What We Learned From Week 1 Of The NFL Season

[What We Learned is returning for the 2021 N.F.L. season with a new writer and a new look.] How dare you doubt a team coached by Mike T...


[What We Learned is returning for the 2021 N.F.L. season with a new writer and a new look.]

There are only a few guarantees in today’s NFL: Tom Brady will eat his avocado ice cream and win the Super Bowl. Jerry Jones will do something absurd to extend the Dallas Championship drought. And Mike Tomlin will keep his Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl contention.

Always.

Those Steelers barely generated a decibel of buzz going into Week 1. Heck, it was a shock that they even wanted to bring Ben Roethlisberger back to quarterback at 39.

The Buffalo Bills were the team ready to take the next step. Josh Allen was the future of the post itself. And all the Tomlin Steelers did was drive 200 miles north, strut into Highmark Stadium, and call the whole NFL back, with a punishing 23-16 punch to the jaw from Buffalo, that they’re not going anywhere.

This is of course what Tomlin’s teams have been doing for 14 seasons.

Was it pretty? Damn no. But “not pretty” is when Tomlin’s teams are historically the most dangerous. Above all, Tomlin’s teams smell of blood.

That’s what happened with a ridiculous playing decision by the Bills early in the fourth quarter.

Facing a fourth and a 1 from Pittsburgh’s 41-yard line – with a 10-6 lead – the Bills wisely gave it a go. After all, this is the same Buffalo team that got its head in the guillotine a year ago by opting for field goals against the Kansas City Chiefs powered by Patrick Mahomes. during the AFC Championship game in January. A little courage from their head coach, Sean McDermott, was a welcome change.

But what happened next was more than bizarre.

Allen turned to pass back to Matt Breida and cornerback Cameron Sutton was there to lasso back to the ground for a 7-yard loss.

Four games later, Pittsburgh surged.

Roethlisberger allowed Diontae Johnson to score 5 yards in the back end of the end zone. After leading the NFL down a year ago, this was also the catch of the day. Johnson displayed remarkable concentration as he locked the ball upside down while sliding his back foot.

Moments later, cornerback James Pierre – the last remaining local and undrafted future star in Pittsburgh – struck what would have been a long completion for Emmanuel Sanders. That was the theme. Whenever the Bills were about to move into 2020 form, whenever a stadium dying to cheer on their Super Bowl contender was about to go crazy, someone from a new corner Pittsburgh’s list quickly ruined those plans.

Two games later, the Steelers blocked a punt for a touchdown to come up, 20-10.

And after a placement from Bills put pressure on Old Man Ben to finish, Roethlisberger did just that. A pair of vintage slow-mo throws at JuJu Smith-Schuster (24 yards) and Chase Claypool (14 yards) created a decisive field goal.

The highlight coil was not long.

This formula won’t be easy on the eyes but it could bring the # 7 ring to Pittsburgh.

We just saw it in Tampa Bay. Brady is Brady but that relentless rush of the Buccaneers – above all else – is what made Mahomes sprint for his life in the Super Bowl. Let’s not forget that Pittsburgh got off to an 11-0 start in 2020 thanks to its own defense.

  • Pittsburgh’s defense is Pittsburgh again. Kevin Greene would be proud. Up front, everyone took turns around the 6-foot-5, 237-pound Allen, effectively bringing it back in that 2018 draft out of Wyoming. Everything everyone spent two years cleaning up Allen’s game has resurfaced – flying bullets at wide-open receivers, slipping more passes in the dirt, fumbling around. A player many considered this year’s NFLMVP favorite looked downright nervous for three straight hours.

  • TJ Watt won every penny. There are convenience stores all over that defense, starting with the rusher which signed a four-year, $ 112 million extension last week. Watt represented five of the team’s quarterback’s eight hits.

  • It’s clear the Steelers want to roll rookie Najee Harris in 2021. That way they can keep the games close and let Roethlisberger win in the fourth. He sold. He is still. It is easily memorable. But he also thrived in all possible situations. There’s nothing Roethlisberger hasn’t seen and there’s still enough juice in that right arm to piece together one more run in a Super Bowl.

  • And yet we won’t see Roethlisberger throw him 60 times in another playoff loss this season – these Steelers can dictate the tempo. They will take you out of your comfort zone, out of your shootout and win as before. With violence.

  • And for the whole “Last Dance” conference in Green Bay, the Steelers are also capable of sending their quarterback in the lead this season.

The white flag started waving early. With 11 minutes remaining, the Green Bay Packers took the reigning league MVP off the field. And while the final score in Jacksonville may seem shocking – Saints 38, Packers 3 – that shouldn’t be a surprise, no.

One team, the Packers, have been held hostage by their quarterback throughout the offseason. Their quarterback spent six months on vacation and chilling out and, no, Aaron Rodgers didn’t hesitate to rub that in his own employer’s face. He was looking for personal growth or… or… something like that.

One team, the Saints, were ready for life after Drew Brees because their starter, Jameis Winston, had manically prepared for the moment. Laugh at all the original training videos as much as you want. Winston was impatient for this second chance. With coach Sean Payton, a solid defense and a competitive spirit that can rival anyone in the league, Winston, the former No. 1 overall pick, outscored a selfless Rodgers.

Winston didn’t need to throw a lot, but he was incredibly efficient with 148 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions on 14 of 20 passes. The Saints also blew up Green Bay for 173 rushing yards.

We spend far too much time over-analyzing the mentalities of a unique player in this sport: the quarterback. What about the mentality of an entire team? These Saints have been knocking on the Super Bowl door for four years. They are callused. They’re hungrier than any NFL team

Getting closer – repeatedly – means something deep in the psyche of every New Orleans player.

And so is having a quarterback who has everything to prove.

The Packers should have taken their king’s ransom for Rodgers when they got the chance.

Long before Rodgers hit the headlines for four months, there was another unhappy quarterback in this league: Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks nearly divorced after nine seasons. It was close too. Chicago bears thought it was a done deal.

Instead, Wilson and the Seahawks realized they were at their best together and everyone was hoping a new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron would fix things.

Have they already done this in week 1.

Against one of the best defenses in the NFL on the road, Wilson was sublime as he led Seattle to a 28-16 victory over Indianapolis. The eight-time pro Bowler finished 18 of 23 for 254 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 152.3 passer rating. Wilson’s 69-yard moon ball touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett was also a thing of beauty, going 60 yards in the air.

Granted, we were teased like this in 2020. Wilson was off for a good two months. Then the whole offensive collapsed and Seattle almost ended an era. I think this Wilson and this offense are both here to stay. Once the business was settled, Wilson had the best offseason of his life.

This might be his last season in Seattle, but what a season it could be.

  • Rams 34, Bear 14 Rams trainer Sean McVay put his job on the line when he traded Jared Goff – and a load of draft capital – for Matthew Stafford, who amassed a 74-90-1 record in 12 seasons in Detroit. Yet for at least a week, McVay looks like an offensive guru again. Stafford was flawless in a 321-yard, three-touchdown performance Sunday night as Chicago kept rookie quarterback Justin Fields on the ice behind Andy Dalton.

  • Texans 37, Jaguars 21 Hi Jack Easterby! Or something like that. The Houston Texans are a train wreck but they’ll take this one.

  • Cardinals 38, Titans 13 No one counts Kliff Kingsbury. He is one of the smartest attacking minds in football. Arizona’s clinic of a win over Tennessee is a sign of things to come, not an aberration.

  • Eagles 32, Falcons 6 Just when you want to ram another fork into Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, his new offense tears the Falcons apart. Jalen Hurts (264 passing yards, 62 rushing yards, three touchdowns) was unstoppable and Matt Ryan was, well, Matt Ryan. What a missed opportunity for Atlanta to reset to quarterback last April. Passing over to Ohio State’s Justin Fields, this franchise has only delayed the inevitable.

  • 49ers 41, Lions 33 Once again, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has proven he can hook up anyone as a running back. Put this waiver request for Elijah Mitchell, fantasy players. This offensive 49ers machine could generate over 100 rushing yards with the two of us lined up in the “I” formation.

  • Bengals 27, Vikings 24 (OT) Turns out, Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase can see a scratch-free ball just fine: he caught five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in the win over Minnesota. This Bengals offense is going to be a lot of fun. As for the Vikings, overtime heartache is nothing new, is it?

  • Chargers 20, Washington 16 Justin Herbert is the only quarterback in NFL history with 400 goals in his first 16 starts. Los Angeles shouldn’t apologize a bit for its grimy victory.

  • Panthers 19, Jets 14 Hopefully Zach Wilson was able to chat privately with Sam Darnold after the Jets’ loss to Carolina. The rookie quarterback faced the same issues Darnold did in New York – protection against shoddy passes, bad luck, loss. And now Wilson, sacked six times on Sunday, could be deprived of his best lineman. Left tackle Mekhi Becton has been withdrawn.

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