In terms of terribly exciting games, NFL Week 1 didn’t give us much to be excited about. But in terms of surprising developments, the week left us with an embarrassment of riches.
The Chiefs and Patriots got us started with some surprises, both positive and negative, on Thursday night. That trend was continued on Sunday with surprisingly dominant outputs from the defenses of the Raiders and Jaguars. Jared Goff and the Rams did something nobody saw coming, and even the Bears and Browns caused a stir in defeat. On the other end, Andy Dalton may be worse than we thought. Also, what Pop Warner team stole the Colts jerseys and made the trip to Los Angeles on Sunday?
These are the biggest surprises from the NFL Week 1 slate.
Alex Smith and the Kansas City offense torches New England
While the Pats were expected to win, the Kansas City Chiefs winning didn’t come completely out of left field. What did however, was how Kansas City won. Tom Brady struggled, but New England still scored 27 points — a total that the Chiefs reached in less than half of their games a season ago. But Smith and company were up to the task.
Smith was 28-for-35 passing for 368 yards and four touchdowns. Two completions were absolute bombs to Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt. Hunt recovered from a fumble on Kansas City’s first offensive play to put up 246 yards from scrimmage (an NFL record for a player making his debut) with three scores. If you’re saying that you saw that coming, you should either stop lying, or start buying lottery tickets.
Andy Dalton horrendous vs. Baltimore Ravens
Dalton has never been the kind of quarterback who goes out and wins games on his own. Given that he’s in his seventh year, we can safely assume that he’s never going to be that guy. With that in mind, he absolutely can’t be the kind of quarterback who loses them for the Cincinnati Bengals. He did that on Sunday.
Dalton turned the ball over five times. Four of those occurred in Baltimore territory. The other occurred deep in his own territory and set up a Ravens touchdown.
Dalton wasn’t the only Bengal who played poorly on Sunday. But if we’re listing reasons that Cincinnati lost on Sunday, Dalton’s performance tops the list.
Jacksonville Jaguars dominating Houston Texans
Sure, the Texans struggled. Tom Savage looked completely lost, and while DeShaun Watson had moments, he was definitely a rookie. But to dismiss this game as just a bad effort from Houston would be wrong. The Jaguars were overwhelming.
Leonard Fournette went for 100 yards on the ground and scored his first touchdown. Blake Bortles was his normal mediocre self, but he also only attempted 21 passes. That’s a winning game plan for this offense. But as good as the offense was, the defense was the story. Calais Campbell recorded four of a team record 10 sacks. One of those 10 sacks was scooped up for a touchdown that for all intents and purposes, put a bow on the game. We’ll see if it’s repeatable in the weeks to come, but on Sunday the Jags were quite impressive.
New Orleans Saints offense looks disjointed vs. Vikings
The Saints’ defense getting trucked is so common that we can’t call it surprising anymore. But even against a good Minnesota Vikings defense, we didn’t see such an inconsistent performance from the offense coming. The Drew Brees/Sean Payton combination in New Orleans has yielded plenty of good and bad teams. But one constant has been that the Saints have always moved the ball well and scored points. We didn’t get that on Monday.
While Brees hit a few deep passes, the vertical game was almost non-existent. His passes had little touch, especially in short-yardage situations. He clearly misses guys like Jimmy Graham and Brandin Cooks in the red zone. This offense has had its disappointing performances over the years, but most of those have come in outdoor stadiums. In a dome, even on the road, an outing like this one was supremely disappointing.
Lions overcome early mistakes, weak running game to beat Arizona
As is the case with most negatives, there’s a corresponding positive. In this case, that’s the overall effort of the Detroit Lions, which needs to be saluted. Despite all of Arizona’s mistakes, the Cardinals led at the end of each quarter. But, repeating one of 2016’s trends, Detroit had a big fourth quarter to come out on top.
Winning in the NFL when you’re one dimensional is hard. Coming back is even harder. The Lions’ rushing attack left much to be desired. Ameer Abdullah led the team with 30 yards on the ground. As a whole, Detroit rushed for only 82 yards and averaged three yards a pop. Yet, they came back to not only win, but win convincingly. We can call it a fluke, but the Lions won in incredibly similar fashion throughout 2016. Some teams are just built to win the tough games. Maybe Detroit is one of those teams.
Why did Colts even bother going to Los Angeles?
The worst team in the NFL may well be the New York Jets. But in Week 1, it was the Indianapolis Colts. Really, it wasn’t close.
Scott Tolzien’s first pass went for a pick-six. Then, rather than challenge when a possible touchdown on the ensuing possession was ruled short, the Colts’ offense decided to hurry up and catch the Rams off guard. It didn’t work. Eventually, Indianapolis settled for a field goal. Late in the game, the Colts replaced Tolzien with Jacoby Brissett and finally put one in the end zone. But even that positive was negated by an Adam Vinatieri missed PAT.
We knew that the Colts going across the country to beat Los Angeles was unlikely. But the effort put forth by Indianapolis was pathetic. Also, Chuck Pagano might want to wake up.
Broncos nearly blow massive lead
The Denver Broncos defeated the Los Angeles Chargers in the Week 1 finale on Monday Night Football. If you’re a fan of the team, that’s a good thing. But if you’re a Denver fan, the final quarter was quite troubling, and troubling across the board.
The offense turned the ball over twice. The defense allowed the Chargers to move the ball at will to score two late touchdowns (and get into position for a game tying field goal, which was missed). Brandon McManus — who signed a four-year extension on Monday — missed a field goal after Trevor Siemian took a sack to take the kick well out of chip-shot range.
If you’re a Broncos fan, hope that the team will continue to play that well in the first, second, and third quarters. Because of that’s how Denver plays in the fourth quarter, it will need big leads.
Seahawks offensive line fails to protect Russell Wilson
In and of itself, losing to the Packers isn’t enough for us to worry about the Seattle Seahawks being a playoff team in 2017. But are they a Super Bowl team? That’s a different story. For this team to get back to its 2013 and 2014 levels, the offensive line will need to protect Wilson. In Week 1, they couldn’t come close to doing that.
Both the Seahawks and Packers scored three times on Sunday. But thanks to the offensive line, all three of Seattle’s scores were field goals. Conversely, two of Green Bay’s were field goals, one of which was gift wrapped by Wilson when he fumbled deep in his own territory. Pete Carroll may not be discouraged by the play of his line, but we sure are. This is not a recipe to long-term success.
DeShone Kizer impressive in Week 1 loss
As has become the standard, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cleveland Browns in Week 1. But the Browns got some hope that they may be turning a corner, or at least close to it. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer threw a pick, but overall he had a solid effort for his first game. He was 20-for-30 for 222 yards with one passing touchdown, and scored another on the ground.
Time will tell if he’s going to finally end Cleveland’s years of quarterback futility. But in his first game ever, Kizer provided a solid building block going forward. That gives the Browns reason for genuine optimism at the position, something that hasn’t existed in quite some time.
Arizona Cardinals offense anemic in Detroit
The Cardinals fell 35-23 to the Lions in Week 1. Okay, that’s not good. But in and of itself, the score is not especially notable. What was terrible is that seven of those points came on a Justin Bethel interception return, and six others came on a complete garbage time touchdown in the end. So, we’re not that far from saying that that the offense was outscored 35-10.
Carson Palmer threw three interceptions against one touchdown. David Johnson had a respectable 68 receiving yards on six catches but had a terrible 23 yards on 11 carries. Making matters worse, he left with a wrist injury that will have him out for a while. This was a team loss. But if Arizona’s Week 2-17 offensive output isn’t 180 degrees different than Week 1’s, this team is in trouble.
Jared Goff impresses, picks up his first win
The Colts’ effort needs to be ripped. But Goff’s game can’t go unmentioned. Most important is that the Los Angeles Rams won, something that didn’t happen in any of Goff’s games in 2016. But he wasn’t just a cameo player in the win. Goff finished the day 21-for-29 and passed for 306 yards, topping 300 for the first time in his career.
And, despite the blowout margin, the passing performance was necessary. At the end of the day, the Rams rushed for less than two yards a carry. This wasn’t a matter of Todd Gurley owning the game and Goff not doing anything to hurt the team. Quite the opposite. For the first time in his career, Goff looked like a No. 1 pick.
Kirk Cousins falls flat after offseason hype
Whether Cousins is an elite NFL quarterback is really in the eye of the beholder. But he was far from it on Sunday. That can’t be argued.
Cousins was 23-for-40 with one touchdown, one interception, two lost fumbles and had a 72.9 passer rating. Cousins was a big part of the NFL offseason chatter. Would he go to the San Francisco 49ers? Would he sign a long-term deal? His performance in 2017 may well justify the offseason attention. But his performance on Sunday most definitely did not.
Raiders defense steps up big in Tennessee
So we’re clear, the Oakland Raiders beating the Tennessee Titans was not a surprise. But how it happened was. Marcus Mariota was a fairly modest 25-for-41 for 256 yards with no touchdowns (though, did run for one). DeMarco Murray led the Titans with 44 yards on the ground.
While Oakland was 12-4 a season ago, the defense was wildly inconsistent, often depending on the offense to pull out high scoring games in the final minutes. In Week 1 — against an offense with some formidable names — the Raiders’ defense came up large and helped deliver a victory.
New York Giants offense looks lost without Odell Beckham Jr.
We know that Beckham is a great player. But this is an experienced offense with a 14-year veteran at quarterback. It’s not a unit that should be so inept because one player is out, even if that one player is a superstar.
We could say that New York should have ran the ball more than 12 times, but the Giants rushed for only 35 yards on those carries. Eli Manning finished the day with a respectable 29-for-38 mark passing, but that went for only 220 yards, leading to a 78.8 passer rating. Even that was buoyed by a decent performance on an absolutely meaningless last drive against a Dallas prevent (Manning’s passer rating was 70.1 before that). Needless to say, this offense has seen better days.
Chicago Bears hang with Falcons in surprisingly close loss
The Bears did lose to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, but it was much closer than expected. Chicago had a first-and-goal from the five and dropped three potential game winning touchdown passes. Mike Glennon didn’t look great, but he had a decent 26-for-40 for 213 yards, one touchdown, no picks, and an 86.8 passer rating. As a team, the Bears rushed for 125 yards on 19 carries, averaging 6.6 yards per attempt.
Are the Falcons experiencing a Super Bowl hangover? Are the Bears better than we thought? It could be either, a little bit of both, or even none of the above. But it wasn’t just a game that Chicago could have won. In all honesty, it was a game that the Bears should have won. The loss is disappointing for the Bears, but playing well enough to be upset with a loss is a perk.
Tom Brady struggles in opening night loss
When Brady’s Hall of Fame highlight reel is put together, don’t expect to see many highlights from this one. The New England Patriots quarterback completed less than half of his passes, looked shaky against the Kansas City pass rush and often failed to make the big passes even when he had time.
Bad games happen to everyone. Even Brady. But coming in healthy and with ample time to prepare, Thursday night’s performance was anything but expected.