What We Learned by Alex Larsen
Welcome to what will become a weekly recap of the NFL games over the weekend. This blog will hit on 32 points – one for each team in the NFL. The writing is biased, of course, but not blinded. So enjoy the banter, insight, or whatever you want to call this – this is What We Learned.
It’s been a month – we know the drill. Some teams will show up, some won’t. Some guys (a la Mr. Manning) will continue to make impressive ordinary. Other guys will make us all wonder why they made the fantasy draft at all, let alone the first round. After a month of football, real fans are simply salivating at the prospect of another week coming. Fair weather fans have hung up the jerseys already, or worse – bought one of a different color. Bandwagoners, we call them. They enjoy the ride, but they will never understand the joy of being a fan – of being fanatic.
There’s just something about clinging to a team as it soars or dives; riding the success and failure alongside the players. The athletes – the supremely talented machines that they are – become names, not numbers. They have lives off the turf, with families, hobbies, and goofy traditions. The Tom Bradys, the Adrian Petersons, the Ndamukong Suhs, even, are people just like you and me. That’s what being a fan does – it personalizes the experience. We invest – we care – we bleed. When our guy goes down, we cringe and ache with him. When the referee blows a call, we get heated with our coaches. When our favorite player dances across the goal line, we rejoice. When a certain quarterback gets plastered, we feel the smug satisfaction of putting him in his place. Maybe there are life lessons here – in fact, there are. That’s why the NFL season lasts for a few months. Unpacking issues of morality, ethics, or what-have-you takes time – and we’ll get to that.
For now, it’s time to move on to the recap. Each weekend of professional football brings surprises and confirmations. Injuries happen; comebacks happen; football happens. Just sit back and enjoy it. Here’s what we learned…
- San Francisco is back in business. After a few ugly games, the Niners rocked St. Louis and Kaepernick found some confidence. The season is far from over, and the 49ers are still hunting.
- St. Louis may be hunting, too – for a quarterback. Sure, Bradford went for about 50% completions and a TD without a pick. Those are game-manager numbers. Only problem? St. Louis doesn’t have a game changer to manage.
- Minnesota pulled off their first win of the season. Excellent. There’s always an asterisk, though. The starting quarterback and former first round pick, Christian Ponder, was on the bench. Leslie Frazier has to pick a quarterback during the Vikings bye week – and neither option is stellar.
- Pittsburg is “the worst” team playing right now – just ask Big Ben. It’s desperation time for the Steelers, who now have a serious challenge in winning their division.
- Looking for the top of that division is still the Baltimore Ravens. Buffalo had a different idea on Sunday, picking off Joe Flacco 5 times. The Ravens are resilient, young, and talented. John Harbaugh is by no means done with this run – it’s just a little rough around the edges.
- Buffalo played a game Sunday that nobody saw coming – especially Buffalo. With their top four secondary players out, fans saw the deep ball as a threat. Five interceptions later, Bills fans are suddenly hopeful.
- The Bengals are good – jockeying for the top of their division good. The Browns are bad – scraping the top of the draft board bad. Ignore the whooping Cincinnati took over the weekend… for now.
- And ignore the win the Browns took. The Bengals are struggling on the road, but the Browns are not as good as the box score would indicate. They traded their keynote player – they’ve given up right when it looks like they could win a game or two.
- Detroit fans – that is what you’ve been waiting for. After several years of talented teams falling apart, the Lions seem to have it together. And they beat Da Bears – beat them.
- Chicago didn’t beat themselves, they just got beat. By the Lions. The Matthew Stafford Lions. Time for a rebound from Chi-town, or things could get ugly.
- Eli Manning is struggling. Whoever the Giants have in the backfield now is struggling – and it will be somebody else by the end of this article. New York is struggling – and everyone is in trouble.
- Alex Smith is the real deal. Perhaps it’s too soon to question, but would San Fran be 4-0 if they had kept Smith. Kansas City is off to an impressive start – and still flying under the radar.
- Tampa Bay keeps losing – and Josh Freeman wants out. The team has already contacted over a dozen teams seeking a trade, and plan to contact all 31 (yes, every single team in the country) before deciding what to do with Freeman. You have to wonder if they will look to the CFL, too.
- Arizona, finally with a decent quarterback in Palmer slinging it to Larry Fitzgerald, is winning games. Not quite the 4-0 start they had a season ago, but definitely less shock or disbelief this time.
- Jacksonville… oh, poor Jacksonville. The entire fan base held a rally to convince the team to sign hometown hero Tim Tebow – all 24 of them showed up at the stadium. It didn’t work, so the Jaguars will start preparing for Jadeveon Clowney.
- Andrew Luck is good – working toward great. The Colts went from being awful sans Manning to being playoff contenders. Houston is still the division favorite, but for how long?
- Losing doesn’t help the favorite keep their status. Houston has a good team, with a few standout stars. They lack something that can’t be taught, though: clutch play. When the clock is ticking down, the Texans don’t seem to have it.
- Seattle has it. In bounds. On both sides of the ball. Even when the Hawks are down big, they don’t count themselves out. Why? Because they know what they are capable of – big plays, smart football, and incredible domination. And Harvin isn’t even on the field yet.
- Jets fans are pleading to bench Geno Smith. That’s second-string Geno Smith. The same Geno Smith that was the backup to Mark Sanchez. Think about that.
- The Titans are looking decent – but that may have ended abruptly this weekend. With Jake Locker out for an undetermined amount of time with a hip injury, can Tennessee do enough to stay relevant until he comes back?
- Chip Kelly left Oregon for bigger things. The NFL and its sizeable paycheck drew him away from one of the winningest university jobs in the country. The result is less than ideal – Kelly has lost more games this season than he did with Ducks, ever.
- Denver is far more than a mile high. Peyton Manning is playing the quarterback position in such a dominant, surgical way that no one knows what to do about it. He’s stoppable, right? Has a weakness? Makes mistakes? Not so far – and not on the horizon.
- The Redskins won their first game of the season. Fans expected the season to be slow – but they expected RG3 to be in rehab still. Somehow he’s on the field, but the results are less than expected with the Baylor graduate playing.
- Oakland is a quick strike team with some explosive talent. Give them time to develop rhythm, and they could actually be something. Not yet, though.
- The Cowboys have been handed a dying Giant in their division – and yet they can’t finish the job. With such an opportunity (NY failing, WSH struggling, PHI getting beat up), the ‘Boys need to rally and win some games to take control of the division.
- Philip Rivers, despite skepticism, is playing his best football in years. His completion percentage is up roughly ten points from last season. The Chargers, not coincidentally, are winning games.
- Tom Brady is off to another 4-0 start. He’s done that before – twice. Both times he went on to hoist the Lombardi. Patriot fans may be getting excited at the thought of another ring for New England.
- Atlanta was supposed to be good. They were supposed to have a shot at the NFC title. They were supposed to lead an airstrike that could dismantle any defense. They were supposed to win. So far, the plan has not taken shape. It’s still Matt Ryan, though. Roddy White will get healthy. Julio Jones will still be a beast. Steven Jackson will recover and have another fight in him. It’s not over.
- Miami is surprising people, but people don’t really care. The Dolphins could win every game, make the playoffs, and even take home the top prize, but at the end of the day, it’s just not fun football to watch. Things are progressing, slowly, but not enough to keep anyone on that channel.
- New Orleans handed Miami their first loss Monday night – and improved to 4-0 themselves. With Sean Payton back at the helm, the Saints are playing like the Superbowl champion Saints of a few years ago. Drew Brees is back in form, and his supporting cast is helping him shine.
- On their bye, the Packers get to recover from a loss to the Bengals. It stung. And it should. Green Bay is still the favorite to win the NFC North, but Reggie Bush, Brandon Marshall, and Adrian Peterson still have an issue with that.
- Carolina used their bye week to figure out a way to keep the momentum going. After shutting out the New York Giants – and racking up 38 points – the Panthers could smash into next week hard enough to make some heads turn once again.
There it is – a long list of things we learned. Some of them are interesting, others are skimmable, and still some you just skipped over because you didn’t care. Regardless, these things matter to fanatics. Fanatics can’t get enough – so here you go. No morals, no lessons – just football. Which is a lesson in itself…