49ers, Cowboys, Redskins, Jets start well
NEW YORK—Yes, it's one game in a four-month season. Many teams that sizzle in September disappear in December.
Yet the statements made by the 49ers, Cowboys, Redskins, Jets and Broncos cannot be ignored.
Their performances screamed for attention in the opening week of the NFL schedule. Sure, their fans could be screaming for their coaches' heads in the dead of winter if things fall apart. But for now, all five made significant strides with impressive wins.
The most noteworthy probably came at Lambeau Field, where San Francisco had lost eight in a row dating to 1990. Green Bay, the top-rated team in the AP Pro32 power rankings heading into the season, was angry over its previous game that counted, a home playoff loss to the Giants, and poised to make another run at a 15-1 regular season.
Instead, the 49ers were in control from the outset with a defense that, if not the stingiest in the league this season will be the most physical. Time after time, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and their teammates rocked every Packer who touched the ball, and the production of the Niners' offense would have made the Cheeseheads proud.
"It's a big win," three-time Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore said a day after rushing for a key 23-yard TD and gaining 112 yards on 16 carries. "We've got to keep going, keep working."
Barring injuries, San Francisco's defense is strong enough to win games and division titles, as it did last season, without much help from the offense. That the Niners look ready to at least complement that fierce D with some big plays when they have the ball will make them even more dangerous.
Also consider that the NFC isn't exactly overrun with shutdown defenses; there really isn't anyone close to their level in the conference.
Plus, this is a team with no fear of going on the road. The great Niners of the 1980s and `90s were road warriors, and Jim Harbaugh's group is 7-2 since he took charge last season.
"Poise comes from confidence," said Harbaugh, the 2011 NFL Coach of the Year. "You'd be darn surprised if they didn't have confidence, they work extremely hard, they prepare so well and that's something that we need to keep doing. The way we work, the way we prepare, is one of the best things we've got going for us. You want to see that continue."
Those are traits the Cowboys displayed in their upset win at the Meadowlands over the defending league champions. In recent big-game meetings with the Giants -- and most other opponents, for that matter -- Dallas lacked the self-assurance and gumption it takes to succeed. That most assuredly was not the case in the Cowboys' 24-17 victory under the glaring spotlight of the midweek kickoff to the schedule.
Dallas took a big leap against one of its biggest rivals because it never took a backward step every time the Giants threatened. That says more about these Cowboys than anything.
"I thought each of the guys understood what we tried to get across. And they just went out and did their job, over and over again," coach Jason Garrett said. "When it didn't go well, they came back and tried to do their job on the next play. When we had some success, they did the same thing. That's really an important part of your demeanor for your team in every situation."
Washington has been abuzz over Robert Griffin III, and the rookie quarterback gave the nation's capital plenty of excitement in leading the Redskins' startlingly one-sided win at New Orleans. That he will re-energize a downtrodden franchise with his personality is a given. That he can do the same with his play is less certain, but against the Saints, RG3 was dynamic.
That carried over to the Washington defense, which befuddled Saints quarterback Drew Brees. What the Redskins lack in talent they can partially make up for with the enthusiasm Griffin has infused into the team.
The Jets expected to have a stingy defense, but it was the offense that grabbed the headlines -- for the right reasons this time -- by putting up 34 of the 48 points they scored against Buffalo. This from an attack that didn't get a touchdown from the regulars in the preseason.
Of all the Week 1 wins, this might have the shortest range of impact with Pittsburgh and San Francisco upcoming for the Jets. But it also shows the need for patience in New York, as unlikely as that is, and it highlights the lack of significance the preseason carries.
Most noteworthy was how the Jets' inconsistent offensive line made $100 million man Mario Williams disappear in his Buffalo debut.
Finally, Peyton Manning's first real game as a Bronco was revealing for its connection to the past. The folks in Denver pretty much got what they wanted by witnessing something close to vintage Manning -- and this was only the beginning of his second career.
He was in control, he didn't appear limited by any issues with his surgically repaired neck. More of the same very well could be ahead for Manning and his new team.
"What can you say?" Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said. "I mean, he's Peyton Manning. He's the same Manning. Everything anybody has ever said about him is probably the same thing I would say tonight."
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver, and Sports Writers Janie McCauley in San Francisco and Stephen Hawkins in Dallas contributed to this story.