So the season-opener featured 76 points and a quarterback performance for the ages, and there was all this explosive-offense talk, and then, on Sunday, to open the 94th NFL season, this happened:
• The Patriots, who averaged 34 points a game last year, needed an Audie Murphy performance by Danny Amendola and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with five seconds left to beat Buffalo 23-21.
• Seven of Sunday’s 13 games totaled 40 points or less.
• Pittsburgh’s offense was shut out at home for the first 58 minutes of a 16-9 loss.
• Seattle, which scored 37 points a game on average in its last six games of 2012, managed 12 at Carolina, and still won.
• Adrian Peterson’s first carry of 2013: 78 yards. His next 17 carries: 15 yards.
• Sunday’s leading rusher: Terrelle Pryor, quarterback, Oakland. In his first NFL start, Pryor rushed 13 times for 112 yards.
But here’s my favorite stat of all from the weekend:
Baltimore’s four wide receivers Thursday night: 15 catches, 215 yards, one touchdown.
The receiver Baltimore traded away for a sixth-round pick: 13 catches, 208 yards, one touchdown.
“I think you earned that $2 million today,’’ I said to Anquan Boldin Sunday night.
“Thanks,’’ he said with an awkward laugh.
The 49ers and Ravens, as you recall, had a marriage of convenience last March. Baltimore wanted Boldin to cut his pay from $6 million to $4 million. Boldin thought being the second-best Baltimore player in the postseason (next to Joe Flacco) did not merit a pay cut and stuck to his guns. When the Ravens knew they couldn’t re-do Boldin’s deal, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh got on the phone with his brother, Jim, the Niners’ coach, and they worked out a deal. Instead of cutting Boldin, Baltimore would get something for him, a sixth-round pick. And when the 49ers lost Michael Crabtree until November with a torn Achilles, all of a sudden San Francisco had the top receiver it needed to go along with its top everything else.
The 49ers beat Green Bay in their meeting by the Bay, and Colin Kaepernick and Boldin were the main reasons. Eschewing the read-option and going to more of a pocket-passing game—offensive coordinator Greg Roman is becoming famous for throwing changeups at defenses, and everyone expected Kaepernick to have a big day running the ball—Kaepernick threw for 412 yards. More than half went to Boldin, in the biggest day since the first game of his rookie season, exactly one decade and two days ago. He caught 10 balls for 217 yards as a Cardinal in the 2003 opener.
“We scouted Green Bay the entire offseason,’’ Boldin said afterward. “We got some looks we thought we’d get. All through the offseason and in training camp, when I was working with Colin, we’d constantly be communicating. What are we seeing here, when am I breaking off what route. I’ve never been a guy who relied on my speed anyway, but I know how to get open. And Colin and I have developed a good relationship, so it doesn’t feel like we’re new to each other at all.’’
I remember when Boldin signed with Baltimore in 2010, how the Ravens raved about how quickly he adjusted to the new offense and to quarterback Joe Flacco. I looked it up this morning: He had 20 catches for 287 yards in his first three games in Baltimore. And now, on the phone from San Francisco, he sounded like an avid reader of Who Moved My Cheese? “Anytime you’re in a period in your life where there’s transition,’’ he said, “don’t fight it. Don’t resist. Buy into the system. We’ve got a good offensive coordinator here.’’
And, Boldin said, don’t hold a grudge. “I’m not bitter at all,’’ he said. “This is a business. We all understand it. [The Ravens’ decision] was a little surprising, but you can’t let that stuff bother you.”
My other Sunday storylines:
Long year for the Steelers. I’ve learned never to count out Mike Tomlin, and his players will play hard in the fourth quarter of the 16th game if they’re 0-15. But the offensive line is full of leaks, and now Maurkice Pouncey is gone for the year with a torn ACL (injury of the day), running game savior Le’Veon Bell (foot) is maybe a month away from contributing, and they’ve got to go to Cincinnati a week from tonight to face a team that looks to be passing them in the AFC North hierarchy. Not good.
Danny Amendola has a little Welker in him, and maybe a lot. Late in the first half at Buffalo, Amendola, who entered the game nursing a groin injury, pulled up in the end zone in obvious pain, grabbing the inside of his upper leg. Well, that’s it. He’s gone for six weeks. The Legend of Brittle Amendola continues. But back he came in the second half with seven catches for 64 yards in the last two quarters, converting a 3rd-and-8 on the winning field-goal drive in the final minutes. “I knew he was a tough player,’’ Shane Vereen, his new teammate, said after the game. “But for him to come back from that and play how he played in the second half, that was pretty impressive.”
The Raiders might not be good, but they might have a quarterback. Very interesting game by Pryor—217 passing yards, 112 rushing yards, one touchdown pass, one bad interception, one luckless interception—as he led the Raiders to a surprising 372-yard day in Indianapolis in his second NFL start. “This is my dream,’’ he said from Indianapolis. “I prepared all week. I prepared to lead, and I prepared to play well.” What impressed me watching Pryor: the poise not to be rattled, even when he got hit and chased by a defensive front that often overwhelmed Oakland’s line. Now, he didn’t survey the field the way a veteran quarterback does, looking at three or four options; instead he ran when the pocket broke down. But on this day, it was his best option. For a first start, it was a B-plus, and I definitely want to see more. San Francisco was supposed to have the mobile quarterback who could hurt you with his legs and his arm. Now maybe Oakland has one too. The most impressive thing from my post-game talk with Pryor came when I asked him about Al Davis. You’ll recall that one of the last significant moves by Davis before he died in 2011 was taking Pryor in the third round of the 2011 supplemental draft. “I owe Mr. Davis,’’ said Pryor. “This man believed I’d be a star quarterback. He said that to me multiple times. He took a chance on me when other teams wouldn’t. And I think he was smiling down a little bit today, watching this. This may sound crazy, but every day I’m thankful for what he did for me.”
Geno Smith has at least one element of what it takes to be a New York quarterback. Thick skin, apparently. He can tune out the crap. The Jets were on their way to a 17-15 loss when Smith got whacked out of bounds—to me, the call was ticky-tack, but as Smith said, “Doesn’t matter; they called it”—and the 15-yard penalty allowed Nick Folk to be in range for a 48-yard winning field goal. A totally unlikely first victory. He was 24 of 38 for 256 yards, with a touchdown and a pick. And not affected by any of it. Isn’t it amazing to see so many rookie quarterbacks starting openers in the last couple of years (Smith, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III) be totally cool with the bigness of it all? This used to be unthinkable, starting so early. But now it’s almost expected that a passer with lots of college experience will step in and not embarrass himself. “My emotions were calm all day,’’ Smith said. “My team did a phenomenal job of bailing me out all day.’’ I asked Smith how he felt about playing against Tom Brady on a short week now, and his answer was either very practiced or very smart. “It’s not me against Tom Brady,’’ he said. “It’s the Jets against the Patriots.” And the mayhem outside the locker room? The predictions of disaster, and of Dead Coach Walking? “Doesn’t affect me one bit,’’ he said. “We’re a band of brothers in this room. We don’t care what the outside world thinks of us, and it can’t hurt us.”
I don’t think the Raiders or the Jets are going to be good. But I’ll be intrigued to watch both quarterbacks. I hope they both are given the time they need to be able to prove themselves.
When things go wrong …
… They really go wrong. One of the good things about a Thursday night game, and about NFL Game Rewind, which I’d like to buy stock in, is that it’s easy to go back in the next day or two and watch the game in-depth, to see what really happened. And the great thing about NFL Game Rewind is being able to toggle between the TV feed of the game and the coaches’ video, so you can see—for instance—how utterly awful Ed Dickson was for the Ravens in the season opener.
I went back originally to try to judge whether Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was right in contending that NBC didn’t show a replay of the Wes Welker trapped catch before Peyton Manning snapped the ball in the third quarter on a vital series of the game. (Truth in journalism here: I also work for NBC. So you’ll have to take my findings with that understanding, but I wanted to be clear about that before we start here.)
But what I discovered was not just something illuminating about that play. I found out that, in a 10-play sequence, the Ravens did enough to hand the game to Denver, and the Broncos didn’t need Peyton Manning to be at his all-time best for Baltimore to suffer an embarrassing defeat.
Ten plays. Four minutes of the third quarter.
Play 1. Denver trails 17-14 with 14:13 left in the third quarter. Manning throws low to Welker, who appears to trap it. The officials call it a catch. Cornerback Corey Graham immediately motions to the ground that it bounced. Now, keep in mind that each coaches’ booth in every NFL stadium is equipped with a TV monitor that shows the exact feed that is shown in the replay booth; the only difference is the coaches cannot run a play back and forth the way it can be done in the replay booth. But the replay shown by NBC, with Welker clearly trapping the catch, comes either 10 or 11 seconds before the snap of the next play by Manning. (I was using the sweep hand on my watch, so it’s not precise.) And in the first half, when Harbaugh challenged almost exactly the same kind of trap by Demaryius Thomas, the Ravens threw the challenge flag six seconds after the first replay of the Thomas trap. So, unless there was a blackout or a TV malfunction in the Ravens’ coaches booth, the replay was shown up there in plenty of time for Harbaugh to have been told he should throw the challenge flag. The coach upstairs blew that one.
Play 4. Jimmy Smith, the Baltimore cornerback drafted in the first round in 2011, lets journeyman receiver Andre Caldwell get around him and then get a step on him, and Manning throws a 28-yard strike to Caldwell. Touchdown. Denver takes a lead it would never relinquish.
Play 6. Baltimore ball, 2nd-and-12 at its 18. Joe Flacco has Dickson with a step on linebacker Danny Trevathan and throws it on target to a diving Dickson. It hits him in the hands and goes right through. Dickson’s got a reputation for bad hands, and he added to that in this game. This was one of at least three balls he should have caught from Flacco.
Play 7. After Michael Oher is lost with an ankle sprain, fifth-round rookie Ricky Wagner gets schooled by outside linebacker Shaun Phillips. Wagner tries to push Phillips outside, but the vet is too fast for him and sacks Flacco for a four-yard loss, forcing a punt.
Play 8. The Ravens line up to punt. I’m no kicking game guru, but I do know this: When each punt team gunner is not double-covered (and the Baltimore gunners were each covered by one man here), there’s a pretty good chance the rush team is going to try to block the punt. And the punter, Sam Koch, shouldn’t be directionally punting when there’s a good chance there’s a block on, because it’s going to be tough for the Ravens to stop all the men who look to be coming. But Koch tried to punt to the left, Denver safety David Bruton overpowered rookie linebacker Arthur Brown, and Bruton got a hand on the punt to block it. Denver ball, threatening to blow it open now, at the Baltimore 10.
Play 10. You know the old saying about an offensive player having the edge on a slippery field because he knows where he’s going and the defensive guy doesn’t? Graham, who tormented Manning with two interceptions in the Ravens’ divisional playoff win eight months ago on the same field, slipped covering Wes Welker on a short out pattern. Easy touchdown for Welker. Denver, 28-17, and the rout was on.
A nightmare series of 10 plays, out of 155 in the game. But there was enough bad—on the part of both the high-pick and marginal players, rookies in their first game and coaches—for the Ravens to chew on for days. The 10 plays exposed weaknesses at tight end (a major problem), offensive line depth, and replay communication from upstairs to the head coach. It won’t be a comfortable week for anyone in Owings Mills as the Ravens get ready to play Cleveland next Sunday.
Calling all ref nerds.
What you need to know about new rules and points of emphasis for the 2013 season, in the order of significance (well, my order of significance):
A new crown-of-the-helmet rule. Amazing this didn’t get marked off once in 65 preseason games. No player outside the in-line tackle box can lower his head and deliver a blow with the crown of the helmet. “Players are adjusting,’’ new officiating czar Dean Blandino said. I hope he’s right. We’ve seen this most often over the years by an offensive player, usually a running back, using the crown of his helmet as a battering ram against a defender to push him backward and gain more yards. But it’ll be possible for a defender to get one of these penalties too. And Blandino said there could be an instance where there will be offsetting penalties called, if both the ballcarrier and defender lower their heads and strike the other with the crown of the helmet.
The Tuck Rule, redefined. Formerly, a quarterback could be in the act of throwing the ball, in the act of pulling his arm back or in the act of bringing the ball back after starting the throwing motion—any of those, and losing them all would not be considered a fumble. Now the rule’s been rewritten. Now, it will be a fumble if the quarterback stops a pass attempt, and begins to bring a pass back to his body, and fumbles. If the quarterback loses the ball—if there is any subsequent loss of control of the ball after his pass attempt ends—it will be ruled a fumble. Blandino said there were four instances last season when a replay didn’t overturn a tuck-rule call on the field that, in 2013, would result in a fumble.
Video review when it wasn’t formerly allowed. AKA the Jim Schwartz Tweak. After scoring plays or turnovers, replay reviews upstairs are automatically done. Formerly, if a coach threw a challenge flag when one of the automatic reviews was going to happen, the review got cancelled and the coach got called for unsportsmanlike conduct. In other words, it was killing a gnat with a sledgehammer. Now, if a coach throws a challenge flag after a scoring play or turnover, he’ll lose a timeout but the play will still be reviewed.
A read-option clarification. No rule was changed here, but a murky interpretation was made clear. Let’s define a key tenet of the read-option. When a quarterback has his hands on the ball and has the ball stationed in the running back’s gut, it’s called “riding the running back.” When a quarterback is riding the running back, he is eligible to be hit as hard as a defender can within the rules—just not in the helmet. And when he pulls the ball back from the runner and takes off running, he is treated exactly like a running back. But if he pulls the ball back and is in the act of throwing, he gets all the protections of a quarterback. He must clearly be in position to throw the ball to be treated as a quarterback; otherwise, he’s a runner and can be hit as one. Last year, there was confusion about whether defenders could hit a quarterback when he was riding the running back; now there should be no murky area here.
A hurry-up offense clarification. The ball can’t be snapped until the official who places the ball down for the offense—the umpire or the referee—is in position to call the next play. This will prevent offenses from quick-snapping in this no-huddle era, but shouldn’t come into play very often. Even the most ardent no-huddle teams (Denver, Philadelphia, New England) aren’t snapping the ball with 33 seconds left on the play clock. They’re snapping in the teens, simply staying out of a huddle to hold sway over a defense and prevent opponents’ substitutions.
There are a couple of other changes—on peel-back blocks and pushing into the line on extra points and field goals—but those are the biggies.
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.
Quotes of the Week
“Fantasy owners might not be happy. But we’re sure happy.”
—Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, after Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew were held to a total of 43 receiving yards and no touchdowns Sunday in a 34-24 Lions win.
“I think he’s worth a sixth-round pick.”
—Niners owner Jed York, to SI.com’s Don Banks, after Anquan Boldin’s huge statistical Sunday helped San Francisco beat the Packers. The 49ers acquired Boldin for a sixth-round pick last March.
“Will the Lions cover four-and-a-half tomorrow against Minnesota?’’
—Brent Musburger, during an interview with Lions fan and rapper Eminem during Notre Dame-Michigan Saturday night. Want to define the look of paranoia? Check out Eminem’s face. That uncomfortable Q-and-A will be a case study in Weird Announcing History 101 in broadcast schools for years to come.
“Elway throws seven touchdown passes.”
—The Columbus Dispatch headline Friday over the story about Peyton Manning’s seven-touchdown game.
I especially like the first two sentences of the game story: “Peyton Manning tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes, and the Denver Broncos routed the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens 49-27 last night. Elway became the sixth player to throw for that many, and the first since Joe Kapp on Sept. 28, 1969.”
From the Podcast
My Week 1 guests on The MMQB Podcast With Peter King: Eli Manning and Matt Ryan, along with Greg Bedard and Andy Benoit of The MMQB. I asked Manning if he’d ever wondered what his career would have been like had he accepted being drafted by the Chargers in 2004, and stayed in San Diego. You’ll recall he and his father, Archie, pressed for a trade before the draft because he didn’t want to play for what he saw as a sinking franchise. Said Manning: “I really haven’t. Just because when I made my decision that this is what I’m going to do, and I felt strongly about everything that I said in the week going into the draft. I said, ‘This is my decision, and I’m going to make it right.’ I’m going to feel strongly about it, and wherever I end up I’m going to work hard and do everything I can and not look back or have second doubts. So, you know, I think you never know what would have happened if I went there.’’
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Imagine suiting up for three teams in three different stadiums in 18 days. Linebacker Adrian Robinson just did it. Check out his winding three-week road:
Aug. 19—Wearing No. 57 for Pittsburgh, Robinson, a linebacker from Temple trying to make the Steelers as an undrafted free-agent, plays 22 snaps on defense in a preseason game against Washington.
Aug. 23—Traded to Philadelphia for running back Felix Jones.
Aug. 29—Wearing No. 49 for Philadelphia, Robinson plays 33 snaps on defense and special teams in a preseason game against the Jets in New Jersey.
Aug. 30—Waived by Philadelphia.
Sept. 1—Claimed by Denver.
Sept. 5—Wearing No. 57 for Denver, Robinson plays 21 plays on special teams at home against Baltimore in the first game of the regular season.
“I had to learn three playbooks really fast,” Robinson said Sunday. “I got to Denver Monday night, then went to the facility Tuesday and met with the special-teams coach to get ready for the game. I still hardly know anyone’s name.” He knows one name, at least. “Peyton Manning came up to me and said, ‘I’m Peyton. Great to have you here.’ That made me feel good.”
The statistical oddity in Peyton Manning’s regular-season games with very big TD numbers:
• In his first 83 games, Manning did not have a game with five or more TD passes.
• In his next 24, he had six such games.
• In his ensuing 117 regular-season games, he had no five-plus TD games.
• In Game 225, he threw seven touchdown passes.
Stat of the Week
No team was as true to its offseason design as the Tennessee Titans Sunday.
It’s likely the Titans cannot play the way they did in Pittsburgh, win 11 games and qualify for the playoffs; you’re not going to face a bumbling offensive team with no running game every week, as the Steelers appeared to be in Week 1. But for one day, the Titans played just as coach Mike Munchak drew it up when he paid big money for one guard in free agency (Andy Levitre), drafted another guard 10th overall (Chance Warmack), signed 225-pound Jets running back Shonn Greene in free agency to back up Chris Johnson and 240-pound back Jackie Battle for insurance, and inserted 247-pound undrafted Army fullback Collin Mooney in the starting lineup.
The percentage of Tennessee running plays in 2012: 39.5 percent (378 of 957 plays).
The percentage of Tennessee running plays Sunday: 66.7 percent (42 of 63 plays).
“I know it’s a scoring league,’’ Mike Munchak said over the phone from Pittsburgh after the Titans’ 16-9 victory. “I know you’ve got teams out there scoring 35, 42 points. But we’re going to build an identity to win playing our way.”
Case in point Sunday: Tennessee trailed 2-0 in the second quarter and took the ball on a short field at the Steeler 49. The Titans ran it 12 of the next 13 plays, the only pass an eight-yard dump from Jake Locker to Delanie Walker after seven straight runs to start the drive. Battle bulled over from three yards out to score just before halftime and give Tennessee a lead it would never give up. “That’s who we are,’’ said Munchak. “But, what I really like about the offense is that we’ve got the kinds of weapons—Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington—that we can use to get in a throwing contest if we have to. Who knows? Maybe next week we’ll have to throw it 40 times to win. That’s okay too.”
That means Locker will have to be better than a 56 percent passer, which he was a year ago. And that could ultimately decide whether the new Tennessee offense can come from behind in the second half when the Titans have to.
One game in 2012, out of 256 regular season games, started with a 2-0 score. Three games Sunday started 2-0.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Now this is something that never happened to me before on an airplane: I had an aisle seat in a three-across row flying home from Denver and the season-opener on JetBlue early Friday morning. The man sitting next to me was asleep when I boarded. He slept the entire way to New York. He didn’t wake up when we landed. I got up and disembarked. He was still asleep. When I was walking off the plane, I looked over at the poor guy in the window seat who didn’t know whether to shake the guy or try to climb over him to get off the plane.
Tweets of the Week
“Tim Garfinkel was the Padres president until July and was replaced by Mike Dee in San Diego. Now Garfinkel replaces Dee in Miami.”
“When Mike Dee got the Dolphins job in 2009, Tom Garfinkel also interviewed and was owner Stephen Ross’s second favorite candidate.”
—@ArmandoSalguero of the Miami Herald, this morning in a double Tweet. Garfinkel will be named CEO of the Dolphins today.
“Lol yoooo Eminem funny as hell right now I’m dying”
—@ReggieBush, watching Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit “interview” the big Lions fan during Notre Dame-Michigan Saturday night.
“@RSherman_25 yo story in sports illustrated was real I respect you a lot… I play QB at #FSU and always was the nerdy athlete #followback’’
—@Jaboowins, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, to Richard Sherman of the Seahawks on July 31. (Yes, it’s not exactly a Tweet of the Week, but I thought it was worthy, given how Winston exploded onto the national scene last week with a 25-of-27 college debut at Pitt.
Back story: The MMQB has retained Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman as a regular columnist for this season, and in his first column, he wrote about growing up in Compton and Watts and being made to study by his education-loving parents. That helped Sherman land at Stanford, and, not by chance, helped him land on our website. We ran that first column on our site and in the magazine, and Winston was among the thousands who got Sherman’s message. “My parents preached academics above all else,” Sherman wrote. “It got to the point where I’d bring home a B in middle school, even in a tough class, and get stern looks, like, That is not acceptable. But our parents always kept us involved in sports, kept us busy. In such a bad neighborhood, they always wanted us doing something constructive.’’
“Yes, our daughters are born in China, speak French, & love Indian & Mexican food. That’s the story of America.”
—@nprscottsimon, the terrific host of Weekend Edition on NPR, Scott Simon, on his mutlicultural family.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 1:
a. The play of Denver safety Duke Ihenacho, an undrafted 2012 college free agent from San Jose State. He was everywhere Thursday night.
b. How great is Calvin Johnson? Started this season the way he ended last: with an acrobatic touchdown catch—even if it was overturned.
c. All offseason, the Bengals worked on Andy Dalton throwing the deep ball better. And boom—first quarter, at Chicago, Dalton threw it up deep downfield for A.J. Green. Complete. Gain of 42.
d. Green abused Charles Tillman, an excellent corner.
e. Five sacks for the Titans—four combined from unsung recent second- and third-round picks, linebacker Zach Brown and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. Love the pressure Tennessee got all day on Ben Roethlisberger.
f. Reggie Bush. At 28, he played with the verve of the 19-year-old USC weapon, diving into the end zone to cap his 77-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
g. Alex Smith, for being Alex Smith. In a West Coast Offense, it’s good enough to win, and Andy Reid’s banking on it. He was 21 of 34 with no turnovers. Chiefs win, 28-2.
h. Andrew Luck, for his eighth fourth-quarter comeback in 17 professional games. Think about that.
i. No question in my mind Brian Hartline will be a more targeted player than Mike Wallace—unless Ryan Tannehill begins forcing the ball to the unhappy Wallace.
j. Kenny Stills, fifth-round pick, Saints. Ridiculous. He’s a field-stretcher in a sophisticated offense, and it’s only Week 1.
k. The Cleveland run defense: 23 Miami carries, 20 yards. Told you Cleveland could be a top-10 defense.
l. Told you to draft Jared Cook, fantasians. Hope you listened.
m. I knew Martellus Bennett would be a great signing for Chicago, and the leaping fingertip touchdown catch on the first Bears touchdown of the year just proved that.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 1:
a. Two timeouts on the opening drive of the season for the Bucs, and then Josh Freeman getting sacked. Not good.
b. And the safety. The ridiculous safety. No team was as unimpressive early as the Bucs in the first quarter at the Meadowlands.
d. The first big hit of Kenny Vaccaro’s career. He torpedoed into a sliding Matt Ryan, a clear penalty.
e. Christian Ponder, please. You don’t make a careless throw to no one across your body with a 14-0 lead on the road. You don’t make it down 14-0, or down 34-0. Just a foolish throw.
f. On the first play of the Titans’ season, an opening-kickoff return in Pittsburgh, Darius Reynaud picked up a rolling kick and knelt on the goal line. Safety. Steelers, 2-0. Steelers ball. How do you not get the feeling after that if you’re a Titans fan, “Man, it’s going to be a long year?” Lucky for them, it might now be a long year for the Steelers.
g. The Bucs’ composure—13 penalties, 102 yards. Atrocious.
h. The Giants’ ball security—six turnovers. Atrocious.
i. David Wilson needs to go to the Tiki Barber School of Ball Control. I might be serious about that. Barber should call him.
j. The Panthers sure didn’t look explosive on offense against Seattle. They looked cautious.
k. Brandon Weeden: three interceptions in the first 27 minutes. I didn’t watch that game closely. But there’s just something missing with Weeden, something about knowing when to take chances and when to play safe.
l. Long year for the Jags, and it’s Sept. 9. They had 70 yards on their first 13 drives.
3. I think I gained some respect for the old passing games—the downfield, bombs-away passing games—when looking at the men Peyton Manning tied with his seven touchdown passes Thursday. Manning’s stat line: 27 of 42, 462 yards, 11.0 yards per attempt, seven touchdowns, no interceptions. Y.A. Tittle’s in 1963: 27 of 29, 505 yards, 12.9 yards per attempt, seven touchdowns, no interceptions.
4. I think, for those who tell you Peyton Manning has become a dinker-and-dunker in his dotage, tell them this: His average yards per attempt in 14 Indianapolis seasons was 7.6. His yards per attempt in 17 Denver games: 8.2.
5. I think you don’t want to overrate the first game of the season, especially when it was as horrendous as the one Jacksonville played Sunday in the 28-2 loss to Kansas City. But unless Blaine Gabbert’s still-healing right thumb was a drag on his performance, it’s only a matter of time before the Jags will come to the realization he can’t do it. Watch the tape of the game. How many times does he have a receiver open, within 10 yards, and the receiver has to lunge for the ball or reach way around to try to catch it? He had a few drops too, but playing quarterback is about moving the chains and being crisp, and it looks like Gene Smith’s last big gift to the franchise is going to add another year to the rebuilding process of the Jaguars.
6. I think Mike Wallace has to look himself in the mirror today and say, “What a dumb thing I said yesterday about being ticked to not be a key guy in the gameplan. We won. I was selfish.’’ It’s patently absurd, after winning the first game of the season on the road, to complain about your role. It’s one game, dude. Can’t turn into T.O. after one game.
7. I think, as I reported on NBC over the weekend, that we can have whatever opinion we want about the fruitlessness of the mission Tim Tebow is on, but he is determined to give the quarterback position one more concentrated try. And the NFL quarterback position, not in Canada or the Arena League. Tebow will begin throwing with a quarterback coach this week, and he’ll stay in shape so that if there’s a spate of injuries and some team calls, he’ll be ready. And yes, it’s true: USA Rugby called to inquire whether Tebow would be interested in playing, because the organization believes he has the perfect body—massive shoulders, bull-like legs—to succeed in that game. Tebow believes he’s proven he doesn’t have to be a circus sideshow, as he was with the Jets, to play with a team; his experience with the Patriots shows it’s possible for him to be one of the guys, and not a daily headline. At least that’s his belief. I still maintain in the right place—which the 2012 Jets were, if they’d done with Tebow what Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum intended—Tebow can have a role as a changeup quarterback on a winning team.
8. I think in the realm of unintended consequences, the two penalties called on Tampa Bay safeties for hits on Jets receivers—because the receiver was defenseless or because the hit was very marginally high—will continue the trend of defensive backs lining up receivers and whacking them in the legs. What was ridiculous, I thought, was Jeremy Kerley curling up in anticipation of a hit, and Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson going low on him (I mean, where else could they go?) and getting flagged for unnecessary roughness. It is a rough sport! If a receiver gets in a fetal position and is attempting to go forward, are defenders supposed to leave him alone, or hit him? Said Goldson: “I can’t think about it. I can’t play timid. If I’m not in a position to get a guy clean, then I’ve got to go low. That’s just the way it is.”
9. I think Jerry Jones, Dan Snyder and Bob Kraft—and all the other owners in the league who believe, strangely, in attracting fans to the stadium rather than repelling them—are laughing this morning at this: Notre Dame and Michigan celebrated the largest crowd in college football history (115,109) Saturday night in Ann Arbor by apparently deciding not to play again in Ann Arbor until at least 2020, and maybe never again. Such a good idea, to give the public less of what it’s crying out for.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Remember one thing, all you Springsteenians, who wanted to see a more Jersey look for the Super Bowl halftime show and got Bruno Mars instead: Halftime shows are done to attract a non-football audience, including the international audience. Halftime shows are designed to hit a different demographic. I couldn’t tell you the difference between Bruno Mars and a Mars bar. But 56-year-old men aren’t the focus of the league when it comes to halftime shows at the Super Bowl.
b. I have to tell you it got quiet in the NBC Football Night in America Red Sox Wing when the Jacoby Ellsbury foot news came in Sunday. He’ll miss some time with an injury.
c. This is saying a lot, but the just-completed four-game Yankees-Red Sox series is in the modern era top five Yankees-Red Sox series for weirdness.
d. Thanks, Lake Bell, for being a fan of The MMQB. You’re good at movies too.
e. Feeling stupid for ignoring Breaking Bad.
f. Denver’s so underrated.
g. But the one thing about the city, if you’re there once or three times a year for short stays, is how dehydration just sneaks up on you. Last Wednesday, in mid-afternoon, I’m wondering why I have this headache. I never get headaches. And a friend said to me, “Drink water. Drink a lot of water here. That’s from dehydration.” He was right.
h. Coffeenerdness: Nice espresso, Dazbog. That’s the Denver coffee place I hit a couple of times last week. Less bitter than most espressos.
i. Beernerdness: Subbing a wine this week: I remembered having a Cabernet called “Educated Guess” a few months ago in New Jersey. The owner of the place told me it was a Wayne Gretzky wine from the Napa Valley, and it was terrific. Found it in Denver Wednesday night at our NBC dinner, and the crowd went wild. Very good value.
Who I Like Tonight
Washington 31, Philadelphia 23. Robert Griffin III and Mike Vick set a land-speed record for number of plays (2,349) in a 60-minute game. I don’t trust the Eagles defense.
Houston 34, San Diego 16. With Manti Te’o on the sidelines with a foot injury that’s idled him for 31 days, America will see one of the great names in the game instead—inside ‘backer Bront Bird. Arian Foster is not amused, or intimidated.
The Adieu Haiku
I know. Raiders lost.
But my Week 1 takeaway?
Oakland’s not boring.