The 2022 NFL season didn't hang around in terms of creating headlines and mayhem right out of the gate. It was carnage in a good way. The end of the early games was one remarkable moment after another and just when we thought things might calm down and we could catch our breath, there was more late drama in Nashville as the New York Giants surprised the Tennessee Titans.
I started to roll through some of the key plays that marked the conclusions of the early games but soon hit delete on that idea. There were just too many to list out. By the end of mishaps and drama galore, there were incredible wins for New Orleans and Cleveland, as well as a tie between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans.
But, for me, the main headline of the early games was the Pittsburgh Steelers recording a 23-20 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Ultimately, the Bengals got what they deserved in losing this game. Joe Burrow fought and scrapped to bring his team back to the brink of victory, but it should be noted that he threw four interceptions and lost a fumble on a difficult day.
Burrow was sacked an NFL-high 51 times during the regular season last year, then dropped another 19 times in the playoffs; including a record seven times in a Super Bowl loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Things were not supposed to be that bad this year. The Bengals added three free agents in Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and La'El Collins and rolled out four new starters for opening day. And yet Burrow was still running for his life for much of the evening and was sacked seven times. I know Cincinnati got all the way to the Super Bowl with Burrow facing that kind of pressure last season, but this weakness has to get fixed.
Despite all the mistakes and all the pressure on Burrow, the Bengals had this game won. The star quarterback hit Ja'Marr Chase for a touchdown with two seconds remaining, tying the score at 20 apiece. All that remained was for the ice-cool Evan McPherson to knock through the extra point.
But a slow and high snap resulted in Minkah Fitzpatrick blocking the kick, cementing his great night after the Pro Bowl defender scored on an interception return earlier in the evening. The miscues and drama continued into overtime. The Bengals saw McPherson miss a 29-yarder that he would normally make in his sleep. It came after another bad snap – something else the Bengals need to fix.
That opened the door for the Steelers. Chris Boswell had doinked a 55-yarder off the uprights earlier in overtime but landed the 53-yard effort to send Mike Tomlin's men back to Pittsburgh with the win.
It was a gutsy victory for the Steelers that was overshadowed by the likely loss for the season of star defender T.J. Watt, who suffered a torn pectoral muscle. The Steelers have to find a way to mitigate the loss of such a playmaking talent, especially when you consider how much they could end up leaning on their defense and special teams this year.
But my big takeaway is that the Bengals, on the limited evidence of one game, have not fixed their offensive line woes. It will likely to take time for that unit to play itself into form. But it is a major concern that is worth monitoring in the first half of this campaign.
Josh Allen… Let's go back to Thursday night and the season opener for one of the stars of Week 1. Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen looked every bit the MVP candidate for 2022 and his powerful Bills beat the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams 31-10, even while turning the ball over four times. Allen looked masterful and joyful in equal measure as he threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 10 times for 56 yards and another score. The carries and resulting hits he took may worry some, but I think the Bills just need to let the kid play and enjoy the ride.
Justin Jefferson… Through his first two impressive seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Justin Jefferson caught passes covering 3,016 yards. No receiver in NFL history had ever been that prolific in the first two years of a career. Yet when I spoke to JJ this summer, he hinted that the best was yet to come. He was not messing around! He was virtually uncoverable in Minnesota's huge 23-7 win over a Green Bay team that has dominated the NFC North Division for much of the past decade. Jefferson caught nine balls for 184 yards and two scores. It was just one game, but the Vikings looked very good under new head coach Kevin O'Connell.
Philadelphia's offense… The Eagles needed their offense to play at a high level on Sunday because the Detroit Lions were hanging around for far too long. Philadelphia racked up 455 yards of total offense in a 38-35 win in Michigan. And they played to form for large parts of the night. The Eagles had the league's best rushing attack in 2021 (159.7 rushing yards per game) and they bettered that by some distance with 216 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in Detroit. But there was more balance. Jalen Hurts remains a very scary running quarterback, but he also formed a nice early-season connection with A.J. Brown, who came over via a Draft Night trade with Tennessee. Brown caught 10 passes for 155 yards in a shiny debut.
Green Bay's wide receivers… With Davante Adams now playing for the Las Vegas Raiders (he caught 10 passes for 141 yards and one touchdown on Sunday), we've heard all summer long how there is a worry around Green Bay's wide receivers. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and veteran receiver Randall Cobb even called out the youngsters during training camp, insisting they raise their games. The young receivers had a chance to silence the doubters early on Sunday night, but Christian Watson dropped an easy game-tying touchdown bomb from Rodgers and spent the rest of the night in the doghouse. Rodgers seemed to have little trust in his targets and no wide receiver had more than 37 receiving yards as the Hall of Fame signal-caller was held without a touchdown pass. A rarity indeed. No wonder Rodgers looked so annoyed.
The Arizona Cardinals… There have been some worrying slides on teams coached by Kliff Kingsbury in recent years, but his Cardinals have always been fast starters. That was far from the case on Sunday as they fell to an embarrassing 44-21 defeat at home to the Kansas City Chiefs. Arizona have now lost six of their last seven games dating back to last season. Quarterback Kyler Murray was a non-factor and it should be noted that one of his two touchdown passes came as a mere consolation in the final minutes. More worrying may be the fact that Murray led the Cards with just 29 rushing yards. And their defense got pushed around and shredded. Kansas City racked up 488 yards en route to an impressive and dominant victory. If this is how the Cardinals are starting this time around, what will the finish look like for Kingsbury?
New England's offense… All summer we have heard that New England's offense was stuck in mud, either through confusion over a new system and the lack of a clear play-caller or through the lack of game-breaking talent at the skill positions. Either way, the unit was described as being "distressingly bad" and "broken." It was not that dire in Sunday's 20-7 loss to Miami, but they definitely lacked consistency and spark. Mac Jones threw for a pedestrian 213 yards, one touchdown, one interception and lost a fumble that resulted in a Dolphins touchdown and the running game produced just 78 yards on 22 carries. We always back Bill Belichick to figure it out, but does he have the horses this time around?
The Fast Five…
- Miami have put an emphasis on speed and it was evident in their 20-7 win over New England. Tyreek Hill caught eight passes for 94 yards and Jaylen Waddle scored on a vital 42-yard catch and run on a gutsy fourth-and-seven call from new head coach Mike McDaniel.
- We all pay attention to quarterbacks like Josh Allen but what about Buffalo's defense on opening night? Seven sacks of Matthew Stafford and three interceptions. If that unit is legit, the Bills are worthy Super Bowl favourites.
- There were flash flood warnings in place in Chicago, where the Bears defeated San Francisco 19-10. The rain was torrential and unrelenting. Mitigating factors for the offenses, for sure. But let's monitor the early-season form of 49ers quarterback Trey Lance, who threw for just 164 yards, no touchdowns and one pick. They gave up a great deal to get this young man so there is going to be pressure on his shoulders.
- What is it with the Indianapolis Colts and opening day? They are now 0-8-1 in their last nine Week 1 games. They looked down and out against the Houston Texans, trailing 20-3 four minutes into the final quarter. They tied the game at 20 apiece but missed a 42-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship that would have won it in overtime. The good news for the Colts? Jonathan Taylor rushed for 161 yards and a touchdown; and… it's not Week 1 anymore!
- Take a bow, Brian Daboll… that was a gutsy Week 1 call to give your team a 21-20 victory over the Titans in Nashville. After the Giants pulled to within one on Chris Myarick's touchdown grab from Daniel Jones with 1:06 left, Daboll went for two instead of attempting the game-tying conversion kick. Maybe he saw all the kickers having failures around the league in the early games? Saquon Barkley delivered the two-pointer and Tennessee's Randy Bullock added more kicking disaster as he missed a game-winner from 47 yards as time expired.
Fact of the Week
Khalil Mack, of the Los Angeles Chargers, certainly had fun against his old team as he recorded three sacks, four quarterback hits and one force during a 24-19 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. Mack became only the fifth non-rookie to have 3+ sacks in a debut with a new team since individual sacks were first recorded in 1982.
Finish That Sentence
Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we so often did on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…
From 'H' Rhi (@hobbit2343) The biggest surprise from yesterday was… the New York Giants falling into a 13-0 hole on the road and finding a way to overcome errors of their own on the way to a one-point victory against the AFC's number one seed from a year ago. We have to remember this is a Giants team that had won just 22 games over the previous five years heading into 2022. Leading from the front was Saquon Barkley, who has missed 21 games over the previous three seasons. He rushed for 164 yards and one touchdown, added the game-winning two-pointer and caught passes for another 30 yards. If he stays fit, the Giants could be a season-long pleasant surprise.
From Nikki Hough (@NikHough) The Kansas City Chiefs are… seemingly going to be fine without Tyreek Hill in their line-up. I know, I know… it's only one game and all that. But it was quite a showing on the offensive side of the ball. Patrick Mahomes hit on 30 of 39 passes for 360 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. His scoring passes went to four different receivers and he connected with nine different players on the day. The Chiefs promised the ball would be spread around more in 2022 and they upheld that pledge, at least in Week 1.
From Lewis Venes (@LVenes1) Christian Watson is… hiding from Aaron Rodgers this week? Not Davante Adams? In the doghouse? Pick any of the above and they are all true. The rookie dropped an absolute dolly early in Green Bay's loss to Minnesota and the Packers never recovered. He was not targeted again until the fourth quarter when the game was all but over and he ended with just two catches for 34 yards. There are no words Watson can use to win over Rodgers and the Packers fans. It all has to be fixed on the field, starting against Chicago in Week 2.
Gameday reports on Sunday suggested that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson turned down a contract offer in the region of $250 million. Lamar prefers to play out the final year of his contract, taking on a considerable injury risk given his combative style, in the hopes of a more lucrative deal down the road. That is a huge risk and Lamar's agent would have been wise to advise against such a move, but the quarterback represents himself and is backing himself. His plan got off to a good start on Sunday as Jackson threw for 213 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-9 win over the New York Jets, but I have to admit I'm going to be wincing every time he takes a hit this season. It's an interesting sub-plot to follow in Baltimore as the 2022 season unfolds.