Friday, September 12, 2014

Football Recaps for September 8 2014

Ravens 26, Steelers 6

As soon as quarterback Joe Flacco walked off the field after last week's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, he started thinking about the Thursday night matchup with the Steelers.

The Ravens couldn't afford to start the season 0-2, especially with both games coming against AFC North opponentsat home. The team entered the week with a "sense of urgency" Flacco said, and that was evident in the commanding 26-6 primetime victory over their fiercest rival.

"It was huge," Flacco said. "Anytime you start off with a couple division games and you lose the first one, it's nice to be able to play so quickly and get that win. It's huge for our confidence going forward."

The victory improved the Ravens to 1-1 on the season, and kept them from falling behind in the division race early in the season.

"Just a great victory and a tremendous rivalry against a very good football team that also played their hearts out," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

Not only did the Ravens come away with the victory, but they controlled the game thanks to a dominant and opportunistic defense, and an efficient offense.

As veteran Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor put it, "That was a good old-ashioned [butt] whupping."

The 20-point victory was just the third time in the last 13 games that a Ravens-Steelers matchup has been decided by more than four points.

"It's a big win," tight end Dennis Pitta said. "We got off on the wrong foot last week against another division rival. This game was important for us. You can't start 0-2 in the division. We knew this was a must-win game for us and we came out and played that way tonight."

The Ravens played after a three-day stretch that was one of the most tumultuous in franchise history. Players, coaches and front office executives spent most of the week publicly discussing former Ravens running back Ray Rice, and a big question heading into Thursday's game was whether they would be focused enough beat their fiercest rival.

The Ravens answered that question early. The defense forced a fumble on the game's opening drive and the offense capitalized on the miscue.

Flacco couldn't have started the game any better, as he marched the offense down the field on the opening series for an 11-play, 56-yard touchdown drive capped off by a tight end Owen Daniels' touchdown. The offense followed that up on the next series with a 12-play drive ending in a 30-yard field goal by Justin Tucker to go up 10-0. Tucker had a typical solid day, drilling four field goals.

"That was a big opening drive," Flacco said. "Starting so fast was kind of big today because it was off to a pretty good drive [by the Steelers], and it showed that we were ready and responded well."

Flacco was effective throughout the night, as the offense had a much better showing in its second outing under new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak. There was balance between the run and pass – Flacco threw the ball 29 times compared to 36 runs – and the Ravens were able to keep Pittsburgh off-guard.

Flacco finished the day 21-of-29 passing for 166 yards and two touchdowns, for a quarterback rating of 109.3.

As Flacco orchestrated the offense, he had plenty of reliable targets around him, complemented by a successful ground game. Daniels caught a pair of 2-yard touchdown passes and wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. led the Ravens with six catches for 71 yards. Running back Bernard Pierce also racked up 96 rushing yards on 22 carries.

"That was a kind of signature Kubiak game plan," Daniels said. "I think we executed it pretty well."

The offense impressed, and the defense played lights out. The unit forced three turnovers – two fumbles and an interception – and held Pittsburgh to 301 total yards.

The defensive performance was particularly impressive considering the hobbled secondary had to hold up againstquarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown. Cornerback Lardarius Webb was inactive with a back injury and starter Asa Jackson went down with a concussion in the second quarter. Jackson's injury left Baltimore with just two healthy corners[Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown], but they were still able to limit the Steelers.

"We played good fundamental defense," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We didn't give up big plays and we didn't give up a touchdown. Anytime you don't give up a touchdown, you are going to be pretty hard to beat."

After playing on a short week, the Ravens now get some time to recover before another division matchup next week. The Ravens will go on the road for the first time this season when they take on the Cleveland Browns.

"We'll take it," Suggs said. "We're going to look at the film tomorrow. We have a couple days off to get our bodies back healthy and get ready for Cleveland."

Joe Flacco, Owen Daniels key Ravens' win over Steelers

The dismissal of Ray Rice wasn't a distraction for the Baltimore Ravens.
Ultimately, it served as inspiration.

Playing a pivotal divisional game three days after the release of the star running back, Baltimore got a pair of touchdown passes from Joe Flacco and rolled past the rival Pittsburgh Steelers 26-6 on Thursday night.
Rice was reaching the end of a two-game suspension for domestic violence when a video of him striking his then-fiancee surfaced Monday. By the end of the day, the three-time Pro Bowler had been cut by Baltimore and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
"We had a tough family situation this week," coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought our guys handled it tremendously - with class, with character. They responded."
Coming off a season-opening loss to AFC North foe Cincinnati, the Ravens (1-1) held Pittsburgh to two field goals and forced three turnovers.
"We was all about getting the win. We wanted to kind of give that to Ray," rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "We all wish the best for him. Even though he messed up, every man got to go through their mistakes to get better. We wish him the best, but as a team we've just got to keep moving forward."
Bernard Pierce took over for Rice to gain 96 yards on 22 carries as part of a ground game that finished with 157 yards. Flacco went 21 for 29 for 166 yards and two TD throws to tight end Owen Daniels, and Justin Tucker kicked four field goals.
Asked if he was curious how the team would fare after the tumultuous short work week, Baltimore defensive lineman Chris Canty shouted, "We weren't curious at all. We knew how this was going to go. This was going to go one way, our way, tonight. No question about it."

Pittsburgh (1-1) finished with only 22 fewer yards than Baltimore, but the turnovers made the difference. One Steelers miscue halted their opening drive, another set up a fourth-quarter field goal by Tucker, and an interception thrown by Ben Roethlisberger with 1:51 remaining ended any hope.
"Obviously, a disappointing effort for us," coach Mike Tomlin said. "A lot of the self-inflicted wounds are going to prevent you from being in a football game like that. We turned the ball over too often (and) were highly penalized. Those two things are a lethal combination."
It was only the second time in the last 11 regular-season meetings between the teams that the outcome was decided by more than three points.
Roethlisberger completed 22 of 37 passes for 217 yards. It was the first time since Nov. 26, 2006, that Baltimore held Pittsburgh without a touchdown.
"We moved the ball; we just made a mistake here and there," Roethlisberger said.
After Tucker kicked a 23-yard field goal for a 20-6 lead, Steelers tight end Heath Miller fumbled on a hit by Mosley, who took the loose ball to the Pittsburgh 20.
That led to a 22-yarder by Tucker with 11:14 left.
Although the Rice video and the reaction were the talk of Baltimore for much of the week, a few fans showed their loyalty to the banished running back by wearing his No. 27 jersey.
But the crowd of 71,181 was quick to turn its attention to on-field action at the opening kickoff.
Aided by a roughing the passer call against Courtney Upshaw on the third play of the game, Pittsburgh held the ball for more than eight minutes before Justin Brown fumbled and Baltimore recovered at its own 15.
The Ravens then moved 85 yards in 12 plays with the help of two Pittsburgh penalties, the last a 23-yard pass interference call against Cortez Allen that set up a 2-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Daniels.

Pierce and Justin Forsett combined for 32 yards on Baltimore's next series, which ended in a field goal for a 10-0 lead.
Pittsburgh finally broke through with 2:50 left in the half, getting a field goal to end an 11-play, 73-yard drive.
It was 10-6 before Flacco connected with Daniels on a 1-yard touchdown pass to cap an 80-yard drive highlighted by Flacco's 24-yard completion to tight end Dennis Pitta.
Notes: Ravens CB Asa Jackson left with a concussion. ... Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown left briefly with a head injury but returned. Steelers NT Steve McLendon left with a shoulder injury. ... Ravens P Sam Koch set the franchise record by playing in his 130th consecutive game.

Hill and Williams lead effort as No. 25 BYU tops Houston 33-25

Juniors Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams combined for a gritty ground attack in No. 25 BYU’s 33-25 victory against Houston in the 2014 home opener Thursday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Williams paced the offense with 139 yards rushing on 28 attempts and two touchdowns. Hill led the assault with 160 yards rushing and 200 passing yards on 21-for-34 attempts with one pass and one rushing touchdown as BYU began the season 3-0 for the first time since 2008.

“I’m glad that we continued to battle, continued to fight," head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "We had some offensive momentum in the first half, and we moved it when we needed to. Overall, it was a hard fought win. There’s plenty to work on, but a lot of things that I was pleased with.”

The junior quarterback became the 14th FBS quarterback in NCAA history to throw for 4,000 yards and run for 2,000 yards by their junior season, joining the ranks of Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow.

The offensive attack was balanced with 11 different receivers recording receptions. The corps was led by Jordan Leslie's six catches for 79 yards and Mitch Mathews' four receptions for 22 yards and one touchdown. The defense was led by Craig Bills' seven tackles along with Alani Fua's seven tackles and one tackle for loss.

Striking first on the scoreboard was the BYU defense as linebacker Zac Stout smothered the run in the backfield in the end zone for the safety.

On the ensuing drive on third down and five, Hill hit Leslie for a gain of 35 yards to the Houston 24-yard line. A facemask penalty moved the ball forward to the 11-yard line, after which Williams capitalized with an 11-yard run around the left side for his first score of the night, making the lead 9-0 after the PAT.

The red Cougars were forced to punt and the blue Cougars took over at the 6:07 mark in the first quarter for another BYU scoring drive. Williams had 16 yards rushing and Hill went 3 for 4 with 32 passing yards and 19 rushing yards. The drive culminated in a touchdown on a five-yard keeper as Hill arrived untouched in the end zone to extend the lead 16-0.

The quarter ended with Houston threatening at the BYU 24-yard line, but the red Cougars’ drive stalled and ended with a botched field goal attempt. Linebacker Teu Kautai recovered the ball for the blue Cougars.

BYU capitalized as Hill led the offense down the field for its third trip to the blue zone, ending in its third touchdown in as many chances. The 87-yard drive saw Hill hit four different receivers with Mathews hauling in a six-yard touchdown reception as he ran across the end zone toward the southwest corner.

With BYU leading 23-0, John O’Korn rallied the red Cougars with a 17-play drive for 82 yards, but the blue Cougar defense held strong, forcing a Houston 29-yard field goal to cut the score to 23-3.

Following the kickoff, BYU was intercepted on the first play of the drive with 3:05 left in the half. Houston’s Daniel Spencer pulled in the reception on the next play for a 28-yard gain to the BYU 1-yard line. After penalties on both sides, the away Cougars eventually broke into the end zone on a 7-yard pass to narrow the score 23-9.

The home Cougars took over with 1:08 left in the half. Hill then pushed the offense up field with 21 rush yards and a 38-yard pass to Mitchell Juergens up the left sideline.

After Juergens’ reception, Houston forced a fumbled and returned it 28 yards to the BYU 45-yard line. With three seconds left on the game clock for the half, O’Korn heaved a Hail Mary pass that was caught by Spencer for the 45-yard touchdown, sending the game to halftime with a 23-15 margin.

The blue Cougars held the advantage in the third quarter.

BYU steadily marched down the field on the legs of Hill and Williams. The 15-play, 53-yard drive ended with Trevor Sampson’s 26-yard field goal to extend the lead to 26-15. It was the longest scoring drive of the season, taking 6:15 off the clock.

The fourth quarter began with Houston’s drive stalling and Devon Blackmon returning the punt 16 yards to the BYU 44-yard line. Once again the blue Cougars employed their ground game, producing a quick 8-play drive capped by a 2-yard touchdown run through the middle for Williams’ second of the game. Hill and Williams each carried the ball four times for 39 and 17 yards, respectively, on the drive to stretch the lead to 33-15.

Houston countered on the next possession as O’Korn threw 6 for 7 to lead the away Cougars 68 yards down the field and into the end zone, reducing BYU’s lead to 33-22. The home Cougars took over with the ball, but turned the ball over on an interception. Houston then reduced the deficit to 33-25 when it took capitalized with a 36-yard field goal.

With 7:18 left in the game, BYU drove 35 yards before being forced to punt.

With the red Cougars on the Houston 12-yard line, the blue Cougar defense held O’Korn’s passing in check with three incomplete passes. After the punt, BYU relied once again on the ground game with Williams taking five of the six handoffs to run out the clock.

During the home opener, BYU commemorated the 13th anniversary of 9/11 and paid tribute to the military.

The Cougars continue their home stand with a matchup against Virginia Sept. 20 at 1:30 p.m. MDT. The game will be broadcast on the ESPN Networks.

North Texas Falls Flat Against Louisiana Tech, 42-21

A dominant first-half performance propelled Lousiana Tech to a commanding lead that the Mean Green could not overcome in a 42-21 loss Thursday night at Apogee Stadium.

The glow of last Saturday's decisive win over SMU quickly dimmed in Thursday's Conference USA opener, as the North Texas offense was ineffective until the third quarter and the defense was unable to stop Louisiana Tech's prolific passing game, which in turn enabled the Bulldog ground game to have success. Louisiana Tech had 371 yards of total offense to 255 for the Mean Green.

"That's a real good football team," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said of the Bulldogs. "We knew this was going to be a real challenge, and we didn't meet the challenge."

For the second time in three games, North Texas came out punchless on offense, going three-and-out in its first six possessions and accumulating just three yards total offense. The Mean Green didn't pick up a first down until late in the first half and was shut out in the opening 30 minutes for the second time this season.

The Mean Green defense kept the game scoreless, allowing just three first downs in the opening quarter, until Louisiana Tech got its passing game moving in the second period, cashing in three consecutive drives for touchdown passes and a 21-0 halftime lead.

North Texas finally mounted a drive in the third quarter as quarterback Josh Greer, who struggled in the first half, completed five-of-six passes and directed the Mean Green into Bulldog territory. But North Texas wide receiver Carl Caldwell had the ball knocked loose, and Louisiana Tech recovered the fumble and returned it to the North Texas two-yard line, setting up a Kenneth Dixon scoring run and a 28-0 lead.

The Mean Green put together an eight-play, 59-yard scoring drive to cut the margin to 28-7 in the third quarter, and had a pair of scoring drives in the fourth quarter capped by touchdown runs by Antoinne Jimmerson and Erick Evans.

What They Said

"They were the better team tonight. They made more plays."
--North Texas coach Dan McCarney on Louisiana Tech

"The biggest thing to fix is staying together. It's a brotherhood. We weren't pointing fingers, but we were out of whack. We'll get this fixed."
--Senior defensive back James Jones

"They loaded up the box and wanted to take the running game away."
--Senior offensive lineman Mason Y'Barbo on the Bulldogs defensive approach

"We weren't nearly as ready or as good as we could be or should be. It's everybody's fault. We didn't play well on offense, defense, or special teams."
--McCarney on his team's performance

Quick Hits

• North Texas held Louisiana Tech running back and Doak Walker candidate Kenneth Dixon well below his career average of 6.2 yards per carry. Dixon aveaged 3.9 yards per rush on 19 attempts for 75 yards.

• Sheldon Wade pulled in his first interception of the season and second of his career after a third-quarter pass bounced off his helmet. Wade located the ball and secured possession before sliding out of bounds. The pass was originally ruled incomplete but overturned on review.

• Quarterback Josh Greer's first touchdown at North Texas came not through the air, but on a five-yard quarterback draw, which was his longest run of the season.

• The Mean Green's streak of forcing at least one turnover was extended to 19 games by Wade's third-quarter interception.

• North Texas came into the game allowing just 20 percent of opponent third-downs to be converted into first downs. But Thursday night, Louisiana Tech converted six of 10 third downs in the first half, fueling their run to a 21-0 lead.

• North Texas put good pressure on Louisiana Tech quarterback Cody Sokol early in the game, registering two sacks and two more pressures to force incompletions in the first quarter.

• The Mean Green's first first down of the game came in the final two minutes of the first half, when a Louisiana Tech pass interference gave North Texas a new set of downs.

• Sophomore defensive end Malik Dilonga recorded the first sack of his career in the first quarter.

• Sophomore defensive end Jarrian Roberts had his second sack of the season and fourth of his career Thursday night.

• Linebacker Derek Akunne had a season-high 10 tackles Thursday night.

Up Next

North Texas completes its three-game home stand against Nicholls State on Saturday, Sept. 20, at 2:30 p.m.

Dogs Dominant in Denton

Cody Sokol threw five touchdown passes and Louisiana Tech's offense came alive again as the Bulldogs showed their road grit for the second time in five days by rolling over North Texas, 42-21, in front of 16,998 at Apogee Stadium in Denton Thursday night.
Sokol connected with eight different Bulldog receivers to claim the first Conference USA victory of the season as the senior was 20-for-31 on the night with 243 yards and five touchdowns, including two touchdown passes to Paul Turner, as LA Tech (2-1, 1-0 C-USA) never trailed North Texas (1-2, 0-1 C-USA) in the game. Sokol is the first LA Tech quarterback to throw for five touchdowns since Colby Cameron did so on Oct. 13, 2012 versus Texas A&M.

"Offensively, we got off to a slow start, but Cody Sokol settled down after he got hit a couple time and came out here and played well," head coach Skip Holtz said. "There are some guys that are making some plays on the perimeter and obviously there are some things we have to get better at as well, so we are still a work in progress. We have to continue to develop depth because it is a long season."

Turner ended the night with three receptions for 34 yards and two touchdown receptions, while Trent Taylor reeled in five receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown. In Carlos Henderson's first action of the season, the wide receiver caught a team-high six passes for 40 yards. Hunter Lee also reached the end zone with three catches for 52 yards and a score.

Kenneth Dixon ran the ball 19 times, good for 75 yards and a touchdown, which helped the tailback move up to ninth place all-time in LA Tech history with 222 career points. Dixon also cracked the top 10 in career rushing yards in school history, ranking 10th with a total of 2,412 career yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, Nick Thomason led the Bulldogs with seven total tackles as LA Tech held North Texas to just two total yards of offense in the first quarter. Tech also held North Texas scoreless in the first half for the first time since the 2012 season.

"We are pretty physical on defense and we can do a lot of things," Holtz said of what he learned from his team tonight. "Right now, I think we can do a lot of things. The defense is playing with some energy and some pride. There is a lot that goes into this defense. I have been going up against it for 30 days and I still can't figure it out."

Both teams were held scoreless in the first quarter before the Bulldogs would mount a 10-play, 60-yard drive on their first possession in the second frame as Josh Gaston caught his first collegiate pass - which just happened to be for a touchdown - on a four-yard gain in the red zone as Tech took the 7-0 lead.

After holding North Texas to a three-and-out, Louisiana Tech quickly drove back down the field going 67 yards in four plays as Sokol found Hunter Lee for a 28-yard score.

After another Mean Green three-and-out, Louisiana Tech went up 21-0 behind a 53-yard drive that ended with Paul Turner's first career touchdown catch on a five-yard reception in the end zone. NT would gain its first non-penalty first down of the half on its last drive of the second quarter, but would still be forced to punt as Tech held an opponent in the first half for the first time since blanking New Mexico State in the first half in 2012.

Tech's defense set up Dixon's 37th career touchdown as Terrell Pinson forced and ran back a fumble to the North Texas two-yard line setting up Dixon's run on the first and only play of the drive as the Bulldogs took the 28-0 lead.

North Texas struck for the first time on its next drive as Josh Greer scored from five-yards out with 4:15 left in the third quarter, cutting Tech's lead to 28-7. UNT was aided by a big play on Greer's pass to Carlos Harris, accounting for 23 of the 59 yards on the drive.

Two big runs for Kenneth Dixon set up Turner's second touchdown catch of the night as he reeled in a 21-yard pass from Sokol to give LA Tech the 35-7 advantage with 1:46 left in the third quarter.

Tech recovered what is technically considered a fumble as Gerald Shouse's punt ricocheted off a North Texas player. Beau Fitte recovered the football which set up Cody Sokol's fifth touchdown pass of the game, this time a 12-yard strike to Trent Taylor on the first play of the drive, pushing Tech's lead to 42-7.

With under four minutes to go in regulation, North Texas running back Antoinne Jimmerson punched it in for a three-yard rushing touchdown for the Mean Green, which capped off a nine play, 71-yard scoring drive to cut LA Tech's lead to 42-14.

North Texas would reach the end zone one final time in the game as Erick Evans capitalized on a five play, 64-yard scoring drive with a nine-yard rushing touchdown with 34 seconds left to give LA Tech a 42-21 victory over the Mean Green.

Louisiana Tech returns to action on Sept. 20 as the Bulldogs host Northwestern State in LA Tech's first home game of the season. Kickoff at Joe Aillet Stadium is slated for 6 p.m. CT.

Houston Falls 33-25 at BYU

Taysom Hill threw for 200 yards and a touchdown while running for 160 yards and another score, and No. 25 BYU beat Houston 33-25 on Thursday night.

Jamaal Williams rushed for 139 yards and two TDs for BYU, which has won its opening three games for the first time since 2008. BYU moved into the rankings after a 41-7 victory over Texas last weekend.

BYU jumped out to an early 23-0 lead, but the Cougars (1-2) scored 15 straight points before halftime.

Houston's John O'Korn passed for 307 yards and three touchdowns, including a 45-yard desperation heave to Daniel Spencer as time ran out in the first half. Deontay Greenberry caught a pair of O'Korn's touchdowns.

The teams met last season with BYU pulling out the win on Hill's 11-yard touchdown pass to Skyler Ridley with less than two minutes to go for a 47-46 win.

On Thursday, BYU managed to hang on to the lead despite numerous mistakes. A fake punt to cap its opening drive of the second half failed. BYU was also hurt by a personal foul penalty on Tejan Koroma, who was ejected from the game.

Trevor Samson kicked a 26-yard field goal to extend BYU's lead to 26-15 late in the third quarter. Williams added a 2-yard touchdown run early in the final period.

BYU appeared to score on its first drive of the game, but Hill's 32-yard pass to Devon Blackmon was called back by an illegal formation penalty.

Houston's Ryan Jackson later fumbled in the end zone and the ball was recovered by Zac Stout for the safety to put BYU up 2-0. Williams' 11-yard touchdown run pushed the lead to 9-0 before Hill scored on a 5-yard keeper.

Houston's Kyle Bullard attempted a 38-yard field goal early in the second quarter but the ball barely got off the ground because of a muffed hold.

Hill hit Mitch Matthews with a 6-yard scoring pass to make it 23-0 with 8:57 to go before halftime.

Houston rallied, and after Bullard hit a 29-yard field goal, defensive tackle Joey Mbu intercepted Hill at the BYU 29, and Houston capped the ensuing series with O'Korn's 7-yard touchdown pass to Greenberry.

Hill found Mitch Juergens with a 38-yard pass, but safety Adrian McDonald forced a fumble and ran the ball back 28 yards to the BYU 45. With time running out, Spencer pulled down O'Korn's 45-yard heave to narrow the score to 23-15 at the break.

Bullard missed the extra points after both Houston touchdowns.

Cardinals Shock Chargers With Comeback

The problem, Bruce Arians said often in early in the 2013 season, was that his team didn’t truly believe it could win.
As the Cardinals opened 2014, that was no longer a problem.
“You can see the difference, where the confidence is right now,” defensive end Calais Campbell said after the Cardinals delivered a tense 18-17 win over San Diego at University of Phoenix Stadium on the back half of “Monday Night Football.”
Confidence was everywhere. It came from defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, whose defense – even with a multitude of

personnel changes looked a lot like last year’s stout unit – came after Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers three straight times on blitzes to get the ball back on downs.
“He said he was going to send pressure and rely on his secondary in zero coverage and put the pressure on the quarterback, make him get rid of the ball fast so he couldn’t have a clean read,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “To go zero coverage, three downs straight is unbelievable.”
It came from the offense, which despite some fits and starts generated a gaudy stat sheet and more importantly a 91-yard fourth-quarter drive to score what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.
“The last drive was something every single guy had a hand in,” coach Bruce Arians said.
Maybe it shouldn’t have been that close. Carson Palmer threw for 304 yards and a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions. The Cardinals (1-0) had top running back Andre Ellington playing (at less than 100 percent) and he spearheaded a running game that got to 109 yards and 4.2 yards a carry. The defense, ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year against the rush, allowed only 52 yards on the ground.
The Cards had more yards, more first downs, more time of possession.

Such is the flair for the dramatic Arians’ team seems to embrace. The Cardinals were losing by five with 6:50 left with the ball at their own 9-yard line. Only an improbable 12-yard scramble by Palmer on third-and-10 got the team a first down.
By the time that drive ended, 95 total yards later (thanks to a penalty), rookie wide receiver John Brown had his first NFL touchdown on a 13-yard screen pass and the Cardinals had their lead. Sure the two-point conversion failed – the second time the offense couldn’t get one – but that just meant the defense couldn’t allow any points.
At the two-minute warning, the Chargers had the ball on their own 40, facing second-and-2. Three straight passes. Three straight incompletions, with veteran linebacker Larry Foote deflecting the fourth-down pass just enough for a win.
“(Bowles) puts the trust in us,” safety Tony Jefferson said.
If anything tells of the difference between Arians’ first two Arizona teams, it’s this: The Cardinals held an 11-point fourth-quarter lead in the opener and lost by three to the Rams. This year, they overcame an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to win by one.
“I’ve been a part of a few teams that would have folded in that situation,” center Lyle Sendlein said. “Especially around here, big primetime games haven’t gone our way. For us to fight back like that, it’s something to be proud of.”
The big deficit wasn’t only on the scoreboard. “It felt like we were down more than we were,” Palmer said, and the Cardinals did catch some breaks along the way. The defense made sure that an early punt block of newcomer Drew Butler (after a blocking mistake by rookie Deone Bucannon) didn’t haunt, when the Chargers could only get a field goal when getting the ball at the Arizona 17.
The Chargers (0-1), in field goal range and up 17-12 midway through the fourth quarter, lost a chance at points when a shotgun snap went through the hands of Rivers for a 14-yard loss.
“That was a killer for us,” Chargers coach Mike McCoy said.
It allowed the Cardinals to create their offense-scores-defense-holds primetime finish.
Satisfaction wasn’t abundant afterward, not with Bowles talking about the lull his defense had in the early third quarter and Ellington wanting to get totally healthy and Michael Floyd (who had 119 yards on five catches) seeking more offensive consistency.
But the Cardinals go into a short week and a road trip to New York with the win they wanted. That’s good enough for now.
“It sets the table for us,” Arians said, “to continue to build.”

Bolts Drop Season Opener to Cardinals

In the season opener, the Arizona Cardinals defeated the San Diego Chargers 18-17.

The Chargers won the toss and per usual opted to defer. After converting a third down, the Cardinals offense had to punt as the defense buckled down by forcing three straight incompletions. The Bolts picked up their initial first down of the season on 3rd-and-4 as Philip Rivers connected with Antonio Gates for a gain of 12. A false start penalty backed up the offense, and on 3rd-and-10 Rivers’ attempt to number 85 was tipped in the air and fell incomplete. The Cardinals challenged that Rashad Johnson intercepted it, but the ruling was upheld and Mike Scifres booted a 52-yard bomb to the seven-yard line. Unfortunately, after a false start penalty Carson Palmer connected with Michael Floyd on a 63-yard completion into Chargers territory. Two plays later Marcus Gilchrist punched the ball out of the hands of Andre Ellington, but it was ruled the Cardinals’ Paul Fanaika had possession of it before Donald Butler ripped it away. Head Coach Mike McCoy challenged that it should be Bolts ball, and the call was reversed giving San Diego possession at its own 28. On 3rd-and-6, Rivers hit a crossing Eddie Royal who bolted to the Cardinals’ 48-yard line.

However, three plays later on 3rd-and-9 Royal was unable to haul in a short toss and they had to punt again with the ball crossing the end line for a touchback. After allowing a first down, it looked like the Bolts got off the field as on 3rd-and-4 with a great play by Jason Verrett, but the refs called Marcus Gilchrist with holding to keep the drive alive. Still, San Diego was able to get off the field with a trio of nice plays by Eric Weddle, Jason Verrett and Shareece Wright. A touchback gave Rivers the ball at the 20-yard line, and two Danny Woodhead rushes made it 3rd-and-4, but Royal was hit as the ball arrived. Scifres punted it away, and the Cardinals had the ball just shy of midfield as the quarter came to a close.

Ellington started the quarter with a strong 14-yard run for a first down. Michael Floyd caught a deep 29-yard pass up the right sideline, and roughing the passer call on Melvin Ingram made it 1st-and-10 at the 12. Three plays later on 3rd-and-2, Verrett had blanket coverage on John Brown to limit the damage to a field goal, so just over two minutes into the second quarter the Chargers trailed 3-0. On 3rd-and-1, Ryan Mathews barreled forward from the fullback position for a first down.

However, they had to punt after failing to convert on 3rd-and-14 shortly thereafter. Starting at it’s own 37, Arizona went three and out as Manti Te’o forced a Corey Liuget sack before Weddle brought Palmer down shy of first down. Second round pick Jerry Attaochuthen came up with the biggest play of the game to date with a blocked punt, and San Diego took over at the Cardinals 17-yard line. However, the Bolts had to settle for a field goal after going three-and-out, as Nick Novak connected from 36-yards out to knot the score at 3-3. After a pass interference call on Wright, the corner came up with a big stop at the sticks three plays later to force a punt. Starting at the 20-yard line, Mathews picked up two first downs, first with his legs and then through the air to bring San Diego to the 44-yard line at the two-minute warning. A screen pass to Woodhead followed by a 10-yards scramble by Rivers pushed the ball into Arizona territory. Two plays later on 3rd-and-7, Rivers and Royal weren’t on the same page and Jerraud Powers picked the ball off, returning it near midfield with 16 seconds left. Palmer hit Michael Floyd for 25-yards to the 26-yardline, setting up a Chandler Catanzaro 44-yard field goal as time expired to give the home team a 6-3 lead at half.

Rivers hit Gates over the middle for a 17-yard gain to kick off the second half.

Three plays later, Malcom Floydhauled in a perfect dime for a 32-yard gain to the Arizona 25-yard line. Ladarius Green then caught a 20-yard pass to set up 1st-and-goal, and two plays later Floyd caught a six-yard touchdown strike over the middle to give San Diego the 10-6 edge. A huge hit on the kickoff by Kavell Conner backed Arizona up at its own eight yard line to start the drive, and the Cardinals picked up a pair of first downs. But on 3rd-and-10, Attaochu sprinted around the edge for a strip-sack that Freeney recovered at the 29-yard line. The Bolts faced a 3rd-and-1, and Mathews showcased power and elusiveness, breaking a sure tackle on his way to a 20-yard touchdown run and a 17-6 lead with 5:26 to go in the quarter. Feeding off the energy, the defense forced an immediate three-and-out. However, the Chargers went three-and-out as well when Rivers couldn’t hit Gates over the middle on 3rd-and-2, and an unlucky bounce gave the Cards the ball at their own 35-yard line. They crossed midfield on a 16-yard reception on second down by Rob Housler, then an outlet to Ellington moved them to the 30-yard line at the end of the third quarter.

The Cardinals mixed playcalling well, and eventually it was 3rd-and-goal from the five. On the play, Palmer escaped pressure and scrambled to his right to find Stepfan Taylor in the end zone. Arizona went for the two-point conversion, but Richard Marshall snuffed out the direct snap to Jonathan Dwyer and San Diego led 17-12.

After the touchback, Mathews went up the left sideline for a gain of 11-yards. Two plays later, Rivers found Green up the middle for a short gain of four. A defensive holding penalty against Arizona negated a Rivers interception and gave the Bolts a new set of downs at their own 38. Rivers tossed a quick pass to Royal but the Cardinals sniffed the play out and tackled Royal in the backfield for a loss of three. An incomplete pass to Royal brought up a 3rd-and-13, but under duress, Rivers found Gates for a gain of 34-yards. In an effort to kill some clock, Rivers handed off to Woodhead for a pair of rushes to bring up a 3rd-and-8 but a fumbled snap led Rivers to quickly fall on the ball knocking his team out of field goal range. Scifres punted, and the Cardinals signaled fair catch at their own nine-yard line.

Palmer finally targeted Larry Fitzgerald but his short pass fell incomplete. A false start penalty backed Arizona up to their five-yard line but Palmer found Ginn for a short gain for four-yards. On a 3rd-and-10, a scamper by Palmer gave his team life with a new set of downs. On 1st-and-10, Palmer found Floyd for a gain of nine and on the next play, Ellington picked up a block and rushed for a gain of 18.

Under pressure, Palmers first down pass was incomplete, intended for Dwyer. On the next play, Fitzgerald had his first catch of the game, this one good for 22-yards and took the Cardinals into San Diego territory. After a one-yard run by Dwyer, Palmer throw an incomplete pass short right to stop the clock with 3:17 left in the game. Despite the Chargers bringing the blitz, Palmer found Floyd for a gain of 16-yards. On 1st-and-goal, Palmer found rookie receiver John Brown for a 13-yard touchdown and the Cardinals led 18-17. Arizona went for two and once again failed leaving it 18-17 in favor of Arizona.

With 2:25 left in the game, the Chargers took over on their 20. Rivers found Allen for a gain of 12 with quick catch-and-run to start the drive. Rivers found Gates for a gain of eight to take it down to the two minute warning. An incomplete pass on second down brought up a 3rd-and-2 but Rivers' pass was incomplete to Keenan Allen. With 1:53 left in the game, McCoy and the Bolts went for it on fourth down but Allen dropped Rivers' pass.

Arizona continued to run the ball to seal the game with Arizona handing the Chargers their first loss of the season.

Turning Point

The Bolts had a ton of momentum, up 17-6, when Arizona got the ball toward the end of the third quarter. On the first play of the drive, Carson Palmer threw deep and it appeared Marcus Gilchrist had the interception. Unfortunately, the safety bobbled it as it went through his hands. The Cardinals went on to end the drive with their first touchdown of the game to seize control and go on to win.

It was Over When…

With less than two minutes remaining, Philip Rivers’ pass on 4th-and-2 was batted down at the line of scrimmage. It looked like Keenan Allen was about to corral it for an exceptional catch regardless, but it fell just out of reach and the Cardinals took over and ran out the clock.

Play of the Game

All preseason long, Jerry Attaochu showed the speed and athleticism to get to the quarterback. Unfortunately he hadn’t been able to bring down the passer, but that changed in a big way Monday night. Early in the third quarter, the rookie sprinted past the edge and hit Carson Palmer as he threw, dislodging the ball. Dwight Freeney covered it up to give San Diego possession deep in Arizona territory.

Stats of the Game

The Chargers offense excelled at third down conversions and running the ball a year ago. They struggled in both areas in the season opener, converting only 6-of-15 (40%) and churning out just 52 yards on 24 attempts for an average of 2.2 yards per carry.

Bolt Quotebook

“Obviously we didn’t play well enough in the fourth quarter. Going up 17-6 and not finishing the game is what it comes down to. The game was on the line and we didn’t make enough football plays as a team in all phases of the game. We’ve got to coach better, play better, execute better. It’s a team loss but give (Arizona) credit.” – Head Coach Mike McCoy

“We’re going to figure out how we can get better and move on. It’s just about getting better week-to-week and that’s the name of the game. There’s going to be no perfect game, there’s always going to be mistakes and things we need to correct and this is one, unfortunately.” – Outside Linebacker Dwight Freeney

“It was a good experience. My first NFL game, definitely enjoyed it, but all I want to do is win. We fell short tonight.” – Cornerback Jason Verrett

“I just know…I could have made more plays to help. I left some plays out on the field I felt I could have gotten. We’ve got the best quarterback in the league, and I’ve just got to be there for him.” – Wide Receiver Malcom Floyd

Odds and Ends

Arizona outgained San Diego 403 to 290. Philip Rivers completed 21 of 36 passes for 238 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The Cardinals recorded 22 first downs while the Chargers netted 15.

Antonio Gates paced the club in catches (six) and yards (81).

In his first regular season game since his scary injury last year, Malcom Floyd caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown.

Ryan Mathews led the team in rushing with 40 yards on 12 attempts.

Shareece Wright’s eight tackles were the most on the defense.

Inactives for the Chargers include: Jahleel Addae, Ryan Carrethers, Chris Davis, Dontrelle Inman, Ricardo Mathews, Branden Oliver, Tourek Williams.

Lions vs. Giants

What happened: The Jim Caldwell era has gotten off to a good start in Detroit.

The Lions offense came out of the gates firing, the defense was swarming all night and the result was a dominating, 35-14 victory over the New York Giants to begin their 2014 season.

The offense had Ford Field rocking to begin the game with touchdowns on each of its first two possessions.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford showed terrific pocket presence on both drives as he eluded defenders and found Calvin Johnson for touchdown catches of 67 and 16 yards, respectively.

Stafford finished the game 22-of-32 passing for 346 yards with two touchdowns. He also rushed for a 5-yard score late in the third quarter that gave the Lions a 27-7 lead at the time.

Johnson had 164 receiving yards to go with those two touchdowns. It’s the 40th time in his career he’s recorded at least 100 yards receiving.

The Lions defense was equally as spectacular all night in limiting the Giants to just 14 points.

They forced two turnovers with interceptions by DeAndre Levy and Glover Quin and allowed just 197 total yards of offense by the Giants.

What didn’t happen: The Lions didn’t get much in the way of production from their run game, but they honestly didn’t need it.

The Lions ran 30 times for just 76 yards, which comes out to an average of just 2.5 yards per carry.

The Lions got the run game going a little bit in the fourth quarter, however, which helped milk the clock and preserve the win.

On their final scoring drive of the game, a 12-play, 80-yard drive, the Lions rushed eight times for 37 yards.

A good run game is an offense's best friend with a big lead in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a huge weapon for the Lions for most of the night, but it was good enough to help them wrap this one up.

Critical moment: Leading 20-7 following a 27-yard Nate Freese field goal, Lions safety Glover Quin intercepted an Eli Manning pass intended for Victor Cruz on the first play of the Giants possession.

He returned in 18 yards down to the Giants 16-yard line.

Stafford scored from 5 yards out five plays later to extend the lead to 27-7 and essentially put it away.

Critical moment No. 2: Stafford orchestrated a 12-play, 80 yard drive that took nearly seven minutes off the fourth-quarter clock and helped ice the game for Detroit. The Lions completed a 3rd and 7, 3rd and 5 and 3rd and 4 on the drive.

Bell finished it off with a 3-yard touchdown.

Play of the game: Stafford’s 67-yard touchdown pass to Johnson was the perfect example of two players with great chemistry who were on the same page.

Feeling some pressure, Stafford stepped up and eluded it and then scrambled right. Johnson noticed the scramble and immediately headed down the field. The Giants lost track of him and it turned into an easy touchdown.

It’s a play we’ve seen often from the two as they continue to build one of the best quarterback/receiver relationships in the NFL.

Player of the game: Calvin Johnson, WR

Megatron was, well, very Megatron-like Monday night. He finished with 7 catches for 164 yards in another dominating performance.

It marks the 13th time in his career the eight-year pro has recorded at least 150 yards in a game.

Lions 35, Giants 14

Two quick scores by wide receiver Calvin Johnson and the Lions put the Giants in an early hole on Monday Night Football. Turnovers compounded problems in the second half, leading to a 35-14 loss by the Giants to start the season.

The Giants host the Arizona Cardinals in their home opener on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET in MetLife Stadium.

Trailing when they took over for the first time, the Giants’ start to the night on offense was as trying as it was on defense. But after two quick drives that ended in punts, the third time was the charm for the offense.

Tight end Larry Donnell, who was a bright spot in the game, opened the third series with a 19-yard catch and ended it with a one-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning for the Giants’ first points of the season. A roughing the punter penalty did keep the drive alive, but the Giants made the Lions pay for the mistake as they were able to get their feet under themselves for the time being. However, turnovers in the second half became too much to overcome in the end.

Third down and limiting big plays were strengths of a defense that ranked in the top 10 a year ago. But that didn’t carry over to the start of 2014 as All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson scored two touchdowns -- from 67 and 16 yards out -- in the first 10 minutes of the game to put the Giants in an early 14-0 hole. Both scores came on third-and-long. The Giants gave up plays of 20 yards or longer to four different Detroit receivers.


All three phases of the game contributed to the Giants’ early deficit. Detroit linebacker Tahir Whitehead blocked Steve Weatherford’s punt on the Giants’ second drive of the game. It was a trying night for Weatherford, who momentarily left Monday night’s game with an ankle injury but was able to return later in the game.

WR Odell Beckham Jr, OL Adam Snyder, T Charles Brown, DE Kerry Wynn, T James Brewer, DT Markus Kuhn, and DT Jay Bromley.

Jon Beason at MLB in place of Jameel McClain at MLB, McClain at SLB in place of Devon Kennard, and John Jerry at RG in place of Brandon Mosley.

Peyton's Take: Broncos vs. Colts

Well, Peyton Manning has finally beaten the Colts.
He had to wait until his second try, but the Broncos' 31-24 win Sunday night made Manning only the second quarterback in NFL history to beat all 32 teams in the league, in addition to Brett Favre.
"I think it means you have to be old," Manning said with a wry smile when asked about the milestone. "(You) have to be 38 years old, probably at least, to beat all 32 teams. So I don’t think I’m going to have that one up on my mantel or anything, let’s put it that way."
So the 17-year veteran isn't making a big deal of a rather rare accomplishment. What would you expect? But that perspective is probably somewhat a product of what turned into an inconsistent performance by the Broncos in the season opener.
Very little went wrong for the team in a first half that brought a 24-7 lead behind three touchdowns from Julius Thomas, which came in a 12:17 span in the second quarter.

"Julius is a guy we’ve got to try to get a ball to no matter what defense they’re playing," Manning said of his tight end. "I certainly think he can be a matchup problem for certain defenses."
"Good game by him, good start. I think all the hard work he put into this offseason paid off tonight for him."
Before a touchdown drive by the Colts in the waning seconds of the half, Denver's offense had picked up 17 first downs while the Colts' offense had run just 17 plays. Even after Andrew Luck's 9-yard touchdown run before halftime, the Broncos were in a good position, ready to receive the second-half kickoff with a 17-point lead.
But a quick three-and-out after the halftime whistle was the first of several frustrating drives for Denver's offense in the final two quarters, with just one of the six meaningful possessions (excluding the game-ending kneeldowns) gaining more than 25 yards.
"I don’t think there was a huge change in our scheme or their scheme, we just didn’t execute as well," Manning said of the second-half lull.
The Broncos' lone score came at the end of a 48-yard touchdown drive, with Montee Ball using a second effort to dive across the goal line. Though it extended the Broncos' lead to 21 points with under 10 minutes to play, the score proved critical.
"That drive ended up being the difference," Manning said. "Thankfully, our defense came up with some big stops."

Despite allowing two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the defense stiffened at the right times late in the game. Rahim Moore dove to make his second interception of the game after Colts tight end Coby Fleener couldn't corral a pass. A few minutes later, rookie cornerback Bradley Roby made the game-clinching play, diving for a pass breakup of Luck's pass to 14-year veteran Reggie Wayne on fourth down. The timely plays on both sides ultimately proved enough for Denver to open the season with a win.
"It’s something we’ll definitely learn from and we’ve got to find a way to play all four quarters as an offense," Manning said. "Thank goodness our defense picked us up when the offense wasn’t doing their job quite as well.”
Even so, the wacky shifts in big plays and momentum throughout the game happened in sort of a backwards way for the Broncos.
"I mean usually, opening night, in my history, you come out a little sluggish because it’s opening night and guys have nerves and jitters, but we came out playing at such a high level," Manning said. "We set the bar up pretty high in the first half and so it was disappointing in the second half."
"For whatever reason, we just couldn’t quite get over the hump."

Inconsistency aside, the Broncos will certainly take the win, with the result making it easier to use negative plays as learning experiences rather than missed opportunities that linger in the back of the mind. Whether it was against his old team or not, it's clear Manning is just happy to get a win in Week 1.
"It’s a different year," he said. "It’s good to be 1-0 and we’ve got the Chiefs division game next week. We’ve got a lot of things we need to improve on, but it’s a good start. Never take winning for granted.”

Broncos Hold On To Defeat Colts, 31-24

First Quarter Recap

The Broncos won the toss and deferred to the second half.

It was a promising initial drive for the Colts that ultimately ended without any points. A Reggie Wayne 22-yard reception on the game’s first play led off a Colts drive that pushed into Broncos territory. The Colts would eventually face a third-and-one and Andrew Luck’s pass intended for Coby Fleener sailed incomplete. With personnel confusion, the Colts couldn’t attempt a 55-yard field goal prior to the play clock expiring, forcing a Pat McAfee punt.

The Broncos first drive of the 2014 season was a 16-play, clock-drainer that fizzled out in a goal-to-go situation. The Colts defense struggled to get after Peyton Manning on the opening drive but held their ground on a third-and-goal from the three-yard line thanks to a LaRon Landry blitz. On the Broncos opening drive, Manning was five-of-10 for 44 yards the Broncos chewed up 33 rushing yards on five carries.

Down 3-0, the Colts were marching across midfield before another Luck pass sailed. Luck was looking for tight end Dwayne Allen but it was new Broncos corner Aqib Talib who tipped the pass and into the arms of safety Rahim Moore. The Broncos took over at their own 46-yard line.

At the end of the first quarter, the Broncos led the Colts 3-0.

Second Quarter Recap

The Broncos were driving late in the first quarter and finished that off with a three-yard touchdown reception by tight end Julius Thomas. The backbreaker on the drive came when wide receiver Demaryius Thomas hauled in a 22-yard reception on a third-and-10. At this point, the Broncos have converted 4-of-5 third-down attempts after they were just 5-of-16 in last year’s meeting.

Looking for a scoring drive down two possessions, a first-down sack led to a quick three-and-out by the Colts.

Without a consistent pass rush, the Colts defense couldn’t do anything to slow down the Broncos offense. Manning took advantage by finding Julius Thomas for a 35-yard touchdown. The Broncos led 17-0 with 6:41 to go in the second quarter.

It was another three-and-out for the Colts offense as Luck was once again sacked.

Denver continued with the pedal to the floor. An Emmanuel Sanders 40-yard reception set up another touchdown. It was once again Julius Thomas, catching his third touchdown of the night, this one from five yards out to give Denver a 24-0 with 1:57 to go in the first half.

On their final drive of the half, the Colts went full no-huddle and put together their best series of the opening two quarters. The drive was finished off by an incredible individual effort from Andrew Luck. On a scramble, Luck put the ball into his left hand and extended the ball for a nine-yard touchdown. It was a very nice first half for Reggie Wayne who caught four passes for 59 yards.

At halftime, the Broncos led the Colts 24-7.

Third Quarter Recap

To start the second half, a holding penalty on the Broncos put them well behind schedule and they went three-and-out.

The Colts got tremendous field position at the Broncos 46-yard line. It looked like momentum was slowly building towards the visitors until a fourth-and-goal situation was stuffed. After Hakeem Nicks couldn’t get the ball across on the goal line on a third-and-goal catch, the Colts didn’t make any progress on a fourth-and-goal, quarterback sneak. Down 24-7, coming up empty on that drive was a critical setback.

After an initial first down by the Broncos to give them some breathing room, the Colts defense forced their second straight punt to start the third quarter.

Thanks to some impressive pocket agility by Luck, the Colts once again drove inside the Broncos 10-yard line. However, the drive stalled there and the Colts had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. That cut the Broncos lead to 24-10 with 1:31 to go in the third quarter.

At the end of the third quarter, the Broncos led the Colts 24-10.

Fourth Quarter Recap

The Colts would have chances with the ball to make it a one-possession game but could not muster such a drive together.

After a scoreless third quarter, the Broncos pushed the lead back to three scores early in the fourth quarter. Running back Montee Ball would not be denied from three yards out to give Denver a 31-10 lead with 9:54 to go in the fourth quarter. The Colts had a chance for a potential momentum changing turnover but several defenders could not dive on a loose ball that linebacker Jerrell Freeman stripped from Julius Thomas.

Down 21, the Colts went to work quickly with a seven-play, 80-yard drive in 2:08. It was Dwayne Allen tiptoeing the sidelined for a 41-yard touchdown catch, with Ahmad Bradshaw offering a major block for the third-year tight end. The touchdown cut the Broncos lead to 31-17 with 7:46 to go in the fourth quarter.

With less than eight minutes to play, the Colts dialed up an onside kick and it worked with special teams ace Andy Studebaker falling on the muffed kick. Thanks to a fourth-and-seven completion to T.Y. Hilton, the Colts found themselves back in Broncos territory. Any potential comeback though ended as a pass intended for Coby Fleener went off the top of his hands and into the diving Rahim Moore for his second interception of the night.

A quick three-and-out forced by the Colts defense allowed the offense to take over, down 14, with 4:22 left in the fourth quarter.

It was another impressive, second-half drive for the Colts. More timely passes to Reggie Wayne (eight catches for 96 yards) set up a nine-yard touchdown toss to Hakeem Nicks. At this point in the game, Luck was 32-of-47 for 340 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

After a successful onside kick following the Allen touchdown, the Colts elected to kick deep and set up a long field for the Broncos. The Colts once again forced a three-and-out and the offense got the ball back with 2:58 to go, down seven points.

The Colts once again crossed midfield and faced a fourth-and-six at the two-minute warning. A fourth-down attempt for Reggie Wayne fell incomplete.

The Broncos held on for the 31-24 victory in the season opener.

Panthers 20, Bucs 14

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2014 season got off to a rough start against the defending NFC South Champions. The team’s new-look offense failed to find a groove behind starting QB Josh McCown until it was too late, accounting for just 174 yards, and Panthers reserve QB Derek Anderson led the visitors to a 20-14 victory.

The Buccaneers ran for 102 yards, but that is a bit misleading as 54 of those yards came on one run by FB Jorvorskie Lane, two plays before McCown threw the first of his 2 interceptions. Starting RB Doug Martinfound little room to run, finishing with 9 yards on 9 carries. McCown threw two picks, both on broken plays when he tried to make something happen while under serious pressure. McCown hit WR Chris Owusu and RB Bobby Rainey on touchdown passes in the fourth quarter but the Bucs ran out of time on their comeback attempt.

Tampa Bay’s defense was relatively solid but couldn’t come up with the game-changing play. Tampa Bay lost the turnover battle, 3-0 and gave up 334 yards despite allowing very few big plays. Anderson’s 26-yard touchdown toss to rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin, the play that essentially sealed the Bucs’ fate, was Carolina’s longest play from scrimmage.

G Logan Mankins, acquired in a dramatic trade less than two weeks before the start of the regular season, suffered a knee injury in the first half and did not return. Garrett Gilkey, a waiver claim from the Cleveland Browns, played the rest of the game at left guard.

The Buccaneers were shut out for three quarters but got on the board with 7:23 left in the final period on McCown’s 19-yard touchdown pass to WR Chris Owusu. The play was reviewed but the tape showed that Owusu got both feet in-bounds after catching the hard pass.

Panthers 20, Buccaneers 14

The Panthers didn't have their star quarterback Cam Newton available for Sunday's season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.

But they had Derek Anderson and a stingy, opportunistic defense led by reigning defensive player of the year Luke Kuechly, and ultimately, that proved to be enough for a 20-14 win.

"However we had to do it, on the road, against a division team, we needed to be 1-0," tight end Greg Olsen said. "This was huge for us."

Head coach Ron Rivera's first opening day victory wasn't without late drama.

After Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson let an interception slip through his hands on third down, Carolina was forced to punt with a 17-14 lead. Tampa Bay took over on its own 32-yard line with 1:36 remaining and two timeouts.

But the Buccaneers' comeback hopes vanished on their first play from scrimmage, when running back Bobby Rainey caught a short pass over the middle. Kuechly's tackle knocked the ball free, and rookie cornerback Bene Benwikere made the recovery.

"The ball popped out, and I just had to make sure I got to it before I went out of bounds," Benwikere said.

Graham Gano kicked a 33-yard field goal with 28 seconds left to give Carolina a 20-14 lead. With no timeouts and 79 yards to go, time ran out on the Buccaneers.

"It feels very good," Rivera said. "We played a good football game today."

Carolina completely controlled the first half, and it started with an interception by cornerback Antoine Cason.

Defensive end Wes Horton's pressure on Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown caused his pass for tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins to be picked off by Cason at the Carolina 31-yard line.

From there, Anderson – who finished 24-of-34 for 230 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions – engineered a 15-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that churned nine minutes off the clock.

"I felt like I executed and did the things they asked me to do," Anderson said. "I had a game plan in mind, what I was going to do against different coverages, and I was just going to try to execute as best I could."

Anderson completed three third-down throws to move the chains, and he kept the ball on a quarterback sneak for a 2-yard gain on fourth-and-1. On second-and-goal, Anderson faked a handoff to fullback Mike Tolbert and found Olsen open for a 5-yard touchdown to give Carolina a 7-0 lead seven minutes into the second quarter.

"We worked on that play all week. We knew that was going to be a really good play for us – that read concept to ride the tailback," Olsen said. "With Kelvin (Benjamin) and I on the same side, the safety is in a really tight spot."

The Panthers added to the lead with a 10-play drive that set up Gano for a 28-yard field goal as the half expired. At halftime, Carolina had 13 first downs to Tampa Bays' two.

Another altered throw led to another Carolina interception late in the third quarter.

After fumbling a shotgun snap, McCown gathered the ball and tried to throw as he was being hit. The ball floated into the hands of safety Roman Harper, who returned it to the Tampa Bay 37-yard line.

"Takeaways – I think that was probably the difference," said Rivera, whose team won the turnover battle 3-0.

Four plays later, Benjamin – fighting off blatant pass interference by Mike Jenkins – used his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame to outmuscle the Buccaneers cornerback in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown catch.

"I'm big – got to use your size," Benjamin said. "I just had to go get the ball and be strong with my hands."

Trailing 17-0, the Buccaneers mounted a fourth-quarter comeback.

McCown tossed a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Owusu and after a Carolina three-and-out, he connected with Rainey for a 6-yard score.

Suddenly, with 2:06 remaining, the Panthers lead was reduced to three, but they withstood Tampa Bay's surge and held on for the win.

"This is a great starting point," running back DeAngelo Williams said. "We can only get better from here."

Cowboys Fall to 49ers, 28-17

A fumble, an interception, untimely penalties, poor play selection and 21 points surrendered.

And that was just the first quarter.

Coming into this season-opening game against San Francisco, a 28-17 loss in front of 91,174 fans, the Cowboys knew defending the 49ers’ vaunted offense would be a difficult task. What they didn’t expect was their own offense, and namely quarterback Tony Romo, being the main culprit in what would become the team’s first loss of the year.

Romo threw three interceptions in the first half alone, two of which eventually resulted in 49ers touchdowns with the third coming in the end zone when Romo missed a wide open Dwayne Harris and instead opted to throw to a well-covered Jason Witten.

He finished the day with 281 yards passing, completing 23-of-37 attempts with one touchdown, although 182 of those yards came in the second half when the game was already well out of hand. Three different receivers caught four passes for the team, as Dez Bryant topped the club with 55 receiving yards.

There was also questionable play-calling in the early going, although whether that was coming from the sideline and new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan or being changed at the line by Romo is uncertain.

Case in point came early in the first quarter, with Dallas already down 7-0 after 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver scooped up a DeMarco Murray fumble and took it back 35 yards for the score within the first minute of the game. The Cowboys had then worked their way down to the San Francisco 2-yard line, but there, despite three first-round picks on the offensive line and a 1,00-yard rusher in their backfield, the Cowboys opted to then do nothing but pass.

On one play, Romo even appeared to pull back an intended handoff to Murray to instead throw the ball, the result a 9-yard sack that left Murray fuming as he walked to the sidelines. That caused the Cowboys to settle for a 29-yard field goal from the sure-footed Dan Bailey to get on the board.

Overall, the Cowboys offense snapped the ball 13 times inside the 49ers’ red zone during the game, including six times within 5 yards of the goal line, and only once did they attempt a running play. That, of course, was a 2-yard dive by Murray in the third quarter for the team’s first touchdown.

Which is all the more curious considering that Murray had 95 yards on 16 carries in the first half alone, an impressive 5.9 yards-per-carry average. With the Cowboys having to abandon the run for the most part over the final two quarters – they didn’t even attempt a run in the fourth frame – Murray would finish the game with 118 yards on 22 carries, the eighth time in his career he has topped the 100-yard mark.

On the other side of the ball, the beleaguered Dallas defense actually put up a valiant fight. The team’s makeshift front line was able to get pressure on Colin Kaepernick, holding the 49ers quarterback to just 201 yards on 16-of-23 passing. Overall, the Cowboys had more total yards than San Francisco (382 to 31), more first downs (26 to 19) and fewer penalties (10/72 to 11/80).

But the 49ers quarterback, who is as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm, used both to push his team down the field in the first half. Such was the case on San Francisco’s second score when he avoided the rush and then found tight end Vernon Davis wide open in the end zone, Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox having left his man to close on Kaepernick.

Down by 18, the Cowboys defense then got a healthy dose of the 49ers running game, featuring Frank Gore, and seemed ready to roll over, especially after San Francisco held possession for 10:23 in the second quarter and added another score thanks to a 9-play, 64-yard drive to go into the half with an insurmountable 28-3 lead.

But, the defense didn’t back down and kept the 49ers scoreless in the second half. They held up their end of the bargain.

Having not done their part thus far, the Dallas offense did manage to give the home fans a reason to cheer after the break, thanks in part to a pass that Romo basically threw up for grabs, but Harris was able to come down with for a 56-yard pass completion down to the 49ers 11. That eventually resulted in the 2-yard score from Murray on fourth-and-1, this after three previous pass attempts.

Romo and Co. then closed out the game with an 11-play, 73-yard drive that resulted in another touchdown, this time a 2-yard pass to Terrance Williams, but it was too little too late, the Cowboys falling to 0-1 on the season, 28-17.

The Cowboys now play consecutive games on the road, traveling to Tennessee (1-0) for a noon game next week before then heading to St. Louis (0-1). Their next home outing will take place on Sept. 28 against New Orleans (0-1).

49ers Beat Dallas Cowboys to Begin Season

Handing the Cowboys a 11-point defeat in Dallas – could the San Francisco 49ers have imagined a better Week 1 of their 2014 regular season?

Aside from losing both of its starting cornerbacks to injury in this opener, which is no small concern, all was right with this one.

The so-called “team of the 1980s,” San Francisco (1-0), bested the so-called “team of the 90s,” Dallas (0-1) on Sunday afternoon. After 60 minutes of football, the scoreboard at the red-and-blue AT&T Stadium read 28-17 – and it wasn't that close.

Now the question is: Will the 49ers be the team of this decade?

Jim Harbaugh and Co. have visited three straight NFC Championship games and getting back is a part – really, just the start – of the team’s goal.

Tony Romo, who threw three interceptions to the team’s decimated secondary, and his Cowboys have finished each of the last three seasons 8-8.

But the 49ers need to steam-roll these teams, too, if they have designs on playing in February. We’re still in September, but this was a good first impression.

Kaepernick was 16-of-23 passing for 201 yards and two touchdowns.

Cornerback Tramaine Brock (toe) went to the sideline during Dallas’ second series of the game, and he was carted off of the field midway through the first quarter. Veteran reserve Perrish Cox replaced Brock, who was deemed “questionable” to return, in the lineup. Cox played admirably in his stead, snaring a second-quarter interception on a long toss from Romo to Dez Bryant. The pick was Romo’s third.

Brock returned to the sideline soon after the team’s other starting corner, Chris Culliver, left the game on the penultimate play of the first quarter. Culliver, who suffered a concussion while trying to tackle Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, walked off under his own power. He was also termed “questionable” initially until being ruled out.

A third defensive back, rookie Jimmie Ward, was being examined on the bench late in the fourth quarter. There was no immediate news on his status.

The notes: The 49ers to not suit up for this one: quarterback Josh Johnson, wideout Quinton Patton, cornerback Chris Cook, right tackle Anthony Davis (hamstring), center Marcus Martin (knee) and defensive tackle Quinton Dial.

2. Antoine Bethea made his 97th straight start, the most among active NFL safeties, after suffering a concussion in Week 3 of the preseason.

3. Credit outside linebacker Dan Skuta as much as Culliver for the cornerback’s 35-yard touchdown run-back on the third play of the game. Skuta, starting at outside linebacker for Aldon Smith, poked the ball out of Murray’s grasp, giving Culliver the opportunity to high-step down the sideline.

4. In addition to Skuta, Ian Williams started at nose tackle and Michael Wilhoite began the game at inside linebacker. The defense’s eight other players were all locks to be in coordinator Vic Fangio’s opening lineup. Of the three newbies, Williams may have the weakest hold on his spot, as Tony Jerod-Eddie also got playing time at nose tackle.

5. On the offensive side of the ball, Joe Looney started ahead of Alex Boone, who held out of training camp before returning to the team, at right guard. Jonathan Martin filled in for Davis (hamstring) at right tackle and Daniel Kilgore made his first NFL start, meaning San Francisco returned just two of its five starting offensive lineman from a season ago, left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Mike Iupati. Boone entered the game at times as an sixth, extra blocker on the line of scrimmage.

6. They pass-protected well. Kaepernick connected with wideout Anquan Boldin (37 yards) and tight end Vernon Davis (29-yard touchdown) on the unit’s first drive. Davis juggled the ball twice before securing his reception with both hands in the corner of the end zone.

7. Perhaps lost in free safety Eric Reid’s 48-yard interception return is that he broke the tackle of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, one of the NFL’s biggest, strongest pass-catchers.

8. When Kaepernick threw a second touchdown pass to Davis (two yards) on the next play, giving San Francisco 21 points after just four snaps on offense.

9. It was Brandon Lloyd – not Stevie Johnson – to line up with Boldin and Michael Crabtree in the offense’s first three-wide receiver set. But Johnson entered the game late in the second quarter in a trips formation and caught a 21-yard pass.

10. Frank Gore ran up the middle for 20 yards on his first carry, early in the second quarter. Gore gained his 34th yard of the game on a third-quarter carry, giving him 10,001 yards for his career. He became the 29th running back in NFL history to cross that threshold.

11. Rookie running back Carlos Hyde entered the game on a second-quarter third down and pass-protected well, while reserve LaMichael James was called upon for an option play. Hyde ran with his usual ferocity on back-to-back plays in the second quarter, gaining 13 yards on one up-the-gut scamper before his four-yard touchdown rush.

12. Ward, a first-round NFL Draft pick, made his mark on the game by downing an Andy Lee-booted punt at the Cowboys 1-yard line before halftime. With fellow defensive backs Brock and Culliver out of the game, Ward yielded to Cox and rookie Dontae Johnson on the outside but still entered the game in the nickel package. Ward also served as a gunner on the punt squads. Johnson, for his part, had two nice pass break-ups in his NFL debut.

13. Rookie wideout Bruce Ellington – not James – was lined up deep to return kickoffs and punts. Ellington’s special teams versatility likely gave him the nod over second-year wideout Quinton Patton on the 46-man gameday roster.

14. The second of defensive tackle Justin Smith’s two sacks was due, in part, to a stunt. Smith lined up as the right-side defensive tackle before coming around the left edge to run smack-dab into Romo. Smith celebrated with rookie pass-rusher Aaron Lynch, who was playing ahead of veteran Ahmad Brooks at times. Brooks also recorded a sack in the third quarter.

15. 49ers alumnus Dwight Clark and others commented on how much red and gold they saw at AT&T Stadium, also known as "Jerry's World."

16. Harbaugh is now 4-0 in season openers as coach.

The advance: The 49ers return home to Santa Clara on Sunday night and will resume practicing on Tuesday. Harbaugh will address the media on Monday to review this one and preview the team’s Week 2 home opener against the Chicago Bears. San Francisco will look to begin the Levi’s® Stadium era with a win over the team that Harbaugh once played for and that Colin Kaepernick made his NFL debut against. We’re looking forward to it.

Rams Drop Opener to Vikings

The Rams had a rough beginning to their season on Sunday, losing a 34-6 contest to the Vikings at the Edward Jones Dome. Each phase of the game was largely ineffective, leading to the lopsided final score.

While St. Louis’ defense was able to neutralize star running back Adrian Peterson -- holding him to just 75 yards on 21 carries -- the unit could not say the same for Cordarrelle Patterson. With just over two minutes in the third quarter, the wide receiver took a pitch from quarterback Matt Cassel and broke off a 67-yard touchdown run. The score increased the Vikings’ lead to 20-3, and Minnesota didn’t look back.

“We didn’t play very well today,” head coach Jeff Fisher said. “I was not anticipating that out of us. I’m just disappointed. It seemed throughout the game that different players took turns making drive-killing mistakes, or allowing drives to continue.”

“There’s things that just happened. If I could explain them, I should be able to prevent them,” Fisher added. “But I’m certainly going to go into detail with them tomorrow. There are things that just should not happen.”

Stopping the run was one area in which the Rams struggled, giving up a total of 186 yards on 30 plays -- a 6.2 yard average.

“We felt like we were in pretty good position -- we just didn’t execute,” Fisher said.

The Rams also had a difficult time with penalties, which Fisher said “killed drives.” St. Louis was flagged for 13 times for 121 yards.

Shaun Hill began the game under center, but was replaced by Austin Davis at the start of the third quarter due to a quad injury. Fisher said that Hill hurt it at some point during the first two quarters.

“At halftime, we decided that it would not be a good idea for him to return,” Fisher said. “It was mild and it was getting worse, so at that point you have to pull him.”

“There’s no reason to make any excuses, that’s for sure,” Hill said on his performance with an injury. “The leg is a long ways from the head.”

Neither quarterback was able to do much offensively, as Hill finished 8-of-13 for 81 yards, and Davis finished 16-of-23 for 192 yards. Both threw an interception.

“We made too many mistakes,” Davis said. “Whether it was taking sacks or penalties, just whatever it was -- you name it, we kind of found a way to mess it up. So we have to flip this thing around soon as we can, and not let it drag us down.”

Hill had some decent moments early in the game, particularly when he targeted wide receiver Brian Quick. The two connected four times in the first half for 70 yards -- including the offense’s first play, which was a 23-yard pass.

One of the few other bright spots in the contest was defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The rookie notched four tackles during the contest, including two for loss on Peterson. Rookie E.J. Gaines, who started at cornerback in place of Trumaine Johnson, had three tackles and two passes defended.

Minnesota took a 13-0 lead into the half on two Blair Walsh field goals -- one in the first quarter, and another in the second -- and a late second-quarter touchdown. Hill’s interception set up the Vikings’ TD, as he was picked off at the St. Louis 35 with 1:09 before the break. It took four plays and 48 seconds, but quarterback Matt Cassel hit receiver Greg Jennings in the back of the end zone for the 8-yard score.

The Rams scored their first points of the game in the third quarter on a 56-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal, cutting the lead to 13-3. The converted kick tied the mark for the third longest in Rams’ history.

But that was when the Vikings answered with Patterson’s long touchdown run to make it a three-possession game. Cassel added another touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and Harrison Smith returned a Davis interception 81 yards to increase Minnesota’s lead to 34-3.

Zuerlein hit a 46-yard field goal with 1:26 left to close out the scoring.

While the game was a disappointment for everyone, Fisher told the team that the opening contest does not define the season.

“It’s unfortunate that it ended the way it did here at home with the enthusiasm that our fans brought to the game,” Fisher said. “We’ve got work to do and we’ve got another game in a week, so we need to get ready for it.”

The Rams play the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay next Sunday at 3:05 p.m.

Patterson Shines, Vikings Whip Rams

The St. Louis Rams were determined not to let Adrian Peterson embarrass them again. The Minnesota Vikings found another way to catch them with their pants down.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson ran for 102 yards on just three carries, with a 67-yard scoring run off a simple pitchout. The Vikings were impressive across the board under new coach Mike Zimmer, shutting down the Rams 34-6 on Sunday.
''There's no way I can miss that hole,'' Patterson said. ''When I get the ball in my hands, I expect great things.''
Peterson rambled for 212 yards the last time the Vikings played in St. Louis in December 2012, enjoying the view on the end zone video board at the end of an 82-yard run. The star runner ground out 75 yards on 21 carries in the opener.
''We knew we were going against a good defense, especially a good front,'' Peterson said. ''The guys up front didn't back down, we continued to hit them in the mouth.''
Rams quarterback Shaun Hill lasted one half as the stand-in starter for Sam Bradford, missing the rest of the game with a quadriceps injury and leaving untested Austin Davis in charge. Coach Jeff Fisher believed Hill was hurt before his last pass was intercepted by Josh Robinson with 1:09 to go in the half, setting up Matt Cassel's 8-yard pass to Greg Jennings for a 13-0 lead.

The Vikings were in command the rest of the way.
''I like how this team works, I've said it numerous, numerous times,'' Zimmer said after getting an ice bath from players. ''I think we had a good plan, and it worked out.''
Zimmer was a defensive coordinator with Dallas, Atlanta and Cincinnati the previous 14 seasons and inherited a team that went 5-10-1. He had a defense that surrendered the most points NFL last year clicking from the start, holding St. Louis to 170 yards the first three quarters.
Patterson broke at least four tackles on the 67-yarder that put the Vikings up 20-3 late in the third quarter. He had carries of 23 and 12 yards in the first half and added three receptions for 26 yards.

Last year, Patterson returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and led the NFL with a 32.4-yard average.
The Vikings kept the Rams down in the second half with four of their five sacks, and Harrison Smith's 81-yard interception return made it 34-3 late in the fourth quarter. It's the third career interception return for a touchdown by Smith, beginning his third season.
Brian Quick had seven catches for 99 yards for St. Louis. The Rams didn't help themselves with sloppy play and were penalized 13 times for 121 yards.
''These guys put in way too much work for this to end up like this,'' guard Rodger Saffold said. ''I feel sorry for everybody in this room, and I know that next week it's going to be a bloodbath because I know nobody's going to want this to happen again.''
Robinson intercepted an underthrown pass by Hill looking like the primary receiver, tapping the turf with his right foot before going out of bounds. Cassel needed four plays and 48 seconds to find Jennings.

The 34-year-old Hill made his first start since 2010 and was 8 for 13 for 81 yards. After the game, he was guarded about his status and also declined to discuss how he was hurt.
''I'm going to leave all comments about the injury up to coach Fisher,'' Hill said.
Davis, who was 16 for 23 for 192 yards and an interception, has been with the Rams at least parts of the last three seasons.
NOTES: Rams DE Chris Long (left ankle) was sidelined after tackling Peterson in the third quarter. Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes (groin) left in the third quarter. ... OL Greg Robinson, the second overall pick of the draft, was limited to a handful of special teams snaps the first half, but came in at guard after Saffold (neck) left in the fourth quarter. After the game, Saffold said he was fine. ... Blair Walshkicked three field goals of 50-plus yards at St. Louis as a rookie in 2012, and he drilled a 52-yarder to open the scoring. He was 26 for 30 last season, three of the misses from beyond midfield. ... Rams K Greg Zuerlein had been 7 for 13 in his career from 50-plus before hooking a 50-yarder later in the first, but later connected from 56 and 46 yards.

Steelers win, 30-27, on last-second FG


As the result of a joint resolution by Pennsylvania’s two United States Senators – Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) – Sunday, Sept. 7 was designated Chuck Noll Day to honor his coaching career. According to the resolution, Chuck Noll Day is to honor the life and career of a man who remains the only coach in NFL history to win four Super Bowl championships, and as Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney said on the occasion of Noll’s death on June 13, “the way he did it was with dignity.”

That the Steelers’ opponent on Chuck Noll Day Noll’s final win of his coaching career is the Cleveland Browns has some significance. The last of Noll’s coaching wins with the Steelers came on Dec. 22, 1991, and it was against the Browns, 17-10. Noll was the first coach in franchise history to post a winning record in the annual home-and-home series against the Browns. Pittsburgh was 25-19 against Cleveland under Noll.

Coach Mike Tomlin understands that a fast start will be important to the Steelers’ chances to win this game, but he was particular interested in a specific fast start.

“We have to start fast, but people say that all the time, and so I explained what that means to our team,” said Tomlin on the Friday before the game. “We have to do a great job in situational football during the early stages of the game. We have to get off the field on third downs on defense; we have to convert third downs on offense. We have to execute in the red area. If they get in the red area with their offense, we have to make them kick field goals, and obviously if we get in the red area with our offense we have to score touchdowns. Starting fast is a big component within the game, but starting fast within situational football is really important.”

Looking at how the Steelers did based on what Tomlin was seeking from them, the offense was 1-for-3 in the red zone and the defense allowed the Browns to go 3-for-5 in the red zone, including 2-for-2 in goal-to-go situations. On third downs, the Browns converted 2-for-11, while the Steelers were at 4-for-12, but they were 0-for-6 on third downs in the second half.

When Ryan Shazier lined up next to Lawrence Timmons for Cleveland’s opening offensive play, he became the first rookie ever to start for a Steelers defense coordinated by Dick LeBeau (1995-96, 2004-present). But as a secondary coach in 1992, LeBeau was involved in a rookie starting for his unit when free safety Darren Perry was in the lineup for the 1992 opener in Houston against the Oilers.

Halftime. It wasn’t that there was anything the Penn-Trafford High School band did during its performance, but something had to happen during those 12 minutes to change the course of this game so dramatically.

During the first half, the seven Steelers’ offensive possessions ended: field goal, touchdown, interception, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, field goal; while Cleveland’s six first-half possessions ended: field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt.

In the second half, the switch was flipped. Pittsburgh’s six offensive possessions ended: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal; while the Browns went: touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, punt, punt.

During the first half, Ben Roethlisberger completed 16-of-22 for 278 yards, with one touchdown, and one interception. In the second half, in the five possessions before the game-winning field goal, he was 4-for-8 for 54 yards.

During the preseason, the negatives were that 73-yard touchdown run by the Giants’ Rashad Jennings in the opener, and then the 182 yards on a 5.2 average posted by the Eagles in the third of the four games. The Browns had similar success, even if it was only for a half.

After rushing for 62 yards in the first half, the Browns came on to roll up 121 in the second half to finish with 183 total and a 6.1 average to go along with two touchdowns. And this was accomplished even though starting running back Ben Tate didn’t play in the second half due to a knee injury.

Terrence West, a rookie third-round pick from Towson, had 100 yards on 16 carries, and Isaiah Crowell, an undrafted rookie from Alabama State added 32 yards on five carries ands scored two touchdowns.

“We got on our heels a little bit. We got a little complacent in the second half, but we got the ‘W’,” said Cam Heyward. “We just didn’t play as a unit. We have to execute better, do our assignments better and just become a better team. And we need to learn from our mistakes, because Baltimore is going to do the exact same thing.”

An assortment of quotes on that issue:

Ben Roethlisberger: “We can’t apologize for the way we win. We just have to win games. It was frustrating at times because we felt that we couldn’t get on the field (in the second half), and when we were we couldn’t sustain drives. It’s frustrating, but there was never panic there was never worry on my behalf. I looked at the guys when we got in the huddle, especially on that last drive and everyone was amped up and excited and that’s the way that it needs to be.”

Cam Heyward: “A win is a win in this league. We have 15 more games. Right now, we are 1-0. You have to win the ugly ones. We came out hot early, but it’s three plays that can change a game. You can see on the board that they put 21 [points] up quick. We just have to continue to get better. It’s the first game, but there’s some things we can work on. It will humble us and keep us grounded.”

Le’Veon Bell: “It’s not really about style points. At first, when we were up, 27-3, we were like, man, we have to just keep pushing it, keep pushing it. Once they started coming back, we were like, we just have to get out of here with a win. We can’t let them come back and get the win. I’m just glad to get out of here with the win. I’m excited.”

Browns rally falls short in 30-27 loss to Steelers

When the Cleveland Browns go and review the film of the second half from the Steelers game, they’ll see themselves as the team Mike Pettine had envisioned all along: full of resiliency and extreme mental toughness.
Trailing, 27-3, at the half, the Browns roared back scoring 24 unanswered points. However, it was too little, too late as the Steelers were able to pull out a 30-27 victory in the season-opener at Heinz Field.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger connected with Markus Wheaton for a 20-yard pass to set up Shaun Suisham’s 41-yard field goal as time expired.
"We're 0-1," said Browns head coach Mike Pettine. "I told the team this is a pass-fail league. We failed. I’m proud of the effort in the second half, but it’s a valuable lesson to learn. If you’re behind 24 points at halftime, I don’t know what the percentages are of coming back and winning, I guarantee you it’s probably right around one."
The Browns came 40 seconds away from becoming that one percent. If you missed the final minute and the first half, you would've thought the Browns steamrolled the Steelers.
From the moment the second half began, quarterback Brian Hoyer led an up-tempo no huddle attack, catching the Pittsburgh defense off-guard. Hoyer’s quick-hitting passes to Andrew Hawkins teamed with rookie running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, not only took the Browns off life support, it nearly won them the game. The Browns first touchdown drive of the season (on the opening drive of the third quarter) took only six plays and one minute and 33 seconds off the clock.
Cleveland’s much anticipated running attack did not disappoint. Two of Crowell’s first three NFL carries turned into touchdowns, including a gorgeous 15-yard scamper, where the Steelers weren’t able to lay a finger on the undrafted rookie. Crowell may have gotten the points, but it was West’s powerful running style which Pittsburgh had no answer for. Used almost exclusively in the second half, the rookie from Towson still managed to eclipse the 100-yard mark.
Crazily, the comeback was without two of the Browns’ best players. A knee injury sidelined starting running back Ben Tate, while a flared up shoulder kept tight end Jordan Cameron off the field.
The Browns’ defense deserves just as much credit for the second half response. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took a blow torch to the secondary in the first half, launching 278 yards on dart-like accuracy. But just like Cleveland’s offense, the second half was a brand new ball game. The Browns tightened their coverage and Pittsburgh started playing not to lose. Sacks from Chris Kirksey, Armonty Bryant and Jabaal Sheard showed that the Browns activated a war in the trenches – and they began winning it.
"There are no moral victories in this league, but I was proud of the resolve and the character that showed up," said Pettine.
There is another side to this story, though. When the Browns review the film of the first half, the might want to destroy it.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger came firing out the gates, completing seven of his first eight passes for 153 yards. The Pittsburgh aerial attack was executed almost to perfection, using an array of short screens passes and deep throws to stretch the secondary. Roethlisberger’s pinpoint accuracy coupled with Cleveland’s secondary struggles was a recipe for disaster early on.
But there was a brief moment where the game could’ve flipped. Linebacker Karlos Dansby temporarily thwarted Pittsburgh’s passing attack, picking off a Roethlisberger missile on the sideline.
With the football on the Pittsburgh 34-yardline and only trailing, 10-3, in the second quarter, the Browns had their opening. But the offense did not grasp onto the momentum handed to them by Dansby. Hoyer was sacked on second-down and after three plays Cleveland punted the football away.
And after that, the Steelers put the foot on the gas pedal and did not let up.
With Browns blitzers draped all around him, Roethlisberger beautifully rolled to his right and with the flick of his wrist he found Antonio Brown in the back of the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown. Minutes later in the second quarter, running back Le’Veon Bell got involved, galloping for a shifty 38-yard touchdown right up the middle.
As the teams ran into the locker room for halftime, the Browns mustering a touchdown – let alone any type of comeback – did not seem in the realm of possibility. The fight that the Browns showed in Pittsburgh is going to be a building block not only for the 2014 season, but for the entire Mike Pettine era.