PHILADELPHIA -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take in a Week 1 that's sure to spark overreaction and over-analysis on numerous fronts. But then again, that's par for the course on the NFL's opening weekend ...
• They have been belittled and beleaguered, called everything short of gutless for their inability to rise to the challenge and win their biggest games these past eight years. But you can't blast the Houston Texans' lack of backbone today. Not after they finally vanquished their nemesis, the Colts, and took a sizable first step toward fulfilling their playoff-level promise.
The Texans, of course, didn't clinch anything with their 34-24 conquest at Reliant Stadium, but they cleared a significant psychological hurdle in improving to 1-0. Indy entered the game 15-1 against division rival Houston from 2002 on; and until the Texans manned up and handled the Colts, they were going to forever seem like the expansion club that couldn't quite shed that label. In a very real sense, this was Houston's Super Bowl.
Maybe all the Texans really needed was a running back like Arian Foster. But, who couldn't use a rusher capable of a team-record 231 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Indy's supposedly improved running defense? Houston might be a pass-first team most games, but against Indy, head coach Gary Kubiak had the good sense to feed Foster the ball 33 times and running him for more yards than anybody ever had against the Colts. Fifteen of the Texans' 23 first downs came via the ground, and quarterback Matt Schaub completed just nine of 17 passes for 107 yards, with one touchdown.
If Houston should go on to bigger and better things this season, the drive that may be forever remembered as getting the Texans over the hump occurred at the start of the third quarter, with Houston clinging to a slim 13-10 lead after racing to an early 13-0 advantage. You could almost hear the here-we-go-again thoughts racing through the minds of the Texans players and fans, given Houston's penchant for blowing big leads and losing to Indy. I certainly was thinking the same thing.
But not this time. This time, the Texans crisply marched 66 yards in 15 plays, chewing up 7:57 on an absolutely essential touchdown drive. Foster did most of the damage, carrying nine times for 49 yards, including the final, toughest yard -- a 1-yard touchdown plunge on 3rd-and-goal. Though there was almost a quarter and a half still to play, it was effectively the end for the Colts, who trailed 20-10 and never again got closer than 10 points.
It's a long season, and Houston's challenges will still be many as it strives for the first playoff berth in franchise history. But Week 1 can set the tone for an entire season, especially for a team that's still learning how to win. These Texans don't have to cower anymore when someone brings up the Colts, and I do believe their long search for a franchise back has ended quite happily. That's progress aplenty for Kubiak's talented team on this particular NFL Sunday.
• Sorry, but it's a lousy, nonsensical NFL rule that removed Calvin Johnson's touchdown catch from the scoreboard and cost the heartbroken Lions a victory at Chicago. The league has split so many hairs and so often redefined what is and isn't a catch in recent years, that I don't know what one really looks like any more.
That's not true. I do know what a catch looks like, and Johnson made one against the Bears in the end zone, with under 30 seconds left in the game. But by the definition the NFL uses at the moment, Johnson's heroics were wiped out because he wasn't deemed to have made one of those vague "second football acts'' while in possession of the ball.
That rule needs some work, and everybody knows it now. If a receiver has the ball, with two feet down in the end zone, and then another body part down inbounds, why is that not as good as a running back who dives and barely breaks the plane of the goal with the ball before fumbling out of bounds? There should not be two vastly different ways of interpreting possession in the end zone.
All I know is that calling Johnson's play a non-catch by the letter of the law leaves me convinced the law needs to be changed. In any other NFL decade, that would have been a touchdown without much debate, if any at all. But not now. Not when we have "second football acts'' to complicate what once wasn't all that complicated.
• The Bears won, but everything I suspected about Chicago's woeful offensive line showed up on its failed goal-line possession in the fourth quarter. Chicago had a 1st-and-goal from inside the 1, and couldn't punch it in on all four downs. Matt Forte was stuffed on fourth down, running right, and was met by a wall of Detroit defenders.
All those high-profile acquisitions by the Bears the past two offseasons could be wasted by the fact Chicago didn't give its O-line much love at all. New Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice is one of the best molders of an effective line in the NFL, but I'm not sure he has much to work with in Chicago.
• That was a very ill-advised sidearm interception thrown by Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme in the first half at Tampa Bay, the kind of brain cramp that led to him relocating to Cleveland in the first place during the offseason. The good folks in Carolina have seen that kind of dubious decision-making out of Delhomme before, and Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber read Delhomme like a book, from cover to cover, before returning the pick 65 yards to the Browns' 3.
The turnover-plagued Delhomme wound up throwing two interceptions in Cleveland's 17-14 loss at Tampa Bay, a game the Browns once seemed comfortably in command of, at 14-3. Not a good development for Mike Holmgren's rebuilding program in Cleveland. If the Browns can't defeat the Bucs, who can they be expected to handle? And if Delhomme keeps throwing two picks a game, my prediction of Seneca Wallace as the team's starting QB by October has a great shot of coming true.
• So much for the Bengals passing game being new and improved. Sure, Carson Palmer finished with 345 yards and two touchdowns in Cincinnati's 38-24 loss at New England, but it's much easier to throw the ball in the NFL when you're down 24-3 at the half and can just load it up in the final 30 minutes. When it mattered in the first half, the Bengals were bottled up and largely ineffective. On Cincinnati's first five possessions, it punted three times, lost a fumble, and Palmer threw a 59-yard yard pick-six to Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton.
Batman and Robin may be on hand in Cincinnati, but Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens are no guarantee of success for the Bengals this season. I'm more convinced than ever.
• Despite all the upheaval late in the preseason -- when Seattle seemingly turned over a third of its roster in haphazard fashion -- new Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll certainly had his guys ready to play in the opener. Seattle dismantled San Francisco 31-6, scoring 31 unanswered points in the final three quarters.
San Francisco was the consensus choice to rule the NFC West this year, and that's an assumption that might need some rethinking at this point. Seattle dominated Mike Singletary's team for the most part, with Matt Hasselbeck picking the 49ers apart on 18 of 23 passing, for 170 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
Let's see if the Seahawks can keep it up next week at Denver, but for now, Seattle's showing was Week 1's biggest surprise. Unless San Francisco's dismal day outdid even the Seahawks. The 49ers go home to face the defending Super Bowl champion Saints next Monday night. Far earlier than expected, the pressure is suddenly on in San Francisco.
• Can't decide if the most spectacular play of Week 1 was that diving, airborne interception by Giants safety Deon Grant near the goal line early in Carolina's road loss to the Giants, or Bucs rookie Mike Williams' tip-drill-turned-touchdown-catch near the back edge of the end zone against Cleveland. Both were things of beauty.
• I don't think Bears fans need worry any more about whether Forte, whose explosiveness has returned to 2008 levels. Forte took that little swing pass from Jay Cutler late in the first half and simply ran away from the Lions defenders en route to a breath-taking 89-yard touchdown catch. The Forte wheels are just fine, folks.
• If I told you Friday that Andre Johnson would catch just three passes for 33 yards against the Colts, would you have predicted a 10-point Texans' win? Me neither. (See Foster, Arian).
• Not all 0-1 clubs are created equal, and no team will be dealing with a more crushing Week 1 disappointment than Detroit. Not only did the Lions lose at Chicago under dubious circumstances, but also they lost promising second-year quarterback Matthew Stafford with a throwing shoulder injury. Backup Shaun Hill played well in relief, but if he has to play much for Detroit this season, any chance for a steppingstone six-win season is gone for the Lions.
I suppose the Julius Peppers signing has already paid off to some degree for the Bears. It was a Peppers sack that knocked Stafford out of the game. I would say significantly weakening the prospects of one of your division opponents in Week 1 qualifies as a meaningful contribution.
• That ought to tamp down the case of playoff fever that had been building in Oakland all preseason. What an ugly showing on both sides of the ball in the Raiders' 38-13 egg-laying at Tennessee. That looked like the same old Raiders -- not the upgraded roster that I predicted would contend for an AFC wild card spot.
It's no great embarrassment to lose at Tennessee, but Oakland was a paltry 3 of 16 on third or fourth down, with 151 net yards passing; and new Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell wowed no one with one interception and a fumble lost.
• I saw both calls numerous times, live and via replay, and I still didn't see the ball break the plane of the goal on Wes Welker'ssecondtouchdown catch in New England and that Jahvid Best touchdown carry for the Lions. Both plays were reviewed and upheld as touchdowns, but can we please fast-track the notion of putting a microchip into the game ball, NFL? It's time, and the technology exists.
• So when the Texans and Colts did their little pre-game show of NFLPA solidarity on Sunday, lifting one index finger in unison, the fans on hand in Houston reportedly booed. No surprise there. If the players believe the fans will side with either party in the league's looming labor standoff, they're not too swift on the uptake.
The fans just want their football without interruption, and I think any reminders of the potential trouble to come is going to elicit a building sense of wrath.
And for the record, I'll believe in the players' unity once they don't crack by August or so next year, once the owners have locked them out for five months. Until then, pregame displays such as holding up an index finger, en masse, deserve the heading of 'empty gesture.'
• They say every year is different in the NFL, and you don't have to convince anyone of that in Indianapolis, Denver or Minnesota. Last year, the Colts started 14-0, the Broncos got off to a 6-0 getaway, and the Vikings were also 6-0 before suffering their first defeat. But all three lost their openers and won't be doing the undefeated thing.
• Watching Bob Sanders get hurt and leave the game at Houston with an elbow injury in the first quarter, all you could think was: Well that didn't take long. After missing almost all of last season, the injury-plagued Colts safety was finally healthy again and expected to wreak particular havoc on behalf of the Indy secondary this year.
But maybe not, and that will be a blow to the Colts' plans, even though reserve safety Melvin Bullitt is a more-than-capable replacement.
• Weird, weird day for my Offensive Rookie of the Year pick, Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller. He had seven rushes for six yards, with a long gain of six yards. He caught four passes for eight yards, with a long gain of nine. I didn't see that much of the Dolphins-Bills, but I'm guessing Spiller spent a good bit of his first day in the NFL in reverse.
• It was not terribly considerate of the Falcons to make future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez wait well into the third quarter to make his first catch of the season, which doubled as the 1,000th of his stellar career. Gonzalez already went the entire offseason stuck on 999 catches, and adding to his anticipation, an earlier reception was wiped out because he stepped out of bounds during his route, before coming back in to make the grab.
• Really, Logan Mankins? You walked away from a fat, new contract extension in New England because you couldn't bring yourself to issue a public apology to the Krafts, after questioning their integrity earlier this year in the course of your contract standoff?
And maybe the Krafts aren't exactly blameless in this either. Mankins reportedly issued a private apology to Robert and Jonathan Kraft before the deal was completed, but the Krafts wanted more. Sounds like both sides cut off their nose to spite their face.
• And as for you, Darrelle Revis, are you tone deaf? You talk about your next potential holdout less than a week after ending your first holdout after 35-plus days? Way to put the focus back on the field and return to the task at hand of helping the Jets win a Super Bowl. No snack for you this week in New York.
• Absolutely loved those Kelly-green throwback jerseys and helmets worn by the Eagles on Sunday against Green Bay. No wonder the 1960 Eagles -- who were honored Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field -- won the last NFL title in Philadelphia franchise history. They looked too good to lose.
• The Patriots' young secondary gave Bill Belichick reason for concern in the preseason, but it really wasn't hurt against Cincinnati until New England led 24-0 and was in back-pedal mode. Let's see how Week 2 at the Jets goes, but if the defensive backs survive that game, you have to like New England's chances of winning the AFC East title.
• I think Wes Welker is going to be fine, so let's all stop talking about the knee at this point. Tom Brady looked locked and loaded and ready to play this year, too. I suppose a lucrative contract extension does a quarterback's mindset considerable good.
• Pretty efficient day for a quarterback who hasn't always been so accurate, Jacksonville's David Garrard. The Jags' somewhat embattled starter was a cool 16 of 21 for 170 yards and three touchdown passes in the 21-17 home-opening win over Denver.
So, who needs Tim Tebow in Jacksonville?
• That Steelers offense remains a work in progress with novice Dennis Dixon at quarterback. But that Pittsburgh defense might be as disruptive as ever. Holding Matt Ryan and the Falcons to just three field goals is no easy feat. The Steelers did what they had to do, though, logging a 15-9 overtime win, and now they're just one win away from at least handing the reins back to Ben Roethlisberger at .500 after four games.
• The offensive issues that plagued Carolina all preseason haven't exactly evaporated with the arrival of the regular season. The Panthers still can't challenge a defense with their Matt Moore-led passing game, and even the vaunted Carolina running game was hardly against a factor in its 31-18 loss at the Giants. And now Moore has a concussion to deal with, meaning rookie second-round pick Jimmy Clausen might get the starting nod in Week 2.