Top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 1 NFL action

By Vincent Frank
Dan Powers/Appleton Post-Crescent via USA TODAY NETWORK

The first regular season action of the 2018 NFL season represented a bit of a let down on Thursday night. That was not the case at all Sunday as 26 teams took to center stage in an eventful slate of action.

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski found sweet music with their first touchdown of the season. Meanwhile, Blake Bortles was back to his usual self in a win over the Giants, and Jimmy Garoppolo struggled big time in Minnesota. The early games also included a surprisingly competitive game between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers that ended in a crazy manner.

Once the late-afternoon slate kicked off, Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill were hell-bent on making a mockery of the Los Angeles Chargers’ defense. Speaking of making a mockery, the Arizona Cardinals were absolutely destroyed by the Washington Redskins.

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

Raiders already loss the Khalil Mack trade 

There’s no other way to go about it. Despite giving up the farm for this former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the Chicago Bears have won the Khalil Mack trade. After just one game, a dominating performance against the Green Bay Packers, Mack has already proved his worth.

It started with a strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers before Mack scored on a pick-six of backup quarterback DeShone Kizer after Rodgers was forced from the game to injury. All said, Mack became the first player since the very same Khalil Mack back in 2016 to record a sack, interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery and defensive touchdown in the same game. While it came amid Chicago blowing a 20-0 lead against Green Bay, the team has to be thinking it has one of the best defenses in the NFC.

Jameis Winston’s job clearly in jeopardy 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick

Most figured Winston will be under center for the Buccaneers when his three-game suspension comes to a conclusion. Having veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick start on the road against what was expected to be an elite Saints defense played right into this narrative.

But in pretty much the most shocking development of Week 1, Fitzmagic tossed the ball all around the Superdome to the tune of 417 yards and four scores while leading Tampa Bay to an upset 48-40 road win. One now has to wonder whether Winston will in fact be the starter once he returns. After all, Sunday’s performance was the best of Fitzpatrick’s career and came on the road against the defending NFC South champs.

Broncos’ pass rush is fierce 

We get it. The Seattle Seahawks’ offensive line is a dumpster fire that’s had gasoline dumped on it. Germain Ifedi attempting to block Von Miller is akin to this one scribe trying to swipe right on Carrie Underwood. It’s pointless. Absolutely pointless. Even then, what these Broncos did against Russell Wilson’s offensive line on Sunday can’t be ignored.

Wilson was sacked a total of six times on 39 drop backs and pressure 60 percent of the time. It led to the former Super Bowl winner throwing two interceptions and fumbling the ball twice in a narrow Broncos win. Sure a ton of the focus in Denver is on Case Keenum. He wasn’t great Sunday, throwing three picks himself in a 27-24 win. That’s not the takeaway. Instead, it’s all about how Miller (three sacks) and his pass-rush buddies dominated in this one.

Andy Dalton and Co. ruin Andrew Luck’s return 

Andy Dalton

All eyes were on Luck in Indianapolis on Sunday. Making his first regular season start since the end of the 2016 campaign, Luck performed pretty darn well. He threw a touchdown in the first half and ended up completing 39-of-53 passes for 319 yards with two scores and an interception.

But it was the Bengals’ defense that ruined the party here. Up 27-23 late in the fourth quarter, safety Clayton Fejedelem picked up a fumble and returned it 83 yards for the game-clinching touchdown. And after tossing an interception on his first pass, Andy Dalton went on to have himself a solid game. He ultimately completed 21-of-28 passes for 242 yards with two scores and that one pick in a workmanlike performance.

Jimmy Garoppolo’s 49ers not ready for primetime 

For all intents and purposes, San Francisco should have pulled off the road upset against Minnesota on Sunday. Instead, Kyle Shanahan’s squad let opportunity after opportunity slip away in what was ultimately a 24-16 loss to the Vikings. In losing his first ever game, Garoppolo tossed three interceptions. That included a pick-six to rookie Vikings corner Mike Hughes (watch here) and a game-ending pick on the 49ers’ final drive.

But it wasn’t all on Garoppolo. His receivers did the quarterback absolutely no favors. George Kittle, Pierre Garcon and Dante Pettis dropped would-be touchdowns. Meanwhile, Kendrick Bourne slipped on the above-mentioned pick-six. A talented young squad, San Francisco proved it’s nowhere near ready for prime time on the game’s grandest of stages and against one of the NFL’s best teams.

The Bills are an absolute joke 

Buffalo Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman in NFL preseason Week 1

It didn’t take Buffalo too long to realize it might be the worst team in the NFL this season. Taking on an average Baltimore Ravens squad on the road, Sean McDermott and Co. were absolutely destroyed. This wasn’t a competitive game from the start. Baltimore opened up a 14-0 first quarter lead, out-gaining Buffalo 147-2 in the process. By the time the game reached halftime, these Bills were down by the score of 26-0.

But that wasn’t even the worst of it. Baltimore went on to score 14 unanswered points in the third quarter before Nathan Peterman was benched in favor Josh Allen after the second-year quarterback completed 5-of-18 passes for 12 net passing yards and two interceptions. When all was said and done, Buffalo dropped the game by the score of 47-3. What’s better? McDermott decided it made sense to put his rookie quarterback in there while down 40-0 on the road against an elite-level defense. How fun.

Dak Prescott comes up small in loss 

This third-year quarterback was certainly attempting to make a statement Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. If said statement was that he’s nowhere near the quarterback we saw back in 2016, Prescott succeeded big time. Dealing with pressure throughout the afternoon in Carolina, the young signal caller failed to do anything of substance. He struggled connecting outside the hashes, held on to the ball too long and didn’t give his team a chance to come out on top.

Prescott finished the game having completed 19-of-29 passes for 170 yards without a score. That’s not the takeaway. More so than his struggles, the Cowboys’ odd reliance on the quarterback played the biggest role in their 16-8 loss. Prescott dropped back to pass a total of 35 times and took off running five times. Ezekiel Elliott ran the ball 15 times. In a game that proved to be a one-score affair late, that makes absolutely no sense.

Cleveland still can’t win on Sundays 

Browns head coach Hue Jackson

We really wanted to believe. Could the Cleveland Browns pull off their first regular season win on a Sunday since December of 2015? Down 14 points heading into the fourth quarter, it didn’t look like this was going to happen. Fortunately for the Browns, six Steelers turnovers and three first-half Ben Roethlisberger interceptions kept them in the game.

After scoring 14 unanswered in the final stanza to force overtime, the Browns were gifted a perfect opportunity to come away with a win. Setting up shop at Pittsburgh’s 33-yard line, all Cleveland needed to do was hit a field goal for the win. Sadly, it was not to be. Zane Gonzalez’s attempt was blocked as time expired, leading to the two teams to a 21-21 tie. That’s the Browns for you. And now, Hue Jackson is 1-31-1 as the team’s head coach.

Brady and Gronkowski continue to make sweet music

New England didn’t make the major statement we expected on Sunday against a game Houston Texans squad. Instead, the Patriots’ season-opening victory was more of the workmanlike variety. After taking a 21-6 lead into the half, New England let Houston make a game of it before taking out Deshaun Watson and Co. by the score of 27-20.

It was, however, the Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski connection that stood out big time here. The two connected seven times for 123 yards on eight targets, including the first touchdown of the season. It doesn’t look like an offseason of turmoil impacted this elite tandem in any way. Unfortunately for Houston, second-year linebacker Zach Cunningham bore the brunt of it. He was simply overmatched against Gronkowski in this one. That made the biggest difference in an otherwise competitive game.

Jaguars overcomes another bad Blake Bortles outing

It’s not a surprise that Jacksonville rode its defense and a pick-six of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning to victory on Sunday. Considered a legit Super Bowl contender, the Jaguars’ defense stepped up big time in this one. Outside of Saquon Barkley’s impressive touchdown run, there was nothing really happening for the Giants at home on Sunday.

The bigger takeaway here is just how bad Blake Bortles continues to look. He threw yet another horrible interception and led Jacksonville to just 13 points on offense against a Giants defense what was without one of its best players in the form of Olivier Vernon. It begs a major question. What can Jacksonville expect from its mistake-prone signal caller against better competition?

Russell Wilson is part of the problem 

We touched earlier on Wilson’s offensive line not doing himself any favors Sunday. That’s fine. It’s been the case since he entered the league back in 2012. In fact, Wilson has been sacked more than any other quarterback during that span. Expecting to be overmatched against an elite-level Broncos pass rush on Sunday, Wilson didn’t do his line any favors, either.

The quarterback had happy feed in the backfield throughout the game. He failed to progress beyond his first read a vast majority of the time. Meanwhile, ball protection was a major issue. Wilson fumbled twice and threw two picks in the narrow 27-24 loss. If he’s not able to step his game up to MVP levels, Seattle will finish this season closer to the NFC West cellar than first place. Week 1 was a prime example of this.

The same old Aints

Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints headed into the regular season with Super Bowl aspirations. Following a solid 2017 campaign and boasting what many figured to be one of the most-talented young defenses in the game, Week 1 did not go according to plan. Heck, it reminded us of the Saints teams of the past that couldn’t stop anyone on defense as Brees himself was driving up and down the field.

Even with Jameis Winston suspended for this one, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their way with New Orleans’ defense. It included career journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick putting up 417 yards with four touchdowns while completing 21-of-28 passes. When all was said and done, New Orleans dropped the game at home by the score of 48-40. This is despite the fact that Brees threw for 439 yards without a blemish to his name, including completing 16-of-17 passes for 180 yards to Mike Thomas. Ouch.

Giants offense is going to be fun

Despite falling to Jacksonville in a hard-fought game Sunday, it’s readily apparent that this year’s version of the Giants is going to be fun to watch. Eli Manning might have thrown a pick-six that made all the difference in this one, but the likes of Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. showed up in a big way.

After struggling to the tune of less than 20 yards in the first half, Barkley broke off one of his patented long runs that made the former Penn State star a generational type prospect heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. This 68-yard touchdown drew quite the reaction on Twitter and reminded everyone just how good the rookie running back is. Meanwhile, Beckham went for 11 receptions and 111 yards against one of the game’s top corners in Jalen Ramsey. These two are going to be so much fun to watch moving forward.

Tyreek Hill is just insane 

We’re honestly running out of ways to define what this young receiver brings to the table. Hill made his impact known almost immediately in what would ultimately be a 38-28 Chiefs win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. It started with this 91-yard punt return for a touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter. Later in that opening stanza, Hill caught a 58-yard touchdown from Patrick Mahomes for Kansas City’s second score of the game.

All said, the dynamic receiver racked up north of 200 all-purpose yards in the first quarter. He also added a gut punch of a one-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to extend the Chiefs led from 11 to 18 and put the game on ice. Hill finished the day having caught seven passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 95 special teams yards. Yeah, this dude is freaking legit.

Aaron Rodgers escapes injury, rallies Packers from behind 

When Rodgers went down to what looked to be a serious knee injury in the first half of Sunday’s comeback win over Chicago, it had Packers fans reaching for the booze. The recently extended former MVP is coming off of a 2017 campaign that saw him miss all but seven games to injury. Being carted off the field, it was a shock to see Rodgers return to action with his team down 20-0 in the third quarter.

Like clockwork, Rodgers was back to doing Rodgers things. He led Green Bay all the way back from a 20-0 deficit to win the game. It was capped off by this stirring game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb. Rodgers clearly isn’t at anywhere near 100 percent. That could be an issue moving forward. But for one night, he proved his worth as a top-end MVP candidate.

Redskins look like a well-oiled machine 

It certainly seems like Alex Smith is a better fit in Jay Gruden’s offense than Kirk Cousins. This isn’t to say he’s a better quarterback. Rather, it’s apparent Smith can get more with less. That came out in droves in his regular season debut against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Washington absolutely dominated a lesser team on the road by the score of 24-6. It’s a game that saw the Skins’ defense hold Sam Bradford and Co. to 213 total yards.

But the larger takeaway here with Mr. Smith and Washington’s offense. It racked up 30 first downs and 429 total yards of offense. It’s tied for the most first downs Washington has put up since all the way back in 2014. For his part, Smith completed 21-of-30 passes for 255 yards and two scores. He was 13-of-16 with 190 yards and two scores targeting positions outside of wide receiver. Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson put up 166 total yards and a score in the win. Whew.