Drew Brees and the Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons 45-16, and threw… (Rusty Costanza / Associated…)
If the New Orleans Saints go from swaggering to staggering this season, no one will be happier than the rest of the teams in the NFC South.
Of course those teams want to see the Saints knocked off their perch — they all have their hearts set on the division crown — but there's a personal vendetta in play too.
In recent years, the Saints haven't just beaten divisional opponents, they've rubbed their noses in the dirt. In last season's finale, for instance, New Orleans beat Carolina, 45-17, and kept its foot on the gas even after the game had been decided. The Saints racked up a slew of season records in that game, and the Panthers — who play host to them Sunday — used the lingering sting of that embarrassment as extra incentive this week.
The week before that four-touchdown rout, the Saints won a Monday night game in Atlanta, 45-16, using the prime-time stage for Drew Brees to break Dan Marino's record for most yards passing in a season. It was another instance of the Saints continuing to throw when they didn't need to.
Two years earlier, the Saints humiliated the Buccaneers in Tampa, 31-6, with Coach Sean Payton punctuating a late touchdown with a Tiger Woods fist pump toward the home team's sideline.
All that is fine. The Saints have one of the best offenses in league history, and they shouldn't have to apologize for blowing out division foes. That's football, and complaining about it sounds like whining.
But the Panthers, Buccaneers and Falcons don't need to grasp for reasons to feel disrespected. They don't need to search for bulletin-board material. They have game footage.
"It's a philosophy. It's an attitude. And that's what his is," Panthers Coach Ron Rivera told the Charlotte Observer last week of the Saints' Payton. "So he coaches that way and they play that way. My attitude and my philosophy is win the football game, and then be smart about the next week. That's just the way I look at it, a difference in philosophy."
And if last Sunday's home loss to Washington was an indication, the Saints are missing some fire with Payton and linebackers coach Joe Vitt serving suspensions, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams banned indefinitely, and former receivers coach Curtis Johnson now head coach at Tulane. Those four embodied the bravado that has defined the franchise for the last several years.
If the Saints start slipping now, the only hand they'll get will be applause.
It's easy to overreact to what we learned in Week 1. Happens every year. This team's great, this one is lousy. This player's a phenom, this one's a bust.
There are sure to be teams that look entirely different in Week 2, and it has already happened. Chicago looked terrific in beating Indianapolis last Sunday, then couldn't get anything done against Green Bay four days later. The Packers, meanwhile, looked like a defensive disaster-in-the-making in an opening loss to San Francisco, then had seven sacks and four interceptions in beating the Bears.
The three teams with the greatest potential to tumble from grace in Week 2: the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets and Washington Redskins.
The stakes are especially high Sunday for Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson, whose team lost its opener at Arizona. If the Seahawks lose at home to Dallas, Pete Carroll needs to give strong consideration to starting Matt Flynn at quarterback.
It's not that Wilson doesn't deserve a chance, and expecting him to be ultra-sharp right away isn't especially fair. But Flynn was a coveted free agent, and Seattle signed him to a three-year, $26-million deal. If his team falls to 0-2, how patient can Carroll be? Among Seattle's opponents in the next six weeks are the Packers, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions.
The San Diego Chargers were taking a big risk in starting rookie Mike Harris at left tackle in the opener. He was undrafted from UCLA and assigned to protect the blind side of Philip Rivers on Monday night at Oakland.
Harris played surprisingly well against a defense that has given the Chargers problems in recent years. He didn't give up a sack, even though the Oakland Raiders frequently put Richard Seymour over him. If all goes well for Harris, you won't hear his name much this season.
Had an interesting conversation with John Elway this summer about what makes a great quarterback. The best quarterbacks, he said, don't throw where their receivers are, per se, but to where the defensive players aren't — then let their receivers go get it. Peyton Manning is masterful at this.
Conversely, some quarterbacks just throw the ball up for grabs. That was Cutler against Green Bay, and Michael Vick against Cleveland. Too many desperation flings.
Several teams are mixing in the no-huddle offense to positive results. The Browns, who gained a league-low 210 yards in their opener and converted only two of 13 third downs, unveiled something different: the no-offense huddle.