Five Wide: 2023 Week One

By Thomas Willoughby

Over the past few years, I’ve come to savour the off-season. I love the NFL, don’t get me wrong. And I love the Atlanta Falcons. You don’t witness the horrors I have and not walk away with a level of affection. But these months off, my word, I’ve needed them. 

But we’re back! And what a barmy weekend to come back on. And I missed it! Listeners to the pod will know I was double booked seeing Busted on Sunday night. They were great! It was lovely to be 10 years old again. But as a result I missed the moment the Atlanta Falcons logged a winning record since January 1st 2018. Maybe I’m the jinx.

Anyway, let’s get back to Five Wide. Same format, same nonsense. We’re well and truly back!

First Day at Big School

I feel quite bad for coming out with this one but it made me giggle, so I guess I have to, legally. After a pretty successful college career, and a draft season courting that saw his new side move Heaven and Earth to land him, Bryce Young arrived at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in week one as the new starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers. Gone are the days of the reclamation project, this side is embracing a new era. 

He played largely fine, though he certainly looked like a rookie making his debut. No, what made me laugh the most was just him existing. Walking out onto the field alongside his fellow Panthers QBs, looking like a child being taken to school on their first day.

Bryce Young isn’t even that short! He’s 5 foot 10! The average American is 5 foot 9! But in a sport where being 6 foot 4 is commonplace, the mere sight of someone only slightly above the average height makes them look miniscule in comparison. Sorry, Bryce. I promise to stop laughing about it by the next time we meet.

Rise of the Zeroes

A brand new number just dropped! That’s right, for the first time ever the NFL has decided to acknowledge the number “0”, and have allowed players to wear that number from this point forward. Over the offseason it was one of those things you looked at and just kind of went “…huh.”, without giving it much more thought. In practice, however, it takes a little adjusting. 

You can find the full list of zeroes here, but the headliners from this weekend are Calvin Ridley (8 receptions, 101 yards, 1 touchdown), Brian Burns (4 tackles, 3 assisted takcles, 1.5 sacks), and Roquan Smith (8 tackles, 8 assisted tackles, 1 sack). Exhilarating, right?

We’ll all adjust to it pretty quickly, in the same way we did when non-QBs/Kickers started wearing single digits and a plethora of 1’s flooded the field, but it’s just a bizarre little thing that caught my eye over the weekend.

The Boy from County Wicklow

It feels like history is made on a semi-regular basis in the NFL. Team records are reset multiple times a season, players move up the list of most total sacks or passing yards, and the like. It can be pretty desensitising when greatness is happening with such regularity that you don’t really take the time to enjoy it. That being said, it can sometimes take something quite small and innocuous to sit up and pay attention.

On Sunday afternoon, and record spanning 38 years was finally broken, to the joy of an entire nation. Daniel Whelan, punter for the Green Bay Packers (and number 19, for those tracking digits), took a punt in the NFL. For the first time since 1985, the NFL has seen an Irish-born player take to the field. The NFL’s last Irishman was placekicker Neil O’Donoghue, who, himself, owns his own record in the sport

The growth of the game overseas has seen a number of non-US players enter, and excel, in the NFL. We’re used to Efe Obada being pushed here in the UK, but one of the most important cogs on the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line, Jordan Mailata, hadn’t played a jot of American Football before he was drafted in 2018, and he’s a year or so renewed from signing a lovely contract extension as their starting left tackle. Not saying the Daniel can expect a $65mil deal in the future. He’s inked his name into the history books, however. And he’s helping to further put Ireland on the sports map.

Hanisch-USA Today Sports Images

The Lowest of the Low

Speaking of making history, hats off to the New York Giants, who managed to reach lows the likes of which the NFL has never seen this past weekend. After a 2022 that surprised near enough all of us, expectations have been heightened somewhat for the Giants this season. Now, listen. I’m not able to stay up like I used to. If I’m going somewhere mid-week, I need to book at least half a day off work to recover. There’s no chance I’m staying up until 4am for two sides I don’t support. So imagine my shock when I checked the result on Monday morning to see the Giants had lost 40-0. At home, no less. 

Losing 40-0 is not a unique scenario. According to NFLScoragami, this is the fifth instance of a 40-0 result. It’s what they did in conjunction with everything else that set the record for incompetence.

I mean, look at that. It takes literally nothing going right in any capacity, from the first minute, to achieve all of those things in one go. As a result, the Giants sit squarely at the bottom of every table you can imagine. And they can’t really argue otherwise, can they? Let’s hope they don’t sink even further in week two, eh?

Calma, Yeah?

I’ve made a pretty big effort on a personal level to not put too much stock into week one. The manner in which teams approach pre-season means there are tonnes of examples of the first teamers for a lot of teams haven’t seen meaningful field time until literally this week. So, I’m using this section to try and talk down my 0-1ers.

Look, as far as I’m concerned, week one is pre-season week four. A lot of these boys have picked up a bit of rust over the summer. And, in an attempt to protect them, their coaches haven’t necessarily allowed them to kick that rust off before the important minutes start. I know I’ve clowned the Giants a bit, but those lads haven’t just forgotten who they are overnight. They just need a little bit of time to settle back in. 

There’s a lot of football to be played, and there’s a rhythm that can be settled into, is what I’m saying. More importantly, there’s time to find that rhythm. One of the benefits of the change to a 17-game season is that starting 0-2 isn’t the death knell it once was. The NFL season is the shortest season in professional sports, and it’s easy to feel like every week matters. But it’s game one. There’s plenty of time. Let’s calm down, eh?

Features Image Credit: Brynn Anderson-AP Photo

Thomas Willoughby