By: Chris Dagonas
Cee-Lo Green’s introductory take on “Hey, Ho, Let’s Go!” by The Ramones? Very clever. Well done NFL Network, well done! And with that, we kick off our dissection of Week 2 of NFL action. Let’s Go!
On Thursday night, the Green Bay Packers woke up and realized the regular season had started. This was a classic NFC North matchup, and even though it’s still mid-September, these teams played it as if it were taking place in December. Lots of running plays, and the defenses were for the most part in charge of this one. Aaron Rodgers managed to play pretty well despite missing Madden’s toughest player, receiver Greg Jennings. Running back Cedric Benson also showed signs of life, and may have some success this season (despite his ‘old-for-a-running-back’ age of 30) behind a superb offensive line as a compliment to the high-powered Packers’ passing game. Also, Jay Cutler just seems like a brutal teammate. He never wants to accept responsibility for his own inconsistent play, always looking to blame coaches, teammates, referees, or beer vendors. Say what you will about Tony Romo, but he knows his limitations far more realistically than Cutler does. To be honest, this was a fairly mundane game, the second in a row for the Thursday Night Showcase game. I hope that the NFL included a flex option for some of the later Thursday nighters, because it’s getting hard to justify Friday morning hangovers with these first two snore-fests.
The first wave of games on Sunday afternoon again featured lots of high scoring. Buffalo, Carolina, Cincinnati, and Miami(!) all topped 30 points, and in a schoolyard-type display of defensive ineptitude, the Giants and Buccaneers combined to score enough points to beat the Toronto Raptors (41-34 in favour of the Giants). Eli Manning threw 510 yards, which is good enough for the third most in a game since the year 2000. Hakeem Nicks (fantasy team!) and Victor Cruz jogged up and down past defensive backs all game. Sidebar: Did you know that Bucs’ cornerback Ronde Barber still plays in the NFL? His twin brother, Tiki, former Giants’ running back, retired six years ago! Ronde, at the age of 37, looked every day of it against the Giants young, quick, powerful receivers.
As for my Miami Dolphins, I can’t help but feel like the proud father of a four year old who has learned to read. This was a big win, not just numerically, but also psychologically, as this season has been predicted by critics as one of the worst we will ever likely see in recent history. Meanwhile, thanks to Grantland’s Bill Barnwell, I have maintained a flimsy hope for positive growth from the ‘Fins this year. Much like the aforementioned four-year-old putting vowels and consonants together into words, it may be a long time before these Dolphins resemble NFL football players, but today, it felt like they just read their own name. Reggie Bush, to be specific, steamrolled the Raiders D-Line, not to mention their linebackers and secondary, and put together a massive game. Ryan Tannehill managed the game efficiently, but much like I mentioned last week with Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos, Miami’s offense is all about rushing the ball and controlling the clock. Since the retirement of Dan Marino, the Dolphins have always found nothing but trouble by trying to get QB’s who wanted to be gunslingers. Run it, take your time, play solid defense. That is how Miami will get back to the Jay Fiedler glory days. (That’s not sarcastic; I was a huge Fiedler fan.) Plus, the Patriots and Jets lost their Sunday afternooners, which puts the entire AFC East at 1-1. So, two games in, it’s anyone’s race.
What’s up with kickers these days? Man, I mean, they make league minimum to trot out on the field 5 times a game, and kick an oddly shaped ball through the goal posts in high pressure situations. Can’t anyone do that? Washington’s Billy Cundiff missed a 62 yarder that would have won the game for the Redskins, the very same distance that freak of nature David Akers nailed last week. Fine, that’s a tough one, but Stephen Gostkowski pushed his 42-yard attempt, a fairly routine distance, way wide and the Patriots fell to the Cardinals. Meanwhile, Adam Vinatieri, the Patriots’ ex-kicker, booted a 53-yarder to lift the Andrew Luck-y Colts past the Vikings. I’m sure Tom Brady is standing outside Vinatieri’s window right now, holding a boombox over his head, playing this song. (“Adam, it’s Tom again. Does Andrew rub your feet like I did? Can Andrew wingman for you as well as I did?”)
After 4:15, with the exception of the aforementioned Rams-Skins nail-biter, the games were blowouts. Seattle stomped all over Dallas, with the Cowboys displaying that consistent inconsistency (wait, what?) that has been their trademark since the Romo era began. Pittsburgh made the Jets look like they were the hosers from Winnipeg, not the Shrek-faced monsters they like to portray themselves as. Lastly, the San Diego Chargers squashed the Tennessee Titans, largely by eliminating the rushing potential of Chris Johnson and daring Jake Locker to beat them through the air. Surprisingly, he could not.
The Sunday night game between the Lions and 49ers carried some built-in intrigue, with this being the first meeting between head coaches Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh since last season’s handshake-and-backslap debacle. Was Harbaugh acting like a dick? Probably. Did Schwartz take it like a baby? Probably. But what would happen this time around? Would they just put on sumo suits and meet at the fifty-yard line for a pregame scuffle? Or would they go WWE style, no disqualification, special guest referee, ladder match to settle the feud? Actually, they just shook hands and probably laughed at all the ridiculous media hype. Meanwhile, they both coach excellent teams, with the 49ers were able to play a little more excellent-er. Having already beaten real contenders like the Packers and Lions, I can confidently predict that the 49ers are indeed the team to beat in the NFC. Their weakness in the past has been the play of quarterback Alex Smith, but he showed some real progress last night, calling audibles, using check-downs, throwing to back shoulders and generally doing the type of stuff that Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have done their whole careers. If he is able to evolve his game to the same neighbourhood as those guys, watch out NFL.
Monday Night: Ah, another week of NFL action is drawing to a close. The Broncos vs. Falcons game looked like it would be an intriguing matchup. Unfortunately for Broncos’ fans, Peyton Manning’s old gun slinging ways crept back to the surface. He threw for three (THREE!) interceptions in the first quarter, and in the process all but squashed the Broncos’ chances in this one. When his game-manager personality returned, the Broncos offense got going again steadily. As I noted last week, Denver is built on running the ball and eliminating giveaways. Willis McGahee ran for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns, and the Broncos made it a close one. Atlanta, meanwhile, played to their strength, the passing game, as Matt Ryan threw touchdowns to Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. After the game, Falcons’ running back Michael Turner was arrested for speeding and suspicion of DUI, so this Falcons season could become a very interesting one if they end up missing their lead running back for a significant portion of time.
Finally, remember a little game on the Sega Genesis called Mutant League Football? The concept here was that in the future, football was being played by all varieties of mutants (and my perennial favourite, the Turbo Techies, a team of robots) on different planets rather that in different cities. Some of the team names were clever plays on real teams (the Ice Bay Bashers and Midway Monsters, to name a couple) and the players had funny-sounding ghoulish names like Bones Jackson (Bo Jackson) and Scary Ice (Jerry Rice). Hey, it’s from 1993, those were the stars at the time, OK? The game featured overly aggressive coaches who offered rewards for injuries (Hey, I guess that’s where Sean Payton learned that) and the opportunity to kill opposing players and bribe or kill the ref, if you didn’t like his calls. Here’s some gameplay footage. Anyway, can we all talk to EA Sports about releasing an updated version of this on the next generation consoles? That’s your homework assignment for this week. I’ll meet you all back here, next Tuesday, for the Week 3 view from the couch.