Cumberland Times-News

Mike Burke - Sports

September 13, 2013

All in all, not the best of first weeks

There have been a lot of long faces on NFL fans walking around here since Monday night when the Washington Redskins completed the Two Hours From Everywhere trifecta, launched last Thursday by the Baltimore Ravens and carrying through to Sunday with the Pittsburgh Steelers, as all three teams punched the clock with pretty dismal losses.

Essentially, about the only thing a Week 1 loss prevents is an undefeated season as plenty of teams have gone to the championship game after losing in the first week. So on its own merit, an 0-1 start is nothing to really take to heart, unless your team looked completely lost and lost key players to injuries, which, in the case of the Ravens and the Steelers, is exactly what happened.

Have you ever seen a team lose offensive linemen the way the Steelers do? Not just nicked-up injuries — Nordberg-like injuries that normally end up being season-ending. I swear, if I were the top offensive lineman in college football and the Steelers drafted me I’d go to Canada to play. Because, based on history, I’d know some day soon I would be leaving a field on one of those carts with one of my legs propped and isolated. Never seen anything like it.

It would be difficult to remember a time when the Steelers played so poorly and so listlessly as they did against Tennessee on Sunday, but the air seemed to be taken out of them early when center Maurkice Pouncey went down for the season after tearing both his ACL and MCL.

Of course, the Todd Haley offensive scheme seems to take air out the Steelers’ game too, as, from this perspective, having Ben Roethlisberger quarterback a West Coast offense is akin to casting Marlon Brando for a guest spot on “The Love Boat.” Such an enormous waste of daring and talent.

Steelers fans have cause for worry, although nobody makes a very good living worrying for or betting against the Steelers, particularly after just one game. However, the eye test failed on all counts last Sunday and the injuries do nothing to brighten the picture.

The Ravens, on the other hand, are a completely different team than the one that won the Super Bowl last February, and that’s a good thing. Despite the criticism they took over the offseason, they made themselves younger and faster, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, which will become evident once the revamped unit has learned to play as a unit. Last Thursday was essentially this team’s first game together.

Sure, they were terrible on defense, chiefly on blown coverages that could come with unfamiliarity. And why Coach John Harbaugh, who will throw a challenge flag at your feet if you tell him nobody has it better than the Harbaughs, did not challenge the incomplete pass to Wes Welker that precluded the first touchdown of the Peyton Manning onslaught two plays later, is anybody’s guess.

The rout the Ravens took in Denver only rebooted the criticism of their breaking up the band that won the Super Bowl, even though last year’s defense was old and ranked No. 20 in the league entering their remarkable playoff run. Then the criticism was thrown into high gear after the fantastic performance receiver Anquan Boldin turned in on Sunday for San Francisco.

Look, the Ravens did not want to part with Boldin, but for them to shore up their defense — which they did, even though it does not yet appear that way — they needed salary cap space. They asked Boldin to take a cut in pay and he refused, and nobody can blame him for that. But the reason he’s no longer in Baltimore is not because he wasn’t wanted. Plus, the Ravens felt they were covered in the possession game until tight end Dennis Pita went down with what is likely a season-ending injury.

As for the Redskins, Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia is currently the rage, but the truth is the Redskins played as poorly as you would expect your team to play in the first game after going the entire preseason without its starting quarterback. Everybody was out of sync. The offense was terrible, the defense was terrible, and the guys on special teams looked as though they were meeting each other for the first time.

How well will Robert Griffin III’s knee hold up? Only time will tell. But honestly, as good as he is and as much fun as he is to watch play, the entire Operation Patience and All Things RGIII production has run its course. Every time Griffin comments on The State of Me or dictates policy, which is often, it puts more pressure on the Redskins as a team and undermines Mike Shanahan as the head coach, which isn’t easy to do since Shanahan is anything but a sympathetic figure.

Before whatever is going on between his coach and his quarterback ruins a season before it gets started, owner Dan Snyder had better put this nonsense to rest. He needs to stop being BFFs with his star players, let his coach coach, and tell his quarterback to stop being so precious and just be the quarterback.

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at mburke@times-news.com

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Mike Burke - Sports
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