Week 1: Big Wins for Chiefs, Saints
compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
San Francisco 49ers 41 at Detroit Lions 33
Bryan Knowles: I'm not quite at Tom Brady-level annoyance at everyone changing their numbers to random digits, but I am at least mildly disgruntled—linebackers wearing single digits will never feel right, and a couple more players changed their numbers today. So, in general, I'm Against This Sort Of Thing.
But damn, I have to admit, I really like the 49ers' starting secondary: No. 1 Jimmie Ward, No. 2 Jason Verett, No. 3 Jaquiski Tartt and No. 4 Emmanuel Moseley. If you're gonna do weird, nonstandard numbers, then doing A Theme is the way to get me on board.
And speaking of which, No. 5 Trey Lance is healthy and ready to play after dealing with a chipped finger for a week between preseason game No. 3 and today. I'm putting his snap over/under at 10; we'll see to what extent Kyle Shanahan is going to try this two-QB system, and to what extent it was just preseason tomfoolery.
Dave Bernreuther: Took all of one drive for Dan Campbell to do Dan Campbell things, getting super amped up to go for a fourth-and-1 ... and sending out the heavy set and running it straight into the line. The turf monster got the tackle, but let's be honest: that wasn't going anywhere against the 49ers front.
Perhaps worse than the predictability of that was the combination of enthusiasm and cliches that Mark Sanchez used in support of the move. "Set the tone! Momentum!" Rarr.
I will join Bryan in both being completely lost with regard to who's who anymore, but also amused by the sequential DB numbering.
Bryan Knowles: Um. The 49ers starting wide receivers appear to be Deebo Samuel ... and Trent Sherfield. Not Brandon Aiyuk. Sherfield looked good in preseason, but zwuh? And Trey Sermon is inactive to start the game. Double zwuh?
The 49ers first drive of the season ... is a botched snap fumble. Their SECOND drive of the season is better—two 9-plus-yard runs by Raheem Mostert, a big Jimmy Garoppolo-to-George Kittle gain to get into the red zone, and then Trey Lance comes in and hits Sherfield on his first NFL pass attempt for a touchdown. 7-0 49ers, midway through the first.
I am confused, but not unhappy.
Dave Bernreuther: Welcome to the NFL, Trey Lance. After a first rep that looked like your typical pointless Taysom Hill dive into the line for nothing, he comes back a few plays later and runs a play more suited to a quarterback, and Trent Sherfield was uncovered for an easy touchdown. 1-of-1, one touchdown. That'll work.
Bryan Knowles: The first fourth-down call by Campbell may have been a poor play design, but full credit to Campbell for not going away from it, going for (and converting!) a fourth-down on the Lions' next drive after the 49ers touchdown. Campbell said earlier this year that working with Sean Payton in New Orleans convinced him that being aggressive on fourth down can fit in to an aggressive, intimidating offensive style, and so far, he has taken that to heart.
In other good news for Detroit fans, Penei Sewell looks so much better at left tackle than he did at right in the preseason. He's winning his battles more often than not, and the Lions are moving the ball quite well thanks to that! They just scored a touchdown on a fairly impressive drive with Jared Goff hitting T.J. Hockenson in the end zone (after a little push-off, but one any tight end in the league will get away with) to tie the game at seven at the beginning of the second quarter. Good game so far!
Bryan Knowles: As we were all expecting, zero punts in this one as two elite offenses take the field. Raheem Mostert is questionable with a knee injury, and Trey Sermon is inactive, so the 49ers turn to Elijah Mitchell for an easy 38-yard touchdown run. If you're playing Shanahan Running Back Roulette, well, that's your own dang fault. 14-7 49ers early in the second.
Garoppolo watch: 4-for-4 for 67 yards, so the 49ers do not have an incomplete pass yet. He DOES have a botched connection on a snap, and some of those passes have floated more than you would like, but the results so far have been good.
Derrik Klassen: Jimmy G is 7-of-7 for 104 yards and I'm ... not sure he looks very good? He has been late a couple times over the middle, but Deebo Samuel has just been so wide open it didn't matter. Had one throw where Samuel didn't have a defender within 5 yards in any direction and Garoppolo put the ball a bit behind him and with zero velocity. Could have been an even bigger gain.
Bryan Knowles: And now it's JaMycal Hasty with a touchdown run. Shanahan Running Back Roulette, ruining fantasy football since 1995.
Seconding what Derrik is saying about Garoppolo. He's perfect so far, but that's more scheme than anything Jimmy G is doing. He's identifying and hitting wide-open receivers, and his passes are floating a tad. I mean, don't knock it while it's working, but you wonder how this will look against tighter defenses.
Dave Bernreuther: Great stat line but not looking all that impressive? Sounds an awful lot like a recent February start.
Bryan Knowles: Wheels beginning to come off for the Lions here. Dee Ford gets a ton of pressure and Jared Goff throws a pass intended for T.J. Hockenson, but really more accurately aimed at 49ers corner Jimmie Ward. But the ball never gets to Ward, as Dre Greenlaw undercuts HIM to pick it off and bring it 39 yards back to the house. Goff is gonna Goff, and it doesn't matter that he has changed jersey colors. He's not the answer to ... well, anything, but I suppose Detroit knew that when they brought him in. The Lions have been moving the ball well on the ground, but now they're down 18 points, and they're going to have to count on Goff to get them back into this one. I'm ... less than convinced that's gonna happen.
28-10 49ers with 1:10 left in the half; game's not over yet, but you can see over from here.
Dave Bernreuther: Continuing with the "stat line better than eye test" day, Garropolo just underthrew Deebo Samuel by about 10 yards, but it didn't matter. Samuel stopped, waited, caught it while still covered, and then rumbled for the score.
Wasn't pretty, but it worked.
Bryan Knowles: You have to think that Samuel catch doesn't happen if the corner is there to cover competently, but Jeff Okudah is, uh, not good.
Vince Verhei: I see Raheem Mostert left this game due to injury early, and now Jason Verrett has been carted into the locker room. It begins…
Bryan Knowles: And Al Azeez-Shahir, Vince! It begins indeed.
As for Mostert, well, per Josh Dubow, 49ers sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell is the first rookie since the merger, drafted in the fourth-round or later, to rush for 100-plus yards on the season opener. The previous record was 96 yards by Alfred Morris, with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and running back coach Bobby Turner.
Scott Spratt: I look up and it's 41-33 49ers and the Lions have the ball again (with less than a minute). This could be an all-time back-door cover.
Bryan Knowles: An onside kick recovery, and then a fumble by Samuel on what should have been the game-clinching first down, and we have a ballgame. Dan Campbell's men do not quit.
Scott Spratt: Since I wasn't following it, I can only assume Kyle Shanahan was leading this game 28-3?
Bryan Knowles: Goff's final attempt falls incomplete under heavy pressure, and the 49ers will hold on. OK, that was enough of a cardio workout for me today.
The 49ers were down to their third and fourth corners by the end of the game, explaining the comeback, but man. Full credit to Dan Campbell for keeping his team together, even when down 28 points. An impressive start even in the loss.
The 49ers might be calling every available cornerback in the league this week. That was their biggest weakness entering the offseason; it's their biggest weakness exiting Week 1.
Pittsburgh Steelers 23 at Buffalo Bills 16
J.P. Acosta: Isaiah McKenzie opens up the game with a huge 75-yard kickoff return. Nobody touched him until he got across the 50.
J.P. Acosta: Josh Allen is in midseason form already. Looks accurate and distributing the ball to every receiver.
Aaron Schatz: Thoughts after the first quarter of Pittsburgh and Buffalo. The Pittsburgh offense looks bad. They're finally getting something going on their third drive but once again, like last year, only the short passes seem to be going anywhere. Najee Harris has four carries for 10 yards. Diontae Johnson may have gotten hurt. We're definitely seeing more motion than last year but I want to see it on third downs too.
Allen looks sharp when the Pittsburgh pass rush isn't slapping down or otherwise diverting passes. Cole Beasley had a bad drop on a third-and-14. They ran a fun flea flicker on third-and-1 but Cameron Sutton did a good job of slapping the ball away from Stefon Diggs. I was disappointed in the Bills for punting on the fourth-and-1 on their own 46. If you're going to run the trick play on third-and-1, do it with the plan to go for it on fourth-and-1.
J.P. Acosta: Josh Allen is on a different level man, he threw an unbelievable pass to Gabriel Davis.
J.P. Acosta: Buffalo's offense looks like a buzzsaw, just carving through Pittsburgh. Cornerback might be a problem for the Steelers.
J.P. Acosta: Josh Allen just roped a pass in to Gabe Davis right in front of Cam Sutton's helmet.
First touchdown of the season‼️
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) September 12, 2021
Buffalo is unbelievable on offense, they have too many weapons.
Aaron Schatz: Actually, I am surprised by how well the Pittsburgh corners have played today. It's only 10-0 right before halftime. Buffalo just scored on a touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis with Sutton covering. Sutton has been pretty good today though, before that. The Steelers are keeping their corners on sides and so Joe Haden hasn't covered Stefon Diggs very much yet Diggs is only 4-of-8 for 22 yards.
The problem isn't the Pittsburgh cornerbacks, it's the Pittsburgh offense. That starts with the line. I don't know how much of the problem is Roethlisberger. I would like to see Roethlisberger throw it deep so I can see if he still has it in him but the Steelers are throwing all short stuff.
Dave Bernreuther: The Steelers are finally starting to move the football, but boy have they gotten lucky. Ben Roethlisberger got away with the type of pass that'd make a coach throw his clipboard—easily picked—because of a defensive penalty, and even the deep pass he completed to Chase Claypool to get to the red zone was pretty poorly thrown. Even the good throws looks like they're in slow motion to me. And now he just missed a wide-open Najee Harris behind the line of scrimmage. A conversion there would have been no sure thing, so Mike Tomlin chooses the "at least we're not getting shut out" field goal. (Yeah, yeah, gets them within one score, I know.)
Aaron Schatz: Buffalo just ran Josh Allen on his fourth quarterback draw of the game and got a first down on third-and-3. Wonder how many teams will see that and try it to slow down the Steelers pass rush. Of course not every quarterback runs with power like Allen.
J.P. Acosta: Josh Allen still has a propensity to throw those "NO NO NO" passes. Been more inaccurate this second half. It might not matter though.
Dave Bernreuther: Two questions about this one, with the Steelers facing third-and-goal at the six:
- If Roethlisberger leads Harris, does he outrun the linebacker and score?
- They spotted him down at the 2. What do the numbers say about Tomlin choosing a field goal there?
Aaron Schatz: I'm pretty sure that the numbers hate Tomlin taking a field goal to go down 10-6 instead of going for it on the goal line.
But the Steelers will get it back at midfield after the Bills just ran a very strange fourth-and-1 play. Josh Allen did a fake quarterback sneak, only to throw it backwards to a completely covered receiver. Steelers read it completely.
J.P. Acosta: I don't know what this call was on fourth-and-1 for the Bills, but they should burn it and never use it again.
that's one hell of a fourth-and-1 play you have got there, Bills pic.twitter.com/opQgGfelAb
— Christian D'Andrea needs help to buy Ale Asylum (@TrainIsland) September 12, 2021
Vince Verhei: The Bills should be ruled ineligible from the playoffs just for that one play.
Aaron Schatz: That terrible fourth-and-1 call led to the Steelers taking the lead thanks to a long DPI on an underthrown pass to Claypool, Harris' first double-digit carry of the afternoon, and then a lob to Diontae Johnson in the back left corner of the end zone. 13-10 Pittsburgh.
Aaron Schatz: Miles Killebrew just blocked a Buffalo punt and Ulysses Gilbert ran it into the end zone. Time for Allen to make some magic because it is now 20-10 Pittsburgh.
Dave Bernreuther: Well that was quite a three-minute span of game time. A Joe Flacco special (bad throw bailed out by DPI), a long run, a fade that the defender got a hand on but was still caught, and a blocked punt ... and now the Steelers have two touchdowns instead of none, and could very well end up winning this game despite looking dead in the water for three quarters.
Aaron Schatz: This game, which may be featured in Any Given Sunday, was the epitome of Any Given Sunday. Aesthetically, Buffalo was clearly the better team. They lost. They lost primarily due to a fluky blocked punt touchdown. Josh Allen looked very good but missed Stefon Diggs deep a couple of times. He hits one of those, maybe things are different. The Bills defense looked good for most of the game. The Steelers had only two good runs, one of which was a draw. But Roethlisberger was finding guys open in that second half, and even hit a few passes more than 10 yards downfield, not to mention the nice DPI on the underthrown pass to Claypool. And then when Allen had to find a guy near the end of the game, the Steelers pass rush was too much. We knew the Steelers defense was going to be good. They were the No. 1 projected defense in DVOA for a reason. So if I'm a Bills fan—with the fluky special teams touchdown and the Steelers being strong on defense—I'm not panicking. The biggest issue I think is improving the pressure so opposing quarterbacks can't find open guys late in games like Roethlisberger did today.
Los Angeles Chargers 20 at Washington Football Team 16
Derrik Klassen: Right before the Austin Ekeler touchdown, the Chargers had a nifty design to get Keenan Allen the ball on third-and-5. Trips right with Allen all the way outside, then they motion him into the backfield into a split back gun look and get him on the angle route underneath the two other receivers that were in the original trips formation. Easy little conversion for them to set up the Ekeler touchdown run.
Bryan Knowles: Taylor Heinicke is in at quarterback for the Football Team. Ryan Fitzpatrick was laid out by Uchenna Nwosu and eventually had to be helped to the sideline.
Derrik Klassen: Regression doesn't look like it's coming for Justin Herbert. Dude looks lights-out to every part of the field. The Chargers offense has effectively replaced their run game with quick game thus far and Herbert is handling the volume exceptionally well. Not showing up on the scoreboard yet because this Washington defense is legit, but man, Herbert looks as great as everyone hoped so far.
Cale Clinton: I know we're only one half into this season, but the difference between this year's Chargers team and last year's team is palpable. The offense has so much more life to it. The defense seems to be firing on all cylinders. Herbert has looked consistently good against a quality defense, going 19-for-27 for 179 yards. It helps to have the additional protection; Herbert has only been sacked once going up against a formidable Washington defensive line.
There's not much to say on the Washington front, except for the fact they're hanging around. Antonio Gibson has been the star of the show, but he didn't do much toward the end of the half. Tough to see Fitzpatrick take a crushing blow and leave the game. No one wants to see Fitzmagic get hurt.
Vince Verhei: Fitzpatrick is officially out for the day, so it's the Taylor Heinicke show for the rest of the game. So far, so good—the Football Team gets an eight-play, 81-yard touchdown drive to take the lead on the first possession of the second half. He got the score with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Logan Thomas, and he's 7-of-9 for 89 yards so far. Football Team leads 16-13.
Great leaping catch by Thomas on that touchdown, by the way.
Bryan Knowles: The Terry McLaurin catch on that Washington drive has to be seen to be believed. I have seen it, and I still don't believe it.
About time we saw Terry McLaurin get the ball. What a damn catch pic.twitter.com/WNHnPMoSU8
— Mark Bullock (@MarkBullockNFL) September 12, 2021
J.P. Acosta: I have always believed in Logan Thomas.
Vince Verhei: It doesn't matter which quarterback they draft or which coach they hire, bad things happen to the Chargers that just don't happen to other teams. Second-and-goal, Montez Sweat gets a hand on a Justin Herbert pass at the 15-yard line. It's ruled a fumble, and the ball goes forward into and out of the end zone. That's a turnover and a touchback, Washington ball at the 20.
Herbert strip sacked by Montez Sweat. pic.twitter.com/SjD8cfluZv
— The GIF Guy (@IHaveFourBalls) September 12, 2021
Vince Verhei: Lots of sloppiness lately in this one. Washington misses a field goal, then the Chargers get back to the red zone on a Mike Williams reception where he fumbled, but the ball went out of bounds. Next play, Herbert is intercepted by Willliam Jackson. But it works out for L.A., because three plays later Antonio Gibson fumbles the ball back to them, and that sets up a Herbert-to-Williams touchdown on third-and-goal, and the Chargers go back on top 20-13.
Vince Verhei: Really nice drive by the Chargers to ice this one. They took possession with 6:43 left and a 20-16 lead and never let Washington get the ball back. Herbert converted four third downs on the drive, including a 17-yard gain to Keenan Allen to convert a third-and-16 deep in his own territory.
Seattle Seahawks 28 at Indianapolis Colts 16
Bryan Knowles: The Colts take the opening kickoff and march down the field—13 plays, 72 yards. Don't want to take too much from one series, but Carson Wentz looked decently comfortable back there—some dump-offs to Nyheim Hines and Jonathan Taylor, but he didn't look like he was about to spontaneously explode, and Indy was moving the ball well. Seattle does finally stiffen up, giving the Colts a fourth-and-goal from the 3 ... and Frank Reich sends out the field goal unit. Ugh.
3-0 Colts, midway through the first.
Bryan Knowles: The Colts' DVOA projections have them with a good defense and a cover-your-eyes offense. So, of course, after marching down the field on their first possession, the Colts defense comes out on the field and parts like the Red Sea. Chris Carson plows through the middle for 33 yards on third-and-1, muscling his way through the line, and a few plays later, Tyler Lockett becomes Willie Mays with a no-look, over-his-shoulder catch on a Russell Wilson lob into the end zone. Some pretty, pretty stuff, and the Seahawks are back up, 7-3, late in the first.
Vince Verhei: Russell Wilson's first completion of the season is a third-down touchdown to Tyler Lockett. Colts blitz and Lockett gets matched up one-on-one on the safety and does a ridiculously great job tracking the ball in the air, adjusting from one side to the other.
Nothing more automatic than Russ and Lockett. #Seahawks
— NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2021
Wilson only threw one other pass on that drive, an incompletion, though he did scramble a couple of times, including a third-down conversion.
Bryan Knowles: Ah, there's the Colts offense we were expecting—slam into the line, slam into the line, 9-yard sack, punt. On offense, the Seahawks are using a bunch of two-tight end sets with Gerald Everett and Will Dissly, and both featured prominently on the Seahawks' last scoring drive—Dissly with a 22-yard gain to get the Hawks into the red zone, and Everett with the touchdown a couple of plays later. Russ Cooking status: A nice simple brunch, fitting for a 10 a.m. body clock start.
14-3 Seahawks, early in the second.
Dave Bernreuther: A 9-minute opening drive for the Colts made this a very quick first quarter. It's probably a bad thing that I was pleasantly surprised that Carson Wentz didn't turn the ball over, but with the help of a penalty to convert a third down, he led a pretty decent drive ... only to watch his aggressive coach take the points from the three against Russell Wilson's team. Ugh.
I forgot to submit to the staff predictions this year (after my Trevor Lawrence call I decided to exit on a high note a la George Costanza?) but one thing I suspected about this team that I'll put on the record is that they'll have an excellent pass rush. From what I had been told, Ben Banogu really took the leap, and staying healthy and keeping Matt Eberflus can only help. Oh yeah, and there's that DeForest Buckner guy. Early on, they really looked like they had it working too, only to get screwed by a penalty. On the Seahawks.
On third-and-4, they got pressure from every direction and had Wilson completely hemmed in, even for him, only to have the play blown dead for a false start. Five yards to the better, they got a pretty darn good pass rush off again ... only to have Wilson sneak out to his right and easily convert. A few plays later, the Colts' solid start was a deficit. Very impressed by the Lockett catch, especially with the big window potentially messing with visibility.
I missed the second Seattle scoring drive while I had to re-login to the FOX app. It didn't take me very long to do so, so I'm going to guess that there was a bit more of the same Red Sea behavior?
DK Metcalf took an unsportsmanlike for a bit of activity in the end zone after the touchdown ... apparently Reich elected to take the penalty on the ensuing kickoff. Why? It'll be a touchback either way. Push the PAT attempt back 15 yards and make it challenging. Maybe you steal a point from them. So far this has not been one of his finer games.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks force a three-and-out on a Rasheem Green third-down sack, then Wilson makes it two touchdowns in two drives with a scoring pass to Gerald Everett. Everett lined up as the outside receiver in a trips set and ran a slant underneath the inside guys, who ran a pair of flats. That's a lot of traffic for a defense to handle.
The new Shane Waldron Seahawks offense looks a lot like the Sean McVay Rams offense. Lots of runs from under center, lots of play-action, lots of skinny formations leading to wide runs or perimeter passes. Receivers are being schemed open rather than asked to win one-on-one matchups every play. There's always a tease of horizontal motion—one handoff to Chris Carson had not one but two receivers running a fake end-around motion in the backfield.
Bryan Knowles: Saying I'm impressed by Carson Wentz so far is an overstatement, but the dude's 9-for-10 for 97 yards and, now, a touchdown. And he's looking a little deeper as the game has gone along, hitting Parris Campbell on a deep post Seattle decided was not worth covering. A few plays later, he hits Zach Pascal for his first touchdown with the Colts, and we have a 14-10 game in what might be the most interesting contest in the early window so far. Now, if only Reich had gone for it in the red zone in the first quarter...
Dave Bernreuther: Wentz still made me nervous on a couple of those throws (more in the pocket than with the throw in a couple cases, I guess). Early in that scoring drive Parris Campbell worked across the middle of the field, left to right, completely uncovered, and Wentz very nearly threw him closed, putting way too much air under the ball and getting him hit. A later pass was behind his man over the middle, but I'm nitpicking. Another thing I'm on the record about is that while I trust Reich to get way more out of him than the Eagles did last year, I still HATED the trade. The way I saw it, they should have gotten him for free.
But hey, 9-of-10 and a score is a heck of a start in your debut.
Not the greatest-looking throws in the sequence to end the next drive, though. First a dangerous backhand flip on a third-and-1—it worked, but don't do that!—came back on a penalty, and then a real floater to the deep right into very tight coverage.
Bryan Knowles: You know? Tyler Lockett not being hobbled might be a good thing for the Seahawks' offense. Wilson just hit Lockett on a nice 69-yard bomb where Lockett just outran the entire Colts' secondary. Wilson just loaded it up and threw it as far as he could, and Lockett caught it perfectly in stride. Perfect pass, perfect catch, and the Seahawks are up 21-10 as the first half is about to end.
Vince Verhei: Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett remain good at football (and it no doubt helps that Xavier Rhodes is inactive today).
Russell Wilson finds with Tyler Lockett for their second TD connection of the day
A 69-yard bomb
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 12, 2021
That's 21 points in the first half for Seattle, and DK Metcalf doesn't have a target yet. (He does have a taunting penalty when his attempt to bait the Colts into smack talk backfired.) Instead it's Lockett with the two big plays and Chris Carson's 60 yards on the ground that are leading the way.
I am definitely impressed with Wentz today—he made some great reads and throws to beat Seahawks blitzes on that touchdown drive—but the Colts aren't getting any explosive plays. They have only two plays that gained more than 10 yards, and their longest gain is just 24 yards.
Seahawks are getting a lot of pressure from Rasheem Green, a 2018 third-rounder. He's playing ahead of L.J. Collier, a 2019 first-rounder who is a healthy inactive today. Seattle's track record of getting better results out of Day 2 and 3 picks than first-rounders continues, but whatever works.
Dave Bernreuther: I'm not sure that it's Rhodes' absence that can be blamed here, at least not on the two Lockett scores. He wasn't going to run with Lockett in man on either, and on the first of the two scores, I'm not sure there was anything anyone could have done to defend that anyway. On the second, however, Khari Willis definitely got caught flat-footed. He was a guy that flashed at me last year, in that "Who's that guy? That was a great play" kind of way, but so far today he's making me wish that Malik Hooker had worked out.
Vince Verhei: Kyle Fuller started at center for Seattle. We have had no injury report, but Ethan Pocic is playing at center in the second half. In related news, DeForest Buckner is suddenly unstoppable, laying Wilson out on a third-down incompletion and adding a third-down sack as Seattle opens the second half with two straight punts.
The good news for Seattle is that their own pass rush also looks unstoppable right now as Wentz is running for his life on every play.
Dave Bernreuther: DeForest Buckner with a possible game-saver on third-and-5 after a poor Colts drive gave Seattle the ball back. It looked like he hopped right in order to clear out space for Darius Leonard to get home through an empty A gap ... which he probably would have, except Buckner, who weighs as much as two normal-sized humans, looped around his defender and beat Leonard to Wilson. That one kept the Colts in the game.
Meanwhile, on two consecutive attempts now, Carson Wentz has immediately pulled the ball down, hopped around to avoid pressure before it was even going to get to him, and then thrown it away while off balance. I know I'm being overly harsh, but he had guys open on both of those plays if he would just kept his head up.
Vince Verhei: Still 21-10 at the end of the third quarter, which had more punts in the first 10 minutes than we saw in the entire first half. The teams then traded fumbles, one by Seattle's Chris Carson, one by Wentz on an attempted sneak on fourth-and-1. And then Seattle punted one more time.
Dave Bernreuther: Jonathan Vilma didn't say anything about it, so I will: on the fumbled snap that cost the Colts their fourth-down attempt, Jamal Adams timed the snap *perfectly* and leapt over the entire defensive and offensive lines, the way a defender might play at the goal line when expecting the quarterback to go up and over. And I found myself wondering if that play was intended to be a sneak (which likely still wouldn't have worked) or something else, because if that something else had involved Carson Wentz standing up, Adams might have decapitated him.
Bryan Knowles: The scoring in this one was paused for a while, but it looks like the Seahawks will be the third NFC West team today to shore up a win. The Colts had a fourth-and-2 in the red zone, but Darrell Taylor fought through a Braden Smith hold to bring Wentz down for a sack. The Seahawks bookend their next drive with a couple big catches from DK Metcalf to give them the 28-10 lead with just 6:40 left in the game. That'll probably do it for the Hawks.
Dave Bernreuther: "Fought through" is being kind, Bryan. I'd have gone with something like "bulldozed" or "ran him the F over." When I heard "Wentz sacked" I looked up expecting it to have been his fault, but not in that case; that was just a dominant play.
Dave Bernreuther: FOX's cartoon figure of DK Metcalf looks like they just drew a goatee on Russell Wilson and changed his number.
The two of them connected on a perfectly placed pass to put the nail in the Colts' coffin too. That's four touchdown passes for Wilson, who made them all look really easy.
Vince Verhei: More small-ball offense from the Colts. They keep the ball for 14 plays but only go 59 yards. On fourth-and-2 in the red zone, down 21-10, they pretty much have to go for it, but Darrell Taylor sacks Wentz to end the drive. Seahawks get the ball back and Wilson finds Metcalf for a 15-yard touchdown in the middle of the field. That's a 28-10 lead and should put this one to bed.
Jacksonville Jaguars 21 at Houston Texans 37
Andrew Potter: Welcome to the NFL, Trevor Lawrence. The No. 1 pick's first professional pass is tipped at the line, but it doesn't count as the team lined up in an illegal formation anyway. The Jaguars struggle to get the second play off in time, so their sideline calls timeout just before the snap—just as well, as Lawrence would have been sacked into Week 2 if not for the whistle. After two incompletions without further incident, Lawrence finds Laviska Shenault on a crosser for his first NFL completion, but it's for 13 yards on third-and-15, so the Jaguars punt. I get that Lawrence is a rookie, but you'd expect the first series, after a whole offseason of preparation, to be a little better coordinated than that.
Scott Spratt: The Texans have a two-touchdown lead. Rivers, your thoughts?
J.P. Acosta: Every time I'm optimistic about the Jaguars they do this.
Andrew Potter: No idea what Rivers is thinking, but I'm watching this one and it pretty much comes down to Houston looking like a bunch of veteran professionals while the Jaguars look like a bunch of youngsters still learning their positions. DJ Chark, one of the more experienced Jags players, having a nightmare first quarter hasn't helped. It also seems like every time the Jaguars do something decent, they end up negating it with a penalty. Every Jags drive so far has included at least one first- or second-and-15-plus.
As for Houston, Tyrod Taylor got aggressive on their second drive, heaving one downfield to Brandin Cooks in double coverage on a third-and-9. Cooks made a terrific grab, overpowering Rayshawn Jenkins to win the catch on a simultaneous possession ruling. They also got a slice of fortune as Phillip Lindsay appeared to fumble on a sweep to the left, but it turned out to be a SHOVeLL (or however we capitalize that) so it was ruled an incomplete pass. Finally, Mark Ingram plowed over to put the Texans up by seven. Then, on their third drive, Taylor found a WIDE open David Johnson to his left for the score on a five-play drive that included four passes and just one run. After one quarter, it's 14-0, and that scoreline is fully deserved for both teams.
J.P. Acosta: Watching Texans-Jaguars and it just feels like the Jaguars are still feeling it out on offense. No rhythm at all. Houston isn't doing anything super crazy.
J.P. Acosta: Trevor Lawrence's first touchdown pass goes to … a Jaguars tight end? Sure!
Dave Bernreuther: Trevor Lawrence gets on the board and cuts the Houston lead in half. So there's some rhythm for you, J.P. Decent pass for the score, but the one that really impressed me was his dart to convert a third-and-17. Both edge rushers got upfield quickly, and he simply shuffled forward a half-step to avoid them, unafraid of contact, and delivered a strike. There are veteran quarterbacks that duck and run in similar situations. Great play for an NFL debut.
Andrew Potter: "Rhythm" is heavily overstating it. Even on that scoring drive, the Jaguars had to convert third-and-17 and third-and-19. Only four of their 13 plays were successful, and the biggest play was a roughing the passer call against Maliek Collins that overrode ANOTHER illegal formation penalty against the Jags.
J.P. Acosta: When Tyrod isn't throwing quick game, the Jaguars pressure has been getting there. Just need for them to finish the play
Andrew Potter: The Jaguars finally get a drive that doesn't involve at least one play with 15-plus yards to go … and it ends after three plays, with Lawrence's second pick of the half fired straight to Vernon Hargreaves. Even that came after another Jags penalty, this time for 12 men in the huddle. That's added to three illegal formation penalties and no fewer than four offensive holding calls … in the first half.
Fortunately, the Jaguars defense holds Houston to a field goal, aided by a very generous offensive pass interference call against Nico Collins.
J.P. Acosta: Tyrod Taylor finds Brandin Cooks deep, then Danny Amendola to give the Texans a 27-7 lead. The Jaguars make me hate football
Dave Bernreuther: Tyrod Taylor just had an all-timer of a "what the hell is he doi—oh, wow" type play as the first half wound down. Facing pressure from the blind side, he ducked forward to avoid it ... but the puzzling part was that he then leapt BACK at the guy, just to add to the degree of difficulty I guess, spun around him and legged it to the outside before finding Brandin Cooks deep, down to the 10 with 12 seconds left. One play later, he hits Amendola on the crosser to make it 27-7, which is not a bad start for the team we have been mocking and predicting to pick first. Even against a team with a first-time starter that keeps lining up illegally, I'm impressed.
Then again, Tyrod Taylor has always been a much better player than anyone ever gave him credit for...
Andrew Potter: That was Cooks' second dunk on the Jags' deep coverage, a 52-yard bomb on third-and-1. Cooks is averaging 32 yards per reception on four catches. That sets up a crosser to Danny Amendola, who has caught each of his four targets, to put the Texans up by 20. Scramble will stand as evidence that I fancied Houston in this game. I did not expect them to dominate quite like THIS.
Bryan Knowles: Pity those who underestimate Houston and the Legion of the Adequate.
J.P. Acosta: Trevor Lawrence is good, folks. He laced a 41-yard touchdown to DJ Chark to cut it to 34-14. Why they don't test the Texans more deep is so confusing.
TOUCHDOWN LAWRENCE TO DJ CHARK! pic.twitter.com/WPQbSnjFRA
— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) September 12, 2021
J.P. Acosta: To sum up what has happened in the Jaguars-Texans game:
- Trevor Lawrence throws his third INT.
- Texans and Jaguars players get into a fight.
- I'm not having fun.
J.P. Acosta: Final in Houston. Texans win 37-21. The Jaguars quite frankly looked lost and overwhelmed by a team who outcoached and outplayed them. Trevor Lawrence was alright, but three turnovers isn't going to cut it. He forced some bad balls. The Jaguars receivers dropped way too many passes and James Robinson only ran the ball five times.
What a win for Houston though. Tyrod Taylor balled out and made plays with his legs multiple times.
Rivers McCown: A belated response to Scott asking for my thoughts: I still can't believe Tyrod Taylor hit the throw that set the Texans up for their first score. That ball had to be absolutely 100% perfect and it was. It feels like it was spliced, but it wasn't.
New York Jets 14 at Carolina Panthers 19
Scott Spratt: New Panthers left guard Pat Elflein held on a screen pass (why?) to derail the team's opening drive, so the Cam Erving-Elflein experiment is off to as good a start as you might have expected. Both teams have had drives in Carolina, and both have punted.
Scott Spratt: On the second Jets punt, a Panthers player got held/pushed into punter Braden Mann and crashed right into his knee. Mann hobbled to the sideline and definitely looked injured. There was a separate Jets holding penalty on the play, and so the Panthers made the Jets re-kick, and the Jets sent out placekicker Matt Ammendola to punt. He did great with a 50-yard punt on that one. But this could be a fascinating special teams story the rest of the way, if "fascinating special teams" isn't an oxymoron for most fans.
Scott Spratt: And now the Panthers just punted from the Jets' 33-yard line. Matt Rhule, so old school.
Vince Verhei: I'm sorry Scott, there was a typo in your last post. You said the Panthers punted from the 33, but that can't be right. Where did they really punt from?
Dave Bernreuther: I have seven TVs set up right now, and Scott just described why one of them is not being occupied by the Sam Darnold revenge game.
Scott Spratt: Hahaha Dave. Are there even seven games happening right now? Or do you have Blues Clues or something on one of the screens?
Dave Bernreuther: There are nine. I have checked in on all of them except for yours. Either seven screens is one too many or I'm badly out of practice, though, because I'm having a hard time juggling. Finally had enough of Mark Sanchez though (no idea why or how that game ended up being on the main screen, but it's still OK to mention here because he was on the Jets) and put the Colts game sound on, even though it's a side TV with tinny speakers. (For those wondering, Jonathan Vilma is not much better. He normally does in-studio stuff, right?)
Dave Bernreuther: I caved and flipped to this one. Zach Wilson blindly threw one into the line while falling down and then promptly threw the next pass directly to a linebacker. That's enough for me. There are other, better rookie quarterbacks to watch. (And also Ben Roethlisberger, who just did the same thing while in the grasp of defenders. Sigh.)
Dave Bernreuther: I lied. (Got distracted and forgot to change the channel, really.) There's no polite way to say this though: Zach Wilson doesn't look like he belongs on the field yet. Even a completion—short of the line, high, and very risky, thrown off his back foot for no reason—was bad.
Robert Saleh shows Matt Rhule up by going for it on the following fourth down ... but it seemed pretty obvious that they'd be taking it out of Wilson's hands and the Panthers easily stuffed the run. Good on him for the decision though, same as Dan Campbell.
Scott Spratt: Every WPA would have advocated for that attempt, Dave, but it didn't seem like the Jets would have any chance. Their offensive line just cannot stop the Panthers front at all. Sam Darnold just hit Robby Anderson to go up 9-0, and that is probably insurmountable.
Scott Spratt: Good news and possible really bad news for the Jets. Zach Wilson just threw his first career touchdown pass. It went to Corey Davis and cut the team's deficit to 16-6. But on the play, sophomore left tackle Mekhi Becton went down and is being walked slowly off the field. Could be a big knee injury.
Arizona Cardinals 38 at Tennessee Titans 13
Dave Bernreuther: Bad news for the Arizona Cardinals: they're using timeouts in the first quarter like it's the last two minutes of a game. Good news, however: On the road, they have gotten on the board twice in two drives, first with a field goal, and then with a gorgeous back-of-end zone catch by DeAndre Hopkins on a bullet from a wandering Kyler Murray. The Titans really got after him on that series, but to little effect.
The officials are really letting them play, by the way. The first drive ended with an overthrown pass due to a bit of an uncalled hold, and on first-and-goal on the next drive, A.J. Green might not have had a chance anyway, but Justin Fulton grabbed him by the collar and pulled. That should really have been a flag.
Vince Verhei: We should add that the first Cardinals touchdown was set up by a Chandler jones sack-fumble that gave Arizona first-and-goal at the 1.
Vince Verhei: Cards lead 10-0 at the end of the first and the story so far is how their pass rush is making the Tennessee offense look completely impotent. Ryan Tannehill has already been sacked three times. The Titans as a team have -7 passing yards, and that includes a 6-yard gain on a completion on a fake punt for a first down. That's Tennessee's ONLY first down, for the record.
Carl Yedor: Heading into this week, high scoring was the expectation for this one, but only one of the teams seemed to get the memo. Tennessee has been struggling mightily on offense, with Derrick Henry averaging exactly 1 yard per carry at the moment. Tannehill has lost more yards to sacks than he has gained through the air. The Titans need to get things turned around, and fast, because it's 17-0 and they have had pretty much no answer for DeAndre Hopkins all game.
Bryan Knowles: J.J. Watt just checked in as a blocker in the backfield, so that's fun. The Cardinals run a boot action in the opposite direction, and Kyler Murray scoots in for an easy touchdown as the Cardinals jump out to a 24-6 lead. This is, theoretically, the worst team in the NFC West, and they're dunking on the Titans, who look entirely lost defensively. I mean, look at these Kyler Dots! How do you defend that?
This will absolutely deflate an entire team pic.twitter.com/UBsZOGNDDK
— Walker Bailey (@WalkerBailey8) September 12, 2021
Tom Gower: Cardinals up 24-6 at the half. I'm not surprised the new-look Titans secondary of Jackrabbit Jenkins (officially no longer Janoris) and a bunch of rookies isn't winning against a Kliff Kingsbury offense that isn't quite as static and predictable as it ended up last offseason. And Kyler Murray as a rusher is still incredibly elusive. The Titans' one official sack came when Murray ran out of bounds for a 2-yard loss after scrambling. Arizona hasn't run the ball well, but who cares.
The big news is the Tennessee offense and how bad they started off the game. Chandler Jones was stealing Taylor Lewan's lunch money early, with three sacks in the first quarter (one of the unblocked variety on a bootleg, featuring a fumble recovered to set up a short field and the game's opening touchdown). The offensive line isn't creating any running room and Derrick Henry isn't making yards on his own, with nine carries for 8 yards at halftime. The Titans Kicker Position Is Cursed is still in effect—new addition Michael Badgley, signed to the 53 yesterday after Sam Ficken's injury, has missed an extra point and a field goal (credit to Todd Downing, otherwise the locus of criticism for the early offensive struggles, for not trying to run ineffectively in the two-minute drill, a Titans issue last year). But Julio Jones didn't have a catch until that two-minute drill and A.J. Brown didn't get involved early—through the first quarter, starting safety Amani Hooker (on a fake punt) had more targets than the two high-profile wide receivers combined, and both finished the half with a single catch.
Bryan Knowles: Tom, that Henry stat is almost unbelievable. I was not expecting to write up a sub-10-yard day for Derrick Henry in the Loser League report! I mean, I picked him to underperform this year, but that's ridiculous.
But the game's not over yet! Kevin Byard picks off an errant Kyler Murray throw, and two strikes to A.J. Brown later, the Titans are back to 24-13. Two-score game, early in the third quarter...
Bryan Knowles: Kyler Murray might have the highest "highlight reel plays" to "overall value" ratio in football today, at least among starting quarterbacks. He just had a little back foot fadeaway jump shot to Christian Kirk to give the Cardinals a 31-13 lead. Not quite insurmountable, yet, as there's still 10 minutes left in the third quarter, but this has not been a great day for a team who wants to win the AFC South. Then again, with the Colts losing, and the Jags losing, your current AFC South champions would be...
... un-sorry, Rivers?
Vince Verhei: That Kirk score may be the most fun touchdown of the day. It's notable that Kirk was practically lined up at tight end, but let's just bask in the joy of this throw and this catch.
This is art. Kyler drops it in a bucket and the ability to locate and track the football by Christian Kirk is beautiful.
— Steven Cheah (@StevenCheah) September 12, 2021
Dave Bernreuther: I actually hated the back foot jump throw as he made it ... but the ball got there, so...
There's still plenty of time here, but this was definitely not a result I saw coming. The Cardinals defense looks great, and as I say that, they strip-sack Tannehill on a key third down and take the ball away on the Titans side of the field.
Interesting thing about that was that David Quessenberry saw the sack as it happened (it wasn't his guy) and did something pretty smart—he just grabbed his guy with two hands and held him back from pursuit of the fumble. And that made me realize ... I don't think that I have ever seen a flag thrown in such an instance. Perhaps loose ball chases are like Hail Mary throws—anything goes.
Tom Gower: I think Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan, who gave up a couple of Chandler Jones' five sacks (Jones was shut out in the fourth quarter, so he didn't threaten Derrick Thomas' overall record of seven or Thomas' opening day record of six), summed up the game as well as anybody:
Got my ass kicked today, no way around that. I let the team and the fans down. Thank you @chanjones55 for exposing me. It will only force me to get better.
— Taylor Lewan (@TaylorLewan77) September 12, 2021
There was a brief moment of hope early in the second half when Kevin Byard stepped in front of a scramble drill Kyler Murray pass and the Titans converted the good field position into a touchdown after a couple throws to A.J. Brown. But Kyler Murray found Christian Kirk on a third down against a blitz to restore the 18-point lead, and Tennessee would never score again.
Derrick Henry's statline ended better than the halftime 9-8, but overall the Titans got away from their running roots as much as or more than they did in any other game last year or maybe even 2019, when they didn't go completely run-heavy until the postseason. I'll check stats in detail later, but overall this wasn't as strong a performance as you'd like from an offense where it seemed reasonable to expect continuity at most places would mean continued success. And, no, Julio Jones did not have a strong opening game. Tennessee has another tough game next week, making the road trip to Seattle. But I didn't expect the Titans to be one of the best teams in the league, so 0-2 wouldn't be too big of a problem in my view.
The other side of the field ... I think I noted it, but this wasn't quite the same static Kliff Kingsbury offense we saw the second half of last year. Of course, I wasn't expecting that to start the season. The bigger takeaway to me is more the questionable Cardinals secondary not getting ripped apart by Tennessee's previously efficient passing game. I'll have to take a look at the all-22 (We're getting that this week, right? right?) to see how much of that was the Arizona defensive front getting quick pressure limiting what the Titans did and how much was actual good coverage.
Minnesota Vikings 24 at Cincinnati Bengals 27 (OT)
Scott Spratt: Adam Thielen just broke this 0-0 tie with a touchdown grab midway through the second quarter. I'm expecting some touchdown regression from Thielen this year, but he also saw a ridiculous 52.6% of the Vikings' end zone targets last season. That was the highest of any regular receiver last year.
Dave Bernreuther: We have got a game in the one that it seems nobody has been talking about. Earlier when I had it on a larger screen, every time I looked up the Bengals were pressuring or sacking Kirk Cousins. Not sure what has happened in the interim two quarters, other than the Joe Mixon touchdown that I noticed, but I just put it on the main screen and the Bengals immediately took Cousins down again, so I guess I'm good luck. It's 24-21 late, and it's also worth pointing out that not only do the Bengals look to be much better at football, they also look much better dressed as well. Even in the pants without orange (and I like orange), this a huge upgrade over the last set.
And now Mixon is just gashing the Vikings on the ground as they try to kill the clock.
Scott Spratt: The Bengals just punted from across midfield on a fourth-and-3 with 1:48 left in the fourth quarter up by three points. Eek.
Scott Spratt: Haha it took the Vikings about 22 seconds of game time to get that yardage back.
Bryan Knowles: There have been some very conservative decisions here in Week 1, but that Taylor punt probably clinches Scramble's Foxie.
Bryan Knowles: And, indeed, Minnesota marches down the field and kicks the game-tying field goal. Zac Taylor should be pilloried in the press, regardless of the outcome of the game.
Vince Verhei: I believe Taylor's attempt to ice the kicker backfired too, right? Didn't Joseph miss his first try, which didn't count, before drilling the 53-yarder?
Scott Spratt: I think both kicks were good, Vince.
Scott Spratt: Oh man. The Vikings finally got in field goal range in the last two minutes of overtime, and then Dalvin Cook fumbled! Bengals football with 1:48 left! It's being reviewed.
Bryan Knowles: Your overtime so far:
- Punt from Cincinnati
- Minnesota three-and-out
- Cincinnati three-and-out
- Minnesota fumble in (long) field goal range.
Bryan Knowles: Zac Taylor gets some kudos back. On fourth-and-inches with a minute left in overtime, the Bengals line up to go for it. It's gonna be a sneak, right, to pick up the first and keep it going? No, Burrow drops back, find C.J. Uzomah slipping past the coverage, and picks up 32 yards. For as bad as the punt was, that play call was a thing of beauty.
Bryan Knowles: And now MIKE ZIMMER ices the kicker, and Evan McPherson misses the iced kick! On the re-kick, McPherson puts it through, and the Bengals win, 27-24!
This was ... well, it was a football game. A very, very strange football game.
Rob Weintraub: For the first time in the Zac Taylor era, Cincy has a winning record. Considering they should have won their last two openers but conjured ways to lose, mainly thanks to poor field goal kicking, winning with future 10-time All-Pro Evan McPherson nailing his first ever game-winning kick (and he crushed a 53-yarder as well) was satisfying.
- Joey B, all things considered in his first game since injury—phenomenal.
- Ja'Marr Chase, unsurprisingly, buried the drop issue nonsense with not just an LSU-vintage bomb from Burrow but a 100-yard game and several tough catches and hard running YAC.
- The much-maligned offensive line had some breakdowns but it was mostly due to Mike Zimmer conjuring free runners and communication issues rather than getting overrun. The Vikings' line, on the other hand, was grim—penalty-prone and manhandled on the interior especially.
- To wit—Cincinnati Tackles had two sacks in all of 2020; they had three today. Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hill (two sacks after getting dealt by the Giants) were all over the place.
Taylor took some heat for going on a fourth down at the Cincy 30, which didn't work when Joe Mixon slipped. I was all for it. As it was the old bugaboos surfaced as the Bengals almost blew a two-touchdown lead. Taylor has to play to win, and with Burrow he can be a bit reckless. And in overtime it worked when they made the big play on fourth-and-inches. Taylor knows his job is on the line if the wins don't start coming, and he coached like it today. The early part of the schedule has potential wins on it, so today was actually important for an opener. Sure, beating Meh-nnisota isn't much of a statement, but baby steps, baby.
Philadelphia Eagles 32 at Atlanta Falcons 6
J.P. Acosta: I like how Arthur Smith is using Kyle Pitts. Getting him looks out in the flat or mismatches down the seam. Just gotta find him
Cleveland Browns 29 at Kansas City Chiefs 33
Vince Verhei: Great start for the Browns here as they take the kickoff and drive 75 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown. Critical play came on fourth-and-3 at the KC 15—Browns turned down the field goal and went for it, and Baker Mayfield converted on a slant route to Austin Hooper. Nick Chubb then needed only two runs to gain 10 yards and get into the end zone. Then Kansas City jumps offsides on the extra point, so Cleveland goes for two from the 1-yard line, and Kareem Hunt takes a simple I-formation plunge over the line for an early 8-0 lead. It's Kansas City—every point counts.
J.P. Acosta: Ronnie Harrison was ejected for shoving a Chiefs coach. It looked like the coach might have initiated contact though. A wild beginning to the game.
Dave Bernreuther: Well that was interesting. I have never seen New York radio back to insist that a penalty be called and an ejection happen, but almost as weird was that it seemed fairly obvious what had happened and Tony Romo and Gene Steratore never acknowledged it:
It began innocently enough; Ronnie Harrison Jr. tackled Clyde Edwards-Helaire on the sideline and started to walk away. He ran into a Chiefs lineman, who definitely didn't make an effort to move, and bounced off of him. In real time it seemed clear that he wasn't trying to Suh-stomp CEH, but it was also quite normal and natural for the Chiefs' assistant coach to shove him to keep him off of the prone player.
Harrison then shoved him back and was rightfully flagged and ejected for shoving a coach ... but it astounds me that they didn't really even seem to acknowledge that everything up until the final shove was not that big a deal.
A play or two prior to that we got to see some vintage Patrick Mahomes ... looked like he was for sure in the grasp, not even attempting to avoid the sack, but he just calmly sidearm-whipped a laser from near his waist to hit Travis Kelce over the middle to get them out of trouble.
Vince Verhei: A lot going on here:
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) September 12, 2021
That's Ronnie Harrison on the tackle. As he gets up, a Chiefs lineman gives him a little shove, and he loses his balance and steps on the ballcarrier. A Chiefs coach pushes Harrison, who pushes him back. In the end, Harrison was ejected, but it seems to me like he got a bad break.
J.P. Acosta: An interesting decision by Andy Reid to kick the field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-2. 8-3 Browns.
Scott Spratt: The CBS broadcast is in on the scoragami fun! They just showed a graphic that this is only the second ever NFL game with an 8-3 score after one quarter.
Vince Verhei: Well now. Kansas City blows coverage against rookie Anthony Schwartz, who makes a juggling catch down the sideline for a 44-yard gain. That sets up a fourth-and-1 at the 5. They go for it again, and Jarvis Landry converts on a fly sweep-type play. He's ruled down at the 1, but Cleveland challenges and wins, so it's a touchdown. I HATE that challenge—just take first-and-goal from a few inches out!—but it counts, and Browns go up 15-3.
Bad news is that Jedrick Wills has left the game with an ankle injury. He was carted to the locker room, which does not seem good.
Vince Verhei: No team gets away with being overly cute like Kansas City. First-and-goal, with all their weapons, they try a shovel pass to Mike Remmers. Not a typo. Mike Remmers! Tony Romo calls it out before the snap, and the Browns saw it coming too. Play is stuffed for a 2-yard loss. But it doesn't matter, because the next play Patrick Mahomes scrambles in for the touchdown, where he covered a LOT of real estate.
Patrick Mahomes scrambled 29.5 yards before tucking the ball to run. The odds of Mahomes scoring a touchdown?
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 12, 2021
Nick Chubb, however, may have covered more real estate on his ensuing touchdown run. Look at this hole. *I* might have scored on this play. Keep in mind, the left tackle is out.
— Football Outsiders (@fboutsiders) September 12, 2021
That's three touchdowns in three drives for the Browns and a 22-10 lead.
Vince Verhei: Still 22-10 at halftime. Officially, the only thing that stopped the Browns offense was the clock. On their last drive, they took over at their own 1 and still reached the edge of field goal range, but late in the half they were forced to pass, and some sacks brought them to fourth-and-23 with three seconds left. They tried a multi-lateral play and it actually looked like Mayfield had a chance to score, but it was not to be. But, technically, they did get a first down on the play.
Tyreek Hill quietly has seven catches for 96 yards, but Troy Hill has also made some big plays against him, knocking away what would have been a deep completion and drawing an offensive pass interference on a near-interception.
The score is not a fluke. Through 30 minutes, the Browns have played twice as well as Kansas City.
Vince Verhei: Kansas City gets away with being overly cute in the red zone again. Second-and-3 at the 6, they put Travis Kelce at quaterback, with three other players (including Mahomes and Hill) joining him in the backfield. Mahomes and Hill BOTH false start. Then, before they can run another play, Mahomes has to call timeout. And again, none of this matters, because when Kansas City just lines up and play football they are very difficult to stop—Mahomes just drops back and hits Kelce for an easy touchdown to cut the score to 22-17.
That drive took up more than half the third quarter. We're nearly 38 minutes into the game, and each team has had the ball only four times. Going to be a very short game in that sense when every team keeps the ball for several minutes at a time.
Vince Verhei: Chiefs have cut the lead to 22-20 at the end of the third as we have finally seen a few defensive plays. Juan Thornhill forced a Nick Chubb fumble to give Kansas City the ball near midfield, but the Chiefs could only manage a field goal after a Joe Jackson sack set up a third-and-long play.
Bryan Knowles: Cleveland responds to the fumble with their fourth 75-plus-yard drive of the day, which is a statement and a half on the road in Arrowhead. One big play for David Njoku, but this was mostly death by a thousand Nick Chubb papercuts, just putting the Kansas City defense on their heels up and down the field. They nearly miss the extra point after a Kareem Hunt touchdown, but it squeaks in past the upright, and it's a 29-20 lead for Cleveland with 10:24 left. Plenty of time, but Kansas City needs to show it can get a stop.
Bryan Knowles: "No one counts out Patrick Mahomes!" RedZone says. Well, yes, people are concerned about the defense, not the offense, but in case you needed more Mahomes love, the Chiefs take one play to match Cleveland's nine-play, 75-yard drive. John Johnson gets turned around in coverage, Tyreek Hill gets wide open, and it's 29-27 Cleveland.
"A throw that really only a handful of people ever can make and Patrick Mahomes does it."—@tonyromo
— NFL on CBS (@NFLonCBS) September 12, 2021
Vince Verhei: Good gravy, that throw.
Bryan Knowles: The Chiefs finally get a regular, run-of-the-mill stop. Maybe they only need one. Jamie Gillan comes in for his first punt of the day ... and he bobbles the snap, can't get the punt off, and the Chiefs start in the red zone, down two!
Carl Yedor: With the quality of the offensive opposition on the other side of the field, Cleveland really needed to remain sharp when they had the ball to have a legit shot at this one. They're still in the lead for now, but the punter fumbled a snap on fourth down and presented Kansas City with premium field position to start its next drive. Mahomes cashes in quickly with a short pass to Kelce, and the Chiefs have the lead.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, Baker Mayfield. Trying to throw the ball away, he doesn't get the muscle on the ball. Mike Hughes catches the wobbler, and the Chiefs escape with this one. Three turnovers in the second half killed the Browns here.
A good showing by Cleveland, for sure, but they had this one, and let 'em off the hook.
Vince Verhei: Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney sacked Patrick Mahomes to get Cleveland the ball back one more time, with plenty of clock left. And a screen pass to Kareem Hunt got them near midfield, but Mayfield forces a pass while under pressure and is intercepted on the next play. Hate to say it, but that was a bit of a panic play by Mayfield. It was only first down and they had a timeout left, so a sack would not have killed them.
If there's any good news for Cleveland, it's that it feels like they should have won this game. They made more obvious mistakes: the two turnovers and the dropped snap on the punt.
But man, that felt like a playoff game. Two good teams going back and forth for three hours. I would not at all be surprised if we see them playing again in January.
Dave Bernreuther: Feels like that one will empower them a bit for the next meeting. They know they should have had it.
Mayfield looked pretty good all game until that one throw too.
J.P. Acosta: But on the other hand, how do you beat the Chiefs man? They're too explosive for you to not score on every possession.
Dave Bernreuther: Easy: you get four-fifths of their offensive line hurt and harass the crap out of Mahomes.
Bryan Knowles: Not turning the ball over three times (including the fumbled snap on the punt, which was not technically a turnover but may as well have been) in a half might help, too.
Vince Verhei: Dave's point about Mayfield is a good one, and big: It was not just about Chubb and the running game. Through three quarters, you could argue he had outplayed Mahomes. In the fourth quarter, obviously, you couldn't argue that anymore.
Tom Gower: The striking thing about Mayfield's play in the first three quarters is how much of it came in positive down-and-distance situations. He didn't get many plays inside the two minute warning in the first half, and because of the Browns' success in "normal" down-and-distances, he didn't face many third downs. The Browns only had two third-down conversions all game, one on the opening drive and one at the second-half two-minute warning, but Kevin Stefanski's aggressiveness and willingness to go for it on fourth down meant it wasn't as noticeable as it might otherwise have been.
And while the Chiefs defense got bullied, they made just enough disruptive plays that, combined with that offense that scores points so quickly, it didn't really matter. This wasn't an overwhelmingly dominant game, so I don't expect the Chiefs to end up dominating in DVOA by any means, but it's another win for the coach and team that doesn't lose in September.
Miami Dolphins 17 at New England Patriots 16
Scott Spratt: After Tua Tagovailoa led the Dolphins on an effortless scoring drive, Mac Jones and the Patriots tried to answer. But rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson just fumbled the ball back to the Dolphins. I won't pretend to understand Bill Belichick. But I know that BenJarvus Green-Ellis did not fumble in his first four seasons with the Pats. Could be a, shall we say, teachable moment for the rookie?
Aaron Schatz: I would love to tell you how I think Mac Jones is doing after a quarter but I don't think he has thrown the ball more than 5 yards downfield yet.
Scott Spratt: Why throw downfield when Damien Harris can run for 10 yards a pop, Aaron?
Aaron Schatz: For the most part, the Patriots have been running the rookie QB helper playbook for Mac Jones, lots of runs and short passes. They have started to open things up in the second quarter. Jones has a couple of darts, one to Jakobi Meyers on a play-action for 12 yards and then on this last drive, 25 yards right down the middle of the field to Nelson Agholor. That was definitely not a throw from the rookie QB helper handbook. He also hit Agholor on a wide open slant to score a 7-yard touchdown that put the Patriots up 10-7. Rhamondre Stevenson has been a non-person since he fumbled on a reception in the first quarter; he only came back once when Damien Harris was hit in the head and had to leave for a play.
On the other side, Patriots pass rush is overwhelming the Dolphins offensive line, but the Dolphins receivers are getting open pretty easily. Jaylen Waddle had a big drop when he was really wide open. Tagovailoa is doing a good job moving in the pocket to get away from the pressure, at least most of the time.
Aaron Schatz: I should add that the Patriots' touchdown was helped when a third-and-1 sack near the goal line was cancelled by a roughing the passer penalty called for going low on Jones' legs. So the Patriots did get some timely help from the officials.
Aaron Schatz: Tagovailoa finally found one of those wide-open receivers, Jaylen Waddle for 36 yards. A penalty and small run put the Dolphins in field goal range. Jacoby Brissett came in as a short-yardage specialist to convert third-and-1 with a sneak. But Jalen Mills slapped away what looked like a touchdown pass to Albert Wilson, so the Dolphins ran out of time and had to bring out Jason Sanders for the field goal. We go to halftime 10-10.
Scott Spratt: The Dolphins have now snapped balls to backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett and running backs Salvon Ahmed and Malcolm Brown in addition to their normal quarter Tua Tagovailoa. A Chan Gailey offense this is not.
Aaron Schatz: Dolphins 17, Patriots 13 with the Patriots driving as we start the fourth quarter. My biggest takeaway from this game is that neither quarterback really looks like a rookie. They look like good (not great) professionals. Each one has made a couple of really strong stick throws and shown good pocket presence, except for one play very early on where Mac Jones completely panicked at the pass rush and tried to flip the ball back to Jonnu Smith. Trent Brown was hurt for the Patriots and that has made a difference, and when you are on defense you see their questionable depth at the cornerback position. But I can't slag Jalen Mills too badly after that great pass deflection on the almost-touchdown to Wilson.
Aaron Schatz: Bill Belichick chooses to kick a field goal on fourth-and-4 from the Miami 15 to make the score 17-16, rather than going for it. The EdjSports model has this as a 1.6% Game-Winning Chance error.
Aaron Schatz: We finally have our first interception of the game after the Dolphins get called for an illegal man downfield to cancel a third-down conversion. On the ensuing third-and-7, the Patriots get a ton of pressure, and Tagovailoa chucks it up for grabs while falling backwards in order to prevent a sack. Jonathan Jones comes down with it on the sideline and the Patriots will take over at the 50 needing a field goal to take the lead.
Scott Spratt: Arm strength is never more important than when you want to throw the ball out of bounds to avoid a big sack.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots marching up the field to maybe get the go-ahead touchdown, definitely a try at a go-ahead field goal, and Damien Harris just coughed the ball up. Can't blame the rookie quarterback for the two running back fumbles today. Dolphins take over at their own 9 with 3:31 left.
Bryan Knowles: When was the last time the Patriots running backs fumbled twice in one game? Bill Belichick must be apoplectic.
Scott Spratt: I looked it up when Rhamondre Stevenson fumbled earlier, Bryan, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn't fumble in his first four years with the team.
Aaron Schatz: After a penalty on the Dolphins, the Patriots allowed a 13-yard slant to DeVante Parker on first-and-14, and after that it was elementary, they just ran out the clock. Heartbreaking loss as a Patriots fan, similar to the game Cam Newton fumbled away against Buffalo last year. But at least I think you can come away from this game optimistic about how Mac Jones will play as a rookie. Then again, Miami fans should feel just as optimistic about Tagovailoa's performance, and they got to have the division win.
Green Bay Packers 3 "at" New Orleans Saints 38 in Jacksonville
Bryan Knowles: One of the minor subplots in the Taysom Hill-Jameis Winston battle was what would happen with Alvin Kamara. Kamara's numbers dropped dramatically when Hill was at quarterback, so all through the offseason, Kamara's fantasy managers kept their fingers crossed that Winston would be the man. So far, so good for Kamara, with three targets already, including a receiving touchdown, as the Saints are up to a 10-0 lead at the beginning of the second quarter. The Packers' offensive highlight has been a fourth-and-1 conversion, albeit one after wasting a timeout trying to do the ol' hut-hut, draw an offsides penalty. They gained one (1) yard after that conversion, though, so the Packers haven't really gotten on track yet.
Dave Bernreuther: I expected Jameis Winston to not be quite the reckless turnover machine he was in Tampa Bay in Year 2 under Sean Payton. I did not expect him to look quite this comfortable, however.
It isn't even that he has done anything spectacular or even noteworthy ... he just looks really comfortable and familiar back there. Even on a throwaway. He had all day, was able to stand flat-footed and patiently, look around, and calmly throw the ball away. Not that he was ever a big scrambler or anything but it still struck me as a sign that maybe the Saints might still be OK without Drew Brees.
Still early, of course. But with one quarter in the books, the Saints have a two-score lead in a game that couldn't have been super easy to prepare for due to the relocation.
On another note, during the early games they showed Aaron Rodgers walking into the stadium with his long hair pulled back and his glasses and I thought "why is he trying to look like a grunge musician?" only to then immediately see the State Farm commercial—which looks like it must have been filmed mere days ago—wherein he plays pretty much exactly that.
(Two hours later, running multiple televisions, I am already sick of that commercial.)
Aaron Schatz: Anybody here watching Packers-Saints? If so, I'd love to know what the heck is wrong with the Packers offense. Are they just not on the field much because the Saints are running so much?
J.P. Acosta: I just switched to this game. I didn't expect the Saints front to just own the line of scrimmage early.
Bryan Knowles: I'm sure the Packers would love to figure that out too! A bunch of long drives have kept Green Bay on the sideline, but they have done very little with the ball. The Saints' secondary is sticking to the Packers like glue; Davante Adams is really fighting to get anything that remotely looks like an open look. This is really surprising, considering how many injury issues the Saints had in their secondary coming in, but they are pretty clearly winning the battle to this point. Green Bay hasn't been helped by surprisingly conservative play calling; I imagine that will change as soon as they get the ball for more than a dozen plays. The Saints have had drives of nine, 15, and 13 plays (and counting, as they're threatening again at the two-minute warning); the Packers have only had two drives in the first half!
Bryan Knowles: The one thing that can stop the Saints, of course, is Sean Payton's love of Taysom Hill. Hill comes in on third-and-goal from the 2 and is immediately stuffed. To Paytons' credit, the Saints come out on fourth down and get a penalty to get the ball back to the goal line, and Winston hits Johnson for a leaping touchdown and a 17-0 lead with a minute left in the first half. The Jameis Winston Saints have not missed a beat!
J.P. Acosta: One thing I have noticed is that the Saints have 140 rushing yards and are lapping the Packers in time of possession. Not saying to just establish the run just to do it, but they're controlling the ball with explosive runs as well. The Saints offensive line is dominating.
Bryan Knowles: The Packers' offense finally arrives to the 2021 season to open the second half, with Rodgers finding some room for Davante Adms and Marcedes Lewis. If anything, Rodgers might have been a bit too confident, as he began picking on rookie Paulson Adebo ... only for Adebo to come down with a pick in the red zone. Adebo has been on Davante Adams more than I would recommend, but he has been doing a very, very solid job. Still 17-3, Saints.
J.P. Acosta: Aaron Rodgers has thrown his second consecutive interception, and it sets up the Saints in the red zone. Not really sure what he was going for, Marquez Valdes-Scantling wasn't in the area.
Bryan Knowles: Clearly, it's Jordan Love time in Green Bay.
The Saints follow up the arm-punt interception with Jameis Winston's third touchdown pass of the season; it's 24-3 Saints, and this one feels over. That is a STATEMENT in the NFC South, let me tell you. And I would not have expected the Lions to have the best offense in the NFC North, at least for one week...
Denver Broncos 27 at New York Giants 13
J.P. Acosta: The Giants offensive line is holding up fairly well in the passing game, I'm surprised. The run game though…
J.P. Acosta: Danny Dimes back? Daniel Jones found Sterling Shepard on a deep crosser for a Giants touchdown. Jones looks comfortable when he is kept clean.
Bryan Knowles: While we're evaluating the results of quarterback competitions, I can't believe Drew Lock was ever in competition with Teddy Bridgewater. At the end of the first half, Bridgewater is 19-for -22 for 171 yards and a touchdown, with a couple of key scrambles as well. On this last drive, he had three consecutive 15-yard pass plays, followed by a touchdown to give the Broncos a 10-7 lead. At Scramble, we're accused of a strange, unconditional love for Teddy, but days like today tell you why.
J.P. Acosta: Teddy Bridgewater found Jerry Jeudy on a completion but Jeudy got folded up and fumbled. Jeudy was in a lot of pain and was helped off by trainers.
Bryan Knowles: Denver has now gone for it three times on fourth down, converting all three attempts, including that touchdown to take a 16-7 lead.
They only attempted 14 fourth-down conversions all of last season, I believe. Fangio/Shurmur seeing the light? Or just hey, Teddy Bridgewater is better than Drew Lock?
Oh, and Joe Judge tried to challenge the touchdown. You can't challenge scoring plays; they're automatically reviewed. That's a wasted timeout. Good job, coach.
J.P. Acosta: Wouldn't have been a Giants game without a Daniel Jones turnover. He fumbles in the red zone and the Broncos take over.
Bryan Knowles: Melvin Gordon was one of the top picks for the Loser League this week, and he had 10 carries for 31 yards with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. A great pick ... except the Giants just blew it, letting Gordon run 70 yards for a score during the blowout portion of this one. A million Losers cry out in anguish, and are suddenly silenced.
Chicago Bears 14 at Los Angeles Rams 34
Scott Spratt: Anyone who had Justin Fields under four snaps for his first appearance is a winner. I think that's just a red zone package deal à la Trey Lance from this afternoon. But it's still interesting. I don't think there was the same buzz that Fields would play in packages like there was with Lance.
Vince Verhei: I would like to thank the Rams for ditching the bone jerseys and going with white like a grownup football team instead. Still don't know why they're wearing white at home though.
Scott Spratt: Last year with Jared Goff at quarterback, the Rams used play-action on 32% of their passes (fourth most) but only averaged 0.7 more yards than on traditional ones. In contrast, the Lions with Stafford averaged 1.8 more yards with play-action than on traditional throws.
I'll just throw that one in there following Stafford's second pass attempt, a deep play-action connection with Van Jefferson for 67 yards and a touchdown.
J.P. Acosta: Stafford unlocks that part of the wide zone system that the Shanahans and McVays run. According to SIS, last year I believe Stafford threw the most posts and deep in-breakers last season. This is right in his wheelhouse.
Scott Spratt: There's up-tempo and then there's "the Rams just snapped and completed a play while the Sunday Night Football player intros were still happening" up-tempo.
Bryan Knowles: I'm fairly sure Andy Dalton being on my television right now violates the CBA, or FCC regulations, or the Geneva Convention, or something.
Tom Gower: Rams up 13-7 at the half. The Bears have ... kinda moved the ball OK? They have at least one first down every drive, and have made it into Rams territory on every possession. Yeah, they missed on a couple fourth downs in the area you should go for it on fourth down, and Matt Nagy got annoyed and punted in another one of those, but this game feels different (and more like it probably should) after that touchdown at the end of the first half to get on the scoreboard. Yeah, OK, the Rams settled for a couple of field goals and had one dud drive after Stafford was sacked on the long field (after Nagy's punt!), but this wasn't overwhelming domination even before the touchdown.
Vince Verhei: I have not seen the whole thing, but it sure feels like the Rams should be up more than 13-7. They might even be losing if not for Dalton's red zone pick. They only have six first downs in five drives, and they're 0-for-4 on third down (but 1-for-1 on fourth down).
In short, this is still very much a game.
Aaron Schatz: Maybe not so much. Blown coverage just left Cooper Kupp completely open for another bomb touchdown.
Bryan Knowles: That blown coverage will help make this very much not a game. The Bears released Cooper Kupp deep, without anyone going with him, and it was an easy pitch-and-catch for a 56-yard score. Some Week 1 confusion there.
Aaron Schatz: Bears just scored a touchdown on an eight-minute drive despite now being down to their fourth left tackle (counting rookie Teven Jenkins and then three left tackles they have had to use tonight).
Vince Verhei: Matthew Stafford was brought in to be an upgrade over Jared Goff. At the point of his third touchdown tonight, late in the fourth quarter, he's now averaging 12.3 yards per pass.
For the record, Goff only had three games with the Rams where he averaged at least a dozen yards per throw: one in 2017, one in 2018, and one in 2019.
Scott Spratt: Quickly scrolling through game logs and I'm pretty sure Matthew Stafford has never averaged 12.0 yards per attempt in a game in his entire career. So what is your conclusion? Were the Lions an anchor for Stafford and McVay has unlocked him? Or did the Bears lose Van Jefferson and Cooper Kupp on 67- and 56-yard plays?
J.P. Acosta: I do think the Bears just blowing two coverages might help that out a bit, but McVay has turned up the bass on Matt Stafford by giving him more play-action concepts and throwing it deep. And in turn, that has created a bass boosted Rams offense that's a lot more dynamic.
Tom Gower: I'm interested in Matt Nagy's decision when the Rams were driving up 27-14 in the fourth quarter. They had a third-and-3 from the Bears 26 and threw incomplete, and were also flagged for holding. Rather than let them attempt a 44-yard field goal to extend the lead to 30-14, Nagy accepted the penalty. Cooper Kupp then converted third-and-13 on a wide receiver screen, and the Rams ended up scoring a touchdown. I'm kind of curious what Edj has to say about that decision—the Bears' win probability at that point probably isn't large enough for it to matter at all, but going from 44 to 54 on a potential field goal attempt, if the Rams don't gain yards on the new third down, is something, and being down 13 instead of 16 is worth a fair amount in the context of the Bears offense scoring two touchdowns, their baseline winning condition. I'm curious (1) if that was actually the right decision, in terms of maximizing win probability, and (2) because coaches don't normally accept that kind of risk except maybe in a playoff game (sometimes... *still glaring at Mike Vrabel from January*).
One definite takeaway from tonight: the Bears need to adjust their opposite-field coverages on what Dave McGinnis in Tennessee's version of this offense calls transcontinental crossers.