The first Sunday of the 2021 NFL season is in the books, and what a thrilling, unpredictable ride it was!
Baker Mayfield went toe to toe with Patrick Mahomes ... until one ill-fated throwaway attempt buried the Browns. Miami held on for a huge division win at New England, while Daniel Jones again couldn't hold onto the football in a frustrating home loss to Denver. And judging by the AFC and NFC West's perfect 7-0 mark on Sunday, Coolio was right: Ain't no party like a West Coast party 'cause a West Coast party don't stop. The NFC North, on the other hand, was fiesta-free at 0-4.
Without further ado, let's get into the meat of this piece: the good, the bad and the ugly from the opening Sunday, Schein Nine style!
Well, it's obviously early, but Arizona's now the leader in the clubhouse with the most complete win of the 2021 season. The Cardinals went on the road and absolutely obliterated a talented Titans team, 38-13. The game was never close, as Kliff Kingsbury's bunch scored the first 17 points and never looked back. Arizona dominated as a team -- easily outgaining Tennessee in yardage, 416-248 -- while getting some prolific individual contributions. Per NFL Research, Chandler Jones and Kyler Murray became the first team duo with five-plus sacks and five-plus touchdowns in a single game. Jones, who also forced two fumbles, schooled Taylor Lewan so thoroughly that the Titans left tackle thanked him in the postgame:
A healthy Jones means everything for this defense -- which, by the way, limited two-time reigning rushing champ Derrick Henry to 58 yards on 17 carries. Meanwhile, Murray mesmerized the Titans defense, throwing four touchdowns passes and strolling into the end zone for another score. Kyler's favorite target? Surprise, surprise ... It was DeAndre Hopkins, a certified freak who provided two highlight-reel touchdowns: the first a toe-tapping work of art in the back of the end zone, the second a spin-infused catch-and-run special.
Arizona has a complete team. General manager Steve Keim has assembled a playoff roster. This is a significant start for a franchise that hasn't posted a winning record since 2015.
Back in May, I had Jameis Winston as a dark-horse MVP candidate, saying he'd "throw a ton of touchdown passes, substantially cut down on the picks and be an upgrade in the passing attack from the 2020 version of Drew Brees." So far, so good. Under the watchful eye of Sean Payton, Winston had zero interceptions and five touchdown passes(!) in the Saints' stunning, 38-3 beatdown of the Packers. With New Orleans still recovering from Hurricane Ida, the Saints were forced to "host" this game at a neutral site in Jacksonville. No matter: Winston and Payton scored points in six of their first seven possessions.
On the other side of the ball, Dennis Allen's defense absolutely terrorized Aaron Rodgers, holding the reigning MVP to just 133 passing yards with zero touchdowns, two interceptions and a ghastly 36.8 passer rating. The Saints' D has playmakers on all three levels -- and the unit just handed Mr. Rodgers the most one-sided defeat of his starting career (35 points).
Payton will be a serious Coach of the Year candidate if his Saints can offer up more performances like this in the post-Brees era.
I'm so thrilled for Joe Burrow and the long-suffering Bengals fans. I said it all offseason: Cincy's offense should sizzle, and these Bengals don't have to be that bad. After missing the final six games during his rookie season because of a serious knee injury, Burrow came back with a bang, deftly guiding the Bengals' offense through the 27-24 overtime defeat of the Vikings. Last year's No. 1 overall pick completed 20 of his 27 throws for 261 yards and two touchdowns (against zero picks). Joe Mixon, Burrow's backfield mate who also had his 2020 campaign ruined by injury, provided the offense with balance, rushing for 127 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. And Ja'Marr Chase, Burrow's college teammate at LSU, quickly made everyone forget about his preseason struggles with a five-catch, 101-yard, one-touchdown debut.
Now, Cincinnati's defense remains a question mark, but on Sunday, Lou Anarumo's unit limited Dalvin Cook to just 61 yards on 20 carries. And stud safety Jessie Bates caused a crucial fumble by the Vikings' superstar back in overtime, setting up the win.
In many ways, uber-talented Cleveland had this game in Kansas City. But the Chiefs have the ultimate cheat code, something no other team in the NFL has at its disposal: Patrick Mahomes. Down by two scores in the fourth quarter, Mahomes rolled out under duress and heaved a downfield bomb that Tyreek Hill turned into a 75-yard touchdown. A short time later, the 25-year-old golden arm found Travis Kelce for the go-ahead touchdown, and K.C. eventually prevailed.
Never get it twisted: Mahomes is the best and most special player in the NFL, bar none. And in September, the guy is mind-blowingly dominant, with an 11-0 career record and a 35:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Good lord.
Not good. Not good at all. My predicted Super Bowl winner blew a double-digit halftime lead AT HOME! The game felt over after two quarters, with Buffalo stoning Pittsburgh, 10-0. But in the second half, the Bills got punched in the face by a feisty Steelers defense, ultimately losing, 23-16.
On the afternoon as a whole, Buffalo outgained Pittsburgh by 119 yards and ran 24 more plays, so it's not like the Steelers came out and dominated play. But my guy Josh Allen was relatively pedestrian by his standards, missing a number of throws that he hit throughout his MVP-caliber 2020 campaign. Credit Mike Tomlin and Co., for sure, but the Bills played a sloppy brand of football full of mistakes and penalties. Having entered this season with serious Super Bowl buzz, Sean McDermott's crew has to do a much better job of performing up to expectations.
Get Andy Dalton off my television, especially in prime time. While Matthew Stafford looked majestic throwing bombs in a perfect debut, Chicago's starting quarterback sucked the life out of his team in a 34-14 Bears loss. Dalton completed 27 of 38 passes for 206 yards -- that equals a miniscule 5.4 yards per attempt -- with no touchdowns, one interception and one lost fumble. That's just not going to cut it.
Well, that was a hot mess. I'm not panicking, but the Packers' 38-3 blowout loss at the hands of the Saints was the single worst game I've seen from Green Bay in the last 15 years.
Indeed! Rodgers played so bad, in fact, that it was garbage time in the fourth quarter, which meant is was Jordan Love time. Ironic, given all of the recent drama in Green Bay.
And the Packers' defense didn't fare much better, giving up five touchdown passes to Jameis Winston while failing to sack the Saints' new starting quarterback even once. Embarrassing all-around effort from Green Bay.
Yikes, Urban. After a tumultuous offseason, you thought the remedy to shift conversation would be facing the worst team in the NFL. Nope. Instead, Trevor Lawrence got picked off three times -- heck, Houston had three interceptions during the entire 2020 season -- and Jacksonville gave up 37 points to the Tyrod Taylor-led Texans. And for the second year in a row, I predicted a team would go winless ... only to have that team prevail in the season opener. Oof. Guess I deserve a place in this UGLY section, too.
In high school and college, Lawrence never lost a regular-season game. Welcome to the NFL, Trev -- and Urban. There weren't many days like this for the head coach at the college level, where Meyer posted a 187–32 record. He went 83-9 at Ohio State. Appears he's well on his way to double-digit losses in Year 1 with the Jaguars. I mean, if you can't beat the Texans ...
Atlanta got punked on its home turf, 32-6, by Nick Sirianni and the Eagles. What a sentence. The Falcons' defense was non-existent. The offensive line was offensive. Nothing worked. Philly QB Jalen Hurts, who entered this season as a big-time question mark, looked like a seasoned veteran, carving up Atlanta's secondary with help from his former Alabama teammate, DeVonta Smith.
I was excited for this new regime in Atlanta, with Arthur Blank bringing in Arthur Smith to provide a much-needed culture change. But Week 1 of the "Artie party" was about as successful as the Fyre Festival.