Was it as good for you as it was for me to hear Scott Hanson say, “seven hours of commercial-free football.”
Being that I have been outside in October rain that feels like ice, torn a T-shirt in half to wrap my feet inside my cleats, and over my socks, for football practice in November, and I don’t like the taste of pumpkin, fall is not my favorite season. I love summer for its heat and expected time to take off from work. All of that being said, that itch for a football game on TV does get strong in August.
Of course, the best football is played in the NFL. College football has that Weak 0 in late August that coincides with the ESPN family of networks airing high-school football games that feature some of the best programs in the country. During Labor Day Weekend, the big dogs in college debut, which gives sports fans the opportunity to view the best players not in the NFL. However, it takes that first NFL Sunday for football to truly feel right. At that point, I can wait 10 months for summer.
The first Sunday of the 2023 NFL season arrived with a thunder and roar on Sept. 10, 2023 — two days after the Detroit Lions took chunk after chunk out of the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs on their way to a nationally-televised upset.
As happy, and guilty, as the return of the always problematic NFL makes me feel, I will take this time to not overreact, but use some impressive Week 1 performances to conclude that while the best quarterbacks are in the AFC, NFC defenses are out for blood in 2023.
The Pittsburgh Steelers had nothing for the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. They turned the ball over twice to only once for the 49ers. Kenny Pickett threw for 232 yards to Brock Purdy’s 220. However, Purdy reached that passing yardage total on 29 attempts while Pickett threw the ball 46 times in his team’s 30-7 Week 1 loss, and both turnovers were interceptions.
When the Steelers finally put the ball in the endzone during the second quarter the score improved to 20-7. They were no match for the 49ers, even though 2021 Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt recorded three sacks on the day.
The 49ers have a plethora of offensive playmakers that most teams will struggle to defend. Those opponents had better not forget that their offenses will have their work cut out for them trying to navigate the labyrinth that is the 49ers’ defense. A defense that includes 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa as the highest paid defensive player in the league.
Along with Fred Warner, Arik Armstead, Talanoa Hufanga and others, points will be a precious commodity for offenses that go up against the 49ers. Looking at the rosters on paper they were clearly better than the Steelers, regardless of if that Week 1 matchup felt like 10 a.m. on their body clocks. But for them to largely render the Steelers’ offense ineffective in a rout, regardless of the offseason quarterback rollercoaster, the 49ers have Super Bowl on the brain.
The NFC North was considered one of the worst NFL divisions heading into the 2023 regular season. Aaron Rodgers is gone, the Lions haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2016 season, the Minnesota Vikings rode one of the best one-score game records ever to a division title, and the Chicago Bears poor 2022 play earned them the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions missed the playoffs following Dan Campbelll’s crew getting a Week 18 victory at Lambeau Field.
With Rodgers now playing football in the Meadowlands, the Bears were a 1.5 point favorite at home against the Packers — even though they had not defeated the Packers since 2018. Jordan Love is the Packers’ new quarterback and his spot duty against the Philadelphia Eagles last season was the only impressive performance of his professional career.
Love played well during the Packers’ 38-20 victory Sunday, but the team’s defense is how Northern Wisconsin’s ownership of Soldier Field continued. Love’s offense scored a touchdown on its opening drive, but the defense held off two Bears’ goal-line drives in the first quarter. The Bears had to settle for consecutive field goals, and didn’t see the 50-yard-line again until the end of the third quarter.
The Bears’ offensive problems were largely the same as last season. Yes, Tevin Jenkins being on injured reserve is a reason the Bears suffered a plethora of breaches in their pass protection, but the biggest factor was the return of Rashan Gary to the Packers’ lineup.
In 2021, only Maxx Crosby recorded more QB pressures than Gary in the Michigan star’s third NFL season. Unfortunately for the Packers, Gary tore an ACL in early November 2022. He returned to the field on Sunday with a vengeance. The pass rush got to Fields four times, and also forced a fumble and an interception — with Gary on a pitch count. A defense that was supposed to be great last season, may actually reach those expectations in 2023.
What the Dallas Cowboys did to the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football should make the NFL consider allowing teams to throw in the towel. Forget the commercials, men are being thrashed with no hope of relief.
It was clear halfway through the first quarter that the Giants were going to get pulverized. When the Cowboys were up, 26-0, with the Giants gaining 81 yards of total offense, there was no reason for the teams to come out of the locker room after halftime.
The Giants’ offensive line might as well have been statues that weigh more than 300 pounds, but can only move their arms. Daniel Jones has his flaws, but he is not as bad as the Cowboys made him look throughout a 40-0 route.
NFL football in 2023 is not supposed to look like it did on Sunday night. The emphasis is supposed to be on athleticism, not violence. What Jones and the Giants suffered at home on primetime television could have taken up a large portion of an NFL greatest hits VHS from the late 20th century. The Cowboys proved that skeleton-rattling shots are still legal as long as they are delivered within the strike zone.
They sacked Jones seven times and recorded 12 quarterback hits. Micah Parsons was outstanding as well as the rest of the pass rushers. The Giants’ pass protection was ineffective no matter how deep the Cowboys went in their depth chart for pass rushers as the beatdown was relentless.
What happened on Sunday night go down as one of the greatest defensive performances in NFL history. The Cowboys went whole Doomsday Defense, during an era in which the NFL has legislated out the way Randy White, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and even Charles Haley played football. They beat up the Giants, and now have all of their 2023 opponents trying to figure out a solution in pass protection.