Welcome to the NFL, year 2006.
Yesterday had some almost thrilling finishes. But let's start with the shutouts.
This didn't surprise me as much as it apparently did a lot of other people. The margin was certainly more than I anticipated. But I thought going in that the Steve McNair pick-up over the summer was probably the move of the off-season, giving a generally strong Baltimore squad the final piece it needed. The Ravens already had a lot of the pieces to contend and acquiring Air-McNair, who showed he can still play, will make Baltimore an intriguing player this year. The only question about Baltimore in my mind was I think they probably should have parted ways with Brian Bilick in the offseason. A number of commentators think he lost the team last year and was burned out. At the same time, maybe with everyone healthy and led by a good quarterback, continuity at coach was the way to go.
And oh yeah, the Bucs sure were bad.
Another non-surprise. Probably going to be a very long season on the frozen tundra. Mike Francesca of the New York-based NFL Now program yesterday morning--before the shutout loss no less--identified Farve as probably a detriment to this team. He's always been a gun-slinger but now there's no one in Green Bay to tell him "no", and the Hall of Fame quarterback has adopted the attitude that he'll just go out on the field and do whatever because he's his team's only chance to win. And this is essentially a recipe for disaster on the field and in the locker-room. Francesca also suggested Farve might be delt to a contender that loses its quarterback. Interesting times.
Of course when a team wins 26-0 and shuts out a Hall of Fame quarterback for the first time in his illustrious career, it's unfair for any analysis to focus on the defeated team. But we knew the
Bears were pretty good, maybe even very good on defense and special teams. But their offense, Rex Grossman in particular, really responded. Having genuine QB competition in camp in the form of Brian Griese may have added some urgency as well as some options to the Chicago offense. Da Bears should win this division by next week.
Let's look at the almost nail-biters.
The Cards led 31-21 with under a minute to go but Alex Smith led the Niners down the field, put them in field goal range and with 34 seconds kicked a field goal--and odd choice I thought until the Niners went with the onside kick, recovered it and provided enough time for Alex Smith to chuck a couple into the end zone. Cards held on to win as the final pass was batted down in the end zone with 0 seconds left. Earlier in the day a Phoenix-based correspondent noted that where the Cardinals were concerned, this was probably as close to a must-win Game 1 as has ever existed--at home, new stadium, new players like Edgerrin James, and a bad opponent. They escaped with the win. But seemed like Alex Smith had a big day and the Alex Smith era has probably just been inaugurated in the windy city.
A tale of two halves. Cowboys looked pretty strong in the first half and the Jags looked confused, as Joe Buck and Troy Aikman pointed out in the booth. But the 'Boys only had a 10-3 lead to show for it, and the Jags suddenly awoke at the end of the half to tie the game, took the ball and passed it down the field to open the third quarter and take the lead 17-10, and then went ahead in the fourth quarter with another well-executed offensive drive, 24-10, with less than two minutes to go. But the Jags prevent defense allowed Drew Bledsoe to march down the field with a first play pass of 51 yards (all of it through the air) and then a nice pitch and catch to T.O. in the end zone. But then Dallas botched the on-side kick and that was that. Bledsoe had a bad day, three picks, although the last came in the desperate moments on the last play.
One interesting thing about this game was that two calls were reversed on challenges, and in neither was there anything resembling "conclusive evidence" that the original call was wrong. The last of these was on the second to last play of the game when Bledsoe threw a third interception but the Jags player was ruled to have dropped the ball, giving Dallas the ball back. And nowhere in the instant replay could you clearly see the ball out or even coming out. No mine, Dallas got the ball back and Bledsoe threw another interception.
Some are calling for Tony Romo in Dallas to replace Bledsoe. Bledsoe was pretty critical for Dallas last year. They probably would have been competing for the first pick in the draft without him, but he's easily flustered into making bad plays, and probably won't stay the starter for long with more days like he had yesterday.
Other items of interest...Peyton won the Manning Bowl as the Colts slipped by the New York football Giants...Eric Mangini opens with a win in Tennessee as the Jets beat the Titans but Mike Nugent, a second round pick last year who kicked well last year missed an extra point and two cheapy field goals making this closer than it should have been.