Man, was that fun. I missed that. And at the risk of being labeled a total shill – and I’ve been called much worse – I have to say RedZone Channel is sick. Greatest $50 ever spent (and, yeah, I can write it off, but still, it’s genius). After five years of covering games every Sunday, to be able to have one spot where everything is centrally located is awesome.
Okay, to the games. Everyone I thought would win, did win. Well, except for one. Denver beating Cincinnati was absolutely nuts. What an amazing finish. It was like a full-body karma cleansing for coach Josh McDaniels. The embattled coach had a finish in his first game that he could never hope to duplicate or better.
Cincy defensive back Leon Hall tips a ball with about 30 seconds to play and Denver trailing by one at it’s own 13. Brandon Stokley runs under the waffling ball, catches it and sprints into the end zone to complete an 87-yard, game-winning TD play. Stokley was so composed he ran parallel to the goal line, all the way across the field, taking precious seconds off the clock before entering the end zone only when he absolutely had to.
Unreal. After all McDaniels has gone through – Jay Cutler trade, Brandon Marshall drama, replacing a legendary coach – this had to feel like utter relief. Sure, he brought some of the issues upon himself, you could argue, but what a remarkable way to earn your first NFL win. Congrats to him.
Overall, I expected the Bengals to put up more points. A botched field goal opportunity hurt, and for all of those who say the preseason doesn’t matter, the fact that Carson Palmer got so little action with his receivers in the preseason seemed to throw them off a little. Denver’s defense surprised me.
Here’s what I took from the rest of the 1 p.m. ET kickoffs:
Baltimore vs. Kansas City: If the Ravens needed a wake-up call after last year’s surprising run to the AFC Championship Game, they certainly got it. I am a big Cam Cameron guy, but I thought he got too far removed from the team’s power-running offense for chunks of the game, and it let the Chiefs off the hook. The Chiefs showed great effort, and the Ravens gifted them points on special teams (missed an easy field goal; gave up a TD on a blocked punt; I wonder how long until kicker Matt Stover gets a phone call?)
QB Joe Flacco threw more passes (43) and for more yards (307) than he did at any point last season. I love what Cameron has done with him, and I agree he needs to diversify the offense and juice up the passing attack, but when they have a chance to steamroll an inferior team on the ground, that’s not a bad way to go, either. Regardless, 500 yards of offense is something Ravens fans could get used to, and Ravens TE Todd Heap looks like he could a be relevant fantasy player once again. Loved John Harbaugh going for a TD when up by 7 on fourth down from the goal line as time ran down.
Philadelphia vs. Carolina: I thought this game would be closer than it was. The Eagles ran off 31 straight points in the first half to crush the Panthers. It was as if the nightmare from Carolina’s playoff loss carried over to this season. QB Jack Delhomme – count me among those surprised he got that lucrative contract extension – followed that six-turnover playoff debacle with three in the first half, four INTs total and got himself yanked from the game. No team can begin to lose hold of its season after just one week, but this situation could get shaky, quick. Especially with how good division foes Atlanta and New Orleans look.
Donovan McNabb’s fractured rib is obviously a huge issue. We will have to monitor that. Depending on which rib is fractured, this is an injury some can and have played with. Tyler Thigpen played with a fractured lower rib in the preseason. I was a big advocate of the Mike Vick signing, and this is just another reason why.
Atlanta vs. Miami: Might as well stay in the NFC South. QB Matt Ryan is excellent, and adding TE Tony Gonzalez looked sage. Gonzalez showed his brawn and dexterity shedding a tackle and dancing into the end zone down the sideline. Jason Elam was uncharacteristically erratic. The Dolphins went with their usual array of trickery, but Pat White badly overthrew a wide-open Ted Ginn for a TD from the Wildcat, and Atlanta’s defense was cracking heads like rarely seen. The secondary was strong, and two long returns by the defense loomed large.
Cleveland vs. Minnesota: No real surprises here. Vikes ran all over a talent-starved team. Brett Favre managed the game and took some hits. I’m waiting to see how he looks in November, as the punishment mounts. Brady Quinn did not exactly grab hold of the starting job. He was inconsistent and looked hesitant at times, too. He and Braylon Edwards clearly were not on the same page on an interception.
Houston vs. NY Jets: One of the reasons I’m not high on the Texans is the fact that they generally wilt against more physical teams. If you’re going to be finesse, you better score a lot of points, and not just when chasing the game. The Jets pounded the ball down Houston’s throat on the ground, QB Mark Sanchez was plenty poised. Seemed like the Texans were never really in it after Steve Slaton’s open-field fumble. Jets gradually pulled away from there.
Indianapolis vs. Jacksonville: Thought the Colts would blow them out. Jacksonville showed renewed passion and made it a game. Colts defense was much better than for much of last season. Peyton Manning got his yards, and if not for Anthony Gonzalez leaving the game early, maybe it would have been a larger margin. (I’m hearing the preliminary look at Gonzalez showed a knee ligament strain likely to put him out 2-6 weeks).
Tampa Bay vs. Dallas: The Bucs aren’t going to win much this season, but they’ll fight and hang around and give teams a game, which is basically what happened here. It was great to see Cadillac Williams exploding and bursting after coming back from two serious surgeries. Roy Williams split coverage for a long TD to give the Cowboys a healthy cushion. Workman-like road win for the Cowboys.
New Orleans vs. Detroit: I expected a blowout, and if not for some lapses in concentration by the Saints (Reggie Bush in particular) that gifted the Lions some points, it would have been even uglier. Matthew Stafford basically survived what always looked like a tough challenge. He forced a ball in the red zone that was troubling (three picks overall), but made some nice plays as well. More troublesome was the Lions picking up consecutive, unnecessary, 15-yard penalties on a drive at the end of the first half. If they’re going to change the culture and turn the corner, that’s going to have to change.
Anyone who latched on to my morning tip about Saints piling up rushing yards, and looking at Mike Bell (140 yards rushing) as a fantasy pickup, always glad to have your back, brothers and sisters. That offense is going to set records. Drew Brees is a stud. We already knew that.