For five straight years, the team that lost the Super Bowl has failed to make the playoffs the following season.That's a bad omen for the Seattle Seahawks. But the really troubling news is that their offensive line — the strength of last year's NFC Championship team — looked terrible as they struggled to a 9–6 victory over the Detroit Lions on the opening Sunday of the NFL season.
The Seahawks lost all-pro guard Steve Hutchinson when the Minnesota Vikings signed him to a huge free-agent contract in the off-season, and they clearly missed him. Detroit sacked Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck five times (more than he was sacked in any game last year), and running back Shaun Alexander found little room to run, finishing with 51 yards on 19 carries. Seattle's starting guards, Floyd Womack and Chris Gray, struggled with Lions defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, who had two sacks.
But Seattle still managed to leave Detroit with a win because Hasselbeck's short, accurate passes — he finished the day 25-for-30 for 210 yards — moved the ball enough to put the Seahawks into field goal range five times. Josh Brown's first two field goal attempts were blocked, but his next three were good, including a 42-yard game-winner as time expired.
Three field goals won't be enough for Seattle to win many games this season, but it was enough yesterday because Seattle's defense stifled the Detroit offense, which was supposed to be new and improved under coordinator Mike Martz but looked like the same unimaginative approach that has frustrated Detroit fans for years. But if Seattle's offensive line doesn't improve in a hurry, that defense might not be enough for them to break the Super Bowl loser's curse.
As the league's best team for the last five years, the New England Patriots have at times seemed immune to the annual ups and downs of the parity-filled NFL. But some chinks in the Patriots' armor may have been exposed as New England struggled early before beating the Buffalo Bills 19–17.
With his two favorite wide receivers from last year gone (Deion Branch staying at home in a contract dispute; David Givens leaving for Tennessee), Tom Brady had to rely on his tight ends and running backs as he finished the game with a mediocre 11-for-23 for 163 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and two fumbles. Only seven of those 23 attempts went to wide receivers as tight end Ben Watson led the team with three catches for 50 yards. The dual running threat of rookie Laurence Maroney and veteran Corey Dillon, who gained a combined 159 yards, was the strength of New England's offense.
Buffalo scored on the game's first play when linebacker Takeo Spikes sacked Brady, forcing a fumble that London Fletcher scooped up and returned five yards for a touchdown, and the Bills held a 17–7 lead late into the third quarter. But on the strength of a defense that kept Buffalo from scoring on any of its final seven possessions — and sacked quarterback J.P. Losman for the gamewinning safety — the Patriots managed to pull out a hard-earned win that was closer than they would have liked.
The Baltimore Ravens turned in the day's most impressive performance, dominating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 27–0 win that was one of three games yesterday in which 2005 playoff teams lost to teams that missed the playoffs last year.
The Ravens have had one of the league's best defenses and one of the league's worst offenses in recent years, and several Baltimore defenders have said they'd be a great team if they could only get a quarterback who wouldn't lose games for them. Enter Steve McNair, the former league MVP whom the Tennessee Titans traded to Baltimore this year. McNair did just what the Ravens have asked of him, completing 17 of 27 passes for 181 yards and no turnovers.
Baltimore's defense intercepted Tampa Bay's Chris Simms three times and held Tampa Bay running backs Cadillac Williams, Mike Alstott, and Michael Pittman to 22 yards on 12 carries. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis led the team with seven tackles, and outside linebacker Bart Scott had two sacks. In short, the Ravens' defense looked much like it did when Baltimore won the Super Bowl after the 2000 season.
It's too early to call the Ravens a Super Bowl contender this year, just as it's too early to say the Seahawks and Patriots are in trouble because they barely beat a couple of bad teams. But the first Sunday of the season followed the predictable NFL script of yielding unpredictable results.
Mr. Smith is a writer for FootballOutsiders.com.