By the time I post my “Mostly NFL Notes” column late Monday night/early Tuesday each week, the Thursday game is but a decent memory not worth rehashing, so I’m going to write a “Rapid React” this year after the Thursday night games, with some being more noteworthy than others, obviously. Actually, in recent years, the play has been pretty bad thanks likely to the short week, and while Thursday’s Baltimore/Denver season opener featured some sloppy play, it certainly was entertaining.
The Ravens entered halftime with the lead yet ended with the largest margin of defeat by a defending Super Bowl champion in a season opener in NFL history, allowing a franchise-high 49 points in the process. I guess it wasn’t so crazy they entered Week 1 as the largest underdog ever for a defending SB champ. Vonta Leach was the early star, as he not only caught a TD but also dominated as a blocker, which carried over from last season when Pro Football Focus graded him as the best fullback in the league. His cheap re-signing during the offseason should prove valuable for Baltimore even though he plays a position that’s being phased out of the league by most teams. The Denver run defense was impressive, but Ray Rice’s fantasy owners can’t be happy with a 12/9 carry split with Bernard Pierce. At least Rice was given the goal-line work and also saw 11 targets in the passing game. He’s going to be just fine, but Pierce will remain involved more so than the average RB2 (and would be an easy top-10 fantasy RB should Rice go down).
Dallas Clark dropped a sure touchdown and later fumbled (which was negated by a penalty), and it was surprising to see him lead all players with 12 targets. He’s not someone to rush out and pick up, but he sadly looks like the superior option to teammate Ed Dickson, who had four drops. It was a rough night all around for Baltimore, who were not only blown out but also lost RT Michael Oher (ankle) and Jacoby Jones (knee) to injuries, the latter in which came during this attempted fair catch.
Joe Flacco hadn’t thrown an interception in any of his past five games (including the postseason), a span of 170+ pass attempts, until he was picked off in the second quarter Thursday. He threw numerous dangerous passes across the field that easily could have resulted in a couple more INTs, as it certainly wasn’t his best effort, which came against a Broncos defense missing Von Miller and Champ Bailey. Torrey Smith didn’t light it up but eight targets and 92 yards and an impressive effort to get a first down when it looked like he was surely going to be tackled suggest better things to come.
Why John Harbaugh didn’t (or more specifically, why his assistant coaches didn’t alert him to) challenge a clear Wes Welker drop early in the second half that would have resulted in a Denver fourth down was especially perplexing after he challenged a play that resulted in 2nd-and-5 earlier in the game. Three plays later and the Broncos scored a touchdown, opening the floodgates. The first challenge was highly questionable at the time, given the reward (2nd-and-5 vs. 2nd-and-10) versus the risk (you only get two or three challenges per game), and since it may have affected Harbaugh’s decision not to throw the flag during Welker’s play with essentially a half of football left (Baltimore would have been down to either one or zero left afterward) makes it look increasingly bad in hindsight. Moreover, it was ridiculous to punt down 22 points with 2:30 to go (I know almost all coaches do this, and Harbaugh is without question one of the best in the league, but this culture of “lose by fewest points” being more important than giving your team the best chance to win needs to stop).
Finally freed from Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, it appears Wes Welker is in for a monster season. Seriously, fantasy owners have to feel ecstatic watching him perform like that during his first game with his new team. It’s enough to make me already feel foolish for ranking the far more injury-prone Danny Amendola so much higher than him entering the year. It’s pretty funny Welker fumbled a punt when he replaced Trindon Holliday purely because it was a sure fair catch situation. Speaking of Holliday, dating back to the beginning of last year, he’s now 17-0 during regular season games.
Eric Decker had a horrible night, securing just two of his seven looks and getting 4.6 YPT, including a bad drop in the end zone. Fantasy owners who saw what the Broncos did offensively and then opened his box score have to be shocked. But it’s just one game, and this is a 26-year-old who’s scored 21 touchdowns (including 13 last year) over his first two (full) years in the league. Don't worry about him, as Denver receivers will likely rotate having big games this season. If your league is one to overreact, especially during a game in primetime, Decker might conceivably be a buy-low opportunity now.
Many people liked Julius Thomas as a sleeper tight end, but few saw this coming. Obviously, it’s safest not to expect a top-five fantasy season is in store, but this is no Kevin Ogletree situation, as Thomas deserves to be bid on heavily during the first week of FAAB (likely more than any other player this week). He looks like a beast. Demaryius Thomas seemed like he had a quiet night, and he finished with 161 receiving yards and two scores. The Denver backfield situation continues to be clear as mud (and not the good one). The main takeaway is when the game mattered most, Knowshon Moreno saw by far the most playing time. He’s easily the favorite to lead the team in carries, at least in the short term. The NFL’s dumbest play of the 2013 season might very well have occurred during its first game, especially since it resulted in Wesley Woodyard getting injured.
Sorry for totally burying the lede, but it’s time to talk about Peyton Manning, who threw for a modest 462 yards with a 7:0 TD:INT ratio, becoming the first player to throw for 6+ touchdowns during three regular season games in NFL history. Manning has more zip this season another year removed from surgery, has the most loaded receiving crew of his career (by a wide margin), has a poor rushing attack and has a defense that not only was due to regress this year but also is without Von Miller (for six games) and Champ Bailey, which equals a setup that should result in absolutely monster numbers. As someone who preaches to wait on the quarterback position in fantasy, I was jealous watching such a terrific performance Thursday night, but at least I picked Manning to win the MVP this season.