- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2008

STORY OF THE WEEK

BRADY OUT FOR SEASON

In perhaps the biggest early season injury since the Denver Broncos lost running back Terrell Davis in the 2000 season, the AFC turned into a wide-open affair with the left knee injury to New England quarterback Tom Brady that will require surgery.

Brady, who had started 128 consecutive games since taking Drew Bledsoe’s spot early in 2001 and has three Super Bowl wins, was injured when Kansas City safety Bernard Pollard crashed into his knee in the first half of the Patriots’ 17-10 win.

Now what to make of the AFC?

First, the AFC East. The Patriots have had a stranglehold on the division this decade with five straight titles. But is it possible the best team in the division is - gulp! - Buffalo?

Not quite yet. It’s hard to be a big believer in the Jets until they beat a team that won more than a single game in 2007, and the Bills don’t have a lot of proven performers.

Cassel might have no experience, but he does have Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Laurence Maroney and a solid offensive line to work with. The Patriots remain the team to beat in the AFC East, but the conference is in complete flux.

Indianapolis and San Diego both sustained disappointing home defeats. Pittsburgh turned in the AFC’s most impressive win, beating Houston 38-17.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The Chicago Bears deserve applause for scoring nine defensive points and taking advantage of Peyton Manning’s rustiness and ruining the opening of Oil Can Field 29-13, but the Panthers’ win over San Diego was a stunner.

They didn’t have Steve Smith, suspended for slugging Ken Lucas in training camp. They were facing LaDainian Tomlinson. And Jake Delhomme was playing his first regular-season game since having elbow surgery.

But Carolina defeated San Diego 26-24 on Delhomme’s 14-yard pass to Dante Rosario as time expired. It was a typical Norv Turner loss - snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Chargers have a tough assignment next at Denver, so old Norv will have to give a fire-and-brimstone speech to fire up the troops.

FIVE THINGS LEARNED IN WEEK 1

1. “Hard Knocks” didn’t negatively impact Dallas. The Cowboys were the darlings of HBO during the preseason (although the show was boring), and Sunday they were the class of the NFC with a thorough 28-10 thrashing of the Browns. Dallas outgained Cleveland 487-205.

2. Jacksonville’s offensive line is in shambles. The Jaguars were expected to have one of the best running games in the NFL. But that took a hit when the team lost guard Vince Manuwai for the season (ACL) and guard Maurice Williams for two months (biceps). As Randy Thomas can attest, that kind of injury usually turns into a three- or four-month absence. Out another three weeks is center Brad Meester.

3. Detroit is still Detroit. The Lions looked at the NFC North and developed grandiose visions. Whatever. Facing a rookie coach, rookie quarterback and a rookie left tackle, Detroit promptly fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter and allowed the Falcons to rush for 318 yards. The Lions will stink until GM Matt Millen is shown the door.

4. There are a lot of poor teams. St. Louis is bad. San Francisco is no good. Miami will struggle. Houston should be embarrassed. Cleveland can’t stop anybody. Kansas City is too young to compete. Cincinnati may lose 12 games. And then there’s Detroit. The race to the No. 1 pick will be a competitive struggle this December.

5. The quality of play wasn’t great. Sure there were exceptions, but the first week showed why teams need to take the preseason a little more seriously or just expand the regular season and, therefore, the rosters. It was noticeable in the Redskins-Giants game and in others on television Sunday: In the second half, the starters had nothing left. They weren’t in shape to play four quarters in hot and humid weather. That diminished the execution greatly.

NEXT MAN UP

Here’s a list of big injuries and who’s in line to replace them.

QB Tom Brady, New England (knee): Matt Cassel, who didn’t even start for Southern Cal, where he was stuck behind Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, gets his shot to cash in. A solid season in relief and some team will be desperate to trade for him.

QB Vince Young, Tennessee (knee): First he had to be prodded to return to the field by coach Jeff Fisher after he tweaked a lower body injury. And then Young injured his knee. The Titans may be better off for the next month if veteran Kerry Collins takes over.

RB Marion Barber, Dallas (ribs): Barber rushed for 80 yards before getting banged up. But the Cowboys have depth at the position - rookie Felix Jones rushed for 62 yards on just nine attempts.

K Mike Nugent, New York Jets (leg): Nugent couldn’t have endeared himself to his teammates by being unable to kick an extra point Sunday because of injury. The Jets are scheduled to work out a few kickers Tuesday.

NUMBERS GAME

522 Yards by the Philadelphia offense in its 38-3 win over St. Louis. It’s the highest opening-day total in Eagles history and the highest total in the NFL since Dallas posted 541 in its overtime win at Washington in 1999.

HOT SEAT

Whose performance Sunday puts them in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons next week:

Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel

The Browns entered the season with high expectations of making the playoffs for only the second time in their second existence. But instead they’re staring straight at an 0-2 start. After getting blown out by Dallas, the Browns play host to Pittsburgh on Sunday night. It’s up to Crennel, whose background is on defense, to find a way to create more pressure on Ben Roethlisberger than he did on Tony Romo.

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