From the New York Jets (and rookie quarterback Geno Smith) pulling out a clutch victory to the New York Giants committing six turnovers, Sunday was full of stunning developments. What surprised you the most, good or bad, in Week 1?
Wasn't Year 2 of the Todd Haley experience in Pittsburgh supposed to be better? The complete implosion of the Steelers' offense -- against a Tennessee Titans team that ranked dead last in points allowed last season -- was the most stunning development on Sunday. The devastating knee injury to star center Maurkice Pouncey couldn't have been helped, but the trickle-down effect -- communication on the offensive line was poor, pass protection broke down, the running game was non-existent -- suggests that even the eventual returns of tight end Heath Miller and halfback Le'Veon Bell might not be enough to transform an offense that was nearly outscored by special teams into the balanced, powerful attack it was expected to be.
Once again, Pittsburgh might rise and fall on the back of its defense.
The biggest surprise? That the San Francisco 49ers got over by giving up just a sixth-rounder to the Baltimore Ravens for Anquan Boldin. In addition, how in the world could the Green Bay Packers allow the only real wide receiver threat for the 49ers (Boldin) to get off the way he did? Thirteen catches, 208 yards and a TD? I know there was the preoccupation with the read option, but, man ... Really surprised by that.
I'm also surprised at how well the Oakland Raiders competed on the road against the Indianapolis Colts, especially after a slow start. Terrelle Pryor should only get better, because it's hard to game plan for him, what with his ability to improvise.
My biggest surprise was Pittsburgh losing its opener -- at home, no less. The Steelers' offense played poorly against Tennessee, producing just 195 yards of total offense. They were physically overwhelmed throughout the course of the game, allowing five sacks and failing to produce on the ground. The Titans have an improved defense, but I would not consider their front seven to be elite; the Steelers will face better front sevens in their own division. The loss of three-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey represents a big hit to Pittsburgh's playoff hopes.
Pittsburgh's defense played well enough to win, but still, the unit only generated one sack and no turnovers against an offensive team without an elite QB.
Peyton Manning's seven touchdown passes aside, let's sift through the contenders and see what sticks out. The fact that we had three safeties in the first half of the early games (led by Darius Reynaud's end-zone pull-back)? Surprising. I would like to say the Pittsburgh Steelers looking so awful was a bit of a shock, but with the team lacking playmakers on both sides of the football, this will be an unusually bad season in The 'Burgh. The New York Giants' six turnovers? That kind of thing happens to teams early in the season. The Jacksonville Jaguars totaling 58 yards on their first 43 plays from scrimmage? Their output will increase from this electric effort when Justin Blackmon returns from his suspension in Week 5.
So, our winner is ...
Raise your hand if you thought Geno Smith would lead the New York Jets to victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I'm a Jets fan, and my hand isn't up, I promise you. I know this team and its history better than anything else in my life, and in almost 40 years of watching them, I knew how Sunday's story was going to end for New York -- except it didn't. Something happened for Smith in the final two minutes of the first half that turned him into a different QB for the rest of the game. Yes, the rook got a ton of help on the late hit out of bounds -- which is always going to be called, considering how much we protect QBs nowadays -- but he showed more with his fight and grit and determination than any stat line ever could. Gerald McCoy paid Smith the ultimate compliment after the game when the defensive tackle said he couldn't believe how composed Smith was after all the times the Bucs hit him. Composure hasn't been a strong suit for the Jets at quarterback since 2008. Gang Green might really have something here, and I'll believe that even if he throws four picks Thursday night in New England. It takes something special to be a successful quarterback in New York, and it's not overwhelming talent. You never really know about a guy until you see him when stuff gets real, and we know a lot more about Geno Smith on Monday than we did 24 hours before. And it's all good.