Inside the NFL | Surprises abound in early weeks of NFL season
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 19, 2012 08:10
In the world of American professional sports, the NFL is consistently lauded as the most compelling and exciting of them all. The combination of a short, 16-game season, elite athleticism and full-contact play provides fans with unrivaled entertainment in the sports world.
While these factors weigh heavily in the NFL’s appeal, the most influential aspect of its success as an industry is its ability to provide new surprises and unexpected results each and every season. Success one year doesn’t guarantee anything for the next in professional football. Just ask Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, whose performance has completely fallen off since he broke the single-season record for yards from scrimmage in 2009.
Teams and players can rise to the top or plummet to the bottom at any time, giving fans a unique sense of hope that their team can win at the beginning of each season.
With all of that in mind, the Daily recaps the five biggest surprises in the NFL entering the seventh week of the 2012 campaign.
Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III’s ascension from 2011 Heisman Trophy Winner to most electrifying player in the NFL has been nothing short of spectacular. The majority of rookie quarterbacks suffer growing pains before becoming stars, but Griffin is no typical play caller.
Consider this: Griffin rushed for 138 yards in last week’s win over the Minnesota Vikings — the most rushing yards by a quarterback since Michael Vick ran for 173 in 2006 — just one week after suffering a concussion. But unlike Vick and other run-first quarterbacks, Griffin has also shown an ability to throw the football, currently ranking third in the NFL in passer rating and first in completion percentage.
The fall of the New Orleans Saints
The turmoil within the New Orleans Saints organization actually began during the offseason, when the team was ruled guilty of putting bounties on opposing players. The ensuing punishments included the suspension of head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season.
While experts predicted that it would be difficult to replicate their 13-3 record in 2011-2012 without their head coach, no one expected the Saints to struggle as mightily out of the gates as they have thus far.
Coming off its bye week, the team stands at 1-4, including an embarrassing loss at home in overtime to the Kansas City Chiefs.
After starting the season 0-4, the Saints finally picked up their first victory in Week 5 against the San Diego Chargers in the Superdome.
The Minnesota Vikings
Entering the 2012 season, many expected the Vikings to finish among the worst teams in the NFL. Star running back Adrian Peterson was an unknown quantity coming off ACL and LCL surgery, second-year quarterback Christian Ponder hadn’t proven that he could adequately run an NFL offense, and there were question marks on what used to be a top-notch defense. Competing in a stacked division with Green Bay, Chicago, and an up-and-coming Detroit was seemingly impossible.
Fast forward to the third week of October, and the Vikings are 4-2, Peterson is back to being the elite rusher he had always been, Ponder has consistently silenced the doubters, and wide receiver Percy Harvin has emerged as one of the top playmakers in the league. That’s how much things can change in one offseason in the NFL.
The replacement referees
Yes, everyone and their mother knew that the replacement refs were going to be bad. Could we really expect people who had been used to officiating low-level Div. II football — or worse — to adjust in two weeks to making calls in the NFL? Of course not.
But no one expected the replacement refs to be as bad as they were. Nearly every game had blatant missed calls, culminating in the now infamous Green Bay v. Seattle Monday night matchup, where a Hail Mary caught quite clearly by a Green Bay defender was called a simultaneous catch and a Seahawks touchdown, giving Seattle the win.
Luckily, we could all breath a sigh of relief with the return of the usual referees in Week 5.
Does Tebowmania even exist anymore? Despite dominating the offseason headlines, Tim Tebow is nowhere to be found in the Jets’ offensive game plan. He has attempted just three passes and has rushed for an unimpressive 64 yards on 18 carries.
The Jets luckily stand at 3-3 in spite of the relatively low quality of football they have displayed in most of their games. Mark Sanchez has shown, yet again, that he is not a quality starting quarterback in the NFL. Perhaps the Jets would improve if they incorporated more of the Tebow wildcat attack into their game plan.