Each week the Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth Monday morning NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments from a weekend of action.
First and 10: Sept. 8
1. Penalties don’t plague openers | 2. Early crisis for Ravens
3. Derek Anderson’s heroics | 4. Drug policy update
5. Another Peyton Manning milestone | 6. Rookie coach debuts
7. Derek Carr steady | 8. Rams reeling
9. Nick Foles up and down | 10. Dolphins’ big win
One game into Jadeveon Clowney’s NFL career, there might be reasons to fret about either his durability or his lack of good fortune.
The outside linebacker, chosen by the Houston Texans with the top overall selection in the NFL draft in May, exited his debut Sunday in the first half of a victory over the Washington Redskins. A person close to the situation said Sunday night it is believed that Clowney suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee, confirming multiple reports, and he likely will undergo arthroscopic surgery and be sidelined for 4-6 weeks.
The person, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the Texans had not announced specifics regarding Clowney’s injury, did not confirm reports that Clowney also suffered damage to the medial collateral ligament in the knee.
The Texans opted against using the top pick to try to get the franchise quarterback they so desperately need in part because of doubts that such a player was available in this draft, and in part because they regarded Clowney as an unusually gifted pass rusher who could be paired with J.J. Watt to give Houston a dynamic duo prompting opposing quarterbacks to have sleepless nights when they readied to face this defense.
Clowney indeed appears to have those disruptive abilities, and it is far too early to make any judgments about how regularly he will be healthy and in the lineup during his career. But just since being with the Texans, Clowney underwent offseason surgery in June for a sports hernia. He missed two preseason games because of a concussion. And now he’s headed toward knee surgery.
“At some point you do start to wonder,” an agent who doesn’t represent Clowney said late Sunday, “if he’ll be the high-performance sports car that hardly ever makes it out of the garage.”
The Texans do have a capable backup to Clowney in former first-round choice Whitney Mercilus, who totaled 13 sacks in his first two NFL seasons. But he’s not Clowney, who was drafted to be an irreplaceable player.
… AND 10
There was much made, and rightfully so, about the officials doing as they were instructed and cracking down during the preseason on clutching-and-grabbing tactics by pass defenders. After the NFL made strict enforcement of defensive holding in the secondary and illegal contact by pass defenders more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage a major point of officiating emphasis for this season, there were 172 defensive holding and 99 illegal contact penalties in 65 preseason games league-wide.
Many wondered if regular season games would be bogged down, as the preseason games were, with penalty flags flying everywhere. But it didn’t happen. There have been, by unofficial count, 20 defensive holding and 14 illegal contact penalties so far in 14 opening-week games, with two Monday night contests still to be played. That’s 34 total, or 2.4 per game, down from 4.2 per game during the preseason. There was little sense as games were played Sunday that the calls in the secondary were having a meaningful impact.
Did players adjust? Perhaps. Some had wondered if things would be called differently once the games began to count. The league insisted that wouldn’t be the case. But Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said after his team’s loss at home to the Cincinnati Bengals that he played pretty much as he always has.
“I don’t know how many [penalties] there were,” Smith said. “I played my game like I normally play. I was aware of the five-yard mark. But I think they let us go out and play, as long as there was no obvious illegal contact or obvious holding.”
It’s very early in the season, of course. But it could begin to get late rather quickly for the Ravens if they lose Thursday night to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Baltimore.
The Ravens are opening the season with two games in a five-day span, both at home against their main AFC North rivals. Their 23-16 defeat to the Bengals has them already in chase mode. Another loss at home to the Steelers would mean the Ravens would find themselves in a sizable early-season hole.
“It’s very disappointing,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It [stinks]. You lost your last game last year, and you lost the first game this year to the same team. It [stinks]. But it’s a short week, fortunately for us. We get to look at this one real quick, throw it away and move on to our rivals.”
Derek Anderson is the very embodiment of mediocrity in an NFL quarterback. He has career totals of 55 touchdown passes and 55 interceptions, and a passer rating of 70.0. Until Sunday, he hadn’t started an NFL game since 2010.
So when the Carolina Panthers decided Sunday to withhold Cam Newton because of his rib injury and give Anderson a start in the season opener, fearing that Newton could be sidelined for several weeks if he absorbed another hit in the wrong spot, it felt like a bit of a surrender, especially after the heavy offseason losses that the team suffered along its offensive line and in its receiver corps.
Wrong. Anderson threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns and the Panthers beat a team supposedly on the rise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Panthers and Buccaneers were alleged to be headed in opposite directions after Carolina won the NFC South last season and Tampa finished tied for last. But for one week, at least, Anderson helped the Panthers remain a step ahead.
Representatives of the league and the NFL Players Association are scheduled to meet Monday to continue their negotiations about possible changes to the sport’s drug policies, including the implementation of players being blood-tested for human growth hormone.
Three people familiar with the deliberations said Sunday that an agreement remained possible in the coming days but was far from definite. Some differences remained, but one person with knowledge of the situation said the talks are definitely “not dead yet.”
An agreement apparently would result in the threshold for what constitutes a positive test for marijuana being raised; in a positive test for amphetamines being covered by the substance abuse policy instead of the performance-enhancing drugs policy; and potentially in increased penalties for driving under the influence.
A deal also could result in some suspensions, including the season-long suspension of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon and the four-game suspension of Denver Broncos wideout Wes Welker, being reduced or overturned. But the Gordon suspension apparently is problematic to the negotiators because his positive test is said to have occurred before the new league year began in March, and the two sides have focused mainly on modifying the penalties of players who tested positive during the current league year. Still, an adjustment to Gordon’s suspension appears to remain possible.
When Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos beat Manning’s former team, the Indianapolis Colts, on Sunday night, barely holding on after racing to a 24-0 lead, it gave Manning victories over all 32 NFL franchises. He joins Brett Favre at the only quarterbacks to accomplish that.
“It means I’m old…. You’ve got to be at least 38 years old to do something like that,” Manning told NBC on the network’s postgame show.
The league’s seven new head coaches have a 3-3 record in Week 1 games entering Jim Caldwell’s debut for the Detroit Lions on Monday night against the New York Giants.
Houston’s Bill O’Brien, Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer and Tennessee’s Ken Whisenhunt won Sunday. The Redskins’ Jay Gruden, the Browns’ Mike Pettine and the Buccaneers’ Lovie Smith lost. O’Brien beat Gruden, so the rookie coaches were all but ensured of getting at least one win Sunday.
The most disappointing loss probably belonged to Smith and the Buccaneers. Expectations are high in Tampa, especially after the Buccaneers shored up the interior of their offensive line by trading for New England’s Logan Mankins. But Mankins exited Sunday’s game with a knee injury and new quarterback Josh McCown struggled, being sacked three times and throwing two interceptions in the loss to the Panthers.
The Oakland Raiders’ late switch last week from Matt Schaub to Derek Carr as their starter at quarterback meant that the league indeed had at least one rookie starting at quarterback in Week 1, just as it has had in each season since there were none in 2007. It appeared for a time that wouldn’t be the case after first-round draft picks Blake Bortles of Jacksonville, Johnny Manziel of Cleveland and Teddy Bridgewater of Minnesota failed to secure starting jobs entering the season.
Carr had a steady but unspectacular debut Sunday, throwing two touchdown passes and no interceptions as part of a 20-for-32 passing performance in a loss to the New York Jets. He had only 151 passing yards, though.
It could be a little while before Manziel, Bortles and Bridgewater see the field. Hoyer threw for 230 yards and a touchdown as the Browns fell behind the Steelers, 27-3, but made things extremely interesting before finally losing, 30-27. The Browns reportedly had a limited package of plays for Manziel but he remained on the sideline while Hoyer nearly engineered the upset.
The Vikings’ Matt Cassel threw for two touchdowns to help make Zimmer’s coaching debut for Minnesota a success with a 34-6 triumph at St. Louis. Chad Henne passed for 266 yards and two touchdowns for the Jaguars, who sprinted to a 17-0 lead in Philadelphia but couldn’t pull the upset, surrendering 34 unanswered points to lose, 34-17.
It could be a long, long season in St. Louis.
The Rams opted against trading for a quarterback after Sam Bradford suffered his season-ending knee injury during the preseason. The idea was to go with veteran Shaun Hill while relying on defense and the running game to continue a climb back toward respectability.
But Hill exited the lopsided loss to the Vikings with a quadriceps injury, leaving the quarterback duties to Austin Davis. The running game produced only 72 yards and the defense couldn’t cope with Cassel and the Minnesota offense. If the Rams don’t find ways to make considerable improvements after failing to deal with the Vikings at home, they’ll stand little chance against powerful NFC West foes Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona.
Nick Foles had only four turnovers all of last season, throwing two interceptions and losing two fumbles while also throwing 27 touchdown passes for Philadelphia.
The third-year quarterback had three turnovers in the first half alone of Sunday’s opener against the Jaguars, with an interception and two lost fumbles. But Foles steadied himself after halftime and finished with 322 passing yards and two touchdowns. According to the NFL, the Eagles became the first team in league history to win a game by 17 or more points after being scoreless and trailing by 17 or more points at halftime.
The question entering the season was whether opposing defensive coordinators would have any answers for the fast-break offense of Eagles Coach Chip Kelly in his second NFL season. Sunday’s early returns in the opener were mixed. Foles had his turnover issues. The Jaguars, owners of the league’s worst pass rush in recent seasons, sacked Foles five times. But the Eagles also ended up running 82 offensive plays and amassing 420 total yards.
Perhaps no win was more impressive Sunday than the Dolphins’ 33-20 victory at home over the Patriots.
The Patriots spent the offseason gearing up for a run at what would be a fourth Super Bowl title for quarterback Tom Brady in tandem with Coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots strengthened Brady’s group of receivers and, especially, upgraded the secondary of the defense that is to support him.
But instead of getting off to a quick start to the season, the Patriots fail to hold at least a share of first place in the AFC East for the first time since Week 3 of the 2012 season. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a pair of touchdown passes. The Miami offensive line allowed Tannehill to be sacked only once, and helped tailback Knowshon Moreno run for 134 yards in his Dolphins debut. The Dolphins are a long way from unseating the Patriots as the division’s top team, but they sent an early signal that they could be a legitimate playoff contender this season.