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Observations, Opinion & Occasional Silliness by Richard L Gale
NFL Week One: Breathless Offense
Week one of the NFL brought us gaudy statistics, huge comebacks and superstar highlight, but this above all was the week the tempo changed. We'd had the Greatest Show on Turf to start the millenium, and the wildcat came and went, but finally, irrevocably, the spread-option offense unleashed itself on the NFL, courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles.
But back up for a moment... because as it turned out, the Eagles were just the exclamation point to the week that began an era. The story started Thursday night, when old man Manning creaked out onto the field at Mile High Stadium (whatever the field is called), and casually toasted the Ravens for seven touchdowns. The vaunted defense of the Baltimore Ravens. The Super Bowl defending Baltimore Ravens. Not since 1969 had a quarterback thrown that many scores in a single game, and that's long ago enough that even I don't quite remember it.
The Broncos and Eagles victories didn't look a whole lot like each other - the Broncos and Ravens played it close before Denver exploded on the Ravens in the third quarter, while the Eagles, like coach Chip Kelly's old haunt the Oregon Ducks produced most their yardage in the first half before (barely) fending off a Washington comeback. However, the link was tempo: breathless, dizzying tempo overseen by rejuvenated veteran quarterbacks. This was the week the stodgy old NFL finally embraced the college pace, the Broncos' and Eagles' schemes leaving opposing defenders staring like prog rockers at a drum'n'bass gig, or wheezing like Mutley's grandpappy.
The reasons differed. In Denver's case that Mile High location may have been the undoing of the Ravens, the merciless 20-second tempo tearing at their lungs until hands-on-hips they swayed in surrender. The Eagles baffled Washington with formations and options and the confidence of a roster that was born to play this way. The only question was whether the Eagles might kill their backfield's legs faster than they could kill the clock. After all those Oregon blow-outs coach Kelly may need a crash course in fourth-quarter football before we tag the Eagles as the upset champs of the NFC East. What should have been a romp ended up as stage-setting for a near-comeback for Robert Griffin III.
There have been no-huddles and wacky formations before, bursts of up-tempo football designed to keep opponents on the back heel. Never before have two games at each end of a weekend made such a case for NFL teams to follow the trend and embrace 'basketball on grass'. The NFL's been looking that way for a while. Now, it's finally happened.
And in case you're wondering... September 29. That's when the Eagles visit Mile High.