The first Sunday of the season has come and gone. Here are some of our big takeaways:
» Behind a resurgent LeSean McCoy (156 total yards of offense, leading the Bills in both rushing and receptions), the Bills ran over the ammo-less Jets.
» After completing 16 of 31 passes for 170 yards and four turnovers against the Ravens, did Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton open the door for AJ McCarron?
» Ezekiel Elliott tallied 140 total yards as the Cowboys dominated the Giants, showing just how valuable he is to Dallas’ offense.
» The Packers offensive line needs some help. Aaron Rodgers was stepped on, tweaked, bumped or hit in a way that caused some minor discomfort.
» Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell got off to a slow start. He piled up just nine yards in the first 25 minutes of play.
Here’s what else we learned Sunday:
Raiders 26, Titans 16
Raiders vs. Titans highlights | Week 1
1. This was an incredibly mature performance by Derek Carr and the entire Raiders offense. These two teams, both highlighted by strong offensive lines and talented young quarterbacks, did not have much to separate them throughout Sunday. The difference was Carr’s excellent decision making, his touch on throws to the outside and the immediate impact of many of his new offensive teammates. Carr, Michael Crabtree, Jared Cook and Amari Cooper make low-percentage throws look routine.
2. BeastMode is back. Marshawn Lynch’s numbers (76 rushing yards, one catch for 16 yards) don’t pop, but his rugged running style was reminiscent of his days in Seattle. He broke tackles to convert a key fourth-down conversion near the goal line early in the game, then trucked 305-pound defensive tackle Jurrell Casey as Lynch helped kill the clock.
Lynch wasn’t the only new Raider to make a huge impact. Cook, a tight end picked up by Green Bay, was impressive with five catches and 62 yards. Cordarrelle Patterson made a big difference on special teams. Raiders rookie defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes helped end a few Titans drives.
3. There’s no need for the Titans to panic. They didn’t finish their drives well in the red zone, but otherwise showed progress in the passing game. Rookie Corey Davis is ahead of schedule with six catches and 69 yards in his first game. The biggest concern might be pass protection, which struggled in the preseason and in this game. Right tackle Jack Conklin was particularly at fault, although that tends to happen when you line up against Khalil Mack.
Eagles 30, Redskins 17
Eagles vs. Redskins highlights | Week 1
1. I loved the way both teams started this game. Jay Gruden dialed up a deep ball to Terrelle Pryor (incomplete) on the first play from scrimmage while Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson countered with one bomb to Torrey Smith, who was being guarded by Josh Norman, and eventually, a 58-yard touchdown to Nelson Agholor. Although, to me, only the Eagles offense dovetailed into something practical. The team has myriad weapons and, like the Patriots, can almost downshift from fun and gun into something more powerful by the drive. Wentz isn’t yet the better quarterback, but his best receivers are helping to put him in better positions.
2. Why so down on the Redskins? Pryor had a difficult time establishing himself as a true No. 1 wideout today and Kirk Cousins needed it. The Redskins quarterback was constantly on the move and, aside from some heads-up plays from Ryan Grant, didn’t seem get more from his other wideouts than the standard route (tight end Jordan Reed, still on the mend as NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday morning, gets a bit of a pass). The fact that we’re even talking about Pryor this way is impressive — let’s be clear. Some of his standard routes looked professionally crisp on Sunday, but as the broadcast crew mentioned, Pryor and Cousins are looking to establish that throw it up and I’ll find it relationship and we’re a long way from that. He was targeted 11 times on Sunday — almost double the next closest wide receiver.
Pryor dropped a huge ball on what looked to be a post route in the fourth quarter with 6:39 to go — at the time Washington was backed up against its own 1-inch line. Earlier in the game, he also flubbed a ball in the end zone that would have capped a spectacular long-range touchdown. However, he was spared from scrutiny there because Reed was called for a holding penalty.
3. Wentz (26-of-39, 307 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) does at least one thing every Sunday that makes him look 10 years more mature than he really is. The touchdown to Agholor we referenced above, which was prefaced by a blind scramble and instantaneous shuffle into open space to make the throw, was that moment on Sunday. Wentz still has brackets of time where all the athleticism and arm talent seems to ram into a wall, when the second-year quarterback is still pinballing. That being said, the potential for this offense is quite high if he can start to reign in the frantic plays.
Bills 21, Jets 12
Jets vs. Bills highlights | Week 1
1. The incentives recently added to LeSean McCoy’s contract don’t seem out of reach after watching how Buffalo’s new-look offense operated on Sunday with new coordinator Rick Dennison. Like a more compact Steelers offense from 2016 (minus a legitimate every-down receiving threat) everything is flowing through the running back and even McCoy seems to have adjusted his game a little bit. McCoy’s typically free-flowing style was more assertive and powerful on Sunday. Surprisingly enough, he was more apt to cut a run inside during the first half of Sunday’s game than fullback/powerback Mike Tolbert, though Tolbert’s line-busting role was eventually established later in the game. This is not going to be a top-five offense in terms of watchability this year, but there will be weeks when the Bills are going to be difficult to prepare for despite their lack of star power at the receiver spots. The focus on McCoy was most evident during Buffalo’s third-quarter touchdown. Dennison put McCoy in at the goal line and ran a dive fake to the right side while sneaking receiver Andre Holmes across the line to the left. There wasn’t a Jet within three yards of him. Easy score.
1a. Jordan Matthews (two catches, 61 yards) may end up being a more practical target for Tyrod Taylor this year. While the Bills could eventually look insane for giving up Sammy Watkins, Matthews twice showed a knack for settling on a route in the right place to give Taylor a hand.
2. The Jets are going to struggle this season; this was not a secret heading into the opener. Their offense is trying to maximize what little star power it has, but against Buffalo on Sunday looked devastatingly compact. Robby Anderson has the ability to stretch the field and there’s a good chance former Seahawks wideout Jermaine Kearse develops into the only player capable of sniffing 1,000 yards this year. But…quarterback Josh McCown ended up with the kind of stat line we expected: High in completion percentage and attempts, but low in total yards and yards per attempt.
3. Just 13 rushing attempts between Matt Forte and Bilal Powell for the Jets today in a game where they were not seriously behind. Should they be able to develop an offense stable enough to play Christian Hackenberg at some point this season, those ratios need to seriously change. Hackenberg, by the way, was the Jets’ No. 2 quarterback on Sunday. Will he remain the backup once Bryce Petty’s knee strengthens?
Ravens 20, Bengals 0
Ravens vs. Bengals highlights | Week 1
1. The last time Andy Dalton threw three interceptions over the first 30 minutes of a game, the Bengals won (back in 2014). There was no repeat of an improbable defiance of fate Sunday when Dalton tossed three first-half picks against a stingy Ravens defense. Dalton had a miserable first half, completing 8 of 15 passes for 70 yards and three turnovers. His final pick of the half — which came at the end of an almost comical series of incidents after he drilled Terrell Suggs in the helmet and Lardarius Webb came up with the ricocheted ball — resulted in a drenching of boos from the home crowd. The situation didn’t magically fix itself in the second half, either, and Dalton finished the game 16 of 31 for 170 yards and four interceptions. It seems like the inconsistent version of Dalton we used to know — the one before his very strong 2015 season was derailed by a late-season thumb injury — was on the field against the Ravens. Whether it was a one-game blip or a possible door-opener for AJ McCarron remains to be seen.
2. Joe Flacco looked like his same ol’ self in this one. He didn’t thrill in his first on-field game action of any kind this season, but he got the job done and avoided making too many mistakes — it was a downright Flacco-ian display. Even better, his quick sojourn to the sideline medical tent for a reported concussion evaluation only resulted in a thumbs up from Joe when he emerged. Still, the Ravens will need a little more than the 9-of-17 passing and 121 yards and the touchdown that Flacco mustered against the suspension-depleted Bengals team. Coach John Harbaugh likely was playing it safe with his veteran QB — the 17 passing attempts were the fewest Flacco has thrown when playing a full game.
3. Flacco didn’t need to have the best game thanks, in part, to the efforts of running backs Terrance West and Javorius Allen. West racked up 80 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and Allen chewed up 71 yards on 21 attempts. As Flacco continues to get up to speed, the West-Allen combo figures to play a big role for the Ravens’ offense, especially if Danny Woodhead’s hamstring injury (he was carted off early) keeps the versatile running back sidelined.
Jaguars 29, Texans 7
Texans vs. Jaguars highlights | Week 1
1. If you’re a fan of using the run to set up the pass, Jacksonville’s gameplan Sunday was for you. The Jaguars handed the ball to rookie Leonard Fournette early and often, allowing the human hammer to wallop Houston’s defense for plenty of yards after contact. Fournette’s presence was quickly respected by Houston’s defense, opening things up for Blake Bortles and Co. Fournette finished with 100 yards on 26 carries (3.8 yards per carry) and one touchdown, and he looked worthy of his high draft selection.
2. After what has seemed to be years of touting Jacksonville’s defense as one of the rising groups of the league, the unit might finally be realizing its potential. Dante Fowler and new addition Calais Campbell were major difference-makers. Campbell set the franchise’s single-game sack record with 3.5 in the first half, and as a team, the Jaguars finished with 10 sacks, which also set a franchise record. Fowler recovered a fumble and took it 53 yards for a scoop-and-score. Jacksonville’s defense is fearsome after one week of play.
3. Things couldn’t have started much worse for Houston. Tom Savage had a miserable first half before being pulled for Deshaun Watson, the Texans lost two tight ends to concussions and the team turned the ball over four times. Instead of opening the season on a positive note, Houston is forced to immediately reexamine what they have going on after just one game, in almost every area of the game. The lone bright spot is Watson, who led a drive that produced Houston’s only points of the game, but even the rookie had his struggles in the second half, tossing an interception that was nearly returned for a score by Tashaun Gipson. Houston’s offensive line is one of the three cheapest units in the league. They looked like it on Sunday. Whether it’s statuesque Savage in the pocket or the more mobile Watson, the unit needs to protect the quarterback better if the Texans have any hope of competing for another AFC South crown. They sure didn’t look like contenders on Sunday.
Steelers 21, Browns 18
Steelers vs. Browns highlights | Week 1
1. Showing patience and decisiveness, DeShone Kizer handled this opener as well as any previous Browns starter since the team’s return to the league in 1999. The big-bodied rookie used his feet, looked off his first option and showed toughness getting back up after a whopping seven Pittsburgh sacks. Kizer was at his best rallying the team for a late touchdown that cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 21-18. On the down side, the rookie threw an ugly second-half pick to rookie T.J. Watt and held the ball too long on a handful of those takedowns. It wasn’t flawless, but Kizer displayed chemistry with second-year wideout Corey Coleman and comes out of this opener as the most promising signal-caller the Browns have unveiled since Tim Couch. It’s something to build on.
2. Ben Roethlisberger’s first snap came with 7:59 left in the first quarter. The Steelers showed plenty of rust out of the gate, with Pittsburgh generating a measly 68 yards over the first 25 minutes of play. Back-from-wilderness workhorse Le’Veon Bell piled up just nine yards over that span, but Pittsburgh finally got cooking before the half with Antonio Brown taking a tipped pass from Big Ben for 50 yards downfield before hauling in gains of 28 and 19 yards to set up Roethlisberger’s short scoring strike to tight end Jesse James. Brown later coaxed Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor into a killer pass-interference call before ultimately sealing the game with a leaping 38-yard snag before the two-minute warning. Until the Browns discover a way to slow down Brown — who torched them for 182 yards off 11 grabs — this rivalry remains a one-sided affair.
3. What to make of Bell’s slow start? His game in Cleveland last season — a 36-touch, 200-yard explosion — began Bell’s late-year run as the AFC’s premier do-everything back. On Sunday, the All-Pro back lost touches to rookie James Conner and never really found his groove. Another week of practice should help.
Falcons 23, Bears 17
Falcons vs. Bears highlights | Week 1
1. The Falcons looked little like the high-flying, multifaceted, deep-strike offense we saw in 2016. In the first tilt with Steve Sarkisian calling plays, the Falcons offense settled for short passes, struggled to run the ball (2.65 yards per carry from Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman), and rarely got into a flow. Outside of a bust in the Bears secondary that led to an 88-yard touchdown from Matt Ryan to tight end Austin Hooper, the quarterback rarely stretched the field. The operation looked more like the pre-Kyle Shanahan days. Ryan made enough plays (21-of-30 passing for 321 yards, TD) to get the win. After not playing most of the preseason without a full complement of weapons together, we’ll see if the trend continues as the offense gels.
2. Hello, Tarik Cohen! The Bears’ shifty running back was a marvel to watch. On a field with Julio Jones, Freeman and Coleman, it speaks volumes that Cohen was the most exciting player Sunday. The slippery rookie rarely went down on first contact and provided headaches to the Falcons’ second level. Cohen earned 66 yards on five rushes, including a breathtaking 46-yarder in which he looked corralled in the backfield before springing free. The jitterbug added eight receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown grab. Looking like a Darren Sproles facsimile, Cohen should eat into Jordan Howard’s production this season.
3. The Bears predictably hid quarterback Mike Glennon early in the contest. At one point, the Bears went 19 plays without a completed pass. On their first touchdown drive, Chicago ran seven official plays, all runs (the only pass ended as a defensive holding). Glennon wasn’t the disaster we saw in the preseason, but his lack of pocket mobility played a factor (four sacks), and he didn’t stretch the field until late in the contest. Glennon looked the part of a competent backup. He made plays to keep the Bears in the game, didn’t have back breaking turnovers, and got the Bears in the correct plays. Lacking playmakers on the outside, Glennon spread the ball around to eight pass catchers, finishing with a 65 completion percentage, 213 yards, 5.3 yards per attempt and one touchdown.
Lions 35, Cardinals 23
Cardinals vs. Lions highlights | Week 1
1. Much was written this offseason about Carson Palmer’s rest days. They were supposed to lead to a stronger quarterback. Instead, they led to a rusty Palmer. The Cardinals QB was off all afternoon, especially in the first half, when he threw two interceptions and caused coach Bruce Arians to tell the Fox broadcast at half he needed to “stop overthrowing guys.” Palmer wasn’t much better in the second half, throwing a game-sealing interception — his third of the day — late in the fourth quarter. Matthew Stafford thoroughly outplayed the Cardinals quarterback, and that was the difference in Sunday’s game. Palmer finished 27-of-48 for 269 yards, a touchdown and three picks. Stafford ended with 292 yards, four touchdowns and an interception on 29-of-41 passing.
2. To add injury to insult in Arizona, the Cardinals will have to monitor the status of their star running back the rest of this week. David Johnson left the game late in the third quarter after injuring his wrist and he did not return. It was not a good debut for the running back, regardless of the injury. He logged just 23 rushing yards on 11 carries and fumbled twice, losing one. He did have six catches for 68 yards, though.
3. The Lions clearly want Ameer Abdullah to be their bellcow this season. His play, however, left a question mark on whether that will be the game plan moving forward. The tailback barely had a run longer than seven yards (that didn’t even come until late in the game) and he only posted 30 yards on 15 carries. The holes weren’t there for most of the day for the Lions, but Dwayne Washington ran with more power and at least averaged 3.5 yards per carry on the day. Theo Riddick will no doubt be in the mix for playing time as well, if for no other reason than he’s a tremendous receiving threat out of the backfield. He finished the day with six catches for 27 yards and a score.
Rams 46, Colts 9
Colts vs. Rams highlights | Week 1
1. The Los Angeles Rams could not have asked for a more dominant debut from venerable defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and his unit. The former Broncos DC, who coached the No Fly Zone to a Super Bowl title in Denver, saw his Rams defense take two Scott Tolzien interceptions to the house, tally four sacks, force a safety via fumble and allow just nine points to the Indianapolis Colts in his debut.
Don’t brush off this performance due to the opponent’s merits, or lack thereof. It should be noted that Phillips schemed this up without his top disruptor, the former holdout Aaron Donald. In his stead, Robert Quinn, Ethan Westbrooks and Tyrunn Walker destroyed the Colts’ Ryan Kelly-less offensive line, collapsing the pocket on nearly every passing down and forcing Tolzien into terrible decisions. Just imagine when Donald returns, or don’t if you don’t like scary things.
2. Two young Angelenos earned their first victories in their current positions on Sunday: Sean McVay and Jared Goff. The sophomore gunslinger went winless in seven rookie starts, but lived up to his top-pick billing in the season opener against Indy. In his game in McVay’s offense, Goff looked professional, competent and, at times, exceptional.
He threw one beauty of a touchdown to the rookie Cooper Kupp (four catches for 76 yards), with whom he’s already developed a psychic, virile connection. Goff’s deep ball skills were also on display on a 39-yard toss to another rookie, tight end Gerald Everett. Plus, the QB spread the rock around; four different receivers finished with at least 50 receiving yards.
It’d be too easy to give all the credit to Goff or McVay, whose tutelage of the young QB has so far paid dividends. So we’ll divvy up the praise and say, ‘Do it again next week’ when McVay’s former team and quarterback, Kirk Cousins’ Redskins, come to town.
3. Nothing went right for the Colts on Sunday afternoon. After tossing two pick-sixes, Tolzien was benched in the fourth quarter for Jacoby Brissett, whom the Colts only acquired a week ago. Frank Gore and rookie Marlon Mack weren’t enough of a threat on the ground to open up the passing game. Without the starting center Kelly, Indy’s already patchwork O-line couldn’t withstand Los Angeles’ front. Even the indomitable Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal … and an extra point! It’d be best for all Colts sympathizers if Chuck Pagano pulled a Sparano and buried this game ball deep beneath the Indiana farmlands.
Panthers 23, 49ers 3
Panthers vs. 49ers highlights | Week 1
1. Sunday brought our first extended look at Cam Newton. After throwing just two passes all preseason on his way back from shoulder surgery, the Panthers quarterback put a smattering of pros and cons on tape.
He moved well on his feet, but Newton saw a dangerous lob into space nearly picked off by rookie Reuben Foster — more on him below — before a deep strike to Kelvin Benjamin was stolen away at the goal line by leaping Niners safety Jaquiski Tartt. Before halftime, Newton (14-of-25 for 171 yards) looked especially shaky missing a wide-open Ed Dickson in the end zone. Newton has work to do in terms of seeing the field and getting synced with his newfound targets, but Cam grew more comfortable as the game crept on.
2. Brian Hoyer ran into a Panthers-shaped buzz saw on Sunday. Sacked four times by Carolina’s vicious front seven, the 49ers quarterback struggled to find rhythm in the face of endless chaos. It wasn’t his fault that deep-threat Marquise Goodwin failed to come down with a beautiful downfield shot that would have led to points. Hoyer’s receivers dropped too many passes, but he also littered the field with off-the-mark throws and set up Carolina’s first touchdown when Wes Horton body-rocked the quarterback for a strip sack. Finishing the day with a garbage-time-fueled 193 yards at 5.5 yards per throw, Hoyer is the dictionary definition of a patch under center.
3. Crushing start for Foster, San Francisco’s first-round linebacker who was lost in the first quarter to a right ankle injury. The former Alabama star was quickly carted off the field, ending a debut that was already stuffed with promise. As mentioned, Foster looked like a savvy veteran diagnosing and nearly picking off Newton on an early toss. His loss would be tough to mask over for a promising front seven.
Packers 17, Seahawks 9
Seahawks vs. Packers highlights | Week 1
1. Cue those who like to refer back to deep reads on the Seattle Seahawks that hint at some unease between the team’s sputtering offense and dominant defense. A game where Aaron Rodgers is sacked four times, picked once and thoroughly flustered on a few occasions in the first half should not end in a loss. We’re so used to watching the magician quarterback wheel himself out of the pocket, survey the field and flick the ball on a rope to one of his receivers. That ended up happening, but not without relentless pressure from Seattle’s front seven and some excellent mixed coverages. Both teams are battling some porous spots on their offensive line, which also negated some of the positives the Seahawks were generating but the weight on Pete Carroll’s defense seems to grow with each week. Russell Wilson finished with 158 passing yards and took three sacks for a loss of 23 yards. The team rushed for 90 total yards.
2. Seattle’s running back usage was anything but predictable on Sunday and that may have been the only safe bet heading into their first game. Chris Carson led the way with 39 yards off six carries. C.J. Prosise got four carries (11 yards) and Eddie Lacy came up with just three yards on five carries. This was not Lacy’s type of game. Mike Daniels and the Packer run defense is vicious ??? this was an afternoon for backs who can cut and accelerate, not those who rely on power. It will be interesting to see if Lacy’s role continues to vanish from here, though.
3. Something to monitor for the future: A few times Aaron Rodgers was stepped on, tweaked, bumped or hit in a way that caused some minor discomfort. Rodgers was especially demonstrative down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Martellus Bennett leveled K.J. Wright for sneaking in a hit to Rodgers’ back shoulder which, while costing Green Bay a few yards, maybe warmed the quarterback’s heart a little bit (maybe that’s why Bennett ended up getting the game-sealing pass).
Cowboys 19, Giants 3
Giants vs. Cowboys highlights | Week 1
1. Odell Beckham’s absence was the story before, during and after this Sunday night snoozer. The injured Giants wideout was sorely missed on a Giants offense that mustered just two first downs in the first half and struggled to execute game-changing chunk plays. New York’s best drive of the night was a 16-play, near-10-minute drive that ended in a field goal. Beckham was the dynamic presence that broke open New York’s last meeting with their North Texas foes — and most of the Giants’ games last season, for that matter. We’ll see if Big Blue’s offense is truly broken next Monday night when Beckham returns against the Lions.
2. Who needs a “war daddy” when you’re bringing four and reaching pay dirt against the Giants’ offensive line? Big Blue’s biggest flaw was exposed early and often by Dallas’ front seven, which, led by DeMarcus Lawrence, sacked Eli Manning three times and held New York to 35 rushing yards. As if it weren’t readily apparent, Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart were, are and will be major liabilities at the tackle positions. Against fiercer fronts, New York will be in big trouble.
3. Fresh off a well-publicized legal battle, Ezekiel Elliott looked like Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas’ opener. A threat on carries and receptions out of the backfield, Elliott burst into the second level with the same ferocity as last season, tallying 140 total yards. Thanks to Elliott’s consistency, the Cowboys offense controlled the clock — and the game — on Sunday night, handedly winning the time of possession battle. Zeke’s sturdy showing should remind the populace how important he is to this offense, and how different Dallas’ offense would have been without him in this game.