NFL: Peyton Manning the stand-out performer - but it was a good opening weekend for the youngsters
A weekly look at the talking points in the NFL
So, week one of the NFL is in the books and with wins for - perhaps, the most highly touted Super Bowl candidates - the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers safely secured, a week of unimaginable over-reaction has certainly started in style.
But, before we get to Peyton Manning’s masterpiece, Chip Kelly’s dynamic Philadelphia Eagles and Philip Rivers possible re-emergence as a premier quarterback, we should take a moment to acknowledge that hey, the kids did alright!
Rookie Geno Smith, starting for the New York Jets in Mark Sanchez’s absence played solidly, if a little unspectacularly in his grand debut. The Buffalo Bills’ EJ Manuel, an instant upgrade on his error-prone predecessor Ryan Fitzpatrick, looked sharp and Terrelle Pryor sparked a much-maligned Oakland Raiders offense into life.
Admittedly Smith may have been the only one to emerge from the season’s curtain raiser with a win, courtesy of a bone-head play, from Tampa Bay linebacker Levonte David, in the games’ final seconds (which allowed New York to kick the winning field goal) but it must be said that Manuel, at times, looked accomplished against a struggling New England defence and, by all accounts, Pryor was superb. Finishing as Sunday’s leading rusher, the supplemental third round draft pick also threw for 329 yards as the Raiders came up short against the Indianapolis Colts.
It is however, only week one and any thoughts of a late season push for post season football, despite the trio’s bright start - particularly considering each teams’ lack of quality at a plethora of other positions – should be avoided.
However, by the time Monday rolled around the whole world, already forgetting Sunday’s action, was ready to see what Philadelphia Head Coach Chip Kelly had been hiding all preseason. His famed rapid-fire, no huddle offense had set the college seen alight in recent years and many were sceptical about his ability to use the same up-tempo attack in the NFL.
Seemingly unable to avoid the doubters, of whom there were many, Kelly’s men looked sharp and even at this early stage of his career, his transition to the NFL from the College stage seems almost seamless.
In similar fashion to his old high-tempo Oregon Ducks offence, Kelly’s men rattled off a staggering 53 first half plays, more than any other team this week, and their high speed tempo certainly seems to suit Messrs’ McCoy, Vick and Jackson who all enjoyed stellar outings.
That said, despite flying out of the traps, the Eagles were helped by a sluggish Washington Redskins side who, until RGIII found his groove, struggled to get anything going offensively. With the additional absence of the read option that the Redskins used so well last season, Mike Shanahan’s men spluttered their way through the opening exchanges and, in particular, Alfred Morris looked a shadow of his dominant last season self.
Still, with barely any preseason football under his belt thanks to his off season knee surgery, RGIII could be forgiven for his early game struggles and, as his game sharpness returns, we can expect the Redskins to improve over the coming weeks.
In the night's other encounter the haphazard San Diego Chargers reminded us all of their inability to hold onto a lead, despite quarterback Phillip Rivers looking like his old self early on before fading into the gunslinger version we’ve seen all too often lately. Faced with too much pressure, despite his bright start, Rivers was guilty of trying to do too much as the game wore on.
Leading by 21 points midway through the third quarter, the Chargers collapsed – albeit with a lot of help from the Houston Texans rejuvenated defence and an in-form Andre Johnson.
Texans’ linebacker Brian Cushing, with the ink still drying on his $56 million contract extension, also announced his return from a serious knee injury with a high-light reel moment. Intercepting a Rivers’ pass with, what can only be described as, a Superman-esque dive, the big man was able to rumble his way into the end zone as the Texans came from behind to secure a 33 -27 win in the final action of the weekend.
Returning to the subject of probable post-season football, even at these early stages, Peyton Manning opened the season in frightening form as he threw seven touchdowns, tying an NFL record in the process, en-route to a 49-27 season-opening win against last years’ Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens.
Looking like the Manning of old, and still wearing a glove on his throwing hand at times, Manning dissected the Ravens defence in a manner befitting his burgeoning status as, possibly, the greatest the game has ever seen.
Alongside Manning’s virtuoso performance, Wes Welker, an off-season pick up by the Broncos after negotiations soured with New England, looked almost immediately at home amid the Denver receiving core and finished the game with nine catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns.
His replacement in New England, the injury prone Danny Amendola, also looked the part as Tom Brady and co., squeaked past the Bills but his durability remains in question. Seemingly injuring his groin early on, Amendola truly made his presence felt while helping the Patriots discover their offensive momentum after some early struggles but, with a game against their AFC East rivals, the New York Jets, to look forward to on Thursday, it would come as little surprise if the Patriot offence continues to struggle, especially considering running back Stevan Ridley’s apparent inability to hold onto the ball.
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