What Have We Learned From Week 1 of the 2016 NFL Season

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Antonio Brown, DeAngelo Williams

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) celebrates his touchdown with running back DeAngelo Williams (34) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Monday, Sept. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Here is the 3rd season of What Have We Learned from Week 1 of the 2016 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Steelers turn gambles into points in rout of Redskins– Let the other NFL coaches take the safe, conservative route. Mike Tomlin prefers to be aggressive, and sometimes that means taking risks.With the Steelers facing a fourth-and-1 at the Washington 29 on Monday night, Tomlin could have a) kicked a field goal; b) sent DeAngelo Williams into the line or c) call for a short pass.He chose none of the above. Under orders, Ben Roethlisberger went deep to standout receiver Antonio Brown , who beat double coverage and caught the ball in stride for the touchdown that gave Pittsburgh the lead for good in a 38-16 victory.

    “That was the call,” Tomlin explained afterward in matter-of-fact fashion. “We play to win.”

    If that means taking a gamble along the way, well, why not?

    On a third-and-3 in the third quarter with the score 17-6, Roethlisberger again hooked up with Brown for a 26-yard score that all but sealed the win.

    “We’re not afraid to take shots,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re a team on third and short, we like to take chances. AB’s second touchdown was on a third and short, I believe. That’s just who we are.”

    Referring to the earlier fourth-down play, Roethlisberger smiled when recalling the view he had while dropping back in the pocket and seeing Brown work his way open.

    “Get the ball up quick and let him make a play,” the quarterback said. “The other two guys were wide open, but that’s my guy.”

    For good reason. Brown made an outstanding catch on a ball that was brilliantly thrown.

    “I had the ball in my hand. He took it out my hand as we both got hit,” third-year pro Bashaud Breeland said. “It was just jarred loose. Other than that it should have been my play.”

    The Steelers didn’t care who was on Brown, whether it be All-Pro Josh Norman or Breeland. The way Roethlisberger sees it, let the opposition adjust to you — and not the other way around.

    “We just line up and play,” the quarterback said. “We have a lot of respect for those guys, especially Josh, but it’s on them to either move guys around or do what they have to do. When AB’s on anybody, we like that matchup.”

    Pittsburgh’s retooled offense finished with five touchdowns and 435 yards, including 300 passing by Roethlisberger.

    The Steelers made both their fourth-down attempts and the Redskins failed at both. It was not a coincidence, according to Steelers safety Mike Mitchell.

    “We’re playing to win. We’re very aggressive,” Mitchell said. “We take the attitude of our head coach. We have no problem defending fourth downs, which we did a lot tonight.

    “That’s just the type of team we have. We practice those situations, we’re prepared for those situations, so we excel in those situations.”

 

  • Efficient effort in opener has Patriots’ confidence high– The Patriots came into the regular season expecting their biggest test during Tom Brady’s four-game suspension to be in their opener at Arizona.That task was complicated by the absence of tight end Rob Gronkowski, as well as two more missing pieces on an offensive line that had already went through an offseason makeover.But after leaving the desert Sunday with a narrow victory that featured lots of late-game poise by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, New England is feeling confident heading into a much-less-daunting schedule over the next three weeks, beginning with a Miami Dolphins team that hasn’t won in Foxborough since 2008.

    The confidence is also high for a franchise that continues to have lots of regular-season success in the rare times Brady hasn’t been the starting quarterback.

    The Patriots are 11-5 in regular-season games without him since he went down with a torn ACL in the season opener in 2008. Matt Cassel played the rest of that season, going 10-5. After Sunday’s performance, the prospect of Garoppolo giving New England a 4-0 start seems more possible.

    Team captain Matt Slater said preparation played a big role in the Patriots adjusting with key players sidelined Sunday.

    “That ‘next man up’ motto has been real big around here in my time here,” Slater said. “I’ve seen it time and time again. And obviously, I’ve seen it with a couple of quarterbacks in my time here.”

    Much of the Patriots’ offensive success Sunday night came in part because of their command on third down, when they converted on 10 of their 16 opportunities for the game.

    Garoppolo was certainly a big part of it. He displayed calmness in the pocket throughout, and used both his arm and feet to extend drives.

    He had five throws that went for 10 yards or more on third down, and also scrambled for 10 yards on another.

    His biggest throw of the night came in the fourth quarter after the Cardinals had taken a 21-20 lead. The Patriots found themselves facing in a third-and-15 right off the bat on their ensuing possession.

    Garoppolo dropped back and initially couldn’t find an open receiver. He spun in the pocket and gave receiver Danny Amendola enough time to find a crease on the left side of the Cardinals’ zone.

    Garoppolo stepped up and delivered a dart for a 32-yard gain that put the Patriots in Arizona territory. The drive ended in Stephen Gostkowski’s 32-yard field goal for the winning points.

    “I would say, going back to the preparation, the coaches did a great job giving us the game plan going into it on third down, breaking it down for us, simplifying it,” Garoppolo said. “It makes it a lot easier on us when you have good coaches like that.”

    He also had his pick of targets to throw to. Without Gronkowski, held out because of a sore hamstring, Garoppolo spread his 24 completions to six receivers. Seven if you count a ball tipped at the line that he caught himself and was able to turn into a 3-yard gain.

    It’s probably why Belichick scoffed at the idea that the offense was at all watered down for Garoppolo in his first regular-season start.

    “I think Jim does a good job in the pocket. He’s got good vision,” Belichick said. “He saw a couple of good opportunities to run. Then he saw a couple of other opportunities to slide in the pocket and extend the play. … He doesn’t hang on to the ball. He gets it out of there on time. But if things are covered, he’s made good decisions.”

 

  • Looking good after Megatron for the Lions– Until the final half-minute of their season opener, the Detroit Lions seemed to be following last year’s script. They’d let a sizeable lead slip away and were on the verge of a tough loss on the road.Matthew Stafford’s final drive changed the outlook entirely.Detroit came away with a 39-35 win at Indianapolis on Sunday, so instead of bemoaning a defensive collapse that let the Colts back in the game, the Lions can rejoice over a close win. In their first game since Calvin Johnson’s retirement, they had 28 first downs and 448 yards of offense.

    “We have an abundance of mistakes to correct, but building upon a platform after you’ve won a game is a bit easier,” coach Jim Caldwell said Monday. “I do think that our guys did a lot of things right. There were a lot of things they did extremely well.”

    The Lions will have a chance to build on their win when they play their home opener Sunday against a Tennessee team that won only three games a season ago and lost to Minnesota on Sunday.

    In last season’s opener, Detroit blew a 21-3 lead and lost 33-28 at San Diego. The Lions went on to lose seven of their first eight games.

    They were up 21-3 on Sunday as well, but the Colts rallied and took a 35-34 lead with 37 seconds to play. Then Stafford directed a quick 50-yard drive to set up Matt Prater’s 43-yard field goal . A safety on the ensuing kickoff pushed Detroit’s final margin to four.

    Stafford faced plenty of questions about his consistency even when he had Johnson to throw to. So with Megatron no longer in the picture, Detroit’s quarterback has a lot to prove this season. Lions fans have to be encouraged by the opener, when he went 31 of 39 for 340 yards and three touchdowns.

    Golden Tate had seven catches, newly acquired receiver Marvin Jones had four, and tight end Eric Ebron caught a touchdown pass near the end of the first half.

    Stafford was sacked only once, and Detroit’s offensive line looked like an improved group.

    “I felt like for the most part, (the offensive line) played just as a unit, more than we had been,” guard Larry Warford said. “Not much freelancing by too many people. There were instances where people were off doing their own thing sometimes, myself included, but I feel that we did play just as a unit better.”

    The running game, a source of disillusionment in Detroit recently, looked sharp. Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick combined for 108 yards on 19 carries. Riddick ran for a 21-yard touchdown to open the scoring, and added a 13-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter. Abdullah caught an 11-yard touchdown pass in the third.

    “For what we were asking them to do, they did a nice job,” Caldwell said. “You want to be about four yards a carry, overall. I think we were just a hair higher than that. Pretty good for us at this point.”

    Detroit won six of its final eight games last season. Lions fans were hopeful that the midseason promotion of Jim Bob Cooter to offensive coordinator was a big reason, but there always seems to be a healthy amount of skepticism toward this franchise, so the 39-point showing right off the bat was a significant step.

    “I don’t care what anybody says about anything, in this league it’s difficult to win a game anywhere, home or away,” Caldwell said. “Our guys were able to hang in there in a very tough contest and finish it off.”

Middle

  • Chiefs’ season opener shows best, worst of what they can be– The Kansas City Chiefs looked as if they were two entirely different teams in their season opener.The first three quarters, they looked like a team that might not win another game, blowing assignments and getting dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.The final quarter, they looked as if they might not lose.

    Ultimately, the Chiefs’ 33-27 overtime win over the San Diego Chargers was a microcosm of last season, when they started off 1-5 before rattling off 11 straight wins into the playoffs.

    “I think every guy knows how bad we played, how poorly we played in the first half, and we’re not going to get away with it all the time,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said.

    “Some things in the second half went our way and we were able to get out of there with a ‘W,’ but as great as it is to win there’s going to be a lot to learn from, a lot to improve upon.

    “You can’t start out that bad,” he said, “play that bad in the first half all the way around.”

    Oh, but that second half.

    The biggest comeback in Chiefs history began when Smith hit rookie Tyreek Hill with a touchdown pass to take a bite out of a 24-3 deficit. But it really hit its stride when the Chargers missed a 54-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, giving Kansas City some desperately needed momentum.

    Smith proceeded to lead his team to three straight scores, including a nifty 19-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin and Spencer Ware’s tying touchdown run with just over a minute to go.

    In overtime, the Chiefs went 75 yards before Smith — checking out of the original play — kept the ball over the right side of the line and slipped through a crease into the end zone.

    “Everybody on offense I think has a good feel for what we’re capable of when we’re playing well,” said Smith, who has battled the perception for years that he is merely a game manager.

    “Certainly we weren’t doing it and we weren’t playing the way we’re capable of for whatever reason,” he said. “Luckily, we found it there in the second half and overtime.”

    The danger in such a comeback victory is forgetting about what got the Chiefs into a 24-3 hole — glossing over the myriad problems that put their season opener in peril.

    The Chiefs hardly touched Philip Rivers and didn’t sack him until late in the fourth quarter. The young defensive backfield was consequently shredded by a speedy wide receiver group, and Marcus Peters was beaten soundly by Keenan Allen before the wide receiver left with a knee injury.

    The interior of the defensive line, once thought to be a strength, was repeatedly pushed back by the Chargers’ offensive front.

    And the fill-ins for injured middle linebacker Josh Mauga looked lost in a Chiefs defense that returns most of its key players from last season.

    “We came out flat in the first half and we’re not like that typically,” Peters said. “We needed to establish the line of scrimmage, make tackles and play our own game.”

    Things were just as disjointed on the other side of the ball.

    The Chiefs’ retooled offensive line allowed Smith to be sacked three times, and a group of wide receivers expected to be much improved was unable to get open against a suspect San Diego secondary.

    “We knew we would have some learning to do with it being our first full game together. As a team, we came out a little rusty and we can’t do that,” tight end Travis Kelce said.

    “With it being the season opener, we may have gotten a little caught up in the emotions. Other than that, we’ve been a good group for three and four years now and it’s starting to show.”

    Just in time, too.

    The Chiefs may have plenty to learn from their ugly start Sunday, but they at least can go to school with a 1-0 record. And ultimately, their ability to rally in the fourth quarter showed just how potent they can be once things start clicking.

    “It’s one of 16,” coach Andy Reid said. “That first game can be overrated a little bit — there’s a lot of hype that goes into the first game of the season and there are 15 of them left. But I will tell you that (winning) doesn’t hurt you. For sure, it’s a good thing.”

Downs

  • Knees headline early injury report on NFL opening weekend– Knees made headlines on opening Sunday, never a good thing in the NFL.Two impact players, Houston middle linebacker Brian Cushing and San Diego wide receiver Keenan Allen, were ruled out for their games Sunday and possibly the remainder of the season.Allen left the field on a cart after suffering what looked like a serious right knee injury with less than 2 minutes left in the first half. He could be lost for the season, a tough turn of events after Allen returned to play from a kidney injury that kept him off the field last season.

    Cushing’s diagnosis was only slightly more optimistic. He also hurt one of his knees but walked off the field under his own power. Cushing also missed significant playing time with a range of injuries in 2012 and 2013, but started every game last season.

    Giants linebacker J.T. Thomas III was also carted off, after spraining a knee on a kickoff return on the final play of the first half.

    In other injuries, Bucs defensive end Jacquies Smith was carted off the field with a right knee injury and ruled out for the rest of the game against Atlanta. Indianapolis defenders T.J. Green (sprained knee) and Patrick Robinson (medical evaluation) went down in the same series in the first half and stayed out for the rest of the game. Safety Winston Guy (ankle) also left late in the game and did not return.

    Detroit’s Theo Riddick left for a while to undergo the concussion protocol, but returned late in the game after being cleared.

    In Seattle, rookie running back C.J. Prosise sprained one of his wrists in the first half and wore a protective cast on the sideline, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. Dolphins defensive end Mario Williams left the game in the second half to be evaluated for a concussion.

 

  • Secondary problems becoming major concern for Indianapolis– The Indianapolis Colts’ secondary is becoming a primary concern.One day after allowing Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford to throw for 340 yards, three touchdowns, and blowing the lead in the final 37 seconds, coach Chuck Pagano started putting the pieces back in place for a Week 2 matchup in Denver.Right now, just putting together a starting lineup is a challenge.

    “T.J. Green had an MRI and has a mild MCL sprain and he’ll be week to week,” Pagano said Monday. “Patrick Robinson had a concussion, so, of course, he’ll go through the protocol.”

    That’s two more starters who may have to sit out this week.

    It’s already been that kind of season.

    Indy (0-1) finished Sunday’s game without its top three cornerbacks: Vontae Davis (ankle), Robinson and Darius Butler (ankle). Davis and Butler were both inactive Sunday, and Davis is likely to be inactive again this week.

    The news is more promising for Butler, who is expected to practice Wednesday, but Robinson’s status remains unclear.

    At safety, things are nearly as bad.

    Green lasted 28 plays in his NFL debut before injuring his right knee. Winston Guy, Green’s replacement, left with 4:11 to go with what appeared to be a lower left leg injury, but apparently avoided anything serious. Clayton Geathers, initially the projected starter, returned from an injured right foot to do limited work at practice last week. His workload may be upgraded this week.

    But with so many dinged players and so much still up in the air, the Colts have been busy revising their own contingency plans.

    “You definitely have to over-communicate because we’ve got some guys that haven’t even been in the building for seven days — and they’re playing,” inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “But that’s the National Football League. At one point during the game, you’re just seeing bodies on the ground every play and you were hoping you weren’t next.”

    Stafford took advantage Sunday. Next up is Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian .

    For the Colts, it’s going to be a way of life for a while longer.

    The situation became so dire last week that even team owner Jim Irsay acknowledged Indy’s offense would probably have to continue outscoring opponents until some key defensive players return.

    The defense hopes to change that perception sometime this season, but only reinforced that image by giving up 39 points and allowing the Lions to drive 50 yards in 33 seconds to erase Indy’s only lead of the game.

    “People always say this is an offensive team, and we’ve been saying, ‘Let’s take that off their hands and be a defensive team,'” said Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams, the anchor of the secondary and one of the few still relatively healthy players. “Yesterday, we failed.”

    There were plenty of explanations for what went wrong.

    The Colts missed too many tackles on the Lions’ final drive, and earlier in the game, too.

    And while Jackson was talking more than usual on the field, Adams spent more time directing teammates such as cornerback Darryl Morris, signed last Monday, and cornerback Rashaan Melvin, signed last Wednesday, about where to go.

    “It wasn’t chaos out there, Chuck just told me to line them up and keep them calm back there,” Adams said. “Once they lined up, it was pretty easy.”

    Until the Lions started executing, that is.

    But Adams, a 13-year veteran who acknowledged he’s never seen a secondary hit this hard, won’t accept excuses. He expects the Colts to overcome the injuries and play well.

    “Look, guys are getting paid because they’re capable, so we expected them to step up and do their job,” Adams said. “That’s how I got my job when I was a young pup.”

 

  • RG3’s injury throws Browns’ plans at quarterback for loss– Just one week into a new season, the Browns are re-huddling to address their plan at quarterback.It’s been thrown for a significant loss. Sacked, really.Robert Griffin III’s shoulder injury will keep him off the field for at least eight games, time the Browns were hoping to use to assess whether he could be their long-term answer at a position that remains mystifying to the franchise. Griffin sustained a broken bone in his left shoulder during Sunday’s loss at Philadelphia, a setback to the 26-year-old’s career and another unexpected twist for the Browns, who have started 25 quarterbacks since 1999.

    While the rest of the NFL has made strides in finding the most important player on any team, the Browns remain lost.

    Griffin may return this season, but until he does, the Browns will play 37-year-old Josh McCown. And although McCown may be a solid backup and an ideal teammate, he’s nothing more than a stop-gap on Cleveland’s never-ending quest to find its future quarterback.

    The Browns are still looking — usually in the wrong places.

    “It is frustrating, but at the same time, I do get it,” first-year coach Hue Jackson said Monday after announcing Griffin’s injury. “I have always been part of the saying, ‘Next man up.’ It is real in this league. It is unfortunate you have the injuries that you do, but you have to be able to move on from it because nobody is going to feel sorry for us about it. We have to move on to the next guy and keep going.”

    When the Browns signed Griffin in March to a two-year, $15 million contract, there was an assumption it wouldn’t preclude them from taking a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft. However, the team didn’t think enough of Jared Goff to move up or Carson Wentz and traded the selection to the Eagles. As luck would have it — and the Browns have been sorely lacking in that department — Wentz, thrust into a starting role when Sam Bradford was traded to Minnesota, made his debut against Cleveland on Sunday and threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns to beat Cleveland.

    Jackson publicly dismissed the notion that he and the Browns’ new front office second-guessed their decision on Wentz, but it’s safe to assume his name came up in their private discussions.

    “He had a good game, a great game if you guys (media) want to term it that, and I respect that,” said Jackson, who has built his reputation as a quarterback expert. “He is a fine young man and they have good coaches and a good organization, and he is going to do well for them, but that was one game. He played well. We will look back and see where he is over a period of time, but the Browns have to get better.”

    The Browns knew about Griffin’s injuries and some of his off-field issues in Washington before they signed him, so they can’t be too surprised he’s already hurt. But it was their decision to give up a chance to select one of the top two quarterbacks in the draft — something they haven’t done since taking Tim Couch No. 1 in 1999 — that they may regret if Griffin doesn’t pan out and their forced to start anew with a rookie QB next season.

    Maybe that’s been the strategy all along, but Sashi Brown, the team’s Vice President of Football Operations, said last week that the team views Griffin as more than a temporary, two-year fix.

    “To be fair to Robert, he’s young in his career,” said Brown. “We’ll develop him over time. We don’t look at it as certainly just a two-year venture or a week-to-week venture. We’re going to have to stick by him, put the right pieces around him and help him learn how to play that position as well.”

    The Browns currently have two first-round draft picks next year, when they could finally the QB to end nearly two decades of futility and frustration.

    Jackson, though, can’t let his mind drift beyond this week’s home opener against the Ravens.

    “I haven’t thought that far yet,” he said of the 2017 draft. “There is Baltimore right around the corner here and that is probably what is totally on my mind and just making sure that our players grow from the experience that we had on Sunday. I’m sure it will be a conversation here pretty soon.”

    In Cleveland, quarterbacks are always a talking topic.

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