Photo By: Dave Adamson from Unsplash
The NFL is back, and with it comes 10+ hours of sitting on the couch and watching chaos unfold each and every Sunday. Here are some of the biggest storylines, observations, and budding narratives from this week’s NFL action.
(Note: Monday night’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Las Vegas Raiders will be discussed in next week’s edition of this column.)
Game of the week
The excitement of the league’s return seemed to make even the ugliest games — looking at you Eagles-Falcons — look like an instant classic. My pick for game of the week came in the form of Sunday evening’s matchup between the Cleveland Browns and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Browns came into Arrowhead Stadium with something to prove this week, dominating the first half to take a 22-10 lead into the break. It was the Browns two-headed monster in the backfield, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who kept the chains moving with 116 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. A shaky Chiefs defense cleaned things up in the second half, and Patrick Mahomes did Patrick Mahomes things to storm back and take the lead. It was a fourth quarter mishandled punt from Browns punter Jamie Gilan though which ultimately put the Chiefs in range to secure the win. The familiar connection of Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill generated 197 receiving yards with one TD, while TE Travis Kelce tacked on two receiving TDs of his own.
Way-too-early MVP watch
Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray put on a clinic this Sunday in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. Murray went 21/32 for 289 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for 20 yards and a rushing TD of his own. The Cardinals blew the doors off of a promising Titans team, beating them 38-13 in a game that was never particularly close. The former 2018 No. one overall draft pick got some nice help from his improved defense as well. OLB Chandler Jones pressured the Titans to the tune of a career-high five (!) sacks and two forced fumbles. The Cardinals had a very strong showing in week one, and they will look to contend with the murderer’s row of competitors in the NFC West.
Dak is back?
Cowboys star QB Dak Prescott made his return to regular season action this week, throwing for 403 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-29 loss to Tom Brady’s Buccaneers. Despite the loss, Prescott looked sharp and quieted some concerns after his season-ending right ankle fracture suffered in week five of last season. Prescott connected with his old friend Amari Cooper for 13 receptions and 139 yards, and threw just one interception in the game. If there was one concern, it would be in his apparent limited mobility during the few times he was forced to scramble out of the pocket. Ultimately, Brady once again proved that the NFL runs through him, airing it out for 379 passing yards and four TDs en route to a week one win.
Shocker of the week
It wasn’t such a beautiful day in Mr. Rodgers’ neighbourhood on Sunday, as Aaron’s Green Bay Packers got laughed off the New Orleans Saints’ temporary Jacksonville home field (as a result of Hurricane Ida). Despite losing franchise cornerstone Drew Brees to retirement this offseason, the former 30-30 club member (30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season) and perennial question mark, Jameis Winston had one of the finest showings of his career. Winston threw for just 148 passing yards, but showed great composure as he picked apart the Packers defense for five touchdowns on his way to a 38-3 win. Rodgers completed just 53% of his passes, and coughed up two interceptions in an embarrassing start to the season for the cheeseheads.
The best (and worst) of the rest
Sam Darnold had a shocking revenge game against the New York Jets. The new Panthers QB threw for 279 yards, and connected with RB Christian McCaffrey for a number of big chunk plays. Jets rookie QB Zach Wilson turned around a very shaky first half and showed signs of promise in the second half, despite the Jets’ 19-14 loss. The San Francisco 49ers turned on cruise control a little too early against the Detroit Lions, and almost gave away a 41-17 lead. Allowing 33 points to the Lions is not what you want to see from the much praised 49ers defense, but we’ll chalk that up to growing pains after DC Robert Saleh’s departure for now.
The Cincinnati Bengals stole one from the Minnesota Vikings in a game that neither team seemed to want to win. This one went the distance, with Bengals rookie kicker Evan McPherson splitting the uprights on a game-winning FG at the end of the extra frame to give the Bengals a 27-24 win. Matthew Stafford looked very steady in his debut with the Los Angeles Rams, as Sean McVay’s team grabbed a 34-14 win over the Chicago Bears. Finally, first overall pick Trevor Lawrence made his debut for the Jacksonville Jaguars, looking solid at times but shaky at others. Lawrence threw for 332 yards and three TDs, but also had three giveaways on the way to a 37-21 loss to the lowly Houston Texans.
Games to watch next week
For week two of the season, fans can get excited about an AFC East matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins. While the Bills will look to squish the fish, the ‘Phins will aim to build on a grind-it-out week one win over the New England Patriots. The explosive offenses of the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks will go head-to-head on Sunday afternoon. Finally, Sunday’s primetime game will feature two of the league’s finest QBs, as Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs will face off against Lamar Jackson’s Ravens in what is sure to be a barnburner.