On the surface, the opening Sunday of the 2016 NFL season delivered a string of fantastic finishes.
Digging deeper into a slate of games that failed to register a single noteworthy upset, one theme emerged: 2015 held serve.
After struggling to move the ball in August, the Saints' high-octane offense was undone by a porous defense.
Here's what else we learned in Week 1:
- In his first appearance of 2016, Jameis Winston got off to a similarly slow start to the one he did in his first career start last season. Winston began the game 2-of-5 passing with an interception. He subsequently went 21 for 28 with four touchdowns, including incredible deep balls to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Mike Evans. Both balls were only where his receivers could get it, and both guys made incredible plays to come down with it. Seferian-Jenkins looked as though he was falling out of favor in Tampa but now looks like he could be the third massive target that Winston can throw jump balls to. Winston will have some growing pains still, as he threw some pretty bad passes when under pressure, but overall he made less mistakes than he did in many of the Bucs' games last year.
- Devonta Freeman was ineffective against the Bucs, but backup running back Tevin Coleman was the Falcons' biggest playmaker aside from Julio Jones. Some forget that Coleman was given just as much of an opportunity to seize the starting job at the start of last season as Freeman but faltered. He might end up getting just as many snaps as Freeman as the season wears on. He was especially effective catching balls, coming down with five catches for 95 yards, which led the team. Free-agent acquisition Mohamed Sanu looked like a good pickup as he had a big 65-yard catch on the opening drive that led to three points and later came down with a touchdown grab in the first quarter.
- The Buccaneers' defense looked less sloppy in its opening game under Koetter and new defensive coordinator Mike Smith than it did last year under the guidance of Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier. They were the second-most penalized team last season, but against the Falcons were only penalized 48 yards total, none of which helped the Falcons on big drives. The defense still gave up large chunks of yardage at times, but also buckled down on key third downs as Atlanta was only converted 3 of 13 tries. Lavonte David looked like his old self and Kwon Alexander looks like one of the most promising young linebackers in the league -- he had 15 tackles and a sack.
*-- Mark Ortega *
- The Vikings' trade for Sam Bradford seems completely justified at this point. Minnesota's defense parsed some difficult waters early on Sunday to get the win. Tennessee's offense is not an easy one to figure out, especially when the team did not unleash the full picture of their scheme during the preseason. After playing footsie for a half, Mike Zimmer unleashed his defense in the third and fourth quarters, ignoring all the Titans' window dressings and allowing his beastly defensive line to go straight for the passer.
- Obviously, Adrian Peterson is not a miracle worker. The Vikings tried just about everything to get the future Hall of Fame running back loose against a Titans team clearly stacking the box. That ended with 19 carries for 31 yards and a long of nine. That wasn't Peterson's fault, though he did trade a near constant string of jukes and stutter steps in the first half for a more accepting, hard-nosed style in the third after realizing that the extra effort was futile. This shouldn't be a concern for Vikings fans, who saw the offense open up in the second half.
- The Titans' offense, regardless of its epic second-half freefall, is crazy fun to watch when it is in control of the game. The constant shifting and movement is almost artful and it seems like Marcus Mariota has a Peyton Manning-esque control of his offense. He can shift cross-trained tight ends, fullbacks and running backs and turn them into wide receivers and movable blocking chess pieces at will. Titans coach Mike Mularkey did a great job of unleashing both DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the first half before an interception and string of fumbles in the fourth quarter put Tennessee out of business. Don't dismiss this offense because of a poor decision by Mariota and two by Murray, though.
*-- Conor Orr *
- Carson Wentz played just 38 snaps in the preseason, but the No. 2 overall pick looked at home in his NFL debut. The Eagles rookie quarterback opened the game completing four of his first five throws, leaning on his tight ends before unfurling a beautiful 19-yard, over-the-shoulder scoring strike to Jordan Matthews in the left corner of the end zone. While he sails too many throws high, Wentz, who threw 22 of 37 for 278 yards with two scores through the air, deserves a ton of credit for directing five scoring drives against a Browns defense that tried everything to apply pressure. Wentz stood in the pocket and showed off his strong arm on a variety of lobs, including a key fourth-down conversion that saw the rookie complete a money throw to Zach Ertz before hooking up with Nelson Agholor for his second touchdown pass of the day. It wasn't perfect, but what Wentz accomplished on Sunday should create a lively week for talk-radio hosts in Cleveland.
- The Browns were invisible on offense until constructing a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown march midway through the second quarter to cut Philly's lead to 10-7. Prior to that drive, the Eagles had seven first downs to zero for Cleveland. The tone of the game shifted when Robert Griffin III hit Terrelle Pryor on a 44-yard bomb that set up that first score, but the quarterback -- 12 of 26 for 190 yards -- later saw an off-target pass to rookie Corey Coleman tipped and picked off. The rookie wideout made up for it with a 58-yard grab in the second half, but Cleveland's offense feels like a deep-ball-or-bust operation. Griffin wasn't helped by a nonexistent ground game or by second-year center Cam Erving, who floated a snap over RG3's head and out of the end zone for a game-changing safety. The second half saw Griffin hammered by Philly's defense, which piled up three sacks and forced the passer into a handful of rushed, erratic throws. The Browns are a long way away from fielding a sustainable attack.
- Ryan Mathews is the obvious volume back in Philly's offense, but coach Doug Pederson has to be happy with the play of Kenjon Barner, who ripped through the Browns for 42 yards off four carries. Mathews, meanwhile, piled up 77 yards at 3.5 yards per rush with a touchdown against a Cleveland defense that spent an unruly 39-plus minutes on the field.
*-- Marc Sessler *
- Baltimore pressured Tyrod Taylor all afternoon, limiting the quarterback to 111 yards on 15-of-22 passing. Buffalo struggled to get anything going on offense, and it showed in Colton Schmidt's seven punts. The mobile Taylor looked to be trying to stay in the pocket, but Baltimore's defense didn't just rush Taylor, they swarmed him, bottling up the dual-threat passer. Timmy Jernigan's sack on Taylor late in the fourth proved to be a huge stop.
- The Ravens' offense was up-and-down for much of the day, a testament to both Buffalo's defense and the early season struggles of most teams. The highlight of Baltimore's afternoon offensively was a 66-yard touchdown connection from Joe Flacco to Mike Wallace, who showed that he still possesses the natural speed to burn most defensive backs, even after a couple seasons spent in irrelevance. Flacco finished with a solid stat line (23-34, 258 yards, one touchdown), but his most important possession came late in the fourth with Baltimore clinging to a 10-7 lead and desperately needing to both chew some clock and put some points on the board. Flacco spread the ball out to multiple receivers and moved into scoring position, eventually culminating in a Justin Tucker field goal that added some breathing room.
The running game, highlighted by Justin Forsett's weird week, remained a question mark after four quarters Sunday. Forsett had 10 carries for 41 yards, and Terrance West toted the ball 12 times for 32 yards, but it was evident that for Baltimore to move the ball, it had to be through the air. LeSean McCoy bulled his way into the end zone for the Bills' only score on fourth-and-goal and didn't do much else.
- The brightest point for Baltimore's offense had to be the return of Dennis Pitta, who finished with three catches for 39 yards and looked to be at least similar to the tight end we once knew. It's always great to see a player who was once victim of multiple serious injuries return to the field and succeed.
*-- Nick Shook *
- The Texans employed Lamar Miller as the clear focal point of the offense in the opener. The running back earned a career-high 28 carries for 106 yards to go along with four receptions for 11 yards. Miller was the workhorse, with all other backs earning a combined three carries. After years of being underutilized in Miami, Miller is finally a workhorse.
- Rookie receiver Will Fuller dropped a bomb at the end of the first half that should have been a long touchdown. In the second half, the speedster was uncoverable. The Notre Dame product made tough catches in space, took a WR screen for a winding TD scamper and made an acrobatic deep sideline snatch. Fuller is a perfect complement to DeAndre Hopkins. You'll get some drops with Fuller, but the rook more than makes up for it.
- Brock Osweiler looked like a quarterback who has only started seven games before Sunday. You can see the arm talent. He makes some dynamic throws -- including the beautiful deep pass to Fuller -- but too often stares down his first read. Osweiler gets rattled by the rush, panics and often forces passes, especially to Hopkins. Nuk bailed him out several times Sunday.
*-- Kevin Patra *
- All hail A.J. Green, the underappreciated superstar. The Bengals wide receiver got behind Darrelle Revis on a 54-yard touchdown reception in the first half and finished the day with a godlike 12/180/1 slash on 13 targets. The Jets tried to give Revis help, but give the Bengals credit for finding ways to get the ball in the hands of their gifted playmaker. Green was brilliant enough to keep the offense humming without the injured Tyler Eifert and departed Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
- Todd Bowles isn't sleeping tonight. The Jets sacked Andy Dalton seven times, dominated for stretches, had an emotional home crowd playing behind them on the 15th anniversary of 9/11 ... and still came up one point short. Meanwhile, Jets kicker Nick Folk has more than just sleep to worry about. He missed an extra point and a chip-shot field goal. Just a hideous loss for Gang Green during a deadly stretch of their schedule where they can't afford to give away games.
- The Jets had a top-10 offense last season behind huge years from both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The Cincinnati defense deserves much credit for finding away to hold both in check holding the pair to a combined five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. Shut down Marshall and Decker, shut down the Jets.
*-- Dan Hanzus *
- Credit goes to Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, who opted for the winning two-point conversion with just under a minute remaining rather than playing for overtime. After watching Drew Brees torch his defense for four quarters, Del Rio surmised that his chances of converting a two-yard opportunity were greater than his chances of stopping the Saints' aerial attack in the extra frame. Although Brees led a feverish 40-second drill to flirt with field-goal range, undrafted rookie kicker Will Lutz's bid for a 61-yard game-winner missed wide left. New Orleans faithful would also point out that Del Rio's squad benefited from a questionable fourth-down pass interference penalty that kept Derek Carr's game-winning drive alive.
- If Brees has lost any accuracy or arm strength at age 37, it didn't show in the season opener. Brees dialed up a series of picture-perfect downfield beauties, highlighted by a franchise-record 98-yard touchdown strike in which Brandin Cooks smoked veteran cornerback Sean Smith down the sideline. Brees' 14th career 400-yard performance ties him with Peyton Manning for the most in NFL history. It was an impressive showing for offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, who took over play-calling duties from coach Sean Payton.
- The early returns on the Raiders' revamped secondary are not promising. Smith, signed away from the division rival Chiefs on a four-year, $40 million contract, was benched after giving up big plays to Cooks and Willie Snead. D.J. Hayden might have to take a seat next to him. There's enough blame to go around on defense, though, as Oakland failed to put pressure on Brees after the game's opening drive. While Bruce Irvin came through with three QB hits, Khalil Mack was quiet.
*-- Chris Wesseling *
- In an evenly matched battle of promising defensive backfields, the Packers' secondary stood tall in the end. With the Jaguars in position for a game-winning touchdown with time running out, Quinten Rollins, Micah Hyde and Damarious Randall all made crucial plays to close the game out. Rollins had a jump ball pass breakup on Allen Robinson and an open-field tackle the next play to prevent a first down. Hyde and Randall made plays the next two snaps in the red zone to end Jacksonville's chances. Safeties Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix also prevented the Jaguars' trademark big plays.
- The game was won in large part by the Packers' offensive line. Aaron Rodgers had a ton of time to survey the field throughout the game. While he didn't find open receivers early in the down often, he used his legs and insane arm to drop a number of "wow" plays on Jacksonville. Rodgers' 29-yard touchdown throw to Davante Adams while Jalen Ramseypulled Rodgers by the shirt will be one of the plays of the year. The rebuilt Jaguars secondary did their job overall but coach Gus Bradley has to be disappointed with his group's inability to rush the passer.
- Two offseason narratives surrounding star players for the Packers came through in a big way and bode well for their future. Eddie Lacy looked excellent. While fantasy heads won't be thrilled with his 78 yards from scrimmage, Lacy looked like his rugged old self. Clay Matthews also felt like a wild man unleashed on the outside of the Packers' defense. He caused a lot of disruption in addition to his sack and two tackles for loss.
*-- Gregg Rosenthal *
- The Chargers' offense was rolling in the first half, racing out to a 21-3 lead and had the ball for one final possession before half. Then, disaster struck. Fourth-year wide receiver Keenan Allen, Philip Rivers' favorite target, was carted off with a suspected ACL tear. Allen was manhandling promising corner Marcus Peters, racking 63 yards on six grabs before going down. San Diego was unable to find the end zone once Allen went to the locker room. The injury elevated Travis Benjamin to the top wideout spot on the depth chart. He was able to reel in five receptions after Allen's exit, but only mustered a miniscule 16 yards out of them. Without their most talented pass catcher, the Chargers had difficulty spreading out the field. San Diego's offensive ineptitude in the second half was a major reason behind the Chiefs rallying from 21 points down, the largest comeback in franchise history.
- Jamaal Charles did not suit up for the Chiefs, but their healthy backs had no problem filling in. Given that Kansas City is not a strong come-from-behind team, it was encouraging to see Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West have strong roles in the second half. Ware on the ground had 70 yards and a score, but the duo did most of their damage through the air. The two tailbacks drew Manti Te'o in coverage a lot of the time, and the Chargers linebacker had a very difficult time keeping up with them. In all, Ware and West combined for 13 catches and 153 receiving yards, and gave Alex Smith a nice safety valve when they were on the field.
- Welcome to the end zone, Melvin Gordon. The Chargers running back posted a goose egg in the touchdown column in his rookie season, but on his 220th career touch, the Wisconsin product finally found pay dirt. Getting that monkey off his back was nice, but Gordon looked like a completely different runner in the early stages of this game. He generated a multitude of yards after contact, and looked like a force to be reckoned with. On eight first-half carries, Gordon accumulated 39 yards and two scores. The second half was a different story, as the second-year back only had 18 yards on six totes. It still was an encouraging start nonetheless to Gordon's sophomore campaign.
*-- Max Meyer *
- Kept out of the end zone for 59 minutes, Russell Wilson responded to Ryan Tannehill's 86-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive with his own 14-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a feathery two-yard touchdown toss to Doug Baldwin. Playing behind an interior offensive line that provided no push, Wilson struggled to go downfield all afternoon until the final possession. Due to an accidental third-quarter ankle twisting by Ndamukong Suh, Wilson's mobility was a non-factor and his accuracy took a hit when he had trouble putting his lower body into his throws. Seahawks fans have grown accustomed to early-season rust, as Tom Cable tinkers with his undermanned offensive line.
- A wide-open Kenny Stills dropped a long pass that would have gone for a surefire touchdown in an aerial attack that was otherwise overly reliant upon screen passes. Prior to their late fourth-quarter touchdown drive, Dolphins wide receivers had combined for a meager 10 yards on five receptions against Seattle's vaunted Legion of Boom secondary.
- Coach Pete Carroll followed through on his vision of Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls as a "1-2 punch" in the backfield. Despite losing his longest run (17 yards) to an illegal shift penalty, Michael was the more productive of the duo, averaging 4.5 yards per carry compared to Rawls' 2.7 figure. Although Michael was the chosen one on the game's deciding drive, it's clear that the coaches have trust in Rawls after his impressive rookie season. Carroll told reporters last week he had always believed in a backfield-by-committee attack prior to the Marshawn Lynch era. Look for Michael and Rawls to continue to split time until one clearly demonstrates a superiority.
-- Chris Wesseling
- Dak Prescott had a chance to win his first NFL start as Dallas, down 20-19, took over at their own 20-yard line with 1:04 left on the clock. The drive fell short eight plays later as wideout Terrance Williams caught a pass in Giants territory but failed to get out bounds in time. The failed one-minute drill doesn't entirely take away from a promising debut for Prescott, who opened the game with scoring drives of 15, 15, 11 and seven plays before the offense was forced to punt. The first half for Dallas served as confirmation that this year's Cowboys are very much in play to duplicate their 2014 selves with Prescott at the helm. Hitting 25 of 45 passes for 227 yards, the rookie -- picked 134 spots behind Jared Goff -- helped Dallas control the ball for 22-plus minutes of the first half. Prescott found eight separate targets and looked comfortable directing the offense. He'd like a handful of those throws back, but the former Mississippi State star did a commendable job going through his progressions, finding holes in the defense and putting the ball where his targets had a chance to make plays. This loss falls more on a wanting Dallas defense that couldn't get the Giants off the field in the second half.
- Eli Manning and the Giants barely saw the field early, but made the most of their opportunities on Sunday with three touchdowns on as many trips to the end zone. Finishing 19 of 28 for 207 yards, Manning made his share of clutch throws down the stretch. He also tossed a terrible pick to Brandon Carr that set up a Cowboys touchdown, but finished a juicy 5-of-7 throwing in the red zone. New York has been advertised as a pass-first attack -- and rightfully so -- but it was encouraging for Giants fans to see Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen repeatedly gain chunks of real estate between the tackles with the fourth quarter ticking away.
- Ezekiel Elliott's debut was underwhelming. The rookie running back fought hard for his 51 yards against a much-improved Giants defensive front that kept him to just 2.5 yards per carry. The threat of Elliott alone helped Dallas stick to their ball-control game plan early on, with the No. 4 overall pick gaining steam in the second half with a leaping dive into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown. Veteran Alfred Morris also saw his share of snaps down the stretch and ran well for 35 yards at five yards per tote.
*-- Marc Sessler *
- Matt Prater escaped "goat" status with a game-winning 43-yard field goal with four ticks to go to secure the Lions' victory in Indianapolis. On Detroit's previous score to take the lead, Prater pushed the extra point right, which allowed Indy to take a one-point lead with a score with 43 seconds left. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford went to his bread and butter on the ensuing four-play final drive, tossing a 19-yard pass out of the backfield to Theo Riddick, a nine-yarder to tight end Eric Ebron and a 22-yard shot to new acquisition Marvin Jones. It was refreshing to see Stafford show heroics and poise throughout the contest, qualities of his game that were quite absent last season.
- Andrew Luck's shoulder is just fine, sheeple; he carried the Colts on it all day. Indianapolis' franchise quarterback showed no sign of wear or tear in his first start since Week 9 last season, tossing 385 yards and four touchdowns. After a slow start through 28 minutes of play, Luck led four scoring drives of 75-plus yards, including a 94-yarder early in the fourth. Sans the departed Coby Fleener, he made stars out of his remaining tight ends, Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle, who combined for seven catches, 88 yards and three touchdowns. In the fourth quarter, Doyle caught Luck's final two scores after beating Detroit's linebackers in the red zone.
- Lions running backs are flourishing in Jim Bob Cooter's system. All three of Detroit's tailbacks scored touchdowns against the Colts, including two from Theo Riddick (12 touches for 108 total yards). Not to be outdone, Ameer Abdullah racked up 120 total yards, the first time he's gone over that century mark in his career. Abdullah and Riddick paired well together, each taking Stafford passes out of the backfield for six in the second half.
The Lions quarterback picked up where he left off last season, looking comfortable with Cooter as an offensive coordinator. Stafford finished 28-for-35 with 340 yards and three touchdown passes, while connecting with six different receivers for three completions or more. One of those receivers? Ebron, who picked up five catches for 46 yards and an early touchdown. Yes, this season-opening performance came against an injury-riddled Colts secondary, but it may be time to buy stock in Detroit's offense.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- Filling the shoes of a football legend isn't easy, but Jimmy Garoppolo handled his first start for the Patriots with the requisite composure and stability of his suspended predecessor, Tom Brady. Garoppolo (24-for-33, 264 yards, 1 TD, 1 rec!) led the Patriots on three scoring drives of five minutes or more in the second half, mixing short slants to James White with gashes from LeGarrette Blount with broken play bombs to Danny Amendola. Like Brady, Garoppolo kept Arizona on its heels with his mobility out of a quick Cardinals pass rush. Stat of the night: Jimmy G went 8-for-10 on third down with 107 yards and seven first downs.
- Dear Larry Fitzgerald: Never retire. Please and thank you. Sincerely, everyone, except the Patriots ... and the Packers. On the same day that NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Fitz expects 2016 to be his final season, the 33-year-old Cardinals wideout showed he still had some snaps, if not years, left in him. Fitzgerald was Arizona's leading receiver on the night, catching eight balls for 81 yards and two touchdowns, including a stunning helmet catch for his 100th career TD grab. Arizona's own Larry Legend secured three catches and accounted for 46 yards on its final drive, taking the Cards into field goal range before, well...
- Arizona started its last-gasp attempt at a win with 3:38 on the clock and no timeouts to work with, thanks to some interesting strategy by Bruce Arians, who used his remaining timeouts on the Patriots' game-winning possession. Arians' bold move nearly payed off until Arizona faced a fourth-and-five from the Patriots' 29 down two points with just over a minute to go and the clock running. Bill Belichick neglected to call his final timeout, which would have offered the Pats more time to score after a successful Arizona field goal, until kicker Chandler Catanzaro got set to take the game-winning kick with 41 seconds left. One might say that Belichick sacrificed 30 seconds for the potential to ice the rushed Cardinals kicker. One might also say that Belichick forgot to take the timeout and put his offense led by the young Garoppolo at a disadvantage. Either way, Catanzaro missed, the Hoodie smirked and the world turned.
-- Jeremy Bergman