I'll take you through the stories of an eventful Week 1 of the NFL season, but shouldn't that be singular? As in, "story?" Peyton Manning turned the clock back Sunday night, and he got the Super Bowl express rolling in Denver. He had help -- his weaponry on offense, and Tracy Porter's first interception return for touchdown since the Super Bowl-clincher off one Peyton Manning -- but it was a night to revel in the return of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.
The headlines of a compelling weekend:
Manning Returneth. At 36 and still working to regain his in-the-prime fastball, Manning survived a strange bout of in-game inaction -- he ran two non-kneel-down plays in about an hour of real time, and in 21 minutes of game-clock sandwiching halftime. He used the no-huddle in vintage Manning brilliance, had three consecutive 80-yard touchdown drives, the second ending in his 400th career touchdown pass, and made every fan in Indianapolis who'd been fine with the Manning-for-Andrew Luck tradeoff think, "My Lord, can we have this guy back?''
The win makes Manning 7-1 lifetime against defenses run by Hall of Fame corner/coordinator Dick LeBeau.
RGIII wins the rookie quarterback derby. "I don't know how it could be much better,'' Griffin told me from the 'Skins' bus to the airport after he shredded the Saints. "Winning your first game, on the road, against a Super Bowl contender that won a Super Bowl, in my hometown. It's pretty great.'' As was Griffin's play -- 320 yards passing, a 139.9 rating and the poise of a player who looked like he was nine years removed from football at Baylor University in Waco, not nine months. The other four rookies lost. Andrew Luck had his moments but also four turnovers at Chicago, Russell Wilson was mortal in Arizona and Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden were advertisements for rookies who played too soon, combined for zero touchdowns and six interceptions in losing to Houston and Philadelphia.
San Francisco and New England, Super Bowl bound. I kid. Or do I? Alex Smith outplayed Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field; tell me -- did you ever think you'd read that sentence? And the Patriots look rejuvenated by a young defense. The Niners, looking like the best team in the league after one week, are now 7-2 on the road under Jim Harbaugh.
The regular officials might want to go to Wikipedia and read about Ronald Reagan firing the Air Traffic Controllers 31 years ago. Not saying the NFL's on the verge of whacking Ed Hochuli and 119 of his officiating peers. Just saying that after 14 of the 16 games of Week 1, the replacement officials have done an adequate job. "We've seen nothing that stood out as a glaring mistake,'' NFL VP Ray Anderson told me at halftime of the late afternoon games.
Of course, then there was one -- the crew in Arizona giving the Seahawks a fourth second-half timeout, instead of three, and the NFL observer on site not straightening out the mess when he had the chance. Bad error. Luckily for the league, the Cardinals hung on to win. Even with that error and game times that dragged, the league's not likely to give much ground if and when talks with the regular officials resume.
Recovery of the Year. Thirty-six weeks and two days after reconstructive knee surgery, Adrian Peterson rushed for two touchdowns and 84 yards in Minnesota's win over Jacksonville. Looked absolutely the same as pre-injury AP in doing it, too.
The first fair overtime game ever is played in Minnesota. Vikes get the ball first, and rookie kicker Blair Walsh kicks a 38-yard field goal. In past regular seasons, that would have been the game. Minnesota 26, Jacksonville 23. But the Jags, because Minnesota hadn't scored a touchdown on the first possession of OT, got the ball with a chance to score a touchdown and get a walkoff win or a field goal to extend it. But Blaine Gabbert went four-and-out. Ballgame. Equitable ballgame.
Tim Tebow. Meh. Jets kept the wraps on Tebow (five rushes, 11 yards, zero passes, zero funny stuff on the punt team) because they didn't want to take them off. "We had a good package ready,'' offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said last night, "but we just felt like it wasn't necessary to use it.'' Instead, Mark Sanchez played the role of a franchise quarterback as the Jets rolled over Buffalo.
The Saints don't get a boost from Legal Land. With the suspensions of Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma vacated by an NFL appeals panel, Smith started at defensive end and Vilma provided an emotional boost inside the Superdome for the opener. But the boost didn't last long, and the Saints missed the order of Sean Payton, getting a ridiculous and costly 12-men-on-the-field penalty when cornerback Patrick Robinson was caught loafing off the field. Washington's points by quarter: 10, 10, 10, 10. Redskins 40, Saints 32.
There's more -- about the life and times of Art Modell, about the apparently no-longer-counterfeit Bucs, about Atlanta's new explosiveness, and about Houston showing Matt Schaub the money. On with the show.
Unveiling a new section of the column: The Deep End.
I asked Neil Hornsby of ProFootballFocus.com, the site that examines plays by breaking down all 22 players' roles and performances on every snap, to look at a matchup of the week for me. He'll provide the breakdown of a specific matchup, or how one player performs in a big game.
For Week 1, fortuitously, I asked Hornsby to provide data for Robert Griffin III's first regular season NFL start at New Orleans. Here's what the ProFootballFocus.com study of Griffin's play showed:
• Pressure: Griffin felt pressure on only eight of 31 pass drops, in part because of his quick release. On his drops when he didn't scramble, he averaged 2.1 seconds between the time he got the snap and the time he released the pass. Good game-planning by the Shanahans, obviously, to make sure the suspect Washington line could protect Griffin long enough for him to find an open man.
• Rushing: Griffin ran 10 times for 42 yards (an 11th run was negated by penalty). Cam Newton averaged eight rushes for 44 yards last season. Of the 10 runs -- as I suspected after seeing a Redskins training camp practice -- eight were by design. He scrambled once when the pocket broke down and his receivers were covered. That resulted in a 12-yard gain, but also in a couple of hard hits by Saints defenders on the play. His running is a concern. I can't see a 218-pound quarterback being exposed to 160 rushes in a season and surviving.
• Passing: He told me after the game he felt calm, like he had ice water in his veins. But on his first drive, he dropped one snap and threw two passes off-target. He hit Pierre Garcon on a cross 16 yards downfield, and Garcon turned it into an 88-yard touchdowns. For the day, the Redskins designed almost all quick-release throws. Of his 26 passes, none was a go pattern or a deep throw downfield, and he threw one post -- an excellent throw under pressure on 2nd-and-13 for a first down to tight end Logan Paulson when Washington was trying to bleed the clock.
• In summation: The best thing Griffin did was not make mistakes, and he had only three or four poor throws. He showed confidence, played well within the system, and evaded the really big hit that eventually dooms mobile quarterbacks. It was an opening game in which Griffin played well beyond his 22 years.
After the game, I asked him about the 2nd-and-13 call with just over two minutes left when the Redskins were trying to run the clock out -- a telling call by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, a throw up the seam to Paulson. Big play, because if the ball's incomplete, the Redskins face a 3rd-and-13, and if they don't convert, they give the ball back to Drew Brees with about 1:53 left, and a touchdown/two-point conversion would tie the game. But the pass was perfectly thrown, and Paulson gained 22. Brees got it back with 22 seconds left. Not enough time to make anything happen.
"You can either be predictable,'' Griffin said, "or you can trust your players to make plays. I give a lot of credit to Kyle there for trusting me. When we were on the sidelines before that play, he asked me if I thought I could complete that throw. I said I was confident I could, and he called it.''
Griffin said he was confident even though, as he said, "We never ran anything in the preseason. We didn't want to show anybody anything. But then we went out, weathered the storm with their crowd early and played well. This is the pinnacle. It's what I've wanted to do for so long.''
He did it well. He said he audibled about 10 times, not necessarily to plays he thought would be big-gainers, but "changing from a negative play to a play that had a better chance.'' He didn't turn it over in a hostile environment, and Washington kept the ball for 39 minutes. Hard to think the Shanahans could have drawn it up any better.
The average time of the first 14 games this season is 3 hours 14 minutes, six minutes more than Week 1 2011. Average penalties per game in the first 14 games: 13.71. That's almost one penalty more than the 2011 full-season average.
I saw a few bad calls Sunday. The officials in Green Bay-San Francisco missed an illegal block in the back on Randall Cobb's 75-yard punt return. In Arizona, ref Bruce Hermansen gave Seattle a fourth timeout in the second half (video above), erring on the rule that when there's an injury inside the two-minute warning or a half, the team with the injured player gets charged with a timeout. After a lengthy delay, what was particularly bothersome is that the NFL observer upstairs didn't notify the officials on the field of the timeout mistake. If the NFL observer isn't going to know the rules, how can he expect officials with less knowledge of the rules to be able to apply them?
This isn't the first time a team mistakenly got four timeouts in a half; it happened in a Browns-Ravens game in 2009. Still, the league's very lucky Arizona won this game. Imagine the outcry if Seattle, with the extra long timeout, had cooked up a play that would have been the winning points in the opener.
Midway through the late-afternoon games, NFL VP Ray Anderson told me: "Overall, we're satisfied with the performance of the officials, considering the unbelievable scrutiny they have been under. As we have said, we're not going to be as concerned with time of games as making sure we take the time to get the plays right.''
Anderson said the Week 2 assignments for all crews have been made, and by Wednesday, the replacement officials would know their assignments for Week 3.
Meanwhile, in our NBC bunker watching the games Sunday, I viewed the proceedings with former league official Jim Daopoulos; NBC has hired him as an officiating consultant. He said the solidarity of the officials will be tested now that they're missing their average $5,500-per-week paychecks. "The wives are going to start saying, 'I miss that paycheck,' '' Daopoulos said.
This could be an interesting week in negotiations -- if indeed there are any. Negotiator and current ref Scott Green told me Wednesday he's never seen the officials more unified. That'll be tested, because I think with no game-turning crises in the first 14 games, the NFL will be motivated to hold a hard line against them.
The 49ers look frighteningly efficient, physical and hard to beat.
Stat of the Weekend: San Francisco has not turned the ball over in the last 26 regular season quarters. That's six and a half games without a turnover.
Newcomer of the Weekend: Randy Moss caught the Niners' first touchdown of the season. He played about a third of the snaps, getting good separation from corners when he was in. And he blocked. That's right. Randy Moss blocked. This could be a ridiculously good pickup for Jim Harbaugh's offense, particularly if Moss doesn't have to play too much and can stay healthy for 16 games. Or more.
The Niners return the conference's best defense intact -- 11 starters and pass rusher Aldon Smith -- and after 45 minutes led one of the best offenses to take the field in years, Green Bay, by 23-7. The Pack made it close down the stretch, but you got the feeling this was San Francisco's game all the way. The Niners' motto is "The team, the team, and the team.'' They have a good one -- the one that looked the best in football in Week 1.
Good signs for Falcons past and Falcons present
Falcons past: On Saturday, Houston quarterback Matt Schaub, acquired by the Texans from Atlanta in 2007, agreed to a contract extension with the Texans through 2016. He was scheduled to be a free agent after this season, and because injuries had cut short three of his five seasons in Houston, his value was murky. Surely the Texans wanted to keep him, but what value would they apply to him? About $15.5 million a year, as it turns out. But it's very likely Houston GM Rick Smith has some injury insurance in the deal, with bonuses tied to Schaub's availability, and we'll get a look at that in the coming days. "Rightfully so that was a concern,'' Schaub said after Houston whipped Miami 30-10. He said he didn't think it would have affected him if he'd gone through the season without the security of a new deal. "But now there's no questions about it -- I can focus 100 percent on football. We got it out of the way, and that's good. It's great Mr. McNair [owner Bob McNair] and the entire organization trusts me to be their quarterback, with all that entails. I'm honored."
Falcons present: Matt Ryan had to live with the memory of putting up zero points in 11 drives in the wild card playoff loss (24-2) to the Giants eight months ago. Sunday, he did something about it. He threw for 299 yards, 108 of them to the deep threat offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will likely use a lot, Julio Jones, and Atlanta whacked the Chiefs 40-24. "It felt good,'' Ryan said afterward. "It actually felt good just to move on." Ryan said he felt like he was playing fast, and was playing "with as much confidence as I've ever had.'' The NFC South has been a revolving-door division in recent years -- all four teams have won the division at least once in the last five seasons -- and New Orleans could be vulnerable if Sunday's results are an indication. But Ryan is going to have to play great for the Falcons to win it. And he's going to have to beat some very good quarterbacks head-to-head. The next eight Atlanta faces: Peyton Manning (next Monday night in the Georgia Dome), Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Carson Palmer, Mike Vick, Tony Romo, Drew Brees.
Coaching moment of the week
I like when coaches capture a moment and impart the kind of wisdom fourth-grade teachers can impart, but it sounds so logical and simple that ... well, let me throw this story from the Meadowlands at you.
Did you see the silly interception Mark Sanchez threw on the first possession of the Jets' season? Rolling out on second down at his 47, Sanchez neared the sideline when, for reasons known only to him, he tried way too hard to make something happen, flipping the ball in Favrian style to tight end Jeff Cumberland. But safety Bryan Scott picked it off, and the Jets' horrendous offensive summer seemed about to continue into an even worse autumn.
Sanchez looked disgusted with himself when Sparano found him.
"Listen son,'' Sparano said, "you didn't have to do that. You'd made six or seven positive plays in a row to get us there, and if you throw it away, it's third down and you keep the drive going. It doesn't have to be you winning the game by yourself. Cut your losses. Let your teammates help.''
Sparano told me last night: "It was an easy conversation to have. Mark's a very good kid. He knew. Every play doesn't have to be a home run.''
Some players -- and maybe Sanchez last year -- would have squeezed the football so tight on the next possession, and the next, and not been able to make winning plays. But on his next five drives, Sanchez went touchdown, touchdown, field goal, field goal, touchdown, with 266 yards of efficient, accurate drives. "Mark got the ball out on rhythm,'' said Sparano. "That's the way we've seen him play in practice. I think it was just a matter of getting all our receivers out there healthy and contributing as a unit.''
Winning 48-28 in the opener is important to any team. It was incredibly important to the Jets, and to Sanchez. They'd been the worst offensive team in the NFL in the preseason, and it seems like a matter of time before Tim Tebow seriously threatened Sanchez's job security, all the nicey-nice talk around the team notwithstanding. But Sparano never got to dip into his bag of tricks for Tebow on Sunday, basically because he didn't need to; the game was out of hand early. And Sparano figured: Why give future foes a chance to scout Tebow doing exactly what the Jets think can be dangerous enough to win a game down the road? "The kid is getting better,'' said Sparano. "We're going to use him in a bunch of different ways.''
Just not Sunday.
1. San Francisco (1-0). Thanks to three touchdowns from the least-appreciated quarterback-running back combo platter in football, Alex Smith (211 passing yards) and Frank Gore (112 rushing yards). The 30-22 win over Green Bay didn't seem that close.
2. New England (1-0). The rookie cavalry for the D -- end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- came up big. They're players.
3. Houston (1-0). Does J.J. Watt have a big impact every game he plays, or is that just my imagination? Another 1.5 sacks and three passes deflected against Miami. Incredible for a 290-pound, 3-4 defensive end.
4. Green Bay (0-1). Not jumping off the Packers bandwagon just yet, but tempted. They have lost the last two games by a combined 25 points.
5. Denver (1-0). It's not a dream. Peyton Manning really was that good, 129.2-rating good, in his first real game in 20 months. Really agree with Tony Dungy: The Broncos waited too long to use the no-huddle. Peyton Manning should live in the no-huddle.
6. Dallas (1-0). I'm not sure the offensive line is going to hold up, but I know one thing about one of the 2011 weakness that killed last year's team: These Cowboys can cover.
7. Atlanta (1-0). Two points in a game, as happened in the playoff debacle at the Meadowlands last January? Not going to happen with this crew, and this offensive playcaller (Dirk Koetter). All of a sudden, the Denver-Atlanta Monday-nighter next week is the Must See TV Game of the Week.
8. Baltimore (0-0). Excited about seeing the Ravens hurry-up offense tonight.
9. New York Jets (1-0). How cool is this: Tim Tebow was in the game on the first play of the season, a second tight end. But we never saw the full monty with Tebow, because as offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said afterward, why empty the ideological saddlebag when you don't have to? (Actually, "ideological saddlebag'' is mine. Don't you just love it?)
10. Washington (1-0). This seems low. Tenth? If the 'Skins didn't let the Saints have a prayer late, they'd be a few slots higher.
11. Chicago (1-0). It was only nine times that Jay Cutler found Brandon Marshall against the Colts, but it seemed like 19. Every time I looked up, there was Marshall making Colts miss.
12. New Orleans (0-1). Mulligan. But it's not a good sign for Steve Spagnuolo and the new defense, surrendering eight scoring drives and 464 yards to a rookie quarterback.
13. New York Giants (0-1). Jints' regular season record over the last 20 games: 10-10.
14. Detroit (1-0). Sloppy opener, but maybe the Rams are better than we think. The Lions are going to have to be much better Sunday night at Candlestick.
15. Pittsburgh (0-1). Even if Ben Roethlisberger didn't gift-wrap that pick-6 to Tracy Porter, I didn't like the Steelers' chances to go the length of the field in the last couple of minutes to win. But that's not a disastrous opener for the Steelers. Roethlisberger played well, and the Steelers got good contributions from the wideouts and from an unknown back named Jonathan Dwyer. Kid runs very hard.
Offensive Players of the Week
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver. "I don't how Peyton's neck is doing, but his brain's doing fine,'' Cris Collinsworth said on NBC with about five minutes left in a game. It was a vintage Manning game. He controlled the defense with his eyes, cadence and movement back and forth from the line, using the play clock as effectively as ever. He's had better days than his 19-of-26, 253-yard, two-TD, no-pick performance, but this wasn't about the numbers (even though he did join Brett Favre and Dan Marino as the only quarterbacks ever to throw 400 touchdown passes). It was about the maestro back with a new orchestra, and performing beautifully.
Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets. Didn't seem like it'd be Sanchez's day after he threw a stupid early shovel-interception, but he rebounded to throw three touchdowns, complete 70 percent of his throws (by far his best number of the day, considering he completed 57 percent last season) and move the chains for 266 yards. And he kept Tim Tebow on the sidelines for much of the day. Tebow didn't throw a pass. Excellent performance by a player facing the most pressure of any other opening-day quarterback.
Defensive Players of the Week
Tracy Porter, cornerback, Denver. Eight tackles, five deflections and a 43-yard game-sealing interception return for touchdown in the Broncos' 31-19 win Sunday night over Pittsburgh. The Broncos paid Porter $4 million for one year of his services, and I daresay he earned most of that before midnight Sunday.
Ronde Barber, free safety, Tampa Bay. In his 200th consecutive start for the Bucs, Barber, transitioning to safety, had an interception and a sack in the stifling defensive performance against Cam Newton and the Panthers. I think I'm going to be writing about this amazing player when I'm 75.
Dr. Z Unsung Man in the Trenches of the Week
In honor of my friend Paul Zimmerman, the long-time Sports Illustrated football writer who has been sidelined since November 2008 after suffering three strokes. Zim still is fighting to come back from the strokes, but can't write yet, nor can he speak well. A former college and semi-pro offensive lineman, Zim always thought we in the business concentrated too much on the pretty boys and not enough on the men on the lines who did the real hard business of football. Thanks to many of you for suggesting this new category in the column. I'll use it all season.
Nick Sundberg, center/long-snapper, Washington. Zim would love Nick Sundberg, who took a helmet in the left forearm in the second quarter of Washington's game at New Orleans, breaking the forearm for the second time in his life. It also happened in high school, about an inch higher. "I just had to keep telling myself it didn't hurt,'' Sundberg told me from the Redskins' bus to the airport after the 40-32 upset of the Saints. "We really didn't have anybody else. I've always told [special teams coach] Danny Smith I'm never coming out of the game anyway, no matter what happens to me.''
After the break, Sundberg, a third-year undrafted free agent from Cal, had the arm wrapped and snapped six balls to the punter and holder the rest of the game -- flawlessly. How exactly does one snap a ball on a line to a kicker or holder with a broken arm? "Well, it was my guide arm, my left,'' he said. "So if it had been my right arm, the arm I use to snap, I would have been in trouble. I was able to guide the ball through my legs and get it back OK.'' If you say so.
Special Teams Players of the Week
David Akers, K, San Francisco. At the end of the first half, his 63-yard NFL-record-tying field goal bounced over the crossbar, giving the Niners a nine-point lead. Three field goals got him off to a good start defending his NFL scoring title.
Jeremy Kerley, WR/PR, New York Jets. After catching Mark Sanchez's first touchdown pass of the year in the first quarter, Kerley took back the first punt for touchdown by a Jet since 2002, a 68-yard dream-weave through the Bills' entire punt team. The Jets are really going to need him.
Greg Zuerlein, K, St. Louis. New special teams coach John Fassel, son of Jim, was told to go find a kicker before the draft this year, and his choice was a kid who started his career at Nebraska-Omaha and finished it at Missouri Western. The Rams picked Zuerlein in the sixth round, and in his debut Sunday, he repaid the faith. Four of his six kickoffs were touchbacks in Detroit, and he had field goals of 48, 29 and 46 yards without a miss.
Blair Walsh, K, Minnesota. Walsh, in his first real NFL game, went 4 for 4 in field goals, forcing overtime against Jacksonville with a 55-yarder at the Metrodome and then winning the game with a 38-yarder in overtime.
Coach of the Week
Greg Schiano, head coach, Tampa Bay. The Bucs were last in the NFL in points allowed last year, and last against the run. In two games against the Panthers last year, they gave up 86 points. But they've bought into Schiano early, and held Carolina to 10 yards rushing and 10 points at the Pirate Ship. One game's too early to say the rah-rah stuff is going to work in the NFL, but discipline is discipline, and organization is organization. And Kellen Winslow and Brian Price, casualties under Schiano, haven't landed anywhere, have they?
Goat of the Week
Mario Williams, DE, Buffalo. You can excuse a preseason of no production, because no one cares about the preseason. But no team had the kind of crisis the Jets had at right tackle in the preseason, dumping starter Wayne Hunter in favor of the untested Austin Howard, and on Sunday, Williams got nothing done playing across from Howard. This much of nothing: one tackle, zero sacks, zero quarterback hits. A pathetic opening display for a man who will make $40 million over the first two years ($1.18 million for his no-show Sunday) of a six-year, $96 million deal.
This was the first football weekend in 27 years that Hines Ward has not been either playing a football game, practicing to play a football game, or rehabbing from an injury suffered in a football game.
His last such autumn weekend came in 1985, when young Hines, in fourth grade in Forest Park, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, didn't play football. Since then, it was three years with the Forest Park Dolphins youth team, one season at Babb Middle School, four seasons at Forest Park High, four seasons at Georgia, and 14 seasons in Pittsburgh.
"Half my life ... three quarters of my life. Amazing,'' he said Friday, prepping for another day in his new job analyzing the game for NBC. "What's amazing is how it flew by. I'm a kid, playing, then it seems like I'm in Pittsburgh, just trying to earn a roster spot. And I got so much out of it. No one loved football more than I did. But now, I've got this new life, and I've got to work hard at it. It's definitely going to be weird, but it's OK to hang up the shoes and move on.''
"Oh man, I gotta get out of Cleveland.''
-- Eagles quarterback Mike Vick, after throwing four interceptions (it should have been five, but for a drop by a Browns rookie linebacker on the game-winning touchdown drive) at Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday and barely surviving. Philadelphia beat the Browns 17-16 on a four-yard touchdown pass from Vick to tight end Clay Harbor with 78 seconds left.
"It's like we were making up for lost time."
-- Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, after the Jets put up 48 points on the Bills Sunday and routed Buffalo. New York was easily the most pathetic offensive team in the league in the preseason, not scoring a touchdown in the first three preseason weeks.
"I'm still feeling my way out. I still have some limitations."
-- Peyton Manning, after the victory over Pittsburgh.
What would those be, exactly?
I did enjoy the graphic our game guys used at NBC, the one that showed Manning throwing a sideline route, pre-surgeries, at 49.7 mph, and the same type of sideline route this summer at 47.6. His ball looks to be slightly less of the 100 percent perfect spiral it was three or four years ago. But the accuracy, and the way he fits it into small areas looks the same to me.
"We have 12 plays on the wristband. The terminology is the same as we used in New Orleans. The kids said, 'This looks hard.' But I said, 'I've seen your homework. That's a lot harder.' And they've done a great job with it.''
-- Sean Payton, who is working as an offensive assistant coach on his 12-year-old son Connor's football team in suburban Dallas this season while serving a season-long suspension for his alleged role in the Saints' bounty program, in an interview with Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Payton was referring to the offensive system he has installed on the team, and how the quarterback is given a wristband with 12 plays he can call, depending on Payton's direction.
Tennessee running back Chris Johnson's tweet on March 3: "Statement is I'm gonna lead the league n rushing this year save this."
Tennessee running back Chris Johnson's stat line in Sunday's opener: 11 carries, four yards.
Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, at that pace, would have to play 402 games this fall to win the rushing title, if it takes the same number of yards, 1,606, to win the rushing title this year as last year.
I beg you, Delta Air Lines and LaGuardia Airport. Please fix the insane asylum that is Terminal C and D, and the Marine Air Terminal, at the airport. For the unfamiliar, here's how it works if you've got a Delta flight at LaGuardia. Delta is at Terminal A (the Marine Air Terminal), Terminal C and Terminal D. When you approach the airport, the Delta Shuttle (flights to Washington and Boston) operate out of Terminal A. The other flights operate out of Terminal C or D.
If you print out your boarding pass a couple hours before your flight and head for the airport, you'll usually have the gate number on the boarding pass. If not, God help you.
Let's say you're not from New York, and you're just in town, and you have to catch a plane out of LaGuardia on Delta. Cab driver says to you, "Where to?'' You say, "LaGuardia. Delta terminal." Cabbie wonders if that's the Marine Air Terminal, Terminal C or Terminal D. You don't have your boarding pass. So you don't know. You approach the airport, and there should be some signage on site, telling you where your flight is flying out of. Nope. No idea.
And if you guess Terminal D, let's say, and it's Terminal C, you get through the rat's maze of security -- it's always long, because Delta is always busy -- and then have to get sardined into a bus downstairs for the ride to Terminal C. Or if it's the Marine Air Terminal, you've got a long ride on a different airport bus.
I mean, anybody at Delta ever hear of signage?
"Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year. 'Overreaction Monday.' ''
-- @RossTuckerNFL, the NFL analyst and former NFL offensive lineman, at 5:23 p.m. ET Sunday.
"Troy polamalu is the most instinctive safety in the history of the #nfl #pittsburghsteelers''
-- @merrilhoge, the ESPN football analyst and former NFL fullback, after Polamalu blitzed in the first quarter at Denver and tackled running back Knowshon Moreno for no gain.
"Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin''
-- @JonVilma51, Saints linebacker, after his one-year suspension was overturned by an appeals panel on Friday.
"The good news in all of this, is that I set up my fantasy lineups beforehand. So there shall be no excuses at this point."
-- @BMcCarthy32, from his hospital room Saturday in the Bay Area, recovering from a skull fracture after being hit with a line drive. When Niners linebacker Patrick Willis tweeted McCarthy some good wishes, McCarthy tweeted back: "Thanks buddy, I feel like I just got hit by you.''
"I miss newspapers. It's weird hitting a dog on the nose with an iPad. @4thandpain"
-- @AdamCarriker94, the Washington defensive end.
You're a good man, Carriker.
Requiem For a Heavyweight
Most memorable characters/figures I have covered in 29 years following the NFL, not necessarily in this order (but it's close):
1. Lawrence Taylor2. Sam Wyche3. Art Modell4. Brett Favre5. Al Davis6. John Randle7. Bill Parcells8. Jerry Jones9. Jimmy Johnson10. Deion Sanders.
Modell, who died in Baltimore Thursday morning, is so many things to so many people: TV pioneer, firer of Paul Brown and Bill Belichick, Browns killer, Ravens founder, hated in Cleveland, beloved in Baltimore, one of the funniest people ever put on the earth, heart of gold to the downtrodden, spender of money he did not have, benefactor who gave away millions that he did have. Unforgettable, in a word.
Modell was one of the most influential owners of his time, and certainly the most fun. I recall many league meetings when I heard an explosion of laughter from a circle of media people and figured, Art's in the middle of that. He married an actress, Patricia Breslin, and loved the Hollywood set. After one Cleveland game in the '80s, he invited coach Marty Schottenheimer and GM Ernie Accorsi to his box -- and there were Modell and Milton Berle in the box, seeing who could tell the best joke.
As much as he helped bring in $8.4 billion in TV deals over his time negotiating those contracts -- he and Commissioner Pete Rozelle were the key to the NFL becoming such a popular TV game -- I'll always think his greatest TV accomplishment was being such a strong proponent to the other owners of staging a weekly game on Monday night. Because Rozelle was brilliant, and I believe the TV deals would have gotten done, though it's clear, as long-time TV executive Dick Ebersol said Thursday, that the debt owed Modell for his TV efforts "is incalculable.'' The Monday night franchise was at least in part a triumph of Modell's persistence, and of the calculated risk that defined his career.
Before the 1970 season, Rozelle began experimenting with games on Monday night. The Packers and Lions played one in 1964, and they sold out Tiger Stadium for it. Between 1966 and 1969, Rozelle scheduled six more games on Monday nights, two on prime-time TV. But Modell wanted to make it a TV series.
Sports in the late '80s and early '70s were not dominated by football the way they are today. Modell and Rozelle thought football on TV could spike the sport's popularity. In early 1970, ABC was dead last in the network ratings, and Modell and Rozelle convinced it to put a game on in prime time every week. Some owners chafed, thinking their fans wouldn't want to go to a football game on a work night inside of the normal Sunday afternoon time.
"I'll take the first one,'' Modell said, meaning he'd put the Browns on the first week of the Monday night slate. "But give me Joe Namath for it.'' So the NFL scheduled Jets at Browns for the first Monday nighter on ABC, on Sept. 21, 1970. Three days before the game, Modell fretted that only 50,000 tickets had been sold; would the factory worker who had to be on the job Tuesday at 7 a.m. be downtown at a football game until after 11? But the crowd kept coming and coming Monday night. Modell had to rush extra ticket sellers to the stadium, and his biggest crowd of the year, 85,703, showed up ... including several thousand standing room fans.
"The only people angry that night,'' Modell said much later, "were the fire marshals."
Monday night became appointment NFL viewing. In high school, my favorite TV of the fall was the NFL halftime highlights; in those days, you had to wait until Monday night to see most of the highlights, and I always stayed up until those were shown. Modell and Rozelle made that happen.
In the mid-'80s, I got to know Modell, and he was always a great interview and source for information. But he was impetuous and maddening, at times, for those who worked for him. The Browns decided to hold the line in an ugly contract dispute with popular local nose tackle Bob Golic and got ripped on the talk shows and the papers for it. Modell didn't like the heat from his customers. "You're going to have to loosen up, kid,'' Modell told then-GM Accorsi.
In the Belichick years (1991-95), the joke around the office was that "ready, fire, aim" was Modell's motto. But he believed stridently in equal opportunity, promoting African Americans Ozzie Newsome and James Harris to GM and pro personnel director, respectively, after the franchise moved to Baltimore -- and giving Newsome a personnel job when he left the field in Cleveland.
My favorite Modell story: On a November Thursday night in 1995, I got a call around 10 or so from my managing editor at SI, Mark Mulvoy, telling me to check out a story he'd heard -- that the Browns were moving to Baltimore. That's the kind of story that makes the hair on your neck stand up. So I phoned Modell, who wasn't expecting a call at 10:45 on a Thursday night. But he picked up the phone.
"Sorry to bother you, Art, and I wouldn't call now if it wasn't important,'' I said. "But I hear you might be moving your team to Baltimore. Is that true?''
Pause. Two seconds, three. "I can't lie to you, Peter,'' he said. "The answer is yes."
I always appreciated that about Modell. First, that he gave out his home number; that's something owners used to do, and more than a few won't give out their cell or home numbers now. But he could have beaten around the bush or lied. Not his style.
From there, that was one of the craziest long weekends I've seen in nearly three decades covering the league. The Browns leaving Cleveland? Insane! The Packers leaving Green Bay would have been just as loony. The news spread like wildfire in pre-Internet days the next day. Modell found the financial situation in the old stadium in Cleveland untenable, and years later said he would have had to declare bankruptcy if he'd tried to stay.
I found out that in signing free agent receiver Andre Rison before the '95 season, he'd been turned down by two Cleveland banks when he tried to borrow the money for Rison's signing bonus -- and had to use personal collateral to get the $5 million loan.
I went to Cleveland for the game against Houston that weekend, and the crowd was vicious. I walked down into the Dawg Pound and found the unofficial leader of the fans, Big John Thompson, who was without his big dog mask that day. "You wouldn't wear a dog mask to your brother's funeral, would you?'' he said sadly. The fans congregated behind a stanchion outside the Browns' locker room postgame, and in a Barabbas-like chant, yelled "Bring us Modell!''
The next day, in a parking lot in downtown Baltimore, Modell stood uncomfortably with city and state leaders announcing he'd signed a deal to move the Browns to Baltimore. Part of his agreement with Maryland was he'd join in a lawsuit against the city of Cleveland or the NFL if either sued to stop the move. How incredible to consider the ultimate league man, Modell, in a legal tiff with the league -- and the league never did sue to stop him. As I wrote then, "The NFL suing Art Modell would be like Ward Cleaver suing the Beaver.''
After the announcement that day, I asked Modell what he thought of the view back in Cleveland -- the view expressed by Cleveland mayor Michael White, who said, "Like a thief in the night, our NFL franchise has been snatched from our community.''
The quote made Modell furious. "Thief in the night!'' he told me. "I'd better count to 10 before I respond to that. I've given my life -- my blood, my sweat, my tears -- to the Cleveland Browns and to Cleveland. They were too late!''
But the city never forgave Modell -- even though, after a four-year hiatus without football, the Browns got the shiny new stadium Modell had always wanted, and a fabulously wealthy owner, credit card scion Al Lerner, who lavished heretofore never-seen-in-the-NFL perks on his players. Valet parking at the stadium, free grocery shopping and dry-cleaning for the players, and pickup service at night if they'd ever had too much to drink.
The four years without football, and that the Browns haven't built a consistent winner since that fateful weekend in 1995, led to the Modell family, wisely, asking the Browns Saturday to have no tribute to Modell inside Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday before the season-opener against Philadelphia. It would have been a debacle, with 17 years of pent-up boos directed by some portion of the crowd -- who knows how much -- at the late Modell.
Cleveland and Baltimore are 375 miles apart. They're worlds apart, obviously, when it comes to feelings for Modell. There's the hatred in Cleveland, and there's this: On Saturday, the Ravens held a viewing of Modell's casket (the funeral is Tuesday morning, 12 hours after tonight's Chargers-Raiders game ends, fittingly) at M&T Bank Stadium, and about 3,000 fans came to pay their respects. One was an elderly man, who brought his son and grandson to Modell's son David. "I want to introduce my son and grandson,'' the man said. "I just wanted to say thank you. We didn't have football until your dad brought it here.''
That's why Modell is the most polarizing figure in modern NFL history. There will be time to debate his candidacy for the Hall of Fame, which I'll do this fall as the winnowing process for the Hall continues. But the history lesson with him is so deep and so interesting. That's where I wanted to take you this morning.
The Art Modell Memorial Quote Section
From his successor:
"Don't go. I don't know if I can do this without you.''
-- Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, to a fading Modell at his hospital bedside Wednesday in Baltimore, from a terrific piece by Ravens PR czar Kevin Byrne on baltimoreravens.com about the last day of Art Modell's life. The piece was spine-tingling. It included a passage about GM Ozzie Newsome rubbing Modell's hands the final time he would ever see his old boss and saying into his ear: "I want you to feel what good hands feel like.''
From his former boss atop the NFL:
"Absolutely. Absolutely killed him ... As time passed by, it was more difficult for him to satisfy himself that he wasn't responsible in some way for at least some of the harm there, some of the harm to the fans' passion.''
-- Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, to host Chris Russo on SiriusXM "Mad Dog Radio,'' about the responsibility Modell felt later in life for ripping the Browns out of Cleveland.
From the father of the Ravens head coach:
"Scribes and pundits who believe in fairness and honesty dropped the ball today in allowing Art Modell to pass from this Earth without being inducted into the Hall of Fame. In addressing this in Baltimore, you speak to the choir; in addressing this to those around the country, who grasp the contribution Mr. Modell made over five generations of being a pioneer and visionary in this great game and great league -- highlighted by his leadership in negotiating TV contracts and being an owner for two NFL Championship teams -- you speak to the choir. But, there is a narrow-minded corps of individuals who came up small today. Very small."
-- Jack Harbaugh, father of Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, slapping the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters across the face for not enshrining Modell.
From the man himself, about 10 years ago:
"Remind me not to have my bar mitzvah here.''
-- Modell, at a dinner with several NFL owners and officials, with his wife, Pat, in Florida. Art Modell booked a reservation at a restaurant in Palm Beach that served beer, but no liquor. Modell, ticked off about it, was asked by the waitress what he would like to drink. "Scotch on the rocks,'' he said. His wife told him, "How many times do I have to tell you there's no liquor here!'' Which prompted the dry-witted Modell reply.
From his former general manager:
"There is lots of laughter in heaven today. Art's arrived."
-- From Browns GM Ernie Accorsi, to me, on Friday.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 1:
a. The plane over MetLife Stadium Wednesday night before Cowboys-Giants carrying this banner: FREE SEAN PAYTON.
b. Chris Berman re-signing, apparently for life, with ESPN, where he belongs. I must be thick. I don't get all the hatred for the guy. I know his Two-Minute Drills are usually closer to Twenty-Two-Minute Drills, but the way he keeps history -- football and otherwise -- in his essays ... I can't get enough of that.
c. Great interpretation by Ron Jaworski on the opening "NFL Matchup" show of the season. Jaworski showed how the 49ers attacked Dallas' outside linebackers early last season, running Delanie Walker out of the backfield against Anthony Spencer on a wheel route for a surprise touchdown. Green Bay, Jaws inferred, would need to be on the lookout for plays like this with converted college defensive end Nick Perry playing his first game at left outside linebacker for the Packers Sunday. Smart.
d. The confidence of Drew Brees in Jimmy Graham, to throw him a jump-ball between two Washington defenders in the end zone.
e. Mark Sanchez, after an awful shovel-pick, coming back with a good TD pass to Jeremy Kerley.
f. That sack of Tom Brady from behind is why they're paying you the big bucks, Kamerion Wimbley.
g. Great FOX stat midway through the third quarter at New Orleans: The Saints had 23 three-and-outs all season last year. Through two and a half quarters, the Saints had four on Sunday.
h. Greatness of Adrian Peterson Dept.: He is 27. The Vikings are 52. He is now their all-time leading rusher.
i. Tim Tebow: best onside-kick catcher in history.
j. What a deflection by Minnesota rookie safety Harrison Smith in overtime. Biggest play on the game-clinching drive.
k. Alfred Morris. Hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.
l. Now all you Washington fans know who DeJon Gomes is. Second-year corner from Nebraska, 146th player picked in 2011, opportunistic kid who got the clinching interception for the Redskins at New Orleans.
m. Never have there been 169 more meaningless rushing yards in a game than C.J. Spiller's, but the man did run hard.
n. Colt McCoy.
o. Agree or disagree with the men, but you've got to applaud Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for speaking his mind on same-sex marriage, and Vikings punter Chris Kluwe for having a strong opinion, and writing it, in a world of milquetoast athletes.
p. Great play-calling day by Vic Fangio, the 49ers defensive coordinator. And maybe this is the year that Ahmad Brooks, the linebacker who came up huge down the stretch in pressuring Aaron Rodgers, starts to be recognized as a top player.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 1:
a. The Bills.
b. Giants rookie running back David Wilson's hands.
c. My forecast of the Jets: awful. I mean, I thought they'd get wiped by the Bills, and it was the Jets who did the wiping.
d. The headache Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur are all waking up with this morning after watching Brandon Weeden's 5.1-rating, four-pick performance against the Eagles.
e. Snakebit Brown of the Week: Undrafted free agent linebacker L.J. Fort from Northern Iowa. With the Browns up 16-10 in the final two minutes over Philadelphia and trying to keep Mike Vick out of the end zone, Fort dropped into coverage and dropped a catchable interception that would have sealed a Cleveland victory. Vick threw the winning touchdown pass moments later.
f. Victor Cruz's hands. He even took to Twitter to apologize for his three drops Wednesday.
g. Schoolmarms in Greeley, Colo., banning Peyton Manning jerseys because the district thinks the No. 18 has a gang connotation. In the immortal word of Jimmy Johnson, "Puh-leeeeeze."
h. The Vick pick, one of them. Horrendous throw, five feet over LeSean McCoy's head.
i. Matthew Stafford. Three first-half interceptions, with a fourth dropped.
j. Patrick Robinson, slow getting off the field on a Washington punt, which drew a flag and gave the Redskins a fresh set of downs. A disgrace.
k. Catch that pick, Brian Orakpo. Come on. The Redskin rusher's dropped pick gave the Saints life.
l. Why throw 30 yards downfield, into double coverage, on 4th-and-three, down three in overtime, on what is essentially the last play of the game if it's incomplete? Why, Blaine Gabbert?
m. Mike Adams, an injury replacement at right tackle for Pittsburgh, continues to be a disaster. Allowed a late sack and a half in the last two minutes to Denver.
n. The constant, and erroneous, impression that long-time Browns beat writer Tony Grossi is keeping Art Modell out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Regardless what Grossi said or didn't say inside a Hall of Fame selection meeting a decade ago, I've been in those meetings for 20 years now, and I can tell you the other 43 voters are not sheep. We have minds of our own. I'd say a good half of the men whose cases I've tried to buttress with passionate argument have failed to get in -- and some haven't gotten close.
3. I think I shouldn't find this amazing but do: Tom Brady is 25 yards from passing John Unitas on the all-time passing yardage list.
4. I think with the Rams' signing of middle linebacker James Laurinaitis to a contract through 2017, the franchise has seven defensive keystones signed through 2016 at least: linemen Chris Long, Kendall Langford, Michael Brockers, linebacker Laurinaitis, and corners Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins. We'll see if they're right and have scouted the right players -- obviously, the future is cloudy for the troubled Jenkins -- but at least they've put their opinions on the line and now they'll have to live with the outcome.
The good sign for the Rams: Long and Laurinaitis could have played their contracts out and seen what the landscape was like for them in the rest of the league. Obviously the security of huge dough helps. But they had to have some belief that another 12-52 four-year run wasn't happening, and some confidence in Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead.
5. I think I'd love to know what the heck happened to Brian Waters. The man goes from a Pro Bowl guard for a Super Bowl team, New England -- still playing well -- to vanishing into thin air the next. Not a word from him. Just a trail of rumors. He wanted more money (his base salary is $1.4 million) to play one year. He wanted to play close to his Texas home, with the Texans, but the Patriots wouldn't accommodate him. And why would they, if that's so? Why strengthen a conference foe?
6. I think the geniuses on Twitter and in Opinion World are absolute dopes when they blame Arian Foster's knee injury the other day (and any other injury that befalls him) on Foster being a vegan. Stop it. Just stop.
7. I think this is a great way -- if you can get to New Orleans Sept. 23 -- to support victims of Hurricane Isaac:. It's a raffle, for $2 a chance, to win a catered suite for 20, with 20 pregame field passes, for the Saints-Chiefs game this month. I like the way the Saints are such good community partners in times of need. I'll never forget on my trip to the ravaged city before the 2006 draft suggesting to Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton that they might want to stop by a Habitat for Humanity site in the Lower Ninth Ward, and, on the day before the draft, they came by and spent an hour.
8. I think, after seeing three of the "Hard Knocks" episodes, that there wasn't much benefit in it for the Dolphins. The very few teams that were on the bubble about doing the NFL mostly-reality show are going to look at the hard knocks the team took in the show and think, "Hey, good TV. But why would we want to risk the embarrassment of seeing ugly cuts like Chad Johnson and David Garrard on TV?''
9. I think you might learn something from the current Forbes magazine story on Jacksonville owner and Illinois auto parts czar Shahid Khan, and not just that his mustache looks good on the cover. From the story, by Brian Solomon: "Khan seeks to expand the fan base -- and avoid local TV blackouts -- by allowing ticket holders to bring outside food into EverBank Field and tote their toddlers for free ... The most audacious part of Khan's plan: international expansion. The easiest move would be to flee to the greener pastures of Los Angeles. But as with running a Rust Belt manufacturer, Khan seems eager to defy the odds and stay put (he says he is 'committed to Jacksonville') ... He sees foreign growth potential as a way to do that. Specifically, he wants to make the Jaguars into a global brand, last month securing a 'home game' in London each season for four years starting in 2013. 'One of the good things is they don't have a team loyalty,' says Khan, 'so we get a chance by being the first team presented; hopefully we can get them.' ''
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. One of the scariest sights I've ever seen on a baseball field was A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy taking the line drive to the head the other night during Angels-A's. Turns out he got a fractured skull, and his life was touch-and-go for two or three days. Reports Sunday out of Oakland were more encouraging, and as you can see by my Tweets of the Week, he's into fantasy football.
I can tell you he's a huge NFL fan. A few years ago, when McCarthy was pitching for the White Sox, I was assigned by the magazine to preview the American League Central for the baseball preview issue (Yippee!! Free trip to spring training!), and wandered into the White Sox clubhouse, then in Tucson. This tall string bean walks up to me and says, "Hey, I'm Brandon McCarthy. Good to meet you. Love 'Monday Morning Quarterback.' Gets me through the winter."
b. Anything I can get you, Brandon? A hot towel, perhaps? Some warm milk?
c. Seriously, by the volume of tweets I've seen, you've got half the country pulling for you. Get well.
d. Thanks for your support so far on my Hamptons (N.Y.) Half Marathon quest to raise $50,000 for former Saints special-teamer Steve Gleason's efforts to build a residence for ALS patients in New Orleans. As you can see by your contributions in the last seven days, we're two-fifths of the way there, with 19 days to go. I'd really appreciate any contributions to the cause. If you can't, some good karma for me not making a fool of myself would be appreciated as well.
e. This is what the Red Sox have gotten for the final four years of the six-year Daisuke Matsuzaka contract: 17 wins, a 5.52 ERA, a 1.52 WHIP. For $37 million. Matsuzaka, Lackey, Beckett. Boy, the Red Sox really know pitching.
f. I've got a great idea. Let's pay Zack Greinke $17 million a year.
g. The freebie Red Sox calendar I got last spring extends to January 2013, with a different man each month. Just checked it out the other day. October: Josh Beckett. November: Carl Crawford. December: Clay Buchholz. January: Bobby Valentine. Three out of four ain't bad. Weirdest thing about Valentine's radio diatribe is he sounded like a man who is either already unglued or within five minutes of being there. Scary.
h. Be careful, Clay Buchholz. That's some bad omen.
i. Buck Showalter must be one heck of a manager.
j. Never in the history of rotisserie baseball has a team tanked the way the 2012 Montclair Pedroias have tanked. In two weeks, I've gone from second place to sixth -- and you know if you play the game how impossible it is to do that this late in the season. I stink so bad I can smell my team through the laptop.
k. I am still laughing, John Clayton. The only funnier ESPN talent commercial, ever? Charlie Steiner as Melrose Place poolboy. Now, being a Devils fan, I was always partial to this one too.
l. I saw a photo of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abe Lincoln -- he's playing Honest Abe in a movie that comes out in November -- and there's a very good chance there's never been an actor who looks so much like a famous subject. Eerie.
m. Springsteen at Wrigley update, from my former producer at CNNSI.com, Dave Wilke, who was on hand Saturday night: "Halfway through the show it started to pour. Bruce could have finished the show playing on stage under the canopy but instead he spent the next hour and a half running into the audience and dancing in the rain. He busted out 'Who'll Stop the Rain'acoustically."
n. Coffeenerdness: It's a rough night when there's one pot of Italian Roast going at 11:45, then another at 4:15. I may have to take Florio's advice soon, and give the 5 Hour Energy a try, at least on Sunday nights.
o. Beernerdness: I hate to be teetotaling this early in the season, but other than the Allagash White I had before dinner the other night, I don't have a good beernerdness story for you. Promise to do more research this week and come back with a good new beer next week.
p. Missy Franklin in Denver last night at the midfield coin flip, Michael Phelps in Baltimore tonight. Great ideas by the Broncos and Ravens.
q. Thinking of you, Devon Walker, and your family, and the Tulane football team.
Every week during the regular season, I'm going to praise one writer or person in the media business for something I've read or seen during the week. I just figured this was a good place to do it, because I've had the end of the column based with a "Who I Like Tonight'' ending for awhile now when picking the Monday night game. The two things don't fit together very well, but I don't fit together with logic either.
Pereira, the one-time NFL officiating czar, had this to say about the replacement officials in a column he wrote for FOXSports.com after the Giants-Cowboys opening game. He deserves kudos because of all the critics of the replacements (and of the NFL for letting it get to this point), Pereira has been the most shrill. So I admire that he could look at a game that was not terribly impacted by the replacement officials -- Dallas' 24-17 victory -- and praises the replacements.
"One game doesn't make a week, but it was definitely a good start,'' he wrote. Pereira also leveled criticism at NFL VP Ray Anderson for saying that some officials get out of shape during the season, which Pereira feels should remain private. But he's willing to give his opinion, and he's willing to praise a group of men, the replacements, because he doesn't blindly stick to some script like some political talk-show hack. That shows you can trust what Pereira writes, good or bad. He's trying his best to write without bias. And as a journalist, I appreciate that.
Now onto the two games that will cap a newsy Week 1.
Baltimore 30, Cincinnati 23. Football first: Expect to see a predominantly no-huddle Ravens offense tonight, which thrills Joe Flacco because it'll give him more control over his fate; in the no-huddle, quarterbacks have to call more of their own plays because most often there's less time between plays. The Ravens get a big edge because one of Cincinnati's most dangerous rushers, Carlos Dunlap, will miss the game with a strained knee.
Emotion second: I couldn't see the Ravens losing this game before the death of Art Modell, and I certainly can't see it now. It'll be an emotional stadium Monday night -- the same ground where Modell stood 17 years ago this November with city and state officials declaring they were going to build a state-of-the-art stadium for the relocated NFL franchise. And here the Ravens will be, four days after Modell's death, in their first game, a game that will marry the pomp of football, the national televising of football and football in Baltimore -- three things vital to Modell.
"It was Art's vision that married the NFL and TV together like nothing else in the history of sports and entertainment,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Art also started 'Monday Night Football.' How great it is that we are playing in the 'Monday Night Football' opener this week?'' Pretty great.
Oakland 27, San Diego 24: The annual DVR Bowl. (I rarely make it through the first Monday night ESPNer, even the early one in Week 1, because of the no- or little-sleep thing on Sunday nights during the season. A 10:15 p.m. East Coast start? The impossible dream, live.) Anyway, I see Darren McFadden galloping 22 times or so and giving Raider fans cause to dream a dreamlike Imagine how good we'd be if he could finally play 16 games? And I see Carson Palmer making enough plays with his young receiver group to win.
One other note about this game: Undrafted free agent left tackle Michael Harris will start in place of the injured Jared Gaither. If Harris cares for a little motivation entering the game, all he has to do is read the website of the Oakland Tribune, with a Saturday story headlined, "Raiders defense will face fresh meat Chargers lineman.'' Yikes.