What can we learn from week one?
The opening games of the 2011 NFL season


Ok… so maybe you have (and maybe you haven’t) read my divisional previews and 2011 season overview. And perhaps you’ve seen how I’m not planning on making weekly picks this year. But you’re still wondering… what did Bob see in the games?

Well… fine… you’re absolutely not wondering about what I saw in the games. But occasionally I have a couple of observations, and once in a while I have a good joke to toss in. And it just so happens, that with some of the things I saw from the first week, I had some free time and a burning desire to criticize Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys for playing stupid, stupid football.

So let’s take a look at the opening sixteen games. For a couple I’ll have several thoughts… for some I might not have much at all.

Here we go…

Green Bay 42 – New Orleans 34

I don’t have a lot to talk about here for a simple reason… both of these teams are going to be good.

The NFC South was blanked this week… four losses. So unless the Saints have some sort of hangover, where they can’t seem to get back to .500 or better for a while, this game really might only matter in determining the top NFC seed when January arrives. It’s not like the weekend wrapped up and the Saints are looking up at one or more teams in the standings… it’s not like the Falcons or Bucs played so well, or the Saints so poorly, that any concern needs to be voiced.

Baltimore 35 – Pittsburgh 7

Brutal. Just a dismantling of a football team. Every time I watched a few minutes of this game, Baltimore was outplaying Pittsburgh in a new way. Four fumbles… three interceptions… and the Ravens didn’t turn the ball over once.

Rice went over 100-yards rushing… with Williams adding a steady 63-yards off of 12 carries (delivered mostly late in the game).

Flacco wasn’t amazingly accurate passing (under 60%), but again… no turnovers.

Pittsburgh gets Seattle next week. That should help. And yes… one game… don’t read too much into it. Still… hard not to see that Baltimore didn’t even break a sweat while outplaying Pittsburgh in every facet of the game.

I thought Baltimore would win easily… I didn’t expect Pittsburgh to lose so badly. They did not look even remotely like a playoff team in this game.

Cincinnati 27 – Cleveland 17

I’d like to tell you something deep and meaningful, but honestly… I got nothing.

Cincy jumped out to a 10-0 lead, only to trail 14-13 at the half. 14-points in the fourth quarter won the game for them, with the Browns doing very little outside of the second quarter.

I suppose Cedric Benson piling up 121-yards is a very good sign for the Bengals. With no quarterback though, I don’t expect him to see much running room as the season moves on.

Houston 34 – Indianapolis 7

It was 34-0 by halftime… still 34-0 at the end of three. So, call it garbage time play or calling off the dogs or anything else you want, the obvious truth is that the Colts are walking dead.

Nice job by the Texans. They scored quickly, clinching this game early, and then moved on. (And… again… we see that Mario Williams was the right pick out of him and Reggie Bush.)

Buffalo 41 – Kansas City 7

Ryan Fitzpatrick throws for… wait… 208 yards? In a 41-point outing by his team? That can’t be right. Can it?

Yup… it can. Fitzpatrick completed 68% of his passes and had four touchdown passes. The thing is… with Fred Jackson rushing for 112-yards and the offense keeping a nice balance, the Bills jumped out in front and never were threatened. The score was more or less efficiency building over time… 20 points in the first half and 21 in the second.

No word from Todd Haley about how the Bills were inconsiderate and mean in running the score up on him and his Chiefs. I probably just missed it. That said… I think there’s a really good chance he will be accusing one or two more teams of thoughtless scoring before the year is over.

Here’s the big thing to take from this game… the Bills are going to win a few games this year. And… if the Jets and Patriots (two divisional rivals) and other so-called-better-than-the-Bills don’t pay attention… the Bills are only one or two mistakes away from some upsets. (And, it looks like the Dolphins might play harder than I expected as well.) I don’t expect miracles… don’t expect winning records… but there are some players in Buffalo.

Detroit 27 – Tampa Bay 20

For now… the Lions are real. With Green Bay and Chicago starting strong, a win here was a necessary thing for Detroit. They needed it for confidence… they needed it because, to be this year’s version of last year’s Tampa (a young, improving team hoping to get near 10 wins and threaten the playoffs), they have to win virtually every game they should win and then spring a couple of upsets… and they needed it because a good, healthy effort from Stafford would be just an incredibly valuable start.

And they got all of those things and more. (And the way Kansas City looked, Detroit could be looking at 2-0 before they face Minnesota in week three for the first divisional tilt on their schedule.)

Philadelphia 31 – St. Louis 13

Personally, I don’t think we learned much here. The Eagles are being built up as a playoff team, where the Rams only can make the postseason as a result of a weak division. One team good… one time ok… and even then, 31-13 in week one for me becomes a bit deceptive. Why?

Steven Jackson got hurt and went out early. He’ll likely be out next week. So… 31-13 loss… Jackson out next week… easy to see the Rams spinning out of the gate with some losses.

Hold on though… the Cadillac showed up. Ran for 91-yards. And the Rams get the Giants next. I don’t expect that contest to be as lopsided as this one.

And check out the quarterback stats for Philadelphia… a certain starter completed less than half his throws. People don’t mention much of that stuff when you win by 18.

The result is kind of what you should expect… but the details tell a different story when it comes to gauging future efforts.

Chicago 30 – Atlanta 12

A look at the box score tells you that the Falcons had deep problems. Watch…

Ryan… 319-yards passing.

Turner… 100-yards rushing.

Gonzalez… 72-yards receiving.

Atlanta… 12 points.

Umm… what?

That’s a nice, steady offense by the basic numbers.

And if you want a simple answer… the Bears played defense folks.

Jay Cutler is still not to be trusted. Remember… Bears were at home… blah-blah-blah.

Urlacher… interception, fumble recovery, a touchdown of his own.

Big offensive play was 50-plus from Cutler to Hester. Other than that, yawn from the Bears of offense. (I’m wondering about the Bears offensive line. I’m trying to figure out if Sunday was a mirage from Cutler… those flukes we see at home where he plays a decent-enough game, only to be flat on his back with a defender in his face and turnover numbers adding up while on the road in the next. I didn’t see enough of the game to be able to tell.)

Great win for the Bears… very bad loss for the Falcons… but before we say brilliant things about Chicago, let’s wait until they get through the next two games. (That’s New Orleans on the road and then Green Bay at home.)

Jacksonville 16 – Tennessee 14

What do you want me to say here? Two so-so teams played a so-so game. One of them won, and one of them lost.

I will give you one note. Mr. Didn’t-report, Chris Johnson… 24-yards, 9 carries. (If you don’t know what to say to that… on the winning team, Maurice Jones-Drew put up just shy of 100 with a touchdown.) Sure… sure… not his fault. Right? That’s the defense. Ok… we’ll pretend to keep believing that.

Arizona 28 – Carolina 21

Now… interesting thought here… Carolina never trailed (really) until it mattered. 7-7 at the end of one… 14-7 Panthers at halftime… 21-14 Panthers at the end of three. And they ended up losing to a weak Cardinals team that I don’t expect much from.

Exactly how is that character building?

Yup… exciting stats. I heard those. Very nice. Very nice. Arizona gets the win… Carolina gets a pacifier. Just beautiful.

San Diego 24 – Minnesota 17

Supporters of Rivers will point to about 69% for his completions, clearing 300-yards on the day, and two touchdowns. And at the end of the year, when he’s playing in the meaningless gathering of NFL names that serves as an all-star event, some will say he belongs there.

I understand.

Two interceptions for Rivers and the Chargers down 17-7 at halftime. Cam Newton and Kevin Kolb looked better than Rivers. The Chargers got an important win… and that’s about it. New England is next… we’ll see how that works out.

San Francisco 33 – Seattle 17

Anyone wanting to tell me about how the Seahawks were a playoff team last year, and Matt Hasselbeck won’t be missed because the quarterbacks are ok... and so on… please pay attention for news about the web site’s e-mail address getting back on track. I’d love to hear from you because I could use a really good laugh. (I’d mention the In My Backpack Facebook area so you could leave a message there, but honestly… no one could possibly believe anything except Seattle’s season is going to be horrendous. They’ll stay in the playoff race only because of a hideous division. I will be getting no e-mail… no messages… defending this troubled assembly of players.)

Washington 28 – New York (Giants) 14

I guess… and for me, it’s a stretch to believe this, but I am willing to say it… if you want to take this game and believe that the Redskins could approach 8 or 9 wins on the year and be some kind of factor in November and beyond, you could.

Grossman was ok… Hightower looked fine… overall a good day.

Things are just lovely and wonderful in Washington. Heck, even some nice moments on defense.

But the real story here was a Giants team that couldn’t move in the second half. And that’s going to be a problem if a team facing serious injury concerns and other questions on defense can’t generate any offense.

New York (Jets) 27 – Dallas 24

Oh dear lord… where to start?

Actually… fourth quarter… because that’s where we get the moments causing me to pound my head against the wall. (And Tony Romo… it’s not just you. It’s a lot you. Maybe even mostly you. But… actually, let’s start this segment off with a bit of a disclaimer and notes for focus…)

Questions to consider as we examine things. (1) Does anyone on the Dallas staff… coaches, players, etc… talk to anyone else on the Dallas staff? (2) Can you believe that, after begrudgingly giving it with a slight nod previously, I have to truly give The Franchez credit?

I was watching Dez Bryant getting treated on the sidelines… wasn’t I? Coach or staff or someone Dallas allowed on the sideline was working with him, stretching him out… right? And then, on two huge late plays, Romo goes to him and Bryant looks just awful. Wasn’t even a factor in either play, though they developed right around him. Since he was being covered by Revis, I can’t argue him being on the field. Romo has to know he’s hurting though. Has to. And it was like no one told him.

And The Franchez… well… eventually you have to give credit. He didn’t win this game. But the guy has a very short memory. In the fourth quarter, whether I want to blame Houston for lousy coverage or the special teams for giving the Jets short fields or anything else, the fact is… and it is a fact… the Jets are winning these games, and The Franchez is the quarterback.

Now… back to this game and the final minutes. We move right past the first three quarters. A lot happened… but if you watch the Jets or the Cowboys, you’ve seen so much of it before. No… really… you have…

The Jets haven’t been playing great football, or even good football, but the opposition never put them away. The Franchez has hit Plaxico Burress for 26-yards and the score, and we have most of the fourth quarter still on the clock.

The Cowboys… well… Witten will finish with 110-yards receiving and a set of great hands. Miles Austin puts a touchdown on the board, and for this reason or that… tonight it’s the mutual, two-man grab… it will be replayed over and over. And Tony Romo seems intent to prove that he doesn’t throw to Witten as his favorite, best option, most trusted receiver, and also that the Cowboys are a team and teams don’t favor one big-play guy… even if he has to force it where it doesn’t belong.

As I’ve said… we’ve seen these stories before.

On this night, we’ve reached 24-17, Dallas leading, and New York kicking off.

The Cowboys begin on the 20-yard line, and in three plays… oh, look at that, 2 passes to Mr. Witten… they have chewed up 77-yards and sit first and goal.

Now, people are going to tell you Romo shouldn’t have run on third down. In several ways, I can’t argue that point. He dove into tight coverage, wasn’t ever going to make the goal line, and the fumble cost his team a shot as a field goal. Fair enough. He tried to do too much… he often tries to win games when he’d be far more successful making sure he doesn’t lose them… I understand. I have a different question though…

Why the hell were they in shotgun formation on third down?

Oh sure… they tried a pass on second down when the run didn’t work on first down. And you have to toss at least one pass in there to keep everyone honest and open things up a bit. Tight quarters inside the five. But Romo was never handing that ball off on third down from that formation. Three points likely would have cemented a victory. Once he decided not to throw however, he was going to run. And I don’t know why they telegraphed the pass or scramble approach before the snap even occurred.

The result of the dive and fumble though… that put The Franchez first and ten pretty much on the goal line… 95-plus to tie the game and a touchdown is a must. So honestly, question Romo if you want, I’m not arguing the attempt or criticizing the fumble the way others are. I get the criticism there… but I didn’t understand the play from before the snap. The fumble pinned the Jets though, and on its own shouldn’t have been a killer. In fact…

Five plays later, The Franchez fumbles and Dallas has the ball back. I have to mention the fumble because it’s part of Romo’s story in this game. I have to include it in the set up. Now though, just after the Jets turn it over in return, this is where I see the world really begin spinning out of control.

Anyone watch the first half of the game? Dallas was brutal. False start on an extra point. After a sack of Romo, Dallas got nailed for 12-men on the field while the coaching staff yells at the officials about a time out. Coming back from that penalty, Dallas smoothly and professionally screws up and adds on a delay of game. Oh… it’s a wonderful thing.

That first half memory placed in your thoughts, we have Romo taking the field after the fumble, 47-yards from the end zone, and the clock capable of ticking. I don’t recall the exact time… but we’ve got less than half the quarter remaining.

First play is a run. Only a run generously called a 3-yard gain, but a decent call. Clock running… right?

Second play is an incomplete pass. Ok… looking for Austin. A pass and a completion could have iced the game. One shot at it is ok. Now… watch this string of events…

Delay of game… move back five yards.

False start… move back five yards.

We’ve got third down and seventeen to go and Romo drops back to throw to… Dez Bryant.

Anyone remember Dez Bryant? He’s the guy that was hurting on the sideline a few minutes ago. I watched them focus on him. And after the play doesn’t work, the announcers are talking about how bad he looks on this play.

Let’s be forgiving for a minute. Let’s forget that the incomplete pass stopped the clock when Dallas could have just run it on third down and evaporated slightly less than a minute from the time remaining. Let’s forget that Dallas made mistakes that pushed them back so even trying for the first down at all was kind of silly and risky. And let’s forget we at home already know Bryant is hurting. Let’s just pretend we understand what Dallas did. Because at this very moment, two thoughts are running through my head…

First, wow, Revis is covering Bryant. He may be injured and looks awful. He’s still pulling their top coverage guy. Dallas should be taking advantage of that, sending Bryant wide, and just playing 10 on 10.

And second, wait… what? What is that formation? Who’s snapping this punt? That’s a funny offset line and it doesn’t looks like there’s great positioning for a guy to pick up a block and…

And you saw the rest of my second thought. McKnight came through the middle of the line. Untouched. Absolutely standing right on the line in plain sight when the ball was snapped and no one picked him up. It was awful.

And it was 24-24.

We got to watch Romo and Phillips play catch, and Jones run, and Dallas punt.

The Jets did nothing. They punt.

But see… funny thing… you know how I like to make fun of the Jets and their return game and so on… yes? Well, the Dallas punt resulted in a touchback, so New York started around the 20 and didn’t move much, so the Cowboys now have the ball decent field position on the 41. They’ve got a minute left and only need to go maybe 30-yards to be in ok field goal range.

And who do you think Romo throws to?

Witten? Nope. (That would make sense, because Witten would catch it. And besides, Romo has no favorites.)

Austin? Of course not. (That would make sense, because Austin would gain 20-30 of the yards on one play, or possibly even break free and score.)

I’d like to tell you he threw to Dez Bryant. You know, the injured Dez Bryant. The Dez Bryant that no quarterback would have been even considering if he had spoken to anyone about his options or had taken the field with even the smallest of plans made. But I’ve watched the replays a couple of times now. And the fact is, between Revis and the Jets defender behind Bryant, I don’t see any way at all that Romo could have even seen Dez Bryant was on the field or in the vicinity of where he threw the ball.

Revis was wide open, and Romo hit him right between the numbers. And I don’t get it.

Let’s be serious. Didn’t anyone tell Romo that Bryant was hurting? Anyone?

Didn’t Romo see that Revis was out of coverage on the play since he was essentially covering a guy that couldn’t move?

Why the hell did he even consider throwing it to Bryant?

And this wasn’t the first Dallas possession since the horrible third and seventeen. What the heck was Dallas talking about on the sideline? Their lunch order for Monday film review?

I don’t get it.

The Franchez did his part. He did nothing. After Romo completed his pass to Revis, The Franchez handed the ball off once, threw two incompletions, didn’t turn the ball over… and the Jets pulled ahead with a field goal.

I wonder what Dallas had to eat during film review.

New England 38 – Miami 24

I understand 100 of the yards was a single pass.

I get that realistically Chad Johnson didn’t play.

I did watch Chad Henne look like a legitimate NFL quarterback.

I would still be very scared if I had to play the Patriots. Because they look deep and efficient on offense. Didn’t need to use rookie running backs and still have plenty of time to bring Johnson along slowly. And they were in the Miami backfield with their defense… which should get stronger as the year moves on.

New England won by two touchdowns in a game that wasn’t even close. It felt like they scored 70.

Oakland 23 – Denver 20

Blah… blah… blah… record distance on a field goal… whole lot said about absolutely nothing.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com