|Stephan Savoia / Associated Press|
|The Patriots' questions on defense were becoming clearer as Carson Palmer's day grew more obscure.|
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- From the buildup of excitement to the games themselves, Week 1 is the beginning of a long journey and probably the hardest weekend to really know what to expect. Who is good? Who is bad? Who is just not ready?
As Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained, "Opening day is always, I think, the toughest day. There is so much uncertainty with where your team is, and what your opponent is going to do, and how it's all going to match up."
For Belichick, he ushered in a new era Sunday in New England. This past offseason, Belichick removed all memories of former great Patriots on the walls -- no more reminders of when they were great, it was time to forget the past and start anew. And did they ever start.
From the opening play, when rookie cornerback Devin McCourty covered receiver Terrell Owens one-on-one, these young Patriots dominated the game and will force many fans to trade in their Tedy Bruschi jerseys for Jerod Mayo's. The No. 55 running around wasn't Junior Seau at linebacker, but second-round pick Brandon Spikes, who made the Bengals aware of his skill and toughness. These Patriots are for real. They're fast, can tackle and play hard. They'll have their ups and downs, as is often the case for teams with little experience, but they'll improve.
Not everyone can walk away from Week 1 with smiles. Who could have predicted that a good team like San Francisco would lay an egg in Seattle? Who could think Indianapolis' defense would be no match for running back Arian Foster and Houston?
The first two weeks is all about discovery. Figuring out who can help, who cannot and, most of all, what element of your team needs more work. No judgments can be made, no trends can be established and nothing will be finalized. Don't be too harsh or get too excited about your favorite team. It's about what we learned from Week 1, not the entire season.
» Last week was an unusual one for quarterback Tom Brady. First, a car accident sent panic throughout the Boston area and then he got a new contract. Sunday, however, we all saw the same old Brady, maybe better. He was in 2007 form with his accuracy and comfort within the offense. The Patriots have serious weapons to challenge a defense, whether playing power football or from the spread set.
» The Eagles wore their 1960 championship uniforms, the Kelly green version, against the Packers. All I could think about was Chuck Bednarik tackling Jim Taylor. If I were commissioner, I'd make a rule, the Redskins have to wear the gold pants and the Birds go back to Kelly green.
» If I were to tell you that QB Matt Schaub would throw for fewer than 150 yards and the Texans would win, you -- and I -- would have said, no way. But with Foster running wild, and Houston playing great defense in the red zone, the Texans did win. Great effort and impressive win, considering it did not involve Schaub having to carry the load.
» Bears running back Matt Forte showed more speed, burst and power than at any point I've seen in his career. He has embraced the new role in Chicago and appears to be versatile enough to handle the Mike Martz offense.
» I was involved in the tuck rule game, so I know the intent of rules, and that intent cost a team a win Sunday, just like it cost the Raiders a victory back in 2002. But what coach Mike Holmgren said about the tuck rule applies here, "When five guys in a bar are watching the game and they think it's a fumble, then it is a fumble." Calvin Johnson caught the ball, he just was trying to get off the ground.
» All offseason the concern about the 49ers' playoff chances centered on QB Alex Smith. Those concerns were realized in Seattle. He missed easy throws early and the team was 1-15 on third down. San Francisco cannot win unless it gets good play from the quarterback position, especially on the road. I wonder if anyone in the organization is regretting not trying to pursue Donovan McNabb.
» When the Raiders face a great running back with a quarterback who can move and run boot legs and nakeds, expect the runner to have a big day. The Raiders are always more concerned with playing the boot, which leaves the inside of their defense soft. This is not something any new Raiders coach can change, this style comes from the boss man. And they will keep getting gashed, allowing 205 yards on the ground in a loss at Tennessee.
» Look no further than the Bengals' offense for needing more than two preseason games to be better prepared for the season. The Bengals were never in rhythm against the Patriots and allowed the Patriots to build a huge lead early. Forget the offensive numbers, the Bengals were rusty when it mattered most.
» It's going to be a tough fall and cold winter in Buffalo watching the offense. C.J. Spiller is talented, but will need more room to run, something this offensive line isn't able to provide. The Bills aren't very good.
» Clock management and not being able to convert on short yardage have always haunted the Eagles under coach Andy Reid, and Sunday was no exception. Reid had a strange use of his timeouts in the fourth quarter (more on this later in the week) and not being able to move the chains on a key fourth down cost Philly a chance to tie the game.
On the lookout
» Michael Vick was back to his old self, moving around in the pocket and being explosive, but also still inaccurate. Vick fits the offense that McNabb left behind, not the West Coast philosophy the Eagles want to tailor for Kevin Kolb.
Vick and McNabb worked well together in terms of the style of offense that most benefited them. Conversely, Vick and Kolb are oil and water, and it looked bad against the Packers. My sense is that Vick is going to have the locker room behind him as the starter unless Kolb breaks out of this funk. Kolb hasn't been good all summer, too eager to run around and too inconsistent in the pocket, his eye level is way down. Kolb has to prove to his teammates he can be the best player, not be given the job. Keep an eye on this one.
» The Steelers are going to have to win ugly without Ben Roethlisberger and they did just that against the Falcons. Ugly means playing tough defense, opportunistic defense, run the ball with Rashard Mendenhall and try to limit their turnovers -- which also means not missing field goals. Pittsburgh is built to win ugly, but unless it can get some healthy bodies on the offensive line, it could be hard to repeat in Tennessee on Sunday.
Fantasy on the lookout
» My son told me he took Titans running back Javon Ringer late in his fantasy draft. I wasn't sure of his logic, but clearly, he knows what he's doing. Ringer looks like he might be able to produce touchdowns and be a change-of-pace back for the Titans.
» He might not get many carries, but I think -- no, I know -- the best runner on the Bengals isn't Cedric Benson, but Bernard Scott. He needs to get more carries, and trust me, he will as the season progresses and his talent cannot be denied.
Off the beaten track
» The concern I had about the Falcons was playing defense away from the dome and being able to hold up against a physical team. Sunday, they failed those tests.
» You know you are old when a little kid in your old neighborhood is now dominating the NFL. For me, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews is that little kid. When working for the Browns, I lived near Matthews and now I'm watching him dominate the NFL rushing off the edge.
» If the Panthers cannot run the ball, they cannot win. The Giants forced Matt Moore to have to be a part of the game plan and he wasn't ready, turning the ball over three times in the red zone. For the Panthers, they have to win a certain way, and if they are forced to play outside of their comfort level, they won't. ...
» Denver's offensive line is a mess right now, missing Ryan Clady for most of training camp and then losing Ryan Harris for the opener. Bad lines cannot win on the road and the unit wasn't good at Jacksonville. ...
» Miami had 57 combined rushes and pass completions, which was more than enough to beat Buffalo, but also an indication of its ability to execute. ...
» I am so happy football is back.
Follow me on Twitter @michaelombardi.