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.
The two successors to Favre,
My five observations with a little depth about Week 1:
"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.
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
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.
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),
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.
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.
The Falcons spent two training camp periods on the Wildcats this summer, then spent some significant refresher time last week in practice preparing for
Finally, because it wouldn't be a 2009 NFL column without one paragraph of gloom-and-doom about labor: NFL Players Association executive director
"I watched Brett Favre today. Very impressive. Went the whole game without retiring.
"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.''
"The thing is, now Cincinnati's got to get the Stanford band on the field.''
As much as he is celebrated (as least by me), Brees, I believe, is the most underappreciated player in football.
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:
One proviso: I can't include Brady or
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
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
Come to think of it, that's also a reflection on a new broom (
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
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.
f. Rookie Eagles defensive coordinator
g. Keep playing like that, Tony Romo, and nobody will have to mention
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
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
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
4. I think this is what I liked about Week One:
b. The Steelers talking to
c. Tennessee's pass-rush without
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
f. I just loved the job
g. Congrats, Jones brothers.
h. Tremendous Job of the Week By a Scribe:
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
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?
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,
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
6. I think this is what I don't get about the Bears Sunday night: In training camp, I sat with coach
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
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 (
9. I think every future Pro Football Hall of Famer needs to get a copy of
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, in retirement,
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
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
The next morning, early, a few writers (I remember college friend
c. Read that, college coach enablers.
d. And from
e. It's disturbing enough how
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.
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
k. The USC-Ohio State game was one of the best sports events I've seen in a while. I love
Good thing ESPN's got some good stories tonight. They're not going to have good games.
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
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
Richard Seymour is playing, which is reason to tune in. Reason to
More NFL coverage from SI.com...