Ben Lepper ‘25
Football is finally back. After the most painful six month period of the year, the NFL season is underway. We are only one week in, but there are already some very interesting storylines. Let’s take a look at seven of them.
1: If the first game was any indication, we’re in for a fun year.
If you had told me a week ago that Cowboys vs. Buccaneers would be one of the best games of the week, I’d have laughed in your face and bet you 50 bucks that you were wrong. I would have then proceeded to lose 50 bucks. The opening game of the season was a good one. There were questions regarding Dak Prescott’s health coming into the game, but he silenced everyone by completing 42 out of 58 passes for 403 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Even though he’s coming off an awful injury, it doesn’t look like he’s missed a beat. CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper lit it up as well, with Lamb catching 7 of his 15 targets for 104 yards and a touchdown, and Cooper grabbing 13 of 16 targets for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Tom Brady, meanwhile, proved that age does not mean anything to him once again. He went 32 for 50, tossed four touchdowns and 379 yards, and threw a pair of picks. Antonio Brown went back to his Steelers form, grabbing 5 of 7 for 121 yards and a touchdown, while Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski had similar nights: Godwin had nine grabs for 105 yards and a touchdown, and Gronk caught all of his 8 targets for 90 yards and 2 touchdowns. The running game was nonexistent – this game was an air attack on both sides. The Cowboys defense also forced four turnovers. So, how exactly did they end up losing this game? Simple. For one, Greg Zuerlien was off. The usually automatic kicker had a pretty rough day, going 3 for 5 in field goals and 2 for 3 in extra points. But the main reason is the one that’s brought many teams down: they left too much time on the clock for Tom Brady. Trailing 29-28 with just under a minute and a half left, Brady led the Bucs down the field en route to a game winning 36 yard field goal from Ryan Succop. Yes, I’m aware that the refs might have missed an offensive pass interference call on Chris Godwin, but I don’t think that would have changed much. Remember, this is the GOAT under center. This game was back and forth, exciting to watch, and definitely was the perfect way to start the 2021 NFL season.
2: Tyrod Taylor and Jameis Winston are the two feel-good stories we need right now.
I expected to be writing articles about players like Christian McCaffrey, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers. Never once did I think that Tyrod Taylor and Jameis Winston’s performances would be two of the bigger stories to come out of Week 1 – and I love it. It’s hard to not feel bad for Tyrod Taylor. He was the Bills’ best quarterback in years, only to be shipped off to Cleveland so Josh Allen could take over. Then, in Cleveland, he got hurt, and Baker Mayfield took his place. Then, he went to LA, where the infamous lung puncture happened, and Justin Herbert became the team’s starter for the rest of the year. He was then sent to the NFL’s version of a dumpster fire: Houston. And, yet, he had a great game, completing 21 out of 33 passes for 291 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Texans won that game, by the way, and they’re now first place in the AFC South. I think most people aren’t a fan of what’s going on in Houston right now, but it’d be hard to find someone who doesn’t feel good for Taylor after this week. Jameis Winston also had a great week. He went into his first start of the season with the Saints with a lot of questions surrounding him. Will he throw more INTs than TDs? Did the Lasik work? Luckily for him, his performance answered all those questions. Winston had a very impressive game, completing 14/20 passes for 148 yards and 5 touchdowns. Oh, and he had a passer rating of 130.8 (for those who don’t speak quarterback, that’s good). Will the success of these two underdogs last? I doubt it. However, seeing them succeed right now is giving me this warm and fuzzy feeling. Two players that have been all but written off proved all their haters wrong in Week 1. It’s hard to find a better story than that.
3: Some big-name rookie quarterbacks impressed, others depressed.
We saw the good, the bad, and the ugly from most of the higher profile rookie quarterbacks this week. Let’s start with the #1 pick. Trevor Lawrence went into this game with huge expectations, but only showed flashes of brilliance. He went 28 for 51 with 332 yards and 3 touchdowns. However, he also tossed three picks (one of which was the one of the worst interceptions I’ve ever seen) in his first ever regular season loss. Oh, and they lost to the Texans. Lawrence is going to need to get it together quickly, because after one week, he’s looking more like Ryan Leaf than Peyton Manning. Zach Wilson also had a tough day. He went 20 for 37 with 258 yards, two touchdowns (both to Corey Davis), and an interception in the Jets’ loss to the Panthers. There’s promise there. However, the biggest display of promise came in Mac Jones’ performance. Jones went 29/39 for 281 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers might be unimpressive, but there are a few things to note. First off, he set the record for highest completion percentage by a rookie quarterback in his first start with a percentage of 74.4%. And second, while the Patriots did lose in a close finish, it was not his fault, as running back Damien Harris gave up a costly fumble deep in Dolphins territory. Jones made the most of his throws and only made one bad decision the entire game. There is a lot of potential here, and Belicheck must be salivating. In terms of Trey Lance and Justin Fields, neither started the game, but both scored touchdowns – Lance through the air and Fields on the ground. I’m going to need to see full starts from each to make a decision on either of them.
4: Arizona’s stock is rising.
I had the Arizona Cardinals as a fringe Wild Card contender at the beginning of the year. Then, Week 1 happened, and my opinions have changed. They’re making the playoffs and they’re making a deep run. They dominated the Titans on both sides of the ball. Kyler Murray exploded for 289 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air, and another touchdown on the ground. DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk both caught two scores. James Conner and Chase Edmonds did a good job splitting the backfield. Chandler Jones had five sacks and currently has more sacks on his own than a lot of teams in the league. Even the mummified remains of A.J. Green caught a few passes. This is a scary, scary football team. I could be jumping to conclusions (it’s only been one game, after all) but that was an incredible performance by Arizona. I think there’s a real shot they do something this year.
5: The Stafford trade was worth it.
In case you don’t remember, the Los Angeles Rams gave up a lot for Matthew Stafford – Jared Goff, first round picks in 2022 and 2023, and a third in 2021. When I saw that trade, I knew that one of two things would happen: either the Rams would instantly become a contender, or it would have been the biggest mistake of their team’s entire history. After Sunday’s performance against the Bears, I’m inclined to say that this team is now a contender – and a GOOD one at that. Stafford went 20 for 26 with 321 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Rams to a dominant 34-14 victory. It’s so great to see what Stafford can do with a good football team, and I feel like this is the year that he does something in January. To further prove my point that the trade was worth it, let’s take a look at Jared Goff’s stat line: 38 for 57 with 338 yards and 3 touchdowns. Oh, and he threw a pick six, and most of those numbers came in garbage time, as they were once down 41-17 (sidenote, San Francisco almost blew a 24 point lead to the Lions, and people still roll their eyes when I say that they won’t make the playoffs). I think I’ll take Stafford. The NFC West is once again going to be a brutal, but I think it’s either the Rams or Cardinals who take the title.
4: The 2020 QB class looks great.
I’ll be talking about Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and Jalen Hurts here. I’m aware that Jordan Love technically played on Sunday, but he was only put in because of the lopsided score (which I will be discussing later). The other four QBs listed all had great games and led their teams to victory. Burrow went 20 for 27 with 261 yards and two touchdowns, including one to Ja’Marr Chase, who seems to have figured out how to catch the NFL ball, in their overtime victory against Minnesota. Tua went 16 for 27 with 201 yards, a touchdown, and a pick, and managed to edge out the Patriots in a nailbiter. Herbert went 31 for 47 with 337 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in the Chargers’ victory over Washington. And, lastly, Jalen Hurts completed 27 of 35 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns, including one to 10th overall pick DeVonta Smith, in the Eagles’ 32-6 rout of the Falcons. Each of these QBs played extremely well today, and there is a lot to be excited about for the future of the league at that position.
5: Tennessee, Buffalo, and Green Bay came crashing back down to earth.
This week, we saw three teams that were considered Super Bowl contenders suffer brutal losses. Buffalo went into week one with massive expectations. After a strong season, you’d figure they’d start the season off with a big statement win, right? Wrong. The Bills fell 23-16 to whatever’s left of the Pittsburgh Steelers, featuring a washed-up Big Ben and a patchwork offensive line. The Steelers started the game looking awful, only gaining 53 yards and three first downs through two quarters and faced a 10-0 deficit at halftime However, in the second half, they woke up. Buffalo didn’t. Josh Allen regressed to his inaccurate rookie form and some of the play calls were absolutely atrocious (looking at you, 4th & 1). Meanwhile, in Tennessee, the Titans were looking toward another season of dominating the AFC South. All they had to do were beat the Cardinals, a team that was good last year but missed out on the playoffs. They couldn’t, and lost 38-13. Kyler Murray played with the Titans’ defense all day, and their offense couldn’t keep up, only putting up 248 total yards. Derrick Henry only got 58 yards – that’s how you know something’s wrong. Part of me thinks Arthur Smith is what was keeping this team alive. However, neither of those was the most pathetic showing from a so-called Super Bowl contender: that dubious honor goes to the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams were hyping up a “The Last Dance” type scenario, but couldn’t harness the greatness of Michael Jordan to start the year. Rodgers threw two interceptions after throwing five in all of 2020 en route to an embarrassing 38-3 loss to the Famous Jameis led New Orleans Saints. Part of me thinks that Rodgers is throwing this season away. It’s common knowledge that he wants out, and MVP winners don’t just show up the next year and forget how to play football. If he’s actually trying to tank for a trade, consider my respect for him gone. People would kill for the opportunity he has, and this is what he’s doing with it. If the Bills, Packers, or Titans want any chance of the Lombardi this season, they better fix things up – and fast.