The most important thing about the first game of the NFL season is to never read too much into it. This is particularly true this year, after the league added an extra game to the schedule. There’s no guarantee that anything, barring a major injury, that happens on a Sunday in early September will be relevant by the time the postseason starts. So, it’s possible that the New Orleans Saints’ Week 1 win over the Green Bay Packers will be all but forgotten by January.
Still, it was a strange game. Last year, one of these two starting quarterbacks was the MVP while the other played just four games. Yet, there was Aaron Rodgers being benched after throwing two interceptions while Jameis Winston threw five touchdowns in a 38-3 romp for the Saints.
In a vacuum, the Packers’ loss could just be one of those fluky Week 1 things. A statistical aberration perhaps or maybe a perfect example of one defense doing nearly everything right and another doing everything wrong. Yet the players are not nameless cogs in a machine, and there are outside factors at play.
Famously, there is a disconnect between the Packers and their star quarterback. After reportedly asking the team to trade him during the offseason, Green Bay and Rodgers have come to an uneasy truce. Now, in the first game since that drama, Rodgers put together one of his worst games as a Packer, putting up a dreadful 36.8 passer rating.
The reaction was swift. By the time the Packers benched Rodgers for Jordan Love, “Jeopardy!” was trending on Twitter. In other words, people were wondering if there was still time for Rodgers to retire and take up the reins on the game show, which he guest hosted during the offseason. Others speculated if his performance, in fact, was an act of quiet protest. Was Rodgers pulling an Office Space, by attempting to sabotage his unloved bosses with a subpar effort? These questions are absurd, but Rodgers is enough of a singular oddball that you can understand why they are raised, even if it’s in jest.
Besides players try to force trades. The best case you can make against the idea is that it feels counter-productive for Rodgers to tank his trade value if he legitimately does want a change of scenery. If he keeps playing like this, teams will conclude he’s either not right or he’s not giving the Packers his best effort. Either option could make teams less eager to trade for him, despite Rodgers’s stellar history in the league.
It’s a story that Rodgers can quickly end with a bounce-back performance against the Detroit Lions in Week 2. And, as the man himself put it, the reason behind his performance is probably the most obvious and banal option: he just wasn’t very good on the day. “We played bad. I played bad. Offensively we didn’t execute very well. One game. We’ve got 16 to go,” Rodgers said after the game.
If, however, Rodgers manages to lay an egg against the Lions, one of the worst teams in the league … well, we’ve already listed the reasons why the story will not go away.
Quote of the week
“I thought he was dropping everything?” Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow after teammate Ja’Marr Chase’s postgame interview
The Bengals’ decision to use the No 5 pick on Chase earlier this year opened them up to plenty of criticism. That criticism only increased when Chase had a brutal offseason in which he couldn’t hang on to the ball. So, good for Burrow on standing up for the rookie after his impressive regular season debut. Chase led the team receiving with 101 yards, with about half of those on the touchdown catch that gave Cincinnati a 14-7 halftime lead over the Minnesota Vikings. The Bengals went on to win 27-24 in overtime.
Stat of the week
2002. That was the last time a quarterback chosen with the first overall pick won the first start of their career. Since the Jacksonville Jaguars – led by this year’s No 1 pick Trevor Lawrence – lost to the Houston Texans 37-21, the record carries on.
Does the stat tell us anything? Well, it has something to do with the fact that teams who get the first overall pick were really bad the previous season. That also means that they will need more help than one star player before they get much better. Oh, here’s another interesting fact: this will be an interesting experience for Lawrence because he hadn’t lost a regular-season game before in high school or college. Ever.
MVP of the week
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals, QB. Murray threw for four touchdowns and added another on the ground, in a game in which he picked up 280 yards through the air. We’ll also give his teammate Chandler Jones the Defensive Player of the Day award for his five-sack performance, reeling off three in just the first quarter of play. Given all this, you would assume that Arizona won … and you would be right as the Cardinals beat the Titans 38-13.
Video of the week
The officials are already in mid-season form. Yes, they ruled this play a fumble and a touchback, which ended up giving the ball back to Washington. To their credit, the Los Angeles Chargers didn’t let the frustration affect the quality of their play as they beat Washington, who lost starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a hip injury during the 20-16 loss.
Elsewhere around the league
— You didn’t expect the Kansas City Chiefs to actually lose to the Cleveland Browns did you? Everything we’ve learned about these two teams suggested that the Browns would not hold on to their 22-10 halftime lead over the Chiefs. So it went on Sunday, as the Chiefs bounced back to win 33-29. The defining moments of the game were a touchdown pass only Patrick Mahomes is capable of making and a horribly botched punt by the Browns.
— For years, NFL fans wondered what Matt Stafford could do if he was at a competently run team rather than the Detroit Lions. On Sunday they found out as the new Los Angeles Rams quarterback ripped apart a very strong Chicago Bears defense, throwing three touchdowns and recording a near perfect quarterback rating of 156.1 in a 34-14 win for Los Angeles. Based on early evidence, the Rams could make a deep run in the postseason.
— Zach Wilson would have had a great debut the New York Jets, if it weren’t for one tiny detail or rather six of them. Yes, the Carolina Panthers beat the Jets 19-14. Wilson, however, threw for two touchdowns, although he was hurt by one interception. The main problem was that he suffered a not-great six-sacks. Quarterback protection was key as Sam Darnold, who threw for a touchdown and rushed for one, was only taken down for a loss once against his former team.
— San Francisco 49ers’ starter Jimmy Garoppolo fumbled to start the game. Then, Trey Lance came in to throw a touchdown on the very first play of his career. One would think that would be it for Jimmy G, but nope, Garoppolo was soon back to complete the game. If his career ended now, Lance would have a perfect completion rate of one-for-one, with five total yards passing and a touchdown. The Lions attempted a garbage time comeback but San Francisco ran out the clock in a 41-33 win. The 49ers, meanwhile, look to be trying to find room for both of their play-callers, a balance that may well prove more difficult as the season goes on.
— Nobody was really talking about the Philadelphia Eagles heading into Sunday, but they made sure that everybody had to by beating down the Atlanta Falcons 32-6. It was an all-team effort from Philadelphia: Jalen Hurts threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers while running back Kenneth Gainwell lived up to his surname with a touchdown run of his own.
— In what also counts as good news for Philadelphia fans, Carson Wentz lost his Indianapolis Colts debut. He tossed two touchdowns but also fumbled on a quarterback sneak attempt and absorbed three sacks. Russell Wilson meanwhile, put in an “MVP of the day” caliber performance with a four-touchdown, 18-for-23, 254-yard performance in a 28-16 Seattle win.
— The Buffalo Bills were all-but crowned AFC East winners during the preseason, but the Pittsburgh Steelers were here to remind them that “champions on paper” means nothing. The Steelers fell behind 10-0 but pieced together a come-from-behind run. That was the 36th such fourth effort from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who continues to step up while under pressure. Pittsburgh won 23-16.
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