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Neil Reynolds' Wraps Week 1

One game doesn't make a season, we all know that by now when it comes to the NFL. It's definitely not how you start but how you finish. Super Bowls are won in February and not in September.

But a good start doesn't do anyone any harm and the San Francisco 49ers certainly enjoyed one of those on Sunday as they demolished the Steelers in what started out as a raucous atmosphere in Pittsburgh. It was the kind of display that made me feel good about picking the Niners to win it all this season.

Like I said, there is a very long way to go but San Francisco looked complete in their 30-7 victory in Pennsylvania.

Brock Purdy looked measured, poised and skilled. He honestly looked like he had been starting in the NFL for a decade – that was just his sixth regular season start. Oh, and he has won them all, by the way.

What surprised me the most watching Purdy in the flesh was his movement. I expected to see him manage the game from the pocket – something he can also do with great success. But he moved around so well with some subtle slides away from pressure, although T.J. Watt did drop him three times (more on that later). There were also some moments when Purdy morphed into Steve Young, rolling away from the rush and firing strikes downfield.

He threw on time and on target over and over again. I could not have been more impressed with how he kicked off his second season in the NFL. His and San Francisco's future looks bright.

It was also notable that Purdy is surrounded by elite talent. This was a game with flashes of Deebo Samuel at receiver and George Kittle at tight end early on but, if truth be told, they could have taken the afternoon off and San Francisco would still have won handily. Not many teams can boast that sort of depth in their attack.

This was a day for Brandon Aiyuk at receiver, who caught eight balls for 129 yards and two touchdowns, and Christian McCaffrey, who rushed for 152 yards and one touchdown. San Francisco have now won 11 straight regular season games with CMC starting in the backfield. It was easy to see why.

The defense also showed why that unit ranked first in the NFL in points and yards allowed in 2022. Nick Bosa was quiet as he works his way back up to full speed after a training camp holdout, but the pass rush still registered five sacks.

All-Pro Fred Warner is almost unplayable at linebacker. He covers the field from sideline to sideline and can get 30 yards downfield when you ask him to. That was the case in the second half when he tipped a Kenny Pickett pass that was intercepted by All-Pro safety Talanoa Hufanga. 

Defensive linemen Javon Hargrave and Drake Jackson, linebacker Dre Greenlaw and cornerback Charvarius Ward were all San Francisco defenders who caught the eye. Everywhere you looked there were productive and talented players making big plays.

I went into the locker room after the game and spoke to Kittle and Hufanga and neither was getting carried away. There was no fuss and no major celebrations. This was simply win number one ticked off on what the Niners will hope is the road to Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas.

Their reaction to a hugely exciting win on the road might have been the most impressive takeaway I have about these 49ers. They mean business and success means standing under that confetti with the Vince Lombardi Trophy in their hands, not winning on the road in Pittsburgh on opening weekend.

Who's Hot...

Steelers fans… I've been privileged to report or broadcast at many NFL games, here in the United States, back home in the United Kingdom and in Germany. And a lot of those broadcasts have placed me and our crew out in the elements and in among the fans from a noise point of view. I don't like being behind studio glass, even if it would make my job easier at times! So, I've experienced a lot of fans in a lot of stadiums… and I've never seen or heard anything like that in Pittsburgh. When the Terrible Towels were waving pre-game and the jets soared overhead after the national anthem, I thought I had died and gone to NFL Heaven! It was just a shame the players on the field couldn't give them more to cheer about because it's clear that the city of Pittsburgh absolutely adores their Steelers. They deserve whatever success comes their way in the future.

Miami's passing game… It was great to spend some time with Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel this summer and to get into his journey to becoming an NFL head coach. Along the way, we talked about play-calling and I asked if it was easier to call plays when you have great team speed. He agreed quicker than Tyreek Hill can run a go route and strongly suggested his job is a great deal easier when he has productive players at his disposal. Miami's stars were on full display in Sunday's thrilling 36-34 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Tua Tagovailoa threw for 466 yards – the third-most in Week 1 in the Super Bowl era – and three touchdowns, while Hill caught 11 passes for 215 yards and two scores. Miami have the kind of prolific offense not seen since the days of Dan Marino and The Marks Brothers and while he still has his doubters due to worries about his durability, there can be no doubting Tua's ability to put up historic numbers. He is becoming everything Miami hoped he would be.

The Dallas Cowboys defense… That was never a fair fight in New York as the Dallas Cowboys rampaged against the hapless New York Giants. The Cowboys were ferocious and impossible to stop, recording seven sacks during a 40-0 thrashing. Micah Parsons showed that he will continue to be an every-down menace, but this was a total team effort on the defensive side of the ball. Dallas scored on a pick six – one of two interceptions on the night – and forced three fumbles. Special teams also chipped in with a touchdown from the return of a blocked field goal. Dallas mirrored San Francisco by delivering a 'look at us' performance in Week 1, even though the Dak Prescott-led offense never needed to get out of second gear.

Who's Not…

The New York Giants… The Cowboys were brilliant on defense, but it takes two to tango, so we cannot ignore just how poor the Giants were in front of their own fans on Sunday night. The offensive line was overmatched and had no answers, Daniel Jones looked rattled and not up to the task once a promising opening drive went sideways with an errant snap and then the blocked kick; and Saquon Barkley was held to 51 rushing yards. I'm trying my best to not make this an 'Overreaction Monday' article, but I don't know about Jones. He is certainly at his best when he takes off running and can be a dual-threat quarterback, but he needs to be more productive through the air. He threw just 15 touchdown passes last season and opened his 2023 campaign with 104 passing yards. Jones was poorly protected and needs much more help up front, but he didn't look like a $40 million-per-year quarterback.

The Pittsburgh Steelers… Mike Tomlin has and always will tell it like it is and Pittsburgh's head coach accepted full responsibility for Sunday's home humiliation at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. "We got kicked in the teeth and now we go back to work," Tomlin said. There was only one Steelers player worth watching on Sunday and that was edge rusher T.J. Watt. The rest were well below par. Quarterback Kenny Pickett was out of sorts and his timing and targeting was off all day in the face of some significant pressure, Najee Harris got nothing going on the ground and the defense had no answer for the aforementioned Aiyuk and McCaffrey. The Steelers need to get fixed quickly because the Cleveland Browns, who impressed by beating Cincinnati in Week 1, are coming to town.

Tennessee's offense… Heading into Sunday, the Tennessee Titans were probably one of the most written-off teams when it comes to this NFL season. I still refused to believe that Mike Vrabel's men would be anything less than competitive this year. And they certainly were just that on the defensive side of the ball during Sunday's 16-15 loss to New Orleans. But the offense is a real problem. Ryan Tannehill has a lot to prove this year and got off to a terrible start by throwing just 16 completions, no touchdowns and three interceptions. The Titans could only muster five Nick Folk field goals and you can't survive that way in today's NFL.

The Fast Five…

It's always fascinating to gauge the early-season form of rookies who enter the NFL and I have to say that I cannot wait to see more of Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson. That Robinson touchdown is one that needs to be played over and over again this season. And while he doesn't exactly have high-level help around him, I think Richardson is going to be fun to watch as his rookie year unfolds.

Doug Pederson told me that his first season in Jacksonville proved to him that Trevor Lawrence is "the real deal." And the young quarterback continues to show that we were right all along to hail him as a generational talent. Lawrence guided the Jacksonville Jaguars to the final eight of the NFL playoffs last season and picked up right where he left off in Week 1, throwing some incredible passes in Sunday's 31-21 win over an Indianapolis Colts team that has now gone 0-9-1 on opening day in the last decade. If the theory holds true that you need an outstanding quarterback to mount a serious championship challenge in the NFL, the Jags could be in that conversation.

Sticking with the Jaguars, I came away from their training camp feeling like Calvin Ridley was going to show himself as a true number one wide receiver in the NFL once again. He's off to a very solid start, catching eight passes for 101 yards and one touchdown on an absolute strike from Lawrence. The Jags have an abundance of passing game weapons, but Ridley is likely going to be the best of the lot this season.

It was a real joy to watch T.J. Watt rush the passer on Sunday as he recorded three sacks during Pittsburgh's loss to San Francisco. He was pretty much the only player who fired up the home crowd and it was clear how vital this relentless and passionate defender has become to the Steelers. Watt now has 80 ½ career sacks, tying James Harrison for the team record – and he is only in his seventh season!

The Philadelphia Eagles did just enough to record a 25-20 win over a New England Patriots team that honoured Tom Brady at halftime. It was a good road victory for the Eagles in the end because I think New England showed us they are still going to be tough and competitive this season, especially on defense. Did we really expect anything less from a Bill Belichick-coached team.

Fact of the Week

With one game left to play on Monday Night Football, road teams are 10-5 in Week 1. It is just the third season in NFL history that 10 or more road teams won on opening weekend with the other years being 1983 and 2006.

Finish That Sentence

Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we so often did on our NFL Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…

From Shay Rogers (@shayrogersuk) The biggest surprises of the week were… the Cleveland Browns easily handling the Cincinnati Bengals in a rainy 24-3 win and the Los Angeles Rams marching out of Seattle with a 30-13 victory in their back pocket. The Browns bullied the Bengals, rushing for 206 yards and holding Joe Burrow to just 82 passing yards. I think the Bengals will get up to speed, but that was a worrying start, for sure. While the Rams still have key veterans in quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, it was notable that young players stepped up for them to represent a fresh start of sorts. Rookie receiver Puka Nacau caught 10 passes for 119 yards while second-year running back Kyren Williams twice found the end zone.

From Ste Hoare (@SteHoare) Jordan Love is… the new owner of the Chicago Bears? I would say he is off to a very good start, throwing for 245 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-20 win at Soldier Field. But, importantly, it was a team effort. The defense chipped in, as did special teams. Aaron Jones was a game-breaker out of the backfield and young receiving targets Romeo Doubs and Jayden Reed caught the eye. But Love more than played his part and impressed. There is no doubt a certain number 12 would have been lauded for the TD passes Love threw to Doubs on Sunday. So, he's off to a good start after 31 seasons of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at the helm for the Packers.

From William Olive (@WilliamOlive2) Tua Tagovailoa is…_ desperate to stay healthy for this entire season after missing five and a half games with multiple concussions in 2022. Based on Sunday's short sample size, if Tua can do just that he will be putting himself in the MVP conversation and the Dolphins in with a genuine chance of reaching the Super Bowl. There is just too much speed and dynamism on Miami's offense to keep them down for long periods of games. And Tua is proving to be effective at feeding his speedy receivers. But it is all going to come down to his health. I hope he stays upright all year long because Miami's offense is one of the most exciting to watch in the entire NFL.

Final Thought…

The NFL has thrown up its usual array of great drama right out of the gate and I want to end this column where Week 1 began, in Kansas City with Dan Campbell's Detroit Lions recording a 21-20 win over the Chiefs. The Lions have not won a playoff game since the 1991 season but there is great hope about the success of this campaign. Detroit have now won nine of their last 11 dating back to last season and have tremendous belief. That's not something we have been able to say about many Lions teams in the past and is a nod to the culture being created by Campbell. As for the Chiefs, they go back to the film and go again; knowing there will be plenty of ups and downs on the way to the Super Bowl in Las Vegas. Buckle up, everybody – it's going to be a wild ride!