Mortensen: 2001 archive

Week 1: Panthers upset Vikes (and refs upset others)

Sept. 11
Complete Week 1 Results

True, there was not a major problem Sunday with the replacement officials. But it wasn't good. Don't let anybody tell you differently.

My recommendation: The owners should put their last offer to the refs back on the table Monday, and include a missing game check for Sunday. The officials should take the deal.

The Raiders almost lost a game because referee Randall Beasley reversed a proper call when the sideline judge appropriately ruled Charlie Garner was forced out of bounds on a 27-yard catch before halftime. Upon the reversal, the classy Tim Brown was so upset he drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that killed a drive to assist the Chiefs to a 14-6 halftime lead.

There were other miscues in several games. Penalties were marched off wrong distances. They had trouble spotting the ball. They were slow to make calls. They ignored some taunting. Sometimes the referee forgot to turn off the microphone for a few plays. Sometimes they never identified the players who committed a penalty -- a college thing. I think I even saw Steve McNair throw his first pass Sunday night across the line of scrimmage without nary a discussion.

I know, I know. Things happen with the real refs. But that's the point. If they can happen with the best in the profession, then it's safe to say that the errors will be significantly greater with the replacement guys. It's a fast game with a lot of rules.

Does that mean NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue will rush to settle the dispute on Monday? Don't count on it. Tagliabue fought some of the hawks on the ownership side when he offered the officials a new deal last Wednesday. When it was rejected, thus setting the stage for the first labor work stoppage under Tagliabue's reign, sources say the commissioner joined the hawk column.

True, on Friday, the real refs offered the league the option of binding arbitration. The league rejected it and rescinded their latest offer. Such is the fruit of labor disputes.

My recommendation: The owners should put their last offer back on the table Monday, and include a missing game check for Sunday. The officials should take the deal.

Terrell Davis
Terrell Davis heard Giant footsteps on this run.
Broncos 31, Giants 20: This may sound a little odd, but the Broncos were not as dominant as I expected. And the Giants -- given their injury situation and the challenge of playing a road opener on Monday night at the new Mile High (Invesco) Stadium -- were better than I anticipated. What does it mean? I have no idea yet.

The Broncos were impressive, yes. Quarterback Brian Griese was sharp. Terrell Davis exhibited a promising trait of all great running backs -- he got better as the game wore on. Receiver Rod Smith proved again that he is one of the most underrated players in the game.

But Ed McCaffrey's broken leg is a real blow for the season. It will take the creative genius of Mike Shanahan and a born-again Eddie Kennison to compensate for the loss. True, the Broncos went on a 17-0 run after McCaffrey's injury, but it was just one night. Broncos DT Trevor Pryce probably didn't weigh his postgame reaction when he said, "It will hurt us, but I don't think it will hurt any more than when we lost T.D. or when we lost Brian." No, Trevor, it may not have quite the same impact, but the injuries to Davis and Griese the past two years effectively ruined your Super Bowl chances.

On defense, the Broncos were good enough but their secondary (pass coverage) sure looks like it could be exposed by a team with more weapons like, say, the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday. That will tell us more.

The Giants' defense allowed almost 500 yards (473) total offense, and they were clearly missing injured CB Jason Sehorn. CB Dave Thomas had a rough night and rookies Will Peterson and Will Allen got a typical NFL baptism by fire. Next up, Brett Favre and the Packers.

Offensively, I thought Giants quarterback Kerry Collins looked fairly sharp. The running game needed more production. I still have questions as to whether this offensive line -- so well-coached by Jim McNally -- will hold up over a long season.

Dolphins 31, Titans 23: I hope all those anti-Dave Wannstedt fans in Chicago will understand again that the man can coach. He not only won a division last year with Jay Fiedler at quarterback, he entered the 2001 season convinced that Fiedler is good enough to get his team to the Super Bowl. Sunday night was a good start.

Now, now, I'm not necessarily saying the Dolphins are bound for the Super Bowl. All I know is that as we (the experts, you know) have forecast the tough AFC race to be a battle among the Ravens, Titans, Broncos and Raiders, the two most impressive teams on Sunday were the AFC East rivals -- the Dolphins and Colts. True, it's just one weekend, but I'm impressed.

The Miami offense does have more juice, especially with explosive rookie receiver Chris Chambers. Lamar Smith picked up where he left off in 2000 with a big night. Fiedler made plays. Chan Gailey joins the Colts' Tom Moore as the most underrated offensive coordinator in football. On defense, the Dolphins have plenty of stars, and you can see why defensive tackle Daryl Gardener wants his first taste of the Pro Bowl in 2001.

Surely, the Titans will rebound. But they might be a little shaken by what happened. Steve McNair looked so-so and now his suspect shoulder is reinjured. Eddie George was stuffed. The secondary was burned. The Titans swear they are better than they were a year ago. They can't just talk about it, though. They better show it.

I do have a final word of advice for my good pal, Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas. No more back-flips into the end zone, Zach. You almost landed on your head. That would not have been funny.

Marshall Faulk
Tory Holt congratulates Marshall Faulk after his first-quarter TD against the Eagles.
Rams 20, Eagles 17 (OT): Maybe it wasn't the artistry we are accustomed to seeing from the Rams' offense, but I have to tell you, I was almost more impressed with what I saw from the up-and-down Rams in this game. They displayed a physical and mental toughness that I associate with Super Bowl teams.

Veterans Stadium is a tough, tough place to play, and yet the Rams were able to jump out to a 17-3 lead. They were on the verge of tacking on more points when a weird bounce of a Kurt Warner pass resulted in an interception by Troy Vincent. Next thing you know, the Eagles had momentum, had the unruly crowd back in the game, tied it at 17 and shoulda-coulda-woulda recovered a fumbled kick return. They won the coin flip to get the ball to start overtime. Time for the Rams to fold, right? Nope.

The Rams' made-over defense forced Donovan McNabb and Co. to punt. Then Warner and Marshall Faulk showed why they have won the most recent league MVP awards. Faulk went toe-to-toe with the hammering Eagles as he made the critical "little plays." Warner hung strong in the pocket to deliver a killer blow to Isaac Bruce. That set up Jeff Wilkins' winning kick. Huge road win. To me, the Rams answered a lot of questions Sunday.

The Eagles? Need to see more. Even though McNabb threw for more than 300 yards, their new receivers will need to make more plays downfield. And Duce Staley will have to be a force if the Eagles want to make the next step up.

Colts 45, Jets 24: There was a newswire that described Peyton Manning as not being at his sharpest in this game. Well, I guess Manning did throw for "only" 232 yards. Technically, he had two interceptions (one bounced off Edgerrin James' hands into the Jets' end zone). But I guarantee you that the Jets' defenders walked off the field knowing that they had been done in by a master quarterback who has a complete grasp of the game. The fast tempo of the Colts' offense was a tribute to Manning.

James was James, too, with 135 yards and two TDs. Marvin Harrison was held in check, but Jerome Pathon stepped up with 93 yards receiving and a TD. Wait until rookie Reggie Wayne returns in a week or two from his high ankle sprain. This offense should be running on high octane.

The Jets' defense just seems to lack enough juice to contend with an imposing offense. I actually thought the Jets' offense looked good. Offensive coordinator Paul Hackett did a great job of keeping the Colts frustrated, especially when Indy thought it should have been a one-dimensional game. Hackett keep getting big chunks through the running game (Curtis Martin -- he's a man) to keep Colts coach Jim Mora fairly nervous. The Jets might have made it 38-31, except for that weird play in which the Colts' Chukie Nwokorie returned a fumble 95 yards for a TD with 5:17 to go. Vinny Testaverde caught some flak for his inability to tackle the lumbering Nwokorie, but what I want to know is where were all Vinny's teammates? Never saw a one trying to tackle the big defensive lineman.

I think the Colts will measure up with all the AFC powers as the season moves on.

Panthers 24, Vikings 13: If there was one "lock" this weekend, it was the Vikings over the Panthers in the Metrodome. No question. Maybe even no reason to watch.

Oh, man. Give George Seifert a standing ovation. I was almost ready to put the Panthers' coach back out to sea, but he got his team ready for the day's biggest upset. The defense was splendid, and rookie QB Chris Weinke played like a seasoned pro in his first start on the road in a normally hostile environment.

Hostility? Hospitality was more like it from the Vikings. Clearly, they thought they could show up and win this one. Daunte Culpepper, three interceptions? Randy Moss, one catch for 28 yards? Are you kidding me?

Don't ignore this stat: The Vikings had 109 yards rushing, but 57 of that came on 12 scrambles by Culpepper. Can you say "Robert Smith?"

Bucs 10, Cowboys 6: True, the Bucs' offense was disappointing. Brad Johnson is a pro and he can win, but his arm is average, at best. John Lynch was wonderful. Nevertheless, I think this one was about the Cowboys. Dave Campo had his team well prepared, and the 'Boys played hard. Their defense has speed. They had tenacity. They showed that consistently in the preseason. Those traits will keep you in a lot of games. But ... there's Quincy Carter.

Again, shame on Jerry Jones. If the Cowboys had just an average, experienced NFL quarterback, they would have opened the season with a huge upset. Nothing against Carter. He is not ready and neither does he deserve this kind of pressure. Carter was 9-of-19 for 34 yards and two interceptions. Come on, Jerry. You're charging good money for tickets. Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson and Larry Allen -- great veteran players -- deserve better than that, too.

Allen may be the best guard to ever play the game. Yes, ever. Warren Sapp had just one tackle Sunday. He didn't really get a sniff of Carter. Allen is that good.

Ravens 17, Bears 6: This was one strange game. By the numbers, Elvis Grbac was splendid -- 24-of-30 for 262 yards and no interceptions. But the numbers that were most troubling were 54 and 30 -- rushing total and attempts. Jamal Lewis, where are you?

For the Bears, it was a noble effort on the road. They actually had a 6-3 lead in the third quarter. Oh, I have figured out that Ray Lewis is pretty good.

Raiders 27, Chiefs 24: Personally, I thought this was a trap for the Raiders. The Chiefs wanted badly to win their debut for coach Dick Vermeil, and they had Arrowhead Stadium as the launching pad. They even built a 14-6 halftime lead.

But these Raiders do not fold easily. Not Jon Gruden. Not Rich Gannon. Not Tim Brown. That's what we saw as the Raiders relentlessly pounded the Chiefs -- they controlled the clock by almost 16 minutes better than their host rival.

Vermeil probably didn't sleep well Sunday night. He takes pride in special teams, and special teams let him down. And while Trent Green made some plays, he wasn't real sharp in his first game, hitting just 16-of-37 passes with an interception on an ill-timed overthrow late in the contest. Marvin Minnis, the rookie from Florida State, did make a brilliant diving catch in the end zone to tie the game with 1:21 left, but the Chiefs' young, suspect secondary fell prey to the craftiness of Gannon and Brown.

Packers 28, Lions 6: Watch out for The Pack. Really. Brett Favre is very healthy. The Packers are loaded with talent -- mostly young talent at that -- bound to get better as the season improves. Ahman Green showed that 2000 wasn't a fluke, and he's running behind an aggressive, athletic offensive line.

Green did try to keep the Lions in the game with three fumbles (he lost one), but Detroit QB Charlie Batch could not get the job done. And you wonder how long he will get before new coach Marty Mornhinweg turns to Ty Detmer.

Jaguars 21, Steelers 3: Yeah, I was a little surprised. Not that Mark Brunell and Jimmy Smith connected for two TDs. Or that Fred Taylor was effective. I was surprised by the Jaguars' defense. I was surprised how well Hardy Nickerson played. I was surprised the Jags held Jerome Bettis to 28 yards rushing.

The Steelers were also surprised, I'm sure. They came out of preseason feeling pretty good about themselves. This might have killed that confidence. Despite another new offensive coordinator, things looked strangely familiar with Kordell Stewart. You know, if the Jaguars stay healthy, maybe they are the "surprise" team we were all trying to find as the season started.

LaDainian Tomlinson
LaDainian Tomlinson had a lengthy holdout, but his franchise rookie-record 36 carries Sunday showed San Diego believes in him.
Chargers 30, Redskins 3: Norv Turner had to be laughing Sunday night while Daniel Snyder was crying. This was as lopsided as the score. Doug Flutie wasn't brilliant. He was just so-so. But he did what he always does -- he played football, and he won.

LaDainian Tomlinson gave us a glimpse of what should be a rookie-of-the-year run, despite his lengthy holdout. The Chargers' top pick carried 36 times, and even though his average per carry was not great, he showed strength and toughness.

I'd give Junior Seau and the Chargers' defense a standing ovation, except that the Redskins' quarterback was Jeff George. Surely, Marty Schottenheimer will not tolerate what he saw Sunday. The question is, will Snyder?

Saints 24, Bills 6: I would have paid good money to be a fly on the wall of the Saints' locker room at halftime when Jim Haslett reviewed his team's first two quarters. The Bills led 6-0 at the time. Haslett had to be livid.

Then, suddenly, the defense came alive. Rob Johnson was harassed. He threw interceptions, three in all to Saints safety Sammy Knight. On offense, Aaron Brooks whipped up some sharp passes. Two of his three TD passes were to new faces for him -- tight end Cam Cleeland and wide receiver Albert Connell. Oh, yes, Ricky Williams ran like Haslett had threatened to stick his foot where the sun don't shine. The O-line might have gotten the same message.

OK, Bills' fans, you want to talk about your quarterback? Talk.

49ers 16, Falcons 13 (OT): Yes, the Falcons should have suffered on a long flight home. They had enough chances to pad a 13-3 lead and couldn't do it. They needed to open with a win to end a 10-year drought in San Francisco, especially with a road game coming up against the Rams. But it didn't happen.

Sure, it was fun to see Michael Vick on the field for Atlanta. He played a series in both halves, and even had a big scramble to set up a field goal. Problem was, I'm not sure it gave Chris Chandler a chance to really get in rhythm.

Then again, Falcons coach Dan Reeves may get ideas about Vick after watching Jeff Garcia kill the Falcons with some timely scrambles that kept the 49ers alive. J.J. Stokes made big plays, too. Remember him?

Seahawks 9, Browns 6: Not much here, except that I kind of expect that Butch Davis will have his team in a lot of games like this. He just needs to win his share of them for the sake of morale. Seahawks, just go home and don't look back.

Bengals 23, Patriots 17: If Jon Kitna can keep his turnovers to a minimum, as he did Sunday, the Bengals do have some talent to be competitive this year. That's what happened against the Patriots. It was actually heartwarming to see coach Dick LeBeau run off the field, pumping his fist victoriously to Bengal fans.

For the Patriots, their worst fears came true. They still have no running game. Their offensive line is suspect. And they have very little pop in their pop gun. Better settle with Terry Glenn and get him back on the field.

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