By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and in Week 1’s most unexpected result, the Jameis Winston-led New Orleans Saints trounced the Green Bay Packers, embarrassing Aaron Rodgers and company in a 35-point win. Winston was dominant in his first start for the Saints, tossing five touchdowns on a scant 20 pass attempts. New Orleans looked every bit the playoff contender. As for the Packers, Rodgers looked generally disinterested for the bulk of the game, at one point throwing a pair of interceptions across three pass attempts. Rodgers eventually gave way to second-year quarterback Jordan Love, who was equally over-matched. Green Bay is set up to rebound with a Week 2 date against the Lions, but this week’s showing was a disaster.
The Kansas City Chiefs outlasted the Cleveland Browns in a thoroughly exciting showdown in a rematch of last year’s second-round playoff match-up. Cleveland was in control for much of the game, but a special teams miscue by the Browns combined with Patrick Mahomes’s special play-making magic proved to be too much for Cleveland to overcome. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce once again dominated as Kansas City’s top targets through the air, combining for 17 catches and 273 yards. Though it ended up being a tough loss, there were plenty of encouraging takeaways for the Browns, including the play of Baker Mayfield and the continued dominance of its offensive line.
Pittsburgh overcame a rough start to notch a hard-earned, wholly unexpected win over the Buffalo Bills. Though the offense failed to deliver, Pittsburgh’s defense and special team stepped up to lead the team’s come-from-behind victory over the Bills. Pittsburgh’s makeshift offensive line struggled throughout the contest. Still, the combined brilliance of pass rushers T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Melvin Ingram proved to be enough to propel Pittsburgh to victory. The Steelers ruined Josh Allen’s 2021 debut, dampening the MVP hype generated by the quarterback’s rapid ascent.
Rusell Wilson put up an MVP-worthy first half in 2020, and he is off to a similarly impressive start in 2021 following a dominant performance against the Indianapolis Colts. Wilson embarrassed Indianapolis’s highly-regarded defense, racking up four TDs while completing 18-of-23 attempts. Receiver Tyler Lockett proved to be Wilson’s favorite target, going for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns. On the other side of things, Carson Wentz’s debut for the Colts was hardly inspiring, with the veteran settling for an endless barrage of check-downs before having his team’s comeback effort squashed by an ill-timed fumble.
Wentz’s former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, cruised to a Week 1 win over the Falcons behind a career-best effort from quarterback Jalen Hurts. Philadelphia spent all offseason looking to move on from Hurts, but the second-year signal-caller was an absolute superstar on Sunday. Hurts made countless plays with his legs, both as a runner and by creating down-field opportunities by moving in the pocket. In addition, the Eagles’ defense benefitted from solid games by Darius Slay and Steven Nelson, an encouraging sign. It will still be an uphill climb for the Eagles to make the postseason, but after Week 1, Philadelphia sits alone atop the NFC East at 1-0.
Washington, favored alongside Dallas to contend in the NFC East, joined the Cowboys at 0-1 with a tough loss against the Los Angeles Chargers. Adding injury to insult, the Football Team also lost quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a hip injury that will likely sideline him into October. Washington’s defensive line, loaded with talent, disappointed, struggling to generate a consistent pass rush. On that note, L.A.’s revamped offensive line deserves major kudos for its work, including rookie Rashawn Slater, who was especially impressive given the level of difficulty for his NFL debut. The Chargers’ defense, with often-injured superstar Derwin James leading the way, was excellent. As long as the team’s stars stay healthy, L.A. is a playoff contender this season.
New England dropped to 0-1 in the NFL debut of rookie quarterback Mac Jones, falling to the Miami Dolphins in a thriller. Jones played well, delivering a solid yet unspectacular performance. However, New England’s offense was undone by a pair of fumbles by its running backs, including a late-game one that cost the Patriots the chance for a potential game-winning score. For the Dolphins, starting the season 1-0 is nice, but the concerns surrounding Tua Tagovailoa remain as he again proved unwilling to work the ball downfield through the air. Going against a Patriots secondary without Stephon Gilmore should have been a plus match-up for Tagovailoa. Instead, the second-year quarterback again seemed to embrace a no-risk, no-reward style of play. That has to change for Miami to be a contender in 2021.
Back again, and though Monday night’s match-up between the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders wasn’t a great one on paper—or even during the first half, frankly—it ended up being an overtime thriller that will rank as one of the most exciting contests of the 2021 season. After seemingly never having played football before during stretches in the first half, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr dazzled late in the game, including orchestrating a 38-yard drive in the closing seconds to set up an overtime-forcing field goal. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson fared well, including racking up 86 yards as a runner, but it was a costly fumble late in overtime that will be the story of the game for the former MVP.
Entering Sunday’s showdown between the Bills and Steelers, there was cause for concern surrounding Pittsburgh’s rebuilt offensive line being able to withstand Buffalo’s stellar defense. Instead, the offensive line of the Bills proved to be problematic, struggling all game against Pittsburgh’s collection of talented pass rushers. T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Melvin Ingram are excellent players and will shine against almost any unit, but Buffalo seemed utterly inept through the bulk of the team’s Week 1 loss. Blitz-happy Pittsburgh didn’t even need to send more than a four-man rush to ruin Josh Allen’s afternoon. The Bills even amassed a whopping six holding penalties in the game. The team has to put forth a better effort in Week 2.
A week ago, there was justifiable cause for concern surrounding Bengals first-round pick Ja’Marr Chase. The fifth overall selection had exhibited a shocking inability to convert open targets into catches during the preseason, dropping four of five targets during game action. However, Chase erased any doubt surrounding his game-changing, big-play ability in Cincinnati’s Week 1 win over the Vikings. Chase finished the game with five grabs, 101 yards, and an electrifying touchdown. Quarterback Joe Burrow was reluctant to force things downfield as a rookie in 2020. However, with Chase leading the team’s stellar receiving corps, that doesn’t seem to be a long-term issue for Cincinnati’s franchise quarterback. Chase will look to build on his impressive debut against the Bears this weekend.
Similarly, the Detroit Lions switched Penei Sewell to right tackle after making him the seventh overall selection in this year’s draft. It was an unmitigated disaster. However, with Taylor Decker injured, the Lions started Sewell at his natural position, left tackle, in Week 1, and the results were notable. Sewell protected Jared Goff’s blindside against the Nick Bosa-led San Francisco pass rush on over 55 pass protection snaps. It was an inspiring debut for Sewell, especially considering it had been almost two years since he played left tackle in a competitive game. With Decker likely back at some point in October, the Lions are looking at a potentially difficult decision regarding the fit of its star veteran left tackle and its potential superstar rookie.
While Sewell lived up to his draft billing during his NFL debut, another rookie left tackle looked poised to provide him competition as the position’s best from the 2021 draft class. Chargers left tackle Rashawn Slater had the misfortune of going against the star-studded Washington Football Team pass rush in his first taste of NFL action. He’ll have an equally tough draw in Week 2 with a match-up against Dallas edge defender Demarcus Lawrence on tap. As an elite defender against the run, Lawrence presents a tough match-up for Slater, who primarily excelled in pass protection in Week 1. An encore showing for Slater will be cause for a reassessment of L.A.’s offensive line as a unit and the Chargers as a Super Bowl threat.