Heroes and Zeroes

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 06, 2008



Physicists tell us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So perhaps it's no surprise that every  breathtaking performance in an NFL game is balanced by an equally heinous game somewhere out there in the eternal football cosmos.
 
Here's a look at both sides of the spectrum in the physics of football: the heroes and zeroes from the NFL's early Week 1 games.
 
Hang on to your nuggets, folks: We'll be back with updates after the late games and plenty of more information from around the league in our epic Monday Morning Hangover.
 
HEROES
 
No. 1 – Michael Turner
Wow! Let us be the first to put it out there: Maybe the wrong guy had been starting in San Diego all those years.
 
Turner, the explosive former back-up to LaDainian Tomlinson, made just the second start of his five-year career in Atlanta's 34-21 win over Detroit Sunday. He instantly turned it into a defining performance.
 
He ripped off 220 yards and 2 TDs on 22 carries and instantly ignited what was one of the worst offenses in football last year – not only that, it was a bad offense that had a rookie QB, Matt Ryan, at the helm making his first NFL start.
 
But Turner's explosive effort should come as no surprise.
 
First, his opponent Sunday, Detroit, is an embarrassment to the league. The year on the calendar may have changed, but Lions fans can already see the same old sad writing on the wall: they're in for a long season. We vote the Lions get relegated to the Big 10.
 
Second, Turner had averaged an eye-popping 5.51 YPA during his career (228 attempts for 1,257 yards) in San Diego. Including's Sunday's explosion, he's now cranked out 1,477 yards on 250 attempts - a shocking 5.91 YPA.
 
He's well below the minimum 750 attempts needed for official NFL records. But he'll reach those 750 carries in about two full seasons as a starter. If he can turn out a few performances similar to the one we witnessed Sunday,  Turner could smash Jim Brown's career running back record of 5.22 YPA.
 
This is Jim Brown we're talking about folks, probably the greatest football player of all time, not some chump who lucked into some fluke of a record.
 
In an interesting turn of fate Sunday, the Ford Family was so impressed with Detroit's 21-0 first-quarter deficit that they gave Matt Millen yet another promotion at halftime, dubbing him Grand Inquisitor for Life. Good luck, Lions fans.
 
No. 2 – Ben Roethlisberger
The Steelers quarterback produced a vintage Big Ben performance in a 38-17 smackdown of a Houston team that entered the game entertaining hopes of actually competing this year.
 
In the process, Roethlisberger showed why he is one of the most historically productive passers in the history of the game.
 
He completed an infuriatingly efficient (for Houston fans) 13 of 14 passes (92.9%) for 137 yards, 9.79 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT and a 147.0 passer rating.
 
His completion percentage of 92.9 was phenomenal. In fact, it was better than the official regular-season record of 91.3 percent set by Vinny Testaverde with Cleveland in 1993 (21 of 23). But Big Ben fell shy of the 20 attempts needed to qualify for official records.
 
But you don't need to pass often if you pass efficiently. Just ask Bart Starr ... or Big Ben.
 
No. 3 – Donovan McNabb
We took a bold and unusual step by the standards of the Cold, Hard Football Facts when we played a hunch and picked Philly to emerge from the brutal NFC East and go on to win the Super Bowl.
 
One big reason for the prediction was the return of a healthy Donovan McNabb who, when he's on his game, can play as well as the Bradys and Mannings of the league.
 
He supported our hunch – at least for one week – with an explosive performance in Philly's impressive 38-3 win over St. Louis. Granted, the Rams suck.
 
But McNabb was virtually unstoppable, completing 21 of 33 passes (63.6%) for 361 yards, 10.9 YPA, 3 TD, 0 INT and a 131.0 passer rating.
 
The 361 yards were the sixth most in McNabb's career. Now all he has to do is prove he can put together a world-class performance against a quality team. Next week's Monday night divisional donnybrook at Dallas would be a perfect place to make that statement.
 
But, for one week anyway, Philly's QB told the world that old Mac is back in town.
 
ZEROES
 
No. 1 – Carson Palmer
You already knew it was going to be a long season in Cincy. The offensive performance in Week 1 merely served to reaffirm your knowledge.
 
The Bengals could barely get out of their way on offense. And offense always starts with the performance of the quarterback. Palmer, who his fans have lobbied to be considered among the "elite" quarterbacks in the NFL, alongside Peyton, Tom and Ben, did little to support the cause.
 
In a frustrating 17-10 loss to division rival Baltimore, he completed 10 of 25 passes (40%) for 99 yards, 3.96 YPA, 0 TD, 1 INT and a 35.25 passer rating. It was one of the worst games of his career.
 
Hell, Palmer was outplayed by Baltimore's rookie quarterback Joe Flacco – who last year was playing for Blue Hens of Delaware in the mighty I-AA Colonial Athletic Association.
 
Palmer is a talented player. And in the right situation he might find himself actually earning that spot among the "elite" quarterbacks in the game today. But the Cincy organization, with a couple notable exceptions, has been a disaster pretty much since the end of the Paul Brown Era and doesn't look to improve any time soon.
 
We assume the search for Marvin Lewis's replacement has already begun. Here's voting that he doesn't make it through the season.
 
No. 2 – Ocho Cinco
In Chad Johnson's latest publicity stunt over the past few weeks, he officially changed his name to "Ocho Cinco" so that he could wear the name across the back of his jersey.
 
Somebody showed up Sunday wearing No. 85 for Cincy, but it sure as hell didn't look like Johnson or Ocho Cinco.
 
This guy wearing No. 85 caught just 1 pass for 22 yards and was such a non-factor that we confused his effort with the Ralph Nader presidential campaign.
 
Johnson's act is usually funny, good-natured and harmless. But he doesn't endear himself to anybody when he pulls some stunt to get his face in front of the camera off the field, and then shrivels up and disappears on the field.
 
He's another guy, like batterymate Palmer, whose act might go over better in another situation with a better organization.

Oh, and for the record, the No. 85 jersey had the name "Johnson" across the back Sunday. The NFL forbid him from wearing "Ocho Cinco," citing a contractual obligations with uniform provider Reebok.
 
No. 3 – Brandon Meriweather
The New England safety, taken in the first round of the 2007 draft, was something of a disappointment during his rookie season last year, with countless dropped INTs and blown coverage assignments.
 
He allegedly worked on his ball skills while intently studying Bill Belichick's complex defense during the off-season.

You wouldn't have known it in the biggest moments of New England's 17-10 win over the lowly Chiefs.
 
The Patriots were leading by those seven points with 1:09 to play and had the Chiefs stuck with a 2nd and 16 at their own 27.
 
Kansas City back-up QB Damon Huard dropped back and fired a strike to Devard Darling, who toasted Meriweather like a hot dog roll on the 4th of July. The KC wideout ran right inside Meriweather and ended up with 68 yards on the play, moving the ball all the way to the Patriots 5 yard line.
 
It wasn't like the New England DB was tooled by Jerry Rice – Darling had caught just 20 passes in his first four NFL seasons (all with Baltimore) and struggled to get on the field for an offensively challenged Ravens team that has fielded everything but tackling dummies in its receiving corps. The 68-yard reception against Meriweather was the longest catch of Darling's career.
 
Meriweather was on coverage on the next play, too, when the old dropsies that plagued him in 2007 appeared again. What would have been a game-clinching INT bounced off the safety's hands.
 
The New England defense ultimately held on – no thanks to Meriweather. In the most critical drive of the game, he looked like the same lost rookie of 2007.
 
With QB stud Tom Brady out with a knee injury for the foreseeable future (no public update is available yet), everyone in New England will have to step up ... especially the highly touted second-year defenders.

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