Mariota throws 4 TDs in debut, Bills upset Colts, and all of NFL’s Opening Week


Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the latest sports news in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @AkiemBailum.

Sep 13, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) throws a pass in the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. The Titans defeated the Buccaneers 42-14. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

If it’s one thing we know, Realists, it’s that when football returns, the excitement volume automatically goes all the way up to 11. Put the team flags back up in front of your houses, on your cars, start the grills, and bragging to your buddies about how badly you’re going to whip them in fantasy this year…

Football! Has! Returned!

If it is another thing we are known for, Realists, it is trying to shoehorn an entire season into the first week. We watch our teams, have high expectations for our teams if they are tagged as sexy playoff (or Super Bowl) picks, and then we end up shocked when they may not be in midseason form.

Then, ensues something called Overreaction Monday where we forget that it is only one game and Super Bowls are not won in August.

More on that later, but let’s revisit opening kickoff-gate or whatever we want to call it…


Sep 10, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls an audible against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Is there anything more that has to be mentioned regarding this year’s Thursday opener between Pittsburgh and New England? This one has practically been built up since the last time the Patriots were on a football field (last year’s Super Bowl) and when an offseason controversy known as “Deflate-Gate” was born.

And, yes. There actually is a Wikipedia page all about DeflateGate.

Well, now that that is over and we can actually turn our focus to actual FOOTBALL being played, it should be no secret that the spector of DeflateGate would be all over this game.

Why? Because After the NFL handed down its four-game suspension for Brady’s alleged involvement in the deflation of footballs, a New York judge (which we thought would play a greater level of foot(ball)sie with the league than Judge Doty in Hennepin County, Minnesota) called bull on that.

This meant Brady would be back….for the season opener….in Foxboro….his home fans—a season opener that Commissioner Roger Goodell later announced he would not be at because he said he wanted to “keep the focus on the field.”

We all know, Realists that translates to, “I’ve become as hated in that part of the country as ex-NBA commissioner David Stern is in Seattle and I’ll be booed ‘Straight Outta Foxboro’ if I show.”

There are probably multiple dart boards throughout the uppermost of the I-95 corridor with Roger Goodell’s name on them. If those Patriots fans throwing said darts can throw them like Brady (who received a raucous ovation at Gillette Stadium when he took the field Thursday), they will probably hit their targets.

The Steelers’ quarterback—Ben Roethlisberger, as we know, is pretty good at hitting his targets as well even though coming into the Thursday opener, they were without Le’Veon Bell. DeAngelo Williams (it feels like I have heard that name forever, Realists) ended up having a huge game).

New England ended up winning this one, because once again, Tom Brady looked like, well, Tom Brady. I somewhat wonder if some were thinking that the Patriots going to be in a mode where they were going to drop at least 40 or 50 just to stick it to the NFL. Some coaches may, but not a Bill Belichick-coached team.

But still, Brady looked like Brady and Rob Gronkowski (who caught three of Brady’s 4 touchdown passes) looked like Gronk. And Julian Edelman, who caught 11 passes for 97 yards looked like Edelman.

It’s a shame because the Steelers didn’t play a relatively bad game, especially given the fact that they appeared to be shorthanded at the runningback position. Williams had 21 carries for 127 yards and Brown caught nine balls for 137 yards.

Then another mini-controversy was drummed up when it was known that the Steelers coaches complained about not being able to communicate with each other or their players. Instead, they were listening to the Patriots’ radio broadcast from WBZ-FM 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

I’m a radio buff and I don’t think radio stations help teams win games or teams would never change their flagship stations. Oh, by the way, the NFL handles that issue—not the Patriots. So yeah, nothing to see here.

Also, when you have a field goal kicker in Josh Scobee who has four field goal attempts and goes two for four, then that will not help your chances of winning either.

It means your kicker had an off day and your offense was forced to settle for field goals instead of getting touchdowns. And as the rest of the NFL knows, you need touchdowns to beat the defending Super Bowl champs.

Perhaps those touchdowns will come in greater quantity next week at Heinz for Pittsburgh against San Francisco. As for New England, they begin this year’s AFC East division rivalry on the road in Buffalo.

(Final Score: Patriots 28, Steelers, 21)

Indy’s Bills were Overdue

Sep 13, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) runs with the ball as Indianapolis Colts strong safety Clayton Geathers (42) pursues during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

What happened in the early afternoon games today with Indianapolis and Buffalo will be the textbook definition of “Overreaction Monday.”

Given the strides that the Indianapolis Colts have made the past few years since moving on from Peyton Manning and embracing Andrew Luck as the heir apparent to Manning at QB, the team sometimes looks like they haven’t skipped a beat since drafting #12.

Of course, other than the fact that they still appear to have issues at the runningback position. The Trent Richardson experiment fizzled out so quickly you think they were going to ask Tim Tebow to assume the position instead.

Or Andre Johnson, the greatest receiver in Texans history, who the Colts signed after contract talks with Houston went nowhere.

And no matter how many points Luck and the Colts’ offense can put on the board, it still cannot make up for two distinct problems. The first is that they continue to have defensive issues regardless of who they are playing—seemingly. Plus, while they may be the best team in their division, that is basically the only reason as to why they are making the playoffs every year. The Colts are a team that can beat a team like the Patriots, the Packers, the Cowboys, or the Seahawks, but the rest of their division resembles Big Ten or SEC teams instead of NFL teams on some weeks.

Resembling a college team is also not something the Buffalo Bills have done. They haven’t been the worst of teams in the past few years (and have hired a new coach in Rex Ryan) but it is easy to look average to not very good when you are in the same division as the New England Patriots as the Bills are.

This was the same team that up until a few weeks ago actually had I.K. Enempkali on their team—the same dude that was kicked off of the New York Jets after decking Geno Smith and making him miss 6-10 weeks of the season.

Rex Ryan probably just did it to troll his old team but him going from the New York metro to Up-State New York in the same division, but c’mon.

There was a storyline that was also emanating from the Buffalo Bills’ side of the field—the fact that Tyrod Taylor, who spent time in this league as a backup out of Virginia Tech was given the start for the first time in his career.

Giving a young QB like a Tyrod Taylor the start for the first time in his career against a team like Indianapolis who everyone has picked for the Super Bowl seemed like throwing him to the wolves, even if the Colts’ defense leaves a bit to be desired.

So, a Colts victory was imminent—right? Right? RIGHT?

The phrase Any Given Sunday exists for a reason. The movie Any Given Sunday was made for a reason.

This game, it was Taylor that looked like the quarterback that had January football on his mind. Taylor ended up going 14/19 for 195 yards and one touchdown pass. That touchdown pass went to former Minnesota Viking and Seattle Seahawk Percy Harvin, who had 5 receptions for 79 yards. His TD reception was for 51 yards.

The Buffalo defense also made its mark—getting to the quarterback twice and also picking off the quarterback twice.

Luck was 26/49 for 243 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs. Frank Gore—one of their new additions at RB, had eight carries for only 31 yards while T.Y. Hilton was Indy’s leading receiver with seven catches for 88 yards.

Watch how this game is analyzed. Do the Colts have defensive issues? Yes.

Was Tyrod Taylor impressive in his first NFL start? Yes.

Is grass on a football field green? Yes (unless you’re Boise State or Coastal Carolina).

But there are going to be a few people that will already look at the Bills as playoff contenders as well as a few people that will think that this is the year the Colts do not make the playoffs just off of one loss. If that was the case, again, why do we play 16 games instead of only one.

L’s for teams that shouldn’t take L’s are especially tough to swallow, but let’s not get crazy.

(Final Score: Bills 27-14 over Colts)

Mariota’s Debut Album

Sep 13, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) high fives tight end Anthony Fasano (80) after they kicked the extra point against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tennessee Titans defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 42-14. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Realists. There are probably about 100 other websites that probably opted for the more common “Super Mariota” headline. Not me, though.

This one can be seen as a clear indication as to why the Philadelphia Eagles desperately wanted Marcus Mariota. And not only because Chip Kelly is a former University of Oregon coach who just so wanted to welcome a former Ducks QB into the fold in Philly. But because many scouts were high on Mariota.

Kelly tried everything to try to get the Titans to get rid of the number #2 pick in the Draft and allow the Eagles to go up to #2 to get Mariota since the Bucs were all in with Jameis Winston (and his baggage, and his vulgar bellowings, and his crablegs).

Tennessee persistently and persistently and persistently continued to say no. Kelly could have offered the Titans a minority stake in Lincoln Financial Field and they probably would not have pulled the trigger on a trade with the Eagles for Mariota.

Similarly, the Buccaneers probably were not going to do the same thing with Winston if someone were to do a deal for him. Part of the reason the Bucs drafted Winston is the same reason everyone in the media felt Jacksonville was going to be the best landing spot for Tebow.

Just as Tebow already had an established fanbase in Jacksonville due to the large Florida Gators contingency there, Winston would likely sell a ton of jerseys in Tampa Bay given there are a lot of Florida State fans there. Maybe not as much as there are Florida fans since they’re mostly in the Panhandle, but a large amount of FSU fans there nonetheless.

A Realist tip for overcoming the Overreaction Mondays is after Week One whenever a rookie gets a start is to not call him a bust after one game, but also if said rookie has an unbelievable game to not start working on his bust in Canton. Again—it’s one game and one week and just as one game does not make a season, one game does not make a career.

Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy Winner, absolutely outplayed Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy Winner in Winston’s backyard. In addition, in his debut as a Tennessee Titan, he threw 4 touchdowns, 209 yards, and was 13 out of 16 passing.

Anyone want to take a guess as to what Mariota’s passer rating was for this game? 158.3.

158.3! Even Brady didn’t have that this week (though he came dangerously close).

Bishop Sankey at runningback ran for 74 yards with 12 carries. Kendall Wright caught one of those TDs. A game in which he caught four receptions for 101 yards isn’t too shabby either.

As for Winston, he was 16/33 for 210 yards. He was also the one in this game that looked like a rookie whereas Mariota appeared to resemble a 10-year seasoned veteran. Tennessee’s defense got to Winston on four occasions. Winston lost 29 yards for Tampa Bay when taking those four sacks. The Titans also picked off Winston on two occasions.

The line for Doug Martin was only 11 carries for 52 yards while Austin Sefarian-Jenkins caught the two touchdown passes from Winston along with a five reception for 110 yard outing.

Again, as mentioned earlier. This is going to be another case of the Overreaction Mondays. A lot of people are going to look at this game as a sign that Winston is going to be a bust whereas others are going to start putting Mariota in the Hall of Fame (and in a shorter-term sense, for the Titans to win the AFC South this year based on how Indianapolis laid an egg against Buffalo).

In fairness, the Titans will probably do the same thing to the Browns in Cleveland next week as they did to Tampa Bay this week. As for the Buccaneers—they have to travel on the road to face the New Orleans Saints.

(Final Score: Titans 42, Bucs 17)

Farewell Tour Starting in Earnest?

Sep 13, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams tight end Lance Kendricks (88) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Realists, one storyline was extremely prevalent prior to foot meeting football for this game. Another one developed afterwards.

This one ended up being Exhibit C for fighting the Overreaction Mondays, but there may be reason to overreact in St. Louis for reasons that do not have anything to do with football.

The St. Louis Rams, once upon a time, were the Los Angeles Rams before moving to the Gateway to the West and later winning a Super Bowl by stopping the Tennessee Titans one yard short of the endzone. That one likely still stings in the Volunteer State to this day.

Those very Rams could be the Los Angeles Rams once again if things go the way as they’re expected to go.

Rams owner Stan Kroenke has purchased a major plot of land in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Kroenke also owns the Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Rapids, and the Colorado Avalanche along with a regional sports network in the Rocky Mountains/Denver area.

Kroenke has St. Louis so spooked that they could end up losing the Rams that it now has the city itself proposing its own plan for a stadium that would be subsidized with taxpayer dollars.
The Chargers and Raiders also are in the running to make a beeline on the 405 into LA.

That was a storyline of the Rams this game and it will continue to be for the rest of the season as long as the microscope of Hollywood’s bright lights continue to shine on this team.

Realists, I was stunned as to what I was seeing as I was watching season previews all this week. I saw some pundits that actually had the St. Louis Rams finishing ahead of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.

Yes, the track record of what happens to Super Bowl losing teams is not positive and the way the Seahawks lost last year’s Big Game is probably better not spoken of at watercoolers around the Puget Sound.

But a couple of storylines actually rose as a result of this one. The first one has to be the possibility that Nick Foles may very well just be a really good quarterback and not merely a product of being in Chip Kelly’s offensive system while in Philadelphia.

Foles put up numbers in this game that were eerily similar to much of his games in Eagles green—18/27 for 297 yards and one touchdown plus a passer rating of 115.8.

Benjamin Cunningham—16 carries for 45 yards. Jared Cook—5 receptions for 85 yards.

As for the Seahawks: Russell Wilson was 32/41 for 251 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Marshawn Lynch: 18 receptions for 73 yards while Jermaine Kearse caught eight receptions for 76 yards.

Oh, and did I mention that Russell Wilson tweeted a “1-0” message to the 12s on Saturday, then was trolled after the game by the Rams’ Twitter? Hardy-har-har!

Another one appears to be that the Seahawks contract negotiations with Kam Chancellor also appeared to cost them dearly. Seattle was down to the Rams 24-13 before rallying to assume a 31-24 lead late with 18 unanswered points and just under five minutes to go.

That was before in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter when Lance Kendricks was on the receiving end of a 37 yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles as the game was tied.

St. Louis took the lead 34-31 off a Greg Zuerlein field goal before the last Seahawks drive was stopped as the Rams defensive line flipped the switch on Beast Mode.

Of course, the jokes and memes about last year’s Super Bowl are going to be flying all this week as they are already as of this writing. I’m trying to think of one myself—maybe I’ll have one in time and ready by next week.

Maybe I’ll share it for next week’s Realist…after the Rams face the Redskins in Landover, MD and the Seahawks travel to Lambeau to play the Packers on Sunday night.

But again, since it is Week One and this can be assumed to be a pretty large upset, Overreaction Monday will be on complete display on Seattle radio stations as it will in Tampa, Nashville, and Indianapolis.

This NFL Broadcast on W-T-F Radio….

Sep 13, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) celebrates a 27-26 victory against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Another radio reference in the Week One Realist from a radio buff. Someone stop me…

The last time the Dallas Cowboys were on a football field, we were debating if “it” was a catch before they were eliminated in the playoffs by the Green Bay Packers.

It was probably the second-most debated topic of the offseason in football circles other than that DeflateGate thing up in New England. In addition to that, one of the Cowboys’ most reliable offensive standouts from last season was not with the team because he found a new team.

That of course is one DeMarco Murray—who is now a Philadelphia Eagle.

Speaking of catches, Realists, everyone remembers THAT catch Odell Beckham, Jr. made against the Cowboys last year with only one hand. I think over the offseason, a loop of that catch might as well replaced the feed that is supposed to be reserved for NFL Network’s RedZone channel.

That catch is propelling him into a household name in NFL circles—along with him catching over 1300 yards last year and believing the Giants are potential Wild Card contenders in the NFC East.

As far as the Cowboys are concerned, once again, this is another season that the Cowboys have expectations of winning the Super Bowl. A franchise that is valued as much as the Cowboys are valued ought to be winning the Super Bowl every year.

They may not have finished 8-8 last year as they’ve developed a reputation for finishing most years, but it has been another year where Dallas is looked at as potential Super Bowl winners without actually being the defending Super Bowl champions.

The branding power of that star…but I digress.

Realists, this was another one of these games that I ended up watching from start to finish. I watched a Week One football game over September baseball—proving that something is majorly wrong with me.

It was also another of those crazily played games. Throughout the first half it appeared that absolutely nothing was going on for both teams and that the Jason Pierre-Paul injury was still hurting New York’s G-Men.

At one point the Cowboys led only 6-3 courtesy of a pair of Dan Bailey field goals. Dallas had doubled the time of possession that the Giants had before a fumble recovery for a touchdown by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (who was injured earlier in the game), then the Giants upped their advantage to 13-6 after a Josh Brown field goal after forcing the Cowboys into another turnover.

After halftime, what was a 13-6 lead became 16-6 after Josh Brown’s third field goal, then became 16-13 after Gavin Escobar caught a two yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo after a 9 play, 80 yard drive. One of those plays was for 25 yards from Romo to Joseph Randle to the New York 46.

Then, in what for the most part was a struggle for the Cowboys offense for much of the game, Romo was picked off again by Trumaine McBride. One play later, Rashad Jennings extended New York’s lead to 23-13 with an eight yard touchdown run.

So, Overreaction Monday was going to be running wild in Dallas too as it likely is in Tampa, Nashville, Indy, and Seattle right?

Not so much. Six plays (one a 21 yard pass from Romo to Terrance Williams on 2nd and 3 from the Giants 38 to the 17), 76 yards, and over three minutes later, it became 23-20 after Romo threw to Jason Witten from one yard out. What made the rally even more impeccable—Dez Bryant was injured.

He was later revealed to have broken his foot and will be sidelines for 4-6 weeks. Meaning Romo’s primary targets from last year are now both gone.

Then, after a long 13 yard, 79 yard drive from the Giants (including a Jennings 27 yard run to the Cowboys 40 yard line) it looked like they’d put this away (and cue Overreaction Monday in North Texas). Except, they ran a 3rd down play had Eli Manning throw the football away instead of just taking the sack and having more time come off clock. It resulted in another field goal, but now, Overreaction Monday will be in full force in New York—and there’s noplace where Overreaction Monday becomes more true after losses like Gotham.

That gave the Cowboys all the time they needed. The first play of that last drive set the tone—Romo to Lance Dunbar for 24 yards to the Giants 48. That six play, 72 yard, 1:27 drive was completed with a Romo pass to Witten for 11 yards, a touchdown and a 27-26 advantage.

Two plays later, the game was over, resulting in a Cowboys 27-26 win.

Romo completed this game going 36/45 for 356 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. Joseph Randle: 16 carries, 65 yards. Dunbar: eight receptions, 70 yards.

Manning: 20/36, 193 yards. Jennings: 13 yards, 52 yards, 1 TD. Shane Vereen: 4 receptions, 46 yards.

This game proved one thing above anyone else—that (once again) without those two Super Bowl wins, Coughlin probably would not be head coach of the Giants. Big Blue fans have been calling for his job for a while, whether it is on radio, on the subway, walking in Times Square, at the Bronx Zoo, or while touring the Empire State Building—New Yorkers have been practicing Overreaction Monday since the Giants won their last Super Bowl.

If they’re going to call for Coughlin’s job even more, they’ll have a chance to do it next week with the team actually there as the Giants play their first home game of the season when they see the Atlanta Falcons in the Meadowlands.

As for the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL really seemed to like scheduling them against their NFC East rivals early (not that I’m complaining). Their opponent for next week is the Philadelphia Eagles.
(Final Score: Cowboys 27, Giants 26)

Other Games

Aug 20, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; A general view of the 50th Super Bowl commemorative gold 50 yard-line at FedEx Field prior to the game between the Washington Redskins and the Detroit Lions. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Packers defeated Bears 31-23

Chiefs defeated Texans 27-20

Jets defeated Browns 31-10

Dolphins defeated Redskins 17-10

Panthers defeated Jaguars 20-9

Cardinals defeated Rams 31-19

Chargers defeated Lions 33-28

Bengals defeated Raiders 33-13

Broncos defeated Ravens 19-13

Eagles vs. Falcons (6:55 ET, Monday Night Football)

Vikings vs. 49ers (10:15 ET, Monday Night Football)

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