Monday Morning Double-Back

mmdb logo(Forgive the amateur logo, it’s a work in process, folks.)

Each Monday throughout the regular season, I’ll be bringing you this regular column. (Yes, it’s Tuesday, but what can you do? I might actually make this a Tuesday column permanently…) What will you be reading within? I don’t even know yet. Random thoughts, opinions and responses to Sunday’s action is the focus, so let’s dig in, shall we?

(Yes, the name of my column is deliberately close to the name of a rather famous Monday column of a certain football writer whose name I won’t mention. You might have heard of it. Maybe one day, someone will accuse him of using a name that sounds awfully like mine. That’s the dream.)

Go Fins Go!
I can think of no better place to start than to get my homer feelings over a big road win out of the way, right away. I haven’t been this appointed about our running game in quite some time (20 combined yards on the ground is, quite simply, embarrassing), but our defense looked top-notch in sacking Weeden and shutting Trent Richardson down. The turnovers were the keys to our victory, and our season has officially started on the right foot. Kudos to Brian Hartline’s 100+ yard performance as well, not to mention Ryan Tannehill’s solid play. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas need to kick things into gear though, or no amount of an effective passing game is going to count for much when the games get close and defenses get wise to Tannehill’s tendencies.

Still, Cameron Wake is on track for over 32 sacks after week 1. Only three other guys can say that so far. Booya.

What We Learned On Thursday

Peyton Manning is a man on a mission, and he’s bringing the weapons to get the job done. There seemed to be a real rapport already built between him and Wes Welker, which speaks both to Manning’s intelligence and Welker’s Swiss army knife-like adaptability. The running game was nonexistent, but it didn’t have to be anything other than a reminder that Manning isn’t the only one who’ll do something with the ball. Seven touchdowns later, Manning was his typically humbling, humbled self in post-game interviews. Deep down, however, you have to think there was some part of him that felt vengeance was at hand, at least partially, for last year’s heartbreaker to Baltimore in the divisional round.

Speaking of Baltimore, what gives? It’s hard to blame them for their defensive performance against what very well may be the NFL’s pinnacle of offense, but this IS a unit that pundits have led us to believe would be much improved, somehow, post-Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. All their offseason upgrades seemed to count for nothing as Manning had his way. It’s only week one, I know, but between a defense that seemed worn to a nub in the 2nd half and an offense that was plodding the entire game, high hopes for a repeat in Baltimore are on temporary hold.

If you’re a Ravens fan, and you happened to catch the 49ers-Packers game, there’s a certain wideout that you’re missing more than Ray Lewis and Ed Reed at this point. Don’t try to deny it, Baltimore.

What We Learned On Sunday

Plenty, and nothing. It’s week one, remember? In the AFC East, we learned that a couple of rookie QBs have some bite behind the bark of their draft status. Geno Smith in particular has all the reason in the world to hold his head up high for a few days (before the Patriots provide a lesson to learn from on Thursday night). His scamper, with time running low, and the resulting personal foul he drew as he ran out of bounds was about as heads-up a play you can ask for from a rookie QB. He couldn’t have known Lavonte David was going to commit the foul, but maybe he felt it coming…maybe he has that sixth sense that a QB needs to have in order to succeed. Or maybe he’ll be riding the pine once Sanchez is off the injury report. The plot is thick, and will thicken.

While he didn’t do as much in the grand scheme of things, the Bills’ EJ Manuel gave the Pats something to think about, and brought them to the brink before Gostkowski took the wind out of Buffalo’s sails at the end.

Let’s face it, folks. This year’s crop of rookie QBs looks like the group nobody remembers after the 1983 Elway-Marino-Kelly high honors class. But there are a couple of teams in the Bills and Jets who, at least for one week, could look on the field and see the potential in action.

Elsewhere in the NFL, the Steelers went about losing grasp of their 2013 campaign before it really started. An ugly loss happens from time to time, and it happens to the best teams in the league, but Pittsburgh is no longer close to consideration for that top spot. They’re on the other side looking up, and how it happened is actually a mystery I cannot put my finger on. Lauded each offseason for avoiding free agency and favoring proper team-building via the draft, they’re somehow devoid of a running game and older than they should be on defense. With the losses of Maurkice Pouncey and Larry Foote (likely) for the season, Steel Town is going to get a rare dose of their own medicine when they’re fighting to avoid the bottom of the barrel in their own division. Yes, the Browns looked better in a 13-point loss than Pittsburgh looked in a 7-point loss, and unlike the aging and broken down Steelers, the Browns’ arrow is pointed in the right direction.

By the way, if you didn’t watch the 49ers-Packers game, you missed the best game of the week. A perfect showcase of what the NFL wants itself to be nowadays, each team’s offense traded stunning blows until the clock (and an embarrassing goof by officials) ended up favoring San Fransisco. Is the Packers defense anywhere near elite? Not with that secondary, but don’t let that persuade you from the most important thing you have to take from this game: Colin Kaepernick is THE. REAL. DEAL. Emphasis required.

All in all, the first Sunday of the season had a little bit of everything, making it another great week of the country’s greatest game. You had the good (49ers-Packers, Chicago-Cincinnati, New Orleans-Atlanta), the bad (Titans-Steelers, Seahawks-Panthers) and the ugly (Lions-Vikings, Cowboys-Giants). The ultimate message?

It’s week one, folks. It’s there to be enjoyed. Football is back, etc. Not one game is an omen of what any of the teams will end up as when the last whistle is blown. Keep that in mind.

What We Learned On Monday

Chip Kelly knows what he’s doing, and nobody knew until he realized it. When you look up at the scoreboard on your way to the locker room at halftime and see ’26-7′, and that first number is yours? That’s when you know. That’s when we all know. That the Eagles allowed Washington to get back into the game towards the end is a condemnation of their work-in-progress defense (particularly their secondary), but Kelly, Vick and McCoy put on a clinic on how to put a defense on their heels in the first half. That they slowed down in the second half may be an issue of conditioning. You could see that the offense line, for the most part, was winded halfway through the 2nd quarter, but still they kept coming, fired on by Vick’s pinpoint passes, crafty eluding, absolutely brilliant (and daring, with a big 4th down conversion early) playcalling, and more than anything, unleashing LeSean McCoy behind a healthy offensive line. The pieces are coming together in Philadelphia faster than most of us expected, and those 4 wins in 2012 may be as distant a memory as Chip Kelly made Andy Reid seem like after having their way with last year’s NFC East champs.

Now, snap back to reality. Sorry, the small Eagles fan in me loves to come out and stretch his wings from time to time. As good as they looked for most of the night, you cannot discount that most teams would have beaten the Redskins team that showed up. RGIII, post all the hype and hoopla of his recovery from knee surgery, looked as rusty as he should have without any preseason work and limited practice time. Alfred Morris fumbling his first carry almost felt like some kind of otherworldly omen, as if the Skins had nowhere to turn offensively. And the defense? No chance. Washington fans have to take solace in the fact that their young secondary just got a perfectly taught lesson on what many offenses in the league are going to be doing now and in the near future, and hope they retain the information for future reference.

After all that, we were treated to a game that was simply better to anyone who isn’t a fan of either team, from beginning to end, in all phases. Few of us expected San Diego to put up that much of a fight, but Phillip Rivers looked like Phillip Rivers looked once upon a time, tossing four scores, looking poised, talking confident, walking tall. It didn’t matter in the end, but you have to keep in mind that they were playing a superior team. A team that couldn’t get their vaunted running game going at all, and who were one huge Brian Cushing play away from losing a game they would have had no right losing. Texans fans are unfortunately used to this sort of victory, but how much heart-wrenching can one fanbase take?

Ask Buffalo.

It’s The Numbers, Stupid (Part 1)

I wish I could recall the exact number, but the overall amount of touchdown passes thrown this week matched the record for any first week in NFL history. Goodell should send Peyton Manning a fruit basket or something.

What are you doing, Randy Starks?

Gamesmanship is a part of football. Trash talk, a hit or a shove when it was obviously uncalled for. But flipping the bird towards your own sideline after you make a big play? We’re all aware you’re unhappy with your contract status, but we’re also aware that you’re a key member of an underrated defense, a Pro Bowl-caliber talent who, barring an injury or a lackluster 2013, is going to get his paycheck. Did you really need to let Joe Philbin (the only obvious target of the gesture) know you were better than your contract reflects? There are hundreds of other players who are playing under the same business model as you, Randy. Try to keep that in mind the next time you feel those middle fingers itching.

What are you doing, Ndamukong Suh?

This could actually end up being a weekly part of the column. You know your reputation, and you know it’s been your own mistakes and mental farts that have built it. Yet you’re still going to break one of the NFL’s more obvious rules, turn around on an interception and throw a block that could have ended another man’s career? I’ve never been big on Suh, always have felt he’s more potential than substance (Albert Haynesworth 2.0), but you have to wonder how he doesn’t play without a little thought in the back of his head, something to the tune of “I’d better not do anything stupid”.

The guy has a ‘C’ on his jersey now. You can almost laugh about that, but if you do, you’re laughing at the rest of the Lions roster, who made that call. Much more appropriate to laugh at Suh’s inability to avoid being what he is regardless of how many times he denies it: a dirty football player.

Not a “laugh” laugh. More mocking like.

It’s The Numbers, Stupid (Part 2)

LeSean McCoy’s 31 carries are a personal record. In the four years Andy Reid had him at his disposal, he averaged a little over 14 carries per game. Let that sink in, when you read all the articles discussing Jamaal Charles’ potential with Reid as his head coach.

Each back’s final stat line in week one?

McCoy: 31 carries, 184 yards, 1 TD, 5.9 YPC.
Charles: 16 carries, 77 yards, 1 TD, 4.8 YPC.

Weekly Awards

QB Of The Week: Peyton Manning. The last guy to throw seven TDs was Joe Kapp in 1969. Most of you aren’t going to know who Joe Kapp was. Enough said.

RB Of The Week: LeSean McCoy. Today, we spell redemption M-C-C-O-Y.

WR Of The Week: A.J. Green. Charles Tillman is one of the best CBs in the league, but Green worked him for 162 yards and two scores. This guy is second only to Megatron in my mind.

Offensive Line Of The Week: Philadelphia Eagles. They more than proved that, when healthy (and with newcomer Lane Johnson anchoring the right side, which is Vick’s blind), they’re one of the best units in the league. They’ll continue to prove it next week.

Defensive Performance Of The Week: Seattle Seahawks. Cam Newton looked like a high school QB, putting together the worst overall performance of his NFL career to date. A very honorable mention to the Miami Dolphins. 6 sacks, 3 interceptions and a forced fumble. Legit.

Goat of the week: Lavonte David. Watch the replay, and you realize David had to have realized Smith was going out of bounds. Without that extra 15 yards, the Bucs probably go home with an ugly win rather than an uglier loss.

Head Coach of the Week: Chip Kelly. You got your first win, on the grand stage of Monday Night Football, against the team that won your division a year go, in (mostly) convincing fashion. Oregon is still rolling without you, Chip, but I’m pretty sure any thoughts of ducks have been replaced by chants of E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!

Kev’s Fantasy/Pick ‘Em Standings.

As a disclaimer, I am doing three fantasy leagues this year, and as we do every season, me and a handful of my family run a Pick ‘Em, strictly for fun.

Fantasy standings: 1-0 in all three leagues. You may not be able to imagine my joy, but I’d wish it upon anyone.

Pick ‘Em standings: 9 – 7. Vikings, Giants and Redskins really let me down. Proud of my Bears over Bengals pick, though. Don’t think many of you saw that coming. About just as many who saw the Saints eeking one out over Atlanta (another let down). Still, in the plus column, and that’s what matters.

What’s Next?

The Patriots will be hassled by the Jets, who rarely let their division rivals off the hook easily. I still see the Pats taking it, even without another of their weapons as Shane Vereen is projected to be sidelined for about a month.

After the way the Chargers played on Monday, their matchup against the Eagles should be a back-and-forth scoring fest that’ll be fun to watch.

Not sure about the Dolphins-Colts. Andrew Luck looked about as proficient as you can be in their win against the Raiders this week, but I can guarantee you he’ll have more of a challenge against a Miami defense with much more talent (rushing the passer in particular) at their disposal. I like my Fins in a close one.

It’s going to be a tough week for the NFC East to bounce back from tough divisional losses. The Redskins travel to Lambeau and have to face down Aaron Rodgers after being thoroughly manhandled by the Eagles. The Giants at least get to host their next opponent, but if Denver carries their phenomenal performance into next week, Tom Coughlin’s face is going to turn a shade of red we haven’t seen before.

While Monday night’s game should drive home the point I made about Pittsburgh bottoming out, Sunday night will no doubt provide us with the game of the week as the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry kicks off in Seattle. Am I crazy to still go with San Fran in this one? We’ll find out, but I look at Kaepernick and I see a guy who hasn’t been deeply fazed once in his short career. I don’t even think the Super Bowl loss got under his skin. That’s what being young and talented can do for your confidence.

Final Thoughts

As it is, Peyton Manning is your MVP and is leading the team I picked early in the offseason as my AFC Super Bowl pick. After watching the 49ers win a duel with one of the NFC’s best teams, my other Super Bowl pick looks promising as well. Still, week one and all that jazz.

I hate Warren Sapp. Tremendous player, absolutely terrible analyst whose only skill is making an ass out of himself. He’s essentially John Madden without the respectability and knowledge we all knew Madden had, but had a hard time showing between coughing on his own sentences and reading love letters to Brett Favre on the air.

Cris Carter rubs me the wrong way, and I can’t put my finger on it. As much as I despite Ray Lewis after some of his Godly comments after the Super Bowl last year, I’d rather see him every weekend in Carter’s place.

Call me crazy, but Cris Collinsworth needs to go. Al Michaels deserves better than a guy who does little other than point out the obvious and provide me and my friends with endless “bird man” jokes (long story, not worth telling. Essentially, dude looks like a bird.). I would love to see somebody like Troy Aikman or Jon Gruden alongside Michaels, but that isn’t going to happen.

Never forget the butt fumble. Never forget.

Until next week, remember this: It’s not always better to Ponder when you can run All Day.