Opening week impressions: Hangovers and dominanceThe Giants and Jets were polar opposites, but don’t jump to quick conclusions
Those are my impressions of the Giants’ disappointing loss to the Cowboys and the Jets’ dominant victory over the Bills in the opening games of the season.
That doesn’t mean there is a new order to the big brother-little brother relationship between the Giants and Jets, but since the biggest overreaction in sports comes after the first weekend of the NFL season, there is always the tendency to make too many quick decisions.
Three out of the four times the Giants won the Super Bowl, they lost the opening game of the season. Do you remember what happened in 2007? They lost to the Cowboys and Packers to start 0-2. The defense, with new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, gave up 80 points in those two games. If you remember, the Giants ended that season by winning the Super Bowl, beating the undefeated Patriots and holding them to 14 points. New England had set the record that season as the highest-scoring team in NFL regular season history in 2007 with 589 points, an average of 36.8 points per game.
There was nobody after those first two weeks who could have predicted that the Giants would even be in the playoffs or once they got in, that the defense would control Tony Romo, Brett Favre and Tom Brady in consecutive games.
That’s not to say the way the Giants played against Dallas was encouraging at all. In fact, it was not only dismal, it was surprisingly bad.
The Giants were supposed to be playing with a major chip on their shoulder after they spent the offseason listening to people question if they were a legitimate Super Bowl champion. That was supposed to provide plenty of motivation, especially in the stand-alone Wednesday night season opener with the rest of the league watching.
Some of the skepticism was deserved. The Giants were the first team to win the Super Bowl with such a poor record. They were only 9-7 and needed to win their last two games against the Jets and Cowboys to win the NFC East. They endured a four-game losing streak that began when they were 6-2 and benefitted from such a down year in the division. No NFC East champion had ever won it with record as poor as 9-7.
But once the Giants got into the postseason, they were a different team. They had adopted the “All In” rallying cry and played their best football in the tournament.
I really thought they would pick up where they left off in the opener. That’s what they did in 2008 after a similar Super Bowl run followed a mediocre regular season. The Giants opened 10-1, Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg, the Giants won to improve to 11-1, then lost three of their last four games to finish 12-4 and lost a home to the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Giants lack of intensity against the Cowboys was the most shocking element to the loss. I figured they would come out fired up. The fans were into it. The franchise’s previous Super Bowl champions were honored before the game. It was festive.
Then the Giants came out uninspired. Victor Cruz set the tone for the game when he dropped a third down pass on the first possession. He dropped two more. Cruz is a good kid and I don’t think all the attention he received in the offseason went to his head, but he dropped passes he usually catches. He is playing for a new contract, so he’s going to be motivated to prove he is not a one-year wonder and is worth major dollars.
It came down to the Giants didn’t get enough pressure on Romo and he was outstanding throwing to Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree. He exposed a lot of problems in the secondary. Even Corey Webster, the Giants best cover corner, had a rough game.
But the good news is they have 10 days off between games to regroup, heal up and figure out why they were so flat against Dallas. They need to beat the Bucs at home on Sunday. It’s not like the season is over if they lose, but they need to get their season going in the right direction. The other three teams in the NFC East are 1-0. When the Giants’ pride is hurt, they usually respond.
The Jets could not have scripted a better beginning and the story was Mark Sanchez.
He had an interesting offseason. The Jets opened contract extension talks with him, then they made a brief run at trying to sign Peyton Manning. When that failed, they finished off the contract talks with Sanchez and got him signed. Two weeks later, they traded for Tim Tebow after the Broncos signed Manning.
What was Sanchez to think?
In addition to any help the Jets believe Tebow can give them in the Wildcat, I think his presence put a tremendous amount of pressure on Sanchez to improve. When a player has his job threatened, he will either fold under the pressure or step up his game.
Of course, it didn’t begin very well for Sanchez against Buffalo. He tried a backhanded shovel pass on the first possession of the season that was tipped and intercepted. Had he not learned anything after throwing 26 interceptions last year?
How were the fans were going to handle seeing the same old Sanchez? Would they boo and start chanting for Tebow? It didn’t happen. Sanchez then played one of the best games of his career. At one point, the Jets led 41-7. They won 48-28 with the offense accounting for 34 points. In the four preseason games, the Jets scored 31 points. The only time the fans booed is when Tebow gained nothing on a Wildcat play after the Jets were moving the ball.
Tebow took nine snaps for center and the Jets had only 19 yards. If Sanchez continues to play well, the Jets may feel less of a need to go to the Wildcat offense.
One of the concerns going into the season was whether Sanchez had enough firepower around him. Rookie Stephen Hill, who had trouble holding onto the ball in the preseason, caught two touchdowns against the Bills. Jeremy Kerley had a touchdown catch and also returned a punt for a touchdown. Santonio Holmes had a productive day.
Can the Jets sustain this?
They have a big game Sunday in Pittsburgh. The defense shut down the Bills until giving up three garbage time touchdowns. Now they have to shut down Ben Roethlisberger and his excellent group of receivers. The Jets can establish some credibility with a road victory at Heinz Field, which is always a tough place to play.
But just remember that it’s only one week and perceptions change week-to-week in the NFL.
Follow Gary Myers on Twitter: @garymyersNYDN