NFL: Sanchez and Manning face another round of questions
(Reuters) - There is not much time for self-satisfaction in the National Football League (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.
But a visit to the Pittsburgh Steelers, smarting from their opening day loss at 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."
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 at 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, 2011.
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 over 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 2011 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, Monday 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 postseason this year, which may explain why head coach Mike Smith is sounding like a perfectionist.
Following the impressive win at 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.
Another team looking to prove that the opening game was not a fluke is the Dallas Cowboys, who impressed so much with their road win over the win Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
That victory led to talk of the Cowboys having finally turned the corner and being a real threat in the NFC, but in order to be considered a serious challenger they need to carry that momentum into Sunday's trip to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Giants will look to rebound on Sunday at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who themselves looked solid in their win over Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was without doubt the rookie of the week with his 320 yards and two touchdowns in his NFL debut against the host New Orleans Saints and he is on the road again in St. Louis against the Rams.
(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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