ON THE SIDELINE
by Amy Sorlie
In a week that featured several upsets and surprises, one might argue it felt more like the Twilight Zone at times. The Arizona Cardinals beat the heavily favored New England Patriots in their home opener, Peyton Manning tossed three INTs in three possessions, The Dallas Cowboys got 12th-Manned, Redskins WR Josh Morgan most likely sat all alone on the ride home and Drew Brees & the Saints are 0-2 for the first time since 2007. Anything but predictable. Watching the last two minutes of the AZ/NE game was a clear reminder… you just never know. After the Patriots were handed what can only be considered a gift with Ryan Williams' late game fumble, all NE needed to do was gain enough yardage to easily win with a field goal. In a move that bordered on arrogant (even for the Hoodie) Belichick opted to not let his 3-time Super Bowl winning QB drive closer to the red zone. Instead, Brady ran the clock down and centered the ball for a not-so-chip-shot field goal attempt by Stephen Goskowski. The result: Wide left. Game over.
If you caught any NFL action over the weekend, you more than likely witnessed a blunder, or eight by the replacement officials. It's a hot button issue and as Phil Simms points out – "It's definitely affected the outcome of games. We're talking about a league where the slimmest of margins determines games. The Giants won the Super Bowl at 9-7. What if an official had taken one of those games away, they wouldn't have even made the playoffs, so it's a huge issue." And the frustration is only mounting. Guest analyst Michael Lombardi goes on to say "GM's, coaches and even players are frustrated with the lack of control and understanding of the rules."
I agree 100%. And if I may go Andy Rooney on you for a moment -- It's worthy to note that when it comes to integrity of the game, Commissioner Roger Goodell has been one of the strongest proponents. Topics at the forefront of his regime have been player safety, discipline issues and fan experience. The expectation is to have the best players on the field, performing at a high level, so the fans have the best experience possible. So, the question I and so many people who love this game are asking, is why should NFL officiating be held to any other standards? When you ask fans to pay top dollar for tickets, stadium parking, merchandise and $12 for a Bud Light – shouldn't the absolute best people available be making the calls on the field? Don't the players who bust their butts all week in training deserve the best officiating on game day? Right now, and as the Monday night game proved, that is not the case. And it's only going to get worse. The speed and pace of the game are being compromised by constant questioning and re-checking of calls. It takes confidence to officiate an NFL game and deal with player dust-ups -- something the replacement officials are clearly not equipped or experienced enough to handle. I won't pretend to know the details of referee contract negotiations, but I do know this: NFL fans deserve better.
As week #2 draws to a close, the NFL has lost a great man in Steve Sabol. The NFL Films Founder and visionary passed away on Tuesday from brain cancer. He not only changed the way we watch football, but as Cris Collinsworth summed up perfectly, "He made you fall in love with the game on an emotional level." Steve, you will be missed. But the legacy you created will carry on for generations to come.
WEEK #1. NFL fans wait long and hard for this week. 7 months. 213 days. 5112 hours, to be precise. With NFL action returning in triumphant fashion, it's time to break down the good, the bad and the truly shocking. For resident Inside the NFL experts Cris Collinsworth and Phil Simms, a couple headlines stood out: The Harbaugh brothers drawing first blood on two playoff teams from last season (Green Bay and Cincinnati, respectively) and the Cowboys silencing the World Champion Giants on the road. The Cowboys certainly needed to come out of the gates strong, but the age old question remains -- can they sustain this level of play all season? While we're contemplating that, can someone hook me up with a Jerry wipe? I hear they're selling like hotcakes in the Big D. (Hand clap: Wipers!!)
Like me, you still may be digesting the surprising upsets and standouts from week one. Namely, two faces: A rookie and a future Hall of Famer.
The hype surrounding Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III during this year's NFL Draft was on overdrive, this we know. But could they live up to it? How would they adapt to the speed and pressure of the pro game? With a league record 5 rookie QBs making starts on Sunday, those questions were answered. While most of his counterparts made the highly anticipated bad reads, rookie mistakes and deer-in-the-headlights style throws, RG3 took on the NFC South Division Champion New Orleans Saints and their thunderous Who Dat nation in a statement-making performance. And if you didn't know any better, one might think he'd been there before. Nope, nada, never. Bolstered by a resurgent Redskins pass rush and running game led by rookie Alfred Morris, who rushed for 96 yards and 2 TDs, Griffin ran the offense with poise, confidence and laser bullets even a seasoned secondary couldn't defend. Around the time he connected with Pierre Garcon for an explosive 88-yard TD, it became very clear: We're all about to witness something special.
Just how spectacular was RG3's debut performance? To date, he's the only QB in NFL history to have 300+ pass yards, 2+ TDs and no INTs in an NFL debut. The ONLY player in 92-years, people. That's not just history, that's a phenomenon. One I personally can't wait to watch, every single Sunday, for the next five months.
If RG3 broke through the freshman ranks, Peyton Manning put on a Master Class. Even Oprah should stand and applaud. Peyton's march onto the field at Mile High marked the first time he's played an NFL game since 2010. This week's guest analyst Bill Cowher summed it up perfectly, "He's been gone for a year, but you'd never know it." Facing a tough grudge match with the Steelers, a rusty Manning is what most expected. Instead, he did what Peyton does. Went 19/26 for 253 yards, 2TDs, 0 INTs, neutralized Troy Polamalu and exploited a defense lacking James Harrison and Ryan Clark. But more than his signature accuracy and command of the line, he led the offense in the type of balanced attack Denver couldn't pull off with Tebow at the helm (26 passes/27 rushes), emphasizing another of Cowher's points: The importance of the no huddle offense. True masters of the position know how to run it and use it effectively -- something he strongly urges young Quarterbacks like Cam Newton to take note of. Manning's comeback performance was backed by a kill-shot pick six from Tracy Porter and a pass rush that wreaked havoc on Big Ben all night (5 sacks). On both sides of the ball, the Steelers simply didn't have an answer.
The Broncos highly-touted signing of Manning this off season brought scrutiny and endless questions. Will he be the same Manning we've watched carve up defenses for the last 14 seasons? Is he suicidal for even strapping on a helmet? Will his deep ball have the same mustard? Will he ever make a bad commercial? Truth be told, it's too early to predict how this will all play out, but there's one thing Peyton's performance on Sunday made clear: Class is in session.