If the action in NFL Week 1 illustrated anything, it’s that most of what happened in the preseason didn’t tell us much about what to expect once the games actually mattered.
For instance, the Cowboys’ passing game looked razor sharp in limited action this summer. On Sunday? Not so much.
On the other side of the spectrum, we didn’t like the little we saw from Mitch Trubisky and the Chicago Bears during the preseason. Turns out, that was just a mirage.
These are the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 1.
Winner: Fitzmagic pulls off stunner against the Saints
We’ll go ahead and start with the biggest surprise of Week 1, which was Ryan Fitzpatrick absolutely shredding the defense of the New Orleans Saints. Leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a stunning 48-40 win over their rival, Fitzmagic was sublime.
The journeyman veteran was nearly flawless. He completed 21-of-28 passes for 417 yards with four touchdowns, including this gorgeous toss to DeSean Jackson in the first quarter to get the scoring barrage started.
If Fitzpatrick continues to sling the pigskin like this in the next two games, it’s hard to imagine the Bucs will just hand the job back to Jameis Winston, who’s curently suspended.
Loser: Red-zone woes still a thing for Atlanta
Last season, which was the first in Atlanta with Steve Sarkisian as the offensive coordinator, the Falcons were 23rd in the league in red-zone efficiency. Even worse, Julio Jones was nearly invisible once Atlanta got inside the 20-yard line.
None of that changed on Thursday night against the defending champs. Matt Ryan completed just 2-of-10 passes for 13 yards and an interception inside Philadelphia’s 20. The offense looked like a broken thing once it got into scoring range. Drives that went to Philly’s one-yard line, five-yard line and 15-yard line all ended with zero points. As a result, the Falcons ended up losing an ugly game that was extremely winnable.
Winner: Jacksonville’s defense is still scary good
Aside from a few big plays, the New York Giants weren’t able to do much Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium.
Odell Beckham Jr. reminded us all why he’s one of the best receivers in the game today, but aside from him Eli Manning didn’t have much going on in the passing game. He did well to get sacked just twice, as Jacksonville’s front four was a problem all game long, per usual.
On a day when Leonard Fournette exited with an injury and Blake Bortes was mediocre, at best, the defense held serve. A pick-six by Jags linebacker Myles Jack proved to be the difference in the 20-15 win for Jacksonville.
Loser: Buffalo’s offense is a hot mess
There are some pretty glaring stats we’d like to share with you regarding Buffalo’s offense in Week 1. The Bills had 10 total first downs, converted just 2-of-15 third downs, and gained 153 total yards on 61 plays.
Nathan Peterman was benched for rookie Josh Allen early in the third quarter. Both of them struggled, combining to complete just 11-of-33 passes. They were sacked six times — three times each — and Peterman threw two interceptions. LeSean McCoy managed just 22 yards on seven carries, and the run game was pretty well bottled up all game long.
Based on the team’s tune-up for the preseason against Cincinnati, this wasn’t just an aberration, either. This is going to be the norm for Buffalo all year. Don’t shoot the messenger, Bills fans.
Winner: Joe Mixon looks like a star
Andy Dalton and Andrew Luck pretty much canceled one another out on Sunday in Indianapolis, right down to matching interceptions to open the game. The biggest difference between the two teams was that the Cincinnati Bengals had Joe Mixon, who looked like the star many have projected him to be since last year.
Mixon thrived both as a runner and receiver. He rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown on just 17 carries, adding another 54 yards on five receptions.
Cincinnati has some outstanding talent at receiver with A.J. Green and John Ross. If they can get this kind of production out of Mixon the rest of the season, they’ll continue to put points on the board and win games.
Loser: Too many mistakes for Jimmy Garoppolo and Co.
Credit is due to Minnesota for showing up big at home Sunday against San Francisco. That being said, the 49ers were in position to pull off the upset win but failed on a number of occasions at the worst possible time.
Jimmy Garoppolo missed some wide-open receivers and was picked off three times, including this pick-six by Mike Hughes. Receivers dropped a number of passes, including a would-be touchdown when George Kittle let a pass go right through his hands down the left sideline. Alfred Morris fumbled the ball away at Minnesota’s one-yard line in the first quarter.
Then, at the end of the game as the 49ers attempted to get the ball back for one more chance to win, Solomon Thomas jumped offsides on fourth down, when everyone in the building knew Kirk Cousins was never going to actually receive the snap.
It was a comedy of errors for the 49ers, who had a real chance to take down the Vikings.
Winner: Tom Brady and Co. come out of the gate fast
A late rally by Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans made Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium seem closer than it actually was. By halftime, the New England Patriots had a 21-7 lead, and from there they just coasted to the finish line for the 27-20 win.
Tom Brady was, to nobody’s surprise, very good. He completed 26-of-39 passes for 277 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, which was nabbed by none other than Tyrann Mathieu himself. Rob Gronkowski was a beast, catching seven passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. Phillip Dorsett caught all seven of the balls that came his way and hauled in one of Brady’s scores as well.
Houston has a very stout defense. Yet Brady had little trouble shredding it, and the Patriots are off to a strong start to the 2018 season.
Loser: Cowboys rode the wrong horse
Ezekiel Elliott got off to a rough start on the road against Carolina, and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan sort of forgot about him for a while. The problem with this approach was that Dak Prescott had a brutal afternoon in Charlotte, as the Panthers swarmed him at every turn and confused him in coverage.
In the end, out of 57 total plays, Elliott touched the ball just 18 times and had just 15 carries. The dual-threat running back had 86 yards total, so he was clearly effective. Meanwhile, Prescott attempted 29 passes, took off running five times and was sacked six times.
That means that Prescott dropped back to pass 40 times, while Linehan called just 15 running plays for his biggest game-changing star. That’s not going to get the job done, and what makes this even worse is that the Cowboys were never out of their game in Carolina until their final possession.
Winner: Dazzling debut for young Saquon Barkley
The Jaguars bottled up New York’s run game most of the afternoon, but one play by young Saquon Barkley changed the game. Just two plays after Myles Jack put the Jags up 11 points on his pick-six, Barkley broke free down the right sideline and flipped on the afterburners, going 68 yards for his first NFL touchdown.
That huge run sparked a 106-yard total on the ground for Barkley, who also caught two passes for 22 yards. Not a bad little start for this rookie, who did it against one of the NFL’s truly elite defenses.
Loser: Super Mariota not so super
Fresh off the worst season of his young pro career, Marcus Mariota had an awful outing Sunday in Miami before exiting with an elbow injury.
He had thrown two consecutive interceptions when he was pulled for Blaine Gabbert. All told, Mariota completed just 9-of-16 passes for 103 yards with no touchdowns and the two picks.
This poor performance cannot give the Titans much confidence about their young quarterback going forward. If this trend of turnovers continues — he had more interceptions than touchdowns last year — then Tennessee will be forced to look at other options going forward.
Winner: T.J. Watt was unstoppable
The Browns had no answer for T.J. Watt on Sunday. The second-year outside linebacker was an absolute terror off the edge. He ended up taking Tyrod Taylor down four times for sacks, becoming the first Steelers defensive player to have three-plus sacks in a game since 2015.
But that’s not all. Watt also had 11 total tackles, including eight solo, and came up with one of the biggest plays in the game when he blocked a field goal in overtime.
Loser: Deshaun Watson looking extremely rusty
As we saw when Watson struggled against the Los Angeles Rams in the preseason, he’s just not back to his 2017 pre-injury form right now.
On Sunday against the Patriots, the talented second-year quarterback completed just half his passes, averaging 5.2 yards per attempt while throwing one touchdown and an interception. Watson did continue to show a strong connection with DeAndre Hopkins, who caught eight of the 11 passes that went his way. Receivers not named Hopkins, however, caught just 9-of-25 passes.
Watson also lost a fumble in this game, and he was constantly under pressure as his offensive line was a shambles. Adding to the team’s already difficult circumstances on that offensive line, starting right tackle Seantrel Henderson suffered a broken ankle in the game and will miss extended time.
Winner: New-look Washington offense puts on a show
It seems the move to exchange Kirk Cousins for Alex Smith is working out quite well for Washington. The veteran was superb on the road against Arizona on Sunday, distributing the ball beautifully to his playmakers. Smith finished with 255 yards and two touchdowns on 21-of-30 passing, which is darn impressive considering how Arizona’s defense took no prisoners during the preseason.
Just as impressive was the play of veteran running back Adrian Peterson. He was outstanding, rushing for 96 yards and a touchdown (his 100th career rushing score) while shockingly adding 70 yards on two receptions.
That’s usually going to get the job done, and it certainly did in Week 1.
Loser: Sam Bradford stunk up his Cardinals debut
It might already be time to think about letting Josh Rosen start in Arizona. That’s how bad Sam Bradford was in Week 1.
The oft-injured veteran had trouble getting the ball to playmakers not named Larry Fitzgerald or David Johnson. Those two stars caught 12 passes for 106 yards between them. The rest of the team combined to catch eight passes for just 47 yards on 15 targets — an atrocious average of just 3.13 yards per attempt.
Bradford also failed to throw a single touchdown while turning the ball over twice in the 24-6 blowout loss in front of the home crowd. It was an embarrassing debut, to be sure.
Winner: Kenny Stills and Jakeem Grant put on a show
There were plenty of big plays in the longest game in NFL history Sunday as the Dolphins hosted the Titans. Two players that stand out the most are Miami receivers Kenny Stills and Jakeem Grant, both of whom broke free for huge touchdowns when their team needed them the most.
Stills caught just four passes. But he turned those four receptions into 106 yards and two touchdowns.
Grant pitched in with five catches of his own for 38 yards. But where he made the biggest impact was on special teams, as his 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown ultimately proved to be the difference in the game — a 27-20 win for the home team.
Loser: Seahawks still can’t protect Russell Wilson
Another year. Another NFL season in which Russell Wilson has to run for his life on regular basis because his front office failed to provide him with adequate protection.
It’s like a broken record.
Wilson was sacked six times on Sunday by the Denver Broncos. And per usual, that number would have been much higher if anyone else besides Wilson was playing behind Seattle’s atrocious offensive line.
Combined with a defensive effort that allowed Case Keenum and Co. to rack up 470 yards, this is a recipe for failure.
Winner: Tyreek is on another level
Fantasy football players who selected Tyreek Hill in their drafts this year were doing backflips (much like the man himself) Sunday as they watched Cheetah dominate.
It started very early. Hill broke off a dazzling 91-yard punt return for touchdown. Shortly after that, he and Patrick Mahomes combined on a 58-yard touchdown, and then he completed the trifecta with a goal-line score in the second half.
All told, Hill racked up 268 all-purpose yards and the three touchdowns, helping the Chiefs open the season with a huge win over their AFC West rival, the Los Angeles Chargers.
Loser: Browns and Steelers give us the first tie of the year
James Conner (Le’Veon who?), Denzel Ward, T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jarvis Landry all put forth outstanding individual performances on Sunday in Cleveland. In the end, all of it was for naught, as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns engineered the first tie game of the 2018 season.
The final minutes of overtime were a microcosm of the entire game, as both teams shot themselves in the foot at the worst possible time. Ben Roethlisberger had a horrible game, and Tyrod Taylor managed to complete just 15-of-40 passes while struggling as well.
In the end, the two AFC North rivals canceled each other out and have a big fat 0-0-1 to show for it.
Winner: Aaron Rogers continues to amaze
When Aaron Rodgers went down with a knee injury and had to be carted into the locker room in the second quarter of Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears, fans feared the worst.
It sure didn’t look good. It looked even worse for the Packers when Khalil Mack started going bonkers against DeShone Kizer.
Then Rodgers came back into the game in the second half and went bananas. The future Hall of Famer finished with 286 yards on 20-of-30 passing with three touchdowns, all thrown in the second half. He ripped the heart out of the Bears with this game-winner while proving he’s one of the greatest to ever play the game.
It’s worth pointing out that Rodgers’ comeback win Sunday night was tied for the largest overcome deficit in his professional career.
And he did it all on one healthy leg.