Things That Made Me Giddy
Aaron Rodgers: It wasn’t his most impressive statistical game, but man, he made every play he had to, then just dissected the Seahawks down the stretch. That last drive—while knicked up!—taking the last 6:17 off the clock, should be taught in public schools.
Jared Goff: It’s weird, because who would have thought a quarterback drafted as a project who was forced into action before he was ready and for a team with a broken offense and no weapons would ever get better at football? I’m not carving Goff’s bust for Canton yet.* But with the improvements in scheme and weapons, not to mention the improvements he’s made himself (he looked like a new man, completely comfortable and in control on Sunday), he can easily put himself on a franchise QB trajectory.
*—Oh, did I tell you? I carve Hall of Fame busts in my spare time. If anyone knows anyone at the Pro Football Hall of Fame who might want to buy them, let me know.)
Mike Daniels: Academy Award nominee for his performance as Calais Campbell facing the Houston Texans. Daniels wrecked this game.
Sean McVay: Yes, asterisk because it’s the Colts, but man, what a way to start your head coaching career.
Luke Kuechly: Kyle Shanahan seemed hyper-aware of him with his play-calling (which is, y’know, understandable). That made things pretty easy for the Panthers D, and Shanahan’s guys were mostly overwhelmed in this one.
Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey: Cam was kinda meh, and McCaffrey didn’t blow minds, but the rookie was a big part of the offense as a runner and receiver. They ran a couple of nice wrinkles because of him, specifically the Jonathan Stewart TD catch. I don’t have the highlight, but it played out a lot like this:
Blair Walsh: Three-for-three in his Seahawks debut. Nice.
Clay Matthews: Not great, not the Clay Matthews of old, but better.
Derek Carr: This is not a drill. MVP talk was a tad premature a year ago, but Carr was sharp in Nashville, on the road against an underrated defense. I wonder about the Raiders defense and a stacked AFC West, but Carr is on the verge of moving into the Brady/Rodgers discussion.
Jaguars’ pass rush: Grain of salt considering the line they were going against (more on that below), but if you thought Calais Campbell might be on the verge of decline, apparently you were mistaken. He’s the most underappreciated great player in football. Youngsters Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler got in on the fun too. I was sitting on my couch in Connecticut, went up to use the bathroom and sacked Tom Savage along the way. True story. Sacks don’t always tell the whole story, but sometimes they do. And, yeah, 10 sacks, including a franchise-record four for Campbell. This defense might be really good.
Blake Bortles: He was fine. Unremarkable. And that will do. He handed it to Leonard Fournette 26 times, made some easy throws off play-action, remembered to say please and thank you.
Eagles Front Four: We knew they were good, and we knew Washington’s offensive line was good, but on the live look this one went to the Eagles’ front four. They were in Kirk Cousins’ face a lot, and the Brandon Graham strip sack/Fletcher Cox scoop sealed it.
Nelson Agholor: Three months ago I thought he was literally incapable of playing in the NFL. Then, when the Eagles brass and coaches started talking up I was sure they were a bunch of godforsaken liars. But, my mistake. Agholor wasn’t a star, but he made some plays on Sunday. Good for him!
Moral victories for the Bears and Browns: As the old saying goes, moral victories are just fine, because they’re a kind of victory. The Browns hung in fine after it seemed like the wheels could come off after giving up an early blocked-punt TD. They’ll give opponents some problems this year; so much speed.
Adoree’ Jackson: Not a perfect day, but the Raiders picked on him and he help up O.K. He also hurdled the kicker on the return, which was pretty cool.
Giorgio Tavecchio: He hit the first non-Janikowski field goal for the Raiders since Brad Dalusio’s 37-yarder in Week 17 of the 2001 season. Then, Tavecchio added two 52-yarders and a 43-yarder. That’s good!
Tarik Cohen and Kenny Golladay: The 119th and 96th picks of the draft, respectively. Cohen is small enough that he actually sleeps in a dresser drawer at John Fox’s house. And he was electric on Sunday, as a runner on the perimeter and as a receiver. Golladay is a stud in the making. Not ready to be a star yet, but he’ll get there.
Ravens’ Football: This defense is shaping up to be elite even without an elite pass rush; the secondary is too good, and you can’t run on Brandon Williams. More than that, a year after being the most pass-heavy team in the NFL—the Ravens were the most pass-heavy team in the NFL!—they ran it 42 times on 60 offensive plays. Granted, they were protecting a big lead against an incompetent offense, but that’s how the Ravens are supposed to win games!
Seahawks’ offensive line: Guys, I’m starting to think that the Seahawks’ offensive line isn’t very good. I’ll throw out two caveats: First, the Packers looked really good up front (how much of that was playing against this line? I dunno yet). Second, they at least have some raw talent to work with up there which hasn’t been the case in the past, and maybe they get better the more they play together in a live setting. Or, maybe they just continue to be atrocious, as they have been the last couple years.
Jaquiski Tartt: Nice interception! Aside from that, Tartt whiffed on a tackle on the sideline on the Russell Shepard TD (and no offense to Russell Shepard, but NFL safeties should be able to stop Russell Shepard when he's pinned on the sideline) and picked up a flag on a reckless shot on Greg Olsen, which seemed more mind-blowingly stupid than dirty.
Scott Tolzien: We won’t be doing that again, right?
Jeremy Lane ejection: I’ll say this: I didn’t mind the block-in-the-back call on Cliff Avril on this play. That was a borderline-at-best call, but when you go after Aaron Rodgers on an interception return, you best tread lightly. Now, as I mentioned on the live blog, Jeremy Lane has a history of cheap, cheap, cheap shots against the Packers, so I suppose it’s good to nip this crap in the bud. But yeesh, I’m not sure Lane should have drawn a flag in the scrap with Davante Adams, let alone an ejection. And losing a DB from a thin secondary, in a game where your defense is on the field for 40 minutes . . . that was a big moment.
Everyone on the Houston Texans and Everything They Did. Bill O’Brien’s offense is difficult to run, and impossible when you’re this bad up front. And, even with Duane Brown (the left tackle did not play as he holds out), they’re really bad up front. The headlines will be the quarterbacks. Both were truly bad, which was to be expected (Savage because of his underwhelming talent, Watson because you’d have to possess some kind of warlock-type, black-magic powers to be able to go from running Clemson’s offense to running Bill O’Brien’s isolation- and option-heavy attack. And then, the defense was bad against a simplistic Jaguars attack. It was as disappointing a day as you could have imagined.
Carson Wentz: I know, nitpicking! Wentz has the tools to be a superstar, and the Eagles can build a complex, expanding offense around him. He is physically and mentally gifted like no other young QB. But these deep underthrows! He missed a walk-in TD to Torrey Smith and a late, deep throw to Alshon Jeffery, each of which could have been interceptions. It was a problem too often his rookie year. He’s gotta stop leaving those throws on the field.
Washington, kinda: I didn’t think they looked bad offensively, but they definitely looked sloppy. And defensively, they’re still kind of a mess. I don't see a scenario where they avoid the NFC East basement. And it’s already September 10, so surely there’s no chance of something happening to change my mind.
David Johnson: Brutal day for the stud RB. He was banged up, including a wrist injury that ultimately knocked him out of the game, and his lost fumble was the turning point in Detroit.
Watching the Jets and Bills: Sorry. Good win for the Bills though. And congrats to Sean McDermott and the new staff.
Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
Amari Cooper TD: As I’ve mentioned before, he had zero catches inside the opponents’ 10 yard line last year. This year, the Raiders first TD came on a catch-and-mosh for an eight-yard score. I know he’s bulked up this year, and his biggest fault was the tendency to get pushed around by press coverage. But he might be ready to make the leap from really good to superstar.
Jordan Howard drop: It will haunt your dreams. A catch, and one step to his left and the Bears are lining up for a potential game-winning PAT. Instead, he heard Robert Alford’s footsteps, took his eye off the ball, and two plays later the Bears were 0-1.
Kenny Golladay catch: Just an insane, diving, 45-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter. I’m not sure he’s ready to dominate (picking on Justin Bethel does not a star make), but Golladay is an electrifying talent, and could be exactly what the Lions have needed.
Kevin Johnson missed tackle: If you’re looking for volunteers to tackle Leonard Fournette, I am not going to raise my hand. But sheesh, watching Johnson go low and whiff by four feet. If you were directing a football film and wanted a realistic shot of a running back evading a tackler, you would have made everyone do it again.
Antonio Brown vs. the City of Cleveland: Pittsburgh was lucky to escape from the lake. Brown made a huge 50-yard catch and run on a tipped ball to set up their first offensive TD late in the first half. But this thing, surrounded by 12% of the population of Cuyahoga County . . .
Austin Hooper’s stiff arm: Not cool. No confirmation on the report that he then took Quintin Demps to the locker room and gave him a swirly.
The day Andy Dalton ruined quarterbacking: A game of confounding misreads and missed throws. I’m not sure a veteran QB can play more poorly than this.
What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
Bill O’Brien’s leash: Ideally, they would have treaded water with Tom Savage for most if not all of the year, then turned it over to Deshaun Watson. Now, they’re almost forced to play the rookie because at least he can move. But it’s time to ask: Does O’Brien have to trash this playbook? It’s too much to groom a new QB this quickly; the offense is just too complex. And on top of that, the offensive line is atrocious so they can’t run the ball. The system is broken and the personnel stinks. I’m not sure what they can do.
So, about A.J. McCarron: I’m not a believer, but you can’t start a quarterback who plays as poorly as Andy Dalton did on Sunday. Now in his fourth season, McCarron is a restricted free agent after the season, and the Bengals might be hurtling toward “see what we’ve got” territory.
Baltimore Ravens, Super Bowl Contenders: They're back.
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