Monday, September 08, 2003

We're on offense, you incredible nincompoop!

Week One of the 2003 NFL season is almost in the books (except for tonight's Philly-Tampa matchup, which ought to be a barn-burner of a game). It's interesting that a lot of the time you can hear the same cliches from both winning and losing teams on Week One: It's just one game. It's not an entire season. There's a lot of football left, and we've got a lot of work to do if we want to get to where we want to be.

But the thing with cliches is that they become cliches for a reason: there's a lot of truth there. A lot of teams have started 1-0 and missed the playoffs over the years, and a lot of teams have started 0-1 and made the playoffs. Excluding the possibility of ties (which are very rare in the NFL), by definition at least four of the sixteen teams that start their seasons 1-0 will miss the playoffs.

But damn, that 31-0 pasting the Bills put on the Patriots yesterday felt good! Truly, I haven't had that much fun watching a Bills game in several years, probably back to the Flutie era. There's just something about following your favorite team through the first couple of years of a rebuilding process, seeing the young players brought in and then the gaps filled in through free-agency, and then, when you think the rebuilding should finally begin to pay off, seeing it happen with a blowout victory over not just any other team but a division rival that's two years removed from winning the Super Bowl and a team that has had your team's number the last few years.

Week One was just an appetizer. But oh, what an appetizer it was.

The game wasn't perfect, by any means. The Bills' offensive line still does entirely too much holding (although, to my knowledge and incredible surprise, Ruben Brown didn't get flagged for any of it). They did a great job at the line of scrimmage, but I would have liked to have seen even more dominance. That should get better, though, as the year goes on and the line comes together again. Travis Henry, true to form, fumbled once. Drew Bledsoe's decision making was what it should have been, given that he generally had a lot more time to throw than he ever did last year (he was only sacked twice). He only threw one interception, and that was at the very end of the first half when he gambled on a pretty-much meaningless play. He also did a great job of spreading the ball to his receivers.

Of course, defense was the story yesterday, after I carped about it every week last year. They only sacked Tom Brady twice - - I'd still like to see more pass-rush - - but they hurried him a lot; they picked off four of his passes (when, last year, the Bills didn't pick off a single pass until their seventh game). They were very physical at the line. I would have liked to have seen them play a bit stiffer against the run, but they still held the Pats down in that regard. And I knew the Bills were getting a good player when they signed Takeo Spikes, but…wow.

Finally, on the matter of coaching: yeah, it's just one game, but I can't help but wonder if Bill Belichick's bag of tricks has finally been exhausted. Every time they showed him on the sidelines, he looked like he had no idea of what to do next. His team looked flat and unmotivated. (Cutting one of the best-loved players on the team four days before the season opener will do that.) He looked like a guy who had no answers, a guy to whom the pace of the game was dictated by his opponent. That's how Gregg Williams has occasionally looked in his first two years; it was great to see that shoe on the other foot for once.

Yeah, it's one game. But what a game. For the first time in the Gregg Williams era, the Bills are 1-0. For the first time in the Gregg Williams era, the Bills are in sole possession of first place in the AFC East. For the first time in the Gregg Williams era, the Bills have shut out an opponent. For the first time in the Gregg Williams era, the Bills played the sharper and more physical game than their opponent.

Oh yeah.

Some other NFL notes:

:: Kurt Warner fumbled six times. I wonder if he really needs a new environment now.

:: It looks like my nefarious scheme, in which I paid a guy to sneak into the Dolphins' locker room and turn their wall calendar to "December", has already paid off. Interestingly, their supposedly-great defense didn't manage to sack the Texans' QB, David Carr, a single time despite the fact that last year I think Carr set an NFL record for getting sacked. That clicking sound you hear is Dave Wannstedt's fingers on his computer keyboard as he updates his resume.

:: Vikings, Steelers, Redskins, 49ers…it looks as if every team I rooted for yesterday won. That hasn't happened since, well, I'm not sure it's ever happened. I saw no highlights of the Vikings' victory over the Packers, but I do note that it happened at Lambeau and that maybe Randy Moss has finally grown up, now that he needs to be a veteran leader on a young team.

:: I don't get ESPN, so I didn't get to see the esteemable Mr. Limbaugh on NFL Countdown. But according to TBOGG, his big attempt at prognostication backfired rather spectacularly. Heh. Indeed.

:: Sean is slowly, slowly weakening. He will bow to us. Oh, yessss….

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