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Back in the game

Fit-again Manning will augment the Broncos, says Neil

Neil Reynolds Posted 10th September 2012 view comments

With two Monday Night Football games to come, Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season is almost ready to be consigned to the history books and we have already seen losses for the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers.

A year ago, the Giants were crowned Super Bowl champions while those other opening weekend losers were in the playoffs. So it already appears as if the 2012 campaign is going to be as exciting and as unpredictable as it has been in recent years.

Mann up: Manning shone on his Denver debut, says Neil

Mann up: Manning shone on his Denver debut, says Neil

It should be another fun ride through the NFL season and we're looking forward to following the action closely every Thursday and Sunday in the Sky Sports studio, all the way up to Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans in February.

Here's what caught my eye from Sunday's games...

49ers lay down a marker

I said heading into Sunday night's Sky Sports coverage that the showdown between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field might end up being an NFC Championship Game preview. In that case, the 49ers must be feeling very good about themselves this morning as they laid down a real marker with a 30-22 victory.

This was a total team effort by the 49ers. Alex Smith made several big throws and looks set to continue his progression at quarterback under head coach Jim Harbaugh, the rushing attack - led by Frank Gore - shredded the Packers for 186 yards and veteran wide receiver Randy Moss even rolled back the years to score on a 14-yard catch.

But, for me, the story was the San Francisco defence and I think we were looking at the best unit in the league on Sunday night. Without getting too specific, I think the best way to describe the 49ers star-studded defence is to say that it always appeared as if they had 13 men on the field compared to Green Bay's 11.

The Packers are a prolific offensive team led by NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers yet seemingly everything they did against that San Francisco D was a struggle. Had it not been for a couple of dubious penalties against the 49ers that helped Green Bay into the end zone, this one might not have been as close as it turned out.

Mixed fortunes for rookie passers

It was a mixed night for the top two picks in the 2012 Draft. Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck endured a rude welcome to the NFL as his Colts were handed a 41-21 shellacking by the Chicago Bears.

While Luck was flashing potential on a team that clearly needs more weapons around and in front of him, Robert Griffin III (left) was lighting it up for the Washington Redskins in one of the headline performances of the night, leading the NFC East cellar dwellers to a 40-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

RGIII was exciting, hard to contain and threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, RGIII did not throw an interception while his record-setting opponent, Drew Brees, threw two for the head coach-less Saints.

All the talk coming into the season was how Luck was the more pro-ready of the two yet it was the Stanford product who threw three interceptions while adding 309 yards and one score through the air. I still think Luck will be the better long-term prospect, but RGIII has hinted that there won't be much in it for this season and he might actually benefit from having better players around him in year one.

Tim who?

There has been so much summer talk about Tim Tebow's arrival in the Big Apple that it's easy to forget Mark Sanchez is the starting quarterback for the New York Jets. There was clear pressure on Sanchez as he headed into Sunday's contest with the Buffalo Bills on the back of a poor preseason.

And things started badly as he threw a bone-headed interception early in the game in New York. But Sanchez - who has been plagued by turnovers and inconsistency during his relatively young NFL career - showed some courage and considerable skill as he rebounded to throw for 266 yards and three touchdowns in a 48-28 victory.

With some tough defences on New York's schedule in the first half of this season, Sanchez found himself facing the very real prospect of struggling and being replaced by Tebow, who was the sensation of the 2011 campaign. Sanchez is not out of the woods yet, but he has made the perfect start.

Fancied quarterbacks do just enough

Michael Vick, of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Matthew Stafford, of the Detroit Lions, combined for seven interceptions on Sunday but they're both basking (sort of) in the aftermath of victory today.

Vick (left) struggled mightily against the Cleveland Browns but fired a game-winning touchdown pass to Clay Harbor for the 17-16 victory, while Stafford tossed up three picks but also delivered a victorious score, hitting Kevin Smith from five yards out with 10 seconds remaining. The Lions beat the surprisingly-competitive St. Louis Rams 27-23.

Of the two, I would be more worried about the form of Vick and his lack of care and attention when it comes to protecting the football is one of the reasons I struggle to pick the talented Eagles as a Super Bowl contender. In a league where results are everything, though, Vick and Stafford won't care about their statistics if they keep winning.

But how long can they keep winning playing that sloppy brand of American football?

Peyton shakes off the rust

So Peyton Manning is back in the NFL and for much of the Denver Broncos' 31-19 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers it was like he had never been away.

It took some getting used to seeing Manning in Broncos' orange rather than Colts' blue but he was a welcome sight after the four-time NFL Most Valuable Player sat out the entire 2011 campaign after undergoing four career-threatening neck operations.

Manning started a little slowly but ended up producing one of his trademark displays, picking the Steelers apart by hitting on 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. I know he cannot go on playing forever, but the NFL is a better league this morning with Manning back on the field and playing well. And the Denver Broncos are most certainly a better team than the 2011 version that made it to the second round of the playoffs last term.

Pats the way to do it

With a nod to the Houston Texans (30-10 winners over the Miami Dolphins) and recognising that the Baltimore Ravens have yet to play, the New England Patriots still look like the class of the American Football Conference. They started the season with a routine yet still impressive 34-13 away win over the Tennessee Titans.

Much was made of Tom Brady (left) turning 35 in the summer, almost as if the Zimmer frame would need to be taken into the huddle with him. But Tom Terrific looks as good as ever. He surpassed 40,000 career passing yards on Sunday night, firing touchdown passes to the best tight end pairing in the NFL in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

Defensively, the Patriots looked improved from a year ago when they ranked among the worst units in the NFL. They were too good for quarterback Jake Locker as he made his first NFL start and they showed considerable backbone while holding rushing threat Chris Johnson to just four yards on 11 carries. We're only one week in, but you can count the Patriots among the serious Super Bowl contenders this season.

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