With another opening weekend in the NFL comes another set of Week 1 overreactions. After an unusual offseason and nonexistent preseason because of COVID-19, Sunday’s games were the first time we saw every team in action.
Seeing a little, however, doesn’t mean believing everything good, bad and surprising that happened on the field. Although some results are signs of things to come for players and teams across the league, “Any given Sunday” applies to other developments.
Here’s looking at the worst of the Week 1 overreactions, starting with two that involve Hall of Fame, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks:
‘Aaron Rodgers for MVP . . . for a third time’
Rodgers had a monster opener (32-of-44 passing, 364 yards, four touchdowns, 127.5 rating) as the Packers held off the Vikings 43-34 in Minneapolis. Green Bay’s offense was on the field for 41-plus minutes and rushed for 158 yards. Rodgers wasn’t sacked once as he completed 72.7 percent of his passes at a vintage 8.3 yards per attempt. He lifted Davante Adams and his other wide receivers to multiple big plays.
BENDER: Pack’s present looks just fine with Rogers in command
Rodgers was locked in and possessed to start his second season in Matt LaFleur’s offense. Rodgers always plays with a chip on his shoulder, but it might be a little larger this year after the team used a first-round pick on his successor, Jordan Love.
Rodgers made the jaw-dropping pass plays that once earned him the title of NFL’s best QB, before Patrick Mahomes and other younger stars took the league by storm and Rodgers aged into his mid-30s.
On the same day Rodgers had his big day, reigning MVP Lamar Jackson picked up where he left for the Ravens and Russell Wilson was nearly perfect throwing downfield for the Seahawks. Second-year QBs Kyler Murray and Gardner Minshew also were spectacular in carrying the Cardinals and Jaguars, respectively, to tight, high-scoring victories.
Rodgers picked apart a reeling Vikings defense that’s in transition and was also missing top pass-rusher Danielle Hunter. Sunday proved there are a lot of bad defenses in the NFL and some potentially good ones trying to play catchup. The truth is, Rodgers has been his efficient, clutch self even through mild decline the past few years. Rodgers is still Rodgers; he’s just fueled by a little more Love.
Winning a third MVP six years after his second one is still unlikely, and it doesn’t matter anymore with his emeritus status. His play Sunday was more of a reminder that reports of his demise as a top-10 QB have been greatly exaggerated.
‘Tom Brady is done, like he was with the Patriots’
Brady (23-of-36 passing, 239 yards, two TDs, two INTs, three sacks) had a rough first game with the Buccaneers. The Saints’ defense forced the issue with their pass rush and secondary, leading to two big turnovers, including his second pick-six in as many games.
Throwing away a couple of possessions and also yielding points led to a frustrating 34-23 loss for the Bucs in New Orleans. The Saints’ offense looks every bit like a unit that has been together for years in the same system and still led by a future Hall of Fame QB in Drew Brees. Brady is still adjusting to his new situation after two decades in New England, and in the worst year to do so.
Brady was, in fact, more locked in with his new weapons than expected. Remember, too, that he and Rob Gronkowski are reuniting with a new team after a year apart. There were no new beginnings with the Patriots, where Brady was locked in with his coach and offense like Brees has been with Sean Payton.
Brady has a better supporting cast than he had in his final year with the Patriots, and he and the Bucs are built to mutually bring each other up. Playing the Saints, a well-rounded NFC playoff power, on the road was the least ideal way for him to start. Tampa Bay is still an NFC contender with Brady, and how it performs in the rematch with New Orleans in Week 9 will be a much better indication of the team’s true trajectory toward success.
‘The 49ers won’t recover from their Super Bowl hangover’
The Niners’ defense allowed 404 yards to the Cardinals in a frustrating 24-20 home loss. San Francisco was outscored 14-7 in the fourth quarter as Murray was able to take over the game with his running and downfield passing.
The offense ran the ball well as per usual, and there were big plays in the passing game aided by big runs after the catch. But the 49ers were also without their top two wide receivers, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Tight end George Kittle had a big first half but wasn’t involved in the second half after needing locker-room attention for a knee injury.
Jimmy Garoppolo missed some throws — including the overthrow that got Kittle hurt — just as he did in Super Bowl 54 against the Chiefs. But the 49ers were operating without a deep threat and were reliant big-time on short to intermediate passes.
The dual-threat Murray drove the 49ers batty when he was a rookie last season, and after two narrow wins San Francisco was due for an outcome to be flipped. The defense was adjusting to losing lineman DeForest Buckner, and No. 2 cornerback Emmanuel Mosley got exploited.
The 49ers are still a very good team and should be considered a contender to win the NFC again. But the conference is top-heavy and also has promising upstart teams such as the Cardinals. San Francisco is no longer sneaking up on anyone, either; it has gone from hunter to hunted.
With games against the Jets, Giants and Dolphins in their next four, the 49ers will easily be over .500 before they face a brutal midseason stretch. Just like the Bucs, one loss against a quality opponent doesn’t seal their fate, but they do need to rebound quickly with Arizona, Seattle and the LA Rams all ahead in the division at 1-0.
‘The Patriots are better off with Cam Newton than with Tom Brady’
Newton was unleashed as a runner (15 carries for 75 yards, two TDs) more than as a passer (15 completions for 155 yards) in his first post-Panthers start replacing Brady as he led a comfortable 21-11 win over the Dolphins. But the Patriots’ method of victory wasn’t that much different than it was with Brady.
In their current state, with few explosive elements in the passing game, the Patriots still need to lean heavily on their defense and running game to win. The only difference is, Newton can both supplement and lead the rushing attack like he did in Week 1.
Also, he faced a Dolphins defense whose strengths were easily avoidable because they aligned with the Patriots’ weaknesses. New England could execute its ball-control game plan knowing the Dolphins’ front seven would provide little resistance to Newton, its run blocking or the backs.
The Pats didn’t put too much on Newton to win the game, but there also wasn’t much to stop him, either. They won’t be able to play it safe with Newton in games against teams with much better offenses. The degree of difficulty is already increasing with the Seahawks (next Sunday night), Chiefs, 49ers and Bills serving as four of their six opponents.
The Brady-Newton comparisons were obligatory in Week 1, but how each started and how each will finish are still likely to be completely different.
‘The Vikings and Eagles are more pretenders than contenders in the NFC’
The Vikings couldn’t stop anything Rodgers and the Packers did on offense. The Eagles blew a 17-0 lead to a Washington Football Team with a very limited offense and fell hard 27-17. In each loss, the quarterbacks — Kirk Cousins and Carson Wentz — were mostly efficient, but they also faced heavy pressure and canceled out their big plays with big mistakes.
Minnesota still has a talented defensive core, but the unit is not at full strength and the team has made wholesale changes at cornerback. Philadelphia’s defense is loaded up front and much better in the back end, but linebacker play is a concern. Both teams’ offenses have good primary playmakers in the passing game, but there was major inconsistency Sunday.
That said, the Vikings and Eagles are very talented. One ran into the team that won the division and swept it last season. The other has gotten used to having a few clunkers in division play. Looking at how they operate under MIke Zimmer and Doug Pederson, they tend to surge in the second half of the season.
The NFC is a marathon, not a sprint. The 49ers know this, and so do the Vikings and Eagles. Everything is bound to remain tight in a conference that has a lot of parity.
‘The Browns won’t ever be good with Baker Mayfield’
Sporting News picked Cleveland to be the third playoff team from the AFC North and the No. 7 seed in 2020. But the Browns were also expected to get ripped by the Ravens in their opener, as they were, 38-6 in Baltimore.
Rookie coach Kevin Stefanski had a brutal debut; neither his offense nor his defense could execute. His team did, however, establish a much clearer identity, with a focus on running the ball and stopping the run more effectively.
They got Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt going behind an improved offensive line and through better use of tight ends. On the other side, they were intent on keeping Jackson and the Ravens’ traditional running game in check after having no shot at that last season.
Unfortunately for them, Mayfield let down with no downfield passing pop and made mistakes under duress just as he did last season. The Ravens overcame their rushing attack being cooled simply by having Jackson regularly hit on chunk plays downfield.
The Browns are making a lot of adjustments as they embrace all their newness, and much like the Bucs starting with the Saints, facing the Ravens’ buzzsaw kept them from showing off their new identity. They aren’t meant to play that far from behind with Mayfield forced into volume passing.
There’s still a path to efficiency for Mayfield, just like there was for Cousins with Stefanski in Minnesota. He’ll get a chance to prove Thursday night that he’s heading down that path when he faces the Bengals and another No. 1 overall draft pick, Joe Burrow.
‘Josh Allen has arrived as an elite QB’
The Bills, as a returning playoff team, knew they needed Allen to become a more reliable, accurate passer and more calculated runner for the offense to take another big leap. He responded with a big Year 3-opening game in Buffalo’s 27-17 beatdown of the Jets.
Allen (33-of-46 passing, 312 yards, two touchdowns; 14 rushes, 57 yards, one touchdown) was a one-man wrecking crew, throwing downfield and taking off with reckless abandon against a Jets defense that has little on which to stand without C.J. Mosley and Jamal Adams. New go-to wide receiver Stefon Diggs and highly skilled rookie back Zack Moss made a significant impact as they rounded out and deepened the Bills’ attack.
Allen did lose two fumbles while running, however, which helped to invite the Jets back into a game they were trailing 21-3 at halftime. While he led the way on the ground, having a downfield threat such as Diggs and a true power back in Moss is supposed to make Allen look to hit more deep balls and take less abuse rushing.
While Mayfield and the Jets’ Sam Darnold have been in a holding pattern and Jackson has skyrocketed to MVP success since being drafted in the first round two years ago, Allen, another member of that ’18 class, has fallen somewhere in the middle, although he’s closer to Jackson. He has all the physical tools to be great; he just needs to go from flashing only against bad defenses to doing it against better teams. Where his play is following a Week 6 meeting with Mahomes and the Chiefs will be a good barometer of whether he’s turning the corner toward the top 10.
‘Mitchell Trubisky still has a big future with the Bears’
Trubisky looked awful for three quarters as the Lions built a 23-6 lead in Detroit. Then came an epic fourth quarter in which he threw three touchdown passes to turn the result into a shocking 27-23 Chicago victory.
In the end, Trubisky (20-of-36 passing, 242 yards, 104.2 rating) had more efficient numbers than counterpart Matthew Stafford, but he still completed just 55.6 percent of his passes with a below-average 6.5 yards per attempt.
After an uninspiring offseason battle with Nick Foles that he won more because he was the incumbent than for standing out in camp, Trubisky really needed those 15 minutes. He finally got into a rhythm after making bad decisions and a few really bad throws earlier in the game. The Bears helped him by establishing a much stronger running game than the one they produced last season, keyed by beefed-up blockers and a more determined David Montgomery.
Trubisky kept it simple in the passing game as he played off the run, trusting mostly in one of the better (most underrated?) wide receiver duos in the league, Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller. A good chunk of the confidence Trubisky lost in 2019 had to be restored Sunday after he led a comeback against a still-shaky Lions defense.
That said, Trubisky shredded Detroit last Thanksgiving, too (29-of-38 passing, 338 yards, three touchdowns). One or two games against the Lions does not a career make; the Bears need him to do this against good teams, too. This game reminded them how inconsistent he is.
Trubisky has to go wire-to-wire with pleasing results for the team to reconsider the onetime franchise QB’s future beyond 2020.
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