You can’t win a championship in Week 1 — but don’t tell that to Packers fans. Aaron Rodgers performed a miraculous feat to bring the Packers back from a 17-point deficit and rip the hearts out of every fan in the greater Chicago area.
It felt like a vintage Rodgers performance, even though he scared everyone when he left briefly with a knee injury. It’s a reminder of how precarious championship hopes can be.
Pittsburgh suffered through one of its worst openers in recent memory Sunday, squandering a 21-7 lead against the Browns in an overtime tie that still felt like a loss. Ben Roethlisberger raised some very real questions about a possible decline in his 15th season as a pro, throwing for 335 yards but also turning the ball over five times. With the Bengals and Ravens each earning wins Sunday — and in the latter case, an emphatic one — the Steelers could have more competition in the AFC North than they’d bargained for this offseason.
And they still don’t know when Le’Veon Bell is coming back.
But fans in western Pennsylvania aren’t the only ones chewing their fingernails while anxiously proofreading Tweets and message board posts. And Green Bay fans aren’t the only ones checking for Airbnbs in Atlanta in early February.
2018’s opening weekend provided plenty of cause for overreaction, both good and bad.
The internet’s favorite football internet joke might finally be true (again?). Flacco, fresh off the worst season of his career, looked like a new man in what could be his last year with the Ravens.
With Lamar Jackson waiting in the wings, Flacco put together his best game in two years:
Joe Flacco has his 1st 3 TD game since 2016.
All 3 of his TD have been thrown to WRs who were not on the team last year. (Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, John Brown) pic.twitter.com/2ZBbKfa0kE— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 9, 2018
He completed 25 of 34 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over at all in less than three quarters of play. At that point, with the Ravens well on their way to a 47-3 shellacking, Flacco gave way to Jackson.
Don’t forget about this part either:
I guess pairing Joe Flacco with NFL-caliber receivers was a good idea.— Baltimore Beatdown (@BMoreBeatdown) September 9, 2018
After a year when his top receivers were 31-year-old Mike Wallace, 37-year-old tight end Benjamin Watson, and 29-year-old Jeremy Maclin, the Ravens decided to make some upgrades to their receiving corps with John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and Willie Snead.
Flacco’s best throw came on this gorgeous touchdown pass to Crabtree, placed perfectly so that only Crabtree could come down with it:
You might be tempted to dismiss the performance because it came against what could be the worst team in the NFL this year. But the Bills’ secondary is supposed to be the strongest unit of the defense, with the likes of Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, and Tre’Davious White. It’s definitely not the war crime that their offense is.
And on Sunday, in the pouring rain, Flacco embarrassed them — and made his case for being #elite.
We knew Dallas was going to deal with some growing pains at wideout and tight end after losing Dez Bryant and Jason Witten without signing or drafting any big name replacements. So it wasn’t very surprising that Dak Prescott only had 46 passing yards in the first half of the Cowboys’ 16-8 opening loss against Carolina. What was troubling, however, was how boring Ezekiel Elliott and the team’s running attack looked in defeat — at least through three quarters.
Elliott struggled to find holes all afternoon as a punishing Panthers defensive line took advantage of an offensive line that dearly missed Travis Frederick up front. When he did break free, the powerful back was tripped up by arm tackles and ankle grabs. Two seasons after looking like a rookie superman, Elliott was eminently pedestrian for the majority of Sunday.
It wasn’t on all how Elliott, who didn’t get fed THAT much.
Ezekiel Elliott carried the ball 15 times in Carolina. That is tied for the third-fewest attempts in his career:— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) September 10, 2018
- 8 at Denver 2017, loss
- 12 vs. Detroit 2016, win
- 15 vs. Cincinnati 2016, win
The play-calling was as disastrous as Bryant warned us about (much to his delight). It took nearly 40 minutes for Dallas to convert a third down.
The passing game had a rough go of it, too. A missed blitz pickup hung Prescott out to dry on a first quarter sack that pinned the Cowboys inside their own 10-yard line. Prescott was decimated by the Panthers pass rush all afternoon, getting sacked six times on 36 dropbacks — a 16.7 percent sack rate that would have ranked dead last in the NFL last fall. None was more costly than No. 6, a strip sack from Mario Addison out of a four-man rush that squashed Dallas’ slightly comeback hopes.
The hope going into 2018 was that last fall was an aberration for Mariota. The Titans quarterback suffered through the worst season of his three-year career, throwing a career-high 15 interceptions and a career-low 13 touchdown passes. Tennessee qualified for the postseason despite his down year, and this fall was supposed to be the franchise’s opportunity to prove what it could do with a returned-to-form Heisman winning passer.
Then came Sunday, where Mariota looked worse than he did in 2017. The young QB completed just 9 of 16 passes and threw a pair of interceptions by overshooting his receivers:
He soon left the longest game in NFL history with an elbow injury, finishing the day with a 36.2 passer rating that would have been higher if he just rifled every one of his passes into the stands.
Losing Mariota meant the Titans had to turn to Blaine Gabbert, a man who is decidedly not the kind of backup quarterback with whom you can get comfortable. Gabbert was just as ineffective as Mariota behind center, and Tennessee kicked off its season with a defeat in a winnable road game and a one-game deficit behind the Jaguars in the AFC South. Any comeback will have to happen without 2017’s leading receiver Delanie Walker, who suffered a gruesome injury after hauling in a Gabbert pass late in the fourth quarter.
Last year, the Minnesota Vikings had one of the best defenses in the NFL. They tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars to allowed the fewest amount of yards per play in the league. Minnesota had a stifling third-down defense that ranked first in open play success rate, allowing just 28 percent of opposing third downs to be converted.
Minnesota’s defense showed more of the same in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. They made life hell for Jimmy Garoppolo, intercepting him three times, sacking him three times, and racking up nine quarterback hits.
Harrison Smith had one hell of a game with two tackles for loss, a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery. If they can continue to get this type of performance from their All-Pro safety in conjunction with their defensive line, they could be better than last year. Rookie cornerback Mike Hughes had a fantastic debut with an interception returned for a touchdown.
The Vikings just shut down one of hottest teams coming into the new season. They’ll face another challenge next week when they travel to Green Bay and take on Aaron Rodgers, but Khalil Mack already showed that there are ways to disrupt the Packers’ offense, even if Rodgers got the last laugh.
The Bengals have high hopes for 2017 second-round pick and he overdelivered in his 2018 debut. In his first action of the season, Mixon rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, averaging about 5.6 yards per carry.
On top of that, he caught five passes for 54 yards, making him the Bengals’ most dangerous offensive weapon in a 34-23 win over the Colts.
The 149 yards from scrimmage for Mixon broke a franchise record for a Bengals season opener:
Per ESPN Stats & Info: Joe Mixon has 149 yards from scrimmage so far. The record for most by a Bengals RB in a season opener is 142 by Essex Johnson in 1973)— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) September 9, 2018
While the Steelers’ James Conner topped him in yards from scrimmage with 192, he did it on 36 touches compared to Mixon’s efficient 22 touches.
If he continues to produce like he did in Week 1 and the Bengals keep being conservative with his touches, Mixon may have a real shot at Offensive Player of the Year.
“You mention him with Le’Veon or (Todd) Gurley,” Bengals receiver Green said. “He’s there with those guys.”
On the other hand, it was against the Colts. Indianapolis was No. 30 in defense a year ago and didn’t do much to get better on that side of the ball.