Ah, the first Monday of the NFL season. If the first Sunday is like Christmas, New Year’s Day and the 4th of July all in one, the first Monday is like the most irrational holiday — Arbor Day, maybe? — on the calendar.
On the first Sunday, there are dudes wearing the jerseys of men 30 years their junior on the street, fantasy football chatter everywhere from the neighborhood bar to the town nail salon, and optimism in 31 NFL cities (New York gets a double dose of madness).
The first Monday of the NFL season? Well, that’s the time for way-too-soon kneejerk reactions, fantasy football waiver madness and glazed eyes from everyone in the office due to staying up way too late watching the highlights . . . for the eighth time. I watched all the games and I’ve got my thoughts.
Here are my 10 Week 1 takeaways.
— Peter Schrager
RG-320 had an even better debut than Cam Newton
Last year, Newton started his career by throwing for a rookie-debut record 422 yards. What Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III did on Sunday was far more impressive. In his first start, RG3 went into New Orleans — a place the Saints hadn’t lost since the final game of the 2010 season — and beat Drew Brees head-to-head in a shootout. Griffin threw for 320 yards, the second-most passing yards ever in a rookie debut, and tossed two touchdowns. Perhaps most impressive, however, was the moxie he displayed in the fourth quarter. When Brees and the Saints got within eight points, Griffin led the ’Skins on a game-clinching touchdown drive. Washington is 1-0 after RG3’s first start. The four other rookies who started on Sunday were losers. Newton lost to Arizona in his debut a season ago.
Greg Schiano is not Raheem Morris, and the 2012 Buccaneers are not the 2011 Buccaneers:
The Panthers outscored the Buccaneers 86-35 in 2011, with Cam Newton scoring eight touchdowns in those two meetings. After losing its final 10 games of the season, the Tampa Bay front office got rid of well-liked “players' coach” Morris and replaced him with disciplinarian Schiano. A rare 2-point home underdog on Sunday, the Bucs beat the Panthers in a 16-10 slugfest down at Raymond James Stadium. Newton, who had his way with the Bucs defense a season ago, was bottled up all afternoon, running for just four yards on five carries and throwing a costly second-half interception. The Tampa defense gave up just 10 points. It gave up at least 30 points in seven of its final eight games in 2011. New coach. New team.
Maybe I was wrong about that Jets offense
From time to time, I’ll eat a little crow when it’s necessary. Today happens to be one of those times. A month ago, I wrote the following about a Jets offense that became the first team to not score a touchdown in its first three preseason games since 1977: “There’s absolutely no way this team can possibly be a Super Bowl contending squad this year. All 32 teams are undefeated right now and each is still mathematically alive. Well, put away your calculators, Jets fans. Gang Green doesn’t have a chance.” Sure enough, the Jets looked great on Sunday, as they scored 48 points. Rex Ryan and Tony Sparano’s ground-and-pound strategy worked, as New York generated 384 yards of offense, including 27 carries from workhorse Shonn Greene. It was just one game and they’ve got the Steelers, 49ers and Texans in three of the next four weeks — but I’ll give credit where it's due: The Jets offense looked darn good.
It's early, but it might be time for the "Lay Flat for Matt" push in Cleveland
It’s not quite as catchy as “Suck for Luck," but “Lay Flat for Matt” will have to do for now. And in Cleveland, they may be lighting up the sports talk radio stations with pleas of it, already, after rookie Brandon Weeden’s debut. A day after USC senior Matt Barkley threw six touchdown passes in the Trojans’ nationally televised victory over Syracuse, Weeden was atrocious in a 17-16 loss to the Eagles. A dominant effort by the Browns defense was neutralized by Weeden’s unfortunate stat line: 12 of 35, 118 yards, zero TDs and four interceptions. The 28-year-old rookie almost threw a fifth pick late in the game, got momentarily trapped under a 100-yard American flag before the opening kickoff and finished with a 5.1 QB rating. It’s not all Weeden’s fault. It’d be nice if he had a real NFL receiver to throw to. He doesn’t.
Let's tap the brakes on Buffalo
The Buffalo Bills, August’s media darlings, were supposed to unleash the league’s top defensive line in Sunday’s season opener with the Jets. Instead, Buffalo gave up an ugly 48 points — including a punt return and pick-6 — and lost by 20. That decorated defensive line? The one that includes $100-million man Mario Williams and $19.5-million man Mark Anderson? They combined for zero sacks and the line was invisible against the run. Williams, in his first NFL game since last October, finished the afternoon with just one tackle. If he does that for the rest of the season, those 16 tackles will be worth $6.25M a piece. Talk about a bargain.
Green Bay has issues on defense
The last time we saw the Green Bay Packers, Eli Manning was lighting them up through the air and cruising through Lambeau Field en route to his second Super Bowl victory in five years. After spending their first six picks on defensive players and getting healthy this offseason, the Packers defense was supposed to be fixed for 2012. If Sunday’s effort was any indication, it isn’t. Alex Smith looked like Joe Montana, connecting on 20 of 26 passes and throwing two touchdowns. Green Bay’s defense couldn’t stop the 49ers, and the team got caught off-guard by a late second-quarter 17-yard Colin Kaepernick quarterback sneak like they got caught by Hakeem Nicks’ Hail Mary reception in that Giants’ playoff game. There’s not much time to get well — Chicago comes to town on Thursday.
The Houston D is for real
No Mario Williams. No DeMeco Ryans. No problem. The Texans defense ate the young Dolphins offense alive in Houston on Sunday, holding the Miami offense to just 275 yards and three points (the Dolphins had a punt return for a TD). The unit was led by an incredible effort out of second-year defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt, the 11th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, deflected two passes that resulted in interceptions and had 1-1/2 sacks in the 30-10 win. Miami rookie Ryan Tannehill had his hands full, throwing three interceptions in a tough six-minute stretch in the second quarter. Houston will be very, very good this year. Miami will not.
Someone, please explain the new OT rules
The NFL’s new overtime rules were in play for last year’s Broncos-Steelers playoff game, but because Tim Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown on Denver’s first drive, we didn’t get to see them all play out. After a wild finish to this regular-season opener, one in which two second-year quarterbacks led their teams on scoring drives in the final minute, Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh nailed what would have been a game-winning field goal on Minnesota’s first drive in overtime.
According to Adrian Peterson, teammate Percy Harvin celebrated as though the kick ensured victory. It didn’t. Two minutes later, after the Minnesota defense stopped Jacksonville, the win was official.
New England's defensive rookies will make a huge impact
Unlike the Packers' rookies, the Patriots' rookie defenders came to play in their debuts. Though they didn’t say a word to the media afterward — a Patriots’ locker-room rule — they were anything but silent in New England’s 34-13 win in Tennessee. First-round pick Chandler Jones stripped Jake Locker in the first quarter and second-round pick Dont’a Hightower scooped up the fumble and returned it six yards for a New England score. Third-round selection Tavon Wilson made an acrobatic interception to stop an early Tennessee drive, too. These guys are good. And the Patriots are scary.
First start in 20 months? No big deal. Peyton Manning looked good
Rust? What rust? In his first start since January 2011, Manning took a few very hard hits early on, got right back up and carried the Broncos to victory, coming through when it mattered most. Though a long halftime break and a 9-minute third-quarter opening drive by the Steelers kept Manning on the sideline much longer than he likely wanted, the 36-year-old responded by tossing a 71-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, giving the Broncos a 14-13 lead. The defense did the rest, as Denver went on to win 31-19. Manning completed 19 of 26 passes, threw for 253 yards, tossed two touchdowns and finished with a 129.2 quarterback rating. Oh, and his Broncos won. Yeah, this No. 18 guy might be OK, after all.