Keeping Score

Jets, Refs and RG3: Three Lessons from Week 1 of the NFL Season

Robert Griffin III, Mark Sanchez and the replacement refs are among the big winners

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Dan Anderson – ZUMA PRESS

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III tries to run the ball past New Orleans Saints defender Johnny Patrick at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Sept. 9, 2012

1. Griffin the Great. Just because Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Heisman trophy winner out of Baylor University, had a spectacular debut while fellow rookie Andrew Luck struggled in his first game with the Indianapolis Colts, it doesn’t mean Colts fans will be panicking. They won’t rue that Indy passed on Griffin and took Luck with the first overall pick in this year’s draft, right? Sports fans wouldn’t be that irrational and send themselves into a tailspin after a single game, correct? Because they’re usually such a reasonable bunch.

Yes, it’s early. But it’ll be mighty hard for a rookie like Luck — or any other quarterback, for that matter — to match Griffin’s performance. Griffin, the second pick of the 2012 draft, completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns in Washington’s 40-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. Griffin also rushed for 42 yards and did not throw an interception. Though the Saints have been devastated and distracted by the Bountygate scandal, they remain a talented team. The Saints finished 8-0 at home last season. For Griffin to tear up the Saints in his debut makes his effort even more impressive.

Luck, on the other hand, was 23 of 45 on the day, with 309 yards, a touchdown, three interceptions and a lost fumble against the Chicago Bears in the Windy City, as his Indianapolis Colts fell 41-21. We’ll be comparing these two players for the rest of their careers. Luck has plenty of time to outshine Griffin. But RG3 took the opener in a landslide.

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2. Tim Who?  Throughout the preseason, an army of armchair shrinks speculated on the psychodrama brewing between Mark Sanchez, the inconsistent fourth-year quarterback whom the New York Jets signed to a three-year, $40.5 million contract extension this off-season amid howls of protest from their nutty fan base, and Tim Tebow, for whom the Jets traded just weeks after signing Sanchez to his lucrative deal. If New York were so confident in Sanchez, why bring in Tebow? Could Tebow motivate Sanchez? Would Tebow, whom people sometimes forget turned a franchise around last season and won a playoff game, really be content playing second fiddle to Sanchez, no one’s idea of Tom Brady? Tebow’s a choir boy, but he’s competitive.

Are Tebow and Sanchez really as buddy-buddy as they let on? How long would it take for Jets fans to start clamoring for Tebow, especially since Sanchez struggled this preseason? His first interception?

Well, Sanchez did throw a pick in his first series of the new season, and MetLife Stadium did not explode. In fact, after that setback, Sanchez settled in and had one of the finest games of his career: New York crushed the Buffalo Bills 48-28 — the most points the Jets have ever scored in Week 1 of any season — and Sanchez finished 19 of 27 for 266 yards and three touchdown passes. Tebow took the field here and there as part of New York’s Wildcat scheme but didn’t do a whole lot: he ran the ball five times for 11 yards and failed to throw a single pass. He did, however, recover an onside kick. Which is nice.

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Did the threat of losing his job to Tebow make Sanchez play better? Going on and off the field in the Wildcat scheme, as Sanchez did Sunday, would seem to hurt a quarterback’s rhythm. But did shuffling help him stay fresh? Who knows? Here’s what’s certain: if Sanchez keeps playing like this, Tebow won’t be doing much in the Big Apple.

3. Super Subs. The NFL and its referees’ union are still at a labor stalemate, so replacement refs blew the whistles in Week 1. After several well-publicized gaffes in the preseason — like the mystery touchback on a punt return that was downed on the 4-yard line and one of the world’s most confusing penalty calls — many wondered whether the replacements could keep law and order once the games were for real.

Well, the league survived just fine in Week 1. On a few calls that looked questionable to the naked eye in the Jets-Bills game, for example, replays showed that these refs got them right. The officials did screw up in Arizona, as they gave the Seattle Seahawks an extra timeout near the end of their game against the Cardinals. Luckily for the NFL, Seattle still couldn’t score a go-ahead touchdown, and Arizona survived, 20-16. Disaster averted, giving the NFL a leg up in negotiations with the regular refs. We’ve seen that football Sundays can go on without the regulars, so the union refs might now be more willing to capitulate to the NFL’s demands and get out on the field for Week 2. Before the replacements can upstage them once again.

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