Anyone else struggling to comprehend that the first week of the 2014-15 NFL season has come and gone? It seems like just yesterday teams were going to camp and the fantasy sleepers were being talked about so much that they were no longer sleepers (JAY CUTLER).
It took me until around halftime of the early games to totally understand what was happening in the NFL. It’s easy to forget about how taxing the NFL can be on your mind and body. The NFL didn’t do anyone a favor by scheduling 10 games at 1 p.m. Before I knew it the Chiefs were getting blown out by the Titans in Arrowhead. Cordarrelle Patterson was putting the Rams officially on the Mariboata (@DougielasFresh) with an Adrian Peterson like 67-yard touchdown.
The Eagles were down 17-0 to the Jags at home. Nick Foles turned the ball over three times and All-Pro guard Evan Mathis sprained his MCL (Eagles placed him on the IR, he can return on November 10th against the Panthers on Monday Night Football). Then they rolled off 34 unanswered points after Darren Sproles busted out on a 49-yard touchdown.
The Steelers were up 27-0 against the Browns at home and then they were tied with the Browns at 27 and needed a game winning drive from Big Ben.
In other words a bunch of crazy things happened on Sunday and Thursday and Monday, but mostly on Sunday. Here were the three things that stuck out the most to me from Week 1 in the NFL.
1.)Matt Ryan is at his best when he has his back against the wall in crunch time at home.
With the constant overload of information from the NFL, it’s easy to forget about the divisional round victory for Atlanta in 2012 when Ryan answered a Russell Wilson led touchdown drive with a game winning drive of his own.
Let’s flash back to that game in the 2012 playoffs. The Falcons were down one with 31 seconds left. Ball on the 28-yard line. Ryan hits Harry Douglas for 22 yards to start the drive. Next play, Ryan finds Tony Gonzalez for 19 yards to set up a Matt Bryant 49-yard field goal, which of course he made. Matt Bryant always makes THOSE kicks.
Back in 2012 Cam Newton had the Panthers up by one with less than a minute to go. Matt Ryan then hit Roddy White for 59-yards, setting up a Matt Bryant 40-yard field goal, which of course he made. Matt Bryant always makes THOSE kicks.
So when Drew Brees led the Saints on a lead changing touchdown drive with just over 30 seconds left, it was easy to confidently say that Ryan was going to drive right down the field and Matt Bryant was going to force overtime. Because that’s what happens when Matt Ryan has his back against the wall in Atlanta.
Now would also be a good time to also mention that Ryan had the best statistical regular season game of his career (31-43, 448 yards, 3-0 TDs-INTs). The most important 47 yards of Ryan’s day started on the final drive of regulation. With 1:20 left on the clock Ryan started on his own 20 yard line and hit Harry Douglas for 13 yards. Next play, Ryan connects with Julio Jones for another first down. Two plays later, Ryan finds his new receiver at the Saints 34 for 21 yards. After running a quick incomplete pass to Julio to chop down the clock to less than five seconds, Matt Bryant hit a 51-yard field goal, because Matt Bryant always makes THOSE kicks.
When the Falcons needed Bryant to make a 52-yarder in overtime he made it. Because Matt Bryant always makes THOSE kicks.
It’s impossible to possibly understand what this win will mean after next week, let alone what it will mean a month from now, but the Falcons offense accounted for the most impressive performance out of the 20 teams that were playing at 1 p.m. on the first Sunday of the regular season and that has to mean something.
2.) How Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett used E.J Manuel
One of the biggest surprises in Week 1 was the Bills overtime victory over the Bears in Chicago. Throughout the preseason E.J. Manuel’s reluctance to take shots down the field was widely noted, but his lack of confidence was the more noteworthy story. If you ranked all of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL before the season started, odds are Manuel would be in the bottom five, if not the bottom three.
The Bears looked like a lock in Week 1, so much so that I selected them in my eliminator pool with confidence. Thanks to Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett’s fantastic game plan, I wasted another $25 on football.
Marrone and Hackett called a fantastic game for Manuel. He looked comfortable early on thanks to the easy throws he was given. On Manuel’s first completion of the game, he found a wide open Robert Woods on a little three yard in route that he turned into a first down. It was about as easy of a pass as you’re going to see in the NFL, but it’s precisely what Manuel needed.
Later on in the drive Manuel was faced with a 3rd and 2 from just about midfield. He had two receivers lined up to his right, Marquise Goodwin lined up out wide, with Robert Woods in the slot.
Woods runs a wheel route, while Goodwin runs a post and essentially sets a pick on CB Tim Jennings who was initially covering Woods.
The pick set by Goodwin impedes Tim Jennings’ angle on Woods, which immediately opens up a big window for Manuel.
Manuel delivers a ball that’s not great, but it’s good enough to get the job done for a 32-yard gain. This is the type of big play that a quarterback like Manuel needs if he’s going to have confidence for the rest of the day.
Manuel finished off the drive with an easy three yard touchdown run off of a play-action fake to answer the opening touchdown from the Bears.
Marrone and Hackett picked the right spots to use Manuel, while basing their game plan around attacking the Bears’ porous run defense that, at least in Week 1, looks like a leftover from 2013. C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Anthony Dixon of all people had at least 50 yards in Chicago. Next on tap for Buffalo a divisional text against the 1-0 Miami Dolphins.
3.) Matt Stafford is really good at throwing the football, especially to Calvin Johnson
It didn’t take long for the Stafford-to-Megatron connection to make an appearance on Monday night as Stafford showed his new found ability to athletically scramble and then find a wide open Johnson. The juke move Stafford put on display was something new from the sixth-year quarterback.
The early highlight wouldn’t be the only one the duo put up in the first quarter. On a 3rd and 2 from just inside the red-zone, Stafford takes the snap and is forced out to the left. He sees Megatron with a little opening and flings the ball across his body right to Johnson who makes an incredible diving catch.
Those are the kind of throws Stafford is known for, but in a negative way. There are numerous examples of Stafford making a poor decision to throw the ball across his body, but the ball that he threw to Johnson in the back of the end-zone was right on the money. The touch Stafford put on the ball was something few quarterbacks in this league can do, but you have to wonder how many more times Stafford will fail at attempting to recreate the magic he and Calvin had during this play.
For now, it doesn’t matter. The Detroit Lions’ offense was one of the highlights from Week 1, something that we’ll probably forget by the end of Week 2.
Follow me on Twitter @ScottDargis