On a weekend where Aaron Rodgers got benched, Urban Meyer got torched and Ryan Tannehill got too much of Chandler Jones, one corner of the NFL remains immune to surprises.
The NFC West.
It was the league’s best division, top to bottom, a year ago, and it sure looks like the league’s best division top to bottom again. San Francisco, Arizona and Seattle not only won Sunday; they nearly doubled the scores of their opponents, 107-62. Plus, they all won on the road.
But they’re not the division favorites. The Los Angeles Rams are, and they completed the sweep by hammering Chicago Sunday evening. That was expected. What happened in Tennessee wasn't. Arizona shredded a Titans' team that was a popular preseason playoff pick.
The Cards, meanwhile, were supposed to be division bottom feeders ... and maybe that happens. They were third in 2020, last the year before and haven't had a winning season in Kliff Kingsbury's two years there. But they buried the Titans, 38-13, in a game as lopsided as the score suggests, with Kyler Murray throwing for four scores, running for a fifth and Chandler Jones producing five sacks and two forced fumbles.
Then there’s Seattle. Russell Wilson threw for four scores in a 28-16 defeat of Indianapolis, while the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo – the quarterback critics can’t wait to replace -- threw for over 300 yards in a track meet with Detroit. Not to be outdone, Matthew Stafford stepped in front of a national TV audience at the end of the day and shredded the Bears for 321 yards and three TDs in his Rams' debut.
Add it all up, and you have an unbeaten division with quarterbacks that excelled. Get used to it. The NFC West is the NFL’s Best. Again.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. The best team in the East is in the West. That would be the Seattle Seahawks, now 13-1 in their last 14 games in the Eastern Time Zone.
2. Jimmy G will not go gentle into that good night. Critics are waiting for a hiccup to bench him in favor of an untested rookie, but, sorry, ain’t going to happen. Not as long as Garoppolo’s healthy and playing as he did Sunday. Face it, people, the biggest hole in Jimmy G is durability. He missed 23 of the past 48 regular-season games. But the one year he lasted all 16? The 49ers went to the Super Bowl. He stays in the lineup as long as he stays on his feet.
3. Urban Meyer’s migraines have just begun. So he lost his first pro game. Big deal, huh? Well, yeah. It was to Houston, a popular preseason pick for the first draft pick in 2022 … and he got smoked. Next loss: Denver, Sept. 19.
4. Never underestimate the Steelers. Mike Tomlin hasn’t had a losing season in 14 years. There’s a reason. Pittsburgh will be a factor in the AFC North race.
5. Cleveland is cursed. The Browns are 0-9 vs. Andy Reid and haven’t won a season opener since 2004. Small wonder, then, that they lost a game they shouldn’t when their punter flubs a snap, a defensive back turns his back on a Patrick Mahomes missile and Baker Mayfield short-circuits a last-minute comeback with an interception that shouldn’t have happened. Nevertheless, I believe the Browns learned something from their loss in Kansas City: They can go toe-to-toe with the AFC champs and push them to the mat. Now, they just have to break the curse.
THIRD AND 15
1. Of all the things that fizzled with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers – and there’s a laundry list – this is one you least expect: The Packers did not have a third-down conversion until midway through the fourth quarter ... or after they trailed 38-3 and Rodgers took a seat. OK, so it happens. But it doesn’t happen to this guy and this team. It did Sunday in the worst loss of Rodgers' career, and it’s time A-Rod stops dwelling on Jordan Love and next season and start focusing on 2021 … or the next “Jeopardy” gig.
2. Then there’s this: Rodgers is now 3-5 in Florida, with a 74.1 career passer rating. Keep that in mind if the Packers go to Tampa Bay in the playoffs.
3. Misery loves company, right? The NFC North opened the season at 0-4.
4. Jets lose. Giants lose. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
5. The early returns on New England’s Mac Jones are encouraging. He made few mistakes, put the Patriots in position to win and didn’t lose the game. Fumbles did.
6. The more I see Daniel Jones, the more I think the Giants start looking for their next quarterback. Just too many mistakes … as in 40 career turnovers.
7. Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer said he’s not worried about his job security. He should be. He’s 7-11 in his last 18 starts (including the playoffs) and just lost to a Cincinnati team that has six wins the past two years.
8. I might be a party of one, but I’m not ready to concede the AFC West this season to Kansas City. Reason: The Chargers. They could’ve (should've?) beaten the Chiefs twice last year and have a quarterback who dazzles almost as much as Patrick Mahomes. Watch Justin Herbert’s second half Sunday, and you’ll see why.
9. Good for Sam Darnold. Always nice to start a job at one place by shutting down (up?) the guys who gave up on you.
10. To quote Hall-of-Fame voter Sam Kouvaris: “The good news is Trevor Lawrence is the Jaguars’ best player. The bad news is Trevor Lawrence is the Jaguars’ best player.” Bingo.
11. Let the countdown begin in Chicago. No, quarterback Andy Dalton didn't lose Sunday night's game. A secondary that couldn't cover the deep ball did. But that doesn't matter. The Bears lost, and frustrated fans want rookie Justin Fields to start. With Cincinnati and Cleveland up next (they both won Sunday), that could happen sooner rather than later.
12. If Tua Tagovailoa doesn’t pique your interest in Miami, the Dolphins’ defense should. It was the difference maker in Sunday’s season-opening defeat of New England, forcing turnovers by an opponent that doesn’t commit them. The Dolphins have takeaways in 23 consecutive games, and you know what they say about defense and championships.
13. Which is why I can’t get excited about Detroit (OK, one of the reasons). The Lions have allowed 30 or more points in seven consecutive games. I don’t care how well Jared Goff plays, that’s an obstacle too much for quarterbacks not named Tom Brady to overcome.
14. Carolina’s Brian Burns said Carolina’s defensive game plan vs. Jets' rookie Zach Wilson was simple. “It was to make his first game hell,” he said. Well, then, mission accomplished. Six sacks, 10 quarterback hits, eight pass deflections and one interception will do that.
15. Maybe it’s new coach Nick Sirianni or maybe it’s the experience of another year, but the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts looks like a different quarterback. He threw the ball accurately, committed no turnovers, was poised, ran when he had to and led the Eagles to their first 26-point opening-day win since 2009.
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
Patrick Mahomes is 11-0 in September, with 35 TDs and no interceptions.
ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
Jacksonville’s loss means the last 14 quarterbacks drafted first overall failed to win their first NFL starts. Houston’s David Carr was the last to win, and that was 2002.
AND ONE FOR BOTH OF US
Let’s not forget the AFC West. That division is unbeaten, too, making the West – AFC and NFC together – a combined 7-0, with quarterbacks throwing 18 touchdown passes and two interceptions. Next move: The Raiders and Derek Carr … tonight.
GOLD JACKET QUOTES
“When you play like that, it should be no shock. Sucks when you lose. Sucks when you get your ass kicked.” – Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel after Tennessee’s 38-13 loss to Arizona.
"It's one game. We played bad. I played bad." -- Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
GOLD JACKET WINNER
Jameis Winston, QB, New Orleans. This was a close call on a day when Kyler Murray threw for four TDs and ran for another … Chandler Jones had five sacks and two forced fumbles …and Patrick Mahomes was Patrick Mahomes. But Jameis Winston takes the prize precisely because he wasn’t Jameis Winston. He was other-worldly. Not only did he outplay Aaron Rodgers; he made history while doing it -- throwing for five TDs, with no interceptions in his first career season-opening start with a new team. Nobody else has done that. Ever.