|The nose hurts for Brady, but having a defense probably makes up for it. (AP)|
Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to Week 1's Pick-Six Podcast below and go ahead and subscribe via iTunes.
1. The Already Filthy-Rich Patriots Have Gotten Richer
Tom Brady's bloody nose and Jake Locker's shoulder injury will get most of the attention coming out of New England's 34-13 victory over the Titans. But don't sleep on the Patriots defense, which looked completely retooled on Sunday, as well as their improved running game.
The microcosmic view of the former came on a single play in the second quarter: Chandler Jones torched Michael Roos (a very good lineman) to strip-sack Jake Locker. Dont'a Hightower picked up the ball and rumbled into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown that gave the Pats a 14-7 lead. They never looked back. And the Titans never looked comfortable, particularly Chris Johnson, who put up numbers -- 11 carries for four yards -- that would make his 2011 self blush.
As far as the running game goes, Stevan Ridley looked like the best back Bill Belichick's had since his reclamation work on Corey Dillon, putting up 125 yards on 21 carries and making the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to Cincinnati look largely irrelevant.
New England was within a Wes Welker catch (or Brady overthrow, depending on how you feel about it) of winning the Super Bowl last year, and they did it with a defense that was flat-out terrible, and an uninspiring running game. Tom Brady looked like his typical Tom Brady self on Sunday, had Brandon Lloyd not egged an easy deep touchdown catch, his numbers would've been better.
So while lots of other "new" storylines will suffocate the headline space, don't ignore the fact that the Patriots, who were the best team in the AFC in 2011, appear to have used the offseason to address their two biggest weaknesses and potentially become an even more complete team. That should be terrifying for the rest of the NFL.
2. Mea Culpa; Sanchez Snacks on Bills
I used a lot of virtual ink this offseason ripping the Jets for talking about how good they could be despite having no weapons on offense. I wasn't the only one who did that, and that means a lot of people looked a whole lot of wrong on Sunday when the Jets put up a ridiculous 48 points, the first time they've gone for more than 40 since Rex Ryan took over.
So if Rex wants to just stand in front of the microphone and shimmy while giving the double bird to the collected media this week, by all means, go right ahead. He's earned it.
What's fascinating about the way the Jets scored, though, is that it didn't remotely involve the wildcat. Tim Tebow's biggest contribution was recovering an onsides kick late in the game. He ran the ball five times for 11 yards and didn't attempt a pass (Tebow was on the field for eight plays; all eight resulted in attempted runs).
Mark Sanchez, on the other hand, looked pretty freaking good. He had one of of the worst interceptions you'll ever see ...
But then he had a pair of touchdowns to rookie Stephen Hill that were just fantastic. Even Sanchez will tell you he didn't think the Jets would explode like this.
"I knew we were really close in the preseason," Sanchez said. "Did I know it was 48 points? No, I didn't necessarily know that, but that's just a great day of execution."
Indeed. Do I think they'll put up 40 every game? No. Are the Jets better than we thought, offensively? Clearly. Do I want my Bills-to-the-playoffs pick back already? Hahaha. Sigh.
3. It's Hard Out There for a Rookie Quarterback
I'm aware there's an exception. We'll get more on that in a second, and don't forget to read Pete Prisco's take from New Orleans on Griffin's big day. But having watched these youngsters waltz on the field and struggle mightily, it's an important reminder about how tough it is to be a rookie signal-caller in the NFL.
Josh Katzowitz has a full breakdown with grades over here, but I want to touch on one key point here. If you're a rookie quarterback and you're not in a great system with some talent around you, it's going to be a long year.
Ryan Tannehill has ZERO talent at wide receiver around him; how can he possibly be expected to succeed in Miami with Davone Bess as his best wideout? Andrew Luck has Reggie Wayne, Coby Fleener and Donald Brown, but, um, that's your argument? His offensive line is no good and that spells trouble against top-end defenses. Russell Wilson's in a run-first offense with wideouts who might be as bad as Tannehill's and an offensive line that's suspect and always injured. Oh, and featuring his old teammate and former defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy.
And Brandon Weeden. Goodness. Rookie running back (with recent knee surgery!), and one year of experience between his two starting wideouts. Yeah, sure, that dude's going to have a huge season.
Which brings us to ...
4. Giving Credit to Mike Shanahan [/shudder]
Washington's new franchise quarterback had the kind of outing that'll have "RG3 > CAM????" questions being raised. Not going to acknowledge that silly debate, but I think it's worth acknowledging Mike Shanahan for the job he did on Sunday with his rookie quarterback.
RG3 didn't have an incompletion until his ninth pass of the game and it's irrelevant that the first six of those were behind the line of scrimmage; that was smart game planning by Shanahan in terms of getting his rookie quick, easy, confidence-building passes that resulted in positive yardage.
Additionally, Shanahan continued to move Griffin all over the place and play perfectly to his skills. The system fits the quarterback and the quarterback fits the system, which is precisely why I always liked RG3 to have better stats in 2012 than Luck.
No one's shy about killing Mike and Kyle Shanahan for their quarterback debacling in D.C., and no one should be. The arrogance of believing that a system can overcome the dearth of talent between John Beck and Rex Grossman is ridiculous. But give Shanny a talented quarterback -- and Robert Griffin is a very talented quarterback -- and he can do some damage.
The Saints looked utterly discombobulated on Sunday, and there's no reason to think their defense will get better any time soon, but that win was more about what Griffin did than what the Saints didn't. And what Griffin did, in large part, was facilitated by an extremely strong gameplan from the Shanaclan (© Bill Barnwell), who deserves credit for setting a rookie quarterback up for success in such a hostile environment.
5. Easy on the Officials
Are the NFL's replacement officials great? No, no they are not great. But they are just like most refs in that sense. And that's why it's a total nightmare that the one big gaffe -- a Webberian timeout flub at the end of the Seahawks-Cardinals game -- occurred when the whole world was tuned in to one game.
The refs didn't charge the Seahawks a timeout on a play that featured an injury and allowed Pete Carroll to call timeout again when he ran Marshawn Lynch near the goal line with 30 seconds left (which in and of itself is questionable). Former head of officiating Mike Pereira scrambled up his soap box and sounded apoleptic while trying to inform the refs they'd messed up. And they had.
But to act like one bad call, one bad group of refs or even two bad groups of refs if you want to count Green Bay and San Francisco means we've lost the integrity of the game is just silly. Go look at the complaints from people about referee work on Sunday and you'll see three primary themes.
One, the complaints are pretty split down the middle in terms of fan bases complaining about getting hosed. This is a fact of life: Every fan hates every ref for every call when things don't work out well for their team.
Two, most of the calls deal with somewhat subjective stuff like pass interference and holding. It wasn't that long ago (as in, um, last year) when people maligned the fact that the regular refs called too many touch fouls on pass interference. In other words, people are always unhappy.
And three, most of the complaints came from teams who got beat on Sunday. Imagine that.
6. The Folly of Limiting Feature Backs
There's one caveat here, because Rashad Jennings suffered an injury and left the Jaguars-Vikings game with a knee injury after piling up 31 yards on eight carries with one catch for nine yards. Maurice Jones-Drew doesn't get the run he did if Jennings stays in the game, especially since Jennings looked good. But Jennings didn't stay in the game, and MoJo ended up toting the rock just like a couple other big-name backs on Sunday.
MJD got 19 carries for 77 yards, and he wasn't even the most-surprising back to put up big numbers Sunday. That honor belongs to Adrian Peterson, who carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Woe the fantasy expert who has to deal with followers on Twitter that want to know why Peterson kept running. I don't honestly know why the Vikings would risk him suffering further injury either, but I do know AP looked like he was back. So maybe that's the simple answer: He got on the field, he looked awesome, he kept finding the end zone, and he's a freak of nature who got healthy in an unholy amount of time.
Also much healthier than we expected: Arian Foster. Foster found the end zone twice and carried the ball 26 times for 79 yards. Ben Tate looked like a fantasy sleeper before the week began, but he ended up carrying the ball five times for six yards.
The lesson here is that when a coach says a superstar running back is going to be limited, just don't listen to that coach.
7. Greg Schiano Effect
Make no mistake: the Panthers played like absolute junk in Tampa Bay on Sunday. But that shouldn't detract from the job the Buccaneers did on defense against a team with three talented running backs (though Jonathan Stewart didn't play) and one of the brightest young stars in the NFL at quarterback.
Carolina rushed for a measly 10 rushing yards (!) on Sunday, which is nuts considering the Bucs gave up 156 rushing yards per game in 2011. It's also nuts because, again, it's 10 yards -- that's a franchise record for Tampa for fewest yards allowed, and it ties the Carolina franchise record for fewest yards gained.
Cam Newton looked awful, and while he had some moments where he shone, there's no question he appeared to regress, passing into heavy coverage and throwing off his back foot most of the afternoon (YES I AM AWARE IT IS ONE WEEK). The Panthers screwed up a lot, looked nothing like the a top-five offensive team and generally were perplexed on both sides of the ball for most of the game.
That definitely had something to do with Schiano's defense, which is vastly better than the unit that limped out to represent Raheem Morris last season. Mark Barron's a huge addition and Gerald McCoy staying healthy could be big for Tampa if they want to make noise.
8. Kevin Kolb Is the Closer?
Nothing truly proves how whacked-out the NFL is quite like this: John Skelton, with the Cardinals down three points, was carted off with an ankle injury. Enter the embattled Kevin Kolb, who promptly engineered the best offensive drive of the entire Seahawks-Cardinals game.
11 plays and 80 yards later and the Cardinals took a lead which held up, despite some issues with the refereeing during the final minutes of the game and some poor attempted catches from the Seahawks wide receivers. The Cards starting quarterback situation was already a trainwreck, and now it's even more of a cluster.
Skelton's ankle, according to reports, isn't broken and is just sprained. But follow the money and the path leads to Kolb. So too do the stats from Sunday -- Skelton was 14-for-28 for
9. Alex Smith Outplays Aaron Rodgers
OK, OK, there are reasons why Smith looked better. He has a better run game. The Packers defense <<<<< 49ers defense. He had the lead. Randy Moss! And things and stuff and whatnot. But here's the reality: take out the late-game yardage that Rodgers picked up, and Smith had better stats, going 20-for-26 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and no picks.
Rodgers was 30-for-44 for 303 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. The Packers couldn't run the ball, their defense looked bad and Rodgers dealt with drops. All things are not created equal.
But this wasn't really about Rodgers vs. Smith. It can't and won't ever be. They're different quarterbacks in different systems and on different teams (also: Rodgers is much better). But it was a statement game for the 49ers.
They reminded everyone that their formula from 2011 can work just fine again this year, thanks for asking. For those that expected a big falloff, that might've been too premature. But for those fans screaming at the people who predicted any dropoff, I'd like to remind you that it's a very long season.
10. Muffed Punts/Leftovers from Sunday
The Falcons quietly went about the business of destroying an undermanned secondary and did I mention I love Julio Jones ... Blaine Gabbert lost but I thought he took some nice steps in a tough environment and should've gotten the Jaguars the win ... What the hell was Pat Shurmur thinking when he kicked an extra point up 15-10; he summarily lost 17-16 in case you didn't see that one coming ... Randy Moss scored a touchdown and if he turns out to be effective it will just be weird ...
WORTH 1,000 WORDS
It's the first week of the season and Weeden got caught in a giant American flag in the middle of the field. You want me to not include that?