With two games to enjoy on Monday Night Football, there was plenty of good, bad and ugly on display during the final action of NFL Week 1.
The Minnesota Vikings hosted Adrian Peterson and the New Orleans Saints to get things kicked off early. Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly a fun trip back to the Twin Cities for All Day, as his team was taken down 29-19.
In the late game, the Denver Broncos played host to AFC West rival, the Los Angeles Chargers. As we’ve seen all too often, the mile-high atmosphere didn’t treat the road team with any kindness, right down to the bitter end. Denver clung to a 24-21 lead, thanks to a missed field goal by Younghoe Koo.
These were the biggest winners and losers from both Monday Night Football games in Week 1.
Winner: Stefon Diggs was Randy Moss-esque on Randy Moss Night
Wearing custom Randy Moss cleats (which Moss autographed before the game) to celebrate Randy Moss Night in Minnesota, Stefon Diggs did his best Randy Moss impersonation, including the way he celebrated after his first touchdown.
Diggs ended the night with seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns. He made tough catches with defenders draped on him and was the emotional leader for Minnesota’s offense.
Now in his third year, Diggs is really starting to come into his own. Clearly Bradford is learning to lean on him to make the tough plays when it counts. Look for Diggs to exceed the 84 receptions he hauled in last year as he evolves into a more complete player in 2017. It’s also worth highlighting Adam Thielen, who came up with nine catches and 157 yards. This is a dynamic duo worth watching in 2017.
Loser: Philip Rivers took far too long to wake up
It wasn’t until garbage time that Philip Rivers resembled the Pro Bowl quarterback we’re used to seeing. Aside from a first-half touchdown pass to Melvin Gordon, who did all the work getting into the end zone, Rivers was awful pretty much until the fourth quarter.
Sure, he woke up and threw two touchdown passes in that final quarter and brought the Chargers to within three points. But that had just as much to do with Los Angeles’ defensive effort than Rivers. If not for the inspired play of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the edge, forcing a turnover and pushing Denver out of field-goal range, the game couldn’t have been tied at the last second with a field goal. As it was, the Chargers didn’t tie the game. And Rivers will look back at the tape of this game with regret for the missed opportunities he had early.
Winner: Who the heck is Bennie Fowler III?
The answer to this question is that Bennie Fowler III is the new hot name on the fantasy football waiver wire. While it might not work out long term, after his breakout performance Monday night, fans will be checking him out en masse. Coming out of Michigan State in 2014, Fowler went undrafted. He ended up spending the 2014 season on Denver’s practice squad. Since then, he’s appeared in 29 games but had previously caught just 27 passes, only two of which were touchdowns.
Then on Monday night he caught three passes, which isn’t all that special by itself. But Fowler hauled in both of the touchdown passes thrown by Trevor Siemian, which proved to be the difference in the game for the Broncos.
Loser: Adrian Peterson reunion tour in Minnesota fell flat
Well, it wasn’t the homecoming Adrian Peterson had hoped for. Instead of the warm welcome he thought he’d get, Peterson was booed before the game.
He ended up getting the start for the Saints and gained 10 yards on his first two carries. It looked like perhaps All Day might really be back. But the good times did not last. Peterson finished with just 18 yards on six carries. He was completely ineffective near the goal line on both running and passing plays. And at one point, when head coach Sean Payton wasn’t featuring the veteran back, Peterson gave his coach the death stare. On top of it all, while Peterson struggled, his replacement Dalvin Cook ripped off 127 yards in his rookie debut. Ouch.
It could have certainly gone worse, but Monday night was not a happy occasion for the former Vikings star.
Winner: Broncos found a running game
Last season Denver managed just 3.6 yards per attempt and never was able to consistently establish the running game. As a result, the Broncos attempted 160 more passing attempts than runs, which put pressure on Trevor Siemian to be something he’s not — a franchise passer. On Monday night the Chargers discovered some nice balance, thanks to a successful rushing attack. C.J. Anderson looked spry and Jamaal Charles made some nice runs spelling him. Siemian also pitched in with some nifty ad libs on broken passing plays.
All told, Denver gained 140 yards on the ground, and Siemian rushed in a score. There’s still plenty of room for improvement. But if the offensive line continues to come together and the backs stay healthy, the Broncos might have an offense capable of staying balanced all year long.
Loser: Yeah, about that “improved” Saints defense…
Before we launch into the negative, it’s worth highlighting one player in particular who didn’t play like crap. As he’s been doing for years, Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan was a force at the line of scrimmage. He was constantly getting pressure, either from inside or out on the edge.
The rest of New Orleans’ defense, however, was awful. The Saints ended up ceding 470 total yards, 23 first downs, and the secondary made Bradford look like a future Hall of Famer. It certainly was a far cry from the improvements we thought we saw from this unit during the preseason. But it’s not all that surprising, either. The Saints have featured one of the worst defenses in the NFL for the past few years, so it’s going to take time to fix what’s broken.
Winner: Melvin Gordon
For much of the first half, and really the entire game altogether, if Gordon wasn’t involved offensively there wasn’t much positive going on for the Chargers. Denver’s defense feasted on Los Angeles’ porous offensive line, pressured Rivers into hurrying his throws and the No Fly Zone secondary lived up to its name. Still, in spite of all that, Gordon had a strong game, finishing with 79 total yards scoring a touchdown after leaping over a defender (watch here). His stats don’t scream amazing. But he scraped and clawed for every positive yard he gained. Given all he was up against, Gordon was the only real bright spot for Anthony Lynn and Co until Melvin Gordon took the game over defensively at the end and gave the Chargers a chance.
Loser: Saints offensive line was abysmal
The Saints are playing without starting left tackle Terron Armstead to open the season. And on Monday night it showed. The running game was stuffed to the tune of 60 yards on 21 carries (2.9 yards per carry), and for much of the early portion of the game Drew Brees was under heavy pressure. Much of the passing yardage Brees racked up (291 yards) came when the game was already out of reach in the fourth quarter and Minnesota’s defense was playing it ultra-conservative. When it mattered, New Orleans’ offensive line was getting so overwhelmed the rest of the offense was stagnant.
Winner: Sam Bradford dealing nothing but strikes all night long
Much like what we saw with Alex Smith, who was unstoppable against the New England Patriots Thursday night, Sam Bradford was unconscious Monday against the Saints. Playing out of his mind, he was darn near perfect completing 27-of-32 passes for 346 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
One play in particular stands out, as it shows just how locked in Bradford was. As Cameron Jordan was bearing down on him, right in his face, Bradford threw a pass to Jarius Wright right over two defensive backs to a spot where only his guy could catch it. You can watch the incredible play here. One play later Bradford found Diggs for his first of two touchdown receptions. If Bradford continues to play at this level, it won’t matter if Teddy Bridgewater is healthy enough to play in 2017 — he won’t make it into a game unless it’s a blowout.
Loser: Chargers choked when it mattered most
Somehow. Some way, the Chargers had a shot to either tie or win the game. Following a tremendous defensive stand deep in their own territory, and following a missed field goal by Denver’s reliable Brandon McManus, Los Angeles had a chance to stun the crowd in Denver. Instead, Anthony Lynn, Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense put together the worst two-minute drill we’ve seen in a while.
Ill-advised screen passes, throws to the middle of the field and an inexplicable chunk of valuable time that just ticked, ticked, ticked off the clock before Lynn had to burn his final timeout made the Chargers’ two-minute drill into a social media firestorm of scorn. If not for a pass-interference penalty late, Younghoe Koo would have never had the opportunity to try a 44-yard attempt to tie the game up. As it was, following a well-timed timeout to ice the young kicker, Shelby Harris blocked the kick and Los Angeles travels back home hanging its head.