A quick look at the first week of NFL action. Injuries studded the landscape, and some surprise opening-game victories might portend changes in
Indianapolis Colts 41, New Orleans Saints 10—An impressive win over a good Saints team proved the Colts’ offense is as potent as ever. Indy’s re-tooled defense also looked surprisingly aggressive and fast. Saints could never get off the schneid, and sophomore RB Reggie Bush was a non-factor.
New England Patriots 38, New York Jets 14—Pats unveil new pass-and-catch duo of Tom Brady and Randy Moss (9 catches, 183 yards). Special teams and sound defense also help to throttle the Jets in New York. Jets QB Chad Pennington injured his ankle and was replaced for a time by backup Kellen Clemens. New Jets RB Thomas Jones makes inauspicious debut.
Denver Broncos 15, Buffalo Bills 14—The Broncos escape Buffalo with a hard-fought victory, won in the final seconds on a Jason Elam field goal. QB Jay Cutler, RB Travis Henry and WR Javon Walker put up stellar numbers for Denver. The Broncs’ defense clamped down on the Bills’ promising passing game. Bills rookie RB Marshawn Lynch gains 90 yards and scores a TD in his NFL debut. Bills suffer critical injuries to important members of secondary, plus lose reserve TE Kevin Everett to crippling, even life-threatening injury.
Tennessee Titans 13, Jacksonville Jaguars 10—Vince Young mediocre, but RBs Chris Brown and LenDale White combine for 241 rushing yards, shredding a vaunted Jacksonville run defense on their home field. Meanwhile, the Titans’ defense holds Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew to 48 yards rushing. QB David Garrard runs Jags’ offense capably enough.
Washington Redskins 16, Miami Dolphins 13—Skins get 157 yards on the ground out of Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts, and Antwaan Randle El catches 5 passes for 162 yards. Even so, Skins need overtime field goal by Shaun Suisham to slip past the Dolphins. Trent Green respectable in debut as Fins’ QB, but Miami running game fails to get untracked.
Green Bay 16, Philadelphia Eagles 13—It wasn’t pretty, but Packers win big home game on a last-second field goal by rookie Mason Crosby. Favre-led Packers offense sputtered a lot, but defense looked strong. Eagles offense shows sparks but never catches fire behind Donovan McNabb.
Carolina Panthers 27, St. Louis Rams, 13—Panthers flash balanced offense of old and hold Steven Jackson to 58 rushing yards in impressive road victory. Carolina QB Jake Delhomme posts strong numbers (18-27, 201 yards, 3 TDs), while Rams QB Marc Bulger has mediocre performance. St. Louis All-Pro Orlando Pace sat out second half with arm injury, adding to mounting offensive line woes.
Minnesota Vikings, 24, Atlanta Falcons 3—Vikings defense dominates in convincing win. Rookie Adrian Peterson gains 103 yards on the ground and catches a pass for 60 yards and a TD. Good news for Minnesota, since the bad news is that Peterson’s fellow RB Chester Taylor was carted off the field in the first quarter with a hip injury. Sophomore QB Tarvaris Jackson manages offense capably. Falcons lackluster in every phase of game.
Pittsburgh Steelers 34, Cleveland Browns 7—Browns never have chance in Cleveland, as Steelers romp. Ben Roethlisberger hurls 4 TD passes and Willie Parker gains 109 yards on the ground. First career victory for new Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. Browns have almost nothing to cheer about, including subpar quarterbacking by Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson. Brady Quinn speculation moves to front burner.
Houston Texans 20, Kansas City Chiefs 3—Texans use shutdown defensive effort to spur easy win. Kansas City RB Larry Johnson held to 43 yards rushing. New Houston QB Matt Schaub plays smart and efficient and throws a 77-yard TD pass to Andre Johnson. Veteran KC receiver Eddie Kennison left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury; Houston loses starting strong safety Jason Simmons for the season with a torn left patellar tendon.
San Diego Chargers 14, Chicago Bears 3—LaDainian Tomlinson rushes for one TD and throws for another. Chargers dominate time of possession, while defense clamps down on Bears in hard-hitting victory. Bears generate little offense; RB Cedric Benson stuffed at line repeatedly.
Seattle Seahawks 20, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6—Tough D and a balanced offense lead Seattle over Bucs. Shaun Alexander flashes old consistent ways with 105 rushing yards. Seattle records 5 sacks. Jeff Garcia does little of note in QB debut for Tampa. Bucs RB Cadillac Williams injures ribs, fails to return to action after gaining 60 yards on 12 carries.
Detroit Lions 36, Oakland Raiders 21—Lions flash exciting offense, grab seemingly decisive lead, then give it all back to the Raiders in Oakland. Then 19 4th quarter points ice the victory. Lions QB Jon Kitna throws three TD passes, each to a different member of his gifted receiving corps. Highly touted Lions rookie WR Calvin Johnson caught six balls for 70 yards and scored one touchdown in his pro debut. Raiders QB Josh McCown delivers productive numbers (30-40, 313 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) and RB LaMont Jordan gains 70 yards on 15 carries with a TD.
Dallas Cowboys 45, New York Giants 35—Dallas wins seesaw offensive battle, led by QB Tony Romo’s 345 passing yards and 4 TDs. Dallas RBs Marion Barber and Julius Jones combine for 131 rushing yards, and WR Terrell Owens scores two TDs. Giants QB Eli Manning posts productive numbers (28-41, 312 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT), while RB Derrick Ward gains 89 yards on 13 carries and catches a TD pass subbing for Brandon Jacobs, who was injured during the game along with Giants DL Osi Umenyiora. Manning also bruised his shoulder and his short-term status is uncertain. The Cowboys’ lost nose tackle DL Jason Ferguson for the season with a torn bicep injury.
Cincinnati Bengals 27, Baltimore Ravens 20—Excellent “Monday Night Football” opener finds Bengals outmuscling Ravens. Cincinnati defense outshines team’s vaunted offense, makes critical big plays. RB Willis McGahee gains 77 yards in Ravens debut. Injuries hit Ravens, however, with veterans OL Jonathan Ogden, LB Ray Lewis, QB Steve McNair and KR B.J. Sams all sitting at one point. Kyle Boller replaced McNair for the Ravens’ final desperation drive.
San Francisco 49ers 20, Arizona Cardinals 17—”MNF, Part Deux” is a back-and-forth battle typified by lackluster offenses and hard hitting throughout. QB Alex Smith leads Niners to game-winning drive in last minute after failing to move the team all night. QB Matt Leinart has similar problems for Cards. Vet Cards RB Edgerrin James is productive with 92 yards and a TD. A messy but aggressive contest that failed to define either team’s potential fortunes in the coming year.
The lead “MNF” team of Tirico, Kornheiser and Jaworski had a fairly successful night in the booth covering the Bengals-Ravens tilt. Kornheiser actually evoked some chuckles, and “Jaws” was going to town with the play analysis. A lot of air space was simply filled, of course, but there was some cohesion and some interesting insights too. In addition, distaff field reporters Michele Tafoya and Suzy Kolber both seemed to be performing with welcome restraint, toning down the overkill intensity and straightforwardly allowing the combo of camera and measured voice convey their pieces effectively—and with listenability. (Could it be that ESPN bosses are reading and heeding our SMA critiques??)
The second “MNF” telecast featured the Weenie Greenie (Mike Greenberg) launching his dream career plans as heir apparent (in his mind, anyway) to Al Michaels as a play-by-play announcer. I’ve never heard Greenberg do play-by-play of any kind before, but he’s used his ESPN radio show as a podium to announce his desires to get into this area of sports broadcasting. (Doing that radio show is no doubt a bore—and too much work—for the Weenie at this point, and there are bigger fish for him to fry as he climbs the ladder to legend-in-his-own-mind status.) Apparently he whined enough to the right people to secure this gig. He brought his radio lap dog Mike Golic along for security (and to do color commentary), with yet another Mike (Ditka) also in the booth—making it no doubt the first occasion in the history of sports broadcasting where all three guys at the mike were named Mike. It wasn’t the worst experience, and in some ways “Mike x 3” was a little less buttoned down than the typical fare. On an artistic note, both Greenberg and Golic are way too nasal for my aural tastes. They lack the clear, crackling voices of the front-line sports talents. Ditka, however, does not have that problem, and as always he’s kind of fun in his meatheaded way. If Greenberg’s gonna do this again sometime, he might want to bone up more on the names and numbers of the players he’s covering. He was improvising quite a bit on the play calls, and usually waited till after the action to tell us who did what. (Or put a faster spotter in his earpiece. Preferably someone named Mike.)