Late Night Drive, NFL Edition: Falcons Exorcise a Demon, Peyton is Back, Saints & Packers Disappoint, Reid’s Mishandling of Vick….

So week one of the NFL season is almost complete, so it’s time for the late night wrap up of the week that was. Unlike college football with a nationwide ranking system, and of course about 50 games a week, or more, the layout has to be a little bit different, so for week one, we’ll just go game by game.

Atlanta 40, Kansas City 24- In all fairness, this game was really 40-17, that was a garbage touchdown scored by Kansas City, which , fortunately with advancement in football statistics, won’t hardly count for anything at all in the grand scheme of things.

The Falcons were previously 0-3 in games against Kansas City in Arrowhead, having been outscored an absurd 108-23. Their 40 points posted Sunday afternoon nearly doubled what they’d scored in their previous three trips to Kansas City. Matt Ryan accounted for four touchdowns, including two to Julio Jones. The Ryan to Jones combination has the potential to rank among the most, if not THE most, lethal quarterback/receiver duos in the NFL.

The Falcons started slowly, but completely dominated the game in the second half. While the offense clicked all throughout the game, not even punting until just over 3:00 left in the game, the defense sputtered at the outset. However, adjustments were made at the half, and until the garbage time score with under :10 to go in the game, the defense threw a shutout in the second half, including the forcing of a couple of turnovers.

Of some concern for Falcons fans is the continued lack of production in the running game, especially Michael Turner. Only 32 yards coming on 11 carries, with 11 coming on one run. Yeah, your math tells you that’s 10 carries for 21 yards. That’s not good. I think however this coaching staff is smart enough to realize this team no longer goes as Michael Turner goes, it goes as Matt Ryan goes.

Despite that though, no question about it, Atlanta has to feel really, really good about itself right now, as Matt Ryan finally won a season opener on the road. It was also the second most road points scored (45 vs San Francisco in 2009) by the Falcons in the Matt Ryan era. Next Monday night’s home opener for Atlanta against the Broncos just became very, very interesting.

For Kansas City, injuries and suspension hurt their defense, but giving up 40 points at home, in your home opener, and season opener, just shouldn’t be happening. They’ll get a chance to get back on track in Buffalo next week, another team who gave up over 40 points to being the season. The offense moved the ball quite effectively in the first half, but three turnovers were just too much to overcome for Kansas City who saw Sunday night that taking the division from Denver will not be easy.

Denver 31, Pittsburgh 19- What a huge win it was for Denver. And really, it had little to do even with who the opponent was, or what the final score was, what mattered was how Peyton Manning played. Well, I don’t think quarterback is going to be any worry whatsoever in Denver as the season rolls forward.

Manning seemed to have a solid connection already with his new toys, Eric Decker, and Demaryius Thomas, as well as old friend Brandon Stokely. Manning, once allowed complete control and command of the offense in the no huddle, looked every bit like the Peyton Manning we last saw in Indianapolis. The difference he brings to this offense as opposed to Tim Tebow is staggering. Any Tebow fan who argues this team isn’t light years better with Manning seriously needs to consider therapy. Manning went 19 of 26 for 256 yards a couple of scores, and you figure he’s only going to get better as the season goes on.

However, if there is a reason to temper the excitement, it is that the Steelers were banged up on defense, and it is that the Steelers season ended last year, to Denver, with Tim Tebow at quarterback even.

The Steelers just aren’t quite what they were. They cannot protect the passer, and they can’t just line up and run right at you. They have weapons on offense, but without a decent offensive line, it’s hard to consistently use them. Defensively, I’m sorry, when James Harrison and Ryan Clark aren’t suiting up for your defense, against a Peyton Manning led offense, it’s going to make a huge difference.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this game was presence of Georgia Tech and Georgia. Knowshon Moreno and Demaryius Thomas each scored touchdowns, while Jonathan Dwyer had one called back on replay. Dwyer throughout the game exhibited toughness and an ability to finish runs with authority. Behind that offensive line, the Steelers will need that. Furthermore, former Yellow Jacket Keith Brooking saw the field for the Broncos, and Drew Butler, a product of Georgia was the Steelers punter.

Washington 40, New Orleans 32– Kansas City wasn’t the only team who allowed someone to come into their building and put 40 points on them on opening day. But at least they allowed a veteran team who has been to the playoffs in three of the last four seasons to do it. The Saints allowed a team with just three playoff appearances in the last 19 seasons to come in and do it.

Since 2008, the Redskins have ranked 28th, 26th, 25th, and 26th in the NFL in scoring. So what do they do in week one against the Saints? Explode for 464 yards and 40 points in knocking off the Saints in the Superdome, which is absolutely no small task.

Obviously Robert Griffin III took the early lead in the, Griffin vs Luck, battle, but this was about more than just outperforming the only player drafted ahead of Griffin in the 2012 draft. This was about Robert Griffin looking like he’d been doing this at this level for years. He got off to a blistering start, cooled for a stretch, and then picked up his play again to ice the win late as the Saints attempted to mount a comeback. Griffin went 19 of 26 for 320 yards with a couple scores, as well as 42 yards on the ground. Perhaps even more importantly? No interceptions and he was only sacked once.

A nice surprise for the Redskins though was the emergence of Alfred Morris. Coming out of camp and the pre-season, nobody seemed to have any idea what Mike Shannahan’s plan of attack would be at the running back positions. Morris got 28 carries and came up just shy of the century mark, as his debut was overshadowed by Griffins.

The Redskins defense played well too, though you might think allowing 32 points says otherwise. Then you remember it was the New Orleans Saints, at home, so really, as long as the defense allows less than the offense scored, they played well.

For the Saints, you wonder how quickly this will squelch the talk of how the Saints will be just fine without their coaches and that the still looming Bounty Gate won’t affect them. Perhaps the defense needs those extra incentives to go out and actually stop people.

New Orleans got down early and basically had to become one dimensional, but still, ten total rushing attempts? I don’t care that Drew Brees is at quarterback, that’s not going to get it done, ever, against anyone in the NFL.

And while the Panthers did not look good in their opener, the way Griffin carved up the Saints defense, New Orleans can’t exactly sleep well knowing that Cam Newton awaits them next week in Charlotte.

San Francisco 30, Green Bay 22- Alex Smith has heard all off-season that last year was a fluke, that the 49ers won in spite of him, that the team needed to add a quarterback to take that next step, yada yada yada. So what did Smith do? Go up to Lambeau field and take on the majority favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and walk away with a 30-22 victory over the Packers. Not only that, he did so by playing a key role, and playing brilliantly.

Smith went 20 for 26 for 211 yards and two touchdowns, but perhaps most encouraging was that four completions a piece went to new receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. The addition of those two weapons to complement Michael Crabtree and what is still a solid running game makes the 49ers offense go from one that simply isn’t going to lose a game, to one that might be able to win a few when called upon.

The feeling now is that last year’s playoff game against the Saints where Alex Smith made play after play to take the victory may have been him taking that proverbial next step.

On the other side, much like the Saints, the Packers couldn’t establish anything resembling a running game. They only ran the ball 14 times, but of perhaps more worry is that Cedric Benson was the only person besides quarterback Aaron Rodgers to run the ball. Worse? He ran it 9 times for only 18 yards.

I know the league is indeed a passing league, and the Saints and Packers are two of the very best when it comes to throwing the ball around and scoring a lot of points. But football is still football, and you cannot be that one dimensional, and that incapable of running the football, and expect to win.

Green Bay will be traveling to Chicago next for a Sunday night game with a healthy, and improved Bears team. Chicago mimics the 49ers in a lot of ways, with perhaps a defense just a notch below, but an offense that’s arguably a couple notches higher with the addition of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.

Chicago 41, Indianapolis 21- Speaking of Chicago, their debut really couldn’t have gone any better from their standpoint. The defense harassed Andrew Luck into four turnovers and just 2 for 10 on 3rd downs. While the offense reeled of 428 yards, all the while making excellent use of some new toys (Marshall, Jeffrey and Michael Bush) and the return of some injured ones (Jay Cutler and Matt Forte) as the Bears were able to run the ball and throw it effectively.

Chicago may have been behind the Lions and Packers a year ago, but they served notice that this team is going to be in the mix, and a win next week over Green Bay would give the Bears a gigantic early edge. You talk about a big time football game……

Philadelphia 17, Cleveland 16- Seriously Michael Vick, four interceptions? Wait, I’m sorry, the blame there is going to the wrong person. Seriously Andy Reid, 56 pass attempts from Michael Vick? You do know you have LeSean McCoy in your backfield, correct? It’s great that Vick was able to lead the team back down the field late for the winning touchdown. But it’s not great that Vick had to lead the team down the field late for a winning touchdown against the Browns.

Reid’s handling of Vick is mind boggling, to say the least. Vick has never been, and never will be, a pocket passer. You’re going to have a lot of drives stall when you throw 27 incomplete passes, it’s as simple as that. Further more, the majority of Vick’s injuries in his career have not occurred when he’s running around doing his thing with his legs, but rather when he’s asked to stand in the pocket and abuse the punishment of guys being able to line up their hits on Vick. Barry Sanders rarely got hurt, despite the massive work load he shouldered. Why? Because nobody ever got a clean shot on Sanders because of his elusiveness and quickness. The same holds true for Vick. When he’s standing stationary in the pocket, that’s when he’s most vulnerable. If Reid doesn’t realize this soon, this season may be over soon for the Eagles, and so might Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia

Detroit 27, St. Louis 23- Don’t worry Matt Stafford, I see you too. I won’t let Vick take in all the accolades for throwing the ball to the wrong team too many times and being forced to engineer a late comeback against a vastly inferior opponent. Stafford threw three interceptions but got things together just enough at the end to avoid what would have been an ugly, ugly loss to the Rams.

I heard Tom Jackson say tonight that as a quarterback, what matters most is being able to lead a team to victory regardless of how bad you’ve played all game. Well, if they didn’t play so bad all game, they wouldn’t have to lead a team from behind for a victory, now would they?

New England 34, Tennessee 13- Pay attention Green Bay. Pay attention New Orleans. This is how you win with an elite quarterback and a team that likes to throw the football around. You still establish a running game. Steven Ridley got 21 carries, more than Saints and Packers running backs combined, and ran for 125 yards as New England cruised past the Titans.

Bad news for the Titans was Jake Locker leaving the game with an injury, though, I don’t think at this point it really makes that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. Tennessee was just clearly overmatched by a good football team.

Minnesota 26, Jacksonville 23- In what was perhaps the one game that most featured two teams who are mirror images of each other, it ended as it should have, in overtime.

Both teams have been linked to Los Angeles, both teams had a question about how much playing time their elite running back would play, and both have second year quarterbacks who struggled as rookies at the helm.

For today, Christian Ponder outplayed Blaine Gabbert, and Adrian Peterson outplayed Maurice Jones-Drew as the Vikings got off to a 1-0 start while the Jaguars joined the Colts and Titans at 0-1 in the AFC South in what is already promising to be the worst division in football.

Houston 30, Miami 10- Speaking of that worst division in football, there is absolutely no reason for the Houston Texans not to repeat as division champs, and they quietly went out and took care of business against the Dolphins. The formula was simple, play really good defense, let Matt Schaub be effective, ride Arian Foster and let Andre Johnson do his thing. As mentioned, a division title should be an absolute breeze for the Texans.

New York Jets 48, Buffalo 28- In the game that reminds us again that pre-season doesn’t mean anything, the team that couldn’t score all exhibition season, suddenly couldn’t not score. Rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech hauled in two touchdown passes from Mark Sanchez as the Jets made a loud, and emphatic statement.

C.J. Spiller will likely take the award as player fantasy players most wish they had started. The Clemson product took over when Fred Jackson left with an injury and ran for 169 yards, including a 56 yard touchdown scamper. For a Bills team that seriously believed they were ready to jump to the next level of playoff contender, the blowout loss is a serious blow to the confidence. Chan Gailey better get things turned around quickly as next week Gailey gets to face another another wide receiver he recruited while at Georgia Tech as Calvin Johnson and the Lions are next on the schedule.

Arizona 20, Seattle 16- If you wanted to watch good offense, you probably would have had more luck watching the first half of the Georgia Tech/Virginia Tech game last week. No, seriously. The two teams combined to barely top 500 yards of offense. However, the Arizona Cardinals may have finally found a quarterback, though not at all in the manner I’m sure they expected. When John Skelton went out with a bad ankle sprain, former starter, then banished to a backup Kevin Kolb entered the game. Kolb went 6 of 8 and engineered the go ahead drive for the Cardinals. Arizona played solidly down the stretch a year ago, and if they can get remotely solid quarterback play, they might be able to sneak into wildcard contention considering the weakness of Seattle and St. Louis and the potential for four division wins right there.

Tampa Bay 16, Carolina 10- So this is the Panthers team people were talking about possibly being the spoiler of the Falcons/Saints rivalry and displacing the two of them atop the division? Yeah, okay. Carolina ran the ball 13 times, and got just 10 yards. No, they did not have Jonathan Stewart, but they did have DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton, and that was all they could muster against Tampa Bay? Not a good sign, at all.

Tampa displayed the toughness that is expected from a Greg Schiano coached team and found a way to a gritty win. If Carolina is going to challenge for the division, they’re going to need to go win some surprise road games, and Tampa seemed one of the most winnable on the schedule. Now they get to come home to New Orleans, where it’s assured that one of the two will be 0-2, and you know how likely it is an 0-2 makes the playoffs.

So yes, it’s only been one week, and even this week isn’t done, as we get two games on Monday night. For some teams, there were some major disappointments, while others excelled, as is to be expected. What will be key is how those faced with adversity or major questions respond in week two, and how those who looked the part of a contender handle that success.

MNF picks:

Ravens over Bengals

Chargers over Raiders

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