Rookie quarterbacks were the headliners of Week 1 — quick summary: Robert Griffin III was great, Andrew Luck didn’t suck, Brandon Weeden was worse than imagined — but they were far from the only storyline of a wild, wonderful opening weekend. Here are some highlights.
Robert Griffin III and Those Other Rookie QBs
In this economy, it seems like the only growth sector for new jobs is at the NFL quarterback position. Week 1 saw a record five starting rookie signal-callers, and most of them lived down to their modest expectations. Not surprisingly, the rooks couldn’t crack the Mendoza line, losing four of five for a winning percentage of .200.
There was one notable exception. Robert Griffin III cashed in his own personal bounty on the Saints defense, dazzling the Superdome crowd and outplaying his savvy Saints counterpart Drew Brees as the Redskins stunned New Orleans 40-32.
As debuts go, this was the Beatles on Ed Sullivan — a superstar-in-waiting living up to his advance buzz. RG3 completed his first eight passes and finished 19-of-26 for 320 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, compiling a staggering passer rating of 139.9 and generally treating the Saints defense like he was still at Baylor and they were Kansas. He added 42 yards on the ground as the Redskins amassed 464 yards, scoring 10 points in every quarter.
“I've won a high school state championship and a bowl game in college, but to play in the NFL, the pinnacle of it all, and win your first game against a Hall of Famer in Drew Brees, it’s at the top,” Griffin said after once again proving that Mike Shanahan’s a genius coach when he has a prodigy at quarterback.
For at least a week, Griffin provided sweet vindication to the Heisman voters who awarded him the 2011 trophy over Andrew Luck, who was supposed to be the better pro. But the latest can’t-miss had his share of misses as the Colts lost to the Bears 41-21. Jay Cutler spotted Luck and the Colts a pick-6, but Luck tossed three picks of his own, finishing 23 of 45 for 309 yards with one touchdown and a passer rating of 52.9. Luck imitated predecessor Peyton Manning in one encouraging way — he looked repeatedly for Reggie Wayne, who caught nine passes for 135 yards.
The unlikeliest of the rookie starters, the diminutive Russell Wilson, was valiant in defeat, nearly leading a winning TD drive in the Seahawks’ 20-16 loss in Arizona. Wilson went 18-for-34 through the air for 153 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But Kevin Kolb, who lost the Cardinals QB job, won the game, replacing an injured John Skelton and leading what proved to be the game-winning drive.
Now, we come to the dregs, the lukewarm backwash of an otherwise refreshing week one tonic. Miami’s Ryan Tannehill threw three picks and posted a passer rating of 39.0 in the Dolphins’ 30-10 loss to the Texans. Tannehill sounded surprisingly upbeat after his dismal performance; of course, you’d be upbeat too if you had Lauren Tannehill waiting for you at home after a tough day at the office.
Then there’s 28-year-old former baseballer Brandon Weeden, who probably wishes he were back pitching in Class-A High Desert. You’d need the Hubbell to spot Weeden’s infinitesimal passer rating of 5.1 after his 12-of-35, 110-yard, four-pick showing in Cleveland’s 17-16 loss to the Eagles. How bad was Weeden? Winning quarterback Mike Vick threw four horrendous picks of his own, temporarily electrifying the Dawg Pound.
NFL Scores, Highlights and More...
49ers 30, Packers 22
The game of the day was also a warning shot from Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers. Clearly, they intend to finish what they started in 2011, when they lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the Giants in the NFC Championship Game. The Niners knew it was their day when David Akers’ 63-yard field goal hit the crossbar and somehow bounded through the uprights to tie an NFL record. Frank Gore ran for 112 yards, and Alex Smith played efficient and mistake-free football, throwing for 211 yards, two scores — one of them to Randy Moss — and a passer rating of 125.6 (to Aaron Rodgers’ 93.3). Looking for a Week 1 statement? Look no further. The Niners now have to be the favorites in the NFC.
Patriots 34, Titans 13
The last time these teams met, New England demolished Tennessee 59-0. This one wasn’t much better for the Titans. The P-men were perhaps the most dominant team of Week 1, smacking around the Titans in Nashville in winning their ninth straight season-opener. How bad was it for the Titans? Jake Locker and Nate Washington were both hurt on a play that didn’t even count. Most alarming for the Titans: Chris Johnson rushed for a career-low 4 yards on 11 carries. On eight of those 11 rushes, the Patriots hit him at or behind the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, Steven Ridley averaged 6 yards on 21 carries. Looks like the Titans have issues up front.
Lions 27, Rams 23
The 'stache put up a fight, but the Lions were up to the challenge. Detroit spoiled Jeff Fisher’s Rams debut as Matthew Stafford overcame a shaky start to throw the winning TD pass to Kevin Smith with 10 seconds left. Fisher has to be happy with his defense, though, after forcing three first-half interceptions from Stafford, one of which Fisher fave Cortland Finnegan returned for a score.
Falcons 40, Chiefs 24
This one was close at halftime, but the second half was a giant McCluster for the Chiefs (apologies to Dexter, who was a bright spot for Romeo Crennel’s crew). Matt Ryan threw for three touchdowns, one of them to former KC hero Tony Gonzalez.
Vikings 26, Jaguars 23 (OT)
Leslie Frazier had to like what he saw from his team in what is a make-or-break season for his coaching tenure. And what he saw was Adrian Peterson running for two touchdowns and Christian Ponder throwing for 270 yards and no picks. Jags QB Blaine Gabbert was surprisingly competent, but it wasn’t enough to salvage Mike Mularkey’s Jacksonville debut.
Jets 48, Bills 28
It took only one quarterback to beat the hapless Bills. Mark Sanchez got only a minimal assist from Tim Tebow, but he got a major assist from a Jets defense that forced four turnovers and scored a touchdown. Sanchez threw for three scores, and his line rendered high-profile Bills signee Mario Williams a non-factor.
Buccaneers 16, Panthers 10
While RG3 was doing his best Cam Newton impression, Newton was waking echoes of Jake Delhomme. Cam tossed a pair of costly picks as the Bucs used a swarming defense and solid running game to win Greg Schiano’s debut.
Denver 31, Pittsburgh 19
Neck? Fine. Brain? Check. Arm strength? Good enough. Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning, and he got the Mile High phase of his career off to a Peyton-esque start, throwing two touchdown passes in Denver’s win over Pittsburgh, a suitably thrilling close to an amazing day.
Replacement Refs: Even Worse than the Real Thing
As they say, refs are at their best when you don’t notice them, and sadly, the replacement refs made themselves visible in Week 1. The low point came in Seattle, as the refs huddled to discuss whether the Seahawks had taken a timeout they didn’t have and then offering an interpretation that former NFL VP of Officiating Mike Pereira declared to be incorrect. Pereira also rightly pointed out that the scabs’ lengthy delay rendered the discussion moot by functioning as a timeout anyway. Braylon Edwards bailed out the hapless crew by dropping a potential game-winner that would have come on borrowed time. Briefly, a Twitter war erupted between Pereira and NFL flak Greg Aiello over the refs’ performance, before they announced they were kidding, no doubt after a call from the Commissioner’s office.
Niners coach Jim Harbaugh was a little more circumspect after his team’s win, which featured some overly aggressive calls from the officials, remarking that “I don't know what I'm supposed to say or not say.” But what he did say wasn’t exactly glowing.
• Okay, Tebow fanatics, here’s your Tim Tally: Eight snaps at QB, eight runs, five of them by Tebow (for 11 yards); a snap at tight end; two snaps in punt protection; and a recovered on-side kick.
• In the video run-down of the Broncos offensive players, Willis McGahee introduced himself as being from Miami. Not “The U.” When your team loses to Kansas State 52-13, you dispense with the bravado.
• Seattle’s Leon Washington had an 83-yard kick return and a 52-yard punt return, but neither resulted in a touchdown. According to Elias, since the merger, no player has had a kickoff return of at least 83 yards and a punt return of at least 52 yards in the same game without a TD on either.
• Patriots rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower scored a touchdown in Titans Stadium in his first NFL game, less than 50 miles from where he grew up. Hightower is a native of Lewisburg, Tenn., only 48 miles south of Nashville.