The two biggest NFL stories heading into this season concerned longevity and loyalty.
There was the unexpected retirement of Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, who decided to call it a career at age 29 after a slew of injuries, including one that sidelined him for an entire season. That underscored the violence of the nation’s most popular league and the increasing difficulty of staying upright in a sport of car-crash collisions.
Then, there’s loyalty. All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown has changed uniforms twice since last catching a pass in a game. With his tantrums, he pried himself loose from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders, finally landing with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, although that too seems tenuous amid allegations of sexual assault that surfaced this week.
Doesn’t anybody forge a long career with one team anymore?
Matter of fact, they do. Sunday, for instance, Kansas City punter Dustin Colquitt will play in his 224th game, tying the Chiefs record for most games played. And Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, at 217 games, is three games away from tying the same record for the Steelers.
Last weekend, Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald played in his 235th game for the Cardinals, setting the franchise record.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, who plays at the Rams on Sunday, has the Saints record at 205 games. For the New York Giants, quarterback Eli Manning has played in a record 233 games, and Dallas tight end Jason Witten, who returned to the field after a season in the “Monday Night Football” booth, is at a record 240. New England’s Tom Brady has played in 270.
The oddball in this group of record holders is Cardinals outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, because he played in more games than anyone for the Baltimore Ravens (229) and Sunday will be facing his former team.
Suggs will be the first defensive player to face a team for which he played at least 16 seasons. The other four played on offense or special teams: quarterback Brett Favre, receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, and kicker Sebastian Janikowski.
“It’s kind of a unique situation, isn’t it?” Suggs said on a conference call this week. “It’s kind of weird. Everybody is just kind of anxious to see what it’s going to be like.”
End of an era
Try answering this bit of trivia from Mark Dalton, Cardinals senior vice president of media relations:
When was the last time the Ravens had a regular-season home game without linebackers Ray Lewis and/or Suggs on the team?
The club’s last game without one of those star players was the final game of the old Cleveland Browns in 1995.
The most surprising character to emerge from Week 1 was Jacksonville rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew, who had a record-setting performance off the bench after he replaced injured Nick Foles.
Although the Jaguars lost to Kansas City, 40-26, Minshew set an NFL record by completing 88% of his passes, the highest percentage of any player in a professional debut (minimum 15 passes). He also set a Jaguars single-game record among players with at least 25 pass attempts.
The mustachioed Minshew, a sixth-round pick out of Washington State, completed 22 of 25 passes for 275 yards with two touchdowns, an interception, and a lofty passer rating of 122.5. He was a cult hero in college, where Cougar fans wore fake moustaches and aviator shades in honor of the irreverent player who would finish fifth in Heisman Trophy voting.
He’s now the Jacksonville starter in place of Foles, who is on injured reserve with a broken clavicle and cannot return until November at the earliest. The Jaguars, who play at Houston on Sunday, also made a trade with Pittsburgh for quarterback Josh Dobbs.
“Is this repeatable, 22 of 25? How many guys have done that in their entire career?” said Tony Boselli, radio color analyst for Jaguars games. “But do I think it’s going to be too big for Gardner? Not at all.
“I saw him in the preseason, and even though he struggled to move the ball and score points, it was never too big for him. He always had command of the offense and the huddle. He was always solid in the pocket. Never got rattled. So even when Nick got hurt, I didn’t know he was going to play that well, but I knew the moment wasn’t going to be too big for him.”
Upon further review
For one season, instant replay has been expanded to include pass interference called or not called on the field.
In Week 1, there were seven game stoppages to review pass interference. Twice, the on-field ruling was overturned. So the jury is still out on how significantly this new rule will change the game.