NFL 2015 Week 1: Fading Brothers, New Stars and the End of Deflategate
The weekend after Labor Day has become a notable secular holiday. It is the start of the new pro football season. As in 2014, the National Football League needed for game action to start to take the focus off its own off-field foibles. Last year saw NFL stars charged with beating their fiancee (Ray Rice) and young son (Adrian Peterson) just as the season debut approached. Commissioner Roger Goodell‘s approach was to give Rice a two-game suspension. Stunned (as he usually is by the backlash to his actions) by the widespread condemnation of this slap on the wrist for a serious charge, Goodell overreacted to the Peterson situation and kicked him out for the remainder of the season.
This time, the League faced a sillier crisis but one which carries potentially greater ramifications. Deflategate blew up in the two-week gap between last season’s conference championship games and Super Bowl XLIX. To avoid going into the mind-numbing detail once again, Patriots quarterback (and Super Bowl MVP) Tom Brady was accused of having two Patriots employees deflate the footballs he used in games. Most of us probably did not realize until then that teams controlled the game balls (I for one thought the officials oversaw this job). Brady’s destruction of a cell phone that may have had incriminating evidence looked bad for him. The ever-self-righteous Goodell suspended Brady for four games. The quarterback took his case to federal court. Just as the preseason got underway, the judge overruled Goodell and threw out the penalty. We can (and probably will) argue over whether the Patriots got way with breaking the rules yet again or not. The federal court did one important thing: it upheld the collective bargaining agreement between the League and the NFLPA, the players’ union. In the midst of years of setbacks for American labor unions, the Players Association won a large victory. This does not mean that Brady cannot be suspended; rather, it must be done by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement. Despite that, Goodell likely will drop this issue like it’s scalding hot.
The melodrama past, America was finally free to focus on the games at hand. Brady showed little dropoff from his championship-winning form in leading the Patriots to a not-as-close-as-the-score 28-21 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. This opening game did little to erase suspicion that the Steelers will not be a strong Super Bowl contender in 2015. Among other teams dispirited by weak opening efforts are the Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl winners two seasons ago and runners-up the the Pats last year. Despite the team’s overpowering defense the past few seasons, their games against the normally lowly St. Louis Rams have been tough throughout the Pete Carroll era in Seattle. This season was no different; the Rams won 34-31 in overtime. Other playoff contenders that looked solid in Week 1 were the Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills, winners of a surprisingly easy 27-14 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
Two other games between playoff contenders were interesting for what didn’t happen in them. Starting in 1998, at least one son of former NFL great Archie Manning has started at quarterback in the NFL and usually been included among the game’s greats at its premier position. Peyton and Eli Manning have made multiple playoff trips, played in five Super Bowls and won three. After Sunday’s action, few fans will picture either one reaching this level of prominence in 2015. Peyton’s Denver Broncos won a hard-fought 19-13 victory over the tough Baltimore Ravens. Despite this, the most noteworthy event of the game was the shockingly poor performance of Peyton Manning. For the first time in his Broncos career (and for several more years when including his time as the Colts’ starter), he did not throw any touchdown passes. Well, there was one but it was completed to the Ravens for an interception run back for a TD. Fortunately for Manning, Denver’s defense is equally tough and ran its own interception back for a touchdown off Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. Maybe Manning will return to his former greatness as the season continues but it now looks like he will have to be bailed out by his defense many more times to reach another Super Bowl.
At least Peyton won his badly-played game. Eli Manning led his New York Giants to a late lead in Dallas against their old rivals the Cowboys. Then the home team struck for a touchdown. After some inexplicable Giants plays (Manning throwing incomplete passes on downs that called for running the ball), the Cowpokes scored a last-minute touchdown to pull out a 27-26 win. As Eli said afterward, “It was bad clock management. That’s 100 percent on me.” The Giants’ defense looked solid but cannot bail out Eli if he cannot remember teams have to run out the clock when setting on a late lead.
One other game of note marked one of the few times the top two draft choices of the previous spring played against each other. Since these were the starting quarterbacks for their teams and the past two Heisman Trophy winners, it upped the marquee value of an otherwise-meaningless game between a pair of also-rans. Despite widespread oddsmakers’ predictions of a win for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their #1 choice, 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston, the Tennessee Titans and their #2 pick, 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, won an easy 42-14 victory. Throwing four touchdown passes, Mariota easily looked like the dominant QB who won most games easily at Oregon last season. Winston, on the other hand, threw his first NFL pass for an interception run back for a touchdown by the Titans. One game is way too early to make career predictions but right now Tennessee has to be happy the Bucs took Winston with the first pick and left Mariota for them.
In the midst of the change and upheaval brought about by a new NFL season, it’s sometimes nice to see things that remain constant. Well, unless they are Ndamukung Suh. Known throughout his career with the Detroit Lions as a great defensive lineman and a cheap-shot artist who stepped on plenty of opposing players, Suh signed as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins. In his first game with his new team, Suh had a tackle and an assist to help the ‘Fins win 17-10 over Washington. That is not the stat everyone will remember about Suh’s day, though. At one point, Suh finished up a play by seeming to kick the helmet off Washington running back Alfred Morris. Although the League ruled it not a kick, that call is subject to a great deal of interpretation. In fact, it’s hard to believe there was no intent to do this. Although people should be given second chances, until Suh can convince people this was an accident, he must accept his award as the NFL Weasel of the Week for the opening game. Wonder how far he will “accidentally” kick the award?
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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