We’re back, people. Your weekly look-around the NFL for the best performances, worst chokes, and most questionable prognostications.
If I didn’t mention your team this week, no worries. Good, bad, or meh, I’ll be getting to everyone in due time.
2020 NFL Week 1
- Football is weird without fans
Not going to lie. It doesn’t matter how much crowd noise you pump in, even with the strategically timed boos, or how tightly you control the camera angles, football just feels eerie in the absence of a raucous crowd. It’s a spectacle designed to be observed in person and viewed from afar with the crowd as context. Until we’re out of the woods on this whole global pandemic situation, it’s going to continue to feel downright strange every single week.
- Seattle has a new game plan
For years I’ve been loudly yelling into the voids of the football internet that Russell Wilson can NOT be the Seahawks leading rusher and still have the team win consistently. That argument goes out the window when he’s the leading rusher with twenty-nine yards on just three carries. Why? Because Seattle just didn’t run the ball very much. Twenty rushes to thirty-five pass attempts isn’t exactly a balanced offense, but when Russell Wilson is dropping dimes all over the secondary, it really, really doesn’t matter too much. Atlanta kept things close until halftime, only trailing 14-12, but a twenty-four-point second half from Wilson and the Seahawks was enough to break the Falcons. Wilson boasted as many TD passes as incompletions (four each) while hitting nine different receivers. Weird fact: Second-year receiver D.K. Metcalf was the Seahawks leading receiver, accounting for ninety-five yards and a touchdown, despite being the intended target on all four of Wilson’s incompletions.
- So does New England
New year, new quarterback, new game plan. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. New England started the Cam Newton era the way I expected them to end the Brady era, by becoming a run-first team. The main difference is that while Brady can’t do the running himself, Cam Newton can. And run he did, leading New England with seventy-five yards on fifteen carries with two touchdowns. The ground attack mauled Miami into submission rushing the ball forty-two times and attempting only nineteen passes. I strongly doubt that New England will continue to use Cam Newton as a primary rusher, as Josh McDaniels has plenty of options. Heck, even Julian Edelman got into the mix, ripping off a twenty-three-yard run. As for that Patriot defense, they picked (off) up right where they left off, intercepting Fitzmagic three times, including one by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore.
- The Washington Football Team has a defense
If you’re surprised that Washington came out of the gate by beating the NFC East champion Eagles, you’re not alone. What shouldn’t be surprising is that the strength of that Washington defense is the front seven. It was a good unit last year, amassing forty-six sacks. But that was before adding Ohio State’s Chase Young to the mix with Montez Sweat and the crew. The rookie kicked off his professional career with one-and-a-half sacks, just a cog in the machine of a defense that sacked poor Carson Wentz eight, yes, eight times. The Eagles QB was battered all night long, resulting in one of the worst performances of his career: 24 for 42 passing for two-hundred-seventy yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. If this is what we can expect from the Washington defense, young Dwayne Haskins will have plenty of time to grow into his new role.
- The Colts might be cursed
The Colts were dark horse contender in the eyes of many pigskin prognosticators this season. They have a new, veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers to steady the waters and capitalize on their resurgent ground game, powered by Marlon Mack, who eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time last season. The Colts can’t seem to catch a break though, and if they are to contend in the AFC South, they’ll need to do it without Mack, who suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury after only four rushing attempts. The worst part: Mack was off to an exceptional start, averaging 6.5 yards per attempt before the injury. The Colts would end up falling to the division rival Jaguars, 27-20.
- The Chiefs picked up where they left off
Any hope that the Chiefs were slacking off after a big win went out the window this weekend, as Patrick Mahomes threw for only 211 yards, but still connected for three touchdowns. The big story in K.C. is the return of the ground game, where rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire amassed 135 yards and a touchdown on twenty-five carries. I wasn’t sure about the pick out of LSU, unsure of how he’d fit into the Chiefs offensive puzzle. He fits quite nicely apparently and gives the reigning champs an added dimension that we might not have expected. That’s scary.
- So did the Ravens
As scary as a potentially better Chiefs team is, an improved Baltimore Ravens team should be even more terrifying to AFC foes. Baltimore absolutely destroyed a visiting Browns team that didn’t look ready to play football. The Ravens scored on all but one of their first half possessions, and that one was cut short by a Patrick Ricard fumble at the Cleveland seven-yard line. Defensively, the Ravens have absolutely gotten better with the addition of Calais Campbell, the monster defensive end from Jacksonville. The offseason acquisition batted three balls out of the air on Sunday. Lookout AFC North…and everyone else.
- Minshew Mania is back in Jacksonville
It’s not at all crazy to assume that Jacksonville made all the wrong moves at quarterback over the past few years. From Blaine Gabbert to Blake Bortles, and that sadly short stint with Nick Foles, Jacksonville just hasn’t been able to find a guy to ride with. Maybe, just maybe, they’re on to something with Gardner Minshew. The Jags looked like a legit contender in week one, as Minshew threw for three touchdowns in a come from behind to win in a divisional matchup on the road. But here’s a weird thing to think about. The Jaguars held the Colts to twenty points, including only three in the second half, despite the fact that the Colts never punted. Not once. Indy ended drives with two interceptions, two turnovers on downs and a missed field goal. Imagine not punting once and still losing. That’s gotta sting.
- Tom Brady isn’t immortal
It has seemed, at times that Tom Brady is aging backwards. Or maybe not at all. Something like a Benjamin Button/Paul Rudd hybrid. Just without the sense of humor. Anyway, in his first week outside the friendly confines of New England, TB12 didn’t exactly look like prime Brady. Two touchdowns are great. Two interceptions, both of which Bruce Arians laid at the feet of the future hall-of-famer, is not. Arians would later say that WR Mike Evans was at fault for one of the two, but let’s be real here. Brady replaces Jameis Winston, who threw for over five thousand yards last season, but threw thirty interceptions to pair with his thirty-three touchdowns. Translation: Brady has one job, and that’s to cut down on the turnovers, so starting the season with a 1:1 TD:INT ratio isn’t exactly reassuring. It’s week one, so let’s not overreact, but let’s also not rule out the possibility that the Buccaneers are not going to win twelve games by just swapping out Winston for a forty-three year old Tom Brady.
- Even when Stephen Gostkowski has a bad day, he has a good day
I don’t know that a kicker could have a weirder day than Stephen Gostkowski just did. Gostkowski is bound for Canton, a three-time Super Bowl winner who holds the NFL record for extra points made (479) and is the fifth-most accurate kicker in NFL history. None of that mattered on Monday night, as Gostkowski shanked his first three field goal attempts badly and missed an extra point, as Tennessee trailed the Broncos 13-14 late in the game. Tennessee continues to find ways to win, though, and the season opener was no exception. A quick drive down the field put Gostkowski in position to play hero once again, and the former Patriot didn’t miss, connecting on a game-winning field goal with just seventeen seconds left on the clock. I can’t imagine the emotional whiplash from just forgetting how to kick for fifty-nine plus minutes and then nailing the game winner, but it must have been a doozy. I’m sure that Gostkowski would like to forget his Titan debut, but at least he’s one for one when the game is on the line.
For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.
Image Source: AP Images