Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Peyton Manning's still got it. So does
Randy Moss, to some extent.
And it sure didn't take long for Robert Griffin III to translate his magic act
from the college ranks into the pro game.
And if Adrian Peterson's not yet 100 percent, it's really going to be a sight
to behold when he is.
The replacement officials? Actually, it wasn't all that bad. Certainly a
better stand-in result than that of the New Orleans Saints, whose poor first
impression suggests having a third-string head coach can be equally as
detrimental as being forced to start a No. 3 quarterback.
Those are just a few of the knee-jerk reactions from the opening Sunday of the
2012 NFL season, a weekend that also may have foreshadowed a changing of the
guard in the NFC hierarchy and the never-boring New York Jets showing once
again that their so-called problems have been blown way out of proportion by
the overzealous Manhattan media.
Let's first begin with Manning, undeniably the headline attraction of a Week 1
schedule that delivered more than its share of surprises and spectacular
moments. The storied quarterback and new Denver Broncos intended savior did
show a sprinkle of rust at the outset of his first real game action in 20
months during Sunday's marquee matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but any
rough patches the four-time league MVP's long layoff may have brought about
were quickly smoothed out with a second-half display that was vintage Manning.
The 36-year-old was nothing short of surgical against a Pittsburgh defense --
albeit one without top pass rusher James Harrison and stabilizing safety Ryan
Clark -- that yielded the fewest yards through the air in the NFL last season,
leading a 24-point post-intermission uprising that propelled the Broncos to a
Manning connected on a pinpoint 9-of-12 throws for 155 yards and two touchdowns
after the break, unequivocally proving that if even he's not quite the same
player following a deluge of career-threatening neck surgeries, he's still
plenty good enough to succeed.
Moss also made a mark in his much-anticipated return to the NFL after a one-
year absence, with the veteran wide receiver and highest profile offseason
addition of the San Francisco 49ers catching four passes for 47 yards and a
touchdown despite a limited amount of snaps in Sunday afternoon's main-event
with Green Bay.
However, Moss ultimately wound up taking a back seat to quarterback Alex Smith
and a stellar San Francisco defense, the two most critical factors to the
Niners' 30-22 toppling of the mighty Packers at Lambeau Field that may have
sent another signal of an upcoming shift in the NFC's balance of power.
Smith outplayed his more heralded colleague from the 2005 draft class, Aaron
Rodgers, with an impressively sharp 20-of-26, 211-yard, two-touchdown effort.
The former No. 1 overall pick did have an easier test than his counterpart,
though, with Rodgers and Green Bay's usually prolific offense stopped cold in
their tracks by a smothering 49ers' stop unit that held the NFL's highest-
scoring team from 2011 to a mere seven points over the first three quarters.
The Packers weren't the only NFC heavyweight to be rendered uncustomarily out
of sync on opening weekend, with the New York Giants and New Orleans also
putting forth sloppy outings that led to home defeats. That's the last three
Super Bowl champions all losing, and each falling on its home turf,
Though none of those perennial contenders should be counted out based on one
bad game, especially with each owning a world-class quarterback on the roster,
it's not to early to begin questioning whether the Packers, Giants or Saints
are in danger of a status slip.
And when witnessing San Francisco's all-around mastery on Sunday, Dallas'
notice-serving win over the defending champion Giants in New Jersey on
Wednesday and a seemingly soaring Atlanta team's 40-24 decimation on the road
against a short-handed Kansas City squad, there appears to be no shortage of
threats to the throne.
The suspension-leveled Saints may have the toughest road to remaining on top
after looking dangerously shaky on both sides of the ball in a startling 40-32
ousting by the upstart Washington Redskins, but to pin the loss solely on fill-
in head coach Aaron Kromer calling the shots while Sean Payton remains in exile
wouldn't be giving near enough credit to either Griffin or his Washington
On a day when the other three quarterbacks taken in the first round of April's
draft combined for one touchdown pass, 10 interceptions and a 47 percent
completion rate (Cleveland's Brandon Weeden was particularly abysmal), Griffin
was a picture of both poise and precision in an absolutely dazzling debut.
The 2011 Heisman Trophy recipient shredded a disheveled New Orleans defense for
320 yards and two scores while hitting on a crisp 19-of-26 throws and
confidently directing the Redskins to 20 points (two touchdowns, two field
goals) on his first four pro possessions.
Washington's defense more than rose to the occasion as well, forcing three
turnovers and continually rendering Drew Brees and the Saints' record-setting
attack to a shell of its normal self. New Orleans converted a substandard 2-
of-11 third-down attempts, an area where perhaps Payton's creative play-calling
was missed the most.
Kudos also is in order for Peterson, who showed little if any effects less
than nine months removed from a devastating knee injury in Minnesota's
encouraging 26-23 overtime win over Jacksonville, and the Jets for their
scoreboard-lighting outburst in Sunday's 48-28 blowout of a Buffalo outfit
that had been getting an awful lot of positive preseason press as a potential
team on the rise.
Peterson rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries in his first
game appearance since tearing both the ACL and MCL in left knee last Christmas
Eve, further reinforcing his reputation as both one of the sport's elite
talents and supreme medical marvels.
"I told him afterward, 'I'm not sure you weren't just faking that ACL,'" said
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. "He looked pretty good to me."
The Jets, meanwhile, answered the army of critics predicting impending doom
for an offense that didn't produce a single touchdown from its regulars in
three preseason appearances with a statement even louder than any that even
ever-boisterous head coach Rex Ryan could have made.
The unit put up four of them against the Bills' supposedly improved defense in
addition to getting touchdowns on defense and special teams, with quarterback
Mark Sanchez in turn silencing the Tim Tebow supporters with a very solid 19-
of-27, 266-yard, three-touchdown output.
And finally, it's time to give some recognition to the replacement referees
for an overall credible job while operating under an intense microscope in
their first round of games.
Yes, there were missed calls and a few head-scratching moments, such as an
error over timeouts in the final stages of the Seattle-Arizona contest, but the
weekend was largely devoid of any major controversy and not anywhere near the
disaster many were envisioning. Some of the regular officials should be getting
awfully nervous about their future job security if the standoff between the
league and NFL Referees Association continues to drag on.
Just another example of expect the unexpected when it comes to the NFL.
The Sports Network