NFC South: 2012 Week 1 coverage

Wrap-up: Buccaneers 16, Panthers 10

September, 9, 2012

Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 16-10 victory against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

What it means: One game doesn’t make a season, but the Buccaneers could be a lot better than many people expected and the Panthers might be worse. In coach Greg Schiano’s first game, the Bucs snapped a 10-game losing streak that dated back to last October. They also gave their fan base a show of promise and that could help the crowds start coming back to a stadium that has sold out only twice in the past two seasons.

Not so special: The Panthers put a lot of effort into attempting to upgrade their special teams during the offseason. But it looks like they still have issues. Tampa Bay’s Aqib Talib broke free and blocked a punt by rookie Brad Nortman.

Defense rises: I had some serious doubts about Tampa Bay’s defense coming into the season. But the Bucs went out and put together a solid defensive effort against an offense that was very explosive last year. The Panthers had only 10 net rushing yards and the Bucs intercepted Cam Newton twice. The Bucs also sacked Newton three times.

Ronde’s big day: The Bucs had a big celebration because veteran defensive back Ronde Barber was making his 200th consecutive start. Barber, who has made the move from cornerback to free safety, ended up having a big day. Barber had a sack and an interception.

New feature back: The Bucs made it pretty clear Doug Martin would be their feature back when they traded back into the first round to draft him. For those who were skeptical and thought LeGarrette Blount would hold onto the job, take a look at the numbers. Martin carried 24 times for 95 yards. Blount carried three times for eight yards. Martin also caught four passes for 23 yards. Blount caught 15 passes in all of last season.

What’s next: The Panthers host the New Orleans Saints next Sunday in a battle between the NFC South’s only winless teams. The Buccaneers play the New York Giants next Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

Wrap-up: Falcons 40, Chiefs 24

September, 9, 2012
Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 40-24 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

What it means: This was a great way for the Falcons to start the season. It’s always nice to win on the road and it’s especially nice that the Falcons were able to do it outdoors because a lot of people think of them as a dome team. It’s also significant for the Falcons that they already are one game ahead of the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South standings.

What I liked: It’s no secret that this is a crucial season for quarterback Matt Ryan. He’s under a lot of pressure to produce big numbers in a new offensive system. That’s what Ryan did, completing 23 of 31 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns, while also running for another score.

The homecoming: Things couldn’t have played out any better for Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez. He spent the first 12 years of his career with the Chiefs and he ended up catching a touchdown pass against his former team. The ball squirted loose soon after Gonzalez caught it. But Ryan tracked it down and gave it to the tight end. Gonzalez then dunked the ball over the goal post.

Unsung hero: Sean Weatherspoon gets most of the attention at linebacker. But Stephen Nicholas put together a big game. Nicholas had a game-high 12 tackles, intercepted a pass, deflected two others and recovered a fumble.

What’s next: The Falcons get an extra day to prepare because their next game is a Sept. 17 Monday night game at home against Denver.
NEW ORLEANS -- Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 40-32 loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

What it means: It was only one game, so it's not time to panic. But this loss is at the very least disturbing. I don't know how much of it had to do with the absence of suspended coach Sean Payton, but the Saints didn't look like the team they have been in recent years. They had a fired-up home crowd, but didn't take advantage of it. There were lots of problems on offense and defense. If those problems continue the next few weeks, then I think we'll see Payton's suspension was the most harmful part of the whole bounty saga.

What I liked: Jimmy Graham. The tight end looked even better than he did last season. He created all sorts of matchup problems for the Redskins. They simply could not cover him. But one of the many mistakes the Saints made was not using Graham even more than they did.

What I didn't like: The rest of the offense. It never really got in sync, at least by the Saints' standards. The running game barely was a factor and none of the wide receivers had a great day. The offensive line also had a rough day, including several costly penalties, and did not give Drew Brees a lot of time to throw the ball.

What else I didn't like: The defense. It's a new system with Steve Spagnuolo as the coordinator, but there were no signs of improvement. The Saints got carved up by a rookie quarterback. No doubt the absence of injured cornerback Jabari Greer was a significant factor. But the secondary struggled in coverage. Blame a lot of that on the lack of a pass rush. Spagnuolo is known for being able to get pressure on quarterbacks, but we didn't see very much pressure in his debut game. Maybe Robert Griffin III will go on to become one of the all-time greats, but the Saints made him look like that in his very first game.