What an interesting first week in the NFL.
Fans were treated to some great games, some shockers and even a clunker or two.
That 21-21 tie with Pittsburgh that snapped Cleveland’s long losing streak sure qualified as a clunker, as both team’s tried to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
On the surprising or shocker side was Tampa Bay’s huge 48-40 upset win over Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. The 47-3 beat down that Buffalo suffered at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens was also shocking, disappointing and downright demoralizing for a Bills team that made the playoffs last year.
There were some very tight, very entertaining matches, including Miami’s narrow 27-20 win over Tennessee, ditto New England’s one touchdown triumph against Houston, also by a count of 27-20.
Many of the games, though, came down to superb — and not so awe-inspiring — individual efforts. Here are the best and worst performances from a highly entertaining Week 1, starting with best.
DE Myles Garrett – Cleveland Browns (Best)
Garrett showed the Browns faithful why the team was so high on him at no. 1 in 2017. The former Texas A&M superstar had his best game as a pro in Cleveland’s 21-21 saw-off with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In his 12th game as a Brown, Garrett had a career game high six tackles, 2.0 sacks, two forced fumbles (doubling his career output) and a pass deflection. Garrett was also part of a controversial call — later identified as an incorrect call by the Senior VP of Officiating — that led to a Pittsburgh touchdown. In one of the NFL’s new, and very questionable, roughing-the-passer calls, Garrett was flagged for such after hitting Ben Roethlisberger post-ball delivery. It was, incorrectly as later pointed out, flagged as a roughing the passer penalty, giving the Steelers a first down (and it was third down), which led to a score. It didn’t dampen Garrett’s outstanding first contest, though.
K Greg Zuerlein – Los Angeles Rams (Best)
A career-long Ram, place kicker Greg Zuerlein has seen his share of ups and downs. In 2015, his fourth season in the league, Zuerlein’s success rate at field goals had sunk to an abysmal 66.7 percent (20 for 30). However, it should be noted that “Greg The Leg”, as he is so named for his long range kicking skills, was just 3-for-9 that year from beyond 50 yards. The next two seasons, Zuerlein missed just five of 62 attempts and was 8-of-11 from past 50. This season, the 2017 Pro Bowler got off to a lightning quick start in Monday nights 33-13 triumph over the Oakland Raiders. He hit two field goals of 20 and 28 yards to eradicate two early Oakland leads (10-7 and 13-10) then bombed a Week 1 high 55-yarder early in the fourth quarter to put the Rams up 23-13. He finished 4-for-5 after hitting another late 20-yarder.
LB Von Miller – Denver Broncos (Best)
Von Miller was a one-man wrecking crew in Denver’s narrow 27-24 win over Seattle on Sunday. The three-time All-Pro registered seven tackles and 3.0 sacks, giving him 86.5 and moving him into 50th on the all-time list, one half sack ahead of former New England Patriots standout, Willie McGinest. In addition to his sacks and tackles, Miller also forced two fumbles and recovered one of them himself. Miller is also now just 12 sacks away from breaking the team’s all-time record, which is owned by Simon Fletcher with 97.5 sacks. In typical Miller fashion, he didn’t toot his own horn prior to Sunday’s game when asked about his exploits during Thursday practice, saying “I don’t really pay attention to that stuff. I just get out here and do my job and try to get sacks. Then, after the game, you look up and see what you’ve got.”
RB Saquon Barkley – New York Giants (Best)
For a while on Sunday, it looked like 2018 2nd overall pick Saquon Barkley was going to be kept under wraps by a very good Jacksonville defence. The heralded rusher out of Penn State was drawing plenty of attention and was tackled a couple of times for losses, including once in the end zone. However, even the vaunted Jags’ D couldn’t contain the young back that long. Early in the fourth quarter and with the Giants down 20-9, Barkley took a hand off, then eluded a couple of tacklers running right, finally making a last defender miss en route to a 68-yard touchdown run, his first in the NFL. The Giants would lost the game 20-15, but Barkley had a fine first day, recording 106 yards on 18 carries and another 22 yards receiving on two catches.
LB Cory Littleton – Los Angeles Rams (Best)
Up until the Rams’ Monday night 33-13 thumping of the Oakland Raiders, not a lot of people in the know about the NFL paid a lot of attention to undrafted linebacker Cory Littleton of the Los Angeles Rams. With one monster game, though, no one will likely ignore him going forward. In just his sixth start in 33 pro games, the former Washington Huskie put his name on the defensive leaderboard by making 13 tackles (second most, week 1 behind Anthony Hitchens) and intercepting a pass (his second career pick). In just one week, then, Littleton’s tackles accounted for nearly 25 percent of his total career output (54 total tackles). Littleton’s interception came at a critical time too, on Monday night. With the Rams up 23-13 and the Raiders inside L.A.’s 50, he was in perfect position to snare a wayward pass attempt from Derek Carr.
WR Michael Thomas – New Orleans Saints (Best)
Consistency isn’t always mentioned as a hallmark of a great receiver. Often, game-breaking speed, glue-like hands and the ability to get open when openings are shut down are cited. However, Saints third-year man has all that, as well as very, very consistent hands. The Ohio State alum may also never be mentioned in the same breath as Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown but by the time the 2018 season is over, he may be the receiving yards and catches king. In the Saints 48-40 loss to Tampa Bay Sunday, Thomas set a Saints single-game receptions record, snaring 16 of 17 balls thrown at him. He also accounted for 180 yards, tying him with Oakland TE Jared Cook for most in Week 1, while also scoring a touchdown. Thomas is well on his way, then, to being the receiving yards leader, after finished sixth in 2017 and ninth in his rookie season of 2016.
LB T.J. Watt – Pittsburgh Steelers (Best)
Last year, T.J. Watt stepped out a little from the enormous shadow cast by his famous brother J.J. of the Houston Texans. As a rookie, he started 15 of 15 games, had 52 tackles, 7.0 sacks, seven pass deflections and an interception for good measure. In Pittsburgh’s 21-21 tie with Cleveland on Sunday, Watt was a force of nature who may be on his way to a Defensive Player of the Year award — which his brother has won three times. T.J. had 11 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, along with an astounding 4.0 sacks on beleaguered Cleveland QB Tyrod Taylor, who was dropped a total of seven times in the tie. Not only did Watt make life miserable for Taylor and his running backs/receivers, but Watt also blocked a 43-yard field goal attempt with just seconds left in overtime to preserve the tie.
QB Patrick Mahomes – Kansas City Chiefs (Best)
The Chiefs passing game was in good hands, at least for one week. Judging by Mahomes’ poise in Sunday’s big Week 1 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, the Chiefs should be good to go offensively for the remainder of the season. A veteran of one whole NFL start before taking over from the departed Alex Smith, Mahomes completed 15 of 27 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. He made every type of pass that a good quarterback needs to: in the pocket under pressure, rolling right and rolling left. He hit star wide receiver Tyreek Hill for two scores, including a 58-yard TD, and some great mid-field catches. The Texas Tech product also connected with FB Anthony Sherman for a 36-yard touchdown. He was sacked just once (for no yards) and scrambled his way to 21 yards rushing on five carries.
WR Kenny Stills – Miami Dolphins (Best)
Only two receivers in Week 1 caught TD passes for more than 70 yards, and one of them was Miami’s Kenny Stills (the other was Green Bay’s Randall Cobb). But, Stills gets the nod over Cobb here for Week 1 outstanding player, based on doing the most, with the least. Stills played a major factor in Miami’s 27-20 victory over a tough Tennessee Titans team, catching four of five passes thrown his way from Ryan Tannehill, two of them resulting in touchdowns. The first was a 10-yarder that gave the Fish a 7-3 lead early in first half. Then, just three and a half minutes after teammate Jakeem Grant gave Miami a 17-10 lead on a 102-yard kick-off return, Stills put the hammer down on Tennessee. On a first and 10 from the Dolphins’ 25-yard line, Tannehill dropped back and launched a laser in Stills’ direction. Not only did the sixth-year receiver come down with the ball, but he also had former New England Patriots star CB Malcolm Butler draped all over him.
RB Isaiah Crowell – New York Jets (Best)
As much as we would have lauded rookie QB Sam Darnold’s outstanding first effort in the Jets 48-17 smack down of the Detroit Lions Monday night, we couldn’t help but notice the fantastic performance turned in from Cleveland refugee Isaiah Crowell. The fifth year running back, who escaped the Browns via free agency in March, ran for 102 yards on just 10 carries and scored two touchdowns — which just so happened to match his entire total with 0-16 Cleveland in 2017. Crowell’s first TD erased an early 7-0 Detroit lead. Then, late in the third quarter and his team up 41-17, Crowell put the final touch on a great game with an electrifying 62-yard dash. Crowell took a hand off in the backfield ran right, broke an attempted tackle by Detroit DT A’Shawn Robinson and then outran three Lions defensive backs for the score.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Best)
There were quite a few great passing efforts in Week 1, none bigger than Ryan Fitzpatrick’s, though in Tampa’s surprising 48-40 victory over New Orleans. And we’re sure the Saints are still in shock from being steamrolled by the “Amish Rifle” Train. With Jameis Winston shelved for three games (suspension), Fitz got the ball on Sunday and beat Saints superstar Drew Brees at his own game. He completed 21 out of 28 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns (zero interceptions), as well as scoring a TD of his own on a three-year keeper. Fitzpatrick finished with a passer rating of 156.3, which was higher than Brees’ 129.5 final rating on 439 yards passing and three TD strikes. Three of Fitzpatrick’s four TD passes were beauties, including 36 and 58-yard strikes to DeSean Jackson and a 50-yarder to Mike Evans. The Bucs may have a QB dilemma on their hands in Week 4.
CB Richard Sherman – San Francisco 49ers (Worst)
We’re not going to jump on the love bandwagon that has some pundits congratulating Richard Sherman for having a half decent game in his long awaited return. Fact is, his new team, the San Francisco 49ers, lost to Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings 24-16 and he was made to look very ordinary on one particular play by Minnesota star wideout Stefon Diggs. It was a routine pass into the flats around at midfield, but Diggs had to elude a master coverage man in Sherman. Diggs stutter-stepped and head-faked Sherman right out of his shorts for one of just three catches on the day for 18 yards (he also scored a superb TD on a 22-yard catch early in the second quarter). Other than whiffing badly on Diggs, Sherman wasn’t much of a factor in his return to the NFL, recording just two assisted tackles and no pass defences.
RB Carlos Hyde – Cleveland Browns (Worst)
With a chance to prove to the Browns that he is a premier back and worth the three-year contract the team threw at him, Carlos Hyde effort clearly didn’t impress us. After rushing for 938 yards and a career high eight touchdowns with San Francisco last year, Hyde was signed in March to off-set the loss of Isaiah Crowell to the New York Jets. In the Browns’ 21-21 tie with Pittsburgh, Hyde did score on a one-yard TD in the fourth quarter to give Cleveland a short-lived lead. Other than that, though, his 21 other touches left much to be desired. In those 21 carries he gained just 61 yards for a dismal yards/carry average of 2.8. That result was well below his career average of 4.1 yards/carry. In addition to that mediocre production, Hyde caught just one pass for three yards — he hauled in 59 passes for a career high 350 yards with the Niners last season. The Browns should be getting more mileage than that.
TE Travis Kelce – Kansas City Chiefs (Worst)
Every star has a bad day or two in a commendable career. But, we aren’t going to cut three-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro tight end Kelce any slack for his tepid start in the Chiefs‘ 38-28 victory over the Chargers Sunday. The owner of two straight seasons of 1,000 or more yards in 2016-17, Kelce caught just one of six passes thrown his way by Patrick Mahomes, for a meager six yards. Now, we’re not about to presuppose that the man with the golden mitts is en route to a 100-yard season, but that was his worst first game in a Chiefs uniform ever. It would seem, too, that the AFC West rival Chargers have Kelce’s number since he broke into the league in 2014. In his two starts against the Chargers last year, Kelce caught seven passes for 47 yards, including a 1-for-1, one-yard day in an early season triumph. Career against the Chargers, Kelce has grabbed 33 passes for 306 yards and no touchdowns. In his last four starts against L.A./San Diego, Kelce has gained just 61 yards total.
QB Matt Stafford – Detroit Lions (Worst)
We have only one word for Matt Stafford’s — and the Detroit Lions by extension — outing against the New York Jets on Monday and that’s “fugly.” Rookie QB Sam Darnold and the Jets waltz into Ford Field and made the Lions look like pussycats in a 48-17 sandblasting. Stafford was pretty much awful, completing 27 of 46 passes for 286 yards (the good news, if there was any) but just one TD and a league high four interceptions (one a pick six) in Week 1. Needless to say, his passer rating of 47.9 was well earned. And adding fuel to the fire, the Jets defence harassed him all day and gave him enough licks to knock him out of the contest temporarily. His replacement, the aging Matt Cassel, didn’t fare much better, completing just two of six attempts for 14 yards and another interception. Overall, a really nasty outing for the star pivot.
RB Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs (Worst)
Travis Kelce wasn’t the only Chief to have a sub-par day during Kansas City’s Week 1 victory over the L.A. Chargers. Kareem Hunt, author of one of the best first games ever in the history of the NFL, was pretty much invisible in the first game of his sophomore season. Almost exactly one year after tearing apart New England for 148 yards rushing, 98 yards receiving and three touchdowns in a 42-27 Week 1 win, Hunt ran for just 49 yards on 16 carries against the Chargers, with no receiving yards (one target). Those numbers look even worse when compared to the no. 2 back, Spencer Ware’s production. Ware ran the ball three times for 32 yards and also caught one pass (on one target) for another eight yards. No one should read too much into Hunt’s mediocre first outing, however, it should be noted that after his first five games of the 2017 season, Hunt was below average in seven of the next 12. Uh oh.
K Matt Prater – Detroit Lions (Worst)
We are loathe to pick on place kickers too much, however, veteran hoofer Matt Prater needs to be a lot better than his first game this year. Prater had the worst first day of any NFL kicker, going just 1-for-3. Now, one of his misses was from 40-49 and the other chunk was in the 50+ territory. But, historically Prater has been solid from long range, hitting 63-of-90 from 40-49 and 43-of-57 from 50 or more. His misses Sunday also came at critical times. With the Jets up 10-7 in the second quarter, Prater came up short on a 55-yard attempt. Then, late in the third quarter and the Lions down 41-17 and in need of a confidence boost, Prater missed wide right on a 44-yarder. He was hardly the sole suspect player in a very bad game and loss, but as the worst kicker in Week 1, Prater has to get singled out.
Every Defender – New Orleans Saints (Worst)
New Orleans defence was middle of the pack in 2017, surrendering 5,384 yards total to sit 17th overall. They also gave up an average 20.4 points per game, to tie for 10th best. After the defensive unit’s display on Sunday against Tampa Bay, we’re calling out each and every starter — and their replacements — for a God-awful display of football. As a unit, the Saints D was burned for 529 yards (417 pass, 112 run) and five touchdowns in a 48-40 defeat, in the process negating a superb effort from Drew Brees and the offence. They put zero pressure on Bucs second string QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (zero sacks), allowing him to throw for those 417 yards and four TDs. Collectively, they successfully defended just three of Fitzpatrick’s 28 attempts, they made just two total hits on the Amish Rifle and recorded on four tackles for a loss of 63 total. All around, not an effort any of them should write home about.
WR Kelvin Benjamin – Buffalo Bills (Worst)
Buffalo better hope the third and eighth round picks in the 2018 entry draft they sent to Carolina to get WR Kelvin Benjamin don’t amount to much. Benjamin, who totaled 692 yards receiving and three touchdowns in 14 games split between the Panthers and Bills last year, had a lousy first game in a horrid 47-3 loss to Baltimore in Week 1. He caught one pass on seven targets against the Ravens for 10 yards, and that was it. Otherwise, he ran uninspired routes all game and even dropped a five-yard pass from replacement QB Josh Allen in the end zone. To his credit, Benjamin was awful and he owned it, saying after, “We just didn’t execute. I had a couple passes that I felt I should’ve come down with. There was the one in the end zone, the conditions were crazy out there but there’s no excuses.” Uh, ya.
QB Nathan Peterman – Buffalo Bills (Worst)
After a game where he finished with a 0.0 rating, it’s a wonder second year quarterback Nathan Peterman still has a job at all. Ditto Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll, whose schemes weren’t worth a lick in a horrifying 47-3 defeat to Baltimore. As it was, Peterman completed just five of 18 pass attempts for 24 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions before he was yanked in favor of rookie Josh Allen. The Bills have wasted no time, either, naming Allen starter against the visiting Los Angeles Chargers this weekend. Bills fans have to be wondering just what the heck the Buffalo brain trust were thinking in the off-season when they didn’t pursue a veteran quarterback who could act as a mentor and a bridge while Peterman and Allen develop. It’s going to be a long, long year in western New York.