NFL Week One: Surprises Aplenty

Travis Basciotta

With the first week of the NFL in the books, it is time to reflect on the open-ing of the 2012 season and make some ill-informed, knee-jerk conclusions.

There’s no better place to start than in New York, where the defending Super Bowl champion Giants started their year with a loss to their bitter division rivals, the Dallas Cow-boys, on Wednesday night. Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and the rest of the acclaimed Giants defensive line got to Cowboys quar-terback Tony Romo only twice, and the Pro Bowler picked them apart for 307 passing yards and three touchdowns. On offense, Eli Manning looked sluggish and found paydirt only once while first-round draft pick David Wilson was caught crying on the sideline by television cameras after losing a fumble in Cowboys territory. The Big Blue faith-ful have every reason to be concerned with their team’s performance, especially consid-ering their tough schedule. The only easy win looks like Cleveland in week five, so if the Giants don’t recover quickly, they could be facing an uphill battle. The Cowboys, meanwhile, put the league on notice with a great all-around performance, and barring injuries, will be strong competitors for the NFC crown.

The other team in New York City had a much better opening game, as the much-maligned Jets offense exploded en route to a dominating win against the Buffalo Bills. Mark Sanchez played one of the best games of his career, while Darrelle Revis and the rest of the defense humiliated Bills quarter-back Ryan Fitzpatrick. Adding insult to in-jury, Bills starting running back Fred Jackson was knocked out of the game early and is expected to miss at least a month. However, despite the impressive performance, don’t go drinking the Gang Green Kool-Aid just yet. Fitzpatrick was almost as bad as Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden on Sunday and the Jets seemingly always play well against the Bills. I think I’ll wait and see how they play against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field next week before taking Sanchez off the chopping block.

The most shocking upset of the week-end came in New Orleans, as rookie QB Robert Griffin III and the Washington Red-skins sent the Saints sinking back to their locker room with a 40-32 defeat. RG3 was as good – if not better – than advertised, throw-ing for 320 yards and two touchdowns. The Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor looked confident moving around in the pocket, go-ing through his progressions and using his speed when plays broke down. Taking sacks, rushing throws, missing reads and all the other little mistakes you would expect from a rookie quarterback were absent in RG3’s per-formance. The Saints, on the other hand, lost their home opener after going undefeated in the Super Dome last season. Who knows how much “Bountygate” played into the team’s poor effort but the Saints need to turn it around quickly. Drew Brees is still an elite quarterback, so I do expect the Saints to play better as the season progresses, but the loss to the Redskins certainly doesn’t dispel the tension in New Orleans.

Elsewhere in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers lost in Lambeau to the San Francisco 49ers in a battle between two of the confer-ence’s finest. Aaron Rodgers was far from his best, however, as he never seemed to get in rhythm against the 49ers defense. Much of his problem stemmed from the abysmal Packers running game, which managed a measly 45 yards rushing on 14 carries. Free agent pickup Cedric Benson is clearly not the answer, as evidenced by his two-yards-per-carry average. Unless the Packers can find a way to move the ball on the ground, teams will continue to send pass rushers at Rodgers and disrupt their passing attack. As for the 49ers, I still have my doubts. Alex Smith is just not a Su-per Bowl quarterback and, unlike Trent Dil-fer, he doesn’t have the 2000 Ravens defense helping him out. Patrick Willis and company are a tough, competitive bunch, but I think it’s too much to ask them to completely shut down elite offenses come playoff time.

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos capped the opening Sunday with a convinc-ing 31-19 win over the Steelers. Coming off a missed season and four neck surgeries, Man-ning was as solid as always, throwing for 253 yards and two touchdowns. His performance was as good as any Broncos fan could have hoped for and added to the expectations of Manning if he can remain healthy. Peyton is not the same quarterback who threw for 49 touchdowns in 2004, but he’s savvy enough to make the right reads and engineer drives when they matter most. Von Miller and the Broncos defense also took care of business, as they sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times and sealed the win with a pick-six in the fourth quarter. The Steelers defense, meanwhile, looked pedestrian at best. Even without Ryan Clark and James Harrison, the Black and Yel-low cannot be happy with getting only three hits on Manning. If these teams meet again in the playoffs, I’d look for more blitzes from the Steelers and more pressure on number 18.

The NFL has also asked me to send a re-quest to any Colgate University intramural referees who knows the majority (but not all) league rules and are willing to work next week’s games.

Contact Travis Basciotta at [email protected]