Keeping Score

Missing Manning, Celebrating Cam: Three Lessons Learned From NFL Week One

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton watches from the bench during the NFL season opening game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Glendale, Ariz.

TIME’s Sean Gregory breaks down the lessons from football’s first week.

1. Powerless Without Peyton. The Indianapolis Colts gave up 34 points to the Houston Texans on Sunday – before halftime. So the neck injury to Peyton Manning is not the only problem for the Colts. The team’s defense is painful too. But the Colts also didn’t score a single point in that span. Sans Peyton Manning, the Colts could be in for a nightmarish season. (Houston won the game 34-7).

Regardless of Manning’s status, the Texans were going to be a threat this year. On the fourth snap of the game, Mario Williams, the top pick of the 2006 draft who new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips moved from defensive end to linebacker this off-season, sacked graybeard Colts quarterback Kerry Collins. Because of Manning’s injury, Collins was dragged out of retirement. Collins fumbled the ball twice in the first quarter.

The Texans enjoyed an offensive outburst even though their starting running back, Arian Foster, missed the game with an injury. The Super Bowl is in Indianapolis this year. Barring some medical miracle that can get Manning back on the field pronto, the home team likely won’t be playing in it.

(MORE: What The World Was Like Without Peyton Manning)

2. Newton’s Law: Cam Can Play. Looks like there’s a reason to watch the Carolina Panthers for the first time in, well, the existence of the franchise. (I know, I know, the Panthers have had some very good teams over the years, and even made a Super Bowl. But even then, the Panthers weren’t a team filled with charismatic starts. Did Jake Delhomme keep you glued to the TV set?) Former Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton, the winner of last year’s Heisman Trophy, set a new record for passing yards in an NFL debut: he threw for 422 yards, and two touchdown passes, in Carolina’s 28-21 loss to Arizona. He tossed both scoring passes, a 77- and 26-yarder, to veteran big-play man Steve Smith. Newton won’t this prolific every week, but Carolina, which finished 2-14 last season, will no longer be a cakewalk.

3. Romo: Oh No! Remember the 2007 playoffs, when Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo dropped the snap while holding a for chip-shot, go-ahead field goal, committing a gaffe that gave the Seattle Seahawks a 21-20 win over Dallas? That goof was more forgivable than what he did last night against the New York Jets. With about a minute left in the fourth quarter, and the game tied 24-24, Romo floated a soft pass towards the sideline, even though one of the best cornerbacks in the game, Darelle Revis, was blanketing intended receiver Dez Bryant. It was an inexplicable decision. Revis made the interception, and Jets kicker Nick Folk nailed a 50-yard field goal that gave the Jets a 27-24 lead, with 27 seconds left. To make matters worse, on the final desperation drive Romo and his center crossed signals: a snap sailed right by him, sealing the win for New York. Romo offered a sheepish grin –  he seemed to be saying, “can you believe this?” Dallas fans saw no reason to smile.

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Sean Gregory is a staff writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @seanmgregory. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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