The return of the NFL season brought back a little bit of everything that football fans crave. Close games, controversial calls, stunning upsets, championship rematches, and last-second victories – and defeats – all played a part in opening week. A rash of injuries also hurt some teams, sidelining some players for a few weeks and others for the rest of the season. A quick recap of every game this week will catch any fan up on the first week of the regular season.
In the first Thursday night game of the season, the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings 14-9 in a rematch of the 2009 NFC Championship game. The Vikings’ loss means a two-game losing streak for Favre in the Louisiana Superdome. The game was not the exciting, high-scoring offensive battle that fans were expecting, especially compared to the overtime thriller of the championship game. According to the Associated Press, the Saints’ 14 points were the lowest scored in a victory under head coach Sean Payton. Drew Brees completed 27 of 36 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown, while the Saints defense held Favre to 171 yards, who threw 15 of 27 complete passes, one touchdown and an interception, which was the only turnover of the game. Visanthe Shiancoe was the leading receiver of the night with four receptions for 76 yards and the Vikings’ only touchdown. Adrian Peterson was the leading rusher, with 19 carries for 87 yards.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman returned this week and led his team to a 17-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns. After missing the past three weeks because of a broken thumb, Freeman went 17 of 28 for 182 yards. His two touchdown passes went to wide receivers Micheal Spurlock and Mike Williams. The Browns held an early 14-3 lead, but gave the game away by turning the ball over three times – two interceptions thrown by Jake Delhomme and a fumble by running back Peyton Hillis. Only Ronde Barber’s second quarter interception resulted in a scoring drive by Tampa Bay.
Brandon Marshall caught eight passes for 53 yards in his debut with the Miami Dolphins, who came out on top of the Buffalo Bills 15-10. Bills rookie C.J. Spiller finished his first regular season game with an unimpressive six yards in seven carries after scoring three touchdowns in the preseason. Spiller also had one punt return for 11 yards. The Miami defense held Buffalo to 166 total yards of offense, 50 yards rushing and 116 yards passing.
New England’s Wes Welker exploded back onto the scene after having surgery on a torn knee ligament eight months ago. His eight-reception, 64-yard, and two-touchdown return was overshadowed by the 12 catches, 159 yards, and one touchdown put up by Cincinnati’s Chad Ochocinco. Terrell Owens, the second half of the Bengal’s much-hyped receiving duo, put up 53 yards in seven receptions. The Patriots ultimately topped the Bengals 38-24, led by quarterback Tom Brady’s 258 passing yards and three touchdown passes. Brady’s participation in Sunday’s game was questionable for a few days after he was involved in a car accident Thursday. Despite the loss, Carson Palmer had a great game statistically, going 34 of 50 for a whopping 345 yards and throwing one touchdown and two interceptions. The Patriots also scored on a 59-yard interception return by Gary Guyton and on a drive set up by Brandon Tate’s 97-yard kickoff return.
Fueled by quarterback David Garrard and his three touchdown passes, the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Denver Broncos 24-17. Marcedes Lewis caught two passes, both of them touchdown passes from Garrard. Garrard completed 16 of 21 passes for 170 yards, but he also had help from the rest of the team, including 98 rushing yards from Maurice Jones-Drew and a 53-yard kickoff return from Tiquan Underwood. Tim Tebow made his NFL debut in the game with the Broncos, and while he received support from his hometown crowd, he had no effect on the game. Broncos starting quarterback Kyle Orton went 21 of 33, racking up 295 yards, a touchdown and an interception. A touchdown pass that could have changed the game, a fourth-down pass to Brandon Lloyd in the fourth quarter, was ruled incomplete.
Hakeem Nicks was the most important part of the New York Giants’ 31-18 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Nicks caught four passes, including all three of quarterback Eli Manning’s touchdown passes, for 75 yards. In addition to the three touchdowns, Manning completed 20 of 30 for 263 yards. There were nine turnovers in the game, with Manning and Panthers quarterback Matt Moore each being intercepted three times and three other fumbles. Carolina’s Steve Smith was the team’s offensive leader with five catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. This was the Giants’ first regular season game in the New Meadowlands Stadium.
The Chicago Bears were able to hold on to a 19-14 victory over the Detroit Lions after an apparent Calvin Johnson touchdown was ruled incomplete. That was not the only bad news for the Lions: quarterback Matthew Stafford left the game after the first half with a shoulder injury and will be out for at least one week. Bears running back Matt Forte had a memorable game, rushing for 50 yards and catching seven passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler also played well, completing 23 of 35 for 372 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Lions running back Jahvid Best scored both of the team’s touchdowns, rushing for 20 yards in 14 carries.
Rashard Mendenhall scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime for the Pittsburgh Steelers to beat the Atlanta Falcons 15-9. Mendenhall was the offensive leader without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to rely on. Mendenhall led the team with 120 rushing yards and the overtime touchdown. Roethlisberger’s temporary replacement, Dennis Dixon, had a shaky start, completing 18 of 26 passes for 236 yards and an interception. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had a similar outing, going 27 of 44 for 252 yards and an interception. All three meetings between the Falcons and the Steelers have gone into overtime. Atlanta’s Roddy White and Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward both had over 100 yards receiving on the day.
The Tennessee Titans had their way with the Oakland Raiders, beating them 38-13. Titans quarterback Vince Young and running back Chris Johnson were the offensive leaders of the game. Young went 13 of 17 for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson rushed for 142 yards in 27 carries and had two touchdowns. Johnson is the NFL’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year, and has a current streak of 12 consecutive 100-yard rushing games. Jason Campbell joined the Raiders this season as their starting quarterback. He completed 22 of 37 for 180 yards, with a touchdown, an interception and four sacks. Both the offense and the defense of Oakland struggled, scoring only 13 points with 286 total yards of offense and giving up 345 total yards of offense to Tennessee.
Houston’s Arian Foster had the biggest game of his career, leading the Texans to a rare victory over the Indianapolis Colts, with the score of 34-24. Foster rushed for 231 yards, a team record, and scored three touchdowns. Even Peyton Manning’s three passing touchdowns and league-leading 433 passing yards could not beat the performance of the Houston offence. Austin Collie led all receivers with 163 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown pass from Manning. The Colts had surmounted many large point deficits last season, including one against Houston, so it seemed plausible that they could come from behind and win the game. But after Glover Quin recovered a Collie fumble, Foster scored two more touchdowns and the Texans had the game in the bag.
Sam Bradford had an up-and-down debut with the St. Louis Rams, completing 32 of 55 passes for 253 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, in the 17-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. A fourth quarter touchdown pass from Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald put them ahead of the Rams for the win. Anderson joined the team this year after five years with the Cleveland Browns, replacing the retired Kurt Warner, and played a solid game, going 22 of 41 for 297 and throwing one touchdown. Arizona wide receiver had his fourth career 100-yard game. The Rams have lost eight straight games to the Cardinals.
There was much speculation about the return of Pete Carroll to pro football, but he proved all his doubters wrong by leading the Seattle Seahawks to a 31-6 demolishing of the San Francisco 49ers. The seemingly ageless Matt Hasselbeck, starting his eleventh season in the NFL, led the Seahawks offense with two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith did not fare as well, throwing two interceptions and failing to lead the team to any touchdowns.
The Philadelphia Eagles not only had to endure a 27-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers, but they also had to cope with the loss of many starting players, including quarterback Kevin Kolb, fullback Leonard Weaver, and center Jamaal Jackson. Weaver and Jackson are likely out for the rest of the season, with Weaver suffering from a torn knee ligament and Jackson from torn pectoral muscle. Kolb left the game with a concussion. This was Kolb’s first start since the team traded longtime starter Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins. Michael Vick took over for Kolb and looked very much like the Vick of the Atlanta Falcons a few years ago. There are some who fear that there may be a quarterback controversy in the works because of Vick’s performance, but according to the Associated Press, head coach Andy Reid has decided that “Kolb will be the starter when he’s healthy to play again.” Despite being sacked three times and intercepted twice, Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, completed 19 of 31 passes, throwing for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
With a wild last-second touchdown waved off by officials because of a penalty, the Washington Redskins were able to hang on and beat the Dallas Cowboys 13-7. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo found wide receiver Roy Williams in the end zone for what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown as time ran out, but tackle Alex Barron was called for holding. Penalties were the downfall of the Cowboys the entire night – they were called for 12 penalties, a total of 81 yards. Romo had one touchdown pass and went 31 of 47 for 282 yards. After eleven years with the Philadelphia Eagles, quarterback Donovan McNabb found himself in control of NFC East rival Washington’s offense. He put up fair stats, completing 15 of 32 passes for 171 yards, as well as an impressive 17-yard run.
In the first Monday night game, the New York Jets took a loss in their first regular-season home game at the New Meadowlands Stadium, 10-9 against the Baltimore Ravens. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez may already be sophomore slumping, putting up a measly 74 yards in 10 completed passes of 21 attempts with no touchdown passes. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had a better game, completing 20 of 38 for 248 yards, even though he was intercepted once. 110 of his 248 yards went to the newly-acquired Anquan Boldin. The Ravens defense was the star of the game, holding the Jets to only 176 total yards of offense.
In the final game of the weekend, the Kansas City Chiefs upset the San Diego Chargers 21-14. The Chiefs were able to hold the Chargers in four downs on the goal line in the final minutes of the game, preserving their 7-point lead and defeating the four-time AFC West champions. The Chiefs were fueled by a 56-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers went 22 of 39 for 298 yards with two touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough when he failed to convert the Chargers’ final drive into a touchdown at the end of the game. Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel only went 10 of 22 for 68 yards, but his one touchdown helped keep Kansas City in the game.
One issue on the NFL’s radar this season is the possible decertification of the NFL Players Association. In an article published by “The Huffington Post,” sports law authority Roger I. Abrams explains the consequences associated with the NFLPA becoming decertified: “Decertification would mean the union would cease to exist. That… may be a benefit to the players and to their prospects in collective bargaining.” In the collective bargaining agreement, teams are limited by a salary cap, which puts restrictions on how much they can pay players and other employees. Without the union, there is no restriction on what players can be paid, which will help them make more money when they work to sign new contracts. The union may be using the threat of going away as a strategy to get a new collective bargaining agreement signed. The union has to be careful, though, because if a new agreement cannot be reached various antitrust laws will be put into effect, and the NFL itself could disappear. According to Abrams, “The union need not act until March or even later when the owners make plain they intend to lock out the players to achieve their bargaining goals.” The issue is not serious now, but it is a controversy that will heat up as the season draws to a close.