1. San Francisco (1-0). Thanks to three touchdowns from the least-appreciated quarterback-running back combo platter in football, Alex Smith (211 passing yards) and Frank Gore (112 rushing yards). The 30-22 win over Green Bay didn't seem that close.
2. New England (1-0). The rookie cavalry for the D -- end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- came up big. They're players.
3. Houston (1-0). Does J.J. Watt have a big impact every game he plays, or is that just my imagination? Another 1.5 sacks and three passes deflected against Miami. Incredible for a 290-pound, 3-4 defensive end.
4. Green Bay (0-1). Not jumping off the Packers bandwagon just yet, but tempted. They have lost the last two games by a combined 25 points.
5. Denver (1-0). It's not a dream. Peyton Manning really was that good, 129.2-rating good, in his first real game in 20 months. Really agree with Tony Dungy: The Broncos waited too long to use the no-huddle. Peyton Manning should live in the no-huddle.
6. Dallas (1-0). I'm not sure the offensive line is going to hold up, but I know one thing about one of the 2011 weakness that killed last year's team: These Cowboys can cover.
7. Atlanta (1-0). Two points in a game, as happened in the playoff debacle at the Meadowlands last January? Not going to happen with this crew, and this offensive playcaller (Dirk Koetter). All of a sudden, the Denver-Atlanta Monday-nighter next week is the Must See TV Game of the Week.
8. Baltimore (0-0). Excited about seeing the Ravens hurry-up offense tonight.
9. New York Jets (1-0). How cool is this: Tim Tebow was in the game on the first play of the season, a second tight end. But we never saw the full monty with Tebow, because as offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said afterward, why empty the ideological saddlebag when you don't have to? (Actually, "ideological saddlebag'' is mine. Don't you just love it?)
10. Washington (1-0). This seems low. Tenth? If the 'Skins didn't let the Saints have a prayer late, they'd be a few slots higher.
11. Chicago (1-0). It was only nine times that Jay Cutler found Brandon Marshall against the Colts, but it seemed like 19. Every time I looked up, there was Marshall making Colts miss.
12. New Orleans (0-1). Mulligan. But it's not a good sign for Steve Spagnuolo and the new defense, surrendering eight scoring drives and 464 yards to a rookie quarterback.
13. New York Giants (0-1). Jints' regular season record over the last 20 games: 10-10.
14. Detroit (1-0). Sloppy opener, but maybe the Rams are better than we think. The Lions are going to have to be much better Sunday night at Candlestick.
15. Pittsburgh (0-1). Even if Ben Roethlisberger didn't gift-wrap that pick-6 to Tracy Porter, I didn't like the Steelers' chances to go the length of the field in the last couple of minutes to win. But that's not a disastrous opener for the Steelers. Roethlisberger played well, and the Steelers got good contributions from the wideouts and from an unknown back named Jonathan Dwyer. Kid runs very hard.
Offensive Players of the Week
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver. "I don't how Peyton's neck is doing, but his brain's doing fine,'' Cris Collinsworth said on NBC with about five minutes left in a game. It was a vintage Manning game. He controlled the defense with his eyes, cadence and movement back and forth from the line, using the play clock as effectively as ever. He's had better days than his 19-of-26, 253-yard, two-TD, no-pick performance, but this wasn't about the numbers (even though he did join Brett Favre and Dan Marino as the only quarterbacks ever to throw 400 touchdown passes). It was about the maestro back with a new orchestra, and performing beautifully.
Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets. Didn't seem like it'd be Sanchez's day after he threw a stupid early shovel-interception, but he rebounded to throw three touchdowns, complete 70 percent of his throws (by far his best number of the day, considering he completed 57 percent last season) and move the chains for 266 yards. And he kept Tim Tebow on the sidelines for much of the day. Tebow didn't throw a pass. Excellent performance by a player facing the most pressure of any other opening-day quarterback.
Defensive Players of the Week
Tracy Porter, cornerback, Denver. Eight tackles, five deflections and a 43-yard game-sealing interception return for touchdown in the Broncos' 31-19 win Sunday night over Pittsburgh. The Broncos paid Porter $4 million for one year of his services, and I daresay he earned most of that before midnight Sunday.
Ronde Barber, free safety, Tampa Bay. In his 200th consecutive start for the Bucs, Barber, transitioning to safety, had an interception and a sack in the stifling defensive performance against Cam Newton and the Panthers. I think I'm going to be writing about this amazing player when I'm 75.
Dr. Z Unsung Man in the Trenches of the Week
In honor of my friend Paul Zimmerman, the long-time Sports Illustrated football writer who has been sidelined since November 2008 after suffering three strokes. Zim still is fighting to come back from the strokes, but can't write yet, nor can he speak well. A former college and semi-pro offensive lineman, Zim always thought we in the business concentrated too much on the pretty boys and not enough on the men on the lines who did the real hard business of football. Thanks to many of you for suggesting this new category in the column. I'll use it all season.
Nick Sundberg, center/long-snapper, Washington. Zim would love Nick Sundberg, who took a helmet in the left forearm in the second quarter of Washington's game at New Orleans, breaking the forearm for the second time in his life. It also happened in high school, about an inch higher. "I just had to keep telling myself it didn't hurt,'' Sundberg told me from the Redskins' bus to the airport after the 40-32 upset of the Saints. "We really didn't have anybody else. I've always told [special teams coach] Danny Smith I'm never coming out of the game anyway, no matter what happens to me.''
After the break, Sundberg, a third-year undrafted free agent from Cal, had the arm wrapped and snapped six balls to the punter and holder the rest of the game -- flawlessly. How exactly does one snap a ball on a line to a kicker or holder with a broken arm? "Well, it was my guide arm, my left,'' he said. "So if it had been my right arm, the arm I use to snap, I would have been in trouble. I was able to guide the ball through my legs and get it back OK.'' If you say so.
Special Teams Players of the Week
David Akers, K, San Francisco. At the end of the first half, his 63-yard NFL-record-tying field goal bounced over the crossbar, giving the Niners a nine-point lead. Three field goals got him off to a good start defending his NFL scoring title.
Jeremy Kerley, WR/PR, New York Jets. After catching Mark Sanchez's first touchdown pass of the year in the first quarter, Kerley took back the first punt for touchdown by a Jet since 2002, a 68-yard dream-weave through the Bills' entire punt team. The Jets are really going to need him.
Greg Zuerlein, K, St. Louis. New special teams coach John Fassel, son of Jim, was told to go find a kicker before the draft this year, and his choice was a kid who started his career at Nebraska-Omaha and finished it at Missouri Western. The Rams picked Zuerlein in the sixth round, and in his debut Sunday, he repaid the faith. Four of his six kickoffs were touchbacks in Detroit, and he had field goals of 48, 29 and 46 yards without a miss.
Blair Walsh, K, Minnesota. Walsh, in his first real NFL game, went 4 for 4 in field goals, forcing overtime against Jacksonville with a 55-yarder at the Metrodome and then winning the game with a 38-yarder in overtime.
Coach of the Week
Greg Schiano, head coach, Tampa Bay. The Bucs were last in the NFL in points allowed last year, and last against the run. In two games against the Panthers last year, they gave up 86 points. But they've bought into Schiano early, and held Carolina to 10 yards rushing and 10 points at the Pirate Ship. One game's too early to say the rah-rah stuff is going to work in the NFL, but discipline is discipline, and organization is organization. And Kellen Winslow and Brian Price, casualties under Schiano, haven't landed anywhere, have they?
Goat of the Week
Mario Williams, DE, Buffalo. You can excuse a preseason of no production, because no one cares about the preseason. But no team had the kind of crisis the Jets had at right tackle in the preseason, dumping starter Wayne Hunter in favor of the untested Austin Howard, and on Sunday, Williams got nothing done playing across from Howard. This much of nothing: one tackle, zero sacks, zero quarterback hits. A pathetic opening display for a man who will make $40 million over the first two years ($1.18 million for his no-show Sunday) of a six-year, $96 million deal.
This was the first football weekend in 27 years that Hines Ward has not been either playing a football game, practicing to play a football game, or rehabbing from an injury suffered in a football game.
His last such autumn weekend came in 1985, when young Hines, in fourth grade in Forest Park, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, didn't play football. Since then, it was three years with the Forest Park Dolphins youth team, one season at Babb Middle School, four seasons at Forest Park High, four seasons at Georgia, and 14 seasons in Pittsburgh.
"Half my life ... three quarters of my life. Amazing,'' he said Friday, prepping for another day in his new job analyzing the game for NBC. "What's amazing is how it flew by. I'm a kid, playing, then it seems like I'm in Pittsburgh, just trying to earn a roster spot. And I got so much out of it. No one loved football more than I did. But now, I've got this new life, and I've got to work hard at it. It's definitely going to be weird, but it's OK to hang up the shoes and move on.''
"Oh man, I gotta get out of Cleveland.''
-- Eagles quarterback Mike Vick, after throwing four interceptions (it should have been five, but for a drop by a Browns rookie linebacker on the game-winning touchdown drive) at Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday and barely surviving. Philadelphia beat the Browns 17-16 on a four-yard touchdown pass from Vick to tight end Clay Harbor with 78 seconds left.
"It's like we were making up for lost time."
-- Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, after the Jets put up 48 points on the Bills Sunday and routed Buffalo. New York was easily the most pathetic offensive team in the league in the preseason, not scoring a touchdown in the first three preseason weeks.
"I'm still feeling my way out. I still have some limitations."
-- Peyton Manning, after the victory over Pittsburgh.
What would those be, exactly?
I did enjoy the graphic our game guys used at NBC, the one that showed Manning throwing a sideline route, pre-surgeries, at 49.7 mph, and the same type of sideline route this summer at 47.6. His ball looks to be slightly less of the 100 percent perfect spiral it was three or four years ago. But the accuracy, and the way he fits it into small areas looks the same to me.
"We have 12 plays on the wristband. The terminology is the same as we used in New Orleans. The kids said, 'This looks hard.' But I said, 'I've seen your homework. That's a lot harder.' And they've done a great job with it.''
-- Sean Payton, who is working as an offensive assistant coach on his 12-year-old son Connor's football team in suburban Dallas this season while serving a season-long suspension for his alleged role in the Saints' bounty program, in an interview with Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Payton was referring to the offensive system he has installed on the team, and how the quarterback is given a wristband with 12 plays he can call, depending on Payton's direction.
Tennessee running back Chris Johnson's tweet on March 3: "Statement is I'm gonna lead the league n rushing this year save this."
Tennessee running back Chris Johnson's stat line in Sunday's opener: 11 carries, four yards.
Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, at that pace, would have to play 402 games this fall to win the rushing title, if it takes the same number of yards, 1,606, to win the rushing title this year as last year.
I beg you, Delta Air Lines and LaGuardia Airport. Please fix the insane asylum that is Terminal C and D, and the Marine Air Terminal, at the airport. For the unfamiliar, here's how it works if you've got a Delta flight at LaGuardia. Delta is at Terminal A (the Marine Air Terminal), Terminal C and Terminal D. When you approach the airport, the Delta Shuttle (flights to Washington and Boston) operate out of Terminal A. The other flights operate out of Terminal C or D.
If you print out your boarding pass a couple hours before your flight and head for the airport, you'll usually have the gate number on the boarding pass. If not, God help you.
Let's say you're not from New York, and you're just in town, and you have to catch a plane out of LaGuardia on Delta. Cab driver says to you, "Where to?'' You say, "LaGuardia. Delta terminal." Cabbie wonders if that's the Marine Air Terminal, Terminal C or Terminal D. You don't have your boarding pass. So you don't know. You approach the airport, and there should be some signage on site, telling you where your flight is flying out of. Nope. No idea.
And if you guess Terminal D, let's say, and it's Terminal C, you get through the rat's maze of security -- it's always long, because Delta is always busy -- and then have to get sardined into a bus downstairs for the ride to Terminal C. Or if it's the Marine Air Terminal, you've got a long ride on a different airport bus.
I mean, anybody at Delta ever hear of signage?
"Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year. 'Overreaction Monday.' ''
-- @RossTuckerNFL, the NFL analyst and former NFL offensive lineman, at 5:23 p.m. ET Sunday.
"Troy polamalu is the most instinctive safety in the history of the #nfl #pittsburghsteelers''
-- @merrilhoge, the ESPN football analyst and former NFL fullback, after Polamalu blitzed in the first quarter at Denver and tackled running back Knowshon Moreno for no gain.
"Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin''
-- @JonVilma51, Saints linebacker, after his one-year suspension was overturned by an appeals panel on Friday.
"The good news in all of this, is that I set up my fantasy lineups beforehand. So there shall be no excuses at this point."
-- @BMcCarthy32, from his hospital room Saturday in the Bay Area, recovering from a skull fracture after being hit with a line drive. When Niners linebacker Patrick Willis tweeted McCarthy some good wishes, McCarthy tweeted back: "Thanks buddy, I feel like I just got hit by you.''
"I miss newspapers. It's weird hitting a dog on the nose with an iPad. @4thandpain"
-- @AdamCarriker94, the Washington defensive end.
You're a good man, Carriker.
Sabres ruin Stamkos' return to Lightning with 3-1 win
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