Aaron Rodgers really had no choice. Neither did the Green Bay Packers' hierarchy (mainly general manager Ted Thompson). Either Rodgers gave a strong performance in the Packers' season opener against the Minnesota Vikings, or ... well, you know what the consequences were.
Brett Favre's mere presence on another team's roster was bad enough. The fact he had performed as impressively as he did the day before to help the New York Jets beat Miami promptly turned up the heat on his successor and the people who decided to ship him out of town. And Rodgers came up big -- for one week, at least.
After a shaky start, he gathered himself and proceeded to move the offense with accurate throws and strong management of the offense. He was poised, made good decisions, and even did some of the improvisational stuff that looked very much like you-know-who. Rodgers showed he can make things happen from the pocket and can make them happen on the run. Most of all, he showed he has the mental toughness to shrug off the enormous pressure that easily could have gotten the better of him.
Sure, there is plenty of season to go, but if the kid was going to suffer a meltdown, Monday night at Lambeau Field figured to be the time and place. His Lambeau Leap after his touchdown plunge made the statement loud and clear: "I'm your man now. Trust me!"
Other Monday night musings
» The Vikings won't go very far without somehow finding a way to throw the ball with consistent success. Adrian Peterson remains an extraordinary talent. He can be a difference-maker, but he can't carry the team by himself. When there are special-teams breakdowns, such as the one that resulted in a Packers touchdown, and when the defense makes uncharacteristic blunders of its own, the Vikings need to produce big plays through the air. You sense that Tarvaris Jackson has the ability to deliver them, that he's close to making the transition to the complete quarterback who can make as many big plays with his arm as he does with his feet. But he isn't there yet.
» I want to admire the Denver Broncos for opening the season with a blowout victory on the road. At the same time, I find it impossible to ignore the fact that their opponent, the Oakland Raiders, provided no more resistance than they could expect to receive going against air on the practice field. Jay Cutler did show how much better a quarterback he is now that he's undergoing treatment for diabetes. He has regained the size and strength to stand tall in the pocket (not that the Raiders defense gave him much reason to feel uncomfortable) and throw the ball with zip and accuracy. Rookie receiver Eddie Royal demonstrated that he has difference-making skills. But, I'm sorry. It's hard to truly know just how good the Broncos are because their opponent was so incredibly bad. We'll get a much better idea when they take on the San Diego Chargers in Week 2.
» What can you say about the Raiders? A few words come to mind. Disorganized. Disoriented. Disgraceful. It's a shame, because the Raiders do have some talented players, including a couple (such as running back Justin Fargas and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha) who did their best to rise above the malaise to give an honest effort. But there seems to be a clear absence of leadership from coach Lane Kiffin, whose messy relationship with Al Davis seems to be spilling into the team's play. The lack of discipline among Raiders players, never a strong suit to begin with, appears to have reached a new low. I felt sorry for Silver-and-Black fans who paid to watch such a pathetic showing by their team. The ones who weren't booing were probably too disgusted (or bored) to bother.
The kids are alright
The Cowboys looked the part of Super Bowl contender in Week 1, as they won easily on the road in Cleveland. While Dallas is rewarded with the No. 1 spot in this week's rankings, the Patriots aren't so fortunate. **Full rankings...**
The numbers didn't make your eyes widen, but they didn't have to.
Matt Ryan had to be good, not great. He had to keep his mistakes to a minimum. He had to look like something other than a rookie quarterback often looks in his first official NFL game.
Ryan, the third overall pick of the draft, did that. His performance was good enough for the Atlanta Falcons to beat the Detroit Lions because their other major offseason acquisition, Michael Turner, ran like the back who would have been a starter for San Diego had there not been a guy named LaDainian Tomlinson on the roster.
The Lions were expected to be a better team, thanks to a more balanced offense (read: no more pass-crazy Mike Martz calling the plays) and better production from second-year receiver Calvin Johnson and their considerable defensive speed. Once again, we're talking (or at least thinking) about the same old underachieving Lions.
But we might very well not be talking about the same old bumbling Falcons. With Turner's running (220 yards, two scores against Detroit) and with a defense that did a respectable job against an offense that has some decent playmakers and with the positive culture change created by new coach Mike Smith and new general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons just might be able to build upon their opening-day success. Of course, that presumes that Ryan's growing pains (and he will have plenty of them) don't become unbearable for the rest of the team.
Joe Flacco, the 18th overall pick of the draft, had even less business leading the Baltimore Ravens to victory over the Cincinnati Bengals than Ryan had guiding the Falcons to their season-opening triumph. After all, the kid played at the University of Delaware and is making an enormous competitive jump to the NFL. And if Troy Smith and Kyle Boller had been healthy, Flacco would have been watching rather than playing.
Like Ryan, he only had to be good, and he was. Like Ryan, he needed the help of a solid running game, and he got it (with Le'Ron McClain and rookie Ray Rice combining for 150 yards). Flacco did have one exceptional moment, when he ran 38 yards for a touchdown. And while he deserves credit for coming up with such a big play, the Bengals' defense deserves more criticism for allowing a slow-footed rookie quarterback to go the distance.
Troubling Titans times
If something other than a physical issue made Tennessee quarterback Vince Young hesitant to return to the field before he suffered a knee injury against Jacksonville -- and all indications are that it was more emotional than physical -- the Titans and their quarterback appear headed down a very troubling road.
Young's frustration over performing poorly and hearing boos from the hometown fans was evident to everyone watching, including coach Jeff Fisher, who was seen vigorously coaxing him back into the game after Young seemed to want his seat on the bench to be permanent. A starting quarterback can't act that way, regardless of his inexperience. And in the third year of his career, Young is too old for that sort of behavior.
Overcoming adversity is pretty high on the list of a quarterback's job requirements. You can't simply refuse to play when times are rough. Beyond a contractual obligation, there is a moral obligation to his teammates that doesn't allow for it.
As he recovers from his knee injury, Young has plenty of time to decide if he's ready to continue to accept the challenges that go with his position. A big part of it is improving his game, which still needs a great deal of work. But an even bigger part is coming to grips with the fact that he won't silence the booing or criticism unless he performs better on the field.
Running on full
Speaking of players from the Class of 2006, how about Reggie Bush? After being maligned for a disappointing sophomore season last year with the New Orleans Saints, the running back established himself in the opener against Tampa Bay as the dynamic force he had mostly been as a rookie.
He repeatedly made the sort of difference-making plays the Saints were counting on when they made him the second overall pick of the draft. And, yes, he did most of his damage as a receiver rather than as a runner, but so what? The Saints thrive when Bush makes big plays with the ball in his hands, regardless of how it gets there.
He looks faster and more explosive than ever. He also is clearly thriving from the presence of his new teammates on both sides of the ball. Tight end Jeremy Shockey brings immense receiving talent that defenses must respect, and that helps open up things for Bush and others.
The Saints' defensive upgrades also paid off against the Bucs, with several newcomers making huge plays that went a long way toward determining the outcome. And that, too, positively impacted the production of Bush and the rest of the offense.
Not short on talent
Skeptical Philadelphia Eagles fans (is there any other kind?) thought the team had fallen short of a crying need by addressing the hole at wide receiver with second-round draft pick DeSean Jackson. That's short, as in Jackson's 5-foot-10 frame.
How, they wondered, would this guy give the Eagles what towering receivers such as Terrell Owens and Plaxico Burress give the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, respectively? One game doesn't provide all of the answers, but Jackson did deliver some with his explosive debut as a receiver and returner in the Eagles' lopsided win over St. Louis.
Jackson made up for whatever his height implies he might not be able to do by running past and around defenders, and by leaping above tight coverage to snag the ball out of the air. No one needs to tell Jackson he did well. He'll be the first to say it. His bold, brash attitude has long allowed him to cope with constantly hearing he is too small to succeed in football, whether it was at the big-time college level or the NFL.
Andy Reid stayed on his case for much of the summer, trying to keep the youngster's ego under control, but Jackson knew all along he was capable of doing things that would make his coach smile the way he was smiling after the opener.
Of course, Jackson will need to do it many more times to satisfy those skeptical fans. At least he has their attention.
Grime and punishment
We've spent so much time focusing on the Chicago Bears' quarterback situation that we haven't sufficiently addressed the area that likely will go the furthest in making or breaking their season: running back.
Based on Matt Forte's spectacular NFL debut against the Indianapolis Colts, there is reason to think the Bears are in pretty good shape after Cedric Benson flopped his way off the roster.
From the moment the second-round draft pick from Tulane arrived in Chicago, Forte impressed coaches, teammates and close observers of the team with an exceptionally high level of poise, maturity and intelligence for a rookie. That provided a foundation for hope that the Bears were going to recapture the considerable rushing production that helped them reach the Super Bowl two years ago.
Forte sealed those expectations when he displayed the same speed, power, and nimbleness he had been showing all summer in trampling the Colts. One of his turning-point moments was when, after catching a pass, he took a bone-jarring hit from safety Bob Sanders. Forte spent a few plays on the sidelines, then came back for more -- and delivered more punishment to the Colts' defense.
For Peters' sake
Jason Peters staged one of the most pointless holdouts in recent NFL history. After a 43-day protest resulting in about $650,000 in fines, the Bills' Pro Bowl offensive tackle returned to the fold a day before the season opener against Seattle because he said he received assurances the team would be open to restructuring a contract that has three years remaining.
Russ Brandon, the Bills' first-year chief operating officer, had been open to that possibility all along, so Peters' holdout didn't prompt something that wasn't already available at the start of training camp ... or offseason workouts, for that matter. The bottom line was that Peters' agent, Eugene Parker, was certain he could come out on top in a stare-down with a rookie COO. Brandon never blinked and was prepared to go the whole season without Peters.
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