Usually the first week of the NFL regular season is mild. It was anything but mild on Sunday. Week one is seen by some as a fluke week, while some see it as prelude on what’s to come when teams settle in. Here are the winners and losers from Sunday’s games.
Winners: The Detroit Lions for trading Matthew Stafford and re-building the offense
It was one rough year for Detroit sports fans in 2021, and the Lions highlighted the struggle. Week one last season against San Francisco, Detroit was down double-digits before a rapid comeback. Sunday they almost beat a superior Philadelphia Eagles team in a back-and-forth scoring game.
Lions quarterback Jared Goff threw for two touchdowns while runningbacks Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift ran for three scores. Swift’s touchdown gave Detroit their first lead of the season and the offense dictated pace in the first quarter.
This is a big contrast from how the Los Angeles Rams started last Thursday night. Former Lion quarterback Matthew Stafford is battling a hand injury and the Rams scored ten points in a game Buffalo dominated. It’s valid to say anyone behind Los Angeles’ offensive line would’ve put up similar numbers. If Stafford somehow plays this season hurt, then Detroit traded their hot-and-cold quarterback at the right time. Draft picks such as Amon-Ra St. Brown (who had eight catches for 64 yards and a touchdown) have been worth it.
Howard has been under scrutiny since his tenure in Tampa Bay. His injuries and struggle to not just catch passes but remain as a top two tight-end option made an easy removal off the Buccaneers roster. Houston signed him in the offseason and both may benefit moving forward.
Despite tying a superior Indianapolis Colts team at home, O.J. Howard scored both touchdowns for the Texans. His second from 22 yards gave Houston a 17 point lead, their largest of the afternoon.
There aren’t too many fans or analysts that could name a receiver on the Texans roster outside of Howard. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a bigger part of the offense the next few weeks and quarterback Davis Mills’ favorite target.
Kansas City Chiefs
There was a lot of talk and debate on how good the Chiefs would be in a loaded AFC West. While week one can have fluke teams tricking people early, Kansas City played a complete game against a shaky Arizona Cardinals team.
Patrick Mahomes II and the Chiefs offense overwhelmed Arizona early, scoring 14 points in the first quarter. When the fourth quarter started, Kansas City led by 30 and Mahomes had thrown five touchdowns. Tight-end Travis Kelce caught eight passes for 121 yards and a score. Even rookie seventh round draft pick Isiah Pacheco ran for over five yards a carry and scored.
The Chiefs defense did a good job too. 14 of Arizona’s 21 points came when the game was out of reach. Greg Dortch was the Cardinals’ leading receiver and the running game was all but irrelevant due to Kansas City’s offense scoring at will.
Plus, the win helps the Chiefs stay at .500 in case they lose Thursday night against Los Angeles, a team they’ve struggled against the past two seasons.
Week one action
One usually doesn’t put a whole week into the win or loss column, but this is an exception. Week one was wildly fun and had everything a fan and analyst could want.
Here’s a fun breakdown of what happened: the two teams in last year’s super bowl lost. One was a blowout, the other in a dramatic overtime performance where kickers couldn’t make field goals. The first tie of the season occurred. Cleveland won their first opening day game since 2004 (with a new kicker too). Comeback wins, a high-scoring back-and-forth game in Detroit, four rookie head coaches won their debuts and the league MVP had his worst performance since last season’s week one.
Last but not least, week one ends with the highly anticipated Denver versus Seattle matchup featuring the return of Russell Wilson in the Pacific Northwest. It will be one of the most talked about weekends throughout the whole season.
Losers: San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco had many things in their favor Sunday. The Chicago Bears’ stadium was again a cesspool of mistakes and the 49ers were favored to win by 95% of people who picked the game (via ESPN). Coach Kyle Shanahan’s team played well for three quarters, leading by seven when the fourth started.
As you might guess, the lead didn’t last long.
Chicago stormed back and scored 12 of their 19 points in the first seven minutes of the quarter. Sophomore quarterback Justin Fields played better than 49ers starter Trey Lance. Fields has less to work with than Lance, and he looked better on finding his receivers and scoring.
Offense wasn’t the deciding factor in the loss. The defense committed 12 penalties for 99 yards, equivalent to a whole football field. Usually teams giving up that many yards lose the game.
There’s also criticism on coach Shanahan for running the same predictable plays he used in both the conference championship game last year and the 2021 regular season. Many teams expect 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel to run the ball on trick plays. The Bears knew it when the second half started, and little changed to help new starter Trey Lance make the most in a winnable game.
It also doesn’t help San Francisco might be without their starting runningback Elijah Mitchell for a few weeks. Week two against Seattle will say a lot about what the 49ers can do for this season.
General manager and head coach Bill Belichick
If Belichick was just a GM and not a coach, he would’ve been fired after two years. His drafting and building of the Patriots since 2020 might be the downfall of the franchise.
You’d think with how the Miami Dolphins made easy work of New England on Sunday that the rookie head coach would be on the losing team and not the winning one. The Patriots were one of two teams in the early afternoon games to be shutout at half-time (the other being the Chicago Bears). Unlike the Bears, New England didn’t win their game.
The Patriots acquired a lot of skill players to help sophomore quarterback Mac Jones not do everything himself. Kendrick Bourne was missing in action after a 41 yard catch. Five players ran for a total of 78 yards in a 13 point loss, and two of those players ran for zero yards or worse. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry are paid millions of dollars to average two receptions for 25 yards. Then there’s Nelson Agholor who’s doing…I don’t know what.
It doesn’t help when the play-calling goes pass option first. Jones shouldn’t attempt 30 passes in a game where the score is close. After the loss it was announced Jones suffered a back injury. While it’s only week one of the regular season, it’s hard to see how New England wins their next four games without adjusting to better offensive planning and schemes.
Tennessee Titans and their offensive coordinator Todd Downing
The Tennessee Titans were in a great position to have an early first place grab in the AFC South after the Indianapolis Colts tied in Houston. The New York Giants were horrendous last season and rookie head coach Brian Daboll was aggressive early in situations that didn’t call for it. Yet the Titans found ways to lose.
Derrick Henry, who’s the most valuable player on the team and the best runningback in the league, ran 21 times for 82 yards. Tennessee misses receiver A.J. Brown already because the best pass catcher of the late afternoon was Kyle Philips. Philips had six catches for 66 yards, and Dontrell Hilliard had 61 yards on three catches and both Titans touchdowns.
Tennessee has to involve receivers like Austin Hooper and Robert Woods more while easing Treylon Burks into the starting role. It would also help if the offensive line learned to block better and not play like they want quarterback Ryan Tannehill dead every other possession.
If the Titans are going to be a playoff team, they have to fix the simple things early and use their offense the right way. It could take a while.
Cornerback CJ Henderson
The Cleveland Browns won their first opening day game in almost 20 years when rookie kicker Cade York kicked the game winning field goal. Cleveland won a game by two points they shouldn’t have. Earlier in the game there was a play that set up quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s one yard touchdown pass to Kareem Hunt.
One of the worst mistakes a defensive player can make is committing a terrible penalty during a turnover changing play. It can negate the turnover and not just give the offense the ball back, but additional yardage.
Cleveland’s second possession of the game started in the second quarter and on a third and three at the Carolina 35, Brissett took a risk and threw deep to Amari Cooper in Carolina’s endzone. The pass was under-thrown and Panthers cornerback Xavier Woods intercepted the pass.
Unfortunately for Woods and the Panthers defense, cornerback C.J. Henderson wrapped Cooper up in his arms and threw him onto the ground before the pass landed in Wood’s hands. Color commentator Jay Feely said, “there’s no reason to throw a player down when the pass would have been intercepted anyway”.
While a 58 yard field goal is a bad way to lose a game, it’s better than throwing a defenseless receiver onto the ground and giving up seven points after.