Steelers strut their stuff in win over Bills
Week 1 of the NFL season is nearly done, with only the “Monday Night Football” game between the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders left to play. Still, there was plenty to sort through from the first Sunday of the season, one in which a couple of potential Super Bowl contenders suffered upsets.
No result was more shocking than what happened to the Green Bay Packers, who stumbled to a 38-3 rout against the New Orleans Saints, a game in which Aaron Rodgers was the fourth-best quarterback on the field, based on QB rating. The Buffalo Bills, the reigning AFC East champs, squandered a 10-point lead at home and let the Pittsburgh Steelers claim a game that could carry playoff seeding implications, even though it came in the opener.
Here are the Week 1 winners and losers.
The Jalen Hurts-Nick Sirianni partnership
If the Philadelphia Eagles’ 32-6 stamping of the Falcons in Atlanta was any indication of what the rest of the season holds, the second-year quarterback and rookie head coach will be just fine. Hurts finished 27-for-35 for 264 yards and 3 touchdowns and added 62 rushing yards on seven carries.
The Eagles achieved balance, which had eluded them last season, with 173 rushing yards on 31 carries and 261 passing yards on 35 attempts. Sirianni was also efficient, rarely calling plays that resulted in negative yardage. The offensive line shoved the Falcons back, and rookie receiver DeVonta Smith is a crisp route runner. But Hurts’ continued development is what could make Philadelphia dangerous. On Sunday, he made smart decisions and showed he has elevated his understanding of extending plays. There was no better evidence of that than the 9-yard touchdown right before halftime to tight end Dallas Goedert, when Hurts bounced right and threw across his body into a tight window.
The Steel Curtain carrying Pittsburgh
Just like it sputtered in the final third of last season, the Steelers offense lagged in the 2021 opener. But the team’s defense made a statement by going on the road and taking down the Bills, reigning AFC title game participant and one of the favorites in the conference, 23-16.
This wasn’t a dominant performance; the Bills outgained Pittsburgh 371-252 and Buffalo earned 22 first downs compared to Pittsburgh’s 16. But this was situational greatness from the Steelers, who harassed Bills quarterback Josh Allen and repeatedly held Buffalo to field goals. The Bills only scored one touchdown in three trips inside the red zone. The constant pressure created eight hits on Allen and four holding penalties (one of which was declined). You can also throw in Pittsburgh’s special teams as a force after a blocked punt returned for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 10, a lead the Buffalo could never overcome.
Chandler Jones DPOY campaign
No player in the NFL started hotter than Jones, the Arizona Cardinals’ edge rusher. In his team’s 38-13 demolition of the Tennessee Titans, Jones notched six tackles, six hurries, five sacks, four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. And he now has an early jump in the race for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
The five sacks, all of which came in the first three quarters, were third-most in NFL history in a Week 1 game and tied the Cardinals’ franchise record. It was just a tremendous day for the Arizona defense overall, as the unit held All-Pro running back Derrick Henry to 58 yards on 17 carries and only 8 yards on nine carries in the first half.
The NFC West
All four of the NFC West squads — the Seahawks, 49ers, Cardinals and Rams — won their games on Sunday. But just as easy as this division falls on this side of the list, the NFC North — whose teams all lost their games — could have fallen on the “Losers” side. Still, the NFC West looks like it could be the best division in the NFL, with each team potentially fighting for a playoff spot.
Practically all teams were convincing on both sides of the ball, though the 49ers did commit plenty of mistakes that allowed the Lions to make it interesting late. The four NFC West teams won by a combined margin of 141-76. The marriage of Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay in Los Angeles, though, might be the one to watch.
He came out of retirement for this? Meyer, making his NFL coaching debut after a prolific run in the college ranks, looked unprepared and his team was overmatched in a 37-21 loss against the rebuilding Houston Texans.
The Texans had been outscored 103-60 in the first quarters last season; Houston led the Jaguars 14-0 after the first. The Jaguars couldn’t handle third downs on either side of the ball; Jacksonville allowed Houston to move the chains on 12 of 21 tries and the Jags did so on just three of the 11 times when their offense was in such situations. They lost the turnover battle 3-0. There were drops, five of which came in the first half. There were five three-and-outs, including two in a row to start the second half. And Jacksonville committed 10 penalties, many of which were detail-oriented infractions, such as lining up in the wrong spot and too many men in the huddle.
“My guesstimate is that you will not see that again,” Meyer said after the game. “Inexcusable.” Jaguars fans better hope that proves to be true.
The ‘Last Dance’ vibe in Green Bay
A loss in the season opener, really, doesn’t mean that much. But this was as ugly as ugly gets for the Packers. They were embarrassed in a 38-3 loss against the Saints, the worst defeat in Rodgers’ 17-year career.
“I think there’s probably some of that,” Rodgers said after the game of the team being too high on itself. “We probably felt like we were going to go up and down the field on whoever they had out there.”
Green Bay, after an offseason full of drama stemming from Rodgers going public of his discontent with the front office, now needs to regroup. New Orleans’ constant pressure made Rodgers fidgety in the pocket. Defensive backs draped Packers receivers down the field. And Rodgers completed 15 of 28 passes for 133 yards with two interceptions, both of which were desperation throws that are unusual for him to make.
Just as concerning was defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s debut. The Saints piled on 171 rushing yards. That allowed quarterback Jameis Winston, in his first start replacing the retired Drew Brees, to become the first player in NFL history to throw five touchdowns with fewer than 150 passing yards (148). If Green Bay looks to start anywhere, it should focus up front, where both lines got dominated.
Matt Nagy’s 2-QB experiment
You have to give the Chicago Bears coach credit for at least trying. But Sunday’s 34-14 loss against the Los Angeles Rams showed that Nagy’s decision to rotate starting quarterback Andy Dalton with No. 11 overall pick Justin Fields is doomed to fail. Rarely do these work in the NFL. For them to be successful, however, one of the passers cannot have the kind of limitations that Dalton has.
Nagy is trying to get Fields acclimated enough before throwing him into the fire that is starting in the NFL. But it’s not as though the Ohio State product doesn’t have extensive experience or came from a small program. Fields has all the skills he needs to play right now. One knock is that he holds onto the ball too long. But that can be coached out of him with game reps. Because what Fields has — that Dalton doesn’t — is arm strength to stretch the field and athleticism to diversify the offense and rush the ball. Those are two things the Bears won’t win without.
The Super Bowl-ready Browns
Let’s start off by saying that the Cleveland Browns played very well. Very, very well. They held their own, in Arrowhead Stadium, for a little more than three quarters, but ultimately fell to the powerful Kansas City Chiefs, 33-29. Cleveland showed it can compete in these games against the NFL’s best. But it also showed that it essentially needs to play a perfect game to pull off an upset.
Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was inactive, so the Browns were not at full strength. Quarterback Baker Mayfield made several key throws, but the Browns relied on their rushing game. The 75-yard touchdown pass to Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill was proof of just how Cleveland is on the cusp of a team like the Chiefs, an outfit that can score on any given play. So even though the Browns are carrying outside expectations about potentially making a run in the AFC, there’s still some work to be done. The good news for Cleveland is that it’s almost there.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Week 1 winners, losers: Steelers strut, Browns flop