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Ravens, Bears make statements; others have reason to worry

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Jay Cutler, left, and Joe Flacco combined to throw for more than 500 yards and five TDs in big Week 1 wins.


The first weekend of real football started with an offensive showdown in Green Bay. Then, on Sunday, the Ravens finally took it to the Steelers, Jay Cutler was tough, the "Dream Team" looked decently dreamy, Cam Newton took the NFL by storm, Matthew Stafford played well and stayed healthy, the Colts realized they are a one-man team, the 49ers' Ted Ginn did the impossible, the Chargers once again had trouble with special teams and the Jets found a way to win thanks to Tony Romo.

All of that will leave us much to discuss and dissect over the coming days. For now, however, two games featuring four of last year's playoff teams deserve a closer look.

The universal rule is that Week 1 offers no concrete answers. It does offer many questions that must get answered and resolved sooner rather than later. That especially holds true for the Steelers and Falcons after what happened Sunday.

Ravens assert themselves in AFC North

Baltimore played the best game of any team this weekend. No matter who the Ravens faced on opening day, they were going to win -- and win big. Their pad level was down, they were physical and most of all they were determined.

They did things to the Steelers that no one has done before, and probably won't happen again if Mike Tomlin has anything to say about it. When the Steelers can't control the line of scrimmage with their defensive front and can't generate pressure on the passer, they look like an average team because their secondary -- especially at cornerback -- lacks great coverage skills. In their playoff loss in Pittsburgh, the Ravens only generated 126 total yards. They had that many yards on the first three drives.

Joe Flacco played tremendously. He was deadly accurate and Ray Rice helped out his quarterback, turning short passes into long gains. But the real difference was the offensive line, which deserves a game ball for destroying the front of the Steelers.

I thought Steelers safety Ryan Clark summed it up best, "They played this game the way they talked about it. They talked about how important it was to them. They talked about being tired of what's been going on, and they came out and played thay way but we didn't. They whipped our butts. It's not a rivalry now either. When you're that far away from it, it's not a rivalry. They're just the better team right now."

Give Clark credit, he did not sugar coat the loss nor did he toss it away as a bad start. He saw the true meaning of what happened and now the Steelers must regroup, reorganize and refocus.

Cutler answers critics against Falcons

With plenty of pregame questions about how he'd respond to last year's playoff controversy, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler looked really tough as he threw for 300-plus yards and carved up the Falcons. The Bears entered the season with some concerns along their offensive line. Those worries are warranted -- Cutler was sacked five times.

There should not, however, be any concerns about Cutler's toughness. For one, he has always played extremely tough -- let's put that myth to rest, please. He might have shortcomings in other areas, but don't label him soft.

Across the field, we learned that the Falcons might have spent the offseason focused on the wrong side of the ball. Atlanta wanted a more explosive offense, believing receiver Julio Jones was that player needed to get over the hump. Jones might prove to be that guy, but the defense has to worry the Falcons, especially when they play on grass.

The last time the Falcons played a meaningful game, their defense gave up 346 yards passing and three touchdowns to Aaron Rodgers. The Falcons felt that performance was more of an aberration than who they really were, but their effort in Chicago (two touchdowns and 312 yards for Cutler) leads me to believe that theory might be wrong. Until the Falcons fix their defense, they are going to have a hard time advancing deep in the playoffs.

A Hall of Fame way to start

Was Carolina's Cam Newton playing Ole Miss on Sunday? I mean really -- 422 yards passing on the road, a record for any rookie in his NFL regular-season opener. Ironically, Newton never threw for 400 yards at Auburn nor at Blinn Junior College (335 yards was his top mark at Auburn).

Newton sure appeared to be the real deal against the Cardinals. I hope he sent his jersey to Canton because what he accomplished was Hall of Fame worthy. Newton looked comfortable, he looked poised and he looked like the first pick in the draft -- in every draft.

What does he do for an encore? All he can do is keep making progress. There will be the usual ups and downs, but Newton proved his future is really bright.

Ginn electric in 49ers' W

I witnessed Ted Ginn take two kickoffs back for touchdowns to help the Dolphins beat the Jets in 2009. On Sunday, Ginn did the same thing against the Seahawks, returning a punt and kickoff for touchdowns to give new coach Jim Harbaugh a win in his first game with the 49ers. Ginn had more return yards than either offense.

That game was tough for fans who like offensive football. The best thing I can say about 49ers quarterback Alex Smith is that he did not turn the ball over.

Dissecting Vick's day

Forget Michael Vick's passing numbers, which weren't overly impressive against the Rams, just watching him play is the amazing part. Each time Vick takes off and runs, I feel there should be the road runner music played. He is that fast and makes would-be tacklers look bad -- really bad. The Eagles' offense is all about loose plays. They aren't necessarily scripted but are tough to defend because of Vick's unique speed and skill set. The Eagles do not have a traditional offense, they have a fast-break attack with speedy and talented skill players: Running back LeSean McCoy, and wideouts DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. I just wonder and worry if Vick can stay healthy all year. He took some incredible hits during the game. Those hits will have a residual effect as the season continues.

In Grossman we trust

So who's jumping on the Rex Grossman bandwagon now? Even diehard Redskins fans could not believe that the good Grossman showed up for the entire game against the Giants. Grossman had his fourth career 300-yard game and showed he is capable of leading the offense. The other shining moment for all 'Skins fans must have been watching their defense play fast, hard and, most of all, play the scheme well.

Healthy Stafford makes Lions intriguing

Matthew Stafford is still healthy, so all you Lions fans can now breathe a sigh of relief. He was amazing in Tampa, leading an attack that put up 431 yards of total offense despite converting just two of 11 on third down. Stafford made every throw look easy. His arm has incredible range and accuracy. This Lions offense is really going to be fun to watch.

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More questions than answers for these teams

» Face it Colts fans, it's going to be a long season. It's not too early to panic, as it's now 100 percent clear Peyton Manning is the reason the Colts win. Their talent level is subpar after whiffing on so many high draft picks. Jerry Hughes (first-round pick in 2010) was inactive against the Texans; Donald Brown (first-round pick in 2009) had no carries or catches; and Anthony Gonzalez (first-round pick in 2007) was injured and not active. Throw in giving up a first rounder in 2008 to take Tony Ugoh in 2007 and the Colts last four drafts have been really bad. I love Kerry Collins, but he plays like he is 38 years old, i.e. he's too slow to play well. It will be a long year in Indy.

» The Vikings drafted Christian Ponder in the first round to give them their quarterback of the future and then traded for Donavan McNabb to give them one for the present. Well , the present looked bad Sunday. McNabb threw for 39 yards -- yes, you read that correctly -- and the first pass of his Minnesota career was an ugly pick. McNabb better improve quickly, or the Vikes will turn elsewhere. How much more of McNabb's inability to make plays will Vikings coach Leslie Frazier tolerate before he subs in Joe Webb? My guess is one more week.

» It's not too early for Chiefs fans to be concerned, or even really worried. Kansas City was destroyed by the Bills in every phase of the game. The Chiefs have looked bad all year and their lack of playmakers on offense is evident. When Jamaal Charles cannot take over the game, there are no other playmakers on the Chiefs.

» Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has to know better. He just has to know that a field goal was all the Cowboys needed to seal a win against the Jets. But Romo tried to make a play and fumbled away a W for Big D. Romo has played too long to not secure the ball and understand the situation. Then his interception was another mistake a veteran cannot make. These are the kind of plays that keep Romo from being in the upper-echelon of passers in the league.

12 random thoughts

1. The Rams better find a way to protect Sam Bradford, so they can throw the ball outside the numbers and make teams back up in coverage. Bradford had no time to throw Sunday and was not comfortable in the pocket. His eye level was way down, and his receivers could not catch a cold.

2. Three-man defensive lines on third-down-and-long situations looks useless, especially against accurate throwers like Rodgers, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. Just ask Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Quarterbacks know they can hold the ball longer, look off defenders with their eyes and find open spots in zone coverages. It drives me nuts.

3. I have been skeptical of Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb, but he played well Sunday. He was accurate on third-level throws and bought a second look with his feet to turn bad plays into good ones.

4. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Bills fans have to feel really proud of what happened in Kansas City. Four touchdown passes, a passer rating of 133 for Fitzpatrick and a convincing win on the road. The Bills are better. I am not sure how much better considering the lack of resistance from the Chiefs.

5. If you are a Giants fan, you have to be worried that Rex Grossman of all people just threw for 305 yards against the defense. Really worried. The Giants do have a great defensive line (Jason Pierre-Paul is going to be a star and he looks like a young DeMarcus Ware) but unless they get sacks they can't stop a good passing game.

6. Someone will have to explain to me what kind of team the Seahawks want to become. A zone-run team, a play-action-pass team or a defense that can create turnovers. Every time I watch them play they look disconnected.

7. Jim Harbaugh beats Pete Carroll once again, making him the only new coach to get a win in Week 1. The Raiders-Broncos game will allow another to join Harbaugh as a first-time winner with their new team.

8. Mark Sanchez might have to carry the Jets' offense this year. Their run game has not been impressive and Sanchez made the plays to beat the Cowboys. Sanchez might not ever be a 60-percent passer, but he is tough and keeps competing. No matter how many bad things happen.

9. Jacksonville's run defense deserves huge praise for holding Chris Johnson to his third-worst running game of his career (24 yards). They dominated the game and forced the Titans to be one-dimensional.

10. Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck looked sluggish even though his numbers look better than he played. His last throw of the game was a rookie mistake. The Titans just needed 20 more yards to try a winning field goal, but Hasselbeck threw a deep duck for an interception instead of taking an inside throw. Not a smart play.

11. The Bengals can run the ball, they can defend the run and can pressure the passer. With a veteran quarterback, they could challenge for a playoff spot. Some might think their victory in Cleveland was an upset, but in reality they were the better team.

12. Mike Tolbert was great for the Chargers. His bowling-ball style of running and ability to catch the ball was the difference against the Vikings. I don't think Ryan Matthews can carry the load without Tolbert. Nice win for the Chargers, but I think they will miss Darren Sproles more than they might admit.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi

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