What we learned from Sunday's Week 1 early games

Cam Newton looked like his old self with his new team, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens got off to a dominant start and some upsets were had. Here’s what we learned from Sunday’s Week 1 early games.

New England Patriots 21, Miami Dolphins 11

1) Cam Newton said we’d have to wait for Week 1 to find out what the Patriots offense would look like. It turns out it was a whole lot of establishing the run, led by the bulldozing QB. The former NFL MVP looked like he turned the clock back to his Panthers heyday. Newton toted the rock a ton in the season opener off an array of zone reads, QB keepers and option plays. Newton rushed a team-high 15 times for 75 yards with two touchdowns, adding 155 yards on 15-of-19 passing. The Pats rushed with seemingly every able-bodied back. Newton and five RBs combined for 217 yards on 42 carries with three TDs. Newton didn’t attempt any deep throws outside the numbers, but his arm looked fine throwing darts over the middle. Newton reminded the world what kind of demolishing force he can be when fully healthy. As the season progresses, expect Josh McDaniels to work off that domineering run game to open the pass attack.

Cam Newton rushed the ball 15 times for 75 yards in his first game with the @Patriots

The most carries and rush yards in a game by a Patriots QB in the Belichick era (since 2000)#NEvsMIA

2) The question this offseason was how the Pats defense would return after a plethora of opt-outs this year. It wasn’t picture-perfect against Ryan Fitzpatrick and a rag-tag Dolphins offense. The D intercepted Fitzpatrick three times, including one by Defensive Player of the Year Stefon Gilmore. It also allowed plenty of time for the QB to find targets downfield on scoring drives. Gilmore also had two of the Pats’ three second-half DPIs that helped Miami stay in the game. With the voids on defense due to opt-outs, New England isn’t the same squad that finished No. 1 on D last year. The secondary still has enough talent to beat Miami, however.

3) Fitzpatrick did what he could to keep Miami in the game, cutting the Pats lead to single digits in the fourth quarter. The rebuilding Dolphins just didn’t have enough to overcome Newton’s dominant run game. A hamstring injury to DeVante Parker that sidelined the receiver also hurt Miami after the wideout had a stellar beginning to his season. Sans his go-to target, FitzMagic spread the ball around and scrambled to pick up first downs, keeping the Dolphins in striking range much of the tilt. The three INTs (two of which could have been negated by penalties), however, were too much to overcome from a still-growing Dolphins squad. 

— Kevin Patra

Green Bay Packers 43, Minnesota Vikings 34

1) For all the ruckus made in the offseason about Green Bay opting to select a quarterback of the future over a receiver in the first round of the 2020 draft, it sure didn’t hurt them much Sunday. Davante Adams was predictably excellent, but deep shots to Marquez Valdes-Scantling also proved the most important piece for the Packers’ passing offense remains behind center. Aaron Rodgers’ passing line tells us all we need to know about Sunday and the potential of Green Bay’s offense: 32 of 44, 364 yards, four touchdowns and a 127.5 passer rating. Sweet air supremacy.

2) Without Danielle Hunter, the Vikings defense stood tall early before eventually giving way to the scoring-palooza. Twice Minnesota earned red zone wins, holding Green Bay to three points when it could’ve been as many as 14, but when they look back at this game in its totality, they’re going to want to avert their eyes. Rodgers’ stellar game and an inability to record a single stop with Green Bay still in sight in the fourth quarter punctuated what was ultimately a deflating loss to a division rival to start the season. A 7-3 lead that became a 22-7 deficit in a single quarter won’t sit well on the minds of those in charge of this team, especially considering its defense is supposed to be its strength.

3) This game produced a result that could’ve been explained by an old Vince Lombardi-ism: We didn’t lose, we just ran out of time. Minnesota’s offense finally woke up in the second half and made things interesting, but if there were more time, we might have just repeated the same exercise: Vikings score, convert the two-point attempt to cut it to 10, give up a touchdown, repeat. We know these two teams can score, sure, but they’re going to need to make plenty of defensive corrections moving forward. Much like it is during baseball’s spring training with pitchers and hitters, the offenses are ahead of the defenses right now.

–Nick Shook

Washington Football Team 27, Philadelphia Eagles 17

1) With the game tied at 17 in the fourth quarter, “Riverboat Ron” reared his head. Washington head coach Ron Rivera decided to forgo a chip-shot field goal from the 4-yard line and go for it on fourth and one with a little over six minutes remaining. The gamble paid off after a Peyton Barber run for a first down, and the running back soon found the end zone for the go-ahead score two plays later. The Eagles gambled on their subsequent drive – going for it on fourth and fourth from their own 42-yard line with over four minutes to go and with all three timeouts – but the Washington defense put a swift end to any fourth-quarter comeback. With the victory, Washington maintains a plus-.500 record for its team history. It hasn’t fallen below that mark in 45 years.

2) This Washington Football Team has a defense. It was on the ropes early on, down, 17-0, at one point, and on the field far too often thanks to a struggling offense, but Washington feasted on a hobbling offensive line and forced Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz’s bad day. Wentz was sacked eight times by Washington and forced three game-altering turnovers. Veteran Ryan Kerrigan led the Washington pass rush with two sacks and rookie Chase Young made his presence known with 1.5 sacks in his debut. Matt Ioannidis, Montez Sweat, John Bostic, Jonathan Allen, and Daron Payne joined the Washington sack parade while Fabian Moreau and Jimmy Moreland caught the interceptions. Washington’s day ended perfectly for the defense, which recovered a strip-sack fumble to run out the clock with a 10-point lead.

3) What did work for Wentz was his rapport with tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, who accounted for nearly half of the Eagles’ 270 receiving yards. Goedert led the way with eight receptions for 101 yards and a TD while Ertz caught three balls for 18 yards and Philadelphia’s other score. Wentz and the Eagles were humming early on thanks to their aggressive play-calling, but everything fell apart once the first INT was thrown after the first half’s two-minute warning. Wentz’s next INT came on the Eagles’ opening drive of the second half and both picks resulted in short-field touchdowns for Washington. The Eagles could’ve used a running attack to curb their second-half struggles (held scoreless in the second half), but their well-documented injury woes to the O-line caught up with them against a pass rush that had their number.

–Michael Baca

Chicago Bears 27, Detroit Lions 23

1) Mitchell Trubisky took Bears fans on a wild roller-coaster ride Sunday. Luckily, the incumbent quarterback ended the game on a massive upswing. Trubisky helped dig the Bears out of a 23-6 fourth-quarter hole by leading three touchdown drives, including a picture-perfect arcing dime to Anthony Miller for the game-winning score. It was far from a perfect day for Trubisky, who came out of the gate wobbly, missing passes high and wide, and couldn’t get into a rhythm. Luckily, the ground game kept the Chicago offense moving until Trubisky hit a groove. If Trubisky is to keep Nick Foles on the bench, he’ll have to be more consistent throughout the course of 60 minutes against better opponents.

2) It helped that Trubisky faced a Lions team that continues a trend of collapsing under Matt Patricia. After seven fourth-quarter leads surrendered last season, the Lions opened with another implosion. Losing two starting corners in Justin Coleman and Desmond Trufant hurt, and allowed Trubisky to go off late. But good teams don’t lose 17-point fourth-quarter leads. A combo of poorly timed calls, forced passes, missed blocks, bad defense, no pass rush, and boneheaded penalties allowed the Bears back into the game. From attempting a 55-yeard field goal to help set up a Bears score, to a forced pass from Stafford (who looked good otherwise in his return from a back injury) that was intercepted, the Lions did everything to give Trubisky his opening. The most brutal play came on a DeAndre Swift drop of a TD pass with six seconds remaining that would have given Detroit a win. It was the Same Old Lions in Detroit Sunday. Credit Trubisky for taking advantage to open the year.

3) The Bears used David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson in a committee to great effect, combining for 124 rushing yards. The trio gashed the Lions interior in a good game called by Matt Nagy. For Detroit, Adrian Peterson is the clear top back as the ageless wonder hit the hole for 93 yards on 14 carries. The inability to get a first down with three minutes left to milk the clock, however, was another struggle Detroit brought with it from 2019. 

–Kevin Patra

Baltimore Ravens 38, Cleveland Browns 6

1) Calais Campbell is Baltimore’s best defender and is going to cause problems for every opponent all season long. Campbell immediately made an impact, batting down a second-down attempt on Cleveland’s opening possession and then tipping a pass, resulting in a Marlon Humphrey interception on the very next play. Even as Nick Chubb got going on the ground, Campbell was there to cut him down and limit his gains. The Ravens won 14 games last season and got better, starting with the addition of Campbell.

2) Cleveland has plenty to fix on both sides of the ball, but its rushing attack is incredibly exciting. Chubb showed flashes of his 1,400-plus-yard 2019 season on the Browns’ lone scoring drive, and there’s no drop-off when handing to Kareem Hunt, either. The Browns are going to be able to shred some weaker defenses on the ground, especially if they’re not trying to dig themselves out of early holes.

3) Continuity might be more important to team success this season than any other. It was painfully evident in almost every aspect of the game which team returned the same coaching staff from 2019. The Browns got the worst Week 1 draw in the league in Baltimore, and they’ll need some time to work out the kinks, but the teams with established continuity are going to gain huge advantages early in this season. That was no more apparent anywhere in the NFL on Sunday than in Baltimore.

–Nick Shook

Buffalo Bills 27, New York Jets 17

1) Josh Allen entered the season thought to be one of Buffalo’s few weaknesses. The Bills QB proved Sunday that he’s no weakness, but rather a weather vane. When the dual-threat signal-caller was humming on his many read-option rumbles and out-of-pocket passes, Buffalo was unstoppable. Allen led the Bills in rushing (57 yards), set career-highs in passing and became the first Buffalo QB to throw for over 300 yards in 45 months. But Allen’s curious errors persist. He fumbled twice inside New York’s 35-yard line in an runaway first half and overthrew a wide-open John Brown in the end zone by the size of another John Brown.

2) Adam Gase’s slow starts are becoming sort of a hot trend in New York. The Jets opened with three straight three-and-outs, unable to jump-start Le’Veon Bell or keep the pass rush off Sam Darnold. What’s new? Darnold hit on two big gains (a beautiful sideline ball to Bell and a catch-and-run TD to Jamison Crowder) for a combined 99 yards, but the Jets racked up 155 yards the rest of the way. Threatening to crash before they take off for the second straight season, Gang Green also saw Bell go off with a hamstring injury, something Gase, to his credit, might have seen coming.

3) Bell wasn’t the only star, rising or falling, to fall victim to the injury bug Sunday. Both of the Bills’ starting inside linebackers, the great Matt Milano (hamstring) and Tremaine Edmunds (shoulder), exited with ailments. The anchors of Buffalo’s defense weren’t alone in Week 1 to suffer injuries after a long offseason, but theirs, coming within minutes of each other, could prove more significant than others around the league.

–Jeremy Bergman

Las Vegas Raiders 34, Carolina Panthers 30

1) The Raiders were 7-1 last season when rushing for at least one touchdown. Second-year sensation Josh Jacobs turned in three on Sunday to lead the Raiders to victory in a highly competitive affair. With the offensive line looking spry and doing a good job of creating running lanes, Jacobs gashed the Panthers for 93 yards on 25 carries and the trio of scores, the last of which gave Las Vegas enough for the ‘W.’ He also tacked on four receptions for 46 yards; a nice start to what’s projected to be a big year for Jacobs.

2) Down four with 1:23 remaining, Carolina appeared one Christian McCaffrey handoff away from extending a potentially game-winning drive. Of course, that play never materialized as the Panthers opted to go to fullback Alex Armah, who was stuffed for no gain. After shaking off a slow first half (eight carries for 31 yards and a score with one reception for 11 yards), McCaffrey finished with a solid 23/96/2 and three catches for 38 yards, but this one will go down as the one (yard) that got away.

3) It was a new dawn and day for both of these teams and, in a battle of revamped receiver corps, it was Derek Carr and Co. that edged out Teddy Bridgewater in his Carolina debut. Carr efficiently dinked and dunked his way to 22-of-30 for 239 yards and a TD; his biggest shot came on a 45-yard catch-and-run from speedy rookie Henry Ruggs, who overcame an early injury scare. Meanwhile, Teddy B (270 yards) and Robby Anderson (6/115/1) flashed as a possibly dangerous tandem.

–Jelani Scott

Seattle Seahawks 38, Atlanta Falcons 25

1) The Seahawks let Russell Wilson cook. And he served up a fiery feast. Wilson threw early and often in what was essentially a perfect game by him. He completed 31 of 35 passes, which included a drop or two, for 322 yards and four touchdowns. Perhaps as notable, Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer dialed up a pass-first attack for his Pro Bowl QB. Seattle ran just 20 times all day despite racing out to an early 14-0 lead, with Wilson completing his first 12 passes and 14 of 15 by halftime. Wilson stayed hot in the second half and finished the game having connected on all 27 targets that weren’t for D.K. Metcalf. If this is the new normal for the Seahawks, the league is in trouble.

2) Matt Ryan is still good. The 35-year-old QB did his part to keep the Falcons competitive. He completed 14 straight passes at one point in the second half, eclipsing John Elway for ninth place in all-time completions in the process. Ryan connected with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage nine times apiece while going 37 of 54 for 450 yards and two touchdowns. His productivity just didn’t translate into enough points, as Atlanta was inefficient on late downs and ultimately became one dimensional after a strong start from Todd Gurley.

3) One of the bigger questions for the Seahawks in the offseason surrounded its defensive front, particularly the pass rush, with no Pro Bowl linemen on the roster. They answered by committee against Atlanta. The Seattle defensive line applied regular pressure on Ryan — newcomer Jamal Adams brought heat from the safety spot — and shut down Gurley on a few crucial downs before the Falcons completely abandoned their run game. The defense saved its best work on fourth downs, stopping Atlanta on four tries, including consecutive attempts in the third quarter that Wilson capitalized on to blow the game open.

–Adam Maya

Jacksonville Jaguars 27, Indianapolis Colts 20

1) Minshew Mania is off to a great start after a 27-20 win over the Colts. Despite being young and inexperienced, the Jaguars were able to pull off the upset. Gardner Minshew went toe-to-toe with Philip Rivers. Minshew was comfortable and confident in the pocket and took advantage of the Colts’ mistakes, throwing more touchdowns (three) than incompletions (one) in one of his best performances. Minshew received help from James Robinson. He’s the first undrafted rookie running back to start the season opener in the last 30 years. Leonard Fournette’s replacement finished with 90 total yards on 17 touches. His biggest play was a 28-yard catch-and-run in which he hurdled over Colts defensive back Khari Willis.

2) Speaking of Jacksonville rookies, cornerback C.J. Henderson was the player of the game. The ninth overall pick intercepted Rivers, had five tackles and added three passes defended, including a fourth-down target to veteran wideout T.Y. Hilton in the red zone on the Colts’ final play.

3) Despite Rivers’ two picks, the veteran looked like he’d been part of the Colts’ offense for years. They held a 445-241 edge in total yards. But leaving too many points on the board hurt them in the end. Nyheim Hines was stuffed on fourth down near the goal line in the first quarter. Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 30-yard field goal. With the team possibly losing Marlon Mack for the season, the team can’t afford to miss opportunities going forward. 

–Lakisha Wesseling

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