Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson receives the Game Ball for Week 1 of the 2009 NFL Season
The first weekend of the 90th NFL season titled: ““Own the Moment” is finally over. NFL nation just couldn’t get enough of America’s Game as Week 1 stretched over three game days (September 10th, September 13th, and September 14th). For the fifth consecutive year, all 16 games of the NFL’s Kickoff Weekend were sold out allowing for no local TV blackouts. Overall the first week of the 2009NFL season brought surprises (Jets dominating the Texans led by rookie Mark Sanchez, Niners taking out the Cardinals, and several photo finishes), non-surprises (Rams getting shutout and bad teams finding ways to lose), cheers, and tears (Sorry Jake Delhomme and Bengals Fans) that only NFL drama can provoke. The wins and losses no doubt will create a buzz of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” around the water cooler and on sports radio, but remember the NFL season is a 16 game marathon.
The first game on Thursday night kicked off the excitement (fireworks, Grammy winners, etc) and featured the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers working overtime to overcome the Tennessee Titans 13-10 – won when kicker Jeff Reed nailed a 33-yard field goal with 10:28 remaining in overtime. You could tell that the Steelers were content to just get a “W” in a physical battle that saw Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu injured with a MCL sprain of his knee. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of the win, “I struggled early, that’s just jitters and excitement. I’m really proud of the way we bounced back.” The play of the game occurred late in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 10-10, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit veteran receiver Hines Ward with a pass that took him to inside the Titans’ five-yard line (i.e. a chip shot game winning field goal). But Ward in fighting for yardage and a possible game-sealing touchdown was stripped of the ball by safety Michael Griffin. Ward’s gaffe almost landed him on Lloyd’s Lackey list, but the teary-eyed Steelers’ great was vindicated in overtime as the champs found a way to win and move-on (a distinct theme we saw during the first week of play).
What I love about week one is experts, fans, and some members of the media start making year-long assertions based on “one week” of real NFL games. Some of the comments/feedback that I have received from fans – we know how they tend to go overboard in nature — after only one week of play that I consider premature and in some cases “laughable” include:
1) Brett Favre will not be tested this season as running back Adrian Peterson carries the team to the Super Bowl.
2) After his great play in Week 1, you can hand Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez the Rookie of the Year award.
3) The Cowboys, Seahawks, Ravens, Niners, Jets, and Packers are all playoff contenders after week one wins.
4) The Jets are the team to beat in the AFC East after taking apart the “mighty” Houston Texans.
5) Bears fans should send new quarterback Jay Cutler packing after a four interception performance in a loss to the Green Bay Packers.
C’mon some of these conclusions may prove to be true, but one week doesn’t show enough to paint such a broad picture. Sure Week 1 is important for setting the tone for the entire season — since 1978, teams that were victorious in Week 1 of the NFL season were more than twice as likely to reach the playoffs than losers, of 442 teams which won openers, 233 went to the playoffs including 136 won division titles – but remember in the parity-laden NFL everything can change very quickly. Last year after four weeks eventual playoff qualifiers Colts (1-2) and Vikings (1-3) had losing records while teams that were home come playoff time like the Bills (4-0), Cowboys (3-1), Broncos (3-1), Redskins (3-1) and Buccaneers (3-1) all had winning records.
Some News and Notes from Week 1 included:
Bad teams always finding a way to lose – Over the years certain franchise always seems to struggle to put away opponents and it comes back to bit them again and again. I don’t know if it is “karma” or what, but even as the seconds clicked down on potential wins for the Bengals, Bills, Browns, and Chiefs, you just knew they would find a way to blow it. And sure enough each of these downtrodden teams snatched defeat of the jaws of victory. The worst situation being in Cincy where the NFL’s Hard Knocks stars just had to not allow anyone from the Broncos to get deep after the Bengals had scored a go-ahead touchdown on RB Cedric Benson’s 1-yard plunge with 38 seconds remaining. But once again the Bengals dreams were shattered this time when Broncos WR Brandon Stokley grabbed a deflected pass (Bengals CB Leon Hall) and raced into the end zone for an improbable 87-yard touchdown reception in the final seconds, basically ending the game with the score 12-7.
The NFL Season is Survival of the Fittest– The “tough” physical game of football causes a survival of the fittest on the way to the Lombardi Trophy. No team makes it to the top without dealing with injuries every week of the season. Unfortunately one of this week’s biggest stories was the rib injury that Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb suffered in the Birds blowout win over the Panthers. McNabb fractured his rib on a third quarter touchdown run, where, he bowled over Panthers CB Richard Marshall then crossed the goal line. After scoring, Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson appeared to hit McNabb late, but was not flagged on the play. McNabb then fell stayed on the ground while grimacing in pain. The Eagles all-time leading passer stayed on the ground for a few moments, but eventually left the field under his own power. McNabb will probably miss two to three weeks with the injury and the Eagles signed veteran free agent and Eagles’ 2006 season hero Jeff Garcia as insurance. What a mess in Philly as the Birds have 3 former Pro Bowl quarterbacks (McNabb, Garcia, and Michael Vick) on their and most likely unproven 3rd year quarterback Kevin Kolb will get the first call, if McNabb can’t go. The sad part of McNabb’s injury was after his typical slow start, the five-time Pro Bowl player settling into a rhythm. Even though the Eagles defense was the big story of the game, McNabb had respectable numbers of (10-18, 79 yards, 2 TDs (short passes) and 1 INT) before his injury. Big 5 even got out of the pocket to run for 27 yards including a 15-yarder that moved the chains. Wonder what will happen if Garcia or Vick succeeds…Stay tuned.
Other major injuries Bears MLB Brian Urlacher (wrist – season), Colts WR Anthony Gonzalez (knee), Panthers backup quarterback Josh McCown (knee), Patriots LB Jerod Mayo (MCL sprain), Steelers RB Willie Parker (hamstring), Bills DE Chris Kelsay (knee), Titans TE Bo Scaife (knee), Jaguars DE Reggie Hayward (fractured shin – season), Bills LB Paul Pozlusny (broken arm) and Bears TE Desmond Clark (cracked rib).
Johnny on the Spot – With the Bengals almost looking like they would make good on all of their boasts on HBO’s Hard Knocks after RB Cedric Benson’s 1-yard plunge with 38 seconds remaining. But Denver Broncos WR Brandon Stokley, was Johnny on the spot, as he grabbed a deflected pass (Leon Hall) and raced into the end zone for an improbable 87-yard touchdown reception in the final seconds. Take matters worse for the Bengals, Stokley smartly turned near the goal line and looked behind where he saw no one so he ran additional 6 seconds off the clock before scoring. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer had one last effort on the final play of the game, but his desperation pass was intercepted. Regarding Stokely’s miraculous touchdown, Palmer said “I have had never seen anything like that.”
Former playoff teams get it done – Just as losing becomes a habit, so does winning as 8 of the 12 teams that made the 2008 playoffs (Colts, Eagles, Vikings, Giants, Steelers, Ravens, Falcons, and Chargers) all posted victories. Some of the teams fought hard to achieve wins (Giants, Steelers, Ravens, Chargers, Vikings and Colts) while Eagles behind new defensive coordinator Sean McDermott embarrassed the Panthers by a score of 38-10 (more in Game Balls).
Passing, Passing and more Passing – The NFL used to be a running back driven league, but coming off a 2008 season where the league had six quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards, QBs kept chucking it in Week 1. There were 13 quarterbacks that passed for over 250 yards with Patriots returning superstar quarterback Tom Brady leading the way with 378 yards in a win over the Bills.
The Wildcat is stuffed – Everyone knows the Wildcat formation was the talk of the NFL going into the 2009 season. But in most situations where it was used in Week 1, the Wildcat was stuffed. The Dolphins who brought the much hyped formation to the NFL last year only generated 4 yards on three Wildcat plays. I think NFL teams have figured out – like the Ravens in their playoff win over the Dolphins – that unless the guy taking the snap can throw then “sellout” on stopping the run. Maybe when Eagles QB Michael Vick returns from his suspension in Week 3, the NFL will see a dual-threat Wildcat QB.
Bad Teams looking like they are ready for the ‘10 draft– I know it is week one, but on the hot seat coaches Marvin Lewis (Bengals), Dick Jauron (Bills), Jack Del Rio (Jaguars), and Jim Zorn (Redskins) better turn it around quick or their owners maybe looking for other men in charge.
Mixed results for new head coaches — The NFL’s 11 new head coaches went 5-6 in their debuts. The winners were the Broncos’ Josh McDaniels, Jets’ Rex Ryan, Colts’ Jim Caldwell, Seahawks’ Jim Mora and Niners’ Mike Singletary. Losing their first auditions were the Chiefs’ Todd Haley, Browns’ Eric Mangini, Lions’ Jim Schwartz, Buccaneers’ Raheem Morris, and Rams’ Steve Spagnuolo.
Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson – All during the will he, won’t he saga of Vikings QB Brett Favre, I said forget about the soon to be 40 year old passer and concentrate on the best player on the Vikings, Peterson. All-Day began the season with a spectacular performance vs. the Browns. As Favre threw for 110 yards — his lowest total for a full game in three years — Peterson rushed for 180 yards on 25 carries and 3 TDs in the opener plus he added an 18-yard catch. The two-time Pro Bowl player also had the play of week looking like the late great Walter Payton on a spectacular a 64-yard touchdown rumble down the sideline – broke at least five tackle attempts and swatted away defenders like Super Man. The score put the Vikings up 34-13 in the fourth quarter and basically shut the door on the Browns in the 34-20 win. Peterson gained 140 of his 180 yards rushing on his final nine carries. The Vikings outgained the Browns 225-89 in rushing yards and held the ball for more than 33 minutes.
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger – Big Ben was at his best when it mattered most, when the game was on the line. Finishing with great passing numbers — 33/43, 363 YDS, 1 TD, 2 INT – Roethlisberger was spectacular as he put the Steelers on his back. After a slow start, Big Ben was 16 of 18 for 132 yards in the final 15 minutes of the win (including overtime). With the Steelers only producing an uncharacteristic 36 rushing yards, Roethlisberberger and Super Bowl MVP receiver Santonio Holmes (131 receiving yards and 1TD) picked right back up where they left off in the Super Bowl. Despite facing an intense rush (sacked 4 times), Big Ben found Holmes in crucial situations including hitting him with a 34-yard touchdown in the second quarter. In only his sixth season, Roethlisberger has directed 20 comeback drives after Pittsburgh trailed or was tied in the fourth quarter including Super Bowl XLIII.
New York Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez – His head coach Rex Ryan called him “Cool Hand Luke” and Sanchez was extremely relaxed in the pocket in the Jets surprising win. Maybe it was pregame talk from Jets’ legend Joe Namath, but Sanchez didn’t look like a green rookie. The quarterback selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft – only 16 starts at USC — was efficient while passing for good numbers — 18 of 31, 272 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. On the first seven third-and-seven or longer situations of his NFL career, Sanchez was seven of seven, converting five for first downs. For the game, Sanchez was 18 of 31 for 272, with a touchdown and an interception. Sanchez biggest throw was a 30-yard TD pass to Chansi Stuckey on a perfect post pattern.
New England Patriots QB Tom Brady — He’s back !!! Despite a slow start (footwork and mechanics looked affected by his 2008 knee injury), Brady threw 53 times and compiled a whopping 378 yards with two touchdowns. Both of Tom Terrific’s touchdown passes including the game-winner went to tight end Ben Watson and occurred in the final 2:06 minutes of the Pats’ improbable win. Brady finished with numbers 39/53, 378 YDS, 2 TD, and 1 INT.
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees – And you wondered what his encore would be after coming up a few yards short of Dan Marino’s single season yardage record. Brees was amazing finishing with passing numbers 26-34, 358 yds, 6 TDs, and 1 INT in the Saints 47-27 rout of the Lions. Brees became the first quarterback to ever open an NFL season with 6 TDs and he said he could have thrown for more. Brees is on pace to smash Brady’s single-season touchdown record of 50 TDs in 2007. I am sure next week will not be so easy as the Saints travel to Philly to face a hungry Eagles defense.
New York Giants DE Osi Umenyiora – Maybe the G-Men should give big Osi a new deal. After missing all of the 2008 season with a knee injury, Umenyiora was the lynchpin of the Giants vaunted defense in their 23-17 win over the Redskins. The Giants former Pro Bowl player got a sack artist’s “Holy Grail” as he right before halftime he sacked Redskins QB Jason Campbell which forced fumble that he recovered and ran for a 37-yard touchdown. For the game, Umenyiora’s line was four tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, and 1 TD.
Others standouts — The Eagles Defense (Everyone seemed to get after Panthers QB Jake Delhomme in Sean McDermott’s D including Pro Bowl DE Trent Cole 5 TKLs, 1 sack, and 1 FF — held Carolina to 169 yards and three of 16 third-down conversions); Ravens QB J. Flacco (26-43 career high, 307 yds personal best, 3 TDs, and 1 INT in win over Chiefs); SF 49ers DE Justin Smith (Game-sealing sack and forced fumble in win over the Cardinals); Jets’ Defense (Rex Ryan’s boys harassed the Texans all-day as Houston didn’t have an offensive touchdown and CB Darrell Revis held Pro Bowl WR Andre Johnson to four catches for 35 yards, including just one reception in the first half).
Lloyd’s Lackey of the Week
Carolina Panthers QB Jake Delhomme – After a home playoff loss where everyone thought that it could get any worse for Delhomme, it did against the Eagles attacking defense. The Birds harassed the Panthers former Super Bowl starter every chance possible, making Delhomme finish with putrid passing numbers 7/17, 73 yards, 0 TDs, and 4 INTs. Unfortunately for beleaguered Panthers head coach John Fox, it appears the team is stuck with Delhomme after he received a $42.5 million contract extension this offseason including $20 million in guarantees. However Fox had seen enough by the 3rd quarter and benched Delhomme – didn’t even bring him back when McCown was hurt. Delhomme has now committed 11 turnovers in consecutive games and in his last 22 series has thrown 9 INTs and lost two fumbles (one of them was returned for a touchdown). Plain and simple Delhomme is rattled right now and looks nothing like the guy that led the Panthers to two NFC title games and a Super Bowl. Next up for the falling apart passer are games at Atlanta and Dallas.
Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler – I am sure somewhere Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is smiling. After Cutler was brought in to be the Bears first real quarterback star since Sid Luckman everyone expected a magic carpet ride for him in 2009. Well in his first game for the Monsters of the Midway, Cutler produced a 43.2 passer rating. Cutler forced pass after pass finishing with 4 INTs in the Bears tough 21-15 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Maybe Cutler will be a little more humbled after producing passing numbers of 17-36, 277 yards, 1 TD, and 4 INTs. It doesn’t get any easier for Cutler as the Steelers come to town on Sunday.
Buffalo Bills CB/KR Leodis McKelvin – Why didn’t he just take a knee with the game on the line. Unfortunately for the Bills with the Patriots clinging to life support, Kelvin on a kick return in the games final minutes came out of the endzone. Of course as he was fighting for meaningless yards, McKelvin had the ball ripped from his hands from Patriots LB Pierre Woods and it was recovered by kicker Stephen Gostkowski. From there it was Brady-time and the Patriots went on to win a Monday Night thriller 25-24.
San Francisco 49ers first round draft pick WR Michael Crabtree – All signs really do point to Crabtree re-entering the draft in 2010 as crazy as it sounds. The only 2009 draft pick to not sign continues to holdout and thinks he can get picked better than 10th overall in the 2010. I guess his cousin/advisor David Wells is filling Crabtree’s head with this non-sense. I know the Raiders overpaid for their first rounder Darrius Heyward-Bey — 7th overall pick got 5-years, $38.25M real/$54M max; $23.5M guaranteed — but that is the not the Niners fault. Apparently Crabtree has left a reported contract of five-years, $27-million on the table. The rookie better wise-up as the Niners will move-on with stern head coach Mike Singletary saying, “Can’t Use Him” – beat the Cardinals by a score 20-16
Chicago Bears LS Patrick Mannelly – Decided to direct snap to an unsuspecting Garrett Wolfe on fourth-and-11, at the Bears’ 26-yard line late in the 4th quarter. Wolfe only gained four yards and the field position helped set the Packers up for a go-ahead field goal.
Detroit Lions Defense — Allowed 515 total yards and six touchdown passes to Drew Brees in an embarrassing loss. The Lions have now lost 18 straight games with their last win against the Kansas City Chiefs (25-20) way back in December 2007.
2009 NFL Week 1 Results
THURS, SEP 10
Steelers 13, Titans 10 in OT
SUN, SEP 13
Atlanta 19, Miami 7
Baltimore 38, Kansas City 24
Philadelphia 38, Carolina 10
Indianapolis 14, Jacksonville 12
Dallas 34, Tampa Bay 21
New Orleans 45, Detroit 27
N.Y. Jets 24, Houston 7
Minnesota 34, Cleveland 20
Denver 12, Cincinnati 7
San Francisco 20, Arizona 16
N.Y. Giants 23, Washington 17
Seattle 28, St. Louis 0
Green Bay 21, Chicago 15
MON, SEP 14
New England 25, Buffalo 24
San Diego 24, Oakland 20
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)