While things didn't go too well for Cleveland's Mike Pettine and Washington's Jay Gruden on Sunday, two first-time head coaches did come away with valuable wins: Bill O'Brien of the Houston Texans and Mike Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings got their first seasons in charge off to solid starts Sunday.
Texans 17, Redskins 6
Of course, when you're O'Brien, it helps that you have J.J. Watt. When Jadeveon Clowney left the game in the first half with a knee injury, Watt seemed to somehow take his game to an even higher level, finishing his 2014 debut with a fumble recovery, a blocked extra point attempt, a sack and a pass defensed, as well as five quarterback hits. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was efficient enough, completing 14 passes in 22 attempts for 206 yards and a 76-yard touchdown to receiver DeAndre Hopkins, but it was the efforts of the opposing quarterback that really helped seal the deal for the Texans. Robert Griffin III completed 29-of-37 passes for 267 yards but failed to find the end zone through the air. Washington's only score came in the second quarter, when Darrel Young punched it in from one yard out, but that was the extra point Watt blocked. Rookie running back Alfred Blue scored on a blocked punt later in the second quarter to extend Houston's solid day on special teams.
Gruden's Redskins have a lot of questions to answer, especially on offense, and it appears that last year's Washington special teams, one of the worst overall units in the NFL over the last 10 years, hasn't improved much.
Vikings 34, Rams 6
Yes, the Rams were in a quandary with their quarterback situation after Sam Bradford suffered a torn ACL in the preseason, but it was expected that their defense and running game would at least keep them competitive. That didn't happen, as Mike Zimmer's Vikings thrashed the Rams from start to finish and played especially well on defense -- which is, of course, Zimmer's trademark. On offense, Adrian Peterson found himself in an unusual situation: He was the team's second-leading rusher, and it wasn't a crisis. Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson slashed his way to 102 yards on just three carries, including a 67-yarder in which he broke tackles from just about every Rams defender. Starter Matt Cassel completed 17 passes in 25 attempts for 170 yards and two touchdowns, and safety Harrison Smith returned an Austin Davis interception 81 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown. Davis had replaced Shaun Hill as the Rams quarterback after Hill ended the first half 8-of-13 through the air for 81 yards and a pick. Hill left the game with a thigh injury, though it appeared it might have just been a benching.
In any case, the Rams' implosion shouldn't take away from the impressive Minnesota effort on this day. The Vikings were the tougher team, and that's not something they could say a lot last season.