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NFL morning after: Reactions and Overreactions in Week One

Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Carl Davis, left, pulls on the jersey of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)


Whether your team won or lost on Sunday, the best advice I can give you is this: Don’t overreact to Week One.

Here’s a little story about how wrong our perceptions can be after Week One of the NFL season: The best defense I’ve ever seen was that of the 1985 Chicago Bears. Do you know what the Chicago Sun-Times wrote about after the Bears’ Week One victory over the Buccaneers? It was about how the Bears’ pass rush wasn’t up to par, and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan was concerned that his players weren’t getting to the quarterback enough.

If the ’85 Bears’ defense wasn’t obviously great in Week One, then that should tell us all we need to know about how hard it is to judge a player or a team after just one game of the season. The sample size is so small that the conclusions we can draw are little more than guesswork.

Think back to last year. The Patriots got blown out by the Dolphins in Week One. The Titans blew out the Chiefs in Week One. If you were a member of the Week One Overreactors Society, you never would have guessed that the Patriots would win the Super Bowl and the Titans would go 2-14.

So as I review Week One, I’ll be careful to separate the reactions that that will still look reasonable in Week 17 with the overreactions that will look foolish by the end of the year.

Reaction: Peyton Manning doesn’t have the arm he used to. It’s just not debatable anymore: At age 39, Manning doesn’t have the same kind of zip on his passes he once did. Although the Broncos won on Sunday, Manning struggled, completing 24 of 40 passes for 175 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. He’s not the player he once was.
Overreaction: The Broncos can’t win with Peyton’s dead arm. For most of his career, Manning was the reason his team was winning. He won’t be the reason Denver wins this year, but that doesn’t mean Denver won’t win this year. The Broncos have a very good defense, and that can take them far. Manning may not be able to beat teams with his arm, but he can still beat teams with his brain, and with Manning as an effective game manager, the Broncos can be a Super Bowl team.

Reaction: The Bills’ defense is great. When you take a defense that was already among the best in the league and you add Rex Ryan as coach, you can bet that you’re going to see something special. That’s what we saw in Buffalo yesterday, where the Bills absolutely shut down Andrew Luck & Co. on their way to a dominant victory. I don’t know how good the Bills as a team are going to be, but I know their defense is going to be good.
Overreaction: Tyrod Taylor is great. The reason I don’t know how good the Bills as a team will be is that I don’t know how good a quarterback Taylor is. He was outstanding on Sunday, his first NFL start, completing 14 of 19 passes for 195 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, plus 41 rushing yards. But when NFL defenses get more time to study his limitations as a passer and prepare for his abilities as a runner, will they figure out how to stop him? Until we know the answer to that question, any assessment of Taylor based on his Week One performance is an overreaction.

Reaction: J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL. Watt was the best defensive player in the NFL last year, the year before that and the year before that. (He only won the Defensive Player of the Year award twice, but he should have won it all three years.) Yesterday against the Chiefs, Watt had nine solo tackles, two sacks, six tackles for loss and three quarterback hits. He dominated the game as much as any defensive lineman ever can, although unfortunately for Watt and the Texans there’s only so much a defensive lineman can do to take over a game. Houston lost because the Texans’ defense left too many open receivers underneath, and because the offense couldn’t get going.
Overreaction: Bill O’Brien chose wrong when he named Brian Hoyer the starter. It doesn’t look good for Hoyer after he struggled early and was benched for Ryan Mallett, who played pretty well after coming in off the bench late in the game. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Mallett is the answer for the Texans. If O’Brien was confident after spending months watching Hoyer and Mallett in practice that Hoyer was the better quarterback, he shouldn’t allow one game to change his mind.

Reaction: The Cleveland Browns stink. The Browns are a mess. They’ve been a mess for more than a decade, having last been to the playoffs in 2002. It’s one thing to lose in Week One, but to get blown out by a bad team like the Jets? To have your running backs combine for 20 carries for 46 yards? Cleveland is a bad football team. I say that confidently after one game.
Overreaction: Johnny Manziel stinks. Manziel didn’t play well in relief of an injured Josh McCown, but it would be unfair to suggest that it’s proof that he can’t make it as an NFL quarterback. Manziel didn’t get much practice time with the first-string offense during training camp, and he hadn’t been practicing at all recently because of elbow tendinitis. His bad game Sunday wasn’t proof that he’s unable to become a good NFL quarterback.

Reaction: NFL kickers are no longer automatic on extra points. There’s no doubt that the extra point is harder now that the NFL has moved it 13 yards back. Last season, only eight extra points were missed all year. Yesterday afternoon, four extra points were missed. NFL kickers will still make more than 90 percent of their extra points, and probably more than 95 percent. But they’re no longer automatic like they used to be.
Overreaction: Broncos kicker Brandon McManus is automatic from anywhere. Only five kickers made a field goal of 56 yards or longer last season. On Sunday, McManus kicked a 56-yard field goal and a 57-yard field goal -- in the first quarter. That’s an impressive feat, but we shouldn’t overreact to it. The reality is that at Denver’s altitude, where a kicked football will typically travel about five yards farther than it would at sea level, every NFL kicker can hit a 57-yard field goal. McManus had a good game, going four-for-four, but get back to me when he hits a 57-yard field goal away from Denver.

Reaction: Ameer Abdullah is for real. Abdullah, the Lions’ rookie running back, was outstanding in his NFL debut, with 50 rushing yards, 44 receiving yards and 105 kickoff return yards. That made him the first player since at least 1960 to have reach 50 rushing yards, 40 receiving yards and 100 kickoff returns in his NFL debut. I don’t know what kind of career Abdullah will have, but there’s no question that he’s a special talent.
Overreaction: Marcus Mariota is great and Jameis Winston is terrible. In the battle of the first and second picks in the NFL draft, Winston struggled mightily while Mariota was brilliant. But success at the quarterback position requires so many different traits that it’s really impossible to say with any certainty after one game what kind of career a quarterback is going to have. Mariota will have some down days, and Winston will have some up days. By Week 17, we may have largely forgotten how much better Mariota was than Winston on Sunday -- and we may forget just about everything else that’s making us overreact in Week One.