By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
One week in the books and what do we know?
Back in Week 1 of 2003, the Patriots were walloped, 31-0, in Buffalo, by the Bills. The game went down days after Bill Belichick whacked his standout safety Lawyer Milloy and Milloy subsequently signed with the Bills. Drew Bledsoe was the Buffalo QB, just one year removed from being banished there by Belichick thanks to the success (and Super Bowl win) of one Tom Brady.
The game wasn’t as close as the score might indicate. Brady was 14-of-28 for 128 yards, zero TDs and four picks. Bledsoe completed more than 70 percent of his passes for 230 yards and the Bills defense ran one of Brady’s INTs back for a score. The loss was so bad, it inspired noted ESPN nitwit Tom Jackson’s infamous, “they hate their coach,” tirade about Belichick and prompted Milloy and fellow ex-Pat Sam Gash to spend time afterward talking about how great Buffalo is because the franchise is like “a family.”
The rest is history. The Pats lost again in Week 4 at Washington, then won 15 in a row including Super Bowl XXXVIII (and also including a poetic, 31-0 whitewashing of the Bills in Week 17). They also won their first six games in 2004, en route to a second straight 14-2 season and their third Super Bowl in four years. The Bills won in Week 2 of ‘03, then lost 10 of their next 14 and finished 6-10. I wonder how close that family was in the later stages of that season?
The point is, we don’t know anything after one week. It’s impossible. All we can tell at this stage is who looked good in Week 1, who looked lousy, who looked in between and that it’s pretty damn awesome that football season is underway. If anyone tries to tell you any different, they’re selling something. Something like what a functional family the Buffalo Bills organization (47-66, one winning season, no playoff appearances since that 2003 season) is.
This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. New Orleans: It wasn’t as easy as it may have seemed, especially after a picture perfect opening drive, thanks mostly to the stout Vikings defense. But the Saints made more plays and won tough, 14-9, proving that any Super Bowl hangover will have to wait.
2. New England: Of all the Week 1 winners, few, if any, looked as dominant in victory as the Pats. Running, passing, defense, special teams, everything worked pretty close to perfection in their 38-24 ass whooping of the Bengals. This week’s trip to the new Meadowlands to face the hated Jets should provide a truer test of what the Pats are made of, but the win over Cincy was majorly impressive nevertheless.
3. Green Bay: The Packers lost starting running back Ryan Grant to a nasty ankle injury but that’s about all that went wrong in their not-as-close-as-the-score says, 27-20 win over the Eagles. As many weapons as the Pack has on offense, including Grant’s replacement, Brandon Jackson, their defense is pretty dirty itself. Linebacker Clay Mathews (seven tackles, two for a loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and three hits on Philly QBs, including the one that knocked starter Kevin Kolb out) is a monster.
4. Tennessee: OK, beating the Raiders senseless, especially at home, isn’t exactly a difficult achievement. But the Titans looked positively awesome in every facet with QB Vince Young’s 70 percent completion rate to go with two TDs and star back Chris Johnson’s 142 yards and two scores, including a 76-yarder, leading the way. Young wins a lot more than he loses and if the Titans’ defense holds up, there’s no reason to think they can’t challenge for the AFC South.
5. Houston: Another AFC South team in the top 5, and neither of them is the Colts??? It’s true. The Texans finally shed their collective mental block regarding Indy, pounding last year’s AFC champs mostly thanks to Arian Foster’s 231 yards and three TDs. It remains to be seen if Houston can win any more big games or if its season was made by finally conquering Indy. A much more mundane task comes this week at Washington. How will the Texans handle it?
This Week’s Five Worst Teams
1. Cleveland: All the optimism following last year’s 4-0 finish and the subsequent hiring of Mike Holmgren as Grand Poobah may have dissipated thanks to a dismal, fall from ahead loss to the lowly Bucs. Stopgap QB Jake Delhomme looked just as bad as he has the past two years in Carolina with a couple more putrid INTs, and the defense couldn’t stop Josh Freeman (???) and the Tampa offense down the stretch. Man, does somebody have it in for this poor city.
2. Buffalo: A very winnable game at home against a struggling division rival still wasn’t enough for the Bills, who promised in the preseason to devote themselves to running the ball then went out and ran for 50 yards total in a 15-10 loss to the Dolphins. The Bills may be lucky to win three games this season – the first won’t come this week at Green Bay.
3. San Francisco: The Niners pathetic, 31-6 loss at Seattle may just be a drop in the bucket considering the talent all over the roster and the lack of any truly good teams in their division. But all that’s happened in the aftermath of the loss is backbiting, team meetings, players bitching at coaches in the press and vice versa. A date with the Saints on Monday night won’t exactly be the easiest way to get back on track.
4. Oakland: A lot of folks predicted that the Raiders might well not only break their string of double-digit loss seasons this year but maybe even challenge for the playoffs, including yours truly. Then the games started. New quarterback, some continuity on the coaching staff and a handful of promise on defense mattered not down in Nashville with the Raiders getting embarrassed yet again. Looks like the same old black hole.
5. Carolina: Coach John Fox’s swan song season started slowly against the Giants with the Panthers unable to capitalize on four turnovers or run the ball the way they’d like to (24 attempts, 89 yards). They also turned the ball over five times themselves, including three picks by new QB Matt Moore, who also suffered a concussion. It will be hard for the Panthers to be a last place team given the presence of the Bucs in the NFC South. But the body of work last year and last week would put them at the bottom of a lot of other divisions.
- Tony Gonzalez, Falcons: Atlanta was almost entirely bottled up by the super Pittsburgh defense. But Gonzalez still managed to make two catches, the first of which was his 1,000th career reception, a first in league history for tight ends. Well played, sir.
- The Chiefs: If you lost your knockout pool thanks to Kansas City stunning San Diego 21-14 in the nightcap of Monday night’s doubleheader, you are most definitely not alone. The Chiefs pulled the upset of the week thanks mostly to rookie stud Dexter McCluster’s 94-yard punt return TD, the longest such play in team history. But the defense, which held the Chargers scoreless on four final minute plays from the 5, deserves some credit too, as does running back Jamaal Charles, whose 56-yard TD run was his fifth score of 40 or more yards since the start of last season, second most in the league.
- DeAngelo Hall, Redskins: It’s always a pleasure to give credit to overrated bums when they actually live up to their promise and Hall did that and more in Washington’s win over Dallas on Sunday night. Eight tackles, two pass break-ups, and a forced fumble and TD that essentially won the game for the ‘Skins. It’s hard to imagine Hall keeping up such a pace given his knuckleheaded history, but for this week, let’s give the guy his due.
- The Colts: Being blown out by their division rivals in Houston, outrushed 257-44 (on a measly 10 attempts, all by Joseph Addai) and losing always injured safety Bob Sanders yet again made for a not so trendy week for Indy. Things haven’t gone so well for the Colts since they pissed all over their fans and a shot at NFL immortality last December. By the way, Sanders has played in exactly eight games since winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2007 and has missed more games than he’s played in over the course of his six-plus year career (47 games played out of 97).
- The Lions: They looked decent in their 19-14 loss at Chicago. But the “you suck” bug bit them anyway, first when QB Matthew Stafford separated his shoulder and then again when Calvin Johnson’s apparent game-winning TD catch was overturned because of brutally stupid convoluted rule regarding not letting the ball touch the ground after procuring it or something equally senseless (and about which Colts’ president Bill Polian, ever a man of the people, said, “for those of us who know the rule, there’s no confusion.”). Woe is Detroit.
- The Jets: Here’s where this gets fun. Against Baltimore on Monday night at home, the soon to be Super Bowl winners lost 10-9, had 134 total yards, 120 penalty yards, no third down conversions until their final possession of the game, 60 yards passing on 21 attempts and a tight end who stepped out of bounds untouched one yard shy of a first down on fourth down of their final, desperation drive. Oh yeah, they also gave the Ravens six first downs via penalties, the most such instances in Baltimore franchise history as well as equal to the amount of first downs they made in the entire game. All in the opening of their brand new, $1 billion stadium. But hey, at least their TV show was good.
Who saw any of the Packers-Eagles game? If you did, and you missed Philly middle linebacker Stewart Bradley and quarterback Kevin Kolb each get blasted in the head then stagger around like they’d been in the ring with Manny Pacquiao for 10 minutes before being allowed to re-enter the game (albeit briefly), don’t bother looking for the footage – it’s kind of tough to watch. What’s even tougher to believe is that a) both guys kept playing (again, albeit briefly) after each hit, and b) despite failing multiple neurological exams so far this week, Eagles coach Andy Reid hasn’t ruled either of them out for Sunday’s game at Detroit. Look no one’s ever accused Reid of being the brightest bulb on the tree (actually, some people think he’s great for some reason, but that’s another column altogether), but if he’s doing anything but trying to muck up the Lions’ game-planning for Sunday by wavering on Bradley and Kolb’s availability, then someone should have a word with him. Concussions and the damage they do – both immediately and over time – have been a hot topic in the NFL the past few years and why not? We’re not talking about broken bones or torn ligaments, we’re talking about people’s brains and the ability to function properly as living, breathing human beings long after their football careers are over. Even if Bradley and Kolb hadn’t failed those tests, wouldn’t it be a smart move to hold them out this week just for precautionary reasons? What’s the worst that can happen? The easy answer is that the Eagles would lose, which would drop them to 0-2. And that takes us into a much grayer area. Bradley and Kolb should sit out on Sunday. Their long-term prospects, both as football players and as everyday people, are too important.