Football is back. Oh my goodness gracious. Football is back.
The return of football also means the return of TV’s greatest channel and one of the five most important innovations of the 21st century. The Red Zone Channel has simultaneously rendered obsolete commercials, bad games, bad moments of good games, and halitosis. Let’s celebrate with a running diary. Below is what I was thinking as I watched the RedZone through the early games on Sunday.
Allow me to make one gambling note right off the bat. My stone-cold mega-lock of the week was a two-team tease of the Raiders (to +11.5) and the Bears (to -1). I feel completely queasy about the Bears part of this bet. I’m sticking with it, but every instinct in my body is crying out: “Why take Jay Cutler down to 1 point when I can take Peyton Manning down to 2? You know you will regret this.” So if I sound extra emotional about Raiders-Jets and Bills-Bears, that’s why.
One more note: I was writing this as the games were still going on so the time is approximate in some cases. You can pick most of those out by the times that are whole numbers that end in :00 or :30.
Week 1 Red Zone Diaries
Pregame: Ten years of redzone? I didn’t know about this until 2010 or so. Clearly I am getting old. Maybe I’m remembering that wrong, anyway, since I am getting old. Oh so good to see Andrew Siciliano. Is it possible he’s the median man in America? Dark hair, white, average handsomeness, only his ears seem anything other than completely average. If he’s the median man, here’s the Andrew Siciliano of restaurants and the Andrew Siciliano of American incomes.
15:00 NE MIA: Of course they’re starting with the Pats. Brady’s facial hair is encouraging. Soccer outlines on the field? All I get is a kickoff through the endzone?
11:41 PIT CLE: Ben Roethlisberger has a big passer rating so far courtesy of two screens to Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. On 1st and goal, Bell waited in the backfield, seemed confused that nobody was trying to tackle him and then finally realized nobody was coming. 7-0 PIT. Oh, that actually came off the board. Paul Kruger sack. Field goal.
11:00 WAS HOU: The Houston defense looks enormous.
10:58 JAC PHI: Strip sack for future AFC South champion Jaguars. Toby Gerhart didn’t look like vintage Maurice Jones-Drew there, though. Beautiful Chad Henne pass to the Hit Man. No, apparently it’s Allen Hurns, not Hearns.
10:49 NE MIA: Great Tom Brady pass to Kenbrell Thompkins. Very simple. Looked good. Love empty backfield for the Pats. In the past, this was very effective on medium throws for the Pats. Running Rainbow Vereen could have a very big year. Easy eight yards to midfield. Pats may be using Edelman as our very poor man’s Harvin. Nice gain there on a jet sweep. Will this offensive line hold up? Looks sort of OK so far.
9:24 BUF CHI: EJ Manuel looking not so bad. Not sure the Bears defense is any good, though, either. Still feel terrible about my bet. Remind me never to make a queasy-knees bet again.
5:53 NE MIA: RedZone is now showing three games at once. Is this like razor blades? Will next year be four games? Then five? What is the max? Will they charge us more as they stuff more games on to the screen?
6:56: JAX PHI: Another Nick Foles turnover. Dare to dream, Jags fans. Forget the AFC South. How about conference finalist Jacksonville Jaguars? The Hit Man is back at it. Chad Henne throws way behind the Hurns, but he’s got it and looks like Kearse in last year’s Super Bowl. 14-0 Jags.
4:44 NO ATL: Drew Brees misses a TD. Nice breakup by Alford, I think, but there was room for that throw.
6:00 OAK NYJ: Very sweet pick by octogenarian Charles Woodson. Maybe a bad decision by Geno Smith there throwing into that spot in the zone. 17th in career picks for Woodson. He just jumped ahead of Aeneas Williams. Jets run defense is awesome. The Raiders are trying to simplify the game a lot for Derek Carr so far. All running plays and slip screens, at least on redzone. Another screen there, but into the right defense this time. Jets brought a blitz off the edge. Not sure why with all these screens. Rod Streater off a good seal block for the touchdown. 7-3 Raiders.
4:20 CHI BUF: Mario Williams all alone for a sack on Cutler. But he had time to see that and get rid of it. Cutler sure reminds me of Stafford in both of their bad moments.
3:32 NE MIA: First sign of alarm about the Pats’ offensive line. Jail break near sack of Brady after a Dolphins fumble. Coming through the left side of the line so recently manned by Logan Mankins. Smarter people than me think it was OK to let him go, but isn’t it possible he was way better than the alternative? And how about continuity on the offensive line? Maybe too early to question the great man, but Belichick does some hard-to-understand stuff every year.
1:45 PIT CLE: Great toe-tap catch by Markus Wheaton. The Pittsburgh offense could be awesome. Brown looks great, Bell too, and maybe Wheaton also. Roethlisberger hasn’t had to do much yet, but looks light on his toes. And we haven’t even seen Dri Archer yet.
13:37 (2nd) TEN KC: Cairo Santos? What an incredible name. An African capital and Pele’s soccer team. Wow.
3:04 JAX-PHI: The Jaguars have a Harvey Dent helmet. Their uniforms overall frighten and confuse me. They also seem to be confusing the Eagles. Sproles makes a sick cut, still loses one. 3rd and 11 for Philly. Five-yard hook to Sproles. Can we make that the next stats advance that coaches have to adopt? We’ve made real progress on fourth downs, even though there’s a long way to go. How about running hooks to the sticks? After I get effective immigration policy through Congress, this is next.
12:00 NYJ OAK: Very nice Geno pass to Jeff Cumberland. Now he almost gets killed running for a TD. Looked very concussion-y. Hope he’s OK.
11:30 BUF CHI: The Bears inspire no confidence. They seem destined to be a frustrating team forever. Who was that referee? I hate new referees. He could be a replacement ref. If they’re going to hire a new referee, why not just bring back Jerry Markbreit? He was the man.
12:55 NO ATL: Jimmy Graham jumps over Trufant. Leaps should be a stat. Atlanta seems completely unable to stop the Saints. They aren’t getting close to touching Brees. All those worries about the Falcons pass rush seem justified in this small sample.
10:17 TEN KC: Cairo Santos is all I want to see in this game. Other potential kickers with African capital/South American soccer team names? Lagos Corinthians, Khartoum River Plate, and Dar-es-Salaam Boca Juniors.
10:01 TEN KC: Cairo Santos! Hits the upright from 48. Apparently he also hit the upright on the first kick. Don’t remember that. Was clearly distracted. Maybe Cairo Santos is trying to hit the upright. If he hits the upright again, we may need to explain that the goal is to hit it between the uprights. He looks very small, by the way, like one of the Washington linemen here.
10:21 CIN BAL: Where is that Dalton throw going? Misses A.J. Green in the back of the endzone by a mile. Poor.
9:54 CLE PIT: Ben R. looks awesome. Incredible throw right to potential 2014 receiving yards king Antonio Brown for a long touchdown.
8:37 NE MIA: Gronk! Is it OK that I kind of don’t like Brady any more even though I still do. What is with that crazy celebrating crap? What feels natural about that? I remember the spike in the snow against the Raiders. That was awesome and natural, back when Brady was all about joy and not some weird anger combined with insanity. At a minimum, test that man for andro after that eye-bulger.
6:25 NO ATL: John Lynch likes the PI call on Corey White defending Harry Douglas. I don’t. He’s there, diving across the front of Douglas and he makes slight contact with his off hand on Douglas’s waist. The only reason he makes any contact at all is because the right arm is attached to his body. If he only had one arm, no penalty.
4:49 NO ATL: That short pass on 3rd and 12 is OK because it was Ryan’s third option. Davonte Freeman makes a great, great play to pick up the first down to the 3.
10:30 JAC PHI: Need to go figure out what happened here. It was 4th and 2 on the PHI 32 for the Jags. Now the Eagles are in the red zone. Really hope they went for it. Oh, Foles throws a bad pick to Alan Ball. Looked like a zone that Foles failed to recognize.
7:30 NE MIA: Brady throws some terrible balls in the middle of the field these days. He’ll throw absolute rockets in traffic. Almost couldn’t believe the last throw. At about 6:33, he throws a pass that I guess is to Shane Vereen but is nowhere near him or anyone. No pressure at all, either. That was early 2013 Brady. Randomly aiming for some random guy’s foot.
7:00 PIT CLE: Are you allowed to kick a man in the head? Wow. It really looked he just wanted to stomp the punter’s head. While you’re checking Brady for andro, NFL, check Antonio Brown, too. Give him a red card in the meantime. Le’Veon Bell looks very good.
2:43 BUF CHI: My teaser is in a lot of trouble. I loved the Raiders side of this and just wanted a team to add in. Never make a queasy-knees bet. Jay Cutler inspires no confidence. Please just step into a throw.
6:50 JAC PHI: What odds can I get on Jacksonville to go 16-0? Very nice back shoulder-ish kind of throw to Mike Brown.
5:00 JAC PHI: Oh that was a Chad Henne throw. Wide open in the flat on 3rd and 4 and incomplete. Then blocked FG. Feels like they may need that one later.
3:25 NE MIA: So weird to watch the Pats and think they’ll get a stop on 3rd and 3. Watching them the last five years, you feel like there’s a 10% chance of stopping them on 3rd and 13. Much more relaxing to watch them in 2004 when you always felt confident. My buddy Matt’s wife just told their hopelessly cute daughter not to put Matt’s foot in her mouth. Yes, that’s a good lesson for all of us. Even when it seems like a good idea, don’t put your Dad’s foot in your mouth. Oh, actually, those are my socks she was talking about. Hmmm.
2:30 NE MIA: Our new Butler is only 20 times better than Darius Butler was for us. All over Brian Hartline. And he kind of looks like Ras-I-Dowling with that number. Except that he’s on the field. I love Darrelle Revis, I love Darrelle Revis. Wallace has no hope.
4:32 CIN BAL: Bernard Pierce fumble. Could the Ravens be the falling-off-a-cliff team? Now 3:04. Can we please pass that law against six-yard passes on 3rd and 13? I want that to get expedited treatment in Congress and I don’t want to hear about any potential filibuster. Will be a huge boon for Andy Dalton. You can always force Andy Dalton into that throw by bringing five.
0:37 MIN STL: Interesting that the Vikings went to a matte helmet. I think I like the matte helmets over the shiny ones. Nice throw by Matt Cassel to Greg Jennings for the TD. Great toe tap. Can they be the first matte helmet team to win a Super Bowl? Apparently I have it wrong, the horn is shiny and the purple is matte, so it’s actually a spot varnish on a matte helmet, says Matt. He’ll be here all week.
0:10 NE MIA: Stephen Gostkowski lines up for a FG. More important non-football news: Matt’s adorable daughter Olive (19 months) apparently understands that I should not have let the dogs out when I came over today. I allowed two pit bull mixes (really very nice dogs) out into the yard. I reasoned that the house has a doggy-door and so how could it matter, without realizing that the doggy-door led to an enclosed area. Apparently I am now less likely to be allowed to watch Olive in the future and I’ve been definitively turned down on my offer to adopt her. Her diaper would scare me off according to them, anyway. Lots of blueberries and black beans today. Very unique and crazy things going on.
0:03 CLE PIT: Antonio Brown looks like an absolute beast. Roethlisberger looks very spry. Nutritionist, chef, and personal trainer for Ben R.? Maybe he should hire even more people. Perhaps a valet, driver, and personal assistant, too. Hiring people seems to be yielding great dividends. It’s week 1, but this looks like a 12-4 Steelers kind of team. But the Browns are on the other side of that score.
0:00 BAL CIN: Joe Flacco. Oh no. That was Gabbert-ey.
14:14 CHI BUF: Bears offensive line in trouble. Garza and Slauson down. Looks like Trestman adjusting to make quicker throws. Jeffery also out. How did Cutler not get sacked there? Getting spun down and flipped the ball to Bennett in mid-flip no less. Quite impressive. A little unclear why Bennett is just standing there, though. Martellus apparently under consideration for an Olive sibling name.
12:00 BUF CHI: Bad block on WR screen or Brandon Marshall could have had more there. Why did I bet on Chicago??? Brandon Spikes is really good against the run. He could be very good for Buffalo. There is nothing worse than watching Red Zone and have the freeze happen.
12:15 MIN STL: Austin Davis. Don’t like the decision to throw to Cook down the sideline there. Wobbly, but an accurate throw. Doesn’t look like Kurt Warner exactly, but Warner was also undrafted. OK, this is a little shaky. Trent Green >> Sam Bradford. Kurt Warner >> Austin Davis. The Rams will not be partying like it’s 1999.
10:42 NO ATL: How does Matt Ryan have 16-20-222 with 1 TD and the Falcons are down 20-10? Have I missed three Steven Jackson fumbles? Great throw by Ryan and a great job hanging in there to Jones. Is there a more guaranteed awesome game lately than Saints-Falcons? Has there been a worse team in football at goal line running in recent years than Atlanta? Steven Jackson is better than 2012 Michael Turner, but still not 2010 Steven Jackson. Their next free agent signing: Maurice Jones-Drew?
10:03 WAS HOU: Clowney’s out the rest of the game. Knee injury. Really hope that’s not serious.
10:11 MIN STL: Does Jeff Fisher prefer Rams drives to end on the 36 so he can try another 50+ field goal? 13-3 Vikings.
10:00 WAS HOU: Makes me so sad to see RG3 seemingly incapable of getting around Brooks Reed. Don’t see how you can call Swearinger for roughing there. The helmet extends further than your chest. My friend Matt is very upset by this. He’s usually a little less keen on the new roughing penalties, but I agree with him here.
11:44 NE MIA: Yes, that’s not a good job by Tannehill getting that pass high in the flat. In fleeting glances, the Pats’ pass rush doesn’t look good.
6:09 OAK NYJ: Looks like Geno is sticking to easy throws, but generally solid. Great hard running and a nice cut by Ivory. Undrafted RBs so often good lately (see Arian Foster, Willie Parker, and Priest Holmes.1 Who is that referee, by the way? Hate seeing that guy. Here are the people not playing or on a team who have made me happiest to see on an NFL field: 1) Jerry Markbreit, 2) Summerall/Madden in their prime, 3) Jerry Seeman, 4) Red Cashion, and 5) Gene Steratore.
10:42 CIN BAL: Gio Bernard for 35 on a screen with nobody in the same zip code. What is up with the Ravens? They don’t look well-coached, which we know is wrong.
5:00 OAK NYJ: Mack gets a sack, Geno very lucky to recover. I think Khalil Mack will be incredible.
4:23 BUF CHI: My bet lives. Marshall in the left corner for a TD.
8:50 NE MIA: Middletown (NJ) South High School grad Knowshon Moreno looking very frisky. 14 carries for 84 yards. Very easy seven yards up the middle on first down. Is our defense still bad? Revis looked responsible for that Wallace TD. Tied at 20.
2:52 ATL NO: Brees got some pressure up the middle – just a little – on that endzone pick. The Falcons have to get some of that.
4:00 MIN STL: That Cordarrelle Patterson TD run was awesome. Very Moss-y.
6:23 TEN KC: Alex Smith poorly thrown deep INT. Chiefs are definitely in the running for the falling-off-a-cliff team.
7:00 JAC PHI: Are the Jags really going to blow this after making me so happy? Zach Ertz wide open for a TD down the middle.
1:45 NO ATL: 20-17 NO. Give me Atlanta to win this. Davonte Freeman should be the starting RB in Atlanta. That was a great run up the middle for 11. Made Kenny Vaccaro eat the turf with a quick cut right in the hole. Whoa, Antone Smith. Their RB situation is now really good, actually. Looking like another amazing Saints-Falcons game. And maybe two very good teams.
1:00 BUF CHI: OK, maybe Brandon Spikes is out of control. Blow to the head of another Brandon (Marshall).
4:30 MIA NE: Really, the Pats defense may still be bad. I’m really surprised. Should I be concerned about Easley already? I need to watch some more, but early returns not encouraging. 3rd and goal on the 3. Bailed out by an asinine fade to Charles Clay that had a 15% chance of working. Why take two plays to go from the 15 to the 3 just for that play call. Ay de mi.
1:47 CLE PIT: The Browns are back to 27-17 and inside the 10? These are not your father’s Steelers on defense. A busted play on 3rd and 1. Wow. That one was on Hoyer. Turned the wrong way. Now a field goal on 4th and 2 from the 9. When they can seemingly run at will. Another ay de mi.
12:14 ATL NO: Saints 3rd and 5 around the NO 45: Will they get a pass rush? Great Brees throw off the back foot to Cooks. Some pressure up the middle and good coverage, too. Falcons got just a little bit of pressure the last couple plays.
1st down from ATL 48: Good decision not to throw the post-corner-post to Cooks. Safety help was there, I think.
3rd and 8 from ATL 46: Super easy 19 yards to Pierre Thomas. Zero pressure.
From there: Mark Ingram looks powerful on first down. And a real handful down to the 3 on second down. Then he finished it off with a run to the pylon. That 3rd and 8 was the play of the drive. Way too easy. As a Pats fan, I sympathize with my Falcons fan friend Jowei. You watch and feel like there is no hope the pass rush will ever get there.
8:03 OAK NYJ: Ivory for a long TD run. Rex Ryan rejoices like Miguel Herrera. Now my Raiders-Bears bet is in trouble on both sides. Just need a backdoor cover. And a flag from the replacement ref on Bennett down the seam. Yes, nameless ref, save my bet! The Jets miss the 2 point conversion. 19-7. If they win by 11, I’m OK, 12 doesn’t work. That would be a rough start.
13:10 CLE PIT: Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell are tearing up the Steelers on this drive. The West run off tackle right was a very easy one. Now a great tackle by Shazier. It’s been looking like the Browns have been dominating up front on the plays until that one. Nice throw to a wide-open Hawkins and then a great little bootleg left and a strike to Benjamin. 27-27. The Steelers were up 27-3 and had 364 yards of offense in the first half. This makes no sense. I love football.
8:53 BUF CHI: Bears coming back, but doing it very shorthanded. Don’t know that I’d run here on 3rd and 1. No Garza, no Slauson. Of course, no Alshon Jeffery either. Am I alone in lacking confidence in Cutler here? I swear I wrote that before the pick. What an awful, awful, awful, terrible, awful, awful throw back against the grain. I bet on this guy, when I could have bet on this guy.
6:30 MIN STL: Wow, a very easy touchdown for Matt Cassel. My over bet on Minnesota looks very, very good. That’s the great thing about having an over on at 6 wins. I feel like I can already put that one in the lockbox.
6:14 OAK NYJ: Oh, Derek Carr. Can we already make a rule not to draft any QB named Carr ever again? Can I trust Dennis Allen to be dumb enough to kick a field goal to make it 19-10? How did I put actual dollars on the Raiders?
5:00 CLE PIT: Can I take back everything I said about Pittsburgh? Lots of booing going on.
4:50 OAK NYJ: 4th and 14 for Oakland. Derek Carr looks a lot like David Carr now. At least they made the right decision to go for it. But false start and they’ll punt.
9:25 CLE PIT: I LOVE that Steelers fake punt. The upback throws to an uncovered Antoine Blake. Awesome, awesome. Reminds me of Vinatieri throwing passes to uncovered people.
5:01 BUF CHI: Do I lose more money if both sides of my tease go down? Bills are 3rd and 10 on the 20. How predictable is it that EJ Manuel would get 4 yards there? Pass to Fred Jackson.
12:15 JAC PHI: Jeff Triplette looks like he could be the Republican governor from Tennessee. The referee in the Falcons-Saints game looks like he could be the Republican senator from Wyoming. He is much less fun than Gene Steratore, but still way better than that nameless Raiders-Jets referee.
7:30 CIN BAL: When was the last time Baltimore looked good? They won 8 games last year and I don’t remember them looking good all season for an entire quarter. Maybe their last good half was the first half of Super Bowl XLVII.
10:20 TEN KC: Weird Redzone switch of the day: To Tennessee/KC 23-3. If they were going to show Cairo Santos, I could understand.
2:50 NO ATL: C’mon Falcons. Rodgers a very sweet run from the 15 with a spin thrown in. Scored at probably the exact wrong time, though. Chances of a Brees answer at least 100 percent.
4:40 CLE PIT: Who is Terrance West? All this running may say more about the Steelers than the Browns, but that Cleveland line looks potentially very good.
6:56 NE MIA: Patriots in huge trouble. Dion Sims needs to catch that one. Wow. Great throw by Tannehill after stopping on a roll right and throwing back deep left. Than another nice run by Moreno, but the Patriots were so slow to get there after Moreno obstructed by his own guy in the backfield. On 3rd and 5 from the 25, no pass rush at all. Like watching the Falcons. Easiest 3rd down conversion in the world to Mike Wallace. Reminds of easy throws Mark Sanchez made against the Pats in the 2010 playoffs.
3:40 MIA NE: Patriots lucky not to get a flag on Logan Ryan on 2nd and goal from the five. Didn’t really get his head around on a throw to the left corner. But Moreno scores on a third down run, anyway. Seems like the Pats could be losing by more.
0:30 BUF CHI: Am I going to somehow win this teaser? Holy crap. Bears driving. Crazy touchdown for the Raiders. I will get the backdoor cover there. Bears just tied it against the Bills. I can’t believe I bet on Jay Cutler. How is he still throwing off his back foot with nobody nearby?
1:29 NO ATL: Saints get a first down on the 1. Oh, please, just let the Saints score so there’s some hope. The Falcons get a first down stop. Now an easy touchdown on second down. Great job burning 15 seconds and two timeouts.
1:44 CLE PIT: Brian Hoyer does seem like a disaster waiting to happen, even though he’s looked really good for a fair bit of the second half. Even on Red Zone, he’s had at least three dropped picks, so who knows how many more have happened. One right there on 2nd & 16 from the CLE 14 after Hoyer stares Andrew Hawkins down. Taylor Gabriel wide open to the left. Forces a throw into double coverage instead.
10:00 JAC PHI: The Jags were up 17-0 with a wide-open receiver on 3rd and 4. Then a blocked kick and now it’s 24-17 Eagles.
1:14 NO ATL: If only the Falcons had those timeouts… 25 quick yards to the ATL 45, but only 50 seconds left.
0:22 CLE PIT: You know Cleveland is losing this game 30-27. Steelers on the CLE 44 after a completion to the left to Wheaton.
4:50 TEN KC: Very exciting to know Tennessee is up 26-10. That was a kicker, but not Cairo Santos so not a justifiable switch.
0:18 CLE PIT: Great bullet from Roethlisberger to Markus Wheaton to the 25. Yes, there was a 100% chance of that happening. I am so sorry Cleveland.
??? NE MIA: Have I glossed over the opening-day loss from my predicted-to-be 15-1 New England Patriots? Perhaps. The glory of the not-close-loss: little Red Zone coverage.
0:40 ATL NO: Great, great Matt Ryan throw to Devin Hester there under extreme pressure to the NO 34. Looked like Manning on the pick six in terms of space to throw. Wish they had those timeouts. Very dumb throw for two yards now. Throw it at his feet and stop the clock. Ay de mi. Just used their last timeout.
0:08 ATL NO: Interesting. A deliberate out of bounds throw to kill the clock in Atlanta, I think. Why not? Cool decision. C’mon Matt Bryant. 51 yard attempt. Yes. OT there.
1:09 CIN BAL: Flacco coverage sack, but more importantly…
11:00 (OT) BUF CHI: Think I’m in trouble in Chicago. Bills have ball and driving in OT. Fred Jackson down to the one. I maybe shouldn’t gamble.
1:00 CIN BAL: Flacco sacked on a corner blitz. Bengals win. Dalton deserves credit for making the big play to Green to win this one.
0:31 MIA NE: I haven’t seen much Brady, but what I have seen hasn’t looked good. Way over Rob Gronkowski down the seam, a route similar but a little deeper to the one where he got hurt against Cleveland last year. Why take any chances with his health down 13 with 30 seconds left?
14:49 (OT) ATL NO: Falcons ball. Colston fumble forced by Bartu. They have to win it now, right? 1st and 10 on the 38. Hate the playcall. A run to Jackson, but he battled for 3. Please put the ball in Matt Ryan’s hands. Let’s not play for a 52-yard field goal. Second down. Run for Jackson. No gain. Then heavy personnel on third and a pass over Toilolu’s head. Can’t believe this is a 52-yard field goal. He makes it anyway. That is terrible process rewarded. Wow.
That was a whirlwind. Not sure if I can do that again. My head is spinning a bit. But it is so awesome to have football back. Right now, I’m taking two plays, two pivotal throws away from today: 1) Jay Cutler throwing back across his body on 3rd and 1 into Kyle Williams’s arms midway through the 4th quarter, helping to hand that game to the Bills, and 2) Matt Ryan throwing that incredible 21 yard strike to Devin Hester with pressure all over him. As always, it is all about the quarterbacks.