WHAT I SAW, Wk 1 2012

WHAT I SAW IN WEEK 1, 2012

One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.” In other words, we all tend to overrate and underrate by seeing with our ears and overemphasizing statistics.  Each week I’ll give my own highlights of what I saw from the previous NFL week. – Blair Miller (Team records in parentheses include the week’s results.)       

( A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.)

Away from the game(s)

I SAW serious need to remind fans, the media, etc. of one thing:

THIS IS WEEK ONE.  IT’S JUST ONE GAME.

As NFL analyst Ross Tucker tweeted on Sunday: “Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year. ‘Overreaction Monday.’ ”

Too many teams experience reversals of fortune to place too much emphasis upon opening game performances.  Exaggerating the value of week 1 tends to create more embarrassment and/or awkwardness than it does sensible prognostication.  So throughout this week’s What I Saw there will be a list of exhibits – CHILL PILLS, if you will – cause for taking a cold shower before emotional outbursts force those of you without forethought to wet your jeans.

To make this point more poignant, the Parity Monster wreaked havoc again, with numerous close games and/or upsets for once-superior teams.  Philly and Detroit narrowly avoided being upset by teams expected to be bottom-dwellers this year, while New Orleans, Green Bay, the Giants and Pittsburgh all lost games that many thought they would win.  Hell, even what might be arguably the two worst teams in the league – Jacksonville and Minnesota – played into the first overtime game in regular season under the new rules.  (The new playoff rules last season were expanded to encompass the regular season as well.)  There wasn’t an abundance of big plays on offense – only three scoring plays from scrimmage went for 50+ yards on Sunday (Demaryius Thomas’ 71yd catch, C.J. Spiller’s  56yd TD run and Pierre Garcon’s 88yd TD reception) – but the majority of the games were close and exciting anyway.

Again, it’s week 1.  Hold your horses.  But what fun.  It begins…

I SAW what might be the biggest, most consistent problem with the replacement (read: scab) refs show itself more than once during the opening week.

Make no mistake: The scabs are covering the wound amply.  They’re making good calls – better ones than their preseason performances foreshadowed.

But…There were a LOT of angry players and coaches.  Why?  Because each referee group in any major sport develops habits and/or relationships with coaches and players that determine rules of convention as opposed to written rules.  Translation: Refs, players and coaches alike know well that there are certain calls that are “overlooked” and other calls that are “emphasized.”  But now there are new referees, looking at the NFL rules book through different lenses.  As a result, there is a shift in the definition of “gimme” calls and “gimme” no-calls.

Case in point: There were several offensive pass interference calls made in week 1 that would not normally be called.  That’s not to say that the penalties aren’t legitimate according to the letter of the rulebook, but those of you who read What I Saw last season are already aware that I equate offensive PI with travelling or non-charging calls in the NBA.  In other words, sure these plays are technically against the rules, but they are typically not flagged.  This weekend they were flagged more than often.

This is going to be the main conflict between coaches, players against the scab refs: No-calls of the past might now be enforced, and new no-calls will rear their ugly heads.  Think about it.  In each sport there is an unspoken understanding that certain things aren’t called as strictly as others.  If week 1 is any indication, there is a shift in this convention in the NFL.  So far, pass interference and holding calls are being called more to the letter than they used to be.  Surely this means that other previously upheld rules are being overlooked.  This will lead to a LOT of pissed off coaches and players who have been vigorously training for different expectations.

One BIG question: The officials and team representatives typically meet throughout the season to disclose aspects of the rulebook that referees will be focused on and that, thusly, teams need to prep their players for.  With all the labor chaos between the league and officials, are these meetings even happening?

I SAW more transparent bullshitting from the NFL commissioner and his owners when it comes to concern for player safety.

First: Jerry Jones said prior to Sunday on the radio station 105.3 The Fan that he’s in favor of an 18-game season.  That’s bad news for anyone (like me) who is against adding two regular season games, because Jones is part of the cadre of the more influential NFL owners.

Second: Already we have to deal with Thursday Night games so the NFL Network can make more money.  (I’d love to see a poll amongst wives and girlfriends about their feelings about this new change.)  Sure, let’s take two teams EVERY week, and force them to typically play 2 games in 5 days.  Yeah…no one will get hurt doing that.  (The dangers of this short rest are impossible to ascertain, especially since it could cause injuries in following weeks as fallout/buildup to subjecting bodies to this punishment.)

Please, guys.  Stop saying that concern for player safety is paramount – especially while trying to suspend players for bounty programs for which you seem to have insufficient evidence – when you are so gung-ho on pushing their bodies to the limits, the practice limitations in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement be damned.

I SAW the much-ballyhooed group of five rookie QBs starting on opening day perform to mixed results at best.  Griffin was the only winner of the quintet, and it was a stinkfest from there on out.  The other four QBs – Indy’s Andrew Luck, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden – combined for 11 interceptions in total.  Each one of those four losers threw 3+ picks with the exception of Russell.  But, in the name of maintaining a sound week 1 perspective, it’s hard to place too much on these games yet.

For one thing, the youth movement has worked in recent years:

MOST ROOKIE WEEK 1 PASS YARDS IN NFL HISTORY

  1. Cam Newton (2011) – 422
  2. Robert Griffin III (2012) – 320
  3. Andrew Luck (2012) – 309
  4. Peyton Manning (1998) – 302
  5. Jim Zorn (1976) – 292
  6. Mark Sanchez (2009) – 272
  7. Sam Bradford (2010) – 253

That’s not a bad list.  As you can see, 5 of the top 7 rookie performances from a quarterback in terms of yardage have come in the last 3 years, and the top three all-time have come in the last 2.  But for what it’s worth, these seven QBs went 2-5 W-L combined in their rookie openers (only RG3 and Sanchez won).

I SAW an early, overall CHILL PILL EXHIBIT A:

Passing offenses scored mightily in week 1. In fact, they scored 791 total points in the opening week, which is a record.  71.5% of yards gained were through the air – also a week 1 record.  Lastly, five teams put up 40-Burgers, an opening week record.

But wait.  This week also saw passers stink it up in terms of taking care of the ball, and that tends to matter more than yardage.  Nine QBs threw multiple interceptions during the opening week, and SIX pivots threw three picks or more.

Let this be a reminder that following in step with the current passing revolution only works if you have a smart, disciplined QB to execute consistently.  But it’s only week one.

I SAW that I am annoyed at the NFL Network Fantasy Show’s crew being allowed to co-op the set for the Roundtable show.  Don’t get me wrong – the fantasy crew works hard.  But it’s a crew of douchebags.  Keep them in the shit set they were in before.  It fits the fantasy vibe.

I SAW that this upcoming private meeting between league commissioner Roger Goodell and the recently freed suspension victims in the New Orleans bounty scandal is way too Law & Order.  (The players saw their suspension lifted, but the NFL can reinstate the suspensions – provided the league show ACTUAL evidence that the accused were involved in a bounty program instead of merely a play-for-play program)  Just tell me it’s gonna be more McCoy v. some decent ACTRA member instead of Vincent D’Onofrio playing some trumped-up video clip in front of the defendants…

I SAW the need for a brief pause/moment of silence for the loss of former NFL owner Art Modell.  Befitting of a pioneer of the magnitude of Modell, there has been an outpouring of well-written pieces on the impact – both beneficial and polarizing – that the former Browns and Ravens owner had on the NFL and how we experience the league today as fans.  I’ll leave the eulogies to those who know more about the early, pre-Baltimore Modell than I.  But it’s a tough loss to the football community.  Modell might be the most underappreciated owner the league has seen.

TNF-Dallas(1-0) wins @ New York Giants, 24-17

I SAW CHILL PILL EXHIBIT B:

Cowboys QB Tony Romo had a great night.  307 yards, 3 TDs, a 129.5 rating.  Very good.  But my Romophobia is well documented, and it’s tough to expect this success going forward.  The same goes for his receiver Kevin Ogletree (8 rec, 114 yds, 2 TD).  Both performances were more a product of an again already-decimated DB crew for the Giants.  It seems like the G-Men have entered every season over the last 4 years or so with half their pass coverage team injured.  This year is no different.  When CB Michael Coe went down in the third quarter with a bad hamstring it brought New York’s FIFTH-string corner onto the field.  It showed.  Most of the big gains Romo had through the air were due to blown and/or awful coverage by the Giants.  We’ll see how both sides progress throughout the year.

I SAW something frustrating go down when Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett all but confessed to lying about TE Jason Witten’s injury status during the postgame press conference.

Witten has had a lacerated spleen for several weeks now, and his status was iffy to say the least heading into Wednesday night’s opener.  But the elite tight end played, and played often.  After the game, Garret started to address Witten’s involvement by explaining that “it was a medical decision” as to whether or not Romo’s security blanket would play Wednesday.  To elaborate, Garrett explained that if Witten was cleared to play, he would.

Then something fishy happened.  When asked by a reporter when Garrett was informed about about Witten’s medical status, the head coach divulged that Witten was “cleared last [Tuesday] night.”

When pressed on the matter during the same postgame press conference, Garrett looked awkward, if not guilty, before sheepishly reiterating “it was a medical decision.”

Hold on….The medical decision was finalized the night before the game.  So why, then, did yahoo.com and NFL Network list Witten as doubtful all day Wednesday, up until the last pregame moments?  If teams can be penalized for falsifying injury reports (see Eric Mangini’s Jets), how doesn’t this qualify?  Let’s be real and refer to Jimmy Dix (played by Damon Wayans) in The Last Boy Scout, who asked why pro football is the main sport forced to release detailed injury reports – because of the immense wagering community tied to football.  So how does the NFL explain to a multitude of bettors that their game day wagers may have been based on false information given by Dallas?  It’s hard to find an excuse for this.  In fact, the Eric Mangini-coached Jets were fined for falsifying injury reports…

San Francisco(1-0) wins @ Green Bay(0-1), 30-22

I SAW the Niners make a huge statement to answer those who may have been uncertain if their success from 2011 would carry over to this year.  San Fran is now 7-2 on the road under second-year coach Jim Harbaugh, walked into Lambeau and pushed the highly regarded Pack around, and with a rare 11 starters back on what already looked like the best defense in the league last year, the sky’s the limit for this team at the moment.  No CHILL PILL needed.  I’m so high on this defense I’m willing to argue that even with the Packers’ frustration with their performance on offense, it may turn out over a month down the road that Green Bay played better on Sunday against that defense than anyone else.

In the same vein, not enough of a big deal was made last year about San Fran’s having allowed just 3 rushing TDs all last season – the 5th-lowest single-season total in history, and the lowest ever in a 16-game season.  This front seven is for real – especially do-everything DE Justin Smith and the linebackers (see below).  What’s more, the defensive backs make up the best all-around group in the NFL in terms of playing the pass and run equally well.  They fly to the ball, but still play an honest first-step read of the offense to avoid getting caught out of position.  Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio won’t be one of the more underrated coordinators for long because he’s helming the best unit out there.

I SAW CHILL PILL EXHIBIT C:

Niners WR Randy Moss. His attitude is so improved so far this year that he ran through every pattern I saw him run, and he blocked on run plays.  It would be the surprise of the year in the NFL if he kept that focus up for sixteen-plus weeks.  (That being said, as history has shown, Moss can still contribute prolifically while taking some plays off.)

I SAW Vernon Davis pull a national-TV oopsie-doodle after catching a TD in the third quarter to put SF ahead 22-7 over GB when he went to dunk the football over the crossbar but got rejected by the iron.  At least Davis had the good nature to laugh it off afterward on the sideline…(Was Davis still laughing later when we saw the highlight of 36 year-old Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez throw it down with ease against the Chiefs?)…The funniest part was hearing the bong! sound of the ball hitting the crossbar during the miked-up replay.

I SAW – nay, heard – the same ball-on-crossbar noise being made when Niners K David Akers used as much of the post as he could in just barely making an NFL-record-tying 63-yard field goal late in the first quarter to expand San Fran’s lead to 16-7

I SAW the replacements screw up on the 75-yard punt return TD by the Packers’ Randall Cobb, missing what to me looked like two illegal blocks one Green Bay – one call was very borderline, the other an obvious penalty.  What makes this especially galling is that the call wasn’t missed.  A flag was thrown and then picked up after a discussion amongst the officials.  This wasn’t the worst blunder by the scabs.  And let’s call the refs what they are – SCAB WORKERS.  (See: Arizona wins vs. Seattle)

I SAW, with a strong finish to ’11 and several pressures and rangy plays to start this season, San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks seems to be coming into his own.  That means the Niners have 2 Pro Bowl-level ’backers in Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis, three total LBs than can cover the whole field when you add Brooks, and a young sack specialist rounding out the starting group with the terror Aldon Smith.  That’s the best linebacker quartet in the league.  By far.  Speaking of Bowman….

I SAW PROPS for Niners LB Navarro Bowman.  The third-year All-Pro has been given the middle linebacker duties in San Fran’s nickel package.  This is an especially demanding position, requiring a lot of ground to be covered, potentially on multiple levels of the defense.  Sure, Bowman is capable of meeting the demands of the position, but in doing so one of the best ’backers of his generation – Patrick Willis – gets sent to the sideline whenever the 5-DB formation gets used.  Never thought I’d see that – not this early in Willis’ career.  It’s no slight on him; Willis is still the man.  Rather, it’s PROPS to Bowman and his impressive play.

I SAW Packers QB Aaron Rodgers lead his team in rushing yards – on 5 attempts.  That’s not going to cut it, Green Bay.

I SAW that despite how disappointed he was in the outcome after the game, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers still looked impressive – especially on the run.  He and Tom Brady are the most able, and willing – don’t underestimate the focus and discipline needed to do this every time – at moving their feet and getting their shoulders square before throwing on the move in order to better ensure that hard-thrown balls don’t sail upwards on them.  This serves as yet another reminder that discipline is everything for quarterbacks.

I SAW the Packers line up WR/KR Randall Cobb in the backfield on numerous plays, giving him one-on-one matchups with linebackers or strong safeties on passing plays.  That’s video-game unfair.  Cobb made 4 receptions in a key drive late in the first half moving around the formation in such a manner.  It was really the only thing that consistently worked for Green Bay on offense, so expect to see it again this season.

I SAW Niners QB Alex Smith set a franchise record by throwing 185 consecutive passes without an interception.  I don’t care how much of his own Kool-Aid SF head coach Jim Harbaugh has guzzled in order to support his quarterback so vociferously.  I still don’t see Smith as a consistently good QB.  Nevertheless, it’s worth pointing out that three Hall Of Fame quarterbacks have played for this team, and all of them were lauded for their accuracy and decision-making: Y.A. Tittle, Joe Montana and Steve Young.

I SAW the making of an interesting rematch of last year’s Handshake Game (head coaches Jim Harbaugh v. Jim Schwartz) next Monday Night: Niners host the Lions.

Washington(1-0) wins @ New Orleans(0-1), 40-32

I SAW Heisman-winning quarterback, second overall draft pick and 22-year old starter Robert Griffin III show great talent and poise while going into the Superdome in New Orleans and handing the NFC South champ Saints their first loss there since the 2010 season.

In an attempt to downplay the Redskins rookie QB’s cool nerves, some noted that RG3 had “grown up” in ’Nawlins.  It was the third city Griffin lived in during his early years, and by the time he was seven his family settled down in Copperas Cove, Texas, so it’s doubtful he benefitted from an overwhelming sense of familiarity due to the location of his first pro game.

Either way, if the Baylor product was tense, he hid it like Cary Grant.  In fact, he was so “tense” he was reportedly marching with the band during warmups.  (According to NFL Network’s pregame crew.)

After the pomp and circumstance preceding the game, Griffin – under the direction of the Shanahans’ first truly inspiring job of play-calling since coming to the Redskins (Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle, are Washington’s head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively) – looked about as good as he looked last year at Baylor, turning in a virtuoso short-game performance en route to the highest QB rating of week 1 (139.9.  Griffin also started off the game going 7-for-7).  From the outset, RG3 and the ’Skins offense pounced on the Saints D with a bevy of misdirection plays, perhaps the most influential of which being the zone read option run plays.  In these plays, the QB uses what is commonly called a “ride fake.”  The ball is held against a running back’s midsection with both hands while the QB watches a defender to read which direction that opponent will choose to pursue.  (Sometimes multiple defenders are read for angles taken, but it tends to be one read.)  Depending upon said defender’s behavior, the QB will either complete the handoff and allow the RB to take the pigskin, or he will keep the ball himself and run with it.  When run effectively out of shotgun formations, this play should, in theory, work every time.

(Sure, this is the sort of thing Tim Tebow did last season in Denver and as such is considered old-school.  To be sure, the base concept – the ride fake and read – is older than colour TV.  But the real movement behind re-popularizing this style with a gifted enough QB is actually the more pass-oriented spread option offense, which was brought into favor in the college ranks – first by head coach Urban Meyer at Bowling Green and Utah before his two BCS Championships at Florida, and, ahem, spread around like wildfire by other coaches like Mike Leach when he was at Texas Tech, and Chip Kelly with Oregon.)

Overall, Griffin played within his skills and what the scheme was asking of him, which is often the last/hardest thing for a young player to be able to do.  If – if – he can do that consistently, Griffin should be something special.  No CHILL PILL EXHIBIT here.  It’s too easy to envision Griffin continuing to play well.  He may even improve if he can integrate the long ball (literally none of RG3’s passes were deep throws downfield).  But that’s not to say the New Orleans defense shouldn’t be locked in the film room for a few days over this game…

I SAW CHILL PILL EXHIBIT D:

Okay, the Saints defense get handed its hat Sunday.  Not only did they seem poorly prepared for Washington’s offensive game plan but after an opening drive full of option read plays and short, lateral attacks from the ’Skins, New Orleans ate it up like undisciplined mice and on the very first play of the very next drive flowed to a play fake en masse and allowed Robert Griffin to connect with WR Pierre Garcon for an 88-yard catch-and-run touchdown.  The Saints’ pass defense was out of sorts all day.

But will it stick?  Despite their bad reputation last season, new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s Rams team of ’11 ranked 7th in the NFL last year against the pass.  New Orleans has been banged up at linebacker – namely with Jonathan Vilma, now on the PUP list Monday, and Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne nursing bad ankles.  It’s too early to get too worried about the long-term fortunes of the Saints D, but Sunday sure didn’t look good.

I SAW that the Saints missed suspended head coach Sean Payton.  He wasn’t missed as much in the offensive category as he was in the slapping-players-into-focus category.  New Orleans’ body language looked stunned and/or frustrated virtually all second half, and that’s the sort of thing an elite motivator like Payton tends to nip in the bud.  Saints QB Drew Brees will indeed be able to handle keeping the offensive play execution in check, and he’s the soul of this team (think of what Ray Lewis is to the Ravens), but he can’t keep the team focused for sixty minutes on top of that.  There will be more moments like this to come, when many will see how underrated the attention Payton has from his players truly is.

I SAW CHILL PILL EXHIBIT E:

The aforementioned Griffin-Garcon score is the longest pass play for a TD in an opener by a rookie QB in 14 years.  Though it’s likely Griffin isn’t a bust at all, that’s one stat to take with a huge bag of salt.  Why?  For one reason, the old record was set in 1998….by QB Charlie Batch to WR Johnny Morton for Detroit.  That worked out really well.

I SAW PROPS for Saints QB Drew Brees when hit TE Jimmy Graham for New Orleans’ first TD of the game. It marked the 44th straight game in which the quarterback had thrown a touchdown pass, inching closer to the Great Johnny Unitas’ record of 47.  That capital “G” on great is no typo, and Brees’ streak should be more publicized.  That’s a record much more hallowed than the present-day passing-anaesthetized fans and media seem to be able to appreciate thus far.

Detroit(1-0) wins vs. St. Louis(0-1), 27-23

I SAW a cool teacher-mentor matchup Sunday, between head coaches Jeff Fisher (STL) and his former defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz (DET).  If you ask me, the teacher won – even in a loss.  Fisher made much more out of lesser personnel.

I SAW that the Lions had better get their shit together for next Monday night against the Niners…

I SAW Lions QB Matt Stafford join the interception-riddled crowd of throwers in opening week, with 3 picks of his own.  For some time, I wasn’t sold on the Georgia product.  Then last year had me believing.  Then, after that 5,000-yard season in ’11, I read in the Sports Illustrated 2012 season preview that Stafford is only five months older than Miami’s rookie QB, Ryan Tannehill.  Jesus.

Philadelphia(1-0) wins @ Cleveland(0-1), 17-16

I SAW 8 total interceptions in this game.  Gahhhhh.  Philly had to pull out this game near the end, in large part because…

I SAW that Eagles QB Michael Vick is still too emotional.  He was jovial in the miked- up pregame sequences aired during the halftime show the next day on MNF.  Then the Philadelphia quarterback became rabid-angry as he started to screw up and admonish his offensive cohorts.  Then, to his admission, he needed consoling from teammates once the interceptions started to mount up. (He ended up with 4 picks, and it could have been 5.)  Had Philly not regrouped to squeak out a win with a four-yard touchdown pass from Vick to tight end Clay Harbor with 78 seconds left, what emotional state would Number 7 be in right now?

At the age of 32, it’s time for Vick to mature.  Or maybe it’s too late.

I SAW a 28-year old rookie quarterback get swallowed up by America.  Browns septegenarian rookie QB Brandon Weeden got hilariously stuck under a US flag when the army did what the army often does – rush blindly and run over a friendly – by jogging out to spread a giant US flag across midfield before the game and accidentally trapping an oblivious rookie pivot while he was warming up.  (It took a league cameraman to help Weeden out from under it.)

The moment seemed to foreshadow Weeden’s awareness skills, because afterward he started the game and proceeded to be stuck under his own ineptitude, heaving up four interceptions en route to a 5.1 rating.

I SAW the Browns defense stand up and jaw with the Eagles offense.  Cleveland’s D has a tough stretch ahead of them with CB Joe Haden now suspended four games for a substance abuse violation, but you’ve gotta like the swagger.  And they put their money where their mouths were too.

I SAW Philly’s S Kurt Coleman get trucked by rookie Browns RB Trent Richardson.  Coleman’s helmet went flying on impact to finish a play that is already being shown ad nauseum on highlight reels.  That’s what happens when you stand there, squared up and waiting for contact against a bowling ball tailback, Coleman.  Make a hit, don’t expect one.

I SAW business as usual for the Browns: They have now lost their last 7 season openers, the longest such active streak in the NFL.

New England(1-0) wins @ Tennessee(0-1), 34-13

I SAW business as usual for the Patriots: They have now won their last 9 season openers, the longest such active streak in the NFL.

I SAW CHILL PILL EXHIBIT F:

It’s no secret that Titans RB Chris Johnson is a crucial element of the Tennessee offense.  Johnson rushed 11 times for 4 yards against the Patriots defense Sunday.  Second-year QB Jake Locker was the Titans’ leading rusher in the game, with 2 carries for 11 yards.

Wow.  That’s Ugly.  Popeye Jones-ugly.  But Johnson IS the guy nicknamed CJ2K for his 2,000-yard rushing season in 2009.  That name might need some amending if he keeps on disappointing his fans and teammates (not to say fantasy owners).  But at this point, for all we know, this disastrous output is due to a rejuvenated New England defense….

I SAW CHILL PILL EXHIBIT G:

As just mentioned above, the Patriots defense kept Titans RB Chris Johnson under wraps all day.  Remember though – this was one of the worst defenses in history in terms of passing yards allowed last season, so Pats fans need to temper their expectations – at least for now.

One good sign, though, came early in the second quarter when New England’s first pick in the ’12 draft, DE Chandler Jones, got to Titans QB Jake Locker and stripped him of the ball.  A fellow Pats rookie, LB Dont’a Hightower, scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a TD to make it 14-3 for New England.

Both Jones and Hightower were first round picks for the Patriots this year, and they are both talented enough to help lead a renaissance for the once-proud defense of head coach Bill Belichick.  Let’s not get too excited yet – their combined 10-tackles, 1 sack and 2 tackles for a loss isn’t terribly impressive.  But they played better than those stats, with good discipline and anticipation.  Early returns on the two first-rounders are solid.

I SAW Pats QB Tom Brady throw his 301st career TD pass, moving him past John Elway into fifth all-time (he added another to Gronkowski in the second quarter).  To those in the Brady vs. Manning argument: Manning threw his 400th and 401st TD pass against the Steelers Sunday night.  Just sayin’.

New York Jets(1-0) win vs. Buffalo(0-1), 48-28

I SAW a game full of CHILL PILL EXHIBITS….

I SAW CHILL PILL EXHIBIT H:

Jets QB Mark Sanchez looked really good.  But at first he looked like the same Strugglepuss who has somehow been named The Sanchize en route to driving the Jets brass nuts last season.  On New York’s first possession of 2012, Sanchez rolled to his left and when he got close to the sideline he tried a panicked and ugly shovel-thing of a forward pass to try and, I don’t know, make the worst of a bad situation?  S Bryan Scott intercepted the mess.  Nothing came of the gaffe, though, as the Bills were forced to punt on the following series and Sanchez put that moment behind him in a big way.  For the rest of the game the USC product played better than he has since his two relatively mistake-free playoff games after the ’10 regular season.  His feet were calm, he was looking receivers off, and he put throws were where they need to be.

The trade for Mr. Do-Everything-But-Consistently-Throw-Well (Tim Tebow) could have one of two extreme consequences on the psyche/performance of Sanchez.  Either the pressure imposed by the most looming backup in league history (sorry, Steve Young) could cause Sanchez to fold like a tent, or the fourth-year pivot could finally reach the level of focus he needs after having the forty-something Mark Brunell pose no threat to Sanchez’s job security during the early years of his career.  Sunday looked like the latter.  But it’s one game.  Sanchez has fooled us all more than twice.

I SAW CHILL PILL EXHIBIT I:

It was an uneventful missionary trip by Jets QB/Messiah Tim Tebow into New York Sunday.  He had little chance to build his congregation with just 5 rushes (11yds), 0 pass attempts and 1 hilariously poser-ish hook pattern as a decoy after lining up as a slot receiver on the first play from scrimmage of the game.

Fear not, Tebowites.  The lack of involvement from your prized and beefy funboy was simply due to how unexpectedly early the Jets took the Bills out to the woodshed.  N.Y. offensive coordinator Tony Sparano admitted that once the game was out of hand he shelved any cute Tebow plays so as not to tip their hand for future opponents.

I SAW – no, wait…I DIDN’T see Bills DE Mario Williams at all.

At the eleventh hour of the preseason, the Jets unloaded their disappointing right tackle Wayne Hunter for nothing-man Austin Howard.  It was a desperate move that represented something less than a solution at that position for New York.  Williams should have been salivating at the chance to go up against Howard.  Instead he must have smoked some salvia instead.  (salvia divinorum…it’s the new millennium – google it)  Williams terrorized the expectations of Buffalo fans all afternoon, piling up one tackle, and nothing else – not even a QB hit.  6 years, $90 million to pay for Super Mario dying by running straight into a Koopa…

(This was close to being another CHILL PILL EXHIBIT, but the ballsless performance by Williams deserves more legitimate recognition than that.)

I SAW CHILL PILL/EXHIBIT J:

Bills RB C.J. Spiller’s day – 169 yards rushing that came largely in relief of injured Fred Jackson.  It’s too early to tell if the credit should go to the suspect nature of the Jets defense coming into this season or Spiller himself.  At any rate, Buffalo’s gong to need Spiller to shoulder the load for a while…

I SAW Buffalo RB Fred Jackson take a hard hit on the outside of his right leg from Jets S LaRon Landry.  The Bill’s leader is down for apparently at least 3 weeks (knee).  And WR David Nelson is now out for the year with a knee injury of his own.  That sound you’re hearing in the distance is the collective groan in oft-tortured Buffalo.  Hey – at least you hear it in the distance.

I SAW two defensive units with a lot of expectations on them combine for 0 sacks the whole game…

Atlanta(1-0) wins @ Kansas City(0-1), 40-24

I SAW Falcons QB Matt Ryan starting to play like the quarterback that most everyone already said he was….

I SAW Falcons WR Julio Jones play with a mixture of position-winning size and pattern-winning speed that was ironically reminiscent of his counterpart on Sunday – Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe.

I SAW CB Brent Grimes go down for the year with an Achilles injury suffered while covering Dwayne Bowe.  We’ll see if that affects the Falcons D-especially in the nickel.

Arizona(1-0) wins vs. Seattle(0-1), 20-16

I SAW the worst mistake made by the scab refs so far (and let’s hope it’s the worst one to come too, but who knows).  During a last-ditch comeback drive, the officials awarded the Seahawks a fourth timeout, somehow forgetting and/or not realizing that injured players within the final 2 minutes of a half cost their team a timeout (Seattle had such a thing happen moments prior to the timeout gaffe and were not charged one).  Really?  That’s a rule most fans whom I associate with are aware of.  The worst part about it was that there was en extended period of discussion between the refs, the booth(s) upstairs and some other NFL employee who came out on the field in a blue t-shirt.  With all that deliberation, how can such a thing be screwed up?  I don’t even want to imagine the shitstorm that would rain on the league if such a mistake costs a team a victory (luckily, Seattle was unable to capitalize).

One thing I can’t shake is this: At this point the whole year will be full of worrisome officiating, no matter what.  Justified or not, the scab refs will always be on a short leash in the eyes of fans.  They should be judged fairly.  However, sports referees are seldom – if ever – judged fairly, even when they aren’t scab workers.

(WHY aren’t more people pointing out that this is basically what they are: scab workers?)

The no-win situation for fans lies in the other possibility – the regular refs striking a new deal with the league and returning to work.  They will essentially be challenged in the same ways that players who have held out for a new contract are, with no preseason to get in game shape physically, mentally and visually.  (Digesting the speed of the NFL is something that cannot be replicated visually, and it too must be practiced.)  It’s easy to say that refs make bad calls every season, but this is an unwelcome extreme possibility of such.

I SAW – and it kills me as a Michigan guy – that Seahawks WR Braylon Edwards should’ve caught that tough ball on a slant pattern on Seattle’s last chance of the game.  It was good coverage, but when any ball hits you in both hands, you have to catch it.  At least it avoided a scab ref debacle (see above).

Chicago(1-0) wins vs. Indianapolis(0-1), 41-21

I SAW Bears fans wringing their hands very early on in the ’12 season as Chicago QB Jay Cutler started out 0-for-8 – including an awful pick-6 to LB Jerrell Freeman in Chi-Town’s own red zone to spot the Colts an early 7-0 lead.  Cue Cutler’s patented sourpuss face.  But the cannon-armed Bears quarterback regrouped nicely to lead his team to their highest point total in three years with a forty-burger (41pts.) – in no small part thanks to a solid running game in the red zone.

Some will say that Indy stayed with the Bears for too long, but this is the NFL.  Having a 10-point lead on anyone at halftime, no matter which team it is, is a good sign.  Just ask the Lions and Eagles if they want to give back their squeaker wins against lesser opponents.

Tampa Bay(1-0) wins vs. Carolina(0-1), 16-10

I SAW CHILL PILL EXHIBIT K:

Last season Tampa Bay’s defense allowed the most rushing yards per game in the NFL (and the most points scored).  Midway through the third quarter on Sunday, the Bucs had held the Panthers (3rd in rushing in 2011) to -1 net yards on the ground.  Carolina went on to finish with 10 yards rushing in total – a franchise low since 2007.  Again, it’s too early to know which team is more responsible for the outcome, but either way the Tampa D-line was destroying the Panthers’ hogs.  There wasn’t even a trench left to battle over the moment after most snaps, when the point of attack was well behind Carolina’s line of scrimmage.

I SAW PROPS for 37 year-old S Ronde Barber in making his 200th straight start for the
Bucs, all of which before Sunday had been at cornerback.  That is truly amazing.  The only player in NFL history with 25+ sacks and 40+ interceptions celebrated the two-century mark with – you guessed it – a pick and a sack against Cam Newton.

Minnesota(1-0) wins vs. Jacksonville(0-1), 26-23(OT)

I SAW the first OT played under the new rules.  More to come.  Give up on this halfway amendment and adopt the college style, NFL.  Wake up.

I SAW a preseason of fake props that was poured on Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert get flushed down the shitter as he struggled against last year’s 26th-ranked pass defense.  (How much does Jared Allen alone improve that team rating?)

The pinnacle was on 3rd-and-2 in overtime, when Jacksonville needed at least a field goal to keep the game alive.  The Vikings blitzed, making RB Maurice Jones-Drew the “hot read” (the term used to describe a player who is wide open in a short-to-medium space vacated by a blitzing defender).  MoJo was wide open.  Any hot read should be the first thing a quarterback looks for.  Instead, Gabbert appeared not to even notice Jones-Drew and proceeded to throw a ball toward a blanketed WR Laurent Robinson that was knocked down by Minnesota, forcing a fourth down and, on the next play, a 4-and-out OT loss for JAX.

That read progression for a professional quarterback is rudimentary at best.  Hell, that read is rudimentary for a college QB.  It’s a good thing Gabbert has Chad Henne immediately behind him on the depth chart.  Even then, the second-year pro had better get basic stuff like hot reads down if he wants to keep taking snaps in games.

I SAW Vikings RB Adrian Peterson go for 84 yards and 2 touchdowns only 254 days removed from microfracture surgery on his knee.  I have to admit: I was annoyed that the franchise would risk Peterson’s health with an opening week performance.  But then I realized that rehab seems to evolve faster than the speed of a 40 time.  Doctors must have deemed him safe to play – Minny simply has too much moolah tied up in All Day to be cavalier about his health – and that means an injury that used to damn mere NBA players (see: Penny Hardaway and Chris Webber) is just another challenge for today’s NFL guys.  Weird.

I SAW a potential – potential – emergence for Jaguars WR Cecil “Don’t Call Me Cargo” Shorts.  Shorts put in a better-than-jorts performance as Jacksonville’s leading receiver.

Houston(1-0) wins vs. Miami(0-1), 30-10

I SAW this week’s Sarcastic No, Really?? Result:

Houston throttling a severely outmatched Miami team.

I SAW nothing much else to report here.  If you think Texans RB Arian Foster got banged up because of his vegan diet, you’re as dumb (if not dumber) than Merril Hoge (see: Denver wins vs. Pittsburgh).  If you think the details of Texans QB Matt Schaub’s contract extension are worth perusing, google it.

SNF-Denver(1-0) wins vs. Pittsburgh(1-0), 31-19

I SAW the Steelers start their ’12 season in the same place (Denver) that they had their season taken away from them less then a year ago.  Pitt lost again, only to a much more arm-endowed QB than in last year’s playoff defeat….

I SAW the great Peyton Manning look sharp in his first game in almost 20 months.  If there’s still rust to be banged off his game, Manning and Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy are hiding it well.  The former Colt looked like his old self most of the time, improving his record against the elite defensive coach Dick LeBeau to 7-1, and posting a 129.2 rating.

But there was one small, teeny-tiny sign, just to nitpick on the most scrutinized position in the sport.  There were whispers among opposing scouts during the preseason that Manning has trouble driving the ball (read: keeping it low) on throws to his right.  Throwing far and hard to the same side as one’s throwing arm is, after all, the sort of throw that requires more strength than most other throws.  There were times in the preseason – primarily against the Seahawks – where Manning’s throws to the right side of the field were wobbly and too high.  There weren’t any throws like that Sunday night, but there were just a few tosses to that side that indeed fluttered more than the others.  Something to keep an eye on, if nothing else because some defenses might roll their safety help to that side a bit more to test Manning.  I say do so at your own peril.

I SAW Manning show no discomfort with surveying the field in his return.  Witness the moment in the second half when Manning and Polamalu engaged in a pre-snap poker match, Polamalu showing blitz twice and in two different gaps only to have Manning pull a “you think so, huh?  Gotcha” fresh set of audible calls.  As everyone accepts after watching the Broncos QB do this countless time as a Colt, Manning might not be changing a thing.  Who knows?  But what his patience-infused gesticulating did during this Sunday night moment was allow his linemen and backs a chance to identify the blitz and prepare for it.  Fun to watch.  Polamalu seemed so sheepish by the time he lined up the second time, over the left guard, like an exposed hustler holding a pair of two’s.

I SAW cause to ask: Anyone else think Polamalu was already on the oxygen mask in the first quarter in Mile High because he wanted to try and get high?

I SAW CHILL PILL EXHIBIT L:

Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer looked solid against the Denver defense.  For instance, near the end of the third quarter, the third-year back out of Georgia Tech (where they run the triple-option offense) scratch and scampered for the edge on what was initially ruled a TD but was overturned because Dwyer’s knee was down prior to crossing the goal line.  Nevertheless, Dwyer showed an ability to run hard, minimizing the number of cuts he needed to get upfield throughout the game.  That could be a good sign for Pitt while Rashard Mendenhall continues to recover from knee surgery.  But keep in mind that the Broncos defense ranked 22nd against the run last year, so the jury’s still out on Dwyer.

I SAW an early nominee for one of TFQ’s Upside Down Awards, awarded after the Super Bowl: College Paper-Wall-Weak Blocking Award

(You know when college teams come out of the tunnel and burst through a paper banner?  Often offensive linemen or whole O-lines end up barely sufficing as such while getting torn apart by defensive fronts.  This dubious distinction is for the paper-thinnest protection offered an NFL QB in 2012.) 

Mike Adams, OT, Steelers

Pittsburgh has been trying to avoid playing Adams since the coaching staff realized their second round pick this year is far from pro ready.  But injuries forced the Ohio State product into action.  The result: Broncos rushers running through, by and around Adams with the glee of a college freshman standout coming out of the tunnel.  When they really needed him in the final 2-minutes to attempt a comeback Adams looked more like Morticia Adams while he gave up a sack and a half.  Good luck dealing with that all season, Ben Roethlisberger.

I SAW deja-vu all over again when Broncos CB Tracy Porter snagged another clutch pick-6 off of another lazy pass thrown by a QB lazily staring down his receiver, who ran a lazy route.  This time, though, Peyton Manning was on the same team, as opposed to making said undisciplined throw when his Colts lost to Porter’s then-team, the Saints, in Super Bowl 44 when Porter did the same thing to Peyton to seal the win.

That 43-yard INT return wasn’t all Porter did on Sunday, though.  He added 8 tackles and 5 deflections.  Five!  Damn good game for the guy bookending the great CB Champ Bailey on the other side.  There’s another guy Manning is happy to see on his own side: New Denver defensive coordinator (and former Jaguars head coach) Jack Del Rio.  Del Rio’s defenses used to give Peyton fits.  Now, if Porter can play steadily for the season, Del Rio will be able to better use his talented front seven to give other QBs fits.

I SAW ESPN analyst (and former FB) Merril Hoge tweet this during the game:

“Troy polamalu is the most instinctive safety in the history of the #nfl #pittsburghsteelers”

First of all, that’s a stupid, stupid thing to say.  How much have you analyzed the safeties of the early 1900s to help you out with this, Merril?  Not enough, I’d bet, since NO ONE can, let alone the fact that quality of instinct is too hard to determine from viewing film.

Second of all, I, on the other hand, have witnessed plenty of Merril Hoge analysis and really need no other further research on the history of analysts to, in reaction to that carless exaggeration, say that ESPN Analyst Merril Hoge is the second-dumbest, silliest and most ignorant analyst in the history of the NFL.  (Don’t worry, Mike Ditka – I got your back.  And, yes, that DOES mean Hoge is dumber than Mel Kiper Jr. and that kid that used to be on Fox.  He’s that dumb.)  It’s those kind of emotional, non-conscientious brain farts that long-ago neutered the credibility of Hoge’s viewpoints.  He’s gotta go.

Third, Hoge’s statement only comes close to accuracy if what he means is that no other player in NFL history depends on instinct more than Polamalu.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He’s out of position because of his instinct more often than that same sixth-sense enables him to make great plays.  In fact, if he didn’t bail himself out with big plays, the media and his coaches wouldn’t let him get away with all the in-between freelance coverage he gets entranced in.

I SAW that although NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders can get caught up in his own jibberish too often, he was on point when he said, on NFL Network GameDay Final, that Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger “has a unique ability to NOT throw the ball on time.”  For better or worse, Big Ben is the most consistent play-extender in the NFL.  What I love about Big Ben is that he knows this, and thus fosters a very complicated relationship with his O-linemen because he knows he makes their job harder by stretching his passing windows to the limit.

I SAW Steelers CB Ryan Clark spend another game in Denver on the sidelines.  Clark has a sickle cell trait that renders him susceptible to serious health risks at high altitudes.  The Pittsburgh DB started experiencing intense pain in his side during a game in Denver in ’07 and was rushed to a hospital, where he had to have his gall bladder and spleen removed as a result of his body’s reaction to the thin air.  As an obvious precaution, Clark has been deactivated for every Steelers game played in Denver since (3 non-preseason games in total).  I’m sure if Todd Akin – the now-infamous republican senate candidate for Missouri – is a Steelers fan he’s wishing Clark was a woman and could thus play in these games despite the health risk.  After all, a woman’s body can probably just shut down and prevent that sort of thing…

I SAW that next up for Denver is Altanta. Huge Monday Night Football game.  You’ve gotta love it when a national night game gets better than it looked this early in the season.

I SAW Broncos QB Peyton Manning (yep, still weird to type that) throw his 400th career TD to Demariyus Thomas for 71 yards Sunday night (Peyton added another in the 4th quarter).  Manning’s the third QB to reach the milestone after Dan Marino and Brett Favre and is the fastest to get there.  To those in the Brady vs. Manning argument: Brady threw his 301st and 302nd TD pass against the Titans Sunday.  Just sayin’.

MNF-Baltimore(1-0) wins vs. Cincinnati(0-1) , 44-13

I SAW that all of the hype – especially from  SI.com’s Peter King over the last few weeks – over the Ravens running a no-huddle offense was well warranted.  Baltimore QB Joe Flacco looked as comfortable and confident as he ever has, being able to dictate situations to defenses, as opposed to the other way around.  Dare I say this is the way to help any QB capable enough to handle the psychological responsibility that the position demands.  Oh – and for what its worth it looks like it’s breathed life into WR Anquan Boldin as well.

I SAW Ravens safety Ed Reed haul in a tipped Andy Dalton pass and return it 34 yards for a TD to make it 34-13 for Baltimore in the third quarter.  The play gave Reed 1,497 INT return yards for his career, passing Rod Woodson for most in NFL history.

Reed is Ball Yoda.  It just goes to him like he guides it with his hand.  If someone were to tell me it was a natural law that all tipped balls in a Ravens game automatically find Reed’s hands, I might believe it.

I SAW that Ravens LB Ray Lewis IS a machine.  (Cue the NFL Films Lewis soundbite “I’m a machine, jerk!”)  the 37-year old ’backer lost about 20 pounds in the offseason to help him adjust to the new offensive style(s) taking over the game.  Did it work?  Hard to tell, since Ray-Ray has been doing whatever he wants for 223 games as a pro.  Lewis had 14 tackles (11 solo) and a sack Monday night. No big deal; just solidifying his position as the best all-around linebacker of all time.

MNF-San Diego(1-0) wins @ Oakland(0-1), 22-14

I SAW what still suffices for the most mind-boggling stadium surface in the league when the Raiders and Chargers had to run over the areas of dirt infield from baseball games played by the Oakland A’s who share Oakland Alameda County Coliseum with the Silver & Black.  Really?  That’s bush league, O-Town.  I’m surprised the players aren’t forced to wear single-bar facemasks while playing on such an outdated hybridized surface.  Apart from the clear safety issues (‘Hey guys, ‘wanna play some football on bare earth?  Anyone?), it’s just weird.  I mean, it’s the Raiders!  Spend some coin and get out of that stadium.  Then I checked the Forbes list, and Oakland is valued at $785 million – 30th-most valuable in the league.  Whoa.  Awkward…Well, it’s still unsafe.

I SAW – nay, felt – the most uncomfortable halftime ever.  Jesus, ESPN.  Fire Suzy Kolber’s hairdresser.  The more-than-capable Kolber looked like her hair had been styled by Homer Simpson’s makeup gun.  (The double-barrel shotgun he loaded with Marge’s makeup during his brief ambition to be an inventor.)  It made her look SO spooky-evil.  My soul felt intimidated whenever she was on camera in the studio.

I SAW…..wow.  The Raiders rolled their opening night away when Pro Bowl long-snapper Jon Condo got hurt during a play and backup long-snapper Travis Goethel had to relieve him.  There was no relief.  In replacing Condo, Goethel proceeded to bowl a few snaps to his punter Shane Lechler that gave San Diego the ball in Oakland territory.

Apparently Goethel hasn’t long-snapped in a game since high school.  Does he practice it?  I hate to do this (really; player salaries should be judged proportionately to the profit that they as the commodity bought and sold bring their employers), but Goethel is making $1,893,000 over 4 years…

…So this well-paid backup long-snapper doesn’t practice his snaps enough?  That’s either bad coaching or bad discipline or both.  That’s like someone playing a lesser role in a play, then being an understudy too – without memorizing the lines.  (“Hey, Lou, you’re playing Guildenstern and who?”  “Hamlet.”  “You got his lines down?” “Naw.  Haven’t read ‘em.  He’ll be fine…”)  Come on.  You can bet Goethel is practicing long snaps right now.

[Writer’s note: I’ve since heard non-verified accounts that Goethel “volunteered” to do the long snaps and had not been designated as such.  Does this mean that Oakland had no backup in place?  What if Hamlet breaks a leg?  If it’s true, it’s even more embarrassing.]

STAY TUNED FOR TFQ’S ‘WHAT I SAW’ EVERY WEEK DRUING THE NFL SEASON, INCLUDING THE PLAYOFFS

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