Five observations on the first weekend of the 2017 NFL season:
1. It isn’t a newsflash that the NFL is now a quarterback league. That is why it is not surprising that of the 14 quarterbacks that had the best days, 12 of them won. The only two losers in the top 14 were Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, who ranked seventh and eighth. Still, it was not a good day for scoring Sunday. The NFL likes to average 41 points a game and they were at 46 last year. They were at 37 Sunday. But the low scoring Sunday probably isn’t a trend as the Thursday night game and the two Monday night games were high-scoring games. The Kansas City Chiefs beat the New England Patriots 42-27, the Denver Broncos beat the Los Angeles Chargers 24-21 and the Minnesota Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints 29-19. So the Sunday results were probably an aberration as offenses are still tuning up.
2. New Orleans’ signing of Adrian Peterson was always puzzling. The Saints are Drew Brees’ team with a coach in Sean Payton who likes to pass and use multiple running backs. Payton wasn’t expected to use Peterson at age 32 as a workhorse running back. So it probably wasn’t surprising that Peterson had only six carries for 18 yards in the loss to his former team, the Vikings. Or that Peterson didn’t appear to be happy about that. They appeared to have a confrontation on the sidelines that was caught on camera. Both tried to downplay it. Payton said it wasn’t a heated exchange, and Peterson said he was suggesting they run inside zones. “Just communicating with him,’’ Peterson said. The bigger problem is that the Saints are 0-1 going into a game against the Patriots, who are trying to rebound from the opening-game loss to the Chiefs.
3. Kyle Shanahan showed in the Super Bowl that he doesn’t know how to manage a game. And in his first game as a head coach, he showed his game decisions are still suspect. He went for it four times on fourth down and made it only once. The first two times were near midfield, and Carolina took over and kicked a field goal both times. In the big picture, it didn’t make much difference in the San Francisco 49ers’ 23-3 loss, but again showed Shanahan isn’t a good game-day coach. He admitted regretting not punting after the first one on 4th-and-4 when he was still down by seven. He’s got to remember his quarterback is Brian Hoyer, which is another issue. Incidentally, it went almost unnoticed but Kansas City was almost in the same situation with four minutes left that Atlanta was in the Super Bowl against the Patriots. They were up eight at about the Patriots’ 20-yard line. I was curious if Andy Reid would run the ball three times and kick the field goal or attack with Alex Smith. We will never know because the Chiefs ran for a touchdown on first down. We know what Shanahan did. After they lost a yard on first down running, he went to the pass. A penalty and sack and the Falcons were out of field-goal range and had to punt. The Atlanta defense was gassed, and the Patriots tied it up and won it overtime.
4. Icing the kicker just before the snap is a strategy that sometimes can backfire. A kicker can miss the first one that didn’t count because the opposing coach called time out, then make the second one. But it worked for rookie Denver coach Vance Joseph Monday night. He iced San Diego rookie Younghoe Koo, who was trying to tie the game and send it into overtime. Koo nailed his first kick, but it didn’t count because Joseph called time out just before the snap. The Broncos then blocked the second one and won by three. Icing worked that time.
5. Seattle was a yard away from back-to-back Super Bowl victories three years ago, and we know how that worked out. Now the window may be closing for the Seahawks. They lost their opener at Green Bay. OK, losing an opener at Green Bay isn’t a disaster. But it’s the way they lost that’s alarming. They failed to score a touchdown and had just 225 yards while being held to three field goals in a 17-9 loss. They should be able to win if they hold Aaron Rodgers to 17 points. The good news is that they play San Francisco Sunday and figure to bounce back with an easy victory. But their offensive-line problems may make it difficult for them to beat top contenders like Green Bay. Coach Pete Carroll said it’s not a sign that they will have season-long problems. He said they just didn’t play well enough in the first game. Now the question is whether they will play better the next time they face a contender — or if the window of opportunity is slowly closing for them.