The Washington Times - September 16, 2009, 05:19PM


New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates the first of two touchdown passes to Benjamin Watson in the fourth quarter of their Monday Night Football win / Associated Press Photo 


Not much of shakeup at the top after the first week of the NFL season, though we snuck the Ravens into the Top 5 after bumping the Chargers down into the 20s.

Other teams on the move: The Seahawks and 49ers, from the mid-20s to low teens; Also the Colts, Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers taking big drops.

And No. 1, of course, remains the New England Patriots, who needed two late Tom Brady touchdown tosses to beat the Bills in Week 1.

The rankings follow; as always, last week’s rankings are (in parentheses).

1. Patriots (1). In his first game in a year, Tom Brady’s team trailed by 11 points with less than three minutes left. No sweat. Brady’s pair of touchdown tosses to Benjamin Watson got the job done for the Patriots who have won his last 20 regular season starts. The near-miss vs. Buffalo should serve as a wakeup call for Sunday’s game at the Jets.

2. Giants (2). Think Osi Umenyiora is recovered from missing 2008 with a knee injury? His sack/fumble/touchdown against the Redskins answered that question and New York’s unproven receivers and cornerbacks got the better of their Washington counterparts. Now comes another stern test against another NFC East rival, the potent Cowboys in Dallas.

3. Steelers (3). Guess we shouldn’t be surprised by now at Pittsburgh’s ability to win ugly. The host Steelers, having generated just 184 yards, trailed Tennessee 7-6 in the fourth quarter and survived a last-minute fumble to win 13-10 in overtime. That’s why they’re the champs, something they’ll likely prove again Sunday in Chicago. Since an offense that surrendered 49 sacks and averaged just 3.7 yards per carry is unchanged, Pittsburgh will rely again on the NFL’s top defense. The 2004 Pats are the only repeat champs since 1998. Getting through the loaded AFC yet again will be very hard if Ben Roethlisberger and Co. can’t top their 16-point average of 2008.

4. Eagles (4). It’s great that Philadelphia crushed host Carolina without injured standouts Shawn Andrews and Stewart Bradley, but the Eagles didn’t score after losing quarterback Donovan McNabb in the third quarter. And now backup Kevin Kolb makes his first start against the Saints and coordinator Gregg Williams’ plethora of packages.

5. Ravens (6). Baltimore has played hellacious defense for a decade. But the Ravens’ 501 yards of offense in its opener against downtrodden were a record for the 14-year-old franchise, averaging nearly five yards a carry while Joe Flacco enjoyed his first 300-yard day through the air. And the Ravens head to San Diego with an extra day of rest.

6. Vikings (9). Brett Favre can do it. No, not start in the NFL and throw a touchdown pass a month shy of his 40th birthday. No, Favre proved he can hand off to Adrian Peterson as often as he dropped back. And since Peterson ran for 180 yards and Favre threw for just 110 against Cleveland, the Hall of Fame lock should stick to that formula.

7. Falcons (11). Those who questioned whether the Falcons were for real after their 11-5 turnaround of 2008 might want to think again after Atlanta handled Miami easily in its opener despite a subpar day from dynamic back Michael Turner and an equally down effort by the run defense. Quarterback Matt Ryan isn’t suffering from a sophomore jinx.

8. Saints (10). Kudos to Drew Brees for ripping the Lions for six touchdowns and 358 yards. But the Saints can’t lose three turnovers, commit seven penalties and allow 4.5 yards per carry and expect to beat contenders. New Orleans gets a break, though, by facing the untested Kevin Kolb instead of the injured Donovan McNabb Sunday in Philly.

9. Titans (7). Losing a late lead and then falling 13-10 in overtime hurts, but the Titans showed they didn’t miss Albert Haynesworth as much as many feared, dominating Pittsburgh’s running game and sacking Ben Roethlisberger four times. But Tennessee needs a more productive day from its offense to beat Houston at home on Sunday.

10. Packers (14). Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times, once for a safety, and had passed for just 134 yards until he hit Greg Jennings for the late 50-yard touchdown that beat the visiting Bears 21-15. Green Bay’s new 3-4 defense gave Chicago fits. Sunday’s visit by the Bungles should mean a 2-0 start without having to leave Lambeau Field.

11. Cowboys (15). There was disquiet in Jerry Jones’ new palace when Tampa Bay led 7-6 late in the first half, but three TD bombs by Tony Romo later and all was well in Big D. At least on offense. The once-vaunted defense was more doomed than Doomsday while giving up 450 yards to the Bucs. Eli Manning must have smiled watching game films this week.

12. Jets (17). Mark Sanchez, the first rookie quarterback to start a season for a team that had a winning record the previous year since Roger Staubach in 1969, gave a solid effort as New York surprised Houston 24-7. That’s a a good way for rookie coach Rex Ryan to head into his first matchup with Bill Belichick, whose rings he said he won’t kiss.

13. 49ers (23). After stunning NFC champion Arizona 20-16 on the road thanks to a sterling defensive effort, San Francisco can be 3-0 in the NFC West until December by beating Seattle and St. Louis at home over the next three weeks. That will be very difficult if the ground game manages just 21 yards on 25 carries as it did last week.

14. Seahawks (21). When Matt Hasselbeck threw two early picks to the Rams, Seattle fans were probably ready to switch from Starbucks to scotch, but the veteran righted himself and the Seahawks with three touchdown passes in less than 16 minutes. A sixth victory in seven years at San Francisco will put Seattle in its usual spot alone atop the NFC West.

15. Bills (27). Think Buffalo fans are tired of waiting for their first playoff team since 1999. Ask Leodis McKelvin. His fumbled kickoff return set up New England’s winning touchdown on Monday and someone responded by vandalizing his front lawn. So much for relishing pushing the Pats so hard with struggling Tampa Bay up next at home.

16. Colts (8). Coach Jim Caldwell won his debut, but the 14-12 survival of the Jags wasn’t a game to treasure. The Colts struggled to run and to stop the run as they did in 2008. Other than Reggie Wayne, none of Indy’s weapons had great days and No. 2 receiver Anthony Gonzalez will be out for a while. The Colts could be vulnerable Monday in Miami.

17. Jaguars (25). Sure the Jags lost to the perennially powerful Colts, but the 14-12 road defeat was Jacksonville’s fourth straight tussle with Indy decided by no more than a touchdown. If Maurice Jones-Drew et al give a similar performance on Sunday, they could upset NFC champion Arizona and actually lure some fans back to Municipal Stadium.

18. Texans (16). If its opening 24-7 drubbing by the visiting Jets is an indication, 2009 won’t be the year that Houston finally makes the playoffs. The Texans never got to rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez while surrendering 462 yards and their running game was bottled up for just 38 yards, stats that don’t bode well for Sunday’s trip to Tennessee.

19. Redskins (19). Washington was 5-1 in openers from 2002-07 but has lost two in a row at the Giants. The Redskins are 1-3 against New York since 2006, 16-12 against everyone else. Good thing that the Redskins won’t see the Giants again until Week 16. And they won’t look past the Rams this week after getting stunned by them last year at home.

20. Bears (20). If the lackluster seasons by the Cubs and White Sox weren’t enough to depress a Chicago sports fans, the Bears’ opening loss at Green Bay surely did the trick. Losing stud linebacker Brian Urlacher for the season while great quarterback hope Jay Cutler throws four picks? And now the Super Bowl champ Steelers are coming to town? Ugh.

21. Dolphins (18). No one expected last year’s turnaround from 1-15 in 2007 to 11-5 and the AFC East title. But in its wake, a 19-0 deficit after 56 minutes of the opener in Atlanta was unacceptable. Miami lost four turnovers and allowed four sacks. At least coach Tony Sparano has an extra day to prepare for Monday’s visit by Indianapolis.

22. Cardinals (13). What happened to the team that came that ran through the NFC playoffs and came oh so close to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy? Those guys weren’t the jokers who didn’t ind the end zone in the first 40 minutes and lost at home to the 49ers. Kurt Warner and friends better get their mojo back for Sunday’s trip to Jacksonville.

23. Chargers (5). Yeah, yeah, the Bolts won their opener. But they shouldn’t need a late 89-yard touchdown drive to edge the Raiders. Norv Turner and Co. should apologize for their performance on national TV. And now the Ravens come calling with an enhanced offense that could give Shawne Merriman more trouble than Tia Tequila.

24. Panthers (12). Jake Delhomme has thrown nine interceptions in his last two starts, the divisional playoff defeat to Arizona and last Sunday’s rout by Philadelphia. Both were at home. The former Super Bowl quarterback, 34, must be thrilled that the Panthers don’t play again in Charlotte until Oct. 11 after two road games and a bye.

25. Raiders (31). The NFL’s worst team since its 2002 AFC Championship season, Oakland led AFC West kingpin San Diego in the final minute but couldn’t get the defensive stop on an 88-yard drive by the Chargers, whom they had thoroughly outplayed. Despite the heartwrenching loss, the Raiders should be pumped for this week’s visit by the Chiefs.

26. Buccaneers (26). Last Sunday’s loss at Dallas kept Tampa Bay winless since Week 13 of 2008. The offense was surprisingly effective, racking up 450 yards with big days from oft-injured back Cadillac Williams and underachieving receiver Michael Clayton. However, new coach Raheem Morris’ porous defense allowed 462. Winning in Buffalo won’t be easy.

27. Broncos (27). Denver changed coaches for the first time in 14 years, but its September luck remained. A mistaken call gave the Broncos a Week 2 victory over San Diego in 2008. Last week, it was Brandon Stokley racing 87 yards with a deflected pass for the winning touchdown with 11 seconds left. A visit by Cleveland should keep Denver unbeaten.

28. Bengals (24). After being blanked all game, the Bengals rallied to take the lead in the final minute only to lose at home to Denver on a freak 87-yard touchdown. Quarterback Carson Palmer’s return featured three sacks and two interceptions. Making matters worse, Cincinnati now travels to Green Bay, which appears primed for a fine season.

29. Chiefs (28). Kansas City hung in there for a while at Baltimore, tied at 14-14 midway through the third quarter with a big boost from a blocked punt for a touchdown. But the defense then collapsed allowing 501 yards while the Matt Cassel-less offense managed just 188. Oakland at home is a more winnable game for rookie coach Todd Haley.

30. Browns (30). Cleveland actually led host Minnesota at halftime thanks to Josh Cribbs’ punt return touchdown before allowing 24 points in the next 24:02. The good news is that this week’s foe, Denver, doesn’t have a running back close to Adrian Peterson’s class. And Brady Quinn had a solid debut as Cleveland’s No. 1 quarterback.

31. Rams (29). At least coach Steve Spagunulo’s team wasn’t scored on in the first 24 minutes of his debut, a 28-0 whipping at Seattle in which the Rams were outgained 446-247 and committed 10 penalties. St. Louis, 5-28 since 2006, will now try to end a winless season in Washington for a second straight year.

32. Lions (32). New coach Jim Schwartz might have been a defensive honcho in Tennessee, but his fix isn’t going to happen overnight in Motown. Drew Brees and Co. shredded the Lions for 515 yards and six touchdown passes last week. And now Detroit gets a visit from Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre and Minnesota. Make it 19 straight defeats.