On the Monday following opening weekend during my 23-year NFL career, I would always remind myself, win or lose, of a line from a Jackson Browne song: "They forget about the losses and exaggerate the wins."
It was a way of reminding me that the euphoria of winning needed to be kept in check as did the pain that comes from losing. Since the NFL season is a marathon, Browne's words came in handy to keep the focus on the task, which was simply the next game.
For fans, opening-day games are fun, but for coaches and executives in the league, the outcomes never tell the real story. Because preseason is so "vanilla" in terms of what teams will reveal on offense and defense, the opening weekend is what I always call "adjustment weekend," meaning the coaching staffs that can make needed adjustments can win the game. It is not always the best teams that win openers, but the teams that can best adapt.
On the Mark: Jets rookie Mark Sanchez starts in just 16 college games while at USC, then comes to the NFL where everyone (including me) claim it is way too hard for rookies to handle the complicated third-down defense, and goes out in his first NFL game on the road against the Texans and goes 12-of-16 on third down, with 10 conversions. Five of those went for more than 18 yards and one went for a touchdown. Welcome to the NFL, Mr. Sanchez. You looked marvelous.
Speaking of marvelous ... Drew Brees never ceases to amaze me. Yes, I know his six touchdown passes came against the Lions, who haven't won a game since December 2007, but Brees does this against everyone. He makes every throw with Dan Marino-like precision, and now that the Saints have a little more power in the backfield with Mike Bell, this makes Brees even harder to defend. With Brees controlling the passing game, the ball never seems to ever touch the ground, which it didn't do much on Sunday with the 76 percent completion percentage he had against Detroit. Brees has such a command of the offense that his quick decision-making ability makes him near impossible to sack, so bringing pressure never seems to work. He is a defensive coordinator's nightmare. With Bell, who was playing for the injured Pierre Thomas, the Saints can utilize Reggie Bush as the "unique" player in their offense, not the featured player.
Tackling dummies: Having just 43 yards rushing in the first half, the Vikings found a way to allow Adrian Peterson to run wild. Peterson, who had just 25 yards in the first half on nine carries, went on to carry the ball 14 mores times in the second half for 155 yards. Peterson is rare, with his size, speed and power, but all that talent becomes tougher and tougher to handle as the game goes along. The last thing a defense wants to do when fighting off fatigue is tackle Peterson.
It would be easy each week to make fun of the St Louis Rams, who in my mind are one of the least talented teams in the NFL. But they are trying to improve with new coach Steve Spagnuolo, so let's give them a little time. However, the same cannot be said for the Houston Texans.
Everyone seemed to be captivated by the Texans this past offseason. Playoffs were forecast in large part because of their explosive offense and also how strongly they finished last season, winning five of their last six games. As was the case last year, Houston opened the season on Sunday, laying a huge egg -- at home, no less.
The Texans have been bad on the road under Gary Kubiak, going just 2-6 away from home in each of the last three seasons. At home, however, thay have been strong, going 16-8 in Kubiak's Houston tenure. Yet against the Jets on Sunday, the home crowd witnessed what so many in the NFL think about the Texans -- they are soft.
Whenever they play a physical team they tend to wilt, and wilt they did all game against the Jets. The Texans must find a way to be more physical because this week they face a very physical team in the Tennessee Titans -- on the road. Ouch!
On the lookout
When I worked for coach Bill Walsh with the 49ers, he was always excited to see the jump a player made from Year 1 to Year 2. He would always say, "We will teach the system in Year 1 and develop the skills in Year 2."
Walsh would be very proud of the work the Ravens coaching staff has done with second-year quarterback Joe Flacco. He is in command of the offense, as he uses that big arm to make all the throws. He might throw the best seven cut (corner route) in the NFL.
Now with Ray Rice as the new runner to go along with Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain, the Ravens have a complete offense that can score points. Baltimore can play power football, which is essential for the AFC North, but they also can throw the ball effectively in large part due to the development of Flacco.
On the lookout ... for fantasy fans
Along with Baltimore's Ray Rice, fantasy owners might want to consider running back Ahmad Bradshaw of the New York Giants. Bradshaw was the change-of-pace back on Sunday for the Giants, but still lead the team in rushing with 60 yards on just 12 carries. He is quick and powerful, and always just one step away from making a big play. Don't forget last year, Derrick Ward had more than 1,000 yards rushing playing in this role for the Giants.
Off the beaten track
When I heard my good friend, Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott (one of my all-time favorite players), say the 49ers would win the NFC West, I thought he was just being kind to his former team. Watching the 49ers beat the Cardinals on Sunday, I think Lott might be on to something.
They played with power on defense, dominating the front behind a stellar performance from defensive end Isaac Sopoaga. Sopoaga was all over the field, using his brute strength to push back the pocket into the face of Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, never allowing him to get into a rhythm.
The 49ers won the game averaging 0.8 yards on the ground, but they did not make mistakes (only four penalties). Their whole idea of offense is to not beat themselves and to manage the game. This can work at times in the NFL if the defense is stout.
The 49ers gave the defending NFC West champions their first divisional loss in more than a year and made a statement that they will be a force all season. With a defense that can play physical and with an outstanding punter (Andy Lee), the 49ers can control vertical field position and make their opponents have to play on a long field. This formula worked last year for the Dolphins and it might work for the 49ers, too, proving Lott right.
Three-step dots ...
» Brett Favre looked rusty (I am being kind ... he looked old), and the fact he has was sacked four times makes me very concerned about his ability to make it through an entire season. Last year, he was the second-worst quarterback in the NFL in terms of accuracy with passes longer than 20 yards, and as teams learn more about the Vikings and their offense, this lack of down-the-field throwing might come back to haunt them. ...
» The Vikings still cannot cover punts. Last season, they allowed four touchdowns and almost 15 yards per punt return. On Sunday, Joshua Cribbs took one back to the house for the Browns, for 67 yards. ...
» Good thing Browns coach Eric Mangini kept a secret from the Vikings as to who was going to be his starter on opening day, or else he might not have been able to mount 90 yards of offense in the first half. I don't get the point of that move. ...
» Colts coach Jim Caldwell showed faith in his defense when he went for a fourth-and-1 at the Jacksonville 35 with just 2:06 left in the game and nursing a two-point lead. The Colts missed the conversion, but held on to win the game because the Jaguars, with rookie offensive tackles Eben Britton and Eugene Monroe, could not handle Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis coming off the edge at the end of the game. ...
» First-half point differential is a stat I consider to be very important. Super Bowl winners usually finish in the top five of this statistic. On Sunday, there were 13 games played and all but one team that led at the half won the game. Now, there is a back-and-forth element in the second half, but building the lead in the first half allows teams to be creative on defense and force their opponent to take chances. Last year, Atlanta led the NFL with a plus-95 first-half point differential.