Week one saw the stunning return of Peyton Manning on Sunday Night Football, with Manning looking as sharp as ever.
In his prime time follow up on Monday Night Football in Atlanta, Manning at times looked as effective and dangerous as he did in his return but was ultimately sunk by early mistakes.
The Broncos first quarter was disastrous, Manning threw three interceptions and running back Knowshon Moreno fumbled, handing prime opportunities to the Falcons.
Unfortunately for the Falcons they could not make the most out of these gifts scoring only 13 points on these four turnovers with the only touchdown coming after Manning’s first interception was returned to the one yard line.
For a team that has some of the most explosive weapons in the NFL, the Falcons delivered almost nothing on offence. Matt Ryan threw for only 213 yards despite having three elite receivers and their running game averaged 2.2 yards per carry.
The Broncos run defence was fantastic and never let the Falcons establish any consistent production on the ground. Likewise, the Falcons were very impressive in defence, particularly in pass coverage.
The three interceptions are obvious evidence of how the Falcons were able to confuse the most brilliant preplay quarterback. Moreover, the Falcons have a rugged secondary that can matchup with the most physical of receivers. Dunta Robinson has earned a reputation as on of the hardest hitting cornerbacks in the league and is viewed as a borderline dirty player. Asante Samuel provides a similar level of physical play on the opposite side of the field.
The Broncos found out that there is no respite from the Falcons’ physical secondary and will have the bruises to prove it. Of concern to the Falcons was their poor run defence. Despite limiting the Broncos to 241 yards passing, the Falcons were gashed on the ground consistently. This could be due though to the Falcons sacrificing run defence to stop the Falcons through the air.
Despite being behind by as much as 20 points, Manning almost led the Broncos to a miracle comeback pulling to within six before the Falcons ran out the game. In his return from his career threatening neck injury, Manning has given no consistent signs as to what can be expected of him. Even in this game he was at times terrible, but then late in the final quarter seemed to be back to his brilliant best.
What is clear is that Manning is still the most cerebral quarterback in the NFL and although he has shown clear rust, he has also demonstrated that he still has some of the best physical tools of any quarterback in the NFL.
Although they came away with the win, the Falcons have some serious concerns.
Their running game is not what it was in 2008 when Michael Turner was in the upper echelon of running backs. For a team that has championship aspirations based upon the strength of their offense, their lack of production against a quality defence is a concern.
With the Saints in disarray and the Panthers and Buccaneers not quite ready for the playoffs, the NFC South is the Falcons to lose.
They should win the division but it isn’t clear that they will be able to take the next step by winning in the playoffs. Performance in the regular season doesn’t matter anymore for the Falcons, it’s all about the playoffs.
1) San Francisco 49ers (2-0): Over the first two weeks the 49ers are clearly the best team in the NFL, they have completely shut down two explosive offenses led by two of the best quarterbacks in the league. They don’t make mistakes and punish opponents for theirs. They are relentless defensively and efficient offensively.
2) Houston Texans (2-0): The Texans have had a soft early season, playing weak teams in Minnesota and Jacksonville. While they haven’t had any real challenge they shouldn’t be punished for this. The Texans execute to a high standard in all aspects of the game. The running performance of Ben Tate is the most notable improvement for the Texans who already have one of the best backs in the league in Arian Foster.
3) Green Bay Packers (1-1): The Packers looked a shell of themselves in week 1 being thoroughly outplayed at home by the 49ers. San Francisco’s performance against Detroit on Sunday night puts this loss into perspective and has shown that the 49ers are the best team in the NFL. The Packers returned to form against Chicago and reminded everyone that yes, they still are an elite team.
4) San Diego Chargers (2-0): For years the Chargers have had disappointing Septembers characterised by upsets and lackluster performances. This year they seem to have turned things around with their unbeaten start. Although their win against Oakland was primarily due to Oakland’s mistakes, their 38-10 win over Tennessee showed the talent of San Diego.
5) Baltimore Ravens (1-1): The Ravens were extremely unlucky to lose to the Eagles. An offensive pass interference penalty wiped off a possible game winning touchdown. The Ravens are clearly in the elite of the NFL and it would be shocking if they missed the playoffs. It will be very interesting to see the Ravens host a wounded Patriots team next week on Sunday Night Football.
The most intriguing game next week will be on Sunday Night Football with Baltimore hosting New England. Other enticing games include Atlanta traveling to San Diego to face a dangerous Chargers team and Russell Wilson in prime time with Green Bay in Seattle on Monday Night Football.