It was technically back on Thursday night, and I may or may not have become a bit misty-eyed while waxing poetic about its return. But now football is really really reallly back. The first Sunday is always extra special, as we overreact to each incomplete pass and try to reestablish our channel-changing prowess (Tomlinson will report that I struggled getting back up to speed in this area).
In case you missed it, we recapped much of Sunday’s action in columns here, here, here and here. But because you can never have enough NFL talk, here are 26 other thoughts/ideas/predictions/statements to feast on:
1. So much for the Dream Team struggling to establish chemistry. The Eagles lived up to expectations in Week 1, dominating an underrated Rams team in St. Louis, where it’s especially hard to come away with a victory like that one. After a hiccup out of the gate (Steven Jackson ran for a 47-yard touchdown on St. Louis’ first play from scrimmage), Philly settled in and outscored the Rams 31-6 the rest of the way. Here’s how the newbies fared:
Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: The new duo helped the Philly defense hold Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley to just 181 yards. Asomugha took a big pass interference penalty against Brandon Gibson in the third quarter, but that was the only glaring mistake made by either player. DRC is still taking a backseat to Asante Samuel, but you really can’t go wrong with that trio.
Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins: Combined for three of Philly’s five sacks. The pass rush is clearly better than it was in 2010.
Vince Young: Didn’t play because of a hamstring injury.
Steve Smith: Still not ready to go.
Jarrad Page: Flew under the radar in the offseason signing frenzy, but Page was stellar against St. Louis. He had a couple good stops and tied for the team lead with six tackles. Although he did drop an easy pick.
Philly gets an even bigger test next week, again on the road, in Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta. That prime-time game could have major seeding implications a few months from now, because the Falcons are better than we saw Sunday and the Eagles are clearly the head-and-shoulders leader in the NFC East.
2. The Lions are legitimate wild-card contenders. The offense was clicking in Tampa, which was expected. But how ’bout the defense? We all know the pass rush is good, but the team’s defensive MVP Sunday might have been linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason. Dude was all over the field. Despite only being sacked twice and having a decent amount of time and space, Josh Freeman wasn’t able to cut up the inexperienced and oft-criticized Detroit pass defense. It’s only one game, but a victory on the road against a 10-win team is very encouraging. Now, can Stafford stay healthy?
3. And while we’re on that matchup, what’s with the Bucs giving up on the running game? Giving LeGarrette Blount only five touches is criminal. Not impressed with the offensive gameplan, and they should have dialed it up more defensively to test the Lions’ shaky offensive line.
4. The touchback numbers are in. And while it’s not a complete disaster, it ain’t pretty. At the end of the day, 68 of 140 kickoffs were touchbacks. That’s 49 percent. Last year, there were only 18 touchbacks the entire opening week (18 percent). Colder temps will roll in, which will help, but you’d also have to think that coaches will begin to clamp down on rogue returners taking it out from six yards deep. I’m guessing we’ll end up in the 45 percent range this year, which isn’t ideal. On the bright side, there have been three kickoff return touchdowns this week, which is tied for the most ever on kickoff weekend.
5. Chris Johnson: 49 yards on 15 touches. Very disappointing performance against a bad run defense. This is very likely a knee-jerk reaction to one game, but I wonder if Kenny Britt might supplant Johnson to become the top offensive threat in Tennessee. Like, have we seen the best of CJ?
6. Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews could change everything in San Diego. I’m sure Chargers fans were a little irritated by Darren Sproles’ super-duper performance with the Saints Thursday, but Tolbert and Mathews were awesome Sunday against Minnesota. The new backfield duo combined for 211 yards on 36 touches, with Tolbert scoring all three of San Diego’s touchdowns. We all know how good the Chargers’ passing game is — if the running game can exceed expectations, there might be no stopping these guys.
7. Good thing we predicted that the NFC South would have three playoff teams. Zero wins, four losses in Week 1.The Bucs and Falcons were particularly disappointing.
8. Ed Reed has six interceptions in his last three regular-season games. And 10 in his last 11 starts. It’s so easy to criticize the geriatric aspect of the Ravens’ defense, but Reed and Ray Lewis — a combined 69 years old — forced four of the team’s seven — seven! — turnovers in Pittsburgh. If Reed can stay healthy, maybe the wise old man makes a run at Night Train Lane’s 58-year-old single-season interception record of 14. Very unlikely, but not completely crazy.
9. Julius Peppers has some support in Chicago. Big performance against Atlanta from Henry Melton, who replaces Tommie Harris in his third year out of Texas. But you wouldn’t be surprised by Melton’s two-sack effort against the Falcons if you’d read our column predicting that he’d have a breakout 2011 season. (Really no shame here.)
10. Speaking of that column. Sean Lee was on there, too. Lee was the Cowboys’ best defensive player in his first career start Sunday night in Jersey.
11. The best part about this shot of Tony Soprano celebrating a Jets touchdown? The people surrounding him. I can’t put my finger on why, but they entertain me…
12. Is it me or did, like, a thousand players suffer from cramps on Sunday?
13. Why all the hate for Antonio Cromartie? He got beat by a freak of a receiver for touchdown No. 1 and actually had great coverage (and what was essentially an interception) on touchdown No. 2. The Jets understand that Cromartie is an all-or-nothing corner, and they’ve committed to him knowing that there’ll be good times and bad times. Realistically, he’s an ideal player to have opposite a shutdown corner like Darrelle Revis. Would Nnamdi Asomugha make the Jets better? Yes, but Nnamdi Asomugha would make everybody better.
14. The NFL handled the 9/11 anniversary very well. Respectfully, but not over the top and it didn’t take away from the games. And that’s smart, because people watching football chose that over 9/11 coverage on news networks.
15. If Jon Beason is out for the season with an Achilles injury, it’ll be the most devastating injury a team has had to deal with this year, save for the obvious.
16. Well, that was an awkward way to pass Joe Montana on the all-time passing yards list, wasn’t it, Kerry Collins?
17. Obviously I now believe Tony Scheffler is the coolest player in the NFL…
18. How long is Donovan McNabb’s leash? Like, if he wasn’t Donovan McNabb, we’d be laughing at the guy. That was an abysmal performance against the Chargers. How long before the Vikings realize that they’re a bad team anyway, and that starting a dinosaur isn’t going to help build the team for 2012 and beyond? If a guy without McNabb’s history followed up a terrible season with a seven-completion, 39-yard performance, he’d be told to take a seat.
19. It did appear as though Tony Romo was laughing (or at least smiling) after fumbling a snap in the final seconds Sunday night. But that’s the kind of idle crap that people love to become hysterical over. The guy was probably chuckling sarcastically due to his exasperation over the comedy of errors that plagued the Cowboys in the fourth quarter. Romo screwed up on three separate occasions as the ‘Boys choked on a two-touchdown fourth-quarter lead for the first time in franchise history. Criticize him for the fumble inside the five-yard line, the embarrassing interception to Revis and the botched snap in the final moments. Who cares about the alleged giggle…
20. So that’s why Peyton Manning is a four-time MVP… Is there any doubt now that Manning is the most valuable player to his team in the NFL?
2008 Patriots without Brady: 11-5. 2011 Colts without Manning: 5-11? Maybe worse?
21. And Colt McCoy proves how meaningless preseason performances are: Mediocrity against a terrible Bengals team.
22. It appears the Texans have picked up Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense quickly, but Kerry Collins and the Colts didn’t exactly bring it. I’m looking forward to seeing how the retooled D performs against the Saints in Week 3 and Steelers in Week 4. Still, very encouraging that Mario Williams had two sacks standing up Sunday.
23. I’m really fazed by the new system that requires every scoring play to be reviewed. I’m finding myself waiting for confirmation, which sort of lessens the intensity of the celebration. Actually, it almost feels like watching a figure skater nailing a routine and then waiting for his or her results. What if the French judge has LeSean McCoy in his fantasy pool?
24. The Rams are in big trouble. Not only were they dominated at home in their opener, but the injury bug might already derail their season. Sam Bradford, Danny Amendola and Steven Jackson were all hurt Sunday. Amendola (dislocated elbow) could be out for much of the season, and there is some concern about Bradford (nerve injury in a finger on his throwing hand). Jackson has a quadriceps injury. All three of those players are irreplaceable. With Baltimore, Green Bay and New Orleans looming on the first-half schedule, the Rams could find themselves in a big hole quickly. Good thing they’re in the NFC West…
25. The Lions and Tigers win on the same day, oh my! First time that’s happened since Sept. 30, 2007. Seriously.
26. And I’ll leave you with this…