NFL Quarter-Season Review

Edan Lisovicz

With the first quarter of the 2009 NFL season officially in the books, it’s safe to say that we can now tell much more about each team than we could just a week or two ago. Although much remains to be seen, it is nevertheless clear that a few teams have distinguished themselves as legitimate contenders, a few more have already rendered the season a lost cause, while the rest are still lingering somewhere in between these extremes. For better or worse, the following individuals have played pivotal roles in determining which of these categories their team belongs to, and for that reason they merit mention on this list of early season surprises and disappointments.

Surprise: Brett Favre, QB – Minnesota Vikings

Although you can count me as one of the millions of fans who are sick and tired of the seemingly never ending saga that is Brett Favre’s career, it is a pretty safe bet that the Vikings would not be undefeated at this point without the NFL’s all-time leading passer at the helm. Favre quite simply refuses to relinquish the national spotlight, as evidenced by his miraculous game-winning touchdown pass against the 49ers with only two seconds left on the clock in Week Three. And as if that wasn’t enough, Favre turned in what many would call his best all-around performance in years against the Packers on Monday night. He was nearly flawless, going 24-31 for 271 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Love him or hate him, Brett Favre has already and proven that he is, still, more than capable as an NFL quarterback, which in the end is all that is needed to validate his controversial decision to return for a 19th season. But the best part about his resurgence is that if he continues to play like this, the Vikings-featuring Adrian Peterson and a hungry defense-have to be considered a favorite to contend for the NFC Title.

Disappointment: JaMarcus Russell, QB – Oakland Raiders

After showing some positive signs down the stretch of last season, it appears JaMarcus Russell’s skills have suffered a serious regression. Russell has been downright awful this season, completing less than 40% of his passes and throwing four interceptions to only one touchdown. His QB rating is a pathetic 42.4. The only positive for Russell thus far has been that no one in Oakland seems to care too much about his inability to manage a football team. After completing 12-33 passes for 128 yards in an entirely uncompetitive 29-6 loss to the Houston Texans, Head Coach Tom Cable told the Contra Costa Times, “I thought he played his best football all year in terms of where he is going with it and his presence and all of those things.” Tough times to be a Raider fan.

Surprise: Steve Smith, WR – New York Giants

As soon as it became evident that Plaxico Burress would be spending the 2009 season not on the gridiron but in a cell on Rikers Island, many wondered whether the game-changing explosiveness of Eli Manning’s favorite target could ever be replaced by one of his lesser-known counterparts on the Giants roster. Thanks to the play of Steve Smith, this question appears to have been addressed much earlier than expected. By catching four touchdowns and leading the league with 411 receiving yards, the Giants standout is quickly becoming the premier Steve Smith in the league, outproducing is counterpart on the Panthers.

Disappointment: Eric Mangini, Head Coach – Cleveland Browns

For perpetually struggling franchises the hiring of a new head coach is supposed to be cause for at least a brief era of optimism and excitement, but it has been exactly four weeks into the season and already an entire locker room and fan base has given up on Eric Mangini. Most fans had to believe that things couldn’t get much worse this year after the Browns concluded their 2008 campaign by losing their last six games and failing to score an offensive touchdown in their last 24 quarters, but so far Mangini has put on his best Romeo Crennel impression by starting out 0-4. And his on the field problems may be the least of his concerns. He started off on the wrong foot with the team and local media by attempting to keep his starting quarterback a secret, and is now under heat for fining a player $1,701 for failing to pay for a $3 bottle of water at a hotel. Overall, Mangini seems to possess an arrogance and aloofness that is completely unwarranted by his track record as a head coach, and it will be interesting to see if his regime in Cleveland will last more than one year.

Disappointment: Tony Romo – QB, Dallas Cowboys

When the Dallas Cowboys have lost this season, it has been because of Tony Romo, and when they have won, it has been in spite of him. After laying an egg on national TV against the Giants and ruining Jerry Jones’ $1.2 billion parade, Romo has continued to struggle in his two games since, combining for zero touchdowns and one interception. The Cowboys offense-so recently among the most feared in the league-has looked terribly stagnant and lethargic, and much of the blame belongs to Romo. Despite lining up with arguably the most explosive RB tandem in the league in Marion Barber and Felix Jones, Romo’s inaccuracy and poor decision-making has continually resulted in turnovers and stalled drives, and he seems to be losing the confidence of his teammates in the huddle. Although it was Romo who cut ties with Jessica Simpson this summer, some may be beginning wonder whether Tony might soon follow in the footsteps of T.O., Pac Man and Tank Johnson as the next controversial player to be cut loose by America’s Team.