Top 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 1 NFL action

By Vincent Frank
Courtesy of Matt Kartozian, USA Today Sports

The first Sunday of regular season NFL action was full of drama, intrigue and a bit of controversy.

It’s a day that started out with both the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles putting up signature early-season wins. It culminated in the New England Patriots handing the Arizona Cardinals a narrow home loss on Sunday Night Football.

A whole heck of a lot happened in between. The San Diego Chargers blew an 18-point halftime lead against the division-rival Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings’ defense stood up big time in Nashville to take out the Titans.

These are among the top-10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 1 NFL action.

1. NFL failed Cam Newton

It’s not just that Cam Newton was hit a lot Thursday night against the Denver Broncos. He was. Sure his offensive linemen failed the MVP quarterback. That’s something the Panthers themselves surely need to address.

Instead, the issue here is just how poorly the officials called this game and the aftermath of it all. Prior to Sunday’s games kicking off, both the NFL and the players union announced they were going to conduct investigations into the how the league’s concussion protocol was handled (more on that here).

Meanwhile, Newton’s agent, Bus Cook, compared the officiating in that game to what Brett Favre went through during the entire Bountygate scandal.

If you watched the game over again, you will notice multiple uncalled personal foul penalties against the Broncos. Some about as obvious as they get. Even the untrained eye could see these defenders, by rule book definition, launching themselves at Newton.

Despite all this, Newton remained in the game for the duration. This in the midst of multiple blows to the head.

For the NFL, it surely is a black eye. We’re talking about the opening game of the 2016 season. A game that acted as a rematch for last year’s Super Bowl. And in the end, the league couldn’t find a way to protect the reigning MVP. That’s absurd.

2. Signature win for the Oakland Raiders

Second-year head coach Jack Del Rio needed that one signature early-season win. He needed that one game where he could go to the team and tell them that this wasn’t the same Raiders squad that we’ve seen thrown on the field over the past 15 years.

It really wasn’t looking like this was going to happen. Oakland fell down 24-10 to the Saints with just over a quarter and a half remaining when Drew Brees and Brandin Cooks sent the Superdome into a frenzy after connecting on a 98-yard touchdown (watch here).

At that point, this simply had the look of another early-season meltdown for the Raiders. That right there is when everything changed.

Down 27-19 with eight-plus minutes remaining in the final stanza, un-drafted rookie free agent Jalen Richard broke off an absurd 75-yard touchdown run to pull Oakland within two. Derek Carr would then hit Amari Cooper on a two-point conversion to tie things up.

Once again, however, the Raiders looked like they were in the midst of becoming the Raiders again. Brees led the Saints on a three-play, 84-yard touchdown scoring drive to take a seven-point lead with just over six minutes left.

Derek CarrThat’s when the Raiders made their statement. Carr would go on to lead Oakland on an 11-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a 10-yard touchdown strike to Seth Roberts. This brought the team an extra point away from potentially forcing overtime

Not so fast, my friends. Del Rio had a trick up his sleeves — a trick that included going for the two-point conversion and the win.

A successful attempt would likely hand the Raiders the win. An unsuccessful conversion would guarantee a loss.

And just like that, Carr hit Michael Crabtree for the score to give the Raiders the lead. Following a desperation 61-yard field goal miss from Saints kicker Wil Lutz, Oakland was finally able to celebrate a signature win (watch here).

It’s one of those wins that can chart a new path for an entire organization. And for the Raiders, it took a couple gutsy moves from Del Rio.

3. Dazzling debut for Carson Wentz

From the time the ball kicked off in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon, Wentz looked like the unquestionable leader of his Eagles team.

On his opening drive as a NFL quarterback, the rookie No. 2 overall pick led Philadelphia on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a 19-yard touchdown strike to Jordan Matthews (watch here).

Wentz would later hit 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor on a beautiful 35-yard touchdown strike to wrap up another 70-plus yard scoring drive. These two scores were enough for the Eagles to come away with a rather comfortable 29-10 win over the Cleveland Browns.

Wentz’s performance in particular was amazing here. Just over a week after Philadelphia traded starter Sam Bradford, and with less than 30 preseason pass attempts under his belt, the North Dakota State product completed 22-of-37 passes for 278 yards with two scores and zero turnovers.

That latter stat tells us a story of a small-school product that’s much more calm on a NFL field than most of us expected him to be. With a huge arm and some tremendous accuracy, we might be looking at a surprise rookie performer here.

After all, most of the concerns surrounding Wentz leading up to the season surrounded his on-field mental make up. It’s in this that he proved skeptics wrong on Sunday.

4. New year, same old San Diego Chargers

Everything was looking great for the Chargers in Kansas City on Sunday. Keenan Allen had returned from a lacerated kidney he suffered last year and put up six first-half catches. Danny Woodhead scored two touchdowns during that span. And Melvin Gordon looked like a much different player from his rookie season.

The balance that San Diego needed was right there on full display as it took a 21-3 lead over the Chiefs into halftime at Arrowhead. Then, in true Chargers fashion, everything came unraveled in the second half.

Keenan Allen suffered what looked to be a serious knee injury. The play-calling was an absolute travesty, which speaks to the job Mike McCoy is doing as head coach.

After testing out the run (with no success) to open up the second half, San Diego seemed to act like it was playing from behind. The Chargers attempted 19 passes after the half. It’s a number that far exceeded the number of rush attempts the team put up.

In fact, the Chargers had Rivers drop back to pass the first three plays of their final possession in regulation. This despite the fact that the team still had time to work with.

This speaks to the larger issues in San Diego. Simply put, McCoy-led clubs have a hard time closing out games. This was abundantly clear as San Diego blew a 21-3 halftime lead and 27-10 fourth quarter advantage against the Chiefs on Sunday.

Unless the Chargers find a way to close out these close games, they’re going to be closer to last place than first place by the time the season concludes. That much is obvious.

5. Defense wins the day for the Minnesota Vikings

Shaun Hill wasn’t having much success through the air. Adrian Peterson struggled to the tune of just 31 yards on 19 attempts. All in all, the statistics here seem to favor the Tennessee Titans. Despite all that, Minnesota was able to leave Nashville sporting a 25-16 win over the home team.

Trailing 10-0 at the half, it was clear that the Vikings needed a spark from an aspect of the team outside of the offense. That’s when second-year linebacker Eric Kendricks stepped up.

After Minnesota was able to put up two field goals on rather short drives, momentum seemed to be going their way. The UCLA product made sure this was the case by picking off Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota and returning it 77 yards for a touchdown.

Instead of finding themselves down by either seven or 11, the Vikings took the lead. It’s a lead the team would not relinquish the rest of the way, forcing the Titans to go three-and-out on the next possession before nailing a third field goal in as many possessions.

Then, in one instant, Minnesota’s defense put the game away for good. Defensive lineman Danielle Hunter scooped up a botched exchange between Mariota and DeMarco Murray, returning it 24 yards for a touchdown.

Within the matter of less than 20 minutes, Minnesota turned a 10-0 deficit into a 12-point lead. That’s all she wrote. There’s no other way to put it, Minnesota’s defense won this game going away. Tennessee put up 131 yards of offense in the second half, turning the ball over twice and handing the Vikings 14 points in the process.

As it relates to individual performances, the scores from Kendricks and Hunter will be talked about the most. Though, the latter was in Tennessee’s offensive backfield throughout the game, getting to Mariota for a sack and pressuring the quarterback three more times.

When Teddy Bridgewater went down with a devastating knee injury during summer practice, not everyone wrote the Vikings off. Instead, some drew comparisons to the 2011 version of the San Francisco 49ers.

That is to say, some believed Minnesota had the running game and defense to pick up the slack for a less-than-stellar passing attack. Even with Adrian Peterson doing nothing of substance, this became readily apparent Sunday in Nashville. Whether that continues with Sam Bradford likely under center remains to be seen. But it surely is a good initial step.

6. A.J. Green in domination mode following last year’s struggles

A.J. Green

From a pure statistical perspective, Green was more than fine last season. He caught 86 passes for 1,297 yard and 10 touchdowns. Pro Bowl-level numbers right there.

He also dropped over 11 percent of the balls thrown in his direction. Some of those drops were crucial too, with three of them leading to Andy Dalton interceptions.

Taking on future Hall of Fame corner Darrelle Revis on Sunday, fans around the NFL had this circled on their calendars. How would Green respond? Could he take advantage of the aging New York Jets’ defensive back? Well, that was answered and then some in Cincinnati’s narrow win over the Jets.

https://twitter.com/NFLResearch/status/775066160232411136

That’s utter domination against a defensive back that many consider to be the best of his generation. No matter what we might think of Revis’ regression on the field, he surely still has pride. Green took that, and a whole heck of a lot more, away from him on Sunday.

This could be some relatively big news for the Bengals as they look to not only earn another playoff appearance but actually have success in January.

After all, it’s not a coincidence that Andy Dalton’s stellar performance came in the same game that Green put on an absolute show. Dalton ended the day having completed 23-of-30 passes for 366 yards in the 23-22 win over New York. That’s the other big takeaway from Green’s performance.

7. The hapless Cleveland Browns

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before: “This is the year the Browns’ fortunes are going to change.”

There seemed to be a different sense of optimism surrounding football in Cleveland heading into Sunday’s season opener. That optimism quickly faded into the oblivion of despair as Cleveland dropped a lopsided affair to the Philadelphia Eagles by the score of 29-10.

The blame here can’t be on first-year Browns starter Robert Griffin III. Sure he had an uneven regular season debut with the team, completing just 12-of-26 passes for 190 yards. Instead, you have to look at Cleveland’s offensive line.

Griffin III was sacked three times and pressured a grand total of 12 times as the Eagles’ pass rush took advantage of a unit that’s missing two starters from a season ago.

Also disturbingly bad, Cleveland’s secondary could find a way to stop a small-school rookie quarterback making his first NFL start after throwing less than 30 preseason passes. How in the world it could yield a 101 quarterback rating without forcing a turnover is beyond belief here.

The problems are real here. They can’t be fixed over night. And we completely realize first-year head coach Hue Jackson is building for the long-term. With that said, the stinker of a performance Cleveland put up Sunday does nothing to move the organization forward form the disastrous past two decades. That’s a concern we know has to be felt all the way to the top.

8. New Orleans Saints continue to fail Drew Brees

Chuck Cook, USA Today Sports

Help this one scribe solve a riddle. How does a team lose a football game when its quarterback throws for 423 yards with four touchdowns and zero picks?

Well, that’s the situation Saints quarterback Drew Brees found himself in following Sunday’s 35-34 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

It really is appalling that the team couldn’t do much more to help improve what was a historically bad defense last season. Is New Orleans really willing to waste the latter years of Brees’ Hall of Fame-caliber career? It really is alarming.

New Orleans boasts a 7-2 record since the start of the 2014 season when it scores 30-plus points. It’s just 7-17 when the team fails to reach that plateau. That’s asking way too much of one player to shoulder the load.

Unfortunately for the Saints, this season started out like each of the past two have ended — with the offense putting up fantasy-like stats and the defense falling completely apart.

9. In case you forgot, it is a quarterback-driven league

Eight of the 28 starting quarterbacks heading into Monday’s doubleheader put up 300-plus passing yards this week.

Drew Brees led the charge with 423, followed in line by Andrew Luck (385) and Andy Dalton (366). Interestingly enough, only one of these quarterbacks (Dalton) came out on top.

This just goes to show us while the NFL may be a quarterback-driven league, success does not depend on putting the ball up a whole heck of a lot.

In fact, the need to come from behind necessitates airing it out. It’s been a growing trend in a league that’s forgot about the dynamic of the rushing attack.

On the other hand, only one running back has tallied 100-plus yards this week. That came in the form of Houston Texans free-agent addition Lamar Miller. It’s not a coincidence that Houston bested the Chicago Bears in its regular season opener on Sunday.

10. The Patriots might have something in Jimmy Garoppolo

Courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports

Heading to Arizona to take on the defending NFC West champions in front of a nationally televised audience. If that doesn’t bring any pressure to a young quarterback, we’re not too sure what to say.

Doing so while replacing a suspended Tom Brady and making your first NFL starts add a whole new level to this dynamic.

It’s in this that Pats fans don’t have all too much to worry about. Their franchise seems to be in tremendous hands for when Brady ultimately decides to hang it up.

Coming off a preseason performance that saw him refrain from throwing a single interception, Garoppolo was back playing mistake-free football. The third-year quarterback completed 24-of-33 for 264 yards with a beautiful touchdown and zero picks.

The young quarterback’s defining moment came during New England’s final possession. Finding itself down 21-20 with just under 10 minutes remaining, Garoppolo led the Pats on a time-consuming 13-play, 61-yard drive that lasted over six minutes.

It’s a drive that culminated in the eventual game-winning field goal. It’s also a drive that saw the young signal caller complete five of his final six passes, including a 32-yard connection with Danny Amendola on third-and-15.

Brady won’t be replaced until he’s ready to call it quits. And this is just one game. We have no idea how Garoppolo is going to respond in the three remaining games until Brady returns. What we do know is that Sunday’s performance against an elite-defense is a tremendous first step.