Ah, Week 1 ...
After flapping our gums all offseason in anticipation of a fresh, new NFL campaign, we finally got to sink our teeth into a full day of professional football. Predictably, decisive reactions are flowing, takes are hot off the presses.
OK, enough with the quick-hitters -- let's dive a little deeper into nine prominent developments. With the first Sunday of the 2018 season in the books, here's my annual Week 1 fact or fiction:
1) Aaron Rodgers is the Michael Jordan of the NFL.
That is a pronouncement I first penned a couple seasons ago, and it is an absolute fact. Remember: When I wrote that piece back in January of 2017, following the Packers' thrilling Divisional Round win over the top-seeded Cowboys, I offered the following explanation:
Now before you remind me that Jordan won six rings and Rodgers currently owns just one, allow me to tell you that's not the point. The point is: WOW! The point is these cats do their thing better than anyone else in the history of their respective sports.
Rodgers is the most talented QB to ever play football. I've said it for years. And on Sunday night, we were all witnesses to a heroic, special, vintage Rodgers masterpiece. Like Jordan routinely did on the hardwood, Rodgers made America's collective jaw drop in Green Bay's comeback win over the Bears.
An hour into Sunday night's contest, it certainly didn't look like Rodgers would own Week 1. Matt Nagy's Bears held a 10-0 lead, with the creative offense inspiring wonder and the Khalil Mack-infused defense giving the Pack fits. Oh, and did I mention Rodgers needed to be carted off the field? Yes, an apparent knee injury to the two-time MVP had the NFL world shaken to its core. After missing much of last season with a broken collarbone, Rodgers appeared to suffer another major injury. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were all of us: stunned and basically eulogizing the star quarterback.
Then Rodgers jogged back onto the field after halftime. And although the Packers trailed 20-0 when No. 12 got the ball again with just over nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, it was just good to see one of the game's best players out on the field again, having apparently avoided another devastating setback. But Rodgers isn't a silver linings kind of guy. Hobbling around on a gimpy left leg, he led Green Bay all the way back for a 24-23 win in Lambeau that no football fan will soon forget.
That fourth quarter was absolutely magical. The 39-yard teardrop dime to Geronimo Allison. The 51-yard catch-and-run connection with Davante Adams to really put the Pack in business. The perfectly placed dart that allowed Randall Cobb to scoot 75 yards for what would wind up as the game-winning score. Here are Rodgers' fourth-quarter numbers: 9 for 12 for 212 yards (17.7 yards per attempt!) and three touchdowns. Wow indeed.
Rodgers is a special player who provides mesmerizing performances on the game's biggest stages. Rodgers is Jordan-esque.
2) Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will sizzle all year.
Oh, this is a fact. An undeniable fact. Mahomes led Kansas City to a season-opening road win over the Chargers, throwing four touchdown passes and further demonstrating that he's undoubtedly one of the league's most exciting young players. Anyone who thinks this is a Week 1 overreaction just isn't paying attention. This is why Andy Reid traded up for Mahomes in the 2017 NFL Draft. This is why the Chiefs agreed to trade Alex Smith in January even though the QB had just posted a career year while leading K.C. to a division title.
I talked about Mahomes as a dark-horse MVP candidate all offseason, so this isn't a hot take. The second-year signal-caller is a rare talent. His arm, smarts and overall playmaking ability are off the charts. He has a feel -- and the pedigree. His dad was a Major League Baseball pitcher for more than a decade. Mahomes has been around this life and gets it. Remember how hot a name he became in the pre-draft process? That was for good reason.
The Chiefs are loaded on offense. I mentioned above that Mahomes is "one of the league's most exciting young players." Well, Hill is making a case as THE most exciting NFL player -- period. He returned the game's first punt for a touchdown -- because of course he did -- and finished the day with seven catches for 169 yards and two more scores. Every time this guy touches the ball, it's must-see TV.
Reid is a superb offensive coach. This is going to be fun, all season long.
3) The Browns' tie was a success.
Stop. This is fiction. I know this team went 0-16 last year. But Cleveland has legit talent, and the Browns outplayed Pittsburgh on Sunday. They forced six turnovers -- SIX! -- while only giving the ball away once. A five-turnover edge just has to equal a win.
Hue Jackson settling for a 43-yard field goal at the end of overtime was the wrong move -- even before it was blocked. Try to make a play, and at least get the kicker closer in inclement weather.
4) The Steelers are better without Le'Veon Bell.
Oh, come on. No chance. This is fiction. Bell's a star. I know James Conner produced in a major way (31 rushes for 135 and two touchdowns; five catches for 57 yards), but he also had a crucial lost fumble. And he's also James Conner -- i.e., notLe'Veon Bell, one of the best NFL running backs of this decade.
This was a classic Steelers distraction. Back in February, I was screaming that Pittsburgh should either lock up Bell on a long-term deal or let him go. You had to know this contract imbroglio was possible. The Steelers spent last week talking trash about the star back's absence ... and then blew a 14-point lead in Cleveland. There's a correlation. And Pittsburgh cannot be a Super Bowl threat without Bell. It's that simple.
5) Dallas will be fine.
Nah. This is fiction. The line -- with star center Travis Frederick sidelined for an unknown period of time -- is ordinary. Jason Witten is in the booth. The receiving corps is pedestrian -- at best. But none of that is my biggest issue here ...
I think that's Jason Garrett. Why didn't Ezekiel Elliott touch the ball more than 18 times in Sunday's 16-8 loss to Carolina? Zeke is everything to this team. Everyone knows it -- well, everyone except for the coaching staff, apparently. The Cowboys' offense could only manage 232 total yards and converted just two of its 11 third-down attempts. Everything looked so basic and predictable. Just ask Dez Bryant:
6) Seattle is in major trouble.
This is definitely a fact. Seattle dropped its opener in Denver, 27-24, and there is indeed cause for concern.
7) Jimmy Garoppolo is in major trouble.
This is hot garbage, let alone complete fiction. OK, so this loss at Minnesota was the worst start of Jimmy G's young career. He completed less than half of his passes, threw three picks and took three sacks. He was uncharacteristically off target.
Let's be fair, though: I think the Vikings have the best defense in the NFC, and playing in the raucous atmosphere of U.S. Bank Stadium is no easy task. Garoppolo is great. I'm still comfortable saying that, especially with Kyle Shanahan manning the controls.
Now, the rest of San Francisco's roster remains a work in progress. But the last 49ers player I worry about is Garoppolo.
8) Ryan Fitzpatrick is the Bucs' QB -- even when Jameis Winston returns.
Look, if he continues to play well, this is a fact. Heck, general manager Jason Licht raised this as a distinct possibility before the season even started.
Yes, I'm absolutely, positively stunned by Tampa Bay storming New Orleans and spanking the Saints. I thought Fitzpatrick had no chance and would sink a Buccaneers team that doesn't get enough attention for its overall talent. With Winston suspended, Tampa had no shot, right? Wrong! I still can't believe what we witnessed, but Fitzpatrick piled up 417 passing yards and five total touchdowns. With zero picks! Talk about Fitzmagic ... Saints defensive end Alex Okafor called it like he saw it: "He came in focused and he torched us."
I'm not a believer in Fitz. I have plenty of reservations about his staying power as a 35-year-old QB1. But you can't deny his transcendence on Sunday. Tampa has good players on both sides of the ball. If the Bucs are 2-1 in a couple weeks, well ... If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
9) The Saints' defense will be a liability all year.
Remember when New Orleans got smoked the first two weeks of the season last year? Let's not overreact -- this is fiction. Now, I'm not as high on the Saints as some other members of the media elite. But the talent in NOLA is too plentiful. Mark Ingram being suspended impacted both sides of the ball on Sunday. And most especially, credit Tampa. It was stunning, but the Bucs earned it. Tampa has an excellent receiving corps, and it clicked spectacularly on Sunday. Give credit. Don't panic.
All-Pro DE Cameron Jordan called New Orleans' defensive performance "unacceptable." Yes, that's the correct response when you give up 529 yards. And the lack of pass-rushing talent beyond Jordan is a concern. (Where was first-round pick Marcus Davenport on Sunday?) But I expect Dennis Allen to get this unit back on the right track sooner than later.