The NFL at the quarter pole

Atlanta's Matt Ryan has been the NFL's MVP for the first quarter of the season. (REUTERS)

Atlanta's Matt Ryan has been the NFL's MVP for the first quarter of the season. (REUTERS)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:23 AM ET

The New Orleans Saints are winless while the Arizona Cardinals are undefeated.

That just doesn’t seem right.

Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford are a combined 5-11 while Kevin Kolb, Alex Smith, Christian Ponder and Russell Wilson are a combined 12-4.

What is wrong with this picture?

The Green Bay Packers made an interception to preserve what should have been a victory and were ruled to have lost.

The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers were each awarded a time out when they didn’t have any left.

The New England Patriots scored 45 points in a half.

Welcome to the topsy-turvy first quarter of the 2012 National Football League season, which has featured plenty of thrills, spills and, at times, transformed into a gridiron Theatre of the Absurd.

With Wednesday marking the one-month anniversary of the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys kicking off the new season, here is a look at The Good, The Bad and the Downright Rancid as the 2012 campaign hits the quarter mark.

IN THE PENTHOUSE (BEST TEAM)

Houston Texans

The most complete team in football. They can pass (Matt Schaub), catch (Andre Johnson), run (Arian Foster) and play defence (J.J. Watt).

Honourable Mentions: Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers.

THE OUTHOUSE (WORST TEAM)

Cleveland Browns

Other than Trent Richardson, name one difference maker on this team’s offence. You can’t. Dating back to last season, this team has lost eight of its past nine games. On the right path, but still need a significant influx of talent.

Dishonourable Mention: Jacksonville Jaguars

OFFENSIVE MVP

QB Matt Ryan, Falcons

If you want to point to the biggest factor for the Falcons 4-0 start, look no further than Matty Ice. After years of being a run-first outfit led by bulldozing Michael Turner, the coaching staff opened up its playbook this season and handed Ryan the keys to the car. With star targets like Julio Jones, Roddy White and ageless Tony Gonzalez at his disposal, Ryan and his air attack have produced 11 touchdowns versus just two interceptions. Perhaps his most impressive feat came this past Sunday when he led his team from the shadow of its own goalpost to score the winning field goal against Carolina with less than two minutes left.

DEFENSIVE MVP

DE J.J. Watt, Texans

According to former star safety John Lynch, now with Fox Sports, Watt is having an “MVP-type season.” Lynch, one of the toughest hombres ever to lace up a pair of cleats, knows all about stifling defence, so take his comments to heart. With 7.5 sacks through four games, Watt is on pace for 30, which would establish an NFL single-season record. With apologies to Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who himself is off to a sizzling start, Watt is the choice here.

BIGGEST SURPRISES

1. Arizona Cardinals (4-0)

The Cardinals have not rocketed to a 4-0 start since 1974, when they played in St. Louis and Jim Hart was the starting quarterback. They’ve won in overtime. They’ve won in New England. There have been seasons where they’ve rarely won, period. That’s why Ken Wisenhunt gets the nod here as the early frontrunner for coach of the year honours.

2. Minnesota Vikings (3-1)

More than a few pre-season prognostications predicted the Vikings would be fortunate to scratch out three victories all season. Through four games they’ve already reached that mark. A revitalized defence, an electrifying kick return game, a newfound maturity by second-year quarterback Christian Ponder to manage games, and the remarkable return of Adrian Peterson, have all combined to form the winning recipe in Minny.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)

That the talented Eagles are 3-1 is not unexpected. That they could be leading the NFC East after turning the ball over 12 times in the first three games, well, that certainly is. Andy Reid’s team has enjoyed success in spite of itself.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS

1. New Orleans Saints (0-4)

The loss of suspended coach Sean Payton for the entire season definitely left the Saints in a gooey hole down in the mushy Bayou. Having said that, unless Payton played defence, his absence is not the only reason for the Saints 0-4 funk. The league’s worst defence, for one, is at the root of the Saints issues. Things are so bad, even Brees seems to be rattled, throwing silly interceptions. Yet, even with all those issues, this team is far too talented to be winless right now.

2. Detroit Lions (1-3)

Even when the Lions were marching to a rare playoff appearance last season, their lack of discipline on and off the field — including a penchant of taking stupid penalties — highlighted the cracks in Jim Schwartz’s regime. That trend continued this past off-season when a flurry of run-ins with the law by Lions players made police mug shots more revelent than team photos. Now, in this new season, the on-the-field flaws are apparent. The back end of the defence is leaky, the team still has problems running the ball and quarterback Matthew Stafford is a turnover machine. From an X’s And O’s standpoint, Stafford’s problem is that he refuses to be patient and make underneath throws, unsuccessfully opting to challenge the Tampa Cover 2 defences teams are playing against him in which safeties play very deep.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (1-3)

Matt Cassel has been bad. The defence has been even worse. And, now, they are actually considering putting Brady Quinn under centre. Brady Quinn! With his team underachieving yet again, rumblings about GM Scott Pioli’s job security — or, in this case, lack thereof — have come up. And with good reason.

COMEBACK PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings

Despite having his knee turned to mush last Christmas, AP told everyone he’d be ready to start on opening day. We should have believed him. Remarkable comeback.

2. Peyton Manning, Broncos

He has completing 64.7 percent of his passes and is on pace to toss 32 touchdowns. Anyone still wonder if the healing future Hall of Famer can still play in his league?

3. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals

Kolb has led the Cards to four victories. Critics didn’t think he’d win that many all season.

STORIES WE ARE SICK OF

Sanchez vs. Tebow

Enough already. Neither quarterback can efficiently complete passes in a pass-happy league. What does that say about the Jets?

If the options were a) Sanchez and b) Tebow, we would choose c) None of the above.

Replacement Officials

If any good came out of the Fail Mary play that gave the Seahawks an undeserved win over the Packers in front of a national TV audience of millions, at least it caused the league to quit screwing around and get the regular zebras back on the field. Memo to commissioner Roger Goodell: Let’s never allow such a fiasco happen again. The fine citizens of Green Bay certainly would agree.

Bounty Gate

Until the league discloses all the evidence it has against the Saints, there always will be question marks about the entire affair.

Kneel-down Nonsense

After seeing the Giants become upset when Tampa coach Greg Schiano ordered his team to attack during a last-play kneel-down by Eli Manning, here is some advice for opposing teams — who cares if they blitz during a kneel-down? The fact that your team is kneeling down means you are winning and Schiano’s team is losing. Isn’t that the point?

LASTING IMAGES

The Fail Mary

One official signalled touchback. Another signalled touchdown. They were standing beside each other for all to see. Given that the Seahawks were wrongly awarded the winning score on the game’s final play against the Packers, the image of those two replacement officials contradicting each other will not be forgotten in Green Bay for a long time.

The Shove

In another highly-publicized prime-time incident, moody Bears quarterback Jay Cutler shoved one of his offensive linemen on the sideline during a loss to the Packers in Green Bay. Just add it to Cutler’s cache of sidline shenanigans.

The Snub

Cue up Cutler again. This past Monday night, no sooner had offensive coordinator Mike Tice sat down beside him on the bench than an indifferent Cutler got up. Cutler said he just wanted to get a drink. Obviously he didn’t have a slice of humble pie with it.

The Grab

Peeved at the replacement officials after a controversial field goal gave the Ravens a last-play win over the Pats, frustrated New England coach Bill Belichick grabbed one of the zebras after the final gun. That brain cramp cost The Hoody a $50,000 US fine.

ON THE HOTSEAT

QB Mark Sanchez, Jets

Forget about Sanchez vs. Tebow. The Jets should have drafted a kid who actually had an accurate arm to push Sanchez for the job. Watching Sanchez float wobbly ducks while trying to complete deep outs, it should be apparent that his arm and decision-making should be much better than he has shown in this, his fourth season.

QB Matt Cassel, Chiefs

Throwing gobs of money at a guy whose body of work at the time consisted of one season of replacing an injured Tom Brady, well, that has proven to be a costly decision for the Chiefs. Cassel has been a turnover machine and now there is talk that the Chiefs are poised to bring in Brady Quinn from the bullpen. Is this how dire the situation has become?

WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys

He needs a private security team to make certain he doesn’t go off the rails. His many drops are more spectacular than his catches. At what point do the Cowboys come to the conclusion that the uber-talented Bryant is a train wreck in waiting and decide to cut the umbilical cord?

RIVETING ROOKIES

QB Robert Griffin III, Redskins

Difficult to believe a rookie could make fans forget Cam Newton’s remarkable first-year performance of 2011. RG3 is doing just that. Cam who? This kid could be the face of the NFL for years to come.

RB Alfred Morris, Redskins

What’s this guy’s name again? Joe Morris? Mercury Morris? If you don’t know Alfred Morris by now, you will. An outstanding find by Mike Shanahan.

QB Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins

Not even Hall of Famer Dan Marino threw for the franchise rookie record 431 yards that Tannehill did against a strong Cardinals defence on Sunday. Very impressive.

MOVING UP

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2)

Yes, this team is getting old. But when you suddenly have a starting running back (Rashard Mendenhall) and two former NFL defensive players of the year (James Harrison, Troy Polamalu) returning to your lineup on Sunday as expected, playing against Mike Tomlin’s team certainly becomes much more difficult.

MOVING DOWN

New York Jets (2-2)

No Darrelle Revis. No Santonio Holmes. No quarterback that can beat you with his arm. No established wide recevers. In other words, no chance.

 


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