I don’t know about you, but I got sick of the NFL last week. Not sick of football, but sick of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy and Roger Goodell and the other people who were detracting from my enjoyment of football. So on Sunday, once the eight early games kicked off, I tuned all that other stuff out and just sat back and enjoyed football. It felt good.
We can’t and shouldn’t stop talking about and grappling with all that other stuff. But this column will be about football on the field, what I observed watching football all day Sunday.
We still don’t know anything. The best part of the first few weeks of the NFL season is the sheer unpredictability of it. In Week One the defending champion Seahawks looked unbeatable. And then on Sunday the Chargers beat them. The Saints were a trendy Super Bowl pick. They’re 0-2. The Bills were supposed to be terrible. They’re 2-0. The Texans had the worst record in the NFL last year. They’re 2-0. Tennessee won in a blowout in Week One, while Dallas lost in a blowout, and then Dallas blew Tennessee out in Week Two. Ditto for yesterday’s game in Minnesota: The Vikings won a blowout in Week One, the Patriots were run over by the Dolphins, and then on Sunday the Patriots dominated the Vikings in Minnesota.
Eventually this will all shake out and we’ll get a handle on how good all these teams are. I think the Seahawks are more like the great team they appeared to be in Week One than the mediocre team they appeared to be in Week Two. I think the Saints are going to bounce back from 0-2, and the Bills will come back to earth from 2-0, and the Cowboys’ defense won’t be as good as it looked on Sunday and the Patriots’ defense will be better than it was in Week One. But I can’t say for sure. That’s what makes these Sundays interesting.
Why are you punting? Andy Reid’s in-game decisions are baffling. On Sunday in Denver, with the Chiefs facing fourth-and-inches at midfield, Reid decided to punt. Why would you ever voluntarily kick the ball to Peyton Manning’s team, when you only need to pick up a few inches to keep the ball yourself? As expected, Manning proceeded to drive the Broncos down the field for a touchdown on the ensuing possession.
Raiders receiver James Jones had two fumbles on one play. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before: Jones caught a pass, fumbled just before he was pushed out of bounds, got back in bounds, picked up his own fumble, raced downfield and then got caught and fumbled again, and this time the Texans recovered. Jones’s stat line, just for that play: one reception for 26 yards, one fumble recovery, one fumble return for 15 yards, one lost fumble.
Is Rolando McClain’s head finally in the game? There’s never been any doubt that McClain has the talent to be a good NFL linebacker. That’s why the Raiders took him with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. But there have been many questions about whether McClain would ever stop getting into off-field trouble and start putting all of his energy into football. That’s why the Raiders got rid of him and he didn’t last in Baltimore after the Ravens picked him up. And then the Cowboys traded for McClain, and a lot of us laughed at Jerry Jones for that one. Jones may get the last laugh because McClain is playing excellent football for the Cowboys. McClain led the Cowboys with seven total tackles in Sunday’s win over Tennessee, and he had a sack, a tackle for loss, a pass deflection, a quarterback hit and an absolutely spectacular diving interception.
“I’m here to play football and honestly that’s all I care about,” McClain said after the game. The Cowboys are benefitting from McClain’s new mindset.
Durability remains a concern for Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs lost Charles to an ankle injury after he gained just four yards on two carries Sunday in Denver. Durability is what separates many of the most exciting running backs in NFL history from the truly great ones, and durability is what keeps Charles out of that “truly great” group. Charles has the highest career yards per carry average of any running back in NFL history, but he just hasn’t been able to log the carries that the great running backs get. Chiefs coach Andy Reid promised last week that Charles would get more touches, but Charles’s injury took the decision out of Reid’s hands and the ball out of Charles’s hands on Sunday.
The Lions are still searching for a replacement for Jason Hanson. For 21 years, the Lions had more stability at the kicker position than any other team in NFL history has had: Hanson was Detroit’s kicker from 1992 to 2012, and if he wasn’t the best kicker in the NFL he was always good enough that the Lions didn’t have much to worry about. That’s not the case anymore. Last year, in Hanson’s first season of retirement, David Akers had a lousy year as his replacement. This year the Lions spent a seventh-round draft pick on kicker Nate Freese, and he’s been miserable: He had a miss in Week One and went 0-for-2 on field goals in Week Two. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Lions cut Freese this week. Perhaps they can see what the 44-year-old Hanson is up to.
NFL athletes are amazing. We know this, but do we stop to appreciate it enough? Just a few minutes apart on Sunday I saw two things that made my jaw drop: First, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was pressured in the pocket, didn’t look like he could set up long enough to put everything into his pass, and effortlessly threw a deep ball 60 yards in the air. Then, Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones leapt into the air to block a field goal, scooped it up and raced 58 yards for a touchdown. If you saw someone like Newton flinging 60-yard passes at your local park, you’d be shocked at what you were witnessing. If you saw a 265-pound man like Jones running like a gazelle at the nearby high school track, you wouldn’t believe your eyes. It’s amazing what these men do for our entertainment.
DeMarco Murray is going to have an amazing year. Murray is running hard, the Cowboys’ offense is making him the focal point, and the offensive line in Dallas is one of the best in the NFL. Murray already has 285 rushing yards this season, and if he stays healthy I believe he’ll lead the league in rushing.
Philip Rivers didn’t avoid Richard Sherman. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers never threw the ball in Sherman’s direction in the Packers’ Week One loss to the Seahawks, but Rivers wasn’t afraid to go after Sherman in the Chargers’ upset over Seattle on Sunday. In fact, Rivers targeted Sherman four times and completed all four of the passes he threw in Sherman’s direction. You have to pick your spots against Sherman and you’re not going to target him many more than four times a game, but kudos to Rivers for competing with the best — and winning.
But Sherman did avoid the media. It’s funny how some guys never stop talking when they’re winning, but suddenly get camera-shy when they’re losing. Sherman didn’t talk to reporters after Sunday’s loss to the Chargers, a rare moment of silence from one of the league’s loudest players.
Replay in the NFL still has its problems. The new system of allowing the referee to communicate with the officiating command center in New York has a major limitation: It only works if a play gets reviewed, and replay officials still sometimes fail to review plays that need to be reviewed. We saw that Sunday in San Diego, when Percy Harvin stepped out of bounds before scoring a touchdown, but was given the touchdown anyway — and the replay assistant didn’t initiate a review, as he’s supposed to do after any scoring play that is even close. Replay may be better now that the referees can talk to the head office, but it’s by no means perfect.
I can’t wait for next week. Next Sunday’s Super Bowl rematch, Broncos-Seahawks in Seattle, actually got more interesting to me when the Seahawks lost to the Chargers. Could the Broncos get revenge and get the great Seahawks off to a 1-2 start? Tune in Sunday, and give yourself a few hours to tune out everything else, and just enjoy some football.