By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer
Every Tuesday we’ll look back at the weekend that was in the NFL and give you a trio of trios. We’ll cover the three things that happened that everyone already knew would happen, the three things that happened that confirmed a guess or speculation in the positive direction, and then three surprises that we weren’t expecting. And since it’s three sets of three things, what better name for this column thanâ¦ yup, Double Take!
THREE THINGS WE KNEW
1. The Packers, Saints, and Patriots will all score a ton of points. That’s because their QB’s are really, really good. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees each put on a show Thursday night in the season opener, with Rodgers going 27/35 for 312 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He was bested in his own game by Brees, who went 32/49 for 419 yards and also 3 touchdowns and zero picks. The scary part is that both defenses were considered two of the best in not just the NFC, but the entire NFL, and yet both got thoroughly picked apart by two of the best single callers in the game. Both performances were then eclipsed on Monday night by Tom Brady, who abused the Miami Dolphins defense for a Patriots and Monday Night Football record 517 yards and four touchdowns. In fact there were FIVE games this weekend in which both quarterbacks threw for at least 300 yards â first time that’s EVER happened in a week in the history of the NFL. Defense, anyone?
2. “Special” special teams can win a game. Just ask the Jets, who used the fourth-quarter blocked punt from Joe McKnight to tie the game Sunday night in their season opening 27-24 win over Dallas. Mike Westhoff’s units have always been considered in the NFL’s upper echelon, and once again on Sunday helped bail out a Jets offense that did virtually nothing for three quarters. Combine that with the eight kickoff or punt returns for a touchdown â a record for a single week in the NFL â and clearly the play of the “third” unit will be a huge factor this season, regardless of where the ball is kicked off. Oh, and speaking of kicking, I’m amazed that at no point during Sebastian Janikowski’s record-tying 63-yard field goal right before the half of the Raiders-Broncos Monday night game did ANYONE mention that kicking in DENVER might have something to do with the fact that he drilled that. Not taking anything away from one of the league’s all-time best kickers, but he’s a mile high in the air! Isn’t that worth at least a passing comment?
3. Injuries are the single fastest way to kill a season. Both the Chargers and Rams had hopes of winning their respective divisions, but now both are looking at simply trying to tread water while they wait to find out when â or even if â some star players can return. San Diego lost NT Luis Castillo to a broken leg, and K Nate Kaeding, one of the best in the game, is gone for the year with a torn ACL. Meanwhile the Rams lost their top offensive trio (QB Sam Bradford, RB Steven Jackson, and WR Danny Amendola) for various lengths of time, and will now have a huge mountain to climb, even in the NFC West. Although with the Chiefs also losing a key player for the season in safety Eric Berry, maybe the injuries will just make all four teams in that division virtually even.
THREE THINGS WE THOUGHT WE KNEW THAT WERE PROVEN TRUE
1. A monkey and a dart board is the best way to make week one picks. Really, who saw “Buffalo 41, Kansas City 7” coming on opening day â in Arrowhead? No one. So yeah, when someone tells you they have a week one guarantee, hear what they have to say and then pick the other team. I barely broke .500 picking straight up, which to be honest is fairly normal for week one. No one really knows what a team’s identity and chemistry will be until they play a real-live game, so now we at least have a body of proof â albeit small â upon which to base next week’s decisions.
2. Peyton Manning is the MVP â every year. The Patriots went 11-5 with Matt Cassel â who, by the way, just lost to the Buffalo Bills 41-7. Meanwhile Indianapolis’ first game without Manning under center since 1997 (when Manning was at Tennessee, 49’ers coach Jim Harbaugh was the Colts’ starter, Bill Clinton was president, Barry Bonds was thin, and I was 13) turned into a 34-7 rout at the hands of the Houston Texans. If Manning doesn’t play a snap this season, the Colts won’t win more than 5 games. Oh, and as a side note, the Houston Texans didn’t exist in 1997.
3. The Detroit Lions are a legitimate playoff contender. Pretenders fold on the road against a good team and lose the game (see: Cowboys, Dallas). Contenders finish the job and secure a big season-opening road win against a double-digit win team from the year before. I’m still not sold on the Lions making the playoffs, but after watching the Cowboys, Rams, Giants, and Falcons in week one, their chances certainly had to have increased.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. It’s really hard to beat a team five times in a row. Just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are still trying to figure out how to peel themselves off the turf at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens scored a franchise-high 35 points against the vaunted Steelers defense (which I said would struggle), but the Pittsburgh ball-handlers didn’t help by doing exactly the opposite of handling the ball. No NFL team has ever turned the ball over 7 times and won â including the 2011 Steelers on opening day.
2. The Cowboys used to be really good. I mean REALLY good. So good that Sunday night was the first time in 243 games in which Dallas had a lead of 14 points or more in the fourth quarter and lost the game. Think about that for just a second. The first time EVER. The Cowboys are now 241-1-1 when leading by 14 or more in the fourth quarter, and it won’t be difficult to remember that the “1” in the loss column came against the Jets in New York on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
3. I can’t identify the bad teams. In the previews, I said the race for worst team would be between Carolina and Cincinnati, with Buffalo, Washington, and Jacksonville rounding out the top five. Well the last four teams all promptly went out and won their opening week games, and Carolina saw their rookie QB Cam Newton set a record for most passing yards by a rookie in his first game. Which leads to something else we learned â Newton can throw. Makes me wonder why I ever listen to the four-letter network for anything that’s not a live game.