1. Denver (1-0). It’s a nice September schedule for the Broncos. With a half bye (10 days between games), Denver visits the Giants next Sunday. With an extra day to prepare in Week 3, Denver returns home to face Oakland on a Monday night. With a short week, the Broncos finish the month by facing defensively challenged Philadelphia. Get this: Four of the last 14 Denver foes had winning records in 2012.
2. San Francisco (1-0). In the last 365 days, Green Bay has played San Francisco three times. The Pack has allowed, on average, 36 points and 483 yards a game. It is not a coincidence that the Niners are 3-0 in those games.
3. Seattle (1-0). I don’t rank the Seahawks here with conviction, because Russell Wilson had defenders buzzing around him all afternoon in Charlotte. But you looked up at the end of the game, and Wilson still had 320 yards passing against a pressure D, and the Seahawks played well enough to steal one.
4. Houston (0-0). Really looking forward to seeing how Brian Cushing’s presence changes the offensive focus to blocking the Texans. Especially with two new tackles protecting Philip Rivers, I bet new San Diego coach Mike McCoy leaves extra blockers in to keep his quarterback clean.
5. New Orleans (1-0). Easy to see the difference between last year’s team and this one: a competent defense. Akiem Hicks, Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette pressured Matt Ryan enough so you could see how bothered he was by the pressure by the middle of the game.
6. Green Bay (0-1). Good team, but I continue to wonder if the defense can mature during the season, particular as long as cornerback Casey Hayward is missing.
7. Chicago (1-0). Quality win, particularly after A.J. Green tormented the Bears secondary for much of the day.
8. Detroit (1-0). Impressive win for the Lions, for two reasons: Detroit got good play out of the offensive backfield for once, and good play out of the defensive front (three sacks, four more pressures) for once.
9. New England (1-0). No style points in NFL victories, which is a good thing for the Patriots.
10. Dallas (1-0). End of schneid. Maybe it was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the rabid Cowboys fan, sitting in Jerry Jones’ box that brought Dallas luck—and took it from their annual Arlington tormentors, the Giants. New York had been 4-0 in Jones’ new stadium until the 36-31 Cowboys win Sunday night.
11. Cincinnati (0-1). A.J. Green is a very tall Gumby.
12. St. Louis (1-0). Love the fact that Sam Bradford engineered three scoring drives (okay, one was a two-yarder) that ended in touchdown, field goal and game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter. Also love the fact that the Rams are now 5-1-1 in, arguably, the toughest division in football since the start of the 2012 season.
13. Tennessee (1-0). Maybe Mike Munchak’s right. Maybe you can still win by running the ball predominantly—in part because so many teams don’t work that much in practice to stop the run, because so few teams are big-run teams anymore.
14. Baltimore (0-1). Repeat after me, Timonium: It’s only one game … It’s only one game …
15. Arizona (0-1). Larry Fitzgerald touchdown catches last year: four. Larry Fitzgerald touchdown catches Sunday in St. Louis: two. The Cards are going to be a tough day for every team on their schedule.
The Awards Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver. At age 37, in the 245th game of his career, Manning did something that hadn’t been done since the AFL and NFL merged in 1970: He threw seven touchdown passes in a game. His 27-of-42, 462-yard, no-interception performance, coming against the defending Super Bowl champs, will be one of those he tells the grandkids about someday.
Anquan Boldin, WR, San Francisco. Not a bad debut for the Niners’ new wideout, a month shy of his 33rd birthday: 13 catches, 208 yards, one touchdown. Great stat by the NFL’s Randall Liu Sunday night: There have been three 10-catch, 200-yard receiving games in NFL history on the season’s opening weekend. Boldin has two of them.
Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit. In his first game for the Lions, Bush was the workhorse back Detroit coach Jim Schwartz prays he can be for 16 weeks. Bush had 25 touches and generated 191 yards—including a 77-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
Defensive Players of the Week
Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis. The former first-round pick, who had an excellent offseason and camp for the Rams, continued to emerge as a force in the season-opener. He sacked Carson Palmer three times and forced two fumbles in the Rams’ 27-24 win. The biggie: With 11 minutes left and the Rams trailing 24-21, Quinn strip-sacked Palmer, Chris Long recovered at the Cards’ 22, and Greg Zuerlein followed with the game-tying field goal.
Shaun Phillips, OLB, Denver. What’s the biggest fear any Broncos fan had heading into the season? The pass rush. And Phillips, more than any single Denver defender, did something about that Thursday night, sacking Joe Flacco twice by himself and sharing a third. “I took it personal that everyone was like, ‘Oh what are we going to do about the pass rush,’ but I’ve had like 70 sacks in my career. What am I some bum or something like that?” said Phillips. Apparently not.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Brandon Fields, P, Miami. It was a field-position game in Cleveland, with two offenses struggling for much of the day. Fields punted five times for a 53.8-yard average, with a stellar 47.6-yard net average. He had a vital 66-yard punt early in the third quarter with the Dolphins backed up at their 16 that rolled out of bounds at the Cleveland 22. A 66-yard net punt, with his team down 7-6 and getting nothing done offensively. That’s big.
Coach of the Week
Sean Payton, head coach, New Orleans. Almost gave this to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, but Payton, as the captain of this ship for the first time since the last game of the 2011 season, showed the Saints can pick up where they left off in their days of dominance. The Saints had the discipline on both sides of the ball they often lacked last year, and Drew Brees had the sounding board he missed for 16 weeks. Payton is now 11-2 against the formidable Falcons.
Goats of the Week
Bill Leavy, referee, Green Bay-San Francisco game. When there are offsetting fouls after a play has ended, the down is not supposed to be replayed. But Leavy erred on this most basic of officiating tenets, and it played a major role in San Francisco’s victory. With 9:02 left in the second quarter, Colin Kaepernick scrambled out of bounds, and he was hit late by Clay Matthews. Matthews was flagged for hitting Kaepernick out of bounds, two steps after the play officially ended. A scrum ensued, with Matthews and Niners tackle Joe Staley going at it. Staley got a personal foul. But instead of ruling that the play should stand and it should be 4th-and-2, meaning the Niners would have attempted a field goal, Leavy ordered the down replayed. Kaepernick threw a touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin, making it 14-7 San Francisco instead of 10-7. Leavy admitted his error afterward, but that likely didn’t make the 3-hour, 40-minute flight home much nicer for the Packers.
Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay. His hit on Geno Smith in the final seconds of the crushing loss at the Jets hands him the goat horns, though it wasn’t the kind of egregious sideline smash that you think was a cheap shot. Whether you agree with the call or not, whether you felt it was ticky-tack—and it was close—it sticks. David’s hit on Smith with seven seconds left gave the Jets the chance to kick the game-winning field goal, a 48-yarder by Nick Folk. Jets 18, Bucs 17.
David Wilson, RB, New York Giants. Two fumbles at Dallas Sunday night in the 36-31 loss to the Cowboys. Two lost possessions in a five-point game. Wilson is on the verge of renting all of Tom Coughlin’s doghouse, and he’d own it if Andre Brown wasn’t out with a fractured leg.
Kyle Knox, LB, Jacksonville. Knox did something in the Jags-Chiefs game I’ve never seen before, and it showed such a lack of football instinct that it deserves mention in this space. Jags punter Bryan Anger kicked one downfield and it bounced once toward the Kansas City goal line. Knox, in full pursuit, grabbed the ball at the Kansas City 19 when it was bouncing in the direction of the goal line. Who knows? Maybe it goes dead at the 12. Or the two. But Knox stole yardage from his team, foolishly.