2010 NFL Football Season: Week One Observations

Wes Welker Scores Against the Bengals

A new season is upon us and it should be an exiting one.

In the NFC we wonder if the New Orleans Saints can repeat as Super Bowl champions, if all the hoopla over the Dallas Cowboys will end again in ignominy, if Brett Favre can take a depleted receiving corps back to the playoffs, if the San Francisco are as good as advertised, and how will the only rookie starting quarterback in the league, Sam Bradford, fare in St. Louis?

The AFC appears to be even more wide open than the NFC. Several teams have a legitimate shot at Super Bowl glory. The New England Patriots with a healthy and hot Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Randy Moss and a young defense should improve over the year and be a contender. The New York Jets and their slothful undisciplined coach say they are the heirs to the AFC East. The Baltimore Ravens are loaded on offense and their defense looks as good as ever. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has proven to be as formidable as ever and when Big Ben gets back their offense should improve. The Indianapolis Colts are always a tough team and the Houston Texans are emerging. Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers may or may not slip. They are in the weakest division in the AFC and despite losing their opener, will likely have a spot in the playoffs.

Before jumping in the games I watched this, a few big picture headlines that week one revealed.

  • Brady, Welker, Moss and the offense are back and as good as ever.
  • New Orleans appears to have started right where they left off last year, with a powerful offense and defense that is solid. They are the favorites to emerge from the NFC.

  • Minnesota, after the tiresome annual saga of Brett Favre’s retirement dance, suddenly found themselves without receivers. Their defense is solid but their opening salvo on offense bodes ill for their chances this season.

  • Thankfully, for once, we won’t have the annual will the Indianapolis Colts go undefeated as they spank the teams in their weak division. Houston hung a loss on the Colts, and if their offense line continues to struggle, Peyton Manning is in for a long season.

  • Will Michael Vick be the Eagles starter this season?

  • San Francisco is not as good as we thought they were.

  • Dallas continues to shoot itself in the foot.

  • Finally, for the most part the defenses in the league seem to have started the season a step ahead of the offenses. This is likely to change as the season progresses but as someone who loves the defensive side of the ball, it was refreshing to see.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Cincinnati Bengals, 38-24

One word: Welker.

It was a very happy sight to see Wes Welker looking like, well, Wes Welker, after his amazingly fast recover from reconstructive knee surgery after suffering an injury in the last game of the season last year. WELKER! WELKER! WELKER!

Tom Brady also looked very sharp in this game, as did the entire offense. It was good to see a little bit of the running game back in the game plan, although I still think they could run the ball even more. Fred Taylor seemed to have fresh legs in the first half and the running back by committee approach worked. And I continue to be amazed at how older players like third down back Kevin Faulk can continue to be so effective.

What was also heartening to see is the very young defense with two rookie starting cornerbacks holding up well against the powerful Cincinnati Bengals offense with two of the best receivers in the league. I did get somewhat worried in the second half when the Bengals had two back to back sustained scoring drives. Barring injury I expect the defense to continue to improve as the season progresses. While it was not a lock down defense, it was good enough to win this game.

And Brandon Tate! His kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half was crucial, as it turned out, to extend the lead. Instead of providing even more momentum for the Patriots, it almost seemed like the Patriots players thought the game was over and played really rather poorly in the third quarter. The defense suddenly looked vulnerable and the offense didn’t do much either.

The Patriots played a very good all around game while the Bengals really didn’t get started until the second half. But for us Patriots fans the story was Wes Welker.

As a side note, good riddance Baloney Lauren Maroney. And don’t worry about Randy Moss, he’ll be fine.

MVP: Wes Welker, WR


New Orleans over Minnesota Vikings, 14-9

There are really a lot of storylines to this game.

The Saints look like a Super Bowl team. While their offense did struggle a bit their two scoring drives were dominant and once they started running the ball in the second half, they locked the game up. If they can continue to mix in a solid running game with their vaunted passing attack they will be very difficult to beat this season.

The Saints’ offensive line was the most dominant unit in the game and the best I saw all weekend. Guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, along with center Jonathan Goodwin, completely dominated Minnesota’s defensive tackles, Pat and Kevin Williams. Maybe the Williams boys need to get back on that supplement that almost cost them a suspension. They got punked in this game. And I really have to give a huge shout out to Jermon Bushrod. He totally handled my 2009 defensive player of the year Jared Allen entirely on this own. Last year I got a lot of criticism for favoring Carl Nicks over Jahri Evans as my All Pro guard. I did so because last year Nicks often had to help Bushrod, who really was the weak link on the offensive line. I don’t know if this is a one game stellar effort by Bushrod or if he has really improved that much. If continues this level of play the Saints may even be better this year than last.

In the second half the Saints finally started running the ball with Pierre Thomas, who ate up the clock and moved the chains. He has solid performance behind the dominant offensive line and I felt it was a great change of pace by Sean Peyton.

Minnesota, meanwhile, looked awful on offense. With Sydney Rice out for at last half the season and Percy Harvin ailing and running lousy routes, there really were no receivers open to throw to. Bernard Berrian looked awful in preseason and woeful in this game as well. He seems to have completely disappeared. I was surprised Greg Camarillo did not see more action in the slot.

Minnesota’s defense did not play up to their usual standards on the defensive line but they settled down and did manage to hold the Saints to 14 points. They are battling injuries in the secondary and Antoine Winfield is also coming off an injury plagued 2009 and really did not play up to his usual standards. It was great to see linebacker E.J. Henderson back in the lineup and playing extremely well after suffering a gruesome broken femur last year. I though his career was likely over, but clearly it’s not.

Minnesota is likely to continue to struggle on offense unless the receivers get their heads out of their ass and start playing football.

While Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are better and played wonderfully, I am giving the most valuable player award here to Jermon Bushrod for handling Jared Allen.

MVP: Jermon Bushrod, T

Green Bay Packers over Philadelphia Eagles, 27-20

Let the quarterback controversy begin! The Eagles offense looked absolutely miserable in the first half. Kevin Kolb was harassed and the receivers weren’t really getting open but he wasn’t doing much either. I am not sure if it is because Michael Vick kept entering the game and did not allow Kolb to establish a rhythm or something else, but once he sustained a concussion and Vick took over the offense came to life. But, that was mostly because of Vick’s legs. His running really broke the game open for the offense even though they still fell short in the end.

It will be fascinating to see what transpires this season now that Kolb might be out for a few games and Vick will be the starter. If Vick is successful it will be hard for Andy Reid not to keep him behind center once Kolb is healthy. But you know what? Vick will never lead a team to the promised land (although he has sent quite a few dogs to doggie heaven). His success in this game was mostly his running ability. Just like in Atlanta, once teams scheme against him, his inaccurate passing and poor decision making will catch up with him. Yes, he may have a rocket arm and can throw the ball 60 yards with a flick of the wrist, but Eagles’ fans should not get too giddy over the possibilities. Unless he continues to be a running quarterback he will not be that dynamic, and eventually teams will catch up with the Eagles if Vick is at the helm.

Green Bay didn’t really look all the wonderful either. The offensive tackles had a hard time handling the rush but they did manage a couple of really nice touchdown drives. The star of the game was Clay Matthews, Jr. who was all over the place on defense and recorded a couple of sacks.

MVP: Clay Matthews, Jr., LB

Washington Redskins over Dallas Cowboys, 13-7

GOAT: Jason Garrett. And no, that is not for “greatest of all time” but idiot. I am sure everyone has seen the play by now, but at the end of the first half, in bad field position, with little time left on the clock, the Cowboys ran a short sideline route to Tashard Choice who ended up fumbling the ball which was returned for a Redskins touchdown and was the difference in the game. What made this play so stupid? First, the Redskins offense was doing absolutely nothing and had only a 3-0 lead. Scores were clearly going to be a premium in this game and with so little time left on the clock, the smart move was simply to run the time off the clock and regroup in the second half. Secondly, the play had no chance of even netting enough yards to get into field goal range. It was stupid play call, period, for that situation.

What this play and head coach Wade Phillips’ comments after the game shows is that Wade Phillips is not in control of this team. He basically threw Jason Garrett under the bus by saying they should have kneeled on the ball, didn’t know why the ran a play there, and tersely said the defense (which he runs) did its job and did not give up a touchdown. I believe they will continue to be destiny’s stepchild this season.

Otherwise, both teams struggled a great deal on offense. Dallas’s offensive line did not protect Tony Romo well but they finally got going late in the game to finally make a run for a win, but alas they failed. A holding penalty on the last play of the game negated a would be game winning touchdown. It was clearly holding too so nobody can gripe about the call.

The Mike Shanahan era started off with a win over archrival Dallas on Dallas’s home turf. While it was not a dominating or particularly impressive win, especially on offense, it was a win. As usual, the Washington defense is very solid this year, as they have been in year’s past. While they have sometimes been criticized for not getting enough turnovers, they are basically a very sturdy unit.

The offense, however, was woeful and did nothing. Shanahan needs to find a way to fix that quick because they won’t be winning many games like this otherwise. He can thank DeAngelo Hall for the fumble recovery and touchdown, which was the difference in the game. Or, send Jason Garrett a thank you card for the gift.

MVP: DeAngelo Hall, CB

Baltimore Ravens over New York Jets, 10-9

The New York Jets are an undisciplined team and reflection of their coach, the slovenly Rex Ryan. They shot themselves in the foot with penalties and giving up big plays on third and long when they had the Ravens’ offense on the ropes, which was the difference in the game. Add to that the harassment by Jets players of a female reporter also shows a lack of professionalism, decorum, and discipline, again a reflection of their head coach. The Jets may very well implode this season.

The Jets defense continues to be a stellar unit, one of the best, if not the best in the league. But their offense looks awful and Mark Sanchez has not proven, yet, that he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. They were facing another top defense in the Ravens, so maybe time will tell.

The Ravens defense played excellent football and Ray Lewis continues, in his fifteenth NFL season, to be one of the best defensive players in the league. He got some great hits on the Jets, and the rest of the unit played excellent as well. I was surprised at how the offense was so throttled, however, even facing the Jets. With Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and a very good offensive line, Anquan Bolden, Derrick Mason, and Todd Heap, I thought they were loaded on offense. The Jets bailed them out with bad penalties most of the game and Ravens were lucky to escape with a win.

MVP: Ray Lewis, LB

Kansas City Chiefs over San Diego Chargers, 21-14

I was happy to see the Chiefs beat the Chargers on Monday night but Chief’s fans shouldn’t get too excited. It was really two big plays on offense that sealed the deal, a great 56 yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles and a 94 yard punt return for a touchdown by rookie wide receiver Dexter McCluster were the keys to the game. Otherwise the offense looked anemic and Matt Cassel really did not do much to distinguish himself.

The Chief’s defense did play well. Defensive tackle Glen Dorsey finally looked like a first round draft pick in this game and the defensive backs did a very nice job on the Charger’s receivers, especially Brandon Flowers.

Philip Rivers made himself look like a complete idiot and proved what a jerk he is yelling at his teammates and carrying on a like a petulant child in the second half. While indeed his teammates made mistakes, I can’t imagine that endears him to his offensive line or establishes him as the leader of the team. They did almost come back and win, however. Rookie running back Ryan Matthews had a decent game, but he gave up a fumble that lead to a touchdown, helping the Chief’s secure the win.

MVP: Dexter McCluster, KR/WR

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans (231 yards rushing, 3 TDs)
Defensive Player: Clay Matthews, Jr., LB, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Lineman: Jermon Bushrod, T, New Orleans Saints
Special Teams: Brandon Tate, WR/KR, New England Patriots
Rookie of the Week: Dexter McCluster, WR/KR, Kansas City Chiefs

New Orleans Saints, Super Bowl XLIV Champions: Another Average NFL Films Production

The New Orleans Saints Super Bowl XLIV highlight package is rather average, but a bit better than the last few years.  Of course, for any New Orleans fan it is a great keepsake, no doubt.

The feature of all the team specific Super Bowl highlight packages is about an hour long highlights reel of the New Orleans Saints regular season.  This year’s edition does a decent job of showing the key highlights of every regular season game.  It moves at a much faster clip than most years, or at least seems to, and doesn’t even tease at making an attempt at building up any drama, which is the greatest failure of most of these highlight packages.  But unlike many previous years, where the film unsuccessfully feigns drama building, at least in this one you get what you get, a nice, fast paced journey through the New Orleans Saints’ 2009 season.  There is nothing particularly special about it, unless you are a Saints fan, and is entertaining enough if you are not.

This edition, however, does a horrific job of building up any of the drama of the Saints’ postseason.  It certainly shows all the Saints highlights from the Saints point of view.  But the drama building, especially of the Saints very close playoff win against the Minnesota Vikings, and their very close (despite the final score of 31-17) Super Bowl win over the Indianapolis Colts is simply a joke.  You’d think the overtime victory against the Vikings and the win against the Colts were undramatic, almost foregone conclusions watching this compilation.  It just does a completely lousy job of it.

Worse yet, there are very few close breakdowns of dramatic plays and events during the season, and of the NFC Championship and Super Bowl wins.  It’s just a simply a highlights reel from the Saints’ perspective, and that is about it.

The Bonus Features are also a huge let down. You get the postgame celebrations, NFL media day, the halftime show, and a short personal close-up of the travails of Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove, which is really the best of the Bonus Features.  The Bonus Features are simply thin and not very good.

The Saints made history with their first and rather dramatic win in Super Bowl XLIV.  While any Saints and NFL fan will enjoy the journey, the video robs the viewer of just what an amazing and dramatic run it really was.

NFL Super Bowl XLIV: New Orleans Saints Champions

Observations on Super Bowl XLIV: New Orleans Saints over Indianapolis Colts 31-17

I know this is coming woefully late but I figure better late than never.

The 2000’s offered up some of the greatest Super Bowl contests in its 40 year history. After having so many blowouts and games that simply did not live up to the hype, the 2000’s saw mostly close contests between evenly matched teams. Super Bowl XLIV looked to be another great contest between two of the most prolific offenses in the league, and it more than lived up to its hype. Despite the final score, the result of a last minute, coffin in the nail touchdown by the Saints, this was a nail biter to the finish.

New Orleans certainly had karmic energy on its side. No matter what team the AFC sent to the Super Bowl, New Orleans was going to be the rooting interest of even the most casual fan, not only because people wanted to see something good happen to the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina, but its history as a losing but lovable, inept franchise gave it an underdog feel, despite clearly being one of the three best teams in the league this year.

This game was almost evenly played from the start, and but for a few crucial calls by the gutsy Saints coach Sean Peyton and a crucial mistake by Peyton Manning, the Colts mostly outplayed the Saints. The first half featured a quick 10-0 lead by the Colts but the Saints held on for two field goals to make it 10-6 in a surprisingly low scoring first half. Given the way both offenses could move the ball up and down the field, the Colts receiving the ball at the beginning of the second half seemingly gave them a great advantage.

But in what will go down in one of the gutsiest coaching decisions in Super Bowl history, Sean Peyton went for an onside kick at the beginning of the second half to steal a short field and possession from the Colts. Get the ball and score and you put your team in good position to win the game. Don’t get the ball and give Peyton Manning a short field, you may end up the butt of jokes and pariah for the rest of your coaching career. After one of the nastiest scrums I’ve ever witnessed for the ball, the Saints come up with the possession and proceed to score a go ahead touchdown, 13-10 Saints.

The onside kick was the play of the game. It is what really won the game for the Saints and wrested control back away from the Colts as both teams could clear move the ball on each other. After that it was a tit for tat, and again Peyton called for a successful two point conversion after a touchdown leading to a seven point advantage with just over three minutes to go.

I suspect most fans, like me, figured that Peyton Manning and the Colts were on their way to game tying touchdown leaving the Saints a few moments on the clock to get into field goal range for a win. The Colts were easily driving down the field getting close to scoring position. I commented to a guest watching the game with me “wouldn’t a pick six be great right here?” A few moments later, Manning throws just that, an interception returned for a touchdown by Tracy Porter, the Saints’ second year cornerback. And that was it.

Did Peyton Manning choke? Manning and his teams, including in college, for whatever reason, seem to always come up short in the big games. It’s amazing that one of the greatest regular season quarterbacks of all time with one of the most consistently potent offenses year in and year out can’t seem to get over the hump in the playoffs. But I don’t think Manning chocked as much as Porter simply made a great play. Unlike most Patriots fans, I kind felt sorry for Manning.

But the Colts were facing a team that played loose and Sean Peyton coached the game to win, not to lose, which greatly benefited the Saints. So many times, including the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, the coach plays not to lose, and then loses. Hats off the Sean Peyton for an amazing and, I’ll say it a third time, gutsy coaching strategy.

This game will go down as one of the all time greats and firmly place the Colts as a great team that just can’t seal the deal when it counts most.

Drew Brees was named the MVP of the game. He deserved it.

PLAYERS OF THE GAME

Offensive Player: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
Defensive Player: Trace Porter, CB, New Orleans
Offensive Lineman: Jonathan Goodwin, C, New Orleans
Special Teams: Garrett Hartley, K, New Orleans

Super Bowl XLIV Prediction

If you consider the entire history of the Super Bowl, most of the games have been duds and have not lived up to their hype.  This past decade, however, we have seen some of the most exciting, closely contested games in the marquee matchup in American sports. 

Super Bowl XLIII promises to be one of the best.  Whether it lives up to that hype remains to be seen.  But with the New Orleans Saints versus the Indianapolis Colts you have one of the most exciting matchups ever. 

First, you have the two best teams in the regular season from the AFC and NFC in the game.  That does not happen very often.  Second, you have two of the best quarterbacks in the league with a number of excellent receivers to throw to.  Drew Brees has been fabulous this season, and Peyton Manning as played as well this season as any quarterback I have ever seen in my lifetime. 

Third, with those outstanding quarterbacks you have two of the most prolific offenses in the league.  And fourth,  need I say, you have two defenses that are better than they have been in the past, but are mid-tier NFL defenses that are vulnerable?  It could be one of the highest scoring games in Super Bowl history if these two offenses start sprinting up and down the field on each other.

So picking a winner is very hard.  Will the Saints get to Peyton Manning and batter him like they did Brett Favre in their NFC Championship win over the Minnesota Vikings?  The Colts offense line has played well this year, but they have been known for lapses in the playoffs against aggressive teams like the Greg Williams run Saints. 

Will Dwight Freeney, the pass rushing machine of the Colts be healthy enough to get pressure on Drew Brees, and if he is ineffective, will the rest of the defensive line be effective without his presence?  The Colts have a vulnerable secondary that has been protected by the great offense of the Colts, able to play with leads and play the pass.

It really is a tough game to call.  They are both great teams, the best in the league.

But at the end of the day who am I picking?  Peyton Manning has been a magician this year.  He has avoided the annual choke job the Colts often put up in the playoffs.  I’m going with the best quarterback in the league against the second best quarterback in the league, with vulnerable defenses behind them.

The Colts will win the Super Bowl 42-34.

2009 NFL Season: AFC & NFC Championship Games

Indianapolis Colts over New York Jets, 30-17

You have to hand it to the New York Jets for their nice run in the playoffs. They embarrassed the Cincinnati Bengals (well, the Bengals embarrassed themselves) and I gave them no chance against the hot San Diego Chargers but they pulled off an impressive win. Despite the final score, I thought the Jets played a fine game against the Colts.

The Jets got the big passing plays they needed for scores in the first half to go ahead and stay in the game. And their defense did a great job of taking away Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. The problem was Peyton Manning finally figured out how to move the ball effectively against the Jets defense, and Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie stepped up to the plate with big plays. Once the Colts got a quick score to end the first half, they became too much to handle for the Jets in the second half. The Jets never did make great adjustments and eschewed the blitz to play coverage. But Garcon, especially, came up big for the Colts when it counted.

And once the Jets got behind, their offense just isn’t built right now to come back from a deficit. The Colts with the lead could play to stop the pass and the Jets passing game just simply isn’t dynamic enough to compensate.

So in the end this game turned out about how I expected it to, with Colts finding ways to score against a solid defense, and a Jets offense just not able to keep up.

MVP: Pierre Garcon, WR

New Orleans Saints over Minnesota Vikings, 31-28 OT

This was a very entertaining game and completely lived up to its billing. The Vikings basically outplayed the Saints but turnovers matter in all NFL games and the Vikings fumbled their way out of a Super Bowl birth. It was a closely contest with the offenses moving up and down the field, but the Vikings had an edge on offense that they negated with turnovers and negative plays.

Near the end of regulation, as Minnesota was driving into field goal range, I kept thinking I would be writing what an unbelievably courageous performance by Brett Favre in a win. He was battered as badly as I have ever seen any quarterback battered in a game, but he kept getting out there and fighting back. Instead Favre, as he has done so many times in the past in the playoffs, he threw and idiotic interception instead of stumbling forward for a few yards to give his kicker a chance to win the game. Of course the Vikings had already blundred on that series with too many men in the huddle for a five yard penalty, an egregious mental error at that part of the game. But it was still Favre cementing his legacy, for me at least, as a choke artist in the playoffs, that was the saddest part of the game. Maybe the kicker misses the long field goal, but Favre took his out of any chance to win it in regulation with his terribly ill advised pass late over the middle.

The game then goes to overtime, the Saints get a great kick return by Pierre Thomas for great field position, and win the game on a 40-yard field goal.

Don’t get me wrong though. It was an unbelievably courageous performance by Favre. And it certainly was not Favre’s fault they lost the game. Stupid penalties and fumbles, especially by Adrian Peterson, helped doom them. But why does Favre insist on making the dumbest of throws in the most crucial of situations?

That is what I will remember in this game, as much as anything else.

MVP: Jonathan Vilma, LB

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Defensive Player: Jonathan Vilma, LB, New Orleans Saints
Offensive Lineman: Jeff Saturday, C, Indianapolis Colts
Special Teams: Garrett Hartley, K, New Orleans Saints

Brett Favre Blunders Again