Random observations from Week 1 of the NFL season
Philadelphia, PA – With Week 1 of the NFL season in the books, here are a few thoughts that come to mind after a long weekend of viewing:
FIVE ROOKIE QUARTERBACKS DEBUT WITH MIXED RESULTS
Robert Griffin III's NFL debut was mighty impressive, as he engineered Washington's upset win at New Orleans. He was perhaps even better than advertised, if possible.
Griffin finished 19-for-26 for 320 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions, and he also ran for 42 yards. His quarterback rating was an amazing 139.9. He actually had a perfect passer rating (158.3) in the first half.
Importantly, he continued to be exceptionally effective even after top target Pierre Garcon, who caught an 88-yard touchdown early, missed the last three quarters with a foot injury. Cam Newton's 2011 opener against Arizona was probably the only comparable quarterback debut in NFL history.
While Griffin's grade was an A-plus, No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck probably deserved a C. The Indianapolis Colts rookie went 23-for-45 for 309 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He also lost a fumble.
In fairness, though, the Colts were without injured receivers Austin Collie and T.Y. Hilton, and their offensive line didn't adequately protect Luck against the Chicago Bears' solid pass rush. The Bears' defense was a tough draw for him in his debut. There were enough good signs in Luck's performance, but the game served as a reminder that there will be growing pains, too.
(By the way, Peyton Manning's NFL debut stats from 1998: 21-for-37, 302 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions. Those are almost identical to Luck's.)
It's tough to grade Russell Wilson's performance for Seattle in a 20-16 loss to Arizona. He was 18-for-34 for 153 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Arizona's underrated defense played a major part, but the Seahawks never really opened up the offense for Wilson.
It's understandable that Seattle would not want to put everything on his shoulders in his first career start, but Wilson does possess playmaking ability. Perhaps Seattle's receivers couldn't create enough separation. Whatever the case, it will be easier to judge Wilson when he is allowed to become more of a difference-maker.
The Miami Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill, playing with the worst receiving corps in the NFL, predictably didn't get much going against Houston. He was 20-for-36 for 219 yards, no touchdowns and three critical interceptions that factored prominently in the Texans' 24-point second quarter.
Tannehill will eventually be fine, but not likely in 2012. His inexperience, combined with a weak supporting cast, won't add up to many wins.
The biggest disappointment among the rookies, however, was Cleveland's Brandon Weeden. In a 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Weeden went just 12-for-35 for 118 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions. Rusty rookie running back Trent Richardson (19 carries, 39 yards) didn't generate a ground attack, but when you manage a passer rating of 5.1 - that's right, 5.1 - you obviously played poorly.
The shame of it for Cleveland is that with the Eagles' Michael Vick also throwing four interceptions, it wouldn't have taken much from Weeden to pull the upset
It's only one game. However, since Weeden will turn 29 on Oct. 14, he's not your typical rookie. He's going to need to give the Browns a reason to believe in him at some point this season, or they will have to re-evaluate the quarterback position yet again.
PEYTON MANNING SEEMS TO BE PEYTON MANNING AGAIN
Playing in a regular-season game for the first time since 2010, Manning, the Denver Broncos' new quarterback, looked like the same guy who made a living carving up opposing defenses as an Indianapolis Colt. He was an efficient 19-for-26 for 253 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a win over Pittsburgh.
Manning directed three 80-yard touchdown drives for the Broncos, and he showed no visible signs of being hampered by the four neck surgeries that kept him sidelined all of last season.
Perhaps just as importantly, Manning was sacked twice, but quickly bounced back up each time and showed no ill effects after the hits. If he stays healthy, there's no reason to think Denver can't be in the Super Bowl discussion.
UH, MAYBE THE JETS' OFFENSE ISN'T SO BAD AFTER ALL
OK, who had the New York Jets in the which-team-will-score-the-most-Week 1- points pool?
New York put up 48 points, including 34 by the offensive unit, in a rout of Buffalo. This happened after the national media treated the Jets like a laughingstock for failing to score a touchdown in their first three preseason games.
Sunday's game was a laugher all right, with oft-criticized starting quarterback Mark Sanchez - you know, the second-most famous QB on the Jets' roster behind offseason acquisition Tim Tebow - going 19-for-27 for 266 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Tebow, who lined up as a second tight end on the first play from scrimmage, didn't need to do much Sunday. He didn't attempt a pass, and he rushed for only 11 yards on five carries. If his presence can continue to help push Sanchez into the kind of performance he turned in against the Bills, though, the trade will have well been worth it.
THE FALCONS AND MATT RYAN LOOK LIKE THE REAL DEAL
Looking for a team seemingly poised to take the next step and challenge for a championship? Take a peek at Atlanta, which rung up 40 points at a tough place to play - Kansas City.
There was plenty of preseason hype surrounding Ryan and second-year receiver Julio Jones, who figured to be the most prominent factors in the Falcons' new, aggressive vertical passing attack.
That attack sure looked impressive in Kansas City, as Ryan torched the Chiefs to the tune of 23-for-31 passing for 299 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 25 yards and a touchdown.
Jones caught six passes for 108 yards and two scores, and Roddy White hauled in six passes for 87 yards.
Ryan hasn't had any success in the playoffs, going 0-3 during his career. Until he proves he can win in the postseason, Ryan will have his doubters.
The feeling is that this year's offensive approach best fits the Falcons' personnel. This looks like it could be the season Atlanta will break through and win in the playoffs.
MAYBE THE 49ERS ARE THE NFC FAVORITES
A win at Lambeau Field in the opener was a nice way for San Francisco to begin 2012. A hard-hitting defense led the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game last season. An improved offense could wind up giving them a better result if they get back there this year.
On Sunday, Alex Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, got the win over the No. 24 pick in the same draft, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. Smith looked masterful doing it, going 20-for-26 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. One of the scores went to Randy Moss. He and another free-agent acquisition, Mario Manningham, each caught four passes against the Packers.
Frank Gore, said to be declining, ran for 112 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
San Francisco ranked 26th in the NFL in yards per game last season and still made it to the conference title game. A move up, even to just the middle of the pack in offense, could make the 49ers the team to beat in the NFC.
DON'T SLEEP ON TAMPA BAY
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a disgrace in 2011, losing their final 10 games and appearing to completely quit on head coach Raheem Morris during the final month of the season. They finished 4-12.
A year earlier, quarterback Josh Freeman had been viewed as one of the game's rising stars, leading the Bucs to a 10-6 finish.
Under new head coach Greg Schiano, the Bucs opened 2012 with a win over the Carolina Panthers.
Basically, the Bucs' 2011 performance was more of a reflection of their poor effort than their talent level. Decent talent is still there, upgraded with the additions of first-round draft picks Mark Barron and Doug Martin and free agent wide receiver Vince Jackson.
On Sunday, it appeared the effort was there, too. If Tampa Bay continues to play that hard for Schiano, playoff contention won't be completely out of the picture.
THE RAVENS' NEW NO-HUDDLE OFFENSE LOOKS DANGEROUS
Baltimore already had one of the best defensive units in the NFL. Their running game, led by Ray Rice, already ranked among the league's elite.
Monday night against Cincinnati, the Ravens unveiled their no-huddle offense for the first time during the regular season, and Joe Flacco looked better than ever while directing it. The strong-armed quarterback completed 21-of-29 passes for 299 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Rice was limited to just 10 carries Monday, but he averaged 6.8 yards per attempt and scored two touchdowns. With opposing defenses no longer as able to stack the box to key on Rice, he's probably going to have some wide-open lanes to run through this season.
Baltimore went 12-4 in each of the past two years despite a middle-of-the-pack offense; the 2010 Ravens ranked 16th in the NFL in points scored, and the 2011 squad ranked 12th. They appear likely to do much better on offense this year.
THE COWBOYS MAKE AN IMPRESSIVE STATEMENT
Dallas was hardly in an enviable position for Wednesday's prime time league opener. On the road to face the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the Cowboys were without run-stuffing nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle).
Star tight end Jason Witten (spleen) played, but was nowhere near 100 percent. Starting wide receivers Dez Bryant (knee) and Miles Austin (hamstring) were coming off injuries.
No matter. Dallas played exceptionally well in all phases of the game in beating the Giants, 24-17. The Cowboys got 307 passing yards and three touchdowns from Tony Romo, 131 rushing yards from DeMarco Murray, and eight catches for 114 yards and two scores from No. 3 wide receiver Kevin Olgetree.
Even the banged-up Bryant (four catches, 85 yards) and Austin (four catches, 73 yards, one TD) made notable contributions.
Dallas was almost as impressive defensively, limiting the Giants to just 82 rushing yards and sacking Eli Manning three times (twice courtesy of DeMarcus Ware). The Cowboys outgained New York by a healthy 433-269 margin in total yards.
Dallas rookie Morris Claiborne had an impressive NFL debut at cornerback. He and free-agent acquisition Brandon Carr have turned the cornerback position from the team's biggest weakness into one of its strengths.
The Wednesday night game also gave Dallas 10 off-days to get healthy for this Sunday's game at Seattle.
Since their last Super Bowl title 17 seasons ago, the Cowboys are 2-7 in postseason play. They've won just one playoff game since 1996. Maybe this is the year that trend reverses.
Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been a professional sportswriter since 1985.