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Winners, losers from NFL Week 1: Christian Watson, Jalen Hurts among headliners from opener

Matt Johnson
NFL Week 1
Mark Hoffman / USA TODAY NETWORK

NFL Week 1 arrived with the 2022 season kicking off and the road to Super Bowl LVII underway. Between a dominant victory from the Buffalo Bills over the Los Angeles Rams to the wild action on Sunday’s NFL schedule, there are plenty of winners and losers to review.

Sunday’s action proved to be even better than the Thursday opener. NFL Week 1 delivered a tie, an overtime win in the final seconds and statement victories by the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins against top competition. We saw everything we wanted to begin the 2022 season and there should be even more excitement for the weeks ahead.

Related: Everything you need to know about NFL Sunday Ticket

Let’s dive into the winners and losers from NFL Week 1.

Winner: Buffalo Bills defense proves its elite

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills had a top-five defense in 2021 before Tre’Davious White’s torn ACL. Feeling like they needed even more, the front office added Von Miller. The impact the future Hall of Famer has on young pass rushers Gregory Rousseau, AJ Epenesa and Boogie Basham is one thing. Miller’s influence on the game is another.

Related: NFL defense rankings

Buffalo generated 15 quarterback hits, seven sacks, seven tackles for loss and a 41% pressure rate without blitzing in NFL Week 1. Remember, that happened against one of the best NFL offenses from 2021. The Bills lived in the Rams’ backfield, winning in every way possible. Now, imagine this unit when White returns as CB1. This is a defense capable of carrying a team to a Super Bowl and it might not even be needed because of Josh Allen.

Loser: Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams raise doubts

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s important to be careful with overreactions to NFL Week 1. Putting too much value in a one-game sample can result in bad evaluations and forecasts for the remainder of the season. With that said, Los Angeles and its quarterback Matthew Stafford raised some major concerns.

First, the Rams’ offensive line is a problem. It was a concern after Andrew Whitworth retired and everyone’s reservations about this starting unit were realized almost immediately. Things might get even worse, too. Joseph Noteboom suffered an MCL sprain and center Brian Allen is out 2-4 weeks with a knee issue.

It makes things for Stafford even worse. A signal-caller already prone to making a few bad decisions every game will now be under pressure more often. If that wasn’t enough, Stafford didn’t seem to have the same touch on his throws. Whether that’s because of the elbow or the long lay-off this summer, it’s a red flag to monitor.

Related: Los Angeles Rams were interested in Jimmy Garoppolo

Winner: Jalen Hurts becomes what the Philadelphia Eagles need

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Junfu Han DFP / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t expecting quarterback Jalen Hurts to be an elite passer, that’s never going to be who he is. Instead, Nick Sirianni and Co. simply want the second-year starter to take advantage of the talent around him and make the plays that are available. Hurts accomplished all of that in NFL Week 1.

Related: NFL power rankings

Hurts picked up yards whenever he wanted, accounting for 90 rushing yards with a 16-yard dash his longest of the day. It opens things up even more for Sirianni’s play-calling, which we saw with four players accounting for rushing touchdowns and Sanders finishing with 96 yards. As for AJ Brown (10 receptions, 155 yards), the chemistry is clearly there. Don’t expect 38 points every week, but the Eagles offense could be one of the best in the NFC this year.

Loser Bill Belichick is to blame for New England Patriots’ issues

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick said before the season he takes full responsibility for whatever happens with the New England Patriots offense. There are a lot of fingers that can be pointed toward different people for what happened on Sunday. Quite simply, that all falls on Belichick.

It became apparent early on that a summer full of issues learning a new blocking scheme carried over into Week 1. New England’s ground game (3.5 ypr) was ineffective and quarterback Mac Jones lived with defenders around him. The Patriots only reached the end zone once and they could only muster 271 total yards offensively. Considering the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers loom ahead on the schedule, 0-4 seems possible.

Winner: Lamar Jackson proves his worth

NFL Week 1, Lamar Jackson
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens leaked their final contract offer submitted to Lamar Jackson before the game. It’s a common strategy used by an organization to try and gain fan support, making the case that the player received a fair offer and turned the team down. In Week 1, Jackson showed why he is worth even more than Baltimore offered.

Related: NFL top 100 players

Keep in mind that the circumstances heading into NFL Week 1 weren’t ideal. Baltimore took the field without starting running back J.K. Dobbins and offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley. During the game, right tackle Morgan Moses suffered a torn Achilles and backup Daniel Faalele was inactive.

Despite all of that, Jackson evaded pressure all game and finished with three touchdowns and a 98.4 quarterback rating. Elite players rise to the occasion even when the circumstances around them are disadvantageous. Jackson proved his worth on Sunday.

Loser: Kliff Kingsbury fuels his critics

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

So much for Kliff Kingsbury being a first-half head coach. Many already questioned the Arizona Cardinals’ decision to extend Kingsbury this offseason, rewarding him despite an alarming history of second-half collapses. In NFL Week 1, Kingsbury reminded Arizona why the rest of the football world is down on Kingsbury.

Before the Kansas City Chiefs took their foot off the gas, leading 37-7 after three quarters, the Cardinals totaled just 185 yards from scrimmage. Far more alarming, it converted just 14.3% of its third-down attempts against a defense that allowed a 40.2% conversion rate in 2021. James Conner (2.1 ypr) did nothing and the Marquise Brown trade already looks foolish. No one should be surprised if Arizona misses the playoffs this season.

Winner: Saquon Barkley returns to stardom

NFL: New York Giants at Tennessee Titans
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Saquon Barkley is back. Two injury-riddled seasons put the New York Giants on the hot seat heading into NFL Week 1. While he faced plenty of pressure, many also expressed optimism because New York improved its offensive line and brought in Brian Daboll. Needless to say, the star is back.

He is the centerpiece of the offense. Barkley played 82.8% of the snaps, most among running backs in NFL Week 1, and looked like the All-Pro talent the football world enjoyed back in his rookie season. Fittingly, it’s the final play Barkley made that will be remembered the most and could serve as the spark this franchise has desperately needed for years.

Loser: Christian Watson lets an opportunity slip through his hands

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is all about trust. He needs to know the wide receivers on the field will be where the play designates, help him out when things break down and they must be dependable. In every way, rookie Christian Watson fell short on Sunday.

Frankly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Watson had a 12.9% drop rate in college and those issues don’t get ironed out overnight. He also missed significant time in training camp and caused plenty of frustrations late in the summer with his inconsistency. Watson is a project, a wideout likely years away from scratching the surface of his potential. Rodgers and the Packers don’t have time for that. It means the rookie might not be long for the gameday roster and it further highlights the baffling decision to draft him over George Pickens.

Winner: Patrick Mahomes makes Tyreek Hill an afterthought

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes sent a message to Tyreek Hill in Week 1, he simply doesn’t need him. As long as Travis Kelce is out there, Mahomes can make things work with just about anybody. JuJu Smith-Schuster (79 receiving yards) got involved, rookie Skyy Moore delivered a 30-yard play and Mahomes racked up 360 passing yards and five touchdowns without breaking a sweat.

Maybe things will be different on Thursday Night Football against a tough Los Angeles Chargers defense, but it feels safe to say Mahomes will get along just fine without the wide receiver who acted as if going from Mahomes to Tua Tagovailoa saved his career.