— It didn’t take long to realize this was a brand new season.
There were the Texans, forever blowing games late to the Colts, building on their halftime lead with a powerful rushing attack led by Arian Foster’s 233 yards. Consider it a very good sign for Houston they won 34-24 despite only nine completed passes from Matt Schaub.
Up in Pittsburgh, the Steelers scraped out an overtime win because their defense held the Falcons to only nine points. Rashard Mendenhall finished it off with a 50-yard scamper to win. Defense and running in Pittsburgh: Who knew?
The Patriots won big against the Bengals 38-24 using familiar names like Tom Brady and Wes Welker, but look beneath the surface to find optimism about this team’s future. New England’s dual rookie tight ends both made big plays, and return man Brandon Tate had a 97-yard score. The defense isn’t perfect but it’s younger and faster. They swarmed.
Last season, the Texans, Steelers, and Patriots all lacked that impossible to define quality that makes teams win in the fourth quarter. But on this glorious first Sunday of football of the season, the three AFC contenders were closers.
Meanwhile, the Eagles suffered the most devastating loss of any team Week 1. The Cowboys suffered the most embarrassing. To put it another way: The Giants had a great afternoon watching football.
The NFC East wasn’t won on opening day, but the Eagles’ chances have already taken a big hit. Pro Bowl fullback Leonard Weaver is out for the season. So is center Jamaal Jackson, exposing a major weakness on the Eagles’ interior offensive line. Oh, and starting quarterback Kevin Kolb and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley suffered concussions in Philly’s 27-20 loss.
The sky will be falling in Dallas Monday morning, just like Philadelphia. The Cowboys defense didn’t give up a touchdown, yet the team still lost. Alex Barron’s game-ending holding call will get the attention, but the rest of the game was similarly sloppy by the Dallas offense. The Cowboys had 12 penalties, and there was mass confusion before the game’s final snap. This came after a timeout.
The Cowboys looked vaguely unprofessional in the preseason and it carried over into Week 1. Dallas has the timeand talent to correct their mistakes. Philadelphia is losing talent by the minute.
Advantage: New York and Washington.
They’re real and they’re spectacular
1. Who needs Logan Mankins? The Patriots’ offensive line mauled the Bengals, even without their holdout guard. The team averaged more than five yards-per-carry and the Bengals got ridiculously little pressure on Tom Brady. Fred Taylor ran like his 34-year-old pants were on fire.
2. Wes Welker’s eight catches, 64 yards, and two touchdowns eliminated whatever doubt was left regarding his return from ACL surgery. He’s all the way back already. Amazing.
3. The Dolphins’ three biggest offseason acquisitions: wide receiver Brandon Marshall, linebacker Karlos Dansby, and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Marshall led the team with eight catches, Dansby had a sack, and Nolan thoroughly flummoxed the Bills offense in a 15-10 win.
4. The Texans have a defense that is built to play from ahead, with an underrated pass rush. (Although the loss of defensive end Connor Barwin to a serious injury will hurt.) In the past, they have not had the running game to hold leads. Arian Foster has excellent footwork and vision. All the second-year undrafted pro has to do now is stay healthy. Houston can’t hand him 33 carries every week.
5. Pittsburgh’s defense is all the way back. Troy Polamalu should have won the game for Pittsburgh with an interception late in regulation, but Jeff Reed missed the go-ahead field goal. Michael Turner barely averaged more than two yards-per-rush. The Steelers made the Falcons give up running, which says it all.
6. Another sign it’s a new year: The Giants’ defense didn’t look half bad in a 33-18 win over Carolina. It’s a great sign they held DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in check. The secondary looks different with Kenny Phillips back there. Slow down Peyton Manning next week and I’ll really be impressed.
7. Steve Breaston carried the Cardinals on his back in a 17-13 win over St. Louis. He caught seven passes for 132 yards and made a handful of terrific grabs. He also made the best play of the day by any player -- as a defender.
Rams defensive tackle Clifton Ryan was set to score a backbreaking touchdown on a fumble return, but Breaston made a great hustle play to catch up to Ryan from behind and force a fumble that the Cardinals recovered for a touchback.
1. The Broncos lost in Jacksonville, which should have been a winnable game. It’s a bad sign their defense let David Garrard have such an efficient afternoon. Still, Denver’s passing game looked sharp for most of the afternoon and Knowshon Moreno looked good returning from injury.
2. Atlanta’s passing game struggles continued from the preseason. Matt Ryan is having a hard time finding anyone open other than Roddy White. Still, the team’s defense has clearly made strides. We’ll take our chances with Ryan, Michael Turner, and a strong defense.
3. Dennis Dixon is going to be fine. He made a few bad decisions with an interception and some sacks taken, but overall he played well. And the vertical play in the Steelers offense isn’t dead. Mike Wallace had a 52-yard grab and Hines Ward had a 25-yard gain. Dixon averaged almost nine yards-per-attempt, which is very impressive.
4. Matt Moore threw three interceptions in the opening of the New Meadowlands Stadium. This comes after a rough preseason. Moore will have to make adjustments without a great receiver corps, but he has the mental ability to do so.
5. The Mike Martz offense in Chicago looked a lot like the 2009 Bears offense. Jay Cutler put up big yardage, but turned it over twice. The team’s goal-line woes almost cost them a win against a poor defense. But there was one big difference in the team’s lucky 19-14 victory: Matt Forte looks like a new man. Or at least he looks like the man that had such a great year back in 2008.
6. The Colts’ defensive line was manhandled by the Texans. The Colts got by with a shaky interior line last season, and they didn’t do much to fix it in the offseason. Bob Sanders left Sunday’s game with an elbow injury. The Colts are in last place of the AFC South, with the other three teams winning. That’s probably not going to last.
Some panic is acceptable
1. The 49ers never should have been consensus favorites to win the NFC West in the first place. They have the talent of an eight or nine win team, so the team’s 31-6 loss to the Seahawks should be a wake up call.
49ers coach Mike Singletary had the perfect response: "Tell Pete Carroll thank you very much for kicking our tails. It was good medicine, and we're going to take it."
2. Broncos Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady was back from a torn patella tendon suffered during the offseason, but he didn’t look like himself. He gave up at least two sacks.
3. Let the official record show that the first boos of the season came at Ralph Wilson Stadium with five minutes left in the first quarter. The crowd didn’t like a dump off pass from Trent Edwards on third-and-long. Things didn’t get much better from there.
The Bills called only 15 runs to 34 passes, and Edwards still only threw for 139 yards. Wasn’t coach Chan Gailey supposed to revive the running game? Rookie C.J. Spiller was held to 14 yards on eight touches.
4. This season is all about developing Matthew Stafford in Detroit. That’s why his injury on opening day was even more disappointing than the call that prevented a last-second Calvin Johnson touchdown to win in Chicago. By the time Stafford is back in the mix, the Lions could be far behind in the NFC North.
5. This was a game the new Browns were supposed to win. They built a 14-3 lead in Tampa, but their running game and defense couldn’t close the game out. I was convinced the Browns would become a very tough out in the AFC North, and perhaps they will. But they don’t have many road games easier than this one. Jake Delhomme started strong, but threw two interceptions. One of the roughest losses of the week.
6. This year, Raider Nation’s newfound optimism didn’t last past Week One. They were manhandled by Tennessee because the Titans are everything Raiders Al Davis aspires to be: Big, physical, and explosive when necessary. I picked Tennessee to make the playoffs because they are impressive on both lines and Vince Young is improving. Oh, and Chris Johnson scoring a touchdown over 75 yards on a regular basis doesn’t hurt.