The better team wins, whether at home or on the road
Posted: Sunday September 10, 2006 6:36PM; Updated: Monday September 11, 2006 11:48AM
Michael Vick, Wayne Gandy (72) and the Falcons celebrated in front of the Carolina faithful during their big win on Sunday.
Paul Abell/US PRESSWIRE
FOXBORO, Mass. -- Home might be where the heart is, but it also doubled for where the near certainty of defeat resided on the first Sunday of the NFL's 2006 regular season. I'm sure you noticed. In the nine early games Sunday afternoon, the road team won a staggering seven times, with New England nipping Buffalo by the margin of a safety to narrowly avoid becoming the eighth home team to begin the season 0-1.
In the three late-afternoon contests, visiting Chicago thrashed Green Bay to make road teams 8-4 in Sunday's first 12 games.
More than I can ever recall, the notion of home field advantage in the NFL has been lessened in terms of both its power and its mystique. More often than not in the league these days, it's the better team that wins, regardless of where the game is played.
Atlanta's 20-6 manhandling of the Panthers in Charlotte and Baltimore's 27-0 domination of Tampa Bay in Raymond James Stadium were the headline road upsets of the day, as the presumed top two teams in the NFC South both got waxed in front of the home crowd. It was an impressive debut for the Falcons, who were swept by Carolina last season to the tune of 68-17, with the centerpiece of the twin bill being the Panthers' 44-11 humiliation of Atlanta in the Georgia Dome in Week 17 on New Year's Day.
Carolina and Tampa Bay were playoff teams a year ago. The Falcons and the Ravens were not. No matter. The pair of teams named after birds looked ready to soar in 2006, while John Fox's Panthers and Jon Gruden's Bucs looked a long way from regular-season ready.
And the same goes for all those struggling franchises that couldn't capitalize on a Week 1 home game to generate some early momentum in what they hope is a turnaround season. The Browns weren't improved enough to handle the Saints, the Titans couldn't even keep up with the lowly Jets, the Lions' upset bid against the defending NFC champion Seahawks didn't quite make it, and the Texans had more than they could cope with in hosting the Eagles.
On this Sunday, home was a four-letter word. And it was synonymous with lose.
Nice beginning, Jake Plummer. The Denver quarterback threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in the Broncos' 18-10 lost at St. Louis. Four turnovers. Now where have I seen that before? Oh, yeah, in Plummer's last game, at home against Pittsburgh in the AFC title game (two picks and two fumbles lost).
I'm telling you, rookie Jay Cutler is No. 1 in Denver by Halloween. Book it.
The Falcons looked good in winning at Carolina, but I can't say it was because of that Ashley Lelie trade. The ex-Broncos receiver had all of one catch for five yards.
Veteran Tatum Bell wound up getting the start for Denver at running back, and it's tough to argue that the best Bell didn't win that competition. Tatum Bell finished with 15 carries for 103 yards, with a long gain of 39. Rookie Mike Bell chipped in with a very respectable 58 yards on 10 carries, with a long of 36.
With the Lions scoring six points and totaling just 251 yards of total offense, it's difficult to see how Detroit is so much more explosive with Mike Martz as offensive coordinator. That used to be a decent quarter for Martz in St. Louis.
If you're scoring at home, Kansas City running back Larry Johnson needs to average 128.8 yards over his final 15 games to crack the magic 2,000-yard rushing mark. Johnson's much-ballyhooed quest for the big 2-0-0-0 got off to a modest start against Cincinnati. He had 68 yards on 15 carries, with a long gain of 18. In fairness, L.J. did catch five passes for 80 yards.
I came away from my trip through Baltimore's training camp convinced that the Ravens' defense might just be back. That's looking like a solid hunch so far. Maybe it was just good karma resulting from the return to the field where Baltimore won a Super Bowl title more than five years ago, but the Ravens' defense looked to be in 2000-01 form at Tampa Bay.
Baltimore held Cadillac Williams to 22 yards rushing on eight carries, with the Bucs limited as a team to 26 yards on the ground and 142 yards of total offense and eight first downs. The Ravens picked off Chris Simms three times, including cornerback Chris McAlister's 60-yard interception return for a second-quarter touchdown.
Word of warning to the rest of the NFL: I think Ray Lewis & Co. are interested again.