Week 1 takeaways, big questions: Cards' offensive explosion, Bills' letdown and Darnold's revenge


Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season had a little bit of everything. The Cardinals’ offense looked great in a big win over the Titans, as Kyler Murray starred with five total touchdowns. Tennessee struggled all day, as did another AFC powerhouse, the Bills.

Elsewhere, Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold had a day against his old team, the Texans surprised with a big outing against Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars, and Carson Wentz‘s debut in Indianapolis didn’t go to plan. Rookies across the league showed their talent by finding the end zone, the Eagles blew out the Falcons, and Washington has looming questions regarding the quarterback position after Ryan Fitzpatrick left the game with a hip injury. Minnesota and Cincinnati went to overtime, while the 49ers had to fend off a late comeback attempt by the Lions.

In the afternoon slate, Jameis Winston and Saints destroyed the Packers, Teddy Bridgewater opened with a win for the Broncos, the Dolphins held off the Patriots and the Chiefs came back to beat the Browns. Matthew Stafford capped off the night with a big debut for the Rams.

Monday Night Football capped Week 1 with a wild, overtime win for the Raiders, playing in front of fans in Las Vegas for the first time.

Our NFL Nation reporters react to it all, with the major takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action — and what it all means going forward. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about the team’s future outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get into it.

Jump to:
BAL-LAV | CHI-LAR | CLE-KC | GB-NO
MIA-NE | DEN-NYG | SF-DET
PIT-BUF | NYJ-CAR | PHI-ATL
SEA-IND | JAX-HOU | ARI-TEN
LAC-WSH | MIN-CIN | DAL-TB

Standout performer: Raiders QB Derek Carr with 435 passing yards, 2 TDs


Raiders

What to know: The Raiders’ pass rush is much improved, and Las Vegas’ offensive line is a work in progress. Maxx Crosby had two sacks, Yannick Ngakoue tipped a pass and Carl Nassib made a crucial third-down stop in regulation, before his game-turning strip sack in overtime. Derek Carr, meanwhile, was under duress much of the night, and he still came up clutch late, after a slow start. Being more comfortable behind a now-tested O-line will only help. — Paul Gutierrez

Did Carr finding his receivers also help him find his rhythm after a clunky start? It was all Darren Waller in the first half, when Carr targeted his Pro Bowl tight end 12 times. And the Ravens were ready for him. But once the playbook opened up and Carr started looking for the likes of Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards and Zay Jones — who had the walk-off TD — Carr got cozy. — Gutierrez

Gutierrez’s confidence rating: 8.1. The Raiders had every reason to lay down after Baltimore went up 14-0, but they showed a resolve that had been missing in recent years, and it is one that will be needed in Pittsburgh. — Gutierrez

Next game: at Steelers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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Lamar Jackson’s third fumble of the game helps set up Derek Carr’s game-winning touchdown pass to Zay Jones in overtime.



Ravens

What to know: Lamar Jackson can’t be Lamar Jackson if the Ravens can’t protect him. Jackson’s two costly fumbles were the result of him eluding a collapsing pocket. He was pressured on 17 of 39 dropbacks (44%), even though the Raiders only blitzed twice. Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said after last season that a key to improving the passing attack was upgrading the offensive line, which led to one starter returning to the same spot as last season. Offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Alejandro Villanueva struggled against the Las Vegas pass rush. This proved Jackson can’t be a one-man show. — Jamison Hensley

What happened to the Ravens’ pass defense? Baltimore allowed a quarterback to throw for more than 400 yards for the first time in four years. This one was a head-scratcher because the Ravens had contained Derek Carr in the first half. But the pass rush disappeared, and the secondary allowed too many receivers to run free. Carr passed for 308 yards in the second half and overtime. This isn’t a good sign for a defense that lost Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters to a season-ending knee injury on Thursday. The Ravens have to regroup fast, because they face Patrick Mahomes on Sunday night. — Hensley

Hensley’s confidence rating: 6.5. This collapse is concerning because the Ravens typically start the season so strong. It makes you wonder whether the bad run of injuries have taken an emotional toll on Baltimore. But the Ravens can quickly reestablish themselves as one of the best teams in the AFC if they can upset the Chiefs. — Hensley

Next game: vs. Chiefs (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Rams QB Matthew Stafford with 321 passing yards, 3 TDs


Rams

What to know: The Rams’ passing offense is in good hands with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Ahead of Sunday’s opener against the Bears, Stafford said he wanted the offense to be physical, tough, efficient and explosive. Physical and tough? Check — see receiver Cooper Kupp fighting for extra yards. Efficiency? Stafford started with a bang when he let a 67-yard touchdown pass fly to receiver Van Jefferson on the opening drive, though efficiency waned through the first half before it picked back up to start the second. And explosiveness? Look no further than the opening-drive bomb to Jefferson and a 56-yard touchdown dime to Kupp on the opening drive of the second half. — Lindsey Thiry

Can the Rams run the ball consistently? There was no question that losing running back Cam Akers to a season-ending Achilles injury before the season would be a big blow, but the Rams must find a way to gain traction on the ground, as they rushed for only 18 yards in the first three quarters. Darrell Henderson Jr. started and rushed for 70 yards on 16 carries, with most of the yards coming late. Sony Michel, who was acquired just over two weeks ago in a trade with the New England Patriots, got one carry for 2 yards and rookie Jake Funk also did not check in on offense. — Thiry

Thiry’s confidence rating: 8.0. With the hope of a Super Bowl season, the Rams had a solid debut in a decisive victory over the Bears. While there’s plenty of room for improvement, they demonstrated a strong foundation in all three phases that can only expect to improve as the season continues. — Thiry

Next game: at Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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Matthew Stafford starts off the season hot as he throws for 321 yards, three touchdowns and leads the Rams to a 34-14.



Bears

What to know: Chicago’s defense cost it the game. The bar is set low for the Bears’ offense, but the defense — led by first-year coordinator Sean Desai — is supposed to be the team’s strength. Yet the Bears’ secondary had multiple busted coverages that resulted in long Rams touchdowns. Unacceptable. The Bears won’t go anywhere with a defense that makes those kinds of critical errors. — Jeff Dickerson

Who can play left tackle? The Bears are cursed at the position. Teven Jenkins — Chicago’s second-round pick and original projected starter — is out after back surgery. Jenkins’ replacement, recently signed veteran Jason Peters, left Sunday night with a quad injury. Peters’ replacement, rookie Larry Borom, later exited the Rams game with what appeared to be a nasty ankle injury. Elijah Wilkinson, who mainly plays right tackle, had to finish the game on the left side. — Dickerson

Dickerson’s confidence rating: 2.0. Justin Fields can’t fix this. — Dickerson

Next game: vs. Bengals (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill, 11 receptions, 197 yards, 1 TD


Chiefs

What to know: The Chiefs are going to need to score a bundle to win. Their defense was a pushover for three quarters against the Browns. Led by Chris Jones, the Chiefs’ D got hot in the fourth quarter, but they can’t afford to dig themselves a hole and put as much pressure on the offense as they did on Sunday. — Adam Teicher

Do the Chiefs have anyone to help Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill as a receiver? Nobody stepped forward in any meaningful way against the Browns. The offense leaned heavily on its two top receivers. But if Kelce and Hill play the way they did against the Browns, it might not matter. The pair looked capable of carrying the passing game on the receiving end. — Teicher

Teicher’s confidence rating: 7.5. Despite the comeback victory, the Chiefs showed a lot of defensive weakness. The D found its way in the fourth quarter, enough to allow the Chiefs to rally. But it will be difficult for Kansas City to dig out of such a hole most weeks. — Teicher

Next game: at Ravens (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)



Browns

What to know: The Browns took it to the defending AFC champs for three quarters. Then in the fourth, they had a meltdown. Although the finish was disappointing, the Browns can take solace in the way they played for most of the game. Despite the loss, Cleveland looks for real again. — Jake Trotter

When will Odell Beckham Jr. make his debut? OBJ warmed up on the field pregame before being ruled inactive. Coming off the season-ending left knee injury, he has gradually ramped up his activity in practice, portending an imminent return. As good as the Browns’ offense was Sunday, its ceiling will be higher once Beckham comes back. — Trotter

Trotter’s confidence rating: 8. Even in defeat, the Browns sent a message they have the potential to be a legitimate contender. — Trotter

Next game: vs. Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Saints QB Jameis Winston with 148 passing yards, 5 TDs


Saints

What to know: What an impressive, defiant win by the Saints and coach Sean Payton against a mountain of adverse conditions. Sure, we thought maybe they could scrape by in Week 1 despite everything they had to deal with: Drew Brees’ retirement; 10 new starters because of injuries, a suspension and a salary-cap purge; then a relocation to Dallas the past two weeks and a “home” game in Jacksonville because of Hurricane Ida. But no one could have expected this level of dominance, with Jameis Winston throwing five TDs and Aaron Rodgers throwing two INTs. — Mike Triplett

Can the Saints win with Winston at QB? The answer was a resounding yes in Week 1, with Winston completing 14 of 20 passes for five TDs and 148 yards, running for 39 yards — and most importantly committing zero turnovers. Winston did have one INT nullified by a penalty. But for the most part, he was downright Brees-like with smart decisions. He was especially impressive when avoiding pressure. And he added a home run in the fourth quarter with a 55-yard deep TD to Deonte Harris. — Triplett

Triplett’s confidence rating: 8.1. Obviously, a case could be made for a 10 after that stunning performance. But the biggest question for the Saints remains depth — and they already had two more scares in Week 1 when standout center Erik McCoy left with a leg injury and CB Marshon Lattimore is already dealing with thumb and knee injuries. — Triplett

Next game: at Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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Jameis Winston tosses the ball to Alvin Kamara, who speeds past multiple defenders to score.



Packers

What to know: You might have expected the Packers’ defense to start slow given they have a new coordinator (Joe Barry) and one of their best players (edge rusher Za’Darius Smith) barely practiced all summer. But the Packers’ offense? This wasn’t supposed to happen — even though they had two rookie starters on the offensive line and their left guard filling in for All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (who is out at least six weeks). Aaron Rodgers and his plethora of weapons looked sharp all summer in training camp, which made it all the more surprising they could barely function against the Saints. And to top it off, Rodgers did something he almost never does: He turned it over in the red zone. His third-quarter interception was his first red zone interception since Week 6 of 2019. He had thrown 45 touchdowns down there since his last red zone interception, and the Packers were one of only three teams (the Buccaneers and Browns were the others) without a red zone turnover last season. — Rob Demovsky

Did Rodgers’ offseason drama impact how badly the offense struggled? That might be a hot take, but the reality is that the Packers looked like a smooth-running machine during summer practices. The bigger issue was the offensive line, and the two rookie starters — center Josh Myers and right guard Royce Newman. Rodgers was under duress far too often, and his first interception was the perfect example. Rodgers faced quick pressure up the middle from a five-man rush and threw it up just before he went down. Rodgers’ second pick was essentially desperation. It was just the second time Rodgers had thrown multiple interceptions in a season opener (2010 was the other, but they won that game to start their Super Bowl season), and it was just his second multi-INT game since the start of 2018 (it happened in Week 6 at Tampa Bay last year). — Demovsky

Demovsky’s confidence rating: 6.5. This is still largely the same team that won 13 games last year, but the concern isn’t as much that it lost but how convincingly it got beat. If this game was in New Orleans’ dome, you could see it. But not at a neutral site with just as many Packers fans as Saints fans in Jacksonville. — Demovsky

Next game: vs. Lions (Monday, Sept. 20, 8:15 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa, 202 passing yards, 1 TD


Dolphins

What to know: Miami’s defense should lead the way once again this season. Second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa showed flashes of taking charge, particularly in his connections with wide receiver DeVante Parker downfield. But hindered by mediocre-at-best offensive line play, the Dolphins’ offense ultimately stalled out far too often Sunday to inspire much confidence in its ability to carry the team. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Is this defense good enough to keep Miami out of shootouts moving forward? It did enough for the Dolphins’ second win in New England since 2008 against a Mac Jones-led offense, but it’s unclear how it will hold up against a more potent group. The offense’s ability to win games was a question mark entering this season, and it remains just as uncertain entering Week 2. — Louis-Jacques

Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating: 6.5. The Dolphins’ defense is for real and forced turnovers when needed most Sunday. The play of the offensive line left a lot to be desired, but a Week 2 win against a Bills offense that struggled against Pittsburgh in Week 1 but torched Miami last season will send this confidence rating through the roof next week. — Louis-Jacques

Next game: vs. Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)



Patriots

What to know: Patriots quarterback Mac Jones had a promising debut. The game isn’t too big for him — not even close. The 2021 first-round draft pick from Alabama operated the traditional Patriots offense, throwing in rhythm, out of empty formations, and with good accuracy and decision-making. A couple of times, he stood in and took a hit while delivering throws down the field, which also reflected his toughness. His 133 passing yards in the first half would have been a season high in the first half for the Patriots in 2020. With Jones, the future is bright in New England. — Mike Reiss

How serious is starting right tackle Trent Brown‘s calf injury? He was out after the first drive of the game, replaced by swing option Justin Herron, and the Patriots’ line struggled at times as a result of it. It’s possible that 2019 third-round draft pick Yodny Cajuste could fill the void if needed in Week 2, but he was inactive with a hamstring injury. The Patriots also have Yasir Durant, a developmental prospect whom they acquired in a trade from the Kansas City Chiefs a couple of weeks ago (and he took over for Herron late on Sunday). If Brown is out for an extended period, another option is moving left guard Mike Onwenu out to right tackle and inserting reliable veteran Ted Karras at guard. — Reiss

Reiss’ confidence rating: 6.5. Jones looks like a quality starting quarterback, and should only grow from here, while coach Bill Belichick’s defenses traditionally continue to improve. — Reiss

Next game: at Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater, 264 passing yards, 1 TD


Broncos

What to know: It was quite the Denver debut for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who became the fifth quarterback to start the team’s season opener over the past five years. He showed composure when things broke down as well as good mobility, and consistently moved the ball. By the end of the third quarter Bridgewater was 26-of-34 passing for 248 yards and two touchdowns. The Broncos had also put together scoring drives of 10, 16 and 15 plays. And most importantly, Bridgewater did not have a turnover. — Jeff Legwold

What would a long absence for receiver Jerry Jeudy mean for the Broncos’ offense? Jeudy suffered a lower right leg injury in the third quarter. Initially the Broncos believed it was a high ankle sprain and not a fracture, but he will have additional tests Monday. Jeudy has been called “uncoverable” by his teammates, and an extended absence would be significant. Tim Patrick, who led the team in receiving touchdowns last season, would be pressed into additional work in the two- and three-wide-receiver sets. KJ Hamler, who dropped a sure touchdown Sunday, could be needed to make plays down the field. — Legwold

Legwold’s confidence rating: 7.8. This was certainly their best opener in years, and Bridgewater’s play is cause for some optimism, something the Broncos haven’t had much of over the previous two Septembers. And the defense stifled the Giants. But in the big picture, the Broncos were too reliant on third-down conversions offensively from the kind of distances that won’t be there against the league’s best teams. — Legwold

Next game: at Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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Melvin Gordon III breaks free for a 70-yard touchdown run in the Broncos’ 27-13 win vs. the Giants.



Giants

What to know: The Giants’ offense guided by Jason Garrett still leaves a lot to be desired. It’s hard to win when scoring 13 points, and quarterback Daniel Jones had another costly fumble. Surely it has a lot to do with running back Saquon Barkley (knee) and wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hamstring) being non-factors after spending most of the summer coming back from injuries. They combined for 91 total yards in the loss. It was similar to last year when they weren’t part of the offense and the Giants averaged a paltry 17.5 points per game. — Jordan Raanan

What’s up with the Giants’ defense? This was a bad effort. The pass rush remains a big problem, and so does the defense’s ability to get off the field on third downs. Denver converted on 7 of 15 third downs against the Giants, who were 25th in the NFL last season on third-down defense. Without a consistent pass rush, it’s happening again. — Raanan

Raanan’s confidence rating: 4.2. Not many positives to take from this game. It was always realistic that the offense would come out of the gate slowly considering the injuries this summer, but Jones fumbled again and the defense looked worse than expected. — Raanan

Next game: at Washington (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Bengals RB Joe Mixon with 127 rushing yards, 1 TD

Bengals

What to know: The future of the Bengals will hinge on quarterback Joe Burrow. On fourth-and-inches in overtime, Burrow appeared to check out of a play at the line of scrimmage. Burrow instead dropped back and hit tight end C.J. Uzomah for a 32-yard strike that set up the winning field goal. — Ben Baby

Are the Bengals going to lock up safety Jessie Bates to a long-term extension? Because he earned his money on Sunday. Bates turned a potential loss into an eventual win when he forced a fumble with the Vikings in field goal range. Bates’ agent just gained a big data point in contract negotiations. — Baby

Baby’s confidence rating: 7.0. The Bengals are somehow never out of it as long as they have Burrow on the field. — Baby

Next game: at Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Vikings

What to know: The issues from the preseason — especially those on offense — were not an overreaction. Minnesota received some help from the Bengals, but Sunday was hideous offensively. Kirk Cousins looked uncomfortable, the offensive line made error after error and the Vikings couldn’t establish any semblance of a run game with Dalvin Cook. The claims the last few weeks that offensive issues from the preseason would work themselves out when all the starters got on the field was posturing, and Sunday’s loss proved it. — Courtney Cronin

How do they fix the offensive line issues? It’s hard to get anything going offensively when the O-line racks up countless holding and false-start penalties. The offensive line was responsible for 70 of the team’s 116 total penalty yards on Sunday, and the interior got pushed around. Cousins does not look comfortable or like he knows where his protection is, and that’s a problem that doesn’t appear to have an easy fix. — Cronin

Cronin’s confidence rating: 5.0. The Vikings have to go on the road again next week to play an Arizona team that beat Tennessee 38-13. Considering how poorly the offensive line held up against Cincinnati, it’s difficult to fathom how it’ll be any better against the Cardinals’ pass rush, which featured a five-sack day from Chandler Jones in Week 1. — Cronin

Next game: at Cardinals (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: 49ers RB Elijah Mitchell with 104 rushing yards, 1 TD

49ers

What to know: For three quarters, the 49ers offered a reminder of how dominant they can be when healthy and firing on all cylinders. They also let up late and nearly coughed up a 28-point lead. The needed caveat here is that the Lions again look like contenders for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft; if the Niners are going to return to contender status, they can’t let their foot off the gas, especially against inferior opponents. — Nick Wagoner

How will the 49ers continue to integrate Trey Lance into the offense? Lance threw his first career touchdown pass on his second NFL snap (and first pass attempt) but only played sparingly after that, taking a total of four snaps. Because the game was essentially over at halftime, there was no need for coach Kyle Shanahan to show too much of what he has in mind for Lance, but it’s clear he won’t be afraid to get the rookie quarterback involved where he sees fit. — Wagoner

Wagoner’s confidence rating: 6.5. It was a promising start for the 49ers, but injuries to running back Raheem Mostert and cornerback Jason Verrett — and letting off the gas in the fourth quarter — put a damper on an otherwise dominant performance, which tempers this rating quite a bit. — Wagoner

Next game: at Eagles (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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Trey Lance fakes the handoff and finds Trent Sherfield for his first career touchdown pass.


Lions

What to know: A new era in Motown felt like business as usual to start the game, with the Lions trailing by at least 21 points at halftime of their season opener for the third time since the 1970 merger. Jared Goff became the first QB not named Matthew Stafford to start a season opener for Detroit since Jon Kitna in 2008, but he looked stiff early on — beginning 1-of-5 for 12 yards and an interception on passes with more than 5 air yards down the field in the first half. The Lions eventually warmed up, getting within one score after going down 38-10 in the third. They refused to quit. Goff ended with 338 passing yards and three touchdowns while completing 38 of 57 attempts in his Detroit debut. — Eric Woodyard

Was running back Jamaal Williams getting the starting nod over D’Andre Swift a one-time thing? Or was Swift’s groin injury more serious than it appeared and the coaching staff wanted to ease him back onto the field? To his credit, Swift did jump right in on the second drive of the game with a 4-yard run up the middle, then took a short screen pass up the middle for a 43-yard touchdown in the third. It’s still something worth noting, particularly when Swift is expected to be “the guy” this season with Williams as his complementary piece. — Woodyard

Woodyard’s confidence rating: 4.5. Expectations are low this season for the Lions with so many new faces. This 49ers team is potentially very good, so it’s not the worst thing to lose this opener — especially after such a dramatic finish. — Woodyard

Next game: at Packers (Monday, Sept. 20, 8:15 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Steelers LB T.J. Watt with two sacks, five QB hits, a tackle for a loss

Steelers

What to know: The Steelers’ defense was always going to be the strength, and that was especially evident as it kept the game close in the first half and spurred the second-half comeback. Of Pittsburgh’s 20 unanswered points, 17 were the result of two Bills turnovers on downs and a blocked punt/return touchdown — which was put into motion when Cameron Heyward had a third-down sack of Josh Allen one play earlier. T.J. Watt, just off a massive payday, had two sacks, and was a disruptive force throughout the afternoon. The Bills managed to convert seven of 16 third downs, but they were 0-for-2 on fourth downs. The offense has work through growing pains early, but the defense showed Sunday it’s more than capable of buoying the entire team. — Brooke Pryor

What’s up with the Steelers’ OL? The Steelers’ offensive line was the biggest question mark entering Sunday’s game, and it remains the biggest one. The line, which included two rookies making their NFL debuts, was abysmal — especially in the first half. The Steelers had rushing yards, and first-round pick Najee Harris was averaging 1.1 yards per carry. Roethlisberger also got sacked twice in the first half. The second half was better, and the run game picked up behind the line with 76 total yards and 4.0 yards per carry. — Pryor

Pryor’s confidence rating: 6.8. The Steelers outperformed their underdog status entering the matchup, and the first half showed major deficiencies on the offensive line — but the defense gives the Steelers’ plenty of reason for optimism.

Next game: vs. Raiders (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Bills

What to know: Despite a dominating defensive effort in the first two quarters, the Bills allowed 20 straight points to the Steelers coming out of the half and lost a commanding lead. The defense allowed Pittsburgh to put together three drives of nine-plus plays in the second half alone and failed to generate consistent pressure against a young offensive line. The Bills also had a punt blocked, which was returned for a TD. — Alaina Getzenberg

Can the Bills’ offense replicate last year’s success? Accuracy downfield proved to be a problem for Josh Allen in his first game of 2021, despite facing the lowest blitz rate of his career, per ESPN Stats & Info. He completed 30 of 51 passes, a career high in pass attempts, for 270 yards against the Steelers and had trouble connecting with both Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley. The offensive line, one of the team’s biggest questions coming in, also struggled with Allen’s limited movement, which played a part in the Steelers not needing to blitz. The line was also called for six holding penalties, four of which were accepted, something coach Sean McDermott called, “unacceptable.” Allen improved on his accuracy issues last season, but the ability to build on last year’s success will be something to watch going forward. — Getzenberg

Getzenberg’s confidence rating: 6.3. There are clear issues to be corrected on both sides of the ball, and being outscored 23-3 in the second half is a telling statistic, but it’s not enough for major concern for a team with such a high ceiling. — Getzenberg

Next game: at Miami (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Panthers QB Sam Darnold with 279 passing yards, 2 total TDs

Panthers

What to know: The jury is still out on quarterback Sam Darnold. While the third pick of the 2018 draft was efficient against his former team in Sunday’s win against the Jets, it should not have been that close. Carolina scored one touchdown on four trips inside the New York 10-yard line, continuing a red zone issue that plagued it last season. Darnold only proved he can play well against a bad team. — David Newton

Can the offensive line protect Sam Darnold against a good defense? This group that coach Matt Rhule says remains a work in progress gave up one sack, but Darnold was hit eight times. Darnold’s ultimate success depends on how he is protected against top defenses such as the New Orleans Saints, who are coming up next. — Newton

Newton’s confidence rating: 5.1. Just not enough evidence that Carolina can beat a better-than-average team after this showing against a team that has been a disaster the past few years. — Newton

Next game: vs. Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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The Jets lose Sam Darnold, and he walks into the end zone for six points.


Jets

What to know: Zach Wilson knows how to take a punch. Unfortunately for the Jets, he took too many. Their ballyhooed rookie quarterback showed no quit against a relentless pass rush, but he also made too many rookie mistakes. At times, the game was too fast for him, but he settled down and displayed some of the talent that made the Jets draft him second overall. It was a great learning experience. There’s no reason to be down on Wilson, who will improve every week. — Rich Cimini

Can the Jets protect Wilson? Their pass protection was brutal against the Panthers, and now they face the prospect of not having left tackle Mekhi Becton, who suffered a potentially serious knee injury. You had to expect some growing pains because the starting five had no game reps together in the preseason, but this was ridiculous — six sacks and 14 pressures. — Cimini

Cimini’s confidence rating: 3.5. Can’t win if you can’t score, and this offense looked like something out of the Adam Gase era for two-plus quarters. — Cimini

Next game: vs. Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Eagles QB Jalen Hurts with 264 passing yards, 3 TDs, 62 rushing yards

Eagles

What to know: There’s reason to be excited about the Eagles and their young offensive playmakers. Quarterback Jalen Hurts outdueled veteran Matt Ryan in his fifth career start, going 27-of-35 for 264 yards with three touchdowns, and Eagles rookies DeVonta Smith (six catches, 71 yards) and Kenny Gainwell (43 total yards) each found the end zone in their debuts. Add in the performances of Miles Sanders (113 total yards) and Jalen Reagor (six catches, 49 yards, TD), and that’s a whole lot of production out of a relatively inexperienced group. They’ll look to keep it up against a strong 49ers defense next week. — Tim McManus

How high is this team’s ceiling? That kind of convincing road win will get people talking about coach Nick Sirianni and the Eagles. Expectations were low entering this season, but the Eagles overperformed on both sides of the ball Sunday, particularly on defense by keeping Atlanta and its talented skill players out of the end zone. The upcoming stretch in the Eagles’ schedule will tell the true tale: Their next five games are against the Niners, Cowboys, Chiefs, Panthers and Buccaneers. — McManus

McManus’ confidence rating: 6.3. The Eagles impressed in coach Nick Sirianni’s first game at the helm. It will take more evidence before believing they’re the real thing, but it was about as good a start as they could have asked for. — McManus

Next game: vs. 49ers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Falcons

What to know: Welp. That loss to the Eagles was really, really ugly. Everything kind of fell apart for Atlanta. The offense fizzled after two strong drives to start the game. The defense was beaten by a thousand gashes, zone reads and short passes it couldn’t defend. And it got worse from there. This was about as bad as it could get in coach Arthur Smith’s debut. It was known the Falcons had some roster holes and lacked depth, but for it to be such a complete meltdown is concerning. When a team’s penalty yards (99) approaches either its rushing (124) or passing (136) yardage, you know it has been a really bad day. — Michael Rothstein

What’s up with the offense? Things started out strong, with Smith bringing some no-huddle with a personnel set in different formations. But after that, everything sputtered. The Falcons’ run game — which had 86 yards in the first quarter — finished with 124. The passing game barely threw intermediate routes, let alone deep shots. Atlanta reached the red zone twice and settled for field goals. The offensive line had three false starts. The good news is that it can’t get any worse. Except Atlanta plays the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2. — Rothstein

Rothstein’s confidence rating: 4.2. It’s early, but there’s not much to like in any phase from Atlanta after one game. — Rothstein

Next game: at Buccaneers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Texans QB Tyrod Taylor with 291 passing yards, 2 TDs

Texans

What to know: It’s very early in the season, but after one week, Houston leads the AFC South. If the division continues to struggle, the Texans could win more games than it seemed they would on paper. Last season, half of the team’s wins came against the Jaguars. This year, it looks like there are winnable games in the AFC South. The real question: Is winning enough that they don’t get a top pick in 2022 really a good thing for the long-term future of the franchise? — Sarah Barshop

Is this Texans defense for real? Houston matched its 2020 total with three interceptions on Sunday. Going into the season, it was clear that Houston’s formula for success this season was a strong performance on defense and special teams. The team only allowed 14 points to Jacksonville, but can Lovie Smith’s defense continue taking the ball away against non-rookie opposing quarterbacks? The Texans will find out against the Cleveland BrownsBaker Mayfield in Week 2. — Barshop

Barshop’s confidence rating: 3.5. Houston looked good in the season opener, but Week 2 against the Browns will be the better test to see whether the Texans will be better than expected. — Barshop

Next game: at Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Jaguars

What to know: The Jaguars looked ill-prepared in Urban Meyer’s first game as an NFL head coach, which is inexcusable. Mistakes happen, but having too many men in the huddle, lining up incorrectly twice (in the first half), and burning two timeouts in the first quarter to avoid delay penalties are preventable problems. Those are the kind of things that bad teams — and the Jaguars have been bad the last three seasons — do regularly. — Mike DiRocco

Should we expect these kinds of struggles out of QB Trevor Lawrence all year? Not to the extent that we saw against the Texans. He’s going to make mistakes. That’s what rookie quarterbacks generally do. Let’s also remember his receivers dropped six passes. The game got out of hand in the first half, and that forced the Jaguars to abandon the run in the second half, and that makes things harder for any quarterback. Lawrence made some really good throws (the TDs to Chris Manhertz and DJ Chark, for example) and scanned the field pretty well, but he also was off target on a bunch of others and stared down his receivers at times. It was a rough start, but Lawrence doesn’t lack confidence, and this won’t shake him. — DiRocco

DiRocco’s confidence rating: 2.5. The offensive issues were bad enough, but Tyrod Taylor — not Tom Brady or Russell Wilson or Josh Allen — carved up the Jaguars’ defense. — DiRocco

Next game: vs. Broncos (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Seahawks QB Russell Wilson with 254 passing yards, 4 TDs

Seahawks

What to know: So far, so good with the Seahawks’ new offense. It started fast, with Russell Wilson touchdown passes on three of its first four possessions. It was explosive, with big plays from Tyler Lockett and Chris Carson. It was far from perfect, though, stalling out in the third quarter. Then again, no one could have expected perfection out of the gate with a first-time playcaller in Shane Waldron and no snaps for Wilson and most of the starters in the preseason. But the Seahawks will take 28 points, four touchdown passes and no mistakes from Wilson any day, especially against a good Indy defense. — Brady Henderson

Are the Seahawks good enough at cornerback? If their pass rush has as much firepower as it showed Sunday, then maybe they will be. Pressure on the quarterback can make life easier for the guys on the outside. That was the case against Indy with three sacks (from Rasheem Green, Darrell Taylor and Benson Mayowa), 10 QB hits and even more pressure than those numbers would suggest. Tre Flowers and D.J. Reed held up well enough against a Colts receiving corps that was without T.Y. Hilton. It’ll be a much tougher test next week against Julio Jones, A.J. Brown and the Titans. — Henderson

Henderson’s confidence rating: 8.7. Wilson has covered up a lot of deficiencies over the years, so the Seahawks don’t have to be perfect around him, especially if he’s playing as well as he did Sunday. — Henderson

Next game: vs. Titans (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

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Russell Wilson throws two of his four touchdown passes to Tyler Lockett as the Seahawks open the season with a win over the Colts.


Colts

What to know: Carson Wentz was supposed to see what it’s like to have time in the pocket to throw while having one of the top offensive lines in front of him. Wentz instead spent a significant portion of the game getting sacked, hit or scrambling to avoid having both of those things happen because the entire offensive line played poorly. The Colts gave up three sacks and 10 quarterback hits. The goal was for Wentz to avoid being sacked and hit like he did last season (50 sacks) in Philadelphia. Things aren’t off to a good start. And oh yeah, Aaron Donald, the premier defensive lineman in the NFL, and the Rams are up next for the Colts in Week 2. — Mike Wells

Which Colts defense is the real one? Will the Colts’ defense be more of the unit that forced four punts, a turnover and sacked Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson four times on six second-half drives than the group that gave up 257 yards and struggled to get off the field on third down in the first half? The Colts gave up only 332 yards a game last season. Wilson faced minimal pressure in the first half while being able to pick apart the defense. It didn’t help that the Colts didn’t have veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes (calf). — Wells

Wells’ confidence rating: 5.8. Losing in Week 1 isn’t anything new for the Colts because they’ve now dropped eight straight season openers. But they weren’t supposed to play as bad on both sides of the ball in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. The offensive line should improve once left tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles) returns and the defense can build off its second-half play. — Wells

Next game: vs. Rams (Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Cardinals QB Kyler Murray with 289 passing yards, 5 total TDs

Cardinals

What to know: The Cardinals’ defense is legitimate — as in Super Bowl-good. It was anchored by pass-rusher Chandler Jones‘ five sacks, which tied the franchise record. It showed its depth with newcomer J.J. Watt in the backfield more than Titans back Derrick Henry on Sunday. Cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. showed his versatility and made plays from sideline to sideline. The defensive line all but shut down Henry. Arizona’s defense showed what it’s capable of against an offense that made the playoffs last season. — Josh Weinfuss

Who will be the Cardinals’ best offensive weapon after wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins? It’s going to depend on the game, but Arizona showed Sunday it has offensive depth. Christian Kirk caught two touchdowns, A.J. Green could be an option despite a quiet first start and Rondale Moore is also worth keeping an eye on. Kyler Murray is going to be Kyler Murray and Hopkins is Hopkins. If defenses want to commit to them, Arizona has plenty of other options who can help them score 40 points a game. — Weinfuss

Weinfuss’ confidence rating: 9.0. The Cardinals have the roster and firepower to be very good this season, demonstrated by five touchdowns from Kyler Murray, two each from DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk and five sacks from Chandler Jones. — Weinfuss

Next game: vs. Vikings (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


Titans

What to know: The slow start by the Titans can be traced to having only one full week of practice as a unit before the season opener. Tennessee has notoriously gotten off to slow starts. Sunday was no different as they fell behind 24-6 in the first half. Another week of practice together should help. But the Titans would be wise to start next week’s game with tempo on offense to create a sense of urgency. — Turron Davenport

What’s up with running back Derrick Henry? Henry gained 8 yards rushing in the first half. That marks his lowest total as a starter since 2019, when he picked up 4 yards against the Carolina Panthers. The struggles start with the offensive line. Arizona’s defensive line consistently pushed the line of scrimmage into the Titans’ backfield. Henry was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage eight times resulting in a net loss of three yards over the first three quarters. — Davenport

Davenport’s confidence rating: 4.5. The Titans’ offensive line was dominated by Arizona, and questions remain about right tackle in addition to left tackle after a bad performance from Taylor Lewan. — Davenport

Next game: at Seahawks (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Chargers QB Justin Herbert with 337 passing yards, 1 TD

Chargers

What to know: The Chargers made some of the goofiest errors (fumbling in the end zone deep in Washington territory, which gave Washington a touchback) but managed to win the game thanks to QB Justin Herbert, who threw for 337 yards while completing 31 of 47 passes. Herbert had the end zone fumble and threw a red zone interception but managed to keep his cool, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Mike Williams early in the fourth quarter after Kyzir White forced a fumble deep in Washington territory which Joey Bosa recovered. The Chargers had two red zone turnovers but were able to play keep-away for the last 6:43 out to get the win. — Shelley Smith

How will the team clean up some of these errors? Receiver Mike Williams saved the game with his touchdown reception, and he and Keenan Allen combined for 17 catches for 182 yards. Along with the two red zone turnovers, a roughing-the-passer penalty on Joey Bosa late in the first half led to three Washington points. They’ll need to cut down on the mistakes going forward. — Smith

Smith’s confidence rating: 5.4. They won a game that last year they would have lost, as the Chargers were able to convert several third downs on their final drive to prevent the dramatic losses which they’ve had the last two seasons. — Smith

Next game: vs. Cowboys (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

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Austin Ekeler runs in a three-yard touchdown to put the Chargers ahead early against Washington.


Washington

What to know: Washington had multiple issues, but third-down defense was a major one. The pass rush did not bother quarterback Justin Herbert nearly enough as Los Angeles converted 14 of 18 third downs. While the offense needed to do more, the defense is supposed to be the rock. In the red zone, Washington’s defense stiffened, but the inability to get off the field on third down was a major problem. A lot of that stemmed from Herbert’s fantastic passing, but some of that was about a line that needed to harass him more. Washington’s line did not live up to the hype Sunday. — John Keim

What is the impact if Ryan Fitzpatrick must miss time? Fitz left the game with a hip injury, leaving the offense to Taylor Heinicke. Heinicke showed that he can run this offense well and provides a spark. The question with him has always been durability and what happens as teams get more film on him. Kyle Allen would be elevated to the No. 2 role. They do not have another QB on the practice squad. Washington has had too many seasons where injuries have been an issue at quarterback, so this is a tough way to start the season. — Keim

Keim’s confidence rating: 5.0. Washington remains a talented young team in some areas, but now there are questions — again — at quarterback, and the defense couldn’t bail them out. The key to this season will be how the team progresses in the second half, and one game does not sidetrack them. But it does show that they have questions that still must be answered. — Keim

Next game: vs. Giants (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

Standout performer: Cowboys QB Dak Prescott with 403 passing yards, 3 TDs

Buccaneers

What to know: Unlike Super Bowl LV, in which the Buccaneers’ defense kept the Chiefs out of the end zone, the Bucs’ offense had to carry them this time. Quarterback Tom Brady threw for 379 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, and the defense surrendered 403 passing yards and three touchdowns to Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Had it not been for two missed field goal attempts by the Cowboys’ Greg Zuerlein, the Bucs would have been doomed by four turnovers. Still, the offense looks more improved than it did at the beginning of last season, suggesting that yes, they really can be better than their title-run season. — Jenna Laine

Did the Cowboys create the template to beat Tampa Bay? They attacked the Bucs with screens and made their defense step up and tackle on the perimeter. This could be especially problematic if starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (also their nickelback) misses any time after dislocating an elbow, and if they continue to be without safety Jordan Whitehead. — Laine

Laine’s confidence rating: 7.0. Brady delivered some epic throws for the defending Super Bowl champs, but the defense was disappointing against Dallas. The Bucs must correct their errors with games against the Rams and Patriots right around the corner. — Laine

Next game: vs. Falcons (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


Cowboys

What to know: There are reasons to be encouraged by the Cowboys’ Week 1 game: Dak Prescott’s 403 yards, Amari Cooper‘s 13 catches for 139 yards and the defense’s four takeaways. And then there are reasons to be discouraged by the loss: Ezekiel Elliott had 33 yards on 11 carries, the Cowboys allowed four touchdown passes, and there were too many mistakes on special teams. “Like coach said in the postgame, the only thing we know after this game is that we aren’t going undefeated,” Cooper said. “It wasn’t all bad. We did some good things, too.” — Todd Archer

How much worry should there be regarding kicker Greg Zuerlein? He hooked a 31-yard field goal attempt and was off from 60 yards — which is fine — but also had an extra point hit the upright. He didn’t kick much over the summer because of back surgery and had one attempt in the preseason. The Cowboys need to do a better job offensively in the red zone, but Zuerlein can’t miss makeable kicks like this. — Archer

Archer’s confidence rating: 7.5. The offense did what was expected. Scoring 29 points against Tampa Bay is a good showing even if it didn’t — or couldn’t — run the ball. Dallas shredded the Bucs’ pass defense, and Prescott was sacked once. And Dallas doesn’t play Tom Brady every week. — Archer

Next game: at Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)



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