Did you have fun this week 1? I certainly did. We were treated to a ton of exciting football, even if the scoring in the early Sunday window was down. I’ll be touching on the Thursday night game, the Monday night game (sorry Jets fans, despite the W), and everything in between. Rookie QBs made their official debuts, some supposedly tight matchups were blowouts, and one game was more scintillating than the rest. Find out who the stars and the goats were in my week 1 takeaways for the 2023 NFL season!
TNF Kickoff Game: Chiefs Fall 21-20 Without Travis Kelce, Chris Jones
We learned late Thursday that Chiefs TE Travis Kelce would miss this game with a hyperextended knee. We also found out that DT Chris Jones, still holding out, would be at the game…in a suite. That made this game more challenging than it needed to be, and Detroit came to play. On just the second drive of the game, Detroit attempted a fake punt at their own 17, converted and marched down the field. WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (6/71/1) ended the drive with the season’s first TD. On their next drive, with the score 7-7, the Lions reached the red zone, but WR Marvin Jones fumbled. Had KC been at full strength, that could have been fatal.
Even without two All-Pros, the Chiefs were in this game until the end. As usual, that was due to QB Patrick Mahomes. The elite QB did everything he could to carry KC, finishing 21/39 for 226 yards and 2 TDs. He even led the team in rushing (45 yards). Aiding his cause were his two new tackles. LT Donovan Smith and RT Jawaan Taylor looked great, though the run game struggled to get going. Mahomes’ receivers let him down, especially Kadarius Toney. Mahomes threw a pick six to Lions rookie S Brian Branch, but the ball bounced off of Toney’s hands first. Toney, who finished with 1 catch (1 yard) on 5 targets had several crucial drops.
Don’t take anything away from Detroit. Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo used creative blitz packages to make up for Jones’ absence, so the Lions had to earn this win. QB Jared Goff (22/35, 253 yards, TD) was solid, and he had a good connection with WR Josh Reynolds (4/80). RB David Montgomery (21/71/1) salted the game away. DE Aidan Hutchinson tallied 3 QB hits and led a swarming Lions defense. The most encouraging part was the DET rookies. In addition to Branch, RB Jahmyr Gibbs (60 scrimmage yards) looked explosive, TE Sam LaPorta had 5 catches, and LB Jack Campbell looked in control of the defense. The Lions are for real, and they put the NFL on notice in primetime.
Joe Burrow, Bengals Still Can’t Solve Browns Puzzle
I first have to apologize to any Bengals fans reading this. What you saw on the field this week was an atrocity. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been so unexpected though. I distinctly remember writing on a similar topic in week 1 of 2022, when QB Joe Burrow was a turnover machine against the Steelers. Though he didn’t turn the ball over this time, the $275M QB was arguably worse this time around. In that game, at least the offense scored. Here, all the Bengals could muster were a measly 3 points. Burrow finished 14/31 for a career-low 82 yards passing in the 24-3 loss.
The defense deserves no blame here. They allowed 24 points, but 8 of them came when the Browns got the ball at the CIN 18 after a failed 4th down attempt. Deshaun Watson (154 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) did nothing special; the Bengal D just became exhausted after playing so many snaps. For some reason, Cleveland has Cincy’s number. Burrow is 1-5 in his career against the Browns, and it doesn’t seem to matter who Cleveland has playing QB. The Bengals are also facing their 3rd-straight slow start. The rainy weather can’t be blamed for this one either, as one team handled it just fine.
As it stands, this is just 1 game in a 17-game season. However, tiebreakers and playoff seeding could be affected down the line. Furthermore, an inability to beat a division foe you play twice a year seems like a major problem. If recent years are a guide, the Bengals will hit their stride in a few weeks. They’re the better team, and Cleveland should not get cocky because they own the advantage in an odd matchup disparity. Coach Zac Taylor just needs to work with his team and figure out why things always go horribly awry when their Ohio neighbors share the same field.
Niners and Cowboys Deliver Convincing Beatdowns
Let this be your first reminder NOT to overreact to preseason football. If you had done so, you’d have expected the Steelers and Giants to beat the Niners and Cowboys, respectively. After all, they were the league’s best first-string offenses in the preseason. Not only did they both lose their game, but they weren’t even competitive. SF steamrolled the Steelers starting with the very first drive, and QB Brock Purdy (19/29 for 229 yards and 2 TDs) was very sharp. Both scores went to WR Brandon Aiyuk (8/129/2), who looks much improved this year. RB Christian McCaffrey was as stellar as ever, with 22 totes for 152 yards and a TD.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, looked totally flat. QB Kenny Pickett never got anything going, tossing 46 passes but earning just 232 yards and throwing 2 picks. The Steelers scored 1 TD before the half, and that was it for the game in a 30-7 loss. OLB TJ Watt naturally tried to keep things competitive, but his 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles weren’t nearly enough. Pittsburgh at least didn’t look as awful as the Giants. NYG did NOTHING right, failing to score even 1 point in a 40-0 home demolition. QB Daniel Jones looked like his old self, completing 15/28 passes for 104 yards and 2 INTs. He also fumbled twice but recovered both.
Aside from Jones reverting to his turnover-prone form, the Giants had a field goal blocked and returned for TD. The defense didn’t let Cowboys QB Dak Prescott do much (134 yards and no TDs), but that’s only because he didn’t need to. RB Tony Pollard (14/70/2) carried the load on offense while the defense did the rest. DC Dan Quinn‘s unit earned 7 sacks and broke up 8 passes, refusing to give the Giants an ounce of life. I expected Dallas to win but in a competitive game. This was anything but competitive, and NYG’s predicted regression has already arrived. The Giants and Steelers both need complete resets before week 2.
Rookie QBs Go 0-3 in Their Debuts, All Have Turnovers
Being a rookie QB can be tough. You’re playing at a different level of competition for the first time, and the stage is brighter than ever before. It’s no wonder that rookie signal callers often struggle in their initial games or even their initial seasons. The 3 QBs drafted in the top 4 picks this April all figured that out the hard way in week 1. #1 pick Bryce Young arguably had the worst showing among the 3 in his first Carolina start. He telegraphed two ugly INTs, both caught by S Jesse Bates, and finished 20/38 for just 146 yards and a TD. He looked composed, but the Falcons overwhelmed him.
Houston’s CJ Stroud arguably had the best day, but his team scored the fewest points among the 3 rookies’ squads (9). Because the Texans were trailing so much, Stroud attempted 44 passes, completing 28 for 242 yards. His throws mostly went short, and he lost a fumble and took 5 sacks. That was a product of holding onto the ball too long. Indianapolis’ Anthony Richardson had the most production, but he too went down in defeat. His passing was erratic, and he went 24/37 for 223 yards, a TD, and an INT. He led his team in rushing though, taking 10 carries for 40 yards and a TD.
Among these QBs, Richardson kept his team in the best position to try to win, but late struggles led to a 10-point loss. Stroud made the fewest mistakes, though he couldn’t guide an untalented offense to the end zone even once. Young played with the most aggressive style, which actually came back to bite him. There were some bright spots for each of them, and their coaches will hope to build on that in the coming weeks. One thing is clear though: all 3 squads are building for the future and developing their (hopefully) franchise QBs rather than winning now.
Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill Overcome Their Own Defense to Best Bolts
The game I alluded to in the intro was this one. The Dolphins’ stars were actually so spectacular that I needed a 6th takeaway to squeeze them in! Predicted (correctly) as a shootout, the Dolphins-Chargers game was the most entertaining bout of the week. We’ll talk about Miami’s abhorrent run defense more another time if it remains this bad, but just know that it allowed 234 yards and 3 TDs at 5.9 yards per carry. Needless to say, the Dolphins’ offense needed to be spectacular to outscore what the defense was giving up. That led to one other subplot: the battle between the 5th and 6th picks of the 2020 NFL draft: QBs Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert.
Surprising to some but not to this analyst, Tagovailoa dominated the head-to-head matchup. Whereas Herbert (23/33, 228 yards, TD, 3 sacks taken) wilted on the final drive when his team needed a mere FG to win, the much-maligned Dolphin played his very best. There were a couple of hiccups: converted G and now C Connor Williams had a few errant snaps that led to 1 lost fumble, and Tagovailoa threw an end zone INT on a jump ball. Everything else about the passing game was sensational. Before we dive into Tua’s day, let’s look at WR Tyreek Hill. The speed demon had 11 catches for 215 yards and 2 TDs and was basically uncoverable.
Alright, you already knew how electric Hill is. Nothing I can say here would do him justice, though I’ll tell you that he’s off to a great start in his quest to become the league’s first 2000-yard receiver. Back to Tua, the stat line looks impressive; he went 28/45 for 466 yards and 3 TDs, including a game-winning score on a pinpoint pass to Hill with under 2 minutes remaining. The play was even better. He hit slants, timing routes, and deep shots with equal effectiveness. His pocket presence was superb, and he took 0 sacks in spite of LT Terron Armstead being out with an injury. One series though told me everything you need to know about him.
With :09 left in the first half and the ball at the 25 after a touchback, most teams would have taken a knee. Not HC Mike McDaniel. He dialed up a play that let Tua hit WR Jaylen Waddle for 22 yards. Instead of attempting a Hail Mary from the 47, Tua intentionally underthrew the pass (don’t tell me he can’t reach the end zone; he barely put anything into the throw) and baited CB JC Jackson into committing PI. The foul gave Miami a 41-yard FG try, and K Jason Sanders made the kick. That sequence showed me how much faith McDaniel has in his QB, and in a 36-34 victory, that might have been the difference.
MNF: Jets Win the Game but Lose Aaron Rodgers
We’ll start with the elephant in the room: the Jets’ new QB lasted 4 snaps. Aaron Rodgers was pressured on every one of those snaps, and he was finally sacked on his 4th. His ankle twisted awkwardly, and he stayed down on the field. Rodgers limped with the trainers to the blue medical tent, needed to be carted to the locker room, and underwent X-rays (which were negative). The Jets fear that he may have torn his Achilles, but we don’t know for sure yet. That would obviously be devastating, the savior’s season would have been finished after 4 snaps and 1 incomplete pass. NYJ’s Super Bowl dreams would also definitely be dead.
The reason those dreams are dead is that Rodgers’ replacement, former starter Zach Wilson, did not inspire confidence. Though Rodgers has been tutoring him, he looked no better than we remember. He threw an awful INT right to LB Matt Milano, setting up Buffalo’s lone TD. After that, it felt like OC Nathaniel Hackett tried to shy away from letting Wilson making a mistake, running the ball and keeping everything short in the passing game. Luckily, that running game was excellent. New addition Dalvin Cook didn’t do much, but Breece Hall looked great in his first game back since he tore his ACL last season.
Hall broke an 83-yard run before he ran out of gas (understandable) and finished with 10 carries for 127 yards. He seemed to trust his knee and showed great agility. Another offensive star was WR Garrett Wilson, who made an incredible TD catch on a poorly thrown pass to tie the game at 13. The only reason the Jets were in the game though was their defense. Even better than last year’s great unit, the Jets harassed Buffalo all game, and S Jordan Whitehead picked off Josh Allen three times. This defense kept NYJ in the game and will have to do so going forward if Rodgers is seriously hurt, just like they did last season.
Speaking of Allen, the ballyhooed QB was terrible. He turned it over 4 times: the 3 aforementioned INTs and a lost fumble. Allen still refuses to get down after runs, and it cost him on a hit by Michael Clemons, who jarred the ball loose. The Bills are lucky they were playing against Zach Wilson and that K Tyler Bass doinked a 50-yard FG off the upright and through to force OT. Alas, Allen went three and out with off-target passes, and returner Xavier Gipson took the ensuing punt to the house for a walk-off 22-16 win. This was a great team victory for NYJ, while Buffalo looks as vulnerable as they did to end the 2022 season.