2009 NFL SEASON: INTRODUCTION AND WEEK 1


INTRODUCTION

One of the more interesting things about Week 1 is that it really seemed like a typical middle of the season week to me. This, despite the hoopla of it being the opening week of the NFL season and Tom Brady’s return to regular season action. Week 1 featured a few upsets, a few surprisingly good performances by traditionally not so good teams, and unfortunately some big injuries to key players.

The most disheartening thing about Week 1 was significant injuries to key players, really just like last year. Out for the season is Brian Urlacher, the Bears’ middle linebacker and one of the best defensive players in the league. Out for a significant amount time are Troy Polamalu (SS, Steelers) and Patriots’ linebacker Jerrod Mayo, last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.

While a little late to action here are my thoughts on Week 1 action.

GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Buffalo Bills 25-24

The Monday night opener between New England and Buffalo featured the return of Tom Brady after missing the entire last season with an ACL injury and a completely revamped defense. For the Bills the opening night looked to be the beginning of a potentially long and dreadful season with a very young offensive line, the firing of the offensive coordinator right before the season started, and Marshawn “Hit and Run” Lynch suspended for four games. I don’t think anybody picked the Bills to be in the game very long, much less lead for most of the game. But they played very well, but gave the game away on a boneheaded play by kick returner Leodis McKelvin.

The Patriots on both sides of the ball were shaky most of the game. Brady looked a little rusty in the first half but you could see his confidence and pocket presence grow during the second half, which really paid off when it counted in the fourth quarter. The biggest problem for the Patriots was both their offensive and defensive lines were beaten physically by the supposedly inferior Bills the entire game.

Defensively the Patriots are much younger, more immature, and sometimes completely out of sync. No longer on the team from last season’s opener include Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrable, Ellis Hobbs, and shockingly being traded to Oakland right before the season started, Richard Seymour.

The Patriots stayed mostly in a 4-3 alignment most of the game and reportedly plan to do so most of the year. This is huge change for the Patriots as coach Bill Belichick is one of the gurus of the 3-4 and true believer in the linebacker position. The defensive line, including Vince Wilfolk, were whipped by a offensive line called poor and young by most pundits. The Patriots clearly, and dearly seemed to miss Richard Seymour on the defensive line of scrimmage. He played like a beast and with chip on his shoulder starting for the Raiders in the following game. The Bills were able to move the ball too easily most of the game.

On the flip side the Patriots offense played reasonably well but not great until late in the second half. Brady throwing an interception for a touchdown did not help matters as the Bills had an 11 point lead with just over five minutes to play.

But then a little Brady magic and a little luck struck the Patriots. Brady played brilliantly in the last few minutes of the game moving the team down the field and hitting Watson for a touchdown (two point conversion failed) to bring the Patriots within five with just over two minutes to go.

Then dumbest play of the game happened. Instead of taking a knee in the end zone for a touchback, Bills kick returner Leodis McKelvin ran the ball out of the end zone, allowing New England to strip the ball away. A few minutes later Brady hits Watson for another touchdown, game over.

For the Bills this was a heartbreaking loss, but they can take pride and confidence in the way they played. The Bills certainly seem better than expected. But it is only the first week of the season. Hats off to Trent Edwards, Fred Jackson, and Aaron Schobel for excellent games.

Of other note, the referees called one egregiously bad roughing the passer call on the Patriots and one borderline one, which really helped the Bills.

Laurence Maroney still runs like his name should be Lauren. When the Patriots went for it on fourth and short early in the game I was shocked they gave it to Maroney, who of course didn’t stick his nose in the line of scrimmage and get the few yards needed.

MVP: Ben Watson, TE


Pittsburgh Steelers over Tennessee Titans, 13-10 (OT)

This was the most well played game all around I saw this weekend. Both teams on defense looked in midseason form, while the offenses did just enough to stay in the game. Not surprisingly the game was mostly a defensive struggle. Both of these teams should see the postseason. They certainly will if they play as well through the rest of the season.

Of course, it was not such a great game for Rob Bironas who missed a makeable field goal and had one blocked. These special teams gaffs basically are the reason the Titans lost in the mostly evenly played game.

Troy Polamalu was beast on defense until he got injured. It is a real shame to see such a great player end up out for several weeks. And Big Ben came through when it counted, as he did repeatedly last season. And the star of the show was Santonio Holmes with 131 yards receiving and a touchdown.

For Tennessee, despite the loss, should be heartened that Kerry Collins played a solid game. And while they did not get much of a running game going against probably the best defense in the league, they look poised for another solid season.

MVP: Santonio Holmes, WR


Baltimore Raves over Kansas City Chiefs, 38-24

Despite hanging close to the Ravens most of the game, the Kansas City Chiefs looked awful. A safety, a blocked punt for a touchdown, and an interception by Flacco that the Chiefs somehow turned into a touchdown kept the game close until the fourth quarter. Otherwise they were mostly dominated on both lines of scrimmage. And even though Chiefs defensive tackle Glen Dorsey was going up against one of the best centers in the league in Matt Birk, he was dominated and had never looked like the highly touted first round pick he is.

The Chiefs look to be in for a long, miserable season if they continue to play as poorly as they did against the Ravens.

On the flip side, the Ravens defense continues to look solid, but against a questionable opponent, and the offense looks even better than it did last year, although left tackle Jared Gaither struggled at times. The Ravens are another team that we will likely be seeing in the postseason.

Mark Clayton had a good game with 5 catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. The Ravens really need Clayton to step up this year to take it to the next level.

MVP: Mark Clayton, WR

New York Giants over Washington Redskins, 23-17

I really was not very impressed by either team in this game, but especially the Redskins. I am starting to wonder if Jim Zorn is really cut out to be a head coach in the NFL. The Redskins offense simply looked out of sync in parts of the game. Granted, wide receiver Santana Moss is getting a little older and has persistent hamstring injuries, and they really don’t have any other top notch receivers, but the play calling and execution on offense was off much of the game. Both defenses played reasonably well, and the Giants Osi Umenyiora’s fumble return for a touchdown sealed the game.

MVP: Osi Umenyiora, DE


Green Bay Packers over Chicago Bears, 21-15

I have to admit I loved watching Jay Cutler, who I no longer have an ounce of respect for, throw four interceptions. I wonder if that will shut him up? I doubt it. But he looked pretty awful in this game, and maybe a dose of humility will do him some good. He could end up being a great quarterback in the league because he has the gifts. But he could also end up being the next coming of Jeff George, a super talented quarterback with a bad attitude who led teams nowhere.

Now to the game. Both teams’ defense played quite well, until Brian Urlacher suffered a season ending wrist injury, then the Bears looked just a bit off kilter. The Bears still almost won the game except for a 50 yard touchdown pass by Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings with less than two minutes to play, which sealed the deal for the Packers.

MVP: Greg Jennings, WR

San Diego over Oakland, 24-20

Monday night featured two underdogs that nobody expected to be in the game by the fourth quarter that could’ve, should’ve, but didn’t win their games. Oakland’s offensive line played surprisingly well against the Chargers defensive line and really controlled the game. JaMarcus Russell will never be a great NFL quarterback, but with the use of multiple young running backs, the Raiders’ offense was able to control the game quite well. And then the fourth quarter came and little Darren Sproles spoiled show with some nifty play in the fourth quarter.

The Raiders defense played well too. It made me rather sick to the stomach to seem Richard Seymour in an Oakland Raiders jersey. He played like he had a chip on his shoulder and wreaked havoc on the Chargers most of the game. The Patriots could have certainly used his presence against the Bills.

Also of note, LaDanian Tomlinson hurt is ankle in the game and is out this week against the Ravens. Is age catching up with him?

MVP: Darren Sproles, RB

 

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings (sorry Drew Brees).

Defensive Player: Troy Polamalu, SS, Pittsburgh Steelers (while he was in he was the best defensive player I saw this week)

Offensive Lineman: Matt Birk, C, Baltimore Ravens

Special Teams: Darren Sproles, KR, San Diego

Rookie of the Week: Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets

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