TDC Rewind – Week 1

Reuters / Ray Stubblebine

There’s tons to get to this morning. In the middle of RG3 pulling off what might be the most impressive career opening win ever, Mark Sanchez was busy looking like Joe Namath, the Bills were laying an egg, Adrian Peterson was back to his old tricks and, unfortunately, so was Jay Cutler.

Sunday’s Week 1 provided the drama we’ve been longing for since the season ended 217 days earlier. And, while the replacement refs may be an eyesore, we can all rejoice that the game we all love is back. So, sit back, relax and dive into what is a TDC Rewind chock-full of everything you need to take away from Week 1.

1. RG3 takes center stage in New Orleans. 

When Cam Newton threw for over 400 yards in a loss to the Cardinals last season, many proclaimed it as the most impressive rookie quarterback debut in history. 363 days after Newton’s debut, it has already been topped.

Many across the country didn’t give Robert Griffin III and the Redskins a chance against the Saints on Sunday, including yours truly. Washington was just the 5th team in 44 years to start both a rookie quarterback and rookie running back in Week 1 (coincidentally, Cleveland also did the same thing yesterday). To make matters tougher, Griffin was playing with a makeshift offensive line that included a backup left tackle. For the icing on the cake, Griffin’s debut was to come in the hornet’s nest of a Superdome, where fans and players alike were set to unleash 9 months of frustration from an offseason that they’d like to forget.

But everything that needed to go right did. From the very beginning, RG3 looked like a seasoned veteran as he and Washington pulled of a massive upset in a 40-32 defeat of the Saints. Griffin was a workmanlike 19-of-26 for 320 yards, 2 touchdowns and, most importantly, zero turnovers. Give credit where credit is due. Mike and Kyle Shanahan drew up a dynamic game plan which got the ball out of Griffin’s hands quickly and let his playmakers do the rest, including an 88-yard touchdown catch and run by Pierre Garcon. Griffin was fluid to the point where it was tough to figure out which side had the veteran quarterback. It was only one game, but RG3 has set both the individual and team bar at stratospheric levels for the remainder of the season.

2. Who Dat? The Saints prove the value of a head coach in the NFL.

Of all the professional sports, the NFL is the one where coaching matters the most. Baseball managers generally loaf around for 162 games and basketball coaches are at the whim of their star players. But football coaches generally earn their keep.

That was never so apparent as it was in New Orleans yesterday. As the Saints played their first of 16 games without head coach Sean Payton patrolling the sidelines, it was clear early that no number of interim head coaches will be able to replace Payton’s value to that team. As the Shanahans’ schemed on the opposing sideline, head coach Aaron Kromer and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo were outcoached and outmatched throughout the game. Even after a dramatic pre-game appearance from Jonathan Vilma, the poster boy for the bounty scandal, and the return of Will Smith across on the defensive line, New Orleans was always one step behind the Redskins throughout the day.

The biggest concern in the Big Easy has to be on the defensive line. The pass rush was non-existent and frequently manhandled by Washington’s offensive line. On offense, the team was predictable. After going down 20-7, the Saints threw the ball almost exclusively. This led to the Redskins winning the time of possession battle by a 2:1 ratio.

One loss doesn’t mean that it’s time to start abandoning ship in New Orleans. The team lost by 8 points to open the season last year, albeit to the defending Super Bowl champions. But Sunday’s performance means that the Saints are going to miss Sean Payton far more than they probably thought they would.

3. It’s already time to panic in Philadelphia. 

Michael Vick raised plenty of red flags during the pre-season when he left the first two games with various injuries. But even after Vick was able to survive for a full 60 minutes on Sunday, there is plenty of cause for concern in the City of Brotherly Love.

To say that the Eagles were lucky to escape Cleveland with a 17-16 victory yesterday would be like saying that Jeff Ireland is lucky to be the general manager of the Dolphins. It’s a severe understatement and there are plenty of ways to point the finger for what transpired on Sunday.

After looking like a new quarterback during his renaissance in 2010, Vick has regressed back into many of the same bad habits he displayed early in his career. Vick’s reads were atrocious against the Browns. He was fortunate enough to throw just 4 interceptions as Browns defenders dropped several more. During a critical 2nd and goal during the Eagles’ final drive, Vick tried to squeeze a ball between two defenders that even opposing quarterback Brandon Weeden wouldn’t have thrown.

But the blame doesn’t stop there. Andy Reid fell into the all too familiar pass-happy trap on Sunday. Although LeSean McCoy did have 20 carries, Vick put the ball up 56 times and was hit on the vast majority of his throws. When the Eagles did try to establish the run, it worked, only to be abandoned a few plays later. With so many playmakers on offense, Reid must get the ball out of Vick’s hands quicker and more often — or else he’s going to be coaching rookie QB Nick Foles as his starter for the remainder of the season.

Philadelphia was the most disappointing team on Sunday. The Eagles now get set to host the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2. And if the Eagles play the same way they did on Sunday, they can rest assured that there won’t be the possibility of a comeback in the 4th quarter.

4. The Broncos get the biggest victory of Week 1. 

Throughout the offseason, I have been slow to dip my toes into the Super Bowl waters that everyone else has been drinking in Denver. The Broncos have been the chic championship pick in the NFL, but a daunting first-half schedule had made me skeptical.

And then I saw Peyton Manning play on Sunday night.

Manning’s return resembled that of royalty as the Broncos rolled out the red carpet for the star quarterback playing his first game in 616 days. But Manning looked stellar in his return. After a slow start, the Broncos ditched the restraints of the conventional playbook and allowed Manning to work his magic in the no-huddle. 3 touchdown drives and 1 field goal later and Denver came out with the biggest victory of Week 1, a 31-19 defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Manning ran the no-huddle with such ease that it has almost made me a believer in the Denver offense. He became the quickest quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 touchdowns and played as if he had never left. Denver still faces a gauntlet of a schedule moving forward, but a 1-0 record should let Broncos fans sleep easy this week knowing that the team finally has its best quarterback since John Elway.

5. Tampa Bay gets back to doing what they do best.

Ever since the departure of Tony Dungy, the Bucs have gotten further and further away from the dominant defense that made them a staple in the playoffs a decade ago. But after Tampa Bay’s somewhat stunning 16-10 victory over the Panthers on Sunday, they might be getting back to that sooner than you think.

The Bucs were relentless in their pressure of Cam Newton who ended up throwing two interceptions. They jumped out to an early 13-0 lead and quickly forced the Panthers to abandon the running game that was expected to be their biggest strength on offense. Overall, Carolina ran the ball just 13 times for a total of 10 yards. After giving up the most rushing touchdowns a year ago, the Bucs defensive line attacked early and often. Most notably, former first-round pick Gerald McCoy was a familiar face in Carolina’s backfield.

New head coach Greg Schiano said he wanted to bring a toughness back to Tampa Bay. After one week, mission accomplished.

6. Atlanta’s offense could be the best in the league. 

Falcons’ general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith have been patiently waiting for their team to gel together. That time might finally be over.

Atlanta looked absolutely lethal on offense during their 40-24 not-as-close-as-you-think victory over the Chiefs yesterday. It was a far cry from the drubbing that the Falcons took during their Week 1 road game in Chicago last season and could represent a turning point for a franchise that has been longing for one since they drafted Matt Ryan over four years ago. Ryan continued the chemistry with Julio Jones that was on display throughout the preseason as they connected on two touchdowns with Ryan tossing one more and even scrambling for a rushing touchdown in the second half.

The Falcons had reasonably good balance (31 passes, 23 runs) and Ryan distributed the ball across the team with 4 players having at least 3 receptions or more. Although they’re going to need to get more out of the running game moving forward, the Falcons have laid the groundwork to becoming one of the top offenses this year.

7. What do we make of the Jets?

It was well documented that the Jets’ starting unit didn’t score a single touchdown during the pre-season. Now it’s apparent that they were saving all of them for Week 1.

Many are trying to digest the Jets’ flood of offense on Sunday on their way to a 48-28 drubbing of the Bills at home yesterday and what it means for the team moving forward. Mark Sanchez looked light years ahead of where he did during the preseason, tossing two touchdowns and making throws that Tim Tebow can’t even practice. But is it evidence that the Jets’ bandwagon is open for membership again?

Ehh, not quite. The Bills were absolutely abysmal throughout the game. Ryan Fitzpatrick had one of the worst games of his career, tossing 3 interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and looked completely lost throughout the first half. But Fitzgerald’s poor play wasn’t the result of any intense pressure applied by Rex Ryan’s defense. In fact, New York didn’t sack Fitzgerald once.

What about Tebow? Well, what about him? Tebow didn’t attempt a pass, had 5 rushes for 11 yards and his biggest contribution came on the hands team when he recovered an onside kick late in the game. Tebow’s involvement in the Jets offense felt forced at times. Sanchez was clearly in a rhythm throwing the ball throughout the first half. But when the team entered the red zone, it was as if there was a mandate in place that Tebow had to play — no matter the circumstances.

Ultimately, Sunday’s victory doesn’t mean much for the Jets’ season. It was a nice victory to open the season against a team that played extremely flat. Nothing more, nothing less.

8. And now, for the rest of those rookie quarterbacks…

How did they do? Mostly, they played like rookies. Aside from Griffin, Andrew Luck was clearly the second best rookie of the day. Luck joined Griffin as he threw for over 300 yards, but also tossed 3 interceptions and was sacked 3 times. Luck was victimized by his own teammates at times with dropped passes, offensive line mistakes and missed routes. But that’s exactly what we should expect from a team that had a 2-14 record a season ago. It’s a shame that Luck will be lost in the shadows of 1 p.m. games throughout the season because he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.

Russell Wilson had an average debut in Seattle. He completed just over 50% of his passes for a pedestrian 153 yards and 1 touchdown mixed with 1 interception. Wilson made some solid plays at time, but also showed a lot of youth at the end of the game when he failed to get the Seahawks into the end zone even after being granted an additional timeout from the replacement refs.

The others have work to do. Brandon Weeden completed just 12-of-35 passes, threw 4 interceptions and finished with a quarterback rating of 5.1. Yes, that’s 5.1. Although everybody wants to point out the fact that Weeden is 28-years old, the reality is that Weeden came from a primarily one-read system at Oklahoma State and looks lost trying to make multiple reads in the NFL. It’s just one game, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see head coach Pat Shurmur call upon Colt McCoy for duty if Weeden’s poor play continues over the next 4-6 weeks.

In Houston, it was much of the same story for Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins’ starter went into a hornets nest at Reliant Stadium on Sunday and experienced his very own edition of “Hard Knocks” along the way. Tannehill threw three first half interceptions and lost a fumble. And, like Weeden, failed to throw a touchdown pass as the Dolphins were scorched by the Texans defensive attack.

Moving forward, Luck will continue to have his moments. He clearly has the tools to play this game for a very long time. But Weeden and Tannehill didn’t exactly give you that warm and fuzzy feeling.

9. The new Adrian Peterson looks a lot like the old Adrian Peterson.

And that’s a good thing. Just 260 days removed from the torn ACL suffered on Christmas Eve, Peterson returned to the field on Sunday looking like a guy who had a full offseason of training. Minnesota tried to be coy saying that AP’s involvement would be limited, but the running back was fed 17 times and scored 2 touchdowns as the Vikings defeated the Jaguars in overtime in what turned out to be the most entertaining game of the day.

Peterson ran with the same aggressiveness that we saw prior to his injury. He took a few hits, kept getting up and many in Minnesota are likely reassured knowing that their best player is back. Although many of you likely didn’t have the stones to start Peterson in your fantasy lineups, he’s clearly a must-start from this point forward.

10. The 49ers are for real . . . again.

If you’re an avid reader of TDC, you’ll know that neither of us are particularly high on the 49ers this year. In fact, my partner in crime picked St. Louis to beat out San Francisco in the NFC West. But if Sunday’s game was any indication, the 49ers plan on playing 2012 much of the same way that they played in 2011.

San Francisco’s 30-22 thumping of Green Bay on the road was on one of the biggest surprises of the day. The most shocking aspect of the game was how physical the 49ers were with the Packers, which essentially muted Green Bay’s biggest strength — their high octane offense. Although he continued to be deadly accurate, Aaron Rodgers looked flustered and wasn’t as crisp as usual. San Francisco’s corners frequently jammed Green Bay’s receivers off the line of scrimmage and disrupted their routes, something that isn’t seen very often in Titletown.

Sunday’s game wasn’t an indictment of the Packers as much as it was a demonstration of the 49ers strength. There is a very good possibility that these two teams will face each other again in the playoffs. However, next time, the Packers will have to travel to the west coast to take on a team that could end up being the #1 seed in the NFC.

11. The new Jay Cutler looks a lot like the old Jay Cutler.

And that’s a bad thing. Chicago heads into this season with a renewed optimism and Super Bowl aspirations after an offensive overhaul has provided their big name quarterback with an arsenal of weapons. And, although the Bears easily handled the Colts on Sunday with a 41-21 victory, we were treated to many of the same old Cutler type of throws.

The stats don’t do it justice. Cutler threw for 333 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, Cutler’s first completion of the season was to the other team and returned for a touchdown. Afterwards, Cutler continued to play with the same reckless abandon that has prevented him from realizing his full potential. You would have thought that he had bet the “over” on completions to Brandon Marshall with the way that he was trying to squeeze throws into windows smaller than a postage stamp.

The season started as was expected in Chicago. But if Cutler can’t display some discipline on the field, then it’s not going to end as many in Chicago hope.

12. Matthew Stafford looked like a rookie yesterday.

Due to injuries, Matthew Stafford didn’t really have a rookie season. Last year, he played like an All-Pro. Therefore, it would only be fitting that the Lions quarterback play like he still had training wheels on at some point during his career.

Well, that day came yesterday. Stafford came up when it was needed the most as he led Detroit on a touchdown drive with under a minute to go, capping a 27-23 victory over the Rams. But Stafford’s performance was one of the worst in his career. Stafford threw three interceptions in the first half, including two in the red zone, and looked like a quarterback who was still trying to shake off the pre-season rust. To make matters worse, wide receiver Titus Young, who is expected to be a major contributor this season, was up to his old tricks as he incurred a personal foul in the first half and was benched for the remainder of the game.

The Lions were the “cardiac cats” of the NFL for most of last season. I’m sure Jim Schwartz would like to avoid that label again in 2012. But if they’re going to do it, then Stafford must make better decisions with the ball in critical situations.

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