It’s starting to get late, early, in Buffalo. And, well, it’s always late in Cleveland.
I don’t want to get too crazy after just one week of NFL football, but I’m going to do it anyway.
There was ample reason for concern about how these two teams would fare this season, and all of it is warranted. The Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns have the potential to go off the rails quite rapidly, and both are already staring at daunting challenges following their dismal Week 1 showings.
Worst of all, the losses exposed pretty much everything you had to fear most about the perpetually rebuilding clubs.
Oh, where to begin.
Bills coach Rex Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley began this season under duress to produce on the field and form a playoff team — merely talking about how good they are/could be/can be/should be — isn’t going to cut it anymore. They must put together a disciplined squad that no longer undermines itself with silly and ill-advised penalties, that finds a way to protect talented-but-spindly quarterback Tyrod Taylor , that rises to the occasion with the game on the line.
Instead, Bills fans were treated to mostly what they have come to expect from the team. Bonehead penalty after bonehead penalty, blowing timeouts, committing devastating mental errors and watching Taylor get twisted up like a pretzel.
The Bills were sleepwalking through the first half, outgained 114-2 at one point, with a Baltimore Ravens botched snap the biggest thing preventing Baltimore from taking a bigger early lead.
The secondary — what should be one of the strengths of the team — was blowing coverages and, true to form, once the Bills began to establish momentum in the second half their undisciplined nature revealed itself.
At one point late in the game the Ravens had been granted twice as many first downs via penalty (four) as they had rushing the football. The Bills cut the lead to 10-7, and had Baltimore backed up deep, with the Ravens starting to reel.
Then came a span of two personal fouls in a three-play sequence, shifting field position and gifting the Ravens midfield. Then, with about seven minutes left, the Ravens connected on a field goal.
But another silly penalty gave them a first down and coach John Harbaugh smartly took the points off the board. Although Buffalo’s defense held from giving up a touchdown, Baltimore took two-plus more minutes off the clock before hitting the field goal again. In a one-possession game, that was big.
These problems were compounded by the fact that Buffalo was down to one timeout late, allowing Baltimore to essentially burn the game by picking up a first down late. It all looked a little too familiar. And now Ryan faces another one of his former teams, the desperate New York Jets , in a short week, knowing an 0-2 start here could start an avalanche for himself, and his team.
And no doubt Taylor will be feeling less than 100 percent after the beating he took Sunday (oh, and starting left tackle Cordy Glenn is a walking boot to go with the litany of injuries and suspension the team is already coping with).
Browns embarrassed by a player they passed on
As for the Browns, no one would have the audacity to consider them a playoff team; their problem is they just blew a chance to get one of few potential wins on their schedule and were embarrassed by a rookie quarterback, Carson Wentz .
Wentz missed most of the preseason due to injury and is a player who Cleveland’s front office — which held the second overall pick at one point — reportedly didn’t believe would be one of the top 20 QBs in the league. If you thought the Browns would get the first overall pick in 2017 on Saturday, well no doubt you feel even stronger about that now.
They were destroyed in every facet of the game by a bad, rebuilding Philadelphia Eagles team. All that hype about RG3 and Corey Coleman in the summer? Yeah, that was because they were going against Cleveland’s non-existent defense. As I and others predicted, the Robert Griffin III experiment was loath with concerns — particularly his health — and he was receiving attention on the sidelines, behind a woeful offensive line, before his first game with the Browns was complete.
Wentz had some marvelous drives and except for a stretch in the first half following a studly opening touchdown drive, he was allowed to get way too comfortable.
Griffin, meantime, couldn’t hit receivers, and still has all kinds of issues reading the field. The Browns ran a gimmicky offense devoid of the ability to run the football (they had the ball for like seven minutes in the second half) and they have the look of a team that will have more people in the pressbox at Notre Dame Fighting Irish games scouting their quarterback than they will post wins this season.
If Griffin is still on that roster next September I’ll wear my hair in a bun.
They are absolutely the last franchise that should be making waves about their evaluations of any other players in the league, yet they found a way to turn this pedestrian contest into a referendum on their super-analytics on Wentz, and, well, they came out of it the butt of more jokes. Unless the Pittsburgh Steelers lose to the Washington Redskins on Monday, they’ll be right back where you can almost always find them — last in the AFC North standings.
More notes from around the NFL on Week 1:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The only thing more impressive than Jameis Winston shredding the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday (and let’s face it that’s still a brutal defense in Atlanta) was him somehow willing Florida State to their season opening victory despite, you know not actually being on that team anymore. Winston is going to put up huge numbers this season — look out when he gets his first look at that atrocity the New Orleans Saints are putting together on defense again. He wasn’t out and about and he wasn’t doing the club thing or the Hollywood thing. He was working on his body and working on his mind and working on his craft, and the Bucs will be a possible playoff team because of it.
New York Jets
Brutal loss for the Jets, and major props to the Cincinnati Bengals for showing tenacity and grit in a hostile, playoff-like environment. New York showed up big in the trenches and will be a factor. That is the best 3-4 defensive line in the NFL for my money, and Sheldon Richardson comes back from his suspension to face the Bills on Thursday. The Jets will be motivated by their losses to Buffalo a year ago — which kept them from the postseason — and if they can clean up a few issues with safety coverage (and keep two men on Sammie Watkins the way they failed to with A.J. Green , the biggest reason for the Bengals win), I like their chances to bounce back quickly. They’d certainly better, because New York’s next four games are monsters — at Kansas City, against Seattle, at Pittsburgh and at Arizona. Yikes.
How about Jack “Brass Balls” Del Rio? Not sure we’ll see a gutsier coaching decision all season than his move to go for two and the win in the dying seconds at New Orleans. His secondary remains in tatters, although we’ll see over time how much of that was Drew Brees playing in a dome and how much is on the Raiders, which prompted him to try to keep the game out of his defenses hands, but that’s another signature moment for young QB Derek Carr and I have to believe an emotional road win like that could have some carryover for this young team.
I will be interested to see if the scope of the Texans offense expands as the season goes on. They faced a very bad Chicago Bears team at home on Sunday, and Brock Osweiler was still mostly asked to be functional. At one point he was 14 of 23 for 108 yards, and 37 of them came on a touchdown pass. The yards per attempt was big-time dink and dunk, but if he can be true on the deep ball, and Will Fuller holds on to them, that big-play element will be vital. This was a day in which J.J. Watt very much looked like a guy who hadn’t had a training camp, but that will change as he gets his legs under him.
Wonder how close Mike Zimmer came to benching Shaun Hill at halftime? Regardless, the Vikings coach is a smart cookie and his defense and specials teams are enough to beat inferior opponents like Tennessee, anyway. I figured he might go to Sam Bradford in the third quarter, but Zimmer stuck with Hill, who was not very good at all. This was again a very limited passing game and the biggest surprise to me was the Vikings and Adrian Peterson could not bully the ball on the ground against what has been a very bad defense. That will be the most telling thing to watch; Minnesota can’t win at the line of scrimmage on offense and they can’t win, period. Whether it’s Bradford or Hill under center, they need to be a top five rushing offense to have a chance to make this season count.
Green Bay Packers
I have had several evaluators I trust mention to me at one point or another this summer their concerns about the state of the Packers roster. It’s not nearly as deep and talented as in the past, they say, and this could be much more of a struggle for Green Bay than many assume. Of course, they have Aaron Rodgers who covers a lot of that up — and he made some otherworldly throws Sunday to hold off a pesky Jacksonville Jaguars team — but that’s tough to rely on every week. Jordy Nelson got better as the game went on but he’s clearly not in top form yet coming off his injury.
San Diego Chargers
Not much positive for San Diego to take from yet another crushing defeat, and that’s no way to open a season. But I love the more angry, physical approach they took up front and the desire with which Melvin Gordon ran the football. With Keenan Allen likely out for the season with a knee injury, the rushing attack needs to be much improved.
Also, couldn’t help watching Joey Bosa pace around the sidelines in a T-shirt and shorts. The biggest loser is that idiotic holdout wasn’t him or the Chargers, but likely coach Mike McCoy, who couldn’t coach up his top pick on a defense that badly needs help, and then inevitably lost him to a muscle injury once he got around to putting pen to paper. On what became a very emotional day for San Diego, having a kid who picked up a $17 million bonus but is still unable to get through a practice couldn’t have been what anyone had in mind when he was drafted third overall.
Color me shocked the Dolphins were able to hold down the Seattle Seahawks offense on the road. Didn’t see that coming. Russell Wilson looked hobbled and gimpy, Seattle’s makeshift offensive line remains something to keep an eye on, and this slow start looked an awful lot like some of those September and October Seahawks games from a year ago.
The Cowboys aren’t mulling any sort of quarterback change and there is anything but a QB controversy there — it’s Tony Romo ‘s job when he comes back and he remains on target to do that after their bye. However, Dak Prescott is playing his way into the QB of the future and he’s already a credible starting option.
I’ve been fully impressed since watching his first preseason game at the L.A. Coliseum and he has so much going for him. But he’s not Romo and this is Romo’s team. Losing Romo for this early part of the season will be big for the organization down the line — in 2017 or 2018 or whenever the baton is passed or whenever Romo gets hurt again — but this is Romo’s team, as it should be.
It was great to see Andrew Luck come alive as the Colts game wore on, and he was back to his old tricks rallying a team that had little going on after falling behind early. After a lost 2016, he took a while to get heated up. Playing catch-up football once again brought out the best in him, and, unlike last year, he wasn’t responsible for the deficit; that’s on a defense that had better find a way to get a lot better from week to week.