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Posted: Tuesday September 15, 2009 11:50AM; Updated: Wednesday September 16, 2009 12:46PM
Don Banks Don Banks >

Preseason perceptions smashed, proven true after NFL's Week 1

Story Highlights

Contrary to popular belief, Chargers won't cakewalk to AFC West title

Another season, another slow start looming for the Texans

More Week 1 observations, including a rant on Leodis McKelvin's decision

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LaDainian Tomlinson (above) had 56 yards rushing and receiving Monday, 10 less than his backfield mate Darren Sproles.
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I know it's roughly the same story every year, but you gotta love the ability of the NFL's Week 1 to smash some of our preseason perceptions to smithereens while simultaneously re-enforcing other premises we held fast to as the season roared to life. Such as:

Maybe the AFC West won't be a season-long coronation of the Chargers after all. San Diego had to fight, scratch and claw its way past the gritty Raiders 24-20 late Monday night, and perhaps all those notions of Norv Turner's team starting the season with a magic number of three to clinch the division was just one of those not-so-clever observations that we all love to make, at least until it starts making us look foolish.

Didn't last year's Chargers, with their 4-8 start and near miraculous December rally to .500 and a division title teach us anything about the value of assumptions in the AFC West? The Chargers may have an overwhelming talent edge, but that won't necessarily translate to a cakewalk in the division.

Any objective observer would have to admit the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders all exceeded expectations in Week 1, with Kansas City testing Baltimore into the fourth quarter on the road despite missing its starting quarterback, Denver absolutely stealing a last-second win at improved Cincinnati, and Oakland earning San Diego's grudging respect with a 60-minute display of tenacity.

LaDainian Tomlinson has no case. Tomlinson can talk all he wants about still being the NFL's premier running back in his little personal duel with Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, but what Week 1 showed us is that he's not even the best running back on his own team. Did you notice it was Darren Sproles in the game and producing mightily for the Chargers when nut-cutting time arrived in Oakland late Monday night?

Taking a page out of his virtuoso performance in San Diego's playoff win over the Colts last January, Sproles accounted for 34 of the Chargers' 89 yards on their game-winning touchdown drive, including the 5-yard scoring scamper on a brilliantly called draw play with 18 seconds remaining. All told, Sproles produced a whopping 246 all-purpose yards against the Raiders, 180 of which came in his valuable role as the Chargers' return man.

By comparison, Tomlinson had just his 55 yards rushing on 13 carries, with a touchdown on a 1-yard plunge and his first lost fumble since Week 7 of 2006. I predict it won't sit well with L.T., but Norv Turner knew what he was doing playing Sproles when it mattered most. The Raiders had no answer for his speed and elusiveness, and it made the difference between a win and a loss for the Chargers.

Week 1 is the most difficult week on the NFL calendar to predict. Monday night's doubleheader is the perfect reminder of that, as the Bills and Raiders entered play against New England and San Diego with twin 11-game losing streaks against their division rivals -- tying for the longest such active droughts in the league. There was near universal expectation for a pair of blowouts that would send ESPN's ratings plummeting by the third quarter.

Instead we got one of the greatest comebacks of Tom Brady's storied career, and the Chargers-Raiders game featuring four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone. Both games were decided in the final minute.

Let's just all admit it: In Week 1, nobody knows anything.

The Houston Texans still aren't ready to handle the pressure of big expectations. Not only did Gary Kubiak's team lose its home opener at Reliant Stadium, where it was 16-8 the past three seasons, but also it lost to a Jets team starting a rookie quarterback and playing without two defensive cogs due to suspension (linebacker Calvin Pace and defensive end Shaun Ellis).

In just four quarters, the Texans managed to only accentuate the perception that they're a mentally soft team that tends to play its worst when the stakes are the highest. Once the pressure's off, Houston usually takes off, rallying to finish strong after first digging itself a sizable hole. Don't look now, but with a road game at division rival Tennessee looming this week, another slow start appears likely in Houston. Somebody's going to be 0-2 after this one, and I don't think it's going to be Jeff Fisher's Titans.

Don't believe the Jay Cutler hype. There were crowds of folks rushing to the conclusion that Cutler made the Bears instant Super Bowl contenders in the NFC, but why, given that Cutler had a losing record as a starter in his Denver career (17-20), and had never taken the Broncos to the playoffs? We got to see right away Sunday night in Green Bay what Denver fans already knew, namely that Cutler can hurt his team in some games much more than he helps it.

You can't blame Cutler on all four of his interceptions against the Packers, because his receivers did him no favors in some cases. But he also could have had more than four picks if Green Bay's defenders had shown some better hands. Cutler still trusts his gun of a right arm way too much in some cases, and his field awareness was woefully lacking against the Packers.

He's still a mixed bag at this point in his development as a quarterback, not a savior. I'm not saying Kyle Orton's cautious style of play would have definitely won that game at Green Bay, but I am saying Cutler's mistake-filled performance definitely helped the Bears lose it.

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