Hold off on that Green Bay coronation will you.
There’s this other NFC team playing with every bit as much motivation — albeit without the big-name quarterback that Green Bay boasts — and through one game has already proven itself superior to the Packers.
The San Francisco 49ers marched into Lambeau Field and did the near impossible — they made Aaron Rodgers look ordinary.
They held the best quarterback in the game to two touchdowns and just over 300 yards passing, while the underrated Alex Smith put 30 points on the board against a suspect Green Bay defence in an eventual 30-22 win.
And it is that suspect defence that makes the rush to crown the Packers NFC favourites so strange.
Frank Gore is no slouch in the running back department but he is hardly considered among the elite at the position. But it was his 112 yards on the ground, part of a rushing attack that accumulated 186 yards to the paltry 45 the Packers managed, that was the most glaring difference.
For Gore to run roughshod over the Packers defence speaks to Green Bay’s vulnerability.
Normally Rodgers’ greatness just masks any defensive deficiencies his team possesses but matched up against a San Francisco defence that is right there with the best in the league, not even Rodgers could overcome the defensive shortcomings.
Much was made a year ago about the easy schedule the 49ers rode to a high seed in the playoffs but that’s not giving the Niners their due.
From the front three all the way back to the secondary, there is nary a soft spot in this unit.
Sure you can always point to Smith and call him a good game manager as opposed to a dynamic quarterback — and that would be a fair description — but with the team that surrounds him, Smith doesn’t have to be dynamic. As long as he doesn’t turn the ball over and plays within his abilities, the 49ers can still be a dominant team.
In Vernon Davis they have a tight end who may not be in the Rob Gronkowski/Jimmy Smith league but he is right there in the next tier.
In David Akers they have a guy who is not only consistently accurate but as he showed yesterday when he nailed a NFL record-tying 63-yarder just before the half ended, he’s also exceptionally strong.
Say what you want about the addition of long-in-the-tooth wideout Randy Moss but by all accounts he has been a leader of sorts for the young receivers and showed yesterday with four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown that he can still be a productive member of a well-rounded offence.
Take all that into account and it’s difficult to understand why the 49ers aren’t getting more respect. Perhaps knocking off the Packers will get them there.
Big props to Denver offensive tackle Orlando Franklin, a product of the University of Miami who included “by way of Toronto, Canada” as he introduced himself on Sunday Night Football. Always love a guy who remembers where he came from ... Vikings running back Adrian Peterson may not be up to full speed yet but he was good enough yesterday to rack up 84 yards and become the Vikings all-time leading rusher surpassing Robert Smith ... As good as the Patriots were Sunday, especially on offence, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Newcomer Brandon Lloyd had a decent afternoon with five catches for 69 yards but could have been pushing 100 with a touchdown had he not quit running on a pass from Tom Brady. Lloyd inexplicably turned fully around to face the football thereby slowing down only to see the ball sail over his head. A few more weeks with Brady and he won’t make that mistake again ... As good as the New England front seven were, it still seemed like Chris Johnson was running tentatively ... Not sure if it’s too early for this but it certainly looks like second-year Atlanta receiver Julio Jones has already surpassed Roddy White as the Falcons and Matt Ryan’s go-to guy. Jones was targeted nine times to White’s eight more importantly was the guy Ryan looked to in the red zone hauling in a pair of touchdowns to White’s none ... Outside of Washington rookie Robert Griffen III’s fine debut, it wasn’t exactly a banner day for the rookie quarterback class of which so much has been made. The other four rookie starters — Indy’s Andrew Luck, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden and Seattle’s Russell Wilson — combined for two touchdowns and 11 interceptions ... The sophomore starting set — Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, and Jake Locker — combined for four touchdowns and three interceptions. There is definitely something to be said for experience.
LOCKER’S DAY CUT SHORT
What was shaping up to be a pretty solid individual performance in the face of a superior opponent, Jake Locker’s day and his short-term future as the Titans starting quarterback came to a painful and abrupt end.
Locker, trying to keep Patrick Chung from returning what appeared to be a fumble for a touchdown, got tangled awkwardly underneath Chung in the pile of bodies and came up with his left arm hanging limply from his shoulder.
Worst of all, officials ruled the apparent fumble was actually an incomplete pass meaning Locker was injured for nothing.
Matt Hasselbeck, who was brought in to tutor Locker and man the position until he was ready, took over for the remainder of the game.
There were those through training camp that felt that Locker wasn’t quite ready and Hasselbeck should have won the starters job outright.
But even against a stout New England defence, Locker had his moments and looked very much like a guy ready to take over.
Now, that will have to wait.
Locker finished the day a few minutes into the fourth quarter with 22 of 32 for 229 yards and a touchdown.
PAIR OF PATS ROOKIES IMPACTFUL
A year ago the New England Patriots, for all the wonderful press they were getting, had the 31st-ranked defence in the NFL — and still they made it all the way to the Super Bowl.
A year later, football fans may look back to draft day of this past season when that last little bit of vulnerability surrounding the Pats went away.
New England, a team that stockpiles draft picks, took full advantage of that this past April when it landed Chandler Jones, one of the best pass rushers in the draft, and Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower, one of the best linebackers in the 2012 class.
Those two apparently aren’t interested in easing their way into the league either.
The two teamed up on one play in New England’s 34-13 win over Tennessee on Sunday as Jones beat his man and stripped Jake Locker of the football and Hightower picked up the loose ball and returned it five yards for the touchdown.
But even more importantly to the Patriots’ defensive stability is the speed and athleticism these two add to some pretty impressive names in Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes.
The Pats front seven basically shut down one-time NFL rushing leader Chris Johnson and the rest of the Titans ball carrries to just 20 yards on 16 carries.
In the passing game Locker, who had to leave after an apparent left shoulder separation, and his replacement Matt Hasselbeck combined for 264 yards through the air.
If the Pats get that kind of shutdown defensive effort with any regularity and with an offence that is always among the most efficient with Tom Brady at the controls, it would be tough to bet against another Super Bowl appearance.
AP MAKES RETURN
Jerry Rice said he was crazy to try it.
Eight months after reconstructive ACL surgery, Adrian Peterson returned to the football field and despite plenty of people, including the former 49ers Hall of Fame receiver telling him it was too soon, Peterson not only returned but returned and played at a very high level.
It was Peterson’s two touchdowns that allowed the Vikings to stay with Jacksonville all afternoon until they won it in overtime on rookie Blair Walsh’s fourth field goal of the afternoon in a 26-23 win.
Peterson even admitted heading into the game that he wasn’t at 100% and head coach Leslie Frazier planned to limit his carries. But by game’s end, it was Peterson’s 17 carries for 84 yards that led the way.
His play outshone that of Jags back Maurice Jones-Drew whose holdout cost him all of training camp but still showed up for the season opener and carried the load with 19 rushes for 77 yards.
Peterson was brought along slowly through camp but gave no indication that he’s going to need any more babying now that the real season has started.
The only question is will Rice turn out to be right when he says Peterson is risking his future with such a quick return.
CUTLER SPOILS LUCK’S DEBUT
Andrew Luck may in fact be the NFL’s future, but he has still got a ways to go to supplant the experience and savvy of a Jay Cutler.
Cutler stole Luck’s spotlight in the NFL debut of the league’s No. 1 overall draft pick, throwing for two touchdowns and 333 yards in a 41-21 win by the Bears over the Colts.
Luck did manage to connect for his first NFL touchdown, finding Donnie Avery in the fourth quarter for a four-yard major but he also threw three picks in the game.
Cutler meanwhile limited his own mistakes to one interception.
Cutler has also been bolstered with some new weapons in the Chicago offence and took full advantage with Michael Bush — the guy brought in to take some of the load off Matt Forte — plunging in for a pair of touchdowns. On the receiving side, Cutler was reunited with former Broncos favourite target Brandon Marshall and those two picked up right where they left off in Denver hooking up nine times for 119 yards and a touchdown.
What hasn’t been fixed and what has ailed the Bears in general and Cutler in particular is the lack of protection from his offensive line.
They managed to keep it to just two sacks in week one but if they are to take full advantage of Cutler’s skill set this season, his protection is going to have to become more of a priority for this football team.
RYAN STEPS UP
Matt Ryan was presented with a huge opportunity on Sunday and he didn’t waste it.
The opposing Kansas City Chiefs were playing without a starting linebacker, a starting cornerback and a starting safety.
From the opening drive of the game, an 80-yard romp capped by an eight-yard TD toss to Julio Jones, it was apparenty that Matty Ice as they call him in Atlanta would have his way against this depleted defence.
When the final whistle blew Ryan had thrown for three touchdowns and run another one in himself for a 40-24 win.
Missing from that KC defence were linebacker Tamba Hali, who was serving a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Injured and not in uniform were starting corner Brandon Flowers, starting tackle Anthony Toribio and starting safety Kendrick Lewis.
Ryan wound up with 299 yards on the day shredding the Kansas City defence. To add insult to injury, Ryan not only found long-time Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez for a touchdown but then retrieved the ball that had popped loose after the score and handed it to Gonzalez so the vet could perform his patented post-TD slam dunk over the goalposts.
The move was booed by the faithful at Arrowhead, but Ryan is pretty sure there will be some regrets about that response.
“I think deep down in their hearts, Kansas City fans were happy to see that one more time,” Ryan told reporters after the game. “Maybe not at the time,” Ryan quickly added. “Maybe in retrospect.”