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With a new team, new division alignment, and failing faith in Major League Baseball, the NFL looked to be wild once again. Week one did not disappoint. The opening week of the 2002 season was one of the craziest and most enjoyable in recent years. It had stunning finishes, overtimes, and huge upsets. What more could one ask for from the most exciting game on Earth?
The San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants kicked it off in a rare weekday start. While it started out as snoozer with the Giants on top 6-3 at the half, it ended as a 16-13 thriller. Two tough defenses seemed to handle each other fairly well. The Giants shut down 49ers’ star receiver Terrell Owens for most of the game holding him to 4 catches for 41 yards. Despite a great showing by Giants quarterback Kerry Collins, the 49ers kicked a field goal in the final seconds to take the win. "After having a field goal blocked and missing another one, I was just glad I came back and won the game," said 49ers kicker Jose Cortez.
New kids on the block
One of the biggest upsets has to go to the expansion Houston Texans. Only one other time had an expansion team won their season opener. Well, the Texans become number two with their Texas sized 19-10 upset over the Dallas Cowboys. The win for the Texans gives Houston fans bragging rights, hope for the franchise, and delivers a new rivalry. For the Cowboys, it only opens up more questions. This was supposed to be a team on the rise but they looked very unimpressive Sunday night. "Now they can go back to Dallas and have a hard-knock life," said Texans defensive end Gary Walker. While the Texans opened the game by scoring a touchdown in 1 minute 14 seconds and only needing 3 plays to do it, the Cowboys quarterback of the future Quincy Carter looked very off going 13 of 30 for 131 yards and 1 pick.
There were few blowouts during week one in the NFL. Most of the games were fairly close and exciting. However, a few teams were able to decisively beat their opponents.
Drew Brees had an impressive outing as the Chargers beat up on the Bengals 34-6 in Cincinnati going 15 of 19 for 160 yards and 2 touchdowns. Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson contributed another 114 yards rushing.
While they looked very unimpressive during preseason, the Miami Dolphins took care of business while hosting the Detroit Lions. The Dolphins beat the Lions 49-21, and it really wasn’t even that close. The running game looked aggressive as Ricky Williams and Travis Minor dominated. Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler impressed as well throwing 3 touchdowns and passing for 207 additional yards.
The Oakland Raiders also took care of the competition as they hosted former division rival Seattle (now in the NFL West), beating them 31-17. The Dilfer-less Seahawks could not get anything going on the ground. The Raiders on the other hand didn’t seem to have any problem in that department as running backs Charlie Garner and Tyrone Wheatley combined for 192 yards.
On the edge of our seats
Week one featured a number of nail biters. Through Sunday night, there were three overtime wins.
The first almost ended as an upset as the Green Bay Packers hosted the Atlanta Falcons. Michael Vick stunned all his critics with an impressive outing against the Packers. He went 15 of 23 for 209 yards and one touchdown passing. But that wasn’t the only thing that gave the Packers all kinds of headaches. Vick also rushed for 72 yards on 9 carries leading the team in that category. "I thought he played great," Favre said. "He ran around a lot more than I did." In fact, the Falcons led 21-13 at the half. However, the Falcons learned to never count the Packers out when you have number 4 throwing the ball. Ahman Green’s 155 yards rushing helped the Packers come back and take the lead. The Falcons kicked a field goal in the final seconds of regulation to send it into overtime where a 7 play, 44 yard drive to set up a winning 34 yard Ryan Longwell field goal.
Chad Morton of the New York Jets made a name for himself this weekend with two kickoff returns for touchdowns. However, it was the second one that silenced the Buffalo crowd because that second return was in overtime giving the Jets a 37-31 win over the Bills. While Bills running back Travis Henry dominated on the ground rushing for 149 yards, it wasn’t enough to counter the show Vinny Testaverde put on. Testaverde completed 24 of 30 passes for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The craziest overtime finish has to go to the New Orleans Saints as they took on Jon Gruden's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brad Johnson looked awful for most of the game but came on strong at the end bringing the Buccaneers back from 10 down in the 4th. The game was fairly close throughout regulation but it was the way it ended that left the Bucs shaking their heads. Punting from the endzone, Tom Tupa saw that he did not have enough time to get the ball away and tried to pass it. Well he did pass it…right into the hands of Saints linebacker James Allen giving New Orleans a 26-20 win. "I couldn't punt it, so I was trying to make a play out of nothing," Tupa said. "Unfortunately, the guy got his hand on me and started wrapping me up. He wrapped up my right arm. That's why I had to throw it lefty."
To close to handle
The overtime games were not the only games decided near the end. There were certainly a big number of thrillers this weekend. The following games were among them.
The Carolina Panthers 10-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens was probably one of the more boring games during the opening week. Why? All the points in the game were scored in the first half. But it was enough to give John Fox his first win. Fox celebrated as he watched the Panthers’ two top picks over the past two years seal the victory. Defensive end Julius Peppers (Panthers’ 2002 first round pick) batted away a pass from Ravens quarterback Chris Redman. The ball landed in the hands of linebacker Dan Morgan (Panthers’ 2001 first round pick) and sealed the victory.
The Tennessee Titans upset the Philadelphia Eagles, who many expected to be a Super Bowl contender, by the score of 27-24. "This is the way we felt years ago," Titans receiver Kevin Dyson said. "We kept fighting and found a way to win. We never felt like we were out of it." However, the win did not come without a price as "The Beast" Jevon Kearse broke his foot on the second play of the game. The Titans will be without the 3-time Pro Bowler for 6 to 8 weeks.
The Bears passing game, led by quarterback Jim Miller, helped seal a 27-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. It was a hot day at the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium. The Bears are playing there while Soldier Field is being renovated. Temperatures on the field reached nearly 120 degrees.
Last but not least, it was quarterback Peyton Manning versus Mark Brunell. It was running back Edgerrin James versus Fred Taylor. It was the Indianapolis Colts versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. In this matchup in the new AFC South, it was the Colts who came up on top 28-25. Both teams went 6-10 last year.
Did that really happen?
The biggest story in the Kansas City Chiefs’ win over the Browns in Cleveland, was the way that it ended. There was plenty of offense in this one. The Browns looked ready to walk away with a week one win as they led the Chiefs 39-37. Far out of field goal range, on what should have been the last play of the game, Chiefs’ quarterback Trent Green dropped back for one last desperation pass and maybe a quick prayer. The pressure was on and Browns linebacker Dwayne Rudd got Green in his grasp and pulled him down. However, Green got rid of the ball as he flipped it to 6-foot-6 323-pound tackle John Tait, who stumbled downfield 28 yards to the Browns 25. Rudd, thinking he sacked Green ending the game, took his helmet off and threw it 15 yards in celebration. Rudd drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which moved the Browns halfway to the goal setting up a Morten Andersen 30 yard field goal. He of course hit it and gave the Chiefs a 40-39 win. "I'm sick," said Browns coach Butch Davis. "To have something like that happen at the end is inexcusable."
And the upset award goes to...
The Texans’ win over the Cowboys was a huge upset. However, the biggest upset of the weekend came during the much-anticipated Rams at Broncos game. The St. Louis Rams are many sports writers’ pick to win it all this year. That probably will not happen if the Rams play like they did on Sunday afternoon. During the first half, Broncos quarterback Brian Griese completed 10 of 16 passes for 110 yards and had his team up 16-6 at halftime. The second half was much different. After two interceptions and some very ugly passes in the third quarter, he was booed off the field by Broncos fans. After nearly being pulled, Griese got his act together during what would end up being the decisive drive. He completed all four of his passes for 56 yards and a touchdown to wide receiver Ed McCaffrey with 5:55 left on the clock. This would be all the Broncos needed as they rolled to a 23-16 upset over the Rams. While Kurt Warner passed for 315 yards through the air, Marshall Faulk was held to only 19 yards on 10 carries.
"I thought we had a bad quarter, and I didn't play very well in the third quarter," said Griese. "But at the same time, I think the mark of a good player and a good team is that you show the character to come back from adversity, because adversity is a part of the game."
"We watched tapes of the Super Bowl and saw New England really popping guys in the mouth," said Broncos linebacker John Mobley. "We saw that they didn't like that and knew it was something that we wanted to do."