By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Freak of Nature

More thoughts at the end of a long and lovely first Sunday of NFL football, which featured an afternoon of great battles and a night of … well, there was a game in Dallas, at least. Beats “The Voice.”

The NFC is what we thought it was: competitive as hell.

We had six NFC vs. NFC games Sunday early, with another Monday night, and they were all anyone’s ballgame deep into the second half. That’s pretty cool.

None of them were better than 49ers-Packers, which was an instant classic – although didn’t these teams used to play defense? Both teams averaged 6.6 yards an offensive play, which is Texas A&M vs. Sam Houston State territory, and Colin Kaepernick and Aaron Rodgers were spectacular even with no help from their respective running games.

But that’s the new normal when top NFC teams match up. In last year’s playoffs, the two division semifinals and conference championship game were 45-31, 30-28 and 28-24. The Super Bowl, between two teams branded to defensive images, was 34-31.

Sunday’s Packer-Niner game was another reminder that if you want to be a great team, it’s pass the ball well first, see what else sorts itself out later.  

Atlanta-New Orleans also had a playoff feel, and even the lesser matchups – Detroit/Minnesota, Seattle/Carolina, Arizona/St. Louis were intense and left their fans feeling that the playoffs were still in reach. In the early stages, only Tampa Bay laid a real egg, losing at the Jets and letting tarnish fall upon the NFC name.

And then came Dallas-Giants, which was plagued with the type of random weirdness that always seems to crop up when the NFC East is in prime time. Ugly turnovers, awful play, shots of Jerry Jones, all that. It wasn’t a great game, but it was still anyone’s game to win heading into the second half. The Giants looked awful, but they always look awful for a few weeks of the year … but they made it close, and then looked awful again. But when they make it to January, they win it all.

For 10 of these 16 NFC teams, winning it all won’t be in the cards. Week 1 didn’t go a long way toward suggesting which ones will be which.  

Colin Kaepernick followed the Peyton Manning script: “Redemption 2: The Gunslinger.”

As it turns out, I was about three feet away from Kaepernick last year at the post-Super Bowl press conference, and when I asked him how long the loss would stick with him he stared at/through me and said: “The rest of my life,” with passionate conviction.

But he was certainly over it Sunday, turning in a performance that was even better than Manning’s Thursday night – the great numbers (27-39-412-3-0) weren’t quite as shocking as Manning’s, but the performance was. Manning is chasing away memories of playoff failure (that was not really his fault), and Kaep seems to be doing the same.

Kaepernick only ran seven times for 22 yards, and while Tom Brady was floundering with his new targets in Buffalo, Kaepernick was looking like he’d had his guys for 10 years in San Fran.

He played like a guy who wanted to erase that February moment in the bowels of the Superdome. I wouldn’t put it past him.

The Arizona-St. Louis game was an amazingly even statistical dead heat.

We’re stat guys, so forgive the overanalysis of what won’t likely mean much to the NFL’s final picture this year, but WTF?

  • Yards: AZ 399, STL 366
  • Rushing AZ 26-86, STL 24-67.
  • QBs: Carson Palmer 26-40-327-2-1, Sam Bradford 27-38-299-2-1
  • Penalty yards: AZ 68, STL 59
  • Time of possession: AZ 31:25, STL 28:35.

And then, of course the final score – 27-24 St. Louis, with Greg Zuerlein breaking the tie at 40 seconds left. Both teams looked pretty damn good, as well, a lot of big plays on both sides. With the NFC South and North coming out soft, the NFC West really cemented its place as the “Division of Death.”

Remember 2010, when the Seahawks won it at 7-9? Good times.

Receiver debuts: A tale of three cities

It took Mike Wallace years to alienate 84 percent of Steeler fans, but he’s well on his way in Miami. He had one catch on five targets (thanks to his matchup with Cleveland’s Joe Haden), and after the game told reporters they should ask Coach Joe Philbin about it. He also was seen storming off the field … after a 13-point win. Good start.

Greg Jennings didn’t say anything controversial in Minnesota, but he also only had three catches for 33 yards against a perennially shaky Detroit secondary.

And then there’s Anquan Boldin. He probably won’t have Hall of Fame numbers, but his 13-catch, 208 effort in the huge game was classic Boldin. In 11 playoff games, he’s got 52 catches for 806 yards and seven TDs, which projects to 76-1,172-10 over a 16-game slate. According to Elias, Boldin is the first player in NFL history to have 100-yard receiving games in his debut for 3 different teams.

In this case, it's ladies last

It’s not exactly a newsflash that men’s sports are more popular than women’s sports – even if the women’s sports are played by hotties in lingerie.

But it is interesting that two pretty enormous women’s sports stories tried to compete with the NFL Sunday, and mostly failed to do so.

Serena Williams won the U.S. Open in three sets against Victoria Azarenka. No. 1 vs. No. 2. America vs. foreigner! Great match! Huge deal!

Then, someone named Riquna Williams set the WNBA record with 51 points for Tulsa, including 35 points in the final 35 minutes. Most points ever! Biggest pro women’s league in America! Fans on their feet!

Yep. The two biggest women’s sports in America, tennis and hoops, both make their biggest headlines of the year … and America was more interested in the second half of Dolphins-Browns. The WNBA headline didn’t even break ESPN’s main page, and they own the TV rights. Sorry, ladies.

And now, for something in the same general vein ...

Miami’s Cameron Wake has 17.5 sacks in his last 14 games. …

Rookie Tyrann Mathieu made a huge play in the Rams-Cardinals game, hustling to cause a touchdown-saving tackle. It’s usually guys in their first games that make those type of mistakes, not cause them. …

Good note from Football Nation alum Scott Kacsmar: “When he's not winning the Super Bowl, Eli Manning's leading the league in INTs (71 now) and missing the playoffs since 2009.” …

Reggie Bush went for 191 total yards and two TDs for Detroit. His replacement, Lamar Miller? 10 yards. …

The Packers’ longest run of the day was seven yards. That’s only seven yards more than your best run of the day.