What Have We Learned From Week 1 of the 2018 NFL Season

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) walks off the field after defeating the New Orleans Saints in an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018. The Buccaneers won 48-40. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
 

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 1 of the 2018 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Ryan Fitzpatrick’s big game gets Bucs off to fast start-The Tampa Bay Buccaneers insisted all along that they weren’t overly concerned about having to open the season without suspended quarterback Jameis Winston.

    That’s because Ryan Fitzpatrick not only is an experienced backup who’s one of just four players in NFL history to throw touchdown passes for seven different teams, but he has proven he can win games, too.

    No one, however, could have anticipated him launching his 14th season quite the way he did, throwing for a career-best 417 yards and four TDs without an interception on the road to key a 48-40 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

    Fitzpatrick also ran for a touchdown, improving to 3-1 as a starter since joining the Bucs before last season.

    With Winston suspended for three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, the 35-year-old with 120 starts will also lead Tampa Bay (1-0) the next two weeks against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

    “He’s a down-to-earth guy. He’s got a great sense of humor. He’s witty, he’s intelligent, he’s well-spoken. He backs up what he says with how he plays. The players respect him. He doesn’t try to come on too strong, but at the same time he’s a good leader,” coach Dirk Koetter said Monday.

    “When we talked, I think earlier in the year, about the difference between Jameis’ leadership style and Fitz’s leadership style, there’s different ways to do it, and there’s two good examples of it,” Koetter added. “Both (are) good leaders, and we’ve had other good leaders step up so far.”

    Fitzpatrick entered the NFL in 2005 as a seventh-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams. He’s also played — and thrown TD passes — for the Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans and New York Jets.

    He signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in May 2017, willingly accepting a role as backup to Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. He started three games a year ago, winning two, while Winston was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

    “Fitz is comfortable being in there, he’s not going to get rattled,” Koetter said.

    “After a guy (has) played a certain amount — I don’t know what the cutoff is, but Fitz has played a lot. I think that experience of, ‘OK, I know how fast the game is going to be. I know when I’m going to have to throw the ball away. I know when I’m going to have to eat it and take a hit. I know when it’s time to scramble.'” Koetter added.

    “I just think that best thing overall that Fitz is doing right now is when the play does break down, he’s making good decisions with the football whether it be throwing it to a safe spot or becoming a runner.”

    Against the Saints, Fitzpatrick joined Mark Rypien as the only quarterbacks to throw for at least 400 yards with zero interceptions while also rushing for a touchdown in the same game. In addition to being 21 of 28 passing, including a pair of TDs of 50-plus yards, he targeted Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson 12 times, completing all of those throws.

    “To hit them all 12 of those times is pretty unusual,” Koetter said.

    Evans finished with seven receptions for 147 yards and one touchdown. Jackson had five catches for 146 yards and two TDs.

  • Sam Darnold sharp, but Jets’ rout of Lions a total team effort-Sam Darnold showed he could recover from a careless mistake — a promising trait for any rookie quarterback.

    What the New York Jets displayed on defense and special teams may have been even more encouraging for Darnold and his teammates.

    Darnold threw an interception on the very first snap of his NFL career — and it was run back for a Detroit touchdown — but New York’s quarterback shouldn’t sweat that too much after the Jets stormed back and routed the Lions 48-17 on Monday night. Darnold threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns, and the Jets also scored on defense and special teams.

    “We’re going to play better every game, that’s our goal,” wide receiver Quincy Enunwa said. “Obviously you can’t always make it happen, that’s going to be what we’re striving for. All three phases being successful, scoring on all three phases. When you can do that, you can be a pretty good team.”

    Darnold earned the starting job after the Jets drafted him third overall in this year’s draft. His performance alone was cause for excitement Monday, but on this night, New York seemed to have a pretty solid cast around him as well. The Jets intercepted Matthew Stafford four times in a dismal debut for new Lions coach Matt Patricia.

    “Give the Jets credit. They obviously are the ones that played well tonight,” Patricia said. “We have to do better, I have to coach better and we have to play better.”

    New York scored 31 unanswered points in the final 9:36 of the third quarter after the Lions had tied it at 17. Darron Lee returned an interception for a touchdown, and Andre Roberts scored on a 78-yard punt return 67 seconds later.

    What we learned from New York’s resounding win:

    REBOUND

    Darnold’s start to this game was pretty much the worst-case scenario. On the first play from scrimmage, his ill-advised throw sailed toward the left sideline and was picked off by Quandre Diggs, who returned it 37 yards for a 7-0 lead. That was Darnold’s only major error, however. He not only showed he could play well in prime time on the road, he also showed he could handle adversity.

    The 21-year-old Darnold was the youngest quarterback to start a season opener since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. He was also the first quarterback to win his first start by 31 or more points since Tom Brady in 2001, per ESPN Stats & Info.

 

  • Comeback complete: Cook looks to elevate Vikings offense-For Dalvin Cook and the Minnesota Vikings, the final stage in the comeback has been completed.

    Eleven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee , Cook finished a regular season game without any setbacks. In case there were any questions about whether the Vikings would seek to ease him back into action, well, he was on the field for 80 percent of the snaps in the season opener.

    “A lot of stuff to work on, a lot of stuff to get done in practice, but it was definitely a good start,” said Cook, who had 16 carries for 40 yards and caught six passes for 55 yards in Minnesota’s 24-16 victory over San Francisco and said he felt “great” afterward.

    Drafted in the second round out of Florida State last year, Cook immediately elevated the offense with 444 total yards and two touchdowns before tearing his ACL in the fourth game of his rookie season. The quintessential modern running back who can contribute in the passing game as effectively as in the rushing attack, Cook’s ability to turn short throws by Kirk Cousins into first downs and longer will be integral to the scheme under new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

    “Anytime we can get him in space, I think that’s a good thing,” coach Mike Zimmer said Monday.

    Cook appeared every bit as agile against the 49ers as he was before his injury. On the first play of the second quarter, he showed a block before releasing into a pattern to catch a short pass and beat the linebacker to the edge for 17 yards on third-and-3 during the first touchdown drive for the Vikings. Cook began the next possession by making two defenders miss during a 15-yard reception that started in the flat at the line of scrimmage.

    “I just heard so many things about how dynamic of a player he is, and until you really get out here in a real game it’s hard to truly tell,” Cousins said. “I saw for the first time how special he is as a running back.”

    Even when he lost a fumble , Cook produced a highlight clip. He powered his way through six 49ers defenders on a basic run up the middle in the second quarter, before a diving tackle by linebacker Fred Warner forced the ball out at the end of a 15-yard gain.

    “Sometimes there wasn’t anything there, but he ran hard,” Zimmer said. “The one ball he fumbled, that was going to be a great run.”

    Cook had his uncle, Anthony Jones, on his mind during the game after the Florida International running back was wounded in a drive-by shooting in Miami on Thursday. Cook and Jones were raised together by Cook’s grandmother.

    “Just going out there, competing, playing my heart out, that’s what he wanted,” Cook said.

    Latavius Murray had 11 rushes for 42 yards, giving the Vikings a capable complement to — and an ardent supporter of — Cook.

    “There was nothing I had to prove. I know the type of player I can be,” Cook said. “The Vikings know all the potential I’ve got. I just have to keep getting better every weekend, keep living up to it, which I am.”

    The sturdiness of the offensive line will be critical for Cook’s ability to continue to produce the way the Vikings have envisioned. They had only seven healthy players Sunday, with center Pat Elflein and tackle/guard Aviante Collins inactive. Elflein is due back soon but wasn’t cleared yet for action following offseason ankle and shoulder surgeries. Collins injured his elbow in practice last week, and Zimmer announced Monday he will be out for the rest of the year.

    To replace Collins, the Vikings signed guard Bryan Witzmann, who was released by Kansas City last week. Witzmann, who played in college at South Dakota State, started 13 games for the Chiefs last year. He’s been with five NFL teams since 2014.

 

Middle

  • No-win situation: Browns can’t finish in tie with Steelers-When the ball deflected off T.J. Watt’s left hand and fluttered to a water-logged landing, well short of the crossbar, there was nothing more the Browns could do.

    Their 17-game losing streak was over. Without a win — or a loss. Nothing to celebrate.

    “A sour feeling,” quarterback Tyrod Taylor said.

    More bitterness.

    Cleveland didn’t take advantage of forcing six turnovers by Pittsburgh and missed a chance at its first win since 2016 on Sunday, tying the Steelers 21-21 in overtime in a game that turned into another emotional roller-coaster for fans who were so close to seeing their team go 1-0 for the first time in 14 years.

    But the Browns, being the Browns, couldn’t finish the job.

    “Tying in the NFL is really weird,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “I never even thought I would be a part of it.”

    Bitonio could have never imagined playing on an 0-16 team, either, but that’s what happened last season when the Browns went through their entire schedule without posting a win. At least that can’t happen again.

    Watt capped a brilliant performance by blocking Zane Gonzalez’s 43-yard field-goal try with 9 seconds left to preserve the tie for the Steelers, whose drama-filled week around Le’Veon Bell ended with more theatrics.

    It was the league’s first Week 1 tie since 1971, and the first time in 133 games the Browns and Steelers couldn’t settle their rivalry on the field.

    The Browns rallied from a 21-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to stun the Steelers, who blew their own chance to win it in OT when Chris Boswell’s 42-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.

    Pittsburgh was without Bell, whose contract holdout will carry into the season’s second week. But the Steelers, who sacked Taylor seven times, refused to offer any excuses after falling dangerously close to becoming the first team to lose to the Browns in Week 1 since 2004.

    “Hell yeah, it feels like a loss,” Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward said. “I’m sorry for using that kind of language, but if we settle for those, we’re going to be an awfully (steamed) off bunch. We didn’t get the job done. I credit T.J. for getting that block, but the outcome was already decided. It just gives you a sick taste in your mouth.”

    Here are some other takeaways from the league’s first tie in two seasons:

    BAD BEN

    Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hardly looked like a future Hall of Famer, throwing three interceptions in the first half and losing two fumbles. He made some uncharacteristic errors, forcing a pass into double-coverage that was picked off by Browns rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, who had two interceptions in his pro debut.

    Roethlisberger passed for 335 yards, but he was upset Pittsburgh’s offense couldn’t put away the Browns.

    “It’s just frustrating that we can’t make the plays down the stretch,” he said. “We just didn’t make them.”

    GREAT GARRETT

    Browns defensive end Myles Garrett seemed to be everywhere. He forced two fumbles, recorded two sacks and rushed Roethlisberger into making some indecisive throws.

    “I think he is going to have a great year,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “He is showing that he was worthy of being the first player drafted a year ago. A healthy Myles Garrett means a ton to this organization and football team. He just has to do it week in and week out and be this player every week.”

    The Browns were last in the league with just 17 takeaways last season.

    WATT A PLAYER

    Watt already had four sacks and 11 tackles when the made the game’s defining play.

    “When it snapped, I’m just trying to do my job and get penetration,” Watt said of his game-saving block. “I threw my hand up at the last minute, and it hit my hand — tie game.”

    GORDON’S GRAB

    Josh Gordon made just one catch — one mesmerizing, jaw-dropping, game-tying catch.

    With the Browns trailing 21-14, Gordon leaped and snagged Taylor’s 17-yard pass over Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton for a touchdown with 1:58 left in regulation.

    It was another positive for Gordon, who missed most of training camp to address health issues and was playing in his first season opener since 2012 because of drug and alcohol addictions. Gordon has also been battling a hamstring issue.

    ROUGH START

    Browns undrafted rookie left tackle Desmond Harrison had a long day.

    Harrison, who moved into the starting lineup this week, was penalized for two false starts in the first half and had some other assignment issues.

    Harrison wasn’t the only offending Cleveland player as the Browns were called for 11 penalties for 87 yards.

    “Disappointed,” Jackson said of the infractions. “Our team has got to get better. It is not good enough. You take the turnovers, and the penalties that we had and our inability to do some things early offensively, those are huge keys to a tie game. We have to do some things better.”

 

Downs

  • Stafford, Lions unravel in Patricia’s dreadful debut- The booing began early. The Detroit Lions scored on a touchdown on the game’s first snap, but it wasn’t long before the fans at Ford Field sensed trouble.

    An anemic first quarter of offense set the tone. By halftime, Matthew Stafford and the Lions were trailing, and in the third quarter, they unraveled completely.

    The 48-17 loss to the New York Jets on Monday night was a dreadful debut for new coach Matt Patricia and a nightmare for Stafford, who was intercepted four times in a total debacle for Detroit.

“There’s not a lot to be happy about,” Patricia said.

The Lions fired coach Jim Caldwell after going 9-7 last season. The hope was Patricia could come over from New England’s staff and lift Detroit to the next level, but expectations in Motown seemed a bit tempered after an unimpressive preseason.

Monday’s rout brought little reason for optimism.

It actually began with a flourish for Detroit when Quandre Diggs intercepted rookie Sam Darnold on the first play from scrimmage and went 37 yards for a touchdown.

“You get a pick-6 on the first thing,” defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. “You’re on a high and you think everything else is going to go.”

There were boos from the crowd later in the quarter, though. It was tied at 7 after one, and the Lions had minus-2 yards of offense.

Down 17-10 at halftime, Detroit responded by going 75 yards in only four plays, tying the game on Stafford’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate.

Then the Jets reeled off 31 straight points before the end of the third.

Darnold found Quincy Enunwa for a 21-yard touchdown, quickly restoring New York’s seven-point lead. Then Darron Lee intercepted Stafford and went 36 yards for a touchdown. Just 67 seconds later, the Jets scored again on a 78-yard punt return by Andre Roberts. New York capped the quarter when Isaiah Crowell scored on a 62-yard run with 54 seconds left, making the score 48-17.

Lee said the Jets had a read on Detroit’s signals. Stafford went 27 of 46 for 286 yards, but it was his first four-interception game since 2013.

“I told those guys in there, ‘I’ll take this one,'” Stafford said. “Hope I never have to say that again.”

Matt Cassel came in at quarterback briefly in the third when Stafford was crunched between two defenders while attempting a pass. The crowd cheered when Cassel went in again with 8:15 left in the fourth, but he threw an interception shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, fans clad in green and white began a chorus of “J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets!” chants that echoed around an otherwise deflated stadium.

“I’m going to be most disappointed in myself. That’s where I always start,” Patricia said. “I’ve got to do a better job, and that’s always where I’m going to take it.”

There was almost nothing for the Lions to feel good about. Kenny Golladay had seven catches for 114 yards. The pass rush managed a couple early sacks after a listless preseason.

But the offense couldn’t build on Diggs’ early touchdown. Rookie Kerryon Johnson had only five carries, and Detroit ran for just 39 yards. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah left with a shoulder injury.

By the end, Jets fans had set up a celebration in the mostly abandoned sections behind New York’s sideline. There weren’t many Detroit fans left. At least the empty seats couldn’t boo.

  • Gruden’s return to Raiders turns into dud after fast start-Jon Gruden’s return to the Oakland Raiders’ sideline couldn’t have gotten off to a better start, with Marshawn Lynch powering his way into the end zone for a touchdown.

    The rest of the night turned out to be rather forgettable for the Raiders and showed that Oakland has a long way to go to get back to the level Gruden had the team playing at when his first stint as coach ended more than 16 years ago.

    All that positive energy generated when Gruden was hired back in January turned to a chorus of boos by the end of a 33-13 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday.

    “It was great,” Gruden said of being back on the sideline at the Oakland Coliseum. “It’s not time for that anymore. It’s about getting this football team better. It wasn’t good enough tonight.”

    The Raiders (0-1) were good enough for one half as Derek Carr led the team to that opening-drive touchdown and two more field goals that gave Oakland a 13-10 lead at halftime.

    But the Rams (1-0) then scored all 23 points in the second half, with Marcus Peters returning Carr’s third interception of the game 50 yards for a game-sealing touchdown that sent the fans who pined for Gruden’s return for years heading to the exits.

    “We are a better team than what was put out there on the field,” tight end Jared Cook said. “This one game does not define us.”

    The Raiders took the opening kick and drove 75 yards for a touchdown on a 10-yard run by Lynch. The Rams had Lynch stood up at the 3, but he powered his way into the end zone with help from a push by his offensive linemen.

    Oakland managed just six points the rest of the way against a defense fortified by the offseason additions of former All-Pros Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh.

    Carr threw an interception in the end zone to John Johnson in the second quarter, another in the fourth when he tried to pull back a pass at the last minute only to have the ball slip out and float right to linebacker Cory Littleton, and then the third on a miscommunication with Cook.

    “He did some good things tonight and obviously there are some critical errors he has to eliminate,” Gruden said. “He knows that. We all know that.”

  • Cowboys struggle in start of post-Bryant/Witten era-The post-Dez Bryant/Jason Witten era in Dallas got off to a rocky start on Sunday.

    The Cowboys were clearly missing a go-to wide receiver on the outside, a presence at tight end and leadership on the offensive line without 2016 All-Pro center Travis Frederick, who is battling Guillain Barre syndrome. The result was a lackluster performance and a 16-8 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the season opener.

    Quarterback Dak Prescott took the blame, saying he was “off” his game — although he remained upbeat, insisting that things will improve.

    “I have to figure out why I was off,” said Prescott, who was limited to 170 yards passing and no touchdowns. “Was I rushing it? Did I feel pressure? What were the things that were causing it? Was it just me missing the pass?”

    But it’s hard to pin the 232-yard offensive output on the third-year quarterback.

    It didn’t help that he was under constant pressure from a swarming Panthers defense led by Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short. Prescott was sacked six times, the most costly coming on Dallas’ final drive when Mario Addison stripped him of the football and Captain Munnerlyn recovered to seal Carolina’s win.

    But the Cowboys never really looked in sync outside of one fourth-quarter touchdown drive that came when they were down 16.

    And they have more questions than answers heading into a Week 2 matchup with the New York Giants on offense.

    Starting wide receivers Terrance Williams and Deonte Thompson were limited to a combined four catches for 33 yards. Free agent pickup Allen Hurns, who the Cowboys are hoping has a chance to emerge as their No. 1 receiver, had one catch for 20 yards.

    Greg Swaim was limited to three catches for 18 yards, and no other Cowboys tight end caught a pass.

    Prescott was clearly most comfortable throwing to one of the team’s few holdovers from last season — slot receiver Cole Beasley, who was targeted a team-high eight times and had seven catches for 73 yards.

    Overall, the offense seemed to lack creativity with the Cowboys settling routinely for screen passes that were often sniffed out by Kuechly, who finished with 13 tackles.

    Prescott said the Cowboys’ problems stemmed mostly from self-inflicted penalties.

    An illegal block above the waist by left tackle Tryon Smith put Dallas in a second-and-21 on the first drive. Smith had a holding penalty on the second drive leading to a second-and-17. La’el Collins was flagged twice for holding in second half.

    Dallas finished 2 of 11 on third-down conversions.

    “Early on, we didn’t have a great rhythm,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We were behind the chains a lot. I thought it got better as the game wore on. We spread them out a little bit. We got some creases in the running game. Guys kept fighting. We made some positive plays on top of positive plays that allowed us to move the ball, certainly on the scoring drive and it’s not good enough. We have to play better.”

    Ezekiel Elliott had 69 yards rushing on 16 carries and a touchdown but was largely ineffective before the fourth quarter.

    “We have to run it better,” Garrett said. “We have to throw it better. Every part of it has to improve. I thought our guys battled and I thought it got better as the game wore on.”

    The Cowboys featured a steady rotation of receivers, which Prescott said he liked.

    “It keeps guys fresh,” Prescott said. “It gives us the advantage on defensive backs. I’m great with the rotation as long as those guys are continuing to do their jobs.”

    Still, Prescott seemed determined things will get better saying the Cowboys have the right type of guys in the locker room.

    For now, the big question is what it was before the season began: Who is going to step up in the passing game to replace Bryant and Witten?

    One game in, the Cowboys are no closer to finding out.

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