Football Insiders:Click here to read Stewart Mandel's College Football Overtime.
NEW YORK -- It's like we never left. We all have springs in our steps this morning, don't we? Football's back, and it's good. Very good in Week 1.
Trends: The NFC is catching up. The Wildcat suddenly looks old. Whatever the Saints are doing is working. We're getting bludgeoned over the head with reporting about labor that none of you want to hear.
Stories: Kyle Orton's 1-0, Jay Cutler 0-1. Rex Ryan is winning, and throwing zingers. Mike Singletary might know what he's doing. Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin both outgained Brett Favre Sunday -- and that might be the key to his survival, as long as he doesn't do much more tackling of kids young enough to be his sons in the end zone.
The two successors to Favre, Mark Sanchez (Jets) and Aaron Rodgers (Packers), are doing just fine, thank you. Better than fine. So fine that no one in New York or Green Bay seems to miss Favre. And speaking of people not missed in New York, Jeremy Shockey has come out of the witness-protection program to be a factor again. For now. That's more than I can say about Brian Urlacher. And Michael Crabtree.
My five observations with a little depth about Week 1:
1. It's not a sin anymore to play a quarterback young. Did you watch the USC-Ohio State game Saturday night? If you play at that level of football, with that intensity, and you have a pro-level arm and head, why can't you play early in your pro career? Mark Sanchez played at that level, and we shouldn't draw too many conclusions based on one game, but he was one cool cucumber on the road in Houston Sunday.
"We've got Cool Hand Luke back there,'' Rex Ryan told me from Houston after the game. "Our offensive line protected well, and he converted some really good third-and-longs. Mark's kind of like our team: I've been telling people about us all along, that we're pretty good. Nobody listened. Now maybe they will.''
What was impressive about Sanchez, I thought, was his ability to stand confidently in the pocket with traffic around him, or move out of the pocket while keeping his focus downfield and not on the rush. He was uncanny on third-and-medium-to-long. Watching the game, I kept think, He's converting a lot of thirds. Then I went back and looked at the gamebook. On the first seven third-and-seven or longer situations of his NFL career, Sanchez was seven of seven, converting five for first downs. He converted third downs with 10, 10, 9, 8 and 10 yards to go -- in succession. For the game, Sanchez was 18 of 31 for 272, with a touchdown and an interception.
Now, Matthew Stafford struggled Sunday at the Saints, but you figure Unitas and Montana would struggle with that group in Detroit. Did you notice the two other rookie starters from last year, Joe Flacco (Baltimore) and Matt Ryan (Atlanta) won by double-digits in Week 1? The momentum might be shifting to not put rookie quarterbacks with a ton of high-quality college experience in mothballs to start their careers.
2. The Vikings are going to be a pick-your-poison team. Two things happened this weekend that are very good news if you bleed purple. One: Defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams, the great wall of the Twin Cities, will be able to play the season because their Starcaps case is being continued 'til after the season. Two: Coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell have figured a good way to preserve Brett Favre -- don't expose him to the kind of hits a quarterback normally takes. Favre, who turns 40 in four weeks, still got hit six times in Cleveland (including four sacks), but he did manage to stay out of the way effectively and help the Vikings to a 34-20 win over the Browns. "I had a lot of fun today,'' he said afterward.
More importantly, he mostly stayed out of harm's way, and if he can keep doing that, maybe he'll be able to last the season. Maybe. And maybe it'll be different when the Vikings play some good teams. In the opener, the best thing for Minnesota was the all-purpose yards by Adrian Peterson (198) and Percy Harvin (157); Favre threw for 110 yards, his lowest total for a full games in three years. I'm serious when I say that Favre's biggest physical contact of the day might have come when he smashed into Harvin in celebration in the end zone. "I saw him coming at me,'' Harvin said after the game, "and I was hoping he'd slow down. I said, 'He's coming pretty fast,' and bam, he slammed right into me.''
They lived. It's going to be interesting to see if Childress and Bevell can continue to manage Favre's exposure. In many ways, it's the key to the Vikings' season.
3. Josh McDaniels can exhale now. "We know what would have happened if we lost,'' Brandon Stokley was saying from Cincinnati after the game. "Everybody would have piled on. It might have gotten ugly.''
You think? Here's what I think: McDaniels deserved some magic in his life. A head coaching job is supposed to be a reward for a long apprenticeship of hard work. And ever since McDaniels got this job, the Broncos led the league in headaches. But with less than half a minute left and the Broncos trailing 7-6 with the ball at their 13, quarterback Kyle Orton went back to pass, aiming for one of the headaches (a former headache, maybe), Brandon Marshall. Cornerback Leon Hall of the Bengals leaped high to deflect the ball, and the would-be duck fluttered into the air. "I was a spectator,'' Stokley said. "All the defense went to [Marshall], and it just came down toward me.'' So Stokley grabbed it and started sprinting ... 50, 45, 40, 35 ... McDaniels said: "I was sure they'd have someone chasing him, a defensive back, but when I looked, all I could see was [linebacker] Dhani Jones. I was shocked.
McDaniels has gone over lots of odd game situations in practice. One of them is using the clock at the end of half the game, and having a sense how much time is left. When Stokley got near the goal line, he looked behind and saw there wasn't a Bengal close to him, so, with about 17 seconds left, he got to the two-yard line and took a slow right turn, burning six seconds before going into the end zone. "What a smart play,'' McDaniels told me.
That's an understatement. That stalling gave the Bengals one fewer play to run on their last-gasp drive. McDaniels, by the way, wouldn't be drawn into the oh-we-really-needed-this-one discussion. "The players deserve this win,'' he said. "To get a reward like this is a great thing because of how hard they've worked.
4. Jeremy Shockey lives. Shockey hadn't caught a touchdown pass in 22 months. In the span of three minutes against Detroit, he caught two. "Reminds me of my buddy Derek Jeter, trying to get that hit the last week or so [the hit that propelled Jeter past Lou Gehrig as the Yankees' all-time hit leader.] You just want to get it so people stop asking you about it." Shockey said. "I can't tell you how many times people have said to me, 'So, you ever gonna score a touchdown again?' ''
The story of this great drought by a former star tight end, and how the drought ends, is a cute story, but the Saints aren't looking for a one-hit wonder. They're looking for consistency out of Shockey, which they haven't gotten since they dealt for him 16 months ago. Shockey uses words like "humbled'' and "embarrassed'' when talking about last year, when he was never healthy. He went to work this offseason on his core. "I've come to realize that being healthy in this game is a privilege,'' he said. "You've got to work on it to earn that privilege.''
Time will tell if the 29-year-old Shockey, who likes the good life, will keep himself in great shape so he can validate the 2008 trade to the Saints.
5. Atlanta stopped the Wildcat, and stripped the Dolphins. Miami coach Tony Sparano is maniacal about turnovers. He knows the exact percentages of chances of winning if you have one or two or three turnovers less or more than your foe. Miami turned it over four times, and it didn't help that their three Wildcats plays generated exactly four yards. I'm not saying the Wildcat's dead, because we saw Josh Cribbs run it effectively in Cleveland Sunday, and we will see Percy Harvin and Michael Vick run it later this month in Minnesota and Philadelphia. But defenses might be gaining.
The Falcons spent two training camp periods on the Wildcats this summer, then spent some significant refresher time last week in practice preparing for Ronnie Brown or Pat White to run it Sunday. "Philosophically,'' coach Mike Smith said, "it's all about gap control. You cannot be a gap short against the Wildcat because the runner can change the angle or cut back quickly, and you won't be able to recover.'' When the field was spread Sunday, you could see the Falcons pointing and communicating, making sure there wouldn't be any spaces. For one week, anyway, it worked, and shutting down the Wildcat helped Atlanta to a 19-7 win.
CLICK HERE TO SEE PETER KING DISCUSS WEEK 1'S BIG STORYLINES
Finally, because it wouldn't be a 2009 NFL column without one paragraph of gloom-and-doom about labor: NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith told me Sunday that player reps around the NFL voted over the weekend to start a strike/lockout fund, of sorts, for 2011. Smith said the player reps authorizes the union to divert all royalty payments from the union's marketing division, Players Inc., to a fund that the union hopes will total about $60,000 per player. "It's for health care and player emergencies,'' Smith said. "And if there is football then, we'll just give the money back to players in a lump sum.'' The union has also asked players to set aside 25 percent of their take-home pay this season as a personal strike fund. Oh happy day.
1. New England (0-0). I don't care if Tom Brady has to take a bunch of Aleve tonight for that shoulder, I bet he's never looked forward to a game more than tonight's against Buffalo.
2. Pittsburgh (1-0). Men of Steel must play better to repeat, of course. But that was a survival game Thursday night, and they survived.
3. New York Giants (1-0). How good and brutish did that Giants' offensive line look in mauling Washington?
4. Green Bay (1-0). I loved what I saw out of the debut of Dom Capers' 3-4, even with the long scoring drive on Chicago's second-to-last drive of the night. Most impressive defenders: Johnny Jolly, Brandon Chillar, Cullen Jenkins.
5. Minnesota (1-0). Meaningless Stat of the Week: Brett Favre is the first quarterback in history to win opening games three straight years for three different teams. I'll volunteer to start the 2010 pool. Which team will Favre win a fourth with in 2010?
6. Chicago (0-1). Two things worry me: the Brian Urlacher wrist injury and the way Jay Cutler threw carelessly. Remember a couple of weeks ago, at Denver, when Ron Turner, the offensive coordinator, told me what impressed him was Cutler basically taking what the defense was giving and not being greedy? That was not Cutler Sunday night.
7. New Orleans (1-0). We all have to see how New Orleans plays in a game with a competent offense on the other side of the field, and we should get to see that Sunday in Philadelphia. But the Saints, offensively at least, are scary good.
8. Philadelphia (1-0). Bet you a grande hazelnut latte that Donovan McNabb plays Sunday against the Saints.
9. San Diego (0-0). I'll be glad when we stop asking LaDainian Tomlinson if he's still The Man, and actually let him go out and show us if he is.
10. Dallas (1-0).Tony Romo and his offense put 34 points up at Tampa Bay, which is probably about par for the course against a struggling team. But this is the kind of game the Cowboys have traditionally struggled to win in the Romo Era.
11. Baltimore (1-0). I have a Raven on my list of the top five MVP candidates after Sunday's 38-point outburst against the Chiefs. We always knew Baltimore could play defense. Look out if the offense becomes consistently just as potent.
12. Tennessee (0-1). When the Titans got outbid for Torry Holt and didn't sign Matt Jones, they counted on rookie wide receiver Kenny Britt to carry a major load, starting opening day. And Britt (four catches, 85 yards in Pittsburgh) didn't disappoint, giving Tennessee the deep threat GM Mike Reinfeldt was sure he drafted five months ago.
13. (tie) Atlanta (1-0). I thought the Atlanta defense was supposed to have training wheels on, but the Falcons gave the Dolphins a four-turnover pummeling.
13. (tie) Indianapolis (1-0).Bill Polian told me after the game that the Colts, even if Anthony Gonzalez's knee injury is more than a one-month deal, wouldn't consider bringing Marvin Harrison out of retirement. Tony Dungy said something interesting on our NBC set: That Polian's comment says to him that Peyton Manning is comfortable with rookie Austin Collie in the slot and Pierre Garcon as the outside bookend for Reggie Wayne.
15. (tie) San Francisco (1-0). Valiant game for the Singletaries, winning at Arizona. They harassed Kurt Warner for four quarters.
15. (tie) New York Jets (1-0). The action this week will be focused on Rex Ryan and the funny, flippant stuff he says about the Patriots. Bill Belichick, once he gets through tonight's game against Buffalo, will be smart to ignore what Ryan says (which he will) and see if he can figure a way to protect Brady from the band of lunatics rushing the passer for the Jets.
"I watched Brett Favre today. Very impressive. Went the whole game without retiring.
-- Jay Leno, interviewed by Bob Costas at halftime of NBC's Sunday night game.
"I kind of laugh when I hear the board isn't going to be a big factor. When we walked into the stadium and looked at it, we said, 'That is so hittable.' I hit it on my third punt, and I wasn't even warmed up. Then, in warmups, we probably hit it 25 to 30 times. It's going to get peppered all season.''
-- Punter A.J. Trapasso to me Friday, on the Dallas video board that is 90 feet above midfield, stretching from the 20-yard-line to the 20-yard-line at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
"The thing is, now Cincinnati's got to get the Stanford band on the field.''
-- CBS analyst Dan Fouts, with five seconds left in the bizarro-world Denver victory over the Bengals, after a tipped pass turned into an 87-yard touchdown catch by Bronco Brandon Stokley.
Offensive Players of the Week
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota. This is almost unfair. Peterson does something every week that reminds me of Walter Payton. On a day when only five backs about the league rushed for more than 100 yards, Peterson obliterated the quality standard for runners, carrying 25 times for 180 yards. On one highlight that'll be played in Canton someday, Peterson ran up the left sideline, wriggled out of a near-certain tackle and finished a 64-yard touchdown run.
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. Brees shredded Detroit with the first six-touchdown-pass season opener by a quarterback in NFL history, including two to the long-lost Jeremy Shockey. "There was probably one or two we left out there,'' said Brees, who threw for 358 yards. "That's what keeps you coming back.''
As much as he is celebrated (as least by me), Brees, I believe, is the most underappreciated player in football.
Shaun Hill, QB, San Francisco. Be honest: How many of you out there DIDN'T have Hill as number 32 in your preseason starting quarterback rankings? Well, I'm not sure any of us had such a list, but no matter. Hill was just 18 of 31 in Sunday's opener at Arizona, but he had some quality throws. With the game tied at 6 in the first half, on third-and-10 from the Niner 44, Hill attacked big-money free-agent corner Bryant McFadden, throwing a 50-yard completion to Isaac Bruce over McFadden's head. On the next play, Frank Gore ran for a six-yard touchdown to put San Francisco up 13-6. Trailing 16-13 in the fourth quarter, San Fran got a touchdown throw from Hill to Gore to, essentially, win the game. A clutch day for Hill.
Defensive Players of the Week
Patrick Willis, MLB, San Francisco. Willis is becoming the heir to Ray Lewis. At Arizona on Sunday, the Cards faced a third-and-eight on their first series, and Kurt Warner looked like he'd convert on a short toss to Tim Hightower. But Willis smothered Hightower after a gain of four and Arizona had to punt. Second series: On an intermediate throw up the right side to Jerame Urban, Warner got picked by the athletic Willis. End of threat. For the game, Willis had 13 tackles with the interception and another pass defensed.
Osi Umenyiora, DE, New York Giants. In his first game back from knee surgery that caused him to miss the 2008 season, Umenyiora steamed around Washington left tackle Chris Samuels, batted the ball from the grip of quarterback Jason Campbell, then picked it up and sprinted 37 yards down the right side for the touchdown that blew open the Giants' win over the Redskins at Giants Stadium. For the game, Umenyiora -- "our leader,'' fellow defender Justin Tuck says -- had four tackles, the strip-sack/fumble and a pass deflected in the Giants' 23-17 win. "I've played a little running back in my dreams,'' Umenyiora said.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Joshua Cribbs, PR, Special-teamer, Cleveland. His seventh career special-teams touchdown might have been his easiest. Cribbs bolted for 67 yards and a touchdown on a second-quarter punt, keeping the Browns in the game. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Cribbs is the best special-teams player in football, and if he continues on this path, he'll be as powerful a factor in games as Steve Tasker was in the Bills' run of greatness.
DeSean Jackson, WR/PR, Philadelphia. Jackson's the luckiest man on the face of the earth, Week 1 version. He broke open the Eagles-Panthers game with an 85-yard punt-return for touchdown in the second quarter at Charlotte, and he was barely touched on it. But one of the reasons he was barely touched was a how-did-they-miss-it illegal-block-in-the-back by Philly's Chris Clemons as the return just got up and running. The return, up the left side on an otherwise well-blocked play, gave Philadelphia a 17-7 lead, and the Eagles basically just grinded out the win from there.
Coach of the Week
Danny Smith, special teams, Washington. Washington was on a major downer, trailing 17-0 with less than a minute left in the first half. And the Giants stopped the 'Skins again at the New York eight, forcing Washington to settle for a field goal attempt. But on a perfectly disguised fake, punter/holder Hunter Smith picked the ball off the ground and gamboled around right end for an easy touchdown. The look on Tom Coughlin's face could kill at that moment. But I give Smith the credit on this one, without a doubt, because to make such a play against a team as disciplined in all ways as the Giants are is amazing. Look at the replay: Every Giants is intent on blocking the kick or rushing forward and collapsing the Washington line. Perfect execution, and that's the product of long hours and a great plan by a conscientious special-teams coach.
Goat of the Week
Jake Delhomme, QB, Carolina. He needs to be careful or he's going to retire this award. Five months after signing a new contract extension with $20 million in guarantees, Delhomme had his second straight meltdown at home for Carolina, completing seven of 17 throws for 73 yards, with no touchdowns and four picks. Yikes. History repeats last year's NFC playoffs.
In his last 22 series as quarterback for the Panthers, Delhomme has thrown nine interceptions and lost two fumbles, an amazing streak of incompetence.
In 2008, three quarterbacks played complete seasons and turned it over less that Delhomme has done in the last seven quarters: Jason Campbell (553 combined passes-rushes) seven turnovers, Kerry Collins (440) eight, and Chad Pennington (506) eight.
One proviso: I can't include Brady or Philip Rivers. They haven't played yet.
1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota. Brett Favre's got the greatest job a quarterback trying NOT to get hurt could have -- turn around and hand it to the best back in the football.
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. Well, he is on pace to throw for 96 touchdowns.
3. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore. "These are the kinds of games, and the kinds of drives, that'll help us become a great team,'' Flacco said after driving the Ravens to a way-too-difficult 38-24 win over Kansas City. First 300-yard game of his career.
4. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. Evergreen. If he's healthy and the Colts are winning, he's in the top five, somewhere.
5. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh. Not a pretty outing Thursday against Tennessee, but when you're 16 of 18 for 132 yards in the final 15 minutes (including overtime) of a brutally physical game, it's a credit to your desire and drive, and it says everything about your value to the team.
A couple of weeks ago, I illustrated how poor an unrestricted free-agent class there was, because all fourth- and fifth-year players whose contracts expire and who would normally be on the street won't be after this season ... if 2010 is an uncapped year.
Under terms of the uncapped year, players have to finish six credited seasons of play and be unsigned to be unrestricted free-agents. All evidence points to 2010 being played without a salary cap. If that's so, then the list of restricted free-agents will be, by far, the best ever, because it'll include all the fourth- and fifth-year unsigned players.
Restricted free-agents require compensation for the teams losing them, and with the number of quality free-agents on the list, the compensation probably won't be as heavy on some of the RFAs. The list of the top 70, as rated by me, show that San Diego GM A.J. Smith has his work cut out for him to make sure all of his prime players don't want out the door next March.
When you have average to above-average NFL starting players as the bottom end of a 70-deep class of restricted free-agents, it's an unprecedented class.
This is what you call an evisceration of a football team:
Since Week 17 of the 2008 season, 30 Kansas City Chiefs have departed -- 20 active players, five on injured-reserve, five on the practice squad. Only two have found jobs on active rosters in the NFL: tight end Tony Gonzalez (Atlanta) and defensive end Jason Babin (Philadelphia).
Come to think of it, that's also a reflection on a new broom (Scott Pioli/Todd Haley) sweeping clean, and the philosophical difference about players between the Carl Peterson and Pioli regimes. What a huge number of wasted Chief draft picks.
Three German tourists walked into a Starbucks at Seventh Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan Saturday morning. This particular Starbucks is a touristy place. Two males, one female. One male had a little Canon camera and took a photo of the 50ish man and woman walking into the coffee shop, then of them in line at the coffee shop (from three different angles), picking up the drinks at the coffee shop, sitting at a table at the coffee shop. They noticed me staring in amazement at all the photos, and the photographer said to me, "Coffee!'' I nodded. "Everyone likes coffee!'' Then he went over to the shelf with souvenirs on it and picked up a mug and held the mug in front of himself and took a picture of that.
You see all kinds of things in New York.
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 1:
a. I read in several places Sunday that Richard Seymour, after saying all the right things in his opening press conference in Oakland, is a blissful Raider. "Seymour Happy to be With Raiders,'' the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times headlined its Seymour story. Come on. I've talked to two people very close to Seymour, and he was decidedly miserable about the trade from New England. The headline could be "Seymour Says He's Happy to be a Raider,'' but to say someone's happy to go from a Super Bowl contender to the losingest franchise in football over the last six years -- while making the same amount of money and having to move his family in the first week of a new school year -- is preposterous.
b. Adam Schefter reported Sunday that all signs point to Michael Crabtree re-entering the draft in 2010. Interesting decision. There is no way -- and if I'm wrong on this, I will fire myself -- that Crabtree would get picked better than 10th in the 2010 draft without playing this year and having the over-inflated salary demands he has. Thus, he would make less, and perhaps significantly so, than the five-year, $27-million deal (approximately) that he's been offered by the 49ers this year, and for what? Because he's angry he's not the highest-paid receiver in this draft. If he re-enters the draft, it's a decision he'll regret the rest of his life.
c. No team ever looks good playing Tennessee.
d. The Jets don't look exactly like the 2008 Ravens, but they do leave some black-and-blue calling cards.
e. Matt Hasselbeck can play better, but if you root for Seattle, now you know you have a chance to win every week.
f. Rookie Eagles defensive coordinator SeanMcDermott didn't like what he saw in the preseason, obviously, but blessed relief came in the opener at Carolina. TGFD (Thank God For Delhomme), because the Eagles held Carolina to 169 yards and three of 19 third-down conversions. A terrific opener for McDermott and the Philly D.
g. Keep playing like that, Tony Romo, and nobody will have to mention Terrell Owens anymore.
h. Brady Quinn held his own against a very good defense, but he hardly put a vice-grip on the starting job in Cleveland.
i. No blackouts this week, because San Diego and Detroit were on the road. Get ready for some blackout news this week.
j. Still no progress in vetting candidates and hiring Mike Pereira's successor as NFL officiating czar. The process starts anew this week at the NFL offices in New York.
k. Is it just me, or are we manically concerned a little too soon with an event that's two years down the road -- the job action?
l. Check out my Tuesday column for thoughts on the Packers' win over the Bears ... and what it means to the future of Aaron Rodgers.
2. I think there's a better chance than ever that Bill Cowher will come out of retirement and return to the sideline for the 2010 season. Cowher, 52, started his third year in the CBS studio Sunday.
3. I think the most interesting thing about the two new NBC guys is that they weren't pining for the field at any point over the weekend. I asked Rodney Harrison during rehearsals Saturday at the NBC studios in New York if it felt strange to not be preparing to play a game for the first time on a September weekend in 30 years. Until you mentioned it, I hadn't thought of it,'' he said. "I'm over it. It's over.'' Same with Dungy, who was so OK about his new life that he had breakfast with the national president of the Parent Teachers Association Sunday morning, when he'd normally be getting his game face on. It impressed me that both thought they were where they were supposed to be this weekend.
4. I think this is what I liked about Week One:
a. Hines Ward hurting so much for fumbling near the goal line and almost blowing the Thursday-nighter. That's the attitude I want in my franchise receiver -- I want him to feel pain when he makes a huge gaffe. Shows how much he cares.
b. The Steelers talking to Mike Tomlin about a contract extension.
c. Tennessee's pass-rush without Albert Haynesworth. It's still one of the league's six or eight best rushes, because of the depth Mike Reinfeldt and Jeff Fisher have built and how well line coach Jim Washburn has cultivated it.
d. Josh Cribbs running the Wildcat. What a great use of the option play, and Cribbs got Cleveland's first first down of the year on a Wildcat run.
e. Chicago defensive end Adewale Ogunleye played one of the three or four best games of his life Sunday night at Green Bay, with two sacks and a pressure of Aaron Rodgers. I didn't make him defensive player of the week, though, because of the sieve-blocking of Green Bay right tackle Allen Barbre.
f. I just loved the job Cadillac Williams did running the ball for Tampa Bay, after so much pain and suffering with his knees in the last three years. Thirteen carries for 97 yards, many of them hard fought.
g. Congrats, Jones brothers. Julius and Thomas were two of only five backs to rush for 100 yards or more Sunday.
h. Tremendous Job of the Week By a Scribe: Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe (well, I can't really say that anymore; Reiss goes to ESPNBoston as of today) performed one of the great services a football writer could perform on Thursday in the Globe's NFL Preview section. He printed the starting lineups, including punter and kicker, of every team in the NFL That's 768 pieces of very valuable information for his readers who really love football.
The reason it's so admirable is because Reiss, as a very solid beat man, has enough work to do covering the most clandestine team in football. No one said to him, "Hey, for our NFL preview section, why don't you go out and find the lineups after training camps and preseason games end, and we'll run every one of them.'' It's just something he took on as a project as a guy who wants to get to know the league well and be a good national writer -- while covering the Patriots.
5. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 1:
a. Tennessee defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil losing his blitzing tendencies when it really counted late in Titans-Steelers, enabling Pittsburgh to overcome a 10-7 deficit and win 13-10.
b. Minnesota, with the best defense in the NFC, going against one of the worst offenses in football, giving the Browns a short field on a game-opening onside kick in Cleveland. Just dumb. If Cleveland starts at its 25-yard line 10 times against Minnesota, it might score once. Maybe twice. If it starts at midfield, it has to go 20 yards to get a field goal. The Browns went 31 yards and opened with a field goal. Why the onside kick? Why?
c. Tashard Choice taking a Wildcat snap for Dallas. My Wildcatter there would be Felix Jones.
d. Jay Cutler surrendering not only four interceptions but also 129 interception return yards ... to zero and zero for Green Bay. You think that wasn't a huge factor in the Sunday-nighter?
e. Arizona's protection.
f. Detroit's readiness.
g. The desperate straits Jake Delhomme has left Carolina in. By choosing to show faith in Delhomme and not going out and getting a proven backup in the offseason, John Fox cast his lot with a beloved but shaky player. No team can win with a turnover machine at quarterback.
h. Miami's margin for error. It's paper-thin. Of all the pretty good teams in football, Miami's the one that can least afford to make two mistakes on offense and think it still can win.
i. Brad Childress cutting Bobby Wade after asking him to take a pay cut., which Wade did a week before getting whacked for Greg Lewis. If you think that loses you points with your veteran players, you're right.
6. I think this is what I don't get about the Bears Sunday night: In training camp, I sat with coach Lovie Smith and GM Jerry Angelo, and spent some time on the phone with offensive coordinator Ron Turner after the Chicago-Denver exhibition game. And the message was clear. They loved tight end Greg Olsen and running back Matt Forte as vital cogs in the passing game. When I left Bears camp, I was convinced that Olsen was going to be Cutler's go-to guy, even with Devin Hester as his primary wideout target. So this is how the 36 Chicago passes were distributed by Cutler Sunday night:
Of his 36 throws, seven went to Olsen and Forte, with only one completion, total, to them. I mean, Hester, Olsen and Forte combined had three fewer balls thrown to them than did Earl Bennett, who had never caught an NFL pass until Sunday but who was Cutler's teammate at Vanderbilt. That distribution has to change in the coming weeks.
7. I think I really wouldn't be overly concerned if the Bears started 0-2. (Pittsburgh comes to Soldier Field for the home opener Sunday. After that, here's Chicago's next eight weeks: at Seattle, Detroit, Bye, at Atlanta, at Cincinnati, Cleveland, Arizona, at San Francisco. Of course, the Bears pay for that by playing Minnesota twice and Green Bay once -- all after Thanksgiving. This division's got miles to go before it sleeps.
8. I think, now that Bill Belichick has dispatched two men who helped him win three rings to the NFL's pasturelands -- Kansas City (Mike Vrabel) and Oakland (Richard Seymour) -- if I were Brady I'd be thinking, When my expiration date comes, Belichick's gonna send me to the Hamilton TigerCats.
9. I think every future Pro Football Hall of Famer needs to get a copy of Michael Jordan's 22-minute induction speech Friday night at the Basketball Hall of Fame. Perfect. Just perfect.
The template for recent football speeches seems to be: Start with your parents, go to the grade school teacher who inspired you, laud your high school coaches and college coaches, then thank every coach and most teammates who had anything to do with your pro career. We're sleeping by the sixth minute. What made Jordan's speech so perfect was the overarching story of his career -- this insane motivation he derived from everything -- and the fact that he told stories. Story after story after story.
About Leroy Smith, the high school player kept when Jordan didn't make his high school team. About how he burned when Sports Illustrated wanted a picture of the North Carolina starting five during Jordan's freshman year but Dean Smith kept him out because he was just a freshman ("That burned me up,'' Jordan said). About longtime assistant Tex Winter trying to prevent Jordan from bighead syndrome by telling him there is no "i'' in team, and Jordan responding, "Yeah, but there is an 'i' in win.''
About, in retirement, Pat Riley once slipping a note under his hotel room door telling him they would compete against each other again. About Bryon Russell of the Utah Jazz telling him in his first retirement he wished he'd come back so he could guard him. See, that's what we want to hear -- stories from the inside, from the court, from the life that illustrate why you are who you are. Humility is all well and good, but there's a way to make Hall of Fame speeches compelling and relevant, and Jordan gave every big star the how-to book on them.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Saw The Hurt Locker the other day, and, presuming you have a strong stomach, I highly recommend it. It's a movie about soldiers in Iraq who dismantle Improvised Explosive Devices (yes, that's Mike McGuire's job, and I have more respect than ever for the sergeant after seeing what his life is like). It's one of the best you-are-there movies I've ever seen, and as you can imagine, a you-are-there movie about IEDs is rather nerve-wracking. A shame it's on a limited run around the country. Hope you can find it somewhere.
b. Re: Michael Jordan and the Hall of Fame. Well, I've got my Jordan story. I was a 25-year-old college basketball writer at the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1982, covering the Final Four. North Carolina beat Georgetown in New Orleans, and Jordan, a freshman, made the winning shot from the left elbow in the final seconds.
The next morning, early, a few writers (I remember college friend Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer) went out to the lakefront airport in New Orleans to see the team before it jetted back to Chapel Hill. There, we spoke to James Worthy and Matt Doherty about winning the title, and off in the distance I noticed Jordan, who'd thrown down the winning shot nine hours earlier, in a coat and tie with a shirt about three neck sizes too big, with his big gym bag slung over his shoulder, carrying a film projector in his right hand and eight or nine canisters of film in his left hand. Yes, film. Those were the days of real film, not videotape. I said to Doherty: "Why is Jordan carrying all that stuff?" Doherty said, "The freshman always carries the film and the projector.''
c. Read that, college coach enablers.
d. And from Terry Francona, his manager during his minor-league trial in Birmingham: "He pinch-hit one night in Jacksonville. He had a scheduled night off but he ended up pinch-hitting with the game on the line. And he didn't get a hit. But after the game, he came in and said, 'Thank you.' And I hadn't done it as a favor. I don't know why we did it. At that point of his career, I think that was every bit as exhilarating as him trying to hit a 3-pointer. Game on the line, his at-bat.''
e. It's disturbing enough how Serena Williams blistered the line judge in her U.S. Open semifinal, causing Williams to get a penalty point, the last one in her loss Saturday night. But what was more disturbing, to me was her failure after her tirade to own up to what she did, denying that she threatened to kill the lineswoman when multiple witnesses heard exactly that. Yes, the foot-fault call was terrible. But threatening people the way Williams did ought to be cause for a suspension. It was disgraceful.
f. September baseball is interesting. If you're shallow in the bullpen or on the bench, you might be doomed. In the American League, four Wild Card contenders -- Texas, Seattle, Boston and Tampa Bay -- had two and a half days off (from Wednesday night until Saturday night) because of a scheduled day off and then rainouts in Arlington and Boston Friday, though the Sox and Rays played for 14 minutes before getting washed out. Then the Rangers and Mariners played three games in 26 hours Saturday and Sunday. The Red Sox and Rays played three in 25 hours.
g. The Rockies are fun to watch.
h. Keith Olbermann is very worried about A.J. Burnett. And he's a big Yankee guy.
i. Coffeenerdness: I tried to be a good citizen, Starbucks, and support your efforts in Africa by buying a pound of that "Red' coffee you're pushing. I should have guessed it might not be my cup of coffee when the front of the bag advertised brown spices and citrus. Let's just say the Red coffee is, well, an acquired taste. It would be better, Starbucks, if you just put a donation jar on the counter.
j. First former SI guy Josh Elliott doing "SportsCenter,'' and now Rick Reilly. Who's next? Phil Taylor? Selena Roberts? Nice job, Rick.
k. The USC-Ohio State game was one of the best sports events I've seen in a while. I love Matt Barkley, the true frosh USC QB, taking the Trojans the length of the field to win.
Good thing ESPN's got some good stories tonight. They're not going to have good games.
Patriots 31, Bills 6, at Foxboro.
In a meeting at NBC Friday morning with Rodney Harrison and the rest of the NBC Sunday night studio crew, I found myself thinking about the strange case of the New England transformation. The team it fields tonight will be offensively identical and defensively almost completely new.
Ten of the 11 offensive starters are the same; only Kyle Brady is not there anymore, and in his place could well be the exact same kind of bulky blocking tight end, 270-pound Michael Matthews, acquired from the Giants a week ago. But on defense? Check out the difference. I should note that I'm using the projected 3-4 lineup that the Patriots are likely to use when they're in their standard look tonight. But there are indications the team will use a four-man front more than in recent years this year, and if so, rookie tackle Ron Brace and Myron Pryor will both get significant playing time, as will pass-rush specialist Derrick Burgess. Burgess figures to play at least 25 snaps.
I could envision a 4-3 front-seven alignment tonight where only one player who started for the team at the end of 2007 would start today -- Burgess and Green or Tully Banta-Cain at the rush ends, with Brace and Pryor or Green inside up front, with Mayo flanked by Woods and Thomas at linebacker.
Chargers 37, Raiders 13, at Oakland.
Richard Seymour is playing, which is reason to tune in. Reason to stay tuned in is unlikely.
More NFL coverage from SI.com...
• Jerome Bettis: Fox's job in jeopardy; eye-opening remarks on Steelers
• Don Banks: Rodgers, Packers show they can finish
• Andrew Perloff: Ten 'Against The Grain' observations from Sunday
• Don Banks: Rise of Brees, fall of Delhomme, more Snap Judgments