Week 1 brought many fresh starts, but not everyone took advantage
Plaxico Burress had a good start in repeating Michael Vick's post-prison success
Darren Sproles thrilled as a Saint, while Reggie Bush disappointed in Miami
Cam Newton got the headlines, but Kevin Kolb delivered the win for Arizona
We're invariably drawn to the storylines that involve the concept of second chances and second career acts in professional sports, and the NFL in Week 1 provided numerous examples of players who were starting over, either with a new team in a new city, or under the auspices of a new coaching staff that offered them a clean, blank slate.
Some took that fresh start and ran with it, and some, not so much. Here's a Week 1 scorecard of those players who began the process of relaunching their careers, and those who were seen wearing a new uniform but producing the same old disappointing result:
Plaxico Burress -- You can't really talk career renaissance this season without starting the discussion with Burress, who is attempting to re-trace the Michael Vick post-prison comeback of the past two years. That's obviously a high bar of expectation to meet, but Burress is off to an impactful start to his Jets career, catching a 26-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass that helped boost New York to a comeback of its own. Burress had four catches for 72 yards and that score -- all in the second half -- in the Jets' 27-24 conquest of Dallas on Sunday night, his first regular season game since serving a 20-month sentence for illegal gun possession.
Ted Ginn Jr. -- Now that's what the Dolphins had in mind when they drafted Ginn ninth overall in 2007, just ahead of prospects like Patrick Willis, Darrelle Revis and Lawrence Timmons -- difference-making plays with the game on the line. But Ginn's fourth-quarter heroics on Sunday came on behalf of San Francisco, where he's starting his second season, and first under new 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. Ginn's 102-yard kickoff return touchdown quelled a Seattle comeback after the Seahawks had closed to within 19-17, and his 55-yard punt return for a score less than a minute later provided the dagger.
Darren Sproles -- How can the New Orleans Saints ever re-pay the San Diego Chargers for their generosity over the years? First, the Chargers let Drew Brees walk, and now Sproles is welcomed into the ranks of Saint-hood as well. The seventh-year running back/return man made a smashing debut in New Orleans' 42-34 season-opening loss at Green Bay last Thursday night, finishing the game with 250 total yards on 13 touches (seven catches for 75 yards, two rushes for 7 yards, two punt returns for 92 yards, and two kickoff returns for 76 yards). Sproles' 72-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter kept the Saints in the game when it looked like the Packers would blow their doors off.
Rex Grossman -- We saw Plenty-Good-Enough Rex on Sunday in Washington, with Grossman seizing the starting opportunity he surprisingly earned in the preseason and not letting go of it in an impressive 28-14 Redskins upset of the visiting Giants. Grossman started a shaky 0 of 4 in the game, but then completed 21 of his final 30 passes, for 305 yards, with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a snazzy 110.5 passer rating. It's hard to believe considering his Super Bowl season of 2006, but it was just the fourth 300-yard passing game of Grossman's nine-year career, and the performance forced us to start viewing him as a legitimate No. 1 quarterback again.
Cadillac Williams -- Lost amid the disappointment of all the Rams' injuries and their humbling 31-13 homefield defeat at the hands of the Eagles was the return to form of Williams in his first game with St. Louis. The former Bucs lead running back took over early for an injured Steven Jackson and wound up with a team-high 91 yards rushing on 19 carries, with five receptions for 49 yards. Those 140 yards of total offense led all running backs in the game, and made the Rams look smart for going out and signing Williams as a free agent at the start of training camp. With Jackson nursing a quad pull, the Rams could be riding Cadillac for the foreseeable future.
Kevin Kolb -- Cam Newton got the screaming headlines and the highlight clips, but let's not forget it was Kolb who got the win in his highly-anticipated regular season debut with the Arizona Cardinals. Kolb wasn't perfect, but his 18 of 27 showing was good for 309 yards and two touchdown passes, and his 11.44 per pass attempt was the NFL's highest in Week 1. Arizona paid Kolb like a star even before he proved he deserved such treatment, but the Cardinals got some early return on their investment with scoring passes of 70 and 48 yards, matching their total of 40-yard-plus pass plays for all of 2010.
Donovan McNabb -- Has anyone in recent memory suddenly lost more luster off their resume than McNabb, who put up a statistical line in San Diego that seemed like it had to be a typo, but wasn't? In an NFL that's more wide-open in the passing game than ever, McNabb somehow managed to play an entire game and throw for just 39 yards (7 of 15 with one touchdown and one interception) in the 24-17 loss to the Chargers, a game the Vikings actually led 17-7 into the third quarter. Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb both started and won their games in Week 1, but McNabb, the one-time Eagles franchise QB, looks like a shell of his former self.
Chad Ochocinco -- On a night when Tom Brady threw for a team-record 517 yards (fifth-most in NFL history), the Patriots' big-name receiver managed just one catch for 14 yards, with Brady only targeting him three times on 48 attempts in the 38-24 win at Miami on Monday. Ochocinco actually should have been in negative yards for the game, because it was his rookie-like illegal formation penalty that cost New England a 41-yard completion to tight end Rob Gronkowski in the first quarter. Without that flag, Brady perhaps would have broken Norm Van Brocklin's NFL record of 554 yards passing in a game. For now, Ochocinco remains an afterthought in the Patriots' high-flying offense.
Reggie Bush -- The ex-Saint had a few exciting moments against New England, but nothing we haven't seen before. His 11 carries for 38 yards rushing won't change anyone's mind about his potential to fill the role of Miami's lead running back -- just not happening -- and his nine catches for 56 yards and one touchdown weren't difference-making on this night. After watching his replacement in New Orleans, Darren Sproles, explode on the scene for the Saints in Thursday night's opener at Green Bay, Bush didn't exactly hold serve with his prime time showing.
Shawne Merriman -- Not that the Bills needed much from him to squeak past the reeling Chiefs 41-7 in Kansas City, but the injury-prone veteran outside linebacker barely made an appearance on the stat sheet in his Buffalo regular season debut, recording just one lone tackle. Merriman briefly left the game early on with what appeared to be an arm injury, but later returned. Not that anyone really noticed.
Matt Hasselbeck -- The numbers say Hasselbeck played pretty well in his Titans debut (21 of 34 for 263 yards with two touchdowns), but the reality is his ugly, final-minute interception cost Tennessee a chance to win. Trailing by just two points and maybe 20 yards shy of a potential game-winning field goal try, Hasselbeck got greedy and unwise, heaving up a jump ball deep down the left sideline that only Jaguars cornerback Dwight Lowery had a chance to catch. Lowery hauled it in at the Jacksonville 20, and that was the ballgame. It was the kind of inexcusable mistake you don't expect from a 13-year veteran quarterback.
Derrick Mason -- The Jets found a way to beat the self-destructing Cowboys 27-24, but with little help from the ex-Ravens receiver. Mason and New York quarterback Mark Sanchez don't seem to be speaking the same language just yet, and Sanchez's riskiest throws against Dallas seemed to be aimed in Mason's direction. He caught three passes for just 19 yards, but that's minimal impact considering Mason was on the field for 43 snaps in his New York debut.
Braylon Edwards -- The former Brown and Jet gets the chance to start over in San Francisco this season courtesy of fellow University of Michigan alum Jim Harbaugh. But the new 49ers head coach didn't get much payback from Edwards in the win over Seattle. Edwards had a polite three catches for 27 yards, with the lone highlight being a 12-yard completion in the fourth quarter that provided San Francisco with its first third-down conversion of the game after an 0-for-9 start.
A few more random thoughts before we close the book on Week 1 ...
If you're not scoring at home, the eight new head coaches in the NFL went a combined 2-6 in their first games, with only the Bay Area contingent of Harbaugh in San Francisco and Hue Jackson in Oakland coming out on the winning end. With the Raiders facing Denver and new Broncos head coach John Fox on Monday night, at least one new head coach had to win his debut.
It's impossible to prove what effect the lockout had on the new coaching regimes around the league, but Cleveland, Tennessee, Denver, Minnesota, Carolina and Dallas all came up short and struggled to various degrees.
When I'm watching Kyle Orton play quarterback, I can't help but think I'm watching the league's modern-day Steve DeBerg, who was once aptly described by his head coach, Bill Walsh, as "just good enough to get you beat.''
You know who really had a good first week of the season? Washington head coach Mike Shanahan, and his son, Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. For one thing, quarterback Rex Grossman went out and validated their decision to start him over John Beck, who they both are truly high on. And secondly, everything they said about McNabb's shortcomings in Washington last season looks a little more accurate in light of No. 5's desultory debut in Minnesota.
I refuse to believe the Colts can play as badly all season as they did in Houston, but watching them against the Texans was like finding out the man behind the green curtain pulling all those levers (that would be Peyton Manning) really was the one making the whole thing work all these years.
Speaking of quarterbacks -- and when aren't we? -- if you really still believe Tony Romo is destined for greatness in Dallas, you want to believe for the sake of believing. Romo will never be an elite quarterback in this league until he stops making inexplicable game-losing mistakes like his two fourth-quarter turnovers against the Jets.
Romo is a lot like the Cowboys themselves. Both of them have much better reputations than their performance deserves. Both Romo and the franchise still benefit from the cache of the Cowboys brand, even though they've done little lately to add value to it.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: That fast-break style of offense they've got in Philadelphia is truly breathtaking, and you could enter the Eagles in the Penn Relays and they'd probably win it. But if the Eagles don't start protecting Michael Vick more, the track team is never going to reach Dream Team status. Vick was sacked three times by the Rams, and hit several more times. He'll never last the year if they don't limit the punishment he takes.
Is it just me being too old-school about things, or are the Eagles' playmakers entirely too caught up in their dance celebrations on game days? Sunday in St. Louis, I saw DeSean Jackson dance. I saw LeSean McCoy dance. I even saw Vick dance. Lots of self-congratulation for a team that hasn't won a playoff game since 2008.
Week 1 always reminds us how much we don't know, when we think we presume to have many things already figured out entering the new season. Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Kansas City all won their divisions in 2010. But in Week 1, those four clubs were beaten by 28, 27, 18, and 34 points, respectively, for an average margin of defeat of 26.8 points.
That new tight end in Carolina, Jeremy-Greg Shockey-Olsen, looks pretty good so far. He had seven catches for 129 yards against the Cardinals on Sunday, and that'll get it done.
Not a bad start for the left-footed kickers in the Bay Area, either. New 49ers specialist David Akers goes 4 for 4 on field goals and 3 of 3 on extra points in San Francisco's win over Seattle, and Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski booms an NFL-record-tying 63-yard field goal in the Raiders' Monday night win at Denver. "Seabass" finished 3 of 3 on field goals, all in the second quarter of the 23-20 victory, and was perfect on two point-after attempts.
For a guy who supposedly takes away half the field with his shut-down cover skills, Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha didn't have a particularly impressive debut against the Rams. He was matched up mostly against St. Louis receiver Brandon Gibson, who finished with three catches for a team-high 50 yards. Gibson, who has yet to be called an elite receiver, also drew a 41-yard pass interference call against Asomugha. That's reportedly just the ninth pass interference penalty collected by Asomugha in the past six years.
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