Week 1: Reactions and Observations

After a wild and often surprising first weekend of NFL action it can be easy to jump to conclusions based on just 60 minutes of football. Whilst often what happens in the seasons opening week can be a flash in the pan, the events from these games can also help forecast the remainder of the season. Here’s what I thought of each of the games that took place on Sunday and Monday night, along with observations on standout performers.

Indianapolis 21, Chicago 41
The Bears managed to win this one fairly comfortably despite a nightmare start when Jay Cutler threw a pick six to give the Colts a 7-0 lead early doors, but Cutler and running back Matt Forte starred as the Colts defense showed it has a long way to come if it is to support the offense and rookie QB Andrew Luck. Luck has an up and down debut, throwing three interceptions but reaching the 300 yard mark as the Colts were forced to play catch up for most of the game. If the Bears can repeat this level of performance throughout the season they’ll give Green Bay a serious run for their money in the NFC north, along with the Detroit Lions.

Philadelphia 17, Cleveland 16
In a game far, far closer than anyone could have expected Michael Vick had his worst game as an Eagle, throwing four interceptions and nearly being picked off a fifth time on what would prove to be the game winning drive. Lesean McCoy was excellent for the Eagles however and the defense was stifling, making Brandon Weeden look even worse than Vick. Even more impressive was the way in which the third overall pick in Aprils draft, Trent Richardson, was bottled up in the running game as he totalled just 39 yards on 19 carries. DeMeco Ryans gave Philly defensive co-ordinator Juan Castillo everything he could have wished for with a dominating effort in the middle of the Eagles D, and both safety Kurt Coleman and cornerback Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie had two picks. A wins a win, but the Birds are going to have to improve if they wish to defeat teams with a bit more offensive pedigree.

St. Louis 23, Detroit 27
Much like the Eagles-Browns game this one was much closer than anticipated. Detroit needed a late touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Kevin Smith just to win the game, but the effort given from the Rams was exceptional and new head coach Jeff Fisher will have been delighted with the fight shown by his team, which bodes well for the future. Calvin Johnson went for over 100 receiving yards and Stafford threw for over 350 yards, although he did throw three interceptions. It wasn’t a polished performance from Detroit, nonetheless they find themselves already a game ahead of Green Bay in the standings and that’s all that really matters. St. Louis on the other hand will have filled their fans with slightly more hope than they may have had entering the season, yet the reality still looms that it’s a long rebuilding job that Fisher has inherited from Steve Spagnuolo.

Miami 10, Houston 30
There was double cause for celebration in the case of Matt Schaub Sunday night, as he agreed terms on a new four year contract with the Texans shortly after leading them to a 30 point win over the Dolphins and their rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. As with any first year signal caller mistakes are expected, and Miami could be in for a long season if Tannehill repeats his three interception performance from this match up. Rookie head coach Joe Philbin will also hope his young QB improves if the Dolphins are to pull up any trees in the AFC East. Arian Foster scored two touchdowns for the hosts, and he’ll be key to any play-off aspirations Gary Kubiak and the Texans may have.

Atlanta 40, Kansas City 24
The Falcons made a big statement with this comfortable win in the hostile atmosphere of Arrowhead Stadium, and also made a statement about the way their offense will operate this year with the passing game taking off after years of Michael Turner and the power running game being the focal point of the attack. Turner was largely anonymous, rushing for just 32 yards, whilst Matt Ryan threw for three touchdowns and  299 yards, with Julio Jones being the recipient for two of the touchdown tosses and totalling 108 receiving yards. Matt Cassell was solid but it’s clear the Chiefs defense has a lot of work to do if they can challenge in the seemingly wide open AFC west.

Jacksonville 23, Minnesota 26
The weekends only overtime game, Minnesota had to kick a last second field goal just to take the game to an extra period. Neither team was spectacular and more or less cancelled each other out, but Leslie Frazier won’t be too bothered and he’ll be encouraged as much by the healthy return of Adrian Peterson as the actual W on the board. Blaine Gabbert had perhaps his best game as a pro, throwing for over 200 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Washington 40, New Orleans 32
Probably the shock of the day, New Orleans lost their first game in the Superdome since 2010 to a Redskins team who finished bottom of the NFC east a year ago and who were starting a rookie QB in Robert Griffin III. RG III was lights out as he led an offensive explosion against a porous Saints defense, the biggest play being an 80 yard touchdown toss to Pierre Garcon to erase an early 7-3 deficit. Drew Brees

Buffalo 28, New York Jets 48
In another surprise, the Jets managed to pin 48 on a Bills defense that on paper looked much improved over 2011. Both quarterbacks threw three touchdowns, but Ryan Fitzpatrick was picked off three times to negate most of the good work on his part. Mark Sanchez will be pleased to have put the calls for Tim Tebow on hold for now, with rookie wideout Stephen Hill proving a favourite target as he caught five balls for 89 yards and two scores. Perhaps this season the Jets will do their talking on the field as opposed to off it, although they’re sure to face tougher opposition than this Bills squad which appears to be treading water and looks set for another season without play-off football.

New England 34, Tennessee 13
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady got the Patriots off to their usual good stat with a resounding defeat of the Titans in Tennessee. Brady was sharp and overtook John Elway on the career touchdown chart, whilst rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower returned a fumble for a score as part of a dominant defensive effort from a unit that struggled mightily last season. Jake Locker got hurt for the hosts to turn a bad game into a near disastrous one, whilst Chris Johnson struggled to establish any sort of a running game for Tennessee.

Seattle 16, Arizona 20
Kevin Kolb saved the Cardinals in the this one after he threw the game winning touchdown pass following an injury to starting QB John Skelton’s ankle. Before that it had looked likely that Russell Wilson would win his first NFL start for the Seahawks, It wasn’t to be however, and Pete Carroll will rue a missed opportunity to win a crucial divisional match up against a very beatable Arizona squad.

San Fransisco 30, Green Bay 22
In what was billed as a potential NFC championship game preview the 49ers lived up to the hype, whilst Packers fans will be anxious to see an improvement, particularly on the defensive side, when they take the field in week two. Green Bay weren’t as sharp on offense as last season and were unable to bail out a troublesome defense, which allowed Frank Gore to amass 112 rushing yards on just 16 carries and Alex Smith to throw for 200 yards and two scores. Rodgers had a good game throwing the ball, but what is most troubling for Mike McCarthy’s men is that Rodgers was also the teams leading rusher with 27 yards. It’s not to early for panic stations yet, but if the Packers don’t buck up their ideas they’ll be lucky to get even as far as they did last season, the NFC divisional round. As for the niners, they might just be the team to beat in the conference – especially when you take into consideration their weak division.

Carolina 10, Tampa Bay 16
Josh Freeman triumphed over Cam Newton in this NFC south battle, the young Tampa QB with mainly his teams defense to thank. Newton moved the ball well and threw for 300 yards but his two interceptions proved costly as the Buccaneers held on for an encouraging win. Ronde Barber had one of the picks, and the ageless wonder excelled in his first game as a safety following his position switch from cornerback. Rookie running back Doug Martin also impressed in his NFL debut, another positive for this young and improving Bucs team.

Pittsburgh 19, Denver 31
Peyton Manning returned under the prime time lights of Sunday Night Football, and the former Colts QB did not disappoint as he led the Broncos to a huge win over the Steelers at Mile High Field. Ben Roethlisberger will feel wronged to have ended up on the losing side following a courageous performance, but there was little he could do to stop Manning operate against the Pittsburgh D. Demetrius Thomas caught five balls for 110 yards and a touchdown against the same team he scored the winning TD against in last years play-offs, re-affirming himself as one of the top young wide receivers in the game. Big statement made by Denver in this one, who should be everyone’s favourite for the AFC west.

Cincinnati 13, Baltimore 44
A much more one sided game than predicted, Joe Flacco excelled and looked every bit the stud NFL QB he proclaimed himself to be. Flacco made some outrageous throws and ended up with 299 passing yards, two touchdowns and 21 of 29 passes completed. Ray Rice also rushed for two scores as the Ravens made claim to being the best team in the AFC north, if not the entire AFC. The Bengals meanwhile will look for an improved showing in the weeks to come if they are to compete with the likes of Baltimore for a play-off spot this season.

San Diego 22, Oakland 14
Phillip Rivers and San Diego showed up for this one, as did the Chargers defense as they stifled the Raiders offense and Darren McFadden in particular, who ended up with just 32 yards off 15 carries. Shaun Phillips had three sacks for the Chargers as part of an effort that ensured Norv Turner would open the season with a road victory against a tough division rival.

Three Up

San Fransisco
The niners were excellent on Sunday, and proved that they not only have the best defense in the league but an offense that can control the clock and score on anyone. The only caveat is that Green Bay’s defense may be the worst in the NFC this year – again.
Denver
Coming into the season the big question mark in the Rockies was how will Peyton’s neck hold up? If Sunday night was anything to go by then just fine is the answer, and in addition to a defense with the potential to be dominant thanks to pieces such as Elvis Dumervil and Champ Bailey Manning led the team to a very convincing win over a god opponent.
New York Jets
All summer all anyone has talked about when it came to the Jets was Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez. Rex Ryan will be delighted that his team were able to finally turn the media’s attention to the field with their destruction of Buffalo, and other players such as Antonio Cromartie and Darrell Revis, the teams two shutdown corners.

Three Down

New York Giants
The G-Men got their season off to a slow start, and their regular season record for the last 20 games reads 10-10 (stat thanks to Peter King of Sports Illustrated), leading to pundits believing that last years Superbowl success may have been the product of getting hot at the right time rather than possessing a great team. This may or may not be true, so the Giants will need to perform at home the the Buccaneers on Sunday to quite the doubters.

Green Bay
Similarly to the Giants, Green Bay were highly touted heading into week one and although they were unfortunate to come up against a very strong 49ers team the Packers play was just not good enough, especially for a team with Superbowl aspirations. The offense will be fine, that I don’t doubt, but the defense is another matter entirely and Mike McCarthy has a huge job on his hands if he’s to rectify it before Thursday nights huge showdown with Chicago at Lambeau Field.

New Orleans
Another NFC powerhouse, another upset defeat at home. New Orleans were well and truly outplayed by Washington, who were starting a rookie quarterback, in the comforts of the Superdome. It’ll be interesting to see how they bounce back from that defeat, particularly now they don’t have Sean Payton overseeing operations thanks to his suspension.

Goat of the Week

Travis Goethel
Who, you ask? The Raiders back up long snapper. The poor guy, in probably his only ever ‘highlight reel’ performance had not one, not two but three (!) botched long snaps for Oakland which led to blocked punts galore as the Chargers capitalised on Goethels terrible showing.

Offensive Player of the Week
There were plenty of nominees for this award, but I’m going with Robert Griffin III over the likes of Mark Sanchez and Peyton Manning because of the circumstances in which RG III had to operate. On debut, away from home, against the Saints.. none of this bothered Griffin as he became the first player to ever throw for 300 yards with two touchdowns and no picks on his NFL debut, which is quite a feat. Griffin also made some plays with his legs and his performance made many people stand up and take notice of such an exciting talent.

Defensive Player of the Week
In a scrappy and uninspiring game, the Philadelphia defense shone and Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie was the main reason why thanks to his two interceptions. DRC had a fantastic game and helped to shut down the Cleveland passing attack whilst also making game changing plays when his team needed them the most. Partnering Nnamdi Asamougha, Rodgers-Cromartie should give Philly one of if not the best pair of corners in football this season.

Special Teams Player of the Week
It’s not often you see a 63 yard field goal, it’s only happened four times, so when David Akers boomed his kick off the upright and through the posts at Green Bay it was a special moment. When you consider how good San Francisco might be this year remember that they also have one of the games best kickers in their arsenal as well as just a great defense and offense. Additionally, after seeing Alex Henery miss a big kick on Sunday the Eagles may have wished they never let Akers leave after his long stint in Philly ended 18 months ago.

I’ll be back in the next couple of days with some more thoughts on the latest happenings in the league, as well as a brief preview for Thursday Night Football starring the Packers and Bears, hope you enjoyed this recap! Please feel free to leave comments below the post.

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