Consider Baltimore’s 20-0 defeat of Cincinnati Sunday a statement game, and not because it was a win where the Ravens typically struggle … and I’m talking about Paul Brown Stadium where they lost their last five and seven of the past eight. Nope, because it was driven by a familiar Ravens’ source.
A hermetically-sealed defense.
That’s an element that was missing last year when the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third time in four years, but it was an element that frazzled Andy Dalton all afternoon, with the Bengals’ quarterback throwing four interceptions — two of which were turned into touchdowns — and fumbling once.
He was also sacked five times.
In short, it was an ideal start for a team that reshaped its defense in the offseason. With the free-agent signings of cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson and the draft of cornerback Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens took aim at a vulnerable secondary — and that secondary responded with three of Sunday’s four interceptions in the Ravens’ first opening-day shutout since 2009 and their first vs. Cincinnati since 2001.
“I like to see touchdowns,” said linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had two sacks, “but if we got to play lights-out defense that’s what we’re going to do.”
Well, they just might have to if Joe Flacco’s back doesn’t cooperate. Sidelined for most of preseason, the Baltimore quarterback threw only 17 times Sunday. One reason: The Ravens ran 40 times for 151 yards. Another: Andy Dalton couldn’t solve the Baltimore defense.
“It was one of our old-fashioned games,” said Flacco. “It reminded me of one of our games when I was a rookie.”
That was 2008 … when the Ravens had Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. And when they went to the AFC championship game.
- Like Baltimore, Seattle coaches promised a “commitment” to the run. One difference: The Seahawks’ top three backs managed only 53 yards rushing … nearly 100 fewer than Baltimore. Result: More pressure on Russell Wilson, and you saw what that means.
2. So much for that Dak Prescott sophomore slump. Playing against the one opponent that solved him a year ago, he looked poised, confident and accurate. Better yet, he beat the Giants for the first time in his short career.
3. Bad enough the Browns allowed seven sacks. But this was the third consecutive time they allowed seven to Pittsburgh at their stadium.
4. I’ll tell you why that Oakland win is significant: Because it’s the first time since 2002 the Raiders won consecutive season openers. And 2002 was the last time the Raiders went to a Super Bowl.
5. That’s another fourth-quarter comeback for Matt Stafford, his ninth in the last 17 games. As long as he’s healthy, the Lions have a chance to win the NFC North.
6. Tell me again why New England got rid of Chandler Jones. He has at least one sack in 10 of the 17 games he’s played with Arizona.
7. I thought the Colts would be bad without Andrew Luck. I was wrong. They’re worse.
8. Don’t expect to hear from the NFL this week how scoring is up … because it’s not. Not now it’s not. After a preseason where few starters played, offenses sputtered. In fact, in four of the 12 games played Sunday — or one-third — one team didn’t score a touchdown — including Cincinnati, which didn’t score, period. And in three others, one team (including Dallas) scored no more than one TD.
9. Nice gesture by the Steelers. They gave the game ball to cornerback Joe Haden, who never won a season opener in seven seasons with Cleveland.
10. The more I see Carson Palmer the less I like the Cardinals.
11. Enjoy it while you can, Buffalo. Your Bills are alone at the top of the AFC East.
12. Enjoy it while you can, Rams’ fans. Your team is alone at the top of the NFC West.
13. Good question posed by the New York Daily News’ Gary Myers: “What was (Giants’ GM) Jerry Reese thinking by coming back with the same offensive line that nearly got Eli destroyed last year?” Someone?Anyone?
14. Consider that Texans’ loss a win for holdout tackle Duane Brown. Now, more than ever, he has leverage.
15. Welcome to Washington … first in war, first in peace and last in season openers. That was the fifth-straight season-opening loss for the Redskins.
SUNDAY REPORT CARD
Jacksonville DE Calais Campbell. He set a Jacksonville record with 3-1/2 sacks … in the first half. He finished with four, and do the math, people. At this rate, he winds up with 64 for the season.
Pittsburgh LB T.J. Watt. No, not J.J. … his brother. He becomes the first NFL rookie to have two sacks and on interception in his first game.
Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers. I don’t know if the Cowboys are that good on defense or the Giants that bad on offense, but I do know that Marinelli’s revamped unit — including a retooled secondary — seldom looked better. And Green Bay? Defense was a problem a year ago when the Packers ranked 31st vs. the pass. Not Sunday when it held Russell Wilson and Seattle to three field goals.
Rams’ QB Jared Goff. Never, ever has he looked better, with his first career 300-yard passing game and a 46-9 rout. One catch: It was vs. the Colts.
Jacksonville RB Leonard Fournette. He’s the first rookie running back in Jacksonville history to rush for 100 yards in his debut, and, remember, this is a franchise that had Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown. He was targeted 11 times. He had 11 catches. Oh, yeah, he also had 182 yards and a game-clinching catch in the closing minutes.
Chicago RB Tarik Cohen. Now you know why he’s called “the Human Joy Stick.” He can run. He can catch. He can score. He’s quick. He’s fast. He’s elusive, and he had 113 yards rushing and receiving. So do take the hint, people: Make him your next Fantasy Football pickup before the competition does.
Rams’ defense. It produced four sacks, two interceptions for touchdowns and a safety. Granted, it was the Colts, but that’s the first time the Rams have done something like that since 1980.
Cleveland QB DeShone Kizer. So he lost. He kept the Browns in a game with Pittsburgh, and, yeah, that’s a big deal for a rookie. “I told him afterward what an awesome start,” said the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger. “Just to come out and play the way he did … I was proud of him.”
Philadelphia QB Carson Wentz. He recovered from a brutal interception to throw for 307 yards and win a big division game on the road. Hey, any road win is huge for the Eagles. They’d lost seven straight there before Sunday.
Chicago QB Mike Glennon. So he lost. He had the Bears this close to an upset of defending NFC champion Atlanta … and he would’ve made it, too, had a couple of his last three attempts — eminently catchable balls — been hauled in. Of course, then he took a sack on fourth-and-g0al.
Washington QB Kirk Cousins. He declined a gazillion-dollar extension and will take the Joe Flacco gamble, hoping he can score a bigger gazillion-dollar deal with a big season. Well, he better play a lot better than he did Sunday.
Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell. He looked like a guy who missed training camp. He had 47 yards rushing and receiving, while the Steelers managed 35 yards rushing as a team. Not good.
The Atlanta defense. Granted, it made the stops when it had to on Chicago’s last drive (with help from the Bears’ receivers), but why was it so sluggish the other 59 minutes? Maybe it’s the Super Bowl funk or maybe it was just a funk, period. But these guys too often looked like the unit that wilted in the second half of their last game … and we all know what happened there.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson. Once, he was the Magic Man. But he wasn’t in Green Bay, and, yeah, I know, his offensive line leaks like the S.S. Minnow. But no touchdowns and a critical fumble that changed the game? Must be better than that, Russell.
Arizona QB Carson Palmer. The thrill is gone in Arizona, and why? Start here. Too many mistakes, not enough big plays.
San Francisco QB Brian Hoyer. He fumbled. He threw an interception. He was sacked four times. And he didn’t produce a single touchdown.
N.Y. Giants WR Brandon Marshall. He’s supposed to be a difference maker, but he had one catch … and it wasn’t until the last 15 seconds. He could’ve drawn an outright F, except he was targeted only four times.
Eli Manning and the Giants offense. Couldn’t run. Couldn’t pass. Couldn’t block. Couldn’t score. And couldn’t cross their own 35 until the third quarter. So they didn’t have OBJ. Big deal. They’re supposed to be able to overcome his absence. Not even close.
Anyone on offense for Houston, but let’s make it the offensive line. It was shredded for 10 sacks … and it surrendered them to Jacksonville. Let me repeat … Jacksonville. “Terrible,” said J.J. Watt. “I don’t know any other way to put it. Only one way to go from here; that’s up. We can’t play much worse.” I’ll second that.
Indianapolis QB Scott Tolzien. The good news: He threw a TD pass on his first attempt. The bad: It was to the Rams. Bottom line: He is what we thought he was, one reason he sat down in favor of Jacoby Brissett.
Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton. See below.
It’s the first Monday after the first weekend of the NFL season which can mean only one thing: It’s time to talk your buddy in off the ledge. With so many knee-jerk reactions, it’s time to separate Fact from Fiction. So let’s get started.
- Headline: “Chiefs look like Super Bowl contenders.” This after one game … AND after they lost their best defensive player (Eric Berry) for the season.
- The Cowboys’ defense is better than ever. Maybe. But let’s see it vs. a legit offense. Yes, it produced sacks, and, yes, it made a critical fourth-quarter interception. But the Giants were inept, and maybe it was because Dallas made them look that way … or maybe it’s just because they’re, well, inept sans OBJ. Dating back to last season, that’s the seventh straight game where they failed to score more than 19.
- Jared Goff is the quarterback the Rams thought he would be. Not yet he’s not. Not even close. Remember: It was the Colts.
- Marshawn Lynch is back to Beast Mode. Yeah, OK, he looked good behind a solid offensive line. But it’s September. Tell me what he looks like in December. The guy didn’t play last year and is 31.
- Headline: “Is Doug Pederson a sleeper NFL coach-of-the-year candidate?” It appeared in mid-August. Honest. We always say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but, in this case, we demur.
- The Bengals are toast. Careful, people. They play Houston next, and the Texans not only don’t have a quarterback or offensive line; they just lost four guys to concussions.
- Carolina … and Cam Newton … are back. Again, too soon. Yes, it was an impressive road win, but Newton was erratic, missing too many open receivers. Plus, the victory was vs. the NFC’s worst team in 2016 and an offense still looking for a quarterback.
- Seattle is in trouble. Again, way too soon. All I know is the Seahawks lost their first two in 2015 … including a 27-17 decision in Green Bay … and made the playoffs.
- The Jets aren’t the worst team in football. Wrong. They are.
- There are still too many TV ads. Not if Peyton Manning is involved there aren’t. That Nationwide ad with Peyton and Brad Paisley only proves that, even in his second year of retirement, Manning can still deliver.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMER
OAKLAND PK GIOVANNI TAVECCHIO. Never heard of him? Get in line. But you will if you play Fantasy Football. The guy not only kicked four field goals; he nailed two of 50 or more — the first NFL rookie to hit two 50 yarders in his debut.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF SHAMER
CINCINNATI QB ANDY DALTON. He stunk. The offense stunk. The coaching stunk. It was a real team effort, with the Bengals shut out for the first time in a season opener since 1979 and the first time in a home opener … well, ever. But it’s hard to get past Dalton’s performance, the first Bengals’ quarterback since 1995 to commit five turnovers. “It starts with me,” said Dalton. “It’s my fault. I didn’t play well at all and give us a chance to win.”