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NFL morning after: Robert Griffin III looks special

Washington Redskins Griffin III is congratulated by New Orleans Saints Brees during their NFL football game in New Orleans

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) is congratulated by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) after his team defeated the Saints during their NFL football game in New Orleans, Louisiana September 9, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

REUTERS

On an opening NFL Sunday that gave us surprising upsets, exciting comebacks and so much enjoyment that it was hard to remember how we survived without football the last seven months, one man stood above all the rest: Robert Griffin III.

The Redskins’ rookie quarterback was sensational in his first NFL game, a 40-32 win over the Saints. And he was sensational not just because he has a good arm and quick feet, which we already knew, but because he looks like he has the mental part of the quarterback position down. Griffin repeatedly showed that he could read where the Saints’ pass rush was coming from and move in the pocket accordingly, and he showed that he could go through his progressions and find the open receiver in the Saints’ secondary. By the end of the day he had become the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in his debut.

Griffin is also a pleasure to watch because he seems genuinely grateful to be playing in the NFL. The grin on his face as he walked off the field having been congratulated by Saints quarterback Drew Brees was the smile of a man who’s living his dream and walking among his heroes.

He told me he was proud of me,” Griffin said of his postgame encounter with Brees. “That’s big for him to say after they just lost the game. I respect him for that. That’s definitely No. 1 on my list.”

Griffin was No. 1 on my list of the most impressive players in the NFL on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts on the action around the NFL:

Andrew Luck will have long days like this. While the second overall pick in the draft was outstanding, the first overall pick in the draft was . . . a rookie. Luck threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in a tough loss to the Bears, and he acknowledged after the game that he has to get better. “When you’re responsible for four turnovers, it’s hard to win,” he said. “Three picks and a fumble for me, those are killers.” Luck will get better. But the Colts had the first pick in this year’s draft for a reason, and Luck will have growing pains while playing on a bad Colts team.

Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning. I don’t know if Manning’s arm strength is 100 percent back to his pre-neck surgery form -- Manning seemed like he threw a few wobbly passes -- but arm strength has never been Manning’s greatest attribute. What Manning does best is run the offense and read the opposing defense, and he’s as good as ever at that.

The replacement refs are OK. No, the NFL’s replacement officials aren’t perfect. Yes, they seemed to misunderstand the timeout rule at the end of the Cardinals’ win over the Seahawks. But after a preseason in which many NFL observers (myself included) thought the replacement officials looked incompetent, the first Sunday of the regular season was officiated adequately. There were mistakes, but they were the kinds of mistakes we’ve all grown accustomed to with the regular officials: A missed block in the back here, a questionable pass interference call there. The vast majority of the replacement officials seemed capable of handling a game at NFL speed and knowledgeable of the NFL rules. If I were a regular official, I wouldn’t be feeling good about my negotiating position with the league right now. The replacement officials are demonstrating that the regular refs are expendable.

Tom Brady is so good, a great game looks routine. As the Patriots coasted to a 34-13 win over the Titans, Brady calmly and methodically did everything right, completing 23 of 31 passes for 236 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady makes winning look easy, perhaps because he has so much experience doing it: Sunday’s game was Brady’s 160th career start, and the Patriots are 125-35 in those games.

The Packers are all alone in last place in the NFC North. After going 15-1 in 2011, the Packers are 0-1 in 2012 following Sunday’s loss to the 49ers. And with the Lions, Bears and Vikings all winning, that leaves the Packers as the NFC North’s bottom dwellers. As long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy the Packers will be able to put points on the board, but Green Bay has to be concerned that its pass defense doesn’t look any better than last year, when it was the weak point of a 15-1 team. The Packers better fix things in a hurry: They host the Bears on Thursday night. A loss to the Bears would drop them to 0-2 at home -- and two games behind their NFC North rivals.

The Giants are all alone in last place in the NFC East. After winning the Super Bowl last season, the Giants have started 0-1 this season, with a loss to the Cowboys. After the Eagles and Redskins joined the Cowboys at 1-0 atop the NFC East, the Giants are all alone in the basement.

The Dolphins look terrible. Hard Knocks was a good TV show chronicling a bad team. The Dolphins’ offense couldn’t get anything going and their defense couldn’t stop anyone in their 30-10 loss to the Texans. Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions and didn’t look ready to be an NFL starter, but he didn’t get much help, either. Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland is reportedly on the hot seat, and he should be if the Dolphins can’t get a whole lot better in a hurry.

Greg Schiano is building a stout defense in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers’ new coach has promised to instill a tough, physical attitude in his team, and it certainly looked that way in Week One, when the Bucs held the Panthers to a stunningly low total of 10 rushing yards on 13 carries in a 16-10 win. That defense is still led by Ronde Barber, who was already the only player in NFL history with at least 25 sacks and 40 interceptions in his career even before he sacked Cam Newton for career sack No. 28 and intercepted Newton for career interception No. 44 on Sunday. Barber was starting his 200th consecutive game on Sunday, the longest consecutive starts streak for a cornerback in NFL history. The last time Barber didn’t start a game, Griffin was 9 years old.