TORONTO - Keep the Detroit Lions hype machine rolling for another week at least.
With their first Week 1 win in four seasons, the Lions lived up to much of the enthusiasm in the Motor City, optimism exaggerated perhaps after so many losing seasons.
And in an at-times impressive 27-20 road win in stifling Tampa Bay, the Lions assured that they will keep the fever raging for at least another week. The reward for Sunday’s effort? A home date against the Kansas Ciy Chiefs, who looked putrid in their home blowout loss to the Bills.
As billed, most impressive for the Lions was quarterback Matthew Stafford, who shook off the rust from off-season shoulder surgery. Stafford tossed it for 305 yards, making him the first Lions QB to top the 300 mark in a season opener since Bobby Layne did it in 1953.
The stat that jumps off the page from this one, though, shows us that it wasn’t really close. Through three quarters, the Lions had possession for 32:07 compared to 12:53 for Tampa.
For those scoring at home, that’s a five-game regular-season winning streak for the Lions but coach Jim Schwartz’s reaction, suggesting there is much more in the tank.
“We won,” Schwartz said. “We played okay at times. We can play a lot better. We can play a lot better in all three phases.”
Jags survive without Garrard
No David Garrard, no problem for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Okay, that may be overstating it, but the Jags managed a 16-14 win over the Tennessee Titans with a most conservative effort by freshly-minted starting quarterback, Luke McCown.
Fortunately for the Jags, they had Maurice-Jones Drew, who did just enough early on to give the Jags a lead and the stout Jacksonville defence took over from there.
They started by shutting down running back Chris Johnson, who certainly seemed to be showing the effects of his late holdout. And they continued by forcing the benign Titans offence to punt seven times.
As for Jones-Drew, it wasn’t exactly the type of opener he was hoping to have in front of the home crowd. After rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, the Jags coaching staff seriously limited his work load the second half as Deji Karim took over most of the carries.
With a 13-0 lead, Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio clearly wanted to keep his aging back healthy, especially after off-season knee surgery.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen,” Jones-Drew told reporters afterwards. “(The coaching staff) made their decision.”
Bengals bite Browns
The one thing experts forgot to mention in writing off the Cincinnati Bengals in the opening week is that they were playing the Cleveland Browns.
Based on this display, it’s going to be a long season for pro football fans at both ends of the great state of Ohio.
The beleaguered Bengals, who were as big an off-season mess as there is in the NFL, used a trick play to gut their hosts in what many would have seen as an unlikely 27-17 win.
The Browns looked like they had a shot of winning the season opener for just the second time in 14 seasons as they held a 17-13 lead and had the Browns facing a third and 12.
Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, in for injured Andy Dalton, then came in to take advantage of the kind of bad play only brutal teams make. Using a quick snap to catch the Browns off guard and just barely breaking the huddle, Gradkowski found a wide-open rookie receiver A.J. Green to get wide open for a 41-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to secure the win.
“Every once in a while you lose a game that makes you feel sick to your stomach,” Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said. “This is definitely one of those games.”
Vick slick in opener
How can a quarterback complete just 14 of 32 passes yet still take your breath away?
The human highlight reel that Michael Vick has been since his college days made up for some miscues with enough brilliance to get the Eagles off to the start expected of them with a resounding road win.
“He did some good things with his legs and he also did some good things with his arm,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said of Vick, which is pretty much what the dynamic QB does every week. “It is the first game and we’re just getting things started.”
Vick found a favourite target in LeSean McCoy who had a pair of touchdowns and 122 of his quarterback’s 187 passing yards.
It didn’t hurt the Eagles prospects when Rams star running back Steven Jackson left the game with a leg injury shortly after his 47-yard touchdown run on the first series. The Eagles, after all, would seem to be vulnerable against the run.
The other reason we aren’t ready to call them the dream team just yet has to do with the offensive line, particularly on Vick’s blind side as the Eagles showed a vulnerability to the blitz. He was sacked three times and it could have been several more if it were not for Vick’s natural elusiveness.
It’s off to prime time next for Vick and the Eagles as he returns to Atlanta to face the team that drafted him in the Sunday-nighter.
Underdogs rule Week 1
It was Week 1 and as is so often the case in the NFL, the dogs were barking. In the 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. starts, the favourites were outpaced by the underdogs by a 7-4-1 count with six of those won the game outright ... Sharp bettors got the best of it as three of the more heavily bet teams won big: Buffalo, Chicago and Washington ... Many predicted scoring would be down because of the new kickoff rules. Not the case as overs had a huge 8-3-1 edge ... A stat to file away based on the Ravens’ thrashing of the Steelers: Super Bowl losers are now 1-13 against the spread as the road team in Week 1 ... The Steelers were one game that the big-money didn’t get right. The Ravens covered easily as 1-point favourites, despite having opened as the 2˝-point choice ... Nothing could stop the flood of money on the Bills, who were six-point underdogs earlier in the week but 3˝ by kickoff only to roll out to a 41-7 win ... Before kickoff, one Vegas analyst had this to say about the Colts: “Without Peyton Manning, they may be the worst team in the NFL.” No kidding ... Food for thought Monday night: The road team is 6-2 ATS in the past eight meetings between the two ... Dolphins have a miserable home record against the number going 65-89 since 1992 ... And finally, while not football related, this betting note is too wild to leave out: The winners of the first three races at Belmont Park in New York Sunday were numbers 9-1-1.