It’s finally here! The much anticipated NFL regular season has begun, and, to put it lightly, a lot happened. You’re going to see tons of hot takes this week, so I want to stress something important: don’t overreact. It’s just 1 game. Sure, that one game could have ramifications down the line in terms of playoff and draft scenarios, but what it won’t do is dictate how your favorite team is going to be for the whole season. With that in mind, I’m providing my week 1 takeaways here with the goal of informing but not drawing sweeping conclusions based on what happened. There will be plenty of time for that in the weeks ahead.
Kickoff Game Provides Sloppy Football
Last year’s Buccaneers-Cowboys opener was a much better season debut from a quality standpoint. This game started out as a mess and finished the same way; the only difference was that Buffalo (31-10 victory) did SOME good in between. The Bills and Rams combined for SEVEN turnovers, and most of them were just plain ugly. Sean McVay probably should have played his starters at least a bit during the preseason, as his team was completely flat and ineffective. The star receivers (Cooper Kupp, Stefon Diggs, and Gabriel Davis) were all stellar, and each hauled in a TD. Josh Allen had some nice moments with 4 total TDs, but his two INTs were painful. Both squads will likely be fine, but Buffalo is a bit further along than LA is at this point in time.
Two Overtime Games, One Tie; What’s Wrong With Joe Burrow?
The Texans and Colts played a surprisingly one-sided game in Houston’s favor until Indy scored 17 unanswered in the 4th to tie the game at 20. After Houston punted on the first drive of OT, the Colts had a 42-yard FG for the win. Rodrigo Blankenship shanked it, and the Texans did nothing on the ensuing possession, leading to a 20-20 tie. Pittsburgh-Cincinnati was a complete mess. Bengals QB Joe Burrow looked ABYSMAL in this game, throwing 4 picks and fumbling twice, losing one. In spite of that, the defense locked down the Steelers and gave Cincy 1 more shot to win down 20-14 with under 2 minutes. On the last play of regulation, Burrow hit Ja’Marr Chase for a TD, tying the game before attempting the PAT. However, long snapper Clark Harris had been knocked out of the game with a bicep injury. Backup TE Mitchell Wilcox took over, and the results were disastrous. A poor snap led to the PAT being blocked, forcing OT. Pittsburgh got the ball first and punted, and the Bengals got in range for a 29-yard FG to win it. ANOTHER bad snap led to a shank. The Steelers worked the ball into Bengal territory, but Chris Boswell missed the ensuing 55-yard attempt. Cincinnati made it to midfield, but Burrow got stripped and lost yardage, forcing a punt. With one more chance, Boswell converted on a 53-yard attempt to win 23-20. Neither team deserved to win this game, and for a second it looked like nobody would. Pittsburgh is still a mediocre team, but the Bengals think they’re contenders. They need to heal/find a long snapper and figure out what in the world happened to Burrow to make him a turnover machine (or hope it’s just rust).
QBs Making Starting Debuts for New Teams had Limited Success
Matt Ryan’s first Colts start was a mixed bag, with his team going down 20-3 before catching fire in the 4th quarter. He threw for 352 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT, and he honestly did enough to win if his kicker had come through. As mentioned above, the game ended in a disappointing tie.
Carson Wentz, the man he replaced, was also streaky, throwing 2 TDs early before firing two ugly INTs that let the lowly Jaguars back into the game. After Jacksonville took the lead, Good Wentz re-emerged, throwing his 3rd and 4th TDs to retake the lead for good, winning 28-22. Wentz didn’t inspire a ton of confidence, but he’s clearly the best option the Commanders have had in years.
Mitch Trubisky had a very forgettable first game as a Steeler (if you don’t count the whole game-winner with the OT clock expiring thing), as his lackluster offense kept the Bengals alive in a game that should’ve been a blowout. He only had 194 yards and a TD in 5 quarters, but critically, he didn’t screw anything up.
Marcos Mariota was extremely mediocre for Atlanta; he threw for 215 yards (rush TD, no INTs) and fumbled twice, losing one. He played well enough to build a lead early on but poorly enough to squander it in the second half.
Elsewhere in the NFC South, Baker Mayfield almost had the revenge game of his dreams. After doing nothing for almost 3 quarters, he led several scoring drives to take a 24-23 lead over the Browns with 2 minutes to go. Unfortunately for him, his defense surrendered a 58-yard game-winning FG in the final seconds. Mayfield finished 16/27 for 235 yards, 1 TD, 1 rushing TD and 1 INT. He also fumbled the snap FOUR times, but he recovered all 4.
Russell Wilson made his debut Monday night against his old team, and although he played the cleanest game among new starters, he didn’t get the win he desperately craved. Wilson went 29/42 for 340 yards and a TD with no turnovers, but red zone struggles doomed the Broncos. They weren’t Wilson’s fault, however. RBs Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon each lost a fumble at the Seattle 1, taking 14 points off the board. Coach Nathaniel Hackett made the peculiar decision to trot out Brandon McManus for a 64-yard field goal attempt while not in Denver instead of letting Wilson go and convert a 4th down. The decision predictably backfired, and the Broncos lost the game. Wilson’s going to be just fine though, and fans should still be excited.
QBs That Became Starters for Their Current Teams Went in Opposite Directions
Trey Lance was being hyped as the key to unlocking Kyle Shanahan’s offense and putting the Niners over the top, but he had a terrible first start. Inexperience and pouring rain made for a miserable game. San Francisco’s defense dominated the feckless Bears in the first half, but Lance and the offense could only muster 7 points. They added a field goal in the 3rd quarter, but that was it. Lance finished 13/28 for 164 yards and a pick. The turnover and repeated 3-and-outs gave the Bears short fields every drive against a tired defense. The Bears could only muster 19 total points, but that was enough to beat SF 19-10.
Geno Smith, given the unenviable task of replacing Russell Wilson, played his role admirably. He started off flawlessly, completing each of his first 13 pass attempts. Smith finished 23/28 for 195 yards and 2 TDs, doing just enough to pull off a 17-16 upset. His team certainly had help from Denver (see the Broncos’ miscues above), but don’t take this away from Geno. Unlike his QB competitor Drew Lock, Smith took care of the football and played complementary football with his defense. That’s going to have to be the way Seattle wins games given their roster deficiencies.
Top Performers and Unexpected Disappointments
Some teams did exactly what was expected of them. KC demolished Arizona 44-21, with Patrick Mahomes looking like he was in midseason form (30/39 for 360 yards and 5 TDs). Justin Herbert, the Chiefs’ top competition, also had a great day (279 yards, 3 TDs, no turnovers). The Dolphins defense smothered an admittedly poor Patriots offense, allowing just 7 points (even those were due to a questionable illegal contact call; get used to those). Speaking of the Dolphins, Tua Tagovailoa looked good, going 23/33 for 270 yards and a TD with no turnovers; most importantly, he got the ball to Tyreek Hill (8/94) and Jaylen Waddle (4/69, TD) early and often. As expected, Colts RB Jonathan Taylor was great, rushing for 161 yards and a TD to will Indy to a tie. The WRs who switched teams looked great in general, with the aforementioned Hill, Davante Adams (10/141, TD), and AJ Brown (10/155) putting up big games for their new squads. Kirk Cousins (277 yards, 2 TDs) and Justin Jefferson (9/184, 2 TDs) were also red-hot, leading the Vikings to an upset over the Packers.
On the flip side, some players just looked flat. Justin Fields, despite getting a win, was awful. Including a 51-yard TD that came against a horribly blown coverage, Fields was just 8/17 for 121 yards, 2 TDs, and an INT. He could not move the ball without the Niners helping with penalties. To be fair, it’s not all his fault; the weather was bad, and the Bears averaged just 2.7 yards per carry, blocked poorly, and didn’t get open in the secondary. Giants QB Daniel Jones had multiple turnovers, putting the theory that new coach Brian Daboll could fix his decision making on hold; the two even got into a shouting match on the bench, but were bailed out by a missed FG by the Titans. Lastly, Arizona’s James Conner could not produce with his 10 carries, picking up just 26 yards (his teammate Eno Benjamin had 7 YPC).
The rest of this section is devoted to the teams whose QBs didn’t take a snap in the preseason. Aaron Rodgers (195 yards, INT, FUM lost), Joe Burrow (see the rant above), and Derek Carr (3 INT, 2 FUM but none lost), and Matthew Stafford (3 INTs, 7 sacks) all had poor games with multiple turnovers in losses after not playing at all in the past month. This isn’t unusual for Rodgers, who got drubbed in New Orleans in last year’s opener before making a run to the NFC Championship game. Dak Prescott only had one turnover (an INT), but he went 14/29 (under 50%) with just 134 yards and 3 points before leaving with injury. Each of these passers just seemed a little off and out of sync with their teammates, possibly because they didn’t have live game reps to build chemistry. Their teams will all surely deny that, but that many good QBs struggling after sitting out the preseason feels like more than a coincidence. On the flip side, guys like Patrick Mahomes and Jameis Winston, who did play during the summer, looked great, which only intensifies the contrast.