There is not much time for self-satisfaction in the NFL.
Quarterbacks Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets and Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos silenced their off-season doubters with impressive season-opening victories, but they face sterner tests this week on the road against tough opponents.
It is one thing to shine at home and another thing entirely being able to do it all in a hostile environment.
The Jets entered last week’s home game against the AFC East rival Buffalo Bills facing questions about the effectiveness of their offense, which Sanchez answered convincingly by throwing for 266 yards and three touchdowns in a 48-28 rout.
However, a visit to the Pittsburgh Steelers, smarting from their opening day loss to Denver, where they held a five-point lead early in the fourth quarter, poses some more searching questions of Sanchez and his offense.
“It’s about as tough a place to play as there is in football,” Jets head coach Rex Ryan told reporters. “We have had some great battles against these guys and lost two [AFC] championship games, which you don’t forget.”
“They have an excellent football team and they get after it ... it is going to be a huge challenge,” Ryan said.
The Steelers were disappointed to leave Denver in defeat and wide receiver Mike Wallace says they cannot wait to get back out and put things right.
“We’re not a losing team and we don’t take losing well. We have to go out there and respond because that’s the way we are built,” said Wallace, who had 50 receiving yards and one touchdown against Denver.
The Jets are aiming for a third consecutive regular season win against Pittsburgh although they suffered defeat in their biggest meeting with the Steelers in recent years — the AFC Championship game in January last year.
While Sanchez was under pressure from the arrival of backup quarterback Tim Tebow, for Manning it was a very different kind of point he had to prove.
Now one of just three quarterbacks to have passed for more than 400 touchdowns in his career, along with Dan Marino and Brett Favre, no one ever doubted Manning until his neck surgery caused him to miss the entire last season.
After 14 seasons, the Indianapolis Colts were not ready to gamble on a new contract for him, but the Broncos were and they got rewarded with a performance that cast aside concerns over whether Manning still had what it takes.
While the Steelers were far from pushovers, tomorrow night’s game in the Georgia Dome against the Atlanta Falcons will shed further light on whether the Manning-led Broncos are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Atlanta were brutally efficient in their 40-24 road win at Kansas City, with quarterback Matt Ryan showing he has matured into an elite performer by throwing for 299 yards and three touchdowns, while running in another for good measure.
The Falcons have built an impressive roster, but know they need to finally make some real progress in the post-season this year, which may explain why head coach Mike Smith is sounding like a perfectionist.
Following the impressive win against Kansas City, Smith chose to focus on the weaknesses in the running game after Michael Turner led the team in rushing with just 32 yards.
“We have got to run it more effectively and efficiently than we did. We have to sustain our blocks, we missed some, we missed some cuts,” he said.