Week 1 in the NFL left plenty to chew on and a play to stew over
Opening week of the NFL season not without some controversy
Referees ruled correctly in Lions game but rule may need tweaking
Miscues cost Dallas; Seattle's in the Fine 15, plus more notes
NEW YORK -- As far as opening weekends go, the NFL's 91st was boffo. Not that all the games were terrific, but we got our first games-that-count glimpse of players and teams we've been speculating about for months. We found out Wes Welker is bulletproof, Randy Moss has a mad-on, the Steeler D is back, the seat's getting warm for Eric Mangini, the Texans can beat the Colts, Chris Johnson and Arian Foster were born to run, and the Redskins need to thank Dallas for some dumb coaching decisions, including the simple act of allowing Alex Barron to play Sunday night. And, in the grand tradition of the Tuck Rule, there's the matter of a catch America thought was a catch that apparently wasn't.
The story lines:
The rule's a dumb rule, but you can't ask officials to take the law into their own hands. At NBC on Sunday night, Tony Dungy made a terrific point, asking how can the Lance Moore Super Bowl two-point conversion pass be a good catch -- he barely had control of it before breaking the plane of the goal line, then losing control of the ball -- when a much surer Calvin Johnson catch Sunday in Chicago is ruled no good? Dungy's right. The disparity in the two calls is striking and makes fans and the public look at Sunday's ruling and say it's nonsense.
"I caught it, got two feet down and went to the ground,'' Johnson told me after the game. As he rolled over and was getting up, he flicked the ball away; it's a close call as to whether it was a continuous motion that ended with him losing the ball. Johnson said he felt the play was clearly a touchdown. But his coach, Jim Schwartz, didn't complain because he knows the rule from the NFL digest of 2010 rules: If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control, and the ball touches the ground, the pass is incomplete.
I think we'd all agree the Competition Committee needs to tweak this rule because no one can watch that replay and say Johnson's possession is debatable or marginal.
I'm taking a bow for my only good fantasy football advice. Ever. I did tell the world to pick Arian Foster no later than the third round and was roundly Tweet-jeered for it. Turns out I vastly underrated him. Maybe Foster shouldn't have gone in the third round; maybe he should have gone in the top three picks.
His 231-yard rushing day broke a six-game Texan losing streak against AFC South kingpin Indianapolis. All but 40 of those came in the second half, and as he told me after the game, the most important two of happened on fourth-and-one, 10 minutes left in the third quarter, with the Texans hanging on to a 13-10 lead. "I looked each one of my linemen in the eyes and said, 'This is the play that's going to define us,' '' Foster said. Right tackle Eric Winston and tight end Owen Daniels got good seal blocks, Foster made two yards, and Houston finished the 15-play drive with a touchdown.
Wes Welker's just fine. In January, Welker shredded his ACL and damaged his MCL in a game at Houston. Thirty-one weeks ago, the NFL's receptions leader since 2007 had the ACL repaired. And Sunday, he caught two touchdown passes from Tom Brady in the Pats' decisive win over Cincinnati. "It's not heroic,'' he told me. "Rod Woodson once had an ACL early in the season and came back to play in the Super Bowl.''
He might get an argument from the Foxboro crowd about the heroic part. Welker's legend grew as he went in and out of cuts effortlessly Sunday, with his same elusiveness. "It's not sore at all,'' he said of the knee. "Just a little stiff.''
Thank you, Alex Barron. The stories coming into Sunday night's Dallas-Washington all centered on the 'Skins: Donovan McNabb's debut, Mike Shanahan's debut, Albert Haynesworth's petulance. By the end of the 13-7 Washington upset, the irreplaceable Redskin was their defensive coordinator, Jim Haslett, whose schemes tormented the Cowboys all night. Oh, with an assist to backup Dallas right tackle Barron, who belongs in the stands selling beer, not on the field charged with protecting Tony Romo.
Barron had three holding penalties in the game's last 31 minutes, including one that nullified the winning touchdown pass by Romo to Roy Williams. According to footballoutsiders.com, Barron's 78 penalties since the start of the 2005 season are the most in the NFL. Amazingly, Barron started his last two holding calls by corralling Brian Orakpo around the neck ... not even a semblance of trying to block him properly.
The return of Vick the Quick. It's not possible the Kevin Kolb Era opened and closed on the same day, is it? With trusting coach Andy Reid in charge, no chance. But the last time Michael Vick both threw and ran for 100 yards in one game was Oct. 1, 2006, against Arizona; he did it Sunday in two-plus quarters, running for 103 and throwing for 173 in the 27-20 loss to Green Bay. "Michael was magnificent,'' Reid said. With Kolb knocked out of the game with a concussion, Philly's starter for next week at Detroit isn't certain, though Reid said it'd be Kolb if he's able to go. Good thing it's not a home game.
Chris Johnson isn't kidding: He wants 2,500 rushing yards. "Of course it's a realistic goal,'' he told me after his 142-yard rushing day led Tennessee to a rout of the Raiders. Maybe so, but even after putting up 142, he's behind the pace he needs to set. He'd have to average 157 yards a game to exceed 2,500. The only way, realistically, a runner could do that is to run the ball at least 400 times and have a coach who would throw him a bone by letting him stay in the game in blowouts. Sunday was Johnson's 32nd regular-season NFL game. He's averaging 105.5 rushing yards per game. Don't get your hopes up, but Emmitt Smith averaged 78.1 yards rushing per game in his first two seasons.
Bay Area gray area. The 49ers are supposed to win the NFC West. The Raiders are supposed to not be awful. Sunday's combined score: Foes 69, Teams From Northern California 19. "I want to tell Pete Carroll, 'Thank you very much for kicking our tails,' '' said San Francisco coach Mike Singletary. Huh?
Mike Williams (the Seattle one) grows up. "I'm 26 now,'' Williams said after his first NFL start in three years Sunday, Seattle's rout of the 49ers. "The game's a little more important to me now than it was when I first came in the league.''
Absence from the game made the 6-5, 233-pound Williams' heart grow fonder. His poor practice habits and laissez faire approach to games got him canned from the league after only seven starts over four frustrating years; he'll always be known as one of the receivers Lions GM Matt Millen has on his NFL résumé -- or tombstone.
I asked Williams if he'd seen Millen or any of the Detroiters responsible for taking him high in the 2005 draft. "I'm not sure they'd want to talk to me,'' he said. But Pete Carroll, his old college coach, gave Williams a last shot this summer, and the 'Hawks liked how he played so much that they cut rich free-agent T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The four-catch, 64-yard performance Sunday by Williams was only the third 50-plus-yard game of his career. Watching his route-running Sunday, he appears to be a big target with fluid movements of a man four or five inches shorter. Could be a great find.
Darrelle Revis is a great player ... and a news magnet. When I set up a Saturday interview with Darrelle Revis last week, I did it with the thought of asking what's it like trying to be the best corner in football without the benefit of more than a week of practice before tonight's opener with the Ravens. Which I did, in some detail -- and you'll read about in a couple of paragraphs. But my NBC partner, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, was preparing an interesting item for his site Saturday on his belief that Revis was sure to hold out in two years in the same way he just did.
Revis will make $32.5 million in the next two seasons combined, then $13.5 million combined in 2012 and '13. The contract is written that if Revis holds out, the final three years of the deal, 2014-16, would kick in. But Florio's theory, which I agree with, is if Revis held the Jets hostage this year with three years left on his deal, why wouldn't he do it again with five years left if he demonstrated consistently he was the best corner in football this year and next?
So I asked Revis about it Saturday afternoon before our Notre Dame halftime at NBC. "That's a great question,'' he said. "If I continue to play ball like I usually do, we'll probably be back at that same position we were this year.''
Maybe. But I think it's just as likely the Jets will address the Revis deal in 2011 and not wait 'til the next incendiary holdout date. For one, the contract calls for Revis to get an $18 million roster bonus on the day after the first game of the 2011 season. Assuming Revis has a very good 2010, that gives GM Mike Tannenbaum next offseason, when the labor situation will be clarified at some point, presumably, to permanently amend the Revis contract.
The Jets will not only have the clarity of the labor deal on the table, but also will know if the Raiders exercise the very rich third year of current cornerback-salary leader Nnamdi Asomugha or release him. If Oakland cuts Asomugha, that means the Jets will be right -- the deal was an aberration, with no other corner except Revis approaching the money Asomugha made in two years. And who knows? Maybe Revis will choose to not renegotiate the contract and simply play out 2011 because of the huge balloon payment. But I've got to think he doesn't want to incur the wrath of his team and his fans with a second holdout in two years. Just a thought.
Back to football. Until last week, Revis hadn't had pads on, or contact, since January. Can an elite athlete at a skill position like corner return to the intense, physical environment of an NFL opener -- particularly against one of the game's most physical teams -- with no training camp?
"What does my body say to me?'' Revis said, repeating my question. "I have been working out, but working out and football -- being on that field -- they're totally different things. I was running, doing some drills, working out against a couple of guys before they went to UFL [United Football League] training camps. To be honest, it wasn't like working against Chad Ochocinco in a game. It was more like Brett Favre going to the local high school and throwing to high school receivers ... So when I came back this week, I was a little rusty, trying to get back into the flow. I have picked it up and feel a lot better after the last two practices. I am a fighter and a hard worker. I will do what I need to do to be prepared. Most of the game is mental.''
I also wondered about the pressure Revis will have on him. Last year he was an ascending player whose importance to the Jets rose as the weeks went by. But his profile is such now that he can't possibly live the life he used to. He's a big star now, like his coach, the reality-show star, and his quarterback, a glamour guy from Southern California.
"There's no pressure on me,'' he said. "Just play the best football I can. I look forward to competition. I have always thought there was a bull's-eye on me. People want a piece of me? That's fine... You can't listen to the negativity. I just have to cover great receivers the way I know how.''
He's right: Playing great shuts 'em all up. Act 1 is tonight in the Meadowlands.