Week One Excitement

Week one of the NFL season certainly had plenty of excitement.  In addition to honoring America’s victims and fallen heroes from the tragic September 11 attacks of 2001, the first week’s NFL games featured some record-breaking performances.

New England Patriots:  38
Miami Dolphins:  24

The Dolphins-Patriots game was much closer than the scoreboard indicates.  The Dolphins were in the game until a turnover at the Patriots’ one-yard line resulted in a 99-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Wes Welker.

This game was a competitive game that featured Brady and Chad Henne putting on a gun slinging show ala Dan Marino and Drew Bledsoe.  Back in September of 1994, Marino (Dolphins) passed for five touchdowns and 473 yards while Bledsoe (Patriots) passed for four touchdowns and 421 yards in a 39-35 Dolphins victory.

Marino and Bledsoe’s combined 894 yards passing was not an NFL record, however.  The NFL record belonged to Marino and New York Jets quarterback Ken O’Brien in a 51-45 Jets victory on September 21, 1986.  Marino passed for six touchdowns and 448 yards in a losing effort; O’Brien passed for four touchdowns (including the game-winner) and 479 yards.

Tom Brady's 517 yards passing became a new Monday Night Football record and the 5th-most passing yards in a single game.

O’Brien and Marino’s combined 927 yards passing were an NFL record until Brady (517 yards) and Henne (416 yards) combined for a staggering 933 yards.

Brady’s 517 yards became a new Monday Night Football record, as well as a new Patriots record.  Brady’s 517 yards passing are the fifth-most in a single game.

Only Norm Van Brocklin (554), Warren Moon (527), Boomer Esiason (522) and Marino (521) have ever topped Brady’s 517-yard performance. 

Oakland Raiders:  23
Denver Broncos:  20

After the exciting record-breaking performances by Brady and Henne, the second Monday Night Football game of the night featured kicker Sebastian Janikowski tying an NFL record by kicking a 63-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter.  Prior to Janikowski, only Tom Dempsey and Jason Elam had made such a long kick.

Sebastian Janikowski boots an NFL record 63-yard field goal.

Being a kicker is usually a thankless job that receives too much criticism for missed kicks; however, the Raiders must be thrilled with the luxury of having Janikowski’s booming leg making a difference in a three-point victory.

Janikowski may not be the most accurate kicker in the NFL; however, he can kick a football further than anybody.  If anybody would ever have a chance to break the record, it will likely be Janikowski.

The Raiders put on a good defensive performance and frustrated Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton all night.  If Orton continues to struggle, Broncos fans may be calling for Brady Quinn or Tim Tebow to receive playing time. 

Arizona Cardinals:  28
Carolina Panthers:  21

Despite the Panthers’ loss, the big story in this game was the NFL debut of Cam Newton.  Prior to the season, Newton had many detractors who questioned whether or not he could succeed at the NFL level.  I admit that I happened to be one of those critics; however, I was not ready to write Newton off yet.  I merely believed Newton would struggle as a rookie before eventually becoming a serviceable NFL quarterback; I had no thoughts whatsoever of Newton ever being a franchise quarterback.

Number one pick Cam Newton passed for 422 yards and two touchdowns in his NFL debut.

After watching Newton’s play, I must admit I was impressed with his performance.  Fantasy football pundits will look at his 24 completions on 37 passes, two touchdowns and 422 yards passing (an NFL record for a quarterback debut); however, there are other reasons to be excited about Newton’s performance.

When observing Newton’s play, I noticed that he appeared to be very poised, had his eyes downfield and did not rush or force his throws.  His passes were nice tight spirals and they were thrown accurately.

Newton did get sacked four times, however.  The sacks should eventually reduce with more experience as he later becomes more comfortable with the offense.  I initially had no thoughts of Newton ever being a legitimate franchise quarterback; however, if he continues to play the way he played against the Cardinals, then he will be a franchise quarterback.

Panthers fans should not get too carried away after that impressive performance, however.  The fact of the matter is that Newton is still a rookie and will eventually have bad games.  Being an NFL quarterback is a learning experience.  Nevertheless, his NFL debut was a spectacular performance that may have left the Panthers front office feeling vindicated for selecting him with the number one overall pick.

Surprises

The Baltimore Ravens defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers should not come as a major shock to people; however, the Steelers’ seven turnovers and conceding 35 points to the Ravens do come as a shock.  The biggest surprise of all in the opening week had to be the Buffalo Bills scoring 41 points in a 41-7 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Record-breaking performances and surprising upsets… week one could not have been any crazier, could it?  Yes, it could and it did.  There were numerous special teams touchdowns this week.

Eric Decker of the Broncos returned a Shane Lechler punt for 90 yards against the Raiders.  Ted Ginn of the San Francisco 49ers returned a kickoff for 102 yards against the Seattle Seahawks; 59 seconds later, Ginn returned a punt 55 yards for another touchdown.  Percy Harvin of the Minnesota Vikings returned the game’s opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers.  Jacoby Jones of the Houston Texans returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts.  Darren Sproles of the New Orleans Saints returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers.  Randall Cobb of the Packers later returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown against the Saints.

In total, there were seven touchdowns scored by special teams in the NFL in week one!  There was also a touchdown scored on a special teams mishap, as the Dallas Cowboys blocked a Jets punt while Isaiah Trufant picked it up and ran 18 yards for the touchdown.

Upsets galore, record-breaking performances, seven touchdowns by special teams and four quarterbacks passing for 400-plus yards made for an extremely exciting week one in the 2011 NFL season.  While there is plenty more excitement to be had this season, week one will be a difficult one to top for a while.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

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