Week one of the NFL season saw record setting performances from Tom Brady and Cam Newton, dominating defensive outings from the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears and a host of impressive passing displays around the league.
Offensive Juggernauts Collide in Green Bay
The season started with a bang Thursday night, with the Super Bowl champions Green Bay Packers defeating the New Orleans Saints in a 42-34 thriller. Explosive offense was on show, with Aaron Rodgers throwing for 312 yards and three touchdowns and Drew Brees accumulating 419 yards and three touchdowns. Fans were also treated to a kickoff return and punt return for a touchdown.
The drama went to the last play, with the Saints failing to break into the end zone with a Mark Ingram run from the one yard line as time expired. Both teams can be pleased with their performances and should be strong playoff and Super Bowl challengers.
Ravens Thrash Steelers
Arguably the best team performance of the week came in Baltimore, where the Ravens surprisingly routed the Pittsburgh Steelers. The vaunted Steelers defence was outmatched by quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw for three touchdowns, and running back Ray Rice, who accumulated 149 yards and two touchdowns.
Rice’s performance was particularly impressive as most running backs find it difficult to run on the Pittsburgh defence. The Steelers have only allowed two running backs rush for over 100 yards in their last 51 games and both times it was Ray Rice.
The Ravens defence also displayed playmaking ability that was sometimes lacking last season, as they forced the Steelers to commit an uncharacteristic seven turnovers.
A number of teams produced good performances in week one. The Lions gained an impressive victory away to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Houston Texans routed the Indianapolis Colts 34-4 and The Buffalo Bills surprisingly beat The Kansas City Chiefs 41-7. The Chicago Bears were faced with a daunting week one match-up with the Atlanta Falcons, who went an NFC best 13-3 last season, but won easily by a score line of 30-12.
Brady and Henne Set NFL Record
In the first Monday Night Game of the year, Tom Brady and Chad Henne combined for an NFL record 906 yards as the New England Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins 38-24.
Brady seemed to already be in mid-season form as he threw for an astonishing 517 yards, the fifth highest total in history, and four touchdowns. Brady picked apart a retooled Dolphins secondary, completing at least six throws to four different receivers. Wes Welker caught an NFL record tying 99 yards pass, while second tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez continued to cause match-up problems for opposing defences, as they combined for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
Worryingly for the Patriots, their secondary continued to be a weakness. Chad Henne has struggled for consistency in his brief NFL career, but the Dolphins quarterback was able to throw for 416 yards and two touchdowns, although many of those yards were after the match stopped being a contest.
Analysts and fans were worried that the Lockout might adversely affect offences entering the new season. It was the defences who struggled in week one, however. A host of passing records were broken as defences struggled to contain the opposing quarterbacks. Tom Brady and Chad Henne combined to produce the most passing yards in one game (906). A record 14 quarterbacks threw for more than 300 yards. Four quarterbacks threw for over 400 yards, the most ever in one week. Five matches saw both passers top 300 yards, while the total of 7,842 passing yards was also a record.
Rookie Cam Newton also confounded the critics who queried his suitability for the NFL when he threw for a colossal 422 yards, the most a rookie quarterback has ever thrown in week one of his rookie season. It was early vindication for the Panthers, who had received some criticism for their decision to pick Newton number one overall in April’s NFL Draft. Newton faces a much tougher test against the Green Bay Packers next week, however, and expectations should be tempered.
Despite the changes in kickoff rules, which were designed to limit returns and reduce injuries, week one saw a record eight combined kickoff (3) and punt (5) returns. The Oakland Raiders’ Sebastien Janikowski kicked a record tying 63 yards field goal. A.J. Green’s 41 yard touchdown reception was the longest game-winning score in NFL history by a rookie playing in his team’s first game. Green Bay Packers’ Randall Cobb also returned a kickoff 108 yards to tie the NFL record set by the New England Patriots’ Ellis Hobbs in 2007.
Same Old Cowboys
One of the most dramatic matches of the week was the New York Jets’ narrow 27-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. The Cowboys led by 14 points near the start of the fourth quarter, but Dallas proceeded to throw away the game with a series of mistakes.
After conceding a touchdown, The Cowboys drove to the Jets’ one yard line after a long pass to Jason Witten. Faced with first and goal from the one yards line, The Cowboys should have run three ties with Felix Jones until they scored. Instead, they ran once for no gain and then Romo threw an incomplete pass. On third down, Romo scrambled and dived for the end zone. The quarterback was hit by Mike DeVito and fumbled, blowing the chance to take a two score lead.
The Cowboys stopped the Jets from scoring another offensive touchdown, forcing Mark Sanchez to fumble with six minutes remaining. Dallas’ next drive was a disaster, however. Two penalties left the Cowboys with third down and 22. After an incomplete pass, the Cowboys’ punt was blocked by Joe McKnight and returned for a touchdown by Isiah Trufant.
Both teams failed to get into field goal range on their next possessions, which gave Tony Romo the ball with 59 seconds to play. Tony Romo then threw a very ill-advised pass to the injured Dez Bryant, who had limped around for the majority of the second half and who was double covered. Darrelle Revis intercepted the ball, which allowed Nick Folk to kick the 50 yard field goal that won the game.
Dallas had to cope without their three starting cornerbacks for much of the final quarter, but the melt down was still unforgiveable. Tony Romo had played well for three quarters and will be hoping to bounce back quickly.
Tough Start For Rookie Head Coaches
It was a rough weekend for new head coaches, who went 2-5 overall. Hue Jackson helped the Oakland Raiders to beat the Denver Broncos Monday night, while Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers routed the Seattle Seahawks.
The Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans under Ron Rivera, Pat Shurmur and Mike Munchak respectively all lost. Jason Garrett and Leslie Frazier were interim coaches of the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings respectively last year, but 2011 marks their first full year as head coaches. The Cowboys endured a difficult defeat to the Jets, while the Vikings lost 17-24 to the San Diego Chargers.
Manning-less Colts Annihilated
The fears surrounding the Indianapolis Colts without Peyton Manning were realised on Sunday. The Colts started their first match without their talismanic quarterback since 1997 ended in a crushing 34-7 defeat to the Houston Texans. The Texans had only beaten the Colts twice in 18 attempts, but raced into a 34-0 half-time lead.
The shell-shocked Colts were outplayed in every department in the first half. 38 year old quarterback Kerry Collins fumbled twice and struggled to create any chemistry with his receivers. The defence was porous, with Ben Tate running at will and Matt Schaub dissecting it through the air.
Manning has just had his third neck surgery in 19 months and could yet miss the entire season. If Manning fails to return soon, the Colts season will quickly become a right-off. The Texans might never get a better chance to finally reach the playoffs, with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans also far from the finished article.