Recognize that guy? Peyton Manning’s return to the NFL went off without a hitch. Around the league, the 49ers make a statement, the Eagles stink and so do the replacement refs. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Week One Headlines
Peyton Manning is back
Like, really back. Like, are we sure he didn’t play at all last year? Like, are we sure he had a career-threatening neck injury? In the Broncos impressive 31-19 defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Manning was doing all the “Manning” things he made famous throughout his illustrious career in Indianapolis – audibling at the line to attack the defense’s weakness, dissecting the secondary like a surgeon, avoiding sacks with minimal movement, and of course, threading passes many of us only accomplish in Madden. Not only was Manning brilliant, but he also played with all the charisma and quiet leadership that has defined his career.
Granted, Sunday night was only 1/16th of the Broncos season. This could all come crashing to the ground with a blindside hit. But we can think about that later. Let’s focus on what Manning makes the Broncos. Division favorites? Absolutely. Conference contenders? Certainly. Must see TV? No doubt.
I’m ecstatic to have Peyton Manning back in my football life. The game, the league, the Broncos; they’re all better with Manning involved. When the Ravens and Colts used to battle in the mid 2000’s, Ray Lewis was never shy about how much he loved the challenge of facing Manning. You could see that same respect from the Steelers on Sunday night. Following the game nearly every Steeler defender congratulated Manning.
Even though many of us had little idea what level Manning would be at, the Steelers apparently knew what they were in for as they employed the “keep Manning off the field” strategy. The Steelers pulled it off magnificently, dominating possession and essentially limiting Manning to just three 2nd half possessions. In those three possessions, though, Manning did enough damage; 2 touchdowns, a field goal, 211 yards of offense. The Steelers game plan was sound. Their execution was near perfect. Manning was simply better. For at least one game, the legend was back. For our sake, let’s hope this continues.
Eagles struggle in opener
It was a bad day for Michael Vick and the Eagles in Cleve… Yeah, you’re right. This deserves its own post tomorrow.
49ers top Packers
I’m one of those who wasn’t a believer in the 49ers’ 2012 Super Bowl hopes. While one week won’t force me to abandon my stance, the ground I was standing on has grown considerably unstable. On Sunday at Lambeau Field, the 49er defense was outstanding against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. In his last two meaningful outings, Rodgers has been flustered and mostly contained by extremely physical and overpowering defenses. But we already knew how good the 49er defense was. What I didn’t expect was the performance from Alex Smith.
In 2011 Smith was a brand new quarterback. He protected the football, moved the offense, and even made big plays when needed. I expected Smith to maintain the “manage the offense” role in 2012, only with slightly less production. Based on his play on Sunday, I was way off. Smith looked and played like a top 10 NFL quarterback. Smith was always in control. He was jabbing with the defense, smiling, and standing tall in the pocket. Most of all, Smith carried himself like he believed he belonged. For the first time since his college days, Alex Smith looked confident.
All last season we heard and read about Jim Harbaugh boosting Smith’s confidence. We saw bits and pieces of that boost in confidence as Smith’s play improved but we never saw Smith completely loose the hesitancy that plagued his career. On Sunday, that hesitancy was gone. Smith is no longer a game manager. He’s the starting quarterback for a Super Bowl contender (and favorite for many). He outplayed Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. He spread the ball to six different receivers for two touchdowns and 211 yards with a 78% completion rate. If Smith’s play continues this upward trend, the 49ers may end up Super Bowl champs.
The replacement refs weren’t completely awful, but they were still pretty bad. The games moved slower and each penalty delay was extended by at least 20 seconds. In the Seahawks-Cardinals affair, I counted three separate occasions where the official started announcing the penalty, stopped to scream, “I need a number!” at the other referees, and then finished announcing the penalty.
What’s worse, replacement refs missed plenty of calls that could have impacted the outcome of games, most notably the flagged and then dismissed block in the back on the Packers game-altering punt return for a touchdown. Additionally, the officials in Arizona credited the Seahawks with an extra timeout in the closing minutes and then explained the timeout with logic that FOX’s Mike Pereira said was completely wrong.
My brother offered an interesting observation. He believed defenses game-planned for the replacement officials by taking extra liberties in attacking quarterbacks and offensive skill players. Michael Vick was clocked in the face multiple times with no calls and I saw countless defenseless receivers get blown up as officials looked on. While I don’t know if I completely agree with his argument, video of Sunday’s games would provide enough evidence to at least make a reasonable case.
Someone take them to Chick-fil-A (NFL’s top 5)
1. Patriots – The defending AFC champs effortlessly handled the Titans on the road. I know, it’s not that impressive. BUT, the Patriots displayed some defensive prowess and … gulp … a potent running game.
2. 49ers – The most impressive wins of Week One belonged to the 49ers, Redskins, and Cowboys. The 49er defense flustered the magnificent Aaron Rodgers all afternoon and Alex Smith appears primed for the best season of his career.
3. Cowboys – We always knew the Cowboys had the talent to compete offensively. With Brandon Carr and Maurice Claiborne manning the corners, Dallas now has the defense to contend. DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo were also very impressive.
4. Falcons – Winning in Kansas City is no easy task. The Falcons steamrolled the depleted Chiefs defense in the 2nd half. Matt Ryan looked really good, too.
5. Texans – Beating the Dolphins and their rookie quarterback is really no big deal. However, seeing Matt Schaub, Owen Daniels and Andre Johnson healthy and contributing is a positive sign for Houston’s title hopes.
(Last Week: None.)
Hardly Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)
28. Bills – Ignore the final score. Buffalo didn’t start moving the ball and scoring points until the game was decided. Even worse, Buffalo’s defense made Mark Sanchez look like Broadway Joe.
29. Panthers – When you invest as much money in your backfield as the Carolina Panthers do, you should rush for more than 10 yards on 13 carries. But hey, at least the defense showed signs of significant improvement.
30. Dolphins – If it weren’t for a punt return, the Dolphins wouldn’t have found the end zone on Sunday. This is life in the NFL when you start a rookie quarterback who started less than 20 games at quarterback in college.
31. Eagles – Will they stay in the bottom five? I hope not. Lord help me if they do. Based on their week one effort, though, the Eagles deserve this spot and would have earned the last spot if it weren’t for…
32. Browns – Yessir. The Brandon Weeden era got off to a slow discouraging lousy gawd-awful start. Things can only go up from here, especially for Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace.
(Last Week: None.)
Stock rising (but not in top 5, yet)
Broncos – Uh oh. I thought Peyton Manning was supposed to be a little rusty? More importantly, what about the Denver defense? That unit didn’t look like a glaring weakness to me.
Redskins – Michael Vick should go home and watch game tape on Robert Griffin III. Notice how Griffin completes the football to his own team? Notice how he only throws if his receiver is open? Notice how he doesn’t take unnecessary hits?
Jets – Tim Tebow is bumming hard today. No surprises here, though. I think we all picked the Jets to have the most explosive offense in Week One, right? No? Oh, that’s right. They’re the team that couldn’t score a single touchdown in the preseason. Once again, preseason means nothing.
Stock falling (but not in bottom 5, yet)
Lions – A bad game by Matthew Stafford or the beginning of a season equivalent to a sophomore slump? Don’t jump off bridges just yet. I expected the Rams to be a tough opponent this year. Maybe not that tough, but still tough.
Giants – The Giants defense got steamrolled to kick off the 2012 season in front of their home fans and a national audience. It didn’t help that Victor Cruz followed up a stellar 2011 season with multiple drops and minimal impact.
Saints – The Saints defense has always been overrated, but what happened to the offense? Drew Brees looked disinterested on Sunday. Have the Saints already closed up shop for the 2012 season? New Orleans didn’t do much to prove otherwise against the Redskins.
Things I thought and would’ve said on TV if someone paid me…
- Although I spent two paragraphs bashing the replacement refs, I refuse to support the normal officials currently on strike until they drop the pension demand. No one gets a pension these days unless you work for the government. And considering the government is a trillion dollar malfunctioning machine, any company or organization would be foolish to offer pensions.
- Aaron Rodgers wasn’t perfect yesterday but he still played great. It was his receivers that continually dropped passes. How Rodgers hasn’t gone off on any of his receivers, especially Jermichael Finley, is beyond me.
- Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers racked up 202 yards of offense on their first three drives and then finished the game with 258 total yards. For those keeping score, the offensive resurgence in Tampa lasted one half.
- The Steelers can’t compete without a running game. They need Rashard Mendenhall to come back healthy and return to his 2010 self or one of the running back by committee members to step up. Doesn’t matter which, as long as the Steelers find a way to average more than 2.9 yards per rush.
- Speaking of a running game, if Stevan Ridley’s effort on Sunday in Tennessee was the real deal, then the Patriots will be almost impossible to beat. Corey Dillon’s 2004 season was the last true ground threat in New England. 2004. Yeesh.
- Fittingly, on the same day I watched Michael Vick turn into Quincy Carty, Kevin Kolb stepped off the bench and turned into Brett Favre as he led the Cardinals back from a 4th quarter deficit to score the game winning touchdown with 4:59 remaining.
- Rookie quarterbacks were all the rage entering the 2012 season. Today? Not so much. Outside of Robert Griffin III’s fantastic debut, the other four rookie starters combined to finish with 2 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and 5 fumbles (2 lost). Stay in school, kids.
- Someone needs to test London Fletcher for performance enhancing drugs. This is getting ridiculous. Fletcher ran down… I repeat… ran down Darren Sproles at the two yard line on Sunday. Fletcher is 37.
- Owen Daniels is a huge addition to the Texan offense. Sure, he was around in 2011 but it was clear he was still hobbled from the ACL he tore late in 2010. Daniels has always been Schaub’s security blanket. Houston is a much, much better offense with Daniels healthy.
- I don’t know whether the Browns defense is really good or Michael Vick was just that bad. Either way, I feel bad for the Cleveland defense today. You shouldn’t lose a game when you force five turnovers and hold the opposing offense to 17 points. I’m sure Brandon Weeden isn’t very popular in that locker room today.
- Someone should show Josh McDaniels the game tape from Sunday’s Bears win. Turns out Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall make a pretty dynamic duo. Who knew?
- Of all the running backs I watched this weekend, I was most impressed by Stevan Ridley, LeSean McCoy, and DeMarco Murray. Ridley is dynamite. McCoy could have rushed for 200 yards if Andy Reid would just give him the ball. Murray was a bulldozer. I can’t remember the last time I watched a back run over the Giants defense like that. (Sorry, CJ Spiller, but I stopped watching after your Bills were down 41-7.)
- Ryan Fitzpatrick, do you think you’ll return Buffalo’s money by cash or check?
- Two young quarterbacks performed admirably in Minnesota on Sunday and no one is talking about it. The left-for-dead Blaine Gabbert played very well and Christian Ponder was equally impressive. Also, can someone explain to me how Adrian Peterson is running through/over/around people less than 9 months after tearing both his MCL and ACL? Where do I apply for that healing lotion?
- I think Kansas City needs a new quarterback.
- I think the Rams need a new offense.
Things I never thought and would not say this week, even if you paid me…
- Michael Vick has evolved into one of the NFL’s elite passers.
- Brandon Weeden will have a fine rookie season. (Oh, wait. I did say that.)
- The Bills defensive line is worth all that money.
- Dez Bryant isn’t worth the headache.
Fantasy Nightmare Football update of the week…
- No nightmares this week (except for watching Vincent Jackson pretend to try). Despite having Alfred Morris and CJ Spiller on my bench, I did just fine thanks to Old Faithful Arian Foster and Stevan Ridley.