MULL IT OVER
By David Mullen
If the first weekend of the National Football League regular season games is any indication, this will be a long year for many teams, the fans of them and football in general. Here are some observations:
The season started with a dud. The Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons game was almost unwatchable. Both teams had less than 300 total net yards each. These were supposed to be two of the best teams in the NFC. NBC lead announcer Al Michaels said it best when he stated with a shrug heard around the nation: “We have 22 points and 23 penalties.”
The Dallas Cowboys opened completely unprepared. In recent years, starters have played little, if at all, during the preseason. Maybe it is time to reconsider that plan. The performances of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were lackluster. Prescott averaged less than 10 yards per completion and Elliott rushed for only 69 yards. The Carolina Panthers defense is good, but good enough to hold the Cowboys to one fourth quarter touchdown? And it appears that the team greatly overrated their receiving corps, and possibly the loss of Dez Bryant. How long can Cowboys fans continue to tolerate robo-coach Jason Garrett and his support of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan?
In a related Cowboys note, former tight end Jason Witten had a painful outing as the new color announcer for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Witten set a broadcasting record for using the term “soft zone cover” dozens of times, when he was speaking at all. The more experienced game announcers — play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and field commentator Booger McFarland — stepped over Witten constantly. And there were stretches of minutes where Witten went silent. Given that Tessitore and McFarland are new to NFL announcing, Witten had the opportunity to add insight, much like CBS color commentator and former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo did right out of the box.
The Jon Gruden experiment is a failure. Despite an energetic crowd in Oakland and an entertaining first half where they led 13-10 at halftime, the Raiders came out completely flat in the second half and were routed by the Los Angeles Rams. It was very obvious that they missed Khalil Mack, traded to the Chicago Bears in early September. Plus, the Raiders golden boy — quarterback Derek Carr — looked lost and made some unthinkable errors in the second half.
Who are these guys? Ex-Texas Tech and current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for four touchdowns, and coach Andy Reid made sure that he had his weapons like Tyreek Hill fully utilized. The New Orleans Saints, at home, let the Tampa Bay Buccaneers put up 48 points.
Journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards against the porous Saints defense. And the New York Jets looked like a track team in a rout of the host Detroit Lions. After rookie Jets quarterback Sam Darnold shook off a pick-6 on his first play in the NFL, he looks like the real deal.
Packers magic lives on. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was carted off the field in the first half, but miraculously returned to lead the Packers to a 24-23 victory over Chicago.
The Bears’ Mack was dominant until the late going, when Green Bay scored 21 fourth quarter points. Does Mack regret missing all of training camp?
Cleveland, Buffalo still bad. The host Cleveland Browns tied the Pittsburgh Steelers, so at least they didn’t lose. They could have won in overtime, but kicker Zane Gonzalez had a chip shot field goal blocked with nine seconds left. They have only one win in more than two seasons.
And the Buffalo Bills could only manage a field goal against the Baltimore Ravens.
Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman went 5 for 18 with two interceptions. His 0.0 quarterback rating makes him the worst wing in Buffalo.
So for teams like Atlanta, New Orleans, the Raiders and the Cowboys, one more loss will put them into full panic mode.
And for the team on “Monday Night Football,” panic has already set in.