Did we learn a lot from Thursday night’s NFL Kickoff extravaganza?
A lot of the points that have been made in the wake of New England’s 28-21 victory over Pittsburgh in Foxborough last night aren’t exactly shocking the NFL world.
The Carolina Panthers might have realised that they cut DeAngelo Williams a little too early from their roster after he averaged 6-yards a carry for 127-yards, but they’ll still be happy to rely on Jonathan Stewart in their backfield this season, hoping the former Oregon Duck can pick up the slack left by Williams.
Perhaps we learnt that the Pats are a far better looking outfit than the Steelers this year; Thursday night could have finished with a 14 point margin of victory were it not for Antonio Brown’s, ‘purely for fantasy points,’ stat padding touchdown two second from time.
But we’d be foolish to start talking about the gulf in class between these two potential AFC Champions after 60 minutes of football on opening night. Ben Roethlisberger, Brown and LeVion Bell are three of the biggest attacking weapons in the NFL, they will win games and have better nights. Even on Thursday, Mike Tomlin’s offence put up more yards than Brady and co. And that was without headsets at one point.
We were, instead, reminded of a few home truths about New England and the NFL.
1. You can’t defend against Rob Gronkowski
He’s just a specimen. A ruthless monster of a man in the redzone. The all dominant tight end will always be effective; too quick for linebackers, too strong for defensive backs, especially a youthful secondary like Pittsburgh’s.
All you can do is limit Brady’s ability to get the ball to him, because if it’s there to be had, Gronk will stop at nothing to get it. After an offseason dominated by the JJ Watt show (I think it’s actually called ‘Hard Knocks’), we’ve all been given a reminder that perhaps New England’s big receiver is the most dominant force in the NFL.
2. You can’t afford to miss opportunities at Gillette Stadium.
Two Steelers field goals were missed in the first half costing the offence momentum and points. If those go through, Thursday night’s finish is far more frantic for Bill Belichick and Brady.
3. The Patriots are going to have to be squeaky clean this year.
A few crossed radio channels on the Steelers sideline is all it took for the “cheat” calls to start flying into every NFL talk show across America.
The Steelers were obviously frustrated by the disruption to their communication system that lead to them being unable to use their headsets to talk to both players on the field and their coaches in the booth upstairs – they were, however, able to listen to the Patriots play-by-play announcer but that’s hardly any conciliation, – and Tomlin was furious at the situation arising when asked about it in his post match press conference.
More intriguing, however, is that fact that Tomlin seemed to suggest that it’s happened before in Foxborough. Have the Patriots been deflating balls, spying on teams AND blocking opposing teams’ communications. How long does this problem date back to? Would a franchise really cross so many lines to win football games? Is Goodell implicated in this in any way (remember his close relationship with Robert Kraft) and what will his reaction be to the incident?
All are wild exaggerations of questions that may be asked over the next few days, but the fact remains, no one is going to let New England get away with any funny business this season.