- Plus, Cardinals offense takes a while to get going, Eagles wake up just in time, ride the Josh Allen roller coaster, DeSean Jackson’s homecoming, Titans D overwhelms the star-studded Browns, Foles goes down, Le’Veon is back, Vinatieri’s bad day, and much more from the opening Sunday of the NFL season.
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Things That Made Me Giddy
Lamar Jackson, Looking Like He Did at Louisville: While playing a team slightly less talented than any team he faced while at Louisville. But while the competition was bad, you can’t argue with results like this: 324 yards, 5 TDs, 3 incompletions.
This Kellen Moore/Dak Prescott Marriage: It looked an awful lot like a 2019 offense (play-action! first-down throws!) rather than the spread iso stuff you used to see. If this is how it’s going to be, the Cowboys are going to have to pony up to keep these two together.
Eagles Hit the Snooze Button but Get to School On-Time: That was getting awfully hairy in the first half, against a Washington team that shouldn’t have been able to hang. But ultimately, Carson Wentz turned it on, DeSean Jackson opened it up, and the Eagles cruise thanks to 25 unanswered second-half points.
Good Weekend for the Brown Family!: Antonio forces his way out of Oakland’s tire fire and into the gentle bosom of Bill Belichick. Meanwhile, cousin Marquise Brown runs wild and free all over the Dolphins. The rookie racked up 147 yards including first-quarter TDs of 83 and 47 yards.
Josh Allen Finds a Way: He was careless with the ball—even if you discount the pick-six that was Cole Beasley’s fault, Allen had three other turnovers and one bad interception called back due to a penalty off the ball. But you have to love the fact that he rallied and scraped out a comeback when trailing 16-0 on the road against a division opponent. This morning’s Pokémon analogy still stands.
DeSean Jackson Is Back Where He Belongs: He should have played his entire career in Philadelphia, and in his return he saved the day: eight catches including two 50-plus yard TDs in the Eagles’ comeback win.
Mike Zimmer’s Wildest Dreams Come True: The Vikings win a game while attempting 10 passes!
Sammy Watkins: With Tyreek Hill going down early, Watkins engulfed the Jaguars in flames: 9 catches, 198 yards, 3 TDs. And while a lot of it came courtesy of Andy Reid/Eric Bieniemy design wizardry, he beat Jalen Ramsey in the red zone for the third TD (and the coverage was good, Watkins was just better).
49ers Found the Right QB to Pick-Six: San Francisco shattered an all-time record with just seven takeaways (including two interceptions) last year. A whopping four takeaways in Tampa (the improved pass rush is gonna help there) including pick-sixes for Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon.
Marlon Mack Puts the Colts on His Back: Indy did it right against the Chargers—if their Hall of Fame kicker didn’t have the worst day of his career, they would have gotten the road win. They didn’t abandon the run in the second half, and Mack finished with 25 carries for 174 yards, including a 63-yard TD, and punched in the game-tying two-point conversion late in regulation.
Cameron Wake: He was bothering Baker Mayfield all day, finishing with 2.5 sacks and a safety to boot. Granted, that Browns O-line was, is and will be bad, but this Titans defense will be outstanding if Wake gives them a season like this.
Le’Veon Bell Makes a Difference: He ran it fine all day, and later split out wide on a third-and-goal from the 9 and toasted Matt Milano on a little out route, resulting in a touchdown. Offensive weapon, not just a running back. You’re all fools for not signing him.
Todd Gurley as Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer: There was much fretting done as Gurley disappeared for large swathes early in Charlotte. But he did his work late, with his eight carries for 64 yards in the fourth quarter key in holding off the Panthers.
Jacoby Brissett Was Solid: A little too conservative for my taste, but the run game was working for the Colts in the second half, and Brissett made the plays (with a little help from T.Y. Hilton, not so much from Eric Ebron) in the fourth quarter.
Kevin Byard Is a Franchise Player: The Titans safety was all over the field as usual, picking Baker Mayfield in the process. The only time Byard got beat on Sunday was on the goal line when David Njoku—who has about seven inches on him—got inside of him.
Matthew Stafford Does His Superhero Thing: With no run game, shaky special teams and a defensive collapse, Stafford’s 385 passing yards on 45 attempts, many of them downright absurd throws, is the only thing that salaved a tie for the Lions.
It’s John Ross! And He’s Doing Stuff!: Good to see Zac Taylor finding some use for the first-round speedster.
Cam’s Shoulder Seemed . . . Pretty O.K.: It was an uneven day for the Panthers’ offense, in part because of some fluky turnovers. But Newton didn’t look particularly limited like he did in the second half of last season. The lack of a downfield passing game seems to be more about the receiving corps.
D.J. Chark Is a Bully: A silver lining in the Jaguars’ listless performance against the Chiefs.
Jay Gruden Still Put Himself in Coach of the Year Discussion With That First Half: Considering the roster Washington ran out at the Linc, it’s amazing they led by three possessions at any point.
Terry McLaurin Is Scary: In fact, I’d be willing to bestow a nickname on the rookie receiver: “Frightening McLaurin.” He had five catches for 125, including a 69-yard TD, and he got way behind the defense again in the second half only to have Case Keenum overthrow him.
You Will Rue the Day You Didn’t Sign Cairo Santos: All he does is makes kicks! He was perfect filling in for Ryan Succop on Sunday, including a 53-yarder.
The Dolphins Are Insultingly Bad: Jadeveon Clowney might have been onto something when he refused to play there. This is an XFL-caliber roster and anyone who has invested anything in this team—season-ticket holders, anyone who has bought merchandise, taxpayers of Miami-Dade County who helped fund stadium renovations—should be demanding their money back. Yeah, just drop Tu’a into this thing. That’ll fix it.
Baker Mayfield Woke Up Feeling He Needs a Different Catch Phrase: A dud performance behind a bad offensive line (seemmingly resulting in a banged up shoulder for Mayfield), a receiving corps that was neutralized by the league’s best secondary, and an undisciplined mess of a team. They'll probably be fine, but Sunday was a reality check for a team that seems to be a year away from even thinking Super Bowl.
Cleveland’s Evening of 1,000 Penalties: 18 for 181 yards, to be more specific.
Kliff Kingsbury’s Offense Looks Kinda Krappy: Granted, their offensive line is terrible, but there were few open receivers for Kyler Murray to find in this one. Everything they got seemed to be a contested catch. They didn’t get anything going until a gassed Lions defense softened up and let them up off the mat.
Adam Vinatieri: Of all the things to sink the Colts’ in their first post-Luck game, Vinatieri misses two field goals (including a fourth-quarter 29-yarder after an Eric Ebron dropped touchdown) and a PAT for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, the Chargers were forced to use their punter as a kicker, and Ty Long his all three of his PATs and his only field goal attempt, from 40.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s Ball Placement: The numbers don’t tell the story—Garoppolo was flat-out off-target on a lot of throws on Sunday. High and behind his targets. The defense bailed out the offense. Something to watch as the season moves on.
Deandre Baker Wears a Target: I like the Giants’ rookie corner, but the Cowboys went after him time and time again on Sunday.
Jets Offense Needs to Find a Big Play: Granted, Sean McDermott’s whole thing is taking the big play away from you. But Sam Darnold couldn’t get anything going downfield on Sunday—and when Robby Anderson did get behind the secondary on a couple of plays, Darnold’s throws came up just short.
Jaguars Hold Chiefs Scoreless for 91 Consecutive Seconds to Start the Year: Sure, it’s Patrick Mahomes, but if you’re going to win games with defense and run game like it’s 1992, you have to be better than that.
Kyler Sacked by His Own Lineman: Whoa, boy.
Did the Dolphins Line Up With Any Safeties Today?: Did they zero-blitz every play? Because every time Lamar Jackson threw a pass his receiver ran straight up the middle of the field without a defender in the vicinity.
Eric Weddle’s Head Wound: It was a fluke play where Christian McCaffrey vaulted him on an openfield tackle and hit Weddle flush with a knee. There was a ridiculous amount of blood.
This Fall, Sheldon Richardson Is Breaking All the Rules . . . : It’s a great concept for a feature film the whole family can enjoy. On Sunday, on a single drive, he picked up a second-and-long roughing the passer, then a third-down roughing the passer to keep the Titans alive, then jumped offsides on a third-and-4 in the red zone. And that’s the story of how the Titans scored the go-ahead touchdown in Cleveland.
Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Specifically, Browns starting left tackle Greg Robinson was. Actually, upon a fact-check, Greg Robinson was the only one who was kung fu fighting, and for it he got ejected, turning a thin Browns O-line even thinner.
Myles Garrett: Ejection Avoision: A very underrated prog rock band. Also, Garrett was exceptionally fortunate that his opener didn’t end in the first minute of the second quarter. Instead, it was just one of Cleveland’s 78 personal foul penalties on the day.
Cole Beasley Betrays Josh Allen: They actually looked pretty good on the opening drive, but to start the second possession Beasley outright scooped a checkdown into C.J. Mosley’s hands for a pick six early on. These things happen, I suppose.
Mahomes’s Tender Ankle: It didn’t matter against a barely-competitive Jaguars team, but Mahomes got his left ankle rolled up early and had limited mobility in the second half. He’s still a star even without the out-of-structure stuff, but it’s nice to be able to fall back on the superhero plays when he needs to (like when they host the Ravens in two weeks).
The Ravens Cursed Kaare Vedvik on the Way Out: After shanking his way out of Minnesota after being traded there for a fifth-round pick, Vedvik joined the Jets. On Sunday he missed a PAT, his only attempt of the day, in what was eventually a one-point loss. It’s time to wonder if Vedvik was actually Justin Tucker in a different jersey when he was kicking in Ravens preseason games.
Jon Feliciano’s Three-Point Boner: With the Bills trailing 6-0 early and putting together a nice drive after a pick six, a brutal post-third down personal foul call on one of the Bills’ new linemen. It meant punt team instead of a 43-yard field goal try.
Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
Fleas Are Flicked!: Zac Taylor gives the people what they want with not just a flea-flicker, but a really neat design on it.
Nick Foles Sacrifices His Clavicle: A quintessential Foles throw on his final play of the day, taking a huge hit while giving his big target a chance downfield. Exceptional play by D.J. Chark on the other end of it too.
Vernon Davis’s Olympic Dreams: Just a tremendous feat of strength by the 35-year-old. (And also a stunning bit of incompetence from the normally ultra-violent Andrew Sendejo after Davis comes down.)
Andy Dalton: Clown Prince of Football: (To be fair, he was solid on Sunday.)
Myles Jack Would Not Go Gently: It was a rough day for Jacksonville’s linebackers, and Jack let his frustration get to him—he hit Demarcus Robinson with a close-fisted punch to the ear hole after a play; there was no choice but to eject him.
Mahomes Take It to the Next Level With the No Look to No One:
What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
Are Freddie Kitchens’ Browns a Dud?: Probably not, but goodness there is work to do. They were completely undisciplined, the offensive line was as bad as expected, Baker Mayfield was oddly uneven and had his throwing shoulder banged up, and the defense got steamrolled.
A Bad Day for Tanking Advocates: The Browns, who are supposed to be on the other side of their tank, get hammered at home to start the year. The Dolphins look like a Sun Belt team wearing stolen NFL uniforms in their first post-tank performance. Again, don’t embrace the tank, kids.
Let’s Keep the Lamar Jackson Optimism Cautious For Now: I know! I know! That was really impressive! But it's not even about the fact that now the Ravens’ 2019 defense is now on tape—Baltimore is going to have to play NFL opponents from here on out, starting next wee (huh, Arizona) . . . well, in two weeks, when they go to Kansas City.
Vikings Looked an Awful Lot Like They Are Back: The defense was dominant, the ground game got going, and they completely overwhelmed the Falcons at home. This team was seen as a Super Bowl contender this time last year, and maybe they’re just arriving one year later than everyone thought.
A Single Tear Rolls Down Melvin Gordon’s Cheek: He’s a fine player who has put his body on the line for the Chargers’ franchise, but Sunday was a reminder that they really don’t need him.
Kyle MacLachlan Is Doing a CBS Sitcom?: With Raymond’s wife? I haven’t seen him since the Twin Peaks reboot. I don’t know how I feel about this.
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