It was a week of superstars showing off new uniforms, many players choosing to stay in the locker room for the national anthem, teams playing through horrible air conditions out west, and stadiums being mostly empty because of coronavirus precautions. But a few shocking upsets provided a thrilling Sunday, reminding everyone that football games can go sideways quickly.
Here’s what we learned:
These are not Tom Brady’s Patriots. In his first game for New England, quarterback Cam Newton led the team to an easy win over the Miami Dolphins by throwing for 155 yards and rushing for 75 more along with two touchdowns. The 75 rushing yards are more than Brady had in 14 of his 19 seasons as New England’s starter, with the veteran’s single-game high being just 31 yards. Newton now has 60 career rushing touchdowns, which is 17 more than any other N.F.L. quarterback (Steve Young had 43).
Not to be outdone entirely by Newton, Brady showed he is still nearly unstoppable in short-yardage situations by running for a 1-yard touchdown early in Tampa Bay’s loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Aldon Smith’s Shocking Comeback
No one ever doubted Aldon Smith’s on-field talent, but the defensive end had so many off-field issues that it seemed the promising start to his career in San Francisco had been entirely squandered. Somehow still just 30 years old, Smith, who had not appeared in a game in nearly five years, was on the field for the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, and while his team lost to the Los Angeles Rams, Smith’s performance was nothing short of remarkable.
The defensive end, who had not appeared in a game since Nov. 15, 2015, looked like his old self, with 11 tackles, two quarterback hits and a sack.
Explaining all of Smith’s off-field problems would take quite a bit of space, but for reference, the “Legal Issues” section of his Wikipedia page has nine separate entries, and includes drug and alcohol incidents, a domestic violence accusation and a bomb threat at an airport.
Sunday’s Top Performers
Top Passer: Lamar Jackson
It appears as if last season’s winner of the Most Valuable Player Award would like to make it two in a row. Jackson was a model of efficiency, completing 20 of 25 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns, while also topping the Ravens with 45 yards on the ground. Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers were just a tick behind in efficiency, and Gardner Minshew got to rub elbows with some elite company.
Top Runner: Josh Jacobs
Clyde Edwards-Helaire of the Kansas City Chiefs rushed for 134 yards on Thursday night, but not a single other running back managed even 100 on Sunday. Of the five who had 90 or more, Jacobs of the Raiders set himself apart by rushing for three touchdowns, including a 6-yarder with 4:08 remaining in the game that put Las Vegas up for good.
Top Receiver: Davante Adams
Julio Jones became the second-fastest receiver in N.F.L. history to reach 800 receptions — needing just one game more than Antonio Brown, who did it in 126 — and DeAndre Hopkins set a personal-best with 14 catches, but Adams hauled in two of Aaron Rodgers’s four touchdown passes while catching 14 of the 17 passes thrown his way.
One* Sentence About Sunday’s Games
*Except when it takes more.
Ravens 38, Browns 6 Cleveland beat Baltimore on Sept 29 of last season, and the Ravens have not lost a regular season game since — a streak that will reach at least 357 days thanks to Lamar Jackson throwing for 275 yards and three touchdowns, with a sparking passer rating of 152.1, in a game that was not nearly as close as the final result suggests.
Saints 34, Buccaneers 23 For much of the games, the — shall we say, experienced? — quarterbacks of these teams looked their age, but Drew Brees had an undeniable highlight with a 46-yard completion to tight end Jared Cook, and New Orleans took care of business at home.
Rams 20, Cowboys 17 Playing for the first time in the team’s new stadium in Inglewood, Calif., the Rams were not exactly back to their world-beating ways of two seasons ago, but thanks to a solid effort from Malcolm Brown, a veteran running back who had 110 yards from scrimmage, and some bend-don’t-break defense, they were able to hand Dallas an opening-week loss.
Packers 43, Vikings 34 There were plenty of positives Minnesota could take from this game — Adam Thielen succeeding without Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook running for two touchdowns, etc. — but all of them came on offense, as the team’s short-handed defense was brutalized by Green Bay, giving up an unseemly 522 yards.
Jaguars 27, Colts 20 Indianapolis added quarterback Philip Rivers to complement the team’s power running game. Rivers threw for 363 yards (and two extremely costly interceptions), but the Colts struggled to run the ball and lost starter Marlon Mack to what could be a season-ending injury. That and the team’s defense falling apart resulted in the day’s biggest upset.
Washington 27, Eagles 17 It was an incredibly messy off-season for Washington, but the season got off to a shockingly happy start with the Footballers fighting their way back from a 17-point deficit thanks to some tough play from the team’s defense, two rushing touchdowns from Peyton Barber, and steady play from second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
Cardinals 24, 49ers 20 It seems like DeAndre Hopkins is going to work out just fine for Arizona, as the wide receiver, acquired in a trade with Houston this off-season, had 14 catches for 151 yards against one of the best secondaries in football.
Bears 27, Lions 23 For three quarters, Chicago’s decision to stick with Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback looked brutal, but the Bears, who trailed at that point by 23-6, had a comeback for the ages. The much-maligned Trubisky threw three touchdown passes in the final quarter, including a 27-yard go-ahead pass to Anthony Miller with 1 minute 54 seconds left in the game.
Raiders 34, Panthers 30 Just coming back to the point already made above: If you need a few inches, and your team has Christian McCaffrey, you give the ball to Christian McCaffrey.
Seahawks 38, Falcons 25 It appears as if Coach Pete Carroll finally heard about the “Let Russ Cook” campaign, as Seattle was the Russell Wilson show in a road victory, with the quarterback throwing for 322 yards and four touchdowns.
Chargers 16, Bengals 13 Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow looked awfully great on a 23-yard touchdown run, but the Bengals were the Bengals, with wide receiver A.J. Green being flagged for offensive pass interference in the closing seconds, ruining Cincinnati’s chance at a come-from-behind win.
Bills 27, Jets 17 Given a stiff test to start the season, the Jets failed, with quarterback Sam Darnold looking pedestrian against Buffalo’s (admittedly terrific) defense, and running back Le’Veon Bell missing the second half with a hamstring injury. That left the team’s defense — minus safety Jamal Adams, who was traded to Seattle — to deal with an onslaught led by Josh Allen of the Bills.
Patriots 21, Dolphins 11 It’s not particularly fair to judge a journeyman quarterback for a developing team when he’s up against one of the best secondaries in the N.F.L., but Ryan Fitzpatrick’s zero-touchdown, three-interception effort certainly didn’t quiet calls for Tua Tagovailoa to get a shot under center for Miami.