It only takes one NFL Sunday to wipe away six months of storylines.
The AFC East won't just be awarded to the New England Patriots for showing up. The Miami Dolphinsterrorized Tom Brady on Sunday, knocking him to the turf ten times. Offseason punchline Knowshon Moreno was supposed to turn into a pumpkin away from Peyton Manning, but he somehow was the best player on the field Sunday. Combined with wins by Buffalo and the Jets, the Patriots are in last place. At least for a week.
New Orleans similarly won't just be handed the NFC South. Atlanta reminded everyone how explosive their offense can be in a win over the Saints. We were also reminded that Falcons-Saints is the most underrated rivalry in the league, continually delivering fantastic finishes. With Carolina's defense looking strong on the road in Tampa on Sunday, this looks like a tricky division to navigate. Once again.
Before Week 2 inevitably wipes away all these storylines, here's what you need to know from the first Sunday of the season:
- If he stays healthy, Ryan is a strong bet for his first career 5,000-yard season. The Falcons' defense is weak enough that the offense will be involved in shootouts. Julio Jones and Roddy White look fantastic after injuries ravaged their 2013 seasons. Devin Hester had a major impact, with five catches and 99 yards -- two yards shy of his career high. Atlanta is going to run a lot of four-wide receiver sets.
- Four Falcons running backs combined for 181 yards from scrimmage. This a true committee attack, as Steven Jackson led the way with 13 touches. Rookie Devonta Freeman picked up a huge first down in the red zone that led to one touchdown. His role is going to have to increase as the season goes along.
- Playmaking rookie Brandin Cooks is going to be featured in the Saints' offense. Entering halftime of his first game, Cooks led the team with six catches, 86 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. Coach Sean Payton even aligned him in the backfield on occasion, similar to the Seahawks' deployment of Percy Harvin.
- Knowshon Moreno fittingly scored the game-sealing touchdown because he was the best player on the field. His 134 yards only tell part of the story. He ran like a man possessed and broke tackles on almost every snap. Lamar Miller started and was quite active (78 yards on 15 touches), but Moreno gives this running game a much different look.
- Cameron Wake and the Dolphins' defensive line absolutely terrorized Tom Brady throughout the second half. The Patriots gave up more sacks in the second half (four) than they gained first downs until a meaningless late drive. Brady was knocked down at least 10 times. Miami's defense took over after halftime.
- With the Browns trailing 27-3 at the half, quarterback Brian Hoyer shrugged off his shaky start to generate 24 unanswered points and a fourth-quarter tie. With Jordan Cameron lost to a shoulder injury, Hoyer spread the ball to seven targets for 230 yards while growing more comfortable as the game wore on.
- Nobody saw this comeback coming after Pittsburgh outgained the Browns 364 yards to 101 over the first two quarters. Ben Roethlisberger -- with an outrageous 18-1 career record against the Browns -- did an outstanding job early finding his targets in space and exposing Cleveland's secondary. "Making the Leap" wideout Markus Wheatonbeat up on Browns rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert while Antonio Browncompletely exposed a frustrated Joe Haden for 116 yards in the first half alone.
- The beleaguered Cowboys defense never stood a chance. Less than a minute into the game, 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver returned a DeMarco Murray fumble 35 yards for a touchdown. Ten minutes later, safety Eric Reid brought a Tony Romo interception to the doorstep of the end zone. Done in by an ineffective, mistake-prone offense, Dallas was down 21-3 by the end of the first quarter. The story of the game was points off turnovers.
- Dez Bryant missed the majority of the second half with a case of dehydration. Even before Bryant left the game, Romo's accuracy was scattershot against a 49ers defense that lost starting cornerbacks Culliver and Tramaine Brock to injuries in the first half. He didn't get much help from a vaunted receiver corps that had trouble getting open.
- Colin Kaepernick's 125.5 passer rating was the fifth-highest single-game average in his career. He had little trouble moving the offense against a talent-starved Cowboys defense. Anquan Boldin was a monster on third downs and Vernon Davis remains Kaepernick's go-to target in the red zone. Stevie Johnson played as the No. 3 receiver, but the 49ers run fewer three-wide sets than any team.
- Kelvin Benjamin is a legitimate Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. The Panthers' first-round pick finished with six catches for 92 yards, including a gorgeous touchdown reception ripped out of the hands of Mike Jenkins. The Panthers need Benjamin to be an instant difference-maker. He's off to a very promising start.
- The early returns on Joe Flacco's progress in Gary Kubiak's new offense aren't promising. Flacco managed 345 yards thanks to a career-high tying 62 pass attempts. On the rare occasions when his throws were on point, his receivers were dropping passes. Flacco cost the Ravens three points with a brain cramp going into halftime. He also took back-to-back sacks on third and fourth down with a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Flacco simply has to play better.
- Steve Smith toasted Pacman Jones for a career-long 80-yard touchdown that appeared to cap a Ravens comeback in the fourth quarter. A.J. Green answered with a bobbling 77-yard touchdown of his own to put the Bengals ahead for good. Even with a few drops on Sunday, Smith's 118 yards are 49 more than he had in any single game with the Panthers last season.
- EJ Manuellooked better than he did in any of the Bills' five preseason games. He still had accuracy issues and he didn't make any flashy plays. Despite one ill-advised pass on the run that resulted in an interception, Manuel didn't make mistakes either. Playing the Bears' limp defense helped, but this was a positive step in Manuel's game. The Bills will take a game-manager over what he displayed this preseason.
- The Vikings won behind a defense that looks more aggressive than anything we've seen in ages from Minnesota. After toiling for years with the Cover 2, the Vikings on Sunday employed a rash of exotic blitzes to shut down a dead-on-arrival Rams offense. Mike Zimmer's stamp is all over a group that piled up five sacks, eight quarterback hits and a Harrison Smithpick six that put this tilt to bed.
- Nick Foles' luck didn't carry over from 2013. The quarterback lost fumbles on the first two drives of the game and tossed a terrible interception in the end zone. He often threw high or off-target, floated passes and held the ball way too long in the pocket. Foles made plays in the second half to lead the comeback, but it was far from a reassuring performance.
- We expected Rex Ryan's defense to have its way with Carr, and that's exactly what happened. The rookie rarely had the luxury of a clean pocket and was unable to test New York's suspect secondary for most of the afternoon. The Raiders were held to 158 total yards, their fewest in a game since 2009. That's also the last time Oakland has won a game on the East Coast. Yikes.
- Geno Smith offered up a mixed bag on Sunday. The second-year QB showed increased accuracy (12 consecutive completions at one point) and good rushing ability (40 yards on eight carries). But he also threw an interception, fumbled twice and took an unnecessary sack that knocked the Jets out of field-goal range. Smith must cut down on the mental errors.
- It's not a good sign when Alex Smith scrambling is the best offensive play the Chiefs have. Smith led the Chiefs in rushing, and he wound up getting picked off three times. The most common sight of the day: Smith waiting fruitlessly for receivers to get open and not pulling the trigger. The Chiefs don't have enough weapons.
- J.J. Watt got paid this summer, and he immediately reminded everyone why he was worth every penny. Watt almost single-handedly wrecked Washington's gameplan, finishing with seven quarterback hits, one sack, one fumble recovery, one pass knocked down and one blocked PAT. A second sack was wiped out by an intentional grounding penalty. The game's best defensive player is at the height of his powers.
- Robert Griffin III still looks nothing like the phenom who took the league by storm in 2012. Griffin struggled to escape Houston's heavy pass rush and fumbled twice (losing one). He also took some more punishing shots. It's extremely hard to imagine Griffin playing 16 games.
- Going back to last year's playoffs, the Colts' defense has allowed an average of 39 points and 431 yards in the last three games. Armed with ample salary-cap space, general manager Ryan Grigson hasn't fixed the problems that have dogged this team for two years now. They lack backbone on defense, struggle to keep the heat off Andrew Luck in the pocket and can't find a consistent ground attack. Indianapolis is strong enough to win a weak division, but the roster has too many holes to hang with a Super Bowl contender like Denver.
- The Broncos are still the class of the AFC, thanks in large part to an overhauled defense. Big-ticket free-agent signings DeMarcus Ware (1.5 sacks) and Aqib Talib (three passes defensed) came up with key plays, and Jack Del Rio got contributions from a entire troop of players (Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Derek Wolfe, Chris Harris and Bradley Roby) who weren't on the active roster during the Super Bowl run. The Broncos generated a combined 27 sacks, quarterback hits, tackles for loss and passes defensed compared to 12 for the Colts defense.