So the regular season has started, and we are already starting to find out how well the preseason maneuvers have paid off for the franchises. Five standouts:
1. The Carolina Panthers offence is humming like a machine
Or maybe that should be purring like a cat. It comes as no surprise that in their 31-6 demolition of the Jaguars, the Panthers showed all the attributes of an offense in perfect working order. Talented dual-threat quarterback nailing it? Check. Cam Newton completed 15 of 22 for 270 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 140 rating, as well as rushing for 33 yards. A decent running back making the most of his opportunities? Check. Jonathan Stewart was one of seven running backs who broke 100 yards this week, rushing 21 times for 110 yards. A receiver corps that gets the job done? Check. Mike Tolbert led the way with three catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns. An offensive line delivering the goods? Check. Silatolu, Kalil and Schroeder posted outstanding run block statistics, although the Jaguars did manage three sacks.
It could be argued that the Jaguars were pretty gentle opposition for a first run. It will be interesting to see if the Panthers can be quite as clinical when they host Houston next week, particularly as …
2. The Houston Texans’ shutout of Kansas City was no fluke
27-0 was a score that didn’t flatter Houston. Six sacks (two to DE J.J. Watt) set the tone of the week’s standout defensive performance. Four KC fumbles and an interception didn’t help. Kansas City only converted one from 13 third downs in what was a thoroughly miserable outing for Alex Smith and his offense. Their whole afternoon could be summed up in the final drive of the first half. The drive began with 1:39 on the clock at the KC 25. First down: Smith was sacked by Watt for 8 yards. Second down: Smith was sacked by Watt for 4 yards. Third down and 22 at the KC 13, no receivers were open and Smith scrambled for one yard. Kansas City couldn’t get to the locker room fast enough.
At least KC’s Dustin Colquitt got in a lot of punting practice – his 12 punts for 553 yards set a record that might stand for a while.
3. The old adage “special teams win games” proved true again
At least it did in Atlanta’s 34-16 home win over Philadelphia. Scores were tight at 7-6 as the Eagles kicked their second field goal at the start of the second quarter. Running back Dvonta Freeman returned the kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown, opening up a two-score lead that the Eagles were never able to pull back. In all, Atlanta posted 187 kick and punt return yards, which compared pretty favorably with their 253 offensive yards. By contrast, the Eagles amassed 376 offensive yards, but only 25 on returns. Special teams made all the difference here.
4. The cauldron of the South sorts out the men from the boys
It was 79 degrees for the duel of two standout rookie quarterbacks: Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota (the 2015 draft’s second pick) at Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston (the 2015 draft’s top pick). Tampa Bay led all the way, and 13-10 going into the fourth quarter. The quarter started with Mariota hitting Dexter McCluster for a 14 yard TD, starting a game of fourth-quarter chicken between the two rookies. 17-13 Tennessee, which took the lead for the first time in the game. Winston responded by grinding out a drive – including a do-or-die 21 yard pass to Doug Martin on third and 10. The drive finished with a 2 yard TD pass to Martin: 20-17 Tampa Bay. Mariota responded by bringing the Titans back to the Tampa Bay 26 and a field goal to tie the match up at 20-20 with 5 minutes on the clock.
It was Winston who blinked first. second and 10 from the Tennessee 28 he threw to Brandon Meyers, but it was picked off by CB Brandon Harris at the 13 yard line with 2 minutes left on the clock. There was one more exchanging of possessions before Ryan Succop kicked the winning field goal for the Titans on the last play of the game. Winston finished with the better passing stats, but the interception was the crucial play which decided the game.
5. Injuries come in all shapes and sizes
Injuries hit several teams badly in Week 1. Atlanta had a handful of starters ruled out with injury including WR Leonard Hankerson. The 49ers lost QB Colin Kaepernick during their loss against the Vikings. Detroit lost a bunch of players, as did Pittsburgh and the New Jersey Jets who have players already on the IR list going into Week 2. The Jets were among the harder-hit teams. Outstanding rookie Linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin had a good game in the Jets’ win against Cleveland, and then was ruled out indefinitely with severe anxiety. Mauldin’s extended absence is likely to make his teammates pretty anxious too.