Man, it's good to have football back. The opening Sunday of the 2020 NFL season was obviously unique -- with most teams playing in empty stadiums due to the COVID-19 pandemic -- but taking in the action on television, football was football. In the midst of an unprecedented year defined by stress, strain and pain, sports fans across America seized the welcome respite of watching a simple game with a simple goal ...
As the great philosopher Charlie Sheen once said, "Duh, winning."
With that in mind, here are the biggest winners from Sunday, Schein Nine style:
1) The Washington Football Team
New coach. New team name. New team president. New culture. New result -- and it was glorious to watch.
Ron Rivera was the right guy at the right time to add credibility, class and toughness to an organization that needed all of the above. And for the new guy to win his first game -- while battling cancer, after falling down 17-0 -- is storybook stuff. After spotting the reigning NFC East-champion Eagles a three-score advantage, Rivera's Football Team authored the final five scoring drives in a stunning 27-17 comeback win.
With Philadelphia's offensive line banged up, Washington's loaded defensive line repeatedly battered Carson Wentz, sacking him eight times and spooking him even more. I love Wentz, but he was dreadful on Sunday. The Football Team's D-line overwhelmed the Eagles quarterback, physically and mentally. And it was no fluke. No matter what people thought about Washington's prospects in Year 1 of the Rivera era, everyone knew the team boasted immense talent on the defensive front. Old faithful Ryan Kerrigan led the charge with two sacks, but newbie Chase Young made the kind of impact a generational talent is supposed to make with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
I was thrilled for Dwayne Haskins to open his sophomore campaign with a win. Last year wasn't his fault. On Sunday, the quarterback got off to a slow start, but rocked steady, didn't turn the ball over, gave an inspirational halftime speech as Rivera was receiving a precautionary IV and guided Washington to its first division win since October of 2018.
This was a strong statement following a tumultuous offseason for this franchise. This was a sign that things are going to be different under Rivera -- and Washington is going to be tough, week in and week out.
2) Russell Wilson
Never take this guy's greatness for granted. Never. After a highly limited offseason and a nonexistent preseason, the Seahawks were forced to fly 2,200 miles across the country for their season opener in Atlanta. And then Russ darn near pitched a perfect game. In a 38-25 win over the Falcons, Wilson completed 31 of his 35 passes (88.6 percent!) for 322 yards and four touchdowns, finishing with a 143.1 passer rating. Oh, and for good measure, he set up Seattle's second touchdown with an explosive 28-yard option run.
I thought Matt Ryan and the Falcons would win this game, and the Ice Man did throw for 450 yards. But he was just no match for his QB counterpart, who seems to do special things every time out nowadays. I cringe every time I hear people mention that Wilson has never received a single MVP vote. And as one of the AP voters responsible for such a surprising tidbit, I feel like I need to explain that we're only allowed to put one name on the ballot each year. Unlike some other sports, the NFL doesn't use ranked voting for its top individual honor. I wish we had a weighted system where you get 10 points for a first-place vote, five for a second, one for a third. But that's not the case. So Wilson remains a bona fide MVP candidate without a single MVP vote to his name. Maybe this is the year the future first-ballot Hall of Famer is the only name to put on the one-name ballot.
3) Doug Marrone
Who's tanking? Who is going 0-16? Not Jacksonville!
In last week's Schein Nine, I predicted that the 2020 Jaguars would become the third 0-16 team in NFL history. Five days later, I'm feasting on crow, with Jacksonville having won its season opener 27-20 over the Colts team I picked to win the AFC South. Gardner Minshew completed 19-of-20 passes with three TD strikes. Take that, Trevor Lawrence! Meanwhile, the Jags' much-maligned defense picked off Philip Rivers twice, with rookie first-rounder CJ Henderson nabbing one -- and also icing the game with a pass breakup.
Marrone entered this season on as hot a seat as any NFL coach, but his team brought the fire in Week 1. This is what I like about the tough-as-nails coach: He gets his guys ready, even if they're undermanned and purportedly in the midst of a rebuild.
4) DeAndre Hopkins
The trade was crazy in March. It's crazier now.
In Arizona's upset win over the defending NFC champion 49ers, Kyler Murray hit his new No. 1 wideout for 14(!) catches and 151 yards, including a 33-yard catch-and-run to set up what would ultimately be the game-winning score. Nuk's a megastar who changes everything for the Cardinals. I predicted back in April that the Hopkins-infused Cardinals would be the NFL's Cinderella team in 2020. Welp, they're definitely a belle of the Week 1 ball. Arizona fans should send Bill O'Brien an early Christmas card!
5) The Las Vegas Raiders' ground game
Josh Jacobs gashed the overwhelmed Panthers for 139 total yards and three rushing touchdowns. This shouldn't really surprise anyone, as the young stud finished second in last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. His all-around talent is crystal clear. But how about the Raiders' outstanding offensive line? Las Vegas absolutely mauled Carolina up front, opening up some gargantuan holes for Jacobs to run through, while keeping Derek Carr completely clean in the pocket. And this occurred despite the fact that the unit lost right tackle Trent Brown to a calf injury on the first series of the game. Very impressive stuff.
Get used to the Raiders' big boys up front setting the tone in an awesome way and imposing their will. This team's getting back to the playoffs in its first year representing Sin City.
6) Trubisky truthers
Down 23-6 in the fourth? No sweat -- Mitch Trubisky laughs in the face of adversity!
Honestly, I'm at a loss here. I thought yesterday (and, frankly, still do today) that the Bears have the worst quarterback room in the NFL. For three quarters, Trubisky couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Then Trubisky appeared to have an out-of-body experience. Leading the Bears to 21 unanswered points -- and a stunning win in Detroit -- Mitch was surgical in the fourth quarter, completing eight of his 10 throws for 89 yards and three touchdowns, while also adding a 20-yard run. He was dropping dimes left and right. It was startling, mind-bending stuff -- like seeing a unicorn. You might never see it again. (OK, maybe I should lay off the guy for a week. Did not see this coming.)
Side note: If you see a Lions fan, give him/her an air hug. It just doesn't get worse than that season-opening loss, as the beat rolls on for the franchise that's been rebuilding since 1957.
7) Aaron Rodgers
The Aaron Rodgers "What on Earth were they thinking drafting Jordan Love?" Tour is real and spectacular. Rodgers put on a clinic as Love held a clipboard in Minnesota.
It remains insane that, instead of getting Rodgers receiving help in an eternally deep receiver draft, the Pack traded up in the first round for a quarterback. On Sunday, Rodgers responded with a season-opening message to Green Bay's front office -- and the league -- posting 364 yards passing, four touchdowns and zero interceptions in the Packers' 43-34 win. Rodgers' rapport with Davante Adams was in midseason form, as the two hooked up 14 times for 156 yards and a pair of scores.
Just a quick reminder that Rodgers is the most talented quarterback ever -- and still in the prime of his career.
8) Bill Belichick
New England's offseason was filled with free-agent defections, including one such exit by the greatest player in NFL history. The preseason was filled with COVID-19 opt-outs, including core defensive pieces Dont'a Hightower and Patrick Chung. And yet, Bill Belichick gets a Week 1 win over the team that bounced the Patriots from a bye last December. Sunrise, sunset.
Belichick and Co. signed Cam Newton off the street after nobody showed much interest early in free agency. The former MVP came out and ran for a pair of scores, looking like the vintage specimen who gave opposing defensive coordinators fits for much of the 2010s. And while I think it is asinine to compare and contrast Tom Brady's success to that of Belichick's Patriots, it does add to the coach's Week 1 devilish smirk that the Bucs lost and Brady looked like he was playing for a new team.
9) Aaron Donald
I believe we are en route to saying the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout is the best baseball player ever. I believe we are en route to calling the Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald the best defensive tackle ever.
When these guys are on center stage, and their teams are winning, it is so amazing for their respective sports. Like when the Rams made the Super Bowl run two seasons ago. It's fitting that Donald got the first sack in the history of L.A.'s gorgeous new stadium. He's a star who always deserves the recognition for being the best and most unblockable force in the game today.