981 season opener against the Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, when he said "We were excited just to be playing where the Super Bowl would be that season." That pretty much told the story of how the 49ers were thought of in the NFL entering that season.
Detroit figured to be a player in the NFC that season, as they were coming off a 9-7 season and featured Billy Sims, who led the NFL in rushing TD in 1980 after being named AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Sims ran for just 59 yards, but caught and ran for a TD, including the game-winning TD in fourth quarter as the Lions defeated San Francisco 24-17.
How did that effect the teams that season?
The 49ers would go on to win 16 of their final 18 games, culminating with a 26-21 win over the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI at the Silverdome in Detroit, Michigan. Joe Montana would lead the Niners to three more Super Bowl titles during the 1980s.
The Lions finished the season 8-8, missing the playoffs. Billy Sims finished third in the NFL with a career-high 1,437 rushing yards in 1981, but played just three more seasons after that, as knee injuries shortened a very promising NFL career.