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Shocked, Not Shocked - NFL Wee...
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Shocked, Not Shocked - NFL Week 1

Off The Ball
Off The Ball

14:02 16 Sep 2020

Every week in the NFL something shocking will happen. There will also be a myriad of things that are not that shocking, writes Matthew Carolan.

Week one brought us shocks in terms of results, but there were some sombre reminders in the ‘not that shocking’ category.

Not Shocked...

America has significant culture issues

Despite the NFL launching its new ‘It Takes All of Us’ campaign, aimed to unite the league against social injustice and racism, the first demonstration of unity was met with droning boos around Arrowhead Stadium when the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs linked arms before kick-off on Thursday night.

This is not that shocking, though. It took the NFL’s premier black athletes to cause a stir before the NFL as an organisation decided to react and take some form of action in the past few months. The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor did not incite the need for Roger Goodell to act; the players made him do so.

The ‘It Takes Us All’ campaign, albeit a step in the right direction, is yet to evoke any real tangible change in the league. The slogan is painted on the end zone of each team, but it pales in comparison to the size of the team’s name on screen.

Players are encouraged to promote the campaign by having the names of victims on the back of their helmet, but it’s only for fleeting moments in which the camera will focus.

All these aspects do ladder up to create wider awareness of such issues in America, but the level of the statement is not enough to garner anywhere near enough cut-through, and maybe what we have seen so far is typical of an organisation that is far more conservative than others.

When fans booed the Texans and Chiefs’ linking arms on Thursday night, it was met with disheartened reactions from some players, and outrage on Twitter. But the stadium was nowhere near full. It might only have been 20% full.

The fact is the stadium was nowhere near its complete capacity, and fans still voiced their stance. America still has a racism problem, and that was only a small sample size.

Brady and Brees looked their age

Sunday night saw a new-look Tampa Bay Buccaneers play at the Superdome against their NFC South rival, New Orleans Saints. The game promised to be one for the ages; Brady, Brees, divisional rivals, potentially two contenders in the NFC. It had it all.

And to an extent, it delivered. It was a high scoring game with some bite to it, but the quality on show was to be seen on defence. Brady got sacked three times and threw two interceptions, including a pick-six by Janoris Jenkins. The Buccaneers looked like a team that had just started playing together, which in essence is true.

Indeed, Brady’s first outing as a Buccaneer did not go the way he had planned. But then, Brees did not look fantastic either. In recent years, the narrative around Brees is that his arm deteriorates throughout the season. He starts well, but he withers away like you would expect a man of his age to do.

On Sunday night, you could feel teeth clenching whenever Brees tried to throw it remotely long. He was nearly picked off on more than one occasion, and can count himself lucky to have escaped that. If this is the starting point for Brees and the trend of him fading away towards the playoffs continues, then New Orleans will be glad to have locked in Alvin Kamara when they did.

Regardless of either quarterback’s display, it was evident to see that both rosters possess talent on either side of the ball. Tampa Bay will likely improve as Brady eases into his new surroundings and becomes more familiar, but this team is not like New England. They make more mistakes and they are not as disciplined. New Orleans have a good enough roster to win the NFC; Tampa Bay have work to do to be in that conversation.

Detroit, Cleveland find ways to lose

Some teams are inherently linked with torment. For Detroit, they led Chicago comfortably for much of their game on Sunday. It made sense too. Detroit were decent until Stafford got injured in 2019. Not great, but decent. They had pieces in place and many considered them as a team who could surprise in 2020.

Equally, they are still Detroit. They are not a franchise who win consistently. They played a pretty pathetic Chicago team who did not convey any level of competency for three quarters.

Trubisky, sure enough, decided to start playing well and drove his team up the field for a rather remarkable comeback. He showed excellent poise at times, and between Robinson and Miller, his receivers made some great plays.

Detroit did not make great plays in the end. Their defence collapsed and when they finally had the opportunity to get back into it, Stafford lofted a perfect ball into rookie D’Andre Swift, which he dropped. He dropped the ball and the Lions’ hopes of a week one win in the blink of an eye. It was tragic. It was comical. It was awful by Swift. But it was highly entertaining.

Cleveland lost in a very different, but equally tragic way. Where Detroit put up points and showcased some nice quarterback play and schemes for two or three quarters, Cleveland looked flat and lethargic throughout.

Much is at stake for quarterback Baker Mayfield in 2020. After a nice start to his career in 2018, he slumped in year two. If his game against Baltimore was anything to go by for the year ahead, then Baker’s future may be met with eyebrows raised, shoulders shrugged and sighs aplenty. In fairness to Mayfield, he was never going to be the best quarterback in the game with Baltimore.

The contrast between him and Jackson in the same game was as stark as night and day. Perhaps an unfair comparison, but indicative of the gulf in class between the two franchises. Expect to see Baltimore playing deep into the playoffs.

Watch Mike Carlson's NFL preview on OTB AM:

Shocked

Jacksonville won a game

The Colts are not a team you would expect to win the Super Bowl, but at least on paper, you would think they could handle a team many have touted to have the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Jags have been ravished of any talent over the last year or two. The team that made it to the AFC Championship is a distant memory, and Doug Marrone would be many people’s pick to be fired first this season. This is not a team that is supposed to challenge, but they did. They beat Indianapolis in spite of having over 200 less all-purpose yards.

The finger may be pointed at Indianapolis for losing as opposed to Jacksonville dominating though. Philip Rivers had a statistically sound game but threw his second interception at the wrong time (is there ever a right time?) and that was that. Woe is Rivers and woe is the Colts start to the season.

The Rams signed off that uniform

This is not the most important thing in the world, but you have to understand that the Rams were set up for success in this department. When they moved back to LA, the uniform switch was inevitable. They needed to kickstart some fandom in the city they once left behind. Sure, some fans remained dormant, but they needed to amass a new following.

So, how do you do that? Well, SoFi stadium is a start. Big signings will help. Celebrity endorsements, too. It all helps. But a killer uniform, that is the ticket. That is what the people want. Luckily, the Rams had half the work done for them. They were the envy of many a fanbase due to, but limited to, their dynamite blue and yellow uniforms.

All the Rams had to do was make that uniform their regular season uniform instead of a throwback option. A simple switch and all their retail sales would spike more than a young Rob Gronkowski. But alas, they did not do this. Instead, they went for some beige/grey ensemble that looks like something a fan would make in Madden’s ‘Create a Franchise’ mode.

Now we, the fans, are stuck to watch this team in their beautiful stadium play sometimes beautiful football in not-so-beautiful uniforms. There are bigger issues in the world, but this was a shocking decision by the Rams’ front office. For shame.

Joe Burrow’s reaction

You had to feel bad for the number one pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on Sunday. You had to feel bad, not because he is on a lucrative salary or that he got picked by the Bengals, but because his face at the end of their loss to the Chargers was one of realisation, and that realisation was that the Bengals will probably do this again and again to him.

Down by three points, Burrow led his team down the field and set his kicker up for a relatively easy shot. Thiry-one yards out, seven seconds left to tie the game. “My job here is done”, Burrow’s eyes seemed to say. And rightly so. It was not a perfect game for Burrow by any means. He looked shaky to start and he threw a pick, but he found his groove in the end and an overtime win would have done wonders for the Bengals.

But an overtime win they did not get. The kicker missed from 31 yards as Burrow looked on with equal parts shock and disgust but, above else, he had the look of a man who knew this was not the first time it would happen in Cincinnati and it certainly would not be the last.

A bit like Detroit or Cleveland, Cincinnati are not a team associated with success, but they are young and their future looks bright. Burrow will hope he can be the catalyst for change, but Sunday’s heartbreaking loss to a pretty average Chargers team will not have helped him believe.

By Matthew Carolan.

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Breonna Taylor George Floyd Houston Texans Kansas City Chiefs NFL New Orleans Saints Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tom Brady

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