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Crazy Train  
 
Rich Eisen  By Rich Eisen
Special to NFL.com

(Sept. 13, 2005) -- Indeed, Week 1 of the National Football League season was a runaway train ride to crazy. A local train ride, with multiple stops. Like the stop in San Francisco. And Miami. And Minnesota, Kansas City, Detroit, Jacksonville and San Diego.

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It was crazy in each of those seven football towns where, this past Sunday, a non-playoff team from 2004 beat a playoff team from 2004. In those towns, 2005 opened a can against 2004. In those towns, the aspect of greatness unique to this league was resoundingly reinforced: every year is a new year. Every team -- no matter how putrid or nightmarish its previous season -- has a true, legitimate reason to view glasses as half full. What more important lesson could be taken from a win like San Francisco's over St. Louis?

Right now, your sole-possession NFC West leader after Week 1 is the team that went 2-14 last year. Now, of course, a Week 2 visit to Philadelphia could prove to be somewhat of a euphoria-dampening experience for the 49ers. That said, how many NFL teams by season's end will be able to say it spent one full week looking down on all the division competition? Not all, that's for sure.

Your Super Bowl host Detroit Lions are also a division leader just one week into the "Road to Forty." The same goes for the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs, whose defense stopped more than just its own shadow against the Jets.

Now, I hear what you're saying. It's just one small measly week. They run marathons, not sprints in the National Football League. Perhaps nothing can be gleaned from anything we just witnessed this past weekend ... and yet perhaps something can. Perhaps this year's version of the Chargers (last year's version of the Panthers) just got born in one of those seven towns.

And perhaps that very newborn Cinderella just began its season-long magic carpet ride to the playoffs only to have their hopes and dreams ruthlessly crushed by the Patriots again.

Ah yes, while the NFL does offer sky limits to the downtrodden, it also has its constants. Let's be honest: The league wouldn't be all that great if all 32 NFL seasons began as complete and total, pardon the expression, crap shoots. Clearly, they're not. To figure that out, all one needs do is look to the south end of Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots hung their third Super Bowl banner in the last four years. If all the action in the aforementioned seven towns proved that things can change, the action that took place in New England proved that things are also the same.

Sure, after all the Ozzy Osbourne smoke cleared (on the field), a notion of doubt crept in once the Raiders scored on their opening possession. It was the first time a New England opponent had hit paydirt on its first touch in 37 games, including the playoffs. Maybe they were missing Tedy Bruschi, after all. And then came that Randy Moss 73-yard touchdown, the longest scoring play coughed up by the Patriots defense in five years. Hmmm. Maybe Romeo Crennel chilling in Cleveland could prove costly.

Hah! Logan Mankins scoffs at your intransigence!

Vince Wilfork gets congrats after his first career interception.  
Vince Wilfork gets congrats after his first career interception.    
The Patriots hit the locker room at halftime and Kerry Collins hit the deck thereafter. The Raiders fell victim to the dreaded "Belichick Halftime Adjustments." After a half of hanging with the two-time defending world champs, the Silver and Black suddenly couldn't do a single thing except commit penalties ... and punt. Then, midway through the third quarter, the Patriots defense came up with their obligatory turnover. This time, however, the obligatory turnover came with an O-Henry like twist: an interception by a 325-pound man. Indeed, Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork came up with a pick that and, on NFL Total Access, Rod Woodson unequivocally called "the only interception he'll have in his career." The man does have 73 of them on his resume. He should know.

At any rate, I believe you get the point: I must see the Patriots get knocked out of the playoffs before I believe it. Until I personally see a dejected Tom Brady trudge off a playoff field with a sullen Bill Belichick, I can not believe anyone will beat the New England Patriots after December.

Their business-like and cold-blooded approach is downright unsettling. It's another season, but in the very first game of 2005, the Patriots served notice that you still must play your best four quarters to date in order to beat them. They're like the Robocops of the NFL and, like the actual Robocop, the Patriots could be unleashed on Detroit in February.

But again, you could say it's just one week. And in the coming weeks, the Patriots will play four of their next five games on the road: at Carolina, at Pittsburgh, home for San Diego, then at Atlanta and at Denver. A ferocious looking schedule, and yet only two of those teams won their season opener -- the Steelers and Falcons.

Again, how much can we read into Week 1? Have we just seen trends set or flashes in the pan flourish? Whatever your stance, there is no denying this fact: We got our first answers to the many questions we spent the entire offseason posing on NFL Total Access. Here now, a run through some of the more significant issues and their early returns.

Will Ben Roethlisberger suffer a sophomore jinx? Week 1 verdict: nope. So many folks wanted to know what Roethlisberger could possibly do for an encore following his all-world rookie season, and the answer is simple: keep handing the ball off. If all a quarterback has to do to win is put the ball up 11 times, as Roethlisberger did against the Titans, it's all gravy. And if Big Ben needs to win a game on his arm this year, I believe he is fully equipped to do just that. Looking down the road, he may have to do just that. But, for the time being, with guys like Willie Parker coming off the bench from third on the depth chart, Roethlisberger can just hand it off, stay the course, toss his two touchdowns in 11 attempts and keep on winning.

Harrington showed moxy when his team needed to put the game away.  
Harrington showed moxy when his team needed to put the game away.    
Will Joey Harrington go boom or bust in his boom or bust season? Week 1 verdict: it's not bust. The Lions won a game they usually lose, and the bottom line is that Harrington did not lose it. Sure, the Lions defense did a lot of the work: They held Ahman Green to just 58 yards rushing and hectored Brett Favre into three turnovers. To be honest, they made No. 4 look all of his 35 years. However, midway through the fourth quarter, the Packers were still close ... and we usually know what happens then. But, with 7:45 left, Harrington took to the field and led the Lions down it. He completed all three of his passes, including the game-sealing scoring strike to one of those much talked-about weapons at his disposal, rookie Mike Williams.

Did the Kansas City Chiefs finally fix their defense? Week 1 verdict: yes. If not for a garbage touchdown with 29 seconds left, the Chiefs would have handed the Jets their first shutout in a decade. This, from a team that recently had a tough time pitching a shutout in just one quarter. This was a far different story: Kansas City forced seven fumbles and three turnovers. Last year's league-leading rusher, Curtis Martin, had only 57 yards on 20 carries. With Sammy Knight and Patrick Surtain holding up the secondary fort, and Kendrell Bell and Derrick Johnson solidifying the middle, the Kansas City defense sure looked pretty darn fixed. Of course the Jets helped matters, which leads to ...

How effective can Chad Pennington be coming off shoulder surgery? Week 1 verdict: not very. Pennington had six fumbles, three of them on poor exchanges from the center, with two of them lost. Now, of course, that has little to do with a bad shoulder, unless, of course, the bad shoulder is still in the back of Pennington's mind. Pennington did have a poor interception, but he also had a sure-fire touchdown pass dropped by Laveranues Coles. Pennington swatted away the inevitable postgame questions about his shoulder soundness, saying: "It's a 16-round fight, and we lost the first round. We have to come back and do everything we can to try to win the second round." That second round comes at home against Miami ...

Can Nick Saban make the rarely successful jump from college to pros? Week 1 verdict: absolutely. Worst season in 35 years? What worst season in 35 years? In their first game under the regime of the Nick-tator, the Miami Dolphins looked like a well-prepared, well-balanced football team. When was the last time you could say that about the Dolphins? Theei defense was ferocious, but their offense was downright Frerotte-ious! 426 total yards of offense -- their most in three years! -- and 151 yards on the ground? It's almost downright Dungy-like ...

Can the Colts finally button up their defense to help take the next step? Week 1 verdict: it's buttoned. Had the Colts defense been matching Tony Dungy's reputation for stinginess, we wouldn't have been making tongue-in-cheek references to the high-powered offense as "Air Dungy" all this time. Against the Ravens, Dungy's Tampa Bay defense finally arrived in Indianapolis. How many times could you say this about the Colts?: Their defense kept them in the game until Peyton Manning could get on track. That is what happened in Baltimore where the addition of Corey Simon to a line with Dwight Freeney proved quite maddening for the Ravens. If the Ravens thought T.O. mocking the Ray Lewis dance in their end zone was bad enough, the less-decorated Cato June taking one to the house and dancing like Deion Sanders could not have been much of a picnic either. In the end, a late garbage touchdown prevented the Colts from pitching their first shutout in eight years. That said, you could still say it was the Ravens offense they were playing ...

Is Kyle Boller the guy who can take Baltimore deep into the playoffs? Week 1 verdict: yikes! Before scoring in the final seconds, the Ravens offense didn't cross the Colts' 20 a single time. To make matters worse, when the offense stalled, Matt Stover missed every field goal attempted. Boller and the Ravens offense did not stand up well under the mounting pressure and, in the end, Boller could not even stand. The offensive line might still be seeing the Colts in their sleep. The game recap in the Baltimore Sun summed it all up: "The Ravens' new-look offense has the same old problems." And it sure doesn't seem as if Boller is going to get the chance to fix them any time soon -- a hyperextended toe has him on the shelf, perhaps for some time. One must wonder if Anthony Wright is right, what happens when Boller returns? Putting it mildly, the Ravens had a lot of work to do on offense like ... Minnesota?

How can the Vikings fill the offensive void left by Randy Moss ? Week 1 verdict: hung jury. As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers put the famed Brentson Buckner "Bang Thang" on the Vikings offense, their one safety valve for which they frequently reached over the years was probably sitting on his couch in Northern California. In the past, with Daunte Culpepper harassed and the running game going nowhere, how many times did the Vikings change their fates by just reaching back and hoisting one vertically to No. 84? Of course, to pin the performance solely on the lack of Moss is over-simplifying things (the offensive line looked quite porous), but there is no denying the cold, hard facts. In the first game of the post-Moss era, Culpepper turned the ball over five times and did not lead his team to an offensive touchdown for the first time in four years! On the bright side, the defense does look tightened -- an interception by one of their many new additions, former Packers safety Darren Sharper, provided Minnesota's only touchdown of the day. However, it appears the Vikings have sudden offensive problems ... unlike the Cowboys.

Could Drew Bledsoe be the answer for Dallas? Week 1 verdict: indeed. Conventional wisdom had it that the slow-footed Drew Bledsoe could only be of help to the Cowboys if he was kept upright. And yet, in his first game wearing the Dallas Star, Bledsoe got sacked four times ... and he still threw for three touchdowns with no picks while missing on only 6 of 24 passes. It sure seemed as if he found some chemistry with Keyshawn Johnson, who enjoyed only his second two-touchdown game in the last three years. It sure also seemed as if the Cowboys have a keeper in Patrick Crayton, who sent all fantasy football freaks scurrying back to their preview magazines to find out just who in the world he is. (He's a second-year receiver out of the football hotbed of Northwest Oklahoma State, who snagged six catches for 89 yards and a score.) As for Bledsoe, for a man who is supposed to crumble under constant pressure -- physical or figurative -- he came from behind three different times, on the road, in the house of the defending AFC West champs. All of the above could be one very big uh-oh for the rest of the competition in the NFC ... including Philadelphia.

Trotter missed the game, but the Falcons didn't, holding on for a 14-10 win.  
Trotter missed the game, but the Falcons didn't, holding on for a 14-10 win.    
Will Terrell Owens be able to play for the Eagles and contribute? Week 1 verdict: Totally. After all the hand-wringing over Owens' offseason contractual demands and holdout threats and subsequent training camp antics, there was T.O. on Monday night, starting for the Philadelphia Eagles. Of his 45 passes on the night, Donovan McNabb threw 19 of them to Owens, who wound up with 122 yards receiving. The fact that Owens was held without a touchdown for the first time in eight Monday night games is a credit solely to an Atlanta defense that took it to Philly. Yes, the Eagles and Falcons fortunes may diverge from here on out, but one gets the sinking feeling that Atlanta may have just gained one fat, key tiebreaker on the defending NFC champs come playoff time.

Random Thoughts

Now that I've officially entered the National Football League blogosphere, I've studied the competition and noticed that if I'm to write a weekly column on the NFL, I need a random thoughts section. Apparently, it has become a necessary evil. Perhaps to balance out a column rife with such minutiae as two-deep zone breakdowns, some scribes feel the need to carve out space to pop off about airplane food or the umpires at their kids' softball games. Some opine about their favorite sports movies. In order to hang with the best, I have come to the realization I must have random thoughts. Once this column gets rolling, I might even use reader e-mail if I get any. One thing I won't have, I can guarantee you, is my own cartoon on the main page of this website. So here we go. My random thoughts.

  • I almost retired in New England on the night of Kickoff 2005. How else could I possibly top being able to interview both the Osbourne parents in one night? Prior to the game, we had Sharon Osbourne on NFL Total Access, and then after his rousing rendition of "Crazy Train," the actual Prince of Darkness himself gave us a one-on-one interview. Sharon visited us on the set before the game and brought her small Pomeranian named Minnie with her. I got the scoop from Sharon that Ozzy had never attended a football game before in his life. Take that Entertainment Tonight! Eat your heart out, Pat O'Brien! Before Sharon got up and whisked Minnie away, I realized that the dog had a better credential than me. Hanging from her collar, Minnie had an all-access pass. I did not. After Sharon and Minnie left, I called my wife to let her know the bizarre set of circumstances that brought Mrs. Osbourne and Robert Kraft to the same chair on our set about 30 minutes apart from one another. My wife told me that Minnie goes to the same groomer in L.A. as our dog, Hudson. So, I have that going for me. Which is nice.

Ozzy was in usual Ozzy form Thursday night.  
Ozzy was in usual Ozzy form Thursday night.    

  • In order to score the Ozzy interview, we wound up missing the entire Raiders opening drive waiting for him. But, in the end, it was worth it. The chat lasted no more than 90 seconds, but it was a complete out-of-body experience for yours truly. Imagine Charlie Brown's teacher with an English accent -- that's what it was like trying to understand him. He was real sweet and harmless. And him recording the tagline to our show opening ("Hi! I'm Ozzy Osbourne and NFL Total Access starts right now!") may have been the top highlight in the soon to be two-year history of the program. Some staffers, however, believe nothing will ever top Beyonce's tagline from Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston. They may have a point.
  • Ozzy went from our interview to one with entertainment minx Maria Menounos. For all those Hollywood tabloid television fans out there keeping score at home, Maria left Entertainment Tonight for Access Hollywood. At any rate, Maria was there strolling around in white Capri pants and a throwback Steve Grogan jersey about a size too small. Quality. (I noticed that all random thoughts portions of NFL blogs must include an occasional one word sentence. It's usually an adjective to render an opinion on something. I told you, I've done my homework.)
  • Here's another scoop on The Insiders and ETs of the world. The organizers of the pregame Kickoff extravaganza asked Green Day to sing We Are The Champions for the New England faithful to swoon to en masse, prior to the unveiling of their third Super Bowl banner in four years. Green Day said: no chance. You see, the band is from Oakland and there was apparently no way Green Day was going to serenade the Patriots and their fans in such a fashion with their beloved Raiders also in the house. Apparently, they told the league they would never be able to go home to Oakland and look their friends in the face. That Green Day has got moxie, I tell you. (Lord, I sound like Larry King now.)
  • There could be no better place to watch NFL games on a Sunday than on the set of NFL Total Access. I defy anyone to put forward a better setup: Two 108-inch screens flanking a massive 180-inch screen TV, enabling us to watch as many as nine games at once. We dissect each 108-incher into quadrants and then watch the ninth game on the big mama in the middle. I can safely say there is nothing better than watching a football game in Hi-Definition on a 180-inch television set. The only issue is debating which TV gets the middle screen status since that's the only game we can listen to with sound. Surround sound I might add. Thanks to this wondrous configuration, very little escapes us. To wit.
  • The best new football commercial on TV might just be the Burger King spots where the life-sized, big-headed, robe-draped King is super-imposed on the field in actual NFL highlights taking various balls to the house. In one spot, the King takes the place of Deion Sanders when he picked off Drew Bledsoe in Baltimore last year. In another, the King is Moe Williams, taking the famous lateral from Randy Moss into the end zone for six. Priceless. (See? Another one word sentence. Classic. Help! I can't stop!)
  • Fox has way more Hi-Definition games than CBS, but we the fans watching AFC football aren't the only ones losing out. We noticed last year that certain broadcast teams on the "Eye" never get a sniff of a Hi-Def ballgame. For instance, the talented Ian Eagle, teamed with NFL Network's own Solomon Wilcots, did not get a single Hi-Def game last year. We began dubbing their contests the "I-Analog Game of the Week." Lo and behold, Week 1 of the 2005 season and the "I-Analog Game of the Week" still lives! This week, CBS, Eagle and Wilcots brought you the Bengals-Browns in the magic of blurry analog television. We here in this space (and I speak for the entire crew of NFL Total Access ) stand in continued protest of the lack of a Hi-Def game for Ian Eagle and will post the "I-Analog Game of the Week" each week until he gets one!

Bernie Kukar means business on the football field.  
Bernie Kukar means business on the football field.    

  • Nobody calls illegal hands to the face quite like referee Bernie Kukar. I mean, this guy really gets into it. He will take an open palm from his gangly arm, cover his entire cheek and chin and then shove his head back. When Bernie calls illegal hands to the face, it's all business and part mime.
All right, that's all I've got from Week 1. See you on the crazy train tracks in Week 2.
 
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