NFL Primer: Revisiting The Brees Index
You may recall last year we were tracking the progress of Drew Brees, Marques Colston and the New Orleans Saints with the aptly named Brees Index because they were the first team to score a touchdown on the opening Sunday of the NFL season. It started out as a sort of a joke. The previous season we at Wisconsin Sports Weekend had noted that the Atlanta Falcons were the first to score and then went on a surprising playoff run. Then the Saints win the Super Bowl in 2009 after being the first to score. There must be some sort of magic in being the first to score, right?
So I did a little digging and was shocked at the results. Is it just a fluke that the first player/team to score a touchdown will embark on a magical season or is there some sort of deeper connection between the two? Look at the results below and decide for yourself.
2003 Priest Holmes, Kansas City Chiefs Coming off an 8-8 season the Chiefs had a fun offense to watch but didn't really look like a playoff team. Holmes, coming off a hip injury that sidelined him for the final two games of 2002, scampered in from 24 yards out on the sixth play of the game. Holmes stayed healthy all year and rushed for 1,420 yards while scoring a then-NFL record 27 rushing touchdowns. The Chiefs steamrolled to a 9-0 start, finished 13-3 and grabbed the number two seed in the AFC playoffs but lost to Indianapolis in the divisional round.
2004 Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh Steelers Taking the opening kickoff and marching 74 yards Jerome Bettis plowed through from the one yard line to give the Steelers the first touchdown of the year. Bettis would finish the day with one of the oddest stat lines you'll ever see: five carries, one yard, three touchdowns. Nevertheless, the Steelers rode The Bus to an NFL-best 15-1 record and a trip to the AFC Championship Game. Bettis finished the year with 941 yards on the ground and 13 TDs.
2005 Larry Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs Those Chiefs teams of the mid-00's were explosive and if nothing else fast starters. On the game's third play Johnson scored on a 35 yard touchdown. With Holmes nearing the end of his career Johnson took the baton and ran with it...literally. Johnson would end 2005 with 1,750 yards, good for third best in the league to go with 21 scores. Although the Chiefs went 10-6 it would be a non-playoff year.
2006 London Fletcher, Buffalo Bills How long did it take the linebacker Fletcher to score the coveted first touchdown on opening Sunday? One play. Takeo Spikes stripped New England quarterback Tom Brady, Fletcher recovered the fumble and took it five yards for the score. Fletcher went on to impress all year with 146 tackles (third highest that year), two sacks and four interceptions. Sadly the FTS (First To Score) Magic did not rub off on the Bills who finished 7-9.
2007 Tracy White, Green Bay Packers The FTS Magic returned with a vengeance in '07. Packers fans may recall White's end zone fumble recovery off a muffed punt just two minutes into the opening game. The touchdown gave the Packers an early lift in a surprising 16-13 win over Philadelphia which served as a springboard to a run to the NFC Championship Game. White was only a part-timer and special teamer so his 11 tackles may not impress but Green Bay's 13-3 record surely did.
2008 Matt Ryan & Michael Jenkins, Atlanta Falcons No one expected the Falcons to do anything with the rookie Ryan at quarterback and first year coach Mike Smith at the helm. Those expectations changed after Ryan hit Jenkins for a 62 yard touchdown on the third play of the game. Ryan would go on to throw for 3,440 yards and 16 TDs while Jenkins caught 50 passes for 777 yards and three scores. More importantly the Falcons buried the 2007 Michael Vick-Bobby Petrino nightmare season with an 11-5 record and an appearance in the wild card round.
2009 Drew Brees & Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints If there was any doubt about the FTS Magic it was erased by the 2009 Saints. Almost three minutes into Week One Brees fired a nine yard touchdown to Colston and the Saints never looked back. Brees piled up 4,388 passing yards and 34 TDs, Colston racked up 1,074 receiving yards and nine TDs and the Saints rode the magic to a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl title.
So to recap, the teams that scored first ended with 13, 15, 10, 7, 13, 11 and 13 wins (an average of nearly 12 victories), made the playoffs five times and got at least as far as the conference championship round three times. Running backs accounted for 61 touchdowns, receivers caught 12 TDs while quarterbacks threw for more than 7,600 yards and 50 TDs. Wherever you are on September 12 make sure you're in front of a TV around 12:01 p.m. and take note of who scores first. There's magic in that first touchdown.