NFL News and Notes: Week 1

September 15, 2009

The 2009 NFL season got off to a rousing start, as Week One was filled with upsets, comebacks, and some eye-catching performances. Here is a look at the top stories and newsmakers from around the League:

Pats & Chargers Rally Late

A pair of exhilarating finishes on Monday night capped off a wild and unpredictable first week of the season, as the heavily-favored Patriots and Chargers both had to rally late to defeat opponents that on paper seemed to be hopelessly overmatched.

The close wins took on added importance considering that both New England and San Diego were playing against upstart rivals within their respective divisions.

In his first regular season start since infamously being lost for the year in the first quarter of the first game last season, New England's Tom Brady initially proved to be rustier-than-expected, as he threw a first half interception that was brought back to the house for a score.

However, Brady made amends by throwing two clutch touchdown passes in the last 2:06 to rally the Patriots past the Bills 25-24 in Foxborough's Gillette Stadium. The win was the Patriots 13th in a row against their AFC East rivals from upstate New York.

Despite the calm and coldly precise way that Brady operated down the stretch, the Pats improbable win first required a major gaffe by Bills return man Leodis McKelvin to even transpire.

After New England had cut the score to 24-19 on an 18-yard frozen-rope touchdown toss from Brady to tight end Benjamin Watson, McKelvin, the Bills' return ace, fielded a Stephen Gostkowski kick three yards deep in his end zone and boldly decided to bring it out.

This decision would prove costly for the Bills, as McKelvin was belted by Pats safety Brandon Merriweather and then stripped of the ball by Pierre Woods. In the scrum that followed, it was New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski that actually came up with the loose ball.

Emboldened by this unexpectedly quick opportunity to take the lead, Brady and the Pats offense took just three plays before he once again found Watson in the end zone for the game-winning score with :50 to go in the game.

The win did not come without a price for the Patriots, however, as they may have lost their stud second-year linebacker Jerrod Mayo for an as-yet undisclosed amount of time due to an apparent knee injury.

Meanwhile, AFC power San Diego also had to rely on a late rally to eke out a 24-20 win over the suddenly resurgent Raiders in the East Bay's Coliseum.

It appeared that coach Tom Cable's Raiders would pull off the upset when second-year starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell found a streaking Louis Murphy behind a clueless Chargers secondary for a 57-yard touchdown pass. The touchdown occurred on a gutsy fourth-and-15 call from the Raiders' own 43, giving Oakland a 20-17 lead with just over 2:30 to go in the fourth.

But the curiously cocky and loquacious Philip Rivers confidently led the Chargers offense down the field for the winning score. To his credit, Rivers was surprisingly efficient and effective in completing six of seven passes for 79 yards on a final drive which culminated in a 5-yard touchdown run by the diminutive Darren Sproles with :18 left.

What made this last Chargers drive all the more impressive was that it was done without LaDainian Tomlinson and two starters on the offensive line. Moreover, it occurred against a tough defense that routinely had Rivers on his heels throughout much of the game.

Most notable among the many solid performances turned in by the Raiders defensive unit was that of the newly-acquired Richard Seymour. Seymour was traded to Oakland just over a week ago, but had not reported for duty with the team until less than 48 hours before kickoff on Monday.

Despite not having a full practice with his new 'mates, Seymour showed the form that has made him a five-time Pro Bowl selection. The long-time Patriots standout was a force throughout the night, sacking Rivers twice in the first half, and continually disrupting the Chargers offense by blowing up would-be blockers and penetrating the San Diego backfield.

Although the Raiders dominated and out-hit the Chargers on both sides of the ball for most of the game, it was the poised and experienced San Diego offense that wound up making the big plays at the crucial moments late in the fourth quarter. Those key plays earned the Chargers the win, and the honor of being the last team to open the 2009 campaign at 1-0.

Cutler Doesn't Cut It

The 2009 season got off to a rocky start for new QB Jay Cutler and Chicago, as the Bears dropped their season opener 21-15 at Lambeau field against long-time division rival Green Bay.

Cutler - who had famously pouted his way out of Denver - had an absolutely dreadful first regular season start for the Bears, throwing four interceptions including a backbreaking pick right into the arms of Green Bay's Al Harris during the game's final moments.

What made the loss even more disheartening was the fact that the man Chicago traded to get Cutler, Kyle Orton, managed to do the opposite in leading Denver to an unbelievable last-minute win.

Although Orton's passing numbers (17-for-28, 243 yards, 1 TD) were far from impressive, he connected when it mattered most, throwing his lone TD pass on a game-winning, 87-yard, improbable tipped ball "strike" to Brandon Stokley with under a minute to go against the Bengals in Cincinnati.

Although it is still far too early to tell, at least on this Sunday, the Broncos appeared to have come out on top in this trade.

"All Day" Decimates Browns Listless D

In a performance that was none too shocking, Adrian "All Day" Peterson ran through, over, around, and past Browns tacklers all day (pun intended) en route to an 180-yard, three-touchdown performance.

Capping his day off with an electrifying 64-yard jaunt into the end zone in which he juked one Cleveland defender nearly out of his cleats, brutally slung cornerback Eric Wright to the turf like a pesky little brother, stiff-armed another would-be tackler and then accelerated into the end zone, Peterson demonstrated to new signal-caller Brett Favre that Favre's job might be quite a bit easier than he had initially imagined.

After the game, Favre marveled along with the media at the Viking phenom's play, shaking his head and incredulously stating that to call Peterson's play "awesome" would "be an understatement."

Needless to say, if coach Brad Childress and the Vikes staff can convince the legendary Favre to embrace his "game manager" role and simply get the ball into the hands of playmakers Peterson, Bernard Berrian, and rookie wideout Percy Harvin, the Vikings could be booking their tickets to South Florida come February 2010.

So Far, So Good Without T.O. in Big D

In his first game since the departure of Terrell Owens, star quarterback Tony Romo threw for a career-high 353 yards in leading the Dallas Cowboys to a 34-21 win over the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay.

Romo displayed his record-setting form from two seasons ago, as he was nimble in the pocket and looked down the field for big gains. That vertical approach resulted in touchdown passes of 42 yards to Miles Austin, 66 yards to Roy Williams, and 80 yards to wideout Patrick Crayton.

But the real question with Dallas may lie with its defense, as key veterans Greg Ellis, Anthony Henry, and Roy Williams (the other one), are no longer with the team.

By the end of next week we should get a preliminary answer, as the 'Boys will go helmet-to-helmet with their NFC East rival, the New York Giants.

Sanchez Surprises as First-Year Starter

At least on this day, rookie Mark Sanchez made first-year head coach Rex Ryan look like a genius for his decision to start the former USC Trojan under center.

Sanchez found Chansi Stuckey on a 30-yard scoring strike for his first career TD pass, and more importantly, did not make any disastrous mistakes in leading the Jets to victory. In addition, Sanchez was assisted by the hard running of Thomas Jones and a solid effort from their stingy defense, as the D allowed a measly 17 yards rushing to Steve Slaton, and only 35 yards receiving to Andre Johnson.

Cards Suffer Super Letdown Against 49ers

In what they hope won't be a harbinger of things to come following their narrow Super Bowl defeat last season, the Cardinals came up on the short end of a 20-16 home opener against San Francisco.

Although the 49ers certainly appeared to be a much improved and more resilient squad than last season's 7-9 team, the Cardinals didn't do themselves any favors on Sunday by amassing 12 penalties for 82 yards. Needless to say, Arizona will have to clean up their play if they hope to repeat last year's post-season run in what looks to be vastly improved NFC West Division.

Star Players Already Bit by Injury Bug

As is the case in virtually every NFL season, there were a number of significant injuries suffered by notable players on the opening weekend of NFL play.

Among the most high-profile was the knee injury sustained by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (partially torn left MCL) on Thursday night. Initial reports have indicated that the Steelers All-World safety will miss 3-6 weeks, but that surgery will not be required. For any fans of the defending Super Bowl Champs this has to be counted as wonderful news, considering how bad the injury looked when it first occurred.

For fans of the Chicago Bears however, the news probably couldn't be any worse, as published reports out of the Windy City today have indicated that Da Bears may be without the services of All-Pro middle linebacker Brian Urlacher for the rest of the season.

Urlacher, coming off a pair of seasons in which he was hampered by nagging neck and back injuries, suffered a dislocated right wrist at some point during the first half on Sunday. Despite playing the remainder of the half with the injured wrist, Urlacher underwent surgery Monday, effectively ending his 2009 campaign after only 30 minutes.

This loss constitutes a major blow to Lovie Smith's D, and as a result, they are already rumored to have contacted former Buccaneers great Derrick Brooks as a potential replacement.

For the always ornery fans of the Philadelphia Eagles, the enthusiasm over Sunday's 38-10 win over Carolina was tempered somewhat by news that starting QB Donovan McNabb had suffered a fractured rib.

The cracked rib came as a result of a hit he sustained from Carolina defensive lineman Damione Lewis. Lewis appeared to hit McNabb late, well after McNabb had spun off one defender and landed in the end zone.

The fallout from McNabb's injury might not be felt until next week, as third-year man Kevin Kolb will likely get the start should McNabb be deemed unfit to suit up against the Saints on Sunday. Even though the embattled (and still currently ineligible) Michael Vick is waiting in the wings, the Eagles decided to go out and sign veteran Jeff Garcia as insurance for the next few weeks.

But the main story in Philly eventually will be Vick.

The Eagles signing of the mercurial Vick was met with a mixture of both chagrin and elation by fans in the Illadelph, and once he takes the field, Vick's various successes and failures should only deepen the factional divide existing within the famously fickle fan base in the City of Brotherly Love.

Needless to say, it looks like things are shaping up to be one of the most exciting and unpredictable seasons in memory -- both in Philadelphia, and around the rest of the NFL.

By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for

With contributions by Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

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