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Here’s what we’ve learned from the first Sunday of the 2019 NFL season:
New England Patriots 33, Pittsburgh Steelers 3
1. The Patriots are immortal, inevitable and damn near impossible to defend. Without Rob Gronkowski on its payroll for the first time this decade (but in the building and in uniform!), New England played like he never existed. Tom Brady threw just twice in the direction of a tight end (Ryan Izzo) and spread the ball around to everyone else, completing at least three passes to five different pass-catchers. Josh Gordon, less than four weeks since being reinstated, was the downfield threat New England needed in Gronk’s absence. Philip Dorsett caught two scores after grabbing just three over the last two seasons. Julian Edelman and James White were deployed in the same manner that won the Patriots their last two Super Bowls and spliced the Steelers’ secondary in the process. Is there even room for Antonio Brown in this receiving corps? I kid! (But seriously.)
2. Speaking of Brown, Pittsburgh could not replace his impact on the offense in its first go-around without the mercurial pass-catcher. With JuJu Smith-Schuster taking on Brown’s No. 1 role, James Washington, Donte Moncrief and Ryan Switzer scooped up most of Roethlisberger’s targets. While Switzer was a reliable security blanket (six catches on as many targets) and Washington was on the receiving end of Big Ben’s prettiest throw of the night, Moncrief was a drop-happy mess. On 10 targets, Pittsburgh’s potential No. 2 receiver hauled in just three balls for seven yards; that’s .70 yards per target. All the while, James Conner was a non-factor in the ground game. Pittsburgh’s three points were its lowest output since a loss to the Eagles in Week 3, 2016, which was also the only other time Big Ben’s Steelers had lost by more than 30 points. The Killer B’s are gone. All that’s left is an offense that on Sunday night was dead on arrival.
2. No David Andrews, no problem for Dante Scarnecchia’s offensive line. After losing their starting left tackle in free agency (Trent Brown) and their starting center to blood clots, the Patriots’ front five let little get past it in the season opener, displaying none of the discontinuity that one might expect from a new line. Isaiah Wynn enjoyed a strong first start on Brady’s blind side. The same for reserve guard Ted Karras, who filled in for Andrews at center. There was cause for concern near the end of Sunday’s beatdown, though, as right tackle Marcus Cannon left with a shoulder injury. But the Patriots have depth along the line, having, in the aftermath of Andrews’ injury a few weeks ago, swung for backups like Korey Cunningham and Jermaine Eluemunor. New England remains ahead of the curve and, with the woeful Dolphins up next, on pace for another victory next Sunday.
— Jeremy Bergman
Detroit Lions 27, Arizona Cardinals 27 (OT)
1. From the most horrendous of starts to the doorstep of a storied comeback victory, Kyler Murray’s never-ending debut ended in a tie and promise for the future following an awful onset. Trailing 17-0 in the second quarter and by 18 in the fourth, the Cardinals were buoyed by their rookie signal-caller and their veteran Hall-of-Famer-to-be receiver on the way to a 27-27 overtime comeback tie. Before the comeback bid that came up just short, Murray — who rarely looked confident or settled and was visibly frustrated on the field and off it — was a dismal 6-of-16 for 41 yards and an interception. His QB rating was a horrendous 19.8, just more than the 19 yards he lost on three sacks. As the second half wore on, the Lions lost their bite and Murray found his way. The No. 1 pick was 23-for-38 for 289 yards and a pair of touchdowns — the first of his career to David Johnson and the second to Larry Fitzgerald — in the second half. Following Fitz’s scoring grab, Murray (29-for-54 for 308 yards in the game) found Christian Kirk for two points and sent the game into overtime. That’s where it ended 10 minutes of game time later. But in one night, Murray rescued a horrible premiere for himself and rookie coach Kliff Kingsbury and salvaged a tie. Maybe Murray grew up over 70 minutes of football. Likely not. But he provided evidence that there’s tangible skill in the arm of the top pick and intangibles within that are needed to turnaround a franchise.
2. Seven spots after the Cardinals drafted a QB out of Oklahoma, the Lions selected a tight end out of Iowa. T.J. Hockenson was the 2019 first-round pick who put on the most impressive show in Arizona on Sunday and turned in one of the best days for a rookie across the board. Hauling in six passes from another former No. 1 overall pick — Matthew Stafford — Hockenson had 131 yards receiving, which is the most for any rookie tight end in his first game. Unfortunately, the first touchdown of Hockenson’s career — a 23-yarder — was the last of the day for the Lions. It’s likely Hockenson’s impressive debut could be a forgotten footnote to a Lions collapse that gave way to a memorable showing from Murray. However, the Lions have a new weapon, a beast over the middle and a possible star at his position.
3. Larry’s still got it. It wasn’t that long ago that Larry Fitzgerald’s retirement was a possibility. Sunday showed there was no reason for one of the all-time greats to hang them up. While the headlines will belong to Murray, Fitzgerald showed off the experience and skill in the clutch that the Cardinals needed to steer their sinking ship. It was Fitzgerald’s four-yard TD catch with 47 seconds left that led to overtime, and it was his huge 45-yard gain in overtime that set up Zane Gonzalez’s fourth and final field goal. Ending the afternoon with eight catches for 113 yards, Fitzgerald started his 16th season with a 100-yard game after recording just one in his 15th campaign. Myriad questions remain to be answered for the Cardinals’ offense after a Week 1 showing that was good, bad and all the ugly in between. Fitzgerald still has the skill and presence to be the guiding light needed to shine when called upon.
— Grant Gordon
Los Angeles Chargers 30, Indianapolis Colts 24 (OT)
1. Melvin Gordon who? The Chargers offense did very well with their star running back still holding out. Austin Ekeler dominated the game and sealed the victory with a rushing TD in overtime. He finished the game with 18 touches, 154 yards and three touchdowns. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo reported Sunday morning Gordon plans to report to the Chargers in six to eight weeks. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the meantime. Overall, this was not a good day for Gordon and his agent. Philip Rivers also showed no signs of slowing down in his 16th season with the Chargers. The 37-year-old quarterback went 25-of-34 for 333 yards and three touchdowns. His favorite target Keenan Allen had eight receptions for 123 yards and one touchdown.
2. Of all the things that could’ve gone wrong for the Colts, the biggest surprise was kicker Adam Vinatieri. He left seven points on the field with a missed extra point and two missed field goals. This is the first time this has happened in his 24-year career, per NFL Research. Vinatieri dealt with “a little bit of a knee issue” during training camp and the preseason but coach Frank Reich did not believe the injury was “anything that was going to be a problem.” After Vinatieri’s performance today, this is enough to cause concern for Indy.
On the other side of the field, Chargers rookie Ty Long outplayed Vinatieri. Long picked up punter and kicker duties after Michael Badgley suffered a groin injury on Friday. Long made good on his only field-goal attempt (from 40 yards) and was a perfect 3-for-3 on extra points.
3. Jacoby Brissett had an impressive day in his first game as the Colts starter. If it wasn’t for poor performances by the special teams and defense in the first half, the team could’ve won the game. There were far too many mistakes but Brissett, wideout T.Y. Hilton (8/87/2) and running back Marlon Mack (25/174/1) kept them in the game. Brissett finished the game with 21-of-27 attempts, 190 yards and two touchdowns.
— Lakisha Wesseling
Baltimore Ravens 59, Miami Dolphins 10
1. All Lamar Jackson did was throw touchdowns. Playing just a half-hour from his hometown, the Ravens quarterback made good on his vow to put on a show. He completed his first 10 passes, including four for scores. The dual-threat demon exhibited his usual scrambling ability, only it was often a means for more throwing. (Jackson ran just three times.) Perhaps most impressive was the how. Jackson beat the coverage on multiple downfield throws, while finishing with a career-best five touchdown passes and 324 yards and playing just three quarters. That his 17 comp
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