Instant Impressions from Week 1
Mixed results for Patriots players; Boldin, young tight ends come up big
It wasn't a good beginning for Stevan Ridley. On his first carry of Week 1, he bucked through the middle of the Buffalo Bills defensive line for 3 yards, hit the ground, then fumbled. It was a close enough call that the Bills challenged, but Ridley was narrowly down by contact. However, this was just an aperitif for the tall glass of sewer water Ridley's fantasy owners would soon be forced to swallow.
Partway through the second quarter, Ridley attacked the line again, but slipped and fell without being touched. And fumbled. Da'Norris Searcy picked up the football and ran 74 yards for a touchdown. And that was the last anyone saw of Stevan Ridley on the playing field for Week 1.
LeGarrette Blount (who looked pitiful on a couple of kickoff returns) got the New England Patriots' next three carries from scrimmage, but looked dreadful and ceded most of the rest of the Pats' RB action to Shane Vereen. Vereen began the game as the third-down back and occasional wideout, but, by game's end, he was the team's primary RB. He produced 101 rushing yards on 14 carries and had seven grabs for 58 yards. I wouldn't say he looks exactly like a feature back; he's on the verge of being a physical player and on the verge of being fast, and he's neither.
But at the moment, he does look like the Patriots' No. 1 option. Ridley earned a playoff benching two years ago because of a fumble, and lost a couple big ones in '12, including one in the AFC title game. It's fair to speculate that Bill Belichick -- never all that patient with RBs anyway -- could shy away from using Ridley in Week 2 against the New York Jets. (Blount could very well be involved, too.) Worst of all, we're not going to get a straight scoop from Belichick before game time. I'm probably going to rank Vereen ahead of Ridley this week. But I'll be guessing, just like everyone else.
Let's look at Sunday's other top storylines:
• Ridley wasn't the only Patriots Week 1 drama, not by a long shot. Two rookies we all believed would be immediate factors were nothing shy of disasters. Kenbrell Thompkins caught four of 14 targets for 42 yards and was even worse than that stat line. He had a short TD in his grasp, and Tom Brady led him as he changed course at the back of the end zone, but Thompkins stopped and the ball traveled beyond him. On the very next play, Thompkins ran into Julian Edelman knocking down both players, and causing a fruitless end zone attempt. It was awful stuff. I'm not saying you drop Thompkins, but I had him rated as my No. 32 WR in Week 1, and he won't be even that high in Week 2. Meanwhile, Zach Sudfeld (whom I mistakenly rated No. 7 among TEs this week) didn't play much in the first half, and, when Brady searched him out during a two-minute drive late in the second quarter, Sudfeld stumbled coming out of his break and deflected the pass, which led to its being intercepted. He didn't see another target the rest of the day.
• On the positive side, Danny Amendola overcame a noncontact aggravation of his groin injury in the second quarter to become the game's dominant force in the second half, producing a couple of shocking catches in big spots and winding up with 10 grabs on 14 targets for 104 yards. And Edelman, who was a sleeper pick last week by the Fantasy Underground's Field Yates, scored two TDs from inside the 10. Amendola is still obviously the guy you want to own and start here, but Edelman is on the radar, especially as rookie Aaron Dobson missed this game with a hamstring injury.
• The rookie rushers mostly struggled in their first week. Montee Ball spent most of Thursday night watching uninspiring Knowshon Moreno play ahead of him, and Ball wound up with eight carries for 24 yards. Giovani Bernard had five touches for 30 yards, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis saw 15 touches and got the Cincinnati Bengals' goal-line carries. Eddie Lacy fumbled a second-quarter carry deep in Green Bay Packers territory and was temporarily benched in favor of James Starks; to his credit, he bounced back and wound up punching in a short touchdown in the fourth quarter. I'm kidding when I say this, but, for a while, it looked as if the rookie RB who would have the best day would be Le'Veon Bell, who didn't play.
• Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers were a train wreck. They had 8 rushing yards in the first half of their upset loss to the Tennessee Titans. Ben Roethlisberger got the occasional drive going, but mistakes plagued both him (on a bad throw intercepted by Alterraun Verner) and his wideouts. And then there was Isaac Redman. Redman's fumble on Pittsburgh's very first drive, at the Titans' 5, was a crusher. Then he fumbled again in the first quarter, but recovered it himself. Redman wasn't seen again until the fourth quarter, after LaRod Stephens-Howling suffered a torn ACL. Felix Jones didn't get a touch and blew a blitz pickup. Add the fact that center Maurkice Pouncey is out for the year with a knee injury and you have carnage in Steel City. The defense was fine. But the offense has a long way to go.
• Reggie Bush made a bunch of plays in his first game with the Detroit Lions, but he also proved why he's such a frustrating player: He dislocated his thumb and reportedly battled a groin strain. Each time he got hurt, he came back, and he produced a whopping 191 yards from scrimmage (including a 77-yard TD reception on a short pass). But it's ever clearer why Joique Bell should be owned in all leagues. Bell isn't a pure vulture. He did score two bunny TDs Sunday, but the second came after Bush got a carry from the Minnesota Vikings' 1 and apparently scored, only to have it overturned on review. But Bell is going to be a factor in the passing game every week.
• Speaking of the Lions, Calvin Johnson turned in an underwhelming stat line (four catches on nine targets for 37 yards), but that doesn't tell the full story. In the first quarter, he made an incredible apparent TD catch at the goal line, but the play was overturned because Megatron has a bad habit of breaking his fall with the football, and it jostled free a little bit. And later, he made a great catch in the back of the end zone but had one toe dangling out of bounds. Not that any of this news helps ease your frustration.
• In the Atlanta Falcons' loss, Roddy White played sparingly because of a high-ankle sprain, and Harry Douglas picked up the slack, with four grabs for 93 yards, including a 50-yarder. White still has never missed an NFL game, although his fantasy owners maybe wish he had sat; he posted two grabs for 19 yards. After the game, White admitted he was limited by his injury, which probably will linger, making White a dicey play next week against the St. Louis Rams.
• Anquan Boldin looked every bit the No. 1 WR the San Francisco 49ers need him to be. He caught 13 passes for 208 yards and a TD, guiding Colin Kaepernick to his first career 400-yard passing day (he'd never had even a 300-yard day in the regular season). You can argue that the Packers might struggle to defend the pass this year, and the sailing almost certainly won't be as smooth next week against the Seattle Seahawks. But Boldin has to be considered a fantasy starter. He looked much more like the playoff hero he was for the Baltimore Ravens last year than the guy who struggled in the 2012 regular season.
• The NFL's big, young, athletic tight ends certainly made a statement in Week 1. First we saw Julius Thomas dominate the deep middle Thursday against the Ravens, to the tune of five grabs for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Then Jordan Cameron made play after play for the Cleveland Browns and racked up 108 yards and a TD of his own. Jared Cook produced a big stat line (seven grabs for 141 yards and two TDs) that would've been even bigger except for some sloppy ball security on what would've been another TD, punched out by Tyrann Mathieu in the open field inside the Arizona Cardinals' 10. Martellus Bennett made a crazy 8-yard TD by wrapping his hands around a defender and catching it behind his back. (And this is to say nothing of Vernon Davis going nutty and Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez scoring short TDs.) This is all terrific news for those who saw fit to start these young players, but the real test comes in the next few weeks. Nobody doubts the athletic gifts these young TEs possess. But can they be consistent enough to produce every game?
• David Wilson's owners supposedly got a boost when Andre Brown suffered a fractured leg in the New York Giants' final preseason game, but one thing they can't do for Wilson is hang on to the ball for him. The second-year halfback lost two fumbles Sunday night -- in addition to badly blowing a red zone pass-blocking assignment -- and was benched in favor of Da'Rel Scott. Coach Tom Coughlin will have some serious thinking to do this week about whether he can trust Wilson. Don't rule out the possibility that the Giants could sign a street free agent such as (gulp) Beanie Wells, Willis McGahee, Jonathan Dwyer, Tim Hightower or Michael Turner. (Or recently released Ryan Torain.) What a mess.
Fantasy Focus Football
Nate Ravitz and Matthew Berry recap all the Sunday games and eat some crow for the bad calls they made.
• You might've believed that Shonn Greene suffering a knee injury in the second quarter Sunday was great news for Chris Johnson's fantasy owners, with the thought that there'd be nobody to steal close-in touches. Wrong! Jackie Battle scarfed up the Titans' only short-yardage look, scoring from the Steelers' 3. There will be weeks when CJ2K breaks big runs and makes you happy. But expecting an elite touchdown season is probably folly.
• Vick Ballard clearly played ahead of Ahmad Bradshaw, who skipped most of training camp recovering from yet another foot surgery. There's no question a healthy, in-shape Bradshaw is a better player than Ballard. But until we see him ready to shoulder a starter's load, he's not startable. And it was a similar story for the Jets, where Bilal Powell out-touched Chris Ivory. There's no reason to start either of these guys for the time being.
• Surprise! Blaine Gabbert was terrible again. He also left the Jacksonville Jaguars' humiliating loss with a sliced-open throwing hand to go along with his fractured thumb. You and I know that the best thing the Jaguars could do is bench Gabbert. Chad Henne isn't any good, either, but he had more success late last year and might salvage trapped players such as Maurice Jones-Drew and Cecil Shorts.
• EJ Manuel didn't scramble much at all in his first NFL start (three carries, 23 yards) and didn't consistently move the Bills' offense, but his two TD passes -- one apiece to Robert Woods and Steve Johnson -- were lovely and accurate drops-in-the-bucket. I still think he's rosterable in most leagues. But it was Terrelle Pryor who was more impressive in Week 1. Sure, he pretty much makes one read and then scrambles, but it worked for him against the Indianapolis Colts. He had 13 carries for 112 yards and could easily have had a second TD pass if Darren McFadden had dragged his second foot. Pryor's performance might be a condemnation of the Indy D more than anything else, but the Oakland Raiders have to be happier about their QB situation now than they were a couple of days ago. Given the fact that Pryor faces the Jags in Week 2, he's looking like a possible QB solution in deeper fantasy leagues.
• C.J. Spiller, Marshawn Lynch and Trent Richardson were the fantasy first-rounders who laid Week 1 eggs. And Ridley, Wilson, Lamar Miller and MJD -- all supposed No. 2 RBs -- stunk, too. Patience, grasshopper.
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