Double Teamed: Wild weekend in unlocked NFL

September 15, 2011

Nothing has been normal in the NFL since Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers claimed the Super Bowl crown last February. In a summer when ESPN’s legal analyst, Roger Cossack got more air time than Ron Jaworski, teams missed out on critical time preparing for the upcoming season. Yet after the lockout was finally settled, all seemed right in the universe. Yes, players were rushed into preseason games and forced to bury their heads in playbooks. But a season was on the horizon, fantasy football was back, and the greatest American Sunday tradition was saved.

But, when the last two Super Bowl champions met to kick off the 2011 season and Week One concluded on Monday night, the NFL still wasn’t back to normal. Teams combined to throw for 7,842 net passing yards, the most ever in one week. And that was with Peyton Manning sitting on the sidelines for the first time in his 14-year career.

There were eight combined kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns, the most in league history. This is all the more remarkable considering the league moved kickoffs up to the 35 yard line, in an attempt to decrease the number of returns. Most experts called for lower scoring games, expecting offenses to be out of sync, thanks to missed practices in the shortened off-season. Nothing could be farther from reality.

It would be easy to point to veteran quarterbacks for the offensive explosion in the opening week, as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees each threw for at least three touchdowns and 300 yards. They’ve had time to develop chemistry with their team, and don’t need the off-season workouts as much as less established players. But, out of nowhere, Panther rookie quarterback Cam Newton threw for an NFL-debut record 400 yards in his first game, while much maligned veterans Chad Henne and Rex Grossman had nice performances in their openers.

Granted, Week 1 is probably the most over-analyzed time in the NFL season. Fans and experts are already making judgments based on just one week of action. Many of the players who are riding the praises of excellent performances, may drift into oblivion by Week 4. Just ask Mike Bell, who rushed for 143 yards in the Saints’ 2009 season opener.

There’s no way to know what the future holds. No guru can predict if this is the Lions year or whether Chad Henne is in for a Drew Brees-esque transformation. There will be new faces and teams that surface and surprise people, as in every year. The game probably isn’t changing. Defenses will catch on eventually and special teams will learn how to control returners under the new rules. That could take some time though. And until that happens, normalcy will be absent from the gridiron.

That will bother the purists who don’t enjoy seeing receivers constantly  running away from defensive backs and quarterbacks throwing deep with reckless abandon. But for most of us who enjoy the non-stop action, it was nice to see an offensive outburst after such a trying summer for fans. Not that the NFL isn’t always enjoyable, but last week seemed more fun than usual. Maybe its because Demaurice Smith beat us down with too many legal terms this off season, or it could be the football gods rewarding us for our patience. Whatever it was, let’s hope the normalcy doesn’t return anytime soon.

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