Matthew Stafford was money, and more Week One observations
I wasn’t sold on the Lions’ decision to make Matthew Stafford the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. Salary cap space is the most precious resource in the NFL, and when the Lions decided to devote more cap space over the next five years than any other team has devoted to any other player, I thought that was the kind of move that will have them unable to build a 53-man roster that can compete week in and week out.
Stafford has now played one game under that new contract, far too small a sample size to come to any definitive conclusions. But I must confess that he turned in exactly the kind of performance he’s going to need to make week in and week out to be worth that contract.
Despite throwing a pick-six on his first play of the season, Stafford was very good on Sunday against the Cardinals, finishing with 292 yards, four touchdowns and no more turnovers after that early interception. Stafford even picked up a big first down with a 15-yard run, and he was sacked only once despite the Lions’ offensive line being without starting left tackle Taylor Decker. He led the way as the Lions beat the Cardinals 35-23.
So can the Lions count on that kind of game from Stafford to become the norm? He certainly has a knack for leading the team to comeback wins: Last year the Lions won an NFL-record eight games that they trailed in the fourth quarter, and yesterday they had another fourth-quarter comeback, going from a 17-9 deficit to a 35-17 lead in less than 15 minutes of playing time. Still, I think Stafford needs to stop making those mistakes that give the Lions an early deficit before I’m ready to change my mind about the wisdom of the Lions signing him to that enormous contract.
After one week of the 2017 season, Stafford looks like he’s worth the money. Let’s see if we still feel that way in a few years.
Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s games:
Sean McVay was my coach of the day. The Rams were just plain awful last year, averaging just 14 points a game, by far the worst in the NFL. And Jared Goff was the worst quarterback in the NFL, averaging just 155 passing yards a game. Yesterday, in McVay’s first game as the Rams’ head coach, they beat the Colts 46-9, and Goff totaled 306 passing yards despite not throwing much in the second half after L.A. jumped out to a big lead. Meanwhile, in Washington -- the place McVay left to take the Rams job -- the offense struggled mightily, turning the ball over four times in a 30-17 loss to the Eagles. The 31-year-old McVay is an offensive wunderkind, and he’s off to a great start in his first head-coaching job.
Tony Romo was my announcer of the day. I was thoroughly impressed with Romo in his broadcasting debut. He calls the game like the quarterback he was, identifying aspects of the defensive alignment and telling viewers what the quarterback is looking for. I loved seeing him circle a Titans defensive back and hearing him explain that that was who Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was keying on as he scanned the field -- all before the ball was snapped. CBS took a chance on making Romo, who had never worked in broadcasting, its No. 1 analyst. But it appears that risk is going to pay off.
J.J. Watt had my quote of the day. After suffering a hand injury but continuing to play in yesterday’s loss to the Jaguars, Watt said afterward, “I felt fine. I messed up my finger a little bit, but other than that my body felt fine. Just busted the bone through the skin. Nothing bad, just tape it up.”
Thursday night’s game may be ugly. The Texans play the Bengals this week on Thursday Night Football, and that means we may see the two worst offenses in the league facing off. Cincinnati got shut out 20-0 by Baltimore, while Houston lost 29-7 to Jacksonville. With a Thursday night game like that, the NFL is going to have a hard time changing the perception that Thursday Night Football games are the worst games of the week. Said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis of his team’s performance yesterday, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been in such a disappointing football game.” Here’s hoping we don’t get just as disappointing a football game on Thursday night.
Kevin White is star-crossed. It’s hard not to feel bad for White, the Bears receiver who is expected to miss the rest of the season after suffering yet another injury yesterday. White, the seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, has played in just five games and caught just 21 passes in his NFL career. Assuming he’s out the rest of this year, he’ll have missed 43 games to injuries through three NFL seasons.
Aaron Rodgers is the master of the free play. No quarterback has ever been as good as Rodgers at taking shots deep downfield when the defense commits a penalty. He’s a wizard at it. As soon as a Seahawk jumped offside in the third quarter on Sunday, Rodgers launched the ball toward the end zone, where Jordy Nelson ran under it for a 32-yard touchdown. When the opponents make a mistake like that against Rodgers, he makes them pay.
The Colts are a terrible franchise masquerading as a good franchise. Think back about how terrible the Colts were before they drafted Peyton Manning. Then think back about how terrible they were when Manning got hurt and missed a full season, allowing them to draft Andrew Luck. And now look at how terrible they were in yesterday’s loss to the Rams with Luck hurt. For the Colts to go into this season with no one better than Scott Tolzien to quarterback their team was beyond stupid. The Colts happened to have the No. 1 overall pick when Manning and Luck -- the two best quarterback prospects of the last 30 years -- entered the NFL draft. If not for those two No. 1 overall picks, we’d probably think about the Colts the same way we think about the Browns.