The “it’s-only-one-game” refrain is heard inside and outside NFL team facilities following the first weekend of the season. In 16 cities where teams won, fans think it must mean the Super Bowl is on the horizon. In the other 16, fans can be seen heading toward the nearest bridge.
The truth, of course, is somewhere in between, as coaches simply get to work preparing for the next team on the schedule. As former NFL coach Dick Vermeil often said, “The season is like a 16-round heavyweight fight (if such a thing actually existed). Just get ready for the next round.”
But first, a look back at Week 1 …
1-4. What’s new? Another quarterback change in Cleveland.
1. It came as quite a jolt when the Browns learned Monday that quarterback Robert Griffin III had suffered a broken bone in his left shoulder in Sunday’s 29-10 loss to Philadelphia and was placed on injured reserve. Said head coach Hue Jackson, “It is really unfortunate because Robert worked extremely hard to put himself in position to be our quarterback, to be one of the team leaders.”
Griffin isn’t necessarily lost for the season and could be designated for return. New rules this year allow teams to decide later in the season whether they want to use their one allowed return from the injured list. The player still can’t begin practicing until six weeks after being placed on reserve and can’t play for eight weeks.
Added Jackson: “We will get an opportunity to see where he is four weeks from now and then kind of go from there, but it might be a little while before he is able to come back out and play.”
2. Next man up: That, of course, is Josh McCown … again. When Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was injured training camp, speculation linked McCown to Dallas, but Cleveland resisted. Asked about having McCown available to play now, Jackson said, “That is why you keep him here. I said that to you guys a long time ago. You have to have quarterbacks on your football team that can play, and that is why we kept Josh here because he knows how to play and he has been in this league.”
McCown is 2-17 as a starter with Tampa Bay and the Browns the last two seasons, and was 1-7 with Cleveland in 2015. That win came when he passed for 457 yards in an overtime 33-30 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday’s opponent.
3. Another opening, another loss: It’s now 12 consecutive opening-day losses for the Browns. In fact, the only opener they have won since 1999 was a 20-3 win over Baltimore in 2004. In an obvious comment, Jackson said, “I never said we were going to go 16-0.”
4. He wasn’t joshing: Asked how badly he feels for Griffin, McCown said, “Heartbroken. You see the time that somebody puts into the job and prepares themselves, so anytime that happens, but especially Week 1 in the opener, it is heartbreaking. I know how much he wants to be out there with his guys fighting for his team. Even the play itself just showed the fight that he had even late in the game, which is tough. I am just heartbroken for him.”
5. Here’s Carson: One of the sidebars in the run-up to Sunday’s game were reports the Browns didn’t have the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz rated among their top-20 quarterbacks in this year’s draft. Cleveland, of course, acquired a boatload of picks so Philadelphia could move up and select Wentz with the second overall choice. Jackson tried to side-step questions last week, insisting the club was happy with having Griffin.
After Wentz completed 22 of 37 passes for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns with a passer rating of 101.0, Jackson was asked if there were any regrets of not picking him. He said, “No, we haven’t. That is one thing I can tell you for sure has not happened. He had a good game, a great game if you guys want to term it that, and I respect that. He is a fine young man and they have good coaches and a good organization, and he is going to do well for them, but that was one game. Like I said, we will look back and see where he is over a period of time, but the Browns have to get better. That is what we have to do. We have to play better, and I think we all understand that.”
Said Browns cornerback Joe Haden of Wentz, “He’s more advanced than I expected him to be. He’s a good quarterback.”
6-8. Catching up on previous stories …
6. After a shaky beginning to the preseason, Tampa Bay kicker Robert Aguayo was flawless Sunday in his team’s 31-24 win over Atlanta. Aguayo made a 43-yard field goal and all four extra-point attempts. On 6 kickoffs, he had 3 touchbacks and three others reached 4, 5 and 7 yards into the end zone. Said Aguayo, “It was exciting. I was definitely ready for the regular season to start, but it felt like another game. Honestly, it felt like it was the fifth game of my career. A very, very exciting win.”
7. His first game since 2014 couldn’t have gone much better for New York Giants wide receiver Victor(y) Cruz. He managed just 34 yards on 4 receptions, but his 3-yard touchdown led to the winning extra point in the team’s 20-19 win over the Dallas Cowboys and was followed by his patented salsa dance. He played 50 of the team’s 56 snaps and caught each of the passes thrown his way. “Just elated, just in the moment,” Cruz said. “Couldn’t even describe what was going through my body, to obviously do the dance and make sure I got that down pat and just celebrate with my teammates.
“Everybody was pulling for me each and every day, each and every week. As we got closer and closer, you could just sense everybody had me in their prayers, pushing for me and excited for me to get dressed and be out there for Game 1 and to score a touchdown. You couldn’t paint this story any better.”
He also paid tribute to those in attendance in Dallas being honored on the anniversary of Sept. 11. “It’s one of those days that you remember forever and one of those days now that you want to honor those first responders and those firemen and those police officers that were there,” he said. “You just cherish the moment because you know that at the drop of a dime something like that could happen that could change the perspective of the world.”
8. Last week, Oakland Raiders running back Jalen Richard was featured as one of the undrafteds to watch with this line: “The 5-foot-8, 207-pound back has a chance to contribute in Oakland, where he was signed after a tryout following the draft.” Boy, did he contribute in a big way. On the first rushing attempt of his career in the fourth quarter, Richard, who played collegiately at Southern Mississippi, burst up the middle and exploded for a 75-yard touchdown, tying the game against the Saints at 27. He added runs of 8 and 1 yard for a total of 84 on 3 attempts. He said afterward, “I’ll remember this game forever. It’s been an amazing journey, battling injuries, then coming into training camp and winning a spot on the roster. Then to come in here and perform like that in my home state, I’m just so blessed I can’t even put it in to words.”
A native of Louisiana, Richard was in the Superdome for the first time in the walk-through the day before the game. During camp, the Raiders liked so much what they had seen that they stuck with Richard despite a knee injury that forced him to miss two weeks of practice. Said head coach Jack Del Rio, “He did things like that every day. It’s a great story of a young man who willed himself onto this team.”
Richard’s touchdown run wasn’t the only one for the Raiders Sunday. Latavius Murray scored on a 6-yard run and Jamize Olawale from two yards out. That was three rushing touchdowns in one game compared to a total of seven in 16 games last season.
9-10. Speaking of the Saints …
9. The Superdome was once one of the most difficult stadiums to play in the NFL. Of course, that’s when the Saints had a defense. Since New Orleans began the 2014 season 3-0 at home, they are 4-10, including Sunday’s 35-34 loss to Oakland. Overall, their points allowed has been alarming. In the last two seasons, the Saints have had seven games each of those years where they allowed at least 30 points.
Here are the ugly numbers: In 2014, it was 30, 31, 32, 34, 37, 38 and 41. In 2015, it was 31, 34, 35, 39, 41, 47, 49. Eight of those games were at home.
10. But they still have Drew Brees. With his 423 yards Sunday, Brees reached 61,326 for his career, just 35 behind Dan Marino (61,361) for third-most in NFL history. Once he passes Marino, next on the list is Brett Favre with 71,838 and all-time leader Peyton Manning with 71,940. That puts Brees currently 10,614 behind Manning. His last five seasons, Brees has eclipsed 5,000 yards three times and has totaled 25,637, an average of 5,127 per season.
11. Simply bad offense: There’s no other way to describe how inept the Buffalo Bills were in a 13-7 loss to Baltimore. How about 160 total yards, the franchise’s lowest output since managing 145 in a 2006 loss to the Chicago Bears. They averaged 3.3 yards on their 48 plays and converted 3 of 13 third-down attempts. Buffalo’s one touchdown drive used 12 plays and gained 85 yards. The rest of the game, they ran 36 plays for 75 yards. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor completed 15 of 22 passes for 111 yards, which is 5.05 per attempt and 7.4 per completion. As Taylor presciently said, “What’s disappointing is that 14 points would have won this game.”
12-16. Monday, Monday; can’t trust that day. Monday, Monday; sometimes it just turns out that way.
12. Leave it to Monday Night Football to spoil a compelling first 14 games of the NFL season: The Philadelphia Eagles’ 19-point win over Cleveland was the largest margin of victory, and of those games, 11 were one-score games with four decided by 1 point (the most ever on an opening weekend) and two by 2 points. The average score was 25.3-20.1. That changed Monday night with Pittsburgh’s 38-16 win over Washington and San Francisco’s shutout of the Los Angeles Rams, 28-0.
13. With running Le’Veon Bell suspended, 33-year-old DeAngelo Williams ran like he was in college again. Williams rushed for 143 yards on 26 carries and scored 2 touchdowns in the Steelers’ win. His two scores came late in the fourth quarter after the Redskins had cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 24-16, while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for 300 yards and wide receiver Antonio Brown had 8 receptions for 126 yards and 2 touchdowns. Aside from Williams, Houston’s Lamar Miller with 106 was the only other running back to reach 100 yards
14. Hey, L.A., are you sure you want this football team? The Rams showed that not much has changed since their move to the West Coast. In St. Louis Monday night, there were likely knowing nods. With No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff not dressed for the game, the Rams totaled 185 yards, averaged 3.1 per play and were 3-for-15 on third down. Running back Todd Gurley had 47 yards on 17 carries (2.8 average) with a long of 10. During the summer, Rams general manager Les Snead claimed if Case Keenum had been the team’s quarterback for the previous four seasons, the Rams would have been in the playoffs twice. Really?
Monday night, Keenum was 17-for-35 for 130 yards with by far the lowest passer rating of any starter on opening week at 34.2. Their supposed game-breaker, Tavon Austin, who recently received a four-year contract extension worth $42 million, had 1 rush for 2 yards and 4 receptions (on 12 targets) for 13 yards. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald was ejected with 6:42 remaining in the game, helping the Rams to 10 penalties for 102 yards, while the 49ers had 2 for 10. Head coach Jeff Fisher would probably refer to that as “7-9 bull—-.” Sunday is the Rams’ home opener against Seattle.
15. Speaking of Fisher, he said after the game, “I’m very disappointed in the outcome.” Of course, he has said that 37 times in four-plus seasons with the Rams and 163 times in his head coaching career. Fisher also said he told the players “there are 15 other teams that lost this weekend that are pretty good teams. I happen to think the guys in this locker room are pretty good.”
16. Chip saves the day: Chip Kelly of the 49ers was the only one of the three new head coaches that had been head coaches before to win on opening day. Cleveland’s Jackson lost, as did Tennessee’s Mike Mularkey, who previously was head coach of the Bills and was the Titans’ interim coach last season.
Meanwhile, of the four first-time head coaches, three won Sunday: Dirk Koetter with Tampa Bay, Doug Pederson with Philadelphia and Ben McAdoo with the Giants. Miami’s Adam Gase was the only loser, and he came oh so close with a 12-10 loss in Seattle.
17. Third-down success … or failure: Bears head coach John Fox talked about the disparity in the third-down conversion rate in his team’s 23-14 loss to Houston on Sunday. The Texans converted 60 percent (12-for-20), while Chicago was a mere 31 percent (4-for-13). Said Fox, “It’s time of possession, moves the chains, usually it results in points when you move the chains, whether it’s explosive plays or moving the chains on third down. It’s arguably the most important down other than fourth down.” Overall, teams with the higher conversion rate won nine of 15 games (Oakland and New Orleans each were 4-for-11). Of the six teams that won with a lower percentage, three were at 50 percent or higher.
18. Zimmer a radio fan? The Minnesota Vikings defeated Tennessee 25-16 with Shaun Hill at quarterback and thanks to two defensive touchdowns. Hill was what he usually is, completing 18 of 33 passes for 236 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions and a mediocre passer rating of 77.3. Zimmer didn’t reveal that Hill would start until Sunday and said he will handle it the same way this week with Sam Bradford behind Hill for now. And why is that, Mike? He said, “I just think it’s good for sports-talk radio.”
19. Stopping Dez: For one game at least, Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins showed he was deserving of the big contract he received as an unrestricted free agent. In his team’s win over Dallas, wide receiver Dez Bryant was limited to 1 catch for 8 yards. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was on Bryant at times, but it was mostly Jenkins. Said McAdoo, “Janoris had a heck of a day yesterday. He’s not the only one that was matching up against Dez. DRC made a couple of really nice plays there, too. Jackrabbit (Jenkins) really shadowed him for most of the day. He competed his tail off and it was a big, huge effort for us.
20. Jameis jammin’: Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston had 4 touchdown passes against Atlanta and had a passer rating of 122.6. The Bucs had four touchdown drives of 75 yards or more, only the second time in their history that happened, and the other was with Winston last season in a 45-17 win over Philadelphia. Asked what was impressive about Winston, Koetter said, “Jameis yesterday did what Jameis does best and that’s play football. Jameis is a football player and it’s not always pretty, it’s not always how we draw it up — I’d like every play to go exactly like we draw it up — but that guy, he has a unique ability to make (plays).
“He’s going to make some plays you don’t expect him to make, he’s going to miss some plays that I’m going, ‘Jameis, you’ve got to make that play.’ And he’s the same all the time. He’s focused on winning, he’s focusing on leading our team and he’s tough as nails. Boy, he will stand in that pocket and that rush bearing down on him, he’ll stand right in there. He’s a lot better moving in the pocket than people might think.”
21. Old man Adam: Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is aging like fine wine. In his 21st season (he entered the league as an undrafted free agent with New England in 1996), Vinatieri turns 44 in December. Sunday, he hit field goals of 40 and 50 yards. He now has made 27 consecutive field goals and incredibly he is 57-for-60 since the start of the 2014 season. His longest career streak is 35 straight in 2013-2014.
The 50-yard field goal Sunday was the 28th of 50 or more yards in his career. According to a stat provided by profootballtalk.com, in his 20s, Vinatieri was 8-for-13 on 50-plus yard field goals. In his 30s, he was 8-for-19. And in his 40s, including Sunday, he is 12-for-15.
22. Old man Larry: He’s not as old as Vinatieri, but then 33-year-old Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald isn’t a kicker. In Sunday night’s loss to New England, Fitzgerald had 8 receptions for 81 yards with 2 touchdowns to give him 100 for his career. Prior to the game, reports surfaced that Fitzgerald has supposedly told those close to him this will be his final season.
Following the game, he said, “I signed for another year for a reason. I believe in what we are doing here, and (club president) Michael Bidwill is doing everything he can to put us in position to win. That is where my mindset is at. What I am doing next year is of no importance. This is the year, and I want to make sure it is a great one.” Adding that the report is merely “speculation,” he glibly noted that he hadn’t decided where to have dinner “let alone what I am doing next year.”
Here’s hoping it’s still playing football.