What We Learned – by Alex Larsen — Week 1

Welcome to what will become a weekly recap of the NFL games over the weekend. This blog will hit on 32 points – one for each team in the NFL. The writing is biased, of course, but not blinded. So enjoy the banter, insight, or whatever you want to call this – this is What We Learned.

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It’s been all of three days and the headlines are all back to football – for better or worse. Our country has committed to this relationship, this marriage, with the National Football League. We love it – to a fault. We follow it through thick and thin. When the money is flowing in, we celebrate. When the money is flowing out, we anticipate. One game starts our hopes for the season. Winners proclaim resurgence – losers claim history.

The NFL refuses to remain faithful to us, however. We want a peaceful partnership; we never asked for a perfect marriage, but we didn’t want this to be so stressful. While we are looking for entertainment and highlights, we are getting moral issues and ethical dealings. Players are existing off the field, in a human realm all to familiar to us. When they take their helmets off, these guys have faces. In those eyes – the soft, cold, dark, or pleading – we see glimpses of ourselves. We realize that we didn’t marry our perfect match – we married our darkest secrets. It has always been an exhilarating ride, keeping us interested and invested week after week. Already, so soon into this season, we have to deal with the reality that our love has been keeping some secrets.

This is America, and tossing this relationship in the trash is all too simple. I implore you – don’t throw it away, yet. The time may come – perhaps this relationship is far too harmful for us to stay involved. Maybe the breakup is a long time in coming – maybe we are hurting ourselves more by staying here. But it’s too soon to know. Keep with it – stick it out through the hard times and you can truly enjoy the good times. We committed to this thing, and we need to see it through.

For now, let’s go through the first weekend. Each round of professional football play brings with it some surprises and some confirmations. Good teams fall, bad teams rise. Then we reevaluate our definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ entirely. That’s the beauty of this game – it keeps us guessing. After week one, here’s what we learned…

 

  1. The defending Champion Seattle Seahawks needed to open the season with dominance to quiet the naysayers. They did.
  2. The Packers couldn’t edge the ‘Hawks in Seattle, but they won’t face a tougher test all season. Rodgers is a lock (barring injury) for being in the MVP race discussion.
  3. Cincinnati visited division rival Baltimore to open the season and set the tone for the year. That tone? Field goals and juggling. They won, but looked very beatable.
  4. Baltimore couldn’t seem to get the offense firing – although newly acquired Steve Smith did make a trip to the end zone. With Smith Sr., Torrey Smith, Pitta and Daniels at TE, and the still good defense, Baltimore will be contending this year.
  5. Minnesota looked to turn things around in a hurry. Last season left a lot to be desired on defense, but it looked clean this time around. The Vikings allowed only two field goals despite not controlling the possession – oh, and the secondary that was worst in the league last year came away with two picks and score.
  6. The Rams never found the end zone against a surprisingly stingy Vikings defense. Missing Bradford at the helm hurts, but is no excuse now. The yards were good and the possession better than Minnesota – but no dice.
  7. The Atlanta Falcons that went 4-12 last season is gone. Perhaps it was never really there at all. Julio is healthy, Steven Jackson is good for 20 snaps a game, and Matt “Ice” Ryan earned his nickname. Let last year be forgotten.
  8.  New Orleans unfortunately dropped the first game in ATL, but it went to overtime. Brees casually tossed for over 300 yards on less than 30 passes (averaging over 10 yards per toss) and ROY candidate Brandin Cooks found free parking. The Saints will be marchin’ this season.
  9. The Browns played an entire game without sending in what’s-his-name. No turnovers and 24 points in the second half… Cleveland may not want to bail just yet.
  10. Pittsburgh looked great the first half, and awful the second. It seems age may finally be catching the Steelers, and fast-paced offenses are going to wear this team out.
  11. Jacksonville played a game and stayed in the game for more than one drive. Henne is no superstar – he’s not even a star – but he can get the job done. Gerhart needs to produce more than 42 rushing yards if this team wants to compete, but Shorts will be relieve some pressure (ahem) shortly.
  12. The Eagles were down by 17 at one point in this game. Foles threw a pick and lost two fumbles… there are plenty of teams on the schedule this season that will turn that into far more damage than the Jaguars did. Kelly runs a high-risk, high-reward package with Foles and Shady. Keep your cards close on this one.
  13. The Raiders didn’t commit a turnover, so that’s good. But the offense didn’t have much opportunity to do – they produced only 158 yards. Don’t be surprised if the City of Angels comes calling louder and louder as the season goes on for Raider Nation.
  14. Geno Smith is the starter in New York – and that goes for both teams. The Jets are much improved in the backfield with CJ2K and Chris Ivory, plus some kid named Decker seems to know how to catch pretty well.
  15. The Bills are surprising people already. That’s a problem. With top-tier draft picks (EJ Manuel, Sammy Watkins), past fantasy studs (CJ Spiller, Fred Jackson), and big-name signees (Mike Williams, Mario Williams), Buffalo should be competing every weekend. You can’t buy consistency.
  16. Chicago likely got a taste of the season right away. Over 400 offensive yards, double-digit targets for multiple receivers, and a pair of Cutler interceptions. It’s too soon to know for sure, but the windy city might be a lot of hot air.
  17. Washington put up decent numbers, had good possession time, and even played some decent defense. That’s not a given win in the NFL – and RG3 may not have much more to offer.
  18. Houston is going to be better than last year – (they can hardly be worse). It’s hard to be sold on Fitzpatrick, Foster, or even Andre Johnson as number one guys. This team will win or lose with its defense, and losing Jadeveon Clowney for around a third of the season is big.
  19. The Chiefs inked Alex Smith this offseason – he’s their guy. Their guy tossed three interceptions in the season opener. That’s a big part of the reason why KC only held onto the rock for about 20 minutes.
  20. The Titans scored 26 points, amassed over 400 yards, and committed no turnovers. Let the numbers speak for themselves.
  21. The Patriots have lost the first game of the season before – and won the Superbowl that same season. Don’t get cute – it’s still Brady and Belichick.
  22. The Dolphins put on a show in the second half. Beating New England is huge, and Moreno is a big addition to a team with plenty of weapons to do damage.
  23. The Panthers won – without Cam Newton. Benjamin is a big target, but Carolina will miss Steve Smith (for his hands and his heat) before too long.
  24. Tampa Bay is going to be better than this. McCown isn’t that bad, Martin is a consistent back, and the Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson tandem is enticing. Give Lovie some time with this unit.
  25. The 49ers that failed to find the end zone in the preseason disappeared to start the regular season. Kaepernick and Co. came out roaring, putting up 21 points in the first quarter. Except, that was it – the Niners didn’t even score in the second half. Dallas handed San Francisco six free opportunities, and the game ended up being much closer than it should have been.
  26. Dallas is right on pace for the same results as last year… and the year before… and the year before that. Romo tossed a trifecta of interceptions and his running backs put it on the ground three more times. If anything, it’s impressive that this wasn’t a blowout. The NFC East isn’t exactly strong…
  27. In the Tale of Two Halves, Peyton set the tone. The Broncos took off in the first half, notching 24 of their eventual 31 points. Peyton is a surgeon, and as long as he’s under center, this team will compete. (Side note: Peyton has beaten every team in the NFL, joining Brett Favre on that list of legends.)
  28. In the Tale of Two Halves, Luck followed suit. The Colts faced a 17-point deficit going into halftime. Indianapolis put up 17 points in the second half. However, Peyton got one more in there and beat his old team. A rematch could very well be on its way come playoffs.
  29. Monday Night Football kicked off in Motor City with Megatron on center-stage. Detroit ripped the Giants for over 400 yards in a 36-minute, no turnover spectacle.
  30. New York may not want to watch the tape from this one. Eli Manning threw two picks, which is rough. He completed only 54 percent of his passes, which is rougher. Two turnovers and a performance shy of 200 total yards gave the Giants one of the biggest ‘Ls’ of the first week.
  31. The Chargers led by 11 points going into the fourth quarter. Rivers and Matthews each had a touchdown to show. Gates was averaging over 15 yards per catch. Then Arizona struck, the Chargers tried to respond, and they were shut down.
  32. Arizona’s defense won them the game. Make no mistake – scoring is essential. But a comeback only works when the other team can’t continue to add to their lead. It took all 60 minutes, but Arizona stayed even with their rivals from the Bay and up in the Sleepless city.

 

So that’s it – 32 points that don’t really matter. It’s easy to forget about this and get stuck on the problems in this relationship. It’s equally easy to focus on this and try to ignore the problems. You can’t – take the relationship as it’s meant to be. Take all of it – the good and the bad. Enjoy the good, work through the bad. Maybe it will be everything we dreamed it would – and maybe it will be better.

 

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